Dear John Letters and Men I Have Enjoyed

8/20/18 10:50 AM

Since Friday afternoon, I’ve done nothing but lay on the couch and play video games or watch TV. While I enjoy doing both, normally it’s just for a two or three hours max at a time. Not an entire weekend.  Early last week, I started coming down with a cold. By Friday afternoon, I was miserable, with just enough energy to change the TV input from PS4 to Roku.  I tried to write, but my brain was too focused on trying to get air for me to produce anything decent.  Hence, the cold-medicine induced, slug-like existence for two and half days.

You might think that having an entire weekend to catch up on shows I’ve been wanting to watch isn’t such a bad thing. The problem was, I was finding it hard to concentrate on anything that remotely required thought. Which left me with movies that I’ve seen before and romance movies.

Don’t get me wrong, even though I’m not a big fan of romance movies now, I used to love them. A few still rank in my top movies of all time. The Way We Were, Officer and Gentlemen, Urban Cowboy, Say Anything and Moonstruck, just to name a few. You’ll notice that all of those were released at least thirty years ago. The only recent (as in the last fifteen years) romance movies I remember enjoying are Brokeback Mountain and Walk the Line. Dennis made me watch The Notebook by Nicolas Sparks when it came out. (Spoiler alert here) I think I’m the only person who saw that movie that was hoping for them to die already so the damn movie could be over.

Well, I was so sick this weekend, that I watched another Nicolas Sparks movie, Nights in Rodanthe. Voluntarily. To be fair, I only watched 3/4’s of it because I fell asleep. And I only chose it because it had Richard Gere and Viola Davis in it. (I found out it was a Nicolas Sparks story when I saw his name in the opening credits.)

I watched another romance movie on Netflix called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It’s a period piece, set in the English island of Guernsey, right after WWII. It had gorgeous scenery, excellent 1940’s fashion and it features Lady Rose, Lady Sybil and Mrs. Crowley from Downton Abbey. The plot is predictable, which is okay when you’re in a slug-like state. I actually enjoyed it.

Most of what I watched this weekend, however, were movies that I’ve already seen. I watched Walk the Line again, with Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix and enjoyed it. I watched Pulp Fiction with John Travolta, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis (probably one of my all time favorite movies ever) and I still loved it. I watched Gross Point Blank with John Cusack (one of my favorite stars of all time) and Minnie Driver … and I thought it was stupid. I found John Cusack’s character, Martin, to be annoying and unsympathetic, not at all the lovable goof that he’s always been.

How can this be? I’ve seen that movie lots of times before and I always enjoyed it. I love dark humor. I love John Cusack.  I’ve always loved John Cusack ever since I saw him in Sure Thing back in my freshman year of college in 1985.  There’s a part in that movie where John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga are talking about potential names for their future children, and John says (paraphrasing here), “Nick is a kind of guy you can drink beers with and he doesn’t care if you puke in his truck…”. There was a guy in our group named Nick, and to our unsophisticated 18-year old brains, this was hilarious and we spent the next few weeks repeating the line to each other.

I’ve never been the type to get crushes on celebrities, even when I was young. John Cusack was the closest that I came to that, partly, because he comes from the Chicago area which is a few hours south from where I live. He was one of us. He came from the Midwest. My friend had friend who lived near Cusack’s childhood home, and when she visited her, my friend took a picture of his house for me. I have no idea if that’s actually his home, but I was thrilled to get it, just the same.

Cusack’s character, Gib, in Sure Thing is a quirky, awkward, big-hearted guy who fumbles his way through life and still ends up getting the girl in the end. Cusack reprises this character in many different roles (thank you IMDB): John Trager in Seredipity, Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, Martin Blank in Grosse Point Blank, and, my personal favorite, Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything. Who could resist broken-hearted John Cusack holding up a gigantic boom box outside of Ione Skye’s window at the crack of dawn, playing “their” song? Sigh. Not me, back in 1989 when the movie was released. Now, in 2018 with my new-found disdain for Grosse Point Blank, I’m not so sure.

I’m a little afraid to watch Say Anything again. What if I don’t like it either? Instead of Lloyd being adorably awkward, what if I think he’s a whiny freeloader with no future? That would be very sad. I’d feel like I lost an old friend.

I had a similar experience when I watched Urban Cowboy a few years ago. I loved John Travolta when I was young, almost as much as I loved John Cusack. Grease was the first movie of Travolta’s that I was allowed to see other than watching him on Welcome Back, Kotter. Grease was a favorite of mine for years, and I even had a comic book of the story made from screen shots of the movie.  

Then came Urban Cowboy in 1980. John Travolta was “good-guy”cowboy Bud, who was competing with “bad boy” Wes, (Scott Glenn) for the love of cowgirl, Sissy (Debra Winger).  There was lots of two-stepping, tight blue jeans and John Travolta dimples. I was fourteen when I saw it and I was smitten. I saw the movie with a group of girlfriends and I remember one of them said she liked bad-boy Wes better than John Travolta. How could this be?

I never considered that as a possibility until I watched Urban Cowboy again several years ago. I still enjoyed the movie, however, “good guy” Bud hits Sissy. So does “bad boy”, Wes. But “good guy” Bud hits Sissy less than “bad boy” Wes hits her, so I guess that made Bud the better choice in 1980.  John Travolta was still cute with his dimples, but Wes, oh my gosh. Wes was Hot (yes, that capitalization is intentional). I finally understood his appeal, if you ignore his propensity for beating women, that is. (As a side note, I was happy to see Scott Glenn reappar this weekend in Nights in Rodanthe as Robert Torrelson, the grieving widow. I’m also enjoying him in the Stephen King series, Castle Rock, on Hulu).

So, was it my drug-addled brain that caused me to dislike Martin in Grosse Point Blank or have my tastes changed to the point that old favorites aren’t favorites anymore? If I watch The Way we Were will Hubble come off as entitled and pretentious and Katie as opinionated and domineering? In Officer and a Gentleman, will Paula seem opportunistic and Zack self-absorbed? In Moonstruck, maybe Loretta and Ronny will seem selfish and kinda slutty instead of two souls destined to be together?

I’m a little afraid to find out. I don’t want to say good bye to the old favorites. What’s next? Will I start to dislike books I used to love? Will Gone With the Wind be tedious and Little Women be sappy? Perish the thought!

