Candles: The Comeback

Dude figuring out which scent is his.

Dude figuring out which scent is "his."

The past couple of weekends, I have channel surfed and landed on a women-oriented movie. If it’s not on a movie channel, one must resign herself to putting up with the commercial breaks. I wouldn’t mind them so much if they were as entertaining as they thought they portrayed them to be. I’m no “Mad Man,” so I cannot say with certainty that these formulas in the campaigns don’t work. They must, or we wouldn’t be subjected to them day in and day out. I’ve found that the more annoying the commercial is, the more you see it until you have every nuance memorized. Remember the Six Flags ad with the guy in old man makeup who danced around to that godawful synthesizer music? Yeah. I didn’t think it was necessary to have it on as much as they did but it must have worked. I muted the television each and every time but it infiltrated my consciousness nonetheless.

The other weekend I watched the entire Lifetime movie about Coco Chanel. Lifetime has upped the quality of their movies, because I was actually impressed with the story. The first of two glaring inconsistencies was the fact that they did a horrid voiceover for Coco’s best friend and made her sound like a man, albeit with a French accent. The woman’s natural voice couldn’t have been that bad, could it? The other was that Shirley MacLaine, who plays the older Coco (and I love Shirley!), saved herself any embarrassment and didn’t bother trying to speak with any kind of French accented English. So it was just Shirley’s regular American voice juxtaposing the absolutely lovely, lilting French accented English from the actress who played the younger Coco. (Very nice job.) Okay I’m totally getting off track here.

The point is, is that at each and every commercial break between both films (the other was Legally Blonde 2), I was forced to witness women figuring out how to get their air smelling better. There may not be anything causing a pungent smell, per se. But if my home doesn’t smell like misty rain, apple cinnamon cobbler, fresh autumn fields or honeycomb molasses, it seems I’m not doing a good job being a modern-age woman. The commercials now depict women covering up the fact that they bought Glade scented candles and were passing them off as expensive, fashionable candles. The other ad was Febreze revealing its new scented candle line, because now that they’ve dominated the market on making fabrics smell perfumey fresh, it’s time to take over scenting the air.

This is the new craze? Candles? Really? Pretty sure we’ve covered all the grounds in candle making. What gives? Candles, scented or not, have been around for thousands of years. They’re not a new concept. You light the wick, they burn, they give off a nice glow and can also be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, depending on the size and shape. (And let’s face it, candlelight is sexy.) Candlemakers have been quite creative in the past couple of decades. The picture here is of yummy chocolates. But wait! Look closer and you can find the wicks in the “chocolates.” Ho ho, they’re so clever, aren’t they?

Candles have even finally made it to a place where people can pimp ’em out. Bling for your candles? You betcha!

But even more than physical appearance, candles are now given a wide array of scents to please your olfactory senses in your home. I highly recommend reading this article I found on the $9 billion dollar home fragrance industry (NINE BILLION DOLLARS! IN 2006!), which discusses everything from the hazards of certain air fresheners to what we’re really getting for our money, just so we can have a pleasant fragrance around the house that’s not just “fresh air.” My favorite line is when he talks about the “ideal” air freshener being an open window! Kudos!

Here’s the thing. Fresh air in certain polluted situations is not unwarranted. If you live in New York and you don’t have a fan system in your bathroom (and let’s face it, 98% of us don’t) and your tiny bathroom window faces the inner “courtyard,” then buying some Oust, Febreze, Lysol, AirWick and/or Glade products are not uncalled for. If you have roommates, these products are a lifesaver. I subscribe to both lighting a match and spraying something fragrant into the air upon finishing up in the bathroom when it’s not peeing. It’s worked in many a household.

But when you’re at work and no air freshener is around, it is absolutely mandatory to perform the Courtesy Flush. The Courtesy Flush, by definition, is “the act of flushing the toilet the instant the nose cone of the poop log hits the water and the poop is whisked away to an undisclosed location. This reduces the amount of air time the poop has to stink up the bathroom.” (Courtesy of If it didn’t cost so much money, I would vote to have a lovely Glade scented candle burning at all time in the women’s bathroom.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore candles. And if you believe this guy, the “Candle Aficionado,” macho dudes are just as hooked on candles as women. The home fragrance industry, along with shops like Bath & Body Works, are doing their part to help homes look, feel and smell more fabulous.

One of my favorite B&BW candle scents.

Candles now have an appeal on many different levels. Candles – not just for light anymore! And certainly the more the consumers have buyer awareness of these things, more of us women can expect the candle gift basket when no one knows what to buy you when they get you for Secret Santa or if you’re throwing any kind of party at your home, and/or an acquaintence is forced to stop somewhere and buy you a gift, despite the fact that they don’t know you. (Society rules…I swear.)

Last Christmas, my ex’s mother gave me a flameless, scented lavender candle. It was battery operated. It simulated the flickering of a flame (weakly). I suppose it was just meant to look pretty sitting up on a shelf. It sorta did. I had to put it right under my nose to smell any of the lavender scent it emitted. I don’t think I got much use out of it. But this is just a perfect example of things the candle industry is coming up with to “improve” on the basic design of wax-and-wick candles. And these things don’t come cheaply. Made with beeswax or soy, “designer” candles can cost hundreds of dollars. It almost makes a person want to dip some string in some cheap, colored wax you can buy at Michael’s. (A post on Michael’s will probably be put forth at some point in time. It’s one of the best stores on earth, if you like crafts. And I do.)

I don’t have a “side” on this issue, like boycott the home fragrance industry or anything. Although I do think that $9 billion is a little excessive and I don’t really need to be hit over the head with ten different ads about freshening up my home. But it begs another question about Marketing: is this really what women are running out and buying? Do those marketing reports really show that out of all the products in the world women between the ages of 25 and 55 could be buying, candles and other scented shit make the Top 5? I’m all about having some candles in a drawer for emergencies, and candles on shelves and on window sills for romantic moments. But the sheer pressure to buy scented candles all the time just feels a bit like overkill. “Buy! Buy! Buy! Your home will smell like regular air otherwise!”

And may I say, never was there a better pairing than when the disinfectant industry teamed up with the home fragrance industry, so we can be germ free AND smell artificially awesome. It’s what living in America is all about.

