Wednesday, December 31, 2008

We're not in Carolina anymore

My parents had a huge blizzard the week before we arrived in Rochester. Upon our arrival, however, the thermometer read 50 and it poured rain for 2 straight days. No snow, much slush. This morning though, we woke up to a real Rochester snowstorm. This is a far cry from Carolina, but this is what winter is supposed to be like.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Joyeux Noel!

All is calm, All is bright. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sticky Buns

The loaves had been rising for 2 hours and threatened to spill over the top of their greased pans, looking for all purposes like mushrooms ready to topple over on teeny tiny stems. We kept joking about how we were going to walk in the house and have to push our way through a ginormous cloud of dough, as one could imagine seeing on a cartoon. Finally, after rising all day, I declared them poofy enough to convert to sticky buns.

I sprinkled the bottom of the pan with walnuts and raisins and Matt happily set to work tearing into the dough and covering the pan with golf ball size pieces. I got to work creating the goop that pores over the dough and settles into the crevices, turning the entire pan into a sticky delightful mess. I melted the butter, stirred in the pudding mix, and dashed in some cinnamon. I peered into my mother-in-law's cabinets, looking for brown sugar. I had brought some of the less obvious ingredients - the vanilla pudding, the walnuts pre-chopped and ready to go, but had naively assumed there would be brown sugar in just about stocked pantry. I should have known: this is the kitchen famous for scotch kissies, the delectable dessert treat that requires an entire box of brown sugar.

She was out. The dough torn, the butter melted, I started to panic. Here I had built up the anticipation of my mom's famous sticky buns ALL day long, hoping to share this tradition with my new family, and in the moment of truth, I had failed to provide an essential ingredient.

I started racking my brain for substitutions. Matt's Nanta, supervising the process, started peering into cupboards. She pulled out a box of granulated sugar and a bottle of Eggo syrup and placed them in front of me. "Here. Mix these." Nanta, who is famous for making her own ketchup once in a pitch, is always to be trusted when it comes to substitutions.

Into the melted butter mixture went this concoction. The color was off and the smell distinctly maple, but the texture was right. I crossed my fingers and drenched the sticky buns with the goop, and put it back in the fridge to rise overnight. In the morning, the aroma of pancakes filled the kitchen while the buns baked. When the timer went off, I pulled them out with hopeful anticipation. The first bite secured my success - despite the slight hint of maple, which turned out to be not a bad addition, they were every bit as delicious as the sticky buns I had consumed every Christmas morning for the last 25 years. My family-in-law's praise was abundant, and the tradition from one family was successfully incorporated into another family.

Monday, December 22, 2008


For the last 2 hours, Matt has been poring over two drawings of a bed he is going to make with his Pa this winter. Rulers and mechanical pencils have been dexterously alternated from hand to hand, and the pile of eraser crumbs covers our coffee table like a first grader was taking a spelling test. His drawings are so precise, so meticulous I am starting to wonder if his true calling was perhaps furniture design instead of medicine.

He calls me over to stand next to the measuring tape to see how high the bed is going to be. Holding the measuring tape up to my hip, he palpates the top where the tape hits to use as a comparison to our current bed.

"Perfect. Right at the greater trochanter."

Nope. Medicine, it is.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Working At Home Diaries

9:30 - woke up. wrote down my dream. turned on coffee machine.
9:45 - began reading food logs.
10:45 - remembered coffee, poured cup, returned to food logs.
12:30 - "i think i've been reading for like an hour..." Er, um. Well, I'm almost done.
1:15 - switch to data entry.
1:45 - website locks me out. back to reading.
2:30 - "Are you still reading?" he calls from the next room. 3 more.
2:45 - emerge. stretch legs. heat chili.
2:50 - watch football and eat chili. work 3 soduku puzzles.
3:00 - work thru "pile." this includes bills, things to be scanned, thank you note to write, coupons to use or recycle.
3:30 - blog. email. other creative writing measures. all the while listening to artists i like on youtube. more frustrating than pandora since i have to restart, but at liberty to choose songs.
4:30 - dismantle holiday decor. sad.
5:30 - return to interwebs while hub is engrossed in football. read others' blogs. more emails. memotome updates. to do list for tomorrow
6:30 - sushi with hubby.
7:15 - fro yo with hubby
8:00 - denim shopping online with hubby.
9:00 - cleaning out email inbox. uploading photos. listening to youtube. why does interwebbing wile away my time so well?
10:00 - bed. read. sleep.

