APRIL 2008
Monday, April 28, 2008
I learned some news today.

The Good: Fresh mangosteens are now legal in the United States! And they have been since July! How come no one told me? For those of us who really enjoy fruit (like myself), this is a huge deal. Mangosteens are supposedly delicious and wonderful, but they are also susceptible to some sort of nasty agricultural pest; mangosteens had long been banned by the USDA because if this pest were to get into the continental United States, it could potentially devastate our citrus crop. (Or something like that.) But thanks to the wonders of irradiation, we can zap the crap out of anything and serve it up fresh. Thanks, science!

The Bad: Fresh mangosteens are hard to find, and if you can find them, they're expensive -- $10 a pound isn't unusual, and they're apparently going for as much as $45 a pound. I have personally never seen a fresh one, but just a few weeks ago I found mesh bags of meyer lemons in my local supermegamart, and I had never seen those before either. So, I am hopeful. I am also saving my pennies. In the meantime, I'll continue to eat my pears and bananas and pineapples and strawberries and grapes and melons and peaches. Did I mention that I really like fresh fruit?

The Stuff I Had Suspected All Along: All that talk about mangosteens being a quote-unquote "super fruit" and having otherworldly powers to cure you of all manner of ailment? Mere marketing hype! I tip my hat to you, mangosteen marketers! You've really managed to convince people that this thing is fairy-dust magical when, in fact, it holds no more special powers than a mere avocado. Which are also tasty. Ooh, can you imagine how good a mangosteen and avocado sandwich would taste? But I'm getting off track here -- marketing! Once this gets out, I wonder if the people who market Xango (the mangosteen juice/vitamin supplement) will still be able to get $100 a case. I hope not, because Lainey let me taste hers a few months ago, and I liked it a lot, but not enough to spend that much on it. And I think it'd taste really good mixed with vodka. That is one pricey mixer.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008
I was talking to cousin Steph earlier, and we were saying how happy we were that it's finally spring and everything's warm and sunny. But then she said that this time of year is always tough because of her allergies. Yeah, I said. Me too. But then I realized that no, not me too, because all of the sinus-y sneezy symptoms that I usually get this time of year hadn't bothered me yet. In fact, I can't even remember the last time I sneezed. And suddenly I realized what was going on: I fixed my allergies!

It actually was that simple, even though it's a little embarrassing. I don't know why I'm embarrassed about this, but a few weeks ago, I broke down and bought one of those neti pot things. You know what I'm talking about. You fill it with water and stick it in your nostril, and the water comes out the other nostril and it looks completely ridiculous. One of those. I had been resisting, because who wants water up their nose? I spent every childhood summer at the neighbor's pool trying not to get water up my nose, and now I'm supposed to put it up there intentionally? It just sounded weird. But I have always been one of those nose-runny, sneezy people. I blow my nose a million times a day, and I can't leave the house without a tissue in my pocket. This seems to be hereditary on my mom's side. My mom is always sniffly. And my grandfather was always blowing his nose; toward the end of his life, he suffered from horrible nosebleeds. My guess was always that all that nose blowing just destroyed his nose. And within the last few years, after a lifetime of never having to deal with blood running from my nose, I started getting nosebleeds about once every six months -- not an alarming frequency, to be sure, but frequent enough to freak me out. So I had been looking for a non-pharmeceutical solution to my snot problem when I started to hear about this neti pot thing.

At first it looked stupid. But then I looked into it and found all of these glowing reviews about it. People said they never blew their nose ever again! It cured them of their hayfever! They were no longer allergic to their cat! (Also an issue for me, by the way, but getting rid of the cat has never been an option, as it is technically Paul's cat and they were a package deal.) Food smelled better! Life looked brighter! Some even said the dark circles under their eyes went away in a month or so! But really, it still sounded stupid. I'd see them for sale in Walgreens and walk by and shake my head. I wasn't going to be one of those people who pours water through their nostrils.

But all the peppermint tea in the world wasn't fixing my runny nose issue (isn't peppermint tea supposed to cure everything?), and on the waning end of a sinus infection a few weeks ago, I finally figured, what the heck. I walked over to Walgreens, put down my $15, and walked out with a SinuCleanse neti pot kit, which included 30 packets of...uhh...nose cleaning powder. Maybe it's me, but all of this up-your-nose stuff just sounds like euphemisms for cocaine.

