Friday Photos and Weekend Baking

As promised, here are the photos I took of the bread I made last weekend. The quality of the photos isn't great, given that I scanned them into my computer, but you can still see what the loaves looked like. The bread tasted great for a first effort, but it didn't come close to FarmGirl's beautiful bread. For an amazing picture of her bread, go here.

This weekend is a busy one. We have a rehearsal dinner to go to tonight and a wedding to go to tomorrow. Tomorrow before the 4pm wedding, though, I'm going to try two recipes from Nic over at Baking Sheet: Sour Cream Tea Bread and Almond Yogurt Cake. And if I have time, I want to give these Butterless, Flourless Cookies from Amy over at Beauty Joy Food a try (minus the chocolate, which she assures me will work!). Yummy and healthy!

Wish me luck!

Not One to Complain, But....

This past weekend, my husband, his brother, his brother's wife, my mother-in-law, and I went out to dinner. We went to a nice Italian restaurant, a place at which my husband and I had dined several times in the past (although not in the last few years). The food and service were always excellent each time we visited. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case this time.

Our reservation was for 6:30pm. We were promptly seated at our table, which wasn't optimal and was in the kitchen's direct path, but that wasn't a concern for any of us. What was a concern was that no one approached our table after initially seating us and giving us our menus for over 30 minutes. We had no water. We had no bread. We had no service whatsoever.

When the waitress finally came to our table, she offered no explanation for her tardy arrival. No apology of any kind. She took our drink order. Then she disappeared for another 15 minutes. She returned again and took our food order. 15 minutes later our salads arrived. It was then almost 7:30pm. She didn't clear our salad plates, or refill our water, or visit our table again until our meals finally arrived at 8:00pm, one and a half hours after we first sat down. In that time, diners who had arrived after we had received and finished their meals.

Now, I have a deep empathy for waitstaff at restaurants. Their job is tough. They are underpaid. They're on their feet all night long. They have to deal with often-demanding and rude customers all night long, and they're often blamed for problems for which they aren't responsible. But in this case, I believe our waitress provided us with extremely bad service, the likes of which I can't remember ever experiencing while eating out at a nice restaurant.

We gave her a 20% tip, only because she was yelled at by rude customers sitting directly behind us who were complaining to her about their inadequate meal and the price they paid for it. We felt sorry for her. But if we hadn't witnessed their tirade, we wouldn't have tipped as well. We didn't know the cause of our lengthy wait, because she offered no explanation. The restaurant could have been short a few cooks in the kitchen (I know they weren't short on waitstaff that night, since we saw so many of them running around). Or perhaps she was new and simply overwhelmed. But I believe we were entitled to an explanation for our horrible service at the very least, and we really should have heard an apology from her.

So I'm tempted to write a letter to the restaurant manager complaining about the service. What do you think?

Kitty Crest

My three cats are, to put it mildly, neurotic. They loathe visiting the vet's office so much, and have thrown such pathetic tantrums when I've taken them there, that my vet (bless his heart) now comes to my home once a year to give my cats their check-ups and to vaccinate them. And they behave so much better and are so much more calm because they're in their own home. And I can rest easy knowing I'm not going to witness three simultaneous kitty coronaries.

For the past three years, my vet has been telling me to get my cats' teeth cleaned. And for the past three years I've been ignoring his advice. It's not because I don't care about my cats' welfare. I consider my three cats (Annie, Louie, and Claudia) to be an important part of my family. I don't have children, so I think of them as my kids. There isn't anything I wouldn't do to protect them, or to keep them healthy and safe. I am simply afraid of having my cats placed under anesthesia, which they must be in order for the vet to clean their teeth.

I know it's an irrational fear. My cats were all placed under anesthesia when they were spayed seven years ago, and they came out of it perfectly fine. I trust my vet implicitly, and I know he performs surgery and teeth-cleaning on other animals all the time. And the rational side of me (yes, there is one!) says that absolutely nothing is going to happen to them. But I'm worried all the same. I just don't know what I would do if something happened to one of them. And I wonder how my cats will feel when I drop them at the vet's office, a place they haven't had to visit in three years, and then leave them there. I don't want them to feel scared or abandoned.

