Saturday, February 27, 2010

Gander and Tom Brokaw

Does anyone else remember back in the 70s when there was absolutely nothing on television on Saturday afternoons except for ABC's Wide World of Sports?

"The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat"

No wonder we spent all day outside. This afternoon felt a little like 1973 except I went back and forth between being 8 years old and being my mom, who was on the couch trying to take a nap and probably not listening to the downhill slalom or whatever else they did on that show.

The morning started early today with a sick cat at 0300 and a road trip to Pella (come back on Thursday for Nature Notes!) that included a walk in snow. When I got home this afternoon, I wanted a nap and I fell asleep pretty easily. After I woke up, I turned on the television and got real lazy real fast except there was nothing on television to aid in the laziness.

So I settled for the Olympics.

Only the Olympics weren't on. I was watching a Tom Brokaw thing about Gander, Newfoundland and all the planes that were routed there on September 11.

What a painful and emotional day that was. I am so glad I didn't miss this show today because as Brokaw said afterward, due to the confusion and attention on New York, there was very little coverage about how Gander, population 10,000, handled 7,000 unexpected visitors. It was great and if you can watch it on NBC or online, I highly recommend it. Who could have predicted that this huge airport, so useful in WWII and no longer used to its full capacity, would become so important so suddenly?

As difficult as it is to watch anything that has to do with 9/11, the two spots that made me cry in little heartrending sobs were first when the captain of one plane lied to the passengers and said they had a minor mechanical problem and were routing into Canada. Once they were on the ground, he told them there was a national emergency in the United States and no planes could fly in.

I can't imagine what must have gone through their minds. A national emergency so drastic, so unthinkable that they turned away all these planes, all these people, all of their own citizens?

What could be so bad that our own country didn't want us to come home?

This show is deeply sad at times as well as uplifting and joyful. The second time I cried was when the planes were finally able to land in the U.S. and the ground crews held up signs saying "Welcome Back," our flag was draped over the control tower and the airport was filled with people. My emotions were hit by the joyful reception of our own people coming home to their own country.

Yep, I'm a patriotic girl and I love the United States. I hope it shows.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Like I need bad luck

I had one of those days. No, wait! Listen. It was one of those days.

Everything went pretty well today. Work went well, the sun was out, the sky was blue, I got to talk to important people, I almost went to the Y.

The issue was clothes. More specifically, my inseam.

Last night I did laundry because my few slacks are all at the cleaners at once and that leaves me with only two things to wear to work: a pair of black corduroys and brown corduroys. The black ones are a little tight these days (ahem). Those brown ones fit, but the inseam is OK only as long as I am barefoot.

This may not sound like normal stuff, but I prefer to wear skirts and it has been so cold for so long that I have worn pants almost every single day this winter. And really, one pair of the slacks needs to go because I hate them more than most of the others.

Last night I had also put together a bag to take to the Y and all the workout pants I have are too short except one pair of wind pants (swish, swish around the track 10 times per miles swish, swish) that are a little irritating to me and those around me.

My inseam. Who knew?

My legs are too long to fit 'average' and my rise is too short to fit 'tall' and that is only ONE reason I hate pants.

Today was just the last day and all I needed was one thing to snap in my stabby little brain before I go insane. So I packed up my stuff, looked this horrible, long, terribly bad winter straight in the eye and I went shopping.

Retail therapy: $97
Having anything new to wear this winter: priceless

So what does this plate have to do with going shopping?

Nothing. I came home and cooked au gratin potatoes and fabulous Southwestern meatballs from Super Target. I took out a vintage Fire King plate with the 24 karat gold trim and I dished up one meatball and two spoonfuls of potatoes. I cut into the meatball and took a bite. YUM - it is hollow inside and there's cheese and green chilis and wow.

I got up to pour a glass of milk and before I was on my feet I heard it:

I sat back down and stared. My family has had these dishes for decades! What happened?

I immediately thought there has to be a superstition about this sort of thing because how often does that happen? I put it into the Google machine and sure enough it means bad luck.

Dang it.

The first time I wash all these new clothes, they're gonna shrink.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nature Notes - Ice Dams

Visit Michelle at the interesting Nature Notes Thursday to learn something interesting.

Let's get this out of the way:
Who's coming over for a deck party? Bring yer flip flops!

Everyone has ice now. I think it is a good sign in a very strange way. This morning when I left for work it was -2 degrees. Today the high was +16 degrees, but the sun is higher in the sky. Even with the extremely cold temps, the little patch of snow that lives under my car on the driveway got smaller while I was work. These icicles (below) are extremely pointy and sharp, like me when I'm really angry, but they don't look it.

There was another one near the front door that was much larger. I grabbed the snow shovel that now lives inside the front door with the shoes (seriously, we've had that much snow. The little plastic shovel is a real decorating rage around here: it isn't a big, proper, manly, grimy shovel) and I gave that thing a big whack. It came crashing down and shattered into pieces on the concrete. I figured the homeowner's insurance wouldn't want a claim for a brain stab wound on the UPS guy when he delivers a package to the porch.

