Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bitchin' about bags

Two years ago I bought an Ellington black microfiber backpack-style purse at It had received rave reviews from dozens of users who praised its looks and durability -- in particular, the silver linings that make it possible to see what you've put into the three zipper compartments.

The Ellington bag arrived, and it exceeded even its advance publicity. I realized I needed to purchase a duplicate immediately.

But, of course, the highly rated bag was no longer available. I wrote to eBags, and they wrote back, apologizing but noting that the manufacturer had discontinued the model.

I checked and discovered that Ellington now offered a more casual pack-style purse that looked like something you'd lug on a weekend trip, not take to a business meeting. After more than a year of searching in vain for the nicer, original bag at discount sites and on eBay, I gave up and began hunting for a replacement bag. The plan was to get either a similar backpack purse or a shoulder bag with multiple compartments.

In the past few months I've looked at thousands of bags, and have bought (and returned) a couple. My beloved backpack purse is showing increasing signs of wear, and I'm getting a little anxious.

Though I haven't found a bag I like, I now speak fluent "purse." I know that what I want is described as:
  • a shoulder bag
  • north-south (that means vertical)
  • with a platform (that means a flat bottom) - at least 3" deep
  • with an extruded exterior zip pocket (you could fit a wallet and Treo into it)
  • with an exterior slip pocket (no clasp - you can slide a brochure into it)
  • with a top zip main compartment (secure, but no flap to fuss with)
  • with an interior zip compartment (security in the main compartment)
I have yet to find a bag with all those characteristics. And, beyond that, there are aesthetic issues:
  • It should not be a shapeless sack.
  • It should not be a rigid box.
  • It should not look like an overstuffed couch somebody sat on and squashed in the middle.
  • It should not look like part of a cowboy costume.
  • It should not look like it's been active in the bondage scene.
  • It should not remind anyone of a lime green daschund.
(I could easily illustrate these points with thumbnail photos of purses with these defects, but I'm afraid of being sued by the designers who dream up these $500 eyesores.)

My problem seems to be that all the bags that meet my criteria are "totes," which by definition have two short handles rather than a long shoulder strap. The bags with the long shoulder straps turn out to be either:
  • vast, undivided pits into which your possessions vanish (you know what I mean -- the kind women rummage frantically in while everyone around them rolls their eyes);
  • narrow leather envelopes-on-a-strap into which you can slip maybe a couple credit cards and some charge slips (keys would make an unsightly lump); or
  • sealed with a big, heavy, flap so you need two hands free to get anything into or out of them.
I've now gone back to looking at backpacks and messenger bags. I spotted something I like over at Tom Bihn Bags, but, in spite of it being on the homepage of the site, it's being redesigned and is out of stock until May.

As my dad used to say, "Sheesh!"

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Oyster O------s

The annual fundraiser for Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, held at Anthony's Homeport just down the street from our house, used to be known as Anthony's Oyster Olympics. But the Olympics complained (the U.S. Olympic Committee, not the mountains) so the event will be known, at least this year, as Anthony's Oyster O------s.

It's March 27, 3-8 p.m.; it's $95; it's for a very good cause; and...they're serving oysters! If you think you want to go, act soon -- last year I tried to get tickets in the final week, and all the oysters had been booked solid.

For more info or to reserve, call the Alliance at 206.297.7002.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The pattern of events

I like conventions and festivals and dance camps. Preparing for them is stressful, but when I get there, I know I've brought along most of what I need and I have the ability to easily get anything else that's required. I plan a lot of activities, but realize I'll only get to do about half of them.

What I haven't adjusted to, but hope to eventually, is that two-thirds of the way through any multi-day event, be it for business or fun, I crash.

It's not as dramatic as the word "crash" sounds -- it's not even noticeable to most people around me -- but it's always disturbing.

When I arrive at an event, I start out doing a lot of exploration of the hotel, the neighborhood, and the convention itself. Once I've got enough information to operate in the new environment, I feel comfortable taking some risks. And, as a rule, I've set up some "who knows what could happen" activities -- meeting people I haven't seen in a long time, or tackling a subject area that's new to me. I try to mix those with sure-fire things like spending time with a friend, or going to eat food I particularly enjoy.

I believe what happens to me after the first day or two is that I run out of energy. All I know is that suddenly I'm not hungry (even though I should be), and I can't make decisions about anything. (Frequently that's why I can't eat.) I might experience pain, like the start of a migraine. I experience slight depression, even mild paranoia. At this point, I realize I need to get food, get to a quiet place (like my hotel), take a bath, and go to sleep. But I am so distraught about missing out on everything that's supposed to be happening in the next several hours (dancing, meetings, social events, tours) that it takes an hour or two of wandering around in an increasingly debilitated daze to accept that I must have a time out.

