Sunday, December 5, 2010

It's NOT Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Last year the holiday time included decorating a house for Christmas, and a front porch, too!  I was psyched for a trip to DC to see the Nutcracker with Pannie, and the festive-ness abounded.  Minus the snow of course.

In 2010 things have taken a slightly different turn.  Graduate housing does not have the same charm as your first house.  We are only here until December 11, and did not move any of our Christmas decorations when we came here in May.  So, for the first time in my life, I did not spend Thanksgiving weekend putting up a Christmas tree.  It's a little depressing, but from a practical standpoint, I get it.  I did, however, obtain the Fresh Balsam candle from Bath & Body Works.  It smells JUST like a fresh Christmas tree, which I have always thought was impossible based on the other holiday candles to which I have been subjected.  If you are brave enough to go to a mall in the next three weeks, buy one.  They're amazing.  Anyway, with this decorating scheme (or lack thereof) we look like it's a normal day of the year, buy boy do we smell good.  Ironically, the snow began to fall on Wednesday and we've seen a variation of it every few hours since.  So we have no Christmas tree or lights or even a wreath, but we do have snow.

At least the ballet tradition continues.  When your husband, and consequently you, is on a graduate school schedule, there is this wonderful creation called WINTER BREAK.  And golly does he need it (so do I, truthfully).  Winter break is a notable for the several consecutive weeks of no academic obligations.  How are we celebrating?  By going to DC of course, where I will see the ballet with Pannie again.  We also hope to squeeze in a visit to the White House tree, Zorba's and potentially Guapo's.  (What else is there in life?  Friends, food, and holiday celebrating)  It's a six hour drive, so we'll load up the car for DC and Ohio visiting (and, God-willing, a Florida trip, which will be made via airplane) and hit the road next weekend.

While the tradition of the ballet is a welcome one that we treasure, I am also excited about something, or rather, someone, new!  Our wonderful college friends (and my former roommate) had a baby in July and we have not met her.  So this holiday season will also bring the beginning of a beautiful friendship with this cutie pie.  We even got her a small gift to celebrate her first Christmas.

Meanwhile, we'll be tying up loose ends here for the next six days.  Michael will finish 4 papers and study for his finals.  This afternoon I will see a holiday concert on campus with the Crookers, later this week we'll attend a MMH class party, see the Vienna Choir Boys at the local theater, and pack a bunch of bulky sweaters in a suitcase.  Life is hectic...... must be the holidays!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving Thanks

Since 'moving out' of my parents home in 2005, I have not been home (or in Ohio) for Thanksgiving.  I have spent a few in DC with Michael's whole family, hosted by Aunt Nina.  I have spent two in South Carolina with one set of Michael's grandparents.  And this year, since we are in Ithaca, we were able to spend time with the other set of grandparents in New Jersey.  I have enjoyed all of these holidays full of food and family.

This year was extra special because Michael's grandparents, knowing Al is close by in the city, invited her, too.  So I had Michael's family and my sister around the table this year.  It was yet another lovely celebration of family, food, and laughter around the dinner table.  We were there for almost 4 hours, but it sure didn't feel like it.  I am lucky to have family near by, no matter where we move.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Turkey Shot Out of the Oven

This is one of my favorite poems from my childhood.  Mom's too!  Enjoy  

The Turkey Shot Out Of The Oven
The turkey shot out of the oven
and rocketed into the air,
it knocked every plate off the table
and partly demolished a chair.
It ricocheted into a corner
and burst with a deafening boom,
then splattered all over the kitchen,
completely obscuring the room.
It stuck to the walls and the windows,
it totally coated the floor,
there was turkey attached to the ceiling,
where there'd never been turkey before.
It blanketed every appliance,
it smeared every saucer and bowl,
there wasn't a way I could stop it,
that turkey was out of control.
I scraped and I scrubbed with displeasure,
and thought with chagrin as I mopped,
that I'd never again stuff a turkey
with popcorn that hadn't been popped.
--Jack Prelutsky

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Yummies

For me, Thanksgiving is a time for transition.  From fall to winter, from the regular year into the holiday season.  And, of course, a ginormous cliff dive into holiday food.  Thanksgiving is all about the people you spend it with (more on that later this week) but it's also all about the FOOD!   Specifically, pie, if you ask me.  I love pie.  L-O-V-E it.  It's a sickness.  I try to avoid it all year because I am the type to cut a slab, top with ice cream or cool whip and go back and keep eating tiny pieces.

I am by no means a chef.  I can barely cook.  Ironically, I bake, but never pies.  This year we're spending Thanksgiving in New Jersey with the young generation of M's family and his wonderful grandparents, and for the first time, I am not contributing to the bounty.   I'm OK with it, and his grandma is quite the cook.  But in lieu of making the foods, or eating the 'family' foods I have had in the past, I am going to share them with y'all.  Virtual Thanksgiving, if you will.

M and I actually cooked a whole turkey last year after t-giving.  We had a wonderful dinner with family in Florida halfway between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It was very fun.  You know what we did?  Rinsed the bird and stuck it into an oven bag.  Seriously.  And it was delicious.  Reynolds is your friend when cooking a turkey

Some folks do not have corn at their holiday table.  I suspect the reason we had corn is that it was one of two vegetables (the other being potatoes) that I would eat as a child.  In order the guarantee that I did not starve, my mother always provided the following corn dish.  It's by no means gourmet, but it's darn tasty.....  sort of like if cornbread and corn pudding got together- In a good way.   And it's easy!

