Night At The Airport

Beware the Evil Airport Kiosk!

Picture this:  I’m at the Pittsburgh airport the night before my first international business trip.  I’ve decided to stay at the airport’s hotel to avoid an early morning drive through a snowstorm to arrive in time for my six am flight.

At around 9:30 pm, I take the escalator up to the ticketing counter to check-in for my flight.

Not a single ticketing agent is around.  The kiosks are turned off for the night.  No security guards, no janitors, no other passengers.  Not a soul in sight.  All the evening flights have taken off.  I will have to check-in the next morning.

On my way back to the hotel, I find a solitary working kiosk.

Jackpot.

I scan my credit card and passport.  So far, so good.  The image of my passport comes up on the screen, along with a spinning circle as the computer processes my information.

And processes.  And processes.

Three minutes go by.  Five.  Eight.

The damn thing is frozen.

With my passport page—containing my photograph, name, passport number, and a whole host of personal information—on the screen for all the world to see. (If there was anyone around.)

I can’t find help, and I can’t just leave my personal information there for identity thieves to stumble over like a late Christmas present.

I panic.  Then I think about what I do when my computer froze at home, and figure, what do I have to lose?

With a quick glance around—now I’m quite happy for the lack of witnesses—I get down on my hands and knees and crawl behind the machine.  I find the cord and follow it down the aisle to its outlet.

Then, with one last glance over my shoulder, I do it.

I pull the plug.

On the kiosk, my face disappears and the screen goes black.

I wait for the TSA to rush in an arrest me.  Fortunately, the government is shut down so they are literally not being paid to deal with my shenanigans. 

No one comes. 

I plug it back in.  The kiosk reboots to a screen that reads “Out of Order.  Please contact the nearest ticketing agent for assistance.”

Good luck with that.  But all traces of my passport are gone.

Early the next morning, I check in at the counter.  I don’t say a thing about my late-night encounter with the machine.  Neither does the ticketing agent.

I make it through security without issue, so apparently I’m not on any terrorist watch list.

I meet my colleague at the gate, and he asks about my morning.

“Oh fine,” I say, acting like a seasoned traveler instead of a hot mess.  “Very relaxed.  No problem.”

I think he bought it. 

But you and I know the truth.

On The Basis Of Sex

I knew On the Basis of Sex, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic would be a great movie.  I knew it because the title is terrible.

I should clarify—terrible by Hollywood standards.  It’s difficult to remember, and it is not at all clear what the movie is about.  The word “sex” is loaded and gives the wrong impression.  By Hollywood standards, RBG would be a much better title (of course, it was already taken by the fantastic documentary the preceded and likely paved the way for this film).  But Hollywood movie names need pizazz.  I can imagine a bunch of Hollywood types sitting around the table, suggesting names like Marty and Ruth, Legally Brunette, or Ruth’s Truth.

The title refers to the fact that Mrs. Ginsburg spent her early legal career fighting to overturn laws that discriminated…you guess it…on the basis of sex.  In other words, women couldn’t serve on juries, open credit cards in their own names, or attend certain schools solely because they were woman.

If the makers of the film fought to keep that awful title because it was so perfect to the actual story, I was confident the movie would stay (mostly) true to the actual story of Ms. Ginsburg and not stray too far into some portrayal that made her look more like Elle Woods.

And I was right.  The movie is excellent, with enough dramatic Hollywood moments to keep things interesting, while all the while portraying the truth—that Ms. Ginsburg gained success through years of diligent, thankless, and technical work.  She worked longer and harder than those around her and prevailed by knocking down sex discrimination laws one by one.  This, by the way, was only her opening act.  In her sixties she started her new career as a Supreme Court Justice.

When I was in Washington D.C. this past summer, I visited Arlington National Cemetery.  I knew they had a section for past Supreme Court Justices, and I wanted to see where Ruth Bader Ginsburg will ultimately be laid to rest. 

It was an all-day affair, looking for that spot.  Her husband Marty Ginsburg is already laid to rest there, so it was his plot I was looking for.  I wanted to pay my respects to the man behind beside the woman.

Finally we found the Supreme Court Justice section of the cemetery.  I was looking at the headstone of Oliver Wendell Holmes when my mom called me over

“I think I found it!” she called.

I went running, and promptly stepped into a large hole in the ground.

My ankle screamed and I went down like a sack of potatoes.  The whole was a foot deep, and was well-hidden by the overgrown grass.  I rolled around in pain and my mom came running over, yelling for my dad.  There wasn’t another person in sight and the cemetery covers over 600 acres. 