(At this point, my introvert friends are probably thinking "That's what big meetings and gatherings are like for me, from beginning to end!")

Saturday at dinnertime I had to bail out of the Dance Flurry, force myself to eat a real meal (at the hotel, no less), take serious medication, and crawl into bed for the night.

Of course, I woke up this morning perfectly fine, dashed out to breakfast and then went and danced for seven hours straight. All better!

I guess from here on out I'm just going to have to dedicate six hours on my event schedule as "crash and/or retreat." My hat is off to the politicians and other public figures who pursue relentless schedules of meetings and appearances 12 or more hours a day, seven days a week. No idea how they can sustain it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Southwest Airlines recommended that I reschedule my flight to Albany, so now I'm flying out Friday morning; if I make the connection in Baltimore, I should be on the floor at the Dance Flurry by 9 p.m. When I called the hotel to rearrange my booking there, the clerk cheerily said they have 3 feet of snow and a wind chill factor of 25 degrees below zero.

I remember why I moved to Seattle.

Meanwhile, the folks at have a pair of videos that remind me why I still miss New Haven: Pepe's white clam pizza with fresh clams, oregano and lots of garlic. (Watch the part near the end where they show the semolina underneath the crust.) And Louis Lunch, home of the hamburger. They explain why there's absolutely no ketchup allowed. Just cheese, tomato, and onion, and fresh-ground beef served on toasted bread. (They pronounce it "Louis Lunch" but the locals say it "Louie's Lunch.")

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Family tradition

One of the time-honored traditions in my family is the trip cancellation discussion.

It started when I was 15, and had been accepted at a summer program at a New England prep school. It would be hot, my mother warned me. I'd swelter. I wouldn't be popular. The academic work would be too difficult, and I'd be forced to come to grips with my intellectual mediocrity. The beds would be uncomfortable. I wouldn't like the food. I pointed out that two of my cousins had loved the program. "Them!" she said darkly. She offered me $500 if I would drop out of the program and stay home for the summer.

Three days before I was scheduled to depart for the program, and was getting fairly freaked out about the dire warnings at home, a college-age friend from the neighborhood took me aside. "Go," he said. "You'll love it. I'll deal with your mother."

Indeed, I had the time of my life at the summer school, and the following spring I announced my desire to go hear Bill Monroe play at a bluegrass festival in North Carolina on Easter weekend. The plan was for me to drive down to North Carolina with my parents and my friend Mary Anne; there we'd meet up with a friend from summer school and his mom, both bluegrass musicians.

About a week before the trip, my mother went into cancellation mode. It was sure to rain. The festival would be hot. It would be rainy. The place would be full of Southerners! By the time we were packing Thursday night, she had worked herself up to a scenario that included a motel with bedbugs and a lynching conducted by the Ku Klux Klan.

Fortunately, my father wanted to hear Bill Monroe, and we made the trip. The festival was phenomenal.

The trip cancellation discussion usually starts about a week before I'm headed somewhere, although my mother can try to put the kibosh a trip on much shorter notice. Perhaps the fastest she's ever gone into gear was in a train station in Paris, when she become convinced I was getting onto the wrong train to go to the Paris airport. (I was to catch a plane back to Italy, where I was living at the time; my parents were headed back to the States the following day.) My last view of my mother was her being restrained by my father as the train whisked me away to the airport.

The trip cancellation hysteria, annoying as I find it to be, has occasionally played out in my favor. There was the trip I didn't want to make to visit a rather overbearing acquaintance in California. It was a few months post 9.11, and my mother had heard there was a security alert at one of the ports in L.A. The fact that I was supposed to be flying into Burbank, an inland airport, meant nothing to her. She begged me to cancel. And, sanctimoniously referencing her concerns to my would-be hostess, I weaseled out of the trip.

The only time my mother does not invoke the trip cancellation routine is, of course, when the trip I'm making is to visit her. Ironically, this resulted in the most terrifying and dangerous journey of my life. Five years ago, when my dad was still alive, I flew to visit them in Florida. They were not up to driving at night, and I insisted, for the first time ever, that I would rent a car at the airport and drive the half hour to their condo. When my flight arrived in Ft. Myers, I dutifully called on my cell phone, as promised, and let them know I was picking up the rental car and was on my way. As I was walking out of the car rental pavilion the heavens opened. I couldn't see the end of the hood of the car through the driving rain. Had I been on a business trip, I'd have just sat in the car until the storm subsided. But I'd just promised my mother I'd be at their place in 45 minutes. So I drove.