Dirty Santa, Deflated Santa

Last night we went to Matt's Aunt Paige's house for the beginning of our Christmas festivities. The feast was amazing as usual - Paige cooks like she is an understudy of Paula, Giada and Ina. After stuffing ourselves silly (apparently just continuing the trend), we retreated to the living room for a round of Dirty Santa. Each "participant" in the game brings a gift-wrapped package of something from their home that they no longer desire. Perhaps it's the one thing that's been sitting your "regift" basket for years, or the smelly lotion set that just isn't your flavor (could it be the glitter?) or maybe even that Spin Shade you were just given the day before and had no idea what to do with it. (I'm just sayin'....) Everyone draws numbers, and the lowest number picks a gift. Up the number count you go, selecting gifts that draw reactions from uproarious laughter (leopard print hat) to genuine delight (Santa Claus wine coozie?) to curiousity (Spin Shade, again.) After the last person picks, back down the numbers you go - you have the option to keep your gift or steal another person's gift. This was a relatively tame group, as far as the pilfering goes. A pair of snowflake dish towels went through 3 grabs, and I caused a little family tift by stealing a set of word puzzle and sodoku books from my SIL, but most of the grabs were fairly benign. That is to say, no one dared claim the grape-smelling teddy bear from the six year old!

Today, despite their being 4 days left until Christmas, Matt and I took down our holiday decor. Last year the lights twinkled on our tree from October until almost February. It is quite sad and anticlimatic to see the bare mantel and empty front porch now. My Christmas spirit feels as deflated as our blow-up Santa, stuffed in his tupperware bin back up in the attic! We are going to be in and out over our Christmas vacation, and I was dreading taking down the decor and tree without his help in January (when interview season kicks in again.) But, in a few days, we'll be home with family and my mom's collection of snowmen (in the hundreds, I daresay) will more than make up for the fact that Santa won't find our stockings hung by the chimney with care. In the meantime, maybe I can convince Matt to mute the Panthers game and put the Holly station on the XM, instead. Or... not.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tis the season to be eating... fa la lala ...oooof.

I feel like I have been eating non-stop for 4 days. (A stunning declaration when you consider I've been teaching "Holiday Eating" for the last 2 weeks to 180 frantic, panicked, weight loss participants.) It kicked off with the chowder followed by Christmas Cookies on Saturday - I've never been much for moderation when it comes to iced sugar cookies. Sunday followed it up with the sampling of low-calorie buckeyes I was making, and a late dinner at Putter's.

Monday was our departmental Christmas party at Riverburch. Due to the lay out of the party - food due North, wine and beer at East & West, and my hesitancy to navigate north and risk enforced mingling with medical campus staff I didn't know ("oh! have you met so & so?") I held camp near the wine bar with the rest of the research staff. Staff and faculty mix like oil and water at these events, so my antisocial behavior, while not entirely appropriate, is not unusual for our department. One brave staffer parted the seas and grabbed me a plate of shrimp cocktail, fortunately preventing the wine + empty stomach = no driving home.

Tuesday was our staff luncheon at Village Tavern, capped off by a monthly dinner date with my friend Suzanne at Hutch & Harris. This was my first visit to H&H, but I could no more fit an entree into my belly than could one person squeeze onto a 5 pm metrocar headed to Ballston. So I had a soup and salad, and lovingly packed up an bowl of She-Crab Soup to take home to the hubby. (I failed to look at the serving however, until I arrived home and we noted that a "to go" bowl serving is approximately 2 tablespoons. Thanks, H&H.) PS, Tuesday night is free taco night if you ordered a $5 margarita. What what! I already had my wine order in before I found that out, but note to you, savvy Winston-Salem diner, for future reference.

