30 August 2013

Let's Review: Way Better

In the department of snacks, I am conflicted. On the one hand, I buy very little junk food. On the other hand, sometimes you just need a bag of Cheez Doodles. In my family, what you do is serve the Cheez Doodles in a blue enamel-ware bowl - just visualize those orange worms in a cobalt blue bowl - and call them Nassau County Snacks. Actually, you could say they were an homage to the Mets or the Knicks, but we were from Nassau County, and the county colors were blue and orange, and so...Nassau County Snacks. They must be the original Cheez Doodles. It must be an enamel-ware bowl.

I digress. The point is, I am not holier-than-thou, and I do eat chips (and Doodles) from time to time. But because I am conflicted, I was totally susceptible when a PR rep offered me the chance to try some "Way Better" chips.

Honestly? They're really tasty. They say they're laced with sprouted seeds, and while I'm not sure that I cotton to the idea that "sprouting provides increased vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, digestibility and nutrient absorption", who cares? They taste GOOD.

Besides, an ounce of Cheez Doodles has 150 calories and no dietary fiber, whereas the Way Better Simply Sunny Multigrain chips have 130 calories and 3 grams of fiber per ounce. Also, Cheez Doodles have MSG, several different artificial colors and so-called natural flavors. The Way Better chips have nothing unpronounceable - just corn, oil, salt and a mess of sprouted seeds.

Are they health food? No. Are they better for you than Cheez Doodles? Probably. Are they any good? Yes, actually, they are.

But they aren't ever going to take the place of Nassau County Snacks.

Disclosure: the chips were free, but no one paid me to talk about them.

28 August 2013

Let's Review: All Of The Things

What kind of a blog do I have? I wouldn't really call this blog a review blog. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to come up with an "elevator speech" for it, because really all I do here is ramble on about whatever detritus is rattling around in my head, from the ridiculous to the sublime. Okay, then, it's a personal blog.

Somehow, though, I've ended up on any number of PR lists - either because I've stuck it out here since 2006, or because I've been to BlogHer, um, five times. I trash most of the pitches instantly (though I sometimes daydream about eviscerating the really heinous, useless, misguided products). But once in a while I get offered something that interests me for one reason or another, and within the week, a box lands on the doorstep.

Ooh, what is it this time?

It's a conundrum though. I - by the very fiber of my being - must be honest in my opinions. So, when something turns up that sounds good on paper but turns out to be not to my taste, what do I do? I can choose not to review it. But an absence of critical attention to a product is almost tantamount to an endorsement.

I remember, years ago, having an argument with someone about the Nielsen ratings. It was back in the day when I lived in a tiny apartment, and had a tiny TV with rabbit ears, and once in a blue moon I'd watch David Letterman, through the snow. TV wasn't something I did, or do - it's just not a part of my life. But, I came home one day and found the Nielsen booklet in my mailbox, along with a crisp dollar bill. And when it came time to mail that booklet back, I found that in fact I'd never turned on the TV that week. So I sent it back blank. My co-worker, with whom I then argued, thought it was wrong of me to have returned the booklet, since I hadn't watched anything. But watching nothing is as valid a response as watching everything. Yes?

Not too long ago, a PR firm sent me a sample of some cookies. I wanted to like them: the brand makes other really good cookies, and they contained no untoward ingredients*. But I didn't like them, so I sent an email back to the representative, explaining why I wouldn't write about them on my blog:

1. The package is either too small or too big. It's too big for a lunchbox - in fact, it says the container has four servings in it. Better if it were a single serving container. Better still would be a big box, to pull a snack-sized handful out to be repacked into a ziploc.

2. I love love love (redacted), and I like lots of oatmeal cookies. I didn't really like these - I found them too sweet, rather bland, and under salted.

Should I name names? Just because I think the cookies were kind of boring, and in an idiotically sized package, doesn't mean that you'd agree with me. If I name them, they're getting free publicity (well, free but for the box of cookies they sent me). Don't forget what Oscar Wilde said: "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

My local newspaper is the New York Times. In the arts departments, they review dance, musicals, books, movies. Sometimes they rave about something, sometimes they pan, sometimes a review is mixed - the point being that they don't hold their punches. Honest criticism. I may not always agree with them, but I appreciate that not everything will be said to smell like a rose.

What to do, what to do? It's easy to review things that you love. It's fun to review things that you hate. It's good to review things, because it engages your critical faculties. Besides, if you want the world to be a better place, you need to speak the truth. Let's review all the things.

