Saturday, May 28, 2011

Spanx Pranks!

AKA The Great Underwear Debacle

We all know how important it is for the M.O.B. to look svelte and decked out for the big occasion. Since I was unsuccessful at my weight loss attempt (stress-eating will derail you in a heartbeat). I decided that the best alternative was a product called Spanx.

It would not be the first time I had donned what I refer to as “a squeezer” in an attempt to achieve a svelte look. But “foundations” have come a long way, even since my son was married only about 8 years ago. Spanx have many items to help women look thinner and smoother. There were two products that interested me, a one-piece with long thigh-covering legs and a super slimming slip, and after researching them online, I went out shopping. Dillard’s had both items, but neither in a size sufficient to cover my physique.

Then I went to Catherines’s. They had plenty of Spanx in my size, but had neither of the items I was interested in purchasing. Frustrated, I went back home, got on line, and ordered one of each in my size. That was on May 10th and I had them shipped with 3-day delivery.
Things got so busy with the wedding preparations that I forgot about the order for over a week. Then I realized it hadn’t arrived. On Wednesday before the wedding, I went on line and tracked the shipment. It had been picked up by FedEx on May 11 in Danville, VA.

It went to Indianapolis, then to Cleveland, then to Bedford (where it should have been placed on a truck for delivery). Unfortunately, it then went back to Indianapolis. It had been scanned in at Cleveland a second time on May 15, but there was nothing after that. I spent some time finding a phone number and called FedEx, registering my complaint and letting the poor man know, in no uncertain terms, that I had to have the package before 10 a.m. on Saturday morning.
“You have to understand,” I said. “This is the underwear I’m wearing under my dress for my daughter’s wedding. It should have been delivered last week.” The FedEx guy stammered and apologized. He took my number and said someone would call. A few hours later, I got the first of two calls from FedEx. They wanted more information, which really was all the information I had already given them. A couple hours later, I got a second call. No, they hadn’t found my underwear, yes they would keep looking and get back to me.
I began to check the front porch like a paranoid, waiting for the package to miraculously appear. Mom suggested that I go out and find some other undergarment to wear, but by that time we were down to the day before the wedding. I told her I had already spent 150 bucks on the missing underwear and I wasn’t going to spend another dime. I went back on line and checked the tracking. Nothing had changed. I called FedEx again and got a very non-sympathetic woman who said “Sorry, we can’t find it. Don’t know what else to tell you.”

I went to the computer again, this time getting a number and calling the Spanx Company. I got a very nice young man who listened to my underwear woes. “I ordered these items specifically for my daughter’s wedding. That will occur tomorrow and I am upset and panic stricken. I have called FedEx repeatedly and the package has not been found. Is it possible to ship me something in my size overnight?” He informed me that they could not get me what I needed before 10 a.m., and most likely it would not arrive before Monday. “So what you are telling me is that I have to go to my daughter’s wedding lumpy?”

He issued an immediate credit for the full price to my credit card.

I have religiously checked the front porch, I even continue to check FedEx tracking. FedEx never called me again.
I went to the wedding lumpy…what else can I say? The Spanx have still not arrived, and I can’t help but think I could have walked them from Virginia faster.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Flash: M.O.B.!

Breathe, Betsy, breathe! The wedding is over. The gorilla I have been carrying on my back for eight months in now gone. It is time for some carburetor cleaner so I can start firing on all eight cylinders again! Now that it is all over, I think we should put this baby to rest!

Anyone who has ever been an M.O.B. (mother of the bride) can probably relate. To say that this was a wedding on a tight budget is to put it mildly. We started the hunt last fall for available reception space that might not bankrupt us. We found a gem with Stanton Park in Madison. Formerly a CYO camp (in ancient times, as in when I was in school), Camp Isaac Jogues offered a chapel and a hall as well as other assets, such as being right on the shores of beautiful Lake Erie.

The chapel was perfect, very rustic, but with seating for 150. Across the parking lot was the dining hall, very clean and airy with a seating capacity of 160. The price was right…but it did require that I talk the bride down from 250 guests (200 of which were her nearest and dearest friends and about 50 immediate relatives between the two families) to a total of 150.