Corn Pudding 
Serves 12
temp: 350, time:  45 min.
9 x 13 greased pan                        

1 can cream style corn                                    
1 can whole kernel corn, drained           
8 oz. sour cream                                    
1 pkg. Jiffy corn muffin mix
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/3 cup shredded Swiss cheese (or just get alpine slices in the dairy case)

Combine all but cheese.  Bake uncovered 35 minutes.  Top with cheese.  Bake 10 minutes longer.   

So now that you have turkey and corn, you probably can supplement with your family's stuffing and green vegetable and yams (candied or otherwise).  I personally enjoy a little fresh cranberry relish on my turkey, but I don't know how to make that either.  So that only means one thing- time for dessert!  

Four years ago Michael and I went apple picking in Virginia, and realized we had no pie recipes.  Later that day we spotted a Woman's Day at the grocery checkout featuring a beautiful pie on the cover.  It's become our favorite- never disappoints.  And!!!  It's store-bought crust.  Don't tell my sister

Apple Pie
Crust:1 prepared refrigerated piecrust (from 15 oz package)

¾ c packed light brown sugar
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch ground cloves
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled

6 Golden Delicious apples, (about 2 ¾ lb) peeled, cored and cut into ½ inch dice
¾ c packed light brown sugar
¼ cup all purpose flour
½ t ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves

Arrange rack in lowest slot of oven.  Heat to 375°.  Fit piecrust into 9-inch pie plate and decoratively crimp edge.  Refrigerate until ready to use

Crumb: Combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and cloves in bowl.  Rub in butter with fingertips until crumbly. 

Filling: In large bowl, toss together apples, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and clove
Spoon filling into pie shell, mounding slightly in center.  Top filling with crumb topping.  Place onto small foil lined baking sheet

Bake at 375° for 30 minutes.  Reduce temperature to 350°; bake 30 minutes more, until fruit is tender.  Loosely tent pie with aluminum foil during last 20 minutes.  Let cool for at least 1 ½ hours.  (Can be made a day ahead.  Cover pie and store at room temperature)  

Speaking of Al, she makes the best pumpkin pie known to man.  I do not exaggerate.  I attempted it last week for an office Thanksgiving celebration.  It is not for sissies, especially if you make your own damn crust.  I don't do that.  I was going to post it, but then I realized I don't even have her crust recipe.  So that will come at another time.  But, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and lazy people who don't make pie, I leave you with Pumpkin Bread.  It's a simple quick bread, and quite versatile.  Works for breakfast, a snack, dessert, mindless munching.  It's delicious whenever you eat it.

Pumpkin Bread
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
3 cups white sugar
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour three 7x3 inch loaf pans.
In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.
Bake for about 50 minutes. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Happy eating, everyone.  And remember..... 
What we're really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets.  I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?  
-Erma Bombeck

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nothing 'kicks off' the holiday season like a kick line

Sorry for the pun-ny headline.  Couldn't resist.

Last weekend was a whirlwind trip to Atlantic City for Michael's casino class (fun field trip, huh) and a jaunt to NYC.  Michael went for a hotel show and I went to see Al.  Guess who had more fun?  As you may recall, my sister agreed to see the Radio City Rockettes with me during our stay, and I had a bit of a run-in with ticketmaster.  I really wanted orchestra seats, but can I tell you something?  Our seats in the first mezzanine were PERFECT!!!!  I felt a teensy bit bad that I had a run-in with Luis, but then remembered how much I paid for the blessed seats and felt immediately better.  We could see the whole stage and the formations, and at times, could make out faces, too.  It was so much fun.  I could see making this a regular holiday tradition- sorry Al.  

Anyway, the trip was a blast, Michael did hotel stuff, Al and I saw the Rockettes and generally hung out together (with Bill and Broadway, of course) and I went to Loehmann's.  What more could a girl want?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Random Thoughts

  • Daylight savings is over.  Of course, even if it wasn't, I still got up super early.  Especially for a Sunday
  • Yesterday I decided I was sick of my golden highlights and bob.  I now have purplish-red hair and long bangs.  Realizing some of my shirts look a little funny with this coloring
  • Busy couple weeks ahead, but excited to see Al in NYC soon
  • Speaking of busy, it is quite likely that after today I won't see Michael for dinner until Thursday, when we're in the car, driving to Atlantic City
  • Weatherman predicted snow yesterday which DID NOT HAPPEN!   YAY!  I probably shouldn't gloat yet because there is probably a flake or two in forecast the next few days

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Surprise YAY of the Day

We went to Niagara Falls last month for Fall Break.  It was splendid and glorious and full of fall foliage.  And the camera died while we were there.  Rather, the camera dropped and smashed the Canadian concrete at full force.  It made a terrible sound and when I powered off and then on again, got a failure message.  The lens was busted, and wouldn't even retract into the body of the camera. SO SAD!

Because I am a photo junkie, I am freaking out about not having a camera available for our upcoming trips to Atlantic City, NYC, and New Jersey.  We've been scanning and other nerdy tech sites for a new Canon Elph.  The super cool ones are pricey.  I love photos and fancy cameras and use the features.  I also do not have the highest paying job right now and Michael is in school.  What to do, what to do.  Momsie offered to buy us the fanciest camera around for Christmas and just deliver it to us now.  Interesting...

