Friday, December 31, 2010

Wrench (or rather tire iron) In Our Plans

I was planning on taking the kids skiing the other day, doing the Dartmouth half-day ticket, when we had a serious wrench tossed into our plans. The Mazda had a flat tire. Upon closer inspection, you could see a massive rock sticking out the tread. What a bummer.

Adding to my angst was the fact that I’d never changed the darn tire on that car, though I thought about it since we owned it. It just never came up, and time and again I told myself to be prepared, because one day I was going to have to deal with it, and (like all things in life) I wouldn’t have a clue.

Well, my time had come, and fortunately for me, I did have some experience using the jack since I need it to change the oil. The wimpy flatlander in me wanted to simply have it towed because I didn’t want to lay in the snow and get wet and dirty, but then the real-man in training in me told me to stop being such a sissy and deal with it. Plus, the guys at AAA gave me a guilt trip about towing it even though it wasn’t an emergency. Sure, I could have demanded they come, but they inspired me to take matters into my own hands.

I ended up changing the tire and putting on the spare, and then taking it over to our trusted mechanic at Meunier. They were busy and told me to come back in an hour. The spare tire is a bit of a joke, and in snowy/icy conditions, a bit menacing, but drivable. I came home and started to think about our day.

It was early morning, and R had to go to work, so she took the Fit and we waited for our tire. My plan was to get the kids fed, do our schoolwork, then put that tire on ASAP, after which we could go skiing, but the clock was ticking. Half-day tickets go on sale at 12:30, and it would take us at least 45 minutes to get to the slopes.

The tire took longer than we’d thought, and by 11:00, I was beginning to sweat. I decided that we’d eat on the fly, and started packing a lunch. By 11:30, the tire was ready, so we set out plan in motion. I loaded up all the ski equipment and the lunch, got the kids in the car, and headed over to Meunier. I was grateful they could squeeze me in at the last minute, but they’re always helpful.

They swapped the tires, I put the spare into the trunk, which was a complete disaster because I had to rummage around for the spare tire, and then drove to the ski hill. We made it just in time, got our tickets, and had a wonderful day skiing.

It was a lot of fun, though I froze my you-know-whats off. I was so cold, and it was at the end of the day that I realized, much to the delight of my kids, that I had been skiing all day with the fly of my ski pants down zipped down. I wondered why my lower extremities were so cold.

Oh well, yet another story to amuse mom with when we got home.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Days of Fine Dining

I realize it’s somewhat of a cliché, but she sure engorged ourselves over the holidays. In addition to the enormous quantity of sweets and treats, we ate an inordinate amount of red meat, which is unusual for us, but man was it good.

As I think I mentioned, there was some debate regarding our Christmas and New Year meals. There were four meals to consider, Christmas Eve/Christmas, and New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day. In the past, we’ve done roast beef or chicken, but we thought we’d do things a little differently. Besides, roast beef is generally pretty average, it tends to be tough, or at least it’s that way when I’ve cooked it.

For Christmas, we talked of trying beef tenderloin or salmon. We’ve never really cooked steak, even though I’ve had rib eye in the freezer for months. I’ve always felt that a good steak should be grilled, otherwise it’s gone to waste, but I was willing to give it try. After some discussion, we decided on salmon for the Eve meal, and filet mignon on Christmas day.

I’ve been told by my Mentor that the best filet, bar none, can be found at BG’s, and he worked in the restaurant industry. BG’s is famous for its meat, I’ve heard many people rave about it, and we buy their chicken on occasion, but their meat is not local, nor it is grassed fed. I hate to be such a dork about it, but when it comes to beef, we really try to stick with grass fed. This is not just a trendy issue, we feel it’s the best thing health wise. Plus, we have an excellent beef source, which is not only incredibly reliable, but has killer beef.

So I contacted Cloudland Farms and CE told me she had filets, and could come over and pick them up. This entailed the usual sojourn up to Pomfret, which is bit of a trek, but was well worth it, because the steaks were beautiful. Nice, thick filets.

Now we eat salmon fairly regularly, so that meal was pretty straightforward. It was the steaks that were going to be new territory. Since they were filets, I would generally go for cooking them rare, but being only occasional meat eaters, bleeding flesh can be a bit intimidating, especially when you fill your kids with all sorts of food anxieties. Fortunately, there is always the internet.

I scoured websites in search of Martha Stewart and finally decided to pan sear the meat, then roast in the oven. The filets were fabulous, tender and flavorful, really what you come to expect from Cloudland Farms. In retrospect, I probably would have cooked them a bit longer, they were pretty rare, but oh so tasty, and local and grass fed.

On New Year’s Eve, we decided to make homemade pizza and watch a movie and eat junk food. Making pizzas has become a family tradition, and since we can make whole wheat/grain crusts, it’s a healthier option, though a bit of work. The beauty is that the kids really love to help, and it becomes a family affair.

The meal to usher in the new year was more of a challenge. What to do? Traditional Korean values would dictate making dumplings, but not only are we not a traditional Korean household, but dumplings are the last thing we would consider to celebrate a special occasion. As I mentioned, we had a rib eye steak (from Cloudland Farms) just screaming to be cooked, so we did something we never do and had steak twice in one week. Actually, we almost never eat steak.

Again, I was faced with the dilemma of how to cook the rib eye, and decided to go for the pan sear/bake approach. The steak was delicious, and tender to boot. My understanding of steak is that there are two schools of thought. The most common one, at least in this country, is that texture is king, so people consider the filet to be the best steaks, though they may be compromising flavor to some degree since it’s a leaner cut of meat.

The other side of the equation trumps flavor over texture. With this in mind, a cut of meat that is marbled with a little fat will give you more flavor, but won’t be as lean and tender. In this school of thought, the rib eye is king. I agree that the rib eye has more flavor, and because it has more fat, tends to be juicier, but it’s hard to beat the velvety tenderness of the filet.

Either way, both steaks were amazing, and since we are now steak aficionados, might very well eat them more often. At least we know where to get it.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Rob Owen-Wahl for the pic.

More Reflections On Our Fit - Shopping Around

When the time came to actually shopping around for a car, we were still in the easy phase, meaning that we could browse adds and dealer listings without actually having to deal with a salesperson. I do not have a ton of experience interacting with car dealers, but have found that the few times I have been brutal. Something about the car salesman has, at least up to this point in my life, left me coming away with a bad taste in my mouth.

It reminds me a bit of talking to my brother, I always feel like he’s trying to sell me something I don’t want, and is telling me superfluous information designed to somehow confuse me. There is a definite lack of trust.

Obviously all salespeople are not bad, it’s just that in my limited experience, I feel like I’ve been backed into a corner and have no choice but to relent. I had similar feelings when we bought a house, even though we had my Mentor in our corner.

Anyway, a couple of our friends had bought cars through email, and said it wasn’t that painful and was even fairly pleasant. I wasn’t clear on how you buy a car via email, it just seemed like dealers count on seeing you face-to-face, on their turf, so they can play their little games and manipulate you. They always seem to do that, “I’ll have to check with my manager,” routine, which bugs the heck out of me.

The first issue was deciding which car. Again, it boiled down to the Fit or the Yaris. My first thought was to go with the Yaris, because on the surface, it seemed cheaper, there were more of them on the road, and they seemed cheaper. My friend GS had one and he liked it a lot.

On the other hand, a few of your friends had Fits, including JH and his magic bag of tools, which for us was a ringing endorsement because we trust his opinion. Also, he let me take it for a spin it, so I got the stress free test drive, though I managed to be anxious about damaging his car. JH, like us, was sought out a manual transmission, as well.