Traffic was inching down the flooded highway at about five miles per hour. I was following a county public works truck, which stopped twice to let towering tornados roar across the road in front of us. Periodically there would be a deafening clap of thunder, followed by a flash of lightning that revealed palm trees blown horizontal along the median strip. When I arrived at my parents' condo, water was gushing down the sidewalk at ankle height. My mother was standing at the front door yelling "There are tornados on the TV news!"

Yeah. No kidding.

We're having the trip cancellation discussion again because I'm scheduled to fly to Albany, via Chicago, Thursday morning. I'm trying to explain to my mom that snowstorms Tuesday night at those two airports don't necessarily mean that either of them will be closed when I fly Thursday, when the forecast is for sun.

Stay tuned, as they say. Weather at 11.

Monday, February 12, 2007

What's wrong with this picture?

When we got our little tabby kittens three years ago, we called them "The Stripe Sisters." The Feb. 12 post at Cute Overload features a batch of teeny tabbies where you'll notice one of the kittens has slightly different stripes. And that's not all!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

My furry friends

The campaign to get Kaylee (our smallest cat) to stop removing all the pushpins from my office bulletin board seems to be successful. As soon as she saw the squirt gun on the desk, she knew I meant business. Of course, a few days later she tested me. And got drenched.

Now she contents herself with simply putting a paw on my chair and looking at me pathetically when she wants something. Of course, she's still pulling pushpins out of the bulletin board in the hall, since there's no squirt gun out there. Apparently we need to make another trip to Archie McPhee, local source of water-powered weaponry.

Just as I got Kaylee under control, one of the local raccoons got feisty. We often go out to find the little garden fountain filled with dirt, courtesy of the coons. About a month ago, a decorative part of the fountain was smashed. Earlier this week, I found the pump lying on the patio. Today I found the whole fountain in a mess, and the pump had stopped working. Betaille (the cat that likes to drink from fountain stream) was glaring at me as if to say "DO something."

So I ordered a different type of fountain, one with a hidden pump and a water reservoir that we can cover with bird netting to keep out the raccoon.

Yeah, right.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Season of the hype

Living through the run-up to February 14 is like watching a NASCAR race. You just know somebody's going to get hurt.

That's why Zorg and I have agreed to ignore Valentine's Day. It rather drove me nuts to get roses that I knew cost him three times as much as the nicer roses he gave me for our anniversary. It makes us both crazy to go out to dinner on a busy night when service and cooking are likely at their nadir. Fortunately, we have our "first date anniversary" just a few weeks before Valentine's Day, so we celebrate that instead, with a dinner out that traditionally involves mixed drinks. (Don't ask.)

Standing safely on the Valentine's sidelines, I have to admit I enjoy the tackier side of the holiday: the candy. The Candy Blog, which, as you might expect, goes wild this time of year. They've started out with candy rings and heart-shaped Junior Mints and will be moving upscale later in the week. I hope they mention Bittersweets "the Valentine's candy for the rest of us" somewhere along the way.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Pizza nirvana at Snoose Junction

I'm trying to figure out why there aren't people charging through the streets of Ballard waving their arms and screaming "Pizza! Pizza at last!"

Maybe it's hard to scream with your mouth full?

The big news is that Snoose Junction Pizza on Market Street is open. The good news is that the pizza (by the slice or by the pie) is rich, cheesy New York style 'za, all melty and spicy and salty on a puffy, crispy, yeasty crust.

The great news is that Snoose Junction is a genuine neighborhood pizza place, very much like the small Ray's Pizza houses you find in Manhattan. Order a slice, and the server grabs a small aluminum plate, drapes it with a sheet of red-and-white checked paper, and shovels the slice onto it. The drinks include beer, wine, bottled sodas, and fountain sodas (not cans!) and the cola is Coke, not Pepsi. (Does this make a difference to anyone else? It sure does to me.)

Snoose Junction has that "sit down and relax" feeling that turns me into a repeat customer. You can bring the family and take over one of their big booths. (Booths are in and of themselves relaxing things -- probably one of the reasons I frequent the Lockspot Cafe.) Or slip in by your self, sit at the counter, and read the thought-fully provided local newspaper as you devour melted cheese and rich tomato sauce.

Snoose Junction offers 10 type of combo pizzas, most with the usual ingredients though one, a white pizza, has some unusual elements. And you're invited to start with their basic 16-inch cheese pizza ($14) and "build your own" from a long list of ingredients. They also have calzones, panini, and a variety of salads that go well beyond the basic garden and Caesar. Desserts include lemon sorbet and tiramisu (both imported from Italy), spumoni by Snoqualmie Ice Cream, and sfogliatelle (order that one in advance; there's a 15-minute prep time for the ricotta-filled pastry).

I have plenty of nice things to say about the gourmet pizzas at Via Tribunali, Tutta Bella, and Serious Pie. But, frankly, from here on out, you're more likely to find me at Snoose Junction.