Salsa

By | October 19, 2019

We planted lots of chile and bell peppers in every color and size and degree of hotness (well, just about) and chopped them all up into a container of, well, chile hash — which we then used today to make 12 quarts of salsa.

Ideally, we’d have used homegrown tomatoes as well, but we didn’t focus on paste tomatoes in our garden — mostly, we got zillions of cherry and currant tomatoes and a few other varieties, but not enough. Instead, we bought nine large containers of roma tomatoes from Costco, added a lot of sweet onion, green onion, cilantro, and garlic — and then got down to the serious business of boiling it all up and canning.

Jay very carefully used me as a barometer to know how much chopped chile to add to the salsa; he added a bit at a time and stirred and had me taste and so on until I said “that’s probably enough, definitely don’t add any more.”

We don’t do this sort of thing as a rule — it’s been years since we did any serious gardening, but as the photos show, this year we got into raised plants and container gardens in a big way.

Next year, having learned what worked well and what didn’t work, we’ll probably grow fewer varieties of tomatoes and more of the specific kinds we really liked. As for the chiles — well, who knows what Jay will do next year? (Answer: not even Jay.)

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How You Know You’ve Spent Way Too Many Nights In Hotels

By | October 18, 2019

I’ve been in this job since May of 1998. A job that requires a lot of travel — usually a couple of flights to get to some distant city in the USA on Sunday or Monday and a couple of flights to get back home that Friday or Saturday. And in between — a lot of hotel stays. My employer has, for a long time, had a ‘preferred’ relationship with the extended Hilton chain of hotels — Embassy Suites, Doubletree, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, and so on — which means we get a better rate if we stay there, which of course keeps my employer happy.

You stay in Hilton properties sixty nights in a year, they give you “Diamond” status and you get the occasional upgrade and so on … but you also get increased points for your stays, and points translate into free rooms at a later date, which get to use, which makes me happy and makes Carole even happier. We once stayed in a Hilton a couple of blocks from the Arc de Triomphe in downtown Paris — six nights — for free. It would have been something like $800 a night had we been paying.

But today I found out what happens if you stay in Hilton properties 1,000 nights (and you manage to earn Diamond level status for ten or more years) …

I got a nice little welcome kit in the mail today, certifying me as Lifetime Diamond, meaning that I’ll always have Diamond status even if I don’t actually stay enough nights in a given year to earn that status. The kit included a luggage tag, of which one can never have too many; a metal membership card instead of a cheap plastic one; a little note telling me how awesome I am; and a pair of free Bose Soundsport earbuds. I’ll probably wind up just giving those to Carole because if I take them along with me on trips I’ll just wind up losing them.

Still, even though I guess it’s kind of nice to be all Mr. Lifetime Diamond and that, it’s also a little sobering to realize just how many nights away from home I’ve had over the years. A thousand nights over 22 years (and occasionally nights in other chains as well, which obviously don’t count toward my Hilton total) is really a hell of a lot.

So hey. I’m Mr. Lifetime Diamond.

Woo!

(Parenthetically, this kit — and the status it bestowed — arrived three days before I’m coincidentally scheduled to roll over the odometer and become a million mile flier on United. That’s nothing compared to the poor bastards who fly every day or who fly to Japan or Europe each week, but it’s a lot for people who do what I do.)

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Hey, I Was In A Movie!

By | October 15, 2019

So: I’m a featured subject in a just-released documentary film.

For reals.

The documentary is titled “Orchestrating Change” and is all about Me2/Orchestra, the orchestra I’ve been playing French horn in since 2011. Me2/Orchestra was founded to raise awareness and fight stigma about the realities of mental illness. The members of the orchestra run the gamut of conditions — bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum, anxiety, and everything in between — but you don’t have to have mental illness to be a member. The orchestra is specifically “for individuals with mental illnesses and the people who support them” — so anyone who plays an instrument can join it. We form a model organization, in which people with and without mental illnesses work together in an environment of acceptance and mutual support.

Emmy-award-winning creators Barbara Multer-Wellin and Margie Friedman heard about Me2/Orchestra a few years ago and immediately realized that this group of amazing people would make for an equally amazing documentary. They spent several months (spread across about two years) visiting Burlington and Boston, spending time with the members of Me2/Orchestra Burlington and the newer Me2/Orchestra Boston — then went back to Los Angeles to do the hard work of compiling all the stories and pain and accomplishment into one incredible documentary.