Buy your candles with care. That’s all I’m saying. Smell responsibly.


The Next Big McThing: McCafe!

Well, everyone – it’s here. It’s a little queer. It’s McCafe. McDonald’s’ response to Starbucks having a corner on the coffee market is to roll out their own line of espresso-based drinks. If you believe their tagline, it’s its own little coffee world. (I think that’s going a bit too far, however.) My favorite part about that photo is the freshly baked biscotti that I’m sure they lovingly make at 4am, along with their Southern style biscuits in each of the homey kitchens McDonald’s sets up for their workers.

There is a McDonald’s steps away from my office building in Midtown. This morning I went in to get some coffee and a little breakfast and what greeted my eyes was a colorful spread of their new coffee drinks they now provide, including Iced Mochas, regular Mochas, Cappuccino and Lattes. (I can’t remember if they all had a Mc in front of them, but I will think it’s fantastic if they call it a McMocha!) They also have flavored Mcsyrups, in case regular coffee is too boring for you: vanilla, sugar-free vanilla, hazelnut and caramel. Need a jolt after consuming a 2,000 calorie fast food meal at work? Wake up with a sugar-blasted coffee drink! You’ll find the coffee somewhere amongst the sprinkles, whipped cream, syrup and milk.

I don’t know how seriously people will take this. People under a certain age will not want to drink coffee, and let’s face it, half of their clinetele are children; but even they will not succumb to the marketing ploy of wanting a coffee drink, regardless if there is a set of golden arches emblazoned on the plastic or styrofoam cup. I will not be a hypocrite and say I do not enjoy McDonald’s’ regular coffee. Because I do! I don’t care how “white trash” or hoosier that is. There is something about the flavor that is really good. I’m not the only one that thinks so, either. I’m not saying that just because I like it makes it good (I mean, billions of people enjoy porn and that doesn’t necessarily make it ‘good’ or ‘right’ – right?) but it’s definitely better than any office coffee I’ve ever had, and in my petite opinion, whips Dunkin Donuts’ ass. Click here to see a photo of Mickey D’s’ ingenious coffee lids (I know, they’re plastic, and they fit onto a styrofoam cup. I just know I’m killing off some rare species every time I drink a cup of their coffee…), a picture of which I found on a site touting the horridness of the design. Ah, irony.

I am also partial to McDonald’s’ coffee because my mom always drank it on road trips. I think the smell of the hot coffee steaming up the car when we would go on long drives reminds me of those family trips with my mother at the wheel, sipping on coffee to keep her awake and all of us from careening into a bridge abutment. (Anybody catch the Tommy Boy reference there?) So maybe when I’m drinking McDonald’s coffee at work in the morning, I’m really sipping on a better time and place when I wasn’t groggy with fatigue at 8:30 in the morning.

If you want to “wake up to what’s new” you can go online and play with the new coffees and “create your own.” I think the marketing of all the photos will be far more exotic and enticing than the actual flavor. Now, I haven’t tried any of these concoctions yet so I will post an update when I’m willing to shell out a few bucks for one of these sugar bombs. I do enjoy a good cafe mocha, it’s just I’m so skeptical of enjoying one from McDonald’s. I feel like they must be grinding up plastic espresso beans or something. It doesn’t fit it in with the fact that I frequent McDonald’s somewhat regularly, since I can grab their coffee in the morning before work anytime I want. And I do enjoy their breakfast.

Speaking of their breakfast. Word to the wise: McDonald’s’ “Big Breakfast” is simply a Sausage & Egg Biscuit meal with all the pieces given to you separately in a planet killing, styrofoam platter with lid. No kidding, I opened up my Big Breakfast recently, TASTING hotcakes on my tongue, only to discover that I had a biscuit, a piece of sausage, a “folded over” scrambled egg pile, a hash brown thing with syrup, jelly and butter crammed in the bag. Where the freak were my pancakes, God bless it? What on earth is the difference between that and ordering the meal? I don’t even eat McDonald’s’ hash browns. I can’t stand the taste of the chemicals or oil or whatever it is that shellacks the shredded potatoes together. So I was steamed that I had accidentally ordered something that a) I wasn’t craving and b) it came with something I never eat.

Okay I just Googled the Big Breakfast to discover that someone else posted something about this on his/her blog (using my same template, so it looks very similar) and that it’s really supposed to come with a buttered English muffin. And this person claims that the era of the Big Breakfast is over but I am here to announce that that is false. Check out this post for yourself.

If any of you readers out there have any comments on McDonald’s’ coffee or if you’ve tried anything from the McCafe, I’d love to hear about it! I just don’t know how I feel about the yuppieness of coffee being mixed with the not-so-upper-classness of the fast food joint McDonald’s. Are they running out of people to market to? Is there some demographic they’re not hitting? Pretty sure infants, toddlers, elementary school kids through high schoolers, college kids, people in their 30s-40s and then senior citizens all eat at McDonald’s, and with a startling regularity. We’ve all seen the old couple at McDonald’s at 6am who are eating their regular breakfast, reading the paper, sitting at their usual booth and wearing matching visors. So who does McDonald’s need to get to that they haven’t yet? Is the CEO stomping around at meetings going, “We have to BRING MORE PEOPLE IN! Instead of ‘1 billion hamburgers sold’ it’s now going to be ‘1 billion lattes sold!'” It’s like that joke that David Cross tells about how he’s sick of McDonald’s advertising all the time: “If I wake up and don’t see or hear an ad for McDonald’s…I don’t say to myself ‘Hey…did McDonald’s go out of business?'” Exactly.

I’m not saying to boycott the new McCafe. I just don’t understand it, is all. I think what it reminds me of is my crappy coffee place at college, where they tried to make decent coffee drinks but they were more sugar and toxic waste than anything else and really weren’t worth my Declining dollars. (I distinctly remember one of my old college friends telling the girl behind the counter how to make her hazelnut coffee drink, since she herself had worked at a Starbucks.) It’s unfortunate but that’s how I see McCafe panning out. Prove me wrong, McDonald’s! Let’s see you dip some of Starbucks’ numbers a bit in this already shitty economy. In one corner, we have a fast food chain that started out sixty years ago that has dominated the globe with its universal taste, and in the other we have a still relatively new but powerfully dominant coffee chain whose sole purpose for existence is selling people overpriced, overburnt-espresso-based drinks but does it with corporate panache. Who’s gonna win out?

