Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mobile ...

I have my baby back.

She was with my mechanic for nearly two weeks and before that, she was stranded in my garage, the poor thing.

My father very helpfully came by with a new battery for her and we swapped out the old for the new so I could get her to my mechanic on a Wednesday. And I gave him a list of issues I needed him to address or check and I asked him when he might have things done and he said, "Friday."

"This Friday?", I asked, incredulously.

He shrugged. "Yeah, probably."

So that Friday came. And went. And the following Monday. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. And Thursday. And Friday. And Saturday. And Sunday. And Monday.

Uh oh.

But late on Monday, the call came. My car was ready. Since I'd been having an issue with my battery draining, my mechanic kept my car to let it just sit, to see what would happen, to make sure the culprit was found and remedied.

Phew. I thought the two-days-that-turned-into-nearly-two-weeks meant that something very big was very wrong. But no.

So my brother gave me a ride to my mechanic's garage, since he was kind of heading that way anyway, and I handed off a check and hopped in my car and she started right up. Oh, the joy.

And I started to make my way home, and about a third of the way into the trip, something felt very wrong with my brakes.

My brakes had not been an issue I needed him to address, but my brakes felt strange, and given that my brother had recently had a very big problem with his brakes, I decided to turn around and head back to the garage.

My mechanic was surprised to see me, and was surprised to hear of my issue with my brakes, but he's a very good guy, so he took my keys and got behind the wheel and we took her for a drive and of course, I didn't feel what I had felt before.

Until we turned onto the newly paved road and then, oh yes, there it was, the issue.

Turned out, I needed a rotor cut. My mechanic assured me that my brakes would be just fine, and we arranged for me to come back the next morning, first thing, and he would take care of her while I waited.

Which is what we did. And he pulled both rotors to cut both rotors, not because it's best to keep things equal, but because he is a pragmatic, smart man, and said that he was pretty sure he knew which rotor was causing the trouble, but he didn't want to cut just one, put my car back together, and take it for a drive only to discover that the other rotor was the culprit and then have to take my car apart all over again.

So he cut both. And the one he thought was the problem wasn't really the problem, and the one that he thought wasn't the problem needed to be cut twice.

He put everything together and we took it for a ride and it felt just fine, a nice, smooth stop.

So I went home and baked chocolate chip cookies for him and wrapped them in waxed paper in pairs and put them in a Ziploc bag, not the sexiest of presentations, but practical for a mechanic with grubby hands, so he could grab as many cookies as he wanted without covering the rest in oil and grease.

And I drove to his garage and dropped them off and he asked how my car was performing and I told him that it felt just fine.

I opened the door and said, "See you in three thousand miles."

And I spent the rest of the day running errands.

It's good to have wheels again.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

'Waiting For Superman' ...

Am I the last person in America to see this film? I hope so, because I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone.

I had the DVD sitting on top of my television for more than a month. Sometimes, I pop in a DVD the day it arrives. Other times, they languish. I have to be in the mood to watch certain films. It took me a long time to watch "Hotel Rwanda," too.

But Thursday night felt like the right time to watch "Waiting For Superman," and I have to say, it broke my heart.

I had the benefit of a good education. I went to a good elementary school. I went to a good junior high school. I went to a good high school. And I went to a good university.

I was a good student but not a great student. I could have tried harder, but I didn't. My friend Qusai once said to me, in college, "Do you realize that with a little effort, you could be a straight-A student?"

"Yeah," I said. "But with almost no effort I can be an A and B student." For the most part.

I didn't fully appreciate my education at the time. I took it for granted and I opted to coast.

Except for English Teacher Dave's class. He set the bar higher than any other teacher I ever had. And it worked, because I was damned if I wasn't going to make that man give me an A. Of course, I wasn't making him give me anything. He was making me earn it. And for that, I am grateful to him. To this day. I still mention it from time to time. He doesn't seem to mind.

But what I took for granted is for so many others their fondest, yet elusive, wish.

A good education. It's so basic, right? It should be a given. Not a great education. Not a spectacular education. Just a good education.

