*For the record, I love cats and I’m awfully fond of Al Gore
Try a simple stencil, instead. They’re sold in kitchen supply and in craft stores, but if you care to, you can make your own. Just print out a design, symbol, or short phrase, and cut it out with an exacto knife or super sharp scissor. Keep your design on the large and simple side … cutting out the shape can be a bit painstaking. Place your stencil on your cake — or meat loaf if that’s more your style — and sift some confectioners sugar over top. You can use cocoa if you’re decorating a light surface. Don’t sift too much, just a light dusting. Make sure the surface isn’t soggy, or the sugar will melt into it. Sometimes putting the cake in the frig for a bit is all you need to get a usable surface.
And voila, no more “Happy Birthday” that looks like it was written by a drunken kangaroo.
They say unemployment’s up, then they say it’s down. Then they say it depends. But if you ask me, at least in the tech and web design field, the job market is getting better. When times are rough it’s tempting to take a job, any job. The employers are in the driver’s seat. (“What’s that you say, I have to have eight years’ experience with Ruby on Rails and C#, be an expert in Drupal, Photoshop, SEO and a certified Microsoft Systems Engineer? And the pay is $4 an hour, with no benefits? Sign me up!”) But now that the balance of power is being restored — ever so slowly, it’s a good idea to remember that the employee also gets to evaluate the employer. Are they right for you? Will you be happy there? Is the place full of deranged lunatics and/or mindless drones? It’s hard to determine these things in a one hour interview.
But I have a little-known technique that may give you some insight into your future with a potential employer. I call it the Coffee Creamer Workplace Rating System and it works as follows:
Zero Coffee Creamers
The only circumstance in which “no coffee creamers” could be awarded is if the workplace has no coffee. It seems unimaginable that a modern workplace would not offer at least a watery, caffeine-laced, productivity-enhancing beverage to the staff, but I am here to testify that such workplaces do exist. Because I worked in one. Summer job: engineering firm-slash-sweatshop. I was a temporary secretary. The owner was the cheapest person I have ever worked for. If you wanted coffee, you could bring your own — which was allowed. At 5:00 on the dot, every single engineer in the joint dropped his drafting pencil on his (shared) drafting table and ran silently screaming to his car.
Mitigating Factor — Straight shooter. You knew what you were getting with this guy. Nothing.
One Coffee Creamer
This is the case of a workplace that has a couple of glass-and-plastic coffee pots on a warming plate. Maybe a crusty “Mr Coffee” with several foil bags of “Gold Mountain Blend” scattered about. It may not be the best coffee ever, but it’s free and plentiful. In terms of creamer, you get the white powder in the cardboard canister, and –if you’re lucky– some of those red and white plastic sticks with which you can attempt to break up the creamer clumps. Interestingly, the Fortune 100 company for which I once worked only earned a one-coffee-creamer rating.
Mitigating Factor: there was a Starbucks in the lobby.
Two Coffee Creamers
See above, except the coffee creamer is of a slightly higher caliber. Now we’re talking about those little plastic cups containing a spoonful or so of milky liquid. You might know them as “Mini Moo’s”. The label may say ‘half-and-half’, but that is questionable since these things never seem to go bad.
Mitigating factor: even though many two-creamer-rated offices store the little cups in the office frig (vegetable crisper usually), refrigeration is completely unnecessary.
Three Coffee Creamers
At this level, the office has a coffee machine that makes a decent brew. “Decent” could mean providing grounds from branded manufacturers that shall remain unmentioned here (ahem! — doughnuts). Or it could mean providing pre-made coffee paks, the ones that drop into the machine without any scooping, tearing, pouring or measuring. And, it goes without saying, decent coffee includes anything made in an espresso or latte machine. As far as creamer goes, we are talking freshly purchased cartons of milk or half-and-half. Seriously, if you find yourself in a work/coffee situation like this, you have struck gold.
Mitigating factor: Management may make workers feel guilty about the expense and effort it takes to earn a three-creamer-rating.
Four Coffee Creamers
Research reveals that the four-creamer rating can only be found at the highest level of executive privilege, as it involves coffee that is made just for you, by someone else. Not poured for you by an administrative assistant (does that even happen anymore?) out of the communal swill, but actually made fresh for you, by the cup, to your individual liking. If this is your life, you are probably the owner of a multinational corporation or a small country. Congratulations. You have reached workplace coffee nirvana! Never leave.
Mitigating factor: you are working in a place where no one in charge ever feels guilty.
So the next time you’re out on an interview, think of it as a reconnaissance mission, and check out the coffee room before you make up your mind.