Both of the beloved Johns, Cusack and Travolta, went on to play other more well-developed characters in some really excellent movies. Cusack did a great job playing Richard Nixon in The Butler and Travolta’s hit-man, Vicent Vega in Pulp Fiction is my favorite character, ever, that Travolta has played.

I’m not quite ready to send Dear John letters to the famous Johns I’ve enjoyed. Nor am I ready to give up the less-noteworthy characters and stories from my youth that they portrayed. I just have to remember to view them with a younger set of eyes when I watch them.

12:10 (I gave myself extra time to write this one due to the the following: IMDB research for character names, coughing fits, and the doing and redoing of laundry –I washed my never-before-washed hot pink sweater with my white jeans. Although, I’m better, I think some slug-brain remnants still remain.

Bleach is a wonderful thing.

Emerald Green Leaves

Friday, August 10th 8:36 AM

The fabric of summer has changed for me. It used to mean flowers and birds singing,  days that lasted well into nights, and nights that still wore the glow of the sun long past the moment it dipped beneath the horizon.

It was a time for watching fireflies and enjoying the hum of cicada’s in the hot, sticky afternoons while the sun still hung high in the sky. Enjoying the late summer wildflowers blooming in a cacophony of colors. Colors that serve as a gentle reminder that summer is fleeting and fall is close at hand; golden yellow, dusky purple, deep chocolate brown, and antique white all set against a back drop of green. Rich, bold, luscious colors of green;  forest green, sage green and emerald green.  Deep, mature colors, coaxed out of the chartreuse and lime greens of spring, brought forth by living through the days of summer.

Those things are all still true, of course. Summer is still warm and sunny for the most part. Cicadas still sing and so do the birds.  Wildflowers bloom, and sun still hangs on to the last few precious weeks of soaring high this time of year.

None of the hallmarks of summer have changed. Instead, it’s me who’s changed. For most of my life, I’ve been the young chartreuse lime green leaf, enjoying all the bounties summer has to offer with very little consideration of fall. But now, I’m the forest green emerald leaf. My color has deepened, my leaves are more substantial. I’m aware of what went into the evolution of that leaf from a tender, spring shoot to a substantial leaf, capable of offering shelter from the sun and the rain. Now, fall doesn’t seem as far off as it used to.

Life colors the fabric we’re made of, whether it’s a leaf or a person. We absorb the climate we live in, and the experiences we’re given. We grow and we change and evolve. It’s not a bad thing, I don’t think. Nor is it a good thing. It simply is life; as the lime green shoots of spring evolve into the ripe emerald green of late summer, and, eventually, the vibrant reds and yellow of fall, so we grow and mature through stages in our lives.

This forest green stage of life isn’t bad. It’s a more reflective, more thoughtful stage where intentional deliberation rules the day. The careless choices of yesterday seem frivolous and immature; remnants of another time where summer seemed to last forever and fall was a time of enjoying the pretty leaves with no consideration of the decay inside that caused the vibrant display of color.

One upshot of this stage, for me, is a renewed focus on what I want to accomplish with my life. Perhaps I should say the rest of my life, because I certainly have goals that I accomplished up to this point. The focus of this summer, for me, has been to answer the question, “What comes next?”

Dennis has a job that he really enjoys and it’s given me the itch to return to work. I remember jobs I truly enjoyed and it’s a rewarding event when that happens.  I wouldn’t mind having that again, if I could find that kind of a situation. They’re not easy to come by. And, for me, I know that a job will take the majority of my energy which will leave little left for creating, which is my favorite thing in the world to do, whether it be writing, quilting or cooking. And therein, I found my answer.

The resounding truth, and the only goal I’m sure I want to accomplish, is to finish writing the book that I started back in 2001. I wasn’t quite a lime green shoot of spring when I started it, but I wasn’t the full-blown emerald green leaf I am today, either. I’ve started and stopped writing the book a dozen times, but this time is different. Even though I don’t know if it will ever be published, or read by anyone other than Dennis, I know it needs to be done.

That is what I’ve dedicated this summer to accomplishing. I packed away my quilting, which I do miss. I’m way behind on my tv shows and I haven’t played video games in two months. I hired a writing coach and I joined a critique group.  And I am creating. My goal is to be finished with the first draft by my birthday at the end of August. As of this week, I crossed the two hundred page mark, and I think I am on track to complete the first draft this month. My goal is to complete my first revision with my writing coach by the end of the year.

What happens after that? I don’t know and that’s okay. Maybe it will get published. Maybe not. But it will be done, finally, and I will once again consider, what’s next?

9:34 AM

 

We Found a First!

August 2, 2018 3:24 PM

A momentous event happened in our house last night. It was more than momentous, it was a first. When you’re fifty-one, it’s not easy to have a first of anything, or at least a first of anything you that haven’t already wanted to try.

What was the blessed event that moved to me write a blog post today, when I haven’t written one in the past week? (Sorry about the limited posts of late, but I’m spending all my spare time working on my novel, which is now at 56,800 words. My goal is to get the first draft done, which will be about 75,000 words, by the end of the month). Anyway, I digress. Back to the blessed, momentous, first-time event that rocked our world last night.

Here it is. Are you ready? Dennis ate this last night as part of his dinner.

coleslaw

Yes, it’s a bowl of coleslaw. Nothing special, just plain coleslaw with a few sunflower seeds, almonds and crunchy ramen noodles thrown in. This can’t be the momentous, first-time, earth-changing event, can it, you ask?  Well, no. I never said earth-changing. It was, however, a momentous, first-time event in our house because Dennis does not eat raw cabbage. Ever.

In fact, when I met Dennis back in 1995, he didn’t eat much of anything other than pepperoni pizza, grilled chicken breast sandwiches plain, sweet and sour chicken (but no peppers or pineapple) french fries and hamburgers with ketchup.  If he ate spaghetti, it was with a canned sauce with no hint of vegetables in it. Anything with an unidentified chunk of anything was dismissed an inedible and very likely to kill him if he tried it. Onions were, and still are, the bane of his existence.

Gradually, as the years passed, I noticed that Dennis was making an effort to expand his palate. He tried an egg roll when we were out for lunch at a Chinese restaurant, and he liked it. (I didn’t tell him there was cabbage in it for twenty years).