Yet it's not.

There is a lot that I do not yet know about the education system in this country, but the recent talk of abolishing the Department of Education feels like the exact wrong thing to do. From what I took away from the film, we need a Federal standard. Not a one-size-fits-all solution because one size does not fit all, but an overarching set of principles. Allowing each school board to chart its own course strikes me as ridiculous. How can there be any consistency that way?

And how can we let school systems that are clearly failing simply continue to fail?

How is it acceptable to literally gamble on the future of this country by using lotteries to grant eager children slots in well-performing schools?

I cried while I watched Daisy and Francisco and Bianca see their hopes dashed. And later, when Anthony, who had been wait-listed, received the phone call that he would be able to go to his new school, I sobbed. I was so happy for him, yet still so sad for the others.

The situation is dire but it is not hopeless. Educators have found solutions. Geoffrey Canada and Michelle Rhee and others have proven that change is possible.

It is also imperative. A recent Newsweek story revealed that 38 percent of us would fail the citizenship test. Michele Bachmann, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, recently gave a speech in which she spoke of the Founding Fathers working tirelessly to end slavery.

Shouldn't anyone who is elected to serve in one of the two houses of Congress have a basic grasp of American history?

Of course, teachers' unions are part of the story here, and while I think unions can be a very good thing in giving workers a collective voice, sometimes unions can be a very bad thing in shielding workers who underperform because they know they cannot be fired.

I have several friends who are teachers, very good teachers, and I surely want them to be well compensated for all the good they are doing for the kids they teach. But sadly, not everyone is a very good teacher. Some are downright bad. I had a couple of them in high school.

And I know that it is naive to wish that every teacher would take their job for the very important job that it is and strive every day to to the best for their kids. So, so many of them do. And they are expected to do more and more with less and less. Teachers should not have to buy their own supplies. Teachers should not be teaching with books that are years old and falling apart.

But the system is broken and we are doomed if we accept the status quo.

This is not about teachers and students. This is not about school boards and parents. This is about all of us. This is symbiotic. Good schools make for good communities and good communities make for good schools, an upward spiral.

To be sure, climbing up takes more effort than sliding down. But I can't bear to contemplate the alternative. We have already slid too far. So let's stop sliding. And start where we are.

There is much to be done and each of us must do our part. Click here to find out what you can do to help.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Becoming Spineful ...

Oh, how I hate confrontation.

The anger, the unease, the settling of scores.

For years, I laid down in the face of it. Let it walk all over me. Pathetic.

Oh, there were glimmers of chutzpah here and there. Pushed to a breaking point, I'd let loose. I've been known to yell.

But by and large, I swallow a lot of crap in the name of not making waves, even when waves are justified. Waves, after all, do propel us.

Tonight, I received a mass email from someone I thought was out of my life. Perhaps he didn't realize that I was still in his address book. Perhaps it went to everyone he's ever known. Perhaps he didn't realize that I never wanted to hear from him again, though in this day and age, being deleted on Facebook should be a pretty good sign. And being deleted on LinkedIn. And the fact that I have had no contact with him for more than a year.

So there he was, in my inbox, and my inclination was to reply to him, only to say, "Kindly remove me from your address book. Thanks."

"... kindly," see? Because I'm nice that way.

But I wavered. It felt mean somehow. Never mind that what he did more than a year ago felt mean to me. Never mind that I truly don't want to hear from him again. Still, why the waffling?

I ran through a mental checklist:

☑ Did I want to resume a relationship with him? No.

☑ Did I want to resume a friendship with him? No.

☑ Was there any benefit to maintaining contact with him? No.

☑ Was I being unreasonable? No.

So I hit "Reply" and typed in my request and hit "Send."

And I feel a bit fluttery. Unpleasantly fluttery. From the finality of closing a door.

But then, I remind myself that I had already closed it. He simply may not have noticed. He may have thought it was open, even if only ajar.

But it is not. Was not. And now he'll know.

Somewhere, then, I'll expect another door to open.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

One Year Ago Tonight ...


