Friday, December 23, 2005

It is the cry of women

The economy must be good. How else can people who suck at customer service keep their jobs? Service is even worse when you're dealing with a monopoly like the cable or phone company: they are allowed to blatantly not care whether you're satisfied because you're pretty much stuck with them anyway.

I have been cooped up in the house for 3-1/2 days because I've been sick with the flu (or cold, or some kind of crud). I decided to run some errands this afternoon because the weather was nice and I was feeling a little bit better. I came home at 2:00 to find that my Internet connection had been down for about an hour. This may not seem like a big deal to most people, but I work from home. Not only that, but I am on call for this long holiday weekend. I'm still not feeling great. And going into the office isn't an option since "on call" means 24 hour coverage. And even if I wanted to spend the weekend at the office, it's 680 miles from here.

After switching from wireless to wired, doing a power cycle on both the cable modem and our router, and connecting to our router from my PC to make sure it wasn't the problem, I called my husband at work to see what a blinking power light on a cable modem means. The diagnosis: "You're screwed, call the cable company."

After being cycled through their automated phone menu twice and keying in my phone number twice, I got a human being who promptly asked me for my phone number. (Argh! The phone company does the exact same thing, and they already know my freaking number!) Anyway, I finally got to tell someone that I can not connect to the Internet.

Assuming I am an idiot, the customer service rep began to read off the script before I could even tell her what I'd already done to troubleshoot. I at least got to avoid one trip to the basement (where the modem is... and I don't have a phone down there) when I was able to tell her that I already cycled power on both the modem and the router. Either she didn't believe me that I can communicate with the router from my PC (my husband is a network nerd: he taught me), or didn't know what that meant, since I next had to drag my laptop downstairs to plug it directly into the cable modem, even though my previous trouble-shooting showed that the router was not the problem. After that didn't work, next on the script was "Are you free next Thursday between 1 and 3?"

Sometimes my frustration level is such that I can barely keep the emotion out of my voice, and I sound as if I'm going to cry. That is an extremely useful quality to have when on the phone with customer service reps who don't care. I can't cry on demand like my sister can (gets her out of speeding tickets), but on the phone I can sound like a big bucket of hysterics is welling up just beneath the surface, and one more drop of "I don't give a damn" will cause it to blow straight through the phone like the Taum Sauk Lake.

There were several back-and-forths:

Rep: "You should have a business account if it's mission critical."
Me: "A business line gets a different signal that would be working right now?"

Rep: "Can you go to a friend's house to use their connection?"
Me: (incredulously) "Invite myself to somebody's house for Christmas weekend so I can use their Internet connection?"

Rep: "We are having lots of trouble calls in your area already today and all our technicians are already out with someone else."
Me: "So you're saying there's an outage that's already being worked on? Maybe whatever they are fixing will fix my problem."
Rep: "No, they haven't declared an outage."

It became evident that I was going to be a pain in the butt if she didn't at least pretend to do something, so she sent me running back down to the basement several more times to try different versions of "unplug this" and "plug in that." Finally, after about 50 minutes on the phone and several power recycles, my Internet connection suddenly worked again. The problem was on their end: they didn't have my modem "provisioned" or something like that.

I will admit the customer service rep was polite and professional throughout, but that didn't really make things better. If there are other things a rep can troubleshoot over the phone, why is the preferred course of action to blow off (and piss off) the customer and make an appointment to have someone come to my house a week from now, when it is something that was fixable over the phone in less than an hour? And why does a customer need to be on the verge of tears before a customer "service" rep actually does something besides put you in a queue? I had a very similar experience with my washing machine manufacturer a couple months ago.

A typical call center costs a company about a dollar a minute per call. Had the rep gone through all the possible troubleshooting measures first instead of trying to sweep it under the rug, we could probably have resolved the issue in 30 minutes, less if she would have not assumed I'm an idiot and taken my word that it wasn't a router issue because I had already checked. $30 has to be cost them less than sending out a technician.

Of course, I know the answer to that because we were dealt with by our old cable company in much the same manner. They'd say there is nothing they can do, make an appointment for some date far in the future, then a few hours later the problem magically "fixes itself." Then it becomes the customer's responsibility to cancel the technician's visit, and they can treat the whole matter like it was all in your head to begin with.

I suppose I could try DSL, but believe it or not, the local provider is even worse. Their idea of customer service: "Since you're calling because we screwed up the service you purchased already, how about buying another one of our crummy services, too? We're running a special."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Speaking of Grindley. . .

