Happy Birthday!

October is a big month for birthdays in my family. Here is my Grandma, who turned 77 this weekend, with her offspring. I could find NO picture with everybody looking normal and at the camera and all that, but this was the most flattering shot of my Gram. Doesn't she look lovely? We had a big party and lots of people, including my sister (Surprise!), came in to town to celebrate. On my dad's side of the family, my Grandpa had a birthday this weekend, and also turned 77.

Mark's sister celebrated her birthday and her fiance organized a little surprise party down on the South Side. Here she is attempting, to no avail, to blow out the trick candles. Gotta love those trick candles. Mark's mom's birthday is coming up on Halloween, and that should be it for October birthdays. (And, for that matter, October.)


I am not a plumber. Or a six pack.

What is up with all the rich, white guys running for office, thinking they can connect with me by calling me Joe Six Pack? Ok, well, I guess this year, they're not all white. Or guys. Nonetheless, I can't help but feel alienated by this label. It's not that I don't like beer, I just don't usually use it as an identifying characteristic.

Also, what work has Sarah Palin done for children with special needs, anyway, other than popping one out? As a special education teacher, believe me, nothing thrills me more than the idea of actually funding my work. I'm just having trouble locating her track record on this issue.

I just had to get that out. Now, I'm going to try and listen to the debate. I hope they don't say "maverick" tonight.


Weirdest Stuff Ever

M and I went to Ocean City, MD this weekend. I have fond childhood memories of trips to this lovely seaside town when we visited my Uncle Bob. He worked at the Purple Moose Saloon. At the time I thought it was the coolest place ever, although M and I went there a few years ago, and much to my dismay, I realized it was basically just a bar. And kind of overpriced. However, in 1987, THE most popular Christmas present among my cousins was the Purple Moose t-shirt. But that's not weird.

This weekend we went to his cousin Laura's wedding. Laura and Eric got married on a gazebo at the end of a dock in the Assawoman Bay, at Fager's Island. It was really beautiful, and we offer many congratulations to the happy couple. That's not weird either.

M's family has vacationed here for a long time. One of our favorite things to do is go the strip mall next door to their condo and wander through Rose's, which is sort of like Ames or Big Lots with a distinctly beach-y feel. There are tons of cheap beach toys and chairs, off-off-brand clothing, and a wide collection of toys and knick-knacks that can only be described as the Weirdest Stuff Ever. Exhibit A is the cheerleader doll with the inexplicably long legs.

After checking out the toy aisles, we headed over to the household decorations. This is where you get stuff like a "Somebody's Crabby in Maryland" door mat for your beach house. And then there are displays of handcrafted souvenirs, which will really make you pause and think. One particular display was covered in souvenir magnets that said "Shipley Island, NC" for those who want a souvenir from someplace they are not at. And then there was this sad looking magnet, Congratulations on your new bundle of.....is that a turd? It really, really looks like a turd. I cannot imagine ever giving something like this to new parents.


The End

I cleaned my apartment and found more pennies. Now I'm sure they aren't mine, and instead rise up from the floorboards, or maybe from our downstairs neighbor Geoffrey's apartment. He's the one that makes the strange superhero "POW!" sound, so in my mind, all kinds of supernatural circumstances are possible.

I care about money, but it's no longer something I associate with security. I used to think that there was some magic number, some amount of income that I could generate in a year, that would lead me to upper-middle-class satisfaction...health care, school, retirement, house. But it was an elusive beast, and the more I worked, the farther away the satisfaction seemed. Plus, it seems that the more you have, the more that can be taken away from you. But wanting a house for security, and wanting a house because you are tired of living in small apartments run by slum lords and would like to set up your drum kit are really the same thing at the end of the day. You still want a house. It's something M and I have been exploring, even in these uncertain times.

Ah, these uncertain times. Sitting here watching my retirement account plunge into oblivion, watching as the world panics, and yesterday when my entire neighborhood lost power for a long time, even though there was no storm, I have to admit that it crossed my mind that this could be the end. Maybe we broke America. The house of credit cards has collapsed. And if it were really the end, how long until I would know about it?

So I was sitting here yesterday, at my cheerful, yellow kitchen table, surrounded by foul-smelling IKEA candles (cheap for a reason, apparently), typing away about what else, but Africa. When the power goes out, an unnatural silence settles around the neighborhood, as all the refrigerators stop their buzzing and stereos power off. All I could hear was the clickity-clack of the keys. (It seems strange that I can't listen to a record when the power goes out, but I can use my laptop, doesn't it?)