John has been gone for a year. Though I don't know where a year has gone.

John loved daffodils, the sunny messengers of spring. He did not see them arrive last year, but his daughter Miye snipped the first blooms and shared this photo on a site created to share information and memories.

My search for the daffodils led me to a story I wrote for the Chicago Tribune for which I interviewed John. Reading it again brought back fond memories of our conversation. We spoke for 90 minutes, though we were done discussing the story after 45. He had so many fascinating stories to share, and I was fortunate to hear and read many of them in the ensuing years.

I miss my friend, but he lives on in the hearts his family, and I am blessed to know them, his legacy.

I will watch for the arrival of daffodils. Spring awaits.

Spring. Someday ...


Angelo, always a fan of flowers, created a lovely post of lovely images of lovely flowers in lovely, artful arrangements, arrangements that hearken back to the floral subjects of the paintings of the Dutch masters.

Which reminded me of this picture of birthday flowers from mom one year. I took only one shot and was surprised and delighted by how much it looked like a painting. For now, this is as close as I'm getting to spring.

We're due to get a dusting of snow tonight, a half-inch or so, which better know that it is expected to melt on its own tomorrow, because I put away the shovel for the season and I'm not about to fetch it to clear a half an inch.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Celery Green! ...

It may be grey and dreary outside, but spring has arrived in my kitchen! I want to paint a room this color!


A small room. Or maybe an accent wall.

Or maybe I need a piece of Kiwi Le Creuset.


Or maybe I need some Chartreuse Fiesta.


Or maybe I just need it to really be spring.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fluffy Cheese! ...

I like saying "Fluffy cheese!"

Saturday, March 19, 2011

As I Was Saying ...

Yesterday, I wrote about a piece I once found in an antique store that was covered with cobwebs and grime. This is that piece, sans grime:


Framed charcoal drawing, 36" x 16" - $70 (at the time)

(If anyone's noticing a bit of color in the framed image, that's just the reflection of some flowers on my dresser. The piece itself is monochromatic.)

Even adjusting for inflation, the price wouldn't begin to approach the craziness of the previously posted goat lamp, or vintage pillow, for that matter. And I would have paid more for this piece, because I really love it.

You know what else I really love? Buying something because I love it only to discover it's worth more than I paid for it. Like this etching, which was found in another antique store, in a really cheap frame. (I have since reframed it. This frame was not really cheap.)


I thought I might have something of some worth when I found another print of this in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. But the dealer at the antique store had priced this one at $27, so that's what I paid.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Really, Jayson? Really? ...

I like one-of-a-kind items or as close to one of a kind as I can get. If everyone in the world can buy it at IKEA or Target, I'm that much less inclined to want it. (Especially since I no longer shop at Target.)

So I like poking around antique stores and flea markets and such. I once bought a piece of art in an antique store that was covered with cobwebs and grime. My mom thought I was nuts. But I loved the image and I loved the frame and the price tag didn't faze me. To me, it was worth every cent. So I bought it and I took it home and I cleaned it up and today, it hangs over my dresser in my bedroom. Though, really, I should move it elsewhere, because I'd like to see it more than I do. When I'm in my bedroom, the room is usually dark. And my eyes are usually closed.

I can justify an expense, is my point. Pretty easily. But sometimes? I can see no earthly reason why something is priced the way it's priced, other than blatant greed on the part of the seller. Of course, an item is worth what someone is willing to pay for it, and perhaps Chicago is rife with suckers, but these pieces from Jayson Home & Garden left me shaking my head:


Vintage Black Canister, 4.25" x 5.25" - $48



Vintage Moroccan Pillow, 14.5" x 31.5" - $595



Goat Lamp, 23.5" - $995

Monday, March 14, 2011

Good Times, March Edition ...


The March cookie installment for the angelo:HOME blog features Liz Lemon cookies, because Angelo loves Liz Lemon and because he loves cookies and because today is his birthday, so how could I not? Kudos to Doreen for the idea! When she asked, "Something lemon - for his love of Liz Lemon?", there was no turning back.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Six Years ...