After the Christmas holidays were behind us, we set the dates for the shower, the wedding, and the rehearsal and began the search for a caterer and supplies. In February, we discovered that the Flower Factory in Solon was going out of business and managed to acquire all the silk flowers for the bridal party and supplies for the centerpieces for less than $150.

After pricing caterers, the bride and groom decided that it would be more budget friendly to have the M.O.B. (yours truly) do all the cooking. In spite of my sweat equity, I have to believe that it would have cost less to just have it catered, but that is another story. They settled on a mid-afternoon ceremony with immediate reception of appetizers and pastries.

Since I am not a caterer by profession, and since the guest list was a potential 150 hungry bodies, I obtained a 21-cubic-foot upright freezer and began to cook. The pastries came first. I made massive quantities of kolachies and cream wafers with a little help from my mother, the bride, and a friend. This was followed by a marathon baking day to turn out 225 cupcakes that I froze unfrosted. Every weekend in March and half of April was filled with baking and cooking. Thirty pounds of meatballs became pans of sweet and sour delights and 30# of chicken became barbequed chicken chunks and joined the pastries in the freezer. Then, in April, the wedding shower was suddenly looming.

We held the shower at Your Vine or Mine in Painesville. There was no way I could accommodate the number of guests Meredith wanted to invite at my house. The Vine worked out well. Penny provided the Sangria and soda, Diane provided the coffee, and I made five, 10-inch chicken quiche, a huge bowl of fresh fruit and a mocha torte.

A few weeks later, the wedding week was upon us. Since Gary does not have much family locally, we held the rehearsal dinner at my house. This involved precooking and shredding an 11-pound pork tenderloin to make a massive amount of pulled pork with potato salad, baked beans and the rest of the picnic fixings. Fortunately, there was no rain the day of the rehearsal. Otherwise we would have been eating the rehearsal dinner on the ark Jim is building in the back yard.

The day before the wedding, I frosted 200 cupcakes and made the actual wedding cake, plus six serving pans of tortellini tossed in olive oil, butter, and fresh garlic. I had also obtained some mini quiche, mini eggrolls, and mini stuffed potato skins, as well as shrimp, and those little cream puffs and éclairs they sell at GFS and Sam’s Club.

At 8:30 on Saturday morning, my wonderful friend David came to the house and fixed my hair for the wedding. When he was done, my friend Sue and my cousin Diane came to the house and, with a little male help, we loaded three vehicles with food, flowers, table ware, and everything else that we would need for the reception. I grabbed my dress for the wedding and we were off, leaving the bride’s hairdo and makeup in David’s capable hands.

After we hauled all the food stuff inside the hall, I realized that the tables were all folded up and leaning against the walls. We procrastinated for a bit, assembling the centerpieces in the kitchen, while we waited for able-bodied groomsmen to arrive and put up tables. Eventually, we set up a few serving tables so that we could get started. Once the groomsmen set up the furniture, my sister and nephew arrived and began to pitch in as well. Soon the tables were topped with black tablecloths covered with white lace, the chairs were set up, the centerpieces were on the tables filled with my lovingly frosted cupcakes, and the chafing dishes were set up on the serving tables. Trays of cookies and fruit filled the desert table, while Sue and Diane used the portable bar to stage the liquid refreshments…coffee, wine coolers, and punch.

Around 1 p.m., I carried the wedding cake out and set it in the center of the head table. I assembled the tiers, finished off the decoration, added the cake topper and stood back and admired my first ever wedding cake. Not too bad if I do say so myself!

In addition to the cupcakes that were serving as centerpieces, I had also purchased small cupcake boxes with little inserts to keep the cupcakes from falling over. My friend Terry, my mother, and I assembled all the boxes on Friday afternoon, and later, Mom, Sean, Ann, and I boxed 100 cupcakes that we presented on the take-one-home table. We also set up a table for gifts/signing the register, and a table with place cards so people would know what table they should occupy for the reception.

At 1:15, I raced into the bathroom, changed into the fancy dress, and left the heating of the food in Sue and Diane’s capable hands. I hopped into my car, which contained the runner, the ring pillow, all the flowers and the basket for the petals and drove over to the chapel. I carried the stuff in with an assist from the limo driver, and proceeded to make sure everyone had their bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres, pillow, or basket of flowers. The runner was given to the groomsmen to roll out at the appropriate time. Meredith looked beautiful. Her hair was gorgeous and her dress was simply elegant!