Only time will mctell.

Odds ‘n Ends

It’s been a busy week. Usually when I’ve been this occupied, things keep popping up that I think, I definitely want to write about that. And then I’ll make a note about it and I’ll be able to dedicate an entire entry to it. But for whatever reason, that didn’t happen this time. I kept waiting for something really inspired to hit me but all I have are these little tidbits about which I can write a paragraph or two and then that’s it. So what ensues is the best I could come up with from the week of September 8, 2008.

Totally me.

I discovered in the early part of the week that one of my favorite websites, someecards, allows you to create a username and password so you can log in and create your own cards. I’m in heaven! I sent my mom and aunt one and you can submit them for other people to see and possibly send out. (By the way, I’d like to give a shoutout to my friend Amy for introducing me to this website. My life has never been the same.) If you like to create with words and pictures, as I do, then it’s a perfect outlet. If you’re one of my friends or relatives reading this, don’t be surprised if I send you one. I go on kicks where I send multiple cards at once. I receive their weekly newsletter telling me when the newest cards have been added, as well. Yeah. I know.

In big sports news, Tom Brady has been badly injured in his knee and is purportedly out for the entire season. It’s big only because after last year’s amazing, fucking awesome-as-hell Superbowl at which the NY Giants’ defense took the trophy right out from the Patriots’ perfect record for the year, that the Patriots will have to try to get to the Playoffs/Superbowl without him. Brady’s a huge baby sore loser. I can relate a little bit since I hate to lose. I’m one of those introverts that doesn’t appear to be competitive on the outside, but I really seethe when I don’t win. My brother Zack and I used to play all kinds of games when we were kids. We had the most heated Mariokart marathons in the history of Super Nintendo. (Super Nintendo was the BEST! Remember Donkey Kong Country?) Neither of us liked to lose and it absolutely steamed his clam to see me kick his ass at something as boy-oriented as a video game. Mortal Kombat, no, but anything Mario-related and I was right up there with The Wizard. (If you don’t know that movie reference, you are not an 80s child and/or had a deprived childhood.)

I was the first kid to beat Super Mario Brothers 2, beating Wart in his bubbley kingdom of doom. Oh yah, that was me. And I whipped his toady ass with Princess, who had a decent floating capability, which was key to being able to jump over him and throw a radish at him. Where was I? Oh yeah, Tom Brady. Brady hates to lose and while he may be a good leader and quarterback, he just sets an example of being a huge crybaby p***y, making the New England Patriots look like giant douchebags. I like the New York teams kind of by default (and I learned more about football in my 18 month relationship with my ex than any other time) and I like the Colts. As I’ve previously mentioned, I dig me some Manning. So we’ll see how this new kid Cassel does. The Tom Brady thing is right up there with the big football news of Brett Favre being traded to the Jets. It makes for an interesting season, at least.

In other totally unrelated happenings, my mom sent me a hilarious email in which she included a link to a tee-shirt that had “MILF” on it. It came from CafePress, and it said “Yomama has the following message: ‘What’s a MILF?'”

The questionable tee.

I cracked up and told her what it stood for. (If you don’t know, just Google it. Where have you been the last ten years? The only other person who wouldn’t know is my dad.) When she found out she wrote “Uhhh thanks. Ick on the acceptable phrases scale.” My mom is 62 and wonderful and I love that despite the fact that she’s a very modern mom, she hadn’t heard of this particular acronym. I wish the hilarity stopped there but then she wrote, “Now there should be tees that say GILF or DILF, as in ‘Guy I’d’ or ‘Dude I’d..'”

I guess she thought that there should be these tee-shirts that women can give to their guys. I don’t want to know who my mom wants to give those shirts to. I wrote back that GILF or DILF would be construed as “Grandma I’d Like to…” or “Daughter I’d Like to…” I don’t want to know who would give those out if those got made. I love my mom to infinity and beyond, especially for giving me this kind of material. She thanked me for enlightening her. I’m always happy to help.

On Wednesday, I got in the elevator with two other gentlemen who apparently worked together. I think it must have been a boss or supervisor and a lower employee, because this bizarre conversation took place. This is the gist of it:

Boss: Did you check about those flights with Melissa?

Dude 2: Not yet. I’m just waiting on [some other dude] to get back to me about the figures.

Boss: Well, that’s gotta be done like…FIRST THING.

*Awkward pause.*

Dude 2: No yeah, I’m gonna get to it. It’ll get done.

Boss: Because it’s really important we get the cheapest flight.

Dude 2, (defensively and emphatically): I found the cheapest flight.

Boss: (pause) Expedia?

Dude 2: Yeah, Orbitz. One of those.

They exit the elevator. As soon as the doors closed I burst out laughing. How gauche is it to have that conversation not only in front of a stranger but in the elevator on your way up to work? It’s the worst when you have nothing else to talk about with someone you work with, especially someone who’s in a place of seniority, and s/he feels the need to talk to you about work you have to get done that day. I just know that Dude 2 was thinking, “Can you get off my nuts and wait to talk to me until we’re both actually inside the office and I’ve had some coffee?” The elevator is a strange, neutral territory of an office building with its own etiquette. When you first get to work and haven’t begun your day, it doesn’t feel right to have to talk about work before you’ve logged on to your computer and set your things down. But once you’ve put some hours behind you and lunchtime or later rolls around, it’s totally kosher to talk about work in the elevator. I felt bad for that poor bastard. I wonder if his day was ruined.

Everyone has at least one or two coworkers and/or supervisors that they don’t want to be caught dead with in the elevator. It’s 20+ seconds of an infelicitous ride that one or both either acknowledges with silence or in which one explodes with small talk about the weather. That’s the worst. At my old job, there were mini TV monitors in the elevators so you at least had the excuse of staring up at the screen for some tidbit of news or weather. Anything to avoid conversation, or worse, eye contact. I’ve definitely taken a lap around the reception area in order to avoid getting into the elevator with someone I don’t care for in the office. Feel free to leave me a comment detailing your elevator horror stories. I’d love to hear about it!