We had another option which seemed like a good one until we actually gave it a go, and that was getting a used car at auction. Our mechanic at Meunier towing is a great guy who we trust. We’ve always had good experiences with him, and he regularly went to the car auction and had obtained cars for several people we knew. They all encouraged us to follow suit, and raved about the good deals they got.

I spoke with RM and he was very helpful and encouraging, but pointed out that there are not many Fits at the auctions. There were tons of Civics and Accords, which were more expensive, and several Yaris’ as well, but Fits somehow never came through the pipes. At one point we were ready to go wit the Yaris, but decided to wait and see.

I have to confess, part of the appeal of going through the auction was that we wouldn’t have to deal with salespeople, which for a spineless wimp like me is akin to pulling teeth. I loathe the interaction so much that I would rather have bought a car through auction and had RM do the dirty work. Plus, he’s experienced and knows what to look for. I had similar feelings with buying our house, I was really hoping my Mentor would simply act like the buyer and just buy the thing for us, but sometimes you just have to confront these issues by yourself.

After scouring the adds and checking dealer inventories, we came to the conclusion that the Yaris was actually no cheaper than the Fit. They list it at a certain price, but you can never find that base model, and after all the additional charges (those sneaky manufacturers), they came out the same. Also, we scoured the adds and website, and no dealers had any new Yaris’ in a 4-door hatchback with a manual transmission. People just don’t buy manuals.

We ran into the same problem with the auction. More automatics came through, and not that many Fits, and the ones that did had their own set of issues. These are used cars, after all, and you never really know what you’re getting until after you’ve gotten it.

After months of sitting around and waiting, we finally decided we were going to get a Fit, and a new one at that. Bear in mind that we were buying the cheapest model that Honda, or for that matter all the other manufacturers, made, and it still seemed like a fair amount of money. Even in light of this, these cars are not that in demand, people don’t seem to gravitate to the cheaper models, they want more power, luxury, and bells and whistles.

Now that our search had been simplified (relatively speaking), we could begin the process of actually contacting dealers and seeing what they had to offer. The timing was good because the 2010 models were being phased out for the 2011s, so they tend to give good deals to unload inventory, though again, good is a relative term, and they always seem to get you with some form of sophistry - I love that word.

The beauty of interacting via email is that you don’t have to actually speak with the salespeople, and can be in control of the interaction, sort of. Unlike buying this house, we were prepared to walk away if we had to. We set up an email account just for this purpose, and set about emailing the dealers throughout Vermont and New Hampshire. We also got some helpful advice from other, more experienced people, and JH even armed us with Consumer Reports information that had saved him money when he bought his car.

The initial response was positive, people were generally friendly and congenial, which makes sense when you realize that they wanted our money (I’m so cynical). The beauty of email was that we didn’t feel any pressure of being put on the spot, and if things got uncomfortable, we could simply press delete. Plus, telling people “no” is much easier through email rather than in person or on the phone.

It really boiled down to price. Who was going to give us the best deal, and we were not going to even step foot in a showroom until we had a quote on a price for a car “out the door.” Wow, empowerment is a beautiful things, or rather, the illusion of empowerment, which is kind of the same thing. We had no misconceptions of winning this battle, we knew the dealers were going to get what they wanted, and they weren’t going to lose money. We, the lowly consumer, just wanted to walk away from it feeling that we had done our research and found the best deal we could find, at least in this state.

It was after about a month of emailing and research that we finally found a dealer that we found to our liking, Shearer Honda. They had the car we wanted in stock, in a color that we liked, and the price, relatively speaking, was agreeable. Plus, the salesperson, MH, was friendly and thoughtful, which helped a lot.

Now this is just a naive assessment because I don’t have a lot of experience buying new cars, but it seemed to me that there is something agreeable about Honda dealers. Maybe they know they have a good product that people want to buy and sells itself, rather than trying to get people to buy something they do not want, and take some level of pride in their work. I can’t say for sure, but my experiences with Honda have been good, and my friend, GS, says the same for Honda dealers he’s worked with.

Whatever be the case, we were now entering the final stage of our purchase, with minor haggles over price, but the overall deal pretty much done. We were also entering, however, the least comfortable part, which was stepping foot into the showroom and having to deal with the gauntlet of salespeople wanting to sell us 10 year paint warranties. It also meant that we were going to have to close the deal and pay for the car, which is never an easy thing to do. Parting is such sweet sorrow, but that is a story for another time.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Ski Day and Hanging at the Quechee Club

We got our second day of skiing in, though it was just N and I as A&R had "girls day out" and the guys hit the slopes. I really enjoy skiing with the kids, regardless of whether it’s just one of both, but it is a lot of fun with the two of us. We get to spend quality time, followed by hot cocoa in the lodge.

The hill was fairly crowded, mainly because with the limited snowfall that we’ve had, there were only two runs open. Couple that with the holiday crowd and you have a recipe for disaster. The runs were so crowded, which is not the end of the world, but much of the crowds were young kids in ski school. That’s when you really have to be careful, because they really have little control over what they are doing and are in large groups, thus taking up lots of space.

It is, however, good practice in staying in control and maneuvering, and in this regard, N did a great job. He’s a good skier, though as I may have mentioned, much more cautious this season. Even in lieu of the crowds and long lift lines, we managed to get our fill of skiing. Then it was off the lodge for some beverages.

I must confess, it is rather interesting hanging out at the Quechee Club. It really has a club atmosphere, and you get to see the dynamic of well-to-do families. I find it fascinating, especially how some of the dads try so hard to hang with their kids, riding snowboards, wearing the garb and trying to talk the talk, though it’s a bit much when they sit there talking to their kids about how “sick” something is. Kind of embarrassing, actually.

Another things that struck me is how, for some of these families, the parents seem to either have no control over their kids, or no desire to have any control over their kids, and I think the Club is aware of this. Consequently, they offer more than enough avenues for the parents to unload the young ones and run off and do adult things, sans children. In fact, on more than one occasion I rode the chairlift up with parents who were making plans for New Year’s Eve in addition to the plans for where they were going to leave junior. Once again, the Club to the rescue.

I'm trying (failing?) not to be judgemental. I realize parents need time away from their kids to be adults and do adult things, but I get a sense that in their daily lives, some of these families do not necessarily spend that much time together, and now when they finally have a chance to spend some quality vacation time as a family, they can't get rid of each other fast enough. Oh well, who am I to say?

One final note, I was really shocked at how messy the place was. Again, I’m guessing it’s parents having no control over their kids, assuming that the virtual smorgasbord of food left to rot on the floor was left by kids and not adults, but you never know. The mess was amazing, and again, I’m surprised some parent didn’t tell their kids to either not make such a mess, or clean it up.

Then again, maybe it stems from the philosophy that when you join a club, you pay other people to deal with this stuff. Even still, there has to be some level of common decency, not to mention consideration. Plus, it’s not a good way to start young people off on the path to being upstanding citizens. Maybe it just encourages them to join clubs when they grow up.

I’m not complaining, merely reporting what I observed, because it was a fun day, and we love the Quechee ski hill and don’t take it for granted. So much so that we even clean up our own mess.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Jan Supa for the pic.

Reflections On Our FIT - The Decision

I haven’t said much about our new car, and would like to talk more about it, not only because we love that darn vehicle, but also because, like all things in our lives, buying it was quite an adventure. As my Mentor astutely predicted, the process was going to be a painfully thorough one, with no stones unturned.