I haven't unpacked many of my pottery animals, since we may end up moving again within a year. However, in the "Grindley Pottery A Menagerie" book by Mike Schneider, he shows a fox on page 83 that is a possible Grindley. I believe this fox was actually made by one of the Morton Potteries from Morton, IL. I have one in yellow, and later found one in white with yellow splotches. The white and yellow splotches are almost identical in color and form to the glaze on a dog I have from Morton that was in the book and still had its original identification sticker. I'll post a pic if/when I ever find those pieces.

I found the box with the foxes and dog.
Here's the label on the dog. He's called a "gringham dog" (that's the way it's spelled in the book, anyway... I would think it's a "gingham dog" to go with the "calico cat") in Morton Potteries: 99 Years by Doris and Burdell Hall, page 146. It was made by Midwest Potteries, Inc. of Morton, IL sometime between 1940 and 1944.

Unidentified Cats

Another email from Chris:
Angie, these cats on your "Unidentified" page (see pic attached) are most certainy Grindley. I had this set at one time and have spoken with Mr Gridley himself who confirmed it. I think they are in his the book:
Grindley Pottery, A Menagerie by Mike Schneider, page 30.
Thought you might like to know.


Wow, thanks Chris! I have that book and didn't find them in there, but of course that doesn't mean they're not Grindley. That's a pretty small book, and clearly there's a need for a much more comprehensive one!


Chris over at the Pottery Auction sends me a picture of a strange hoofed mammal:

Click this link to see a very strange pottery creature.
Saw the scottie dog planters on your site (thanks) shall I send pics of the bottoms as someone requested?

In this case sending pics of the bottom probably wouldn't help, since he's got separate feet and no markings. Usually when a piece has one continuous bottom I can get a clue from what that looks like: the shape of the unglazed "feet" where the piece sat during firing is often a clue to the maker.

Grindley would have been my first guess for your animal, but after looking through the book I don't see anything like it. Also, the gold polka-dots I see on their animals in the book are either solid dots, or polka-dots in the shape of little padlocks. My second guess is California, although I don't have anything to back that up: there were so many California potteries that I've shied away from them for my collection. I'm afraid I'm stumped!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

2 times 4/3 when 4/3 is really 2 = lots of garlic!

Let me preface this with my math credentials: straight A's in math in high school, 3 semesters of college calculus, a semester of differential equations, and another semester of math that made my head spin so hard that I can't even remember what it was called. And statistics. Numerical analysis. Engineering classes. So anyway, I can multiply by 4/3, right?

So why is it that I am slowly losing my ability to follow a recipe? I caught myself doing this again last night, it's just an example but I seem to do this a lot. I was making a quiche, and actually following a recipe (rare for me, unless it's baked goods). It called for three eggs. I figured that the pan I was using was a little large, so did I double the recipe? No, that would be waaaay too easy. I figured I'd make it with 4 eggs instead of 3, since it was just a little bigger than a normal pie pan. So now I get to guess at measurements, each one not twice the original, but 4/3 the original. Being a math goddess, of course I just do it all in my head, right? Which was ok until I kept going down the list and some part of my head was convinced that I was doubling the recipe, instead of just increasing it by a third. That was ok for the greens, and for the parmesan cheese, but I probably should not have doubled the garlic (I can still taste that!). Oh, and I don't have a pastry mixer thingy any more (you know, that thing with a handle and little wires?), so I decided I'd just make a crust out of --- if any foodies are reading this, please just click away and get back to work or whatever you should be doing right now --- Bisquick! Except Bisquick isn't really for pie crusts, so it was a really thick biscuit-type thing (and I ad-libbed by adding cheese to the Bisquick "crust"). To complicate matters further, my new house has a convection oven. It will cook on "normal" mode as well, but why would I use the normal mode when I know convection is faster? (argh, I'm the same way in the car: why drive 65 when I know I can go 74 without getting pulled over?) So I'm always guessing on oven temperature (my rule of thumb lower temp by 15 degrees if using convection) and time (takes less time to cook, even at a lower temperature).

Anyway, whatever it was I made didn't look or taste anything like a quiche. It was OK, not knock-your-socks-off-great, but OK. It's a good thing my husband and I like garlic, because no self-respecting vampire would dare darken our door now.

I used to think I could cook. I mean, any idiot can follow a recipe, right? But one sad side effect of going out to eat at good restaurants so much is that I realize what a sucky cook I really am.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Scotty Dog Planter

Reader Chris has two unidentified scotty dog planters for sale at the Pottery Auction site, and is looking for help identifying them.

I've unpacked my books, but alas have had no luck finding them. My initial thought is either a Morton Pottery, or American Pottery Co. (a/k/a APCO, or American Bisque), but I haven't found them in either of my reference books for those potteries.

