Saturday, February 28, 2009

Customer Service? Et tu Verizon?

Once upon a time, you could walk into a Verizon Wireless phone store and be greeted at the door or very shortly after arrival. You could walk around and look at the phones and then ask a salesperson for more information about features and calling plans. We got our first mobile phone back in 1994. It was what they called a bag phone. It looked as if someone had taken an office desk phone, hooked it up to a huge, heavy battery and wrapped it all up in a leatherette case, about one third the size of an attache case! That phone came from either Nynex Mobile or Bell Atlantic Mobile, both of which later merged and changed its name to Verizon.

We’re currently off our obligatory two year contract with Verizon, but paying our bills each month. Chuck and I have been doing a lot of research online about the Apple iPhone (available only through Verizon’s competitor AT&T) and the BlackBerry Storm, exclusive to Verizon. Because we’ve had all our cell phones with Verizon for 15 years and been happy with their service, we figured the iPhone was off the table. We went into the Verizon store tonight wanting to handle the BlackBerry phones and get a better feel for which one we wanted to purchase. That purchase would effectively lock us into another two year contract with Verizon.

A few years ago, we went to a Verizon store and purchased three phones, two to replace existing phones and the third was a new one for my Mom in Rhode Island. Two different employees worked with us ‘til just past closing in order to get my Mom’s phone a Rhode Island area code of 401. Everyone was knowledgeable, friendly and totally got the concept of customer service.

Tonight, we walked into the very same Verizon Wireless store, where there must been more than ten employees behind three different desks and counters. There were only four to six other customers, mostly in pairs or family groups, at any given time while we were there. Not one employee approached us. We looked at the BlackBerry Storm and the BlackBerry Curve. We also made a circuit of the whole store and looked briefly at all the other cell phones.

I finally walked up to the counter where there were six people standing and sitting. I asked who we could speak to, to ask a question. Blank stares. One gal said: “Umm what kind of question?” I said we had a few questions about the Storm and the Curve. More blank stares. Then a couple of employees volunteered a gal who walked toward us. We moved over to the display with the Curve and the Storm. She stood a few feet away and answered our questions crisply. She never once volunteered so much as a smidge of information. Through the entire, albeit brief, conversation she never, ever stopped drumming her fingernails on a nearby shelf.

Drum, drum, drum...
Drum, drum, drum...
Drum, drum, drum...
Drummed us right out of the store she did.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Fish Pie

Today was one of those days. I tried to do too many things at once and in the end not nearly enough got done!

Quite awhile ago I made what I call a “Finnan Haddie Pie”. I made it up as I went along (no surprise!) using Grindstone Neck cold smoked haddock and some cod. I layered it up with veggies along with a garlic and sherry sauce in a couple of gratin dishes and topped it with mashed potatoes. Well, tonight I stumbled across a “Fish Pie” by Jamie Oliver. I haven’t made it yet (it’s been one of those days, remember?). But it’s a dead easy dump it all in and mix it up sort of recipe, which, ingredient wise, reminded me of the spirit of my Finnan Haddie Pie. Although, I have no problem admitting that there is no way on God’s green Earth I could dump all the ingredients in the way Jamie did! Mine would have to be more layered and arranged!

Anyhoo, go ahead and watch the short video of Jamie making his Fish Pie. I bet it will prove to be a good springboard for your own creation. Arranged or dumped - it’s up to you!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What Can Happen To An Idea...

For everyone who has ever served on a committee, sat through an interminable meeting or read some superior’s memorandum while sitting in a small cubby, I bring you this quote:

A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.
- Sir Barnett Cocks

May all your good ideas avoid such a fate!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Today is my father’s yahrzeit; the anniversary of the day he died. Dad passed away 21 years ago today. Just typing “21 years” causes me to shake my head in disbelief. How could that many years have gone by without him in this world? This year, Dad’s yahrzeit feels a little sharper, likely because of the recent passing of Chuck’s Dad, Milton. Milton’s memorial or shiva candle burned for a week until last Friday. Now my Dad, George’s, much smaller yahrzeit candle, which we lit last night, will last one day, until this evening.

I have searched in vain for a particular quote. I remember having read something by Isabella Rossellini, something to the effect of: “There are two stages to a woman’s life: before her father passes away and after.”

This is after.