It was screened here in Burlington at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center the evening of October 12 and then was screened repeatedly in Boston over the following days. As one of the featured participants in the film, I was asked to be part of a roundtable discussion after the showing, along with the other featured members of Me2/Orchestra Burlington.

I wish I could share the whole movie with everyone I know because it really is a phenomenal, outstanding picture. In my opinion, it really tells the story of Me2/Orchestra in the way that we hoped it would be told — revealing the members as musicians, friends, people — showing that those who suffer from mental illness can still have prodigious talent and creativity. Since it’s not yet in wide release (they’re still working on that), I can point you to the website for Orchestrating Change, the film, which has a lot of nice resources including a few short scenes from the film and a printable discussion guide. There’s also a nice article in the Boston Globe that’s worth a look.

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Pumpkin Spice Spam

By | September 29, 2019

Pumpkin Spice Spam was a thing — for about four hours on September 23, 2019.

Then it was sold out, gone, possibly never to reappear on the national scene.

Hormel made Pumpkin Spice Spam available in two-packs from their own website — with a limit on one two-pack per customer — but also sold it through the Walmart.com website, with no limit on how much you could buy. Until, of course, it sold out. If I understand correctly, Hormel’s own site sold out within four hours or so of the 8 am EDT launch time, and Walmart made it a few hours longer before they, too, had none left to sell.

Because I’m a complete idiot, I of course had the launch hour and date programmed into my calendar; I’d even set up a Facebook event so others could ‘attend’ and get a reminder when the stuff went on sale.

I sitting on a plane waiting to take off (heading through Chicago to Nebraska) when the launch time came but was able to get my official sold-by-Hormel two-pack purchased before we left the runway. It wasn’t easy to get my order in; when eight a.m. came and I launched the site from my smartphone, the site crashed, and crashed, and crashed, and crashed some more. I knew this meant that demand for the stuff was going absolutely through the roof. But it finally came up and let me get my credit card information entered just seconds before we took off. Yay!

I hit the Walmart site once I got to Chicago and was in cell reception again … and was super-excited to find that they hadn’t put any kind of limit at all on how many packs you could buy.

As Carole has often quoted me as saying, “if a thing’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing.”

So I purchased five more two-can packs, for a total of six packs and twelve cans, figuring that would last me long enough for me to get sick of it.

I know you’re asking, “Jay, why the hell did you want some in the first place?”

The answer is simple: “just for the sheer gormless pointlessness of the whole thing. And also because I kind of like grilled Spam. But mostly just to be stupid.”

Fact is, I’d read reviews prior to launch from various foodie website saying that Pumpkin Spice Spam didn’t actually suck and would probably go well with breakfast. And that it wasn’t actually pumpkin-y at all, instead having a mild nutmeg-and-cinnamon taste. So why not try some while I could?

The stuff came while I was in Nebraska and Carole Ieft it all waiting for me on the entryway table. Upon arriving home I greeted the Spam with glad cries and entertained myself by making a little tower of the two-packs (and taking a photo) before squirreling them safely away.

We waited until Saturday to try the stuff. I opened a can, sliced it neatly into six equal slices, and cooked it in a grill pan with a little canola oil.

Carole, bless her heart, didn’t refuse outright to try some. And she didn’t think it was awful or anything. But, let’s let these photos tell the tale:

Despite her dour look, she said she didn’t actually dislike it, but it wasn’t anything she saw a reason to camp out for. So to speak.

Me? I pretty much liked it. I think it might even have been better if the nutmeg-and-cinnamon flavor had been a little stronger. It certainly wasn’t overwhelmingly spiced or cloyingly flavored.

Long story short — it wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped it would be, but was much less awful than I feared it could be. Hormel clearly tried to do a good job here and wasn’t just mailing it in or going for humor value alone. If it was available annually I’m sure I’d keep buying it. As it is, I have no doubt that I’ll make my way through the remaining eleven cans in due course.

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Wafflemania

By | September 11, 2019

I don’t do Facebook much — that’s why I tend to be ignorant of news like “oh, alligators ate my left leg a month ago” until everyone else on the planet, up to and including the pool guys in cities a thousand miles north of the alligator line, knows the story.

But I do find a few things about Facebook’s content amusing. One is the Employees-of-Waffle-House closed group I somehow got added to. Every day is a soap opera like you would not believe.

