Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

It was a year ago today that a brave group of Cesares ventured into a smoky dungeon and realized that Operation: Mercy Street would be no easy task.  And yet, with the help of family and friends from all over the country, the dream became a reality.

And now it's Christmas.  May you be blessed with sugary cookies, gifts both practical and frivolous, and the knowledge of what's behind it all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Walking in the city

Since finishing all my work for the semester on Wednesday, I have done the following: cleaned the house, hosted a small party, attended a large party, cooked goodies for both parties, finished Christmas shopping, wrapped Christmas presents, read my "the semester is done, I can read for fun!" book, and watched all the TV saved on the DVR.  Yesterday I woke up knowing that Greg was going to be gone all day, and realizing that I would be bored.
So I decided to take a walk.  There's a very cool website called where you can map out routes and get the mileage.  I had read a while back about an event called "Walk the City" in New York where people get together and walk from the top of Manhattan to the bottom.  Philly isn't quite the same shape, and I needed to start and end at home, but I had figured out a route that would hit a lot of the big spots.  When I mapped it out, it turned out to be a 7.5 mile walk.  I knew that this was probably a bad idea, since I hadn't built up to it at all.  I walk quite a bit, but usually only a couple of miles at a time.  However, there is a stubborn streak in me, and since I had nothing else to do for the day, I decided to go for it.  I brought along some subway tokens in case it turned out to be too much.  

My main regret was that I didn't have anyone to join me on the walk, but I loaded up my iPod with podcasts and set off.  I brought my camera along to record anything interesting I saw.  Above is a sign near our house that made me laugh.  I mean, I like liver more than the average bear, but even I'm not clamoring for liver sausage.  Apparently some people are.

A band was playing outside of Geno's.  I'm not sure why they were there, but I appreciated the music.

This is a restaurant that we planned to eat at for my birthday in October.  Hasn't happened yet.

//Buddy the elf voice//:  SANTA!

And here's South Street, the ultimate Saturday night destination for college freshmen.

A little place I like to call Independence Hall.

Here's City Hall.  But the really exciting thing is that, in between Independence Hall and City Hall, I passed someone famous on the street!  Well, famous in the Philadelphia sense.  It was one of the ticketers from the show Parking Wars, which Greg and I have been devouring lately.  

And here's the new Comcast Center.  From here I walked up to the Art Museum, then back home.  Sunday I woke up and felt like my entire body was broken.  But, it was a nice way to spend the day, and if anyone is ever in Philly and feels like taking a long walk, I'd love the company.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas in Philadelphia

Today Greg and I did most of our Christmas shopping in one fell swoop, and had the chance to walk around and enjoy some of what Philadelphia has to offer at this time of the year.  

-The light show at Macy's.  It's a lot of bulbs, that light up to make pictures of things like snowflakes and Christmas trees, and which coordinates to music.  It's not super-fancy, but it's quite fun to do your shopping with this going on in the background.  I feel like I'm in "Miracle on 34th Street" or something.

-The Dicken's Village at Macy's.  Greg will be angry that I'm making fun of this, and it truly is a cool thing to take kids to.  It's free, for one thing.  Macy's partitions off a big section and sets up a Dickensian village that you can walk through and experience "A Christmas Carol."  Very cool.  But, if you're just shopping, the high school theater geeks* trying out their (sorry, bad) British accents and yelling, "Oy, Dickens village over 'ere, guvnah," is, like, hella annoying.

-The Comcast center's Christmas Spectacular.  The Comcast center has the largest LED screen IN THE WORLD.  It's gigantic, and very cool to look at even when there's not a Christmas Spectacular going on.  Oddly enough, I found it the coolest when it mimicked the interior of the lobby, so that if you were just passing by, you'd have no idea it was a screen at all.  The actual Spectacular was neat, but lacked the charm of the Macy's light show.  I don't need to see the Nutcracker's pores, thank you very much.

-Santa's village at City Hall.  Ripoff!  A bunch of huts full of people trying to sell you unnecessary tchotchkes.  With really loud German music playing.  Everything else I've listed is basically free, and there are enough people trying to sell you stuff at Christmas anyway.  

*I was one of these, so I'm allowed to make fun.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Don't read this post if you're squeamish about hygiene!  OK, you've been warned.

Greg recently recaulked our shower, but it turns out that when the tube says it needs 24 hours to dry, it actually means much longer.  We know this because of the water leaking through our kitchen ceiling.  

After we stopped the leak, Greg knew he would have to do it again, and allow a longer drying time.  However, you also have to get the shower completely dry first.  In other words, we're talking at least a day-long window both before and after caulking.  So I haven't showered since Thursday.  It is now Saturday evening.  (GROSS, EW, I KNOW.)  Honestly, I don't feel too bad because it's so cold out that there's no sweating going on, and I have been holed up in my office working, so I haven't even needed to get dressed, much less showered.  Greg snuck in a shower at a friend's house last night.

But here's the thing: I FINISHED MY WORK!  WOO!  I still have odds and ends to do (like grading all of my students' final portfolios, whatevs) but my intellectual work is done.  The brain, she is closed for business.  And I need to celebrate!  So we are going to the movies, something I haven't done since the summer.  As I put on a little makeup, I pulled my hair out of its perma-ponytail and was absolutely fascinated by the amount of grease I had worked up. Like, you could deep-fry things on my head if I were hot enough.  Therefore, I will be wearing a hat tonight.  But I was so fascinated that I played around with my hair and created the fancy bun depicted above.

And then I washed my hands.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Nicole's Top Ten Procrastination Methods

10.  Law and Order.  (See below.)

9.  Calling Andrea.

8.  Emailing my students with advice for their papers.

7.  Wandering aimlessly.


5.  Making charts of my progress:  35 pages down, 20 to go.

4.  Bugging Greg.

3.  Making tea.

2.  Staring into the distance.

1.  Blogging.


It's Christmastime in the city.  Greg did most of the decorating (I helped with the fun part: trimming the tree.)  I probably would have gone with the ubiquitous little while lights, but Greg convinced me that the kitsch factor of the big colorful bulbs was preferable.

