Monday, March 31, 2014

March Retrospective

March was a banner month for comments! First off, this past month my blog passed the 100 comment mark. More importantly, for the first time, I have proof that someone I do not know has read my blog at least once. Because she commented.

That's right. Megan Sanborn Jones commented on a post from July about outdoor pageants. She recommends "the six annual Mormon pageants all of which fulfill [my] description of 'part history, part hokey drama, part pure patriotism, with lots of singing and dancing' with the added benefit of religious fervor." Thanks for the info Megan and welcome to the blog! Comment anytime.

Jim informed me that I missed one important statmy profile has been viewed over 100 times. In his honor, I have actually added a photo and information in my profile.

When we talked on the phone, a friend tried to convince me that the brownish water I stepped in when the snow was melting was NOT dog pee.  She thinks that maybe the brown patches may have to do with natural tannins in the earth. I think she is being overly optimistic.

My honey felt that I misrepresented his calmness when I wrote about the Amazing Race. He thought he would be just as likely to have a meltdown as I would. The fact that he made this argument after swearing at the dishes in our dish drainer for at least three minutes convinced me that he was right.

As far as the Harry Potter Buzzfeed quiz goes, my family is at least four Nevilles with one Hermione Granger.  Hermione's "extremely intelligent and well-read. . . [She] like[s] to be right all the time but [she's] also very just, kind and empathetic." Even when someone took the quiz trying to get Harry, they got Ginny Weasley instead. Well, she was Harry's partner . . .

And finally, Kelly, thank you for the offer of connecting me with your cousin in Rome after I posted about my Italy trip. We have already exchanged a few emails and I look forward to meeting her.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Day

Yesterday was a beautiful spring day. Sunny, clear, blue sky. It got into the forties and my honey and I went for a walk. We probably haven't done that since sometime in the fall.  But the big weather news is still to come.

Today is supposed to be as warm as 60 degrees! Of course, it being the northern midwest, there is still a lot of snow on the ground.

We don't care. The snow won't bother us as we walk around in our t-shirts and shorts. There's football to play, bicycles to ride, and maybe still a snowball or three to throw.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Breakfast Club

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but one of the CoCo offices has a potluck breakfast club the last Friday of the month. Everyone brings quite generous portions and we end up with a lot of sweets, savories, and sometimes even alcohol.

Yesterday was the day for March and it was a good turnout. There were crepes, sausages both link and patty, donuts, egg bake, fruit and more. Unfortunately, the champagne for the mimosas arrived late. Such problems we have in the first world.

 Here are some photos of the event. Eat your heart out!

Coffe table full of carbs
My addition to the sweets — "homemade" chocolate chip scones from a mix
Hands flying while cooking the breakfast meat
Serving ourselves quite the breakfast!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Old Measuring Cups

When I wrote about some of the items my honey and I brought back from North Carolina, I was mostly thinking about big furniture items to unpack. But we brought back some fun small items too. Although many are old and have stories to tell, others just seem very old.

My sister recommended I take photos and notes to document the items and their stories for future generations.  Here is my first attempt.

I've mentioned earlier that my mother-in-law Alice didn't really like to cook. In spite of that, I have many memories of hanging out in her kitchen, and she had some really cool kitchen tools. I don't know whose these were, probably her mother's, but they do seem old.

I'm not exactly sure what measure it holds. The top line reads only measure followed by three quarters, one half and one quarter. The handle is painted red and it's pretty beat up. I love it anyway.

Here's a different view.

It seems to be aluminum and it's the only one in its set. I haven't used it yet, but I will. I already owned a number of incomplete sets of measuring cups, so this one fits right into the oversized drawer.

We inherited a number of other measuring cups, but this one is my favorite. When I'm being extra fanciful, I can see in its battered, yet still functional form a metaphor for life. We may sometimes be down, but we're not out and we keep on doing our best.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


When you are a substitute teacher, days don't always turn out the way you think they will. Yesterday was one of those days. I got to the school early, and I spent the time looking over the plans the absent teacher had left. Turned out, I didn't really need to do that. All I really needed to do was to be flexible.

