Friday, September 28, 2012

I would really like to support local small business but....

I find it very difficult sometimes. Most of the stores in my neighborhood are chain stores - grocery, major discount retailers, etc. - but every now and then I have an opportunity to support locally owned small retailers.  Today was one of those opportunities.  I needed a replacement heating element for my bathroom heater.  The two major hardware stores nearby only sell complete units so I would need to go to a small repair firm to get the part. 

I called the first one on my list.  They were able to locate the part number after I gave them the model number of the heater unit.  Then they told me I would need to mail them a check to an address across town and then after they received and cashed the check they would order the part.  They had no idea how long it would take for me to get it.  Since in this scenario they had my money and I did not have my heater part, I called the next shop on my list.

This shop kept telling me that I had a bad model number.  They were pretty insistent that it was wrong.  Actually it isn't wrong, it's just an old discontinued unit.  She told me once I could provide the "right" model number or the part number they would order it.  I never got as far as the payment practices because I didn't have the "right" number.

So finally, I resorted to the internet.  After I plugged in the model number and the word "heating element" up popped a nice internet store website that 1) showed all the different model numbers that this heating element would fit, 2) had the same price (only a few pennies less) than the price quoted to me by shop number 1, and 3) would take my credit card number and ship it immediately.  Since it is getting colder here and this is the only source of heat for our bathroom, I placed my order.  The entire transaction took about 2 minutes. 

So much for our local businesses.  I didn't use internet shopping on a price decision, I used it on a service decision. The human service I was receiving was just unsatisfactory.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I actually feel kind of sorry for Ann Romney

Although I think that she is a terrible, thoughtless, and rude person, I sort of feel sorry for her, too.  She's been made to be a main player in Mitt's campaign, required to meet, greet, and sell Mitt to the public.  Unfortunately it isn't a job for which she is well suited and it shows.  And it probably isn't something she ever wanted to have to do.  I'm certain she liked her pampered life where everyone took care of her every need, she had so much money and influence that no one ever disagreed with her point of view (at least not to her face), and where everyone thought that she, and Mitt, and the Mittens were just so perfect.  Her tantrums, and I'm certain that she's had many, were behind the solid closed doors of their home and not on public display. 

Now her life and her tantrums are public fodder.  I know how hard it is to bit your tongue, smile, memorize people's names and children's names, and make pleasant, inane conversation with people you hope never to see again.  It's hard and tiring and grates on your last nerve.  And in her case results in her saying something awful. I sometimes think she might be doing some of this subconsciously hoping that it will torpedo Romney's election chances, because if he would win this is her life in the public eye for the next four years.  She doesn't have the grace and the intelligence to handle the job of wife of a presidential candidate much less the job of First Lady, and I think she knows it.  I hope her plan works.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Wish Me Luck" - Netflix streaming recommendation

I got into the "Downton Abbey" craze late  in the cycle.  I missed the entire first season and by the time I caught up on that season the second season was in full swing.  I watched the second season in one marathon day before it was removed from the PBS website.  While suffering withdrawal, I searched on Netflix for other British shows I may have missed and I can highly recommend "Wish Me Luck", a fascinating 23 episode British show from 1988-90 about women who are recruited as British spies working with the French resistance in WWII.  Although it was a bit off-putting to have all the French characters speaking in British accents, while the Germans did have German accents, it was a fascinating look at how spy networks operated and assisted with the Resistance.  An excellent summary is available from Wikipedia -

Making it even more fascinating for me was that my neighbor, now deceased, had been awarded the Croix de Guerre for his work in France with the French Resistance.  I could just imagine kind, methodical Mr. Green, as one of the unassuming characters who were quietly doing some of the most dangerous work imaginable.

And I've always wondered if Mr. Green was actually Mr. Green or if that was a pseudonym that he had to assume.  My husband and I had always had a theory that Mr. Green was actually a CIA controller for another neighbor who was the operative.  Small things that to us just didn't make sense, when added up gave us a great theory (and I still maintain that it is true).  When I got the full story of his life at his funeral it made my theory even more plausible.  Early career as a communications person in the Army, Croix de Guerre for work in Occupied France, following WWII joined the OSS (predecessor to the CIA), and then spent most of his career with the State Department stationed in Africa and the Middle East, and a final posting in DC where he would meet the planes of foreign dignitaries and top US staff at all hours of the day and night.  (Hmmm, I wonder who was really on those planes???)

There was much mystery to Mr Green although at the end he lived a quiet suburban life with his wife and daughter. He was also a wonderful friend and the neighbor that my children always knew was the person to go to in case of emergency.  The rule at our house was that if there was an emergency, fire, whatever, you should run to Mr. Green's house - it was our own version of a safe house.

So, back to "Wish Me Luck"  - I highly recommend it.  Even though the people seem a bit too well dressed and well fed to have really been in Occupied France, the story line is based on some real people and real events and it is a much better use of your time in front of the TV that most of what is currently being produced.