This is the other side of the deck with the green chair. The house faces west and you can see the roof itself. There are still a lot of houses in the neighborhood that can't get the snow on the roof to melt.
That's it for this week. I just wanted sympathy to brag.


I obsess about stuff. Hi, my name is Caron and I’m an obsessor.

You might politely say I become intensely focused for short periods of time.

On Sunday I am climbing the staircase up this building. It’s the tallest building in Des Moines. Probably in all of Iowa because grain elevators only reach so high.

I decided to do this back in December. I sent out little emails to several people who wouldn’t block my calls for asking for donations and I quickly reached the minimum amount of $100. Thanks to a co-worker named John who is constantly badgering me and stirring the pot and getting me to sign up for races and give up cookies for Lent, I am now at $125.

Speaking of John, props to him. Like me, he also goes to many of these events alone and he is always at the finish line to cheer me in when we’re at the same event.

He, however, was not stupid enough to sign up to climb 1,100 steps, 85 flights of stairs, 41 stories in the sky. He is amused enough to stand in my office doorway with a cup of coffee to say, “So, you ready for this?”

My answer hasn’t changed much. It goes like this.

No. [Chuckles]
I’m afraid of stairs. (You told me that)
I thought it would keep me motivated. [sips coffee] (hmmmmm, but it didn’t)
My heart is going to explode. (Probably not, but that could be interesting)

At this point I chose one of two routes:
1. I begin to freak out and get hand-flappy about how much I am not in shape for this event. This makes him laugh at me. Naturally.
2. I squint my eyes in that way women have and I change the subject, “Have you started training for the Dam-to-Dam?” I hope this annoys him, but he’s a guy so it probably doesn’t.

You see, the D2D is an event I won’t do and I know he doesn’t like it, but he is doing it anyway. I digress.

I meant to tell you about my obsession. I keep checking the web site to find out my start time. I realized this morning that my co-worker Ann and I probably won’t get successive start times because we didn’t register as a team of two. I don’t know what I will wear beyond my running shoes. They want to keep gear check-in to an absolute minimum. If I park in the garage and walk through the skywalk, I can do that without freezing to death. I have to pick up my packet, but they don’t include the timing chip with the packet. They don’t give you that until Sunday morning. Why? Ann and I have talked the excited chatter of rookies a couple times. We’ve talked about how sore we still are from the exercise class we did on Saturday. She wishes she had done more fundraising. I wish I done some training. And then I feel perfectly calm.

It’s all part of the fun, though. That must be one reason why I do these events. I enjoy the crazy insanity. Crazy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ode to a pancake

I am never one to shy away from food-related holidays, so I am here to gleefully proclaim that somebody has declared today National Pancake Day.

I’m a little confused on this one because Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, is Pancake Day, but at least it’s a Tuesday…I guess.

Thanks to the Google machine, I read today that you can put pancake batter into a clean, empty squeezable ketchup bottle. That’s a pretty handy tip.

If I have club soda in the house and I sometimes do because I’m a trifle odd that way, I put club soda in my pancakes. I like strawberry and blueberry pancakes, but the pancakes you get at restaurants that are regular pancakes with strawberry or blueberry slurry poured over the top are an abomination. And whipped cream: seriously? Pancakes aren’t rich enough for you? And fake maple syrup?

I can hardly type. [shudders]

Once when I was a kid and iHop restaurants were in little fake Swiss chalet-type buildings (do you remember those?) I really mean ONCE when I was a kid because I think I went to one iHop in my entire childhood. That is due to the practicality of my mom and then once I have told you my sad iHop pancake tale, you will understand that I thought iHop was a big disappointment.

Oh I left that first sentence unfinished: Once when I was a kid…I ordered strawberry pancakes at my one and only visit to an iHop in a cramped, wee, phony Swiss chalet-type building and although I think I tried to behave because that’s the sort of kid I was, I was secretly appalled at what I got.

I wonder if that was one of those moments when my parents saw the horrified look on my face and either laughed or felt sorry for me. I have been to iHop only two other times because this experience with the slurry marked me for life.

Stop laughing: I really mean it. It was traumatic!!

Way back when I was a kid, you see, we went camping at Kiser Lake in Ohio many weekends for summers in a row. Somewhere near the campground there was an enormous bush covered in wee strawberries like I have never seen since. They weren’t on the ground and they weren’t big. Actually, they were about the size of a pencil eraser, if memory serves.

I picked those with my brothers and once had the bright idea to carry them in my t-shirt. This left a huge stain on my t-shirt and I was pretty unhappy about that.

Never said I was smart.

Back at the tent, my dad would make pancakes and throw these tiny little berries in the batter before cooking them up and so I was delighted to discover them on the menu at a restaurant I normally had to stare at wistfully from the backseat as we drove home to have a sensible, inexpensive meal.

I suppose I was really fairly spoiled. But in a 1970s way, not in a 2000s way.