Because instead of replacing an ELL teacher supporting various grades, I soon replaced a kindergarten teacher whose substitute had cancelled at the last minute. In kindergarten for the entire day! Don't get me wrong, kindergartners are pretty cute, but they are high energy and require much care.

Kindergarten teachers are a rare breed. I bow down before them. They are amazing. I am not one of them.

We all survived the day though and I even managed to have a good time. Most of the kids were well-behaved, although there were a few kickers, a few cryers, and one kid who couldn't sit still for any length of time. They were a good bunch and I hope I succeeded in teaching them something.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Capisco un po

The trip to Italy is coming up fast. The plane takes off in a little more than three weeks and plans are being laid. We're reading guidebooks and looking at websites and trying to figure it all out. And, of course, being me, I'm trying to learn Italian.

I got a few books out of the library, one with two CDs attached and I've been listening in the car. It's teaching me how to say "Please speak a little more slowly" and "How much is a one-way ticket to Pisa?" I have no idea whether I will have the opportunity to say either of those things in Italian, but certamente, it can't hurt.

My mother assures me that you don't need to speak Italian, and she's probably right. But I want to learn to speak Italian, to understand what people say in a language other than my own. Being able to have a conversation, however halting and helped by sign language, with someone who doesn't speak English would be an accomplishment.

In fact, those almost conversations are some of my most precious memories from various trips.  Buying berries from a rural Danish farm and having to hold my money in hand so the farmer could pick out what I owed her. (My Danish was severely limited to some colors, numbers and names of food.) Figuring out where the post office was in Germany by repeating the question at every single corner so that I would know where to turn by which way people pointed. And in England staying at a B&B where the lady of the house had such an accent, my honey had to ask her to repeat herself three times, at which point she just gave up and left the room.

Listening to the Italian phrases on the CD makes me get into an mediterranean state of mind, no matter how frigid the air is here.  I'm amazed by how much I do understand of the dialogues.  And at the very least, being able to read a menu could come in handy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Positive / Negative

I have some vague memory of hearing about some essay or article about how in social media most people only write about the positive stuff in their lives and ignore the negative. And that somehow makes our friends jealous and grumpy. At the very least it is not the slightest bit representative of our real lives.

The memory is so vague that I can't find a trace of it on the world wide interweb. I spent a fair amount of time trying, but I have now given up. But the thought remains in my head because I have tried very hard to stay positive with this blog. To not write about negative matters, to keep an even keel, to always stay pleasant.

Today, however, I want to be clear that for all my eternal happiness in the clouds, I can be hurt, get cranky, in fact, become downright mad. And I can cuss too! Man, do I swear up a blue streak when I get myself worked up.

The great thing about me, though, is that I usually get over it in about ten minutes. And by the time a half hour has passed I can really see the ridiculousness of it all, no matter what the issue is. So even though somewhat recently there was a great disturbance in the force, by the time I wrote this blog, I had to laugh.

Life is still good.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Thank You Buzzfeed

I am a Facebook lurker. I check out all the information that my friends and acquaintances deem important enough to share with the world. I enjoy reading about the restaurants they eat at, looking at their really cute kids, and I even jealously watch their cool adventures.

I rarely post anything myself, but I have recently become addicted to buzzfeed quizzes. I think my niece showed me the first one I ever took. It was Which Harry Potter character are you? She got Neville Longbottom. I had to take the quiz. I picked a movie, a magical creature, a drink, favorite food, song, a TV show, and other things too. And at the end of it all, I got . . .

Neville Longbottom

  1. You’re awkward and clumsy and hate being the center of attention. But you’re brave and big-hearted and people can always trust you to help them out in a bad situation.

Many people say that my niece and I are a lot alike, so I guess it's not a surprise that we're both Neville Longbottom.  But what really hooked me was the description buzzfeed included.  It hooked me in.  It was almost completely accurate. So I took another quiz.

For example, what actress would play me in the movie version of my life?
I got: Mindy Kaling
Ilya S. Savenok

Sharp, witty, and effervescent, you’re always looking to make new friends. You’re career-driven but have a vibrant social life outside your job, so you need someone who can generate some chuckles, but with style. Miss Mindy Kaling is the perfect casting choice.

I don't really know Mindy Kaling very well but once again, the description is almost accurate and I love it.