After talking with my husband, we've decided to go ahead and have their teeth cleaned. At his house call a few weeks ago, my vet said that Chubbie's teeth needed cleaning the most, so I made her appointment first. She's going in on August 13th. And I'm just dreading the day.

Have you ever had your kitty's teeth cleaned? What was your kitty's experience like?

Success in the Kitchen

If you read last Friday's post, you know that this weekend I was to attempt to bake bread from scratch (no bread machine here) for the first time. And I am pleased to report that I am 95% happy with the way it turned out. Yay!

I started about 11am. I assembled my ingredients for French bread (obtained from Baking Sheet) on the dining room table (I have limited counter space in my kitchen, and the counters I do have are a bit tall for me to work comfortably), and began to work. Following Amy's and FarmGirl's excellent tips, I proofed my yeast and watched for it to foam before beginning to add the flour and salt. I kneaded my little heart out, then set aside the bowl and waited about an hour and a half for the dough to rise. Once it did, I punched it down, divided it in half (the recipe made two loaves), and let the dough rise again for another 20 minutes or so.

Then I rolled out the dough into rectangles, as the recipe called for. Here's where my slight problem emerged (I think). I wonder if I rolled out the dough too vigorously at this stage, because my finished, baked loaves were not that high (perhaps 1.5-2 inches). Even though my rolled out dough exactly resembled the picture of the dough from my cookbook, I think if there was anything wrong with my bread-making technique, it occured at this stage.

Anyway, once the dough was rolled into a rectangle shape, I folded the sides inward to seal them. For all you bread makers out there: should I have folded the seams inward so they were touching? Or just enough (about an inch or so) to seal the seam? I did the latter. Maybe this was another of my problems.

Moving on. Once I had my finished loaves done, I covered them with a damp cloth, and let them rise again for 40 minutes. I popped them into the oven after that, and 40 minutes later, I had my very first loaves of bread baked from scratch. The crust was awesome-crispy and crusty. The inside of the bread was moist and flavorful. As I mentioned, the only problem was that the loaves weren't very high. I did take a picture, and once my film is developed, I will post it here. My husband and I ate 1/3 of one of the loaves right then and there. Nothing beats the taste of warm bread and butter.

I plan on giving bread-making another try soon. If you have a tip or technique on how I can fix my rising problem, please let me know! But other than this minor issue, which didn't affect the taste of the bread, I am pretty pleased with my first effort. Thanks to all my blog friends who offered their support last week!

PS: I posted a picture of my grandfather and me in front of the sign he made me for my second birthday (27 years ago) here, if you're interested.

Bread Expectations

As I mentioned yesterday, I am going to attempt to bake my very first loaf of bread this weekend. I own a bread machine, and I've made bread in it many times before, but the taste and texture of bread machine bread is nowhere near that of a loaf baked in an oven. I am nervous, because I have such high expectations for the bread I'm going to make. This is because so many of my childhood memories involve this favorite food of mine.

Although I grew up surrounded by amazing cooks who made all kinds of mouth-watering Italian dishes and desserts for every family meal, no one made bread. But fresh loaves from any one of the dozen or so Italian bakeries located nearby were always at my grandma's house. No matter what day of the week, it was always at the ready. Whenever I would visit my grandma's or great aunt's homes as a child (and even today), they would take out the bread and butter. While other grandmas and aunties might bring out candy or cookies as a snack, my relatives offered bread. I have a photo of me at my first birthday party holding an entire loaf of Italian bread to my mouth. I'll try to scan the photo in and post it here.

Growing up surrounded by bread, I was soon able to tell which Italian bakery the bread came from without ever seeing the white paper sleeve with the bakery name on it. I could tell from the color, from the crust texture, from the density of the inside of the bread, whether it was from Savastano's, or Veltri's, or Guissepi's, or Martuscello's. I became a bread connoisseur at an early age. Savastano's was my favorite, because the crust was just crispy enough and the inside would melt in your mouth. When my papa would bring home a fresh loaf to my grandma's house on Saturday mornings, I would literally devour half a loaf. There's nothing like the taste of just-baked, warm Italian bread and butter.

