In response to increasingly toxic and useless meetings at my previous job, the tech staff was told that we were not allowed to bring our laptops to our regular meetings. This decision was initially met with a great deal of resistance and frustration, but ultimately it was a good one, as meetings got at least slightly more productive, and the folks (myself included) who were inclined to space out and/or do other work had to be more focused on the agenda and the needs of the rest of the “team”.

Since starting my new job, I’ve opted to continue leaving my laptop at my desk when I go to meetings. In part, this decision was made out of laziness, as undocking my machine is a royal pain, but on the whole, I think it’s been a good decision. I find that I pay much more attention when I can’t get distracted by the ‘nets – and I get really frustrated by the people who bring their laptops to every meeting and don’t contribute at all.

Speaking of which, time to go to another meeting!

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afk

I’m in a bit of a Catch-22. I’ve been trying to spend less time online – especially on IM – at home, as I hate coming home after staring at a computer for 8 hours and then staring at the computer for a few more hours for absolutely no good reason. I hated it when I had to do it for school, but at least then there was a good reason for doing so.

The flip side of this is that I have also been trying to minimize my social chatting when I’m at work, so if I’m not on IM at work and I’m not on IM at home, I don’t get to talk to many people that I would otherwise chat with here and/or there.

The not-totally-explicit part of all of this is that I hate talking on the phone, I’ve proved to be a poor email correspondent if the message requires more than five minutes’ response time, and very few of my friends are letter writers.

All of this goes to the point of that while I really want to follow Leslie’s example, I’m fighting a losing battle, and am doing my best instead to broadcast my thoughts and feelings instead of keeping in touch. I’m sorry. I’m a bad correspondent. Please keep me on my toes.

Hey thanks!

Today we’re back to work after a long and fun-filled Thanksgiving weekend.  Pictures are forthcoming, but I just wanted to mention how wonderful it was to be surrounded by friends all weekend long.  Thanksgiving is my most favoritest of holidays, and this was the first year in five that I didn’t spend it with my family.  Having friends visiting and to visit went a long way towards diminishing my sadness.

Jason, Sonya, and Keem arrived VERY early Thursday morning and stayed through Saturday morning.  We had our fancy Thanksgiving meal Thursday night – turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, stuffing, lingonberries (in place of cranberry sauce), and pie.  We did the prep work and dishes around a drawn-out game of trains, so the whole evening felt relaxed and fun rather than stressy and prep-y and clean-up-y.  For once in the history of Thanksgiving, we made just the right amount of food, as all the leftover save one slice of turkey were gone by the end of Friday’s lunch.  We had other small adventures – a failed trip to the zoo in the midst of a windstorm, a Thanksgiving pizza, a trip to the National Gallery – but mainly it was wonderful to pretty much just pick up where we left off the last time we were all together, which was almost a year ago, before J&S moved to Massachusets.

After delivering Keem to the Metro, Shane and I picked up Andy and drove down to the MacDonalds’ for Thanksgiving #2.  Darren and Hannah had driven down from Philly the previous day, and the seven of us enjoyed another dinner, more games, and a great deal of silliness.  Sarah, Hannah, and I have celebrated Thanksgiving together since I moved to Champaign in 2003, so it was nice to carry on that tradition, though it will be harder as we continue moving further apart.

I think it was really good for both of us to have a lot of relaxing and fun time with friends after being pretty lonely in VA so far.  The only down side is that everyone had to go home.  😦

Thanksgiving recipe #2 – Swedish Apple Pie

Swedish Apple Pie

Streusel:
1 C flour
1/4 lb butter (1 stick)
1/2 C sugar
2 t ground cinnamon

Cut butter into cubes. Combine all ingredients with a pastry blender or food processor until crumbly. Set aside.

Pie fixins:
4 C sliced apples
2 heaping T flour
1 C sour cream
1 egg, beaten
1/2 t vanilla
pinch salt
3/4 C sugar
1 premade or from scratch pie crust

Preheat oven to 400F. Place pie crust in pie pan and pierce a few times with a fork. I like to prebake the crust for a few minutes until it’s set, but that’s totally a personal preference. If you’re all fancy, you can use pie weights. I find that prebaking is helpful as the crust is less likely to fall.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sour cream, egg, vanilla, salt, and sugar until smooth, then stir in apples until coated. Pour into prepared pie crust and top with streusel. Bake 15 minutes at 400F, then reduce the heat to 350F and bake 40 more minutes.

I know that sour cream in apple pie sounds weird, and that the cinnamony goodness you’re used to is notably absent, but please, just trust me on this one.