Six years ago today, my friend Jeff said, "You need a blog, woman!"

So I started one.

And I've been prattling on about damn near nothing ever since.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What To Do, What To Do ...

I started to write about Wisconsin last night.

From around 5 p.m. until after 11 p.m., I was as much riveted as saddened by what I was watching unfold. It's a surreal sensation, living through a moment in history, especially as the minutes that make up that moment happen so quickly, each one bringing a new piece of information and the sense that life will never be the same again.

I follow a lot of news organizations and journalists on Twitter. All day, every day, I'm plugged in to the goings on in Wisconsin, in Libya, whatever theater brings the news of the day. Everything breaks on Twitter. E-mail news alerts? I heard about that 15 minutes ago on Twitter, people. Everything is instant.

Friends tell me that they turn to my Facebook feed for a roundup of what's relevant. My family turns to me for the latest, knowing that I'll probably know.

I have a lot of information. The erstwhile newspaper employee in me feeds on it. The question is, what's to be done? What should I do with all the information I consume?

A lot of what I know these days makes me sad. Can the schism in this country be healed? When the richest 400 people in the country have more wealth than the bottom 155 million, is there any way to avoid a revolution? Things didn't work out so well for Marie Antoinette.

And every day, I see more and more evidence of the widening of the gap. The GOP insisted on the extension of the Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent even as Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in America, was saying, “If anything, taxes for the lower and middle class and maybe even the upper middle class should even probably be cut further. But I think that people at the high end – people like myself – should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we’ve ever had it.”

Of course, the tax cuts were extended. But now – now – the GOP exclaims, apparently we can't afford to fund, well, anything that's not a tax cut for the wealthy or an illegal war.

Allow me to illustrate.

This morning, among the stories I read were these opposite-ends-of-the-spectrum stunners:

Barton: Govt Subsidies Necessary To Keep Exxon From Going Out Of Business

and

GOP Cuts: A "Guillotine Job" on the Special Olympics

Got that?

Exxon, one of the wealthiest corporations in the world, which posts record profits quarter over quarter while you're paying $4 for a gallon of gas, and which, by the way, didn't pay any Federal income tax in 2009, needs our taxpayer dollars to keep from going out of business but our country can't afford to fund the Special Olympics.

Nor can it afford to fund Reading Is Fundamental.

Nor can it afford to fund NPR.

Nor can it afford to fund PBS.

Nor can it afford to fund research at the National Institutes of Health.

Nor can it afford to fund the housing voucher program that prevents many veterans – veterans – from becoming homeless.

Nor can it afford to fund financial aid for kids going to college.

Nor can it afford to fund community health centers.

Nor can it afford to fund education so that class sizes don't swell to the point of uselessness.

Meanwhile, Wall Street received $700 billion of our tax dollars in order to prevent an economic collapse because the financial sector had been deregulated and Wall Streeters were gambling with our money and lost and no one has been prosecuted, no one has gone to jail, and guess what? They just gave themselves their largest bonuses ever.

Ever.

Some days, I wonder what I'm supposed to do with all this information. Some days, it feels hopeless and overwhelming.

But I continue to stay informed.

And I urge everyone to do the same.

As obsessively as me? No.

But please, I implore everyone, pick up a newspaper from time to time. Stay in touch with what's going on in your city, state, and nation. Turn off "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" and "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" and "The Real Housewives of Orange County" and all the other utter crap that is rotting our collective brain and be involved.

It was heartbreaking to watch the overreach of power last night, to watch Peter Barca saying, repeatedly, that the actions of Scott Fitzgerald on behalf of Republicans were illegal under the open-meetings law in Wisconsin. And even as Barca continued to speak, Fitzgerald called the vote and those assembled voted their Ayes and stood up and left the table with Barca still speaking as the rest of those assembled in the room began chanting, "Shame!"

But it was also thrilling to see so many people rushing to the Capitol, so many people beating on the doors, demanding to be let into their statehouse, and later, so many people refusing to leave.

All people want it to be treated fairly. All people want is to have a voice.