So tomorrow I will attempt to bake my own. I wish my expectations were lower. But I want it to be perfect, even though I know it won't be, given this is my first try. If you've made bread before, please share your tips!

Chucking the City Life

I discovered a really great blog the other day. It's beautifully designed and the photos and writing are wonderfully vivid. But it's FarmGirl's story that captured my attention. 11 years ago she sold her California business and moved to a farm she purchased in Missouri. She now lives and works as a farmer, gardener, baker, and a whole host of other things. To me, her life in the country (challenging though it is) sounds idyllic.

Don't get me wrong. I consider myself a city girl at heart. I enjoy living close to theatres, restaurants, and shops. I like never having to drive or walk very far to obtain the things I need to keep my life running smoothly. But after reading her blog, I've realized that there are several truly wonderful things about separating yourself from everything that comprises our fast-paced consumer culture.

There's something especially gratifying in eating vegetables and fruits you've toiled over and grown yourself. There's something natural about bonding with animals in a place where they're allowed to roam free and be themselves, instead of being locked in a cage or a pen and put on display for others' entertainment. And there's something inspiring about making a living from something you've created, through hard work and ingenuity, with your own hands.

I won't be abandoning my life in a quasi-city anytime soon. I'd like to escape from the cube-dwelling drudgery that is my job and pursue my creative interests, but my mortgage won't allow this to happen. And I think if I moved too far away from a Starbucks, my body would plunge into an ugly withdrawl state. (Yes, I have a million excuses.) But I will visit FarmGirl's blog often (she's inspired me to try baking bread-my favorite food), because it is a mental vacation for me, and it's inspiring to read of those who had the courage, spirit, and energy to pursue their life's dream.

Spare Me Your Designer Dog

The other day I paid a visit to a hardware store near my office to pick up a more secure plug for the storm drain pipe that flooded my basement on Saturday. While I waited for an employee to locate the plug in the back of the store, I walked over to a sweet-looking dog lounging on the floor near the register. Being the animal-lover I am, I started to pet the dog, and I asked the employee behind the cash register what kind of dog it was, because he looked very unusual. The dog was a Labradoodle. It looked like this dog, only it was black. The employee seemed excited to talk about the dog. She told me "He's the latest in designer dogs. A mix between a Labrador Retriever and a Standard Poodle. We bought him a year ago, so he's not quite grown."

Millions of dogs, both purebred and mixed-breed, are living in animal shelters and are put to death each year because there simply aren't enough homes for them. I know this may be an unpopular opinion, but I am completely against breeding dogs, and combining two specific breeds to create "designer dogs," and selling them for a profit, is in my opinion grossly irresponsible and inhumane. And apparently, breeding "designer dogs" is a growing phenomenon. I did a little online research and found that "Schnoodles" (schnauzer-poodle mix) and "Puggles" (pug-beagle mix) are also popular "designer dogs" and are being sold in pet stores, along with Labradoodles, for over $1,000.

My advice for anyone looking to add an animal to his or her family is to visit an animal shelter, where many sweet animals are looking for homes. You can often adopt a fully vaccinated animal from a shelter for under $100. And if you're interested in a specific breed, contact one of the many breed rescue groups in your area. And most importantly, spay or neuter your animal companions. (The Labradoodle in the hardware store had not been neutered.)


This weekend's basement flood has started me thinking about the things I value. When I went downstairs and noticed the water flowing in, my first thought was the safety of one of my cats, who was lying under my computer desk at the time. Once she was safe, I quickly unhooked the computer and threw it to high ground. By that time, the water had started to rise, and was flowing toward the unfinished part of the basement where we store a lot of our stuff. Boxes full of remnants from old office jobs, stationary that I don't use anymore (although I really wish I still wrote letters in long-hand), the cat carriers, etc. Luckily, my photos are all stored in boxes in an unused bedroom, so that wasn't an issue. However, one thing mattered to me more than anything in that unfinished part of the basement. And that was a sign my grandfather painted for me for my 11th birthday, 18 years ago.

My grandfather was an artist. He was a signmaker for a living, painting and designing signs for the companies in our area. I have 10 younger cousins (I am the oldest), and when each of his grandchildren celebrated a birthday, he would create an amazing personalized sign for him or her. I have pictures of me and him in front of all of them. The early ones were enormous-over 10'x10'. The later ones were smaller, 3'x5'.