But that was only the beginning. Any time anyone posted a new quiz, I took it. I discovered many things about myself.

I learned that the country I actually should live in is Switzerland.  I'm a pumpernickel bagel. The period in history I really belong to is Revolutionary France. My mythical creature is a unicorn.  And most importantly, the grade I'm getting in life?  A B-. That's right, I'm only a little above average.

So even though I know they mean nothing, I remain addicted to these quizzes. I read somewhere that the creators of these gems start at the end with the answers and work their way backwards through such fun choices as pick an animal in a sweater, or a city to live in.

The quizzes are fun to take and I can't wait to find out which Breakfast Club character I am, which wine I should drink, and which romantic comedy best defines my life . . .

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sound of Music Sing-a-Long

I had a great time at the Sound of Music sing-a-long last night. There was a costume contest before, which was fun to watch. Several groups dressed up as the musical notes: do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti.  There were a few baronesses and lots of nuns. The bowing lady showed up too!

The hall was packed with people which made the singing quite beautiful. When I managed to hear them, the hecklers were downright hilarious, although it was one of those you-had-to-be-there kinda things.

Everyone cheered for Julie Andrews and booed the Nazis, as well as barking for Rolf (like the dog that he is) and meowed for the Baroness. We waved our plastic edelweiss and pulled our poppers for the first kiss between the Captain and Maria. Those with flashlight apps on their cellphones shone them during the hiding in the Abbey scene.

The film holds up surprisingly well, and it's quite funny. I laughed a lot, so I count it a successful evening.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Plastic Shopping Bag

My mother-in-law Alice could be quite surprising. She looked twenty years younger than her age, for a sweet lady, she was a fierce Scrabble competitor, and she cleaned her own house until she was in her late 90s. But what shocked me the most was her ability to make one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

Take a good look. That's a plastic shopping bag, made out of plastic shopping bags! She collected them for a long time and sorted them into colors. There are white, brown and blue, each color from a different local grocery store.

I wanted to make a bag too and asked her to teach me. She looked at me vaguely and said, "Well, you just have to crochet it." Never mind that I don't know how to crochet, nor had I ever seen her crochet. Or that she couldn't explain to me any more clearly how she had done it. According to her, you just did it.

She did show me how to make the plastic bags into the "yarn." You cut the plastic bag into strips and then hook them together with a simple knot. After that the instructions became fuzzy. So that's a start. But that's as far as I've ever gotten.

I found a site on the interweb explaining the process, but since I don't crochet, I don't really understand what it means. That's ok. Someday I'll figure it out and I'll make myself the coolest shopping bag ever.

And every time I use it, I'll think of Alice.

Friday, March 21, 2014


Yesterday was a lovely day and having spring arrive at 11:57am central time made it a hopeful day too!  Unfortunately, although it was bright and sunny, too much of the ground looks like this:

We would much rather see this in our yards:

That was North Carolina a few weeks ago and as sure as the sun keeps shining and the earth continues its rotation, that flower is coming our way.  We're ready for it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lazy Day

Sometimes you just want to have a lazy day. And I am lucky enough to be able to indulge this desire at times. I have written about this phenomenon before. The first time I was embarrassed, calling it a problem. I wondered why I would rather fool around than work on cleaning my house.

The next time I experienced this issue, I framed it as not working on my novel. On that day, I accomplished many things, just not writing. Although I don't mention being ashamed of myself, the tone of the post seems at the very least rueful.

Yesterday I just decided to accept it. No, I decided to embrace it. As far as I can tell, it doesn't happen that often, so why not enjoy it? Outside was snowy and cloudy and it seemed like a good day to just stay in and read. So that's what I did. I was lazy. And proud of it. Normal activities can resume today.

By the way, those feet hanging out in a friend's hammock are from last summer.  Sandals are not yet a footwear possibility here. However, seeing as today is the spring equinox, maybe soon . . .

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What a parade!

A scheduled lunch date on Monday didn't pan out due to my friend not feeling well. (Hope you're better now!)  I decided to try to salvage the day by attending the local Saint Patrick's Day parade.  And it was a good time.

