My not-so-marvelous moonpie

I recently went to the BMV to update my address and get the new SecureID. Once they had sorted through my many pieces of identification and determined that I am indeed who I claim to be, it was picture time.

Now I may have been lucky, but I've never had a truly awful photo ID. It's not that I'm super photogenic and every shot is stellar, but I had always managed to avoid appearing like a criminal or terrorist or psych ward escapee.

Until this time.

I think the problem started when I wasn't allowed to smile showing teeth. This left me to choose between looking stern and trying to muster a not-too-moronic grin. The result? She caught me mid-decision, and I'm sporting a smirking half-smile that makes even me want to slap the smirk off of my face.

It goes downhill from there.

I was mid-blink when she took the shot, so I give the appearance of having shown up at the BMV in a drunken stupor. Plus, she cropped it so tightly that my face fills the frame, giving me a decidedly moonpie-esque appearance.

So there it is: drunken, smirking moonpie. Not three words that I want any part of.

It's bad enough to see the picture myself or show my id at the airport, but what I truly fear is that something will happen and my horrible, round face will be on the nightly news. If I were wanted for a crime (not that I expect this to happen!), I'd look guilty as sin, and if I were missing, I'd look like someone society could decidedly do without.

I've never thought of myself as overly vain, but I've become obsessed with somehow getting a new ID. Maybe this one needs to be lost in a fire or "accidentally" fall into the shredder.

Of course, I could stop worrying about something so trivial, grow into a person who doesn't care about appearances, and wait until it expires in 2012.

Hmm ... where are the matches?



Burnin' down the house

We had an adventure tonight. As Kurt and I were finishing a late dinner, my dad called and said his fire detector was going off and his house smelled like smoke. Kurt rushed down to see what was going on, and I put the pets up and followed him a few minutes later.

I got there to find the entire living room and hallway filled with smoke and a horrible burning smell in the air. It seemed to be coming from ductwork leading down from the attic, but we couldn't pinpoint the source.

Kurt and I were alarmed.

My dad? Cool as a cucumber. Disturbingly so. Maybe the idea of his house being on fire was too extreme to register as a possibility to him. Maybe he's a closet Zen master. In any case, he was too calm for his own good.

I grabbed family photos, while Kurt helped convince Dad that calling 911 really was a good idea. Before too long three fire engines and various support vehicles lined the street. Men in full fire fighting gear carrying axes (!!!) started roaming the house and climbing into the attic to see what was going on.

Several neighbors stood in their driveways watching. I can't blame 'em. It's not everyday we get this kind of excitement in the burbs.

I noticed a red sportscar and an SUV driving up and down the street slowly. The SUV even stopped to openly gawk at the scene. I'm guessing he was a reporter (or lawyer perhaps?) who had been listening to the emergency band hoping for a story.

Alas, we let him down. No flames shot out of the attic, and the house is still standing. Turns out there was no fire, just a burned out electric box putting out a surprising amount of smoke. The only trauma was a shaking maltese who couldn't figure out what was happening.

Major thanks to the Castleton and Lawrence fire departments for their quick and professional response!

Photo by Daniel Y. Go

No brainer dinner: Grown-up franks and beans

Grown-up franks and beans

2 T olive oil
7 oz turkey smoked sausage, sliced
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/4 c spaghetti sauce (I used Barilla roasted garlic)
1 T red wine vinegar

Heat olive oil over medium high, and cook sausage until browned. Add beans, sauce, and vinegar. Stir well and heat through. Serve hot.

I know it sounds weird, but it works. Kurt called it "quirky but good."


This man is not happy

I've been doing some genealogy research lately (hurrah ancestry.com!) and discovered that the gentleman to the left was one of my great-great grandfathers.

Take a look.

Exactly. This is not a happy man. In fact, he'd be a shoo-in to play Ebenezer Scrooge in 'A Christmas Carol.'

Looking at some old pictures my mom had of her grandparents doesn't yield better results. Her grandmother's expression says less "Have some cookies!" and more "I'll cut a bitch." Nice.

These were rural people at the turn of the last century, so I understand that life wasn't exactly easy. I probably wouldn't last a week (a day?) with the manual labor required. Still, you'd expect that for the rare, big event of having a picture taken they might want to, you know, smile or something.

I'm no historian, so I have no idea if a severe expression was the norm of the time in portraits, a product of a worldview that frowned on frivolity, or if I come from a long line of grumps. Maybe all three.

I wonder what they would make of the hundreds of pictures Kurt and I have taken. We're usually dressed casually, often celebrating or traveling, and inevitably smiling like we're having the time of our lives.

Would they think we were childish? Manic? Not to be taken seriously? Or would they just say, "Of course they're smiling! They're playing on a beach and haven't done a real days work in their lives."

Would they be surprised to learn that while we're blessed beyond measure, we may not be as uniformly thrilled as the pictures imply? Given great-great-grandpops expression above, I'm sure he'd have a thing or two to say about it.