Last night, the collective-bargaining voice of the public workers of Wisconsin was silenced. But our political system allows for those who do not serve in our best interests to be recalled. They are not entitled to their elected offices. They must answer to their constituents.

And each of us have a vote. One person, one vote. Money may buy political influence, but on election day, there will always be more of us than there are of them.

We cannot afford to sit idly by. None of us. Ever.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Wabi Sabi All Over Again ...

Yep, that's right, I am posting a post I previously posted. I am reposting. Because there seems to be something in the air this weekend about perfection and perfectionism and the need to let it all the hell go. So I was going to write a post and then I reread this post and realized that this post says everything I want a post to say. (Though I very well may write another one, too.)

My first thought was of wasabi. And of sushi, I am no fan.

But wasabi is not a hybrid of wabi sabi. Wabi sabi is amorphous, but its essence is this: "... the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical Western notion of beauty as something perfect, enduring, and monumental," as defined by Leonard Koren, author of Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers.

That definition comes from an article in Whole Living, an article that Doreen included in one of her recent Doreen-o-grams.

And surely, I am the kind of person who can stand to read an article about taking things down a notch. Perfectionism is a bitch, an immobilizing bitch.

Wabi sabi came to me this weekend, though I had not yet read the article and so I did not yet know the phrase. I was making pumpkin cookies for the first time, a recipe a Twitterpal had posted that had me intrigued.

The recipe called for heaping tablespoonsful of dough, the idea being to use two spoons to plop little dough piles onto cookie sheets, as so many cookies are made.

But not mine. Oh, no. Never mind that this cookie dough is sticky. Never mind that, at room temperature anyway, it will not be rolled without ending up like pumpkin-colored burrs. Oh, no, I know my way around that peskiness. So I wet my hands and blotted off most of the moisture and proceeded to roll tidy balls of dough that proceeded to bake into perfect mounds.

And they looked entirely wrong.

Because these cookies are rustic cookies. They are meant to be irregular in shape. They are not meant to conform to my snickerdoodle standard of uniformity. They are meant to be blobs.

I had already bent three cookie sheets worth of cookies to my will, but for the remaining three, I used two spoons to portion dough and the cookies baked up just like the picture online. I think they tasted better, too.

Unwittingly, I've been embracing wabi sabi in my home all along. "A wabi sabi home is full of rustic character, charm, and things that are uniquely yours, says Robyn Griggs Lawrence, author of Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House, to be published next spring," the article reads. That's my home. Which isn't to say that I never buy anything new. But I like that most everything I own has a story behind it, and that story is not, "Everything in this room is from Pottery Barn."

Come to think of it, I don't think I own anything from Pottery Barn. I am like Phoebe that way, with her apothecary-table disdain once she discovers that the piece Rachel bought was modern and mass-market, not from "yore," which she discovers because Ross has one, too.


I like the mirror by my front door. I like that the finish is worn, that the silver has darkened, that the joints are no longer pristine. I like that this mirror had a life before it came to me. It hung in someone's home. It reflected someone's story. And now it reflects mine. And I spent all of $15 on it.

"Think about a color palette that mimics what's found in nature: greens, grays, earth tones, and rusts," the article suggests. Check, check, check, and check.

I'm staring at a green throw pillow right now, a few feet away from rust-colored curtains, though I like to think of them as the color of cinnamon instead.

I feel uneasy in primary-colored homes. They don't feel real to me. They feel like someone's interpretation of what an "artful" home should be. To each his own, certainly. Perhaps those colors energize those who live there. Perhaps my affinity for muted colors and worn finishes would strike others as boring and old. Perhaps they are more wasabi, the spicy, green condiment, and I am more wabi sabi, the imperfect and impermanent.

