Monday, January 30, 2012

Panera, Peanut Butter, and Pickles

Ever since Panera opened up in our neighborhood nearly 5 years ago, we've been regular, faithful customers.  My better half (we'll call him BH), creature of habit that he is, derives great pleasure from the little things, like morning coffee and bagels with his family.  So every weekend, we drag the kids out with us to spend an hour chewing, sipping, and basically just hanging out in a booth.  Up until Panera opened, there had been a void in our Saturday morning routine, after moving from bagel-laden Orange County to  bagel-barren Ventura County 90 miles north.  Panera's arrival brought back the ritual we had lost when we relocated a year earlier.

Our support of this local establishment isn't limited to weekend visits.  BH stops for his morning coffee before work.  Religiously.  And then about once a week, he runs over for a quick dessert to top off our "date night at home" (that's what poor folk with too many kids do).

From a product standpoint, this place is a-mazing.  Bread to die for, bagels that are consistent, and baked treats that are always outstanding, these are the reasons we've single-handedly kept this place in business.  And the service is typically above-average.  When BH approaches the counter, he's greeted by name, like he's Cliffy climbing onto his barstool.  You know what they say:  you want to go where everybody knows your name.  And they all know his name.

Surprisingly, after all these years, we've rarely tried Panera for lunch.  Partly because it just doesn't feel like a lunch place to us, but mostly because it's kind of pricey.  But today, we couldn't settle on anything, and we were short one kid, so I suggested Panera.  Why not?  We'll take advantage of the lemon water and one less kid.  Should be fun.

And here's where the story turns sad.

Lunch rush was in full force when we walked in at noon.  To their credit, the line went quickly and smoothly.  Leaving the line, we went in search of a table.  This place was busy, and as expected, the tables were mostly full.  Of the tables that were empty, each one had discarded plates of food on them.

Nothing raises my ire more more than having to put my hands on the cast off dinnerware of a stranger.

Taking a look around, there was enough staff to be on top of this, but clearly it wasn't a priority.  So I staked a claim at an open table for two and carried the dirty dishes away.  After finishing this task, a table for four opened up.  Great news for us, but those departing diners had also left their dirty dishes!  Really?  This isn't a sit down restaurant, folks, nobody's getting tips for the great service.  Fortunately, a runner was nearby and picked up the dishes.  The crumbs, globs of food, and streaks of mayo were left for us to wipe up.

This was disappointing, but I guess not totally unexpected.  I mean, we see this kind of stuff in the morning; just not to this degree.  Maybe morning people, by nature of being morning people, are different.  More considerate.  Cleaner.  I kid.

Food arrives.  Trying to hide the disappointment by how meager the kids' meals appeared, we get ready to dig in.  But I can't get over this.  This is what $5 buys for a kid's meal?

Pretty sparse.

M's peanut butter sandwich seemed especially lackluster, so I opened it up.

Peanut butter-less sandwich.

BH, in an unintentional dead ringer impersonation of Julius from Everybody Hates Chris, says "We paid $5 for this?  That's only 8 cents' worth of peanut butter on there." 

You'll see what I'm talking about at around the 30 second mark.

My vegetable sandwich was ok, nothing to write home about.  But the pickle spear (which I look forward to) was clearly the runt of the bunch.  And by now, I'm in the mood to criticize the pickle.  I would've asked for another, but after making them give me more peanut butter, I wasn't feeling up to it.  To top it off, they gave me a bag of chips instead of the requested side of bread (give me a break, I like my carbs).  Defeated, I ate my sandwich and seethed about the $40 we had just spent on lunch.

Does this change my opinion of our beloved Panera?  Yes.  Is it going to change my spending habits at this eatery?  Not really.  I just need to remember why we don't do lunch here next time we get tired of Subway.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Heavy Breathing

Growing up, I was kind of a high maintenance kid.  Moody and full of stomach aches, I worried endlessly and had a bucket load of allergies.  Looking at my endearing qualities on paper, I wonder how my parents put up with me as well as they did.  I was a good student, so that probably helped.  And I was awfully cute.

 Not really.

Anyway, one of my childhood aggravations was asthma.  Not the gasping for air, call the medic kind, just the “my lungs hurt again, I can’t get a deep breath” sort.  My pediatrician, cutting edge that he was, called it borderline asthma, told my mom to expect symptoms on smoggy days, and sent us on our way.  Since this was all I knew, I didn’t give a second thought to my herculean attempts at deep breath.