Built into each sign was a surprise. Hidden somewhere in the sign-perhaps in one of the letters of "Happy Birthday," perhaps circling around the eye of whatever storybook or cartoon character had captured our childish interest that year- was the word "Papa," the name we called our grandfather. And it was our job to find it.

When I was very young, the "Papa" was easy to find. As I grew older, it was much more challenging. But after the initial "oohing and ahhhing" over the masterpiece he created, the next task at hand was finding the hidden "Papa," and it sometimes took quite some time. He gave hints, though, after awhile.

The sign in my basement is the only one I have. I don't know where the others are. So as the water rose in my basement and started to inch up my 11th birthday sign, which reads "Happy 11th Birthday, Krissy. With Love, Papa" and then the word "Dolce," (which means "sweet" in Italian and which was the name he called me by) painted along the bottom, I slogged across the floor, grabbed it, and brought it to safety on the main floor of my house. The bottom is a little wet. But it will dry.

On August 5th of this year, my grandfather will have been gone for 10 years. And while the sign he made me certainly isn't the only memory I have of him, or even the most important one, it's a visual reminder of his amazing talent and of his love for me. I was able to save this part of him and I will keep it safe always.

Flooded Basement? Mobilize the Cavalry!

On Saturday night, my finished basement flooded. I was home by myself, doing laundry, when a thunderstorm rolled into town. Torrential rain. House-shaking thunder. Something made me head down to the basement. Truthfully, I'm not sure what it was, since I had no reason to be going down there at that point in time. Good thing I did. Water was rushing in through the wall where our water meter lives.

I grabbed my cat who was crouching in terror as the water flowed toward her and quickly ran her upstairs and shut the door to the basement. I grabbed the phone, called my husband who was as a bachelor party, and told him to come home immediately. I yanked all the plugs out of my computer, and threw the box on a chair. By the time my husband arrived, I had shut the water off. The flow had stopped. But not before over six inches of water had infiltrated. It was a complete and total mess.

That night, we hooked up our pool pump and sucked most of the water out. We didn't want to do too much cleanup Saturday night, since we figured our insurance company would need to send a rep in either Sunday or first thing Monday to survey the damage. We found out Sunday morning that our insurance company wouldn't cover anything. Apparently, no insurance company covers surface or sub-surface water damage. Fantastic. So early Sunday morning, we started the cleanup effort.

I called my grandma because we needed to come over and borrow some of her fans to dry out the water. Then I called my cousin to come over to help with the heavy lifting (we had to move a lot of furniture and we needed an extra set of hands). Those two phone calls mobilized the family cavalry.

You see, where my relatives are concerned, emergencies are a family affair. Actually, even non-emergencies end up involving the entire family. Tell one family member something that's bothering you, and pretty soon everyone in the family knows about it and they're calling you to offer support...or food. This can be both a positive and a negative, as you can imagine. But in a true emergency, my family members rise to the challenge.

I went to my grandma's house to pick up the fans and my cousin. I returned home with my cousin, five fans, a dehumidifier, an extension cord, and a wet/dry vac. I pulled into my driveway and saw that my great aunt and uncle were there, along with another cousin and her boyfriend. My cousin's boyfriend had helped my husband move furniture. My aunt was scrubbing the basement walls, and my uncle was directing traffic from atop the basement stairs. My grandma (whose house I had just left) arrived soon after with another one of my aunts. They brought two more wet/dry vacs (one belonging to my aunt, which she immediately pronounced ours-she was giving it to us-and the other belonging to my uncle, at whose house they had stopped prior to coming to ours). My grandma walked in carrying food: cherries, sandwiches, grape tomatoes, watermelon. "You need to eat lunch!!!" she said. "You can't do all this work on an empty stomach." For Italians, nothing should ever be attempted without a full belly, drenched basement be damned. Seven family members had descended on my house in less than one hour. All helped the cleanup effort in some way.