You can read the story behind how a Catholic daughter came to light a Jewish yahrzeit candle for her father by clicking here. My poem, “Your Yahrzeit” can also be found there.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

“It” Came True

Well, it didn’t take long for me to succumb to the siren song of the new versions of iLife ’09 and iWork ’09. I first opened Pages, the document component of iWork, and watched the new features video. My socks were knocked right off! Intuitive and clever, it lets you go from idea to deluxe finished document - including newsletters - in the blink of an eye. It sent me back about 23 years to my first “contemporary” computer. I was about to let it all flow out into a post when I got this vague feeling I had gone down the same road before.

I had.

On Monday, July 23, 2007 I posted the following piece:

Extra! Extra!

It took quite a long time, but here I am. Back in the late 1980s I had just gotten my first “modern” computer. By modern I mean it was an MS-DOS based Personal Computer (PC) - a significant upgrade from the Commodore where one had to type in exhausting strings of code in order to get a “Pong”-like game to run on it. (Heavens to Murgatroyd! How old am I???) Anyhoo, the new PC felt very slick and powerful. I found the possibilities dazzling and the realities frustrating. In some ways, it was little more than a dedicated word processor, which had it all over electric typewriters, but only hinted at what might be possible down the road.

Well, I wanted “it” now. I wasn’t completely sure what “it” was. I felt as if I were looking at a wheel before there was a barrow or a cart or a carriage or a car to go with it. But I craved something creative, something exciting with words and images. Printshop was wicked cool at the time, now of course stunningly primitive. Then I stumbled across a software program for creating newsletters. It was words and graphics combined. That was “it”! Mind you, I didn’t have a group to send a newsletter to. I didn’t belong to a club or a PTA or even a company that needed or wanted some sort of internal missive. I didn’t care. I bought it. I tried it. Really I did. If you are a regular reader you are probably beginning to get an inkling of how this turned out. Well, you’re right. The program was very complicated, very limited and narrowly designed to publish, well, a newsletter. Which was exactly what the box said it would do, but I was dreaming bigger dreams. I was looking at the first wheel and already feeling the wind in my face, my hair streaming out behind me, as I was driving a Porsche.

Those dreams didn’t come to fruition until about nine months two and a quarter years ago when I discovered blogging. My words, my pictures and I didn’t have to belong to a club or have a mailing list. I just had to do it. Create something of my own, push a few buttons and Ta Da! - Pink Granite.

Aaaah... I love the feeling of the wind in my face!

I still feel the same way. The only difference is that now I have a deeper appreciation of how vital the readers of this particular “newsletter” are. Without you, this would be a long, lonely monologue. Thank you for the ongoing conversation. Thank you for your kindness and support, wit and wisdom and your friendship!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Smile Six Times

I did something very much like this once before. I referred to it as Part One, so let’s think of this as Part Two. When I came upon this sweet little meme posted by Hula Seventy I knew I needed to revisit the idea again:

Six That Are Smile Worthy

1. Minneolas or Tangelos or Honeybelles - These dazzlingly delicious citrus fruits are a blessed burst of sunshine on cold winter days. Buy the ones which feel heavy, have vibrant orange skins and, this is important, have the most distinctive bulbous “noses”. If they are nearly spherical and could pass for an orange, keep looking.

2. Snowshoeing - especially in sunshine on a crisp, cold winter day when the ground is covered with layers of snow. The chickadees call, the squirrels race and chatter across winter bare branches and the busy paths of all sorts of animals crisscross the woods - our one seasonal glimpse into their daily habits.

3. Down Quilts - big, poofy, lush, decadently comforting comforters to crawl under, straight from shedding layers of clothing, leaving only a cold nose peeking out to appreciate the sharp contrast.

4. Laughter - out of silliness, out of intellectual nimbleness, out of pain - it’s all good, all very good actually and allows me to keep my sanity. And I think helps those around me preserve theirs. (If you’re following closely, you know this was mirror close to number five from last time, but that’s O.K.!)

5. Customer Service - genuine, old fashioned, well intentioned, go that extra mile to get things sorted out and put to rights for the customer - service.

6. Blank Notebooks - lined, unlined doesn’t matter. It’s the blank page waiting for it all to come pouring out, crashing down, sketching up, doodling away - nearly dizzy with possibilities and then it happens. Pen touches paper; the connection is made; there’s no turning back.

7. Chuck - I said six. I wrote six. But there is always Chuck and he is always smile worthy! Even when I am ever so cross and ready to dope slap up him up the back of the head in frustration, he turns his head to afford me better aim and I am lost!