Fast forward thirty years and a couple of asthmatic kids later.  My oldest has exercise-induced asthma, and my middle boy has the more traditional daily-inhaler variety.  Between the two of them, we’ve had hospitalizations, pneumonia, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, croup, asthma attacks, and chest colds galore.  I’ve devoted much time and effort into understanding the warning signs, symptoms, and protocols for anything having to do with lung functioning.  I own a stethoscope, a peak flow monitor, and two nebulizer machines; and my neighbor has an oximeter, should I ever need to measure oxygen levels.  I’m extreme, I know.  But in my defense, 3 hospital stays under the age of 2 is enough to make any nervous mom hypervigilant.

I’ve gone soft, however.  As my boys’ asthma has become more predictable, I’ve realized that I’m no longer on top of my a-game (a=asthma).  So when I started feeling those old familiar lung pains in the morning and caught myself bracing the chair to try and get a satisfying deep breath, I began to worry about what was surely an impending asthma attack.  And after a year of doing intense cardio weekly, I had my first experience with extreme shortness of breath.  It was alarming, and put together with the other symptoms, I promptly diagnosed it to be the re-emergence of my childhood asthma.

I knew I was going to need an official diagnosis if I was going to get myself fixed, so I waited until I was good and sick before I made my way to the asthma doc.  Looking forward to the end of my lung annoyances, I went into that PFT test intending to do my feeble best.  I blew with all my might, spurred on by the assistant’s, “Keep blowing!  Keeping blowing! Keep blowing!”  And wouldn’t you know it?  My lung volume came back at 125%.  Not sure how a value over 100% is possible, but directionally speaking, I was in marathon shape.  The look on my doctor’s face said, “you, my dear, are a big hypochondriac” even though her words said, “I don’t see anything to worry about.”

Perhaps out of pity, she sent me home with an inhaler.  Over the next day, my cold progressed to a cough, and my lungs seemed very unhappy.  The cough sounded odd, so I went online to see what I could find out.  And that’s how I came across this site (  Can I tell you how much I love the internet?  Specifically for this reason.  How awesome is it to be able to turn on your computer and use a sound byte to diagnose yourself?

And there it was…my cough.  The one with the wheezing.  That cinched it for me.  I got out that inhaler and gave it a try.  After choking on the first attempt, I tried again.  It took about 10 minutes to feel my lungs calm down, and I got a headache from it, but after days of not being able to get a satisfying deep breath, I was breathing like the best of them.  Hypochondriac or not, I felt better.  Even the tickle that seemed to spontaneously force the coughs out of me dropped from every few seconds to every few minutes.  Sweet relief.

For all I know, she gave me a placebo, and I inhaled a big old puff of saline mist.  I don’t care.  It’s magic saline mist.

After hearing my cough in that sound byte and seeing improvement with the inhaler, I shifted my search to “cough with wheezing.”  Hoping to find more information on my noisy cough, I found this clip on youtube.  Alarming and hilarious at the same time, I post it, for your enjoyment.  Presumably, she is doing fine.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kissin' and Tellin'

One of P’s friends had his first kiss this week, and P was telling me about it last night.  Here’s how the conversation went:

P:  “Mom, I have to tell you something about Beck.”

Me (guessing):  “He has a girlfriend.

P:  “YES!  How did you know???”

Me:  “Because I can read your mind.”

P:  “But did you know that he kissed her?”

Me (he’s got my attention now):  “What?!?  On the lips?  Was that his first kiss???”

P:  “Yes!  He’s the man!”

Me:  “Was it a sucky-face kind of kiss or just a quick smooch?”

P:  “Well, he turned to kiss her, and…”

Me:  “You were there???”

P:  “No, but they both told me about it.”

Me:  “Wait, they BOTH told you about it?  Why would they both tell you about it?  How did you find out in the first place?”

P:  “Well Beck told me and Andy about it after school, and then I asked Sophie if it was true, and she said yes.  But she said it wasn’t on the lips.  She said that Beck came towards her and she turned her head, so he kissed her cheek. ”

Me:  “So he told you it was on the lips and she said it was on the cheek?  Did you go back to Beck and see if he would fess up?  Did he?”

P:  “Yeah, I did, and he said it was just on the cheek.  But I don’t care.  He’s got my respect for going for it.”