The first step was making a choice, which as anyone who knows us is aware of, is the hardest and most time consuming process. We sort of wrestled with this one, because we had some choices. On the one hand, there was my approach, which was the cheap and quick approach. We even had an option sitting in our driveway, my Mentor’s Ford. This approach, however, may work when you’re buying a screwdriver or pair of socks, but once you get into big ticket items, the adage, “You get what you pay for” becomes increasingly relevant.

R took the more pragmatic approach, which was to get something newer and more reliable. The drawback to this approach was that more money meant greater angst and consequently, greater delay. Three to four years worth, in fact. We had been in need of a second car for years, but the cost was always a significant obstacle.

Looking at new cars was daunting, to say the least. Again, we had to make a choice. There was no question that we were going to avoid SUVs, though a truck would have come in handy. Trucks, like SUVs and even what are called crossovers, are expensive. You could probably get a Ford F150 for a good price, and it is in fact the best selling car in America, but it is also consistently rated the worst in reliability year after year. I find it amazing that even though it constantly breaks down, people continue to buy it. Up here you see one in every driveway. Then again, they are real-man trucks, not a sissy import.

We had decided on something economical: a hatchback with a 4 cylinder manual transmission, just because we like the Euro-thing and prefer stick-shifts. We did not need 4-wheel drive or all wheel drive, which seems to be the new standard. I can appreciate how it would come in handy, but we’ve lived up here for 6 years and never had all wheel drive, except, of course, when we borrowed my Mentor’s vehicles. Personally I think having all-wheel drive sets you up for more maintenance down the road, more things to break down. So, our options were narrowed down to basically 5 cars. The Honda Fit, the Toyota Yaris, the Hyundai Accent, the Mazda 3, and the Ford Fiesta.

The Accent was by far the cheapest, and came with a great warranty, though it was only a two-door. The Mazda 3 was nice looking, and we like our Protege. Mazda’s also tend to be more performance oriented, and fun to drive, but more expensive. The Fiesta is a nice looking car, but relatively new to the scene. Ford definitely got it right on design, but again, I think they have a long road to travel in order establish their credibility on the reliability front. In a way, they sort of took advantage of the car-buying public by selling a mediocre product to a loyal clientele. Instead of reliability, they focused on gadgets, power and/or luxury, stuff that I’m not interested in. In all fairness, they simply catered to what people wanted, and what most people seem to want has nothing to do with reliability. I’ve been told they have made many improvements, but again, time will tell.

The choice really boiled down to a Toyota or a Honda, both comparable in price. Now after doing exhaustive research, certain important points came to light. First off, cars are expensive. We were looking at the bottom line in terms of price, which to me still wasn’t cheap, and yet, I was under the impression that these cars were not that in demand. People were in the market for cars that were significantly more expensive. I think the best-selling car is the Camry, which will set you back about $25,000.

Maybe after spending my entire youth behind the wheel stuck in traffic in LA, I’ve come to view a car as simply a way to get around, and want to minimize my time behind the wheel and don’t want to enhance my driving experience, nor do I want any bells and whistles. R agrees, and we both feel the most important thing, bar none, is reliability. Clearly, I’ve become like my parents.

Which brings me to my second and third points. When you research cars, most of the high profile rankings don’t rate reliability. They tend to focus on performance or luxury, especially when you look at the big magazines like Car and Driver. If you base your decision on what they have to say, you’ll have fun in the short term, but could end up paying the price down the road.

The final point is that when you actually do find some reliability figures, hands down, without exception, the two cars that consistently dominate the top ten lists are Hondas and Toyotas. In fact, Hondas were famous for reliability when I was a kid, and they’ve stayed true to that up until now. Somehow Toyota has managed to steal the spotlight, while Honda keeps quietly cranking out quality cars.

We also turned to the Car Talk guys, who put out all sorts of information about the issues that matter to us. In a stroke of good fortune, while we were shopping around, they happened to publish an article in the Globe about the top ten cars to buy in terms of, you guessed it, reliability. Of the top ten, I think 5 were Hondas, 3 were Toyotas, with one Chevrolet and one Subaru, which actually surprised me. These were the cars that Click and Clack said were the most reliable and had the fewest problems.

Say no more. Our decision was going to boil down to a Honda Fit or a Toyota Yaris. We were looking for a manual transmission (not easy to find) in a four-door hatchback. We were happy for forsake power windows, power locks, and even keyless entry. The only thing we would have liked was air-conditioning, which is standard on all makes and models, so this was not an issue.

Now we were ready to the next phase of this process, shopping around and finding the model we wanted at what seemed like a reasonably price. If you’ve ever dealt with car salespeople, this is a painful process, and the most unpleasant aspect of car shopping, but a necessary one.

I don’t do well in these situations, but sometimes you do what you have to do.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Losing It

I can't believe it, we've lost all our snow. Actually, there is still a fair amount on the ground, but the temperature hit about 50 degrees yesterday, and so much of it melted. Crazy weather.

The XC trail is in terrible shape, I think because there wasn't a good base to begin with, and when they groomed it with their new groomer, I think it trashed the trail a little. I'm guessing there needs to be a minimum amount of snow base for the groomer to work properly, but what do I know? Whatever be the case, there are major bare spots all over, and the beautiful snow cover is turning to ice now that it is cooling off once again.

On a bright note, I didn't have to do any raking now that we have a standing seam roof, which alone is worth the price of admission. Once it warms up a bit, the snow just slides off, though it makes a pretty impressive sound, startling us and making us jump on more than one occasion. We worry a little about the cats getting buried, but they're pretty resourceful.

In the meantime, let's hope for some snow in the forecast. We need to hit the slopes, and the XC trail needs it badly. Plus, we'd like to do some outdoor skating, but that's looking pretty doubtful in the near future.

Oh well, you just can't have it all. Thanks for reading.

Loving Wilderness Trails, As Well

Talk about getting set up for Winter. We have all of our Alpine ski equipment together and have been hitting the slopes, and are almost complete in terms of our Nordic gear except for N’s boots. He’s outgrown them. I bought them two years ago and in typical frugal fashion got bought them big.

We had been wanting XC ski equipment, but weren’t sure about the best way to acquire it. I, of course, hoped to find some used stuff, but getting used XC ski equipment, more so than downhill stuff for kids is difficult, if not impossible. People want to unload their old 3-pin stuff, which is pretty much useless, but tend to hold onto their newer stuff, as they should.

Either way, one day I happened upon a huge sale at LL Bean (I love that place) and they were selling all sorts of brand new XC ski equipment at nearly 70% off. Amazing, I was in hog heaven. We were all set, and used the equipment sparingly, though R used it more often because she really loves to XC ski. It is, for the record, a great way to keep in shape over the Winter.

I knew at some point, however, that the kids would outgrow theirs, and sure enough, N’s boots no longer fit. A can still wear hers, but I needed to get a pair for him Their skis will still work, though they are a little on the short side. However, they’re good enough, considering that we do not XC ski that often, but it is nice to have the skis on hand for those spontaneous moments when we decide to go for a “stroll” as a family.

Thus began my neurotic odyssey to get N some boots. I found some online, and they were not that expensive brand new, but the ideal would have been to found some used and then somehow make use of the old boots, which are still in perfect condition. I should have made my way to the Ford Sayre ski swap, which I’ve never been to but am betting has some great deals from the good folks in Hanover. Somehow, we just never manage to make it over there.

