Thursday, September 22, 2005

Practicalities

I may not be the handiest person when it comes to major home improvement projects, but I like to think of myself as practical in terms of minor problem-solving, seeing what needs to be done and then figuring out some (usually half-assed) way to do it. But even Ben was amazed at my latest solution. See, here's the problem: I finally found a granola bar that I like, but it has one downside: it's very crunchy and creates a cloud of crumbs whenever I eat one. Also I like a chewy texture better anyway from a mouth-feel standpoint. Whattodo? I was in Linen, Bath and Beyond (my favorite kind of store because it's all about storing and organizing and Putting Things Into Other Things) and I saw something I'd never come across before: a small oval-shaped piece of terracotta that's intended to soften up brown sugar that had dried out and turned into a rock. You soak this thingy in water for a while, then put it in an airtight container with the sugar. The container achieves hygrometric equilibrium as water evaporates from the moisture-heavy thingy and then goes from the air into the moisture-deprived brown sugar, thus softening it up again. Can you tell my father is a scientist? Well, it occurred to me that I could put this thingy into a Tupperware container with my crunchy granola bars and it would soften them up -- AND IT WORKS! I love it when one of my projects succeeds, even if no one else understands why I undertook it it the first place.

This recalls an episode a few years ago, when I was explaining on the phone to Claudia (the cooking and gardening maven of the Lower Connecticut River Valley) that I had acquired a nifty revolving spice rack that came with its own clear labeled bottles, so of course I transferred all my spices into their bottles and was MOST gratified to see them with perfectly matching, clearly labels (alphabetized, natch) labels. But there was one problem: the bay leaves I bought came in a taller bottle than the spice rack provided, so they wouldn't fit. So I just took each bay leaf and clipped half an inch off the end with some scissors. At which point Claudia said (with rolling eyes, no doubt), "THAT'S the Alice we know and love." But I can always accept a little good-natured teasing about being excessively anal from a person who decided to clean her filthy computer keyboard one day on deadline by simply spraying it with a ton of Fantastik and then running a cloth with a good deal of pressure back and forth across the keys. It did a pretty good job of cleaning, but she hadn't quite realized that the interface to be computer might suddenly not work quite as well as it had before. So she had to call Big Dave to drive half an hour and bring her a new keyboard from HQ (rolling his OWN eyes, no doubt).

I guess I inherited some of my paternal grandfather's characteristics. He was another high-powered academic type sprinkled through the extended family (missed this corner of it, though) and kept a journal that he wrote on a manual typewriter which he operated with his forefingers. Each year took up exactly one ream of paper, and he stored the year's journal back in the box the paper came in, labeled it and put it away. After he died, I found some of the boxes in his attic and was really psyched because now I could find out all about the inner thoughts and feelings of this man who had an amazing range of interests and accomplishments but always wore a three-piece suit even on weekends and was pretty unapproachable emotionally. Well, I was in for a big disappointment. He made entries several times a week for decades, but 99 percent of them went like this: "Went to a bank board meeting this morning. Then went to podiatrist to have my corns trimmed. Went home for lunch; Edith served Tuesday's chicken and then I had a bowl of vanilla ice cream for dessert. In the afternoon, I went to meetings of the Adminstrative Confabulation Committee and the Curricular Obfuscation Council. Then I went home and date supper. Afterwards we watched "CBS News" with Walter Cronkite and I listened to a baseball game on the radio before retiring. The Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Yankees by a score of seven to four." Once he and my grandmother went on a road trip to South Carolina. His journal of this odyssey consisted of a table painstakingly created on the manual typewriter, then filled in with the odometer readings corresponding to various points along the way. Can you say... OCD?

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