Perhaps a look at the bottoms would help?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


The tornado itself wasn't really worth blogging. We had to go to the basement Sunday night for a tornado warning, but it was an F0 that did a little bit of damage several miles from here. It didn't touch a thing near my house. What is worth blogging about is my dismay at our local officials' responses to the lack of siren noise in many places. Reference this news article for the whole story: I saw the same info on TV this morning.

It's been my experience that most tornado warnings are issued during thunderstorms, and most thunderstorms contain lightning and thunder, which is why they are called "thunderstorms" in the first place (clever, those weather people!). Why do we have a siren system that is vulnerable to "electrical interference because of the storm..."?? Seems like a design flaw to me.

Two sirens didn't work because of damage from a previous storm that no one bothered to fix. Never mind the fact that damage to the siren by a storm is proof positive of how much it is needed right there.

The most ridiculous quote of all comes from the director of the St. Louis City Emergency Management Agency:
Christmann cautions that the sirens are not meant to be heard indoors. They are for people who are outdoors and do not have access to a TV or a radio. He said, "If we turned it up loud enough for everybody to hear everywhere, we would probably end up blowing a lot of windows out of people's houses."

Um... so our tax money goes into a system designed only to protect people who are too stupid to come in out of a thunderstorm? Seems like a bit of a waste of money to me. People with a legitimate reason to be out in an awful storm (rescue workers, police, electric company linesmen come to mind) are probably already aware if there is nasty weather around. No one's asking for the siren to come up behind them and slap them up the side of the head, and its not realistic to expect tornado sirens to wake anyone from a sound sleep, but it would be nice to have some indication that a tornado is upon us.

I've experienced at least one tornado warning in almost every place I've ever lived (and several in Arlington, Texas which is firmly within "tornado alley" in most maps I've found). This is the first time I can think of where I heard no sirens.* I'm not saying that they have always been easy to hear indoors, but they have been audible enough for us to notice, even if we had to open the front door and step outside to make sure that was indeed what we heard. This time, it was our weather radio that told us what was up.

*We might have briefly heard a siren, but that was probably 15 minutes or so after the weather radio said to take cover -- long enough to corral two cats, lock them in the basement, fetch a small tv and drag that to the basement, go back upstairs for some chairs to sit on and drag them to the basement, go back up to find and capture the third cat and take her to the basement -- and the sound was only for a moment and might have been on television anyway.

So, if you live in either the City or County of St. Louis, the important takeaway is this: You're on your own. Get thee to a Radio Shack!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Remembering Doris

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of when we lost Doug's mother to an unexpected heart attack. We spent the holiday weekend with his father, eating and doing touristy stuff as much as possible, the weekend sprinkled with "Mom would have liked that" every time we saw something decked out in particularly bright colors.

As Dick was preparing to leave from spending the holiday with us, the anniversary was not marked with bells tolling, but with . . . birds.

It rained all Saturday night. In the morning, as Dick was loading the car, we heard a cacophony of birds. They were descending into to the trees near the house and in the woods at the back of the yard, covering the branches like moving Christmas tree decorations. My first thought was starlings, since they are about the only birds this suburban-dweller has seen in such a large flock, but closer inspection revealed they were robins. There must have been 100 of them, at least. Not the fluffy round robins I've seen at my bird bath in recent weeks: these guys were lean and on the move, no doubt heading to warmer climes for the winter. They chirped and sang the entire time Dick was loading the car -- through our acknowledgement that this was the day, and almost the very hour, of our loss -- and kept it up for about 20 minutes after he left. Then, once again, silence.

It seems appropriate that the anniversary of Doris' passing would be marked not just by any birds, but by the harbingers of spring. As they head south, we face the dying winter months without them. But we know we will see them again, as they return to remind us that the earth will spring to life again.

Doris would have liked that.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Robinson Ransbottom

Here's another email from Jim, who won a lot of 5 pottery pieces at auction. His description...

First ,it's stoneware and very well made.It stands 5 1/2" tall and is7" across the top and weights 3 lb 12oz..The glazing is two tone drip brown over green with a deep brown interior.

Now, do you have any idea as to who made it? There are no marking anywhere but looks to good to be done in a "shop" class. Anything you might think would really be helpful.

Jim, the jardiniere you found was made by the Robinson Ransbottom Pottery Company (RRPCo), from Roseville, Ohio. RRPCo, founded around 1900, was a competitor to McCoy and Brush, but unlike those other two companies they are still around today. I was pretty sure they had a Website at one time, but when I tried to go there now it seems that they have let their domain lapse. RRPCo is often mis-marked in antique malls as McCoy or as Roseville (a less utilitarian, more refined and expensive pottery) because they were made in the same city. The larger jardinieres may be marked "RRPCo Roseville, OH" but the smaller ones usually are not.