In Uganda, as is the case across most of the developing world, people don't usually have access to credit, so it takes a long time to save up for things like a new metal roof for the house, or a motorcycle, and things are always coming up like your kid getting sick and needing to go to the clinic, or school fees coming due, and maybe you never do get around to getting that motorcycle, and just end up walking everywhere for your entire life.

I guess we'd all be walking, without credit. I don't know too many people who just buy their cars with cash. Of course, we don't have quite the income problem of our friends in Uganda, who have a per capita annual income of $300, rather low even for sub-Saharan Africa. So it may be a bit more conceivable for us to save up automobile money. What credit really does in America is increase the quality and quantity of what you can "afford". You could save for a used Honda Civic hatchback but you can buy a brand new Ford Explorer right now. But with this distorted scale of affordability, it can be hard to figure out what you really have money for. Credit pumps up the whole economy, but my salary is just as much a part of that economy as the Ford Explorer, which is why I don't make $300 a year. Economics majors, feel free to write in if I'm wrong about this.

Enough about money, though. I finished the piece of text I was working on for our Uganda presentation, and the world didn't end, although, when the lights came back on, I discovered that those crappy IKEA candles had melted wax all over my cheerful, yellow kitchen table.

Tomorrow, we're going to Ocean City for M's cousin's wedding. It's been a while since I've dipped my toes in the Atlantic.



Your plan is a white flag of surrender.

So there.

Gravy Train

I've been a little busy lately. Whirlwind busy. Ten million thoughts running around in circles in my head busy. Not enough room left in my planner busy. This is more or less a natural state of being for me. However, there is a point of overload. Do you know how I knew I had reached this?

I brought gravy for lunch.

I thought it was lentil soup. If I wasn't in such a hurry to leave, I would have remembered that we finished all the lentil soup weeks ago, and this tiny container was filled with gravy. I didn't notice until I took it out of the microwave at work. It smelled delicious, but even I cannot eat a whole bowlful of gravy.

Gravy has gotten a bad rap. Maybe it's because some gravies are very fattening and seem, well, glutenous. It's ok for Thanksgiving, but not for Tuesday night dinner.

However, I think it's a highly delicious and useful condiment. Now that cold weather has descended upon the Burgh, I will be eating a lot more gravy on my potatoes and chickpea patties and cauliflower millet mash and mushroom loaf. The art of gravy making has been somewhat lost...died out with our grandmas, I suppose, and nobody bothered to teach my generation. Now we're all waking up and saying, "Holy crap, I'm the grown-up! I'm in charge here. And I don't even know how to make gravy!"

So here's a rough tutorial...which just happens to be low-fat and vegan.

First, chop up some onions. Maybe 3 big ones. It depends on how much gravy you want.
Heat up a teeny, tiny bit of oil. Dump the onions in. You want to carmelize the onions, and this goes better with less oil. You need medium heat. To low, and they get soft without burning, too high and they turn black. If they start to burn, deglaze with some water. This means, put some water in the pan. It will sizzle, and unstick your onions. Cook these onions for a long time, until they are brown and soft. Keep adding water and adjusting the heat as necessary.

Next, blend them up with some water.

While you are blending them up, make a roux with some oil and flour. This means, you heat up some oil (a few tablespoons) and slowly add some flour (teaspoon by teasoon), stirring rapidly, so it doesn't clump too much. It will be kind of pasty. Then slowly add in your onion water mixture that is all blended up. Stir rapidly while you are pouring it in.

It is very likely at this point that you have gravy that is either too thick or too thin. DO NOT FEAR! Just add more water to thin it out, or let it cook uncovered on medium heat for a while to thicken it up.

That's it. Now you have gravy. The bigger challenge is deciding what you want to put your gravy on.

Rosie the Cat Update

Some of you may know that for the past ten days, one of our evening routines has involved capturing Rosie the Cat, holding her down and forcing a pill into her little mouth. We smooshed the pill into this little cat treat called a pill pocket, which she hated (Rosie is very particular about what she will eat, until recently it has been Purina Hairball formula or nothing for her).

Luckily, her infection is gone, and she has been acting much happier. Unfortunately, she still has some kidney problems. This could be due to age. We don't really know how old she is, although we suspect at least nine. We've had her for about six years. You may notice from the picture that her hair has grown back from her summer 'do...fortunate, since the temperatures have dropped and our radiators are still stone cold. For right now she is happy and doesn't seem too bothered by her symptoms.