Meanwhile, my dad and I are competing to see who can watch more episodes of the same show in a short period of time--he's doing 24 (eight episodes in the last few days) and I'm doing Law and Order: Original Flavor (4 episodes in 2 days, but planning to add to the total tonight.)  My dad's excuse is that he just had surgery on his foot and isn't allowed to get out of bed.  My excuse is that my brain hurts from writing papers.  I have also tried to defuzz the synapses by taking walks around the neighborhood, but today was so cold that I never got out of my pajamas and bathrobe.  

Speaking of which, another competition just ended.  Greg and I were seeing who could hold out the longest before turning the heat on.  I declare myself the winner because I was willing to stick it out, and I'm the one who is in the house all day long.  But we decided we should probably do it when his dad was here the other day, because if a pipe exploded or something, we'd have someone around who would do more than gape.  The house stays pretty warm, thanks to the homes on either side of us.  It was settling right at 59-60 when we finally caved. Frankly, I just liked the excuse to wear several layers of fleece.  Cause fleece is cosy.  And I look so fetching in my pastel bathrobe.

And now, back to Law and Order!  Give 'em hell, McCoy.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

the after-parade

After we went to Philly's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the oldest Thanksgiving Parade in the country, we headed over to Greg's aunt's house in New Jersey for Thanksgiving.  I brought a pie and some green beans.  While the pie looked nice, it was not a success.  Underneath that sugary pecan crust lurked sugary pecan soup.  Everything else was great, however, especially the deliciously moist turkey, and Barb made pecan bars, so I think everyone was satisfied.  After dinner I collapsed on the couch next to Greg, ready to go home, crawl into my PJs, and enjoy the tryptophan coma.

But there was a surprise in store.  Greg's other aunt came up and asked us if we had plans for the evening, and then offered us tickets to that night's Eagle's game.  Tryptophan or no, the stadium is right down the street from our house, so we took them and had even more reason to give thanks.

Even though it was a cold night, we bundled up and stayed warm.  I was particularly excited to realize that the Eagles were playing the Cardinals, former Colts player Edgerrin James' new squad.  In fact, I remembered that I own an Edgerrin James jersey!  I was so excited to wear it to the game and cheer for Edge, until Greg forbade it and said he would not be responsible for drunken Eagles' fans who thought I was wearing a Giants jersey.  (Similar colors, bitter rivalry, blah blah blah.)

Guess what.  I wore the jersey.  I kept it hidden until the very end, when most people had taken shelter from the cold and we were able to sneak down very close to the Cardinals' bench.  I then whipped open my coat and flashed the field, screaming "I love you EDGE!"  Alas, he did not hear me.  And then some drunken Eagles fans yelled at me to "Get the $#%! out of here."  

A perfect Thanksgiving, all in all.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Day Parade

Yesterday morning Greg and I got up and headed to Center City to catch the Thanksgiving Day Parade.  We followed it all the way up the parkway to the art museum.  Frosty was there.

Madeleine was there.

A crying elephant was there.

Dasher and Dancer were there.

And so was Santa!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

hamming it up

This year, Greg and I took part in a sacred Thanksgiving tradition: spending enough money at the grocery store to get a free turkey.  Although we chose the ham.  I have to give Greg the credit--now that it's cold out and the Farmer's Market down the street isn't open, he has been doing most of the shopping.  He's the one with the car, after all.  He signed us up for the ShopRite card and monitored how much we needed to spend to get the free turkey.  Yesterday, I joined him for the final purchase.

Or final three purchases, as it turned out.  We needed to spend $100.  We went through the aisles, stocking up on pantry essentials.  Of course, when your pantry essentials are cans of beans, it takes a while to get to $100.  After filling our cart with what we needed, we estimated we had about $60 worth of food.  "We need to buy meat," I said.  This was tough, because I don't cook meat often, and when I do it's fish from Trader Joe's.  But then I remembered bacon! Oh how I love bacon.  It is delicious and greasy and easy and versatile.  I grabbed some bacon, and a thing of breakfast sausage to make with biscuit mix my sister sent me for my birthday. Greg picked up some Woolite and detergent (he also does the laundry) and we headed for the line.  We had spent $82.

I dispatched Greg to load the groceries in the car and promised I could find $18 worth of groceries.  Broccoli, brussell sprouts, spaghetti squash, apple cider.  At the last minute, I switched out the squash (we had bought acorn squash the first time through) for some parmesan cheese.  I met Greg in the free ham section and we carefully picked out the most expensive one, deciding on shank rather than butt.  (hehe).  As we walked toward the register, Greg longingly eyed the double-dipped peanut butter candy cakes from Tastykakes, but I told him he would be having plenty of pie in the days to come.

And then, as the lady behind the register rang us up, everything fell apart.  I had only spent $16! My math is terrible.  But I knew just what to do: I made a mad dash for the Tastykakes, figuring I could show my husband my appreciation for the fact that he does the grocery shopping and the laundry.  

So now there is a giant ham in our freezer.  I have never cooked a ham, I have generally only eaten ham at Easter, and I vaguely resent it for taking up so much space and for forcing me to buy Tastykakes.*  But it was free.  That's all that matters.

*They are very tasty, but WHY is it spelled with a K?  There is nothing clever or amusing about that!


I spent the last weekend in Oklahoma.  That is not a typo.  My dad was in charge of the National Missionary Convention, which met in Tulsa.  It was a really nice weekend--lots of catching up with old friends from around the world, listening to people speak about important issues, and catching the world premiere of a friend's movie.   

However, and I say this with love, whoever at Baxter's restaurant was responsible for running our bank card 30 times in one day and draining our account really harshed my buzz.

Friday, November 14, 2008


One other thing we did while Andrea was here was visit the Italian Market.  She was quite confused by this advertisement for oven roasted boneless pigs (seriously, how do they do that?) so I had to laugh when there was a picture of the ad in the newspaper today.  They ran a story about the future of the market, which can be found here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

mi hermana

Saturday morning.  I was doing homework.  The phone rang.  It was Andrea.  The doorbell rang. It was Andrea.

Apparently, she had Monday off and had decided, Friday evening, that she wanted to do something more than laze around her apartment for the long weekend.  My mom's mad Priceline skillz helped in finding an inexpensive flight, and by noon Saturday the Philadelphia region was blessed with her shining presence.