I am unsure of the date of the piece you have (I have three like it), but it is older, and that pattern was made in several different sizes. I know it's in one of my pottery books but I haven't unpacked them yet (correction -- I haven't found them yet!). Depending on where you are in the country, I would expect to see your size jardiniere in an antique mall anywhere from $12-25. It's a great piece!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

So Pitiful

Casper gets really freaked out in the car. So much so that we had all three cats sedated before the big drive to St. Louis (11.5 hours). The other two floated through the ride, with only a peep here and there. Felix seemed to enjoy the drugs, while Sienna would only meow when she heard Casper (her son) cry.

Casper meowed almost the entire way. It's not a polite meow like his mother, but a screeching, sharp, persistent meow that makes it sound as though he is being tortured by Satan himself. The meows per hour only slowed down for a couple of hours (yeah, even the cats thought the tollway in Oklahoma is a boring drive!) but other than that, it was a traumatic experience for poor Casper. Instead of getting sleepy, he got even more panicky, trying to claw and bite his way out of the carrier. His paws were bloody by the time we arrived.

We've been keeping an eye on him since then, and yesterday he started favoring one paw over the other. Well, one of the claws -- well, actually the space where the claw used to be, since he pulled it out -- got infected. We went to the vet today so now Casper sports a big red bandage.

If that isn't bad enough, Felix has been following him around everywhere he goes. I don't know if he thinks Casper has a shiny new red mousie, or if he is trying to kick him while he's down: I'd like to think Felix isn't that big of a bully. I closed Casper in a room by himself for a few hours just so he could take a nap in peace.

Assuming Casper doesn't chew off the bandage before then, we are supposed to leave it on for three days. After the bandage comes off we'll have to soak his paw in antiseptic once or twice a day. Between the bandage and the scabs on his nose (abraded from his attempts to force his face through the door on the carrier during the trip), he sure looks pitiful.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Some of My Best Friends are the Blues

Doug took me to a place called Finale Friday night. We saw jazz singer Karyn Allyson. Doug knows I'm not a big fan of jazz (I don't care for the randomness when they get carried away, and I'm a lyrics junky anyway), but he figured a vocalist would be a pretty safe choice. He was right: she was fantastic! Amazing how much musical talent has come from the midwest. Karrin is from Kansas City, and went to school at University of Nebraska. Her voice is simply amazing.

Her drummer was also from KC: he was fun to watch: one of the things I do appreciate about jazz musicians is how much they pay attention to the other musicians they share the stage with. Unlike rock, where everyone seems to be vying for the spotlight, jazz musicians seem to exemplify everything we learned -- or were supposed to learn -- in kindergarten: listen politely to others, wait your turn, don't be a show-off... I'm terrible with names and will have to ask Doug if he remembers, because they were all really good.

The bassist looked about as serious as can be, but of course he was great. I think he's another Kansas City guy. The pianist -- wow! He was a local guy from St. Louis. The man sitting next to us said he's an instructor (or maybe department head, the brandy made it hard to concentrate) at one of the schools, and his wife sings as well as he plays the piano.

If you live under a rock like me, and haven't heard of Karrin, check out some of here music at her Website. Her new disc won't be out till February or March, but I'm looking forward to it... she'll be covering tunes from the likes of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Cat Stevens. My favorite of the show was her cover of the late Shirley Horn's "Some of My Best Friends are the Blues," but I haven't been able to find a sample of her singing that one online.

Perhaps the best part of all this: Finale is about a 5-minute drive from our house, parking is close and free, the venue is small with table seating, waitresses will serve you food and/or drinks throughout, and the tickets were $20. Contrast that with the last concert we saw at the Nokia theater in Grand Prairie... 30-minute drive to nowhere, $15 to park even though the parking lot is only for that venue and there's nothing else around for miles (what a rip-off), if you want any refreshements you have to wait till intermission and get them yourself, and tickets were about 3 times more expensive.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Stuff that works, stuff that doesn't

We went to the big blue box store the other night for a few things... whenever you move into a new place (new to us, anyway) there are always a bazillion things you need from the big blue or orange boxes. The shower in the master bath was draining very slowly. So slowly that by the end of my shower I was standing in water midway up to my shins. We picked up a bottle of some really nasty stuff whose brand name implies that instead of paying some guy $75/hour to unclog your drain, you can essentially get this highly-paid guy in a bottle, pour him down the slow drain, and watch as the problem disappears virtually in front of your eyes (at least, that's what the commercials have led me to believe).

Next to the bottles of nasty stuff was another product called "ZIP-IT." This wasn't a bottle of nasty stuff, rather a narrow piece of plastic about two feet long, with little sharp fins all along the length. Since I have tree-hugging tendencies, I bought that too: it was only a few dollars, figured it was worth a shot to get something that could unclog a drain that was easy to use and not a nasty chemical.