The same goes for my face. I wasn't raised with makeup. In fact, I had to fight for the right to wear any. Mom was right in not allowing me to wear it just because my friends were allowed. But we learn by example and mom never wore much, so I didn't grow up with the inclination to paint my face. Even now, I'm hopeless when it comes to applying eye shadow. So I don't. I've had my makeup done, and I've bought some of the products, because that's what you're supposed to do, but I don't use most of them. I think I've plopped down close to $100 for the two foundations in my closet. One is far too orange, if you ask me. I'd end up looking like John Boehner. And the other one is more sheer and appropriately colored, but I don't use it because, well, because I don't use it. I've never used foundation. And I'm 40 (nearly 41). So why start now? I think I look fake when I wear it. So I don't.

I'm very glad to now know the phrase. There is such ease in wabi sabi, such appreciation, such acceptance. I need to practice it more.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Unshredded (Or: How To Drop The Customer-Service Ball) ...

My parents gave me a shredder. Not this past Christmas, but the Christmas before. A big box, heavy, wrapped as only my mother wraps. I had no idea what it could be. I hadn't asked for a shredder. But I'd been to their house to use theirs, so, in the spirit of practical gifts – I am all about practical gifts – they bought one for me to call my own.

A Black & Decker shredder, chosen, I suspect, partly for its price point and partly because Dad is loyal to brands he trusts.

I brought it home, unpacked it, plugged it in. I shredded happily. It is rated for 10 sheets at a time but bogs down with three. No matter. I would shred one sheet at a time. I sat. I fed. It shredded. Life was grand.

I didn't use my shredder often, certainly not daily, probably not even weekly. A piece or two, here and there. My shredder had an easy life.

In January, I spent a couple of days cleaning out a big closet. I ran across a box of old statements and such, well past the seven-year mark for which we're all supposed to keep such things. I sorted through photos and created a pile to shred. Photos are shreddable, I figured. The booklet didn't say otherwise. But if my shredder could handle staples, it could handle photos, right?

So I sat down to shred. Photo after photo, gone, gone, gone.

Until my shredder stopped.

Not because it was too hot. The temperature indicator had not lit up.

The blades would engage for just a fraction of a second, enough to grab a piece of paper, but further? They refused to turn.

I let it sit for a while. I came back later. Still, no luck.

I mentioned it all to Doreen. An accountant by day, she's very familiar with shredders. She suggested mine might need oil.

All righty. I bought some shredder oil. (I think it's just vegetable oil, put in a wee bottle and sold for much more money.) I applied it as instructed. Nope, no help.

I employed the trusty Internet to search for information. Had others had this problem, too?

Indeed they had.

Of course, the one-year warranty had expired the month before. Typical.

On January 25, I wrote a post that mentioned that my shredder had taken ill.

On January 26, I posted a Tweet: "Research on my @Black_DeckerUS paper shredder (one month out of warranty, naturally) suggests the gears are stripped, i.e. now useless." I bought a membership to consumerreports.com to research what shredder I should buy next. FYI, Consumer Reports doesn't rate shredders. So much for that membership. Let me know if you need me to look anything up for you.

On January 27, I received a reply via Twitter, which provided an e-mail address to which to send details about my issue, and contact information. Good on Black & Decker for being savvy enough to keep an eye on Twitter.

On January 28, I sent a pleasant e-mail to the suggested e-mail address. I make it a point to be polite to customer service folks, because I'm sure theirs is a thankless job. They have nothing to do with problematic products yet they bear the brunt of consumers' frustrations. And you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, so I do my best to be nice.

On January 31, I received an e-mail from HoMedics, which owns Black & Decker, apparently. Consumer Relations Representative Joe supplied a 1-800 number to call for assistance and mentioned that if they were unable to get my shredder working again, they would provide a warranty replacement of my unit. Well, that's nice.

On January 31, I called the 1-800 number and entered the phone tree, and was unable to speak to a person. And given the information I entered, I was informed that I was out of luck. Expired warranty, don'tcha know?

On January 31, I replied to Joe's e-mail to let him know that I'd tried calling the number but was unable to speak with anyone, and asked what I should do next.

And then I waited.

And waited.

On February 10, I received an e-mail from HoMedics which included this language: "We try very hard to respond to all questions, comments and suggestions we receive within a timely manner. However, due to circumstances beyond our control, our response time has increased significantly."