Me:  “Don’t get any ideas.”

P:  “Mom, how old were you when you had your first kiss?”

Me:  “Fourteen”

P:  “Was he ugly?”

End of loving mom-son moment.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Google Reader Sort: Mystery Unlocked

There’s something that has been bothering me about Google Reader:  the SORT on my reading pane.  You know that big area on the right hand side that shows all the new posts?  That’s what I’m talking about.  I’ve been spinning my wheels for months trying to understand the puzzle that is this sort.  It’s like the rubik’s cube of RSS, and all I'm doing is moving tiles around.

So here’s my problem with it.  I can’t figure it out, that’s my problem with it!  Isn’t it supposed to show the new posts, by publish date?  Then why does it keep showing the same old ones that I’ve skipped over, time and again???

I tell you, this thing has frustrated me to no end.  To compensate for this problem, I've had to resort to clicking on every blog on my list, every day, to see if anything new has popped up. 

Btw, to all those bloggers out there whose stats are inflated by the same IP Address in California that is landing on your latest post over and over again:  I apologize, that was me.  It’s not that I’m stalking you.  I’m just techno-challenged.

Occasionally, I’ve given Google a try to see if I can hit on that magic solution, but I haven’t had much luck.  Then, this afternoon, it all came together, like some hallucinogenic episode of House.  Up from my subconscious bubbled this tidbit I had read somewhere:  Blog visits can look like visits simply because a subscriber happened to scroll down your post without actually looking at it. 

And then I remembered seeing this on the top of my reader page:

As you view items in your reading list, they will be automatically marked as read as you scroll down (when in the "Expanded" view).  

Somehow, these two seemingly irrelevant pieces of information had been percolating long enough in my brain to result in an idea.  Instead of just scrolling down the window pane, how about it I select the blog first, AND THEN scroll down the pane, pretending to read (but really just scrolling). So I gave it a try.  And you know what happened?  It worked!  With each post I scrolled past, I saw the count for that blog drop, until there was nothing.  And then poof!  That blog fell off my reading pane!  Eureka!!!  I had broken the code!

To be sure I wasn’t seeing things, I tried it again, with another blog.  And again.  And again.  They all came off.  This was some heady stuff.  I was on a roll, and they were all going down.  A few minutes later, I was staring at a pristine, white reading pane.  It felt glorious.

With this huge milestone under my belt, I feel like I can conquer the world.  Next on my list:  world peace.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What's in My Fridge Today

Mine is not a food blog.  But I do love me some food, so there will be an occasional food post now and then.  Take this post for example.  It's going to be about food.  Let's get started...

So I came home from teaching a class full of 4th graders how to create art like Cezanne today, when I realized that painting like the Masters builds an appetite of enormous proportions.  Ravenous is too mild of a word.  You know that feeling you get when it seems like you're so hungry that your stomach has started digesting itself?  That's how hungry I was.  But this was my fridge and my pantry that I was coming home to.  I knew I was going to need to lower my expectations if I was ever going to experience any satisfaction from this meal.

With expectations duly lowered, I went to the fridge.  Here's the sight that met my eyes:

The first things that jump out at me are
1)  a bag of carrots
2)  a bag of celery
3)  a huge container of ketchup
4)  a box of spinach
5)  something mysterious in a bowl

This bowl looks like it might have something good in it.  Let's take a look.

Umm, that's a negative.  Anything that leaves pond scum-like marks on the dish deserves to be left alone.  I carefully placed the wrap back across the bowl and returned it to the fridge for another unsuspecting soul to discover.

What is going on with my fridge?  Someone must've switched fridges with me while I was out, because these options are way too healthy for this family.  Or perhaps that's why these are the only items left in there.  Hmmm.

I was so taken aback by these sparse and completely unappetizing choices that I closed the door and moved on to the freezer.  Maybe there was a frozen meal left in there by the frozen meal fairy.  And here's what I was greeted with in the freezer:

Dino Nuggets?  Am I now reduced to eating Dino Nuggets? 

This is not looking good, and I'm getting dangerously close to grazing status, but I decide to take my chances and head for the pantry, knowing full well I will surely be tested here.  This is where I like to graze, for obvious reasons.