Sunday, February 22, 2009


I found a wonderful list of ways to boost your feelings of happiness. Gretchen Rubin has been working on her book “The Happiness Project” which is “a memoir about the year I spent test-driving every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study I could find, whether from Aristotle or St. Therese or Martin Seligman or Oprah”. You know I’m a firm believer in the power of developing “an attitude of gratitude”. Well Ms. Rubin provides “Nine Tips for Dealing with a Happiness Emergency - - in the Next Hour” and each one is a winner. Bookmark it, print it out, hang it in your office cubby and next to your bathroom mirror and tuck a copy in your wallet.

You can find the list here. ;o)

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Toward the end of each of the last two trips to see Chuck’s Dad in Greater Seattle, we tried to prepare mentally, emotionally for the possibility that it might be the last time we would see Dad. We felt grateful for his great longevity, his full and interesting life and the long and very happy marriage he shared with Chuck’s Mom. Even though Dad was 94 and in decline, the last visit with him on each of those trips was still wrenching. But because of these visits and the emotional work we have been doing, the grief we are experiencing now that Dad has passed, feels much less acute than it might have been. Certainly, it is less fierce than when someone is struck down in their prime or when there are sentiments left unspoken. And the last phone call Chuck had with his Dad provided an additional opportunity for Chuck to express his gratitude and his love to his father. It allowed a son to be on the other side of the continent, yet still be at his father’s bedside just before he passed away.

We were speaking with a friend of ours who lost her mother a few years ago. We were discussing all of this with her, as we also told her about some of the arrangements which are being made for Dad’s interment and memorial service. Thankfully, Dad was quite thorough and specific in communicating his wishes. When Chuck’s Mom passed away ten years ago, Dad asked us to create the service, which we did. He was very pleased with it, so we have that as our template. But there are still many details to attend to. Chuck’s sister Carol is in Seattle, so she is doing things in person which we can’t do. But being a phone call or e-mail away eases communication and coordination. As we talked with our friend, she nodded and said “Yes, all the business of death.” She wasn’t referring to the commerce of funeral homes and florists. She was speaking about the paperwork, the fine print, the bureaucracy and all the discreet details involved in wrapping up a life.

Wrapping up a life. Dad has passed. His love, his lessons, his legacy live on. Our memories of him and of Mom will continue to bind them to us. But part of our responsibility to Dad is to attend to these details; the bits and pieces of his life on Earth - from the mundane to the legally required. There have been obituaries. There will be a eulogy. There will be memories shared, stories told, family jokes repeated, laughter and more tears. But there will continue to be this business of death as we wrap up Dad’s life. In attending to these tasks with the care and thoroughness he would have, we honor him.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Short & Simple

The current credit crisis is complex. I don’t know how many articles I’ve read, news reports I’ve watched or radio programs I’ve listened to about the various aspects of the financial situation the world finds itself in. And I still find it somewhere between mind boggling and nauseating. But I’ve found a good video which explains the situation in a simple, graphic way. “The Crisis of Credit Visualized” manages to summarize the whole ugly train wreck in just seven and a half minutes. Trust me, the time flies right by and you’ll feel much better informed around the water cooler on Monday or at the next cocktail party.

P.S. If you can, click on the “Watch in HD” tab at the top of the screen.

Wild Willy’s Revisited

The other day, Chuck and I ticked off a slew of errands in and around Worcester. Lunchtime found us not far from the Greendale area, so naturally we had to go to Wild Willy’s. It did not disappoint. They are still serving up a truly tasty cup of Steak Chili. The Bubba Burger remains yummy. And I think the bacon on the Bubba is even thicker and crispier, making it a more distinct ingredient, not just an accent. So, more than a year after I first posted about Willy’s, I am still happy to recommend you stop by and enjoy their consistently good fare!

From Wild Willy’s we popped over to Strand’s Ski Shop. We were hoping they would be able to replace the totally trashed baskets on my cross country ski (most recently snowshoe) poles. After a brief moment of doubt and consultation, followed by some time in the workshop, my poles had brand new baskets. We checked out at the register, gave Otto the Weimaraner a scratch behind the ears and continued on our way.

I love it when a plan comes together!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Honor & Sportsmanship

Despite how many basketball games I attended in high school, it is not a game close to my heart. But the story of a basketball game between players from Madison High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and DeKalb, Illinois High School tugged at my heart. In the swirl of media coverage over illegal steroid use by extraordinarily high paid professional athletes such as Alex Rodriguez, a bunch of high school kids and their coaches held the moral compass to true north. A-Rod and all of his ilk should read this moving report from Art Kabelowsky on a daily basis.

