stevenpiziks: (Default)
Darwin is City Manager of Ypsilanti, but we don't live there.  For city managers, this is problematic.  Whenever a city manager makes a decision that affects residents (including tax policy), the residents like to say, "You don't really care--you don't live here and this doesn't affect you."

However, we aren't portable right now.  Maksim is in high school, and we don't want to uproot him.  Also, much as I love Ypsilanti, I'm living in a place where I have a short commute after 15 years of a 45 minute commute.  I'm not willing to move back right now.

Hence The Condo.

A while ago, I called our old realtor, the one who brokered our houses in Ypsilanti before, and the search began.  We were basically looking for a condominium to be a rental property, with the rent going to pay the mortgage.  That way, Darwin would be a homeowner in Ypsilanti and could rightfully say, "I own a home here, and these policies affect me, too."

Since I know Ypsilanti, though, most of the searching fell to me.  I wanted something close to Eastern Michigan University for the simple reason that it would be easy to rent out and the resale would be higher later.  But there aren't many, and when one does show up, it goes fast!

And then we learned about one.  It's right across the street from the University.  I wasn't able to get out to see it, but Darwin was, and it was exactly what we were looking for.  Except it's occupied by tenants--the people selling it are the landlords.  Apparently the tenants had no idea the landlords were selling it, and they were moire than a little shocked when the realtor called to arrange a showing.  (Their lease ends this fall.)  The landlord did give them the option to buy first, but they didn't want to.

Anyway, we put an offer in.  After the usual wrangling, it was accepted. 

And then there was the mortgage application.  After a 20% down payment (required by the type of mortgage you can get on a rental property), the amount we'd be borrowing for the mortgage fell below what Quicken wanted to loan us.  In other words, we wouldn't be borrowing enough money and paying enough interest.  Quicken compensated by offering us the scandalously high rate of 6% over 30 years.  Darwin was shocked.  Not only was 6% way, way higher than what our credit rating should have given us--or any other human being in America--they were requiring 30 years, and we wanted 15.  Darwin went back and forth with the loan officer for about half an hour on this, and finally snarled that we'd find someone else.  He snapped the connection shut and ended the relationship.

The next day, he talked Marj, our realtor, who said, "Oh my!  You need to talk to =these= people."  And Darwin did, and they trotted us right through a proper mortgage.  Sheesh.

So we're looking to close soon, and we'll be property owners in Ypsilanti again!
stevenpiziks: (Default)
Maksim has his learner's permit now.  The youngest is now driving.

He run hot and cold about it, actually.  One moment he's snatching the keys from my hand, the next he flatly refuses to take the wheel.  The road that winds past the lake makes him nervous--he feels like he's going to drop into the water.  He's not wild about highway driving, either, but who is?

He didn't go to school Monday because he was sick with my cold.  Tuesday was his first day back, and he drove us to school in the truck.  For various reasons, the seniors had that day off, so traffic was light, which made it easier.  He did perfectly fine, including the parking.

I'm keeping track of his time with a driving app made just for this purpose.  It's very handy!

Sometimes people ask if it's strange being driven around by my youngest, but it isn't.  This is the third time I've gone through it, and out of all three of the boys, Maksim has been the easiest to deal with in this arena.

New Cat

Apr. 8th, 2017 08:40 am
stevenpiziks: (Default)
We finally have a new cat.

It was an unexpectedly laborious process.  The cat rehousing people (I don't like calling it an adoption--adoption is for human beings) wanted three references, the name of my veterinarian, and a signed contract stating, among other things, that they could enter my house to inspect it any time over the next four years.  What are you, the Gestapo?  Seriously, people--it's a cat.  It's not a human child.  It's a freakin' cat.  I changed the inspection clause to remove its teeth and crossed out a few other clauses.  (One read, "I understand cats are animals and that they do not react the same way human beings do."  No, really?)

I also had to promise to send them vet records showing I did regular vet visits for the next four years.  Sure.  I'll get right on that.

In reality, though, I think they'll forget about it.  Lots of other cats to rescue, you know.