The block outside one of my offices was supposed to be the staging area, but it was alternating between snow, rain and sleet. So it seemed like most groups decided not to "stage". I did manage to get a photo from my office window of a local junior high band getting themselves ready.

However, once I went to the corner where the parade was actually supposed to start, it was chaos. There were policemen getting ready to march, pipe bands practicing, lots of marchers in green trying to find their clans. Not to mention the spectators with hats, green beads and noisemakers.

The absolute best part of the parade for me was the Bouncing Team. I don't know much about them, but they use a circular blanket to throw young women high into the air and then catch them again safely. I walked along the sidewalk with them and finally managed to get a pretty good photo.

I won't get the chance to do it myself, but I'm trying to decide whether that would be fun or frightening.  Maybe both.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lost Winter Hat

This is a first-world problem. I know that, but I am sad anyway.

Although there are times in the north where clothing choices can mean life and death, early spring is not usually one of them. Yesterday certainly wasn't, although when the wind was blowing, my ears were really cold.

I had the chance to watch our local Saint Patrick's Day parade yesterday. Since it had snowed in the morning and was still cold, I wore my hat. My bestest winter hat ever. I managed to hold on to that hat for a lot of winters. I don't remember when or where I got it. I also have no idea where I lost it.

All I know is that when I went to put it on to go home from work, my hat wasn't in my pocket anymore. I retraced my steps, all along the parade route, and checked more than one lost and found. Nothing. No hat.

It was a Goldilocks kind of hat. You know, just right. Not too tight, not too loose. Just the perfect size.  Kept my ears very warm, while not heating the top of my head too much. Just the perfect warmth.  Plus, it looked good on my head.

Finding another hat as good will take a while. And unfortunately, right now is not the season to go winter hat shopping, even though there is still cold weather on its way. Snow tomorrow, in fact. Swimsuits in the stores, though, 'cause summer is almost here.

I saw this beanie on the Patagonia website. It looks good, but I can't touch it or try it on, so it may not work as well. Since spring isn't here yet, I'll have to give it a try. I can only hope it'll be a Goldilocks hat too!

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Amazing Race

For a while I wanted to be a contestant on The Amazing Race. That's the CBS show where pairs race around the world doing crazy stuff in exotic locales in their quest to win a million dollars. It's one of my favorite television shows and the only reality tv I watch.

I started watching it during season three, way back in 2003.  (The current season, an All-Star edition, is number 24.) I wanted to travel around the world with my honey and experience all those amazing challenges, and I didn't even care if we won the million dollars!

However, as I have continued to watch, I realize that I don't really want to experience all the stress, discomfort and sleeping on planes that the contestants have to do. I'm sure that I could be pretty close to a bitch, or a crybaby, or just plain crazy, yelling at my honey at random moments.

He's very methodical and calm, whereas I would be the one to wig out over some difficult challenge. And I don't really need footage of that for all the world to see.  What I would like is the chance to travel all around the world at my leisure, visiting all those fascinating places and doing all those interesting things, but without any contest. Unfortunately, that's not how the television show works.

So, I guess you won't be seeing me on national television any time soon. Too bad. One of my tantrums would have been amazing!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Discouraged . . .

. . . dispirited, dismayed, downbeat, downcast, downhearted, down in the mouth, crestfallen, in a blue funk . . . These are just some of the synonyms from for discouraged.

It's not a state I am very familiar with. However, it is where I currently live when I think deeply about my writing. It's odd. There are two main reasons for my mood.

The first reason seems ironic when I think about it. In a recent post, I wrote about how much I have learned about myself and writing in this last year. Unfortunately, one of the things you sometimes learn is how far the distance remains to your destination. This animated quote from Ira Glass illuminates the problem.

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

Secondly, my time is dwindling. The number of weeks left up on that banner at the top of the blog is less than half of what it once was. Not very many days ago, I affirmed my intent to return to my full-time job in late August. And I truly fear that I may not have a manuscript ready to be sent out to be rejected before that last day.

But you know what? That's ok. This year has been great and will continue to be great. I specifically did not include the word depressed in my list of synonyms.  Because I'm not depressed.  I plan on taking Mr. Glass' advice and continuing to do the work, putting my butt in the chair, as many writers phrase it.  I will get as far to my goal as I possibly can in the time that is left.