Thanks to Rachel Maddow for her coverage of this story.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Love Endures

“I believe that if I should die
and you were to walk near my grave,
from the very depths of the earth
I would hear your footsteps.”

- Benito Perez Galdos (1843 - 1920)

Monday, February 16, 2009

File 2008 Taxes Electronically - For Free!

Just as I’ve done in previous years, I helped a dear friend of ours with her taxes. Once again, I was able to help her file both her federal and state taxes on-line and to do it for free!

I began by going to the IRS page for e-filing. Once there, I followed the directions and clicked through to “Individual Taxpayers”. After reviewing the information, we again chose to file with the Turbo Tax Freedom Edition. I’ve had excellent experiences using this free service for our friend the last couple of years and this time was no exception. It has been improved and streamlined and her state continues to be one of the 21 linked directly with the Turbo Tax federal program.

These free filing options, available from the IRS through on-line tax preparers, have very specific age, income and filing status requirements. But if your tax situation is relatively straight forward, it’s definitely worth exploring. Filing tax forms is never fun, but this service makes it much easier.

Now I need to focus on our taxes and get them filed as well!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Six More Degrees

On Thursday, we went to our dentist for our twice a year visit with our dental hygienist. Let me start by saying that ever since I was a kid I’ve had a fear of dentists and all the attendant drills and discomfort. My first dentist was not destined to win any awards or honors in dentistry and it was no fun for my first 14 years. Then I began going to a great dentist. Unfortunately, it fell to him to repair what had not been done properly by the first quack guy. So even with a great doc it was still tough going.

Chuck has been going to the same dentist office for over thirty years. Not long after we were married I switched to his. We always had our teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist named P. She was very understanding and sympathetic. The dentist, Dr. W., was also a good guy and very skilled. But when he first tried to work on my teeth to repair a tooth which had previously had a root canal and was now snapped in two, he found the tears streaming down my cheeks and my constant trembling somewhat disconcerting! He immediately wrote me a prescription for Valium/Diazepam, which I took faithfully in advance of all future dental appointments. But as the years went by, I was able to stop medicating in advance and became pretty comfortable on my twice a year visits to see P. for a cleaning.

Then P. retired. I’ll admit I was scared. But I managed to show up for my first appointment with the new dental hygienist N. sans medication. (Yes I am patting myself on the back.) Turns out both Chuck and I had been very happy with P., but N. was a revelation. She was terrific - pain free, friendly, outgoing, gentle and extremely knowledgeable. And she was perfectly happy to continue the practice begun with P. where Chuck would stay in the room with me while I was in the chair. In fact, N. invited me to stay in the room while Chuck was in the chair. It works out great because while the patient has dental tools in their mouth the “guest” can continue the conversation with N.!

So on Thursday, at some point during the nearly two hours of dental attention and conversation, we got to chatting about Law & Order. All three of us are fans and we all agreed we liked the late Jerry Orbach in his character as Lennie Briscoe best of all. That was when N. told us her husband had once cooked for Jerry Orbach. Now, just to prove I must still have some residual dental anxiety, it wasn’t until much later, when Chuck and I were in the car, that the penny dropped and I realized that thanks to N., I’m just three degrees of separation away from Jerry Orbach!

Love Will Prevail

“On December 19, 2008, Ken Starr and the Prop 8 Legal Defense Fund filed legal briefs defending the constitutionality of Prop 8 and seeking to nullify the marriages of 18,000 devoted same-sex couples solemnized before Prop 8 passed.”

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, I’m asking you to sign a petition over at the Courage Campaign to fight this outrageous effort. I’m asking you to stand in solidarity with same sex couples so as to strengthen and add volume to the message that everyone deserves to be treated “with dignity and respect”. I’m asking you to echo the refrain:

Don’t Divorce Us!

Friday, February 13, 2009


Chuck's Dad passed away late this morning, just before noon, Washington time. Milton was 94. His passing was peaceful and there was a wonderful, unusual twist just before the end.

We had just spoken with Chuck’s sister Carol last night. She had let us know that she felt it would be a matter of days; no more than a few weeks. Early this morning N. who along with his wife B. take care of Dad in the Adult Family Home they run, had checked on Dad and found he was sleeping and breathing deeply. A little while later N. went in to check on Dad again and he had passed. N. called Chuck's sister Carol and she left immediately to go over there. Along the way, she called Chuck to tell us that Dad had died.