Aside from the Chewy, Gooey Chips Ahoy, did you notice the bucket and the giant ziplock full of candy?  There are two more buckets, just out of range, along with a whole slew of other high salt, high fat options to fill this empty stomach.  But the kids have begged me to stop eating both their favorite Gooey Chips Ahoys and their Halloween candy (all the Reese's Peanut Butter cups are gone anyway), so I reluctantly close the door and head back to the vegetable patch fridge.

Then it kicks in:  mom mode.  The mode that tells me "there's food to eat, you just need to make it."  The mode that frightens me, because it reminds me that, at times like these, I am only one Dorothy Hamill haircut away from being my mother.

Looking fly, big brother.

With renewed purpose, I revisit the fridge and see that I can make a quesadilla with guacamole; an omelet with toast; a grilled cheese with tomatoes; or nachos.  All perfectly reasonable options.

But wait, what's that brick-shaped item on the second shelf, all wrapped up in foil?  GOLD MINE.

The mac and cheese that I had made earlier in the week.  My day is looking better already.

All warmed up, with a side of carrots, I've got nothing to complain about now.  Beats Dino Nuggets any day.  I leave the table with an empty plate and a full stomach.

But I will be coming back for those Gooey Chips Ahoys in about an hour.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Things I Do At Parties When No One Is Looking

What's a blogger to do when it's Sunday night and she has run out of time to whip up a fantastic, original post for a Monday morning deadline? 

Why, dig up a picture of herself pretending to pounce on a family of gentle deer, of course.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Smize For The Camera!

I work for a company that employees tens of thousands of other worker bees just like me.  When you work in a company so large, there are certain processes that you have to get used to.  Take, for example, employee identification protocol. Employee IDs and security badges are a way of life in a large company.  Without them, all is chaos.  And while they're necessary, they do have a way of making us feel more like numbers than people.  But there is one way in which we get to express our individuality:  our badge photo.  This photo is our moment of individuality in an otherwise anonymous electronic existence.  It travels with us throughout our years of employment, proof that we are more than just a number in a database. 

I've had the same id photo for the last five years.  It's not the best photo, but it has one overwhelming redeeming quality:  it was taken when I was five years younger.  That's reason enough to want to hold onto it.  A couple of weeks ago, I received warning that new photos were on the way; rumor had it that these photos were going to be different (read disappointing).  Word on the street was that we would be prohibited from showing teeth (as in, smiling) in these new photos.  The theories for such a policy are enough to fill an entirely separate post, but I'll go with my initial reaction that HR merely wanted the closest approximation to my face, in death, should they need to identify me one day.

I'm aware that I am no longer a spring chick, so the prospect of taking what I can only anticipate to be an unflattering mug shot made me leery.  In my mind, there are many different ways this photo can turn out.  Worst case scenario, I end up looking older, more haggard, and more masculine than I truly look in person.  Best case scenario, I end up looking like myself, after a long day at the office.  I'm being realistic, folks.

Since I had some time to prepare, I decided to do what I could to increase the odds of a flattering shot.  I was going to need to come up with my best Mona Lisa.

And then I remembered Tyra.  As in Tyra Banks.  The queen of Smize.

For those who are not in the know (aka tv junkies), smize is the term Ms. Banks came up with (yes, she is powerful enough to create her own language) to describe a smile that exudes from your eyes. Your mouth may not be showing it, but who needs a mouth when you've got smize?  Here's an example of Tyra doing what she does best:  smizing.

So after some due diligence (which included this lovely tutorial on how to smize), I got the camera out and prepared for a dry run.

Here's where it all turned ugly.

First of all, as the camera unrelentingly reminded me, I am no Tyra Banks.  This reminder was especially harsh, as I had just spent hours (ok, minutes) combing through image after image of Tyra's flawless face.  It's like spending the afternoon with beautiful people, sharing stories, enjoying your lush surroundings, only to come face to face with your reflection in the ladies room.  After looking at all that beauty, you kind of forget what you look like, and the comparison is disappointing.  Which cast the first doubts into my brain:  can one of the greatest beauties of our time really tell us there is such a thing as smiling eyes?  When you're that gorgeous, even a puffy, runny nosed, your-boyfriend-just-broke-up-with-you face will look fabulous.  Perhaps the smize is just a myth.

Whatever.  I still had to take this mug shot, so I needed the myth to be true, now more than ever.  I knew the basics from my tutorial:  relax, think of something that makes me smile, have a hearty laugh to break the tension.  And then SMIZE.