XC skiing is complicated by the fact that the bindings and boots are specific to one another. With downhill skiing, you can match any boot to any binding, making it much simpler. But those darn XC ski people had to go and make it that much harder. We had Rossignol bindings, and thus had to get Rossignol boots, though I’d been told that Alpina was compatible Rossignol.

I’d been scouring the thrift stores, and you can find loads of stuff, but most of it is so thrashed that I even I, master of the foolishly frugal and cheap, would not buy it, and again, I had to get equipment specific to our gear. So I employed my favorite approach and sat and waited. There was no snow, so we weren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

When the snow finally did hit, we realized we had to take action. The problem is that he would have been the only one who did not have the equipment, and that’s a bummer when you’re the one left out of the equation. Sure, I’m projecting my own neurosis, but he’s got my genes and must surely share in some of my thought process. Plus, I just didn’t want him to feel left out, which he surely would have.

Well, on our way to the ski hill, I stopped by Wilderness Trails by the Quechee Inn and spoke with our good buddy MB, a great guy BTW, and an outdoorsman extraordinaire. He runs an outdoor adventure outfit and rents XC skis and skates and anything you’d want to play in the snow. Now and then he sells off his old equipment, and I was hoping he could help me out, and sure enough, he came through.

He had a pair of boots that fit N, and he said he’d go for a direct swap. He even let me take the boots on the spot and told me just to bring the old ones by when I had a chance. Wow, good fortune shines on us again.

It’s funny, I hesitated at first because N’s old boots are in perfect condition, and the boots we were getting in exchange were much more weathered. However, I realized the folly in my thinking immediately, because when you really get down to it, what good are pristine boots that nobody can use? Also, MB was essentially doing me a favor as a friend and neighbor (he lives in our town and his wife is heavily involved in the local farmer’s market), so how could I be ungrateful?

Now we’re once again ready to hit the trails. Who knows? We may even ring in the New Year with a quick jaunt. I rather like that idea. That is, of course, if we get some more snow.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Getting Things Done

I told the board at our library that I would help out in any way possible to help get funding to support the library, and at some point would even try to write a grant, though I’ve never written a grant before, not that I have the time or wherewithal to do such a thing.

Either way, it was yet another example of having the best of intentions but biting off more than I can chew, the story of my life. Then again, if you don’t give it a try, how would you ever know what you’re capable of?

They were doing some fundraising work and I said I would help write something to that effect, but really had no idea what to say or how to approach it. MD wrote a rough draft and I’m assuming the plan was for us to work together on it, but as usual, I sat on it and did nothing for days. Boy did it ever weigh on my shoulders. I had the valid excuse of being on my deathbed with the plague, and the holidays are always a crazy time where work winds down, but I still felt bad.

I finally cracked the whip on myself and sat down to finish the letter, or rather, touch up what MD had written, and wouldn’t you know it? Not only did I get it done, but it wasn’t that bad. Best of all, when I sent it back, not only was she not mad, but she liked it and said it was helpful.

I love when that happens, though when moments like this happen, I find a way to let it justify my procrastinating ways. It’s not a good way to go.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Julien Tromeur for the pic.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ask and You Shall Receive

I’ve been bemoaning the fact that they we haven’t had any snow, and then we got it by the truckload. We had one of the most amazing snow storms, and ended up with nearly two feet of the white stuff. It was so beautiful outside, and finally started to resemble a Vermont Christmas. The only downside was that the wind was howling, making it a little more challenging.

The kids were thrilled, they got geared up and we all headed outside to enjoy the snow. I, of course, had practical things to do, and at one point I must have commented (complained?) about it and A said, “Isn’t it amazing how kids can look at snow and see it as a great and fun thing, and adults look at it as another reason to do work?” To this I replied, “Maybe that’s because the adults are the ones doing all the work.”

Ah, the innocence of childhood, you have to love it.

Anyway, because two feet of snow fell, I had quite a bit of shovelling to do. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the snow, and actually enjoy shovelling it (talk to me in February), it’s just that the first snow is always a bit of an adjustment, and I’ve gotten soft over the past few months.

It was fun seeing the kids enjoy it, though, and I would have joined it if not for all the shovelling I had to do. On a bright note, now that we have our metal roof, I won’t need to rake it, at least not as much. It took me about two hours to get all the stuff done, after which the kids had had enough and were caked in snow.

At some point KB showed up to plow the driveway, and he was like a knight in shining armor, because let me tell you, we weren’t going anywhere, at least not in our cars. He got a beautiful new plow truck and did the usualy good job, and suddenly we were liberated.

Around lunchtime, I was finished, though the snow kept falling so there will be more work that needs to be done, but for now, we can enjoy the snow, and maybe even contemplate a little skiing. I know R is excited about hitting the trails, while I have the slopes on my mind.

We don’t do a lot of XC skiing, but we have the equipment, and need to get some new boots for N. We’ll have to work on that one.

Until then, thanks for reading

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy new year to all.

Well here we are, another new year, and another chance to do the things we set out to do the previous year. Unless, of course, you already pulled them off. Then you're off the hook.

We had a mellow and quiet new year's eve, as usual. I have to confess, the idea of getting dressed up and going to a party has zero appeal to me, and not just because of my anti-social tendencies. I understand the idea of a new beginning, but also think that we can make a difference or change in our lives any time of the year, and often when we place undue emphasis on a single moment or day, like a holiday or birthday, for instance, we lose sight of the fact that there is the rest of the year to account for. Why not make the most of those 364 days?

Either way, I used to make a huge deal about New Year's Eve, and still can't figure out why. Actually, I do know why. It's because everyone else made a big deal about it, so I just went along for the ride. Now, I prefer to just hang out and treat it like any other day. Am I getting old, or what? For the record, throughout my young adult life when I was single, New Year's Eve was a disappointment, mainly because I placed such huge expectations on it, and it never delivered. Looking back on it, I realize this was due to my own naivete. It's just another day, right?

Anyway, now that I'm older and a lot more boring, I have no inkling to make issue of it, and prefer to stay home with R and the kids and just enjoy the evening. With this in mind, we set out to have a new year's eve supper as a precursor to a new year's day supper. We did a family survey and decided that we would make homemade pizza and then finish with brownie sundaes with hot fudge, all low glycemic, of course.

This involved a great deal of preparation and cooking, so it was a busy day. We made the dough in the morning and let it rise throughout the day. Because I'm beginning to feel like Porky Pig, I decided to get some exercise, so I did a XC ski run and man am I sore today, but in a good way. I worked up a good sweat, aided by the fact that it was a beautiful and warm day. I was sweating bullets.

When I got back, R and A decided to go for a walk, but N wanted to stick around, so we played a round of chess and then set about making the pizzas. Just wanted to mention that N has become quite the chess player. He has good foresight, and can make the match challenging for me, though I'm just okay. It's good preparation for him when he goes up against a pro.

Making pizza is always fun in our house, because the kids love to make the pies, and it becomes a fun family affair. We went with pepperoni/onion and veggie, which had peppers, olives, broccoli, and onions. I think we have gotten our crust recipe down, a nice whole wheat dough with flak seeds. When made in conjunction with our beautiful pizza stone, compliments of DR, our pizza comes out nicely. The crust really is the key.

For the sundaes, we also needed to make the fudge sauce and the brownies. These are not hard jobs, they just take time, but we planned properly and the goodies were ready by the time the meal was finished. Then, we all got to make our own sundaes.

We finished the evening watching the movie Despicable Me, which was available at BG's, and then it was off to bed.

My kind of evening.