He began to accept chunks of tomato in his spaghetti sauce. He ate my Swedish meatballs with relish (there were tons of grated onion in them). Around the time we got married, Dennis warmed up to the idea of eating something green. We started with iceberg lettuce which is a very pale green. That went okay, so I tried Romaine. Still good. We’ve branched into all kinds of baby lettuce now, although purple lettuce and spinach are still verboten in our house. I can live with that.

Last night, as I was making the coleslaw salad for myself, Dennis saw the almonds and the sunflower seeds out on the counter. Dennis loves sunflower seeds. I tease him that he adds a little lettuce to his sunflower seed salads.

Sunflower seeds AND toasted almonds got his attention. How bad could coleslaw be, he asked, with those as the ingredients. I suggested he give the coleslaw a try. After all, I reasoned, he’s been eating cabbage in egg rolls for years. This isn’t much different. I even offered to make him his own salad sans the green onions. (I didn’t want to push my luck.)

To my utter shock, Dennis agreed. Dennis agreed to eat raw cabbage. And he liked it! The man who, twenty years ago, ate nothing but a five or six different foods, none of it green or raw or a vegetable, actually enjoyed a coleslaw salad.

Hurray! I thought. Now I have a reason to make it more often. The last time I made that recipe was around 1998, for an office party. It seems like a lot of work to make for just me. If we both enjoy it, however, it becomes much more feasible.

While it was only coleslaw, it was a momentous occasion in our house. (And it possibly illustrated the fact that Dennis and I need to get out more if his eating coleslaw is a momentous event. But that’s a whole other blog post.)

Unfortunately, the coleslaw-high was short-lived. Dennis woke up with a migraine this morning and his migraines are often triggered by food. The coleslaw was the only new thing Dennis ate yesterday, so he’s blaming the coleslaw for the migraine. I’m holding out hope that it was just a fluke.

Unfortunately, I expect it will take another twenty years before I can talk Dennis into trying coleslaw again.

3:56 PM

 

Making Lists

July 21, 2018 11:01 AM

I’m a big fan of people watching and eavesdropping in on conversations.  It’s honestly not that I’m nosy; I really don’t care how other people live their lives. But I do enjoy watching the interactions people have with each other and I often try to guess the nature of their relationships. They become characters in my own little story. I’ve seen a lot of interesting interactions over the years and I’ve even used some of them as inspiration to write actual stories. I’ve decided to set up a separate category on this blog where I can share the interactions I have observed that have touched me through the years. It’s called “Interesting Folks”. This will be the first entry.

Dennis and I went to the farmer’s market in Waukesha this morning and, afterward, we went to a local restaurant for breakfast. It was peak breakfast time and it was crowded, so we took the only open booth. This booth happened to be across from a booth where a woman, probably in her late thirties, sat with an elderly couple. I assumed they were her parents.

The elderly man sat on one side of the booth, the elderly woman shared the other side with her daughter.  Immediately, I was reminded of going out for a meal with my parents. This was always the seating arrangement for us, too.

The first thing I heard the daughter say, in tone that was slightly too enthusiastic to be entirely genuine, was how nice it was to see them once a week. She got no verbal response from her parents. The father smiled, the mother didn’t react — or she didn’t react enough that I could see it out of my peripheral vision.

There was silence until the daughter brought up an entirely new topic of conversation after twenty seconds or so had passed. She elicited a few words from each with that topic, but no real back and forth conversation ensued.

And so it went for their entire meal. The daughter tried various topics of conversation and the parents responded with a few words before the silence returned and the daughter introduced an entirely new topic. I wondered if the daughter had a list of topics stashed in her purse (like I used to have when I went out for a meal with my mom) where she could “check her phone” and glance at it if the conversation really hit a wall. I remember my mom used to carry a list of topics in her purse when her and my father took my grandma out for a meal.

Don’t get me wrong, the interactions of this family were not at all unpleasant. But they weren’t the effortless chatter that comes from a family that is truly comfortable together, either. I could feel all three of them trying, each parent spoke a little and asked the daughter an occasional question. The daughter was attentive and responsive to both her parents and remained upbeat and enthusiastic throughout the meal. It was the strained dynamic, though, of three people who love each other, but aren’t connected the way they once were and are struggling to find common ground.

As I sat there, I felt the daughter’s struggle; the attempt of an adult child trying to reach out to elderly parents to bridge the gap that has grown from passing years, and diverging lives. I felt the struggle of the parents, too; trying to connect with an adult child with whom there is little in common with now except for shared memories and shared DNA. There was probably a sense of relief for all three, and then a sense of guilt, when the meal was done and they could go their separate ways.

This family reminded me of my experiences with my own parents, especially my mom. After my dad died, I would take her out for a meal two or three times a week. Often, Dennis and my son would join us. Sometimes not. It was difficult to come up with conversation, especially since, if I didn’t see her, I would talk to her everyday on the phone.

Unlike the family next to me, my mom would come armed with her own topics to introduce when the silences fell heavy on the table. She probably had a list in her purse, too. I found a list of topics to discuss with me that my mom made and saved, next to her phone, when I was cleaning out her house.

Cats

Tony

The Americans (one of mom’s favorite shows)

What you made for dinner

I kept it, tucked away in a shoe box, along with her glasses and the small stack of recipes she still used.

Is it sad, that a mother/daughter relationship gets relegated to a list of topics of conversation on a piece of paper? It is. I know it doesn’t happen in all families, but it did in mine. And, I believe based on what I saw today, it does in others, too.

I wanted to reach out to the daughter and tell her I understood the struggle, the responsibility, and the loss, that she was probably feeling. Nothing underscores how far life has taken you from a parent than having to grasp for common ground in which to share.

I was reminded of my mom earlier, today, too, at the farmer’s market. I saw the beautiful bouquets of flowers that were for sale, and it reminded me of the times that I bought one for her. It made me miss her, even though our conversations didn’t come easy in the end.

Was I right about the interactions of this family at the restaurant? Maybe they were acquaintances and not even family at all. I’ll never know, but it doesn’t really matter. They touched me and made me remember my mom, so whatever the true relationship is, they’re a family to me now.