I got my new SinuCleanse kit home and took out the little neti pot. It was cheap plastic. Not a good start. I put half a packet of powder in it (the box said to start with a half), filled it with warm water, and just stared at it. So this thing was really supposed to go up my nose. I stood there for a good minute trying to psych myself up for it, and then finally I took a deep breath, stuck the spout in my right nostril, and tilted my head. I'm not going to lie to you: it was unpleasant. It felt like water in my nose at the pool, and the pressure on my sinuses was awful. And I had to concentrate really hard on breathing through my mouth, since breathing through my nose would mean water in my lungs. I could just see the headline: "Woman Drowns in Bathroom While Using Neti Pot for the First Time." But I kept with it, and the water was actually coming out of my left nostril like it was supposed to. I stopped when it seemed like I was halfway done with the water, switched nostrils, and finished it out. When I was done, I blew my nose hard and had to sit down so that I wouldn't fall over from all the pressure on my sinuses. This is what people were raving about?

But suddenly, I could breathe through my nose. And the sun seemed really bright. And maybe I'm nuts, but I swore I could hear better. And then the next morning when I got up, I blew my nose about a dozen times, and without getting too graphic, all kinds of stuff came out. Frankly, I didn't know I could store so much in my nose (which, for a Jewish nose, is pleasantly small, thank you very much). And of course, I could breathe better. I decided to keep with it.

It's been a few weeks now. While actually using the thing isn't the greatest sensation in the world, I haven't felt any painful pressure since that first time, and I guess I'm sort of used to it, so the water-in-the-nose sensation doesn't bother me all that much. I've been doing it about every other day, and true to its promise, putting all that water in my nose has improved my breathing and lessed my nose blows. And everything really does look just a little brighter, like someone went around and replaced all the 75 watt bulbs with 100s. But I never thought about the allergy connection until Steph said something. But just now I looked at the box it came in, and it does say right on there, "Instant relief from allergy and sinus symptoms." So maybe it really does work. I still think actually using it looks completely idiotic, but for now, I'm sticking with it. I tried to convince cousin Steph to try it. She's really apprehensive, but maybe she'll get fed up with being sneezy and decide "what the heck" too.

Friday, April 18, 2008
So around 5:30 this morning, I woke up because our bed was shaking and creaking. (It's an old bed, so it's prone to noise if anyone in it moves. Amazingly, I've gotten used to it.) At first I thought it was Paul tossing and turning, but when I looked over at him, he was still and sound asleep. But it kept shaking, and I had no idea what it could be. I thought maybe it was an early garbage truck -- we have garbage and recycling pickup on Fridays -- but I didn't hear the truck. It finally stopped after a minute, and as I started to fall back asleep, I remember thinking to myself in a completely joking tone, well, maybe it was an earthquake. But you know what? It was! It was centered over 200 miles away, so it wasn't exactly close, and it wasn't a strong shaking, but it was definitely shaking. And according to some local websites, a lot of other people in town felt it too. Definitely the last natural phenomenon I expected to experience in the Midwest! Blizzards, sure. Tornados and windstorms, totally not shocking. But an earthquake? This isn't California. What's going on here?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008
A sad day. One of the nicest guys in town, and someone I had worked with on several different projects, had a freak accident -- a nasty fall -- about ten days ago and fractured his skull. As I'm sure you know, head injuries are dangerous. He had been in an induced coma since then and through various stages of better and worse, but I guess his lungs gave out. He passed away last night, and I think everyone around here feels just awful about it. I don't much feel like talking about it anymore today, but you can read about it here if you'd like. He was definitely one of the Good Guys, and I'm really sad that he's gone.

Sunday, April 13, 2008
I got all caught up in last-minute stuff so I can finally be finished with this stupid teacher certification business, and I completely forgot to write about the truly outstanding dinner that Paul and I had at The Modern in NYC last Friday. Yeah, it's been more than a week, but it's worth a mention. I had read about The Modern, and while I had always kind of wanted to go there, it seemed a little out of my price range. I wouldn't say it's the most expensive place to eat, but it's prix fixe and way more than we'd normally spend on dinner. But Evie and Lainey got us a gift card, and so we just had to go. I am glad we did!

The restaurant itself was beautiful. It's right next to the Museum of Modern Art, and everything in it is just so well designed. The lines are clean, and the servingware is simple and elegant. Oh, and when we sat down and were given a few nibbles while we looked at the menu, the flatware in front of us was a spork. A spork! Yeah, like those half spoon, half fork things you get at Taco Bell. (I know about the sporks at Taco Bell because I like the bean burritos there. I hope you're not disappointed.) Only this one wasn't plastic -- it was actual metal flatware. I thought that was awesome. We had a great view of the sculpture garden right next to the museum, and the whole place was pristine without being uncomfortable.

Without boring you with too many food details, I will say that I had the best tuna tartare in the whole wide world as an appetizer. It was like eating briney velvet. And for dinner, I had this amazing squab and foie gras dish. That might not sound so good to a lot of people, but what can I say: I like game birds and liver. Call me crazy. You won't be the first. Anyway, for dessert, I had this milk chocolate and hazelnut thing that reminded me of concentrated Nutella, which I love dearly. Nutella is like my kryptonite. I am completely powerless in its presence. If you ever want me to do anything, and I say no, wave a jar of Nutella in front of my face, and you can probably get me to do whatever you want. In fact, you can probably get me to do it twice.