Clearly I had never been to an iHop before because I had no idea what was about to happen. I think it was my mom who looked at me and said, “Not what you expected, is it?” I don’t know if anyone tried to convince me ahead of time.

I was a little kid, so if they did try to explain, I didn’t listen. Word.

So today you can go into the larger-than-before iHop restaurants that no longer look like they were imported from a foreign country and have very little to do with anything remotely international if I dare say so and get a short stack of pancakes for free.

Only they aren’t really free. If you don’t make a donation to their charity, you will likely be glared at and someone might accidentally touch your pancakes with their thumb on purpose. It’s Children’s Miracle Network and if you take those pancakes without making a donation, you’ll feel bad.

My Hy-Vee grocery store is having an all-you-can-eat pancake bash today starting at 4:00 for $3.00 a person. I would go there before I went to iHop.

Heaven help them if they offer up *berry slurry.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Time flies

I had a really good weekend. I went to the Y with a friend and we went to a water exercise class. The teacher was really generous with her time and she answered a lot of my questions about how to exercise in the water and jogging in the water and so on. After the class, we spent another 15-20 minutes in the pool. She got me to do pushups on the side of the pool and said my friend and I both did far more than she sees most of her male students do, which didn't hurt our egos at all. Except that most of her students are post-surgery rehab patients, but we'll take what we get. Then we checked out the steamroom.

Oh, there's a steamroom!

Later on yesterday, after I shoveled snow, I went back to walk 6 miles, which I did before collapsing into a chair in the ladies' t.v. room.

Oh, it's like a little living room!

Six miles is my standard: it's what I shoot for when I go for a walk and if I get in less than 6, I feel a little bad. But I think the last time I did a full 6 miles was back in October or November. I also wanted to do the 6 miles in 90 minutes, which is sort of stubborn and stupid because let me go on the record and say:

You get out of shape much faster than you get into shape.

I had to run mile 6 in order to get the walk done in 90 minutes. Again, stupid and stubborn. So I'm a bit sore today. Did that keep me out of the pool? Not exactly.

I did go to the pool today, but I took five boys from church and they had a really good time. I was barely in the pool and I didn't actually swim more than one length. Mostly I made sure everyone was OK and that I was watching them do what they were doing. The three younger ones are still in the "hey, watch me" mode. One of them got a stomach full of chlorinated water and it made him sick, so there was a little drama.

Everyone was hungry so we went out for fried chicken. That was good. Except for chlorine-boy. That wasn't so good. Neither was the Coke he drank. I finally got home after dropping everyone off and running errands and then I made a pizza.

I should have taken a photo because aren't posts with photos so much better?

Here's what I did:

Pizza dough (I had one last Trader Joe's dough in the freezer and I had already thawed it)
Penzey's pasta sprinkle (or whatever: it is sweet basil, oregano, thyme and garlic)
shredded cheese (pizza mix or mozzarella)
pepper and onion relish

spread out the dough, sprinkle the herbs on the crust, spread the shredded cheese and then, with a spoon, put little piles of relish around the top. I don't spread it around because since it is more like jelly, it gets hot and runs around the pizza on its own. Cook that until it's done at 425 degrees. It's really very good.

My visit to the Y got me a 7-day pass and next Sunday is that climb up the highest building in town and did I mention I'm not in the shape I once was? I know it is more than a little late to get into the game, but really it's never toooooo late. The schedule has yoga, yoga in the pool, exercising in the pool and that all sounds really good. But the best thing is the indoor track - why are all those people on treadmills!!??

Treadmills give you hills and a flat track doesn't, but I don't care right now. I just like to walk far and fast and it feels so good to do that. I miss my walks this winter.

I know not everyone has had such a long winter as we have, but is there anything you really miss because the weather has gotten in the way?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Is it a road trip if it's only an hour?

I am leaving work early today and driving east to Pella, Iowa. Pella is the home of your Pella windows and is it a very nice little town. It’s very clean and very Dutch.

I will meet up with a friend and we’ll go out to eat before we go around the corner to the Pella Opera House to see Gaelic Storm. I saw Gaelic Storm perform way too many times in 2009, but the POH is the only setting in which I feel like they’re practically in my lap. This is what I think is a new publicity shot. Anyway, it isn't the one I've seen a million times:

The theater, built in 1900, is on the second and third (balcony) floors of the building and seats only 324 people. The sight lines are clear and so there is almost nothing between you and the performers, which is really nice. Last year they invited people to go back to the hotel bar for a drink. We didn’t go and won’t this year, I’m sure. But after all the other performances last year, they never made that offer in the bigger venues. This is the theater:
This is where I am eating and the nicest hotel in town. It's around the corner from the POH. This is also the hotel the band stayed in last year, so while we ate we got to listen to Gaelic Storm over the sound system. Um, I'm pretty sure this is the right place. In my mind, the windmill in town is not behind the hotel.
Pella used to have the smallest Wal-Mart still being used in the country. It was even a question on Jeopardy once. The city finally let them build a new, big Wal-Mart on the other side of town but it had to have a Dutch look to the fa├žade. The old Wal-Mart was oh, maybe circa early 80s: very small with tiny aisles that needed to be one-way so you didn’t clog things up. When you walked in the front door, you could have spit on the back wall.