Thanks to my ‘On Demand’ habit, I have been able to watch a surprising number of this Fall’s new tv shows. And because I am, ahem, a lady, it seems that most of my chosen shows have been specifically targeted to the ladies. Score, tv marketing people! Although you may not want to have me figured out exactly, it seems you do. As such, this is what I have seen so far:
The New Girl: Starring the adorable and quirky Zooey Deschanel and three dudes, one of which is a Wayans. Deschanel moves into a charming urban apartment with three young guys she’s never met, after abruptly splitting with her live-in boyfriend. (She catches him cheating on her.) This show instantly fell apart for me because it relies on the premise that any three guys in the world would not immediately fall in love with and/or be attracted to Zooey Deschanel. Plus which, she plays a sweet girl, not a crazy person or a man-eating monster, and she dresses cute, and is post-breakup vulnerable. C’mon now writers, at least throw a credible obstacle our way.
Verdict: Almost worth it for the “Aaah OOOgah” bit Deschanel does with her glasses on seeing a hot guy in bar, but not quite. Although sitcom writing has improved greatly since the seventies, this one is still smells like “Three’s Company.”
Ringers: Sarah Michelle Gellar plays identical twins –one a rich, married Manhattanite and the other a SoCal floozy — who are both on the run from the law, significant others, creditors and (possibly) agents who don’t care about them anymore. Of course they trade identities, a la every other movie and soap opera about twins, and no one notices. Although the plot is meant to be intriguing and sexy, it is just contrived and — in the words of a knowledgable ten-year-old — “stoopit”. Making it even worse in this age of fantabulous CGI effects, the show doesn’t seem to have updated its “both twins in the frame” technology since The Parent Trap. And I mean Haley Mills’ Parent Trap.
Verdict: Except for some drool-worthy Manhattan interiors, this one is a total miss. Sorry Sarah Michelle, you know I love you, but better luck next time.
Revenge: A young woman, whose decent middle-class family has been ruined by a wealthy and despicable “Kennedy-esque” clan, returns to the scene of the crime — the Hamptons — to single-handedly bring down the east coast dynasty. No super-famous stars in this one, though they are all attractive and some do look familiar. Don’t ask me why this show is better than the Sarah Michelle Geller vehicle, to which it bears some resemblance, but it is. Perhaps because it offers us some really good baddies, and we don’t mind at all when they are set adrift in a rowboat in the Long Island Sound, perhaps someday to come ashore in Jersey (eew).
Verdict: Impossible plot in a beautiful location. This one knows what it is. A guilty pleasure.
Prime Suspect: I saw the star of this series, Maria Bello, promoting it on a morning talk show, and I thought “Oh no, this sounds horrible. How could they?” I’m a huge fan of the Helen Mirren/BBC series of the same name, and my reaction was somewhat akin to hearing that NBC had remade — I don’t know what an appropriate analogy would be here — say, ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ with Justin Bieber. No, no said Maria to the ‘Good Morning Whatever’ host, the new show is quite different; it’s New York in 2011, not London in the 90′s. And it would have to be different. Because the original series was subtle, it had complex characters that you cared about, very few if any guns and car chases, plus Helen Mirren and her hair that always looked good.
But, like any idiot who drives past a car wreck on I-95, I just had to slow down and look. So I watched the pilot. And it was good. Yes, it’s a different show. Maria Bello”s character, Jane Timoney, carries a gun that would stop Dirty Harry in his tracks. And there are car chases and fights. And Jane’s boyfriend has been upgraded from an endearingly schlumpy construction company owner to a white-hot, shirtless carpenter.
But there are still quite a few similarities to the original series. While the sexism that dogged Helen Mirren’s every step has abated a bit, it’s still there for Maria Bello’s Jane Timoney. In fact, both the old and new Janes get a significant career boost from a colleague’s unfortunate medical event. And then there is both old and new Jane’s weird affinity for children (not entirely believable in the original series either), and her ability to get information out of suspects by getting in their heads, rather than hitting their heads with the phone book. And Maria Bello’s hair isn’t bad either.
Bottom line: I’m a fan of the new Jane. Giant gun and all. Not the least because she actually DOES something. She’s not a “columnist” or a “decorator” or a “philanthropist” whose work all happens off screen, and apparently at 3 o’clock in the morning. I like her toughness – even if it’s a bit of fantasy. Somewhere along the line, someone must have told Jane,”If you want to cry, go outside” and somehow, someway, she’s been able to pull it off. Gonna DVR every episode and hope they’re all as good as the pilot.
We all know about the Michelin guide and the AAA guide, with their four stars and their five diamonds. But I have decided to rate hotels based on the quality of their hangers. That’s right, hangers. The hangers in the closet. The durability, count, and mobility of the hangers is a sure-fire indication of the quality of the hotel. To wit, my hotel rating system:
Literally, no hangers at this establishment. If you are the kind of person who has clothes that need to be hung up, you probably shouldn’t be staying here. While there may be a closet, or a metal rod of some kind, in the room, it is unclear for what purpose the device was intended.
