Frosty the Rude Man.

Callaghan was outraged when he read our friend Nick’s FB post the other night. I could tell that something was wrong, because I could see him fuming as he stared at his phone.

He yelled, “Did you see what Nick posted on FB? THIS is what happens when you try to be nice to people now!!!”

Thinking back, I remembered that Nick had posted a joke about Frosty the Snowman earlier in the day.

Before I could say anything, Callaghan ranted: “Seriously! WHAT is wrong with people?!!”

I struggled to hold back a snort. “Uh… Baby, no… read the whole post.”

“I AM reading the post!!!”

I try not to laugh when his English as a Second Language gets in the way of his understanding, or being understood. In this case, though, his lack of understanding came not from a language barrier, but from a cultural one. Callaghan wasn’t familiar with “Frosty the Snowman.”

“It’s ridiculous what this guy did,” he said with great indignation. “HE PEED ON NICK’S FLOOR!!!”

I lost it. “Baby. It’s a joke. The ‘guy’ is a snowman.”

“What?” He stared at the spectacle of me cracking up while he sat on the couch seething with fury on Nick’s behalf.

“Yes, the ‘guy’ they brought in was a snowman!”

He read the post again. “Oh. He was NAKED except for a scarf. I get it now.”

When I stopped laughing, I reassured him. He didn’t get the joke because he was never a child in America, I said. I quoted the pertinent “Frosty the Snowman” lyrics:

Frosty the snowman was a jolly happy soul/With a corncob pipe and a button nose/And two eyes made out of coal

Thus, Callaghan learned another little piece of Americana.

Here’s the joke in question:

Yesterday it was so cold out that we took a man into our home out of the kindness of our hearts. We felt so sorry for him. Poor thing was trembling out in the cold. But this morning he had just vanished. Not a word … Not even a goodbye or a thank you for sheltering him !!!
The last straw ?!?! When I realized he had peed all over the living room floor !!! That’s the thanks I get for being good to people ?!?!?!
Now I’m going to warn my friends to watch out for this man !!! He is heavy set & wearing nothing but a scarf. He also has a corn cob pipe, a button nose & 2 eyes made out of coal !!! Don’t bring him into your house !!! What a huge mess he made on the floor !!!

One thing about the holidays: they can make it extra fun to be with a European who came to the States as an adult.

Callaghan is designing clowns and I don’t know what to do.

Heading into off-season at the amusement parks, Callaghan’s evenings of late have been filled with lots of freelance work. He hung onto a few of his European amusement park clients when he accepted his position as a motorcycle designer, because why not? It’s feast or famine in that industry. He’d only be swamped a few months out of the year.

Now that American Halloween hype has started to gain traction in France, French theme parks want a piece of it in a more major way. So they’ve asked Callaghan to design some clown attractions… because you can’t have spooky, ooky Halloween décor without clowns, of course. If there’s one thing the French have picked up on in their Halloween education, it’s that clowns are essential elements of the fear factor.

Even better, some of this Halloween-inspired design will remain a permanent fixture, so visitors can enjoy the park’s creepy side no matter when they go. Here’s Callaghan’s first design, a rough draft of a horror fun-house-type attraction (with mirrors inside):

 

Clown mirror house of horror (original design by Callaghan)

Clown mirror house of horror (original design by Callaghan)

 

You have to have clowns with wide open mouths as entrances, you know.

And there will be more. Oh yes. I’m already imagining waking up at night, shuffling into the kitchen for a glass of water, and noticing a dim screen-light casting vague shadows on the wall. I see that it’s coming from Callaghan’s office. I go in and find that his computer has turned itself on. The clown file is displayed, and it’s flickering.

Thanks, Parc St. Paul. And Festyland (You mean FESTY THE CLOWN-land, I said to Callaghan when he told me the park’s name), and thank you, Parc du Bocasse.

Here’s a draft of his Parc du Bocasse poster, featuring the bee mascot he’s been creating for years:

 

Buzzy (the bee) the Vampire (original art by Callaghan)

Buzzy (the bee) the Vampire (original art by Callaghan)

 

He loved my idea of designing a vampire version of the bee. Buzzy the Vampire is made of awesome because Callaghan’s art is kick-ass. It’s great no matter the subject. Even clowns.

“That would never happen in France.”

One of our most frequently used mantras is “That would never happen in France.” We invoke these enchanting words whenever we have a retail transaction/customer service experience that’s particularly brilliant. And every time it happens, Callaghan says, “You should totally write about this in your blog. ‘Things that would never happen in France’.”

These situations “that would never happen in France” occur so frequently, I’d never remember all 100+ of them. I’m finally getting around to relaying a few anecdotes here, because it happened again recently, and Callaghan asked for this post again.

(This post should actually be in French, since Callaghan wanted me to write it for his French friends. Demande-lui et il te dira.)

Below, I’ve got a few situations that would be hits on our “That would never happen in France” mix tape.

1). First time it happened upon moving back to the Land of AZ:

We transported a large, wheeled tool chest from Texas. Callaghan bought it at a Home Depot in Austin (Home Depot is the equivalent of Leroy Merlin in France). We got to Arizona and he decided he didn’t need it anymore. We took it to a Tempe Home Depot WITHOUT A RECEIPT, the guy working there looked it up and couldn’t find it in the system because their store DOESN’T CARRY THAT MODEL OF TOOL CHEST, examined the chest and found OBVIOUS SIGNS OF WEAR (scuff marks and f*cked up wheel bearings) from usage and moving… but he took it, anyway, and gave Callaghan a full refund. $120.00, CASH.

$120.00 in cash and a friendly, humorous exchange for a beat-up tool chest (from out of state, no less) that they don’t even sell there. No receipt.

Callaghan (as we walked through the parking lot): That would NEVER happen in France!!

Me: That’s called Customer Service. IT’S THE AMERICAN WAY.

2). Another time, I went to Target and headed to Customer Service.

Me: I ordered this sports bra online and only wore it twice. It was a sale item.

I showed the Customer Service Girl the strap that was torn almost completely off.

CSG: Oh no! Sorry about that! Do you want to go find a similar one on the sale rack and bring it back here to do an exchange, or do you just want a refund?

Me: I’ll go look for a similar one on sale.

I couldn’t find anything similar in the Active Wear section, on the sale rack or otherwise. I did find another sports bra I really liked, though. It was more expensive than the one I was returning. I took it back to Customer Service thinking I’d just pay the difference.

CSG (looking at her screen): Shoot, I can’t find the sale one. Oh well… I’ll just do an even exchange!

She cheerfully took the damaged item, and I walked away with the more expensive one at no extra cost.

Later, I relayed the story to Callaghan. He was nonplussed.

“No way.”

“WAY.”

“That would NEVER happen in France!”

Me: “It’s the American Way.”

We laughed, because by then, both his line and mine constituted an inside joke.

3). Most recently, we went to my eye doctor’s office to pick up my new glasses.

The Glasses Lady went to the back to get my glasses, which had just been delivered from the lab that day. She came back with a pair of glasses and all kinds of apologies.

“I’m SO SORRY,” she repeated. “The lab made a mistake. They put your lenses in the wrong frames. They’re the correct prescription, though.”

She handed me the glasses. The frames were from an Italian luxury brand. I’d ordered a Coach pair from the low end of the available line’s price range, the cheapest I could find that I thought looked decent.

At her urging, I tried on the wrong glasses. The clarity of the prescription was stunning. Also, the frames looked better on me than the ones I’d chosen. I’m not a status symbol inclined person, but if the glasses look better, they look better, and if they feel great and I can see almost perfectly in them, then I really don’t want to hand them back and wait even longer.

The Glasses Lady was still apologizing.

“I feel so bad that the lab messed up,” she said. “What do you want to do? Do you want to hang onto those while we wait for the correct pair to be made? Or do you want to just keep them? They do look better on you than the other ones.”

“Um…”

“It’s so weird that they did that! We don’t even carry (insert name of haute couture house) here.”

“It would take another 10 days for the correct ones to be made?”

“Yes.” She actually winced.

“How much extra would it cost if I were to keep these?”

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll just do an even exchange.”

 

New glasses, correct prescription, not the frames I ordered, but they work.

New glasses, correct prescription, not the frames I ordered, but they work.

 

I walked out wearing them. Callaghan couldn’t believe it, and neither could I, to be honest. These frames cost at least a couple hundred bucks more than I’d paid for the Coach frames, and I got them at no extra cost.

Callaghan said, “Okay, this would NEVER, EVER happen in France.”

Now, for you Americans, such anecdotes aren’t all that fantastical. Incidents such as these don’t happen every day, but on a smaller scale, they’re commonplace, and it’s easy to take such customer service for granted. We haven’t kept track of all the times the cashier couldn’t find the price on an item, and either a). Gave it to us for a guesstimated amount that seemed less than it should’ve been, or b). Casually said something like, “Let’s just call it $5.00! That seems about right.”

All the times we returned stuff we’d used for which we had no receipt, refunds with no questions asked. (We don’t do that a lot, but the instances add up over the years.)

In order to fully appreciate our “That would never happen in France” observation/inside joke, you’d have to know, for comparison, about some of our “customer service” experiences in France. But that’s a topic for another post, perhaps.

My Top 8 Favorite Things about living in France.

A friend of a friend is planning to move to France. My friend asked if I’d share my insights about living there, and I thought I’d share some of those things here, too… because, I realized, that’s something I haven’t done that might be interesting or helpful to someone, in some way.

So I gave it some thought and came up with a list of my top eight favorite things about living in France. These are, of course, my own, personal top favorites, based on my own experiences. Others may have had different experiences. These were the things that made a difference to me or impacted me in some way, big or small, and helped to make life in France an enjoyable experience.

Also! These are things in addition to the wonderful people I met while I lived in France… the dear friends I made there, the many memorable experiences I had with Callaghan’s family, and so on.

 

1). Hospitality.

 

Typical French hospitality looks like this.

Typical French hospitality looks like this.

 

Everyone I met in France was gracious and hospitable in their own homes. They commonly ask you over for apéritif or coffee (by “coffee,” I mean espresso… very strong espresso), and if you show up at someone’s house, you will be served something or another (usually coffee).

 

2). Bread.