Thanksgiving Recipe #1 – Kay Fesenmeyer’s Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes

I’m fairly sure I’ve posted this recipe before, but it was specifically requested at Thanksgiving, so I’m posting it (potentially again) anyway. I have “official” directions, but I never follow them anyway, so here’s my best approximation.

6 medium potatoes (~2 lbs?)
4 oz sour cream
3 oz cream cheese, cut up
2 T butter plus more for greasing
1 t onion salt
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 – 1/2 C milk

Peel, boil, and mash the potatoes. If you’re lucky enough to have a Kitchenaid mixer or a food processor, pulverize the potatoes in there, and leave the mixer/processor on. Add the sour cream, cream cheese, 1 T of butter, and the seasonings to taste. My grandma swears by the onion salt – I’ve replaced it with garlic salt, and am thinking about trying other seasonings as well. I really do mean “to taste” here. Spoon the potatoes into a greased casserole dish.

Here’s the nice thing about this recipe: at this point, you can either put the potatoes straight into the oven, or you can refrigerate them for a day or two. This makes big meal preparation soooo easy because the potatoes can be made the night before and then baked with the main entree.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cut up the remaining butter and top the potatoes with the butter and milk – start with 1/4 C, but if the potatoes look dry, add more. Bake uncovered at 350F for one hour, stirring twice.

A couple of notes:

  • Light sour cream or light cream cheese (or neufchatel cheese) is fine, but fat free is not. It’s a consistency thing.
  • I always err on the side of too many potatoes as these always go quickly, and as a result it’s good to have extra enriching ingredients on hand.
  • You can generally buy cream cheese in little bricks – this is an easier option than scooping it out of a tub.
  • In case there isn’t enough fat already, I’ve had good luck with stirring in about 1/4 C shredded cheddar cheese after the second stir.
  • I’ve been meaning to experiment with other seasoning options. Let me know if you try something cool and different!
  • Decision ’07: Lunchboxes

    Over the last year, I have flirted with two separate lunchboxes, evaluating both on a series of criteria specific to my diet, transportation, aesthetic, and otherwise picky needs. The following is my evaluation, prepared here for your reading pleasure and general dining edification:

    My First Bento

    Contestant #1: Mr. Bento
    Cost: $39.99 from Amazon, prices may vary in retail stores
    Description: More of a traditional Bento box, Mr Bento contains four inner containers in an outer bullet-like case.
    Interior containers: Four plastic containers in total, two with snap-on lids (like Tupperware), one with a screw-on air seal lid, and one with a screw-on thermal lid. Four slightly different sizes of containers.
    Exterior/carry case: Metal/metallic thermos-like container with plastic lid that snaps on with side hinges. Canvas-like carry-case with handle and/or shoulder strap.
    Amenities: Comes with either chopsticks (in their own hinged hard plastic case) or spork (with cover).
    Sample meals: Mr Bento Porn Flickr Group (totally SFW)

    Laptop Lunch #1

    Contestant #2: Laptop Lunchbox
    Cost: $20.99 for the most basic model from Laptop Lunches, fancier models come with more but also cost extra
    Description: Brightly-colored plastic hinged lunchbox with modular internal containers.
    Interior containers: Five hard plastic containers in a variety of sizes. Two containers (3x5x2 and 2×1.5×2) have lids, the rest are open.
    Exterior/carry case: Hard plastic hinged container. No handle or carry case.
    Amenities: Comes with silverware and a cookbook with suggestions on packing healthy meals.
    Sample meals: Laptop Lunches Flickr Group

    Springtime bento

    Things I like about Mr. Bento:

    • The thermal lidded container does a good job of keeping cold things cold. It doesn’t keep frozen things frozen, but that’s asking a bit much.
    • The air-seal lidded container does a very good job of keeping liquidy things from leaking. I never once had a spill from my lunchbox when carrying Mr. Bento.
    • The carry-case is very nice and has extra room for things like napkins or teabags or packets of things that didn’t fit in the container itself.
    • Lots of little containers meant that I put a lot of thought into packing my lunch.

    Things I dislike about Mr. Bento:

    • Honestly, it’s pretty bulky. If you don’t carry much back and forth to work, or if you drive, this probably isn’t an issue, but it was frustrating when I was commuting on my bike with my laptop and an assortment of other things. Mr. Bento just didn’t fit in my bag very well. If your workplace has limited fridge space, this could be an issue as well.
    • On the one hand, packing my lunch into lots of little containers was fun and made me think about what I was eating. On the other hand, because it doesn’t make sense to pack the Bento WITHOUT all the internal ones, I felt like I was packing more food than I really needed.
    • Things larger than a bagel (or something with bagel-like dimensions) – a slice of leftover pizza, a bag of chips, an apple – don’t fit, and there’s no good way of making them fit short of cutting them up and/or otherwise changing their original dimensions.