11:59 AM

 

To Fair or Not to Fair, That is the Question

July 19, 2018 10:39 AM

Have you noticed that I devote a lot of my posts to food? I think I need a new hobby. You may think, based on the title, that this post is not about food, but about a fair. You would be wrong. This post is about fair food; my very favorite fair food, the Swiss in Rye on a stick.

swiss and rye

The pinnacle of fair-food, in my opinion. (picture from Shepard Express)

The Swiss in Rye is a large chunk of Swiss cheese stuck on a skewer, dipped into a Rye batter and deep-fried until it reaches the temperature of hot, molten lava. It’s served with brown mustard and lots of napkins.

It is, and has been, my favorite fair treat for the last twenty years. It’s hot and crispy and gooey and salty and a wonderful mix of all things bad for you.  Cholesterol? Check. Fat? Check. Calories? I don’t even want to know.

The Swiss and Rye is found only at a food truck called Hot Wisconsin Cheese. It even has a cow print painted on the truck.

hot cheese booth

Of course, such a treat as a chuck of cheese, deep fried and battered, would come from a place with Wisconsin in it’s name. We do love our cheese!

The Hot Wisconsin Cheese food truck can be found at State and County fairs throughout the Midwest. Their Facebook page says they travel as far as Florida during the winter months. (Lucky them!)

Typically, I get my yearly cheese fix from them at the Wisconsin State Fair. It’s the first place I visit when we go to the fair. Often, it’s the only food place I visit, if I fail to control myself and consume the whole thing. That happens a lot. I can tell you from experience, that if you eat an entire Swiss and Rye, you will not be hungry for the next eight hours, at a minimum.

Dennis and I could share a Swiss and Rye. But, honestly, I really don’t like sharing my Swiss and Rye. I was an only child. That’s my excuse.

In order to enjoy all the other bad-for-me-treats that I like to sample at the State Fair, I have to either restrain myself and only eat a quarter of the Swiss and Rye (not likely), stay at the fair long enough to get hungry again (also, not likely. We’re done after 2 or 3 hours) or visit the State Fair on multiple days and only get the Swiss and Rye once. (For the record, if I do get Swiss and Rye on subsequent visits, I do share with Dennis. It’s just the first one that’s all mine.)

Option number three, visit the fair on multiple days, is what we’ve done most often in the past. It works well and it gives us a chance to see different bands throughout the run of the fair, too. When we get sick of the crowds after a few hours we can leave, knowing, we’ll see whatever we missed the next time we go.

Two years ago, I came up with a fourth option. Attend another event where the Swiss and Rye is served. This would allow me TWO opportunities to get it within the year. (We won’t go into the discussion as to whether I should be eating this twice a year. I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t even be eating them once a year, but that’s besides the point.)

This weekend, the Swiss and Rye opportunity is presenting itself in the form of the Waukesha County Fair. They’ve had a Hot Wisconsin Cheese Truck there the past two years. Although, I didn’t see it listed on their Facebook Page or on the Waukesha County Fair’s list of vendors, so I’m wondering if they’re there this year.

Waukesha County Fair is a fairly good-sized county fair and it had the usual local 4-H displays, some animals, a midway which we never go to, and a smattering of vendors selling windows and hot tubs. Occasionally, they have a band from the 80’s I’m interested in seeing, but they don’t this year. So, therein, lies the conundrum Dennis and I are facing.

Do we go to the Waukesha County Fair just to get the Swiss and Rye which may not even be there this year? That’s a lot of money to spend for admission and parking for a hunk of deep-fried cheese that I really shouldn’t be eating anyway.

On the other hand, there is a very small window in which I can get the cheese, and it’s supposed to be warm, and sunny this weekend. Walking around the fair, eating cheese and people-watching doesn’t sound like a bad way to kill a Saturday afternoon.

Back to the question I posed earlier. To Fair or Not to Fair? At this point, I think Not to Fair, but only because I’m not certain Hot Wisconsin Cheese is there. If anyone happens to attend the fair and sees the happy little food truck painted yellow with black cow markings, please comment and let me know. I will be forever grateful. My thighs, however, will not.

Did I mention we’re trying out another swim spa option this weekend?

11:07 AM

Who Says You Can’t Relive your Childhood?

July 15, 2018 6:35 PM

It’s been one of those days for the past two weeks. Whatever inconvenient, irritating, and unpleasant event that could occur did. None of it was a life-changing event, thankfully, but it hasn’t been the greatest month either.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, this is the around the time my mom died last year. She went into the hospital on June 25th and died July 10th. I handled the one year anniversary, okay, I think. I also know that it did cast a shadow on the last few weeks, which didn’t make them easier.

It all started about three weeks ago when one of my cats got a virus. Which he gave to one of our other cats. Who gave it back to him. On top of this I got sick, too. This caused the New Jersey trip to be cancelled for me and for Dennis, who had to stay home and take care of me.  That meant no testing out the swim spa, no Italian dinners and no uninterrupted writing time in the hotel for me. That also meant no cash back on my non-refundable plane ticket.

In addition to me and my and cats being sick, our appliances got sick, too. First, the hot water heater started leaking. Got that replaced just in time for the washing machine to break. And when I say break, I mean BREAK. As in the water shut off valve didn’t shut off and the washing machine flooded the laundry room, bathroom, hallway and half the kitchen.

flood kitchen

Kitchen during mid-clean-up. The water made it to the fridge. The soda on the counter was rescued from the flooded hall closet.

flood dennis

Dennis mopping up the mess. We have since invested in a wet/dry vac.

It only ran for 10 or 15 minutes before I noticed a pond of water in front of the kitchen sink, but it was enough time for the water to seep through the floor boards into the finished basement where it soaked ceiling tiles and carpet.

ceiling tiles 2

Bulging ceiling tile ready to dump water everywhere.

Unfortunately, the water didn’t impact the stove. It survived. The side counter took a hit, however, when Dennis was moving the stove out so we could dry the floor.

counter

Nothing a little super glue can’t fix.

We eventually got everything cleaned up but we’re now without a washing machine until the middle of this week. Great fun.

In the midst of the chaos, I was on Amazon searching for a book to download when Amazon suggested that I might like to buy some Chuckles. The candy. Remember Chuckles? The soft, chewy fruit candies that are crosses between Jujubee’s and gum drops?

I loved Chuckles as a kid. I didn’t know that they even made them anymore. Why, yes, Amazon. I would like to order Chuckles, thank you very much.