What the heck were we going to do if I couldn’t walk? 

Fortunately, after a few minutes, I was able to stand.  My ankle was sore and a bit swollen over the next few days, but it wasn’t broken and it wasn’t sprained.  Before we headed back, I insisted on hobbling over to Martin Ginsburg’s grave.  I hadn’t come all this way to give up now.

I saw the spot and paid my respects to both Ginsburgs. 

So go see the movie.  And remember me hobbling around looking for the future resting spot of the great RGB.

A Tale of Two Pots

For years, I have coveted a Dutch oven.  They’re big and heavy, and I figured they would be great for making soup and stew.  (As some of you know, I cook one thing on Sunday and eat it all week, so in the winter I live on alternating weeks of chicken noodle and beef barley soup.  Thus, a big pot is especially appealing).

But I always held back because they’re expensive.  Until this Black Friday.

There she was—eight quarts of beautiful rusty red cast iron so heavy I could barely lift her.

The Dutch oven wasn’t on my list, and I didn’t really need it, but at fifty percent off, it was now or never.

I took her home, and the next morning I made the best beef and barely soup of my life

I was giddy. 

I needed a big space for her, so I immediately emptied out the bottom shelf of the pantry and enshrined her there.

Fast forward to mid-December.  I was at Wal-Mart, and came across the aisle of Instapots.

Instapots are multipurpose pressure cookers.  They’re all the rage online, and I have a coworker who absolutely loves hers.  She told me you can make yogurt, short ribs, spaghetti, and even cheesecake by dumping all the ingredients into the pot, clamping it shut and forgetting about it.  Instead of slow cooking a beef stew in my gorgeous Dutch oven for eight hours, I could whip it up in an Instapot in forty-five minutes.

On impulse, I bought it.  My Dutch oven had worked out so well, so why not?

It was late, so when I brought the Instapot home I temporarily stored it on the floor just outside my kitchen.

The next day at work, I told my coworker about my purchase.  She was thrilled.  It was so fast!  So easy!  So versatile!  So fun!

I came home and saw the Instapot on the floor.  I waited for the euphoria I had felt when I bought the Dutch oven, but nothing.

I told myself this was because I didn’t know how to use the Instapot yet.  I’d do some research on the internet, find some recipes.  Also, I didn’t have room for it.  The Dutch oven had taken up all available pantry space.  Finding space for the Instapot was going to require a full-scale kitchen decluttering.

It would be great.  I’d Marie Kondo the kitchen and find both joy and a place for my Instapot.  And then I’d spend my Sundays making fast! easy! fun! stew and yogurt.

Except I didn’t. 

Between Christmas and New Year’s, I had two four day weekends and nothing but time on my hands.  Every time I thought about decluttering my kitchen, I went to the movies instead.  And every time I thought about researching new recipes online, I read a novel.

I went back to work in January with the Instapot still unopened on the floor.

Suddenly, I had problems.  I had a cluttered kitchen.  I constantly tripped over the Instapot.  I had a boring to-do list:  read instructions, research recipes, make yogurt from scratch.

The Instapot had become a major pain.  Until the solution hit me.

Reader, I returned the Instapot.  My problems went poof!

My kitchen was no longer cluttered, now that I didn’t need to find room for another huge gadget.    With no directions or new recipes to decipher, I had plenty of time for movies and novels. And as for the yogurt, I bought a six pack of Dannon with Fruit on the Bottom and called it a day.

My lovely Dutch oven and I are perfectly content to simmer for eight hours on Sundays.

Now that’s what I call an InstaFix.

Survey Says…

The Nielsen TV Diary

I love surveys. 

It’s not that I want to help out the survey-makers.

I’m not so altruistic.

It’s just that I love any opportunity to give my opinion.

When I was a kid, my mom would get these surveys in the mail asking which household products she used.  There were pages and pages of check boxes, covering everything from laundry detergent and dishwasher soap to breakfast cereal.  I replied to every question, double-checking with mom when I wasn’t sure of an answer.  I don’t remember getting anything for filling out and mailing these surveys back in their (postage-paid!) provided envelopes, but really, filling out a survey is its own reward.

Then one day out of the blue the Nielsen Television Diary arrived.  This was more than a simple survey; this was a booklet where you logged everything you watched on television for a week.

For me, it was manna from heaven.

I believed the fate of my favorite shows rested in my hands.  I faithfully logged in my viewings of General Hospital, because if they cancelled the show how would I know if Frisco and Felicia were reunited?