Of course, in Pella if you got caught spitting, the old Dutch ladies would probably beat you to death after they made you scrub it up.

I jest about the “to death” part.

Pella is a nice place and that’s where I will be this evening with my delightful Dutch-speaking friend Trudy.

According to Wikipedia other people from Pella include:
Kory DeHaan — former Major League Baseball player
Kyle Korver — forward/guard for the Utah Jazz
Dave Keuning — guitarist for The Killers
Louis LeCocq — Pella native, WWI era auto racer, killed in 1919 Indianapolis 500
Wyatt Earp — lawman and gunfighter of OK Corral fame, spent most of his childhood in Pella
Paul Emerick - professional rugby player, 2006 MVP

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Nature Notes and Signs of the Season

Visit Michelle at the refreshing Nature Notes Thursday for a new look at the world. My topic for today is leeks.

I am not Welsh and have never been to Wales. But March is such a dreary month for me that several years ago when I stumbled across Saint David’s Day, which is March 1, I immediately decided to use it as an excuse to make a theme food. That year I made a savory bread pudding with leeks. It was fantastic and I’ve lost the recipe. I think last year I missed the day, but this year I tried to find that same recipe and I stumbled across some great information about leeks, Wales and Saint David’s Day.

Saint David’s Day is the feast day of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, so there’s no better time to gorge on Wales’ most famous food, the humble leek. Leeks: you may remember they were what I grew in the garden this year. Before we got the Devil's Winter Symphony.

The web site I found said many people wear a leek to celebrate Wales’ national day. Wearing a leek is a tradition arising from an occasion when a troop of Welsh were able to distinguish each other from a troop of English enemy dressed in similar fashion by wearing leeks. If everyone's uniform looked different, it wouldn't be an issue. Imagine playing basketball with a leek pinned to your chest.

If you’d prefer to chop and cook leeks instead, then try this delicious Welsh-themed recipe. I made it and it's delicious! Remember that leeks get super dirty as they grow and you should chop them before you clean them.

2 pounds leeks, cleaned well and finely chopped in a food processor
1 pound sweet potato, peeled and finely chopped in a food processor (I baked them and then scooped it out…much faster. Have you ever peeled a sweet potato?)
¼ cup butter
1 tbsp light and mild olive oil
2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp each of ground clove, coriander, cumin, mild chili and cardamom (I just used curry from the jar rather than making my own like this)
Generous sprinkling of ground sea salt and black pepper
1.5 pints vegetable stock
300ml single cream (I made the soup without the cream)
½ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped, leaving a few whole leaves for garnish

1. Gently sweat the shredded leek in the butter and olive oil for 5 minutes to soften. Stir in the spices and cook for a further 3 minutes. Add the sweet potato, seasoning and stock. Bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
2. Whiz in batches in a food processor with the single cream and coriander until smooth. Top with the cilantro and serve with fingers of warm naan bread.

Here are the chopped up leeks in the butter. Mmmmmm good Kerrygold butter.

Here are the chopped leeks getting friendly with the sweet potatoes.

And then I ate it. Sorry no photos of soup. It was incredible and if you really want the cream, you can swirl some right into your bowl of hot soup.

Oh and although I grew all those lovely leeks last summer and froze them, they've all been used already. I bought the leeks for this recipe. Lastly, if you skipped the broth, you would have a good side dish. More about leeks:

In season from November through April, the leek is a great choice for those following a healthy diet. They're very low in calories and packed full of vitamins and minerals such as iron, vitamin C and folate.

A favourite food of the Romans, leeks are lauded in the Bible (Book of Numbers), have been eaten by saints (St. David), worn by the Welsh into battle and are said to possess mystical qualities.

· If like the Emperor Nero you want to improve your singing voice – eat leeks!
· If you want to see your future husband – sleep with a leek under your pillow!
· If you want to repel invading Saxons – wear a leek in your helmet!

Odd television: Why do you watch?

Slightly akin to staring at a car wreck, I find there is one show I watch despite the fact that it quite literally turns my stomach. The British version of How Clean is Your House on BBC America. That stuff is nasty.

I’m watching an episode right now about rats. She asked someone if he should be vomiting in the streets. Oh, it is so gross. I cannot watch it and eat at the same time. I can’t believe people actually live in the houses they visit and clean up. If you haven’t watched it, give it a try. Any day you don’t feel like housecleaning, watch for just a few minutes and you should be motivated to do something.

These two insane women analyze countertops and find infestations of bacteria, you see dead bugs and mice, they pull the nastiest things out of bathtubs. You can’t even imagine the people in these houses even take showers if their houses are so disgusting. But I watch. And they let children and animals live in these houses. Agony.

The BBCA site says: The dust-busting, mildew-murdering divas Swiffer their way through some of the world's most repulsive homes.