It took most of the day, but things are under control. We rented two carpet cleaners to suck up most of the water. We've had fans and the dehumidifier running for the last 24 hours. The basement smells musty, but hopefully that smell will lessen in time. But the most valuable lesson I learned from this entire experience is that I can never appreciate my family enough. True, sometimes I don't want everyone in my family involved in every aspect of my life, but it's times like these that truly make me grateful for their care and concern. I am very lucky to have them.

My Plug for Charlie

Last night I went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my husband, two younger sisters, and my step-mom (not my father's wife-yes, there is a difference). It was a really well-done, visually stunning movie. I don't like chocolate, yet immediately after seeing this movie, I wanted some.

Tim Burton directed it, and it has all the hallmarks of a Burton film-quirky humor and dialogue mixed with a slightly dark take on the seemingly sweet and charming. The oompa-loompa songs were hysterical, and the Wonka factory was amazing. I can't imagine another actor in the role of Willy Wonka than Johnny Depp, either. He was fantastic, weird, and wonderful, and made the movie what it was. The original is a classic, and Gene Wilder was also a great Wonka, but I think even the purists who loved the movie from the 70s will find something to enjoy in this one.

My Mother's Husband

My mom is a lovely woman. Since my parents divorced when I was two, she raised my sister and I primarily alone, although we did (and still do) have a good relationship with our father. She made enormous sacrifices for us, and we always felt loved and important. She took us to museums to provide us with an appreciation for art. She took us to nice restaurants to give us a love of good food (which apparently, I somehow lost somewhere along the way). She read to us constantly and taught both of us to read at a very early age (according to my mom, and this ancient audio reel tape of me reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas," I was reading at age two and a half). So before I go further, you must realize that I love my mom. I really do. But she has horrible, horrible taste in men. You see, she's a serial marrier. She has been married four times.

Her current husband is the worst of the four. They married about a year and a half ago. I lothe him. He says the most inappropriate, rude, and condescending things to my family members. He lacks the filter that most adults have, separating the things they think from the things that actually come out of their mouths. Either that, or he just doesn't care what he says or how what he says will be interpreted by those he speaks the words to. He will talk at you for hours on end, not caring about your interest level in the things he says, or pausing to let you respond to his comments. He doesn't carry on conversations with people in an exchange of dialogue. He holds court, and considers you lucky to be in his audience. He is also a domineering control-freak and a complete alpha-male in the way he treats and talks to my mom.

The first time I ever met him, my great aunt and uncle, my husband and I, and my mom and #4 went out to breakfast. This was his first introduction to any of my mom's family members. My very generous uncle paid for breakfast. #4 never said thank you. Here are some examples of his obnoxious behavior:

1. Shortly after meeting my wonderful, loving Italian grandma for the first time, he tells her "Your car is a mafia car."

2. Arriving at my house one weekend for a two-day-but-still-way-too-long-for-me visit (they live out of town), #4 entered my house. My mom was still unpacking the car. He pointed his keychain car alarm at their car and set off the alarm, causing my mom to jump a mile. He said to me, "I like to keep your mom on her toes."

3. During Mother's Day brunch at my house this year, I presented my great aunt with a jacket my sister and I had bought her as her gift. It was a wee bit tight across her middle. #4 says to my aunt, "If you lost some weight, that jacket would fit better."

4. My grandma, great aunt, great uncle, mother, and #4 went out to breakfast. My mother and uncle, both small people, sat on one side of the booth. My great aunt and grandma, both normal-sized women with a few extra pounds on them, sat on the other. #4 was the last to choose where he would sit. He announces to the table of my family members, "I think I'll sit on the thin side!"

These are but a few examples of the essence of #4. They will be coming to visit in another few weeks. I am thinking of leaving town.

Addicted to Food TV

I was reading about idiosyncracies on MissMeliss's blog yesterday ( and it started me thinking about some of my own. I came up with several (actually, more than several), but I think one of the strangest is my addiction to the Food Network. I love this channel, and I love watching the chefs on this channel cook.

There is something so satisfying about watching the preparation of food. I grew up watching my great aunt and grandma cook huge Italian meals for our family, and watching "Everyday Italian" on the Food Network brings back those childhood memories. And although I'm a yankee and grew up (and still live) in the northeast, I love watching Paula Deen on "Paula's Home Cooking" whip up fanstastic butter- and cream cheese-laden desserts with her southern-fried charm. So, what's so idiosyncratic about this, you ask? I don't cook. At all. Ever.