Plus, besides the writing, I've got some trips planned, a house to unpack, lunches to eat with friends, books to read, and naps to be taken.  I just need to remember all that when I get . . . discouraged.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Playing Hooky

Doesn't that couch look inviting?
An intriguing question. Can you actually play hooky if you don't have a job? I'm going to answer yes, because that's what I did yesterday morning.

Sometime last week I signed up for a iPhoto class at the Apple store. I had been wanting to take one for a while and yesterday morning there was a group class at a convenient time. But late Thursday afternoon, I realized that I didn't want to go.

I had worked two days during the week for the school district and had also worked hard on my writing. I was tired. Going to class would mean driving the 20 minutes to get there, staying for an hour and a half and then driving home. All I really wanted to do was laze around the house.

In my mind, though, I had committed and therefore had to attend the class. It took a couple of hours of me reminding myself that I could do what I wanted before I felt comfortable enough to cancel my spot in the class.

And all morning long, it felt like I was playing hooky. It felt good!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Pi(e) Day!

My wonderful, crazy CoCo office is celebrating Pi Day today at 1:59pm. (Because Pi = 3.14159)*

There was some argument about whether the holiday should actually be celebrated at 1:59am, since with the 24 hour clock, 1:59pm would be represented by 13:59, which is NOT pi. However, since very few people are in the office at 1:59am, it was decided that we would celebrate in the afternoon.

Many people are bringing in fruit pies.  And while I love fruit pies, I wanted to bring in a chocolate pie of some sort.  Unfortunately, the supermarket I went to shop at doesn't carry chocolate pies.

So I am bringing chocolate whoopie pies to the masses.  As I typed that, I realized that the last three letters of whoopie are pie.  So it's like a double pie! (And more importantly, it's chocolate.)

May your world be round and your day be sweet!

*I am sure that the scientists, physicists, engineers, and mathematicians who regularly read this blog could point out inaccuracies in my equation.  Go for it!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

CSS Override

The first indication I had that there was trouble was when I previewed my learnings post after pasting in the instructor's questions.  And the words looked different.  Totally different.

So I tried to fix the problem by selecting all and changing the font back to Times, which is the font my posts are usually written in.  It didn't work.  I tried other actions that I don't even remember now, because this all happened three or four days ago.  None of those maneuvers worked either.

World wide interweb to the rescue!  I typed in the question, "Why are my fonts weird on my blogger account?"  After reading a number of answers that I didn't really comprehend, it became clear that although I didn't understand, CSS was part of the problem and looking at the HTML code in my post would help me. (OK, now this is really weird.  I just previewed this post and this paragraph looks normal now.  I couldn't fix it before, and now that I want it to prove it looked funky, it's fixed?  What the blurp?)

CSS stands for Cascading Style SheetsApparently, it's the magic behind the curtain of my blog.  Only sometimes it goes kablooey and it mysteriously refuses to follow my commands. And I get really frustrated.

Design by Steven Frank*

So, I opened a new window and wrote my "it's too late and I give up post".  I think that's the second one I wrote.  The first one was way back in November when the post I had been writing disappeared.  The take away knowledge from both these experiences is that I should write my posts earlier in the day.  That way I won't be too exhausted to remedy the situation.  

On the other hand, I excel at procrastination.  So, there'll probably be a third version of the I give up post.

*This is apparently a "hilarious" web developer joke available for purchase on T-shirts or mugs at zazzle.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


This spring I've been taking another online writing class.  In fact, it's the second part of the class I took in the fall. Just like that class, this one has been kicking my butt, too. Since we've recently hit the halfway mark of the class, the instructor asked us to reflect. Reflect on what we've learned and what we still want to know.

After thinking a fair amount about the answers to her questions, I decided to make all my work do double duty and post some of my thoughts for all to read.

First off, I have learned a ton about writing, about myself and about how the two intersect. I've discovered that my book is somewhat complicated for a first time novelist. It has at least two separate points-of-view and the narrative could span over ten years. (It's unclear whether that's too long for a first novel or not. Tell me your favorite fiction books that span longer!)