Repulsive is a good word. They touch things and smell things. It’s so gross. No one could pay me enough to do what they do and they're mostly really nice to people while they're at it.

Let's change gears. [clever]

Another show I can’t believe I watch sometimes is also on BBCA and it’s called Top Gear. It’s a car show, for crying out loud. I couldn’t care less about cars and just like them to go. But there’s something so interesting about parts of many episodes like these (who thinks of this stuff!?):

Richard and James in a Porsche Panamera race a letter carried by the Royal Mail from the Isles of Scilly in southern England to Orkney in northern Scotland.

Jeremy, Richard and James set off on a series of challenges in an attempt to find the perfect car for teens that parents and insurance companies also approve.

Africar: The team finds out whether a $2,658 banger will get you all the way across Botswana; Clarkson buys a Lancia Beta, May a Mercedes 230E, and Hammond an Opel Kadett called Oliver.
What shows do you watch that you just can't explain?

A simple story: We all scream for chili dogs!

I love the Google machine. I put in “chili dog” and I got a definition. Because some folks may not know chili + dog = chili dog.

What is a chili dog?

Well, the answer is quite simple: a chili dog is a sausage served with a rich beef stew containing chili powder and other spices. The hot dog is usually served on a bun and topped with this thick and often spicy dressing. Cheese and / or bacon and onions can also be added, as well as any number of other condiments to make the chili dog even more delicious.

Once every five or six years, I reckon, I get a hankerin’ for a chili dog. It happened recently when I saw a can of hot dog chili at the store and then I told a friend about it. That just sealed the deal and I had to have me a chili dog!

Chili dogs remind me of my late brother John. When my nephew was born, I went out to Durango, Colorado to see the new baby, mom and dad. We drove up into the mountains and took a small grill. My brother fired up the grill and opened up a can of chili. He put the can on the grill along with the hot dogs, out came a bottle of mustard and there we sat, eating chili dogs to our hearts’ content. I love that memory and I hope the only reason I crave a chili dog now and then is because of him.

For my niece’s birthday, we went to a little diner in our neighborhood. I had been wanting that chili dog and there it was on the menu. Feast your eyes, folks:

When I was your age

I had a friend over on Sunday. She’s 15 years old. She wanted to try mineral water, so I let her open a bottle o’San Pellegrino. She poured a wee dram and took a sip. She looked at me and said, “You drink this?”

I said, “Not when I was your age.”

I got a box of books from a friend in KC. We went through the booty (like pirate's booty, people!), which was about 17 Regency romance books and a hard cover book from 1942 called Claudia. I jokingly asked her if she wanted to read one of the romance books and she said, “You read those?”

I said, “Not when I was your age.”

This is she. Isn’t she lovely? I pulled my camera out of my purse and took this picture during church yesterday morning. She’s singing with her dad. Shhhhhhhhh. She’ll kill me if she finds out I put it online.

On Friday, I went to a Valentine’s Day party for a friend of mine who is in the fifth grade. The party was in the music room and afterward we went into his classroom. There was a huge selection of books on the floor and each book had a sticker on it with the teacher’s name. I exclaimed (I know, exclaimed sounds so dumb, but I didn’t gasp…what would you say?) when I saw them and he said they were his teacher’s. I looked at all the titles and pointed out the books I had read.

I reminded myself of my mom who turned me on to some really good books she had read as a kid. At the far end of the room was a book I had read called Blue Ribbons for Meg. I still have the book.

I said, “I read that book, wrote a report and made a diorama out of it when I was your age.”

I kept all the books from my childhood that I couldn’t part with. Over the years, I did let some of them go. In 1986 a flood in my apartment ruined a book I loved called The Dragon’s Quest. I was so mad, I moved out. I found it on ebay a couple years back along with others in the series about a dragon who lives in Cornwall, but I couldn't find it in hardback anywhere. I have written before about my collection of Perry Mason paperbacks I inherited from my father’s mother. I read those when I was in the sixth grade.

But these books are what are left from my original collection of childhood books. All of them have been saved for a reason. Blue Ribbons for Meg’s cover has gone missing apparently. I didn’t realize that. I hope you see a book that makes you smile. See the book called Claudia? It isn’t the same Claudia as the one I got in the box from my friend, Anne.

Happy New Year

Altoids peppermint gum and black coffee don't really taste good together.

Today is Chinese New Year, so it's Chinese food for supper this evening. That was easy.

I was looking at my own Facebook page a little more closely than usual today and I saw this list of questions from a third-party application. I didn't play along, but the premise is that you have to have so many "coins" in order to find out who answered the questions. Here are some of the questions that intrigued me.

Do you think Caron can throw a football with a spiral? Yes
This person is seriously confused or has never met me.

Do you think Caron has ever punched someone? Yes
Wow, thank you for thinking I'm not a delicate flower. I would love to be super intimidating in a physical presence sort of way for when I join the CIA and carry a weapon or go to sniper school. I have never actually hit anyone in anger. The one time I can think of in my life when most people thought I should have slapped someone, it didn't even occur to me because I was so shocked by her behavior.