Wednesday reached an all-time high in the calorie consumption with our participant potluck party. I love watching the different dishes stroll through the door. My "weight loss" participants show up for the first hour, laden with fruit salads, shrimp cocktail and veggie trays. The next hour brings "weight loss + exercise" participants who tend to be a little more liberal, with baked chicken entrees, some low calorie desserts, chips + salsa, soups, roasted veggie dishes and other delectable but healthy treats. The final hour is dedicated to "exercise only" - a group to whom no nutritional information has been given - and this is when the fried chicken, ham biscuits, green bean casserole and coconut cake that covered dish parties in the South are known for all make their appearance. As they arrived, my "combo" folks were packing up and I watched the panic cross their face as they saw many of their former temptations arrive on the buffet.

One of my participants pulled me aside, her voice dripping with concern. "Who brought the Krispy Kremes?" she practically hissed. "An exercise only person," I told her as I patted her arm consolingly. "You should probably go - it's only going to get worse from here," I recommended, as I spied the unmistakable yellow and red of a Bojangles box approaching from the parking lot.

All of our participants loved playing Monica's new toy - the wii Fit. However, it was a little awkward when the wii Fit age proclaimed many of them to be 12-15 years older than their actual age or loudly pronounced "You are OBESE" as the little Mii man blew up to twice his size. Errrm.... well..... *shrugs*

One of our greatest success stories, a woman has maintained a 40 pound lost stepped on the wii to test her fit age. A combination of BMI, posture, balance and agility determines your fitness age. Her elation when the wii declared her THIRTY years younger than her actual age? Unmeasurable. Her celebration was just another reminder of why I love my job.

And today, the final day before our 2 week Christmas vacation, is another reason I love my job. Remember how the day before vacation in school was always a waste of a day? You might watch a video, maybe do a worksheet, and then trade presents with friends and dutifully turn in your present (that your mom picked out - a candle, a bar of soap, a gift card to barnes & nobles) to teacher. That is what my last day of work before a holiday tends to be like.

I had 2 phone call coaching sessions this morning, and in about fifteen minutes I'll head over to our center to mingle with exercising participants. I'll work maybe a half day, I won't teach anything, and I'll give out lots of hugs and reminders to eat healthy and weigh thyself over the holiday. Then around 1:15, as the last of my participants head out the door, I'll briefly consider going into the office to do some data entry before convicning myself that "nah. I'll do some over the break."

Then I'll come home, to my already-vacationing hubby, and our 2-week, much-awaited, it's finally here Christmas Vacation will begin. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Trying My Hand at Puppy Parenthood

Last night, Z & J had us down for a night of food, frosting and films. We scarfed down on a delicious homemade chicken & corn chowder before clearing the table to make room for cookie frosting paraphernalia.
J's Homemade Buttercream Frosting

After our decorating (and eating) bonanza, we snuggled up to watch Christmas Vacation. Unfortch, the week of 4:50 am wake ups caught up to me and I watched the back of eyelids while snuggling with a warm and toasty puggle curled up next to me. What a fun guest I am. Invite me over....I'll take a nap on your couch!

Matt Concentrating On His Work

It's been a busy 2 months of interviewing for everyone, so it was nice to take a breather to reconnect and hang out before we all scatter for the holidays again. 4th year has been a welcome respite for these boys, and hopefully the spring will bring even more opportunities to relax and hang out with friends once the pressure and time commitment of interviews die down.
Emily & Wiggy's Creations

Today, we had our first experience of puppy parenthood today as we watched Gus while Z&J headed out of town on the interview circuit as well. Newsflash: standing outside on a leash in the middle of December waiting for a curious dog to find a good spot to pee is NOT fun. I read Marley & Me, I know puppy parenthood is not all fun and tug of war games... but my quick to grow impatience as I waited for that little hind leg to raise makes me question my readiness to be a parent of the canine variety, much less any other variety. Is it easier when they are your own? Should fenced-in backyards be a priority? Should we move to Charleston to eliminate the standing in the cold? (Yes, yes and yes?) It isn't long though before he was showering me with the sad "play with me" puggle eyes, and bounding with glee around my living room, delighting in the simplicity of the game and my moment in the cold was forgotten. Ah yes.... this is why we keep these curious creatures around us. The moments of companionship, entertainment and "you know love me" faces, I am sure, far outweigh the moments of frustration and impatience. (I think? J?)

