October 29, 2009

October 29, 2009

WTF Product of the Day, Volume 6

My beloved Container Store is having a 20% off everything sale. They emailed me four separate times over three days about it. Let it be said that this store knows its audience.

While salivating over just about every single item on the website, I came across this:

What in the WHAT?

I completely understand the utility of these crates. I myself have one in the trunk of my car, corralling jumper cables and the like. I’ve used them for files, for laundry, and even as makeshift picnic baskets. They’re strong and easy to carry. Win-win.

What confuses me is the “authentic” part. Yes, I get that these crates are “authentic” in the Pottery Barn hipster sort of way. I still find the word completely superfluous.

“A dairy crate? I don’t understand. What is that?”

“Oh, an AUTHENTIC dairy crate. Now I know EXACTLY what you mean!”

Yeah, no.

Seriously, though, at $8 on sale these things are a deal. Stock up. And then stack up. (And then stop booing my humor. We all have our moments of weakness.)

October 28, 2009

October 28, 2009

Things I’ve Read: A Little Bit Wicked

I’m not a fan of women who are pretty, blond, or small, being none of those things myself. I can let one or two of those characteristics pass, but put me in close proximity to someone with the trifecta and I get annoyed pretty fast. (This happened recently at a dinner once; I had to mouth “I don’t like her” to TheBoy after about 10 minutes. True story.)

You’d think, then, that Kristin Chenoweth would drive me batty. She’s certainly pretty. Very blond. And freakishly tiny (though not, she would point out, unproportionate). Yet I find myself liking the woman more and more.

Her mid-life memoir, A Little Bit Wicked, was so great I read it straight through in a single sitting. I do this with very few books, as uninterrupted 4-hour stretches of time are so hard to come by these days. I blame television, TheBoy, and gainful employment. However, when I picked up Chenoweth’s book one night last week, I couldn’t put it down. Turns out her idea of a memoir involves Cool Whip-based recipes, religious humor, and Aaron Sorkin. (I imagine my own memoir will be very similar, actually.)

Dancing and singing were Chenoweth’s first loves. As is so often the case for performers, a few small jobs led to a few bigger ones until she hit it big. The girl from Oklahoma ends up on Broadway. Good stuff.

And not just on Broadway, of course. I was equally or even more interested to read what Chenoweth had to say about her time on The West Wing and Pushing Daisies. Sorkin geeks might be interested to know that Chenoweth first wanted the part of Ainsley Hayes (which ended up going to Emily Procter) before landing the role of media consultant Annabeth Schott. Also, there’s that whole on-again-off-again relationship with Sorkin. I really wanted more juice on that, but both she and Sorkin were terribly prim and respectful. I WANT DETAILS.

Chenoweth also competed in her fair share of pageants, and I enjoyed those stories. It’s not all fun and hair spray. It’s like Daniel in the lion’s den, but with high heels and duct tape.

Readers may come to this book because they’re fans of Wicked, or The West Wing, or tiny blonde women. But they’ll stay for the funny stories, and the homespun humor, and the Cool Whip.

Hey, we’re Americans. It’s what we do.

October 27, 2009

October 27, 2009

Bike Me to the Moon

Car Free Day was held in D.C. a few weeks ago. Since it was, like, on a Tuesday and I rarely use my car on weekdays, I figured I’d sign up. The lure of “prizes” may or may not have held more sway than the lure of “helping the environment.” Whatever.

Oddly enough, I DID win something. Yay!

It was a gift card to a bike store. Boo!

Said bike store sells Clif bars, so I guess I’m set. (I could also get a helmet, just because.) Really, I suppose this makes more sense than, I dunno, a gift card for gas. But as someone with limited biking desire/opportunity/desire at this point in her life, I’d rather have the three gallons.

Don’t get me wrong: I loved biking as a kid. Hey, there was a time when I chose trike over tv. (When I was a child, I thought as a child…) I still know how to ride and all. But you know that I’m not so much a fan of the sports-like activities. Losing all the weight didn’t translate into gaining all the coordination. Sigh.

Even if I DID get a bike, I would want either something with no gears or the wicked awesome Trek Lime AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION bike. Folks, I have a graduate degree and still do not understand bicycle gears. Gear switching? Hand brakes? Tight shorts? These are all things best left to pros. I’ll take a pink Huffy, please.

Friend-of-blog Mel is an avid rider (and all-around sportswoman), and my hat’s off to her and to all of you who cycle. I’ll stick to hard ground, thanks.

Don’t wait up.

October 26, 2009

October 26, 2009

Things I’ve Read: In the President’s Secret Service

I’m the first to admit that my job isn’t glamorous. YOU may be an astronaut, professional athlete, or member of Cirque du Soleil. I, however, manage money for the federal government. It’s not so much glamour as it is spreadsheets and phone calls.

This isn’t to say that the federal government is lacking in glitz. You know who makes the rules? WE DO. You know who goes into space? WE DO. You know who keeps the launch codes? I can neither confirm nor deny that WE DO.

So, yeah, you get the idea. No need for me to re-hash my Come to the Federal Side speech; you can read that here. Suffice to say that government jobs are so much more than paper pushing. Well, government jobs other than mine, anyway.