Do you think Caron prefers Coke to Pepsi? No
This person knows me? Hmmmmmm. I despise Pepsi and haven't had one in more than 20 years.

Do you think Caron can do 20 pushups? Yes
I adore you, whoever you are. Air kisses for you.

Do you think Caron speeds when driving? Yes
Oh sure, who doesn't?

Do you think Caron is hyper? Yes
This must be someone who knew me in high school because I am now Zen-like in my own calm and serene freaking way.

Do you think Caron swears like a sailor? No
Mom, is that you? Because, well you know, little pitchers have big ears.

Do you think Caron would turn you in to the FBI if they asked? No
Don't go getting all cocky and everything. I might. I am very loyal, but if you've messed me around one time too many, I most certainly will. I may even give them a call just to ruin your day.

Would you trust Caron with your life? Yes
Ability, people! I can do CPR, but that's just about the whole list. If your life depended on me running 26 miles to get help, you are in really big trouble, my friend.

Do you think Caron thinks wine in a box is classy? No
So now you think imma snob? It may not be classy, but it is practical and I am practical all the way, all day. It keeps the wine fresh, people.

Do you think Caron owns a nice car? Yes
Except that it's going to kill me. OK, that's not funny. But my car has issues: 'epic fail' is written all over it now.

Do you think Caron has ever taken money for a bribe? No
No, I haven't but how much are we talking? Who's offering and what's the bribe? Details, please.

Do you think Caron is a tree hugger? Yes
I confuse people like that. I am, yet I'm not. I'm a conundrum.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

10 things that make me happy

There’s this thing going around my small blogosphere about ten things that make you happy. Like one blogger, I assume everyone has the same sort of things that are happy making: family, friends, etc. Since we've had so much snow (51 inches so far) and the sun is a rare visitor, I decided I could use a few moments to dwell on some small things that make me happy. So here’s my list:

10. Buttered toast: This is my favorite breakfast with #7. I use Rotella’s Pane di Casa bread and the combination is wonderful. Just butter will do (see #2).
9. Warm sunshine: I love a sunny day that’s perfect for a long walk. That means warm but not hot and plenty of #8.
8. Fluffy white clouds: Reminiscent of childhood. Fluffy white clouds make me want to lie on the ground and see shapes or sit by a lake with a friend.
7. A cup of coffee first thing in the morning: It isn’t just the coffee, is it? It’s the whole experience of sitting with a warm cup of coffee, relaxing and waking up. I’ve said for years that if I could hire one servant, she would have to be there when I wake up handing over a cup of the Joe.
6. When K-State wins a game, particularly against KU: I can’t help it. I am relentlessly happy about KSU sports. Even if they lose by a little bit or if they lose, but they played really well, I am very happy with my alma mater. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t really have to be sports – any competition like who gives the most money in the Big 12 or what university gets the most Truman Scholarships, I’m still really happy KSU wins the “game.”
5. Old movies: Typically there is something about the old movies I really like. They aren’t all good movies, but there’s a comfort level, a jolliness, a certain comedy, a trust that they won’t gross me out and my desire to watch the beginnings of what has turned into the current Hollywood, which I do not always enjoy at all.
4. Good gas mileage: My car is a hybrid and when I drive well and get good mileage, it praises me. It’s shallow, so sue me. I love it.
3. Learning something new: I have recently been asked why I learn Irish when it is such a difficult language or when I have no plans to go to Ireland and even if I did, they speak English. There’s just something I enjoy about tickling my brain this way.
2. Irish butter: I cook with it and will eat it on certain crackers, but I don't use it just as I do regular butter because it tastes so good. Whatever I put it on or in should not overwhelm the taste of the butter.
1. Twilight: It’s my favorite time of the day when the light fades and there’s a golden glow in the air. It’s very relaxing to sit outside or nap or walk or visit…just about anything is good at twilight.

That's my list. What makes you happy?

From the Associated Press

"Toyota announced early Tuesday it would recall about 437,000 Prius and other hybrid vehicles to fix brake problems. There have been about 200 complaints in Japan and the U.S. about a delay when the brakes in the Prius were pressed in cold conditions and on some bumpy roads."

other hybrid vehicles = my car

I told you it wasn't the gas pedal for my car, it's the brakes.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Me and my Toyota Camry, Part II

Here’s the problem straight away: When I come up to a stop sign or stop light, there are times when my car lurches forward as if to say, “I’m in charge, woman, and I say GO.” That’s a little worrying.

There have been a couple times when I think I may be meeting the person in the car in front of me, but I have never had the car accelerate so much that I thought I might shortly be meeting my Savior.

Not that I would mind meeting him, his being what he is to me. I’m just sort of feeling really young these days, you know? Like I plan to meet him sometime after I turn 96, but that’s another post.

Back to my car. That whole floor mat thing? I don’t get that for my car. My floor mat is properly anchored down by the little clip that Toyota provided when they made the car. Like a little birthmark, it sits in the bottom of my side of the car and I only think about it when I want to remove the mat to run my sweeper over it.