Hope you all had a nice new year's eve, and happy new year, and thanks to Madhavan M for the pic.

New Year's Eve Plan, or Lack Thereof

Well, yet another new year is upon us, and we are left to decide what are plans are going to be for the evening. Actually, the biggest decision we'll have to make is probably which foods to prepare, because there is a slim chance that we'll get out and join the festivities, which all begin after 8:00 PM, well after my bedtime, although we were invited to an early New Year's bash that begins around 5:00. Not sure if we'll make it to that one either, so NM and BM.

It's unfortunate that things around here start so late in the evening, though even if they did, I'm not sure we'd make it over there. Every year MK invites us to her New Year soiree, but again, it starts late in the evening, and the idea of being out late with (or even without) the kids is not appealing. I'm just getting too old for this kind of stuff.

Besides, I'm not a fan of drinking, and somehow when I get into these social situations, peer pressure forces me to imbibe, and then I regret it. I wish I had the strength of character to just say no, but when in Rome and all that good stuff.

So, it looks like we'll embrace the tradition of our forefathers and eat junk food and maybe watch a movie. Just my speed, how can you beat it?

Happy New Year's Eve to everyone, thanks for reading, and thanks to Kriss Szkurlatowski for the pic.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Letdown

We had a really nice and manageable Christmas, and I think the kids really enjoyed it, though R and I noticed something that we’ve seen in the past. The kids get really excited (understandably) about opening their presents, but at some point it becomes a feeding frenzy, and then it becomes less about what they get and more about how much.

It’s crazy to watch, and you see it plain as day when you go to birthday parties or other events where presents are involved. Kids just go into zombie mode and start ripping open packages without much thought as to what is inside. It’s sort of disturbing, and definitely feeds into that consumer mentality of wanting more, more, more! We are creating the future generations of American consumers.

Worst of all is the letdown, or crash. After all is said and done, and there are no more presents, the kids get crabby and wonder when the next holiday is, or better yet, attack mom and dad to release some angst. We're seeing this in action in this pic. It’s not good, and I can see why people go out and buy all sorts of junk for their kids and for that matter, themselves. The process feeds on itself, and seems, at least for adults, to be a short term fix for an overall dissatisfaction with one’s life. This does not apply to kids, they’re too young to know about disillusionment, but give them time. Adults, on the other hand, can sometimes use shopping as therapy, which can lead to disaster.

I’m sure marketers count on it to fuel the economy, buy this and it’ll make you happy, at least for a few hours, after which you’ll want to buy more. You see it in action with people who have so much stuff, it never ends. I’ve fallen prey to it, but you really begin to understand that constantly buying things is not a solution to finding contentment in life. If anything, it makes you feel even more crappy because not only do you go broke, but often you end up in debt and thus a slave to your job, which more likely than not, you hate.

I realize this sort of subversive thinking flies in the face of the message that we are told in our every waking minute, which is to buy more stuff. It’s the very principal on which places like Wally World thrive, and I see it a lot in young people (listen to me, I’m getting old) who work minimum wage jobs and blow all their cash on expensive cell phones or finance fancy new cars. I kind of gets me depressed to see it in actionl

I prefer the New England approach, or at least for some New Englanders, frugal and self-sufficient. The frugal part (dare I say cheap) I’m familiar with, it’s the self-sufficient part that I’m working on. I hope to have a handle on it sometime in the next century.

I hate to sound like a Scrooge, I love Christmas and who doesn’t love the thrill on the kids faces when they see the gifts under the tree, but I wonder sometimes if we’re doing our kids a disservice by promoting the importance of stuff all the time, and would be better off sending them a different message. Also, it encourages this concept of putting your life on hold for one big day, after which life seems to come to an abrupt halt, which is sort of drag.

We used to have a neighbor who had great kids, and she approached the holidays in an interesting and unique way. Every Christmas, each child would get one present, and they would take a big family trip somewhere, maybe even do some sort of volunteer work in another country.

Our kids would probably hate us, and would grow up and remember us as the weird parents who didn’t celebrate Christmas like normal families, but when you look around at the current state of the world, where we model our lives after TV shows and celebrities are our role models, where we spend all of our free time talking about last night’s episode of American Idol and how “other” people live their lives instead of living it ourselves, is normal really the way to go?

I’ll have to get back to you on that one. Until then, thanks for reading.

Gargantuan Task with Pics

One of the biggest regrets (one of a million, mind you) that I have growing up was that I never took pictures of the people, places, and things in my life. Bummer, and once those moments are gone, you can never get them back.

Now that I’m a parent, I can honestly say that lack of pictures is a problem, especially with digital photography. We have thousands of pictures on our hard drive, where I’m sad to say the tend to languish.

I used to be diligent about making prints, which was a given before digital photography. As a result, we have dozens of photo albums of the kids growing up, and they are a scream. We love going back and looking through them. I even did a reasonably good job of staying on top of it when we went digital, though it was more challenging because there were so many more pictures to choose from.

And then, I slacked off and stopped. Well, the other day, we were looking through the pics and realized how cool it is to see the kids grow, and I resolved to start making prints once again. I probably have to sift through nearly 2000 pictures, but hey, I’ve got nothing better to do with my time, right?

I figure as along as I take it slow and don’t obsess over the big picture, no pun intended, I should be able to keep my sanity, which on a daily basis hangs by a thread, but that’s one tough thread.

I’m thinking it shouldn’t be too bad, but like most things in life, it’s easier said than done.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

We Love Henderson's

When we go skiing, N and I ski without our poles, while A prefers to have hers. I find poles just one more thing to have to deal with, like holding a shopping bag. No thank you. Last year, we got A some new poles because she is growing in leaps and bounds, but we got them late in the season, and because of that, we had to get them brand new, which pains me to no end.

As luck would have it, this year, she’s outgrown them. Can you believe that? I’m not whining (well, maybe a little), A is growing like any child should, it’s just that we didn’t get much use out of the poles, and now we needed new ones.

Then I thought of our favorite ski shop in the universe, Henderson’s, and thought maybe could work something out. After skiing, we headed over there, and the place was hopping. I asked N, who has been there for years, if we could do a swap, and he went in the back, grabbed a new pair of poles, and exchanged them, no questions asked.

Now we have new poles, A is excited to try them out, and dad is happy because it didn’t cost a thing.

Man, I love Henderson’s. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Death by Sugar

We’ve been reducing our sugar intake and using alternative sweeteners because we read this interesting book about healthy living and it changed the way we view food, mainly sugar and starch. Don’t get me wrong, we live for sweets, but are simply concerned about the amount of sugar we consume because it is known to increase inflammation in the body, and as anyone who is up on the medical literature knows, inflammation is your worst enemy, right up there with bad hair and smelly breath.

We are vehemently against artificial sweeteners, and for that matter, artificial flavors, colors and preservatives, though we end up eating them now and then because it’s hard to eat junk food that isn’t filled with that garbage, and we are occasional junk food eaters.

Anyway, we’ve been experimenting with all natural, organic sweeteners that have a low-glycemic index. They exist, though they are hard to come by and expensive, but can you really put a price on your good health?

I’ll tell you one thing, since we’ve been eating these sugars, I’ve become increasingly sensitive to sugar, and when pork-out on sweets, like I did this Christmas, I really feel the effects, and not in a good way. My problem stems from the fact that I cannot moderate. I can’t eat just one cookie, I need to have at least a half dozen, and then I regret it because the sugar crash makes me miserable.