 

Our favorite boulangerie in Nice.

Our favorite boulangerie in Nice.

 

Some of the bread inside of our favorite boulangerie in Nice.

Some of the bread inside of our favorite boulangerie in Nice.

 

As you know, I love bread. There is a boulangerie (bakery) on every corner in France, it seems, and inside each one, there are freshly baked baguettes that are simply sublime. Pain de Campagne is my favorite, but I love all of the breads I’ve tried. In France, making bread is an art form. Some boulangeries make better bread than others, but even the mediocre French breads at bakery chain stores are fabulous and incomparable to breads I’ve had in the States!

 

3). Socca.

 

Socca (regional food, Nice)

Socca (regional food, Nice)

 

Socca is a signature food of Nice, a popular local street food. It consists of chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt, and pepper stirred into a batter and traditionally cooked on a copper plate in a wood oven. After it’s cooked, it’s broken up into pieces in the pan and served in a pile. Thinking of it brings back fond memories for me, since we lived in Nice half the time we lived in France. Should you ever visit Nice, you should try it. According to Callaghan, niçoise fishermen used to eat socca because it’s cheap. It’s still cheap.

 

4). Cell phone affordability.

 

Orange, one of the major cell phone service providers in France

Orange, one of the major cell phone service providers in France

 

Speaking of cheap, cell phone service is one thing about life in France I definitely miss. In France, your monthly cell phone bill comes out to roughly $20.00, flat… and that includes unlimited everything (texting and calling, including calls to the U.S., South America, Asia, etc.)

 

5). No tipping.

 

The euros I still had when we moved back here, an ATM receipt, and my coin purse.

The euros I still had when we moved back here, an ATM receipt, and my coin purse.

 

(“Je suis à sεc” translates as “I’m broke.” The “E” looks the way it does because that’s the euro sign.)

There’s no expectation of tipping for either goods or services in France. This is convenient. (There’s also a flip side to this, but we shall not go into it, as this is a positive list.) In restaurants, tips are included in the checks, for instance. Unlike here in the States, employees in service industries aren’t paid minimally with the assumption that tips will supplement their take-home pay. The amount you’re charged is the amount you pay, period.

 

6). TGV (Train Grande Vitesse).

 

 Gare de Nice, the TGV station in Nice

Gare de Nice, the TGV station in Nice

 

The TGV is my favorite way to travel between regions in France. The train is super fast, as indicated in its name, and it’s quiet, smooth, clean, and comfortable. It’s also affordable – from Nice to Paris, for example, tickets range from 19 to 36 euro (the higher price is for 1st class). There’s a café car where you can purchase beverages, light meals, snacks, and candy. You can charge your laptop and other devices on the train, and there’s plenty of legroom. The TGV is the way to go when traveling from one part of the country to another!

 

7). La fnac.

 

An old plastic bag from one of my many purchases at la fnac.

An old plastic bag from one of my many purchases at la fnac.

 

This one really is personal to me. I’m putting la fnac on the list because it’s my favorite store in France. La fnac is a big, multi-level bookstore, and I could (and often did) spend hours on end there. My favorite area is the café, which is kind of reminiscent of the restaurants in IKEA, but larger. You can get food or beverages there and station yourself at a table and stay there indefinitely with their free wi-fi. I loved spending time there! I bought my first Reacher novel at the la fnac in Nice and read half of it in one afternoon sitting in the café.

 

8). Art and history.

 

Musée International de la Chaussure in Romans-sur-Isère

Musée International de la Chaussure in Romans-sur-Isère

 

Living in France is like living in a gigantic museum.

Even villages in more remote regions are rich in history and filled with art and architecture that I found to be breathtaking. Romans-sur-Isère (near where we lived), for instance, is famous for having been the home of the factory of Charles Jourdan, one of the first houses of Haute Couture shoes, if not THE first. This museum, Musée International de la Chaussure in Romans-sur-Isère, has to be one of the most comprehensive museums of shoes in the world. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it so much since I’m not especially interested in shoes, but it’s amazing how viewing and reading about shoes through the ages unfolds as a detailed history lesson in human culture.

Then there are places such as:

 

Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval in Hauterives (between Valence and Lyon)

Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval in Hauterives (between Valence and Lyon)

 

Between 1879 and 1912, facteur Cheval (“facteur” is a mailman) collected rocks while delivering mail, and he used them to build this little palace in an obscure village between Valence and Lyon. It’s made mainly out of lime, mortar, and cement, and it’s unlike anything I’d seen. I’m including this little gem here to show that there’s art literally everywhere you go in France.

This concludes my list of favorite aspects of life in France. It would be interesting to see other’s favorite things!

Jack-o’-lanterns and Americanism 101.

Somehow, long before he met me and for reasons no one will ever know, Callaghan managed to live in the United States for 10 years without ever carving a jack-o’-lantern.

In my mind, this is tantamount to not knowing what Halloween actually is in America, which in turn says to me that Callaghan hasn’t been a real American. All this time, his dual citizenship has been fraudulent.

Believe me, I did not arrive at this conclusion lightly. Thinking about it, though, I do see a pattern here.

Callaghan knew about St. Patrick’s Day parades and green beer, but he didn’t know that Americans (especially kids) make sure they leave the house with the color green visible somewhere in their outfits, even if it’s just shoe laces, a hair tie, or a pin… or others who are displaying green can pinch them.

He knew about Valentine’s Day roses and chocolates, but he didn’t know that American kids traditionally give their friends and classmates valentines that contain simple and often humorous verses. (Roses are red, violets are blue….)

He knew about Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating, and maybe even about classroom-decorating and school costume parades, contests, and parties, but he didn’t know the most fundamental part of the holiday – how to carve a jack-o’-lantern – because he’d never done it.

I get it. Since he first moved to the States as an adult, he missed out on the kids’ aspects of these and other holidays. But it’s those aspects that define the holidays more than the adult ones, in my opinion. Especially Halloween.

Since the ruthless slashing and carving of a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern constitutes a basic American Halloween activity we’ve all done at least once in our lives, a logical question on the United States citizenship exam would be, “Have you ever carved a jack-o’-lantern?”

“No” means try again later. “Yes” means here’s a pumpkin and a knife… prove it.

Prospective employers weed out the liars and the frauds the same exact way, like when I interviewed for the job I had before I moved to France. They took me into a room with a lightbulb hanging over a lonely chair computer, sat me down, gave me some basic information, and instructed me to compose a letter on behalf of a fictional boss. I knew nothing about the subject, and that was the point. They just told me the name of the addressee, the name of the fictional boss, and the goal of the letter. I’d written many such letters before, which showed, I guess, since I got the job.

In the same scenario (but with a pumpkin and a knife instead of a computer), Callaghan would not have gotten the “job” (his citizenship).

Instead of being asked about jack-o’-lanterns, he was asked silly things like Who is the current President? And Why are there 50 stars on the flag?

First of all, duh. Secondly, where is that kind of knowledge going to get anyone in terms of being a real American? A full-grown adult who’s never carved a jack-o’-lantern for Halloween is certainly from another country, if you ask me. It’s a dead giveaway. (har, har)

Callaghan would have failed his citizenship exam because you can’t fake your way through carving a jack-o’-lantern. It’s not self-explanatory. It seems like a simple thing, but until Saturday night:

–He didn’t know how to choose a pumpkin for a jack-o’-lantern.

–He didn’t know about carving around the stem to make a lid.

–He didn’t know that pumpkins are hollow.

–He didn’t know about scraping away the stringy pulp.

–He didn’t know about gathering the seeds and rinsing, drying and toasting them, because…

–He didn’t know that Americans like to eat pumpkin seeds…

–because pumpkins are totally New World, and Old World people can’t know these things through osmosis just because they’re in the States.

Callaghan didn’t know anything about jack-o’-lanterns, and I loved it. I loved that somehow, miraculously, I was the person to pop his…. He learned about jack-o’-lanterns from me. Of all the many Americans he met and befriended over the years, I got to be the person to show him!

He seemed disinterested at first, but then he saw me draw the face on my pumpkin. He’s an artist, remember, and I had his attention. He watched as I wielded the knife to carve around the stem, and I invited him to lift the lid off the pumpkin. I’ll never forget the surprise in his voice or the expression of wonderment on his face when he looked inside the pumpkin and said, “It’s HOLLOW!!”

Sharing that moment of discovery with him will always be one of my favorite memories.

After we finished the jack-o’-lantern, he wanted to run out to get another pumpkin, so we did. (Since we’re in the States, we were able to do that, even though it was almost midnight.)

Here we are in the parking lot, as those of you on Facebook have already seen:

 

In front of Safeway at around 11:30pm. Midnight pumpkin run!

In front of Safeway at around 11:30pm. Midnight pumpkin run!

 

And here he is, posing like the Headless Horseman from Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a classic bit of American literature from 1820:

 

The Callaghan Horseman.

The Callaghan Horseman.

 

The Headless Horseman.

The Headless Horseman.

 

We lit the jack-o’-lantern with a tea light so we wouldn’t have to worry about it, and the flame would burn itself out.

 

The spooky jack-o'-lantern we light in our bedroom every night.

The spooky jack-o’-lantern we light in our bedroom every night.

 

Jack-o’-lanterns and accompanying folklore such as the Headless Horseman came to America from Ireland or northern Europe, I believe. American culture contains this bewitching mélange of other cultures. Our traditions come from everywhere. America is a glorious mutt. 

And we love the cutthroat culture of Halloween. No mercy for pumpkins!

What I’m Digging Right Now – August Favorites

It’s the first of September, and I can already feel a change in the quality of the atmosphere, though very slightly. I love the energy boost I always feel at this time of the year! Here are some of the Little Things that made big impressions in my little world in August:

 

1). Soundcloud.

 

LOVE.

LOVE.

 

I created a Soundcloud account toward the end of June, and it’s been one of my favorite new things of the summer. In August, I bumped up my focus on working out, which made me appreciate Soundcloud even more. The playlist I created for training reflects the fact that the gyms where I’d formally trained mostly played gangsta rap/hip hop, with some alternative metal thrown in (though my playlist contains more of the former). I threw in some dubstep because that’s also amazing for me in a training scenario. I find any kind of metal to be great workout fuel, too, but I prefer working out with rap and dubstep because my mind has this strange ability to convert them to background noise when I want it to. (For that same reason, I can also listen to rap and dubstep while working at work, which I often do.)