Since I liked Chuckles, Amazon then suggested I might like Brach’s Nougats with bits of gum drops in the them. OHMYGOD! I loved, loved, loved those as a kid! Even more than Chuckles. Yes, of course, Amazon. Send me those, too.

After the nougats, came the suggestion of Brach’s caramel chews. The flavored ones with vanilla, maple, orange and chocolate. Yum! Who doesn’t love those? Bring ’em on, Amazon.

I’m sure you can see where this is heading. Amazon suggested yet another favorite from my youth — although, this was more college years than pre-teen years. Sunkist fruit chews. The soft, gelatinous chews in raspberry, lime (my favorite), and grapefruit. Delectible! I remember driving to college munching those on a way there, listening to Bon Jovi. Gotta have those, too.

Isn’t Amazon’s One-Click ordering a wonderful thing? Okay, maybe it isn’t, but I thought it was at the time and I was in a very good mood when I was done. For the first time that week. And it’s not like I bought everything Amazon suggested. I turned down the Bit-O-Honeys and the Candy buttons (remember those? The dots you picked off the paper and ate. Except I always ended up eating some paper that got stuck on the candies, too).

After my little shopping spree was over I casually mentioned to Dennis over dinner that I ordered some candy from Amazon. I didn’t tell him how much I ordered.

The one downside to ordering candy that is hard to find in stores nowadays, is that it only comes in bulk on Amazon. As in three to five pound bags. At a minimum.  I kind of bought A LOT of candy.

Thanks to the magic of Amazon, three out of my four candies were delivered the next day. When Dennis went to pick up the box I warned him again that I ordered several kinds of candy and that they were all stuffed in one box.

It was a small, unassuming box. Maybe a little larger than a shoe box. But it was a densely packed box that had a fair amount of weight to it Dennis went to pick it up and I heard a distinctive, “oof” when he lifted it followed by a surprised look on his face. I reminded him that I told him I ordered several kinds of candy and three of the four were in that box.

He just nodded and dropped the box on the table with a thud.

I opened it up and it was glorious! I felt like a kid in Willie Wonka (the original with Gene Wilder, of course) who went into the room where everything was edible. All my childhood favorites were there in one sugar-laden, calorie-intensive, mood-altering box. It blasted me right back to my childhood where I was watching Happy Days and eating my allotted three pieces of candy a night.

That’s the good thing about being an adult and dealing with canceling trips, sick animals, and over-flowing appliances. You can eat more than your allotted three pieces of candy in a night.

And I did. For several days in a row. And it made me happy during a week when I wasn’t feeling very happy at all.

I hope that I am still as happy with my impulse purchases a year from now when we’re still working our way through twelve or so pounds of candy.

candy

Three of the four bags that I ordered. I ate the Chuckles first.

7:18  PM

 

My Curmudgeonly Celebration

July 4, 2018 11:14 AM

This morning, I embarked on another baking project using a Cook’s Country recipe. It wasn’t nearly as complex as the last one, but it was still way more putzy than the original.

My masterpiece for the day? Rice Krispie Squares with red, white and blue Rice Krispies which are my nod to celebrating the 4th of July.

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It’s not that I don’t like the 4th of July. It’s fine. I’m not a big fan of sitting outside watching fireworks with crowds of people. We don’t go to fireworks. Nor am I a fan of eating outside, so that rules out barbecues and picnics (not to mention the fact we aren’t invited those sort of events, anyway). I know, I sound like a curmudgeon, don’t  I?

This year, we are celebrating the 4th in our own way. We’ve got a few games planned for this afternoon that we’ll be playing and then we are going to Melting Pot for dinner. I expect Melting Pot will be empty, but who knows? Maybe there are other curmudgeon people out there like me who’s idea of a 4th of July Feast is dipping a wad of bread into hot cheese. (Yum!)

I want to be home before dark and the fireworks begin because the noise freaks out the dogs and one of our cats. Not that being with them does much good, they’re still freaked out, but at least they’re not freaked out and alone.

One of my first memories in life is actually from freaking out on the 4th of July. I remember being in my crib, crying because of the fireworks going off next door to our house. My father was irritated and he wanted to go over to the neighbors and tell them to be quiet, but my mother said he couldn’t do that because it was the 4th of July and it would be over soon.  Not sure how old I was, but I know I was in a crib, so maybe 2 or 3, at the most.

I remember another 4th of July with my parents when I was about 13. My mother decided we needed to do something different for the holiday so she dragged me and my father to a civil war re-enactment at a Military Academy near our house. I remember it because I was so miserable. We all were. It was sunny and hot. The re-enactment was in the middle of field that we had to walk forever in knee high prickly grass to get to. Then, being a civil war re-enactment, they started shooting blanks from cannons, so it was loud and stinky. I think we lasted an hour for the entire outing, including the time it took to walk into the field and back out again. We practically ran back out we were so anxious to leave. It felt wonderful to get back home into our air conditioned house and finish the book I had been reading. I guess I’ve been a curmudgeon all my life when it comes to 4th of July activities.

Okay, not my entire life. I remember one year I went to Summerfest on the 4th of July with a boyfriend. I was seventeen, almost eighteen, and I thought it was great fun. So, I guess there’s been pockets of times where I’ve embraced more socially-focused celebrations. I’ve gone to a few card parties on that 4th of July and those have been fun. But’s it’s playing cards. Playing cards always trumps my non-social, curmudgeon tendencies.

Unfortunately, this 4th of July reminds me of last 4th of July, which was not good. I know I have my blog post from last year, however, I haven’t and won’t read it. I remember the content and where I was at emotionally, all too well. So I’m trying to not remember too much about that this year.

So, back to the original topic of this post — I digressed a bit there — how did my next baking recipe from Cook’s Country go? Making Rice Krispie treats is pretty easy and a pretty basic recipe, so how much more work could the Cook’s Country recipe really be? And how much better could the product be?

In terms of cooking, it called for weighing the quantity of 10 ounces of cereal instead of measuring it. Okay. Did you know there are 10.10 ounces in a standard Rice Krispie box? Not sure that I really needed to weigh that, Cook’s Country, but now I know. (And I threw caution to the wind and I threw in the .10 ounces.)