Judge Karen Lawson arrived to perform the ceremony. The groom made an emergency run back to his house for the marriage license that had been forgotten in the melee, but by a few minutes after 2 p.m., everyone was ready, and the ceremony began. After the groom and company placed themselves appropriately, Gary’s son walked me up the aisle. The groomsmen laid the runner. I stood up and sang Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” a cappella as the girls marched forward, ending just as Meredith reached the point where her father handed her over. I could not have timed it better if I had planned it.

In a few minutes, the deed was done. The guests made their way to the hall while the bridal party took photos.

After the toasts and other speeches, the bridal party graced the serving tables and the feasting proceeded in a happy, albeit orderly, fashion. The DJ played dinner music, everyone ate and drank, and if anyone left hungry it was not for lack of available food! The dancing and revelry lasted a couple hours, and then it was all over but the clean-up.

A have to give a huge thank you to Sue and Diane, without whom the reception would have been a dismal failure. And thanks to Ann, Sean, Joe, Flo, Chris, all the groomsmen and everyone else who stayed to help with the clean-up and tear down. It went much quicker than I anticipated, and by 8 p.m., we were home with most everything stashed back in the freezer. There was still a lot to clean-up at home, but the wedding was finished.

After we relaxed for an hour or so, Chris, Paula, and I jumped in the car and drove to Bumpers to join the after party for a while. In typical Bumpers’ fashion, there was karaoke and flowing alcohol. I only sang one song before we bid everyone a farewell and headed home to really crash.

We are still dealing with the wedding aftermath, but the stress is gone. I’ve received two requests for my catering services, one to make a wedding cake, and one to sing at a wedding. That would be definitely no, I’ll think about it, and sure, tell me where to sing and I’m yours!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Endeavor Launch Enlightenment

I managed to get to work early today and realized, when I opened my breaking-news e-mail, that the space shuttle Endeavor would be launching live. I have always been a bit of a space-flight buff, watching every lift-off I could in my early days. For me, the moon shot was life-changing, and the shuttle launches were exciting, even though they became more routine over the years.

Like many people, I have a special interest in Endeavor, commanded by Mark Kelly, the husband of the critically wounded Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, so I pulled up a small, live-launch screen on my computer, plugged in a set of ear buds, and got busy on my latest work assignment, knowing I would hear the countdown and could pop the little screen up just in time for lift-off.

What I did not anticipate was my own intense response. When the rockets lit up, I was overwhelmed with sudden fear and absolute trepidation. My hands balled up in fists so tight that I had indentations in my palms from my fingernails. I was sweating and nauseated. I found myself praying with all my might that nothing would go wrong.

I was momentarily confused over my reaction…until it occurred to me that I had not seen a single launch since the day of the Challenger explosion, 25 long years ago.

Everyone that could find a television was watching on that day, too. We all wanted to see the first non-astronaut woman blast off into space. We never expected that it would end in a devastating explosion that would take the lives of Christa McAuliffe and the dedicated Challenger crew. I was just about to leave for work as I watched Challenger lift off. I stood there, numb with shock and disbelief, as the world watched with me…in horror.

A quarter century has passed, but it was only this morning, as I watched the final lift-off of the shuttle that was built to replace Challenger, that comprehension finally dawned. Somewhere in the back of my brain I had not wanted to witness another mass tragedy, on live television. Without a single conscious thought about it, I had quit watching the launches, and never even noticed.

I am continually amazed at the power of the human psyche to protect us from the things that upset us. It makes me wonder what other things my brain has shut out of my memory in an effort to keep me from suffering from my own thoughts.

But even as I wondered about my own reaction to the Endeavor launch, I felt pain for the families and friends of Christa McAuliffe and the crew of Challenger. I wondered about the extent to which Christa McAuliffe’s students, all sitting there watching the launch on TV, were psychologically damaged by the event. I wonder how many of them ever watched another launch.