Secret service agent is pretty high up there on the coolness scale, right? The sunglasses? The speaking into shirt cuffs? The coiled earpieces? What could be better than being a member of the agency charged with protecting the President of these United States?

Turns out: a LOT of things.

I recently read both an article and a book that both convinced me never to work for the U.S. Secret Service. Even if I learn how to run, throw, and/or climb. (Side note: HAHAHAHAHA.)

The problem with being a Secret Service agent is that even if you’re lucky enough to make it in, and survive the training, and get an assignment, you have to realize that you’re going to be spending a lot of time sitting in cars, standing in hallways, and dealing with assholes.

I’m sorry; it must be said.

While many protectees have understood and embraced the protection mission of the USSS (e.g. the Obamas), just as many have shirked and abused it (Jenna Bush, I’m lookin’ at you). Imagine being asked to pick up dry cleaning, or drive a cabinet member to his mistress’ house, or deal with a completely naked and utterly drunk protectee. Not making this up, people.

Add to that the fact that the USSS was originally created to investigate money crimes (true story: it’s still technically a part of the treasury department) and you have bad news. The agency’s annual appropriation is a measly $1.5 billion. And they’re expected to follow TWO missions.

You may not shudder at that paragraph, but this federal money manager weeps inside. Federal-agency-that-shall-not-be-named has a similar budget but just one mission, and it’s not like we’re standing between the First Family and assassins, y’know?

I’ve come to learn that living the life I do involves a fair amount of “peeking behind the curtain.” It’s the way of life in D.C.: the corridors of power lose a little of their luster after a while. Ideally, you realize this before you’ve committed to a career of standing in hallways.

October 23, 2009

October 23, 2009

Chicago Weekend, Part 5

Columbus Day was our last day in the Windy City. (Yes, I realize that this may be the world’s most drawn-out trip recap. Deal with it.) Neither of us was looking forward to leaving, since TheBoy had discovered what I knew all along: the Midwest is full of friendly people, gridded street systems, and sandwich shops.

The Shedd Aquarium

The original plan was to hit the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium all in one go. They’re located on the same campus, so it’s completely feasible in theory. However, in reality, once we did the first two, we realized that continuing to the Shedd would result in our heads exploding.

(Also, I was hungry.)

So we moved the aquarium to the final day.

After the trip, I remarked to TheBoy that I’d taken something like 300 photographs. He replied, “Yes, and a quarter of them are blurry pictures of fish.”

True dat. I got a boatload of pictures like this:

Rest assured, when it came time to document the existence of one plant, I made TheBoy use his fancy camera.

Is that a hot dog-shaped aquatic lifeform in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

I found Nemo:

And a onesie that works for me if you change “sometimes” to “almost always”:

Lunch

It was a cold day, so I wanted something warm and familiar. We went with Chipotle, a chain that to me is still exotic. (My parents are Polish/German and Korean. They’re Milwaukeeans. They’re cheap. None of these adds up to “Chipotle fans,” people.)

This confused me, though:

My, my, Chipotle. Seems like only yesterday you were drinking from a sippy cup.

Union Station

I’ll fess up: my main reason for visiting Union Station was…

If they could just build one anywhere near D.C. Seriously.

Oh, and we looked at trains and stuff, too. Eh.

Sears Willis Tower

(What blasphemy is this? Come ON. SEARS Tower, people. Unless the "Willis" is Bruce...no, not even then. Sears, darnit. SEARS.)

The CityPasses we’d been using at most attractions thus far were HUGE time and money savers. For $69, you get into 5 key Chicago attractions, plus you get to skip to the front of the line, plus you can get free coffee at the John Hancock Observatory.

Unfortunately, if you use up your CityPass coupons by the time you get to the Sears Willis Tower, you have to deal with this:

AND THAT IS ON A RAINY MONDAY, PEOPLE. WTF.

Did this make it worth it?

Yes.

And this?

You betcha.

And the new Skydeck that lets you step out over the wee city below?

Totally.

Ghirardelli. Again.

We justified one last visit (there were only two, but I think the copious amounts of sugar consumed made them feel like a lot more) with the whole “This is literally the closest one to D.C.” excuse. There’s not much danger we’ll make it a habit.

Even after eating this peanut buttery monstrosity:

While DRINKING chocolate:

If you’ll excuse me, I think my pancreas is calling.

So that’s it. My apologies to Lydia, Shelley, and Amber, who each tried to hunt me down to confirm that TheBoy is, in fact, real. The truth is that our schedule was so wonky that finding a firm time to meet up was too hard. That’s what she said.

In October 2010, though? Then we’ll talk.

October 22, 2009

October 22, 2009

Chicago Weekend, Part 4

The first (bloggable, ahem) agenda item for Sunday, October 11 was…

The Art Institute of Chicago

Granted, I’ve never been to the Louvre, or the Tate, or MOMA. But I have been to the Met, and the National Gallery of Art, and other places of artiness. For my money, you can’t get a better deal than the Art Institute.