People get into actual flamewars over whose manager is right about the order in which waffles and biscuits are supposed to be called to the cooks. And whether it’s even acceptable to make pancakes using waffle batter:

“OUR NAME IS NOT ‘PANCAKE HOUSE’. WE DO NOT MAKE PANCAKES!!!”

vs

“Hell, if it keeps the three year old who wants a pancake happy, we’ll cook him a damn pancake.”

Cue 900 follow-up messages taking every conceivable side of the issue. Including whether the aliens at Area 51 are somehow manipulating American waffle production for their own purposes.

It kind of makes you wonder what other closed employee-only groups there are out there — is there a group for American park rangers to bitch about things like the bear in the hat and necktie who keeps stealing picnic baskets? Or a group for Starbucks employees to bitch about the customers who complain because their latte is precisely two degrees too hot, with graphic descriptions of the tortures the baristas would like to subject said customers to? Or a group for pool guys to vent about all the alligators they’re finding in pools lately and how it’s not due to global warming, but rather, due to changes in pool chemical formulation?

Alligators, man. What are you going to do?

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September 13, 1997

By | September 10, 2019

Carole and I tied the knot on a sultry North Carolina afternoon just shy of 22 years ago — September 13, 1997.

That date was picked because:

  • it was the night of a full moon and we thought that was romantic in some strange way
  • it was a week before my 30th birthday and I was semi-determined to be married before the odometer turned over

One could make a case that having an outdoor wedding at 5:30 pm on a Saturday in September was asking for trouble — if I recall correctly, the temperature was in the high 80s and in any event, the moon wasn’t even visible from the patio next to the carp pond at the Sarah P Duke Gardens. By the time we were all legal and everything, all our guests were pretty hot and uncomfortable from standing around, and perhaps as a result, we wound up with a lot of uneaten food at the reception; no one seemed to have much appetite.

On a positive note, though, Carole’s grandfather did not fall into the carp pond in mid-ceremony, though there were certainly enough people in the audience who fully expected him to do so. He’d crept around to the back side of the carp pond, slippery rocks and all, with his camera, intent on getting some shots from that side — only to wind up windmilling his arms trying to maintain his balance. Carole and I could have stripped naked mid-ceremony and danced the lambada and I don’t think anyone would have noticed; Grandfather Odum had upstaged us.

In any event, I suspect that if people had been in a betting mood, there would have been some money put down on “it’ll last a year. Maybe.” You’ve probably all been to weddings where you just had the sense that the marriage was doomed before it started, that both the bride and the groom would, in short order, be spending their evenings at various dive bars irritably tossing back shots and griping about what a jackass their ex was.

Somehow we’ve made it through. I have no idea how. I’m a jackass. Carole’s a jackass. We’re both jackasses. I guess we deserve each other.

We never had kids — this is kind of a sore subject with Carole, who hates hearing me moon on about how I wish we could’ve. But anyone who knows us knows what terrible parents we would have been. We’re just one eyestalk each shy of basically being mutants, and no kid needs to grow up with that much crazy in their life.

Things have, somehow, worked out.

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The Boston “Sweep Van Experience”

By | September 8, 2019

So, Carole and I spent the weekend in a 12-passenger van driving around Boston and environs; Carole was navigator and I was driver. We served as “Sweep Van B” for the 2019 New England Susan G Komen 3-Day. We had walked in the Twin Cities 3-Day a few weeks ago, and this was kind of our chance to pay back the incredible work of the Minneapolis/St Paul 3-Day crew by serving as crew ourselves in Boston and environs.

We had a theme for our van and everything! We chose “Under the Sea” as our theme, decorated our van with fun underwater props and decorations, and even dressed as though we were on an underwater expedition — Carole as a mermaid, and me in snorkeling gear. Carole got a lot of attention because her costume really did look pretty snazzy. I was just a weirdo in a shortie wet suit, mask, and snorkel who occasionally put fins on when I was standing by the van cheering walkers passing by. (I did not drive with the mask actually over my eyes; I’m not a complete idiot.) We passed out lots and lots and lots of Swedish Fish candy and the walkers we gave lifts to were surprisingly very glad to get them — apparently Swedish Fish are a lot more popular than I’d previously realized.

We had a playlist of underwater-themed music (think “Octopus’s Garden” and “Under the Sea” and stuff like that) to blast out the windows of our van as we drove the route — playing music loud enough to be heard by the walkers is meant to help them know you’re there and available. It’s frustrating as heck to realize too late that a sweep van just drove by you and you didn’t notice in time to raise your arms over your head in an X to signal for a lift. The music didn’t work as well as we’d have liked: Boston traffic is loud. Carole had to spend a good bit of time leaning out of her passenger-side window flat-out calling out to walkers who looked especially tired, “You okay? You okay? You there — you look marvelous!”