Greg and I were pretty shocked, and also delighted, by the impromptu visit.  We managed to fit in dinner at Standard Tap in Northern Liberties, a restaurant none of us had been to, a driving and heavily abridged ghost tour ("That's Independence Hall.  It's haunted.  That's Washington Square.  It's haunted.  That's the Pine Street Cemetery.  It's haunted."), some Saturday Night Live election coverage, a Colts win, dinner at Mercy Street with Andrea's friend Amy, and a visit to Temple.

And three exceedingly goofy pictures.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I voted!

After being sick for the last few days, it felt good to have something exciting to get up for today.  I took a shower (it had been awhile) and walked over to the back of South Philly High, where I cast my vote.  The funny thing is, when I told the woman at the table my name, she said, "Oh, are you Greg's wife?" and then proceeded to tell me that whenever Greg drives down her street, she yells "Greg Cesare!"  You see, shortly after moving in we found out that a woman who grew up with Greg in Magnolia lives on Mercy Street, just one block over.  And apparently she started this thing of yelling "Greg Cesare!" whenever he drives by.  The woman at the voting booth told me that once she saw me driving by and said, "Mrs. Cesare!" very quietly.  The whole thing was very bizarre and kind of cool but certainly not what I expected to encounter at the polls.

Before I headed over, I took a look at the websites of some of the people running for other offices, and my favorite was by far this one.  If you spend a little time there, you'll notice that not only does the site look like it was designed by a schizophrenic teenager, but that Mr. Muhammad is both a "disciple of the word of Christ" and a Muslim, and features quotations like "Mike Muhammad is brainwashed.  He 100% believes he can make a difference. - Mike Muhammad."  Unfortunately, I think that Greg was so entertained by this website that he is indeed going to cast his vote for Mr. Muhammad.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Disappointing Halloween

First there was the pumpkin, which turned into a festering wound on our doorstep.  Then there were my lungs, which also turned into festering wounds during the week leading up to Halloween, preventing me from giving ghost tours on the ghostliest night of all.  It's not the correct season for the exclamation, but Bah Humbug!

Phillies Phever

As much as I despise cutesy spellings, I had to go with Phillies Phever for this post title, because that is exactly what the last week has been round these parts.  Last Saturday, Greg and his friend Jim went to the first home game in this World Series.  Because of the rain delay, it started after 10 and finished close to 2.  And then they walked home.  That was only the beginning of the madness.  Sunday night Dave and Erin came over to watch the Phils win again, meaning that Monday night was their chance to clinch, to win the whole thing.

Monday night Greg came home and decorated like mad man.  Dave and Erin returned, bringing Erin's sister Megan with them.  So for those keeping track, this was our third game and third set of guests in three nights.  (I'm counting Saturday since Greg and Jim at at Mercy Street before heading to the game.)

The Phils took an early lead in the Monday night game, so we headed out to the nearby Adobe Cafe to celebrate with other fans.  It was packed, and I even had my picture taken by a reporter for the paper, but it didn't make it into print.  However, the weather had other plans for us, and millions of screaming, drunken fans in every corner of the city were suddenly silenced by a rain delay.

We headed home, and tried to get some sleep Tuesday night.  The game picked up again Wednesday at the bottom of the 6th inning.  It all went so quickly from there--a few hits, a few runs, a few strikeouts, and before we knew it, we were running down Broad Street hugging and high fiving people we had never met, watching impromptu fireworks, and hoping we didn't see any overt vandalism.  (We didn't, but people did go nuts in some parts of the city.)

Here I am high fiving people--I made it my mission to get as many germs on my hand as humanly possible.

Greg's trying to talk to someone, but cell phone service was impossible.

Up next: the Parade!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Food and Family

Last week was my 27th birthday (28th if you asked my mom, but she figured it out eventually.)
Greg told me that he would cook whatever I wanted for a birthday dinner.  I thought about a menu for a while, and then it hit me.  I left him a note on a yellow legal pad with my specific instructions:

Garlic bread made with sourdough bread
Salad (the kind from a bag, with little pieces of carrot and the purple stuff) with Ranch dressing

Greg's first reaction was confusion, as this is not the kind of meal I usually eat.  However, when I called my mom and my sister and told them about it, they immediately recognized what was going on: I was ordering a Grandpa Yadon dinner.  Growing up, this was the meal we ate at Grandpa's house, although often the steak would be subbed out for lasagna or enchiladas, especially for the kids.  The garlic bread and salad were nonnegotiable.  

Whenever the Yadon family gets together these days, someone does the Grandpa Yadon joke. It goes something like this: "Hey Nicole, do you want some orange juice?  Soda?  Milk?  Cookie? Can I make you a grilled cheese sandwich?  Are you hungry?  How about a steak?"   Because no matter who you were--grandkid, neighbor, even the mailman, Grandpa would try to feed you and take care of you.  He lived across the street from an elementary school, and he would take the kindergarten teachers Cokes during their breaks.

I've heard people talk about the generation that grew up in the Depression, that they never got over hoarding and could have been described as stingy later in life.  For whatever reason, the opposite was true of Grandpa Yadon.  So, belatedly, thanks for all the OJ, soda, milk, cookies, grilled cheese sandwiches, and steaks, and for giving all of us a model of generosity.

My birthday meal totally failed, by the way.  It wasn't Greg's fault, because he specifically asked me how long he should marinate the steaks and I told him to go ahead and do it for 24 hours. When your marinade of choice is somethign called Duggan's Dew, that is not good advice.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sound Pollution

In my last post, I mentioned hearing people cheer for the Phillies while trying to do homework.  Little did I know how much worse it would get.  Last night, I was trying desperately to drift off to sleep, but the Phillies were playing the Dodgers in Game 4 of the NLCS (National League Championship Series).  The game took place in LA, and the Dodgers' best pitcher was up--in other words, a game we would probably lose.  But when Shane Victorino and then some guy named Stairs (?) hit home runs in the 8th inning, it became clear that we would win.  And from my second-floor window, the screams and shouts and eager recaps to the guy next door were LOUD.

Honestly, though, I didn't mind.  It was kind of fun hearing the street getting so excited.  And if you're going to live in the city, you've got to be prepared for a little noise.