Paul had a lobster and watermelon salad as an appetizer, and then a mini one-pot thing with guinea hen and wee little vegetables that was delicious. His dessert was some kind of pineapple and coconut arrangement; I'm forgetting exactly what it was, but maybe I never really knew to begin with. Remember, he was eating that when I was eating the dessert that tasted like Nutella, so there could have been an explosion in the next room and I probably wouldn't have remembered it too well.

I think our favorite part of the meal was all of the little chef's whim things that we got in between courses. Not being used to fancy prix fixe places, we didn't realize that those little between-course snacks are standard fare, so we were continually pleasantly surprised every time one of the servers came by with a little one-bite treat. And at the end of the meal, after we had finished our desserts and I had all but licked my plate clean of the Nutella-like goo, we got a little plate of micro desserts (they all looked like big dessert items shrunken down) and a small porcelain box of chocolates from the restaurant's pastry chef and chocolatier. And of course those were excellent too, though some of the micro desserts were closer to weird than tasty. But the chocolates were sublime, and even though it looked like there were a lot in the box, we managed to eat them all. I might have had more than half of them.

It was a truly memorable meal, and it was one of those times when you realize that food preparation really can be elevated to the status of art. I will say, however, that part of me feels somewhat guilty about spending that much on one dinner for two. Yes, most of it was covered by my exceedingly generous brother and his wife, both of whom live in New York City and might be more accustomed than we are to spending almost a month's worth of grocery money in the span of a few hours. Especially during an economic downturn (though the restaurant was full and didn't seem to be suffering, not to mention the fact that they were charging almost a month's salary -- my salary -- for some of the bottles on the wine list). But I'm so glad we went. If it won't drop you into debt or severly dent your budget, I'd highly recommend a special occasion meal at The Modern. Food rarely tastes that good. And it's never that well designed.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008
In yet another step towards securing my teacher certification and getting No Child Left Behind to leave me the hell alone, I sat through a delusion-inducing seven-hour CPR and first aid class today at the local Red Cross. Apparently, it's not enough just to teach the kids; you have to know how to save their lives in a variety of ways should the opportunity arise to do so. I suppose there are worse things to learn, but seven hours? It's enough to make you wish you worked an hourly job at a shit shoveling factory. I got through it, but it was just a strange, strange day. For starters, I picked up a cold at some point in the last few days, so I'm not feeling all that great and don't care to do anything for seven hours. And then, the instructor for the class weighed at least 400 pounds if she weighed an ounce -- and she weighed an ounce. (With apologies to James Wright; that line is stolen from "Old Bud," a poem which I can't seem to find printed online, so you'll just have to look it up in an actual book if you really want to read it.) The woman was about my height (which is five-foot-two), and I swear her gut hung down to her knees. And she wasn't exactly mobile, so when we were in CPR-administering position, she couldn't really come around and check to make sure we were doing it correctly. She just sort of sat there for seven hours and pushed play and pause on the DVD player (oh yeah -- she didn't so much teach as she just pushed play and pause, which made me wonder why we couldn't just watch the DVD at home or online) and added her own little comments here and there. Something about that seemed wrong, and I just kept thinking that taking a health class from someone who is morbidly obese is a little like having major surgery performed by a doctor who takes a smoke break halfway through the operation. I realize that CPR isn't exactly "health" as in eating well and exercising, but you'd have to think that someone who's trained in CPR well enough to teach it also has at least some idea that it's best to not weigh 400 pounds. Especially when you're five-foot-two.

And then there was the woman who sat next to me throughout the day. She seemed nice enough, but she also seemed to have this constant need for imitation crab meat, like it was some kind of magic fuel that kept her major organs from shutting down. I'm not kidding. Class started at 8:30 in the morning, and I walked in feeling a little nauseous from the one piece of bread I had eaten for breakfast (I never have a great appetite when I have a cold), but she was eating what looked to be sticks of imitation crab meat with some sort of salad dressing on them out of a pink plastic container. She then opened up a bag of barbecue potato chips to go along with her imitation crab meat. This was the one thing I saw her eat all day that wasn't imitation crab meat. The bag of chips wasn't a big bag, but it was bigger than the little single serving bags that you get at Subway when you get the sub meal deal. She ate all of the chips in the bag. This was all before nine in the morning. And then, about 30 minutes later, she reached into her giant leather tote bag, felt around a bit, and pulled out another stick of imitation crab meat and ate that. A few minutes later, more imitation crab meat, still in stick form. She ate about four of those before our 30 minute lunch break at 12:30.