I also cleverly gamed the system, claiming that I had watched shows that I hadn’t.  I mean, just because I hadn’t watched them didn’t mean I wanted them to go off the air.

For my meticulous record-keeping, I was rewarded with a crisp $1 bill sent to me through the mail.  I wish I still had it.  If I did, I’d hang it up on the wall like those small business owners who frame the first dollar they ever made.

These days all the surveys (like everything else) are online, but I’m no less addicted.  I constantly receive Civiqs surveys asking my political opinions.  I drop everything to tell them if I think the country is moving in the right direction or the wrong direction, and if I would vote for a generic republican or a generic democrat if the election was held today.

A few years ago I was selected for an in-depth research project.  After making sure it was legit, I agreed to participate.  A woman came to my house and asked my opinion on all things for over three hours.

It was the best day of my life.  A captive audience for three hours?  Never offering her own opinion, only wanting to hear my thoughts on everything from if I thought people were mostly bad or mostly good to whether or not newspapers ran misleading headlines?

My ego never felt so stroked.

Maybe this is what therapy is like, I thought.  Maybe I should get a therapist.

Nah.  I’ll just keep on filling out surveys.

A much cheaper way to keep my sanity.

And way better than wading into the comments section of the internet.

That’s the fastest way to losing your sanity, not saving it.

Black Friday

Black Friday has gotten complicated.

It used to be a simple, two-step process.

Step One:  Find the ads in the Thanksgiving Day newspaper that was delivered to your doorstep early Thanksgiving morning.  Determine your plan of attack based on store opening times and the best deals. 

Step Two:  Wake up ungodly early on Friday and pack a bag of Pepsi and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Take to the streets and shop!

This is how Mom and I did it for years.  We were never into the animal-like stampede of Wal-Mart or the all-night camp out for the big screen TV at Best Buy.  We had a more modest—and safer approach.  This normally meant leaving the house at around 4 am and heading to JCPenney first. JCP had a crowd, but not one you worried would trample you and leave you dead in the electronics aisle.  At JCP, we loaded up on critical winter items at rock bottom prices—winter sheets,towels, gloves, and sweaters.  Crucially,we got the annual free Disney Snow Globe while supplies last.  And supplies always lasted for us.

And always, blankets. Fleece blankets.  Microfiber blankets.  Wool blankets.  Snowflake blankets.  So many blankets.  If the heat ever goes out in the whole world,come to my house.  I’ve got enough blankets for everybody.  I have so many blankets, I’ve previously written on this blog about my quest to find a basket big enough to hold them all.

There’s always a surprise item, too.  One year I bought a huge body pillow.  Once a tree skirt.  An omelet pan.

You never know what you’re going to find.

Once we’d cleaned out JCP, the bulk of our work was done.  We then headed over to the Half Price Bookstore in Monroeville and got in line for their 7 am opening.  Half Price Books sells used books, music, and movies.  On Black Friday you not only got half off, but another 20% on top of it. Oh boy!  And the first one-hundred people in line received a free tote bag with a $5 gift card inside.  One lucky person gets a $100 gift card.

Oh, how I covet that $100 gift card.  I wouldn’t save it.  I’d gorge on $100 worth of guilt-free book buying right then and there.

After we picked up our reading material, it was time for our Pepsi and PB&J break.  After that, we always hit Best Buy, mostly for entertainment purposes.  There was never much left to buy.  At about 9am on Black Friday, Best Buy is practically deserted.  The morning door buster items are all sold out, and the workers are rushing to restock.  The place looks like it was ransacked, which,I suppose, it was.

We’d dig through the dregs of the $5 movie bin, hoping for a forgotten treasure.  But it’s always just fifteen forlorn copies of The Emoji Movie.

And that, my friends, is how you did Black Friday.

But not anymore.

Now, the stores are opening earlier and earlier in an arms race of who can destroy Thanksgiving Day first.

We suffered through the years where the stores started opening at 3 am, 2 am, 1 am, and then they came right up to the wall and began opening at midnight.

Midnight is a very inconvenient time to buy sheets at JCPenney.  Going to bed early on Thanksgiving and getting up early, that’s my style.  Trying to stay up until midnight, then bringing your A-game is tough.  We even skipped one of those years.

Then the Thanksgiving wall was breached.  Stores started opening at 8 pm Thanksgiving Day, then 6 pm.  And this year, JCP  will be open at 2 pm on Thanksgiving Day!

2 pm!  So I have to do my shopping before my turkey dinner? 

This is madness.

