Monthly Archives: December 2011

Go ahead…outsource your resolutions…just don’t expect me to

A friend recently challenged everyone to admit what percentage of their 2011 resolutions they’d managed to meet. Problem was, I couldn’t even remember what I might have resolved, so I had to backtrack through my blogs until I found my answer. I didn’t make any. Well, technically, I didn’t make any although there was a short list of resolutions I’d have made if I were a resolution maker. Oddly, I actually fulfilled a few of those non-resolutions.

An article in the Dec. 27, 2011 Wall Street Journal suggested that we’re more likely to stick to our resolutions if we outsource them. No, not to Mexico. To a friend or relative. One woman and her son began doing this 10 years ago when he was 12. Apparently, they’ve had some success.

Here’s the problem. If I ask my husband to make my resolutions for me, I’m pretty sure they’ll be things I don’t want to do, like cut back on running, sleep in more often, quit worrying. You get the picture. On the other hand, if I were to make his resolutions, they’d probably be greeted with about as much enthusiasm. So I guess we’ll skip the outsourcing this year.

If you think about it, the best resolutions to make are ones that you’re pretty sure you can stick to. This is probably cheating, but hey, who cares? For example, resolve to eat more dark chocolate. This works especially well if you already love dark chocolate. It contains flavonoids, which act as antioxidants, which protect the body from aging caused by free radicals — the stuff that causes damage that leads to heart disease. Dark chocolate contains something like eight times the number of antioxidants in strawberries. So…just in case you want to stock up now, I recommend Poco Dolce bittersweet chocolate bars with sea salt.

But as I said last year, I don’t make resolutions. But if I did, here’s what I would resolve:

1.) Keep a running journal to track how many miles I put in over 12 months. In more than 35 years of running, I’ve never done this. Truthfully, I’m not at all good at journaling, so this will be a tough one.

2.) Eat more dark chocolate. Hey, it sounds good to me.

3.) Write real letters. On paper. With a pen. And mail them. Just doing my part to support the U.S. Postal Service even as it threatens to yet again close another regional center.

Okay, that’s it. I’m stopping with three. I already know I’m going to get a good start on the mileage tracking since my New Year’s Eve plan is to join more than 300 other runners at the

Starting lineup at the 2008 Midnight Special

11th annual Midnight Special 5K in Whitehouse. All I have to do is figure out how far I have left to run at midnight and I’ll have my first mileage to record.

If I celebrate with some dark chocolate at the finish line, I’ll already have two resolutions already underway and it’ll only be 10 minutes into 2012. Good thing I didn’t resolve to get to bed earlier, because I’ll have blown that idea right away.

History replays itself on CD player

Nostalgia is flowing over me in waves right now. As I write, my Grandma Suter is playing her favorite hymns on the piano. True, Grandma died in 1993, but thanks to a bit of foresight on my husband’s part and a lot of technical work on the part of my oldest daughter, history is replaying itself on the CD player. For Christmas, Lindsay transferred all of our cassette recordings onto CDs. I’m grateful for the hours she spent doing this.

One day when the girls were little, we took a cassette player along on one of our visits to Grandma. Our plan was to tape her playing piano (or pie-an-a, as she pronounced it in her Swissish voice), then to interview her telling some favorite stories.

The hymns ended with one of the girls joining her in playing chopsticks, Grandma taking the upper part and deviating a bit from the traditional version. In the background, an old-fashioned phone is ringing. Or wait, I think I’ve heard that ring tone recently on someone’s cell phone.

That ended the piano playing for the day. Grandma launched into her storytelling, beginning with her memories of attending school at the Mulberry School. After they turned five years old, they walked 1 1/2 miles to school every day. She was trying to remember her schoolmates, mentioning Hiram Reichenbach and Tilly Steiner, and then sort of sadly said “Mmmm…they’re all gone now.”

Lunch was packed in a little tin box. A cheese sandwich, sometimes a cookie or one-egg cake, and an apple.

Apparently, Grandma was a little bit of a stinker. Every time a truck or car passed by, she stood up on her chair to look out the window, and one of her teachers — trying to tame her shenanigans — tried to set her on his desk so “she could think a little”. He was unsuccessful and gave up. Recess saved her.