Bad day in Detroit

To the left is a screenshot taken from the Detroit Free Press website last night showing their most popular news stories.

Let's see ... woman has sex with her son. 15 year old stripper busted (again). Man shot. Former mayor arraigned. Two men keep a sex slave. Punk rockers accused of rape.

Oh, and a grandmother killed someone with an ax.


I knew Detroit had problems, but this is enough to shake one's faith in humanity. At least there's U of M football to lighten things up.


Charlie the chickpea?

Late last night I had a craving for tuna salad but couldn't find a can of tuna in the pantry. (Of course, I found it this afternoon. Sigh.) I recently received a recipe for "mock tuna salad," and since I could find the chickpeas, I decided to give that a go.

I use the term recipe loosely. It's really as simple as replacing the tuna with smashed chickpeas and then proceeding as you normally would for tuna salad. In my case, this meant adding 2 T mayo, 1 T Dijon mustard, 1 t sweet relish, salt, pepper, and a little onion to one can of rinsed, drained, and smashed chickpeas.

The dish certainly looked like tuna salad - eerily so! While the taste wasn't exactly the same, the texture was very close. Spread it on toast, add a slice of lettuce, and you've got a remarkable facsimile of the original. Next time I'll add a slice of cheese and try it as a not-tuna melt.

Photo by Endless Simmer



Mocha madness

I made it over 30 years without coffee. Somehow, within months of having my first iced mocha, I've become hooked on the stuff.

It started in Hawaii. We were passing through the Kona coffee fields, and I wanted to try a sample to see what the fuss was all about. We stopped in at a local coffee shop, and I ordered an iced mocha, thinking that the cold and dash of chocolate would make the bitterness more palatable.

To my surprise, there was no bitterness to be found. Instead, this coffee tasted like coffee smelled (translation: delicious!). I found myself wishing for less chocolate and more of the intriguing taste of the Kona beans. Heresy!

Only after ordering some iced coffees back home did I realize how special the Kona version was. Either the bitterness had returned or the flavor was flat or, in the case of mochas, it was essentially chocolate milk with barely a hint of coffee. Add to this the mounting calories (300+ in some cases!) and $3-4 price tag, and my new habit was getting less appealing by the second.

But I still wanted more.

My idea to solve the problem by buying Kona beans and making my own drinks came to a screeching halt when I learned that 100% Kona coffee sells for upwards of $30 per pound. Um. Yeah, that's not gonna work.

Plus, making iced coffee wasn't as simple as brewing a cup and adding ice cubes. Apparently, chilling hot brewed coffee brings back the dreaded bitterness. No wonder my iced drinks were so loaded up with milk and chocolate. Hiding beneath the additions was a pretty unpalatable cup of coffee.


My friend John referred me to a New York Times article on cold brewing. As I read more, I realized that this might be my solution. Not only is the method (essentially "add coffee and water to jar, wait, strain") easy, it doesn't require fancy equipment and is perfect for iced drinks. Even better, the process removes both acidity and bitterness from the coffee.

While purists say some subtle flavors are lost, most reviews claim that cold brewing creates the best cup of coffee they've ever tried. If you don't like cold drinks, you can add water to the coffee concentrate you create and microwave it. Super high quality instant coffee!

Now that I've solved that issue, all I need to decide is which brand to try. And whether to grind myself. Oh, and what kind of grinder I need to do the job.

Who knew coffee was so complicated?

Photo by CurryPuffy


What lies above

The previous owners of our house were smokers.

Heavy smokers.

While we never met them in person, one step into our master bathroom made their habit abundantly clear. Remember when bowling alleys allowed smoking, and merely walking in was an assault on your senses? Yeah, it was something like that.

Since the smell hadn't spread to the rest of the house, we figured it wouldn't be that hard to handle the master bath and restore things to normal. This involved priming and painting the yellowed ceiling, removing some discolored insulation, and replacing the yellowed bath fans and duct work. Unfortunately the darkened beams in the attic would have to stay.

Things didn't get scary until we removed the bathroom fans and several brown globs fell to the floor. Upon closer inspection, we realized they were what can only be described as nicotine fur. Yes, you read that right: nicotine fur. Imagine clumps of dark brown hair from an animal, only powdery and reeking of cigarette smoke.


Kurt filled a plastic grocery bag with what was in the fan alone, and more stretched into the existing ductwork. The sheer mass of it was disturbing. We said, 'What must their lungs look like?!?' more times than I can count.

I wonder if the couple who lived here had any idea just how much gunk they were inhaling. It's one thing to know that smoking is dangerous and another to pull handfuls of debris out of the ceiling.

In retrospect, I wish we'd videotaped the process. Not only as an anti-smoking tool for the kids in our life, but also to document the sheer weirdness of it. Hopefully 'nicotine fur' is something we'll never encounter again.