I've also learned that I am primarily a concept writer, which means I like to summarize instead of giving details and my words, sentences (and paragraphs) tend toward the longish side. It's also been made clear to me that I work more easily in the right brain sector of writing, so I like to create, but not so much organize my writing. On the spectrum of organizing, I firmly lean toward not so much.

In the class we have a small group where we post excerpts for feedback. From the other awesome authors in my group I've learned that I need to convert much of that great summarizing into scenes in the present tense. Also, the huge backstory that I have written so much of, needs to be pared down and carefully interwoven into those present day scenes in small doses.

The final part of the reflection is what I want to learn. About my book, about writing and about myself.  Look for those thoughts in a couple of days, as I'm still sorting it all out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

It's Meltiinngg. . .

I think I stepped in a lot of dog piss yesterday on my walk to and from work. I'm not sure what else to think when some stretches of snow, ice, and meltwater are white and clear, and others are very yellowish-brown. I'm thankful for my boots, keeping my feet dry and urine-free.

Yes, it's happened. A day after we sprung forward, the temperatures here in the upper Midwest hit 50° for the first time since mid-November. And the many inches of snow have started to melt.  Unfortunately, that means there is a mixture of ice, snow, and water.  Lots of water.

Often at the corners there are large lakes of indeterminate depth. They are hard to avoid, but you need to do your best to get around them in order to prevent wet feet.

As I walked to work, though, I got hotter and hotter.  I kept peeling off my layers.  First, my spring jacket, and then my sweatshirt.  I walked in a T-shirt and I wasn't cold.  Except for immediately after exercising, I haven't been that warm in a long time.

So even though we got a rain-snow mix in the middle of the night, and all the water has refrozen this morning, it felt like spring for a day.  And it was lovely.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Font Wars

So, I cut and pasted something into my blog and now somehow my font has changed.  It says that it hasn't, but it totally has.

Then I spent another forty five minutes fixing it, writing what I wanted to write, but I hit some wrong button and now the post is in all capital letters, weird sizes and pretty much unreadable.  I'm giving up and starting over later today.

As far as I can tell from my interweb searches, I need to figure out something called CSS, whatever that is.

I was going to add in a lovely photo for your enjoyment, but I can't get my iPhoto to work.  Seems like it's time to shut everything down for a rest.

Have a lovely day!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sprung Forward

We went to a party last night (happy birthday Ela!) and had a good time. We talked to many different people about a wide variety of subjects, including Carnaval in Rio, the names of NPR commentators and school architecture. But we came home early because Daylight Savings Time was going to rob us of an hour of sleep and we didn't want to wake up too tired this morning.

According to scientists, losing an hour in the spring is more difficult on our bodies than gaining an hour in the fall.  This does not shock me at all.  Isn't it always easier to gain something than to lose it?  Studies have also shown that there are more traffic accidents the Monday morning after the switch is made.

So be careful out there.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Prohibition Exhibition

I finally managed to make it to the local history museum's exhibit of American Spirits:  The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. It's going to close next weekend, so I was running out of time.

It was a good show.  I knew a lot of the information on offer, much of it from the non-fiction book Last Call, which I have been reading for research. Turns out Daniel Okrent, the author of that book was the curator behind the exbihit.

Actually seeing photos, posters, clothes and other artifacts made quite an impression. A book doesn't have the ability to let you listen in on a prohibitionist's speech, or get your mug shot taken next to bootleggers. I might even go back sometime next week before the exhibit closes.

An interesting final note is that the exhibit was created by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.  I had never heard of that museum, but it sounds pretty interesting.  Perhaps I can procrastinate my way to visiting there some day.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Hard Times at the Cafeteria

Whenever I don't know what to write for today's blog, I go to a handy file entitled "List of Blog Topics" and peruse the many ideas I have written down. Today my eyes flit over such fascinating titles as Stoics, Music, Inefficiencies of Time, My Ideal Reader and alight on a single word: Cafeterias.

Photo taken by Yelp user Rob W.
This topic goes along with my general interest in nostalgic food tourismI have loved these unique restaurants my whole life. Cafeterias used to be a lot more popular than they are now, and they were especially a big deal in the South, including Texas, my father's home state.