No, I'm not turning this into a review blog. No way, no how. But I think I'll make "Let's Review" into a more regular feature. Anything you want an opinion on?

* Wheat flour, butter (22%), wholegrain oats (22%), sugar, golden syrup (partially inverted sugar syrup), raising agents (sodium bicarbonate, disodium diphosphate), skimmed milk powder, salt.

24 August 2013

The Idiosyncratic Librarian

Because we had the inside of the house painted, and many things had to be packed and moved and unpacked, I have been fondling my books, as one does. There's a stack to go to the daycare the girl attended, another for the library book sale (which isn't until June). There's a stack for my brother's little kids, and a box of children's books that I am constitutionally incapable of parting with. And as I shuffle, I reshelve. In some other lifetime, I may have been a librarian.

A couple of my Edward Gorey books had wandered off from their special shelf, and I decided to alphabetize them, though I had to leave out The Lavender Leotard (because it's staple bound, and has no spine to show.

Also, The Awdrey-Gore Legacy, which immediately precedes The Lavender Leotard, actually is a one volume edition of The Toastrack Enigma, The Blancmange Tragedy and The Postcard Mystery. I think it's okay that I filed it under Legacy.

What? You don't file books by noun? Where is your imagination?

Though I read them from time to time, I usually find books of collected letters to be rather tedious. But a couple of years ago, Pomegranate published a beautiful book of letters between Edward Gorey and a guy named Peter Neumeyer, called Floating Worlds. Gorey and Neumeyer had collaborated on a handful of little books for children, Neumeyer writing and Gorey illustrating. [Hmm, I have a copy of their Donald and the... - I need to find it and properly shelve it.]

Anyway, Floating Worlds is a delightful book: beautifully designed and full of reproductions of Gorey's envelopes to Neumeyer. Oh to have been his correspondent! He talks of going to the ballet, he's torn between life on Cape Cod and life in New York City. But I think I was completely won over and perhaps a little undone when I came to the letter in which Gorey makes a David Eyre's pancake, and includes the recipe. His addendum to the recipe is just perfect:

It is presumably Craig Claiborne who advises that one serve this while listening to Benjamin Britton's Ceremony of Carols.

And there you have it - my childhood writ small. George Balanchine, Benjamin Britten, Craig Claiborne, David Eyre and Edward Gorey.

No wonder I alphabetize by noun.

21 August 2013

Annals of Construction

Text from husband:

"Day began with Clover sheet rocked into hole in kitchen ceiling. (The 9yo) saw it and was understandably FREAKED THE FUCK OUT. Good thing we stopped there before going to horse camp. Otherwise the cat would have been taped and spackled too."

Yes, we have been living amid chaos this summer. Someday, all of the work will be done. Someday.

Happily, both cats are accounted for and all holes in walls and ceilings have been closed up.

But I will be happy when there aren't construction workers trekking through the house before I've had that all important first cup of coffee, and when I can start putting the garden to rights again.

19 August 2013

Simple Joys Of Work

I got a new stapler! It is chrome, and is heavy enough to be a weapon. My Chinese mermaid fairy likes it very much.

Also, a box arrived in the mail, from Taiwan.

Boxes from Taiwan are all well and good, but according to the customs form, this one contained wedding cake.

I was a little skeptical, but in fact, there really was cake inside, special Taiwanese wedding cake.

It got eaten before I could take its picture, but truly, there was cake in that sweet pink box.

Do you have any small joys to share?

14 August 2013

Exit Through The Gift Shop

It wasn’t my idea. In fact, it never would have been my idea. But my sister proposed it, and when I figured out that JetBlue flies non-stop to Orlando out of the micro-airport that’s 10 minutes from my house, I signed on.

I packed a bag, on the sly, and loaded it into the obscured way-back of the car. My husband announced that we had errands to run, a light fixture to return, groceries to buy and we piled into the car before 10 on Saturday morning.

hp car

It wasn’t until we’d stopped in front of the terminal that she looked up and said “where are we going?” I merrily refused to tell her, and led her into the airport, and up to the observation deck. She kept asking, and I kept grinning, until I suggested that she open her backpack and try to guess. Out came her wand and Gryffindor t-shirt: “we’re going to a Harry Potter convention?!?”