On a whim, I grabbed the camera today and turned it on.  It worked!  No error message!  The zoom lens moved back and forth and it seemed to be just fine.  I turned it off and back on again.  I took a picture of Michael studying.  It was fine.  SUCCESS!  The camera is WORKING!   I do not know if this is short-lived or not.  But as of November 3, the camera appears to be functional and peachy keen, jelly bean.  YAAAAAY

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Trick or Treat, Smell My... Apples?

We had a glorious fall evening with the Crookers yesterday.  It was supposed to involve a last hurrah on the boat, zipping around the lake to view the beautiful autumn leaves, and then winterizing the (still unnamed) vessel.  Then we were to enjoy hors d'oeuvres chez Crooker, and go to a nearby local restaurant before indulging in apple pie and Mexican Train back at the house.  Except the boat battery was dead, so that sort of threw a wrench in the works.

Luckily the rest of the evening went off without a hitch.  Since we're a mere week from Halloween, the subject of dinner conversation got to Halloween parties, trick or treaters, costumes, candy, etc.  It turns out, neither Michael nor Marilyn are fans of Halloween.   Kass and I like it because of the candy....  not gonna lie.  After dinner last night, we seem to have gotten to the root of the problem as to why Marilyn does not enjoy All Hallows Eve....

Kass: I took the kids around the neighborhood while Marilyn stayed home for trick or treaters.
Marilyn: I used to pass out apples, but then they'd turn around and throw them at the door after I closed it.
Michael: How old were they?
Marilyn: I don't remember.  I probably had just picked them.
Michael: No, I mean the kids who threw the apples at you
Kass: The kids were fresh, but the apples were probably 5 years old!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Typing Nerd

Do you remember typing class?  I had my first one in 4th grade in a computer class taught by Mrs. Downie.  It was an Apple II GS and we used Typing Tutor, which had practice rounds and tests, and if you finished early or were really good, games to play!  It was an awesome program.  I always was very good at typing, and at the time credited years of piano lessons that accustomed me to sitting up straight with my hands poised over a keyboard.

My typing skills served me well during school; I typed papers with ease, and occasionally typed stuff for Dad, too!  While most jobs today require basic typing for email, mine doesn't require much more... I use a pretty awesome database that uses lots of mouse-clicking and minimal key strokes.   So you can imagine how excited I was when I came upon a new website....  Typeracer!  It's essentially an online typing competition and it allows people to race each other by typing quotes from books, movies and songs.  I have done a few practice rounds this afternoon (don't judge- Michael has been studying all day and I am trying not to distract him!) and am addicted.  You can race against your friends or strangers.  If any of my readers are as nerdy as me, I invite you to race me...  if you dare.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Auditory Amusements

We were in Niagara Falls (spotty cell service) and Michael answered his phone

Michael: You're lucky you caught me.... we're in Canada!
Marissa: Where?
Michael:  Niagara Falls
Marissa:  Are you going to elope?!   Oh wait.   You're already married.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

An Exercise in Futility.... or Why I Hate Ticketmaster

Warning- a long post.  But the details make the story.
Next month I am tagging along with Michael on his New York city trip.  YAY!  An even bigger yay?  Alison agreed to see the Radio City Rockettes' Christmas Spectacular with me!  Ohmygosh!!!  I have loved the Rockettes since I began watching the Macy's parade.  In fact, each year when they appeared on the TV I leapt up from the couch and did my own solo kickline in the family room while my mom peeled 25 pounds of mashed potatoes for the family Thanksgiving dinner later that day.  The bookcases shook, I jumped around, hoping to be a Rockette some day.  Ironically, I fall within their requirement to be between 5'6" and 5' 10 1/2" tall.  I am not, however, proficient in tap or jazz.  Alas.

So this evening I logged on to the Radio City website to purchase tickets for my trip to Mecca-  I mean Radio City- in November.  Unfortunately, Radio City employs Ticketmaster as their distributor.  Have you ever used Ticketmaster?  They are awful.  You put in a price range and they inevitably give you the worst tickets in that price range, despite your request for 'best available'.  You cannot request a specific row or even section.  "Orchestra" and "Mezzanine" are as specific as we get with them.  Grrrr.

Now would be a good time to mention that I did a google search of the best seats in Radio City for watching the Spectacular.  The results were quite helpful..... any seat in NN through A.  Sections 300, 400 or 500. Tons of selection!  Lots of choices.  Excellent.

Due to the lack of specification options online, I decided to call Ticketmaster and request my specific seats. The first time I called, I waited less than 5 minutes to speak to Brian.  I clearly shared with Brian my preferred performance date and time and number of tickets.  After he asked my price range, I said I actually had a certain area of the theater in mind, regardless of price.  This resulted in much confusion from Brian, as he is evidently not used to searching this way.  I requested seats in double N as in Nancy through double Z as in zebra.  I was placed on hold.  No big deal.  Brian came back.  "I have two seats in row N, seats 308 and 309.  They are on the aisle"  I calmly explained to Brian that I actually wanted seats in "Double N.... Nancy Nancy" Row N is about 5 rows from the back, while row NN is about 12 rows from the stage.  Big difference, Brian.  I was placed on hold, and promptly disconnected.  Michael said he hung up on me because he was confused.