However.  Right now I am listening to the most terrible, terrible music imaginable, which is being blasted from halfway down the street.  It's, like, 80s smooth jazz easy listening with soaring, reedy female vocalists and synthesized drumbeats, and if it continues much longer, I might just jump out of aforementioned window.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sports fever

For those of you who may not be huge sports fans, or at least not Philadelphia sports fans, here's what's going on: the Philadelphia Phillies made the playoffs and then took a 2-0 lead in the best of 3 series against the Brewers.  Then they lost the third game, leading to a major dilemma for every Philly sports fan: game 3 was scheduled for 1:00 on Sunday, October 5.  The Eagles were also scheduled to play at 1:00 today, and the Eagles have been doing well enough so far this season that people are still invested in watching them.

Here's what this means for me: I am sitting at my computer trying to write an essay about the book No-No Boy (a pretty interesting look at experience of Japanese-Americans during World War II, if you're looking for something to read) when, every few minutes, even though my door and windows are closed, I hear screams going up from next door, the houses behind us, and downstairs (Greg).  It's fun, but I wish I could just watch the games!

Current scores: Phillies winning 5-0, Eagles winning 14-3, Colts tied 10-10.  Boo.  

Also, if you read an earlier post you know that I was excited because a friend of a friend was on Survivor, but alas, she was the third person voted out.  Thus ends Paloma-watch 2008.  

Thursday, September 25, 2008

free netflix trial, anyone?

This is my bulletin board.  A quick glance at it will tell you many things about me: my schedule (the blue rectangle on the bottom left), my finances (credit card statement is the white paper at the top), my political leaning (button bottom right), and what I do with Greg's old shirts (the pockets).  

If you look a little closer, you will also discover something of a paradox: I have pretensions to scholarly work, but I am one hardcore couch potato.  The white index card on the right has the name of a conference I'd like to submit a paper for; the white index card on the left has the dates my favorite TV shows premiere.  There are 12 on the list.  4 premiere tonight, and I'm so excited and embarrassed about my excitement I can hardly contain myself.  The Office!  Ugly Betty!  Survivor!  Grey's Anatomy!   Those first three shows I totally stand by; Grey's Anatomy is probably the guiltiest of my guilty pleasures.  

I love Survivor so much.  Don't even try to tell me that reality TV is trash, because I'm not buying.*  In fact, I am currently grading 20 freshman papers about reality TV, and I didn't even come up with that assignment, so there's got to be something to it.  Even more than watching Survivor, I love reading recaps of it here and here.  And this season is even more exciting because I know someone who knows someone who's on the show.  Paloma is the daughter of a CMF missionary who works with my dad.  Will she be cool?  Will she go far?  I can only hope.  And watch.  And read the recaps.

Also on my bulletin board: four free monthlong Netflix trials.  Most people I know already have Netflix, but if you don't and you'd like to try it, leave your address in the comments (or email me if you don't like making that info public: and I'll send one to you.  

*Disclaimer: just like any other genre, there are good and bad reality shows.  While I love shows like Survivor, Amazing Race, and Top Chef, you couldn't pay me to watch most of the shows on MTV and VH1.  But if you enjoy those shows, more power to you!  I don't judge!  I can't!  Have you seen my bulletin board?

It's kind of chilly here in Philly...

...which can only mean one thing: pumpkins, scarecrows, and fake leaf garlands.  After a pretty low-key showing for 4th of July windows, I'm super-excited for the upcoming parade of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day decorations.  One of Greg's coworkers who is originally from South Philly told him the best store for finding such items, so if I decide to join in the fun, I'll make sure to let y'all see.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Many years ago, someone decided that what Philadelphia really needed, what would take the city from blah to BLING, was a casino.  And then, through a variety of questionable political machinations, the plan progressed and two groups got permission to build casinos on the Delaware Waterfront.  

Many people were not happy about this.  I was one of them.  I have been to Atlantic City, and folks, it is a miserable place.  Yes, you can get a rush if you like the feeling that you are adjacent to glamorous high-rollers, but unless you are a high-roller yourself, that's all you're going to be. Adjacent.  And yes, Atlantic City has shows and restaurants and even an outlet mall (hallelujah!) but walk one block from any of these fancy entertainments and you will find yourself in the middle of grinding poverty.  

I do not want Philadelphia to turn into Atlantic City.  I don't think Ben Franklin or George Washington would want that either.

Many protests later, the casinos finally agreed to consider alternate locations in the city, where at least they would not be next door to people's homes and schools and places of worship.  One idea was to put the casinos near the airport, which is a bit removed from the city itself.

Instead, our new mayor (for whom everyone had high hopes) and the casino people decided to place the casinos in the very heart of the city itself, sandwiched in between City Hall and Independence Hall, on top of the Gallery (a shopping mall) and one block south of Chinatown (my favorite part of the city).  

Right now, that area is a bit run-down.  There are no fancy restaurants or outdoor cafes, just dollar stores and an old Burlington Coat Factory.  Apparently, once we put a casino in, everyone on the street will be wearing gold stilettos and fur.  Or something.

Here's the thing, though.  No one is going to come to the Gallery (or as we used to call it in college, hell) for a fantastic fancy night of high stakes and higher wins.  For one thing, there are only going to be slots in the casino, no tables.  (I have a hard time writing about this because it makes me so angry, so please forgive the rambling and the clarity issues.)  I firmly believe that the people who are going to come play the slots in Center City are those who can't afford the trip to Atlantic City.  It will be people who do not have a lot of money who will lose it in this giant box full of slots.  The rich and fabulous will continue to head for Atlantic City, where there is already an infrastructure in place that makes them feel even more rich and more fabulous.

I don't want to sound like a crusader against vice here.  I know people who enjoy a night in a casino, and I don't want to sound like I am condemning them in any way.  I'm just mad at the politicoes and Donald Trump wannabes who are so eager to place this monstrosity just a few doors down from the birthplace of our nation.  That's all.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008


Finally, finally, finally, my summer of dental misery is over.  I thought it would be over three weeks ago when I went in to get my permanent crown, but apparently "the lab" had messed up on the crown, so they gave me another temporary and sent me away.  This morning at 8 sharp, I was in the chair.  For those of you who have been keeping track, that's 1 root canal, 1 tooth lengthening, 3 fillings, 7 temporary crowns, 9 visits, and 1 billion painful numbing injections.  And 6 months until I have to go back!