Check out my Soundcloud stream if you’re curious about my current workout playlist.

Callaghan claims to not like rap, but he makes requests from my playlist every once in a while. Also, he sometimes bursts out singing “Bitch better have my money!” while he’s doing things around the house, because deep, deep inside, he appreciates Rihanna. (Also, he has a client who owes him money, and that song’s lyrics are perfect for the situation.)

It’s pretty hilarious.

 

2). Straight Outta Compton (film)

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-StraightOuttaCompton

 

Speaking of gangsta rap!

Here’s the thing: I grew up in California in the 70’s and 80’s during the “east coast rap vs. west coast rap” era, and I remember it well. I still have some Eazy-E in my collection, and rap has always been a genre in the diverse collection of genres I love (even when I was mostly listening to EBM and industrial music, I still popped in Busta Rhymes every now and then). All of this to say, considering that Callaghan doesn’t share this cultural background (having grown up in France) and affection for the genre with me, I was pleased when, after dragging him to see Straight Outta Compton on the Saturday of its opening weekend, he emerged from the theater as moved and as impressed as I was. As I’d mentioned above while talking about Soundcloud, Callaghan claims to not like rap, but this movie impressed him probably more than any film I’ve ever seen… and that’s saying a lot. It’s just really, terribly good. Last time I checked, the momentum of this genius film hasn’t slowed down, either… Straight Outta Compton seems to be barreling straight for the Oscars. Good.

 

3). Hannibal finale.

 

Maybe the most beautiful scene I've ever viewed in a television series. (Hannibal)

Maybe the most beautiful scene I’ve ever viewed in a television series. (Hannibal)

 

Oh my goodness.

I’m not finding any words to describe the way I felt during the final moments of the exquisite series Hannibal. I was prepared to simply feel sad that it was all coming to a close, but that last scene blew our minds, it was so utterly breathtaking, so stunningly beautiful. It was everything. Everything. It may well have been the most gorgeous and gratifying ending to any series I’ve ever seen. We were sad that it ended, but we both felt like we couldn’t have asked for more.

 

4). Epic monsoon weather.

Copious, spectacular monsoon activity left August battered and drenched right up until the last minute of the month, and we loved every minute of it! (Even stepping outside this morning and finding a section of fence damaged in last night’s storm.) The magic of the desert is never more potent than it is during the late summer.

Here are some pics from one of the many (I think we’ve had five-six…?) monsoons during August:

 

A wall of dust rolling in ahead of a thunderous rain.

A wall of dust rolling in ahead of a thunderous rain.

 

Caught in a monsoon in the middle of a Target parking lot. The rain was fabulous!

Caught in a monsoon in the middle of a Target parking lot. The rain was fabulous!

 

Moving on to food!

 

5). Fresh pineapple and kiwi fruit.

 

Fresh pineapple and kiwi fruit

Fresh pineapple and kiwi fruit

 

We feasted greedily on fresh pineapple and kiwi fruits all month. It was bliss on the tongue and so fabulously refreshing… a great way to wind down summer!

 

6). KIND Healthy Grains Peanut Butter Whole Grain Clusters.

 

KIND Healthy Grains Peanut Butter Whole Grain Clusters.

KIND Healthy Grains Peanut Butter Whole Grain Clusters.

 

I was thrilled to discover this flavor of KIND granola… of course I love it because it’s peanut butter, but also, it’s high in protein and low in sugar. It’s a great new staple in our pantry.

 

7). Amy’s Pad Thai (frozen).

 

Amy's Pad Thai (frozen)

Amy’s Pad Thai (frozen)

 

You have to love being able to reach into the freezer and taking out a box of something delicious, healthy (healthier, for frozen processed food) and satisfying every once in a while. Amy’s Pad Thai is one of those things.

 

8). Deep Indian Gourmet Dal Masala Curry.

 

Deep Indian Gourmet Dal Masala Curry (frozen)

Deep Indian Gourmet Dal Masala Curry (frozen)

 

And here’s another one of those things! This frozen Dal Masala Curry makes us swoon, it’s so good. We eat it with brown jasmine rice, and it’s perfect… especially when you don’t have time to deal with food.

Here’s the one product on the list this time…

 

9). Alba Botanica Honey Mango very emollient bath & shower gel.

 

Alba Botanica Honey Mango very emollient bath & shower gel

Alba Botanica Honey Mango very emollient bath & shower gel

 

We’ve been using this body wash for months now, but I haven’t featured it in a “Favorites” post yet, so I thought I’d share it this time! I’m very happy with the cruelty-free products we started using this year. This body wash has a lovely, light scent, and it’s just as moisturizing as the Olay body wash we used to use. Score!

And finally… because some randomness is in order…

 

10). Microsoft Windows Ninja Cat Riding a Tyrannosaurus Rex laptop sticker.

 

Microsoft Windows Ninja Cat riding a T-Rex needs no caption.

Microsoft Windows Ninja Cat riding a T-Rex needs no caption.

 

I have my friend Jodi to thank for pointing me to this delightful laptop sticker.

http://www.geekwire.com/2015/microsoft-windows-ninja-cat-returns-riding-a-t-rex/

How did I never know about MS Windows Ninja Cat before? I love it on my Mac at work. Heheh.

Callaghan, 0; Peanut Butter, 5.

I’ve always marveled at the borderline-comical dramatic reactions the French have to peanut butter. They range from mockery to disgust to hatred. I saw it for myself when I was living in France, I see it in my own home with my French husband, and I see it, from time to time, in pop culture. Epic is the humor that can be derived from the French disdain of peanut butter.

 

 

Peanut butter would almost always work as a French person repellent.

Not only are the French totally lacking whatever gene is needed to appreciate peanut butter, but they don’t understand it. The very concept of peanut butter confounds them.

This week, Callaghan demonstrated the extent to which they don’t understand it.

It happened early one morning as I was getting ready for work.

About half the time, if I’m running late in the morning, Callaghan will help me get out the door by getting my food ready for the day. It’s a low-maintenance affair. He knows which foods I cycle through, so any combination of things he throws into the cloth lunch bag (very low-maintenance over here) makes me happy.

My go-to lunch is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread. It’s a balance of plant-based proteins, healthy fat, fruit and complex carbohydrates that works really well for me… plus, I love it. I always go for natural, creamy peanut butter – the kind that needs to be slowly, patiently stirred when it’s new – and jam with no added sugar. The rest of the bag can be filled with any combination of fruits, veggies, hummus, nuts, popcorn, blue corn tortilla chips, etc. I also keep a stash of various protein and energy bars in one of my big desk drawers at work. I basically graze all day.

 

There's always a jar of peanut butter in the fridge.

There’s always a jar of peanut butter in the fridge.

 

Usually, Callaghan will ask me if I need help getting the food together, or I’ll ask him for help if I’m running late.

Not on Wednesday this week, though, because I wasn’t late for work that morning. In fact, I was earlier than usual, enjoying a chill morning, leisurely doing my make-up while drinking coffee. I reveled in knowing I could take my time getting ready, put my food together afterward, and still get to work early.

(Side-note: Callaghan’s been taking me to work. I haven’t walked in a while. The persistent humidity of monsoon season ended that… I’m a wimp in humidity.)

So it was Wednesday morning, I was making great time, and I was just finishing getting ready when I heard the vague background hum of activity in the kitchen increase in decibels and segue into a familiar stream of profanities in French.

I heard Callaghan clearly punctuate a string of muttered words with one of his favorite obscenities: “putain d’enculé.”  Those were the only two words I heard, but they were enough to signal that something had gone awry. “Putain d’enculé” is French slang along the lines of “motherfucker.” (Not literally. The words actually mean something more like “fucking fucker.”)

What happened now? I thought, rushing down the hall to find out.

I got to the kitchen and found Callaghan covered in peanut butter.

I wish to all that is holy that I’d had the presence of mind to run for my phone so I could take a picture for you guys, but alas. You’ll have to use your imaginations.

Callaghan was standing at the kitchen sink holding one of my hand mixer beaters. It was dripping with thin, oily peanut butter. There was a full, large jar of peanut butter on the counter, which was splashed with peanut butter. The jar, itself, was spilling over with peanut butter.

There was peanut butter on the walls.

There was peanut butter all over everything I could see. It was all over the floor; an oily, brown patch glared up from the middle of the kitchen, partially smeared where Callaghan had started his attempt at cleaning it up. It wasn’t going well. Oil and water don’t mix.

As I stood in the doorway taking it all in, I realized that suddenly, just-like-that, I wasn’t ahead of schedule anymore. From the look of things, I was now going to be late.

But I couldn’t be annoyed, because I was too preoccupied a). trying to hold in the peals of laughter that were roiling up from my gut, b).  reminding myself that Callaghan had only been trying to help (not knowing that I didn’t need help that morning – but he didn’t ask, and I didn’t ask him!) c). wondering what, exactly, had happened, and why.

I knew he was doing something with peanut butter for me because obviously, he doesn’t eat it. I deduced from the bread sitting out that he’d planned to make me a sandwich. I wasn’t sure what was happening with the peanut butter, though. It seemed like his colossal mishap occurred with a brand-new jar, but I knew there was an open jar in the refrigerator, so why would he open a new jar?

“What happened?” I asked, genuinely confused.

“I don’t know! I was trying to mix the peanut butter! I thought it would go faster if I used the electric hand mixer!! It blew up in my face!! Putain d’enculé!!”

I lost my battle and held my stomach as I bent over laughing. The image he’d painted was killing me.

As we cleaned up the kitchen, I shared my personal method.

“I slowly, carefully stir the new peanut butter with a butter knife, and I do it the night before I want to eat it,” I said, “So it can thicken in the refrigerator overnight. Otherwise, it’s too liquidy.” A new jar of natural peanut butter is a solid mass with an inch or two of oil sitting on top. It’s not easy to mix without spilling it, even when mixing it slowly and carefully. It requires a degree of patience. I couldn’t even imagine the peanut butter carnage when he’d inserted the hand mixer and switched it on.