The recipe called for 20 ounces of marshallmallows, but I could only find 16 ounce bags, so I weighed those, too. I’m very impressed that there are exactly 16 ounces of marshmallows in a 16 ounce bag. I weighed out the extra four ounces of marshmallows after I retrieved the marshmallow that the cat stole when it fell on the floor. (I’ve read that cats can’t taste sweet flavors. Herbie does not agree.)

It also called for a stick a butter which is not quite double the amount of butter the original recipe calls for on the back of the cereal box. Extra butter is always a good sign of a tasty outcome.

The recipe also called for vanilla which I’ve never used in the recipe before.

Cooking it was the same as any other recipe. It was sticky, I got marshmallow all over me and the stove. At the end, the recipe instructed me to pat the treats down with wet hands once I got the gooey mix into the pan. So I did that. And promptly burned the hell out of a finger. Marshmallow gets HOT. It STAYS hot. And when hot marshmallow gets on your skin it hunkers down and burrows in the for the duration. There is no quick wipe off on the towel. I don’t think it’ll blister, though. Thanks, a lot, Cook’s Country. Next time I’m using a spatula.

Now for the most important part? How do they taste? Was the weighing and measuring worth it?

Yes! Unequivocally, yes! The are buttery, and firm enough to hold together but soft enough to pull apart (with strings of gooey marshmallow) and eat.

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Another Cook’s Country success in spite of a burned finger. But what the heck, what’s  the 4th of July without a burned finger or two? Plenty of people will have them after the home fireworks and sparklers tonight. This 4th of July curmudgeon will finally fit in.

Happy 4th of July, for those of you in the US. Be safe and enjoy, however you choose to celebrate.

11:45 AM

 

 

Battle of the Ear Worms

July 1st, 2018 6:57 PM

Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I’ll make an acorn cake.

This little rhyme has been going through my head all day. It’s from a children’s book, one of my favorites, called Miss Suzy. Miss Suzy is a mild-mannered little gray squirrel who likes to bake and clean in her house at the top of her tree. One day, some nasty brutes, the red squirrels, invade her home and she’s forced to evacuate. Thankfully, the tin soldiers who befriend Miss Suzy defend her against the red squirrels in the end. (Sorry about the spoiler.)

Miss Suzy

Isn’t Miss Suzy cute?

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I don’t think I’ve read this book for forty-five years, at least. But I still remember the plot, the characters, and the rhyme. Please don’t ask me what I made for dinner on Friday night. I won’t remember that.

The reason for the rhyme running endlessly through my head today is because I made a peach coffee cake this morning. From scratch. This is a significant thing for me. I’m not a big baker. I like to cook, and while I can bake, I find it to be tedious. Plus, my tastes tend to run more toward savory treats than sweet ones. I’ll take bowl of fresh, hot buttered popcorn over cookies or cake any day.

I do like coffee cake, however, since it isn’t too sweet. When I make it, which is about once every couple of years, I always opt for the recipe on the back of the Bisquick box, which is fine. However, the recipe that I used today was from America’s Test Kitchen, my absolute favorite source for recipes. You know how there’s some chefs that make recipes sound so good but when you actually make them they’re awful? (I’m looking at you Rachael Ray!) America’s Test Kitchen (and Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated — they’re all the same organization) has never, ever steered me wrong. Their recipes always work out. Always. Which was what gave me the courage to try a cake from scratch.

Their recipes are not easy, mind you. The often have fifteen or more ingredients and they are, as my mother would say, “putzy”. So was this one. I had to slice two peaches in 1/2″ slices and macerate them in sugar and a pinch of salt for a half hour in order to extract two tablespoons of peach syrup. Which I did. I had juicy peaches so I actually got three tablespoons of syrup. I know you can’t futz with liquid to dry ratios in baking, though, so I didn’t throw the extra tablespoon into the batter, even though I was tempted. I threw it in a glass with some diet Pepsi and gave it Dennis. (He loved it! He said it tasted alcoholic and that made him happy. I’ve decided not to analyze the meaning behind that comment).

In addition to fresh peaches I also had to dig out vanilla and almond extract (I actually had some to my surprise), peach preserves and a 9″ spring form pan. That one was tricky. I knew I had one because Dennis had a set of spring form pans he brought with him when we got married. Not being a baker, I’ve never used them in the 10+ years we’ve been married.

Then there was the usual butter, cinnamon, flour, sugar (white and brown), baking powder and sour cream. There was a three-step assembly process that each required seperate bowls — wet ingredients, dry ingredients, and the topping ingredients (as well as the macerated peach bowl, the strainer and the additional bowl to catch the peach juice. I think I used every bowl I own. The counter and sink were strewn with bowls, utensils, and measuring cups. This is why I don’t bake, I thought to myself half way through. Miss Suzy was nuts; clean-up is going to be a bitch.

So I began assembling the cake. I measured, I hand-blended, I mixed, and I whisked while the entire time Miss Suzy’s song ran though my head. Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I’ll make an acorn cake. 

Forty-five minutes in, I wanted Miss Suzy to shut the hell up already. I played one of the darkest, most haunting songs I could think of to drive Miss Suzy out of my head. “Take Me to Church” by Hozier. It didn’t work. Apparently, my ear worms are multi-taskers because Miss Suzy’s rhyme and Hozier’s song have been alternating running through my head ever since. It’s an interesting combination to be sure. Take me church, I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies…

Here is a link to the YouTube video of Take me to Church by Hozier, in case you’ve never heard it. (I cannot be held responsible if it runs through your head for the next three weeks).

Finally, it was time to get the batter into the spring form pan. Spring form pans are tricky. If the bottom isn’t in right you end up with a mess in the bottom of the oven. I was very, very careful to make sure I got the pan put together securely before I put my precious batter inside. (I was a good hour in, with another hour of clean-up in front of me. No way was I wasting that batter.) …I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knives…

The spring form held the batter, thank goodness, and then it was time to arrange my 1/2″ slices of peaches, that were now sticky and slimy from macerating in sugar, into a concentric circle on the top of the pan. Sure. Piece of cake. Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake…

Or not. My concentric circle wasn’t all that even. it was more of a concentric blob than a circle, but I was losing patience at this point. Besides, I reasoned, the concentric circle gets covered up with the crumble topping. No one will know.

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My non-concentric peach blob with crumble topping ready to go into the oven.