Yes, I do that, don’t you? I smack it around to remove big stuff, but then I bring out my inside vacuum cleaner and do it up right. That’s when that little plastic thingy does its job so well it is easily the more irritating piece of plastic in the entire car because it won’t loosen up and let me budge the car mat. I wrestle and tug and pull until the floor mat breaks free and I land on my rear end in the driveway.

Folks, my point is this: My floor mat doesn’t move around. I am also very odd about floor mats and I look at mine before I get in my car. That habit is even more ingrained these days because obviously I don’t want my floor mat to kill me.

What’s more is that my accelerator pedal and my floor mat are inches apart. So anyway, all that to say that ain’t it for my car.

Deep down in my Toyota-owning heart, I believe this is electronic- or software-related. Like a good girl, I took my car to the dealership that treats me politely. I did that last Monday. I knew what they'd say and I was correct:

“Hi, your car is ready. We really couldn’t duplicate what you were talking about, so your car is fine.”

What’s amazing about that statement is that they added the “your car is fine” when my car is SO totally not fine. Now and then I mash down on the brakes when I stop. If it gets worse, I will take it back and if it really comes down to it, I suppose the dealership will get sick of me sitting in their showroom.

Here’s what I don’t like about how this is being handled:

1. Toyota is being incredibly stupid about this. They are creating their own public relations hell. They are already handling this in such a way that all the PR professors in all the colleges and universities around the world have now quickly slipped this into their list of powerful case studies so students learn how NOT to fix a problem.

2. Toyota seems to be shifty, stonewalling and maybe lying about things. When this many people have a problem, it doesn’t make sense to stand and defend your product’s safety. Who believes you if you are being so shify? I’ll leave it to that. Personal opinion here.

3. Why in the world would Toyota have taken my car and tried to duplicate something that is an anomaly in the routine use of the car and then go one step further and pronounce my car to be healthy? I take that as a symptom of an overall problem with Toyota on an international level: I suspect employees are being told everything is fine. That is to say I suspect the employees aren’t getting the truth, either. Could be wrong. Personal opinion.

4. I still owe roughly $15,000 on a car that may not be safe in the years to come if the problem becomes persistent. Also, I will likely never be able to sell my car. Ever. What about that legendary Toyota resale value even for old cars? So in 12 years when I sell this car, if it hasn’t wrecked with me in it, who’s gonna give me the $3,000 that I should be able to get for it?

5. I have been loyal to Toyota and while there are always other cars to buy, who’s to say that all this cost-cutting in the pursuit of higher profit isn’t going to hit the fan for other car makers 2 years after I buy one of those cars?

That's my take on the Toyota situation as a Toyota owner. I love my hybrid, I really do. No one has paid me to say any of this or, for that matter, paid me not to say any of it either. If anyone did approach me to offer me money for my opinion, I'd have to charge oh, let's say...about $15,000.

Me and my Toyota Camry, Part I

I drive a 2008 Toyota Camry hybrid and I think the company hasn’t come clean yet.

After driving American cars and having clutches drop out, tie rods broken, being left on the side of the road pre-cell phone and most of all being treated very, very poorly at the dealerships, I had had enough of American cars. I tried my best and I hate to say it even to this day. But they hated me – the cars and the dealerships both hated me. Have American cars changed?

I don’t know. People say they have.

As soon as I was financially able to buy a foreign car, I did. I went to the local Toyota dealership right as I graduated college and I said I wanted a four-door Tercel sedan in that year’s shade of green because I am always drawn to green cars of any shade. I wanted a five-speed manual transmission.

He actually laughed at me. He said, “Good luck finding one of those, honey. No one’s gonna buy a car like that, so no dealer would have one around.” And for a moment or two, every other experience I had ever had buying a car came back to me. Some jerk overweight much-older man treating me like I had cotton balls in my head. I walked out, but I kept the brochure.

I graduated and moved with the Dodge that wasn’t very old, but the A/C stopped working and predictably shockingly enough, the Dodge dealership just couldn’t figure it out. Remember those days? Remember when a dealership didn't want you to come back with problems? I do and even heard a guy at Celozzi-Ettleson in the Chicago area admit it.

So I moved to town I went to the local dealership and I tried again. The salesman’s name was Casey and although he was a little older, he didn’t act like a jerk. He listened when I told him what I wanted and he fiddled around on his computer. And then he said the magic words I still remember:

“Come on outside, we’ve got the one you’re looking for.”

There she was, my green four-door Tercel sedan with a five-speed manual transmission and I fell in love with a car for the very first time. I sold it about four years later to buy a Camry and although I love the Camry, which is a more grown-up car, I still wish I hadn’t gotten rid of the Tercel. I miss me some zippy, tiny car an awful lot.

Here’s the point at which my friend Cindy will roll her eyes and write me to say, “That car gave you a sore back, Caron. Why do you always forget that?”