Anyway, we now have a new kitty.  She's a black shorthair, about 10 months old, and extremely shy.  We put her in one of the bathrooms with her own litter box, food dishes, and a cat bed the cat lady said she used a lot.  We put the cat bed in the tub.  The first day, new kitty refused to leave her cat bed.  She let us pet her, but she didn't respond.  After a couple hours, we let Dinah into the bathroom.  Dinah sniffed her way up to the tub, peeked over the edge, hissed once, and stalked away.

The second night, we left the bathroom door cracked open.  In the morning, new kitty had vanished.  Later, we found her in various hiding places--under the bed, behind the dryer.  Each time we found her, she moved to a different hiding place.

Dinah's personality instantly changed, which I find interesting.  When she's the lone cat in the house, she's Needy Kitty, Greedy Kitty, demanding attention and petting, to the point where it gets annoying.  You can have her on your lap for an entire two-hour movie or a three-hour nap, and the moment you get up, she demands more attention.  But whenever there's a second cat in the house, she becomes quiet and reserved.  Right now, she's sitting on top of the cat tree, surveying the house.  Watching.  That other cat is here somewhere, and damned if she's going to let it get away with anything!

We're thinking of names.  The cat's original name was Little Black, which we don't like.  Darwin has plumped for "Fraidy," since she's so shy, but I don't know.  We'll have to think some more.



stevenpiziks: (Default)
I make a Ukrainian dish which is wildly popular in our little household. It's just sausage crumbled into a big pan and fried up with onions, garlic, chopped peppers, and a whole pot full of potatoes (boiled, drained, and cubed), spiced with salt and paprika. I call it Ukrainian stir fry, and it's everyone's favorite food, even Darwin. The latter is most surprising, since Darwin generally dislikes foods that are mixed together. This, however, he likes.

Thing is, it doesn't matter how much I make--it always gets eaten. I mean, ALL of it. I noticed this trend, and started experimenting. At first, I was putting in one large potato for each person at the table. CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP! All gone.

Then I tried one and a half potatoes per person. CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP! All gone.

Then I tried two potatoes per person. CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP! All gone.

Today, I used two potatoes per person again, except I forgot Darwin had a council meeting and wouldn't be home for dinner. Then Aran got home from work when I was halfway through dinner prep and announced he'd stopped at McDonald's for supper already, so he wasn't hungry.

CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP! All gone.

Geez.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Every so often I'll see a TV show or movie that mentions a food I've never heard of.  Since I'm Adventure Chef, I get intrigued and wonder how to make the food and what it tastes like.  Back in the Old Days, this would take considerable research.  I'd have to ask friends if any of them had made it, or go to the library and look up cookbooks from the culture.  It would take hours or even days.

Nowadays?  Easy!  The Internet is the biggest cookbook in the whole wide world.

Recently, for example, I heard a reference to tres leches cake (three-milk cake), an hispanic treat.  The name sounded interesting, and I wanted to see what it was about, so I just checked Google.  I found several recipes that ranged from overly simple ("take one box of yellow cake mix...") to foolishly complicated ("after the custard has cooled for at least three hours in the dry ice, slice all six cake layers in half with a silver-plated knife sharpened under a full moon...")

Basically, tres leches cake is made with three kinds of milk: regular mlk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk.  The first two milks go into the cake batter.  The third is used to make a pseudo custard that your pour over the baked cake, which soaks it up like a sponge to make everything rich and moist.  Whipped cream, technically a fourth milk, is used to frost it.  The great debate about tres leches cake is whether or not it's worth the effort to separate the eggs and beat them separately or not.

I grabbed a middle-of-the road recipe, complexity-wise, and went to work.  Yes, I separated the eggs.  I baked the cake in a square pan and then realized if I poured the soaking filling over it, the filling would overflow.  What to do, what to do?  I finally removed the cake from the pan, put it in a 9x12 pan, and poured the filling over it.  To ensure the filling wouldn't pudde in the vacant half of the pan, I set the pan on a tilt with a trivet and left the whole thing on the back porch for chilling.  Then I whipped some whipping cream and sugar and frosted it.

Whoo, it was good.  But rich!  A small piece is plenty!  Maksim and Aran loved it and ate it steadily for snacks until it had vanished.

All thanks to the biggest cookbook in the whole wide world!

