Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy (Almost-)New Year!

In Team SFNE tradition, no big plans for tonight. My husband's favorite tradition is to be safely asleep well before the big ball drops in Times Square. I imagine he'll stick to it, though The Boy is still of an age where staying up to midnight seems exotic and tantalizing.

Big activities for this evening include Jim and The Boy making souffles--chocolate, banana, and strawberry (an experiment made with jam). Jim is the best home cook I know (are the more than 500 cookbooks in our collection a giveaway?) and a great teacher, so The Boy is learning from the best. The Boy has been very excited about learning the art of the souffle since we took him this week for lunch to Pierrot Bistrot, where the waitress doted on him and persuaded the chef to make him a Grand Marnier souffle. (They usually only do that for dinner, but The Boy is so cute that he's hard to refuse.) Maybe souffle making will become a new Team SFNE tradition.

I've been married since right out of grad school (okay, I confess: grad school dropout here--I was only 23 when we married), so I guess I don't look at New Year's Eve the way a lot of folks do. My brother tells me that the whole "meeting your true love on New Year's Eve thing" is pretty overrated, and I can see his point--a little too much neediness, perhaps? Too many expectations to be met realistically? (On the other hand, meeting your true love at a New Year's Day dim sum brunch--that I could understand. Everyone's your friend when you pass the dumplings.)

So whatever you're up to--snug at home (it's supposed to snow) or out partying with friends or giving that whole meeting-your-true-love-against-all-odds thing a try--stay safe, stay warm, hand over your keys or be the designated driver. I value my all my friends, whether of the real or virtual variety, and I want you all in good shape for 2006.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Hairless, Not Harmless

Those pet owners in California really are tougher than I am. According to an AP story from today's Globe, you'd better not piss off any small hairless dogs, even if you carry a badge:
Pack of angry Chihuahuas attack officer
December 30, 2005

FREMONT, Calif. --A pack of angry Chihuahuas attacked a police officer who was escorting a teenager home after a traffic stop, authorities said.

The officer suffered minor injuries, including bites to his ankle, Detective Bill Veteran said.

The five Chihuahuas escaped the 17-year-old boy's home and rushed the officer in the doorway Thursday, authorities said. The teenager had been detained after the traffic incident.

The officer was treated at a hospital and returned to work less than two hours later.
Alice and Jennie could at least startle an armed police officer with their squeaking. That should keep him off the job for at least five minutes, while he's petting them and telling me how cute they are.

I do wonder, though: What the heck were those Chihuahuas so angry about, anyway? (Insert lame Taco Bell dumps the chihuahua spokesman joke here.)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Durn! Now I'm Harmless?

According to a wonderful interview with a veterinarian in this month's (Jan.-Feb. 2006) Psychology Today, you can tell a lot about people by the type of pets that they own. The interviewer asked New York vet Monica Murphy, "Are cat and dog owners fundamentally different?" Murphy replied:
Not so much. When you get into the exotic pets, you can really start typing the owner. The reptile owners tend to have more tattoos than the general population. Guinea pig owners are pretty harmless. I'd never worry about meeting a guinea pig owner in a dark alley.
Though I'm a fundamentally nice person (really--you can ask the folks at, I've always thought of myself as more than harmless. But now that I'm the proud mom of Alice and Jennie, two of the cutest cavies anywhere (a cavy is another name for a guinea pig), apparently I'm a bigger pushover than I thought.

Dr. Murphy didn't mention anything about parrot owners, though. I've got two of those as well. And one of them could take down a small cat or dog, no problem. So maybe I'm just a little tougher than I first appear. A little. Maybe.

Ahh--who am I kidding? I wouldn't be scared of me in a dark alley either. Unless of course I'm carrying one of my parrots. Then watch out, baby!

This Weather

does not feel like winter to me. Wonder why?

I do not envy the operators of ski resorts in the more southern areas of New England right now. With daily highs in the 40s, I can't imagine it's easy to make snow (and forget about the natural stuff).

Monday, December 26, 2005

What to Do on an SFNE Rainy Post-Xmas Day?

Drive to Maine, of course. Couldn't ski--too warm and wet. Couldn't take a walk--just too wet. Didn't feel like just hanging around the house.