Well, not exactly, but close enough: we went to what I like to call Harry Potter Land, that theme park formally known as Universal Orlando. Three nights and two days, many roller coasters and countless foot-miles. Me and my sister, and our four children. Some tears, a lot of screaming, plenty of laughter and nothing but mediocre food. Still. It was fun, and exhausting, and butterbeer was had, and I never have to do it again.


My child, my nine year old child, turns out to be a thrill-seeker, speed demon. After whimpering in my lap “I want to go on it, but I’m afraid of the corkscrew”, she gathered up her courage and climbed on the “Rip Ride Rockit”. Midway down the first drop, she screamed “I LOVE THIS RIDE”.

Travel is good. Travel takes you out of your routine, into a world that’s not your own. And even though a theme park in Florida isn’t exactly a visit to an Etruscan ruin or a trip to Paris, it has a certain something. At one point, I found myself sitting on a park bench in the shade, waiting for the others, facing a New York City street facade. Oh, that’s what the movie people think is the distillation of New York?


Is it always winter at Hogwarts?

harry potter land

And how can it be winter if there are palm trees right over here?


The last two books I read were about travel. One was “Heads In Beds”, a snarky delicious horrifying look at hotels, from the point of view of a front desk manager. Believe me when I tell you that it spurred me to tip more generously than I’ve ever tipped in the past, and to examine – very carefully – the water glass in the bathroom. The other was “A Week at the Airport”, a contemplative meditation of that liminal space where people come and go and never stay. The airport isn’t your destination, it’s not your home, it’s but a way station – unless, of course, you work there. I will sit on that bench and watch the people come and go, until it’s my turn to get up and go, and while there, I’ll entertain a certain curiosity about the inner workings of the airport and all that needs doing to get us from here to there.


Travel with a child is altogether eye-opening. The first words out of the girl’s mouth, even before we got to the hotel’s registration desk, were “can we live here?” Was it the high ceilings, the men in pith helmets, the burbling fountain in the lobby? Was it the huge pool, with the noodles and beach balls and poolside drink service? Was it the amusement park a water taxi away?

mir on dumbo

It’s also thoroughly frustrating. Healthy food options? Not so much. Why yes, I am the mean mama who orders the side salad instead of fries with those chicken fingers. Nearly every ride exits through the gift shop. How many times did I say no? How many times did she ask me to buy her something? No. No no no no no. No. Okay. I did have to buy her a new bathing suit because the one I packed turned out to have desiccated, crunchy elastic. She was out of luck on underwear though - I somehow completely forgot to pack any for her, so she was forced to borrow a pair from her cousin while I washed hers in the bathroom sink. If the hotel boutique had had underwear for purchase, I would have bought some in a heartbeat.

We flew back to real life, spotting near-home landmarks from the air: the high school, her elementary school, the bike path/rail trail bridge across the reservoir. Daddy met us at the airport, and we were home, home again. And even though I didn’t buy her everything she asked for, like the iPad mini in a Best Buy vending machine in the Orlando airport, I think she had a splendid time.

12 August 2013

How To Do Customer Service Right

You know what's annoying about gift cards? You often end up with a tiny little balance that isn't enough to do anything with. Oh, if it's a card for Target, or a generic American Express gift card, you can figure out how to use the difference. Or Amazon, they just stick it in your account for next time. But when it's a really oddball small company? There's a handful of quarters down the drain.

Not so long ago, I had a gift card for a small company - given out by a bicycle store so that we could purchase a personalized ID bracelet. The bracelet cost a tad over $20 (with shipping), and the gift card was for $25. I was all set to lose the difference, because I wasn't going to be ordering more than the one bracelet, until I got to the end of the on-line order. There, there was a query: "Would you like to make a charitable contribution to one of these six organizations?" Hell, yeah, I'd like to do that. It was the perfect way to use up the $4 that was going to be otherwise left on the table.

As it happens, Ride ID has a pretty strong charitable impulse. From their website:

As a privately owned company, we are not forced to serve the profit hungry interests of outside share holders or investors. Rather, we maintain the luxury to serve those things that we deem important: our Customers, Employees and our Communities.

Road ID is proud to serve and support our local and national communities. Service is not a secondary obligation; it is a primary function of our business. Each year, Road ID sponsors and supports thousands of grassroots Running and Cycling events across North America. We do this because we believe these events are the lifeblood of active and healthy communities.