Grandma graduated from high school in 1913. She played piano for the march. She had a new dress, a pretty blue one — a gown. They had a baccalaureate “sermon”, then graduation a week later. She admitted with a giggle that Grandpa liked it.

My grandparents began dating when she was a freshman in high school. “We just stuck together and didn’t have any other dates.” Grandpa was a little older and had left school after 8th grade to help with the family farm.

Grandma and Grandpa Suter

Until they got married, she worked for her grandpa and earned $5 a week, which she gave to her mother. When they married in 1917, her mother gave them a stove — apparently, she’d saved all the money Grandma had given her. The wedding was a simple affair at her family home with just a few guests.

Very very simple,” she said, although she did have a white dress. A sister-in-law played the wedding march.

What amazes me in listening to these conversations are the details she remembered. In her 90s, she remember the name of the minister who married them.

I just hope my memory is that good when I’m 90.

A different take on Christmas dinner

On the Christmas Eve episode of Splendid Table, British food writer Nigel Slater said that while many British cooks talk about trying something completely different for Christmas dinner, they usually resort to the traditional foods, mostly because they need something to carve.

It’s probably a good thing I’m not British because I’ve never been very good at carving. And don’t even suggest using an electric knife. We got one as a wedding gift and promptly ruined it by using it to cut up large foam cushions. Worked great for that purpose, but obviously it was done after that.

Since my dad grew up in China, our Christmas dinners often involved various Chinese specialties. Our favorite was Chiao Tzu, which are basically steamed pork and veggie dumplings. When we were kids, my grandma and mom made the wrappers from scratch. This seemed to take a LONG time because it involved making the dough and cutting out hundreds of circles. This number actually varied with the number of persons who would be at dinner.

If my cousin, Mark Ramseyer, was going to be there, this meant making more than usual. Fortunately for Grandma and Mother, he grew up in Japan, so his presence around the holidays was limited. I think he held the record for eating the most Chiao Tzu — my memory puts that number somewhere around 45 or 50. I’m probably wrong. The most I’ve ever eaten at once was 25.

This year, we settled on Chiao Tzu for Christmas dinner. The girls wondered if I wanted to buy frozen ones. I considered that for about two seconds and instead bought the dumpling wrappers to make our own.

That was the easy part. The hard part comes later when you start to put together the dumplings. There are tricks to this — tricks I’ve somehow picked up from watching my older relatives do this over the years. The trick is getting those little tricks to work. Inevitably, a certain percentage of the little dumplings fall apart in the steamer.

I’ll let my husband’s photos tell the rest of the story. For those of you who want to try this on your own, the recipe is included, along with a few of those tricks.

Chiao Tzu

1 pkg. round dumpling wrappers (available at Asian groceries, round ones work better than square), usually about 40 per pkg.
1/2 lb. lean ground pork
1/2 head cabbage (I use Chinese cabbage, but other kinds are fine), chopped fine
1/2 c. onion, chopped fine
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, chopped fine
2 tsp. sesame or peanut oil (actually, I used canola)
3 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. salt (optional)

Dipping sauce for dumplings
Soy sauce
Rice vinegar
Teaspoon or so of sugar

We make this in varying quantities — depends on the number of persons eating.

Filling: Brown the pork in oil in a large skillet, then add the cabbage, onion, ginger, soy sauce and salt (optional). Let cool.

Making the dumplings:
Lay a cotton tea towel on a cookie sheet and lightly sprinkle with cornstarch (prevents sticking). Open package of wrappers. Using one at a time, cover the others with a damp cloth so they don’t dry out. Have a small bowl of warm water nearby — you’ll use this to wet the edges of the dumplings.

Fill each wrapper with 1 tsp. of the filling; fold over and pinch the edges together (similar to crimping a pie crust). Lay each one on the towel-covered cookie sheet(s).

In the meantime, have several large steamers ready. Put a small amount of water in the bottom and bring to a boil.

Trick 1: Spray the bottom of each steamer tray — trust me, this will prevent sticking.

Place dumplings in steamer — don’t let them touch each other.

Cook for approximately 15-20 minutes, then carefully remove with a spoon or spatula.

Trick 2: boil some water and place in serving bowls to keep the chiao tzu warm until you’re ready to eat. But also, you’re going to want to start eating as soon as enough are steamed.

Provide each person with a small bowl. Place three or four chaio tzu in a bowl, pour in some of the soy/vinegar sauce and start eating.