We intended to drive to Freeport, then said, "What the hell?" and went all the way to Waldoboro, home of Moody's Diner, a fine place for pie. (It's about 3 hours from Lexington.) I chose the four-berry version. Also (before the pie) the diner's unbeatable three-bean salad (accompanying my Yankee Pot Roast). I really must learn how to make the three-bean. It's the best version you'll ever have, if you're ever in a three-bean kind of mood. They also make an el-primo lobster stew--the authentic kind with milk (not cream), butter, and lots of lobster. Heaven in a bowl for about $8.95. I stole several spoonfuls from Jim, even snagging a few choice morsels of lobster while he wasn't watching.

On the way back, we did indeed stop at Freeport. It was still raining, so all we had the gumption for was both L.L. Bean stores (the retail and the factory). New ski pants for me (on deep dark discount--yay!), a chamois shirt for Jim, and a fleece jacket for The Boy. If you're ever in the mood to shop after Christmas at L.L., just don't make the mistake I did when buying The Boy's jacket and get into a line that takes returns as well as makes sales. Yeesh. I finally cut out of that line after barely moving for 15 minutes, then found a sales-only-no-returns-or-we-wrestle-you-to-the-ground line and finished in about 5.

The real upside of the whole day--even better than pie, three-bean, stew, or discount ski pants--was getting plenty of talk-time with my husband and my son. I don't know if that's technically SFNE, but I like it no matter what it is.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Whatever You Call It...

I hope you and yours are having a peaceful, healthy holiday season, whether you celebrate Xmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Chrismukkah, Festivus, or just a few-days-off-from-work-and-and-school-imus!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Holiday Pressure Redefined?

Somehow, I managed to make it through the first part of cold and flu season surrounded by a bunch of sick people in my office (hacking, sniffling, you name it) and stay well.

So naturally, two days before Christmas, I've developed a sinus infection, which isn't something you catch from anyone else--you develop it on your own. I'm downing Tylenol and sudafed like they're going out of style and waiting for my doctor to call in a prescription for antibiotics. (Once again, thank you Alexander Fleming!)

Nothing like entering the holiday weekend with a face that feels like it's going to fall off from the pressure. I don't think this is what people mean when they talk about "the pressure of the holiday season," but it's a fine definition for me.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Do They Know It's a Pagan Holiday? (I Mean, Um, Christmas?)

All this blithering about "taking the Christmas out of Christmas" has's Andrew Santella setting the record straight. Apparently, it was Christians themselves who originally protested the commercialization of the holiday--or even it's celebration at all--long before Target employees started greeting customers with "Happy holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!" and bringing down the wrath of the likes of Jerry Falwell. (Speaking as one of the few Jewish kids growing up in Pat Robertson's home town of Virginia Beach, I could have used a little more "happy holidays," even though I realize that most people are well-meaning no matter how they express their season's greetings.)

So, wouldn't you know it, it was Massachusetts that led the fight to take Christmas out of late December:
Liberal plots notwithstanding, the Americans who succeeded in banning the holiday were the Puritans of 17th-century Massachusetts. Between 1659 and 1681, Christmas celebrations were outlawed in the colony, and the law declared that anyone caught "observing, by abstinence from labor, feasting or any other way any such days as Christmas day, shall pay for every such offense five shillings." Finding no biblical authority for celebrating Jesus' birth on Dec. 25, the theocrats who ran Massachusetts regarded the holiday as a mere human invention, a remnant of a heathen past. They also disapproved of the rowdy celebrations that went along with it. "How few there are comparatively that spend those holidays … after an holy manner," the Rev. Increase Mather lamented in 1687. "But they are consumed in Compotations, in Interludes, in playing at Cards, in Revellings, in excess of Wine, in Mad Mirth."

And our commonwealth didn't let up for a LONG time:
After the English Restoration government reclaimed control of Massachusetts from the Puritans in the 1680s, one of the first acts of the newly appointed royal governor of the colony was to sponsor and attend Christmas religious services. Perhaps fearing a militant Puritan backlash, for the 1686 services he was flanked by redcoats. The Puritan disdain for the holiday endured: As late as 1869, public-school kids in Boston could be expelled for skipping class on Christmas Day.

I guess the pre-1869 Boston schoolchilren would have gotten a bye this week, since Christmas falls on a Sunday.

Another voice of note weighing in all this foolishness is Newsweek's Anna Quindlen (always worth reading, in my opinion) who points out that it's a weak faith that can be threatened by the more-inclusive, all-purpose "happy holidays."

Swoony Goodness

Finally caught the new Pride and Prejudice this week at the Lexington Flick. (Yes, I know the seats are beat up and they don't have melted butter for the popcorn, but it's my neighborhood art-house-cinema dive, and I love it.)