Last but not least, I have a tip for my fellow coffee lovers, especially if you buy lattes on a regular basis. Make the most of your latte by taking advantage of the spices that Starbucks and your local joints put out on the counter where you tinker with the drink. I always add Splenda and a couple bangs from the cinnamon shaker. It really makes the difference, folks. Not only is cinnamon an anti-inflammatory spice (just 1/2 a teaspoon a day keeps the doctors away! And don’t quote me on that or blame me for any medical problems that don’t go away when you inhale cinnamon) but it is absolutely divine on the taste scale and punches up one’s coffee but good. I have a real weakness for cinnamon. The subway station at Rockefeller Center (BDFV lines) has a Cinnabon upstairs so that when you’re at one end of the platform, it smells like someone is making cinnamon buns and it’s all I can do not to run upstairs and buy one. I haven’t succumbed yet, but it makes waiting for the train a far more pleasant experience than usual. It’s soothing and totally fools you into thinking that waiting for a train is a comforting experience. So that’s it – add cinnamon!

I’ve managed to kill another 90 minutes in avoiding cleaning up the pit that is my bedroom. If I can make a dent this weekend, I’ll feel like a real grownup. But all this difficult blogging might inspire a nap and/or watching something on HBO or Showtime OnDemand.

If you’re interested in learning more about Elevator Etiquette (there is a TON of information out there! It’s a real issue, apparently –) check out this video that someone kindly made to a great song called Such Great Heights by The Postal Service:

My primal, Sunday baking urge

Yep, this looks about right.

Yep, this looks about right.

For the life of me, I cannot get Beyonce’s song “Irreplaceable” out of my head. The only two phrases running through my mind all day have been, “To the left, to the left…” and “You must not know ’bout me, you must not know ’bout me…” I only recently downloaded it after hearing it at David’s wedding reception and I thought that maybe if I listened to it a few times the song would fade from my head. Instead, the lyrics keep cycling around up there with no end in sight. Listening to the song provides relief and insanity all at once.

The beginning of my day started three hours earlier than my Saturday. It totally escapes me why I woke up refreshed at 9am when I went to bed after 2, after having gone out and having a few drinks with a work friend the night before. Why is it that I can wake up and feel great with seven hours of sleep on a Sunday but if I get 7.5 on a weeknight I feel like a hungover zombie on any given day of the work week? It’s why I firmly believe that my body is not meant to be up before 8am. Waking up and getting out of bed before 7am goes against every aspect of my body, mind and soul on a molecular level. I can feel the protest coursing through my blood when I force myself to my feet to grab my bath towels and head to the shower. But whatever the reason today, I got up and decided to make the day as productive and yet relaxing as possible.

The weather changes absolutely affect my decision making process on what I intend to do for the day. In today’s case, it was sunny and cool in the morning and I was actually able to shut off my air conditioner that usually runs (even just on fan) to keep the air flowing. When it’s really hot and sunny, totally nasty humid, snowy, sleeting, gray or rainy, I usually find some way to lie prone and read, sleep, watch TV, play Sudoku, text people and any combination thereof as the day progresses. Today went down differently.

Intsead of laying around for the entire day watching TV and avoiding going through the rat’s nest of disorganization in my room, as has been my habit for the past six weekends, I sat at the computer and did my budget for the rest of the week (which consists of looking at the remainder of my money before my next paycheck and cringing). I then made a prudent financial decision not to order any coffee from Coffee Fool (if you haven’t tried this coffee yet, I highly encourage you to do so – amazing stuff) and just finish out the Folger’s French Roast in the freezer. With the $12 I was saving on my coffee order, I applied it to my order of groceries from Fresh Direct, a grocery/catering service native to New York and one of the biggest perks about living here.

Delivery service is what helps make NYC so unique and wonderful, and when Fresh Direct made its way into the forefront of my existence, I embraced it wholeheartedly and gratefully. Sit on my ass and choose groceries and have them delivered when I want anytime in the coming week? Sold!

I am incredibly lazy about going to the grocery store. My friends and family can attest to my personal bests of going weeks upon weeks without buying anything more than a can of soup and a jug of milk at one time.  I think my personal best thus far has been six weeks of buying absolutely nothing, and that was two years ago. I almost caught up to that record until today. So the fact that I ordered some ready-to-eat meals and produce from Fresh Direct and I went to the store up the street from me to get some staples for the day is an incredible feat for me. Put a gold medal around my neck, thank you!

One of my girlfriends who recently moved to Astoria has already explored the area enough around her to know that there’s a Costco nearby. I wouldn’t have known that if I’d lived here twenty years. I aspire to be more like her when I’m not indulging in sheer laziness on the weekends.

So having already been uber successful at waking up early, making a sound financial decision AND ordering groceries, all before having any coffee, how or why the idea of making cookies came into my head I know not. I just know that I hadn’t done anything baking-oriented in ages (mostly due to living with a batshit crazy roommate, as described in my first post) and I was craving the comfy, cozy routine of doing something homey. And you know what, it hoenstly doesn’t get any better than baking cookies. I wasn’t even craving anything dessert-ish per se, I just had an overwhelming urge to bake. Not wanting to ignore the insistent call in my head, I began researching recipes online by Googling the phrase “best chocolate chip cookies” followed by “oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.”

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are my ultimate favorite. The texture and flavor of the oats mixed with the brown sugar, butter and chocolate chips….and imagining them hot and fresh out of the oven….I kept the saliva in check and continued my research. I finally landed upon a recipe from a food blog called Smitten Kitchen. Haha, wow this whole day I thought it was Smitten Kitten and it’s actually Smitten Kitchen. I thought that was so cute, too – Smitten Kitten. Good grief. Anyway, the recipe is for Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies. It was Zoe Perfect! I loved everything about it except the orange zest, which I omitted from even being an option for my cookies. Citrus fruit + chocolate and/or cookie dough = Pointless in the Tao of Zoe. That includes cranberries or cran-raisins. (I mean seriously, what is up with that shit?)