At lunch, I ran to the Starbucks down the road for a big cup of tea and a bagel. I ate the bagel in the car, even though I wasn't really hungry, and brought the tea back to class. When I walked in, she was in her seat eating something out of a white plastic container. When I got to my seat, I saw that it was more imitation crab meat sticks with dressing. And then for the next three hours, every 20 or 30 minutes or so, she would pull another stick of imitation crab meat from her tote bag and eat it. Is this some new diet that I just haven't heard of yet? It was just the weirdest thing, and at one point I thought someone was playing a joke on me and looked around the room for an evil grin or a hidden camera. But it wasn't a joke, only a very strange woman with a previously-unheard-of penchant for sticks of imitation crab meat and a desire to learn CPR and first aid.

The class finally ended, and I passed the test and got my certification cards. Now I supposedly can administer CPR, use a defibrillator, stop someone from choking, and splint and dress wounds of all kinds. I probably could have learned the same material in about 2 hours, but like everything else in this teacher certification process, it took much longer than it needed to.

I just realized that I was going to write more about our weekend in New York, but that will have to wait for tomorrow. I just had to write down the imitation crab meat lady before I forgot about it.

Monday, April 7, 2008
After a rush-to-the-finish few days before the schools let out for spring break and then a whirlwind weekend on the east coast, I am finally back and somewhat relaxed and ready to write. I don't know how it got to be April 7th already, but it was 67 and sunny today, so I'll take it.

So anyway, this past weekend was busy for several reasons, but the absolute biggest reason was that my brother Evan finally married Lainey. They had been together for like eight years, so I'd say it was about time! The wedding itself was yesterday, but Saturday night was rehearsal (brief) and rehearsal dinner (delish!), followed by some brief family time, since we had relatives coming in from out of town, and we don't see them all that often.

Yesterday started early; Lainey had booked me for a hair appointment at 6:30 in the morning. Yes, it was early, thank you for asking, but since it was Lainey and Evan's day, I did what I was told. All of us bridesmaids got our hair and make up done and put on our matching purpley dresses. As we were getting dressed, we realized that the dresses wrinkled very easily, but I was prepared: I brought my trusty Sunbeam steamer! I plugged it in and steamed everyone's buns. Err, dress. And since it was kind of chilly out yesterday, everyone said the hot steam felt good. On their buns. (Sorry, but there was no way around that pun. Well, okay, maybe there was a way around it, but I just chose not to take it.)

The ceremony was lovely and relatively brief, and then the party began. I have to say, my family really knows how to celebrate. There was food and food and more food, and the bar was open, and it was just really nice to see everyone. And there was a great ten-piece band, and we all danced, even my little cousin Alex who can't really stand up on his own yet.

The band had this amazing female percussionist who was totally ripped, and we were talking during one of the band's breaks, and I told her I was also a percussionist, and she invited me to come up and play a song with the group. I love playing congas with a big band, but I didn't want to make a big deal of it, so I said yeah, but that I would come up and play later in the afternoon when people started leaving. So later in the afternoon, as people were starting to file out, I handed my rings to my very confused cousin Rob (who later caught on to what I was doing) and got up on stage. The percussionist let me in right behind her conga set-up, and so I just started playing. I figured I'd play something peppy in the background, and to be honest, when I started I was surprised that they actually kept the conga mic on. I mean, I wouldn't trust anyone in a crowd to just come up on stage and play my congas and think they'd do a good job. But they kept me mic-ed and let me go. And then, because my playing style and the percussionist's playing style were somewhat different, all of the band members started to turn around, and they realized that someone else was playing. And then the band leader saw me, and during a guitar break in the song, he told me to keep playing, and then everyone but the drummer cut out and they let me solo -- for like 20 or 24 bars, which is an incredibly long time to let a conga player have the spotlight. It was kind of nervewracking! I'm not one of those musicians who's comfortable winging it with no rehearsal, but I managed to keep it together and not lose the rhythm and bang out a few good riffs while my mom stood there looking stunned and the dreadlocked lead singer stared at me with one eyebrow raised, like, who's this white girl? And honestly, I didn't mean to make such a big stupid spectacle of myself and take attention away from my brother and Lainey; I just wanted to play a little. But as it turned out, everyone enjoyed it, and after I declined to play a third song, the band leader said to me, wow, you really can play. Apparently, some drunk moron jumps on stage at most of the parties they play and tries to play the congas while the band members roll their eyes in disgust; this was the first time they ever had anyone who could play get on stage. Anyway, it was a lot of fun, but it had been a while since I last played so loudly, and my hands are more than a little sore today.

The party broke up around seven last night, which is early by normal standards, but because it had been such a long day, I was wiped out and in bed by ten. We had an absurdly early flight back this morning, so I'm starting to feel wiped out again. There was more to the weekend, which I'll get to in the next few days. For now, congratulations to Evan and Alaina for finally getting hitched.

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