Undeterred by Brian's rudeness and/or incompetencies, I called back.  The wait time was again 5 minutes, but I had to jump through all these hoops with the electronic voice lady.  "Welcome to Madison Square Garden.  Radio City Music Hall.     Please state the name of the even you want tickets for.  Please state the date of the performace you'd like.   Now I will list all the times the show is performed that date.   When you hear the time yuo'd like, say it back to me"  GOOD LORD!  THis was not requried the first time.   I complied with crazy electronic lady and was routed to Alex.  I explained to ALex that I was on the phone with Brian and had been unexpectedly disconnected.  We went through the same song and dance with the performance date and time I wanted (evidently electronic voice lady and Alex are not communicating) I again explained that I did not have a price range but rather wanted to search a specific area of the theater for ticket availability.  Lucky for me, Alex seemed more with it than Brian.  He placed me on hold and came back to tell me he had seats in section 300 in Row T, and some other seats in section 500 in Row U.  Again, I reiterated that I was only interested in orchestra seats that were in double N (Nancy Nancy) through double Z (zebra zebra).  The rows he suggested were at the very back of the theater under the mezzanine.  I was not interested.  Alex put me back on hold, and I was promplty disconnected.  Again.

Grrr.  For the third time in 30 minutes, I redialed the 800 number for Ticketmaster.  I said "representative" to the electronic voice lady and this time had to wait 'less than 10 minutes' to get to an operator.  This time I spoke to Carlos.  Before we even got to my show of choice, I explained my phone woes with Carlos (and used the words 'very frustrated') and asked him for his direct line, should we get disconnected.  He was unable to do that, and asked if I wanted to speak to a supervisor about the problem.  I said I didn't care about a supervisor, just wanted to buy 2 tickets.  But I keep getting disconnected, and wanted to be sure to be able to complete a purchase, so I gave him my number, so he could call me.  Perfect.  We are off to a good start.  For the third time, I explained my date, time, and performance requirements to Carlos.  He even asked if I had a promo code.   "No I don't.  Do I need one to purchase these tickets?"  Carlos assured me no, that a promo code would give me a discount, but was not required"  He probably thought I was a nut.  I was on hold, but could hear Carlos typing.  A very good sign.   Carlos came back onto the line and said "Ma'am, I have seats in row NN, section ___"  and the PHONE WENT DEAD!   For real?

I gave Carlos a few minutes to call me back, and he didn't.  I actually said outloud: Come on Carlos.   I am getting very agitated.  Since Carlos didn't give me a direct number nor did he call me back, I had to call the damn 800 number again.  I shouted "representative" to the annoying electronic voice and waited, again, to speak to someone.  A woman (whose name I did not catch) answered and I explained my situation again.  Told her about disconnected phone calls, 45 minutes on the phone, and requested to speak to a supervisor.  The lady asked me my preferred performance date, time, and number of tickets, so that she could have it ready for her supervisor.  Then she asked to place me on hold.  NO!  I actually pleaded with her to please not put me on hold due to my track record earlier in the day.  She agreed to not hit the hold button and to instead place her headset on the desk.  I thanked her profusely.

Before too long, supervisor Luis came on the line to place my ticket order.   I told Luis about the issues with Brian and Alex and Carlos.  I expressed my frustration with calling Ticketmaster four times and being required to talk to the electronic voice and wait on hold in order to complete a simple transaction.  I want to buy two tickets.  I will pay any amount of money you ask.  Just get me into the damn kickline show.  I mentioned that Carlos said he had NN available but we got disconnected.  Could Luis please help me?  (FOR THE LOVE OF PETE)  Lo and behold, he could not!  All the seats in NN (Nancy Nancy) through ZZ (Zebra Zebra) in my requested section were available to American Express Gold cardholders.  The (few) available to the public had been sold.   The NN that Carlos had found was evidently in section 200, way off to the side.  Carlos offered me garbagey seats in the back of the house that I did not want.  I then asked if there were options in the lowest mezzanine level, since my website said that would be OK if no orchestra NN-ZZ were available.   Lucky for me there were two seats 6 rows from the railing, which is OK.  But I was still kind of ticket off.  I agreed to purchase those.  

And do you know what Luis said?  "How will you be paying for these tickets today, ma'am?  American Express is Ticketmaster's card of choice for transactions"  ARE YOU FOR REAL, LUIS?!  So without skipping a beat I said "Well, Luis, as we have already discussed, I do not have an American Express card, which is why I cannot purchase the seats I'd like.  I will be putting the charges on my Visa card."

In case you wondered, I did successfully purchase two tickets (on the visa card) and Al and I will be attending the show next month.  And we better like it after all that nonsense.

Monday, September 20, 2010

525,600 Minutes.... How do you measure a year?

Michael and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary yesterday.  We still don't have a wedding album, mostly because we have yet to be in the same state as the photographer for more than 48 hours, and also because it costs eleventy* billion dollars.  One day we'll get there.  Other than that omission, we're doing pretty well.

One of the highlights of a one-year anniversary, if you ask me, is eating the top layer of your wedding cake.  I know it sounds gross....  one-year old cake and frosting?  Frozen?  Ick.  But there are super detailed instructions online that my lovely mother followed to a T.  She even hauled the cake in a cooler when she and Dad came up to see the Crookers in July.  Marilyn housed it in her extra freezer, and we obtained the blessed pastry on Saturday.   We put it in the fridge overnight, and let it sit on the counter beginning Sunday afternoon.  It looked pretty good!  But how would it taste?!

After we returned from from a lovely dinner at Taughannock Farms Inn, which last night provided a gorgeous view of Cayuga Lake and the trees just starting to change colors, we took the plunge.  My fingers were crossed, as I had no backup plan for dessert.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to report that Kiedrowski's cake freezes and thaws like a dream.   I am a proponent of properly freezing one's wedding cake to enjoy the following year.  The cake maybe didn't taste as good as it did the day it was baked, but it was really good!  The sparkling wine didn't hurt, either.