After taking notes on all the ingredients and figuring out if I could afford to make these things, because after all, I own zero sugar, flour or any other staples except vanilla and baking soda, I threw on my flip flops and an acceptable pair of loungey pants and tee-shirt in which to walk to the store (I even put on deodorant!). It wasn’t even 11 in the morning and I was going grocery shopping. I felt like a real grown-up. My fellow Astorian girlfriend would have been proud.

I stuck to my list, a very hard thing to do for most people, and came home with all the goodies. But first I had to relax with my leftover pizza for breakfast and do some dishes before I could even think about making cookies. I took a few photos so you could see the results because if you’re any kind of normal person, you would think this looks amazing. Unless you’re my friend David, who is anti-nuts in baked goods. I’m hoping he’ll one day change his mind but since neither of us haven’t changed ours about loathing seafood (another post for another time), I’m not holding my breath.

Behold the dough in its glorious, shiny beauty!

Phenomenal, gooey,chocolatey, nutty, oatey, magical cookie dough

If you think that looks good, and trust me, it was….here’s the final product:

Oooh, ahh...

Oooh, ahh...

I got the macro function of my camera to work!

I got the macro function of my camera to work!

What really gives it a pinch of autumn lusciousness are the spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves added to the flour mixture. Picture an Italian chef kissing their fingertips with a mwah sound and saying, “Magnifico!”

Needless to say, I munched on a couple right out of the oven and then later on in the evening I ate a few watching stand-up comedy and movies. I filled a couple of plastic tupperware containers with the cookies so I am hoping that despite working in a New York City office, that I will be able to get people to consume one or two, so that I don’t have to come home every night of the week and eat these all on my own. Because 70% of the purpose and thrill of cooking and baking is having others moan and groan over the culinary success of the recipe.

I need praise.

After the exhausting process of measuring, stirring, forming and eating the cookies, it was 2:30pm and time to celebrate my 5.5 hours of productivity – with a nap. After two blissful hours of curling up in the blissful quiet of my room, I woke up at 4:30 to watch some more random movies on HBO, stand-up comedy on Comedy Central and much later on, the Colts v. Bears game. (I love those Manning guys.) My room was once again ignored and once again, I will hope that the motivation to get that done will strike me instead of cookie baking or something else really frivolous next weekend. But I did make some progress on a Moderately Difficult Sudoku puzzle and really enjoyed the fact that my subconscious is really feeling at home here in the new place; or those cookies never would have been made, and that would have been a real shame on this gorgeous pre-autumn Sunday.

(To the left, to the left…)

Crappy vs. Crappy: a study in cross country flying with Continental and Delta

I’m not going to bitch and moan about the price of oil in today’s post. But I WILL SAY THIS: if P Diddy can no longer afford to fly private, we Regular Joe Schmoe Americans are all royally screwed. The hopes and dreams of even upgrading to Business or First Class are dissolving before I can even try to make them a reality. So I’m posting “Just Diddy”‘s video message because a) it’s hilarious and b) it doesn’t get more eloquent than, “Gas prices are too muthafuckin high.” Relish that before you read on to my more mundane bit of blathering below.

Considering I’ve flown to LAX twice in the past two months, I decided to do a compare and contrast report on the two flights (well, four really), since I flew out of two different airports on two different airlines from NYC. Now, my memories of Continental are going to be a tad fuzzier since they happened in late May. But I’ve still managed to retain the important stuff. And hey, maybe this will actually help someone make a decision on which airline to choose. But nothing takes away from the fact that Coach/Economy/3rd Class/Basic all amounts to Crap Travel. It’s not fun to fly, generally speaking, and if you have more than a two-hour flight it gets tiresome preeeeetty fast. I prefer road trips myself, especially when I can stretch out and take a nap without worrying if my arm or shoulder is bumping into a complete stranger and if s/he or his/her spawn will have to use the bathroom while I attempt to “sleep” sitting up with my mouth open at a generous 95 degree angle.

(Okay sorry, but remember Compare and Contrast homework from elementary school? Anyone? The whole point was that you had to remember that in comparing, you were to find simliarities and in contrasting, you were to find differences. Anyone? This feels sort of like a book report in that sense. With curse words.)

Both trips took place over a holiday weekend, so I’m really gauging things from a high pressure situation. Most airlines can barely keep you on time on a Wednesday at 9pm, much less 5pm on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Airlines have decreased the number of available flights so as to get chock full bodies in seats on every flight, maximizing the usage of precious, expensive-as-gold jet fuel.

In May, I flew over Memorial Day weekend on Continental. I had to fly out of Newark for that one – one of their hubs. Since I work in Midtown, I thought it’d be easy enough to walk down to Penn Station so I could catch a NJ Transit train over to Newark. It turned out to be the equivalent of twenty blocks, dragging a suitcase behind me in the hot sun. There must have been a thousand people in line for tickets by the time I got there.

There was only one train leaving within the hour that was stopping at Newark. So I crammed on and it was a mad scramble for a seat. Who I don’t understand are the people who insist on trying to have a leisurely sit-down on a train where people are standing in the aisle in order to get to the same destination, and they get huffy when people are pushed up against them. I sat next to a man with hardly any room between us, and sure enough I-Gotta-Have-A-Seat Suzie comes barging through and forces me to squish over. She got so fed up at having our hips and upper legs touch that she got up and moved five minutes later to cram next to a window seat beside some poor gent. I just wish she would have thought about that before she sat down but….whatever.

We finally arrived at Newark and I got to my gate just fine. My memories of the terminal are really poor, which is actually a good thing for Continental, because the Delta terminal at JFK was horrid. More on that later. What I do remember is that the seats on Continental were really, really small.

The sad view in Economy.

The sad view in Economy.

These must have been former French planes and/or the planes are 100 years old, because honestly, even in today’s tight-airplane-seat age, these were not built for anyone who has anything extra on his or her body whatsoever. If you’re a woman like me, you sometimes sit at an angle if you don’t have anyone sitting between you and the other person, so you can cross your legs or whatever. Or you have hips. What I’m saying was that the seats were exceedingly uncomfortable. This particular airplane had not been updated with having more than one TV screen hanging down every three or four seats, and you’ll watch what they tell you you’re gonna watch. What an airline chooses to show is hardly ever good AND suitable for all ages.