If you’re chopstick proficient, they’re recommended.

Five wise men and the importance of caffeine

One day last week, there were five wise men in deep conversation at Common Grounds, the local coffeehouse. Eavesdropping seemed like a good idea, but being wise men, they had eyes in the backs and sides of their heads so were on to me in a second. Five sets of suspicious eyes looked at me. Here’s the thing. I know these guys. Some people (specifically, my dad and their wives) might call them “a bunch of wise guys”.

See, a couple of these guys used to hang out with my dad in what was generally known as the “coffee break” room in Shoker Science Center at then-Bluffton College, where they taught. When I was in college and needed to track down Dad and couldn’t locate him in his office or the lab, I just followed the scent of coffee. He was usually there with a couple other wise men, discussing life over their own special blend. Of coffee, that is.

As the daughter of a very wise man, I had no choice but to make some comment about what questions these five wise men might be answering on that particular day. They, of course, objected vehemently to the suggestion that they might be wise and claimed to have lots of questions but no answers….yet. Then again, they refused to venture any answers in the off chance that their conversation might show up on some public forum. Hmmm…why would they think that?

Yesterday, while attending an open house at the recently renovated home of one of these wise men, I happened onto a conversation between him and one of his former colleagues — both of whom were regulars in the aforementioned “coffee break” room. One of them was just finishing up some pastries and a cup of…you guessed it…coffee. He grinned and said to the other, “You remember that we (read: science profs) decided one day that caffeine eliminated calories.” Then he looked at me and said “…and your dad was thin.”

This is true. He was thin and drank lots of coffee. Of course, he also got lots of exercise so one might make the argument that it was the exercise — not the caffeine — that eliminated the calories. Still, I can see my dad grinning at the caffeine connection. It was a hypothesis he no doubt tried to prove more than once.

All I can say is if you happen upon five wise men in Common Grounds, walk slowly and listen carefully.

On why today’s response was useless…depending on how you view it

So far today, it appears I’ve been pretty useless as far as work-related questions go. Here’s the thing. When my boss sallies forth from his office in the suite across the hall, sits down in one of my chairs and says, “May I ask you a question?”, I usually figure we’re in for a long chat. Not that I object, you understand. These discussions are usually challenging and good for waking up my brain. And they let me ignore all the pending calls posted on my recruiting calendar — at least for a little bit longer.

Today’s conversation went like this:

Ted: You have a Kindle, right?

Me: No

Ted: A Nook?

Me: Nope

Ted: An e-reader of some sort?

Me: Not a one.

Ted: Hmmmmmm….do you know if a student can access curriculum on Moodle using his/her e-reader?

Me: Beats me.

Ted: Well, I can see you’re pretty useless today.

Me: Pretty much.

The conversation didn’t end there, but truthfully, I was pretty useless as far as answering his questions except I did suggest the person who might have the answers. So technically, I wasn’t useless. And I did offer some insight into the advantages and disadvantages of posting course materials on our course management system.

Good thing it’s Friday. My usefulness will obviously be limited today. Not that it’s much better on other days of the week, but at least for today I can blame it on the fact that it is Friday.

It’s also a good thing that there are only two of us in the office today, because that means questions will be limited…at least within the office. There’s always at least a zillion students out there just waiting to test my usefulness. That doesn’t take into account two daughters, one husband, one mother, four brothers, and any number of friends who might wish to consult today.

Which, by the way, has already happened. Daughter number o ne– just about on break from teaching and studying — has already sent me two distractions this morning. One was an animated image of how a sewing machine works and the other was a reference to Reddit, a source for what’s new online, and which is where she found the sewing machine image. Fortunately, she has not asked any questions of me today. She knows better.

But I digress…back to the e-reader questions. Here are the reasons I don’t have one.

1.) I’m too cheap to buy one and there are other things I rather spend my money on.
2.) I LOVE going to the library, searching for a new book to read.
3.) I look at a computer screen much of the day and at night, I’d rather read print text.
4.) The Wall Street Journal published an article yesterday on “E-Book Readers Face Sticker Shock”, claiming that “The price gap between the print and e-versions of some top sellers has now narrowed to within a few dollars—and in some cases, e-books are more expensive than their printed equivalents.”