*TM Pannie

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How 'bout some beer for the guys?

To kick off Labor Day weekend (aka the END OF SUMMER AS WE KNOW IT up in the Finger Lakes) Michael and I had a lovely dinner chez Crooker, where we enjoyed a nice meal on Cayuga Lake, before laughing hysterically for 90 minutes at a production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.   It was a great way to start the holiday weekend.

Saturday morning we were running errands and heard an awful vibrating crunching noise when putting the car in reverse.  Bad for backing out of parking spaces, fine for driving forward.  A quick stop into Sears Auto Center taught us that writing a problem down on the chart does not mean the 'tech' will even check into it, will lie about checking into it, and upon finally listening to the problem, will declare that it's probably a transmission problem, but they "don't do trannies"and suggested we stop by the local Mazda dealership.  The nearest Mazda dealership is more than an hour away, but luckily other dealers can often handle these issues.  There are non-Mazda dealerships in Ithaca, so this is not looking so bad.  Unfortunately, nothing car-related (except Sears) is open in Ithaca on the weekend.  Not even the sales department.  Want to buy a car in Ithaca?  Sorry, folks.  Only Monday through Friday, till 5 PM.  Wow.  That's a great way to make monthly numbers.

This being Labor Day weekend also meant that a Monday visit was not going to happen.  I work 8-4:30 during the week, and we only have one car.  Could get tricky.  Since were were going to New Jersey on Friday for Marissa's graduation, we could likely swing by a dealership there, since they have more convenient hours, and could likely diagnose and hopefully fix the problem.  It was a good plan.

Friday morning we learned that the NJ Mazda didn't do 'that kind of work' on the weekend and we'd have to leave it there till at least Monday.   Not good, since we need to be in Ithaca Sunday afternoon.  We also located a specialized transmission shop on the same road.  Worth a shot, right?

Right!  Guy took the car for a test drive, put it up on the fancy car elevator thing, and discovered the problem.  He asked "Which one of you was off-roading?  There are fresh scrapes on the under carriage, and tons of rocks caught in the gear mount"  Surprisingly enough, neither one of us had recently been off-roading... but what had we done recently?  Driven down the Crooker's driveway.  It's a steep, windy driveway in the woods, on a cliff, to get to their lake house.  There are rather large ruts caused by construction vehicles and the like.  The little Mazda sometimes has trouble, and evidently, last Friday was no exception.  The nice mechanic pounded out all the rocks, and we were good as new!  YAY!  No transmission issues!

We went to the front to pay and the owner said (with a nice Jersey accent) "What, do you want a bill for that?"  Smarter folks than us would say "Nope!" and then run as fast as they could, but we indicated we were prepared for one.  We were told "A lot of guys would charge you an hour's labor for that, which is $98.  I'm not gonna do that"  I liked the sound of this; we asked how to compensate them for their time.  And the owner said "How about you go get some beer for the guys?"  Seriously?!  "OK!  What kind of beer do you like?"  So we went to the adjacent liquor store and got a 12-pack of Sam Adams, which cost $14.99, and we were set.  It's my favorite car repair, ever.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Harry Potter and the Wizarding World

This post is late in coming, but I've been busy, y'all.  I'm working 40 hours a week, Michael is taking 20 (!) credits at Cornell, and someone has to do laundry and buy groceries.  The blog has taken a back seat.

So in mid-August we headed to Florida to check on our house, make sure the PT Cruiser still starts (Yay!  It does!) and of course, visit the newest addition to the Florida theme parks....  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  It was fabulous.  Let me give you a short review so when we're back in Florida next summer (Please Lord, I cannot survive more than one Ithaca winter) you can all visit and see it in person.

You enter in Hogsmeade, where it is [supposed to be] Christmas time (don't mind the palm tree in the center)  The buildings are covered with snow, and the chimneys are, of course, crooked.

And what's a Wizard village without the HOGWARTS EXPRESS?!  The 98% humidity is causing my hair to fly out like crazy.  Or maybe I was just imitating Hermione, with her thick frizzy hair?  Not Emma Watson- she has good hair.  The book Hermione.

Do you have something to mail?  Visit the Owl Post

There are owls in the rafters

and stuffed ones in the window!  Hilarious (don't mind the glare)

Do you have shopping to do?  You can visit Olivander's

Honeyduke's, Zonko's

sorry, I loved Zonko's

After you're done shopping, be sure to meander down the street to.....


There is a ride inside and it's absolutely fantastic.  I took lots more pictures here.  I wasn't kidding about the invitation.  Fingers crossed, we'll be back in Florida in June and we would love to go back to Harry Potter multiple times with guests.

Accio Florida vacation!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Monopoly Redesign? Blasphemy!

This... the new Monopoly board.

Can they do this?  I learned this afternoon that the CRAZY folks at Hasbro have created a new version of the beloved Monopoly game.  Evidently this new version, dubbed MONOPOLY: Revolution Edition will be available in Fall 2010, which according to my calendar begins next month.  (Gasp)  Here are the specs, as listed in the press release.

Though the new game still features the traditional streets of Atlantic City, property values have risen to reflect today's prices. Instead of collecting $200, players will take in $2 Million every time they pass GO. Helping them track their millions is an electronic “banker” that also serves as the die, and music player. For the first time, sound effects and music clips from hit songs from five decades, including "Umbrella," "Bad Day" and "Drive My Car," provide a soundtrack throughout the game.

