Sunday, November 29, 2009

Phish with Earplugs

It is difficult to put to words how very very sad I was to have missed the Phish Summer Tour so utterly completely.  This band used to play a much larger role in my life - back when I had time to listen to music nearly all day, every day, Phish was a staple album.  It was not unusual for all five discs in the CD changer to be Phish albums.  It was also not unusual to let the CD player run on random play for hours and hours before we realized we'd heard each song about six times that day.

Though I was a poor college student, I managed to make it to see Phish whenever they came to the general vicinity (as long as you consider the "general vicinity" within a six hour driving radius...)  From my freshman year on, I had not missed a Philly show, nor very many of the Pittsburgh shows.  For each of these, I committed at least four hours of driving time to and from the show, not to mention a lot of missed showers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for meals (which are really delicious when you are very very hungry, by the way.)

This summer, the first summer I have been in Baltimore during a Phish tour, they played in Columbia Maryland, just 45 minutes from my residence.  No hours in traffic, no sleeping in a friend's basement on a floor required.  And I missed it.  We didn't get tickets in the pre-sale, we missed out on tickets in the actual sale, and despite committing four hours to drinking pitchers of less than stellar beer in order to win a drawing, we did not win tickets.  I was very very sad.

So, when the Fall Tour was announced, I was there.  I missed out on pre-sale tickets again and was prepared to miss yet another tour.  We attempted Madison Square Garden tickets, and once again, they sold out before we were able to score a pair of seats.  So, despite the inconvenience of weeknight shows in Philly, we widened our search.  Lo and behold we got seats!!...Section 109 for night #1 and Section 209 for night #2!!

Again, I can't explain the joy with which I awaited the beginning notes of Set #1.  Normally, I attempt to guess what songs will be played, or rather, what songs I want to hear.  But for once, I didn't care at all.  I was just so happy to be there, despite having to leave early from work and battle construction traffic and rush hour traffic and traffic for traffic's sake.

The set began with "Chalkdust Torture", a song that demands to know, "Can't it wait till I'm old, Can't I live while I'm young?"  and I laughed to myself as the crowd cheered during the refrain.  "Am I still young?" I thought.  The members of Phish sang this song, as they have for over 20 years, and I realized it has taken on new meaning for me.  I no longer rejoice in youth, but rather, rejoice in the present.  I no longer wonder, what comes next?  But think to myself, hey this here is pretty cool.  I listened.  I enjoyed.  I raced to the car through the parking lot in order to grab about four hours of sleep before work in the morning.

Like the many Phish fans who used to arrive in two door hatchbacks with questionable axles and cheap tires, I got into my newish reliable four door and got into line with mini vans and SUV's, ready to do it again the next day.  I'm a little older, a little wiser, but still crazy enough to drive a few hours for a show.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Channeling My Inner Gramom

Today I have prepared for that seemingly forgotten holiday - Thanksgiving.  You remember Thanksgiving decorations, do you not?  With the Native Americans and the Pilgrims?  The funny hats, and buckled shoes? The headdresses with feathers?  I went to a few stores today, the weekend before Thanksgiving, and saw nary a hand print with a beak and gobbler on it, not a cornucopia in site.  But Thanksgiving is not forgotten by those of us who love food.  Through snowflakes and Christmas trees, I wandered the shelves, looking for the ingredients to make potato filling.

Potato filling is a wonderful and uniquely Pennsylvania Dutch concoction which I took for granted as a child.  You see, I was not aware that it is not an everyday thing for most of the world.  Most restaurants and school lunches in my hometown include potato filling - a delicious blend of potatoes and bread stuffing - on the menu.  But here in Maryland, and even in my Penn State dining hall, no one has heard of it.

Even as a kid, I knew the best potato filling was made by one person - my Gramom.  Though she cooked a lot when I was small, her batches of potato filling (and pretty much everything else) were fewer and farther between as I grew older.  Soon, she made the coveted dish only once a year, after repeated badgering - on Thanksgiving.