Once I covered my not-so-concentric mess with the crumble topping it looked pretty good. Time to bake it. Take me to church…

The recipe said it should take forty-five to fifty minutes. However, my stove has been flaky so I truly had no idea how long it would take. I set the time for thirty minutes and kept checking on it from there. Forty-five minutes in it started to smell really, good. It ended up taking an hour ten minutes to finish and I was afraid I dried it out with all the extra cooking. I really need a new oven. I bet Miss Suzy didn’t have these problems. I’ll worship like a dog…

I finished cleaning the kitchen about five minutes before the cake was done. This sucker better taste good. I took it out of the oven and it looked perfect. Just like the picture on the recipe. My non-concentric blob was totally obscured by the crumble as I expected.

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The finished product cooling.

Did I dig in and confirm my efforts were worth the end product? I did not. Because the damn cake had to cool for two hours. I pried the outside ring off it at an hour, and I was relieved it didn’t stick.

Finally, it was cool enough to try. At this point it was 4:45 and I was getting dinner ready being the busy little squirrel I was today. (Personally, I think if one bakes, cooking should not be required in the same day. That’s double the dish duty. Just sayin’).

So how was the end result? Amazing. It’s probably the best coffee cake I’ve ever had, hands down. I saved out two pieces for dessert tonight and I cut up and froze the rest. No way is any of that going to waste.

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Yum! It turned out perfect.

Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I’ll make an acorn cake. 

The cake experience was a success but, unfortunately, the battle of the ear worms continues to rage on with no relief in site.

7:36 PM

 

 

DIY Dreams and Frankie

June 29, 2018 11:28 PM

I watched a couple of episodes of the TV show “Flip or Flop” last night. These DIY shows are dangerous for me. After last night’s shows, I had grand plans for remodeling our kitchen, complete with white granite countertops and a white shiny subway tile backsplash, wood floors stained in a dark, almost black finish, new gray cabinets and one of those super-cool Viking gas stoves with a double oven.

I carried the DIY dream with me through this morning, when I was making dog food. I was cooking four pounds of dog food in two large skillets on the stove. I have an electric stove that’s on its last legs. It has a smooth glass top which makes it very convenient for cats to jump on to. Whenever I cook, I’m super-careful not to leave the stove if the cats are around. This morning, in the midst of cooking, I needed something from the pantry which is maybe 5 feet from the stove. I quickly got my item, shut the pantry door and continued cooking.

I’ll admit, while I was frying the food, I was having fantasies of cooking dog food on my new Viking gas stove with the bright red temperature dials and the cooking elements that heat quickly and evenly (as opposed to mine where it’s more of a crap shoot what temperature you’ll actually get on any given day). My gorgeous subway tile back splash would wipe clean with no effort and my new super large kitchen sink that matched my granite countertop would easily hold the two skillets. I was in DIY heaven.

Once the dog food was done and the stove was cooled, I went back to the pantry for something else. Therein started the bursting of my DIY bubble as reality crept in.

Reality, in this case, was not so much the cost of such a remodel, although that is a consideration; reality came in the form of a wicker basket. A simple wicker basket that I bought at least five years ago from the Dollar Store.

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See the wicker basket sitting on the (very messy) shelf? See the cat crawling out of the very messy shelf? Yeah, that’s a problem.

Unbeknownst to me, Frankie had snuck into the pantry when I dashed in and out of it while I was cooking. We call him “The Ghost” because he just appears in places where he isn’t supposed to be. It’s gotten so bad, that we have to inventory the animals before we leave the house to make sure no one is locked in a closet while we’re gone.

The pantry is just about number 1 on the Places Frankie Isn’t Allowed to Go list. When I opened the door, Frankie was sitting in the wicker basket, on top of a peach! Seriously. He sat right on it! How is it comfortable to sit on a peach?

I didn’t care so much about the peach, however, this basket is what I use to store fresh produce from the store and farmer’s market. Bare cat butt on my wicker basket that I use for fresh food is not okay! I can Lysol my counters, and I do everytime I cook, but I can’t Lysol wicker.

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Frankie enjoying his new “toy”.

There was nothing to be done with the basket, other than turn it into a cat toy and throw it away once Frankie shredded it.  Which took him about a half hour.  I’m sure a nice sturdy Longaberger basket would take him longer to destroy. But this is exactly why I don’t own a nice Longaberger basket. I’d be a lot more upset about bare cat butt on one of those than one from the Dollar Store. I think I’ll store fresh produce in a ceramic bowl from now on, just in case Frankies sneaks into the pantry again. Who am I kidding? Not if Frankie sneaks into the pantry, when Frankie sneaks in to the pantry is a lot more realistic.

This experience brought me back to the reality that I live in and it killed my DIY kitchen remodel dream. One basket reminded me of all the reasons why we will never redo the kitchen:

  1.  I Lysol my counters every time I cook. I’m not sure there is any material, other than laminate which I have, that can withstand that without hurting the finish. This is why I now have a kitchen table that also has a laminate top. It  gets Lysoled three times a day — every time we eat there. I’m not crazy about laminate kitchen tables. It reminds me way too much of The Behemoth I grew up with. Keeping cats off the counters and the table just isn’t an option, though. I’ve tried — squirt bottles, tin foil, plastic tape, compressed air to scare them (which it did, but too much, and I felt bad). Nothing worked. They won. I buy lots of Lysol wipes.
  2. Wood floors and claws from three cats and two dogs sounds like a lot of scratches and refinishing. And a dark finish on my floor will make the gobs of white cat fur that I find on my floor look like tumbleweeds blowing across a black desert. To be fair, I could get laminate boards in a light finish that look like wood. I have those in my front hallway, but it’s not the same as wood. I’ve got enough laminate in my kitchen already, thank you, I think I’ll pass on laminate floors.
  3. Apart from not having a gas hookup for the cool Viking gas stove, I don’t think having an open flame is a good idea in my house. There have been a rare occasion where a cat has run across the back of the stove while I’m cooking on the front burners. It scares the crap out of me but it would scare me more if there was open flame involved.
  4. My subway tile backsplash is probably doable, although, I think it would make my laminate counters look all the more – laminatey and fake-looking.
  5. New cabinets will take several days, at least, to install. My cats being the little hellions that they are, cannot be trusted in an area that’s under construction. Three cats will have to live in the rec room for however many days it takes to install the cabinets and they won’t be happy about it. Unhappy cats means a lot of yowling and howling which means the dogs will be barking constantly at the basement door. Assuming Dennis and I survive all that chaos, once the cabinets are installed, Dennis will have to put magnets on all the doors like he did with the cabinets we have now (Frankie can open cabinet doors). Is getting new cabinets doable? Sure. Is standing on my head for a half hour or going to the gym everyday doable, too? Sure. None of those are going to happen, though.