Anyway, I'm so glad I went (with Halley, actually). For more than two hours we were submerged in delightfully Jane Austen-with-a-touch-of-Charlotte-Bronte' goodness. (The Bronte stuff being Matthew Macfadyen as a believe-it-or-not-he's-nearly-as-sexy-as-Colin-Firth-and-that's-saying-a-lot Mr. Darcy stalking across fields--not moors--in a duster and white poet's shirt to declare his love for Lizzy Bennet.) Overall, one of the most satisfying movies I've seen this year.

Admittedly, it's not 100 percent faithful to the book (see Bronte reference above), which bothers some people more than others. But it's not too far off, and it's a wonderful, sink-into-your-seat-and-enjoy-it romance. So don't be an Austen purist--just enjoy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Jeez, Johnny...

did you have to go to the frakkin' YANKEES? Those fascists are even going to make you cut your hair!

And what the heck do I do with my Johnny Bobblehead doll?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Strangely Enough, That's NOT Good Customer Service (A Tale of Holiday Shopping)

I usually like shopping at a certain store in Burlington Mall whose name I won't mention, but it's a kitchen store with a hyphenated name and one of the names is a valley in California. Although their prices can be a little silly, it can be a fun place to shop. Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when The Boy and I found something he wanted to get his dad for Xmas--on sale, even.

A sales clerk offered to check the backroom and see if they had any in stock (it was from a display; the actual items are kept in storage). We waited quite a while--apparently on the way back from the storeroom the clerk stopped to ring up a few sales at the register before making it those extra 30 feet to me and The Boy. Okay, that was slightly annoying--we waited close to 10 minutes, and I realized after seeing her at the cashier's desk that we weren't at the top of her list--but they were busy and maybe someone needed her to ring up a sale.

Then, she tells me, Sorry--we're out of what you're looking for. Would we like to buy the sample on the shelf? Sure, fine, great--until it turns out that the item on the shelf tag I'd given her to find wasn't in the right place. The sample she wanted to sell me was a different item--bigger and nearly three times as expensive. Okay, disappointing, but not a deal killer. Stuff happens--busy holiday season.

Then, she told me that I could go get the item from the Chestnut Hill store. When I explained that that wasn't an option for a full-time working mom who lives nowhere near Chestnut Hill, she seemed surprised that I wasn't willing to drop everything to go there. "Why don't you want to go there?" Um, because I don't? Annoying again, but I'm a patient, understanding person. It's the holidays, people are stressed, maybe even undertrained.

If she had just left it at that and let us leave the store, I'd have already forgotten the incident. But instead of just letting me say "Thanks for looking--I appreciate that you checked in the back," (which I did) she had to earnestly buttonhole me with, "Now, I just want to make sure that you understand that I provided you with good customer service. When I found out we didn't have what you want, I told you that you can get it at Chestnut Hill. But it's your choice not to go there. So just to be clear: I provided you with choices and good customer service, but you're not going to follow up. Okay? Great! Thanks for coming in!"

At that point, my son was very stressed at being so close to getting a nice present for his dad but being disappointed instead that I knew it was time to get out of there. And I don't like to generate conflict, especially around the winter holidays. But what I really wanted to say was:

"NO, THAT'S NOT GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE! Good customer service means you offer to bring the item over from the other store so I can pick it up here. Good customer service means you check in the storeroom and don't stop on the way back to ring up other customers, making me wait an extra 10 minutes. Good customer service does not mean doing some corporate-speak 'let's be sure we're all on the same page' bull at the end of the transaction when I'm clearly unhappy and a simple 'I'm sorry I can't help you' would have been much more appropriate."

We ended up going downstairs and finding a nearly identical item at Crate and Barrel. Fast, efficient, friendly. And no speech about whether or not they'd provided me with good customer service when they hadn't.

And that's good customer service.

Truck Luck (A Tale of Holiday Shopping)

Last night, I took my son to Burlington Mall for a little dad-shopping time, because Jim was coming home late. So many people, so few parking spaces. I was driving the ancient family truck (okay, 10 years old isn't that bad, but it's not a youngster). The only spot I could find (upon the departure of another shopper) sat at the end of a row and was half-covered by plowed ice and snow.

Not seeing an option, I just drove right up onto it. The snow pile was so high and close to the passenger side door that The Boy had to climb out my side--no way to open the door.

The thing is: This isn't a four-wheel drive truck. When we got home, my husband said it was a good thing I hadn't gotten stuck, because it was easy to imagine that one of the drive wheels could have been sitting on ice.