I attempted to make it myself, of course.  I called her a few years ago for the recipe.  I went to her house and searched through decades of cookbooks and hand-written recipes on scraps of worn, stained paper.  Unfortunately, potato filling was one of the things she just did.  She threw the basic ingredients together in a pot, and ended with a culinary masterpiece.  The exact quantities of these ingredients were a mystery.  My own potato filling, enjoyed by college friends at our annual "friends Thanksgiving" received compliments.  But it wasn't the same.  It wasn't even in Gramom's league.

Now, Gramom is gone.  It is amazing how I still miss her daily.  I think it is a shame that such a wonderful recipe should die with her.  And so, I pulled out all the old cookbooks I inherited from her, as well as my sister's verbal account of her method - which includes the basic ingredients but not the quantities - and I attempted to reconstruct the masterpiece.

I had thought is would be a lost cause until I took out the last book in the stack - a PA Dutch Grange Cookbook with "Mabel Graeff" written on the front cover.  This, I believe, was inherited by my own Gramom, perhaps when she was just a few years younger than me.  No index, just a list of general recipe types - "Salads" (a very small section, as the PA Dutch are not known for their low-cal concoctions.  Though I didn't flip to the section, I can guarantee all recipes involve potatoes or macaroni, with limited greens as a garnish.) "Breads", "Meats", "Casseroles", "Recipes for a Crowd", and "Desserts" (of course, this section is nearly half the book.)  Where would potato filling fit in?  I decided on the crowd recipes and flipped hopefully to the section to find it right there - "Groff's Potato Filling".  First ingredient, 20 lb of potatoes...umm...I think a recipe for 70 may slightly exceed my needs, despite my family's "everything to excess" motto.  Sadly, I returned to the choices.  I tried casseroles, but did not find it.

And then, in Gramom's own hand writing, a list of her favorites.  First on the list: PA Dutch Potato Filling, page 527.  Eagerly, I went to the section of the book in the worst condition - where the pages, though still mostly in order, had come loose from the plastic binding.  Naturally, page 527 was the only page missing.  I flipped a bit more, hoping to find it, and did not.  As I began to place the fragile book back into its plastic bag, a page caught my attention. And there it was, page 527.  Now, this, I knew was not her recipe.  But I think it is the one that started it all.  When she was in her late teens or 20's this was the recipe she used.  She tweaked and refined and eventually stopped bothering with the recipe all together.  Combined with sis's account, I confidently went to the store and bought ingredients.  I have just spent over an hour preparing things, trying to replicate that recipe I know so well, yet do not know at all.

Only time will tell now.  On Thursday, I will pop my filling in beside the sweet potatoes and crecent rolls for the final test.  Will it be perfect?  I think not.  But it will be close, I know it.

Because somehow, I think, Gramom helped.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My Christmas List Is Getting Bigger

I promise, I am not freaking out.  Really.  Ok, I'm freaking out.  We have been looking for a house since APRIL.  Yes thats...six?  Yes, SIX months ago!  The process has been alternately fun and exasperating.  Like, every house we saw had some thing wrong, that we couldn't live with and/or without.  Like the one with the itty bitty yard which was practically on top of the neighbor's yard, or the one with the four acres of land that realistically would take way too much work and/or a herd of goats to maintain.  There was the one with the awesome two car garage that was larger than the house what came with it.  There was the one with the great layout and the six-lane Interstate in the back yard.  We saw houses that smelled like raw sewage, houses with massive leaks in the bathroom, houses with sagging roofs and walls, and one that was advertised as a "partially finished, livable home." 

We ended up putting an offer in on one that was overpriced, and it went into foreclosure while our contract was being considered.  We attempted to see "short sales" and found that they were tied up for the third time in contractual knots, with no real attempts by anyone to untie them.  We found a great house with a nice yard, and returned for a second look to find that pretty much all the electrical work would need replacing.  We debated on the pros and cons of pool ownership, only to have the house bought from under our noses by decidedly more decisive people.

And then, last week, we found something.  The price was right, the electrical system worked, the carpet could be pulled to reveal gorgeous hardwood.  (Who? Would install aqua blue and pink carpet?  Oh, right, the same person who would tile their bathrooms in baby blue or purple pastel with butterfly accents.)