In other good news, the superhero that is Peyton Manning descended into Viking territory yesterday, spewing lightning and thunderclaps and bringing the Colts back from a 15 point deficit in 17 minutes.

The Phillies are putting things together as well, sweeping the Brewers and bringing themselves right to the front of the Wild Card chase.

Tonight, Donovan and Co. take on Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson--I mean T.O.--in what will hopefully end with a win and a 2-0 record.  Three cheers for football and its ability to completely erase my interest in schoolwork!  Hurrah!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Christmas with the Cranks

Product Red iPod Mock

Greg has a nickname for me.  Cranky.  I like to think of it as a term of endearment, but I'm afraid the truth is that it's just a description of the mood I am in 90% of the time.  This week has been worse than ever.  Perhaps it's being back at school, getting less sleep, feeling the pressure of expectations and performance anxiety.  Whatever the case, my general crankiness has escalated into quasi-violent rage.

The primary object of my irritation is the ubiquity of Ipods on college campuses.  I know, I know, I sound like that awful guy from 60 Minutes who concludes each episode with a tone-deaf rant against some subject that generally falls under the category of "kids today."  Well guess what.  I don't care.

My school, Temple University, has 34,000 students.  That's larger than most small towns.  While I appreciate the benefits of being part of such a large school, the simple fact is that there is nowhere you can go for a quiet moment.  There is always a line, everywhere: the bathrooms, the printers, the coffee carts, the elevators.  Getting anywhere or doing anything takes 15-20 minutes longer than it should because of the mass of bodies you have to fight through.  And when every single person on campus has "ear buds" (terrible phrase) in his or her ears, and can't hear you saying "excuse me," it's even worse.

I could go into a philosophical meditation here on community and individualism and the danger of total disconnect from the world that develops when people have their own private soundtrack pumping all day and no incentive to chat with those around them, but I won't.  Because, again, I don't care.  I just want to get to class, and you are in my way.

Monday, September 8, 2008

weekend review

After months of dentist appointments, free time and ghost tours, I finally had a real week in Mercy Street.  Like, a week in which I had a schedule that will be my schedule for the next several months.  I'm happy to return to routine, because as great as summer is, I kind of need to be told where to go and what to do.  One of the perks of a week of routine is the weekend that follows.  So, in list form for easy reading, here was my first real weekend at Mercy Street:

grading papers
Trader Joe's
ghost tour

Not bad, although the Colts game was miserable.  Also, I blasted my Rent CD for the first time in many years in honor of the last performance on Broadway.  I'm sure the neighbors were thrilled, but come on, people!  This is a moment.  No day but today, and all that.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


In my post about our trip to Chicago, I mentioned briefly that we went on a river tour of Chicago's architectural landmarks.  Today, when I visited one of my favorite design blogs, they mentioned going on the exact same tour last weekend!  Here's the link.

Above is Donald Trump's new building, still under construction.  Much like the man himself, it's not too well put together on top.  I watched one of those cranes lower a container from the top floor to the ground.

And this building, which I completely forget the name of, is simply enormous.  There was no way I could get the whole thing in my viewfinder.  I recommend the tour to anyone visiting the Chicago area, even though there are no ghosts on it!

Monday, September 1, 2008


This is what a block party on Mercy Street looks like, at least when you're surreptitiously taking a picture from your bedroom window.  I snuck out early since I was exhausted and fighting a head cold after our trip to Chicago, but Greg hung around and learned the fine art of half-ball.  He tells me he had two home runs, but I'm not sure what that looks like in this space.  

Chicago, Chicago

Every time we take a trip to Indianapolis, Greg asks if we can fit in a visit to Chicago.  I've promised to do so many times, but it has never happened.  Thus, we realized that we would have to plan a trip to Chicago without trying to sandwich it into another excursion.  Then, the perfect alignment of the stars produced this: Labor Day weekend, our friends Jamie and Jimmy who live in Chicago, Greg and I both being off of work, and the Phillies playing the Cubs at Wrigley Field.  Tickets were purchased, plans were made, bada bing bada boom, a weekend of destiny.

I wrote a post from the Pittsburgh airport during a layover, griping about the hassle of air travel these days, but then I decided to skip it and focus on the positive.  I will say this, though. In addition to charging for checked baggage ($15 for the first, $25 for the second, and a staggering $125 if the bag is over 50 pounds) and charging for drinks--even water--during the flight, USAir has covered their tray tables with advertisements--on our flight, one for Verizon. The rub, of course, is that since they don't give you any food or water, no one actually opens his or her tray table.  /Nelson voice/  Ha ha!  /Nelson voice/

We fit an astonishing amount into 3 days and 3 nights: the baseball game, a boat tour of the city's architecture, Millenium park, the Art Institute, downtown Evanston, Guitar Hero, live band karaoke, the beach, Miracle Mile, the Newberry Library, the Dark Knight, World Market, Cajun food, deep dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs, homemade lasagna, bi bim bop and bulgogi, Jamba Juice, Red Mango frozen yogurt, and some Old Style (or Old Bile, as our waiter said.)

The highlight of the trip for Greg was the game at Wrigley Field, in spite of the fact that the Phillies lost.  We sat in the rowdy and coveted bleacher seats, and had the honor of seeing a grand slam hit land right next to our seats.  (Wrong team, but what can you do?)

I especially enjoyed the architecture tour and swimming in Lake Michigan, especially when I discovered a previously unknown talent for walking on my hands underwater.  According to Greg, I have great form.  

But of course, the best part of the trip was catching up with friends, talking and joking as we walked around the city and relaxed in between events.  Andrea came up Saturday afternoon, almost got discovered during karaoke, and drove us to the airport Sunday morning.  Now it's back to school for both of us!

Jimmy, Jamie, Andrea and Greg enjoy Red Mango in Evanston.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Old and the Beautiful

Last time on The Old and the Beautiful: Rita offered to lay in a parking spot for Greg, Nicole's husband.