Photo by Lanier67


The handyman blues

Every home has its issues. Kurt and I thought we'd chosen one with relatively few. We acknowledged upfront that we were definitely not fixer-upper types and tried to choose a home that was move-in ready.

The inspection showed a few problems but nothing that couldn't be resolved in a couple days by a competent handyman. Of course, no one told us what an ordeal it would be to find a competent handyman!

It all started with ... well ... let's call him Ted. Ted was recommended by our realtor as we were negotiating the deal. His estimates were reasonable, and she vouched for the quality of his work. What she neglected to tell us was that Ted has to be "managed". Translation: Ted does nothing without several daily texts (he won't return calls) and much haranguing.

Not knowing this, we left for our honeymoon having given Ted a key to our vacant home and a list of items that needed to be completed before our return at the end of June. We were clear that we wanted these items done before we moved our furniture in.

So off we went to paradise, only to return to find ... nothing. Not one item from the list had been completed. Not only that, but Ted's roofing crew had left a giant dumpster on the drive. Once it was removed, there was an enormous rust stain left on our concrete drive. Ted truly was the gift that kept on giving.

Ted's response to all this: I had no idea you were in a hurry.

We weren't in a hurry! We gave him a whole month to do two days work. How could we fathom that he would consider that a rush job? Added to a couple doubts we had about Ted from our roofing experience, we decided to look elsewhere. Neither of us had the patience to doggedly pursue him to get a few simple things done.

Handyman #2 entered the scene through a recommendation from a well respected local business. We'll call him Troy.

Troy is a nice man, friendly and honest. Unfortunately, Troy is no spring chicken and seems to have a particular aversion to heat. Given that several items to be fixed are located in the attic, this should have given us pause.

One month and five visits later, we have maybe 5% of the items on our list complete. Somehow, Troy usually manages to forget a needed part and ends up putzing around our house without actually accomplishing anything. And forget going into the attic after 9am (which is the earliest he'll come - good luck figuring that one out).

The last straw came on Saturday when Troy failed to show up for his afternoon appointment. Given that he'd removed both bathroom fans and left us without a light and with two gaping holes in the ceiling, this was a problem.

The news (and attitude) when Kurt called him were discouraging at best. No, he wasn't coming. His last job went late, and he was tired. He didn't feel like working anymore this weekend. Maybe he'd see us next week.

You got it. No call to tell us he wasn't coming. No apology. Nada.

Plus, knowing that we currently live out of town (waiting to get the work done before we move furniture in), a postponed date means another 3 hours spent driving for us.


Kurt came home from the hardware store tonight with a new list of handymen and contractors to call. Surely one of them can show up for two days, bring the necessary equipment, and handle our list of supposedly simple tasks. It can't be that hard, can it?

If nothing else, this whole debacle has convinced me of one thing: I need to become handy. If I have my way, this will be the last time I am beholden to someone else to get simple things done in my own home. While I may never do large projects or heavy lifting (or anything in the crawlspace - yuck!), I can learn simple wiring and plumbing and how to diagnose common problems myself.

With a handy father and father-in-law, I won't want for teachers. In fact, my dad spent the first eighteen years of my life trying to teach me just these skills. If only I'd paid attention.

Photo by simone-walsh


Don't step on my green (not) suede shoes

I need a new pair of sneakers. My Chuck Taylors from 1990-something have finally reached the point of no return, and I am ready for a new pair.

Yes, Chuck Taylors on a 30-something have a certain "aging wannabe hipster" quality to them that is definitely not me. Nonetheless, they have never given me a blister, and when it comes to finding shoes for my difficult feet, that is decisive. Plus, the darn things last forever.

I went to the Converse website to check out my options, only to discover that you can get these shoes in pretty much any color or design you want. You can even custom design a pair and choose everything from the inside liner to the stitching.

I didn't face this decision back when I bought my last pair because then I lived by a simple rule: Navy blue goes with everything. Thus, any "all purpose" accessories were in navy blue. And they did go with everything! Safe. Conservative. Yawn.

Thankfully, my thinking has evolved a bit. While I'm not exactly outlandish, I don't care so much if things coordinate or blend in. Life is short, and I'd prefer vivid colors that make me smile. Thus the bright red iPod and the closet full of vibrant t-shirts.

So I sorted through the options for Chucks. Yellow would be fun, since it's the one color I must absolutely never wear near my face, or maybe orange since it's so relentlessly cheerful. Grape was tempting until I saw Ali wear a pair on The Bachelorette. Somehow, it lost its pizzazz after that.

I finally whittled it down to what should have been obvious from the start. I'll just get my favorite color: green. I mentioned my idea to Kurt, and he got his "skeptical but indulgent" expression. (I see this often.) The term "clown shoes" came into play.


A decade ago, this would have driven me back to navy or charcoal, but I decided I don't really care anymore. If clown shoes make me smile, clown shoes it will be.

The only thing left to decide: kelly or piquant?

Photo by SEOULMAN66