Now we are heading over to the Joel to watch Wake WIN (I hope) against Wright State, and to round out the evening with a little dinner at my least favorite restaurant, Putter's.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Very Own Version of Hell: The Mall at Christmas

How did this weekend and come and go already? How is it that Christmas is a mere 2 weeks away?

Last night was low-key, with a trip to El Dorado with neighbors Zac and Jamie. Lots of queso was ordered, lots of laughter was had. Later, Matt and I watched Cold Mountain - a movie I never would have selected from the video rental, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the story. I love reading historical fiction (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Year of Wonder, etc) and I often forget that genre exists in movies as well.

Today I braved the mall post office line, which I survived in thanks to the foresight to plan ahead with an ipod book on tape. Deep yoga breaths and lots of calf raises. Lines. :::Shudder:::: Ipod in ears, I stepped foot into the belly of the mall - something I have not done at Christmas since I stopped working at Gap Kids in '99. Crowds. :::Shudder:::: I spent a surprisingly pleasant hour perusing the racks at Forever 21, all the while with Michael Gerber chattering in my ears on an audiobook. I was delighted to piece together an outfit for my brother's girlfriend that I think is actually quite cute. I have not met her and all I am going on is her age and the style of outfits I have seen her wear in f-book pics. Here's hoping. If she hates it, Forever 21's return policy is super easy....sooo... oh yea, no, it sucks. She better like it. Especially because I texted my brother THREE times in the span of an hour to ask him if he was around so I could photo-text him. My brother = the least communicative person EVER. My plan when I am home this Christmas is to see how often he screens calls and/or checks text without responding. I have a sneaking suspicion he is not just "missing" my calls or "charging his phone." What? It's not like I call THAT much... I just like to communicate with my siblings. Is that too much to ask? Anyways... I digress. Weekends, Christmas shopping, crowds, et cetera... back on track.

So, all I have left on my Christmas list is to hunt down the almost-discontinued Polaroid film my Grandpa uses and the 2009 tear off Dilbert calendar I've gotten my dad for the last eleven years. In high school, he used to tear off pages he thought were funny and leave them either on our bathroom counter or taped to my bedroom door. Throughout college he would mail them to me, so much so that my roommates recognized his swirly black inky handwriting on the envelopes and would know some Dilbert goodness awaited them. Every year I wonder if he is sick of the calendar, but approximately 2 weeks later when I've received my first Dilbert offering in the mail, I know I would have disappointed had I forgone the tradition. My family looooves traditions and nostalgia, nearly to a fault. Ask my mom about a recent conversation in regards to a fridge we've had in our family for 29 years.... "It held my baby bottles!" I pleaded. Nostaglia: To. A. Fault.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rhett! Rhett, where are you going?

I am absolutely positive the technology exists that would allow me to work remotely from here and that I never, ever plan to leave. Even on this gray and sulky day where the sky is spitting drizzly drops of precipitation on me as I attempt to window shop on King St, I am in l-o-v-e with this city.