Additionally, "Road ID Gives Back" is an ongoing program where we donate a portion of every order to one of six excellent causes. This program allows each customer to specify which organization should benefit from his or her order. This program was launched in October 2007 and benefits the following organizations: Arthritis Foundation, Lance Armstrong Foundation, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, National MS Society, Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Wounded Warrior Project and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

Why I am telling you this? Because it's great customer service, and we all know how much I like good customer service.

Nope, no one paid me to say nice things about Road ID, just like nobody paid me to vent about Joe Coffee.

09 August 2013

Geekery with Images

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a Google seminar, Google 101 for Content Creators. One trick I learned is really cool. I've been looking for floating, shallow shelves to (maybe) use in the kitchen as spice racks. After some searching, I found an image of what I was interested in. But it was on a scraper site, and had absolutely no information about just how to buy the shelves. Aha! Google's image search feature lets you upload a photo (or enter a url) to search for that photo or similar photos. Bingo. Found a few buyable versions of the shelf I'd envisioned.

If you were concerned about unscrupulous folks stealing your own posted pictures, you could reverse search for them. It'd be time-consuming, but could be gratifying. Or infuriating, depending on your perspective.

To search by image, go to images.google.com and click the camera icon at the end of the search box. Then, either enter an image URL or upload an image from your computer.

Maybe you will find the spice rack of your dreams.

05 August 2013

Joe Boycott

Here's the thing. At home, I drink my coffee black. We buy decent beans, and grind them fresh each morning, and drip perfectly hot water through the freshly ground beans, into a thermal carafe, and usually, two cups of that magic is all I need for the rest of the day.

What this means is that I only infrequently drink coffee out of the house. And for whatever reason, I almost never drink it black when I'm not home. It's just one of those things - if I don't know where the coffee came from, it needs milk.

There are delis all over New York. You go in, you ask for coffee/regular/no sugar, and you get a paper cup of coffee with milk in it. But, you go to some fancy place like Starbucks, and you ask for a cup of coffee, and they hand you a cup and expect you to put the milk in yourself. If you insist, the better establishments will bow to the gods of customer service and will, in fact, add the milk.

I have, by the way, complained about this before:

Well, if I ask for a cup of coffee with milk, put the milk in the coffee. Don't make me do it. Don't make me put all my bags down on the dirty floor, let go of my child's hand, wrench the lid off the top, locate the milk and unscrew its top, add milk (after spilling out some of the coffee), replace the lid, and gather up all my possessions.

And, lest you say that "everyone wants a different amount of milk", 1) you add the milk if I go through a drive-through, and 2) you put in the milk when you make a latte.

The other day, I was in Grand Central, heading for the train, and the need for a cup of coffee and a cookie swayed me into Joe. The woman behind the counter gave me attitude when I asked for milk, but did it, grudgingly, and then had the temerity to hand me a cup without a lid. This is a take-out joint, in a commuter rail station! No lid? Oy. The lids were across the shop, with the milk, and of course, they were organized by ounces - and the first one I picked up was the wrong size. I ask you, how am I to know how many ounces are in the cup and therefore which lid might be right?

When I finally got on the train, peeved beyond a reasonable doubt, I fired off an irritated tweet. I was, of course, hoping it would fall on gracious customer-is-always-right ears, but no! Snark was returned.

Bastards. Coffee with milk is in no way comparable to french fries with ketchup, and this attitude stands in complete opposition to their "dedicated to making flawless coffee served with warm hospitality" mission statement. There was no warm hospitality at all - either in the shop or on the Twitter.

I'm never going there again. Lord knows, a one person boycott isn't gonna do squat, but I can keep railing about it. Even if nothing happens, it makes me feel better.

02 August 2013

Necessity Mother Invention

I've been on a flavoring-water-with-melon kick. If I'm whacking up a cucumber for a salad, I filet out the seeds and drop the slimy mess into a glass of icy cold water: instant refresher. A few slices of lemon or a sprig or two of mint bumps up the flavor, and it's even more refreshing. There's a new vendor at my farmers market - they muddle fruit and mint with a bit of sugar, shake it up and top it off with tea or lemonade. Their mojito one - non-alcoholic - is made with lime, mint and cucumber, and completely hits the spot as you meander through the market, fondling the peaches.

Inspired, I muddled up a watermelon cocktail. A fist sized chunk of watermelon, roughly chipped into a tall glass and banged about with a spoon. A good ounce or so of Rose's Lime Juice, an ounce or so of gin, a few ice cubes, and a fill-up with seltzer. If you're fancy, garnish it with a sprig of mint or a twist of lime. And it's just what you want on a sultry summer evening.