I don’t crash, or at least not as hard, using low-glycemic sugar, and I think my body has adjusted accordingly. Now, when I eat sugar, my body lets me have it, and I end up going into some sort of glycemic shock. I used to feel that way when I was in NYC and ate waffles for breakfast. I would use half the bottle of syrup, which wasn’t real and was probably chock full of high-fructose corn syrup. Man did I feel horrible afterward, but never really understood why, until now.

Keep in mind, it isn’t easy watching your sugar intake, especially with young children, but it is worth noting that you cannot put a price on good health, even though in our culture, we completely take it (as well as our families) for granted.

Okay, enough of my pontification. Thanks for reading.

Real Man's Work

I had been putting off sewing A’s patch on her gi, and for that matter, sewing the patch on my own gi. It just didn’t seem like a high priority for me, but when A got her belt, she really wanted to have her patch put on, just to be official

So I finally sewed it on, and now want to do my gi, as well, though who knows when that will happen. For now, we'll bask in the satisfaction of getting one done and the knowledge that it can be done. We just don't know when

Until that time, thanks for reading.

A Very Merry Christmas

We sure did have a nice Christmas, and it was great just hanging out and not having to be anywhere or do anything other than eat and open presents. We thought the presents were just right, great choices and not overwhelming in quanitity. The kids were ecstatic and scored on some really cool things.

Naturally, because it was Christmas Day, A&N were sleep deprived because they couldn’t sleep due to their excitement and woke up early because of the same. This brought up some challenging moments, but nothing insurmountable.

It’s a lot of fun watching the kids open presents, not only because they get such cool stuff from their grandparents and uncle/aunt, but because it’s not this frenzy of destruction where everything is ripped apart and then left to gather dust. A&N tend to open something and then play with it and explore it for bit, then let it sit and gather dust. The beauty of this approach is that it really prolongs the process into an all day event, and it results in a more gradual letdown once the process has ended. I rather like that.

The present selection was wonderful as usual, and they were thrilled by what they got. Their Uncle PR and Aunt DR do a great job of choosing stuff that really captures their imagination, and their grandparents are simply amazing at present selection. In fact, they got a slot car kit, and I heard the phrase, “... the greatest Christmas present ever,” said on more than one occasion.

Score one for RR and JR.

We had a nice lunch of pea soup which A said was tasty even though it looked like barf, and then after a long day of racing slot cars (for the record, N picked it up immediately and proceeded to destroy the competition, meaning A, R, and myself, but more on that later) and taking long naps by the fire, and then it was time for dinner.

We tried something new for Christmas supper and actually made filet mignons, which turned out nicely. Now I’ve heard from my Mentor, who is a gourmand, that the best steaks in town can be found at BG’s, but it is not grass fed or for that matter, local. I couldn’t find grass fed filet at the Coop, they were sold out, and their prices were a bit steep ($24/lb!). I was tempted to go with BG’s, but they didn’t have any either, so I contacted our reliable meat supplier, Cloudland Farms, and she said they had some steaks.

Now Cloudland has fabulous beef, some of the best I’ve had, but I’ve yet to really try their steaks, though a friend of mine who buys a share in a cow says the steaks are amazing. The one drawback is that they are a bit of jaunt to get to, and their storefront hours are limited, especially during the holidays. If I can get ahold of CE, she’ll usually arrange to meet me to get the beef, which we use for our dumplings.

Either way, we got the steaks, and next up was how to cook them. I have trouble with filet because they are so thick, which makes cooking them rare easy, but we’re not necessarily a rare-meat eating family. In my steak eating glory days, I would without exception go rare, but now lean more towards the medium end.

I opted to pan-sear the steaks and then finish in the oven, mainly because it seemed like the best hybrid of Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray. There was also a recipe for a red-wine sauce, which thereby included Julia Child in the mix. With those three behind me, I couldn’t go wrong.

Now first off, they say to bring the meat to room temperature, then rub with salt and pepper. The meat looked beautiful. I seared both sides for 3 minutes, and in retrospect, should have gone for 5.

I had the oven going at 400 because we were making roasted green beans, butternut squash, and baked sweet potatoes. For the record, baked sweet potatoes are a great way to eat them, so easy, and you don’t have to peel and slice. I realized this morning that I’d forgotten to make Yorkshire pudding, darn!

After searing, I put the steaks on a baking sheet and cooked for 10 minutes at 425, and then let them rest for 10 minutes.

They filets were fabulous, so tender and delicious, though a bit rarer than I’d hoped for. I know steak afficionados will tell you to eat it rare, but I wanted them a bit more done. Next time I’ll go 5 minutes each side on a hotter pan, and then bake for 10 at 425. We don’t eat steak much, so I don’t have a chance to practice my technique.

Also, we made a red-wine sauce in the pan with butter and herbs and all that good stuff. Everyone loved the steak, we really enjoyed it, and hats off to Cloudland Farms for coming through with the quality goods. I love getting our meat from them.

After supper, we had a load of sweets to choose from. We were planning on baking a pie (N had just read a picture book about making pies, so we figured why not), but we had so many sweets that I decided not to. One less thing to worry about. Besides, R received her usual box of amazing treats from her friend ST in WI, and R’s parents sent us loads of chocolate covered treats.

We then sat down to watch a movie together, and ran into the conundrum of what to see. We passed right over all the Christmas stuff and opted for the movie Up, a family favorite, and available on Netflix to stream.

I love when that happens.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and happy holidays.

A Christmas Carol

We were trying to come up with a good movie that we could all watch on Christmas Day, and decided on an animated version of A Christmas Carol with the ghosts of Christmas past, present, future, and all that good stuff. Boy, what a “yawner,” even I couldn’t believe how slow it was, and I like slow movies (i.e., almost every French movie I've seen). I felt bad for the kids, because I think the central message was a bit deep, and the movie itself was a bit too stiff for children.

Either way, the kids did not complain, and I could simply be projecting my own boredom, but we sat through it. It’s funny because when I was a kid, we watched the same old tired Christmas movies every year, they were an event. Santa and the Three Bears, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, and the classic of all classics, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

A&N can’t be bothered to watch these all again, though in all fairness, they have watched them all several times, because we have the discs. Oh well, maybe we’re better off watching Ben 10.

Hope everyone had a nice Christmas, and thanks for reading, and thanks to Sgi Design for the pic.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pottery Serendipity

I’m not sure how this one transpired, but I got an email from KM the other day and he mentioned doing pottery in the mornings again, this time with DE and his kids, C&A, included in the mix. I’m guessing they must have crossed paths and discussed the possibility of doing pottery, and then thought of us.

Talk about serendipity. I was prepared to drop the big bucks to continue with their pottery class in Winter. KR was toying with having another session near the end of January, and though it costs me a pound of flesh, it’s a great class, and the kids have so much fun, and they do make really cool stuff that is not simple playdough creations but real-deal pottery.

Now that this new possibility has come up, it means we can use those big bucks towards other things, like skiing or food and water, or medical bills (just kidding). And, it starts next week. How cool is that?

I’m excited, but we’ll have to wait and see how it transpires and whether it is going to be a regular thing, which I hope it is.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Whole Grains

Last year at the local Winter Festival, they had a silent auction to raise money for the rec center and we got a whole grains baking cook book from King Arthur Flour, the local guru of baking. It was a nice book, we got to support the town, and there was a chili cook-off, which I am tempted to join this year, but that’s another story.