I guess that the gods of luck decided that since I was fortunate enough to find a space of any kind, they wouldn't spoil it by forcing me to call a tow truck.

Monday, December 19, 2005

If You See Only One Inter-Species Love Story This Year ...

see King Kong. But don't take kids under 12 (island scenes too intense--dinosaur battles; giant, icky bugs; scary natives) and don't drink the super-size cola before you go (it's more than 3 hours long with no intermission).

The sets, costumes, special effects, and acting were all fine--in some cases astounding. But s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g out the nearly identical plot of an originally 100-minute movie into 187 minutes was a little much.

On the other hand, if you ever plan to see it, see it now--this is a film that absolutely demands big-screen viewing.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

An Icy Wake-Up Call (AKA, It's True, Boston Drivers Suck)

I sometimes like to kid myself that drivers in the suburbs are marginally more polite than those in Boston proper. Friday's experience disabused me of that notion.

With the sleet and rain came a gigantic puddle on the street at the end of our driveway. Because of the inane paving job done by the Town of Lexington, the road slopes into our driveway instead of into the conservation land across the street. Most of the time this isn't a huge problem--though we had a small retaining wall built in front of our basement door to keep runoff from flooding our home's interior--on Friday it was clear that the drain in the street was clogged by accumulated ice and snow.

My husband quickly realized that if we didn't shovel out the snow (created by snowplow pile-up), the clogged drain would eventually cause the giant puddle to shift to our driveway, and perhaps to our basement. In itself, this wasn't a problem. We put on coats and boots, grabbed shovels and a rake, and began digging out the snowpile from around the drain.

Here's the problem: Despite the fact that it was daylight (approximately 8 a.m.), the vast majority of cars plowed right through the puddle (by my estimate, going at least 10 miles over the speed limit) and cascaded icy water all over me and my husband. Within minutes we were soaked, and the entire operation took longer than it should have because we kept having to stop and jump back from the road's edge to avoid getting sprayed again. Or just run over, for that matter.

Relatively few people slowed down--not even to keep from hydroplaning, for goodness' sake. All in all, a miserable, frustrating experience. I took the time to change clothes before going to work, but Jim had to rush in for a meeting, so he went in drenched.

The words, "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!" kept going through my head. They still do, two days later. I mean, jeez--what's your problem? Happy holidays, indeed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

USPS.Com--A Little Holiday Blessing

And while I'm on the subject of holiday cards...

I notice that I'm almost out of stamps, but I'm hesitant to get more, because the price is going up to $.39 next month, and I hate fiddling with 2-cent stamps. I don't even use that many stamps most of the time, because I do a lot of online banking, and most of my personal correspondence occurs electronically (birthday cards being a notable exception).

But whatever I decide, re: stamp purchasing, I will use the wonderful U.S. Postal Service site. You can choose from every available stamp, not just what's at your local P.O. You can choose by format--rolls! sheets! first-day covers!--or by subject matter, newness of issue, or amount of postage. It's a wonderland of stamps, even for those of us whose depth of knowledge about philately extends to, "Um--what pretty stamps do you have today?"

Your whole order costs just a dollar to ship, and it arrives in your home mailbox after a couple of days. Beats a trip to the post office (which seems silly just to buy stamps), and it's only 50 cents more than my bank charges for buying stamps through the ATM. Plus, you don't get the pretty stamps from the ATM. Flags, usually. Boring flags.

I've also begun printing postage-paid priority mail labels for my holiday packages. You just enter the info, print it out on plain paper (comes with barcodes and everything), and stick it on with that clear mailing tape that you probably already have lying around anyway. (Doesn't everyone at this time of year?) Then, toss it any any postal box (or, in my case, the office outgoing mail bin). Again, no trips to the P.O. Last year, when I had some big boxes to ship, I even used that service where you request a postal pickup, leave your packages on the porch (or wherever) and they'll come and get 'em.

Convenience, thy name is Internet. Ironic that it's so helpful for snail-mail, too.

A Holiday Puzzle

As I do my holiday cards this season, I find that I have more cards than envelopes. Hmmmm...

Could it have something to do with the fact that I periodically pilfer the envelopes out of the box for other things, like sending a photo to my son's school for the fifth-grade yearbook?

Nah--that would be too simple an explanation, wouldn't it?