When I asked him why he opened a new jar when there was an open one already, he said, “I wanted you to have fresh peanut butter. The other jar is all hard at the bottom.”

See? I couldn’t be annoyed. He was too sweet! I shared another insider trick: when the jar is almost empty, take it out of the refrigerator and keep it at room temperature so the peanut butter left at the bottom can soften.

I don’t remember being taught these things. The complexities of peanut butter handling and maintenance must be instinctual for Americans, while they’re utterly lost on the French. Peanut butter is a language they simply do not speak.

 

Callaghan's face as it must have appeared mid-peanut butter apocalypse.

Callaghan’s face as it must have appeared mid-peanut butter apocalypse.

 

Callaghan put all of his clothes in the wash that same morning, but the oil stains from the peanut butter didn’t come out of his shorts… not even with the use of a pre-wash stain remover gel. They were ruined.

I guess you could look at the incident either as Callaghan getting his ass kicked by the peanut butter, or as the peanut butter getting brutally violated by hand mixer-wielding Callaghan. Each one could have said, “You should see the other guy.”

But in my opinion, the peanut butter won, if for no other reason than it made me late for work that day.

The Breakfast Club according to Callaghan (or, the seven stages of Callaghan during The Breakfast Club).

thatasianlookingchick.com-thebreakfastclub

Last week, it suddenly came to my attention that Callaghan, who’s almost my age and therefore spent his teen years in the 80’s, like I did, had never seen the movie The Breakfast Club. It was a remarkable revelation that made me blink in wonderment. How could he have escaped The Breakfast Club? Moreover, how could I not have known that the person I’d been with for five years had never seen The Breakfast Club? I never felt any particularly intense passion for the film, but all this time, I’ve duly acknowledged it as one of the most important films of that decade. Like it or not, The Breakfast Club largely defined the pop culture landscape of the 80’s, and it just never occurred to me that anyone could be ignorant of this, even if you’re French. Being a French person in France was no excuse for not knowing The Breakfast Club, especially since the most popular movies in France at the time were other American movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Ghostbusters and Back to the Future. I was nonplussed.

It was like that time I found out Callaghan had never seen Fatal Attraction. I’d just assumed that anyone would get any and all references to deranged jilted lovers boiling bunnies, until a certain episode of Hart of Dixie happened and the truth came out. Callaghan may have passed the test to earn U.S. citizenship, but obviously, the test is lacking.

Anyway, last week, we were watching “The Runaway Club,” the most recent episode of Bob’s Burgers. The episode opened as a Breakfast Club parody, complete with a parody of the Simple Minds song, which instantly had me cracking up, which led to Callaghan looking at me quizzically, which led to my realization that Callaghan had no insight to the joke, which he confirmed upon being questioned. Yes, this was a grave matter, and it demanded serious questioning.

So on Saturday night, we sat down to watch The Breakfast Club. We were righting a wrong, and besides, I was curious to see how someone would react to the movie three decades after its release! (The movie came out in 1985. I graduated from high school in 1987. Callaghan graduated in 1989. There was no way he was getting out of seeing the movie once I found out he hadn’t seen it.)

Below, I’ve provided a run-down of Callaghan’s responses, which – unbeknownst to him – I recorded in real time.

Stage One: He’s bored and on the verge of falling asleep.

“Baby, so far this is extremely boring.” (Five minutes in)

(in spite of himself, he laughs at something Bender says)

Stage Two: He starts paying attention.

“Huh. She reminds me of Edward Scissorhands.” (looking at Molly Ringwald)

Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club on the left. Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club on the left. Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

Stage Three: He accepts the reality that the whole movie takes place at the school.

“Seriously? The whole movie is about this scene?”

Stage Four: He gets drawn into it.

(laughs at something Bender does)

(laughs when Ally Sheedy throws the lunch meat in the air and it sticks to the sculpture)

“Did she just squeal?” (about a sudden, high-pitched noise made by Ally Sheedy)

Stage Five: He’s now totally into it.

(laughs at Bender crawling above the ceiling)

(laughs at Bender looking at Molly Ringwald’s crotch under the desk)

(laughs when everyone’s getting stoned)

“They made her look like Ozzy Osbourne.” (looking at Ally Sheedy)

Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club on the left. Ozzy Osbourne on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club on the left. Ozzy Osbourne on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

Stage Six: He’s now a part of it.

“Heheh, I thought exactly that!” (when Ally Sheedy says that her parents ignored her)

(laughs at Vernon saying to the janitor, “Do you think I give one rat’s ass what these kids think of me?”)

(laughs when Bender says to Molly Ringwald that a girl is only a tease if what she does get you hot)

(laughs at something Ally Sheedy says)

“Yeah, that’s the exact opposite of Bender’s.” (When Emilio Estevez describes his dad)

(laughs at something Bender says to Anthony Michael Hall, who’s talking about failing shop)

“She’s going to put her tongue up her nose!” (about Molly Ringwald, who instead applied lipstick with her bra)

“SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?” (Callaghan shouts at Bender)

Stage Seven: He becomes an astute observer.

“It’s funny that Brian is way taller than all of them.” (When the three guys are dancing to “We are Not Alone” in the dance scene in the library)

The End.

So, what have we learned from this?

Callaghan’s conclusion: “That was cool. It took a little time to go somewhere, but that was really cool. That’s a movie they could make a re-make of. I mean, watching this, of course, we know it was there. That was us in high school. Not that kids in high school today are any different, but they have phones… I mean, they’re different today. But that’s why they should do a remake. Things are different today.”

My conclusion:  I never realized before that to me, at least, Bender and Vernon are the only character-characters in the movie. In my notes, I called them “Bender” and “Vernon,” while I referred to the other actors by their actual names.

I loved the Bob’s Burgers parody, by the way, even though plot-wise, “The Runaway Club” strayed from The Breakfast Club pretty far between the opening and ending of the episode. Excellent tribute!

The Breakfast Club - dancing in the library

The Breakfast Club – dancing in the library

The dance scene parody in the end credits of Bob's Burgers "The Runaway Club"

The dance scene parody in the end credits of Bob’s Burgers “The Runaway Club”

Thank you to Callaghan for taking part in my sociological experience watching the movie with me. I know you weren’t into it at first, so I’m glad you ended up enjoying it!

On that note – Happy 30th Anniversary, The Breakfast Club! We agree that you’re basically timeless.

Final picture post from France!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! We’re back in the Land of AZ.

We landed in Phoenix late on Saturday night after a weird layover in Washington D.C.; the power had gone out in the terminals at the Washington-Dulles airport. We waited on the plane until a bus came to take us to the main terminal… and by “us,” I mean not just everyone on our flight, but everyone on ALL the incoming flights… and from there, all of the connecting flights were delayed, also due to the ripple effect of the power outage. In the end, though, we were only two hours late getting home. Not bad!

So believe it or not, that was my sixth trip to Paris – seven if you count the Paris part of last week’s agenda as two separate trips (we stayed in the same hotel in Montmartre before and after the Côte d’Azur) – and I still haven’t visited Jim Morrison. It was my decision. At the last minute, I suggested skipping it because we had very little time, and I didn’t want to go to le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise just to see one grave. I would have wanted to also visit the likes of Chopin, Victor Hugo, Edith Piaf, etc., and for that we would need a good half-day, at least. But we’ll be back, and it’s really kind of funny… my Extreme First-World Problem is still my Extreme First-World Problem.

Since we didn’t go to le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, we were able to take our time moseying around Montmartre, where we were staying. It was the perfect way to spend the day. We had some errands to run, and it was great to just be relaxed and enjoy our favorite quartier in Paris without rushing around. (Montmartre is actually one of my favorite neighborhoods in the entire world.) We also got to enjoy having dinner with a friend of mine who lives there, and that was delightful.

Overall, our week in France was the opposite of relaxing, as we were generally crazy busy up until that last day in Paris. We averaged zero to three hours of sleep per night, and by the end, we were seeing double from sleep deprivation. But it was hella fun. Great times with family and friends!

One thing that struck us, though, was how the mood in France has grown even darker in the short time we’ve been gone… dark as in ominous, kind of, and spooky. The general feeling in the country is different than when we lived there, and we haven’t even been gone for two years. We saw a trio of heavily armed soldiers stalking the picturesque little streets of Vieux Nice, for instance… a surreal sight, and one I never would have imagined there before. We noticed police officers standing expectantly with their police dogs in the Metro stations in Paris. When we lived in France, I never saw police officers at all… just the random gendarmerie… now, they’re everywhere, their presence presumably connected to the “Je Suis Charlie” signs we also saw posted widely from Paris to Nice. And there are the new ebola information/warning posters prominently displayed at Charles de Gaulle airport.

On a lighter note, I’ll share another smattering of pics from our last days there….

From la Côte d’Azur:

 

A street in Châteauneuf de Grasse.

A street in Châteauneuf de Grasse.

 

Our favorite boulangerie in Nice. BEST PAN BAGNAT IN TOWN, hands-down.

Our favorite boulangerie in Nice. BEST PAN BAGNAT IN TOWN, hands-down.

 

Some of the bread inside the best boulangerie in Nice.

Some of the bread inside the best boulangerie in Nice.

 

An artist's gallery in le Vieux Nice.

An artist’s gallery in le Vieux Nice.

 

Socca - a traditional food in Nice.

Socca – a traditional food in Nice.

 

With friends at the Big Ben pub in Nice.

With friends at the Big Ben pub in Nice.

 

We had lunch with Callaghan's Grandparents and Dad in le Port de St. Laurent du Var.

We had lunch with Callaghan’s Grandparents and Dad in le Port de St. Laurent du Var.

 

And from Paris:

 

One of hundreds of  cafés...

One of hundreds of cafés…

 

Pointing the way to le Sacré-Coeur - my second-favorite monument (after la Tour Eiffel)

Pointing the way to le Sacré-Coeur – my second-favorite monument (after la Tour Eiffel)

 

Le Sacré-Coeur. Beautiful Roman-Byzantyne architecture on the hill of Montmartre.

Le Sacré-Coeur. Beautiful Roman-Byzantyne architecture on the hill of Montmartre.

 

Bronze sculpture on le Sacré-Coeur.

Bronze sculpture on le Sacré-Coeur.

 

Gargoyle on le Sacré-Coeur.