Either way, we’ve never really cracked open the book, but have recently found that it is a fountain of information and good ideas about using whole grains in baking. We even tried a few of the recipes. One that we love are the whole grain pancakes, which is nice because you can make the mix up in big batches and freeze it. When you’re ready, just add milk and eggs and you’re good to go.

Recently we had some olive bread from La Panciatta, one of our favorite bakeries, and found it to be good, but not life altering like some of their other breads. N said he bet we could make it, and sure enough, there was a recipe in our whole grain cookbook.

So we gave it a go. One thing about using hardcore cookbooks, especially with baking, is that they take lots of time, much it sitting around waiting for things to rise. Of course, when you’re either a SAHD or real-man in training, you don’t have any time to sit around and watch bread rise, but that’s beside the point.

The recipe spans two days because you have to make the sponge, then there are two rising steps, before you actually put the bread in the oven, but again, that gives you a chance to do other things. We made the bread, and it turned out well, or at least well enough to please the harshest critics, our kids.

I like it when things work out the way they’re supposed to, because it’s such a rare occurrence. I have found that King Arthur recipes generally give good results, so hats off to them, and thanks for reading

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

There has been a great deal of hair-cutting going on around our house lately, and I've been toying with the idea of cutting off my own hair. I've grown it long for so long that I can't even remember what it was like to have short hair, but I will say this - long hair is a complete hassle. Plus, I can't tell you how many people assume I'm Native American, and ask me if I was an extra in Dances with Wolves. It's all because of the hair, and the powerful influence of the media, of course.

I'm not sure when this big hair-cutting undertaking is going to take place. At one point I was ready to go for it and jump in with both feet, but I started to think that the shock would kill me, so I'm opting for the gradual approach. I asked R to cut it, and she got about a foot off. It felt great, and was a breeze to wash and comb.

Eventually, it's all gotta go. Stay tuned for when and where. I figure that if it gets long again, the kids would have fun attacking it with a pair scissors. Speaking of which, I was at the Coop the other day and one of cashiers noticed my hair-cut and asked if the kids got ahold of some scissors and chopped off my hair.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to RC for the pics.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Day

We spent the day before Christmas eagerly anticipating Christmas and preparing for the big day. Since it was a holiday, R stayed home and we were able to hang and do fun stuff like play games, read, eat (my personal favorite), and hang by the fire. What a life.

At some point, however, the kids get a little stir crazy. While I love sitting around doing nothing or reading a good book, this is not as appealing at the ripe age of 7 years. Plus, R needed to do some final Christmas wrapping, so I thought it would be a good time go skiing or skating. I was leaning to skiing, but the kids opted for skating, so it was off to Union Arena.

There was a decent crowd there, and we had fun. A&N are great skaters, especially N, and I still think he'd made a great hockey player. They have hockey camps in January, and that might be something we'll investigate because he's said he's interested.

We got home around 4:00, and this made the dinner schedule a little harder because the plan was to broil salmon and asparagus, but also served our newest incarnation of bread, as well. The bread, as anyone who bakes knows, is a complete hassle, with huge amounts of time dedicated to letting it rise. Too much, if you ask me.

I was planning on making low glycemic cookies and chocolate pudding cake first. As you can see, I have my priorities straight by making dessert first. Then I was going to bake the bread that had been rising all day, then broil the fish and veggies. The problem was, by the time dessert was done, everyone was getting hungry and when R broke out the box of crackers, I knew had to get dinner on the table ASAP.

I ditched the idea of finishing the bread by supper, cooked the meal, thereby letting the bread rise for longer than usual, but I've not found this to be a problem, even when it goes over for hours. As soon as dinner was ready, I put the loaves in and let them bake while we ate.

The meal was nice, we even had sparkling pear cider to go with the fish. I made sure it was non-alcoholic this time. Then we had chocolate pudding cake and vanilla ice cream, which went over well with the kids. The adults weren't complaining, either, and best of all, it was all low-glycemic.

After supper, we watched a fairly boring movie, but it was fun trying to fit all four of us onto the futon and then see who could sit still for the entire movie. I think R was the only one.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Hitting the Slopes

It has been pretty pitiful thus far in terms of snow, and I’m hearing about all the precipitation that’s falling on LA and wonder, what exactly is going on here? We need snow! I know I’ll regret making this proclamation one day soon, but for now, we haven’t really gotten much of the white stuff, and we are itching for it.

That, however, did not stop us from going skiing. I was aware that opening day was on the day before Christmas Eve, but wasn’t sure if we could manage it because there was so much going on, but when that day arrived, I figured we could squeeze in a couple of hours.

So we packed up the Fit, headed over to Quechee, and did some skiing. It was a lot of fun, and the kids really had a blast. One interesting development was that A&N seemed to have switched roles. Last year N was the one who tore down the mountain and turned my hair gray, while A was much more controlled and cautious. This time around, A was flying down the hill and ended up that bottom well before we got there, and N was the one who took it slow and steady. I’m kind of glad, because it was a little scary watching him go, and though N was fast, she tends to embrace a much more cautious approach to things.

They are both good skiers, and I’m glad they enjoy it. Now if we could a few feet of snow, we would be golden. Also, this year we’ve vowed to try some new ski hills other than Quechee and Dartmouth. However, one of the closest and nicest, Ascutney, went out of business. Bummer.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Shopping Complications

I realize this is after the fact, but I had to squeeze in a Christmas Day entry, so now I need to backtrack a little.

With that in mind, we had some Christmas shopping adventures, though probably not so bad in the grand scheme of the retail universe because we are really not that big on shopping or consumption, other than food. On the other hand, I loathe shopping, it makes me want to hide away until it's all over, much like this guy is doing.

A large part of that stems from the fact that shopping can be a real hassle, and is torture for the kids. It's not so much the act of buying as the crowds and the time spent. Plus, it usually entails a trip to retail hell in W. Leb, which always reminds me of being in LA with all the traffic and crowds, but you do what you have to do, and with Christmas on the horizon, we had little choice.

Putting things off until the last minute didn’t help, and though there were still several days until the big day, the crowds were beginning to grow. We needed to get some final things for mom, but fortunately we knew what we wanted to get, and headed over to Hubert’s. That, of course, did not necessarily mean they had what we were looking for. In fact, they did not. They had some less desirable alternatives, but we talked it over and decided what we thought was best, and the salesperson got on the horn and found it in another store and said it would arrive in a few days.

On the one hand, we were happy, but on the other, it meant coming back to shopper’s paradise a day or two before Christmas. Yikes! Not the sort of place you want to be, but what are you going to do?

We also went over to Stateline Sports and I lucked out and happened upon something we needed for N that I’d forgotten about. Talk about serendipity, though I had to distract the kids so I could buy it in a clandestine manner. This wasn’t too difficult, though they kept asking me questions later why I told them to go to the other side of the store to check on prices for hockey tape. The cashier knew what I was up to and played along, giving me some semblance of legitimacy.

Though we weren’t completely done, we got enough accomplished to feel that our time in retail purgatory was, for the most part, finished. We headed back home where the kids wrapped the goods, hid them from mom, and we got ready for the big day.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Jess Rosales IV for the pic.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

I usually write my blog in the past tense, but felt like wishing everyone the best for the holidays and the new year.

Still hoping for snow, and still no word from my mom. Oh well, it's becoming a tradition.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to RC for the pic.

Planning Christmas Meals

We were having the big debate over Christmas dinner in our household. It would have been easy enough to just roast a chicken like we do on Thanksgiving, but why not be a little different?