I don't think I like this.  Part of the fun of playing Monopoly is having money in different colors, right?!  Maybe that was only me, enjoying every opportunity I had to color-code my life, even at a young age.  I mean, my dad won every damn time we played.  I had to look forward to something.  Have you ever played a board game with my dad?  It's an experience.  Once, Al, Dad and I played the same game of Monopoly for days.  Eventually he had so much property with houses and hotels, my sister was taking out mortgages on her own properties in order to land on his.  And she was young!  Definitely younger than 10.  So clearly, the colorful money was a highlight among that torture.   Side note:  Thanks to Dad and his ruthless playing, I regularly win all board games I play today.  But back to the game.  In addition to eliminating the opportunity to hone one's math skills, this new system eliminates the die?  No rolling?  What do you do?  Press a button and see how many spaces the 'banker' says you can move?

And getting nit-picky, I also find the wedge-shaped properties to be odd.....

Who wants to live on a lot shaped like this?  And as a side note, they have REMOVED Community Chest and Chance cards!!!!!  Dude.  I cannot handle this.

The 'sound effects' they are including are quite disturbing.  What the hell?  MUSIC during MONOPOLY?!  No thanks. Batteries do not belong in Monopoly, if you ask me.  I suppose adjusting the prices for inflation is a practical change, but this is a board game, folks.  Not reality, per se.  I mean, I have gone to jail countless times in Monopoly, but not real life.  And for the record, in my mind, Boardwalk will always cost $400.  Not $4 million, or whatever it is, adjusted for inflation.

But the most bothersome, and the LEAST OK?  The new plastic playing pieces!  Where is my metal iron?  Thimble?  Scottie dog?

While this is clearly ridiculous, there is a saving grace..... it appears that Hasbro will continue to distribute the original, classic, (correct) version of Monopoly.  I, for one, hope no one buys this piece of junk.  Monopoly is not Monopoly without metal playing pieces, rainbow colored money, dice, and a square board.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Time Travel: August 5, 2006

In some calendar years, certain specific dates stick out in your mind.  Some dates (Christmas, your birthday, etc.) are memorable year to year, and others are monumental only once.  For example, May 20, 1989 I lost my first tooth.  (I know the day only because it was Nene's wedding day)  Or Easter 1994 was the one when Al had both a broken finger and three stitches in her head.  June 24, 1994, right when I got home from my piano recital, was the night a tabby kitten showed up in the garage.  More on the kitty another day.... perhaps we can make Time Travel a weekly installment!  For me, today is a one-time monumental day.  Four years ago, on August 5, 2006, darling Ashley married a wonderful man: Jason Kempf.  

Fun story: August 4 is the day I met Jason; I walked out of the shower wrapped in two towels (one for hair, one for body) and there he was on the couch in the basement.  Surprise!  Didn't know he'd be there.  Without skipping a beat, I stuck out my hand and said "Hi, I'm Jules"  I suppose that was kind of the initial test.  What will Jason think of Jules?  He likely thought I was crazy, so he is quite perceptive!  Anyway.  Back to 8/5/06.  

It had been more than three years since Ash, Pannie and I had seen each other, and the reunion was all that it should be: loud and full of screams and hugs and general glee.  Not only did Pannie and I get to spend a little time together (with M, too, of course), but we were finally seeing Ash again!  The duo would finally be a trio again.  Good things come in threes, after all.  Now is a good time to point out that Ash was the first of my friends to get married.  Not only had we finished college and entered into the real world with jobs and paychecks, monthly rent and checking accounts, now Ash was starting to BEHAVE LIKE A GROWNUP!  With a husband and a new last name and a big old party to celebrate.  It was a little crazy to comprehend at first, my first friend acting like an official grownup.  It was a lovely weekend, and the start of many summers with at least one wedding to attend!  

The morning of August 5, 2006 consisted of:

Ash sitting in the kitchen getting her hair done.  (Hi Thomas in the background!)

A lace-up corset-type dress worthy of Gone with the Wind

Pannie telling her joke about the grasshopper walking into the bar to stop the waterworks 

The day continued to celebrate the love that was all around us:
Becky and Roy celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary, Michael helped them cook

Lifelong friends squeezed in some quality time

And two wonderful people were married

Congratulations, guys.  Here's to many more happy years together.  We look forward to sharing in all of the other wonderful celebratory moments in your lives.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Auditory Amusements

After we turn out the lights before bed, Michael and I have a conversation.  The subject matter and duration of the chat varies, but we always talk about something before bed.  It's a ritual, it's relaxing, it's a nice way to end the day.  In typical Jules fashion, I sometimes talk too loud during these times.  I am forever reminded to use my "indoor" or "nighttime" voice.  It's Michael's kind way of saying "Quiet down, you fool.  It's time for bed"  Yesterday was no exception.  I began carrying on at an above-average decibel level....

M (in a whisper): Jules, you're shouting.
J (full voice): So?
M: It's night time.
J: Lots of people shout at night!
M: Yeah, drunks and crazies.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

That's What Friends Are For

Back in 2006, when Ash and Jason got married, the trio of Ash, Pannie and Jules decided never to go more than a year without seeing each other.  You see, we met in 2001 at American University and were inseparable.  Then, Ash didn't return to AU for our junior year and we had three years of missing each other.  Truth be told, I missed Pannie a little less because we were roommates part of that time, and then both lived in DC.  But the point is, we missed being a trio.  The Ash wedding reunion was so euphoric that we started a tradition: get together every summer.