In spite of the fact that the last launch in the shuttle program is impending, I am not sure I can voluntarily watch it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Power of Pinot

I wrote this little article for a neat webzine called Zocalo Public Square. It was posted for 7 days. Their editor took some liberties, but the exposure factor for The Vine was worth letting it go! Enjoy

My relationship to wine falls somewhere between wine snob and wino. No boxed Rosé for me, please, but I have no need for that $150 Burgundy, either. Wine is my simple pleasure, the best way to wind down at the end of a workday or celebrate a special occasion with friends.

An outsider might think I live in exactly the wrong place to satisfy this love: Perry, Ohio has just 1,500 people and sits in the farmland along Lake Erie, about 35 miles east of Cleveland. But, like so many of the misconceptions about my oft-maligned state, the notion of rural Ohio as a backwater a world away from the tasting rooms of Napa is dead wrong. In fact, Northeast Ohio has an aquifer similar to that of the wine-growing regions of France, so we have bottles at least as good as that $150 Burgundy, at probably a tenth of the price. And entrepreneurs have caught on: today, there are probably 30 wineries within 30 miles of my home.

But living in the best wine region for thousands of miles isn’t all good. Even reasonably priced wines cost something, so a couple of years ago I noticed I was becoming wine poor. Markups on wine by the glass make it much more economical to buy whole bottles, which penalizes a writer who spends much of her time alone. And until recently, it was illegal in Ohio to recork a bottle and bring it home. Drinking less wine wasn’t much of an option, so I was on the lookout for a cheaper way to indulge.

Then I stumbled on my first micro-winery, a small wine producer that doesn’t have its own vineyard and doesn’t make everything by the bottle, keeping costs low. The one I visited had no ambience and the wine was truly awful, making me skeptical of the whole concept. Then I found the one that would quite literally change my life.

I was driving down Main Street in Painesville, just five minutes from home, and saw that a new micro-winery called Your Vine or Mine? was almost ready to open. Burned by the first one, I nearly didn’t bother, but I found myself keeping an eye on the place as the opening date neared. That first day, I walked in and sat at the bar. The décor and feel of the little shop were warm and welcoming. There was nothing that felt commercial about the place, with its beautifully accented walls and ceilings, original hardwood floors, antique chairs and wood tables resting on bases made from antique cast iron sewing machines.

With some trepidation, I ordered a glass of blueberry Pinot Noir. A flavored wine probably wouldn’t appeal to a wine snob no matter how good it tastes, but take my word for it: this one was excellent. The berries and grapes danced on my palate. One sip in, and I realized I’d found my spot.

Since then, Your Vine or Mine? has become my home away from home, or perhaps I have become one of the fixtures. I stop almost every afternoon, sipping a glass of Riesling, Amarone or that blueberry Pinot to smooth the transition from my day job to the responsibilities waiting at home. It’s one of the rare places that feels welcoming to people coming in alone; I’m never treated as an incomplete party and I don’t glance enviously at couples, wishing my husband was there. On Thursdays, I bring my laptop along, setting myself up in a corner to work on my latest book or article and enjoying the solitude of my work.

But paradoxically, while the shop has led me to embrace solitude, it’s also given me community. The owners who created this warm atmosphere, Penny and Alex Schebal, have become two of my closest friends. And I don’t get much work done on Thursday evenings anymore because a constant stream of other friends comes through the door. I stash my laptop in favor of catching up on town news and the gossip du jour. We all raise a glass and pass around some appetizers. As a writer, it’s not in my nature to make friends easily or be a social butterfly, but “The Vine,” as we call it, has transformed me. It’s made me a friendlier, more outgoing version of myself. I find myself participating in social events that are miles outside my old comfort zone: donning a Halloween costume, singing bad karaoke, participating in cooking competitions, dressing up for a murder mystery night on New Year’s Eve.

I also make my own wine at The Vine at least twice a year – 300 bottles total. I started with the blueberry Pinot Noir, of course, moving on to the peach-apricot Chardonnay, white cranberry Pinot Grigio, pomegranate Zinfandel and, most recently, blackberry Cabernet and Amarone. People are always very impressed to receive a bottle with my custom label displayed, and I’m always proud to present it as a gift. But it’s funny: although every batch has been excellent, I rarely open a bottle at home. Somehow the grapes just taste better when shared with friends.