Matt and I came down to Charleston last night for his 2nd to last interview, and we are both just enthralled with this city. Last night we ditched the school sanctioned dinner (if you read this, probably not a surprise) in exchange for a date night/bar crawl of our own. Jason, having recently visited Charleston, had directed us to a seafood restaurant that turned out to be mere yards from our lovely hotel. On our way down, he had texted us to visit the bartender when we got there and pick up a mysterious something. A gift certificate awaited us and we enjoyed a most scrumptious meal - spicy and hearty Bloody Mary's, an appetizer of grit cakes with a light garlic alfredo sauce, and cajun sauteed shrimp - calories don't count on vacation right? Yum. Our experience was capped off with a visit from Maiar Hyman, who according to the history lesson on my menu, is the 3rd generation of Hyman's to run the restaurant. (Gen #5 is currently in charge.) Maiar regaled us with stories of his days in Winston-Salem immediately following the Korean War, and how he was a big timer textile salesman once clinching a deal with the now-Sara-Lee owned Hanes brand.

Delicious Bloody Mary's with Absolut Peppar... Yum!

After our feast, we wobbled on to the streets and looked for somewhere to take shelter from the drizzle. Our prerequisites were simple: other patrons present and live music. While this may sound innocent enough, keep in mind it was only 8:30 pm on a Tuesday, in December. Not exactly the High Season. We wandered into one bar on Vendue St called The Griffon, where 2 other tables were filled with patrons, and a guy with a guitar crooned acoustic versions of Smashing Pumpkins, Eagles and Elliott Smith with an alarmingly similarity. After two rounds of hearing the same wailing on repeat and watching the same drunk girl in ugg boots and a jean skirt heave herself at any present male patronage, we paid our tab and left. Music and boisterous voices lured us into a bar called Mad River that inhabited a former church across from the Market. Something about the half-hearted attempt at rugged outdoor decor (the canoe hanging from the ceiling), the overly cheesy party music (Paradise City when you're sober? Nope) and the presence of what appeared to be an intramural sports team celebrating a season win reminded me of some other place I had frequented. It wasn't until I got home that I put it together: the same bar (decor, music and patrons) was just 4 1/2 blocks from my apartment in Baltimore and I had spent many a Friday nights elbow-deep at Mad River.

After a round at Mad River, we wandered up East Bay St for a lap before succumbing to Wet Willies, a bar with every known daiquiri flavor to man featured in slushie machines on a wall 25 yards long. Matt sampled the "Attitude Adjustment" - a suspicious recommendation from the waitress - while I sipped a Bud Light. Sugar and alcohol don't mix well in my system, and a 5-alarm slurpee is a guaranteed way to ruin my next morning. What really kept us at Wet Willie's though was the entertainment. Six guests rotated through song after song on Karaoke, while the other dozen or so patrons gazed on in shocked amusement, egged on in barely concealed faux encouragement and took secret video footage (me). It was like being at a live American Idol audition, and hearing many of my very favorite songs completely ruined!

The Wall o' Wonder @ Wet Willies

After a dozen ear-splitting performances, we pushed aside the half-finished daiquiri and called it a night. What a Tuesday night it was - from low key mellow bar performance, to pulsating party music, to heart wrenching karaoke, we experienced the finest that Charleston's musical scene had to offer. However, we both agreed neither the rain or melodically challenged performances put a damper on the beautiful backdrop of Charleston.

This morning, we did a driving tour of Charleston and oogled out the window like a proper tourist at the gorgeous scenery on East Bay St. Had it not been raining, I would have insisted on a proper parking so I could shutterbug to my heart content. However, I melt in the rain, in case you didn't know, so a drive-by sufficed for me. After dropping him off at MUSC to interview, I did some half-hearted window shopping on King St. Oh, Economy! Truth be told, I am out of my element in any location that has a real live Louis Vuitton store and no Forever 21 or Target as far as the eye can see.

