Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Cold White Stuff

I'm writing this as rain falls outside.

Right. Rain. Not snow. But it's coming. At least it's supposed to.

I cite here the National Weather Service:

The National Weather Service in Chicago has issued a Winter Storm
Warning... which is in effect from 3 PM this afternoon to 12 PM
CST Friday. The Winter Weather Advisory has been cancelled. The
Winter Storm Watch is no longer in effect.

"Snow is expected to develop late this afternoon and this evening
and continue into Friday morning. The snow may be heavy at times
with snowfall rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour at the height of the
storm. Exact storm total snowfall amounts will vary... but current
information suggests 6 to 10 inches of snow will be possible by
by noon Friday.

The snow may mix with sleet or freezing rain overnight. If this
occurs... expected snowfall amounts will be less.

A Winter Storm Warning means significant amounts of snow...
sleet... and ice are expected or occurring. Strong winds are also
possible. This will make travel very hazardous or impossible."

Of course, this is all hype. Perhaps we will get only a few token inches. Perhaps it will flurry for a few hours and a light dusting will settle on the grass. Perhaps not a flake will fall from the sky.

Or, it will be Armageddon.

One never knows with these "winter storm events." Something in me dreads their arrival, but something else in me relishes the threat of such excitement and chaos. I'm not sure this is the best timing for our first winter storm of the year, but when is it ever good timing for one of these things? I only hope it comes with a vengeance or doesn't come at all. Wimpy sleety snows that "make travel very hazardous" but provide no real excuse for not making it to your destination are the worst of all. Give me 5' high drifts or give me nothing.

Stay tuned to the Weather Channel to see what happens next...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Black Friday

Why anyone would go shopping today is a complete mystery to me. I think I might rather shoot myself in the head.

Yet that's what people do the day after Thanksgiving. Perhaps it's because of the sales. Perhaps it's because of the cheesy give-aways. (At the King of Prussia mall, for example, the first 1000 shoppers of the day received a free shopping "survival kit" including bottled water, Starbucks gift certificates, and massage coupons for soothing away the shopping-induced stress.) But really I'd like to give people more, or perhaps, less credit than that.

I think people go shopping today, even though they know they will have to endure hell on earth, because they want to be part of something, this ridiculous phenomenon of greed and consumerism that manifests itself on the first day of the Christmas season. It sounds bizarre, but can't you picture it? That battered person returned from the front lines (i.e. the mall), bearing his or her purchases like a badge of honor. "I made it in," her or she will say, "and I made it out alive. And my new 42" plasma TV was only $799!"

Of course he or she had to trample three small children and an elderly woman to grab one of those babies before Walmart ran out, but that's just part of the fun. It's hysteria, chaos, anarchy sanctified by the corporate gods. How can you resist throwing yourself into the melee?

Now, don't get me wrong. I love to shop as much as the next guy or gal, but the conditions under which the shopping is to be done must be orderly and serene for me to extract any enjoyment from the experience. I prefer to shop at about 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, when the stores are almost empty and the merchandise is pristine and untouched. Why anyone would subject themselves to the torture that is Black Friday... well, I've already claimed not to be able to understand it.

The only thing I really want to buy today is bananas. But part of me fears even entering a grocery store. Maybe I'll go late this afternoon or evening, once the mobs have crawled back to their cars and gone home to collapse in front of their new TVs and their leftovers. I'll quietly pay for my bananas but I'll still feel ashamed for having spent money in a commercial establishment on this blackest of days. Maybe I'll just wait 'till tomorrow...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Glutinous Mass

I really wished I still had my digital camera this afternoon so that I could have taken a picture of the sticky glob of pasty goo that represented our attempt to make mashed potatoes. It could have been used to spackle a hole in the wall. It wouldn't leave the pot except in one oozing mass. We even killed our stick blender in an attempt to make it better. But little did we know, by beating it more, we were really only making the situation worse.

Evidently, the actual mashing of the potatoes can only be done in one of two or three very specific ways with one of two or three very specific kitchen tools that we did not have. Any deviation from these methods results in a break-down of the potato's starch molecules, which in turn produces the dreaded glutinous mass and, in extreme cases, also leaves you with a broken appliance. Needless to say, we cut our losses and dumped the whole operation into the garbage.

Because these potatoes were destined for Thanksgiving dinner, this situation fazed me a bit more than it might have otherwise. Now we are left with a bit of dilemna. Obviously, as you can tell, I am completely traumatized and may never again attempt a mashed potato recipe.

But that doesn't mean we are off the hook for Thursday; we're supposed to show up promptly at 3 with a steaming dish of the fluffy, whipped tubers. We've admitted our defeat however and are hoping for a change in assignment. I can do salads. I can do roasted vegetables of any kind. But please don't ask me ever again to mash a potato. I will look both ways and run like hell before the you've even finished the question.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Recommendation

Today is my half-birthday. I am 26 1/2 today. That sounds old to me.

I have been having trouble sleeping on and off lately. I had a good week last week. I had a bad night last night. I got to sleep eventually but those hours of tossing and turning are pretty brutal. I am too exhausted to deal with the frustration and I let myself dissentigrate mentally and emotionally in those moments. Maybe it's necessary to do that sometimes but not in the few hours before bed. Nothing positive can come of it.