Well, that's not exactly true. I love to bake. Does that count? How well I actually bake is up for debate, but I do enjoy doing it. I started baking about seven years ago, and let's just say it was a rocky beginning. I bake cakes, pies, and other desserts for family gatherings. One of my charming younger cousins dubbed my earlier and not-so-successful creations "Crap by Kristi" and the name has stuck. My baking has improved, I think, but my creations for family parties, etc., are still greeted with that name.

But I do not cook. You'd think all the culinary inspiration and cooking talent I was surrounded with growing up would have rubbed off on me. It hasn't. Granted, I am an extremely picky eater, and enjoy a grand total of about 10 different foods. But I often bake desserts that I don't eat (such as ones that contain chocolate), so whether or not I'll actually eat it doesn't factor in my cooking endeavors. I just feel that whenever I have tried to cook anything more complicated than toast, I'm met with failure. So my husband and I subsist on leftovers from weekly Sunday dinners at my great aunt's house and things that can be heated up in the most fantastic appliance ever created-the microwave. My husband grills, so in the warmer months we'll enjoy chicken, steak, sausage, etc. for dinner, and we have a mini George Forman grill, which we use for grilling in the winter. But beyond that, nothing home-cooked appears on our dinner table.

So what is my love for the Food Network based on? And what about my love for food-related blogs? is one of my favorites. Amy's pictures, posts, and delicious-sounding recipes make me hungry, even though with my pickiness, I likely wouldn't eat many of her creations. Does it represent all that I wish I were? Is it a sign that I should try and cook a real meal for dinner one night, rather than simply taking the aluminum foil off a care package from my dear great aunt? I wonder.

What's That On the Clothesline?

I live in a house located in a neighborhood of old homes. The houses were built in the 1920s, full of character, and with tiny little lawns requiring little maintenance. We were lucky enough to have found one with a small in-ground pool in the back, which I am enjoying during this unusually hot summer. I wouldn't change a thing about my house, except for one thing. My neighbors to the left.

My neighbors to the right are lovely people. My husband and the man who lives there conduct a Wilson-esque routine of chatting over our dividing fence about sports almost on a daily basis. They are kind, considerate, and quiet people. Ideal neighbors, really. That's not the case for the neighbors on the left.

Unfortunately, we have no dividing fence between our yard and these neighbors, an older couple in their 70s or 80s. We can see everything going on in their backyard, and they can see everything in ours. Ever since we've moved in, we've gotten the feeling they haven't liked us. They never say hello to us. Sometimes they scowl at us when we're walking back and forth to our detached garage. And because the man is practically deaf, we're treated to his wife's constant screeching for him as he works out in the yard. The unfriendliness, the scowls, and the screeching I can deal with. I cannot deal with the granny panties on their clothesline.

Almost every day, without fail, I come home from work and the first thing I see as I pull into my driveway are my neighbor's granny panties and bras flapping in the breeze on her clothesline. I know, I know. Someday I, too, will have granny panties. They will be big. They will be white. And they will be ugly. I should have more empathy for my neighbor and her undergarments. And I do, to a certain degree. She's older. She's earned the right to hang her underwear outside, and I should be okay with that. Except, I'm not. I'm completely repulsed.

I don't know if it's the 13 years I spent attending Catholic school that influence my repulsion, but I'm of the school that thinks underwear shouldn't be put on display. That includes thongs peeking out above low-riding jeans, bras worn as a top (unless you're competing on Survivor), and granny panties blowing in the wind next door to my house. If our houses were further apart, maybe I wouldn't care as much. And if she lived in the country, with no houses around, even better. Let 'em fly! But our houses are close enough together that I can see elastic waistbands, and that's something I just don't want to see.

Am I wrong to have a problem with this?

Starbucks Baristas are My Friends

I love Starbucks and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I love the pleasing aromatic smell when I walk into the place. I love the cups, and mugs, and French presses, and wildly expensive coffee makers and coffee gadgets they sell. I love the fast and friendly service provided by the green-aproned baristas.