The upside, however, is that Continental still serves meals for free (although after having paid hundreds of dollars for your ticket, it’s already been paid for), which is nigh on extinct in the airline world.

I also remember my flight being two hours delayed. I forget the reason why, but if anyone tries to tell you that Newark has better air traffic than JFK, they are dead balls wrong. Between sitting at the gate, inside the plane and then on the tarmac for takeoff, we were nowhere close to being on schedule. I ignorantly held out for a better return flight.

Unfortunately, my redeye was also delayed and jam packed. Apparently it’s all the rage for New Yorkers to take a redeye because there was not an empty seat to be found. This time, I was seated at the window next to an older Asian couple. They spoke softly to one another in their native tongue but after a time, I could tell that for whatever reason, my presence was disturbing the woman next to me, who was stuck in the middle seat. I could fathom no earthly idea what could have bothered her about me. I do not hog the armrest, I don’t dare go to the bathroom in that situation unless it’s an emergency, I stared out the window (keeping my right arm and eyeballs to myself) and I said nothing. But her tone of voice suggested she was irritated.

You and me and everyone else on here, lady, I thought.

I finally dozed off. I woke up a short time later and started a bit when I realized that it was now the older man sitting next to me and the woman was in the aisle seat. Coincidence? I think not. Did I smell? No, I’d showered that day. What was the deal? I gave up worrying about it, since I didn’t have to listen to her nag at her husband in her annoyed tone of voice. But still, I did wonder…One of life’s greater mysteries.

Because my flight was delayed out of LAX back to Newark, instead of coming in at 6am and handling mild traffic on NJ Transit back into Manhattan (where I would then pick up the subway), I was now in full-blown, rush hour morning traffic. To add whipped cream to this delicious, frothy brew, the trains going into Manhattan were also delayed; due to what, I’m unsure. To add to the fun, they did not properly demarcate which tracks held the trains going into Manhattan. The announcements over the loudspeaker were confusing and garbled. If a NJ Transit employee hadn’t been standing on the platform, I definitely would have missed the train that came along which was not supposed to be on the track going into Manhattan. But going it was.

When you fly in and out of New York City, you have to take into account how much time or money you’re willing to invest in getting to and from the airports. Even if you got a flight for free, if you were going to take a car service or a cab both ways, you’ll be shelling out anywhere from $60 to $100. More, if you live in Manhattan and you tip somewhat decently. It’s $15 to get a NJ Transit ticket, but it took me two hours to get home from Newark to Queens. Priceless.

Overall grade for Continental: C+

Flying to LA over Labor Day weekend had a different feeling to it. Perhaps it’s because it signifies the end of the summer instead of the beginning. Maybe because I was going into LA there were less New Yorkers on the flight. Whatever the reason, the overall experience flying to LA on Delta was a bit better – with a few exceptions, of course.

Since my flight was out of JFK, I ordered a recommended car service from a friend. They quoted me $30 to get to JFK on Friday morning. Not too bad. Twenty dollars cheaper before tip than going from Manhattan, and there are no bridges to cross. I felt like a winner already.

The cab service came a few minutes after 9 and despite the driver’s loud hacking noise he made every thirty seconds, the ride was smooth and we didn’t get held up in traffic. He dropped me off at the terminal and when I said, “Thirty, right?” he stared at me and said, “Thirty? Thirty dollars to get to JFK?” I replied, “Yeeeeeah….that’s what they told me over the phone.”

Acting like he was doing me a gigantic favor and letting it slide, he says to me, “Thirty-three.” Hm, I had no idea this was a negotiation. Did he think the three extra dollars would protect him should I give him a crappy tip? I did not see how three dollars would change his life. But I was peeved that he felt it was a negotiation and that he did not keep consistent with what I was quoted over the phone. It remains to be seen whether I use that car service again.

I checked in smoothly and got to Security, where I removed my flip flops and put them in a bin, along with my little zip-up jacket and purse. Standard protocol for 2008 when flying in the domestic United States. I only had to wait for one person to get through Security before my turn.

The gentleman in front of me put his entire laptop briefcase in a bin and stood there wondering why the Security guards were getting feisty with him, when he left his bulky leather jacket and boots on. I stood there with a bored expression on my face, because anyone who has flown since 9/11 knows that this is S.O.P. Where did this guy come from? But then I felt bad when the woman snapped at him, “Hell-OOO, you have to take the laptop out and put it in its own bin. Take off your jacket and shoes!” I don’t think he spoke English very well. Finally, the guard who watches you walk through the metal detector let me go ahead of him, since my things had made it through the X-ray machine long before me. I hoped the man made it through without being strip searched but I had my doubts. I get nervous walking through the detector even when I know 100% that I have nothing metal on my person. The Security guards at airports are only too happy to pull you out of line and go through your things one by one, interrogating you about anything and everything they deem relevant before you step foot on an airplane and fly the sunny skies.

After gathering my things, it was time to figure out where I would get a bite to eat before the long trip. The first place I passed was a Dunkin Donuts. I needed zero seconds to pass that one up. Being in an airport is an extension of my trip or vacation, so I try not to frequent anyplace that I could go to on any given day of the week. The exception is McDonald’s, since they’re everywhere and sometimes, they really are that much more convenient. But there was nothing to be found. I walked through this empty terminal (it sorta felt like that Stephen King movie The Langoliers, where time stood still and you couldn’t hear or taste or smell anything) and only found a map of the terminal maze, showing me where I was and where I was headed, which was to Gate 8. Gate 8 was at the end of a cul-de-sac of other gates, not anywhere near to something that sold more than bottles of water and keychains.

I got to Gate 8, realizing that somehow I had passed up anything resembling food. I turned around and walked halfway back down this poorly developed terminal, finally coming across the “food court” that was stashed away on the side of the hall. I saw the Starbucks first, heading there as if I were in a desert and it was my oasis. I should mention that while I am not a diehard Starbucks freak, that I do enjoy some of their stronger, sugary espresso drinks. But I don’t boycott them based on their having a corner on the coffee stand market. I also found a Burger King in operation that had some of their breakfast sandwiches ready to go. I ordered a sausage and egg “Croissanwich” and soon discovered how inferior it was to a certain other fast food place that sells delicious breakfast sandwiches. I’ll leave it at that.