Like a dufus, I tried the chemical first. I didn't really believe the plastic would work too well, and I was influenced by all those tv commercials that show the clog disappearing as the chemicals work their magic. The instructions said to pour it down the drain, wait an hour, then flush with hot water. Well, I did that, and imagine my disappointment when I turned on the hot water and the tub began to fill with a nice combination of hot water and chemical. I let it drain and tried again. Same issue. Now not only did I have an extremely slow-draining shower, but it was rendered unusable because I am reluctant to stand in ankle-deep drain cleaner, even if it is watered down. Oh well, what should I expect from a company who can't spell "plumber" correctly?

After letting the tub drain again, I tried the ZIP-IT. After the first pull, it became obvious to me that the previous inhabitant of this house was a Wookie. A Wookie with alopecia areata. Perhaps even a Wookie with alopecia areata who blew his nose with tissue while in the shower. And it was obvious that the bottle of stuff was powerless to dissolve hair. Not only couldn't it dissove hair, but it couldn't dissolve tissue! How hard can that be? Anyway, after a couple more pulls, I had enough hair in the wastebasket to build a scale-model sasquatch, and the drain was flowing freely.

If you are a tree-hugger and have tried other tree-hugging solutions to a clogged drain, like vinegar and baking soda which makes a neato fizzy volcano effect (remember your grade-school science projects) but does pretty much nothing else, take heart. Try that ZIP-IT thing.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Unidentified Elephant, Identified

A visitor named Max was able to identify one of my unidentified pieces!

Dear Angie,
The yellow elephant planter on your "Unidentified" page of the Junkey Monkey site is Referenced in Mark Gonzalez's book Collecting Fiesta, Lu-Ruay and Other Colorware on page 163 as being from the Sevilla line by the Cronin China Company. He states that it measures 3 1/2 inches tall and 5 inches long and is found in a yellow or white glaze. His reference is a 1940 G Sommers wholesale catalog.

Thanks Max!

Using Collectible Pottery for Food?

I originally started this blog as part of my pottery Website, but this move has been all-consuming of late. Well, it's about time I write something about pottery, and I received this letter from Jim that will let me do just that:

Morning,my friend !

I have a question from a customer that I need to answer.They wanted to know if a Brush vase I have up on eBay is safe to use as a Salsa (or dip) bowl.It is an older - mold J7- one and is glazed inside and out. Do you have any idea as to how safe it is for that?
Thanks for your time !!

Jim, Unless the piece was made specifically for that purpose, I would not use it in direct contact with food. If a food-safe container can be found to fit inside the piece, it can still be used as a decorative outer layer.

Some of the older glazes used lead, which would rule out any food contact. Even if lead was not used, one can't really be sure what might have come into contact with pottery pieces when you buy them second-hand. If harsh cleansers or bleach have been used on the pieces (I use Lime Away to get the crusty salts off of pottery that has been used for plants), and they have any crazing or chips, it is possible that the chemicals have soaked into the exposed pottery and could leach out later.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

If you will

I'm not exactly the language police, but there's another phrase that bugs me: "if you will."

I can understand it in the context of "Please hand me that box, if you will" because I'd interpret it as "if you don't mind." Not that it's necessary, but at least it seems to fit.

However, the traffic guys on Fox 4 pepper each report with that phrase in ways that I don't understand. "Traffic is unwinding, if you will." Like anyone would mind having traffic unwind? "There's a backup north of downtown along I35W, if you will." Um, if I will what??

Chip Waggoner has been using this phrase for years, and now Todd Carruth uses it as well. Don't get me wrong: both men are adorable. I just wish they'd stop saying that, if you will.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Jen is Evil (I Wasn't Using That Artery, Anyway)

I have been raving about the tiny little White Castle cheeseburgers that my husband brings back from St. Louis. I don't even know if they objectively taste as good as I think they do: Intertwined with the steamy little buns infused with the flavors of beef and the tiny little onion pieces are the memories of going to White Castle in Aurora (IL) when I was in 3rd grade, and the college road trips from West Lafayette to Indianapolis late at night, parking at the airport to eat the tiny burgers and watch the planes take off.

So Jen has to send me this link: White Castle Recipes. It wouldn't be so bad if the "Morning Crave" didn't sound so very very good to me: this will probably be the first recipe to dirty our new kitchen when I arrive next weekend (assuming I can find my dishes).

Monday, October 31, 2005

Lazy Dieter's German Potato Salad

I have been craving my mother's German potato salad, but I am too lazy to make it. My mother has always made the potato salad with hot dogs, and I can't say that's not "authentic," because she is in fact from Germany. She also uses a pressure cooker. I don't have one and probably never will. They scare me and I'm certain I would put an eye out the first time I used it.