Last night, Nicole returned home to difficult news: Rita had told Greg's father Dennis that she had a little bit of a crush on Greg.  She had also mentioned her desire to adopt him.  Dennis, attempting to prevent her homewrecking ways, mentioned Greg's grandfather.  Rita agreed that there might be room for him in her heart also.

However, Nicole had a little news of her own.  Nick, one of the trio of Nick, Frankie, and Nick who often sit on their stoops in the evening as a de facto neighborhood watch, had given Nicole a nickname.  Because he usually saw her returning from her ghost tours, decked out in a black cape and holding a lantern, he dubbed her Spooky.


Next time on The Old and the Beautiful: Greg and Nicole go to Chicago to see if they can make things work away from the trials of Mercy Street.  They return home Sunday, the day of the Mercy Street Block Party.  Will the simmering tensions rise to the surface?  Will Rita make her move over a hamburger??  Will Nick use his pet name for Nicole in front of Greg???

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

the dog days

With summer winding down, it seems like time for a little review of our first few months here at Mercy Street. 

-The most recent, and most fun, event to be reviewed is the little housewarming party we had for some classmates and coworkers last Saturday.  Believe it or not, we fit 30 people into our house, and most of the time most of the people were standing in the kitchen.  I hope that a great time was had by all--we were certainly grateful to be surrounded be friends in our new home.  The picture above is the roasted red pepper/eggplant dish that I made and garnished with basil from our garden.  Alas, it is the only picture I captured from our party because once that doorbell started ringing, it didn't stop.

-Something else we are pleased about as the summer comes to an end is that Greg does have a job lined up for the fall.  After tons of resumes and close to 10 interviews, he will be staying where he already is.  Considering that he really enjoys his job, this is a good thing.

-For my own part, as usual, summer began with many lofty goals and concludes with few of them being met.  I've got to look forward, though, because bright and early Monday morning I begin my orientation for my first semester teaching.  I'll teach one course of a class called Analytical Reading and Writing.  Yes, folks, believe it or not, I will be entrusted with teaching vulnerable freshman how to think.  I'll let that sink in--and the mad rush of parents withdrawing their children from Temple begins.

-Before that though, we do have a few fun things coming up.  Saturday we plan on taking the only trip to the shore we will get this summer.  Greg will be pleased because I will finally stop whining about how desperately I need to be surrounded by water.  Seriously, though, I always grew up with a pool nearby (not in our backyard or anything, but accessible) or at least taking several trips to the beach, so the fact that I have not been swimming in any capacity since last summer is driving me nuts.  We're also going to visit friends in Chicago over Labor Day weekend, which we have been looking forward to for months.

-A recap of my summer would not be complete without mentioning my job as a ghost tour guide.  It has been the most perfect summer job I have ever had--luckily I can keep going til Halloween.  How cool is it that my job involves walking around a beautiful part of town, telling stories, learning history, and meeting people?  I realized that the great thing about being a tour guide is that people are predisposed to have a good time and appreciate you.  It's the exact opposite for waiters--your customers are just looking for you to mess up so they don't have to tip you.  The best part of my job, though, is how whenever I tell someone about it, they think it's the coolest thing ever.

-And finally, the house itself.  Two months in, I am in love with the house, our neighborhood, our city, everything.  When we planned to move into the city, Greg and I thought that we might be sacrificing some of the convenience of the suburbs for the excitement of the city, but this is so far from the truth.  Everything is at our fingertips, I can get anywhere in half an hour or less, and I don't ever have to gas up the car.  I had also assumed, based on our renovation experience, that during the first few months here, pipes would burst, the fridge would break, there would be an electrical fire, and some walls would come crashing down.  None of this has happened.  We do, however, continue to stumble across unexpected treasures, like the cat toys Greg found buried under the stove just a few days ago.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Last night I watched the U.S. female Olympics team lose to China.  Then I had nightmares about young girls being worked to death.  Literally, death.  It was a terrible dream.  But was it a coincidence?

in which I rant

If the following buzzwords don't interest you, I suggest that you don't read this post, because it will probably bore you: Scrubs, Jane Austen, Emma, feminism.

Here goes:
Greg and I have been watching the TV show Scrubs lately.  I love it for the zany humor, the serio-comic approach to working around sickness and death, and for its depiction of "guy love," a phrase coined to describe the relationship between J.D., the protagonist, and Turk, his best friend.  J.D. is a general medical intern and Turk is a surgical intern; they both work at Sacred Heart hospital where they are often tormented by superiors.

The episode we watched the other night began with a gag where Turk is talking to a cute woman J.D. has never seen before.  (Turk is happily married; J.D. is bad with relationships.)  Turk explains to J.D. that the woman, Kim, has actually been around Sacred Heart for years, but J.D. has never noticed her because she is wearing a wedding ring.  Turk asks all the women present to take off their wedding rings, and J.D. is suddenly surrounded by tons of attractive women.  Then they replace their rings and vanish.

OK, haha.  Cute.  Kind of.  J.D. only sees women who represent potential relationships/mates/fill in the blank.  It's funny on the surface, slightly disturbing if you think about it, but clearly draws on the way some people operate.  It didn't bother me because I don't think we're supposed to root for J.D. here, just to see that he has typical, if unfortunate, tendencies.

As the episode progresses, J.D. finds himself increasingly attracted to Kim.  She is gracious enough to be friendly to him although he has apparently ignored her for years because of that pesky ring.  (To be clear: the show doesn't make a point of her graciousness, it simply shows them interacting in friendly ways.)  

However, J.D. discovers that Kim has opted to forego surgery on an elderly patient because of the risk the patient would die during the surgery.  The medicine is glossed-over, but the point is that Kim doesn't want to risk her surgical stats looking bad.  J.D., who is defined by his commitment to his patients, is disappointed by Kim's decision.  As he has every right to be.  
It is clear that J.D. is especially upset about Kim's decision because he has begun to think of her as more than just a friend.  He learns that her wedding ring is a bluff, as she has been divorced for over a year.  It is at this point that he creepily begins talking about her as though they were in a relationship, when he has never done more than interact with her.  