Monday, September 17, 2012

my HGTV weekend

Front yard in progress.  

If I ever had any idea that fixing up old houses would be fun I've been disabused of that notion.  Although I obsessively watch home and garden tv and I do love a good project, tackling the minor fix-ups of KT and G's house to get it ready to rent was a three day extravaganza of cat hair.  They have, or I should say, KT has, two cats.  They shed ALL THE TIME.  And no one ever cleans thoroughly enough to rid the house of cat hair.

We started with cleaning out the stuff they left behind, including the singleton shoes (I wonder if they have the mates in Ann Arbor?), stuff left in the back of closets, and one of their good plates that I found on the back porch.  After filling a couple of garbage bags it was on to cleaning floors, walls, baseboards, and radiators of a sheer fuzz of cat hair.  That was before you could actually do anything else because every step you took, every breath you took, made the cat hair fly around.  So after sweeping and wiping all the surfaces Charlie took a final run through with the shop vac which has enough suction to vacuum up the entire cat.  Then we started on cleaning all the walls of dirt, smudges, streaks, etc.  They came out looking great and there is no need to paint.  Thank goodness for using good paint when it was last painted. 

Then I attacked the painting of the bathroom.  It had been completely redone last year after a major shower leak but they never got around to painting it.  They had selected a nice grey tone with looks really good with the black and white tiles and black grout.  My other painting project was to clean and paint the spot in the living room ceiling where the water had leaked from the bathroom.   I was able to get the spot cleaned up and painted but the texture of the paint doesn't match the rest of the ceiling.  I didn't bother to repaint the entire ceiling but it does bother me that it is slightly off.

Doesn't the kitchen look pretty!
Next on to cleaning the kitchen.  Opening the refrigerator was a surprise and included finding cat hair!  It looked like they still lived there including the box with the leftover pizza (which we ate for lunch) and I did appreciate the Natty Boh's that they left (National Bohemian beer for those of you not familiar with the famous beer of Baltimore).  The cabinets had all sorts of half-empty pasta boxes but after finding some  meal moths I discarded everything because I didn't want to take any home with me.  I also bug sprayed the kitchen cabinets so that the next person won't have that problem.  I used a great new bug spray that doesn't smell and lasts a year!  It was easy to do since the cabinets were all empty.

Charlie tackled lots of small repairs just to make the house look a little more "finished".  The girls have a tendency to get almost done with a project and stop just short of the last step.  My favorite "not quite done" example is one new knob for the kitchen cabinet I found with all sorts of assorted hardware items left in a kitchen drawer.  In the mix of assorted stuff I saw a knob that matched their cabinet knobs and I thought "Oh, they must have miscounted when they replaced them."  Then I looked up and saw that one cabinet still had the old knob on it.  In 30 seconds I replaced it with the new knob. 

Our final effort was to get all the tangle of weeds and vines cleared from the back yard.  This was the project that I most dreaded and it was surprisingly easy.  It seems that an earlier owner had put down that black fabric to keep weeds from growing.  It didn't keep the weeds from growing but it did keep them from growing deep roots so you could almost roll the vines up like a carpet.  We now have the yard down to dirt.  Not hugely attractive but at least you don't fear what may be living in the underbrush.

We did three solid days of work and now the house is cute as a button.  We had a lot of traffic looking at it while we were there, especially since the property manager had given the address in the craiglist ad and we got a lot of walk-ins.  I could assure the people that the parking situation is easy and the neighborhood is safe, especially the family that was looking at an apartment for their two college-age daughters.  I know that there are at least two applications for the house and, hopefully, we will get good news soon that it is rented.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

thoughts while mowing the lawn #3

  • I will really miss the girls when they are no longer in Baltimore. They leave on Thursday and we won't have a chance to see them again before they leave.  We saw them rarely while they lived in Baltimore but I knew that they were there, a mere hour away.  Close enough so that you didn't need to make airline reservations, and plan a trip in advance, and make it into a big deal.  Close enough that I knew that it was just possible that they might come down to DC to visit friends and spend the night with us.  Close enough that I could enjoy our time together instead of worrying about how soon it would be over. 
  • I actually like mowing the lawn but I hate edging and the sidewalk is getting overgrown by the grass.  How can I convince Charlie that he should pick up the edger occasionally?
  • Today is 9/11 and it is a beautiful, clear, blue-sky day just like in 2001.   I hear a plane overhead and remember well that fall when the only planes I would hear were the fighters patrolling the sky over our house.  Every night the drone put me to sleep. Something had to since Charlie was away on AF duty, and the children were away at school and there was nothing to do but listen to it.   It was a horrible constant reminder that life had changed forever.  But at the time I had no idea that I had more to fear from our country's reaction to the tragedy than I did from the terrorists. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

my election conumdrum

OK, I'm a Democrat but I actually have voted for a few Republicans in my day.  Senator John Warner of Virginia I liked, and I'm certain that there was somebody else sometime.  But now I think I've become a yellow-dog Democrat.  I can find no common ground with any of the Republicans because they have become not just mis-guided but are actually evil. 