    Day 106 - 11/5/07

    Things I like about the Laptop Lunchbox:

    • The bright colors appeal to my inner 7 year old.
    • The containers are, on the whole, smaller than Mr. Bento’s, so it’s better for portion control.
    • You can remove all of the internal containers and still use the lunchbox – so, for example, if you wanted to take a slice of pizza, you could take out two containers, put in the slice of pizza, and still use the remaining containers. Alternately, you could take out all the containers and fill the box up with a big salad or something.
    • The entire package is more compact, so it fits well in my small messenger bag along with my wallet, book, iPod, and other commuting essentials. It also fits nicely in the compact office fridge.
    • It’s easy to buy extra accessories like a thermal sleeve, a carry case, a matching thermos, replacement containers, etc.

    Things I dislike about the Laptop Lunchbox:

    • The lack of lids can be a problem. The provided lids are very good, but what if you want to bring yogurt AND granola and don’t want the granola getting everywhere? I’ve been using Press’n Seal (what kind of a silly name is that?) wrap, and up until today have had no problems, even with soup! Today, however, I had leaky beans, but the damage was minimal. Even with Press’n Seal, you’re potentially pushing your luck, so I’ve been double extra cautious (again, up until today) and have put the lunchbox in a plastic bag in my bag for transportation purposes.
    • No thermal powers whatsoever. This hasn’t been an issue as I haven’t had to take it anywhere without access to a fridge, and this problem could be remedied with the purchase of the thermal sleeve or insulated carry case, available for about $15 each.

    Overall, for my purposes the Laptop Lunchbox is the winner. It is compact, the portions are smaller, and I feel like a little kid every time I pack my purple (!) lunchbox with rainbow colored containers. I imagine there will be instances when I still use Mr. Bento, but for the most part, my needs are met by the Laptop Lunchbox. For the price of Mr. Bento ($39.99), you could buy the entire Laptop Lunchbox system (lunchbox, containers, silverware, cookbook, insulated carry case, and water bottle) ($34.99) – or you could save $15 and get the basic model.

    I invite discussion on this important topic.

    grump grump grump

    Shane and I were been followed by bad service in our last year in Champaign – very long waits, undercooked food (or hot food brought cold to the table), food prepared completely wrong, disappearing servers, food spilled on us with no apology (including mayo on Shane’s very expensive jeans), etc – and we had hoped that by moving 700+ miles east, we would shake this curse and go back to receiving at least decent service.  Both of us have worked in food service, so if anything, we’re probably more patient with busy servers than the average patron.  Out here, however, the service seems to have gone from bad to worse, as if the servers just really need to rub it in your face that they’re barely making enough to pay their exorbitant rents and so you, the tipping patron, should suffer just like they do.a

    Recently, our bad food service experiences have started spilling over into bad retail service as well.  I made it my goal to finish my Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving, so yesterday we went out to the mall to pick up a few more things, including a jacket from Banana Republic that I’ve been eying as a replacement for my Goodwill-d peacoat.  After checking several stores for the jacket, I called ahead and asked to have it put on hold.

    Now, I’ll give you that the mall at Christmastime is a horrific place to be.  The store was busy.  I’m not complaining about that.  We waited, first in the wrong line, and then in the correct line, for a cashier, expecting to just purchase the jacket and leave.  Before doing so, though, I wanted to look the jacket over – it’s white and I didn’t want to pay a bunch of money for something that was potentially already stained.  The clerk gave me a dirty look, asked us to step out of line, and definitely was not happy when I found a stain on one of the sleeves and had to run out to grab another jacket off the rack.  She rang us up without any of the normal transaction niceties, but I didn’t really care because I finally had the jacket!

    Imagine my surprise, then, when I went to put the jacket on this morning and discovered the loss prevention tag still firmly attached.  It’s also worth noting that one of the shirts Shane purchased at a different store ALSO had the loss prevention tag left on, though the service he received up until that point was much better than mine.

    These are all minor things, but in concert with the rest of the ridiculous little frustrations we’ve encountered in trying to do the simplest of things (like this morning, when Shane went to the convenience store on the ground floor 20 minutes after they opened with the hopes of picking up his dry cleaning, only to discover the store still closed and locked), it’s clear that our rash of bad service has turned into a full-on plague.