J.D. finally summons the courage (or self-righteousness, but I don't want to tip my hand here) to chastise Kim about her decision.  As he lays into her, expressing how personally disappointed he is that she balked at the surgery, Kim's face crumples and it seems clear that J.D.'s words are hitting home, a fact which is confirmed when she decides to go ahead with the surgery.  Up until this point, she has appeared as a spunky, driven woman with a quirky but fun sense of humor.  However, in the face of J.D.'s disappointment, she can only hang her head in shame.

Watching this storyline play out, I wanted to scream.  J.D. has no right to play the shame game with a woman he barely knows.  The show clearly wants you to root for him, to think he is right in correcting Kim.  But what irked me so much is that he presumed that his attraction to her was grounds for his disappointment in her.  If she had been someone he didn't find worth knowing (as she was before the wedding ring vanished) he wouldn't even have noticed the surgery.  Additionally, before he approaches Kim, J.D. has a conversation with Turk in which Turk admits that he has done the same thing--avoided high risk surgeries to protect his stats.  J.D. completely ignores Turk's confession.  

Why?  Why can he wag his finger in Kim's face while Turk gets no similar "I'm so disappointed in you" speech?  Turk is J.D.'s friend, someone he actually has a right to be disappointed in.  I may be overreacting (and I'm certainly spending way too much time putting the whole thing into words) but it felt like a very gendered confrontation to me, the kind you would never see between a guy and his buddy, but which people can accept between a guy and the woman he wants to put on a pedestal.

Perhaps one reason this stupid scene from a two-year-old episode bugged me so much is because it reminds me of one of my favorite moments in literature, when Mr. Knightley confronts Emma after she has behaved poorly to a woman of lesser social status.  (Disclaimer--I've read the book, but the movie version is clearer in my mind.)  Mr. Knightley is aggrieved that Emma has been so catty and unfeeling, and he chases her down, explains very carefully to her the nature of her transgression, and then says, "Badly done Emma, badly done."  

At first, the two scenes seem very similar, and one would think that if I take offense at one, I had better take offense at both.  But the difference between Emma and Scrubs is that Jane Austen realized that Mr. Knightley's opinion would matter to Emma.  She respects him, and for good reason, so his dressing down is a serious matter.  (Not to mention that Austen clearly is willing to allow women to give as good as they get--see Lizzie's fantastic multiple dressings-down of Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.)  Kim, on the other hand, has no reason to respect J.D.  On the contrary, she should probably think he's a toad for the way he refused to recognize her as a colleague because he thought she was married, i.e. not available.  And yet, she completely caves in to his blowhard smackdown.  There's just no reason for it.  

Greg was watching with me, and his quarrel with the scene was much more succinct, and perhaps even more significant than mine: it just didn't make sense for either character.  And bad writing is just as offensive as bad morals.

Savory Cannoli

One thing people like to do when they visit us here at Mercy Street is pick up some cannoli.  If you're not familiar with cannoli, they are an Italian dessert, in which a cookie-like tube is filled with a sweet ricotta filling.  You can read about them here.  The problem is, I am not a sweets person generally, and I don't enjoy cannoli the way Greg and others do.  When my parents were here, we stopped by a famous local bakery and I looked at all the offerings but didn't feel pulled to any of the cakes, cookies, etc.  Later, when everyone was crunching into their cannoli, I felt a little left out.

And so, my friends, I have reclaimed the cannoli for us savory folks.  It was actually a two-step savory intervention, because it all started when I decided to make the zucchini-ricotta cheesecake featured here.  It was a delicious way to use some farmer's market zucchini, but the problem was that it left me with some ingredients I don't use often and wasn't sure what to do with: fresh dill, ricotta, shallots and goat cheese.  I also had some zucchini and summer squash left.  Usually when I have odds and ends of veggies, we have an omelette night and clean out the veggie drawer, so that was my original plan for the zucchini.  But that left the problem of the dill and ricotta.  

An idea began percolating...and I have to say I was quite pleased with the results.  I decided that, instead of doing a traditional omelette, I would make very thin, crepe-like rounds of scrambled eggs, then fill them with a zucchini-ricotta filling and roll them up.  I chopped up some fresh dill to put in the egg mixture, and sprinkled the goat cheese crumbles on top.  All in all, it was quite delicious, although it left poor Greg with a big mess to clean up.

This recipe is much more delicate and labor-intensive than much of what I cook, but it was worth it for the feeling of glee at using things up rather than throwing them out.

(A few notes about the recipe: I used minimal oil, low-fat ricotta and some egg whites to make it as healthy as possible.  It still tasted very rich, and yielded 8 cannoli.)

Savory Cannoli
(makes 2 large servings)

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 zucchini or 1/2 zucchini and 1/2 summer squash, grated
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup skim ricotta

6 eggs (I removed the yolk from two to cut down on the overall cholesterol/calories)
1 tablespoon dill
goat cheese crumbles

Warm olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add garlic and shallots, stirring until they develop a nice aroma.  Add zucchini/squash.  Saute until the mixture is soft and tasty.  Remove from heat.  Strain off excess liquid.  Stir in salt and ricotta until blended.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with a fork and stir in dill.  Pour a small amount of egg into a small frying pan coated with Pam or oil.  Turn pan so that the egg mixture coats the bottom, as you would with a crepe.  Flip over to other side and leave until the egg-crepe is just cooked on both sides.  Remove to a plate.  Repeat until egg mixture is finished.

Spoon the zucchini-ricotta filling onto the egg-crepes, and then roll them up so that they resemble cannoli.  Sprinkle with goat cheese.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Olympics are here, the Olympics are here!

I thought I'd try my hand live-blogging the Olympics opening ceremony.  It is ridiculous on my part to think that anyone would want to read what I have to say, minute by minute, but guess what: it's my blog!  And I'll liveblog if I want to.*

7:30 -- "The footprints and their histories stretch back 5,000 years...China is welcoming the world, but the question is, who will they  be when this is over?"
  Intro: cool visuals, loaded commentary.

7:30 -- I begged my dad to take me to China when he went once.  He refused, even though I offered to pay my way and work for free.  Watching the footage, I realize that I AM STILL BITTER.

7:31 -- First Karolyi sighting!

7:31 -- Philadelphian or no, I have no use for Kobe Bryant.