I have a few friends who are Republicans.  We don't discuss politics and never have and they would do anything for me, but now I wonder do they condemn my lesbian daughter?  Are they uncomfortable around my African-Amercian best friend?  Do they shop at the more expensive grocery store because they really like spending more money than necessary for food or because they are afraid to go to our local stores which are full of immigrants from South America and Africa?  I find that I am now looking at these friends differently than I did in the past.  I look at them and I no longer see friends, I see bigots.  But really, these are nice people who go on mission trips, who volunteer their time, who would never say anything bad about a specific person because of their color, or origins, or their sexual orientation but who feel perfectly justified condemning groups of people.  But am I guilty of the same thing?  I like my friends but I deplore the Republicans.  And if they support Romney/Ryan aren't they supporting bigotry against the people who need our help - the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the struggling, the people of color?  And how can I be friends with a bigot?

Saturday, September 08, 2012

to use up the last of the zucchini

Actually I have no garden so have no surplus of zucchini but they were a great price at the grocery this week.  I found this recipe in the Washington Post and gave it a try.  I must admit that I made some changes based on what I actually had on hand but it still turned out to be delicious.  I used a mix of fresh Italian parsley and curly parsley since my Italian parsley has been stunted by our drought but you just can't kill curly parsley.  I used less feta since I didn't have 1/2 cup feta, and I used dried dill since I had no fresh dill.  Oh, I also substituted a bit (not nearly a half cup) of yellow onion for the scallions.  Also, their zucchini must be far bigger than mine as I used 1 1/2 half average size zucchini, which measured at 1 1/2 cups before I took the water out, and we got about 7 patties from it. The only thing I would do is use more salt as I had to add salt at the table.  Maybe if you used the requested feta it would have a saltier taste.  But, this was quick, easy and forgiving.  I would definitely put this on my "ways to use up zucchini" list.

 Zucchini Cakes with Feta
From the Washington Post. Adapted From Bon Appetit
Makes 12-18 patties, depending on size
11 / 2 cups coarsely grated zucchini (from about 1 large)
1 tsp salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
½ cup (or more) all-purpose flour
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
½ cup chopped green onions
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh dill
½ cup (about) olive oil
½ cup (about) grapeseed oil
Plain Greek yogurt (optional, for dipping) 
Toss zucchini and ½ teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Transfer to a sieve. Press out excess liquid; place zucchini in a dry bowl. Mix in egg, egg yolk, ½ cup flour, cheese, and ½ teaspoon salt. Mix in parsley, onions and dill. If batter is very wet, add more flour by the spoonful.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, drop batter by rounded tablespoons into skillet. Fry patties until golden, 5 minutes per side, adding more oil as needed. Transfer to paper towels. Serve with yogurt.
Can be made 1 day ahead. Place on baking sheet, cover and chill. Rewarm uncovered in 350 degree oven for 12 minutes.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


I love summer.  I've always loved summer and have never understood those people who say that they look forward to the crisp days of fall.  Fall is such a transition time and transitioning to winter is depressing to me so the approach of fall is always a disappointment. I've noticed the days getting shorter, hearing the children playing outside in the twilight because it is now dark before bedtime.  I've watched the calendar creep slowly to September. School started today and in a couple of weeks we may even need a sweater on cool nights.  It happens quickly here.  Just as we plunge directly into summer, we sink profoundly into fall and start our slow descent into winter.

My father is also transitioning to needing more attention.  His failing sight means he can't do many of the things that he enjoyed, Although he can see around his house, and most of the TV,  he no longer can do things that require close work, especially using the internet to watch his stock portfolio, read stupid jokes, and keep in touch with friends through email.  I now spend a few hours each day doing these things for him and I think he hopes I'll eventually learn how the stock market works if only we go over the P/E, the EPS, and Yield one more time.  He's been trying to teach me for years and refuses to admit that it just makes absolutely no sense to me.  He truly fears the transition of his stock portfolio to me as much as I do.  But a bigger transition is his transition to OLD.  At 91, he still remains amazingly healthy except for his sight issues but that loss is truly a descent to being needy.

And the transition of K and G to their new life in Ann Arbor.  The movers arrived today.  We went to Baltimore yesterday to dismantle the bed frame so it could get down the narrow staircase of their row house.  They were madly packing random stuff into random boxes and not labeling anything.  The mother in me wanted to give directions on why knowing what was kitchen stuff, versus bedroom stuff, versus basement stuff might be useful but then I just shut my mouth and said "Why don't we take a break and dad and I will take you out to dinner."  We all enjoyed dinner.  They are still transitioning into adults and I've got to let them do that on their own.

And I need to transition to some new activities and interests.  I've gotten lazy this summer and need to establish a new schedule which includes more than laundry, cleaning, and my father.