Lucky for us, mutual friends Becky and Ryan got married the following summer, and their wedding served as the perfect spot for Reunion 2007.  As is often the case, there were shenanigans galore.

In addition to being frightened of an Oklahoma night club, we went on a search for bison (unsuccessful)

 and continued to act like weirdos at wedding receptions.

There were no weddings in 2008, but that didn't stop us!  We managed to organize a rendez-vous in DC.  The trip was dubbed a "family reunion" because it wasn't just the three of us...  Michael and Jason were there, too.  It was our first extended time period with Jason and we LOVED him!  (we still do)  the timing was interesting because Michael and I had just moved to Florida, but were glad to return to our former home for Labor Day weekend to see Pannie, Ash and Jason.  We managed to get in a day with Becky and Ryan, too.  An excellent weekend for all, complete with "Then & Now" shots in DuPont.

As you all know, September 2009 was another wedding.  It was wonderful; Michael and I got married, and the trio was, once again, reunited.  The photo below could be called Ash, Pannie, and the brown girl.  But that tends to be the case with us....

Flash to the present.  The summer reunion trip was planned out perfectly.  The three of us would reunite in Florida in August.  With the Orlando airport serving as our hub and my Florida house as our homebase, we'd fly to Orlando, drive West to the beaches, enjoy quality time together at a beach house (thanks to Ash's aunt for the lodging) and have our yearly summer social gathering.  But then I realized that a trip to Florida, which would require a plane ticket and time off from my temp job, was not a good idea.  Fiscally irresponsible, but also logistically complex because Ithaca is an hour from a major airport and we only have one car here, and Michael has classes and won't need to be stranded.  I regretfully backed out of the summer plans, wishing A&P well.  That very same week Ash's aunt called with crazy news: Her building partially collapsed and was not structurally sound.  Our beach accommodations were no longer available.  The trip was not meant to be.  

Pannie and Ash decided it wouldn't be a trio reunion without me (true, because two is less than three) and have been coming up with alternative ideas.  After talking to Pannie this afternoon, I got some fantastic news..... in order to accommodate me, they're considering a trip to the FINGER LAKES area!  Isn't that the cutest thing ever?  Since we can't meet up at the beach, and my schedule doesn't allow for many days off for travel, (and the house is not available) they're willing to forgo the beach and come to my neck of the woods and enjoy New York and/or Lake Ontario.  I have the best friends, ever!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Great things to come out of Ohio

For years, my sister has had a 'great things from Ohio' list.  We have added to it over the years, and to my knowledge, it's never been written down.  In honor of our trip to the Buckeye state on Wednesday, and our impending reunion with one of the funniest people in the world (my sister, again!) here is the list.  I'm sure it's incomplete, but it's a start.

  • Smuckers
  • My sister Alison
  • Buckeyes: trees, nuts, candy
  • The Wright Brothers
  • Thomas Edison
  • Bob Evans
  • Wendy's
  • Stouffer's frozen foods
  • American Greetings 
  • Longaberger Baskets
  • Drug Mart
  • Nickles bread and Donut Fair™products
  • Great Lakes beer
  • The hot dog 
  • Cedar Point
  • Malley's Chocolates
  • Neil Armstrong  
  • SEVEN U.S. Presidents!  Can you name them?  I can because I looked them up:  Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William H. Taft, and Warren G. Harding
  • Ermal Fraze, who invented the pop-top can in Kettering, Ohio

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Oh Beautiful, For Spacious Skies....

Where liberty dwells, there is my country. -Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Blog Edition OR Why I should not drink coffee

I logged on to tell you about why I shouldn't drink coffee, but like an animal to a shiny object, I as distracted by blogger's new templates!  I'm not sure if I like this one or not, there is an awful lot of white space here in the middle.  Consider it a trial run for now.  And changing your blog template is not like changing most other things.... virtual changes are erased with the 'undo' button.  Much less of a commitment than, say, cutting your hair, which grows back, but slower than you can change the blog back.

Anyway.  I digress.  I left for the office early today to drop Michael off.  It's like I'm a mom taking my kid to school...  "Bye, honey.  Have fun at school!"  Since I left early, I had time to kill and stopped at the local coffee shop and ordered a large sugar free non-fat vanilla latte.  At Starbucks this is called Grande and it never causes me problems.  I guess the Ithaca shops use crazy espresso or something because HOLY COFFEE, BATMAN!  It was strong.  Tasty, though.  I drank almost the whole thing, after eating a small bowl of cereal.  This does several things.

First, it feels like there is acid eating away at the lining of your stomach.  In fact, it makes the acid in your stomach seem like water.  Or Kool-Aid.  Whatever it was, the liquid had an approximate pH level 2.  And since I had only eaten a small breakfast, and evidently have a small bladder, I had to pee.  A lot.

Now would be a good time to fill you in on the following factoids about the office:
The bathroom is dooooooown the hall.  Down several halls, in fact.  Not nearby.
I spend the majority of time on the phone with people.  Some of them are quite chatty.   This is not good when you have consumed a large cup of a diuretic in a short amount of time.

So this morning, I literally ran back and forth to the bathroom.  I jumped up from my desk, ran down the hall in high heels, and then came back and made a phone call.   And sometimes a 2nd call.  Then, the coffee said hello again.  I think my officemates thought I was crazy.  Or maybe that I was ill.  I don't know, but my reason was totally legit.