Gargoyle on le Sacré-Coeur.

 

More gargoyles on le Sacré-Coeur...

More gargoyles on le Sacré-Coeur…

 

View of Paris from the hill of Montmartre.

View of Paris from the hill of Montmartre.

 

Parisian street art like this is becoming more and more common. Love it!

Parisian street art like this is becoming more and more common. Love it!

 

Walking in Montmartre...

Walking in Montmartre…

 

French flag at the Metro station on Boulevard Barbès.

French flag at the Metro station on Boulevard Barbès.

 

Hot chocolate at café la Virgule in Montmartre.

Hot chocolate at café la Virgule in Montmartre.

 

And here’s a selection of some of our pastry indulgences (!!):

 

Galette des Rois... actually, a "Pithivier," according to Callaghan. The traditional King's Cakes are this, but thinner... quite different from the King Cakes Americans have at Mardi Gras.

Galette des Rois… actually, a “Pithivier,” according to Callaghan. The traditional King’s Cakes are this, but thinner… quite different from the King Cakes Americans have at Mardi Gras.

 

Une Madeleine au Nutella at the SNCF (train) station.

Une Madeleine au Nutella at the SNCF (train) station.

 

Tarte au citron

Tarte au citron

 

Chouquettes

Chouquettes

 

And then we went home. I took a picture of the signage that greeted us at baggage claim. Welcome to Phoenix!

 

It was 77 degrees when we landed at 10:20pm Saturday night... and it's going to be 90 today!

It was 77 degrees when we landed at 10:20pm Saturday night… and it’s going to be 90 today!

 

Happy Tuesday, All! =)

Body Combat en Français!

My triceps are sore today, and I love it!!

Perhaps the best thing about Les Mills International is the “International” part. It means that their classes are held in 20+ countries, so it’s feasible to get in your usual workout even when you’re traveling overseas. Thanks to our friend Chantal, we were able to do Body Combat with her at her gym yesterday. She got the passes for us in advance, and we found a Thursday 6:30pm session at her gym’s Cannes location (she usually goes to the one near her in Villeneuve-Loubet). It fit into our schedules perfectly.

 

Well isn't that convenient!!

Well isn’t that convenient!!

 

I didn’t know what to expect going in. Would the instructor teach the class in French or in English? If in French, would I understand the martial arts-specific terminology in the commands? I didn’t think so. Callaghan, who usually prefers to be in the back, graciously agreed to stand near me so I could look over and see what he was doing if I got lost. I stood in the center of the second row, between two people in the front row, so I could see myself in the mirror. Callaghan stood behind me and to the left. Chantal took a place next to him, directly behind me.

Here’s kind of how it went:

1). The instructor did, indeed, teach the whole class in French. (I learned a new word, “crochet,” which means “hook.” Makes sense.)

2). He started out explaining that he was substituting for the regular person. He wasn’t the usual instructor, so he was new to everyone, not just to us.

3). Unlike in Arizona, Callaghan was the only guy in the class.

4). Some of the tracks were familiar, while others totally weren’t! And that was good. There was some music I’d never heard, and moves we hadn’t done in class before. Those were probably older tracks.

5). The instructor was high-octane and clearly trained in martial arts.

6). There was a T.V. with a running loop of fitness footage that Callaghan said was distracting him.

7). Today, I feel it in my upper body. 10 days is a long time to go without working out when you’re used to going 3x/week!

It was fantastic, and it felt AMAZING to work out again after ten days of nothing (lots of walking and impromptu fake Parkour in Paris notwithstanding).

On that note, I’ll leave you with a few pics:

 

I took some of these brochures for souvenirs.

I took some of these brochures for souvenirs.

 

The group fitness schedule is posted on the classroom window, like at our gym. Unlike our gym, though, it's packed with classes.

The group fitness schedule is posted on the classroom window, like at our gym. Unlike our gym, though, it’s packed with classes.

 

The vending machine at FitLane is all Evian water, except for two rows of snacks at the top. Something you'd never find in an American vending machine: Madeleines. There's no junk food in our gym in Arizona, at all... just energy drinks, protein shakes and water.

The vending machine at FitLane is all Evian water, except for two rows of snacks at the top. Something you’d never find in an American vending machine: Madeleines. There’s no junk food in our gym in Arizona, at all… just energy drinks, protein shakes and water.

 

A last look on our way out. Au revoir, FitLane!

A last look on our way out. Au revoir, FitLane!

 

Happy Friday, All! =)

The Pizookie and the French

Down the street from our house here in downtown Tempe, there’s a pizza joint called Oregano’s. It’s been a local favorite for the last two decades. It was newly opened when I first started going there in 1994; now, 20 years later, there are 14 Oregano’s locations throughout Arizona. They’re famous for their pizzas, but their entire menu is made of yummy awesomeness… I love their salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes. And their dessert? There’s only one dessert on the menu at Oregano’s, and that, my friends, is the Original Pizza Cookie, or, as everyone calls it, the “Pizookie.” The Pizookie is available in three flavors – chocolate-chip, white chocolate macadamia nut, and peanut butter chocolate. I’m sure that all the flavors are great, but I’ve always only ordered the chocolate-chip.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-OreganosTempepizookie

 

The Pizookie, for the uninitiated unfortunates among you, is cookie dough slightly baked in a 6-inch, deep-dish pizza pan, topped with three scoops of vanilla bean ice cream and sprinkled with chocolate chips. The resulting concoction defies description. There are no words.

Many others have tried to re-create the Pizookie, but as far as I know, no one has succeeded at elevating the simple combination of cookie dough and ice cream to the sublime height of perfection that Oregano’s consistently achieves. It must have to do with the pan they use, the type and temperature of the oven, the amount of time they leave it in, the particular recipe for the cookie dough, etc. It is a feat of culinary genius.The cookie comes out of the oven perfectly half-cooked, with the underneath firm (scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan is a part of the delightful experience), the top just barely set, and the inside soft and hot… and then, fresh from the oven, it’s topped with ice cream. It is voluptuous. By the time it gets to your table, it’s a pan full of hot and cold melty, gooey, chocolately ohmygodthisprobablyhasathousandcaloriesbutwhocaresIcanworkouttomorrow goodness.

It’s meant to serve 2-4, haha!

 

We went to Oregano's last night just so I could take this picture. OH THE SACRIFICE! OH THE THINGS I DO FOR THIS BLOG!! Meet the Original! Pizza Cookie at Oregano's. PIZOOKIE.

We went to Oregano’s last night just so I could take this picture. OH THE SACRIFICE! OH THE THINGS I DO FOR THIS BLOG!! Meet the Original! Pizza Cookie at Oregano’s. PIZOOKIE.

 

Just to give you an idea – I’m vegan 95% of the time. Since we’ve been back in Arizona, I mainly reserve the 5% for Oregano’s Fancy Dancy Mushroom pizza and their chocolate-chip Pizookie.

Now all of this, of course, leads up to the little story I have to tell you today.

When I lived in France, one of the most baffling reactions I got from the French was their dubiousness and often mocking hilarity when they’d ask me what things I missed in the States, and I’d answer, “The food.” I honestly did not understand their mirth. In my experience, the diversity and excellence of food here is unparalleled. America is, pretty much by definition, a merging of cultures; we have all the food here. For instance, I couldn’t find decent Thai food where we were in France… between the Rhône-Alpes (Valence, Grenoble) and the Alpes-Maritimes (the French Riviera), all we encountered were approximations of the Thai food that we know here in the States. And Mexican food? Forget it! Those are just two examples… all the cuisines in the States are rave-worthy. I could not find Ethiopian food in France. The plethora of excellent Indian restaurants we have here? Nowhere to be found over there. Also, from our national classics to our regional specialties, American food itself is great, not to mention “New American Cuisine” and fusion styles. I just love food, and there were so many foods I missed while I lived overseas. I found it nearly impossible to be vegan in France… the variety of vegan-friendly foods over there was dismal, at least where we were (we hung out in Paris on several occasions, but we didn’t live there).

Anyway, my answer to What do you miss about the United States? drew laughter laced with disbelief. There were degrees of the same reaction. Some people just laughed. Others laughed and made mocking, disparaging remarks. And yet others simply made disparaging remarks about American food, or my food (when I’d show up with something of my own that I’d brought, or that my parents had sent) for no reason at all. The French that I encountered just could not conceive of anyone liking the food in the States, much less missing it. (Not ALL French reacted this way, mind you! Of course there were those who were super polite and nice and had manners. I’m not talking about my friends, for instance.)

Callaghan was just as perplexed and taken aback by this reaction as I was, and he was embarrassed by the attitude of the French. Not only had he formerly lived in the States for ten years, so he knew the truth about the food here, but he also couldn’t believe the rudeness of the responses when the subject of food in America would come up. He speculated that people probably assumed “food in the States” meant McDonald’s and hot dogs, and pretty much nothing else.

Thus, we were both fully expecting Callaghan’s Dad and his Dad’s girlfriend Nicole to turn up their noses at the food in any given restaurant we’d visit while they were here staying with us over New Year’s. To make a long story short, they loved all the food they ate everywhere we went. It was kind of funny how we could tell that they were enjoying the food, but for the most part, they kept their reactions, you know, low-key. But Oregano’s was their favorite. They loved the jazzy atmosphere, and they loved the food, and they could not hide their reactions there.

When we got there the first time, Nicole said that she wasn’t really hungry. She ordered soup. But when she sampled my Fancy Dancy Mushroom pizza, she couldn’t conceal her pleasure, and neither could Callaghan’s Dad when he tried it. They both reached in for more.

Then the Pizookie arrived. We’d ordered two, so they could share one and we could share one.

It was rapture at first bite.

Suddenly, Nicole, who “wasn’t hungry,” was shoveling in mouthfuls of the hot and cold melty gooey Pizookie goodness. Callaghan’s Dad was doing the same. Several times, they both tried to stop eating it, but they could only leave their spoons down for a few minutes before they picked them up again. They were hard-pressed to hide their ecstasy. I’m telling you… I had never seen either of them eat anything with such gusto, in France or anywhere!

The next day, Callaghan called me while I was at work.

“We’re at Trader Joe’s buying chocolate chip cookie dough,” he told me. “They want to make a Pizookie.”