Not having the most up-to-date, modern kitchen is one of the prices I pay for having animals that I love. I wouldn’t change it, either. I’d rather have cats than a fancy new kitchen.

Although, I wouldn’t turn down a new electric stove. I wonder if Viking makes electric stoves…maybe one with a double oven…

12:29

 

 

 

One Step Closer

July 28, 2018 8:49 AM

I did something earlier this week that I never thought I’d do voluntarily. I booked a trip to New Jersey.

Not that I have anything against New Jersey, per se’; okay, I really hate Newark, but there are parts of New Jersey that are very nice. I used to work for a company who had its headquarters in New Jersey, in the same general area where the Real Housewives of NJ is filmed, and I’ve traveled there plenty of times on business.

Dennis works for the same company, and several times we were on the same business trip. This allowed us to extend our time there to do some sight-seeing when the work was done. We spent a weekend in New York once, and visited the top of the World Trade Center on August 10, 2001.

We’ve been to Ocean City, where I bought a cool hat that Dennis has since procured as his lawn-mowing hat, and we went to Atlantic City twice. Once was a planned trip and the other was impromptu when we found out our flight was delayed for an unknown amount of time. (In my experinece this happens a lot in Newark). Dennis and I had already checked our luggage, so we rented a car with only the clothes on our back and drove to Atlantic City for the night and caught a flight back to Milwaukee late the next night.

It was fun to be spontaneous and see where the road took us so to speak. In this case, however, the road took us to a really seedy, not-so-clean Days Inn in a scary part of town. It was the first (and last) time I slept in a motel with bars on the windows. We saw drug dealers on the corner when we pulled into our motel. I know they were drug dealers because I saw a guy hand off a packet of something and take money in exchange. There were also prostitutes hanging around the exterior of motel, at least I assume they were prostitutes. I didn’t get official confirmation on that one. In spite of the unexpected environment we found ourselves in for the night, it was still a fun experience and one I’m glad we did. As a bonus, our luggage, which traveled to Milwaukee without us, was still there waiting at the airport for us in airline storage.

Some of my favorite memories of New Jersey is the food. They have, hands down, the best Italian food anywhere. And the New York Pizza. Ohmygod. There was a little pizza place that delivered to the hotel I always stayed in. I’m hoping it’s still there (and that I can remember the name.) While it’s tempting to book a trip to New Jersey just for the food, that is not the reason I am going.

Nor am I going to Atlantic City this time, although, it was tempting to tack an extra day on trip and stop there for a night (with a reservation in a nice casino hotel, of course). The reason I am going to New Jersey is the next step on my quest for the swim spa.

Dennis needs to go to New Jersey for a couple of nights in July for his job. The main swim spa manufacturer I’m interested in has its main show room in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is not far from New Jersey. I’m basically, piggy-backing on Dennis’ trip so I can visit the swim spa store.

Instead of flying out the evening before he needs to be there, Dennis and I will fly out the morning before he needs to be there. We will drive to Philadelphia and I will try out all the varieties of Endless Pools that are in our price range. I have the sensible, secure one-piece suit all ready for the test swims. (Click here to read about what happens when you use a swim spa in a tankini).

After we try the pools, I’m hoping we can find a place to get an authentic Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. (Please leave me your recommendations for good places in the comments). Dennis and I are planning to drive to northern New Jersey that afternoon, in time to have an Italian meal that night. And another Italian meal the next night. (Okay, so maybe the trip is a little about food).

During the day, I am planning to enjoy eight plus hours of uninterrupted writing time in the hotel.  That just doesn’t happen here at home very often. And I’m hoping to find that New York pizza place again and have them deliver pizza for lunch at the hotel. (I’m going to need that swim spa to get installed pronto with all the weight I’m going to gain on this trip!)

While we will have a car, and I could drop Dennis off at the office in the morning and keep the car myself during the day, I don’t think I will do that. I drove in New Jersey once, up into the Catskills in NY, to an outlet mall with a girlfriend from work. This was before google maps and GPS’s on our phones and in our cars, and I managed to get us horribly lost on the way home. Instead of ending up in northern New Jersey where our hotel was, we ended up in Newark, circling the George Washington Bridge for an hour. I finally decided to drive away from the George Washington Bridge because I knew I didn’t want to cross into New York. However, I had no idea where I was going, and we didn’t bring a map. All we had were some handwritten instructions to the outlet mall given to us by a co-worker.

Driving west, away from New York, landed us in a super bad part of Newark. We saw a guy running full-bore down the street being chased by another guy. We were afraid they had guns and we’d get caught in the cross-fire. It was 11:00 at night, and we were the only car around so I ignored all speed limits and stop signs in that neighborhood. I was too afraid to stop and I figured if there was a cop around, he had more important things to do than to pull me over for a traffic violation.

Eventually, I got my bearings and we started to go north, toward the hotel. Gradually, the neighborhoods got less scary. When it felt safe enough, we stopped at a convenience store and bought a map which guided us back to the vicinity of the hotel. We ended up having to call the front desk at the hotel to have them talk us in the last few miles.  It took us forty-five minutes to drive to the outlet mall and three and half hours to get back to the hotel.

I suppose with technology, driving in New Jersey this time wouldn’t result in the adventure it did the last time I drove there. But I’m not taking any chances. Dennis can have the car and if I get stir-crazy in the hotel, I’ll Uber to a Starbucks. Or an Italian restaurant for lunch.

I never liked traveling to New Jersey for work, but then again, I never much liked traveling anywhere for work. I’m looking forward to going back to New Jersey, this time as a tourist. I always seem to come back with a story whenever I visit there. Who knows what adventure I’ll find this time around?

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Whenever I drive out of the Newark airport the theme song from The Soprano’s always runs through my head.

9:41 am