In an hour, I will meet my gorgeous friend Mikell who I scrambled all around the beautiful pais de Espana with nearly six years ago. The last time I saw her, we bid adios in the Madrid airport, but with the help of facebook I have tracked her wanderlust as she's moved from Costa Rica to Seattle to Peru to Columbia and now to Charleston. I'm hoping to convince her she needs a live-in nutritionist and should clear some room for Matt and I to take up permanent residence in her probably-non-existent spare bedroom. After lunch and some more wandering, I'll pick up the student doctor and north bound we shall be headed, bidding Charleston a sad farewell.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The 2nd Annual Catchphrase Showdown

The best traditions are the ones that start accidentally. Last year, we found out by pure coincidence that friends of ours from college, TJ and Fred, were traveling up to Blowing Rock for a weekend with their wives the same weekend we were planning on traveling down to Boone with Matt's college roommate Jason. We were staying at Matt's grandparent's house in Boone, and intended to pack the weekend full of Guitar Hero, Street Fighter and some seriously long bouts of Doing Nothing. We met up with TJ, Fred and wives Kelli (TJ) and Michelle (Fred) the Saturday of our weekend and had one of those laugh til your stomach hurts kind of nights together playing Catchphrase, drinking wine, and taking ego pot shots the way that only college friends can do.

This year Jason came to town to take his LSATs here at Wake (and I suppose to visit Matt) and we found out the same crew was headed to Blowing Rock again. After the test Saturday we headed down there, making it officially a 2nd annual winter weekend in the mountains. The catch phrase was just as intense - in fact I'm surprised marriages survive being on opposing teams. The wine (and sweet tea vodka) flowed just as freely as did the barbs, and the laughter never ceased. Saturday night we went to a local BBQ joint where a Toby Keith-wannabe belted out his renditions of everything from Rocky Top to Mud on the Tires while the patrons clapped, whistled and clinked together mason jars of Budweiser. After dinner, we headed back to beautiful Chetola where the rest of the crew was staying.

The Catchphrase battle picked up about 9 pm with 3 rounds of North (me, Fred, Michelle and Jason) vs. South (Matt, Kelli & TJ.) In case you're wondering, the North won all 3 times. No surprise there. As the battle heated up, we traded teams (me, TJ, Matt and Kelli) vs. (Fred, Michelle and Jason). The 4-person team won again - an unfair advantage to have an extra brain? The Girls decided to test this theory and went head to head against the 4-man team of The Boys. It was a close and heated battle. Wine bottles were knocked over, fingers were pointed, marriages were tested. We were down 0-6, closed the gap to 6-6 and then took a 4 point lead to make it 10-6. Playing to 16, the boys closed it up again with another 10-10. We were point for point all the way to 16, but in the end the boys (yet another 4-man team) were triumphant. At the close of our 5th game, the clock had struck 3:30 am, so we unwillingly called it quits.

The next day we had a recovery breakfast at Mountain House - Boone's very own version of Cracker Barrel complete with a front room full of tchotchkes for sale. Personalized mailbox flags anyone? Greeting cards with "When You Were Born...." anecdotes? Bike license plates? (They never have Meghan with an "H"... such a farce.) After a hearty mountain breakfast, we worked it off walking up and down the side of a small mountain trying to find the perfect Christmas tree. Granted, Matt and I have set up Ye Olde Artificial again this year, but partaking in the quest for our friends' tree (as well as the much needed exercise) was nearly as exciting had it been for our own living room. Nothing like getting the delicious pine smell, mountain air, hot cider experience without having to vacuum up the needles at home later on. (NTS: Yankee Candle mistletoe candles go on sale after Christmas don't they? There really is nothing like that smell...)

The ride home was a quiet one, but the 24 hour escape to the mountain was enough to refresh us and kick start December off with the true holiday spirit: the smells (the aroma of pine, the notes of red wine) the sounds (squabbling over Catchphrase sounds uncannily like my dad's siblings squabbling over...well, everything), the sights (we saw our first snow of the year in the mountains) and the spirits (uplifted!). Here's to our 2nd annual providing the kick-start to a month of more traditions and holiday spirits.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Mistletoe Morning

On a cold December morning, while smart people everywhere pulled up their down comforters and snored the morning away, Matt and Jamie joined 1200 other Winston-Salemites to brave the cold to run the Mistletoe 5k. They both ran record fast times, which not only made this spectator very proud but also very happy. One more mile to watch and my toes might have fallen off. Could it be that the smart ones were actually the ones who huffing and puffing, and well, moving?