My first thought was, I could make better chocolate chip cookie dough. I don’t think anyone would argue that homemade is better than store-bought. My second thought was, they’re going to be disappointed, because there is no possible way any Pizookie we’d make at home could even come close to the heroin-laced Pizookie that emerges from the pizza ovens of Oregano’s. I cringed at the idea of them even trying, but I was amused nonetheless.

That night, the “pizookies” resulting from Trader Joe’s cookie dough and our conventional oven were a huge disappointment, as I knew they would be.

The next night, after dinner, Nicole said that she wanted to go back to Oregano’s. She wanted a Pizookie. I couldn’t believe it. She ate some American food she liked so much that she literally couldn’t get enough.

I was scrambling to work on my December Favorites blog post, so I declined, but I ended up tagging along when Callaghan implored me to go and we compromised with me bringing my computer and them accepting that I was going to be anti-social.

There we were, at the end of December during an unusual cold spell, after dark, sitting outside on the patio at Oregano’s, cozying up to the outdoor heaters. I wrote for this blog while everyone dug into their Pizookies. It was kind of surreal, but not surprising. The Pizookie is a thing you have to experience to understand… and if you think you know what it is because you had it somewhere other than Oregano’s, then you really don’t know what it is, because only Oregano’s does it like that.

So, Arizona people, if you’re hosting visitors from France, take them to Oregano’s – the great food, atmosphere and top-notch service speak for themselves, but moreover, there’s nothing more American than a chocolate-chip cookie… and baked in a pizza pan and topped with ice cream at Oregano’s turns it into an experience they’ll never forget!

Happy Friday, All!

(NOTE: this post was not sponsored by Oregano’s.)

Freedom is Never Free!

It’s November 11, which means that here in the States, we’re observing our national holiday to recognize veterans of the armed forces – the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines.

At the end of October, I received this incredible email at work:

Saturday, November 8th ASU is hosting Notre Dame at 1:30 p.m.  With a desire to honor all of our veterans at ASU, a limited number of tickets have been made available for our veteran faculty and staff. You served with honor, now we honor you. Thank you for your service!

This came from the Salute to Service committee out of the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, a wonderful campus and community resource for veterans and their dependents at ASU. November 3-14 had been designated as “Salute to Service” week – a week of events with focus on military appreciation built around Pat Tillman’s birthday, November 6, and today, Veteran’s Day, November 11. With this, ASU celebrates the entire week as a way to honor vets and Pat Tillman in continuing his legacy as a heroic Sun Devil and pro football star who sacrificed his life in serving our country.

 

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Callaghan was especially excited about the opportunity to go to Saturday’s game against Notre Dame because he’d never been to a college football game before. Coming from France, he had no real concept of the importance or spirit of athletics at the American university (there’s no equivalent of it over there – no collegiate athletics programs, no mascots, no school colors, no marching bands, no cheerleaders or rivalries or tail-gate parties or events like homecoming or play-offs, etc.), but he had heard all the stories. I mean, he knew about it, but he’d never experienced it.

Man, did he get a first-class education in American college football spirit on Saturday! We walked down to the stadium – the joy of living downtown will never fade – where he dipped his virgin toe into the traditional institution of American college football. His foray turned out to be more of a head-first dive straight into the insanity that was Sun Devil Stadium that day. The game against legendary and well-seated Notre Dame proved to be a phenomenal, exciting, well-fought battle on Frank Kush field (55-31 ASU, final).

As you can imagine, the Sun Devils’ victory parlayed into an outrageous all-night party at the many bars, clubs and restaurants up and down Mill Avenue, the main street of Tempe.

Later that night, the passionate and gracious Notre Dame fans we spotted on Mill stood out in their navy and gold gear as they took in the chaos of the festivities with wide eyes. It was like a UFO had deposited the Fighting Irish fans in downtown Tempe, and they had no idea where they were. We saw them wandering slowly down the street in their unseasonal-to-them shorts and t-shirts, looking around with dazed expressions, and maybe it was just me, but I didn’t think they were thinking, damn, we lost, so much as, damn, now we have to get on the plane and go back to freezing Indiana. Because that’s what I would have been thinking, if I were them. (Aside: I’m certain that Arizona gets some of its transplants because people decide to move here after visiting from their cold places to support their teams playing the Sun Devils in sunny Tempe. It got up to 90 degrees that day. Callaghan and I were in long-sleeve t-shirts because we wanted to avoid getting farmers’ tans, but most people were in regular t-shirts or tank tops and shorts. You can generally get away with that year-round out here.)

Here are some pics from Saturday:

 

Tickets to the game. Thank you, Pat Tillman Veterans Center and Salute to Service committee!

Tickets to the game. Thank you, Pat Tillman Veterans Center and Salute to Service committee!

 

Entering Sun Devil territory. Fear the Fork!

Entering Sun Devil territory. Fear the Fork!

 

Sun Devil Stadium is built into the cactus-studded "A" Butte at the north end of the Tempe campus.

Sun Devil Stadium is built into the cactus-studded “A” Butte at the north end of the Tempe campus.

 

Score!

Score!

 

The game aired on ABC.

The game aired on ABC.

 

The Sun Devils played an enormous game. The spirit of Pat Tillman was with us, and we veterans in the crowd were recognized.

The Sun Devils played an enormous game. The spirit of Pat Tillman was with us, and we veterans in the crowd were recognized.

 

This brings us to today, a day off, and, most importantly, a day to remember and reflect with gratitude. Happy Veteran’s Day, and to all of you vets out there, thank you for your service!

Callaghan’s new pick-up line at the gym (calves edition).

Ever since Callaghan started lifting weights seriously… so that would be since March… he’s been in the habit of commenting on the size of the calves he sees on men in the gym. His remarks are always in the context of the proportion of the guy’s calves to the rest of his body, usually to the effect of, “I saw this guy and I don’t understand why guys refuse to work their calves! This one guy’s upper body was massive, but his calves were like twigs! I never forget to work my calves. I don’t want to look like that.” After which we spend a half hour or so debating genetics vs. strength-training for calf muscle shape and development, the merits of various types of calf exercises, plastic surgery (faking it with calf implants) and sheer negligence in training the calves.

 

Random calves in action at the gym.

Random calves in action at the gym.

 

I’ve gotten so used to Callaghan vocalizing his observations that when he starts a sentence with “There was this guy in the gym,” I already know that the guy’s calves are the subject of the sentence. Also, I know that there’s a 95% chance that his remark is going to be unfavorable. Every once in a while, he’ll tell me about a guy he saw with well-proportioned calves. And there’s one guy in particular whose calves he greatly admires. I remember the first time he mentioned him.

“There was this guy in the gym,” he began. He’d just come home.

“…and he had skinny little calves,” I finished for him.

“No! His calves were beautiful!” he exclaimed, surprising me. He went on to effusively praise the beauty and magnificence of not only the guy’s calves, but of his entire physique.

After that, every time Callaghan saw this guy in the gym, I heard about it afterward.

Then Callaghan started working full-time and had to cut back significantly on his weight-lifting. He still does the Body Combat classes with me twice a week, but for now, he’s only lifting weights on Wednesday evenings (while I’m in boot camp class), and sometimes once on the weekend, usually on Sundays.

“I haven’t seen the guy with the beautiful calves in a long time,” he said at one point. But on Wednesday night last week, when I met up with him after our respective workouts, he gushed, “You know how I said I haven’t seen the guy with the beautiful calves in a long time? He was here tonight, and he came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I haven’t seen you here before.’”

“Hahaha!!” I didn’t know why I thought that was hilarious, but for some reason, I did.

“His name is John. He introduced himself. I asked him, ‘Wow, what do you do to have beautiful calves like that?’”

That was exactly what Callaghan said. Imagine it in a French accent. Quite a pick-up line!

“What did he say?”

“That he has to thank his Mom. So I wanted to ask if his Mom had big calves, too,” he said, starting to laugh. “But I didn’t. Although I don’t think he would’ve minded.”

So we know that in this case of the Guy with Beautiful Calves, it’s genetics at play… and maybe it’s the beginning of a beautiful new gym bromance for Callaghan. The immediate effect of this whole thing, though, which I find kind of distracting, is that now I’m always checking out the lower legs on the males of our species. Yesterday, when I was talking to a guy at work, I found myself staring at his calves and thinking, he has nice calves! I laughed, but not out loud.

Here’s Ten Dollars; Keep the Karma.

Sometime in the nineties, I started noticing tip jars (often just plastic cups) sitting near the cash registers at certain casual restaurants… specifically, tip jars bearing cute little signs to the effect of, “Tip! It’s good for your karma.” I still see them around, and I always think to myself that if someone is going to use a religious concept as a charming way to get people to leave optional tips, why stop at eastern religions? One could just as easily frame it in western religious terms: “Tip! All your sins will be forgiven,” or “Tip! You’ll go to heaven.”

But I know the answer to that. Western religions aren’t hip and trendy in the western world the way eastern religions are, so the lure of “good karma,” it is. Moral causality. Throw money into the jar, and the act will work in your favor.

It’s a much more serious matter to talk about sin and heaven. Whether or not we Americans believe in karma, seeing the word “karma” on a tip jar isn’t going to pack the same psychological punch as the words “sin” and “heaven.” We’re largely a nation of people hard-wired to react strongly to those words in one way or another. The notion of karma just isn’t culturally ingrained in us in the same ways.

Where “karma” on a tip jar is cute, clever and cool, the words “sin” and “heaven” on the same jar would come across as preachy, flippant or even sacrilegious, and the effect would be adverse because of it. No matter how many ribbons and rainbows and flowers and smiley faces you put on it, a jar labeled with holier-than-thou signage isn’t going to work.

So, fine… it’s cool, cute, hip and trendy to decorate your tip jar with the word “karma.” Here are some examples I found online:

 

Karma: the new currency!

Karma: the new currency!

 

Instant karma. Just add hot water and stir.

Instant karma. Just add hot water and stir.

 

Remember this guy? I couldn’t resist putting him here, since he was all over the internet at about the same time the “karma jars” were also popping up everywhere.

Remember this guy? I couldn’t resist putting him here, since he was all over the internet at about the same time the “karma jars” were also popping up everywhere.