In this lodging you will find one or two wire hangers — dry cleaner style. Most likely left behind by previous occupants. But at least the housekeeping staff had the common courtesy to leave them in the room.
Here we have the case of the decapitated hanger. An unremoveable “O” ring is fixed to the closet hanging rod, into which the detachable hanger body is inserted with a small “t” bar. The hanger itself is decent, usually substantial and made of wood, but its overall construction betrays the hotel’s lack of faith in its customers. They are quite sure their customers’ main purpose in life is to steal hangers, and are saying to them, “Good luck using this one back home.” Apart from the unpleasant whiff of suspicion associated with this type of hanger, there is also the immovability factor. You can’t even use this hanger anywhere else in your hotel room. Want to steam out wrinkles in the shower? Not with this little stumpy-necked bastard. Want to leave tomorrow’s outfit over the back of a chair in the sitting area? Sorry, suckers! Better get back in the closet.
Ok, now we’re starting to get somewhere. Here we have a fully functioning wooden hanger, maybe with a double bar for slacks or clips for a skirt. And being a one-piece hanger, it can be taken out of the closet and hung somewhere else. But wait! What have we here? The hook of this hanger only fits over the miniature-diameter rod in the hotel closet. Its tiny hook size will clearly render it useless once you have stolen it and tried to use it in your home closet with its now seemingly gigantic hanging rods. Fail! Mistrust fail! However, mitigating factor if the tiny hook also fits on the hotel’s bathroom shower curtain rod for aforementioned de-wrinkling procedure.
Normal-size wooden hangers, with normal-size hooks, that can be removed and hung about the hotel room at your pleasure. Quantity above eight, especially in hotels that cater to couples and families who tend to stay for more than two nights.
Aaahhh, hanger nirvana. About a dozen standard-size, removable hangers. Now here is what separates the men from the boys, the “just fines” from the “outstandings”: there should be a variety of hangers — some with skirt clips, some with slacks hangers, some just for suit jackets, and some with padding for blouses and ‘delicates’. These five hanger establishments have decided that, given what you are paying for the room, you are aware that — should you ‘accidentally’ walk away with a hanger, or a delightful terrycloth bathrobe — you will be charged for it, and you will not raise a fuss.
It’s the unspoken pact of so-called civilized society.
This list is based on my personal opinions. It is not the result of rigorous statistical analysis or polling. It is not based on nutritional or social value. Obviously this list does not cover every variety of candy (what of licorice, Lifesavers, Milk Duds or Junior Mints?), nor does it include the myriad of sugary treat spin offs — such as Nerds, Air Heads, Runts, Sour Patch Kids, etc. but really now, why should it?
Full Size Bar or Bag
Varieties: Snickers, Milky Way, Mars Bar, 3 Musketeers, Twix, Kit Kat, M&M’s, Reeses Cups, Baby Ruth, Pay Day, Nestle Crunch Notes: Any household giving out full-size candy on Halloween is sure to have its supply depleted in less than an hour, due to sophisticated kid networking techniques. Full-size handouts are a rare occurrence, usually from a comfortably retired couple who miss the grandkids. Capable of generating 52 weeks of starry-eyed kid-love.
Mini-Bar or Bag
Varieties: See Full-Size Bar or Bag, above Notes: One reason that the mini-bar is so well-positioned in the pecking order is that most people give out multiples. Also mini’s are less likely to be confiscated by parents on grounds of “no way you’re eating that whole thing, pal . ” Mitigating Factor: Mini Mr Goodbars are over-represented in the mix and have stale nuts.
Goetze’s Caramel Cremes
Notes: This soft caramel with a powdered-sugar center was a local specialty in Baltimore, where I spent most of my childhood. I assume that most municipalities boast a similar confection of tooth-enamel-destroying deliciousness.
Pixy Stix – a.k.a. Fruit-Flavored Sugar
Related: Skittles, Sweetarts and — from the sub-species Taffy Fruitorum – Starburst or Now & Later Notes: Hats off to the genius who invented Pixy Stix. Sucrose-based crack, the Stix deliver pure sugary pleasure, in neon colors with a barely detectable citrus flavoring, and in a STRAW! Kids love straws! Administer and then stand back while subjects go apewire.
Acceptable Fall Back Candies
Note: This is a case of chocolate failure. They’re chalky and bland, plus the packaging easily comes loose, allowing for contamination from, whatever. Leaves a weird taste in the mouth and is never satisfying. I am nostalgic for the idea of the Hershey kisses, with their cute shape and holiday-themed foil wrappers. But not for the reality of them.