After that call from Carol this morning, we called my Mom to tell her Chuck’s Dad had passed. Unbeknownst to us, while we were on the phone with Mom, Carol had tried to reach us. A few minutes after we hung up from Mom, Carol called again. Dad was still alive, still breathing. Carol was in Dad's room with him.  She took the phone and held it up to Dad's ear so that Chuck could talk to his Dad one last time. It was an amazing gift; a little miracle.

Carol then called her husband Mark.  He picked up their son Andrew at school and they went over to be with Carol and Dad. The hospice nurse also arrived. Carol sat holding Dad's hand.  N., B., Mark, Andrew and the hospice nurse were all reminiscing about Dad as well as Mom. They were looking at the photos on the walls and on the dresser of Mom and Dad along with many other family pictures. Then Dad took his last breath.

Because Carol’s daughter Emily is studying abroad in Italy until the middle of March, we will likely wait until then to have a service out in Seattle.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Please Excuse My Yawning

All’s well, except for my falling asleep on my feet.

Thank you for the good wishes about Cassie. She and I both appreciate it, although she does seem to be preening a wee bit more today! What have I wrought?

Please check out Sue’s amazing, multiple Six Degrees of Separation in the comments section of Tuesday’s “This & That” post below. I’m pretty sure she has single handedly tied the whole world up with a bow!

And for a chuckle, please read Papamoka’s own unique twist on Six Degrees in the comments section of Sunday’s original post.

Remember, as I stated in Sunday’s post: “a mutual blog association counts as one degree, even if we’ve never met in person”. So, via Barbie2Be we’re connected to Bing Crosby and George Clooney; and via my niece Kate we’re connected to Bono!

As is always true, Pink Granite Readers Rock!!!

I’ll be back tomorrow with my own brand new - as of just today - Six Degrees connection.

Night all...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cassie Progress Report

It’s been three weeks since our eleven-ish year old cat Cassie had her Radioactive Iodine Treatment. She’s been doing pretty well, although she is still not back to anything approaching normal with her eating. She eats a little bit and then walks away, then moseys on back to nosh a little more. As a result, we have to feed her by herself and often have to just take up the dish and try again later. Otherwise her “sibling” Abby would scarf it all up in the blink of an eye! The good news is that we’re pretty sure Cassie has begun to gain some weight back. She feel less thin and fragile. She also seems somewhat less keyed up and agitated than she did in the months leading up to the procedure, but still not as mellow as she was a few years ago. It’s hard to know what was a direct result of the hyperactive thyroid and what became a learned behavior because of the imbalance.

In another week, she can go see her regular veterinarian for a follow up visit. Also, in another week, we can stop using the special clumping kitty litter called World’s Best Cat Litter. Turns out World’s Best, well, isn’t. It has clumped, has been scoopable and flushable with no apparent harm to our septic system, all of which was as advertised and necessary for this radioactive situation. However, even with a covered litter box, the World’s Best corn based litter tracks and scatters everywhere, far more than the Petco refill-your-own-bucket clay litter ever has. It may be because it is so much lighter. The other problem is that even with scooping twice a day there has been an odor problem. It doesn’t smell like cat urine, but instead a strange sour smell. Thankfully, we have just one more week to go.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

This & That

Today was a much better day. There were no mysterious glue spills, no gremlins, no earthquakes, no full moon and no more disappointing hoaxes!

I worked on my third graphic arts project for a local non-profit. I’m strictly a volunteer and it has been satisfying because it’s nice to contribute to an organization doing good work. But the bonus has been how pleased they have been with my finished projects. Remarkably it has approached the happy dance level. Which in turn has left me doing an enthusiastic happy dance as well.

Two quick updates:
1. My Mom went to a Trader Joe’s all by herself for the first time today. She was a little overwhelmed but I think she’ll go back. Perhaps it would have been easier if she had that nice theme music by Antonio Carlos Jobim playing in her head!

2. The top vote getter in the Favorite Law & Order Partners survey was Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) & Mike Logan (Chris Noth) with 40% of the votes. My favorite was Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) & Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin), but I’ll happily watch any of the combinations. Thanks for voting!

One Question:
1. Doesn’t anybody else want to play Six Degrees of Separation? I thought for sure we would knit the whole world together in the comments section!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Blame It On The Moon

Today was not my day. Nothing tragic; nothing major - really - it was just one of those days where things seemed consistently off kilter. Take the photo above. That was supposed to be a wide shot of our snow covered lawn in full moon glow, with sharp tree shadows across glistening, lustrous snow. Not even the tripod and experimenting with lots of different settings would allow the camera to absorb what my eyes were seeing.