I have a very satisfying weekday morning routine that involves Starbacks. At approximately 7:20am, Monday through Friday, I visit the Starbucks conventiently located mere minutes from my house to pick up my morning java. My order is always the same. Venti Coffee (dark roast). Most mornings, I can get in and out of there in less than 5 minutes, despite the morning rush. That might have something to do with the fact that I don't have to speak while in Starbucks (other than to say "Thank you" when I'm handed my coffee). That's because they know me. And they know my drink.

The mark of a good and experienced barista is knowing your regular customers, and let me tell you, the baristas at my Starbucks rock. Most of them know me. Not my name, but my face. And more importantly, my drink order. I approach the counter, and many times my Venti Coffee it already sitting there waiting for me, because one of the baristas spotted me coming in and knew what I would order. Other times the barista waiting on me says "Venti Coffee." Not a question, but a statement. I nod my head or say "yes, please." I grab my drink, and I'm on my way.

The system is not always flawless though. One particular barista has asked me twice in the last month "Grande Half-Caff?" (A half regular, half decaf coffee for those of you not fluent in Starbuckian). I must look like the "Grande Half-Caff" girl. When I say "Nope. Venti Coffee" she's looked embarrassed. But she's new. Give it time.

And once about a month ago I went to Starbucks late on a Saturday morning. Not a day I normally go, and not the time I normally go either. Would they still know me? Was the recognition by the baristas more of a situational thing? Did they only know me because I was there like clockwork every day during the week? But most importantly, how would the baristas react when they learned I wasn't getting my normal Venti Coffee? I figured chaos would ensue.

You see, it was a hot and humid morning. It was around 11am, and it was already pushing 90 degrees. I didn't want a Venti Coffee. It was too warm out. I wanted a cold drink. So I approached the counter. "Venti Coffee" stated the barista with a smile, and turned around to grab my drink. "Nope. Something different this morning, " I said. "I'll take a Grande Non-fat, Sugar-free Iced Vanilla Latte." She looked at me as if I had sprouted horns and a tail.

There's just something about visiting a place where "everybody knows your name" (or rather, your drink). I see many of the same customers in Starbucks each and every morning. I'm always greeted with a smile, and all the baristas seem to be in perpetually good moods, which I find surprising since it's so early in the morning. Oh, and the coffee tastes really good too.

Wet, But Not Dead

I survived my camping trip, and I do mean survived because I seriously thought I would perish, right there in the wilderness, on the first night, because it rained all day and all night Friday and sporatically during the day on Saturday. And when I say "rain," I'm not referring to the warm misty rain so common in the summer months. The type of rain that once you see it, you think to yourself, "Oh, I can still work out in my garden" or "No need to turn back from our evening stroll around the neighborhood." No, the rain we had this weekend was not this kind of rain at all. We put up our tent in a torrential downpour.

So, right off the bat, my camping experience was not going well. I was cold. I was wet. I was miserable. After the tent was put up, we visited the bathroom facilities. There were multiple flies on the toilet seats. All of them. I was unpleased.

But things took a turn for the better once my friend and her boyfriend arrived. You see, once we returned to our site, we sat in our car and watched it rain. It was either sit there, or sit in the tent. My friend arrived, and brought with her this amazing awning/tent covering thing, which you place over a picnic table or chairs. It provides shelter from the elements! Whoo-Hoo. Friend and boyfriend put up their tent. Then friend, boyfriend, husband, and I put up the awning/tent thing. We ate dinner. We made a fire. We roasted marshmellows, which I ate, while the others ate smores, which I don't like because I don't like chocolate. (I know. I am a freak.) And all was right in my world.

Until bedtime. Sleeping in a tent, on an air mattress, was uncomfortable. It was still raining, and the tent was damp and musty-smelling. However, what truly made my night something out of a low-budget horror flick were the slugs. Yes, slugs. Slugs decided that the top of my tent would make a lovely resting place for their Friday evening. So, with the inside of the tent illuminated by the fire still burning outside, I watched as these slimy creatures crawled around the tent above me, while husband and friend's boyfriend attempted to flick them off. Which worked for about an hour. Then, they returned.