Yeah, I'll say. It took nearly two weeks to send an e-mail telling me that it's not your fault that you can't respond to e-mails? Circumstances beyond your control? What's that about? Did the in-laws drop by unannounced and refuse to leave?

On February 23, nearly two weeks later for those keeping score at home, now nearly a month after my initial contact, I received a response from Joe, apologizing for the mix up in phone numbers and supplying a number at which I could speak with a representative.

On March 3, I remembered that response from Joe (my shredder was no longer top of mind) and I called the 1-800 number. As is often the case, all of their representatives were busy serving other customers. The voice that informed me of this informed me of this approximately every 30 seconds. But, I was further informed, if I did not wish to continue to hold, I could press a number to leave a message and a customer relations representative would return my call by the next day.

And here we are, the afternoon of March 5, and I probably don't have to tell you that I have yet to hear from anyone.

We'll see what Monday brings.

In the meantime, I'll haul my shreddables to my folks' house, and make a note of what brand of shredder they've been using, trouble-free, for years and buy one of those.

I know this much: It's not a Black & Decker.

Update, March 7:

A customer-service rep called this morning about my problems. He said he would help me with troubleshooting and then, if we couldn't get the unit to work, he'd look into sending out a replacement part or new unit.

OK.

He asked me if the bin is full. (If the bin is full, the unit won't work.) Yes, I'm aware of that. No, the bin is not full.

He asked me if the shredder head is properly seated on the base. (If the head isn't properly seated, the unit won't work.) Yes, I'm aware of that. Yes, the shredder head is properly seated on the base.

I assured him that I had tried every possible solution to help it run again: I'd let it cool off. For weeks. I'd oiled the blades. I'd reseated the head. I'd tried to feed the paper using the Power Boost. I'd unplugged it and plugged it in again. I tried every logical idea.

He asked me if the unit has been working since I first reported the problem, if someone else had helped me to get it working. No, I told him. I contacted them because the unit stopped working. And it hasn't worked since. I've tried it a couple times.

I began to give him a rundown of my attempts at resolving this. At which point, the call dropped. I laughed, thinking perhaps he was tired of me taking so long to answer his question.

But he called back and I finished sharing with him my shredder travails.

At which point, he put me on hold for the third time, and when he came back, he told me that he would send out a replacement unit once I returned the shredder head to the address he was about to provide.

Just the head, I asked? Not the whole unit?

Yes, he said. He was trying to save me some postage costs, since to ship the bucket part would require a bigger box and they didn't need that part.

That was very kind, I told him (he was very nice and as helpful as he could be in the situation), to want to save me some money (because, yes, I have to pay to ship their faulty product back to them; on the other hand, it
is out of warranty so they could have just said, "too bad"), but the bucket part weighs about a pound. The shredder head weighs at least 10. So, postage wise, that's where I'd incur the expense.

Also, since he's shipping a new unit, I don't really need the extra base. I guess I'll have a new wastebasket.

So, I hopped online to do a best-guess calculation of what it will cost to ship this part back to them. Parcel post will cost about $11. Fine.

So I'll ship the part back to them and wait my 2-4 weeks for a replacement unit and use that until that one fails. (I have little faith in this product at this point.) And
then I'll buy a new shredder.

Update, March 22:

The replacement shredder arrived a little while ago in a box in rather bad shape. I took photographs, in case I needed to explain to HoMedics that UPS was the problem this time.

I freed the components from their packaging, put the shredder head on the shredder bucket, plugged it in, turned it on, and ... nothing.

And then I discovered that when depressing the first switch (there are two, for safety), thinking I was turning it on, I had actually turned it off. OK, all good.

I had amassed a wee stack of paper to shred, so I commenced shredding. I don't remember my previous shredder amping up to such a high-pitched sound, but everything seemed to shred just fine, including the Valentine's Day card that I recently spied in a box of cards I keep on hand. I had bought it for someone I was dating a few years ago who broke up with me 10 days before Valentine's Day. Why did I still have that card? Did I think I would give it to someone else? That's just bad Valentine juju, I reckon. So that card, symbolically, went through the shredder, too, the last trace of a relationship that ended in just the right way.