As Predicted

As I sort of guessed would happen, the Superintendent of Schools for Lexington sent out a mea culpa explaining why he kept schools open the day of the Friday snowstorm. In fairness to the man (who also happens to be new on the job), he had to make a judgment call before the snow even started falling. As he noted, his colleagues inside 128 stayed open (including Boston, Arlington, Cambridge, etc.), while the outside-128 districts closed. And then, instead of 6 inches as forecast, we got 14--with whiteout conditions. I imagine this whole thing will make him a bit gun-shy in the future, but given the cards he was dealt, I'm not sure I'd have made the call differently.

Like Adam of Universal Hub fame, my son's bus was more than an hour late arriving home. The middle school buses got off to a delayed start, beginning a chain reaction. Hence the lateness.

On the other hand, The Boy got to hang with his friends for a while longer, so it wasn't a complete loss.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Seems Like Old Times

My friend Barbara called from Virginia last night. We've known each other since we were 12--we met the summer before my dad died--and we've been through junior high, high school, and college (she's a Hokie, too!) together. We married within a year of each other (coincidentally, her husband grew up 5 miles from Jim near Pittsburgh, but they didn't know each other then--that would have been weird). She had a daughter 18 months before I had a son, and she became my source of wisdom for all things related to babies. She introduced me to onesies, for instance, when she babysat one afternoon and noticed that The Boy looked cold. (I was a pretty clueless young mother.)

Even though we end up talking only once or twice a year (we really have to do better with that), and we haven't lived near each other for more than a decade, it's always wonderful to talk to her. We just fall back into our old routines--how's your family? how're your pets? how's your mom? how's your mom? how's your job?--and it's like the months just melt away. We discussed Christmas presents--we always exchange them--and the new Harry Potter movie, and her dogs, and my guinea pigs. I reminded her, as is my tradition, that since it was her birthday last week, almost exactly a month before mine, that she's older than I am. For a month, anyway. She always says it wouldn't be her birthday without that, though maybe she's just being kind.

What's wonderful about Barbara is that she's not only smart--a physicist, specializing in optics, though currently working part-time while her kids are young--but she's also blessedly unneurotic, perhaps the most level-headed person I know. You can always rely on her to answer questions honestly but tactfully, ask good questions, and share a good laugh. Her husband adores her, as he should.

Old friends don't always age like fine wine. Sometimes they just get old. Or musty. Or sour. You wonder why they were your friends in the first place. But not Barbara. She just gets better and better. Happy birthday and happy new year, Barb.

P.S. You're still older than me! Ha!

Friday, December 09, 2005

No Mail Today

I went out in the drifts to retrieve my mail today to discover--a post. Just a post. Apparently, a passing snowplow had decapitated my mailbox. It must have happened fairly early on during the blizzard. I know this because the box was completely covered in snow; I had to dig around to find it, and it's a black box. Also, there was no mail inside, so it must have gotten lopped off before 2 p.m.

I guess the pledge to deliver the mail doesn't include actually digging the box out of a snowbank, inserting the mail, and sticking the box back on the post. Even I wouldn't ask my trusty carrier for that level of service. I told Jim we need to duct tape the box to the post or something. In the meantime, my Entertainment Weekly will just have to wait till tomorrow.

On the plus side, my street seems to be the best-plowed in all of Lexington.


It's snowing like crazy here, and now it's incredibly windy. A few minutes ago I saw a flash of light and heard a crack--a true thunderblizzard (the snow equivalent of a thunderstorm, if you've never encountered the term). Though the final accumulation in inches probably won't be anything like last year's 30-inch day, it's still pretty nasty out there.

This is just a guess, but I think that the school district is going to rethink its policy of staying open when every other surrounding town has closed its schools. I can think of more than a few parents who won't be happy that the buses are supposed to drive our kids home in this weather.

School Today!

Lexington Schools are open today, although many of the surrounding towns have closed theirs. Naturally, my son missed the bus (after waiting outside for 15 minutes, finally giving up on the bus coming, and then watching it come by 10 minutes later), so his dad's going to drive him to school.

I guess they're trying to avoid a repeat of last year, when Lexington was tied with another district for the latest last-day-of-school date because of the all the snow days. But I still have one disappointed son. I assured him that it's only December 9, winter (on the calendar anyway) hasn't officially started, and that there's surely more white stuff to come.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Thank Goodness for Gift Cards

Honestly--what did we do before gift cards and online shopping?