We've had fish in the past, and salmon is a family favorite and one that we are happy the kids enjoy, but then A&N started debating that issue, as well. On the one hand, A thought having beef for a change would be nice. On the other, N said we don't eat salmon enough, though we eat it a lot more than we eat beef.

As far as beef goes, there was the option of a roast, or even a brisket, but with large hunks of meat, you really have to get the quality stuff, or you're going to end up with tough meat. That seems almost unavoidable with roast beef, especially when you're challenged at cutting the meat thin.

With this in mind, we thought of steak, specifically filet mignon. The question was, should we go local/grass fed, or get the killer beef that is more industrial. The local store, BG's, is small but has somehow really established a name for themselves in terms of their meat. In fact, my Mentor, who used to be in the restaurant business, says they have the best filet that he's ever eaten, and that's saying a lot considering that he's a gourmand. However, it is not local and grass fed. The local stuff tends to be a little tougher.

Also, finding local filet is not easy. They tend to have lots of ground beef. I searched around and could only find it at our local and reliable source, Cloudland Farms. CE said she had filet steaks and I could get them any time, just let her know, so I went over and now we have them.

So, the plan is as follows: we'll do salmon with asparagus and sweet potatoes on Christmas Eve, and then filet with Yorkshire pudding, squash and green beans on Christmas Night. This plan, for record, met with the approval of the relevant parties, namely A&N.

I love when things work out.

Happy holidays to all, and thanks to Rob Owen-Wahl and Clint Rankin for the pics.

Karate Test

We had our big karate test for the yellow belts, and it was a really fun night. I had some concerns about people not showing up because it was not their test, though I think it’s a nice show of support to come and at least help out. I’ve been to class when testing was going on and was asked to spar or help out, and I personally think it’s the right thing to do. I can tell you one thing, if A’s buddy was testing, she’d want to go to class to show her support, but I’ll leave it at that.

Anyway, as expected, turnout was a little sparse, but P&EC came, and I was happy to see them since they really did not have to come. Of course, Master H and CH were there, and the kids testing. I think A was a little nervous but very excited, and she’s learned to turn that bit of anxiety into a an adrenaline rush and makes the experience all that much more enjoyable. I think that’s something performing artists live for.

It was nice because R came along since it was A’s test, and she got to watch A in action, which is a lot of fun to see. The kids are really cute in their little gis and their sparring gear. They are so earnest but have a lot of fun. Master H is also a seasoned photographer (and a poet), so he has a nice camera, and since R has an interest in photography, they immediately clicked on talking shop. He let her use his camera freely to take pics, and I think R really enjoyed it. Plus, she had the privilege of conversing with Master H, who not only has a lot of amazing stories (two tours of Vietnam and maximum security prison guard), but is incredibly funny and loves children. What an amazing guy.

The test went fine, some mistakes were made, but nothing glaring, and in the end, Master H wants the kids to pass, the point is not to let them fail. He is so thoughtful and supportive that way. The other person who was supposed to test did not feel up to it, so she put off testing until the next time, which was fine. However, the test and overall class were on the short side, so we ended early and got to gobble up the treats.

We brought along cookie bars, and gave the rest to the senseis to take home. What is really nice about testing is all the pomp and circumstance. The board stands in front and presents the belts and certificates, and the kids get a huge thrill over it all. Master H takes a bunch of pics of the testees, and it usually ends up in one of the local papers, so we’ll keep our eyes peeled for that.

A is beaming that she has her belt, and she got an official patch for her gi. I had an extra one that I was happy to give to her, but she wanted to earn hers, as she did, which makes the reward that much sweeter.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to RC for the pic.

New Dumpling Wrapper Source

One of the many stumbling blocks that we encountered in our many adventures of dumpling making was finding the darn ingredients. Fresh local veggies were only available at certain times of the year, and beef required a bit of a jaunt over to Pomfret. Market sources of beef were unreliable, but one of the biggest hassles was getting the wrappers.

We went to the local Asian market but they weren’t always open when they said they’d be, the never seemed to answer their phone, and on some occasions, they were out. Needless to say, this left us in a bit of a bind, because we needed those wrappers.

Well, I happened to be shopping at Stern’s, and noticed that someone was buying the very same dumpling wrappers. I looked in the cooler, and sure enough, they carried them, and they were cheaper. I asked the owner if they could get cases, and she said they could.

Now, we have to decide if we’re going to keep doing this, but this is definitely a development in a positive direction, maybe even a sign?

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to lekyu for the pic.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Test Preparation

This is going to be A’s big karate test, and I had two concerns. One, that not enough people would show up. Now I’ve been in class when one kid tested and I was the only other person there besides Master H, and of course, the kid’s mom. Nobody else showed up, but Master H wanted this boy, who had been in the class for awhile, to get the belt he had studied so hard for. So we had the test, and I helped out. When people know it’s going to be a test, it doesn’t really apply to them, so they feel like they don’t need to attend.

To some extent this is true, but it is also nice to show up to support your friends, but also to help out with sparring or other test procedures. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt: if A’s friend was testing for a belt, she would want to be there to show her support.

Either way, I wasn’t sure who was going to show up. My second concern involved the “Martha Stewart with the Kung Fu grip” side of me. When we’ve tested in the past, EC’s mom has always brought these amazing brownies that are the stuff of legends. This test was not going to involve EC, so there was no reason to think that she would make them. I wasn’t even sure if EC was going to show up because it wasn’t his test.

So many worries, so little time.

Anyway, with the belief that it is always better to regret what you have done than what you haven’t done, I had to once again take action and make treats for the test. I was willing to let R take the credit so either Master H or CH wouldn’t think I was a sissy, but it might be too late for that.

The day of the test, I literally slaved over a hot stove in the name of karate. I made cookie bars for the class, cookies (low glycemic) for us at home, and then I made R’s bread because I hate cooking just one thing in the oven at a time. On top of that, I had to make dinner, as well.

I think Martha would be proud, and I was glad to have all of our bases covered. Now we have to wait and see who shows up.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to RC for the pic.

Solstice Celebration

One of the millions of things I love about living up here, besides the night life, is that people really celebrate the seasons, but not in a flaky way like in the town I grew up in. Acknowledging the seasons is a way of life when you live in a rural community, because historically, so much revolves around the weather. They manage to turn it into a celebration. You gotta love your pagan rituals.

Case in point, the Winter Solstice. There are numerous events up here where people get together and take part in some sort of pagan ritual, with lots of singing, food and drink, and usually a big bonfire. Our neighbors at the flower farm throw one every year, and the first year we went, we didn’t realize what a big to-do it actually was. In fact, we had heard that there was just going to be a bonfire, which we couldn’t pass up, but when we got there, they had this amazing spread of food and an incredible array of desserts. I was floored, and felt bad that I hadn’t brought anything, though I gave KJ a bottle of wine the next day.

This time, I came prepared with bottle in hand. The party is really nice, the food is amazing, though I sensed this year the turnout was small. Granted, we got there late, but last year there were tons of people inside, and then they all gathered around the fire to hang out and warm up, and they seemed to linger for hours. This year, there were may 10 people around the fire, though the flames had petered out, and again, it was later.

I do know that the Peony Festival that they hold was poorly attended last year, a fact that really concerns them and makes me feel terrible. I don’t know why people in this town are not more supportive of their efforts, but I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere. I wish I could be more helpful, because they are great people, we feel lucky to have them as neighbors, and their events are fabulous and so well done.

They also indicated that the they want to re-think their business model because the retail flower industry is not ideal, so it could be the end of such events. This is tragic, but you do what you have to do.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Michael Grunow for the pic.