Planning the route is now an act of logistical genius.  Some stores open Thanksgiving Day, some Black Friday, and Wal-Mart does this bizarre thing where they are open on Thanksgiving Day, but only for their advertised deals.  The rest of the store is roped off and you’re hustled through the place like cattle in a shoot.

There’s no more JCP Snow Globes.

Half Price Books no longer opens early.

And now, it’s not just Black Friday.  You’ve got Black Friday sales beginning the day after Halloween.  And Cyber Monday—which, by the way, shopping Cyber Monday on Amazon is the most confusing and unsatisfying experience of my life. You’ve got Small Business Saturday.

And when am I supposed to get my newspaper, now that it no longer comes to the house? Wednesday, to see the early Thursday deals?  Or is it still Thursday?

Neither, I suppose.  You just look it all up on-line.

And I know, I know, I know…we should all boycott stores on Thursday because people shouldn’t have to work on the holiday.  I agree. But the truth is we’ve crossed the Rubicon and there’s no going back,whether I stay home or not.

So it’s Black Friday, but I’m already finished shopping.  Got new fleece sheets for the bed and a pair of corduroy pants.

And another new blanket.  I know, I know.  But it was made of Sherpa Wool.  I don’t have one made of Sherpa Wool.

We’re gonna need a bigger basket.

Christmas Tree Conundrum

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Halloween is in the rear view mirror and Thanksgiving is on the horizon, so we’ve officially moved into the Christmas zone. Santa Claus has been at the South Hills Village Mall since November 1, which seems a little insane if you ask me (not that anyone ever does), the elves are working double shifts, and Black Friday is seven short days away.

Any way you slice it, it is well past time to start considering—if not implementing—your Christmas decorating strategy.

Which brings me to my Christmas Tree Conundrum.

I like Christmas trees. They’re cozy in the early morning and the late evening, filling the house with soft, twinkling light and Christmas cheer.  They’re the best—the only—place to store your Christmas presents.  They let Santa know where to drop your loot.

And most importantly, the make a great backdrop to Hallmark Christmas Movies.

So what’s the problem, you ask?

Well, in a picture:

Who, me?

I live with a four-legged, one-eyed rascal.

And yes, I technically had Blinker last year with the Christmas tree up. But that was when she was brand new, spending half the day under the couch and only tentatively exploring the house at night.

Those days are over. One year later, she rules the roost.  And make no mistake, that tree will come a tumblin’ down.

You think I’m worrying for nothing? Allow me to present my evidence to the contrary.

 1.  Nothing on the kitchen counter is safe

I left a few frozen zucchini muffins on the counter to thaw out. Two hours later I came down from my office and found one smashed completely to bits and the other had two distinct fang marks in it.  Blinker, of course, knew nothing about it.

So the next time I defrosted muffins, I put them in a Ziploc bag.

Fanged Muffin

Imagine my surprise when I was reading in bed one evening and guess who trotted in with the bag between her teeth, a “look what I found” expression on her face.

And it doesn’t stop with muffins. I left a bag of uncooked pasta out, and came home to shredded plastic and spiral macaroni all over the house.

And suffice it to say I now keep my bananas in the pantry.

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2.  Shredded Piles of Charmin

When I’m away overnight, I hide all toilet paper rolls in the cabinet beneath the sink. Otherwise I come home to a winter wonderland no matter the season.

3.  Dry Food Derby

Blinker doesn’t quietly eat dry kibble out of her bowl. At this point, I don’t know why that surprises you.  Instead, she uses her paw to scoop the kibble out onto the floor.  She really puts some muscle into it, throwing the kibble around, then proceeding to chase it like it’s a mouse, knocking over everything and anything that gets in her way.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I won’t even mention the time she dragged a paper roll out of the trash can or knocked a decoration off the wall.  (Which, by the way, is still stuck behind the stove.)  Or the shredded lampshade.

And then there was the time she hit the wine….

So I’m going to put up a tree covered in twinkly lights, shiny ornaments, sharp hooks, and tinsel, and You-Know-Who will have over eight unsupervised hours every day to wreak havoc.

What could possibly go wrong?

Instead of visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, I’m imagining coming home from work to the Christmas tree stripped and dragged down the front steps, ornament hooks sticking out of her ears and buried in the carpet.

You thinking I’m joking? I’m not.

So what do I do readers? Do I take the risk?  Can my poor Christmas tree survive the onslaught?

Fall Back

fall back

The fall time change messes me up.