Meanwhile, this morning, I discovered a new weblog that seemed to ring out loud and clear to me. (Those obnoxious academics among us might say that it "resonated" with me, but I hate that expression so I won't use it.) It's a blog written by Kristin Armstrong, Lance's ex-wife. I find myself continually fascinated by Lance for a number of reasons. One, because he is such a freak of humanity, really not a human being at all. His physical accomplishments are so immense (beating cancer, winning the Tour de France 7 times) that he can scarcely be believed. He is also a royal asshole, leaving behind him in his wake former-friends-turned-enemies who curse him and rue the day they met him. He is a complete enigma.

Kristin Armstrong could have easily adopted the role of bitter ex-wife, but amazingly she seems to have sort of risen from the ashes of their sudden divorce. She often writes for Runner's World and other magazines, and as I've said, she recently began writing a blog that is posted on the RW website. It's about running, of course, which Kristin took up and obviously fell in love with after the divorce.* Therefore, it might be hard for those who are not under the spell of running to understand the value of this blog. But she also just writes about life, her spirituality, and the daily challenges she faces, especially being a single mother of 3 kids. Her latest entry ends with a pledge, based on a lesson she learned while running a difficult race. She says: "I will give less energy to dread."

Her style is a little much sometimes, but if you get a chance, skim through her posts. There are only four up there now but I will definitely be following closely to see what she has to say in the future. I am already anxious for her next entry.

*Coincidently, Lance himself recently took a foray into the world of running. He ran the New York Marathon and called it the hardest physical task he ever had to complete. If that doesn't confirm the difficulty of the marathon, I don't know what does.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Down but not out...

This weekend is all about football. Yesterday, I watched my poor alma mater get pummelled by our rival via a satellite feed from NESN to a bar in Wrigleyville. Sure it was hard to watch, but I regained confidence in the superiority of my school when I saw the latest version of the anti-Williams shirt that the Amherst kids were wearing. It read simply: "Amherst:Williams/ Chocolate:Poop" Juvenile, yes. But hilarious and remarkably astute as well.

Tonight, we shift our gaze to the NFL. The Giants, team of my youth, take on the Bears, my current home team. All season, the Bears have looked great... until last weekend, that is. They're pretty unpredictable it seems, but I can't help rooting for them. Sure Grossman looked, well, gross last Sunday but I'm hoping he can redeem himself tonight. We'll see. Until then, help me sing this song...

Bear down, Chicago Bears
Make every play, clear the way to victory!

Bear down, Chicago Bears

Put up a fight with a might so fearlessly!

We'll never forget the way you thrilled the nation

With your T-formation

Bear down, Chicago Bears

And let them know why you're wearing the crown!

You're the pride and joy of Illinois,

Chicago Bears, bear down!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ignorance isn't bliss

This past week everyone in my department received an email entitled "Wanted: French Interrupter." It was forwarded by our department secretary, who had received it from the Human Resources Manager at a big corporation with a regional headquarters somewhere he in the city. The e-mail went on to specify that he was "looking for a French Interrupter to interrupt semi-technical documents from French to English" and that he anticipated "90 documents needing interrupting." Because the word was repeated so many times, I thought I must have missed something. Maybe there was such a thing as an Iinterrupter, a special person whose chief duty it is to shout out in French during the middle of meetings, bringing everything to a halt.

But when I started talking to my classmates, I realized this was indeed a horrible gaff on the part of the HR guy. He obviously did understand the procedure of translating one language into another and had taken a wild guess at the correct term, falling far left of the mark and consequently, making himself the butt of many jokes. I just hope none of them actually made it back to his ears.

This situation made me wonder, though, why such seemingly horrific errors are so disturbing. I remember once flying from Chicago back to the northeast and discussing with the woman in the seat next to me where we'd each grown up. She was born and raised in Chicago, but I'd said I was from Connecticut. Soon it came out she had no idea where Connecticut was. I think she may have asked me if it was anywhere near Massachusetts. I tried my best to hide it, but in all honesty, I was appalled. How could anyone who had lived her whole life in the U.S. not know where Connecticut was?

Somehow, these moments of ignorance exposed aren't just humorous or pathetic. They're really kind of frightening, at least to me, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because my vision of the world is rocked when these moments arise. I expect adults, especially people in positions of authority, to be wiser than I am. And when it comes out that one or two of them are not, I am shocked. Part of me is ashamed for judging these people who suffer only from a lack of education, but another part of me needs to laugh it off in order to avoid losing my balance. And part of me wants to accept that there is another explanation for these gaps in what should be standard knowledge: maybe in some far more complex technical context, when drafting documents in a foreign language, the specific services provided by an Interrupter are absolutely essential. Maybe I'm the one who has yet to learn just how important an Interrupter really is.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

'Tis the Season...

I know what you're thinking.

You're thinking: "Wait a minute! 'Tis so NOT the season yet!"

But look at the calendar my friends. November 1st. That means the holiday juggernaut has been put in motion. Look around. See the Christmas lights in Walgreens? See the tinsel lining the shelves?

'Tis the season? You bet your sweet bippy.

Instead of grumbling about the rampant over-commercialization that is the modern "holiday season," I say let's embrace it. I for one will be breaking out the Christmas carols in the next few days. I'll probably have to wait on the garlands and lights though; I think Baker might strangle me in my sleep if I push my early holiday cheer on him too soon.

But hey, it's like I always say: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. So start wearing your Santa hat around and wishing everyone a "happy, happy." They might give you a bewildered look or simply glare back, but you won't care. You're already going to be in the holiday spirit, with a warm glow in your heart and a merry glint in your eye...