And she’s right. That car was built for a tiny, petite little woman and so I sold it. The Camry doesn’t make my back hurt.

My second salesperson at this dealership was a woman. She took a photograph of me next to my new, but slightly used Camry. I loved that car and got a whale of a deal on it. A whale of a deal, my friend. My mother-in-law now drives it. It’s old and has lots of mileage and of course, it’s green.

Now I have a blue Camry. I told the very young salesperson whose name I do not recall that I didn’t want a blue car and particularly not that shade of blue. Were they drunk when they decided on that shade of blue?

The blue has grown on me and I get a lot of compliments, but last weekend at the library, I saw a green car in the most spectacular shade of green I’ve ever seen.

Oh, envy, thou art undeniably green.

Here’s a funny thing about that very young salesperson. He noted that I had kept my Camry for a long time. I said yes, I keep my cars for a long time. At this point, I had had the Camry for over ten years, I think. Silly child that he was, he said to me, “Wow. I wasn’t even old enough to get a learner’s permit when you bought that car.”

I laughed because how could you not laugh? But still. How Not to Sell to a Woman Over 40? Class dismissed!

So this young whippersnapper and I go back and forth, back and forth. I am for the first time buying a fully loaded car and I’m excited. I know exactly what I want and I’m not getting everything on my wish list. But I’m rather a … shall we say … frugal person. He said, “Look, what if I give you a really big discount on the blue one?”

I laughed and said, “Why would you do that? You can’t sell that shade of blue to anyone else, can you?”

But he wasn’t lying. He gave me an OK discount and I got 98% of the car of wanted when I walked in the door.

That’s the story of my relationship with Toyota, deeply meaningful as it is/is not. Stand by for page two.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Snowman in the Front Yard

I drove up to the house on Thursday and HEY - it was still light outside at 5:30 p.m., but I digress. I drove up to the house this evening and I saw this in the yard. It was sticking straight up and I saw it from waaaaay over yonder and it made me laugh.

This past holiday's snowman was deflated because of a blizzard and then 54,389.39 inches of snow fell upon it and so it is still in the yard. It was almost 40 degrees today and apparently just enough of the snow melted to reveal his, well...his carrot.

Homemade cough syrup

With a full can of Guinness and most of an onion, you can make homemade cough syrup. It tastes awful, but unlike the medicinal stuff you get at the store, this stuff can actually grow on you. What you see in that jelly jar is an entire can of Guinness boiled down into a ... syrup. Don't actually boil it, let it gently boil on low-medium heat. If you boil it on high, it will overflow the pan. It works. And plus, you aren't pouring a lot of who-knows-what down your throat.

My Lily

Lily is my first cat. Of all the cats, she was the first. Not in my life, though. I grew up with cats and have almost always had one. I found Lily after a day or two of non-stop crying that I couldn’t locate. A neighbor could hear the crying as well and we looked and looked everywhere to find her. Finally, the day before I was to leave for a trip to Milwaukee, I went outside one more time. There was a cat crying, but as I walked the length of the property, it was silent. It had poured rain the night before in a terrific Midwest thunderstorm and had wondered once again if the cat was stuck in the building or outside. We just couldn’t tell.

I walked back to the front of the property and as I turned to walk up the steps, I saw movement. There she was, a tiny kitten barely old enough to be away from momma: A little brown face peeking out of the shrub looking at me. I fell in love right then and there. I reached out my hands and said soothing things and made motherly noises. She was so tiny I named her Little and really her name Lily came from Little, Lilliputian, Lil, Lily.

Lily is on the right

I fed her weaning formula and I kept her in the bathtub to keep her from harm when she was alone in the house that first weekend. She wasn’t alone much. I cancelled my trip to Milwaukee at the last minute and spent the weekend on the couch with her balled up on my collarbone – she was that small!

I could go on and on about life with Lily. Truly the smartest cat I’ve ever had. She trained easily and so, with her harness and leash, she went everywhere with me: road trips, visits to the neighbors, Sunday afternoon in the local park or the front yard, you name it.

Now Lily is older, not as old as some cats when they start slowing down. Since May, Lily has lost 25% of her body weight. She’s had some issues with her lungs, she vomits more than most cats and so on. But she’s still feisty and she’s still hoping she can be an only cat again some day soon.

I love my sweet Lily, my feisty, crabby old lady.

Nature Notes and Signs of the Seasons

Visit Michelle at the refreshing Nature Notes Thursday for a new look at the world.

I admit I am throwing in the towel. We've had 45 inches of snow this season and I am weary of it. I dug up a lovely photo of a butterfly from a day last summer when I took a long walk/run through a state park and took my camera with me. It was a fantastic morning and my feet are itching to get out and go for a walk, soak up some sunshine and breathe some warm air. And that, my friends, is THAT. I feel good and swimming is getting to be a good workout and work is still really busy and I still have a cough/sniffles, but now I am just weary. We are expecting more snow this weekend and I feel sure we'll get over 50 inches this year, easy peasy lemon squeezy.