Then there was the disappointment over on Twitter. Yesterday it appeared as if the Dalai Lama had joined Twitter. Today we found out it was a hoax. Call me silly, but I thought it was wicked cool that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet was going to be Tweeting!

And of course, there was the “Great Glue Mess of 2009”. This afternoon, one (pretty old) plastic bottle of glue fell from a height of less than three feet and shattered, spreading glue absolutely EVERYwhere across wide pine floorboards! What was truly odd, was that both Chuck and I heard it happen off in the other room and all the cats were accounted for.

Maybe so.
Or perhaps just that old devil moon...


The bushfires in Southeastern Australia have been devastating.
The death toll has now climbed above 170.
To be of assistance you can donate to The Australian Red Cross.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Six Degrees

You’re probably familiar with the concept of six degrees of separation. It’s a way of thinking about connections and relationships. I’m one degree of separation away from anyone I know and two degrees away from anyone those folks know and so on. The larger idea is that within six degrees, anyone can be connected to any other person on earth. It’s a fun idea which has a certain amount of scientific research behind it, as well as a modicum of controversy.

I thought it would be fun to see how many degrees I am - and you are - from some famous folks. For today, let’s say that a mutual blog association counts as one degree, even if we’ve never met in person. And I’ll further say that a connection need not be a friendship, it can be an acquaintance; as simple as a handshake and an introduction.

If you need help seeing who a famous person might be connected to check out the Notable Names DataBase and their nifty Mapper!

O.K. I’ll start.
I am two degrees of separation from Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco. (A good friend of mine from high school went to college with Albert and lived in the same house with him.) Therefore, I am three degrees of separation from Grace Kelly, the late Princess of Monaco. That puts me just four degrees of separation away from all of Grace Kelly’s film costars, directors and so on. For instance: Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, William Holden, Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Celeste Holm, Frank Sinatra, etc. Via Princess Grace’s post Hollywood life, I am four degrees of separation away from any and all world leaders and royalty she may have met.

Let me try politics.
I’m one degree of separation from my State Senator Steve Brewer. Senator Brewer puts me two degrees of separation away from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who is friends with our new President Barack Obama. Therefore, I am just three degrees of separation from Barack Obama. That was quick! The only problem with this connection is that it means I’m only four degrees of separation away from former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney!

O.K. Now it’s your turn. Leave your six degree connections in the comments or post them on your own blog and leave me a link. Have fun!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

On Bread

: : Being able to bake bread speaks to me of sustenance. Baking a cake or scones or muffins or any of the myriad non-yeast confections is rewarding; an achievement and perhaps part of a celebration, but it does not connect me to that same sense of providing something elemental and true.

: : I don’t remember how old I was when I first began baking yeast breads, so I must have been pretty young. I was lucky enough to have success with yeast breads at my grandmother Gagee’s and my Mom’s sides, so it never felt mysterious. But it certainly felt magical and powerful. It required me to follow a recipe, but it wasn’t too long before I was trying out the variations listed at the bottom of recipes found in cookbooks and magazines.

: : The single rise yeast breads are quick and convenient, but leave out the rewarding physicality of kneading the bread after the first rise, before shaping the alchemic dough into the final artistry of loaf or braid or roll.

: : Only one specialty tool is recommended to guarantee success with yeast breads and make the process easier: an instant read thermometer. I’ve used the same Cuisinart one for probably two decades. As a kid I remember Gagee and Mom teaching me to feel the optimal temperature of the liquid to use with yeast. It’s akin to testing baby’s warm milk in a bottle or baby’s bath water. But because yeast thrives in a very narrow temperature range, I rely on the instant read thermometer.

: : Despite that which I feel is lacking in the creation of a single rise bread, it is one of the quickest and simplest ways to achieve a loaf of home baked bread, with minimal fuss. Now, part of the experience of bread baking is the process, the rhythm, the fuss, if you will. But a single rise is pretty darn cool and really deserves to be part of your yeast bread repertoire.

: : All of which brings me to the following single rise recipe: English Muffin Bread by Fleischmann’s Yeast . I don’t want to get drawn into the whole discussion that there is no such thing in the United Kingdom as an English Muffin! So let’s think of this bread as a “Toasting Bread”. Here in The States, Pepperidge Farm used to make a Toasting Bread. Unlike mid to latter 20th century commercially made white bread, which had more in common with marshmallows than real bread, P.F.’s Toasting Bread had more texture, chewiness and flavor, even though it was still a white bread. Which is a pretty good description of this basic recipe.