So....we're buying a house!!  And making a bazillion plans for improvements.  I know this cannot possibly be done all at once, but it is completely overwhelming me.  I could not sleep this morning.  Again.  Not only do we not have the raw materials to build with - the wood studs for the unfinished basement, the tile for the kitchen floor, the counter tops, the paint - we do not have the tools necessary for...anything.  Like, I own a hammer, and a screwdriver, and a few wrench thingies.  But paint brushes? Nail guns? Crowbars, shovels, hoes, roto-tillers, ladders, trowels, lawn mowers?  I own none of these things!!  I am freaking out.  Ahh!  I don't even own a shed to store such items!

OK, breathe.  It will be OK.  This morning's realization was the ladder.  We need to clean the gutters and we have no ladder.  I am trying to prioritize, and I can't figure out where this falls in the list.  "And you want a deep freezer," says my crazy brain.  Umm...I was working on the gutter thing!  "And some fruit trees along the back would be nice..."  Argh!  I don't even know where the rear property line is!  How much sunlight gets out there!  What kind of slope the land is!  When you are supposed to plant trees!  What color the kichen should be painted!

Breathe.  Just breathe.

Can someone please buy me a Home Depot for Christmas?  I would really appreciate it.  Oh, or even better?  That Travis guy can come plant me some dang apple trees.  And paint my kitchen.  I am thinking a soft green.  Anything but aqua.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Post Will Self Destruct

I'm glad for our military, I really am, but these guys are quite a serious bunch.  I'm working on a project at Fort Meade right now, and I had to attend a one hour long progress meeting on the site.  Some of my team members have "escort privileges" but I have "no privileges".  So, I was told to enter through the "NSA Deliveries" entrance.  Here, I wasn't even aware that the NSA was on Fort Meade.

I was told this would involve a lot of waiting, so I parked my little 'ole Cavalier in line with the contractor's pick up trucks and the semi's carrying produce, and pulled out my current book ("Good In Bed" by Jennifer Weiner, it is OK).  It was 7:10am, and my meeting was to take place at 0800 hours.

Around 7:30, I arrived at the front of the line, and followed suit.  The other drivers got out of their vehicles, and opened all the doors, trunks, and tailgates.  I must have given myself away as a newbie, because the man who took down my license number and checked my ID began barking detailed instructions for my next steps as I nodded my head vigorously, wishing to be ultra compliant and non-threatening.  Next, a military police officer came through with a very happy bomb-sniffing dog.  The dog sniffed all around every car, at each door, and each trunk in a very enthusiastic manner.  My car passed the test, naturally, but even when one is not guilty in this situation, it is nerve racking.  I began worrying about the possible stray empty beer bottle that could have fallen from my weekly recycling run, or the flares that I routinely carry in case of emergency.  Could these items be considered contraband?  Will I be shipped off to Guantanamo?

Instead, I was told to get back in my car and drive 50 yards to the visitor center parking lot, where I would show my vehicle tag and my ID.  When prompted, I typed my social security number into the keypad, and was denied access to the base.  My number was in the system, but it had expired, so I had to make a bunch of phone calls from the parking lot because cell phones are not allowed in the building.  It was now approximately 7:40am.  At 8:20am, my number had been successfully entered, and I was free an clear except for one thing.  It is NSA's policy to fingerprint everyone who enters the base.  Good lord, Big Brother is thorough.  I was printed, and had to tell a perfect stranger my place of birth, birthday, social security number, hair color, eye color, height, and worst of all, weight.  For the first time ever, I did not lie about my weight.

You are not allowed to print maps of the base, so I had to wait for them to give me directions to the building.  I drove to the nearest lot, and drove the wrong way down a drive aisle before I was called over by a guard.  Again, he sensed my newbie status and my mounting distress at the many many protocols.  He directed me to another lot and recommended I drive in the correct direction down drive aisles.

Successfully parked, I walked to the next gate house where I was to meet my escort.  There, my bag was searched, I had to go through a metal detector, and I had to enter my social security number on a keypad, where I was promptly denied entry again.  Not my fault, it turned out, but the visitor badges were not properly reading so the guard had to call in my information and manually verify my escort was present.  At this point, I was so flustered by the "stand here" and "enter over there" and the "state your weight please" orders that I was beginning to lose it, just a little.