Lesson learned: Do not drink coffee on an empty stomach, especially if your office is far from a restroom and/or you are on a car trip.

Wow.  This entry is kind of gross.  Sorry about that.  I'll be back this weekend with something patriotic and wonderful to celebrate our nation's independence.

Monday, June 28, 2010

It Feels Like Home to Me

We're going home next week.  Where is home when you've lived in five states in less than ten years?  It's where your Dad sits on the couch with the newspaper spread on the coffee table, your Mom cooks all sorts of things in the kitchen, while having minor explosions about a pan being in the wrong cabinet, and your sister leaves Diet Coke cans all over the place and alternatively reads French novels and Little House books.  And in the summer, everyone runs around in swimsuits and various levels of coverups at the table, and ice cream is served in unlimited portions out by the pool.  For me, this comfortable, familiar place, is Ohio.

We can drive home in about 6 hours, so once Michael's accounting exam ends next Wednesday, we are outta here!  It's not like we're going from Ithaca to Rome or anything.... we're going to Ohio, after all.  But Ohio is engrained so deeply in our being, it's always good to go back.  Our agenda includes doing laundry for free in our mothers' machines, eating food we don't have to cook, and catching up with our sisters.  Yes, all four of us will be in the same place for three days!  And there's no wedding, so we'll have a bit of free time.

There's just something comforting and relaxing about going home for a few days on your days off.  Not a vacation.  No planning, no itinerary, no hotel room, no sight seeing.  Not particularly 'interesting' but you know,  good for the soul.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jammin' with Marilyn

Any LRA choir kid will tell you that Marilyn Crooker knows her way around the kitchen.  I often wonder if seniors are in choir solely for the zucchini bread that is bestowed upon them for their 18th birthday.  (Kidding)  But it's not just zucchini bread.  She'll make apple cake, pie, angel food cake, etc. etc.  In addition to baking these scrumptious goodies, and hauling mattresses onto roofs, Marilyn makes multiple flavors of jam.  From scratch.  With berries she picks herself.  Since I live so close to her this summer, I was invited to join the fun.

Strawberry picking is best done in the morning, before the heat and humidity beat you down.  So we were off, bright and early to start our day.  

Have you ever picked strawberries?  It's not like picking apples, which grow above your head.  No, strawberries grow inches off the ground.  It requires squatting, bending, and reaching.  It is not for sissies.  

In just over an hour, we had four buckets brimming with berries.  (We might have eaten a few along the way, too)  The buckets were heavy, too.  They weighed in at just over 24 pounds.  That's a lot of strawberries, folks.  It looks even more impressive when you spread them out on the dining room table.  Aren't they beautiful?  

Now it's time to make the jam!

Find a ginormous colander to rinse them, then hull each and every damn one.  It'll take as long as picking them did.  But be patient, hull with a buddy, and time will pass quicker.

Once you've hulled a lot of berries, you'll need to mash them.  They were so ripe, I barely had to mash.  They were, no joke, the most delicious berries I have ever had.  That's probably because I earned them...  bending to pick all the berries is hard work!  But even so, scrumptious.  

Mixing the sugar, pectin, and water is the key step in creating a non-runny, slightly set jam.  It's an art form.  I was evidently a quick learner because my jam was a lovely texture.

Oh, who are we kidding.  I am such a novice.  It was good because I had a fantastic teacher.

She is such a pro, she has multiple sized funnels in order to neatly pour the jam into the jars.  She also has multiple shaped ladles.  Did you know there is more than one kind of ladle?  Me neither.

Here we are with the finished product.  We each made a batch, and had lots of beautiful jars of jam lined up on the counter.  I am proud to report that I successfully made a batch of jam, filled 8 jars, and will be enjoying homemade, delicious jam for the next several months.  Aren't you jealous?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

Paul Harvey's "What Are Fathers Made Of" 

A father is a thing that is forced to endure childbirth, without an anesthetic.

A father is a thing that growls when it feels good–and laughs loud when it’s scared half to death.

A father never feels entirely worthy of worship in his child’s eyes. He never is quite the hero his daughter thinks, never quite the man his son believes him to be. This worries him, sometimes, so he works too hard to try and smooth the rough places in the road for those of his own who will follow him.

A father is a thing that gets very angry when school grades aren’t as good as he thinks they should be. He scolds his son although he knows it’s the teacher’s fault.

Fathers grow old faster than other people.

And while mothers can cry where it shows, fathers stand there and beam outside–and die inside. Fathers have very stout hearts, so they have to be broken sometimes or no one would know what is inside. Fathers give daughters away to other men who aren’t nearly good enough so they can have grandchildren who are smarter than anybody’s. Fathers fight dragons almost daily. They hurry away from the breakfast table, off to the arena which is sometimes called an office or a workshop…where they tackle the dragon with three heads: Weariness, Work and Monotony.

Knights in shining armor.

Fathers make bets with insurance companies about who will live the longest. Though they know the odds, they keep right on betting. Even as the odds get higher and higher, they keep right on betting more and more.

And one day they lose.

But fathers enjoy an earthly immortality and the bet is paid off to the part of him he leaves behind.

I don’t know where fathers go when they die. But I have an idea that after a good rest, he won’t be happy unless there is work to do. He won’t just sit on a cloud and wait for the girl he’s loved and the children she bore. He’ll be busy there, too…oiling the gates, smoothing the way.