While it is probably not the fault of Delta itself that its terminal is so shabby and lacking at JFK, one of the biggest airports in the country, it still didn’t go along with their revamped image. I’m just saying. When I boarded the plane, I was delighted to see that I was on an updated plane that had TV screens in each headrest, so we could each tune in to our own thing. Blankets were handed out to each person without our having to ask (points for that), and I had even managed to snag a flight where there was no one in the middle seat. So both the lovely, British woman in the aisle seat and myself quickly piled our lady things on the middle seat and had more room to spread out, which was bottom line fantastic. Having that extra room to cross my legs or sit at an angle while I leaned up against the window on my blanke for some shuteye was a real treat.

In between napping, reading and solving Sudoku puzzles, I watched six commercial-free episodes of sitcoms, from The Office to How I Met Your Mother and The Bill Engvall Show (which, I have to say, was pretty good!). Unfortunately, they did ask that you pay for the HBO movies, which were $5. If they had been $2, I might have caved. But five bucks just for watching a selection on a cross-country flight? I’d rather stare out the window, thanks.

But Delta did score points with having their safety instructions done on-screen so you didn’t have to crane your neck to watch someone in the aisle do the seatbelt dance while listening to someone over the PA. I enjoyed that bit. It wasn’t overly corny so they had clearly shelled out some dough to make sure people could watch without cringing.

The flight attendants came around twice on the flight, which also earned a couple more points. However, everything was a la carte unless you could settle for two small cinnamon cookies and your free drink. Alcoholic beverages with real liquor cost $7, my chicken sandwich that I ‘sauced up’ (that’s what the menu said!) was $8 and they also had Pringles and Peanut M&Ms for sale. I bought the M&Ms and was happy I got the large package. That was worth $2, in my estimation.

My baggage came pretty promptly and my friends and I even saw three of the Pussycat Dolls waiting for their luggage at the baggage claim, including the lead singer Nicole (if you click on that hyperlink, she’s the girl with the long hair, too much makeup/tranny looking one – much prettier in person). I have no idea why they were on a commercial Delta flight, but oh wait! If Diddy isn’t flying private, they probably aren’t, either. They have nowhere near the personal wealth of that guy. How he has amassed his riches is beyond me but he’s a self starter and a fighter….and cocky as hell. Maybe that’s what it takes. If being arrogant is the case, then I’ll always be poor.

The overall experience from JFK to LAX was a B+. I have to distinguish it from my return flight.

I double checked to make sure my flight was on time before I got to LAX for my return. The green On Time lit up my iPhone on Delta’s website. Perfect. I get to the Delta check-in terminal and go up to the self-serve kiosk. Despite the numbers of my e-ticket I punched in, it baldly declared that no e-ticket could be found. Sorry, mate – out of luck. Guess you’re not flying.


I started getting a little anxious, wondering how I would butt in front of someone who had already checked in properly and was just dropping his/her bags. Luckily, I jumped in at the right time. The ticket agent didn’t say anything but was able to find my ticket easily and printed a boarding pass. No explanation why it wasn’t found. Still, I didn’t believe it to be a good omen. I wish I had been wrong.

At LAX, you have to drag your own bags over to another line to drop them off for X-ray screening. Deduct a point. I preferred the conveyor belt at JFK that whisks your bags away without you wondering where on earth it’s going and who’s handling it.

So after waiting in line and dropping it off, I went through Security without any hangups. Since LAX is so huge, however, getting down to my gate was a bit more of an ordeal. I will say, however, that the terminal is much better outfitted for lots of travelers, with more than one large bookshop/souvenir/snack shop available. Points to LAX for that. I browsed for a couple of books, got a gigantic bottle of water for the flight (since 6oz over the course of six hours was not enough on my way out) and some See’s toffee. I can’t resist those Toffee-ettes. Yum. Perfect for a long flight, since the almond pieces had protein and some fat and would keep any real hunger at bay.

Finally getting to my gate, it turns out my flight was delayed by a half hour. Great. Then the ticket agents at the counter announced that if you didn’t have a special code on your boarding pass, you needed to check back in with them. They were calling all sorts of people’s names and upgrading and grabbing people out of stand-by, etc. I could tell it was going to be a full flight. I stood in line to re-check in, since I didn’t see the magic code that declared me safe with a seat on the flight. A tiny, elderly Asian woman ran to the counter. She wasn’t deigning to stand in line, because after all, her question was much more important. Maybe she thought that she’d earned a cut in line (or multiple) since she was old. I glared at her. I was satisfied to see the ticket agent tell her to calm down and have a seat and that everything with her ticket was fine. I could tell that others in the line were unhappy she felt so entitled but there was nothing to be done. My turn came and turns out I had the magic code on my ticket so I was safe. I triple checked that I hadn’t been placed in a middle seat and waited to board.

When we finally boarded and I got to my seat at the middle of the plane, I cursed loudly to myself when I saw I would be sitting in the aisle seat with a small child at the window and her mother in the middle. The only way it gets worse than that is if you’re in the middle and one person has a baby in his or her lap. But I immediately knew my entire flight could only achieve a B at BEST because of my fellow passengers.

The woman had not yet pulled down the armrest between hers and my seat, leaving me to be Boundaries Girl. So while she helped her daughter settle in, I quickly pulled it down to give us the illusion we weren’t sitting hip to hip, as well as to give me access to my headphones jack. Maybe she wasn’t thrilled to have me next to her, either. I can’t say. But I noted immediately I was sitting behind her husband and their other two children. Thankfully they were both potty trained and older. Side story: Once, when I was on a very crowded holiday flight, I was sitting next to a father with a baby in his lap, while his wife and two other small children sat in front of us. The kid in front of my seat barfed mid-flight, and it dripped all over my things underneath the seat. Isn’t that fun? I had to hand over the plastic bag that had been holding my books, covered in child vomit, to the very unhappy and frowning flight attendant. I wanted to say to him, “It’s my stuff that’s been spewed on! Don’t I get a coupon for another flight or something?” To make matters worse, the father and the small baby happened to be up from the seat at that point, so he had no idea that his other spawn had purged a Happy Meal on my things. That flight clearly got an F.