Moving Dad

Mar. 22nd, 2017 08:30 am
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
My father needed moving.  His then-current relationship ended, but the house was only hers, which meant he had to move out.  He was living with his brother temporarily, and finally he found a small apartment up in Saginaw.  But Dad is in his 70s and has mobility problems and couldn't move by himself.  And so my brother Paul and I went up to handle it this weekend.

This is the problem when you have a truck--you're stuck helping people move.

As moves go, this wasn't =too= bad.  Very little furniture was involved.  Dad had arranged for a couch and love seat to be delivered, so the only furniture we had to move was a small kitchen table and chairs and a rocking chair.  This is good--I'm fifty years old and at my age, I don't move furniture.  I hire people to move furniture for me and watch them work, thanks.

Anyway, Paul and I met up at Dad's brother's house and loaded his belongings into the truck and hauled them over to the new apartment.  The place is very nice--bright, airy, balcony, fantastic eighth-floor view of farms and woods.  Paul and I approved.

We hogged one of the elevators and got everything upstairs, then went out to Dad's storage unit for the rest of his stuff, and hauled that up.  Dad didn't have a bed, so we called around and found a furniture store that was open in downtown Saginaw.  Here's where we needed the truck for sure!  We got a basic bed, squeezed it into the elevator, and set it up in the apartment.

Paul and I left Dad in the apartment and went to Meijer, a 24-hour grocery and department store, where we bought a bunch of basic apartment stuff Dad didn't have.  It was like setting up a college freshman in a new dorm!  Dad can drive and shop on his own, but he's literally never lived on his own in his entire life, and there's a bunch of stuff it would simply never occur to him to buy until he actually needed it (like a shower curtain, bath mat, spray cleaner, etc.).  So we got him those things, along with a few groceries to get him through a couple-three days.  This we delivered back to the apartment.

I put sheets on the bed while Paul whipped his computer together (no Internet yet--he'll have to do that on his own later) and helped Dad put the food away.  Then we set up the bathroom.

By now it was 9:30, and we were exhausted.  The only thing we didn't do that was on our list was get him a dresser.  Well, you can't get everything done.

Now he's safely ensonced in his new place, with a lot of unpacking to do to keep him busy!  :)
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
I subscribe to three different news feeds that specialize in media news so I can keep up with the latest media information for my media literacy class.  For weeks and weeks, a single story has dominated the headlines: the "gay moment" in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

By "dominated," I mean the top four or five stories EVERY SINGLE DAY discuss this topic.  If you read media news, there is IS no other story.  They do try to vary the narrative.  How is the lyingly-named One Million Moms reacting?  What about that drive-in movie theater in Alabama that won't show the theater?  How much gay is there?  Is LeFou an appropriate LGBT breakout character?  Gasp--Malaysia won't screen it.  Gasp--Russia is slapping an "adults only" label on it.  Can we squeeze another interview out of a cast member?  How many times can we re-quote the director's original statement?  And on and on.  The news eats a sandwich, vomits it onto a plate, eats it again, and barfs it back up, fork at the ready.

Really, the only question is: will this have an impact on the box office?

Psh.  No.  It won't.  Did you see how much extra publicity this whole thing is getting?  No one is talking about anything but this movie.  Every network and news outlet has done multiple stories on it, and consumers are snarfing the vomit sandwich right down.  Couple that with nothing else opening this weekend (because no studio wants to compete with a major Disney opening), and you have the perfect set-up for a record-breaking blockbuster.  One Dozen Moms has their boobs in a bunch over this, but they only helped it happen, so maybe they need to learn from their mistakes and shut up.  They won't, but they should.

Anyway, we got a close up and personal dose of the phenomenon.  I wanted to go see BEAUTY AND THE BEAST because I use the 1990 movie in media literacy class to talk about abusive relationships--Belle is trapped in a relationship with an abusive beast who isolates her from friends and family, won't let her work or leave the house, expects her to fulfill his every wish (breaking the spell), pushes for a fast commitment, threatens violence, and shows sudden mood swings.  Textbook abuser.  In the end, Belle loves the Beast so much, that she literally changes him into a kind and gentle prince.  Great message to send our girls: when your man abuses you, it's your job to love him enought that he'll reform.  The abuse is YOUR fault.