Two years ago I discovered Hendrickson's salad dressing at a restaurant in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Not all grocery stores carry it, but I've been able to find it at Market Street and some of the other gourmet restaurants here in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Through some experimentation, I discovered you can make a reasonably healthy and tasty version of German potato salad in less than 20 minutes.

Lazy Dieter's German Potato Salad

3 small potatoes
1/4 onion
4 chicken hot dogs
1/2 cup Hendrickson't salad dressing
salt and pepper (or seasoned salt) to taste

Wash the potatoes, place in a covered glass dish and microwave on high until they are cooked, approx. 5-8 minutes (don't let them get too smooshy). Chop the onions and hot dogs into pieces and sautee in the Hendrickson's until the onions are cooked. Once the potatoes are done, cut into thick pieces and add to the frying pan. Cook 5-10 minutes, adding a little more dressing if it seems too dry.

This version is fairly sweet, which may turn some people off. If you don't like it that way, you might try adding a little vinegar.

I calculated Weight Watcher Points for this recipe, and it's about 16 points for the whole thing. If you use it as a side dish, it's about 4 servings. If it's the main dish it'll serve 2.

Hmmm... I just discovered a recipe for German potato salad on Hendrickson's site. Theirs includes a lot more stuff. . . I think if I ever try theirs, I would probably leave out the eggs and celery (yuk, I don't like celery).

Friday, October 28, 2005

Casserole Queen: Pea & Bacon Casserole

I brought a casserole to a potluck last night and was asked for the recipe. I seldom cook with recipes (ask my husband, who happily endures many a schlamassel, some of which turn out better than others), so I thought I'd try to get down the ingredients before I forget what I did.

Pea & Bacon Casserole

1/2 large onion, diced
2 tsp. butter
2 cups brown rice, cooked (I cheat and get frozen rice at Whole Foods)
1 can condensed cream of chicken & herbs soup
1 bag frozen peas
~1/4 cup milk
3 ounces bacon, cooked & diced
4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated (not with the grater in my post below)

Sautee the onion pieces in butter till cooked. Add rice, soup, peas, and bacon. Add just enough milk so the mixture can coat the rice and peas evenly (but don't make it too runny). Simmer till the peas are no longer frozen. Mix in the grated cheddar and transfer all to a greased casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining bacon on top.

Bake at 350 for about an hour. Everything's cooked already, so cooking time isn't that important... you just need time for all the flavors to mix together.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Cheese Grater?!?!?

I have heard snippets of a news story on two local channels, referred to as "a bizarre food tampering incident." I'm not sure if it happened here in the DFW area, but evidently a guy went into a Fiesta grocery store and scattered fecal matter over the bakery goods. Yes, fecal matter.

If that were not disgusting (and bizarre) enough, the snippet I caught on Fox yesterday morning was a policeman saying it was obviously meticulously planned. Since I was vacuuming and doing dishes (ack, we had another house showing scheduled for yesterday) I wasn't paying all that much attention, but I swear I heard him say the guy either dired or froze the turd, then grated it with a cheese grater!

I really would like to see inside the mind of that man... I'm sure it would be an illuminating trip. And I would hope he would never invite me to his home for tacos.


Aha, I found it here!

Thank goodness the FBI has determined that this is "not a national security issue." Looks like they are right on top of things.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Hi Hon

Calling someone "hon" has always been a curious thing to me. I've heard it a lot in Texas, most stereotypically from waitresses with big hair. I find it to be charming in a way, something that seems to represent the friendliness that Texas is rumored to contain (it does, it's just not concentrated in the immediate Dallas-Ft. Worth area). I guess it beats calling someone "what's-your-name" when you don't know, or don't remember, their name.

I think that moniker offends some people because it implies a familiarity that usually doesn't exist. I guess it's more appropriate in some situations than in others. I can't really imagine calling my coworkers "hon" or having them do the same to me. Maybe my nickname "Dark Cloud" has something to do with that.

Because of our move, we have hired a lawn service to keep up with the outside of the house while we concentrate on the inside. The new lawn guy calls me "hon," which was ok the first time: it's kind of a folksy-friendly Texas thing. But it grated on my nerves last time because he didn't show up the week before, and he appeared a day late last week (and didn't even have time to mow). I'm new to the whole lawn service thing (my husband actually likes to mow) so I don't know if it is typical for 45 minutes of rain to throw a business off by two weeks. I found it annoying though, since we're trying to get the house ready to sell, so I don't feel so much like a "hon."