Back to the flight at hand. The male flight attendant ran up and down the aisle giving out the last few remaining blankets to needy passengers and then lifted his hands palms out, saying, “That’s it, that’s all we have.” How does a large 757 run out of blankets before everyone has even boarded? Big points lost there, Delta. Then come to find out, not only was my headphones jack completely screwed up and would not hold the jack in place, but I received nothing but the Weather Channel on my personal television screen. Everyone else was enjoying the free Trivial Pursuit and working channels. Not me. AND, this flight had a different selection of inflight movies but they charged $6 apiece! I was appalled. I resigned myself to a good old-fashioned flight of “sleeping,” reading and playing Sudoku.

Okay I also listened to my iPod, which I had thankfully charged. But I was miffed that my one seat was the broken one: 33F. Next time I will make sure I sit in an even numbered seat. (I’m weird like that.) So Delta lost big points on that one, as well, pulling my current experience down to a flat C. I prayed the woman and her daughter wouldn’t have to get up to use the restroom much but I knew it was futile to hope for that.

The airline staff came around twice on the flight to serve refreshments, the same as my outbound flight. Same video safety song and dance on-screen, etc. The little girl at the window thought the window shade was the most fun toy she’d ever discovered and shrieked with delight as she opened it, closed it, opened it, closed it. I don’t know which was worse – her acting like this was a jungle gym or the mother VERY loudly saying, “SHHHHH!” every ten seconds. I jammed my headphones into my ears, praying the music and the sound of the jet engines would drown some of this out.

To my relief, the little girl fell asleep quickly at the beginning of the flight. But I knew that would mean she’d be wired for the second half of the flight. Why am I always right? It’s quite tiring.

This time around, I chose the fruit and cheese plate for $6. It came with a large wedge of cheddar, a smaller wedge of Brie and one of smoked Gouda. Can I say something here? Smoked Gouda rocks. It has risen on the cheese scale for me. It was quite delicious.

Smoky, tantalizing Gouda

Smoky, tantalizing Gouda

I also had some grapes, two pecan halves and two dried apricot halves – the exact same amount as pictured on the menu. Not three pecan halves, just two. I put one dried apricot in my mouth and quickly spit it back out. It tasted like it had been sitting out on the carpet of someone’s apartment for a year. The opposite of delicious. Take away one point. The rest was pretty good, despite having to shell out actual cash for it.
When the mother and her child finally awoke, the mom decided to listen to her headphones – so naturally she tried my headphones jack, which not only didn’t work, anyway, BUT if I had been using it, I know she would have assumed I had taken hers, instead of her looking to see that the jacks are to the left of each seat and not to the right. Moreover, she would have heard whatever channel I had on my TV set and it wouldn’t have matched hers. So she attempts to stab her headphones into the jack multiple times before I turned to her and said, “Try the one on the left. That one’s broken.”

She stared at me a second before saying, “Oh.” Then she found that I was right and thanked me.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the rugrat to need to use the bathroom. I had to gather up both my books, plastic cup, iPod and put away my tray table for her to get out. Her and every other child in my immediate vicinity all had to go at the same time. There was another mother with her two children sitting behind me. These were the kinds of kids who put their hands completely around the back of my headrest, pulling hard, as they slinked out into the aisle. So two kids times two trips to the bathroom equals at least eight times that my headrest was yanked and the back of my seat kicked as the little dear lambs buckled themselves back into their seats. You would think I would be more understanding, since I was a child myself and I’m certain I annoyed someone at some point in my life with my small bladder, but I have no patience or empathy as a single adult with no children.

(Speaking of airplane seatbelts: does it really matter if we’re strapped in during light turbulence? On my flight out to LA, we were approaching some very slightly bumpy air. I had my legs crossed and was relaxing sans ceinture when the captain came on to announce that we needed to buckle up. I strapped the thing back on and didn’t feel any immediate sense of safety. Maybe it just prevents you from becoming decapitated on something as you crash down into the mountains or river.)

After the Pee Brigade finally did their thing, I settled back in, sending up silent pleas for no more bathroom trips. Didn’t happen. Towards the end of the flight, right as the flight crew was telling everyone that we needed to sit down, shut everything off, sit upright and stare into space like a zombie for the next thirty minutes as we attempted to land, the girl and her mom had to go yet again. I didn’t even look at her when she said, “Excuse me.” I just sighed, got up and made it clear that I wouldn’t be sitting aisle on a long trip again. I am a camel and can hold it, so I will be at the window from now on.

Towards the end of the flight, the captain came on to inform us sarcastically, “Due to the severe clear weather in New York, we’re being asked to do a holding pattern before we can approach the airport. Seems everyone has decided to depart at the same time.” Fortunately, we only had to take one turn around Pennsylvania before we went in for the landing but not before the entire cabin groaned.

We finally landed, after I must have checked our flight progress on-screen (that function worked) about twenty times throughout the entire flight. We taxied for what seemed to be about 25 minutes and finally exited. Unfortunately, Baggage was delayed and after they switched the belts twice and not informing us which carousel our things would be coming out on, I fiiiiinally picked up my suitcase.

Overall grade for Delta: B-/C+

(I’d say the difference between Delta winning and Continental losing is about as close as Michael Phelps winning the butterfly race.)

It is no fault of Delta’s that there was an accident on the Van Wyck or that my taxi driver yelled at me for daring to use a credit card to pay for my $40.00 fare from JFK to Astoria, to which I snottily replied to his barrage of chastising that it was credit card or nothing and then, “I just want to get the fuck out of here.” I am not a moody person and don’t easily get into a grouchy mood. But by midnight on Sunday after an entire day of travel, I was thoroughly exhausted and just wanted to get into my apartment. After hearing once more that I absolutely had to inform a taxi driver that I was using a credit card, even if it looked like he takes them by the touch screen in the back of the cab, I slammed out of the car and in a huff I arrived at my door.

I think it’s safe to reiterate my original point: that traveling Coach is a crapshoot. Sometimes the airport itself will lend more problems to your travel woes. The bottom line is that traveling out of Newark or JFK is going to give a person different pros and cons, and it’s up to you to decide whether you’d rather spend more time or money to get to your final destination and back again.