Did Disney change this around for this new version?  I doubt it, but I want to see the movie so I can comment appropriately during the domestic violence unit.  Darwin and Maksim came along for the ride.

When we arrived at the theater for the 1:45 matinee, however, the ticket seller said, "We only have a few front-row seats left for that showing."

I conferred briefly with Darwin and Maksim, and they said they were okay with that, so I asked for three tickets.

"Oops!" said the seller.  "It just sold out!  And so have the 2:45 and the 3:30 showings.  The 3:45 still has some seats."

We didn't want to wait around two hours, so we decided to wait until next weekend.

If this is any indication, however, One Dozen Moms and the other groups did their job--the show will shatter all kinds of records.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
We still don't have a second cat, if you can believe it.

One person I came across had a cat for adoption.  No, actually her son has it, and he lives in a different town.  Wait--they're going to take her to the vet early next week.  Could we put this off until then?  Wait, I don't have his email address.  Wait--yes, I do.  Can you email him and let him know you're interested?

Another lady had an ad on Craigslist.  Her cat had just had kittens and she was looking for homes.  She wanted proof of home ownership or a letter from the landlord saying you're a good tenant, a letter of recommendation from your vet (no brand new cat owners allowed), a signed statement saying you wouldn't declaw the cat or that you'd return it to her if you decided to, and . . . and . . . and . . .

Sigh.

Windstorm

Mar. 10th, 2017 12:13 pm
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
A massive windstorm blew through Michigan yesterday.  Winds gusted at 70 mph.  People lost parts of their roofs.  Power lines came down all over the place.  Detroit Energy reports that two-thirds of its customers lost power at some time or another.  A lot of places still don't have power and don't expect it until the weekend.

Traffic lights are out all over town, and people act like they don't know to treat the intersections like four-way stops.  I've seen two accidents--one fender-bender, and one that totalled a truck.  It makes driving in the area tricky and even dangerous.

One of the big pine trees in our front yard went down, too.  We got lucky.  It didn't hit the house, break any other trees, or block the driveway.  If it had to fall, this was the way for it to happen.  I called a tree place, but they're understandably busy and won't be able to deal with it for a day or three.  It's an unnversing sight, the tree lying in the yard with its roots up in the air.

We did lose power, but only for a few minutes, and that while I was at work.  I only know about it because the digital clocks were blinking when I got home.  We got lucky there.  A fair number of my students and fellow teachers don't have it.

On the other hand, our Internet went down.  Strangely, it happened a day after the windstorm ended.  How on earth a windstorm can take out the Internet in hindsight, I have no idea.  It's annoying in the extreme.  My computer won't talk to my mobile hotspot on my phone, so I don't even have that.  I spent too much time trying to restore my access and finally had to give up.

Meanwhile, I was stuck in the house with two teenaged boys who didn't have wifi.  The awful!

With global warming being what it is, it seems like line worker would be one of the most stable careers out there.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Over the weekend, Aran and I looked at a potential place for him to live.

We got a referral to the place from his new social worker.  It's a sort-of boarding house.  Six (Aran would be number seven) people live there, and the landlady/aid is in and out constantly, as are the social workers.  The rent includes utilities and Internet, but not food.  The house is in a good neighborhood, a subdivision with sidewalks and a nearby park.  A Kroger is a five-minute drive away, so Aran could probably transfer there and continue working.  We met some of the residents, and they seemed nice.  I liked the landlady very much.

There were a few things I didn't like about the house. One was that it wasn't cleaned well.  The landlady explained that she did some cleaning but she expected the residents to do most of it, and they . . . didn't.  This could be remedied, really, with an afternoon's work and putting Aran in charge of keeping the common areas clean.  (By "clean," I mean dusted and vacuumed, which were definitely lacking.  There wasn't any clutter or junk lying around.)  Although the house has a no-smoking rule, the residents often "sneak" smoking, as the landlady put it, when she wasn't there, and the house smelled of smoke.  Kala, who was also there, said this is very common among such living facilities, and we'd be hard-pressed to find a place where no one smoked.  The bedroom where Aran would be staying had a resident in it, and he didn't smoke, at least.