Actually, I know what I did. I contacted the parents of my 9 nieces and nephews, tried my best to find out what they liked, shopped till I dropped, and shipped packages all over the country. It was exhausting, and it stressed me out getting things there ontime. One bad year in Texas, I think I spent nearly as much on Federal Express charges to get the packages to their destinations as I'd spent on the gifts themselves. Worse, I really had no idea if the kids liked anything, because I only see them every two to three years at best. And the problem of "do they like it?" only grows more difficult as they get older. Who knows what a teenager really wants? And they're nearly all teenagers now (except for one or two)--and two are in college already.

Enter the gift card. What a blessing! I can send Amazon gift certificates to Michigan and Best Buy cards (five of them!) to Ohio. Actually, the Best Buy cards are kind of cool. This year, they offer them packaged inside holiday CD jewel boxes. I bought them in Framingham, and I plan to wrap and label each one, ship the box to Ohio, so my brother-in-law can stick them under the tree. And one nephew just wants cash to pay for gas to go skiing.

I still get to shop, of course, for all the "locals"--family, friends, employees, colleagues. I actually like it when I'm in the mood, and I like to shop in locally owned businesses whenever possible. But as the time grows shorter before the holiday, it's nice to know I won't have quite as many packages to mail. Okay, I know gift cards aren't as personal, but when you only see a teenager every three years, it's kind of tough to know what kind of socks they want, right? Now, I know the kids will like what they get, because they'll pick out their own stuff.

One exception, though: the five year old. Because five year olds still like toys in wrapped boxes. You really can't go wrong with that.

The Piggies Are Coming!

We're getting The Boy a pair of guinea pigs this coming Saturday, from a breeder in New Hampshire. The house is abuzz with activity--the Web-surfing for info, the cage building, the "where-the-hell-are-we-going-to-put-the-Xmas-tree-because-that's-where-the-cage-is-going" discussions--it's all happening at the SFNE House. The Boy was so excited the other night that he couldn't sleep. He doesn't even do that before Xmas or Hannukah (we're an equal-holiday household).

These are the big "you're 11 now, so they're your responsibility" pets. Though I'm quite prepared to help. They do look awfully cuddly...

Monday, December 05, 2005

Okay, We Give In

Last year's snow. What can I say? There was a lot of it. A lot. Yet my husband and I, in good proto-SFNE fashion, shoveled our driveway ourselves, as we have every winter since we moved here. (Granted, we used those curvy ergonomic shovels--I wouldn't use anything else.) It was a lot of work. A lot. But it was exercise, and we felt rightfully proud of our achievement. Until the next snowfall.

This year is already different. Jim hurt his back in June, but despite physical therapy, massage, miles and miles of walking, hours of exercises (he's amazingly dedicated--much better than I would be), his back isn't where it was at summer's start. The last thing I wanted was (a) for him to hurt his back again shoveling or (b) for me to hurt my back doing all the shoveling by myself. Yesterday's snow wasn't much--a few inches really. Easy for the ergonomic shovels. In fact, we didn't even need to shovel in the morning; we just drove right out of our space in the Subaru, sans shoveling...

right to our local Ace Hardware store, where they were holding an electric Toro Snowthrower for us. (And yes, in good New England frugal fashion, we paid less than MSRP.) We bought it (it's small and light enough to throw into the rear compartment of an Outback wagon) and brought it home. Jim tried it out and declared it a success.

So we won't be pulling out the snow shovels much this winter, except for the side porch and the steps, I guess. But I'd rather my husband have a healthy back than let a misplaced sense of pride force him into more pain. At which point we'd probably have gone out and bought the thing anyway. But dealing with the snow in your own way is still SFNE, isn't it?

Thanks to Chili's and a Leather Case

Last Thursday evening, I lost my cell phone, a fact I didn't deduce until several hours after the fact. I called the number--not in the house. Went outside--not in the car or in the driveway.

The next day, I went to work, called the number. Not in my office. I realized there were probably only a few hours of power left on the phone, at which point the "call the number" strategy becomes ... um ... powerless. In the meantime, I talked to the folks at Chili's, where I'd eaten the night before. No phone there. I became resigned to the thought of buying a full-price phone. (I'm not currently eligible for an upgrade, since my current phone is less than a year old.)

So imagine my surprise when a Chili's employee called me at 4 p.m. to say that a manager coming on duty had found the phone in the parking lot and brought it in. Given that it had been out in the lot all night, I became happier than ever that that I'd blown an extra $15 on a leather case for it--I'm not sure it could have withstood a night and day outside without it.

After asking a few "identify your phone, please" questions, the nice people at Chili's let me take it home, where I put my lost one to bed with a nice warm recharge. Thanks, Chili's--it's not only your skillet queso that I will appreciate from now on.