On an interesting aside, during a visit to a St. Louis White Castle (mmmmmm.... tiny little cheeseburgers!!!) I heard one of the girls behind the counter call another one "hon." I guess it's not a Texas thing after all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Top 5 Things I Will Miss About Texas

I love the fall weather we've been enjoying this month. On my commute to work this morning the sky over Ft. Worth was a dark gray-blue, threatening to unload a torrent of water any minute. The native oak trees and cottonwoods in the Trinity riverbottoms glowed a fresh green, as if they could already taste the promised rain (it never came, by the way). The color combination of the trees and sky just before or after a Texas thunderstorm is something I will really miss. That got me thinking about other things I will miss once we move north. Here, in no particular order, are my top 5.

1. The aforementioned native trees/dark sky contrast just before or after a thunderstorm.

2. Armadillos. Yes, I know many people think they are a pest, but they are just too bizarre. I woke up the other morning to the sound of another one building a nest under our deck. Although we have any number of creatures living in our back yard, I could tell it was an armadillo just by the time of day, and the scraping sound of her hard shell against the deck beam as she gathered fallen leaves with her front feet (paws?) and scooted backwards into the space under the deck.

3. February. I have always hated February. To me, February has always meant gray skies and dirty snow, a fake romantic "holiday," and the middle of a winter that never seems to end. At least, that was what it was like in Wisconsin. Texas is so much further south that the winter days are never as short (nor the summer days as long), and by mid to late February there are already some beautiful spring days. By February, I am already harvesting lettuce in my garden and enjoying the blooms of violets, snowdrops, daffodils, leatherleaf mahonia (complete with honey bees), and winter honeysuckle (also with the bees). I will miss the year-round gardening.

4. Running into people I know when I least expect it. I know that's not unique to Texas, but it's unique for me. I've lived in the area for nearly 17 years, and in this house for 10. I had never lived anywhere more than 5 years prior to this, so it's a novelty for me to know enough people that even in a town this size I occassionally recognize some. I ran into an old coworker at a garden tour in Ft. Worth last Sunday, which was a pleasant surprise. And if they are people I don't want to see, it's always easy enough to pretend I didn't.

5. Surprisingly for a social misfit such as myself, the fifth thing is also people. No one could ask for a better neighbor (and friend!) than we have just to the west, and I will also miss our Sunday breakfast (and garden club) buddies. Work will be a whole different ballgame, too, as I transition to a full-time work-from-home employee. I'll still get to talk to my coworkers on IRC, but I will miss the lunches and the gossip that can only happen in person.

There are plenty of things I won't miss about Texas. I will maybe save them for another post.

Or maybe not.

Monday, October 03, 2005

St. Louis or Bust!

Soon, we will be moving from Texas to Missouri. The pottery collection is almost completely packed up, except for a few pieces we've left on display for when the house goes on the market. Packing the pottery wasn't all that difficult, but there was just SO MUCH!

Animal planters and figurines are a bit more fragile than jardinieres and pots, since the animals have ears and legs that can get broken off. But packing them wasn't too bad because I've been collecting (and purchasing) a bunch of smaller boxes. 6x6x6 boxes work well, holding medium-sized pieces by themselves, or holding multiple small pieces (cut up some cardboard and put it in between the pottery, then fill the extra space with corn starch packing peanuts). 12x9x6 were used for some of the larger planters, and a variety of other box sizes in between. The smaller boxes can then be packed into larger boxes so you don't have to keep up with several hundred tiny boxes.

I admit I overboard when packing the collection: I had the time, and thought I'd try to do a good job since we will probably rent for the first year we live in St. Louis, and they'll be moved at least three times before the entire collection comes out of storage (house to storage, storage to St. Louis rental, rental to house). Back when we were transporting pottery from home to antique mall, just wrapping them in paper or in Depend pads (you can often pick them up cheap at estate sales, and they're fantastic for protecting collectibles!) and piling them in boxes was sufficient. Anyway, packing pieces in smaller boxes and then into larger ones offers the fragile pieces more support, so you can actually stack the boxes higher than you would if they didn't have the extra cardboard.

Here are some tips I picked up while packing:

1. Measure all your odd-size expensive fragile things and make a list, then look in the yellow pages for a place that sells boxes: not just moving boxes, but all sorts of boxes (I went to a place called the Box Outlet in Ft. Worth). You will probably be able to find a box the right size to protect each piece. Smaller boxes will cost anywhere from $0.50 to $1.50 so only do this if the replacement price (or sentimental value) of the piece warrants it.

2. If you buy boxes in bulk, you may be able to get them cheaper. Wholesale prices are often less than half of retail for cardboard, so make sure you ask. This is good reason to go to a smaller, independent box store: they are probably more flexible.