Saturday was a better day. The rain abated. I had a grilled cheese sandwich cooked in this sandwich-maker contraption over the fire. It was awesome. And Sunday morning was just beautiful. About 65-70 degrees. Sun shining through the trees. Peaceful and quiet.

So, while I'm still scratching at mosquito bites in places I didn't think were possible to be bitten (including my right palm, under my left thumb, and three located in perfectly aligned vertical order on my left leg), camping wasn't that bad. Except for Friday night, which was a nightmare. My husband was very patient with me, and did not snap at me once, despite all my whining and complaining. I did not die, as I thought I would. But I think it might be some time before I give camping in the great outdoors another try.

Camping: Friend or Foe?

Today I am doing something that I've never done before. Ever. I'm going camping. And I'm extremely nervous about it.

Before you laugh yourself right off my blog, I must explain the reasons why it's taken me 29.5 years to do something most people have done at least a handful of times by this age. My parents never took me camping growing up. It just wasn't something we ever did. On the few vacations we did take, we stayed in hotels or motels.

And as an adult, I never had the urge to camp. Sure, I have friends who absolutely love it, enjoy it, and do it all the time. I'm going camping today with my best friend, who has camped as a child and several times as an adult, her boyfriend, a veteran camper, and my husband, who in his pre-me days used to camp all the time. They all love it. And that's great. For them. I don't share their urge.

You see, I like to be clean and comfortable, and I can't for the life of me understand why one would want to go out of their way to chuck these two things into the wind to sleep outside on the ground. In my mind, technology has evolved throughout the centuries to ensure that we don't have to do this, so that we have soft beds, indoor plumbing, and electrical or gas appliances to cook our food. I can't see why someone would want to turn back the clock and live for days on end as if these things didn't exist.

I am not an elitist snob (although at times I admit I may sound like one), but I like the creature comforts of home, and when I travel, I like the safety and convenience of hotels. I keep reading stories like this, and I think I've worked myself up into a frenzy as a result, and we're not even camping in the middle of nowhere (we're camping in a state park for the weekend).

And I need my sleep. If I do not sleep well (and even sometimes when I do) I am an absolute bear in the morning (no pun intended). Somehow I don't think camping is conducive to a good night's sleep for me, an extremely light sleeper as it is.

The realist in me knows my fears and apprehension are silly, and I'm rational enough to know that more than likely I'll at least have a tolerable time, but I'm nervous all the same. My friends and husband whom I'm camping with assure me that I will not die. I'm not so sure.

Do you enjoy camping? What's the allure of sleeping in the great outdoors for you? Perhaps I'm just missing something here.

Meet the blogging newbie

My very first post on my very own blog. Where to begin?

I'm Kristi. I'm 29 and hurtling full-speed toward 30. I'm a cube-dwelling technical writer who unfortunately doesn't have a whole lot of interest in the software programs I have to write about to bring home my paycheck. I do not define myself by what I do for a living. It's a small and insignificant part of who I am. Hopefully, someday I'll be doing what I really want to do, and that's living and working as a travel writer.

So who am I really? Well, traveling is quite possibly the most important thing in the world to me besides my family (including my three cats) and friends. Exploring new cities and countries, experiencing different cultures, and broadening my worldly perspective really makes me happy. In fact, I keep a running list in my head of places I want to visit. Next on the list: Austria and Switzerland. Have you been there? "Real life" and living within a budget often prohibit traveling as far or as often as I'd like, and most of the time I'm okay with that. I can always plan and save for the future, right?

I'm married with no kids yet, although hopefully someday they'll come along. I have a big, loving Italian family with whom I'm very close. Although most of them have political and social leanings about as far from my own as possible, I don't know where I would be today without their love and support.

So that's me in a nutshell. I can't promise that this blog will always be entertaining, but I can promise honesty tinged with occasional sardonic humor. Thanks for reading!

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Quick Snapshot:

  • 34-year-old writer and
    mother to a daughter
    born in August 2006 following
    IVF and girl/boy twins born in October 2008 following FET. Come along as I document the search for my lost intellect. It's a bumpy ride. Consider yourself warned.

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  • "All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." -Martin Buber

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