 

It’s light and fun and people dig it. I get that. I myself use the word “karma” lightly, every time I park somewhere and think, good parking karma! because I scored a prime parking spot. Here’s the thing, though. Here’s why “karma” on a tip jar bugs me. It’s one thing to remark and laugh about “parking karma,” but another thing entirely to use the word in an attempt to influence peoples’ actions.

Moreover, there’s this: I usually see the “karma jars” in trendy eateries where you order and pay for your food at the counter. Tips at these kinds of establishments are optional and gratuitous, since you’re not receiving table service. Tipping gratuitously at a counter in this case is simply giving.

Giving, in eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism – to simplify, let’s just default to Buddhism, since that’s the trendiest of the eastern religions, and that’s the one I know the best – is dana, which is a Pali word that indicates “selfless” giving. I shall be helpful to others. To give selflessly means that you don’t want or expect anything in return. You give without thinking of what you might get back.

I grew up spending Sunday mornings sitting in a Jodo Shinshu church (Jodo Shinshu is a type of Japanese Pureland Buddhism on the Mahayana side) listening to dharma talks (sermons) and going to dharma class (Sunday school), and I’ve heard countless lectures on what it means to be selfless. From what I understand, putting a sign on a tip jar that says, “Tip! It’s good for your karma” is actually anti-Buddhist in nature. Dropping money into a jar thinking of what you’re going to get out of it later isn’t Buddhist. It’s the opposite of Buddhist. It’s selfish, not selfless, because you’re putting money into the jar thinking of yourself.

I just can’t see it as cute or cool or hip or whatever. All I can do when I see these “karma” tip jars is try to be a good Buddhist and have compassion, but it’s hard when I’m inwardly rolling my eyes and biting my tongue. I am not a good Buddhist.  I’m always trying, but I see where I need to tweak my meditation practice in an attempt to improve.

The proliferation of tip jars asking for money with the promise of something good in it for me has always irked me, as the general cultural appropriation of eastern religions by westerners has irked me (please note that I’m differentiating between earnest students and converts to eastern religions and those who just dig certain aspects of the religions to the point of, say, slapping a “karma” sign on a tip jar while not actually knowing what that means, much less studying and practicing said religion). Buddhism seen as a hip and trendy cultural thing just confounds me. I don’t know what to make of it, really.

I’m confounded by those tip jars.

I’m confounded when people think that being Buddhist means that you have to be a vegetarian. (Unless you’re a monk in certain temples, you can eat whatever you want.)

I’m confounded when someone claims to be Buddhist, yet speaks authoritatively of having a soul. (Buddhists don’t believe in the existence of souls.)

I’m confounded when someone claims to be Buddhist, yet speaks of sin. (Buddhists don’t believe in the concept of sin.)

Buddhist philosophy is difficult and complex, and I’m certainly no one to judge when Buddhist-curious people or admirers of Buddhism or actual converts display ignorance. I’ve been working toward the realization of a higher prajna (wisdom) my whole life, and I can tell you, it’s not easy. I have a stack of books, some of which I’ve had as long as I can remember, as they were passed down to me by my Grandmother, filled with my questions scribbled in the margins, post-its with more questions marking pages, hundreds of my questions that haven’t yet been answered. Karma is just one of many challenging concepts in eastern religions, so the sight of those tip jars with their blithe karma signs written by people who (probably) aren’t Buddhist acting like they care about the welfare of my karma so they can get money just annoys me if I see them when my patience levels are low. What do you know about karma? I want to ask on the days I’m cranky when I see the karma tip jars. Please enlighten me, because I was raised Buddhist, I am still Buddhist, I’ve been studying Buddhism/Buddhist philosophy/eastern religious philosophy all of my life, and I still don’t fully grasp the doctrine of karma.

 

My Butsudan (altar/shrine) with my 20+ books and pamphlets (some not shown) on the subject of Buddhism, ranging from ancient spiritual texts to college-level textbooks.

My Butsudan (altar/shrine) with my 20+ books and pamphlets (some not shown) on the subject of Buddhism, ranging from ancient spiritual texts to college-level textbooks.

 

The truth is, I probably have a decent grasp on eastern religious philosophy, but its complexity is such that some aspects of it seem to elude my understanding the more I study it, and at this point in my life, I just want to enjoy the feeling of serenity and peace I experience when I release my mind during my practice. So I don’t study it as much anymore. I just do my practice and try to live by Buddhist principles as best as I can. I try to “practice intention with detachment from outcome.” I try to practice mindfulness and gratitude, saying “thank you” freely and often, and really feeling it. And I try to be patient, but as you can see from this post, I still need a lot of work in that area. A part of this is that I tend to be impatient by nature (in some contexts).

This tip jar at one of my favorite local restaurants is a welcome breath of fresh air every time I see it:

 

Tips! Why? Because WE LIKE THEM. Thanks for keeping it real, Chop Shop Tempe!

Tips! Why? Because WE LIKE THEM. Thanks for keeping it real, Chop Shop Tempe!

 

I’m going to happily continue partaking of their somewhat luxurious fare every once in a while, because the Chop Shop Tempe guys are honest, and honest is what’s cute, cool and clever… plus, their raw vegetable salad with grilled tofu (which I order without cheese) is delicious and vegan and therefore good for my karma! (If you know me well, you know that I’m giggling as I write this.

Carry on.

Go Criminals!

In case you rolled out of bed this morning saying to yourself, “Self, I would like to learn some quirky Arizona trivia today,” I’m here to provide.

First, some background for those unfamiliar with this aspect of American culture: American schools’ athletics programs are intrinsic to the overall school experience. Athletics gives American schools their school spirit, and much of student life revolves around the sports programs, with (American) football traditionally at the heart of it.

The components are the same at every school. In the student body, there are the jocks (athletes) and the cheerleaders (also athletes, charged with the task of motivating the players by generating crowd support).

Then there’s the mascot, the heart of the school’s athletics-driven spirit. My San Jose, California high school mascot was the Ram… we were the Willow Glen Rams, You are Now Entering Ram Country, GO RED AND GOLD!! American schools’ designated colors also boost school spirit by promoting and encouraging unity. WEAR SCHOOL COLORS ON GAME DAY!

The Ram as a mascot is a cool choice, if not a somewhat pedantic one. School mascots are typically animals – the more bad-ass, the better – and the ram does have an air of bad-assery. The mascot doesn’t have to be an animal, though, and neither does it have to be bad-ass. (Scottsdale Community College Artichokes, anyone?)

This brings me to that nugget of Arizona trivia I wanted to share this morning, since I saw something about this yesterday, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since for its historical interest factor:

In 1910, Yuma High School was destroyed by a fire. With no time on their side, the Yuma School District made the pragmatic decision to move the school into the recently-vacated Arizona Territorial Prison. From 1910-1913, Yuma high school classes were held in the old cell blocks, and school assemblies took place in the prison hospital. Aside from this, Yuma High was a normal school with the normal need for a mascot to represent it. Guess what mascot they chose? The most logical one for any high school housed in derelict prison facilities, of course! In 1917, Yuma High School students became “the Criminals,” and to this day, Yuma High School remains the “Proud home of the Criminals.”

This all came to mind yesterday when I found a list of the “10 Worst High School Mascots in Arizona” in the Phoenix New Times. The Yuma High Criminals took the number one spot on the list, its entry complete with the snarky comment, “Yeah, Yuma Rapists and Murderers does sound a little tacky.”

 

CaptureYumaCriminals

 

 

I disagree with the choice of Yuma High for this dubious honor… my feeling about the school’s mascot aligns more with the sentiments in the article from which I’d pulled the Yuma High School history bits related above: Yuma High School’s mascot carries historical significance, and that is a fine thing. The article is here. If you don’t care to read it, at least enjoy this video of the Yuma High School football team’s entrance onto their field a few years ago when they went to battle a rival high school at their homecoming game, because it’s something to see!

 

 

Another favor you can do yourself, if you haven’t already, is watch the 2007 re-make of the film 3:10 to Yuma. It’s my second-favorite Western after Tombstone, and it’s pretty well done!

How to Swear in French, New Car edition.

Sadly, we had to give up our 1999 Toyota 4-Runner, Stevie. She was sweet and quite amazing for her age, but a few months ago she’d started stalling while idling, just at random. Even more disconcerting, the frequency of the stalling episodes was increasing along with the intensifying heat. The day Stevie stalled mid-turn, we knew we had to replace her with something reliable, because the REAL heat hasn’t even hit yet! I wasn’t feeling confident driving her, and I didn’t want to find out how she would react when the temperature climbs up into the 110-115 range.

You don’t mess around with potential car trouble in the summer in Arizona. That is one of life’s absolutes.

Such as it was that we found ourselves at a car dealership a couple of weekends ago – a Chevy dealership, because I’m predictable like that. What can I say? I learned to drive in a Chevy truck, and my last vehicle was a Chevy truck. From Corvettes to trucks, I love Chevrolet. So does Callaghan. After a full day of deliberating and negotiating at the dealership, we leased a new (very pale, silvery-blue) Equinox and drove her off the lot.

Since then, we’ve been bouncing names around, trying to decide what to call her. My first idea, “Samaire,” caused Callaghan to burst out laughing when I suggested it. Of course, in that same second, I realized why.

“Samaire” is pronounced like the French sa mère, which constitutes the second part of Putain de sa mère! – Callaghan’s favorite expletive to yell when other drivers on the road annoy him. “Samaire” would be a terrible name for our new vehicle. If we were to call her “Samaire,” Callaghan would always be yelling that she’s a whore, because “putain” is French for “whore.” Her feelings would be hurt.

“‘Sa mère!’ means, like, ‘F*ck!’ – you know?” Callaghan said, launching an elaborate discourse on the versatility of the expression.

And here I always thought that since mère means “mother,” putain de sa mère was somehow the French equivalent of Samuel L. Jackson’s trademark word, even though that’s not what it actually means… putain de sa mère translates as “his mother the whore,” according to Callaghan.