I have a lot of cafeteria memories. Certainly as kids, my Dad often took us to an outpost of Clifton's Cafeterias, a small Los Angeles chain. (Amazingly enough, they even still have one location open.) My most vivid memories of my Uncle Fred involve us eating fried okra together at an Amarillo cafeteria.

But I have continued my association with cafeterias into my adult life. My in-laws in Raleigh were always happy to go out to the cafeteria. In fact, we ate at one on our last visit there less than two weeks ago. The caterer at my aunt's 90th birthday party in Amarillo last summer was that same cafeteria where long ago I ate fried okra.

Unfortunately, times are not good for cafeterias. Every time we visited Raleigh there were fewer and fewer cafeteria options. The parent company of Furr's, that Texas chain, recently filed for bankruptcy. Luckily, they won't be closing any more locations. Apparently, the cafeteria industry has been hit hard by both the rise of fast food and fast casual restaurants, foodies writing bad reviews, and perhaps bad memories of school cafeterias.

However, I believe cafeterias fill a niche market. Alice, my mother-in-law liked them because it was easy to order a few vegetable dishes and make that your whole meal. Also, because there are no waiters, cafeterias can be quite inexpensive. And to me somehow, they're just kinda fun.

I'm only sorry that cafeterias aren't a Midwest thing. I could use more green jello in my diet.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A New Camera

It began in Florida in January. All of my indoor photos started looking like this:

It took me a while to figure out that my flash wasn't working. Once I deciphered what the problem was, I could fix it. Well, sometimes I could fix it, if I remembered to turn off the flash function. And, even then, it only works if there is enough light for the camera to snap the shot right away. Otherwise, the photo is quite blurry.

I bet it would help if I read my camera's manual. It's possible there could be some insight tucked inside. I wonder where that is in my mess of a house?

But, since this past weekend I bought tickets to Italy in April, I better either find the manual (unlikely), get my camera repaired (is that even possible in this day and age?), or buy a new one. I want to take a lot of photos, and I would like them to be good ones!

I know that most of the young 'uns today use their phones to take photos, but I don't have one of them smartie phones, and I'm not planning on getting one. So I'll go down to my almost obsolete camera store and talk to the almost obsolete camera salesperson, and see what they can do to help.

Look for improved photos on the blog in the near future. Or at the very least before Italy.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


When I logged in to my blog yesterday, there on the stats page was the amazing figure of 10,035 page views.  I had noticed the day before that my blog was almost at five digits, but not quite yet.  Adding another digit to the number is cool and I feel I have accomplished something.  What, I don't know, but something.

It's unclear how many of these pageviews are by search bots or web crawlers, but I hope the majority of the views are by you, my loyal readers. Just in case you are interested, here are some more stats.

10,035 total page views
1,545 page views in January (monthly high)
1,000 page views in February (monthly low)
253 published posts
96 published comments
6 post drafts
0 dollars earned

It's unlikely in the time remaining on my leave that I will hit a six-digit number of pageviews, but it's a goal to strive for!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ping Pong Tourney

I'm not sure exactly why, but the newest CoCo office location has a ping pong table. (It also has a theater and a bar.)  Inevitably, someone decided that we should have a ping pong tournament.  I signed up immediately.  I have many fond memories of ping pong.

My family had a table when I was growing up.  It was probably bought at a garage sale, but it was good enough for us.  We played a lot of games on that table.  Because I was the youngest, I lost a lot of games on that table.

There was an annual ping pong tournament at the annual Easter party in the neighborhood. I remember the ping pong table set up in the side yard and the poster with all the brackets.  Again, as one of the youngest players, I doubt I made it very far.  But I always enjoyed playing.

My childhood ping pong table is probably warping slowly in my Mom's garage.  My honey's family's ping pong table was still in the basement being used for storage when we left North Carolina last week. I wish I had room in my house to bring one of them here.

So you can see why I was excited to get the opportunity to play the tabletop sport again.  Add to that my natural competitiveness and I was more than a little psyched to finally play my first set of games.  Best two out of three games moves on, loser gets one more chance in the loser's bracket.

After weeks of not being able to meet up with my opponent and watching the scores of other games go up on the Challonge website, we finally played yesterday.  I wanted to win, but more importantly I wanted to not lose badly. That was my primary goal.