I have enormously mixed feelings.  I don't know if this is a good place or not.  Part of the problem is that I have no frame of reference--I haven't seen any other facilities.  I'll try to see some more.  Part of the problem is that this would be the next phase of Aran's life.  He'll be living in a place like this . . . . well, forever.  I don't like it.  He'd be more independent, and he definitely wants that, but his standard of living will drop sharply and stay there.  On the other hand, he can't live with me forever.  One day I'll be too old or too dead to help him, and he needs to be set up to be all right on his own--or state-assisted on his own, anyway.

This isn't an overnight process, either.  There are many steps here.  Even after he moves in, he (we) will have to apply for food stamps, get different furniture (the stuff that's already there isn't acceptable), find a doctor, learn how to handle his own money more than he already does, and so on.

Like I said--conflicted.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Sasha turned 24 last week. Can you believe it?  On Sunday, we all went down to Ypsilanti for a Sasha Birthday Celebration.  Sasha's first choice of restaurant, the Bomber, was crowded, with a long line waiting.  His second choice was a Coney Island up the street, and we took over a corner booth.  There was a great deal of food and talking and fun-poking.  Afterward, we all drove around Ypsilanti, familiarizing Darwin more with the city he'll be managing soon.

It was a very nice family celebration.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Every year, ConFusion, Michigan's main SF/F convention, chooses a theme.  This year, the con-com chose My Little Pony.  I've fallen out of going to ConFusion over the last few years, mostly because it always lands smack in the middle of final exam season, an awkwardly busy time for me.  However, Aran is a big Pony fan, and he wanted to go, so we decided to day-trip the convention on Saturday.

Saturday was part of the Great Michigan Fog, and although ConFusion was just down the road--literally--from our house, it took quite a long time to get there.  But we made it safely.  Got registered, and set out to explore the hotel a little before the 11:00 AM panel Aran wanted to see.

Here I have to offer some criticism.  The theme of the con was supposed to be My Little Pony, but there was almost no Pony programming.  I mean, virtually none!  There was exactly ONE panel about the show, and the flim room, which should have been showing MLP videos end-to-end, showed 80 minutes of MLP stuff.  (The rest of the video programming was, for some strange reason, taken up with Mel Brooks comedies.  I have no idea why--only SPACEBALLS had anything to do with SF fandom.)

Aran wandered off by himself, and I went into the gaming room to see what was going on.  As it happened, a drop-in D&D game was just getting started.  I hadn't played D&D--or any other role-playing game, for that matter--in years, and since I had nothing going for the next few hours, I said, "What the hell?" and sat down.

The game started off rocky.  The Game Master had chosen an adventure for first-level characters, which was a mistake.  First level characters have very few abilities and are difficult to play well.  The whole point of being first level, in fact, is to get the helll OFF first level so you can actually do something interesting.  I mean, when one shot from an opponent can kill your character, you have some problems.  The GM really should have gone for fourth or fifth.  Additionally, none of us knew each other, so it took time for the group to figure out who the heck we all were and how to work together.  I was old enough to be the father of everyone at the table, and probably grandfather to the youngest player.  (Oi!)  It showed in our gaming styles.

But toward the last third of the adventure, the group gelled, and we worked out some good teamwork bits.  Thanks to some quick thinking, we even saved our characters from an unexpected flood by slicing the tops off some giant mushrooms and using them as rafts.  So on balance, the adventure came out well.

By now it was lunch time.  I had discovered that Kris Smith, the president of Book View Cafe, was attending the convention, and we arranged to meet at mid-day.  Since I'm secretary of BVC, we've talked a lot via email, but never in person, so it was nice to meet her face-to-face.  We had lunch in the hotel restaurant (stereotypically, I had a hamburger and fries while she had a salmon salad), where we discussed and single-handedly solved all of BVC's problems.  :)

I hooked up with Aran, who had attended a couple other events and who wanted me to attend a panel on costuming with him.  Aran thought the costuming panel would have demonstrations in it, but it didn't, and Aran seemed to lose interest partway through.