I made a note on my calendar and on the shredder booklet of the date of the arrival of the replacement. We'll see how long this one lasts. Hopefully, longer than the first unit.

Stay tuned. What could be more fascinating than the ongoing saga of Beth and Her Shredder?!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Extraordinary Value Of Teachers ...

With all the goings on in Wisconsin, I'm thinking, a lot, about the teachers in my life. So much so that I sat down to write a post about them today before realizing that I've written about them before. (I've been blathering on in this space for nearly six years. I've covered a lot of ground.)

This post includes many anecdotes about teachers past.

And this post gives other teachers their due.

I was fortunate to have some truly extraordinary teachers in my life.

So, to this bald-headed putz who says teachers have a part-time job, because his mom was a teacher and he used to go shopping with her at Loehmann's at 3 p.m., I applaud Jon Stewart's retort: "My mom was a teacher and she worked her ass off for not a lot of money. Hey, maybe your mom was a shitty teacher."

The ones I know are dedicated far above and beyond their job descriptions. They continue to educate our kids even as they have to buy their own supplies for their classrooms and teach from out-of-date books.

Teachers, we are indebted to you. Most of you are vastly under-compensated. And lately, from at least one segment of society, under-appreciated.

My appreciation is not enough but it is deeply heartfelt: Thank you, teachers, for all you do.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Greece ...

A long time ago, English Teacher Dave and I were talking about food – as we often do – and he asked me, "If you could be any nationality based on cuisine, what nationality would you be?"

Instantly, I answered: "Greek."

He was surprised. Most people, he'd found, answered, "Italian" or "Chinese."

Not me.

I don't remember when I first fell in love with Greek food. I remember gyros sandwiches in high school, but those don't quite count. I mean, I love 'em when they're made well but they don't define Greek cuisine.

But I went to college at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which is just south of the Eisenhower Expressway. Just north of the Eisenhower Expressway lies Greektown. The dorms in which I lived are at the northerneastern edge of the campus, at Harrison and Halsted. A quick jaunt across the expressway overpass led to Giordano's, but just across the street, just a few steps further, was Courtyards of Plaka. Oh my.

The latest issue of Saveur features a succulent photo of roasted lamb on the cover. Oh, lamb. And inside, near the back cover, this morning I spied an ad for Greek Island Cooking. And "whoosh!" went my brain, back to Plaka, back to the shrimp and cucumber and feta salad, a staple of my college days.

And then "whoosh!" went my brain to Papagus, also gone, a Lettuce Entertain You venture, but so well done. I went there often. So often that I saw items from the menu come and go. Once, when I mentioned a missing dish to our server, a manager popped by the table to let me know that they'd be happy to make the dish for me if I called the day before to let them know I'd be in so they could be sure to have the ingredients on hand. So lovely. So hospitable. So Greek.

I love taramasalata and Greek bread and Roditis. I could happily make a meal out of just that. And I hope to, someday, in Greece. I want to get off the beaten path, head to some lesser-traveled island, find a charming taverna, and spend a day with a plateful of taramasalata, a hunk of bread, and wine served in one of those charming copper jugs.

But Papagus also had a delightful roasted beet salad with olive oil and lemon and oregano. And roasted chicken with olive oil and lemon and oregano. And grilled octopus with olive oil and lemon and oregano. And Greek salad with olive oil and lemon and oregano.

And a chocolate fig custard that nearly made me weep it was so good. Friends always thought I was a bit daft for ordering anything called chocolate fig custard. And then they tried it. And they were hooked. Just like every other person who ever had it. It was insane.

Alas, I am not in Greece. There are still stubborn piles of snow lying around and the temperature has not yet moved above freezing for the day.

But I have The Most Beautiful Villages of Greece, which I've been paging through this morning, wistfully.

Here is a picture of one of the pages. I mean, seriously.


I must start saving my pennies for a Trip to Greece fund.