7:32 -- Beach volleyball player whose name may be Misty: "To get the chance to defend my gold medal?  I couldn't write a better story."  Really?  What if you wrote about being sucked into beach quicksand in the midst of your comeback game, only to be pulled out by your long-lost coach/father, who is tragically sucked into the quicksand himself, his last words: "Get the gold for me, Misty."  

7:34 -- Intro officially over.

7:34 -- The announcer says "Bob Costas."  Greg cheers from his position flat on his back on the couch.

7:39 -- Tom Brokaw tells us about how important the games are for the Chinese people.

7:40 -- Tom mentions Tiananmen Square.  I remember being in elementary school, the moment when the young revolutionary stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen square.  My mom said, "You'll be able to say you remember when this happened."  

7:41 -- Ping pong diplomacy!  Run, Forrest, run!

7:42 --  The earthquake footage is wrenching.

7:44 -- The whole 8/8/08 thing reminds me of when I was young, driving with my family through Malaysia.  When the house numbers got to 88, they started repeating 88 1/4, 88 1/2, etc.

7:48 -- Matt Lauer is bald!  Perhaps if I watched The Today Show I would know this.

7:49 -- So excited that Zhang Yimou is directing the ceremonies.  I've only seen The Road Home and Happy Times, but I really like his work.  Note to self: put House of Flying Daggers on Netflix list.

7:51 -- The beach volleyballers are talking, revealing that I misidentified the one speaking earlier--it was Kerry, not Misty.

7:52 -- BOO, KOBE.  

7:57 -- Say what you will about Bush, I think it is the right call that he's here.

8:00 -- If I were in grad school mode, I would talk about the semiotics of the human technology of the drums, but luckily school has been out for weeks and my brain is officially mush.  I will say this: it is neato.

8:03 -- I was wondering why they weren't doing the countdown in Chinese numbers, but then they did both once they got to 10-9-8.  So cool.

8:03 -- That aerial view of the stadium looks like something...I just can't put my finger on it.

8:06 -- The predominant colors during this performance are silver and gold--methinks there's a double meaning in that.

[[This live blogging thing is tiring.  Time for a chips and salsa break.]]

8:48 -- Mmm, salsa.  Meanwhile, floating LED screens, and Greg's irritation that the commenter who is not Bob Costas points out that the performers are evoking China's naval history figurally, not literally.

8:51 -- Not to be make light of China's famous pianist, but Lang Lang's demeanor and hair are a little odd.  The 7-year-old sitting next to him doesn't help.

8:54 -- Oooh, I want a light-costume.

8:55 -- Scratch that, I want to float through the stadium pulled by a kite in pigtails and pink dress.

9:03 -- The perfect circles made by the tai chi practitioners are unbelievable.  

9:12 -- Sarah Brightman looks like a corpse.  Greg: "Where's Bjork?"

9:16 -- Parade of nations is next!  I'm going to sign off.  Well done, all involved.

*Not really a liveblog since I am watching a recording.  But who cares.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

ah, the internet

I have a confession to make.  I am not an internet-humor kind of person, for the most part.  What I mean by that is, when someone says to me, either in an email or in person, "Oh my gosh, I found the funniest website/blog/YouTubeclip/etc., you totally have to check it out!" I tend to not do it. My reaction to that kind of statement is usually "eh."  I am not defending this behavior, because if or when I do actually follow the person's advice, what follows is almost always funny, and I usually enjoy it.  But for some reason, perhaps the same [unknown] reason that I hate stand-up comedy, I just don't seek out funny stuff on the internet.

Which is not to say that I don't spend ridiculous amounts of time online, frittering away my life, but it's usually on entertainment, news, or lifestyle (cooking, etc.) sites.

With that said:

Guys, I found the funniest blog today!  YOU TOTALLY HAVE TO CHECK IT OUT.  I'm not sure if it's because I actually for once had a fairly pleasant experience at the dentist today (6th visit this summer, one more to go) or because I am tired, but I have been looking at this site and laughing out loud, giggling, even occasionally whooping with laughter.

What is the site, you ask?  It is this:  The blogger simply posts pictures of cakes that are terrifying and funny, all in one.  For example, you wouldn't think someone would want a cake that looks like a messed-up foot or a piece of raw fish, but you would be wrong.  My personal favorites are the ones that demonstrate egregious misspellings and use of quotation marks by the decorators.

Please please check it out and let me know which is your favorite.  I'll tell you mine in the comments--don't want to ruin anything.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


We've been in our house for about two months now, and have been slowly tackling some little projects here and there--hanging some stuff on the walls, adding little pieces of trim where necessary, etc.  One project that makes a big difference visually was recovering the dining room chairs.  They originally came from Greg's aunt, and although we really like them, we thought they could do with a little update.  I hit the fabric section of Ikea (I really need to find a new store someday) and found two fabrics that matched (in color, not pattern) the cushions I had bought (at Ikea) for the futon we bought (at Ikea).

Then I got to work.  The first step went quickly--removing the seat cushions from the chairs and prying out all the rusted old staples to remove the original fabric.  Once that was done, nothing happened for a week, except that we didn't have chairs to sit on.  Finally I hauled out the staple gun and started putting the new fabric on.  We realized instantly that we didn't have the right kind of staple gun, and that we would have to hammer in all the staples.  It was a pain, but not that bad.

It was during this stage of the process that I injured myself.  Explain to me how for months I can go around swinging hammers, using power saws and crowbars and tearing down walls, and not hurt myself in the slightest, but give me a pair of regular, everyday scissors, and I slash up my fingers.  I was simply cutting the fabric when I stopped paying attention and ended up cutting a nice V into the tip of my middle finger.  It bled for a couple hours despite my best attempts to elevate my arm and keep pressure on the wound.  Greg kept threatening to take me to the emergency room, but I refused.  Finally I sent him out for a popsicle (what?  when is a popsicle not a good idea?) and put about 5 band-aids on it.  It's fine now.

Once we had all the seats covered, Greg sprayed them with scotch guard and we screwed them back into the chairs.  That last step is not as easy as it sounds.  I laid down on the ground; Greg placed the chair over my face and then sat on it, and then I maneuvered the drill around upside down and around chair legs, with about one square foot of wiggle room.  

Here are the results!  The color is kind of off in this picture--the walls are not really puce.