New since my last visit: the Modern Wing, home to splotches and splatters galore. Oh, and a Rothko: Also, this:

And this one, too:

I recently discovered the basement room of miniatures, though, and my fascination with all things tiny meant it was a big hit.

(Figuratively.)

Lunch

We went to Potbelly’s again because a) it was close and I was hungry, b) the freaking chain was INVENTED in Chicago, so it was appropriate, and c) I was hungry.

The salad turned out to be a lot bigger than I expected. Not that I didn’t dive in head first.

We forewent the ice cream sandwich. Later on, you'll see why.

The Museum of Science and Industry

While the Adler Planetarium only recently succumbed to the noisier-is-better philosophy of museuming, the MSI has always been about bells and whistles. Many cities have such a place, where children can pull and push and ring and yell. Despite it being a Monday, MSI was no exception.

As you can imagine, I was THRILLED. Sticky fingers everywhere.

Anyway, my favorite exhibit is the Farm Tech area. You can take the girl out of the Midwest, but put her back in and all she wants is warm milk and a hay bale.

I knew I was home when I saw the dairy house rules:

You know how many of those I follow in my own life? D, ALL OF THE ABOVE. In a past (and maybe a present) life, I was obviously a cow.

The U-505 submarine was also cool, though I could do nothing but repeat “unterseeboot” over and over.

(As I type this, I continue to say it aloud. It’s a fun word. Shutup.)

Between that and the giant train model, it was a good visit for both me and TheBoy.

Plus, we got to wait for our bus in lovely Hyde Park, one-time home of the Obama family.

Dinner

This was truly my birthday dinner: Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. It’s touristy, sure. But DANG, shrimp.

Navy Pier

As I told TheBoy afterwards, Navy Pier is just an odd little collection of stuff.

Gardens:

Navy stuff (obviously)

A stained glass museum:

An amusement park:

And other things. It’s crazy and wonky and I love it.

Ghirardelli

The Ghirardelli soda fountain was our downfall.

It looks so innocent. Then they bring out your order and you realize that you’re going to eat the day’s sugar allotment at 10 p.m.

We pretty much crashed after that. And perhaps became diabetics.

In the final installment: Going deep and going high.

October 20, 2009

October 20, 2009

Chicago Weekend, Part 3

Moving on to Saturday afternoon and evening…

The Adler Planetarium

In yet another “Dang, I’m old” moment, I realized while at the Adler that I kept using the phrase “Now, when *I* was a kid…” I mean, when I was a kid, the Adler was a giant dark room with, like, some pictures of the moon and a cool domed room where they’d show what I liked to call “star movies.” Now, it’s all interactive wizardry.

That girl is already 57% more sophisticated than I was at her age, though we both had pink clothes and pigtails, ha:

Please note that even as a child, I was uncomfortable in both pictures and heat.

I have to admit that I did enjoy the inactive aspect a little in the exhibit that asked kids to say what they wanted to be the first of on the moon. I couldn’t resist adding my two cents:

Michigan Avenue

Since I love walking in Chicago and it wasn’t prohibitively cold, we decided to trek from the planetarium all the way up Michigan Avenue to the Gold Coast. Little did we know it was the eve of the Chicago marathon.

Or that Buckingham Fountain was a wedding picture necessity worth freezing for.

Eventually, though, we made it to Millennium Park and the bean.

John Hancock Center

Since the dinnertime wait at both Giordano’s and Gino’s East was 2+ hours, we went to the John Hancock first. I’d planned to do one tall building at night and the other during the day. Thus the Sears Willis Tower waited until Monday.

Little did we know we’d arrive just in time to watch the Navy Pier fireworks FROM ABOVE.

The rest of the views were magnificent, as usual.

Dinner

Two words: deep dish.

I’d waited over a year for it. And except for a sliver I gave TheBoy to try, I ate THE WHOLE THING.

That’s just how I roll. Literally, out of the restaurant and into bed. Because five pounds of pizza in the gullet doesn’t let you do much else.

In the next installment: Indoor art, outdoor art.

Chicago Weekend, Part 2

That Saturday was October 10th. 10/10 for those of you playing at home. Little did I realize just how many wedding parties I would see freezing their butts off trying to get interesting photos at Chicago landmarks.

(Answer: six.)

The Field Museum

Oh, Marshall Field. Dear, sweet Marshall Field. As a wee child, I thought your best contribution to the world was the Frango mint. Then I discovered the Field Museum.

While TheBoy enjoyed the dinosaurs, pirates, and rocks (psh, boys), I was excited to see my favorite area:

It’s true. Shutup.

My second favorite part, of course, is the gems (psh, girls). Imagine my horror when I found this outside the exhibit:

OH NO YOU DI’INT.

Then, while walking through my favorite animal displays (old-school stuffed-and-posed), a nearby tour guide called it “really boring.”

OH NO YOU DI’INT.

Obviously, it was time for

Lunch

Chicago is a great foodie city. I was looking forward to eating my weight in pizza for dinner, so I kept it light with some Potbelly’s. I had a sandwich made of bread and meat:

Then I had half a sandwich made of ice cream, cookie, and happy:

Tomorrow: Planets, Post-its, and the bean.