We finally entered the building at 9:25am.  The meeting was over except for my part, and my escort turned on a flashing red light as we entered, which meant that I, and uncleared person, was in the room.  Everything was bathed in the redness, which had to be very annoying.  I silently apologized to people as I walked past in shame.

Not that I want clearance.  I don't think I could take it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tread Softly

About two weeks ago, I finally researched and chose a new vet.  This has been on my list of things to do for longer than a good pet-owner would like to admit.  If my little kitty had been in serious pain, as she was when she had a urinary tract infection, I would have been all over it, called the vet, and had pills to shove down kitty's throat in no time flat.  But the issue is chronic -she has been diagnosed with kitty asthma.

For two years, we have been giving her medicine without seeing improvement.  She still had uncontrollable wheezing attacks and was shedding like crazy all over the place, though she did gain weight and had stopped puking everywhere.  I asked my old vet about this, and his only advice was to tell me to go on the internet and find an alternate solution.  Umm...silly me, I thought that was his job.  Good thing he gave my beast her three year rabies shot or I would have thought the $115 bill was for nothing.

As usual, internet research was scary.  I found out that each attack - she was having them two or three times a day - should be treated as a life-threatening emergency.  I found out that the pills she had been on for two years have long term side effects including diabetes.  I found out that shoving pills down her throat without water could eventually cause her esophagus to collapse and no responsible pet owner should subject her cat to such abuse.  I found out that little "kitty inhalers" exist in which you place a mask over the cat's face and "allow her to breathe naturally".  With a mask.  On her face.  I also found out that there are about 12 drugs with varying degrees of effectiveness and side effects I could choose from.

I decided the internet was not for me.  What I needed was a new vet.

OK, so fast forward to the point where kitty needs a drug refill and I am finally forced to get her fix from a new professional.  That would be two weeks ago.

New Vet is very nice, so far.  (Old Vet was nice in the beginning too, so I need to give this a few visits.)  I was impressed that I waited exactly zero minutes and talked to the doctor for nearly the entire hour and forty-five minutes I was there.  I was also a tad staggered by the $350 bill, but, I reasoned, he had done new x-rays, blood work, and vitals check, plus gave me a new medicine that would not cause diabetes.  Surely, the routine visits I normally require will not be too costly.  (ha, ha.  I know, I know.)

"Look Puss!" I said when she finally forgave me for (or forgot about) the car ride and subsequent poking, "new pills!"  My kitty has learned to love her fix, as we always supplement pill time with a few treats.  Pill number one, down the hatch, and treats administered.  I awaited the eureka moment when the Puss would realize she felt all better.

"Blech!" said the Puss.

And it has been that way ever since.  My apartment is like a field of puke-pile land mines.  In the morning, we awaken and groggily head to the bathroom, stepping in a neatly provided puke pile by the bed.  We walk down the hall and find puke right in the center, in plain view.  Many times, the pill would go down ok after a careful balance of pre-pill water and wet cat food.  And we would rejoice.

And two minutes later, spray bottle in hand, we would be cleaning still warm bits of wet cat food from the carpet.  (Or worse, from the underside of our sock.)  On Sunday night, I awoke at 2am to the sounds of regurgitation in my bed.  She had tossed her cookies right there on the blanket (and Adam's robe).

The worst part is that the pills are working when she does manage to metabolize them.  I have not seen a wheezing episode for three days, and the previous viewing was nearly five days before that.  I called New Vet and explained the situation.  "Perhaps I can get the medicine in liquid form, flavored with chicken or fish?" he replied.  I told him that sounded wonderful and requested chicken because my retarded cat does not know that she is supposed to love fish.

He neglected to mention that said liquid medication is $45.  But, if I can walk confidently in my home without fear of slime on my stockings, I figure it is worth it.  I confidently donated the old pills to his "disadvantaged cat" box, and hurried home with a cute little medicine dropper for kitty-sized mouths.

With a sigh of relief, I filled it up at the appointed hour and opened the cat's mouth.  She struggled, and I struggled, and I clumsily managed to squirt the stuff down her throat.

Two minutes later, she threw up.

I cannot wait for the month to be over, when I take her for the follow up visit.  I am sure it will be cheap, since I have already paid $395, right???