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Saturday, January 16, 2010


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

No longer a Walmart virgin...

(Above: Costco. To right: Walmart)

I don't know why it's taken me this long to go to a Walmart. Ok, that's not true. There are two main reasons.
  1. I've never lived near a Walmart and not near Costco, Target or other mega-shopping option.
  2. I have a negative attitude towards Walmart based on media coverage and my perception of the company and its business philosophy.
However, I always thought I was probably missing out on something, given the chain's relentless popularity. Up to now my attitude has been mild curiosity, but not quite enough to impel me to travel long distances to check out the Walmart experience.

Last week, I was driving home down Senter Road from a client meeting in East San Jose. Just a mile or two from my house I drove past a Walmart. "So close," I thought, and yesterday I set out to explore this cultural icon.

My first impression was that the parking lot wasn't as huge as I had anticipated, and I was glad to find a parking spot quickly. My second impression was "Oh man, it's goin' down!" -- two police cars drawn up by the store entrance, and a posse of uniformed cops, one of whom was shaking down a grubby guy who seemed to have set up business soliciting donations or signatures. My third impression, about the time I took this picture, was "let me out of here."

Was it the ugly painted-concrete floors, the harsh fluorescent lighting strips, the combination of crammed fixtures, half-depleted shelves and large empty areas, the smell of lysol? Was it the irritating maze-like layout? Was it the relentlessly down-market selection of brands on offer? Was it that everyone I could see was 2' shorter than me? Sure, but all these weren't quite enough to account for my pressing need to leave. After one circuit, not even stopping to pick up the toilet paper that was my reason for shopping, I decamped past the cop cars with a huge sense of relief.

Now I had to break down the experience. Was it the store? Was I having a reaction to the people shopping there? Was it me just not being in the mood for crowds and consumption? In a spirit of investigation and because I still needed the TP, I went right to my local Costco.

By the time I walked through the enormous Costco door along with hundreds of exactly the same short folk as the Walmart shoppers, I was almost whimpering with relief and the excitement of bulk purchasing.

So that settled it - the problem was not me or the shoppers, it was Walmart. I got the TP, found some excellent steaks and some fabulous artisan whole-wheat bread. To record the glaring difference between the two stores, I took a picture while I was waiting in the checkout line.

Now that I compare the two images, it's hard for me to find a clear visual clue to my different reactions. My best guess is that Costco's high warehouse ceilings are easier on the spirit, and the lighting isn't so oppressive.

Whatever the reason, that Walmart gave me the full-body oogs, and it will be a long time before I try another one.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

O Tannenbaum...

I was determined to keep Christmas going until Twelfth Night, in the good old tradition. But Twelfth Night is next Wednesday, right in the middle of the work week. So I decided today was the day, and I de-trimmed, de-lighted (not as fun as it sounds...) and put both my yard tree and the indoor tree, plus two wreaths, out for pickup at the curb.

But I definitely had a moment with the indoor tree. A Noble Fir - the first I think I've bought - the tree was elegantly proportioned, just the right height to fit in my front bay window, with regularly spaced limbs and no worrying sparse areas. And the needles have this amazing bluey-green underside, so that from below, each branch looks frosted. Untrimmed, destined to move out the door for good, it appealed to me and I truly saw it as a blessing, not a needle-shedding nuisance.

I said goodbye formally, and took a last picture of the perfect, beautiful and fancy needles.

Soup of the season, soup of the day

For some reason I have become very interested in making and eating soup. I think it started with a very large container of dried mushrooms I found at Costco. Included were Porcini, Morels, Brazilian (?!), Ivory Portabellas, Shiitake and Oyster. Although weighing only eight ounces, the container was more than 15" high and 5" on each side - now that could be lifetime supply...

I've used all but the last 4". I've done pasta, stuffed peppers, and two large batches of home-made mushroom soup, pictured here at the simmering in butter phase, before liquids are added.

This last batch I made for Sunday dinner between Christmas and the New Year, with Alison, Brink, Susan and the twins Tessa and Jack. Adults were pleased with the soup and took second helpings. Jack and Tessa, as typical three-year-olds, were still working on the crack cocaine supplied by the Christmas season - toys, sugar and irregular schedules, plus a touch of parental stress.

Cooking for my family is without question one of the most satisfying things I can do - I could be happy making toast. However, there is nothing like a challenge ingredient to up the stakes and make life a little more interesting.