The spring ahead in March should be the more drastic of the time changes. After all, that’s the one where we lose an hour of precious sleep.

But the March spring ahead doesn’t much bother me. It is a harbinger of warmer weather, springtime flower, and longer days.  In comparison, one measly hour isn’t much of a sacrifice.

But the fall back is different. We gain an hour of sleep, but the price is steep.  Immediately, we start driving home from work in the dark.  The bright morning sun makes me panic that I’ve overslept.

And we know what’s coming…snow, ice, cold, and what I call the “dark-dark days of winter.” Those are the days where you leave for work in the dark, and return home at the end of the day I the dark.  Winter has more appeal for me than it used to, but I never long for those short days of December and January.

For nearly a week now, I’ve felt off. I’m tired early but unable to sleep.  My transition is nearly complete, and I’ll try to enjoy the lit up mornings while they last.

But I’m already looking forward to giving that hour back in early March.

The Future of America

outlander

This is the week.

We’ve been waiting for what seems like years to find out what’s going to happen next.

The very fate of America hangs in the balance. Will we remain a group of tribes squabbling amongst ourselves for land and position in society?  Or we will come together as one nation under God and stand up against the Mad King?

Will it be war or peace?

Can the future be changed?

This week, we will see the first step in the journey. Only time will tell how things will end.  There will be violence, danger, and sacrifice on all sides.  There will be heroes and villains, courageous fighters ever loyal to the cause, and cowardly deserters.

Will you be there for the journey?

Most of us have a defined time and place where we will participate. Do it in your community, with a group of friends.  Make sure everyone you know participates.  Make clever stickers to commemorate the moment.  Watch the results on your television.

Some of us can do it early if we have the right conditions. But I urge you not to do it late.

And don’t even think about waiting for the DVD.

We left them shipwrecked on a Georgia beach last December.

We find them in Charleston, 1767.

Jamie and Claire Fraser take their adventure to the New World.

It all begins tonight at eight o’clock.

Be there for the season four premier of Outlander.

Wait…you’re surprised?  What did you think I was talking about?

Squirrel Hill

In light of yesterday’s mass shooting in Squirrel Hill, I find it difficult to write a breezy blog about my cat, or my books, or the general hijinks of my ordinary life.

At the same time, I find it impossible to write about Squirrel Hill without resorting to a handful of clichés.

Thoughts and prayers. We are better than this.  America stands with Pittsburgh.  Unconscionable evil.  Resilience.  Love will win.

True and yet so hollow on this rainy Sunday morning.

We’ve said it all before. I can’t bear to say it again.  Not today.

Traveling Books

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Bon voyage!  Time to get some reading in.

To whom it may concern: Please don’t ever allow us to make cell phone calls in planes.

I don’t read well in hotels. I normally like quiet, but the silence in a hotel room unnerves me.  I don’t keep a television in my bedroom at home, but in hotels I fall asleep to Shark Tank reruns, dreaming of inventing an ice maker that fits in your car’s glove compartment.  I would never have to drink another warm Pepsi on the road and I’d make a gazillion dollars in the process.

Call me, Lori. This would be great for QVC.

But I digress.

Airplanes, however, are perfect for reading. You have this big chunk of uninterrupted time—no cell phone ringing, no internet (though that’s changing), and—if you’re lucky enough, or have an appropriate stink eye—no seat neighbor wanting to tell you his or her life story.

There’s nothing to do but sink into a good story. And enjoy your complementary beverages while they’re still complementary.

The books I read on planes stick with me. Years ago I flew to Dublin and read Nora Roberts’ Irish Trilogy.  (This was my idea of a guidebook.)  I first discovered the incomparable (and much taller than Tom Cruise) Jack Reacher while reading 61 Hours on a plane to Salt Lake City.  I read the conclusion of Anna Quindlen’s One True Thing on a business trip to Fort Myers, trying (and failing) to hide my tears from my colleagues.  I found Allison Leotta via Discretion on the way to San Diego.

On a recent trip to Boston, I polished off Sarah MacLean’s Wicked and the Wallflower on the way out, and started Barbara Delinsky’s Before and Again on the trip home.

I remember the details and plots of these books more than I do most other books I’ve read. I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with the complete absorption that reading on a plane allows.

These days, I’m picky about the books I take in the air with me. If I’m going to remember it, I want it to be something good.

I’ve got another business trip to Boston coming up in December. I dread the potential delays, the airport food, and the long days in corporate training seminars.

But I’m already going through my to-be-read pile and picking out the friend who’ll keep my company in the turbulence-free air.