Was it fun? Well…

Serving as sweep driver for three days in Boston-area traffic was exhausting. The proverbial aggressive Boston driver is not a myth — I cannot tell you how many times I carefully signaled a lane change and had a car barrel up and cut me off. When you drive an event vehicle at a 3-Day the organizers emphasize safety, caution, and so on, and so on. And then they tell you what to do if and when you get into an accident, give you paperwork to document what happened, tell you who to call and in what order… and wait for the semi-inevitable “oh God” moments when someone does side-swipe three parked cars or worse, actually has a fender bender with another vehicle.

I very much did not want to be That Guy, the one who had to call in to 3-Day command with a “um, so…” call from the scene of an accident. But as a result, I spent all weekend gripping the steering wheel for dear life, ready to make emergency evasive maneuvers as needed. My hands literally hurt tonight on the drive home from Boston. Carole served as navigator and an extra pair of eyes and she was worn out from the stress.

But … I didn’t wreck, didn’t scrape any other vehicles, didn’t run into anything, didn’t run over anyone. As I joked at one point, I call that a win.

The 3-Day is a positive, life-affirming experience most of the time. But then there’s having to drive five miles out of your way because you missed a turn and you can’t get safely turned around what with traffic and one-way streets and all that. Repeatedly. It was especially aggravating the first day as the route took us through the narrow winding streets of Charlestown and the North End, with traffic so bad that on occasion it took us a half hour to circle back to a point on the route three blocks behind us where we’d been informed that walkers were waiting for pickup. (By the time we got there, of course, the walkers had either given up and kept walking, called an Uber or Lyft, or, if they were lucky, been able to flag down one of the other six sweep vans as it came by.) We heard repeatedly that walkers simply didn’t see any sweep vans on Friday — we were just lost in the hurlyburly of Boston traffic.

One nice little detail from the weekend: we heard from several walkers that they didn’t realize that Carole and I were actually a married couple crewing together because we were being too nice/courteous/civil to each other as we drove around, even when things around us were absolutely crazy.

I. Am. Not. Kidding.

Our passengers were those walkers who were tired, sore, injured, etcetera (or who really, really needed to get to a bathroom). All lovely, pleasant people, a pleasure to serve and ride and talk with. We were honored to serve them. Many of them are breast cancer survivors, and every one of them cared enough to raise at least $2,300 in order to walk in the event. So there was that. Awesome people. Inspiring. Getting to be of service to such people was why Carole and I wanted to volunteer at the event. We got to see a few old acquaintances when we did stop for a few minutes at pits and even gave a couple of them rides, and that was nice.

But then there’s the downside — missing out on all the other parts of the 3-Day. The unfortunate thing about long hours spent in a sweep van is that you really miss out on a lot of the 3-Day experience; you don’t get to spend much time at pits or at lunch other than when you’re dropping off walkers, and you don’t get to visit with the people who don’t need a lift. You wave as you drive by them, and hope you don’t miss them signaling for a ride, but you don’t get to hear their stories or find out what motivates them to walk.

In principle, we could have done some of the socializing on Friday and Saturday evening at “camp” (the evening events and walker accomodations were in hotels this year, but we’re used to calling the event site “camp”).

That was the theory, anyway.

However… Carole and I were assigned a hotel two miles or so from the two main event hotels — just luck of the draw. Our hotel was right next to the vehicle lot, which was convenient, but it meant that we had to shuttle over to “camp” if we wanted to take part in 3-Day evening stuff. The shuttles were vans like ours, driven by crew like us, fighting traffic back and forth the whole way between hotels, just like us. What sounded good in theory (shuttling people to camp from our hotel and back again) didn’t work out so well in practice.

We did go over to camp the first night (Friday), but shuttling to the “camp” hotel where all the 3-Day festivities were being held took an hour, and after dinner we were too tired to function. We waited for a half hour for a shuttle to take us back to our hotel but the shuttles were all stuck in Friday night traffic, so we walked back. It was faster.