Box of Raisins
So Ethan Frome. Raisins are not candy, people!
Tastes like waxy corn syrup. Even worse when not “korn” shaped.
Hard as granite. Has probably been in a cupboard for five years.
Variations: Anything inedible, such as plastic toys, toothbrushes (Thanks, Dr. Konigsberg) or religious pamphlets. Notes: As an adult, I understand the circumstances that can bring this situation about. (What is the deal with all these nutball kids running around outside tonight? Aw geez … Get the penny jar out, Alan.) As a child, I did not.
Straight into Trash Can
Notes: I know, they’re home-baked and adorable, and the ears are made out of organic gingersnaps, plus the woman who gave them out has been in the PTA with all the other moms for four years. Doesn’t matter. It’s going in the can. This category also includes fresh fruit, which everyone knows is just a clever delivery system for razor blades and poison. And anything unwrapped. You cannot toss a loose handful of Sno-Caps in a kid’s bag. It’s like saying “Why don’t you go home and throw these away? “
I just want to take a moment to pay tribute to the two older gentlemen who sit outside my Starbucks every morning, at the table right by the door, talking about their Mercedes’ or their boats or their investment strategy or whatever other imaginary stuff they’re involved with, while they watch everyone who comes in and out, and who, without fail, fall utterly silent every time a female enters or leaves the shop. Here’s to you, Statler and Waldorf! I salute you.
One of my favorite Simpson’s episodes (just one of many) is the one where Homer and his neighbor Ned Flanders get into a suburban-style competition and try to out-do each other vis à vis ostentatious consumption. At some point it comes down to who can buy the more impressive RV, and Homer finds himself at the local RV dealership, hoping to buy a mega-mobile-home called “The Ultimate Behemoth.”
The salesman (a smooth-talker wearing a bolo tie) and Homer sit on opposite sides of a desk and talk.
SALESMAN (laughs): I’m not gonna quote you a price till I check your credit rating. And let me — I want to make myself clear on this. This is a formality. If you’re saying to me, “Bob, is this guy good for it?”, I say, “Yes.” I don’t check this machine, but I don’t own the place, even though’s my name up there. Long story, but that doesn’t matter. I’m gonna have to run it through the computer.
The salesman presses [Enter] and suddenly, a loud siren erupts.
HOMER: Is that a good siren? Am I approved?
SALESMAN: You ever know a siren to be good? (chuckles). No, Mr. Simpson, it’s not. It’s a bad siren. That’s the computer in case I went blind, telling me “Sell the vehicle to this fella and you’re out of business!” That’s what the siren says.
So that got me thinking. Like a siren or a phone call at 4 in the morning,what other things are never good? I’ve come up with a few phrases, and I’m certainly open to more:
- “Do you have a plunger?”
- “It’s the school calling.”
- “What kind of insurance do you have?”
- “We need to talk.”
- “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
- “Was the cat still in there?”
Sometimes I wish there was an “undo” key for life. Just something that would erase everything that you’d recently done until you got back to the last point where things were working right. You wouldn’t even have to know what you’d done wrong. (Was it when I woke up late? When I stopped for a Qwik Mart breakfast wrap? When I didn’t open all my emails because nothing looked important? When I forgot to wave at the parking lot attendant?) You’d just keep hitting “undo” until all was well.
Or system restore. For those times when you don’t want to lose any data — you just want to go back to the last time everything functioned properly. Let’s see. How about last Friday? Yeah, system restore for life. That would be nice.
Part of my job involves routinely writing copy about each state in the union, and why it would be so awesome to spend time in that state. (id est, “Idaho is known as the gem state, and it is a gem.”) Write such a blurb for one state, you’re enthusiastic. Write 46 blurbs, and your imagination begins to chart a course of its own.
So in the course of my research concerning our nation, I discovered that the state of Maryland (my home state) not only has a state flower, a state song, and a state motto, it also has a state crustacean. One can only imagine the glorious day in the Maryland state legislature when the state crustacean – by the way, the state crustacean is the blue crab (was there ever any doubt?) – was voted into law.
Was there opposition? “The chair respectfully requests that the Rock Shrimp please lower his hand, er, claw. The chair can only recognize residents of the great state of Maryland.” Were there pretenders? “The Committee recognizes the achievements of the King Crab, and duly notes that state of Alaska has staked a prior claim – thus obviating any made in these chambers.” Was there chaos? “Seriously, who let Horseshoe in here? Is that thing even a crustacean?”
Oh my god, I still love Maryland. In all its messed up conformity and quirkiness. Is there any other state that has an official crustacean? Or any other state that deserves one?