A little while later, Aran announced that he was ready to go home.  I think the lack of Pony programming disappointed him, and . . . I was with him.  I'm not a Pony afficionado, but the main reason I came was so that Aran could find some Pony time and talk with like-minded fans, but outside one panel, one video, and a few decorations, My Little Pony was conspicuously absent from this Pony-themed convention.  I'm sorry to say that if I had known this would be the case, I wouldn't have bought the tickets.  It's true that the programming materials were available on-line before the convention, and Aran and I checked them, but way back when I bought the tickets, no programming was available, so I bought the tickets assuming there would be lots of MLP stuff, and was disappointed.  The convention itself was nice, and it was a good SF&F convention.  It didn't live up to being any kind of My Little Pony anything, which was the only reason Aran attended.

But the DnD game was fun.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
It's official!  Contract negotiations are ended, and everything is signed.  Our family is proud to announce that Darwin has accepted the position of City Manager of Ypsilanti, Michigan!

I lived in Ypsilanti for 15 years, and Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor is still what I think of as "home," even though I moved away six years ago.  Last fall, the position for Ypsi City Manager came up vacant, and Darwin saw the listing.

"Maybe I should apply for it," he said.

Huh.

This touched off a series of long discussions between us.  I know Ypsilanti very well, both its strengths and its challenges, so I was able to point Darwin in a number of good directions.  He started in on some very heavy, very thorough research.  This took weeks and weeks.  We made several trips to Ypsilanti so Darwin could get to know the city.  Every evening found Darwin at his computer, reading and researching, researching and reading.  One of Darwin's strengths is his thoroughness.

Not long after he applied for the job, he got notice that he was a finalist.  The day of the interviews, a huge blizzard blew in, and Darwin left half an hour early to ensure he'd arrive on time.  (He did.)  That same evening, the recruiter called to offer him the position.  Darwin was just that awesome!  Did I marry the right guy, or what?

Contract negotiations began, and they took considerable time, but they're done at last.  Everything is done, and Darwin starts his new job February 27.  We're extremely proud of him around here.

I do find it quite strange that my husband will be managing the town I recently left.  If I hadn't moved away from Ypsilanti, I never would have met Darwin--a man who lived in Ferndale and worked in Lake Orion would have been outside my driving radius down there.  So I had to leave the town in order to marry the man who would one day manage it.  You can't make this stuff up!
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Last week, Aran lost his debit card.  He'd mislaid it at Kroger, where he works.  At my urging, he called the store to see if anyone had turned it in.  The manager said they hadn't.  Then we drove over to see if it was where he had left it.  He looked everywhere in the hot buffet section (where he'd last had it), but it was gone.

I had him check his account for unauthorized charges.  There were none.  Then I looked up the number to call for lost cards and had him dial.  "Put it on speaker," I said.  "You talk, and I'll be here to help if you need it."

Aran negotiated the phone tree and ended up talking with a rep.  He only needed one prompt from me to get his card canceled.  Cool!

The number was only for canceling cards, not replacing them, though.  That required a visit to the credit union.  I thought about this.  I have to leave for work early in the morning, before the CU opens.  Aran gets home from work moments before the CU closes in the evening.  It would be tricky getting over there.  Well, there was no reason he couldn't do it himself.

I told Aran what he needed to do, and wrote down a numbered list of instructions.  (1. Go to credit union. 2. Ask the teller for a replacement debit card. 3. Ask for expedited service and how much it will cost. 4. . . . )

The next day when Aran got home from work in the evening, I asked him if he'd gone to the credit union.  He said he had, and that he'd ordered a new card. It would come in three business days.  Go Aran!
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
My hatred of Sponge Bob is legendary among my family and acquaintances.  The reasons are legion, and I won't go into them here.  Just take my word for it.

So at my birthday party, Kala (who knows my dislike but doesn't share it) bought me as a gag gift a Sponge Bob pinata, filled with candy and gave me a length of plastic pipe for pounding it.  How thoughtful!


I accept your challenge, Mr. Bond.

Read more... )
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
The Saturday after my birthday, the boys were over at Kala's for the weekend.  Darwin said he wanted to go out for dinner with just me, and I would choose the restaurant.

Mwah ha ha!