3. I recommend the corn starch packing peanuts for most uses, since styrofoam is not the environment's friend. There are a couple of caveats though. They are water soluble (you can compost them when you're done!) so make sure you are not storing your stuff in a humid or wet environment. If you care enough to pack it well, you probably care enough to be careful where you store your stuff. The other caveat is that the corn starch peanuts may not work well for very heavy items (like giant stereo speakers), since they are much more compressible than the regular ones.

4. Smaller boxes don't fit neatly into larger ones. For example, you would think that an 18x12 box could hold six 6x6 boxes on each layer. Not true. I can't remember now if the printed measurement is the outside or the inside dimension, but either way they won't match up because of the thickness of the boxes. If you find large boxes that have odd measurements (like 16-3/8" on a side), they might have been designed to hold smaller boxes (two 8" boxes should fit in a 16-3/8" box).

5. Liquor stores are a GREAT source of boxes, and many of them are perfect for packing pottery and glass. I usually leave the dividers in the boxes. You can wrap smaller pieces in paper and put multiple ones in each cubbyhole, or they fit larger vases quite well and keep them from banging together. You can also stack more of these boxes since the dividers provide extra support and keep them from crushing. Since most of them originally held glass, they are strong. And they're free! They are also good for packing your kitchen glassware and barware, especially once you've priced dish packs at the local Container Store or Lowes.

6. One advantage of purchasing boxes is that you end up with a lot of boxes of identical size, which is good for stacking. When you have a bunch of odd-size boxes, you can end up with the corner of one box in the middle of the top of another, which is a good way to crush the contents or poke a hole in the bottom box when they are stacked high. Moving-size boxes range from about $1.50 each all the way up to several dollars apiece. Try to buy a bunch of your boxes at once so you can get them by the bundle and hopefully get the wholesale price.

7. Look for used boxes. Some of the places that sell new boxes also sell used ones. Used medium or large-size boxes are about $1.50 each (that's about 1/2 price for the larger ones). Since movers or businesses will sell back a bunch of boxes at once, you still have a good chance of finding a bunch of identical boxes so they stack and pack well. If they let you pick and choose the boxes yourself, I'd recommend it: condition varies widely. There are also places online that host classified ads for people buying and selling used moving boxes. Although some people get greedy and try to charge a lot for their boxes, I've seen them as low as $1 each.

8. If you plan to put stuff into storage for awhile, shop around. Where I live there are a ton of self-storage places so competition is tough, and prices vary a lot. Of course, climate controlled areas are a bit more expensive than those that are not, but if you have furniture, books, or other items that can get damaged by excessive heat and humidity it's well worth the price difference. Right now the going special in my area is half price on the first two months of storage. You should not have to sign a long-term lease (mine is month to month, even with the special).

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Eat Steak, Eat Steak!

The last few times my husband and I have been to Boston Market, we left the place commenting how we no longer feel that place delivers a good value for what we pay. I used to love their chicken, and even though they've never been as cheap as fast food, we used to never leave hungry, and were grateful for an alternative to sandwiches and burgers. Nowadays, the chicken is dry and the pieces are small, reminding me of the starlings that mob the parking lot and make a mess of the car if we grab one of the shady spots that are so coveted in Texas.

Lately I've been seeing the commercials that they offer steak. Yeah, that's the bottom line: "We offer steak." There are a couple of versions, but both show a person pigging out on a plate of something you can't see very well. If someone told me it were shoe leather I wouldn't argue given the size and shape of the unrecognizable mass. Nothing in the commercial says it tastes good. Nothing in the commercial says it's a good value. Just eat a big 'ol steer (oh my mouth is watering now).

There are already a lot of chains where you can get steak around here, and cheaply if you're not picky. So if you introduce steak at a chicken joint (yes, they changed their name a long time ago but they're still "Boston Chicken" in my mind... although their meatloaf is good) and price it a couple dollars higher than your already too-high-priced meals, shouldn't you at least try to position it as delicious, and better than Golden Corral? I would think so, unless you slept through Marketing 101.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Collecting is an addiction

My husband and I started to collect pottery almost ten years ago. I blame it all on my parents: they have booths in several antique malls, and they are the ones who really got us hooked. We collected so much that we ended up with a booth in an antique mall for awhile too, but we quit when they began to "encourage" the dealers to "volunteer" at the mall or else pay more rent.

We still have trouble passing up a good deal on pieces that we know are worth something, but have forced ourselves into at least a little more discipline than we used to have. That, and it's getting really hard to find pieces I don't already have. My pottery animal collection was well over 500 at last count!

I have a few pieces of my collection posted at my Web site, I hope to eventually get more photos online but it's been hard to find the time. Due to all the spam I get at the email address posted on the site, I'd like to eventually move away from having it posted at all. Although I haven't had a lot of time to do anything new on the site, I do still get the occasional email from people looking to identify some pottery they found, and if it's something I know about I'm always happy for the challenge.