So there you have it. I’m not completely useless. I’ve pointed my boss in the right direction for an answer to his question, and I’ve given my husband a reason NOT to buy me an e-reader for Christmas.

Christmas lights that go pffftttt

What is it with Christmas lights? Every year, they work fine all through Christmas and are still shining brightly when I take them down and store them away for the next year. But 11 months later, I pull them out of storage, plug them in and…nothing. Absolutely nothing. No lights. Not a single one on the string.

Over the weekend, I finally caved in and began to pull out the Christmas stuff. First the door wreath, which was strung with a strand of clear mini lights and a strand of “peppermint” mini lights (red and white). I actually began to feel a bit more excited about Christmas until sticking the plug in the nearest outlet. Nada. Sigh.

So okay. I’ll just replace them with the other clear lights stashed away. But no such luck. Of all the strings of lights in the basement dungeon, only one string worked. Why should I be surprised? This happens every year. You would think…but no, I’m enough of an optimist that I like to think just once, all the lights will spend their time in hibernation saving their energy to come to life in December.

Boy. They just don’t make lights like they used to. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I can remember my dad getting out the lights every year — these were the “old-fashioned” big lights. All you had to do was keep some extra bulbs on hand and replace the few that didn’t work. No need to replace whole strings of lights. Or at least that’s how I remember it…there was also a little bit of groaning and grumbling on Dad’s part so maybe it wasn’t as easy as I think it was.

Back to my own lighting frustrations. Oddly, while picking through the Christmas boxes last night, I found another string of lights hidden away. I stuck them in an outlet in the basement office and…bingo…they worked!  I ran upstairs, wound them around a display on top of the lawyer’s cabinet and plugged them in.

Pfffhhhttttt. No pretty lights. By this time, I could feel a scream forming at the base of my throat. In the meantime, the hubs — ever a patient man — was standing by, rolling his eyes, fingers in his ears, waiting for me to blow.

Okay. This is just plain silly. Stupid to actually lose my cool over a bunch of lights that will just cause my electric bill to skyrocket if they ever decide to come to life.

So…here’s the plan. This year, I’m buying new lights and when Christmas is over, I’m going to throw them out. Why not? They won’t work next year anyway and I’ll save myself the frustration of having to test them all over again. I’ll just buy new ones each year.

Just making my own little effort to boost the economy.

Keeping Grandma’s tradition alive with fabric advent calendar

When our daughters were very young, my mother-in-law began a tradition of giving them each an advent calendar each year. From December 1-25, the first thing they did each morning was to check the day’s surprise on the calendar. Recently, I discovered that they’ve been keeping those calendars all these years — now hidden away in the attic.

In the last few years of my mother-in-law’s life, she asked me to purchase an advent calendar for the girls — even though by this time they were in (or out of) college. Last year’s calendar was especially nostalgic because at the time that I bought them, we knew Margaret was in the last days of her life. She died shortly before Christmas.

This year, I decided to continue the tradition, despite the fact that the girls are technically grown women. Since advent calendars tend to have a childish bent, I decided these should be different, and if possible, recyclable. Having seen several versions of advent calendar — garlands of tiny knitted stockings or socks and hats made from felt, I chose to make my own version.

I cut and sewed 50 tiny stockings out of Christmas themed fabric, then sewed 25 to each of two rectangular pieces of red felt. Each calendar has a casing at the top for a dowel rod and the stockings are sewn in rows of five across and five down. Then I tucked small gifts — some silly, some serious — into each stocking. What’s really great about these is that hey can return them to me at the end of December and next year, I’ll refill the stockings.

As is usually the case, I completed these projects a few hours before daughter number 1 and her boyfriend were scheduled to arrive, so I hung them in my sewing closet. My plan was to keep them under wraps until the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Here’s the thing, though. Since she was old enough to crawl, daughter number one has found every single item I’ve ever hidden from her. I thought maybe if I hung them in plain view, she wouldn’t see them. Should have known better. She saw them but didn’t tell me that until later, claiming she thought they were for her sister. Right.

Day 2 -- tiny rubber spatula

Day 1 -- color-changing Silly Putty

Despite their ages, they were thrilled with the calendars and as I suspected, would be hard-pressed to wait until Dec. 1 to check the first stocking. But they did, and each day so far, I’ve received a text photo of each item.Which is good because, given my memory, I’ve already forgotten most of what I put in them.