I chose an Indian restaurant, because I never get Indian food.  Darwin doesn't like it much, you see, so I took advantage of my birthday to force him.  Ha!  Besides, we'd eaten at this restaurant before and Darwin had admitted that he did like the food.

Darwin made reservations for five o'clock.  I was a little puzzled--why make reservations for five on a Saturday?  No one else would be there, and we'd easily get a table for two.  Uncharacteristically, Darwin was hustling me out the door.  Usually when we're going somewhere on a timetable, I'm the one jingling the car keys and tapping my foot while Darwin dawdles.

A water main had broken that morning in Lake Orion, where Darwin is Village Manager, and he'd been fielding messages about it all day.  His phone kept going off while we were driving to the restaurant.  He was sure it was more about the water main break, but he wouldn't let me read the messages to him.  Eventually at a stoplight he got his phone out and checked the texts.  He sighed and railed about various annoying situations regarding the water main break, then continued onward.

Despite the GPS and my pointing things out, Darwin overshot the restaurant, which is on a high-traffic road.  This created a big delay--reversing course for the return wasn't easy.

At last, we arrived and went in.  The restaurant was nearly deserted.  The only occupied table, in fact, was a long one near the entrance.  It had half a dozen people around it, and all of them were studiously bent over menus.  I paused at the front counter, but no greeter was there.  Darwin kept on walking, though, and headed for the table.

It finally dawned on me that the people at the table were deliberately hiding their faces behind the menus, and the people were all my relatives!  It was my mother, her husband Gene, my brother Paul, Aran, Maksim, and Kala.  Good heavens!

Darwin had arranged a little surprise.  That was the reason for the reservation, of course, and the source of all the text messages--they hadn't been seated yet and were telling Darwin to stall.  So he overshot.  The water main break was real, though it provided a handy excuse for all the texts.

It was wonderful!  We had endless fun time dissecting the menu, including searching for something the non-Indian eaters could enjoy.  (Chicken fried rice and naan bread always work in these cases.)  We also poked gentle fun at one of the waiters, who needed a little more practice.  The food was delicious, however, and Aran even had curried fish, a brand new dish for him.

And there were even presents!  Paul gave me a candle done in the saint style with Edgar Allen Poe on it, which I liked very much.  (I immediately lit it at the table.)  Kala gave me a pinata shaped like Sponge Bob and a stick to beat it with.  (Yes!  My dislike of Sponge Bob is legendary.)  Darwin gave me two tickets to a burlesque show featuring a pair of magicians who perform naked.  (Was this present more for me or for him . . . ?)  My mother gave me two things.  First was a folder of geneology my grandmother had collected over the years.  (I had to hold it away from Darwin so he wouldn't drool on it!)  Second was my old school memory book.  There's a page in it for every year and a pocket for whatever photos or mementos you want to keep.  I'd forgotten Mom had it, and hadn't seen it in decades.  It was a joy to look at it again.

We all ate and talked noisily, as my family is wont to do, and finished off with some wonderful mango ice cream to cool off overspiced mouths.

It was a wonderful surprise evening.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Last week was my birthday.  I'm 50 now, halfway through a century.  How about that?  Nearly everything still works well, on balance, and while I'm happy with my life at this stage, I still have goals to achieve, so this is a fine thing.

I'm a January baby, so when my birthday comes around, everyone is recovering from the holidays and no one is much in the mood to celebrate yet another day.  This means my birthday usually passes quietly.  There have been marked exceptions, like the huge surprise birthday party I got for my fortieth.

And this year.

On Wednesday, the date of my birthday, I arrived in my classroom and found bright birthday balloons and some delightful flowers on my desk.  No card or any clue who they came from.  A little research, though, produced the culprit--fellow English teacher Miclle Singer.  My students saw the balloons and tossed me birthday wishes all day long as a result. :)  And then, when a group of us were eating lunch, Michelle abruptly produced a birthday cake!  Oh, it was good, too.  It was a wonderful surprise.

That evening, I wanted to go out for supper and I chose a Mexican restaurant up the road from us.  Aran stated firmly that he was going to pay for the birthday dinner tonight, and he did.  (!)