I’ve been making this particular Fleischmann’s bread since the early 1980’s. I still have the recipe clipped from a magazine (dated 1981) and taped to a piece of cardboard! However, both the online version and the one clipped from the magazine emphasize the speediness of this bread by using a technique I dislike: hotter liquids mixed into the dry ingredients. The online version recommends using “Fleischmann’s RapidRise Yeast” (introduced in 1984) along with the same technique. But I’m a “proof the yeast” kind of gal and I always use “Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast”. Apparently it’s been around since 1945. While I have a vague memory of Gagee using “Fresh Active Yeast” in the little foil wrapped cubes, the Active Dry Yeast in the three envelope strip has definitely been the norm for most of my life. Now, when I know I’ll be baking regularly, I buy the Active Dry Yeast in the 4 ounce brown jar.

Lee’s Single Rise Toasting Bread
based on Fleischmann’s English Muffin Bread

Makes Two Loaves

5 - 5 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
I like to use a combination of 3 - 3 1/2 Cups of King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour and 2 Cups of King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
(measure flour by spooning lightly into cup)
2 envelopes Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast
4 Tablespoons sugar
2 Teaspoons salt
1/4 Teaspoon baking soda

2 Cups milk
1/2 cup water
Cornmeal (optional)

Heat the milk and water until warm (105° to 115°F). Add one tablespoon of the sugar and one tablespoon of the flour to the warm milk mixture, then add the yeast and stir. Let stand for about ten minutes. At the end of the ten minutes the yeast will have “proofed” (proven it is live and active and will work!) and the liquid will look somewhat foamy.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 5 cups flour, the remaining 3 tablespoons of the sugar, the salt, and the baking soda.

Gradually add the milk and yeast mixture to the dry flour mixture. Mix by hand with a large spoon until a stiff batter forms. (I would describe “stiff batter” as closer to a batter than to a dough ball which you would knead.) Add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour, if needed, to get the desired stiffness.

Place batter into two (8-1/2 x 4-1/2-inch) loaf pans that have been well greased (and, if desired, sprinkled with cornmeal for the English Muffin effect). Cover and let rise in a warm, draft- free place until doubled in size, about 45 to 60 minutes.

Bake at 400°F for 25 minutes or until done.  Carefully remove from pans and cool on a wire rack. 

This bread is wonderful toasted and slathered with butter. It can also be lightly toasted and used as a sandwich bread.

Here are some websites with measurement conversions:
Real Food
Online Conversions

Friday, February 6, 2009


Trader Joe’s is my favorite grocery store. I know you already know that. What you may not know is that I didn’t like it the first few times I shopped there. Neither did Chuck. It was too small, too quirky, and yes, too cheery. Over time it really grew on us. No not like a fungus. It grew on us in a good way, a really good way. Even all those times when they discontinue items we love, we have almost reached the zen of knowing nothing is permanent and accepting the adventure which is T.J.’s - - - almost. But some of you live far, far away where there are no Trader Joe’s.

Excuse me. I’m a little choked up at that thought.

O.K. I’m good now.

As I was typing, some of you have never had the pleasure of experiencing a Trader Joe’s first hand. Well, I’ve found something that will give you a little glimpse into T.J.’s. It’s an “unauthorized commercial” a fan named Carl shot at a T.J.’s. It’s not a tour, it’s more of a paean set to the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Aquas de Marco” (“The Waters of March”). Enjoy!

My Micro Is Confusing My Macro

As time has gone on and I’ve continued to Tweet over on Twitter, as well as Blog here on Blogger, I’ve grown slightly confused. I might even say, occasionally befuddled. If it’s a busy day of tweeting (or, if you prefer, twittering), I can get to the point where I think “Oh, I already posted about that on my blog.” When what I really did was tweet about it. What adds to the confusion is the interactive quality of both platforms. Here on the blog, many of you kind readers will leave comments and I respond here. On Twitter, folks tweet to me and I can tweet them back, sort of like public e-mail or public text messaging.

Can you see how the waters could get muddied?

I really enjoy twittering and blogging, so I’ll be continuing to do both.
I just thought I’d give you a a little peek inside my brain.
Scary, isn’t it?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I’ve always liked the television show “Law & Order”. I also like the ongoing spin offs: “Law & Order Special Victims Unit” and “Law & Order Criminal Intent”. The reality based version of the franchise “Law & Order Crime & Punishment” alternated between being riveting and squirm inducing. It lasted two seasons. I did enjoy the brief one season run of “Conviction”, but really disliked “Law & Order Trial By Jury”. I don’t know if it was because the actor Jerry Orbach was ill or if the casting in general was off or if the story lines never gelled. In any event, that series spinoff was also cancelled after only one season.