Well, all that aside, I’ve never had trouble naming a car before we brought this girl home. After two weeks, we still had no idea what to call her. Yesterday, just as we were discussing names such as “Libbets” (after Katie Holmes’ character’s name in The Ice Storm), “Jorie” (after Jorie Graham, a postmodern poet whose work I particularly like), and “Persephone” (the Greek Queen of the Underworld, and also the Goddess of spring/vegetation), we went to get the mail. In the mail was a large yellow envelope from the Motor Vehicles Division, and inside was obviously a license plate.

“Yay! Let’s play the license plate game!” I said when I saw it.

“What is that?” Callaghan’s education in American culture is an ongoing process.

“It’s that game where you look at a license plate and quickly say the first word it spells or brings to mind.”

“Maybe it’ll be her name!” He said it just as I was thinking it.

We opened the envelope. The license plate read:

 

New license plate for the new girl.

New license plate for the new girl.

 

“BUGSY!” We shouted at the same time, cracking up.

See how that works? Just as we’re talking about how we don’t know what to name her, her name arrives in the mail! Et voilà.

Happy Friday, All!

On the World Cup and Google-Fu Fail (but Google-Octopus Win)

Unlike American football, baseball, basketball and hockey, soccer isn’t a sport that exactly qualifies as a defining feature of American culture, at least at the professional level. It just isn’t to the States what it is to other countries… but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to World Cup mania. The occasion of the FIFA World Cup is pretty much the only time Americans get together to get hyped up about soccer on a large scale.

My first memorable experience with the World Cup was indirect, yet eye-opening: I was living in West Germany when the Berlin wall came down and when West Germany won the World Cup (I was stationed there from 1987-1991). On both occasions, the streets outside my little Ludwigsburg apartment filled with chaos and screaming crowds. One event inspired more hysteria than the other, though. Guess which one? That’s right… the World Cup. It was complete madness. West Germany winning the World Cup in 1990 caused more of a ruckus in the masses than the destruction of the Iron Curtain.

Truthfully, these last few weeks have been so busy that I’ve only been distractedly aware of the World Cup. It was like background noise until earlier this week when an octopus appeared as a Google doodle, and a co-worker mentioned Paul the winner-predicting octopus of yore.

 

Brazil vs. Mexico. Nobody won.

Brazil vs. Mexico. Nobody won.

 

This was an animated doodle, might I add! Like his inspiration, the octopus went back and forth before choosing the winning team of the upcoming match. Paul the predicting octopus, complete with a halo to show that he’d died and gone to octopus heaven.

Since the real-life Paul departed and no other octopus has stepped up to replace him, a slew of alternate psychic animals are being used as oracles to predict 2014 World Cup match winners. I’ve seen mention of elephants, turtles, pigs, pandas and dogs, and there are probably others. To which I say, good luck to them! The octopus has intelligence in his arms, which gives him a clear advantage over animals with dumb arms. I might be wrong, but it doesn’t seem to me that one can successfully replace a smart-armed animal with a dumb-armed one if your goal (haha) is to have him predict soccer match winners.

How do I know about the intelligence of an octopus’ arms? From watching this educational video:

 

 

zefrank1’s commentary dissolves into a winding tangent about Charlotte’s Web at the end (which I find to be hilarious), bringing to mind an obvious replacement critter for predicting World Cup match winners… the spider, another eight-legged marvel of nature!

Anyway, I thought Google’s octopus doodle was a sweet tribute to Paul, and creative little gestures like this keep me from loathing Google outright.

My relationship with Google is complicated. I have trust issues… perhaps Google and I knew each other in a past life and we had a terrible falling-out, with Google betraying me or killing me. Or maybe I don’t trust Google because when I use it, I feel like I’m being subjected to non-consensual surveillance. Whatever the reason, I’ve managed to turn habitual Google avoidance into a sport of its own, actually avoiding it like the plague. (Sorry I’m not sorry for the clichés. I think Google can handle the cliché treatment, and maybe even deserves it.) Many of Google’s interfaces and idiosyncrasies perplex me. I don’t know, I just find a lot of it to be awkward and unintuitive where many Google fans apparently don’t. Big Google-Fu fail on my part? Eh.

I have to say, though, that 2014 has done a great job thus far of taking me out of some of my comfort zones. I had to really start using Google at the beginning of the year (though I resisted as much as I could until resistance became impossible). At this point, I’m fairly immersed in the Google environment: Gmail – two accounts, if we’re including my personal one – Google Hang-outs, Google Docs, Google Calendars, the Google search engine (which I never use on my personal computer, for personal searches) and Google Groups.

Kicking and screaming, but using Google all the same. Go me! Cue the vuvuzelas. I mean, the caxirolas. (Which look to me like hand grenades, but whatever.)

Happy Friday, All!

It Takes a Frenchman (to realize certain things)

Today, I’m thinking about food and cultural flavor preferences, how people appreciate or dislike certain flavors depending on where they reside, or where they were raised.

We usually have to acquire a taste for flavors that aren’t common in our native cuisines, especially if the flavors are intense or distinct. Some tastes are more difficult to acquire than others. For instance, it’s hard for many non-Australians to develop a taste for Vegemite, and most French are confounded by the whole concept of peanut butter.

Brussels sprouts are a good example in my case: I never ate them until they landed on my plate in an Army mess hall in Georgia when I was 18 years old, going through AIT training (31K, in case you’re curious) at Ft. Gordon. Prior to that, I never even saw one. Brussels sprouts just weren’t a part of my family’s culinary range. My reaction? It was love at first bite. I took to their strong flavor and dense texture immediately, and I’ve made them a staple part of my diet ever since. I haven’t been able to get my parents to like them, though, and Callaghan just barely tolerates them.

Predictably, being French, Callaghan also dislikes peanut butter. Not surprising! But before meeting him and moving to France, I didn’t realize that there’s another flavor ubiquitous in American foods that the French generally don’t embrace. They do eat it, but not nearly as much as we do… it doesn’t appear as frequently in their foods. It’s pretty rare in French cuisine, actually.

I’m talking about la cannelle, cinnamon, a spice that the general American palate knows and loves dearly. In fact, most of us emerge from the womb demanding cinnamon toast, one of America’s great comfort foods. We’re natural-born cinnamon addicts.

Apple crisp, Apple Brown Betty, applesauce, apple anything.

Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin anything.

Banana bread, zucchini bread, carrot cake, bread pudding.

Cinnamon toast, snickerdoodles, oatmeal cookies.

Cinnamon rolls, sticky cinnamon buns, coffee cake, crumb cake.

Red Hots, Hot Tamales, Big Red gum, and those little cinnamon heart-shaped red candies that come out for Valentine’s Day.

And, of course, apple pie – the Great American Dessert.

Many of these are comfort foods, and the list goes on. I think the general rule is, in America, if it’s sweet and it’s got apples, raisins, oatmeal, carrots or bananas, chances are that cinnamon’s going to be in it… and if the recipe doesn’t call for it, cinnamon will sneak into it somehow, anyway. At Starbucks and other coffee shops, the cinnamon shaker is usually found right next to the sugar, and in the home, a mixture of cinnamon and sugar in a jar has its place in most American pantries (conveniently on hand for late-night cinnamon toast attacks).

We love a good spiking of cinnamon wherever we can justify it, yes we do.

Furthermore, those of us living in and/or hailing from states bordering Mexico would likely add a few of Mexico’s cinnamon-flavored treats to the list, too, like churros, horchata and deep-fried ice cream. (I’ve lived most of my life in California and Arizona.)

Callaghan tolerates the flavor of cinnamon much better than he does peanut butter. He enjoys it to an extent… the cinnamon toast I make, for example, and he loves my oatmeal cookies… especially since the health benefits of cinnamon have been sprinkled generously throughout nutritional science reports in recent years. Everywhere I look lately, cinnamon keeps popping up on lists of things we can eat to promote wellness and longevity. It’s become widely known as a wonder spice.

All of this background brings me to the point of this post.

You know how it is when someone points out something that you’ve never noticed, even though you’ve been familiar with that thing your whole life? And how strange the surprise feels in that moment of realization?

I love Trident gum. It’s my favorite brand of sugarless chewing gum, and I’ve been preoccupied with the various new and exotic Trident flavors over the last few years. When I lived in France, my Dad thoughtfully sent over a 12-pack of Trident Tropical Twist in a care package. After we moved back to the States, I discovered Island Berry Lime, which became my new favorite fruity flavor. Callaghan likes Island Berry Lime, too, but he’s more of a gum purist and eventually requested that I add a minty flavor to the mix. I started picking up Trident Perfect Peppermint, which we both like. Actually, I don’t think a Trident flavor exists that I don’t like.

 

A typical Trident rotation at our house.

A typical Trident rotation at our house.

 

When regular old Original Trident materialized before my eyes one day in Target recently – I was actually surprised to find it! As in, Hello, my old friend! surprised – I snatched it up. Good old-fashioned Original Trident. I hadn’t thought about it in years.

 

Original Trident

Original Trident

 

I popped a piece into my mouth and started chewing, and sure enough, all the best memories of my childhood came rushing back through my taste-buds in a glorious fanfare of flavor. I was in ecstasy.

Swooning, I offered a piece to Callaghan. He took it and chewed it for a few seconds before uttering the words that would change my whole Trident worldview. His reaction to the flavor completely took me by surprise.

“Ew,” he said. “It tastes like cinnamon!”

And he spat it out.

I spent a second processing this. Then I thought, It does? Original Trident tastes like cinnamon? That’s interesting. And cool.

I’d never thought of Original Trident as having a cinnamon flavor. If I had to characterize it to someone, I’d probably say something vague, like, I don’t know. It’s just, you know, that Good Trident Taste.

Once Callaghan rejected Original Trident on the grounds that it tastes like cinnamon (his acquired, limited affection for cinnamon stops at the candy/gum line), I made a point of paying close attention to the flavor in my mouth. The exercise of striving for flavor objectivity was weird and somewhat difficult, but I found that he was right… there is an echo of cinnamon flavor in Original Trident gum! Callaghan’s cinnamon-sensitive French taste-buds picked up on it instantly. Somehow, I’d never noticed it. Maybe this is because, being American, I’m accustomed to a heavier cinnamon flavor everywhere else, and the dominant flavor in Original Trident is mint.

 

My current Trident line-up.

My current Trident line-up.

 

Now that I can taste the cinnamon in Original Trident, I have to say, I love it even more.