But wait! There's more . . .
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
The New Year's Eve party was big as these things go--fourteen people.  (Yes, I know this is small compared to some, but it filled our house nicely and kept me prepping and cooking for two days, so that definitely qualifies as "big.")  As with any party of this size, the real work comes AFTER: the cleanup.

I've come across one of the fastest ways to clean up: just throw it out.

My natural inclination is to keep and store extra food from a party.  Seal those crackers in a bag.  Pour those chips back into the sack.  Put the dip back into a bowl.  Put the veggies in plastic containers.  Keep the leftovers for later!

But I've come to realize two things.  First, a lot of these leftovers don't get eaten.  Darwin and the boys don't eat chips much, and they definitely don't eat leftover crackers or cut vegetables or dip.  So it sits until I eat it (and most of it is bad for me), or until it goes bad.

The other thing I realized is that wrapping and sealing and saving takes so much TIME.  Seriously.  It takes considerable time to root through the containers and find the right size for a given food, and then hunt up a lid.  Or to carefully pour everything into a plastic bag, seal it, and find a place for it in the cupboard.  It may not sound like it does, but it does, especially when you have lots and lots and lots of these things to do.  The minutes add up.

So . . . pitch it!  During the Great Cleanup after the party, I just dumped it all into the trash.  (A chunk of it I did send home with guests who wanted it, though.)  Bowls of chips?  Gone!  Dip?  Down the disposal.  Mashed potatoes?  Gone!  When in doubt, trash it!  The meat and cheese we kept, but everything else?  Out!  It sped up the cleaning process quite a lot.

We all slept in on New Year's Day, but when we got up, Phase II began.  This didn't involve throwing things away.

Although Darwin and the boys complain about it, New Year's Day is always dismantling day.  I'm firm on this.  We take down the tree and all decorations and put them away because on this day, everyone is home and available to help.  If we put it off, there's always someone who isn't around, or it becomes easy to say we'll do it later, and then we're into February with Yule decorations still in the living room.  No.  Holidays are over, decorations come down!

So Darwin, the boys, and I stripped the house clean.  They grumbled and complained, but in the end were suprised at how quickly it went.

"It's always faster to put them away than it is to take them out," I said.  "And now we have the living room back!"

Additionally, and a bit shockingly, Darwin cleaned off his desk. (!)

The New Year begins with a clean house!
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
This year Sasha got me a Christmas present.  But first, a little background:

Many years ago, I bought a large glass mug etched with a Celtic harp.  It was very pretty and I drank from it all the time.  A few months after we adopted Sasha and Maksim, I was writing in my office when I heard a terrible crash from the area where we kept Kala's computer.  I ran in to see what had happened and found Sasha huddled in Kala's computer chair with a terrified look on his face.  My harp mug lay shattered on the tile floor.  He must have been drinking out of it and knocked it off Kala's desk.

My first thought, based on Sasha's expression, was that he was somehow injured, and I asked him if he was okay.  "Are you bleeding?  Are you hurt?" I said.

Sasha shook his head.  He was barefoot, though.

"Stay in that chair," I said.  "You'll cut your feet."  I got a broom and other equipment and cleaned up the glass.  I wasn't happy about my mug, but at least Sasha wasn't hurt.

I later found out that Sasha had been terrified that I was going to beat him for breaking the mug.  It's what his stepfather in Ukraine would have done.  I did my best to reassure him that this wasn't the case, that accidents happen, it was only a mug, and that I wouldn't beat him.  This surprised Sasha and touched him deeply.  It did me, too.  I didn't know very much about Sasha's history at this point, and it was a heart-wrenching thing to learn.

Sasha has apparently carried this with him for a long, long time.  At Christmas this year, he bought me this:



He had it etched with a Celtic harp on the front and my name on the back.  It's easier to see when it's full:



and:



BB-8 was curious:



It was a wonderful surprise.  I love it!  A perfect gift from son to father.

Yule, 2016

Dec. 26th, 2016 03:36 pm
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
We had a very nice Yuletide this year.  The house was nicely decorated, and we had a delicious dinner of beef and potatoes.  We set the candles all about, and welcomed the light and the God back.  Mother Berchte arrived.  Maksim got a professional microphone for his on-line blogging.  Aran got a GPS for his car.

The days are getting longer. Yay!

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