On Saturday, we didn’t even bother going back over. My day had started at 5 am driving hotel-to-hotel shuttles (in much lighter traffic, admittedly, than at dinnertime on Friday) before starting our sweep van work, and by evening, I had no gas left in my tank, so to speak. We simply weren’t up for another hour shuttling back to camp and another hour shuttling back so we missed out on the honor ceremony and other aspects of camp life. We had dinner near our hotel and then we crashed for the night.

I don’t think anyone missed us when we didn’t appear at camp on Saturday night. We certainly didn’t get any messages saying “hey, where are you?” and that’s good, in a way. I used to be very obnoxious, if I do say so myself, about getting noticed at a 3-Day, wearing my pink hard hat and doing a lot of rah-rah social media posting before and during the event. When I look back on all that, all I can think is that making such a spectacle of myself, well intentioned or otherwise, detracted from the real purpose of the event, celebrating those fighting breast cancer and remembering those we’ve lost. If I’ve managed to become sufficiently invisible that most people don’t even know I’m at a 3-Day, then I guess I’m doing something right. It’s not supposed to be about me; it never should have been.

I should give credit, by the way, to our awesome sweep captains, Melissa and Ryan, who got to spend their weekend sitting at a table back at the camp hotel, up on the sixth floor next to the medical area, watching our transponders move around a map of Boston on their laptops and fielding calls and texts from us and from other 3-Day crew as to who was where with how many walkers and who was available to pick someone up at such-and-so location. They had things very well organized and kept our crew of seven sweep vans (two crewmembers each, driver and navigator) busy.

The most important detail from the weekend, though, is simply this: the 1200+ walkers and crew who took part in this year’s New England 3-Day raised $2.9 million dollars for the fight against breast cancer. That’s a serious chunk of change and Carole and I are proud to have played a role, however small, in making it all happen.

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“Michael” from “Google”

By | September 3, 2019

Today I got a call from “Google” letting me know that my Google Business account might not be Verified.

Gasp!

Carole had mentioned having gotten quite a few answering machine messages from someone at Google about our “Google Business” account.

I had no idea what Google wanted, but supposed it might be an annual re-verification that our phone number was still supposed to be tied to our listing, or some such (and that the real purpose of the call would be to try to pitch us an advertising package).

In any event, I know from long experience that if there’s one thing Carole hates, it’s having to play back long answering machine messages after a long day’s work. I promised her that since I’d be working from home for a few days, I’d definitely take the call when it came in.

So … today around 4 pm, our land line phone rang.

Warning sign #1: the area code and exchange were the same as my home number — 802-434-####. I thought “hmm, maybe this is one of our neighbors calling”.

So, I picked up.

Warning sign #2: It wasn’t one of our neighbors. It was a recorded voice telling me that my Google Business account MIGHT NOT BE VERIFIED and to press 1 to be connected to someone who could help me.

That was when I went “hey, hold on”. If it was really Google, they’d know if my account was verified. And in any event, they wouldn’t be spoofing my local exchange.

But I pressed 1 anyway, just to see who or what I got.1I know that was a bit of a mistake; in so doing, I confirmed that there was a real human at our number, willing to press buttons and so on.

What I got was a guy with a thick accent identifying himself as “Michael” who asked who he was speaking with. He was calling from a very loud room of some kind — I visualized a boiler room call center like the ones 419 scammers are usually depicted working in. In the background, I could hear loud voices of other “Google agents” talking to their marks.

And here’s where I screwed the pooch, as it were: I HUNG UP.

Like an idiot.

I’ve always admired the people who keep phone scammers tied up for hours. THAT COULD HAVE BEEN ME.

Sigh. Perhaps “Michael” will call back tomorrow. I miss him already.

 

Parenthetically, Carole and I do have a Google Business account listing, even though we don’t actually own a business. It’s just our house, listed as a business called “Carole and Jay Furr”. I set it up a while back under the name “Otter Lodge”, describing it as a retreat center for those who enjoy metasyntactic variables or some such. I figured it’d get ignored; it was just me screwing around.

Well, one rainy Saturday night, we had someone actually show up at our front door, asking if there was a “lodge” there. I assume they were looking for a place to stay. I apologized and said “no, no, this is just our house.” I felt really awkward about it.

When I shut the door and told Carole what had happened, she gave me a very hard look, arms folded. I immediately went and changed the listing from “Otter Lodge” to “Carole and Jay Furr”. We haven’t had a lot of contacts regarding the “business” since then.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 I know that was a bit of a mistake; in so doing, I confirmed that there was a real human at our number, willing to press buttons and so on.
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