But, of the entire franchise, the long running, original “Law & Order” is still my favorite. It has had numerous cast changes over the years, yet still manages to hold true to its core pattern and interesting plots with the trademark Law & Order twists. We even get a kick out watching the reruns. Which, considering we can practically recite parts of the dialogue, speaks to just how well written the episodes are. During its nineteen season run there have been ten different detective combinations. I have my favorite detective partnership. Do you?

Take the survey below to choose your favorite Law & Order (original series) detective combination:

My Ballot Box

Which is your favorite Law & Order (original) detective partnership?

View Results

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tax Troubles

These recent tax kerfuffles which have swirled around some of President Obama’s nominees to posts in his administration (Geithner, Daschle, Killefer), lead me to one conclusion:

We need a drastically simpler tax code.

I’m serious.
Our current tax code is so convoluted and labyrinthine that it is a burden to many honest tax payers, a happy hideout for tax cheats and a minefield for folks with even the slightest bit of financial complication in their lives.

Do I need to send another round of e-mails off to Washington? You betcha! Thankfully, under this administration, I am not worried I am less worried about a big fat file with my name on it growing daily in an F.B.I. office somewhere!

I don’t pretend to know which of the three aforementioned categories Timothy Geithner, Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer fall into on the continuum of honest mistake makers to tax cheats. For the purposes of this post, it is beside the point. Although, tongue firmly in cheek, if President Obama keeps nominating folks with unpaid tax problems who write big checks to right the wrong, we just might get the budget balanced in short order!

Monday, February 2, 2009

5% Fixed

We received an e-mail today from President Barack Obama, via Organizing for America. In it, he explained that:

[Virginia] “Governor Tim Kaine has agreed to record a video outlining the recovery plan and answering questions about what it means for your community. You can submit your questions online and then invite your friends, family and neighbors to watch the video with you at an Economic Recovery House Meeting.”

Well, I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to ask a question. So here’s what I submitted to Governor Kaine:

I would like to see a law passed which would reset all existing mortgages to 5% fixed, for the remaining life of the loan (including HUD and any other mortgages which cannot currently be renegotiated). This would be done automatically by the banks which currently hold the mortgage. The homeowners would not have to apply for this 5% rate nor pay fees nor hassle with any paperwork. It would just happen. If a homeowner already has a mortgage interest rate of 5% or lower, then they get to keep that rate.

Then, as part of the same law, all new mortgages would be written at 5% fixed for the life of the loan. This 5% law would be in effect for the next five years. After that, banks could set competitive rates again. But all homeowners with those 5% mortgages would keep that rate as long as they continue to live in that home.

I believe this 5% law would put a little (or a lot) more money in every homeowners’ pocket. That money might well flow back out into the economy via consumer spending. Or that money might help stave off personal financial crises for families living on the edge. The 5% law would also level the playing field. It might also mean that some of the homes standing empty due to foreclosure, could soon have new homeowners, which would strengthen communities.

My question: How soon can we make this happen?

Do you have suggestions and/or questions about the Economic Recovery? Here’s a link to where you can learn more and submit your own question to Governor Kaine.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

That’s Super Not Stupor!

Despite not caring whether the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Arizona Cardinals won the Super Bowl, I really enjoyed the game! It was very exciting with some terrific and unusual plays including a stunner of 100 yard touchdown run after an interception by Steelers’ James Harrison. Wow!

The halftime show was Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band performing for a way, way, way too short 12 minutes. The Boss was rocking and struck a great balance between arena rock and not being too frilly in the stagecraft department.

The vaunted and always over-hyped Super Bowl advertisements were O.K. The Budweiser Clydesdale and Dalmation advertisements still have what it takes to tell a story and draw you in. I’ve recently become aware of and think it’s pretty cool. (You can see all the Super Bowl ads on Hulu.) That is very good because tonight’s Alec Baldwin Hulu ad was a turn off and did nothing to make me want to go check it out! The Coca Cola Happiness/Avatar ad was sweet. But I think the real winner of the Super Bowl Ad Wars was Miller Time’s one second advertisement. I Tweeted that if I hadn’t heard the buzz about a one second ad, I might have thought it was an error. Yet even though I only heard it and didn’t see it, I knew it was Miller Beer just like that. Money well spent.

When the New England Patriots aren’t in the Super Bowl, Chuck often refers to the event as the Stupor Bowl. Tonight? Not by a long shot!