We started out gently, but the play soon got competitive.  I managed to hold on to an early lead to win the first game 21-18.  My opponent and I were fairly well matched, and he succeeded in beating me by the same score, 21-18 for the second game. By this time, I realized that I had met my aim of not losing badly.

So we started the last game even.  Playing ping pong was more of a workout than I remembered and by that time I was sweating. Instead of being tired, I got looser and more relaxed and was happy to win the final game 21-13. Victory was sweet!

From my uninspired commentary, it's clear that I have no aspirations to being any kind of sportswriter. However, I do look forward to going as far as I can in this "important business meeting".  (That's the title of the CoCo ping pong tourney!)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Oscar Night

Last night was Oscar night and I watched the awards ceremony even though I haven't watched many of the movies.  I'm not sure I really need to watch any of the films, as I am not yet an Academy member with a vote.  Any of my opinions, likes or dislikes are irrelevant for this particular election.

I don't pay any attention to the dresses, the jewels, or the red carpet stuff, but I do enjoy a good acceptance speech.  The best include humility, humor and something (anything!) unexpected.

The director of the short animated film Mr. Hublot was especially touching. He was so nervous that he read his thanks from a paper, which usually means a robotic reading.  However, the hand holding the paper shook during his entire speech.  Proof if it was needed how moving the moment must be.

One of my favorite moments from last night included the introduction from the writing awards, spoken by Robert DeNiro (and written by ?).  For those of you who missed it, here's what he said:

"The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing.  
Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, 
and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing,
and soul-crushing inadequacy.  

And that's on a good day!"

So true, so true.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


So, as far as I know, Kickstarter is this website that helps people raise money for their projects.  I have read about it (but not really understood it).  I know that the Veronica Mars movie raised money on the site, and Ken Levine wrote a column that went viral, but I don't really remember what it was about.

But the craziest thing happened the other day.  I now actually know someone who is raising funds through kickstarter.  Who?  It's Chris the Bartender! He's trying to raise money for better cameras and microphones and other stuff (don't really know what) for his flair bartending videos. Check out his kickstarter site if you're curious.  It's got a fun video and lots of information that won't stay in my head.  So far Chris has 23 backers and has raised over $700.  Impressive.

To be honest, I have zero interest in flair bartending, but Chris is a super nice guy and it makes me feel cool to personally know someone who has a kickstarter page.  Yes, that's right.  I'm claiming coolness by association. Here's an example of one of his youtube videos.

This cool by association feeling I have reminds me about how I felt when I realized I personally knew someone that had a wikipedia page.  (That's my cousin Tom Henry, the mayor of Fort Wayne.)

Now I just need to kickstart my own campaign or get my own wikipedia page.  That would make me supercool!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

February is a Short Month

It wasn't until I was scheduling yesterday's blog post late Thursday night that I realized that yesterday was the last day of February.  It snuck up on me, and it was late enough in the evening that I wanted to go to bed instead of creating a new post recapping February.  So here is the look back at February from the first day of March.

triscuitboo comments on my road trip that she HATES driving in the snow.  I hate it too, even though I should be getting better at it since this winter we've been getting LOTS of practice. I have to admit, though, that as a native Californian my initial reaction to any and all snow is joy. It doesn't seem to matter if I have to drive in it, shovel it or get to gaze at it from my cozy house.  My heart leaps at every snowflake.

tRa is mystified that we didn't use our skis or snowshoes for our hike into or out of our winter cabin weekend.  All I can say is that doing the herringbone uphill for over half a mile would be painful.

As far as snowshoes go, they're heavy and we were lazy and the road was mostly well-packed enough that we didn't need them.

My honey has used our bacon grease to condition our cast iron cookware. He gives it two thumbs up!

On a sad note, I was informed that Alice Herz-Sommer, the pianist who survived the Holocaust passed away on February 23rd.  She was 110 years old when she died. Her obituary in the New York Times reinforces the impression I got from the documentary that I reviewed.

She was a unique individual and an amazing woman.  I hope her documentary wins the Academy Award tomorrow night. It would be a nice tribute to staying positive in life up until the end.