Here's my first attempt to channel Tyra:

Let me explain this photo.  Tyra told me to imperceptibly squint, while thinking happy thoughts.  Again, I think a lot of the success of the smize has to do with the face that the smize is being attempted on.  I'm disappointed in my face, and this is barely the first photo.  It usually takes at least 3 photos to get to this point, but again, I've just been staring at Tyra's flawless face before moving to mine.

Redo.  But this time, scratch the squint.  My eyes are small enough as it is.  Instead, let's try to maximize my eyes.

Bad idea.  Let's try another one.

Hey that's not too bad.  I'm feeling a little hopeful.  I just need to remember how I held my face for this one.

But that was 4 days before picture day.  A lot can be forgotten in four days.

Picture day arrived, and I had developed a cold that left me feeling miserable.  There's no getting out of this, so I decide to take some last minute practice shots, in the hopes that I could recreate that last face from the weekend.

I don't know what happened to me in the time between photos, but here's the treasure trove I came up with that morning.

Can these all be blamed on Nyquil?  I wish.  This is the ugly truth about photos and me.  I have to take about 40 shots to come up with 3 good ones.  Tyra would not be proud.

I finally gave up when I got to this one.  There was no saving me today.  I was off to work with a hope and prayer.  And a box of kleenex.

The "photo studio" was set up in the main lobby, the one with the floor to ceiling glass wall.  Perfect to let in all that natural lighting that would highlight every crack and crevice on one side of my face while casting unflattering shadows on the other side.  As expected, the photographers brought nothing to the table.  Nigel, where are you when I need you?

I did my best to make friends with my photographer.

"How bad are these turning out?"  while peeking over her shoulder.

"They're not too bad," she tells me.  I can see from the previous photos, she's lying.

We take the photo, and she offers a sneak peak.  I hate it.  She offers to take another one.  I hate the second one even more.

By now there's a line of others awaiting their turn to smize.  Why hadn't I been satisfied with the first photo?  Serves me right.

I'm stuck with it.  "Just use that one," I say as I walk away in disgust.

For legal reasons, I can't share the the final product.  Pity.  It turned out pretty bad. At the last minute, I tried to add some volume to my hair, which is how I ended up looking like the Goblin King.  While I don't truly look like David Bowie, somehow this picture manages to capture the essence pretty well.  If you could see the badge, you'd agree.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Lost and Found

Over the holidays, we packed up the family for an extended stay at my mom's, about a half hour down south from us.  These trips to our family property on the beach (I exaggerate) are really just cramped sleepovers, with me sandwiched between two kids (who magically appear while I'm sleeping) on a tiny full-sized bed.  Despite the unbearable sleeping conditions, we look forward to these visits, because at some point we're able to dump the kids with my mom and disappear for an hour or two (or sometimes five).

Being the less than organized adults that we are, we usually leave a few items behind with each visit.  A couple of toys, a pair of pants, perfume...minor things.  We don't  sweat it since, after all, they'll still be there next time we see her.  But this visit we forgot the medicine cooler.  On the importance scale, that little blue cooler falls right beneath my purse and above my kids.  Ok, maybe my kids come before the cooler, but it's debatable.  Between the necessary daily meds for the kids and the vitamins that keep my hair from falling out of my head, the contents of this cooler are an important part of our daily lives.

A quick call to Mom told us the cooler was nowhere to be found.  Over the next couple of days, we made several sweeps of the cars and the house, checking places that didn't even make sense, hoping to find that little blue box.  With each new day, we got farther away from the last time the kids had taken their doses.  Four days of skipped meds later, we broke down and refilled the kids' prescriptions, to the tune of about $400.

Coincidentally, I was on the brink of death with the worst case of stomach flu ever to reach California at the same time that the cooler went missing.  From my death bed, I brainstormed all the possible ways we could've lost that blue cooler.  I even had dreams about it.  But my subconscious did not reveal it's whereabouts.

Five days after losing the cooler and one day after refilling the prescriptions, I had recovered well enough to drag my sorry self to the grocery store.  As I backed out of the driveway, careful to do all my head checks, something catches my eye.  Is that....did I just see...are you KIDDING ME???

There it was, sitting right there, in my rear view mirror.  If it were possible for an inanimate object to do so, I'd say that cooler was mocking me.