Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ickle Me Pickle Me

A few weekends ago Tim and I celebrated our anniversary. We're terrible at remembering our anniversary, and particularly, what our anniversary date is. It's been a joke between us for years. Is it October 24th? 26th? Who knows.

The only way we can remember our anniversary date is because of our beloved handmade pottery bowl, a wedding gift by our family friend Dave Hendley of Old Farmhouse Pottery. (If you're in the market for some beautiful pottery, check it out.) Inscribed on the bottom of the bowl is our anniversary date. The key is to sneak into the kitchen, pull the bowl off of the top shelf, and flip it over to check the date without the other person busting you. Tim has the clear advantage because he's tall, so it's a little unfair, but whatever.

This year, our anniversary fell on a Saturday. We didn't even have a plan set the day before, and were discussing options at our daughter's school Halloween carnival when friends suggested a literary pub crawl, part of the weekend events at the Texas Book Festival. Since Tim and I are clinging to whatever sense of hipness we have left in us, and because it was taking place on Austin's East side, we figured it might be an interesting way to celebrate our anniversary. Plus, we like pubs and we kind of like crawling, so we agreed to give it a shot.

The pub crawl offered several different options so that you could map out your own custom crawl. One of the most appealing options was to check out Derek Waters, the host of Comedy Central's Drunk History. If you aren't familiar, the premise is simple but genius: wasted storytellers discuss historical events, and then famous actors act out the scenes using the drunk dialogue as their script.

Because we're lazy pub crawlers, I determined that if we stayed in one place, we could enjoy more pub than crawl, so we started at the first stop, then hurried over to the venue where they were playing Nerd Jeopardy. Nerd Jeopardy was Jeopardy with a literary twist -- definitely nerdy but hilarious all at the same time. Directly following Nerd Jeopardy was Drunk History, and by the time that was about to begin, the venue was totally packed out. I consider myself too old to stand at bars anymore, so as soon as we spotted six inches of available picnic table space, we landed like vultures and squeezed ourselves in.

Here's what the scene looked like. It was quite lovely. You might see us if were weren't sausaged in between 25 other people at the back table.

(photo courtesy of the Texas Book Festival website)

As we were figuring out how to adequately fold our butts without half-sitting on strangers, I checked out our table mates, and noticed that the girl across from me looked familiar. I also noticed the girl next to her looked exactly like her.

"I think I know you from somewhere," I said to both of the girls, studying them from across the picnic table.

We went through the various possibilities - school? Nope. Neighbors? Nope. Work? Nope. The guy next to me chimed in.

"Have you had her pickles, maybe?"

"Pickles?" I asked, getting tickled.

"She makes the best pickles I've ever had in my life," he said. "That's Sheena from Sheena's Pickles."

He said it like he was speaking about pickle royalty. The clouds parted and a host of angels squeezed in at the table behind us began to sing. His wife/girlfriend leaned in from down the table.

"Yes," she said, "Her pickles are TO DIE FOR."

Now, I don't know about you, but I don't know much about the pickle business. I've never had a huge passion for pickles. I'd consider myself to be a plain Jane Vlassic girl myself. But that wasn't going to stop me from learning. In a series of probably fifty questions, I began interviewing Sheena and her friends, and by the time it was over, I had a rip-roaring craving for pickles.

Here's what I learned that fateful night:

  • Sheena makes home-made, hand-packed pickles, and offers up four varieties: "The Dilly" (dill), "Texas Heat" (spicy), "Bread & Butter" (B&B) and "The Jefe" (a beer pickle made form an IPA that's usually a special order item)
  • She doesn't yet have a website, so to find her, you need to like Sheena's Pickles on FaceBook and you can message her there. If you order pickles from her now, she will deliver them to you. It's so great!
  • The sister who sat down across from us is Sheena's beautiful twin, a graphic designer responsible for Sheena's adorable logo and personified pickle logo, a pickle named Pete. Pete has a gap in his teeth like Sheena. I love this so much.
  • Sheena attracts amazing friends. She has a friend named Roxy who was also at the pub crawl that I want to somehow steal and bring into my friend world, mainly because when bragging on Sheena, Roxy said, "I swear to you, my pH is completely off because of these pickles. I'm like ALL vinegar now!"
  • Sheena hosts an annual Pickle Party. I'm hoping to purchase enough pickles to get on the invite list.

By the way, the pickle discussion was much more entertaining than the Drunk History session, mainly because it was really crowded, and Derek Waters tried to get someone drunk enough to read a funny version of The Giving Tree, but it wasn't really funny because the guy simply wasn't drunk enough. I thought that was pretty funny that it was hard to find someone drunk enough at a literary pub crawl. After all, writers and literary types are not exactly afraid of the bottle. I guess the timing was just off.

Either way, it was fate that we stumbled upon Sheena, her sister, her hilarious friends, and the news of her blossoming pickle business. I feel strongly that I was meant to meet Sheena, and that big things are going to happen to this gal. Let me explain.

While my husband plugged his ears, I told Sheena that she needed to touch my arm, because at one point in time, I went on some dates with a certain vodka maker who was just dreaming up his ideas for a vodka company. I met him long before he made it very big in the vodka world. My husband isn't wild about this story, but that's just because my husband doesn't realize he's the much better catch, and also because I don't really like vodka anyway.

But given the fate of the vodka maker, I like to think I have something of the Midas touch when it comes to meeting people before they make it big. I met Matt Damon when he was barely starting out as an actor. He was absolutely the nicest guy -- he told me how lucky he was to be getting paid to do what he wanted to do for a living -- and look what happened to him. I met Ashton Kutcher before he was Ashton Kutcher. He's certainly doing okay. Once, Andy Dick was behind me at Randall's, and well, he was three sheets to the wind and belligerent, and nobody likes him anyway. But if you ever need a volunteer to read The Giving Tree drunk, Andy Dick is your guy.

So after our fateful anniversary night, we ordered up some pickles from Sheena. When the order was ready, Sheena delivered our pickles to Pei Wei, where we were having an early dinner with our 10-year old daughter. We resisted the temptation to open them at the table at Pei Wei, but as soon as we got home, we cracked a jar open and WOW. Holy moly, they're delicious. All three flavors we tried (Dilly, B&B and Texas Heat) were fantastic, and we had to pace ourselves not to wolf down all three jars in one sitting. They were even better the next day after chilling out in the fridge overnight. Sheena suggested that we make pimento cheese, so that weekend I made my mom's pimento cheese recipe, served up crackers and pickles, and that was lunch. And it was delicious.

I believe that Sheena is going to make it big in the pickle universe. I'm absolutely rooting for her, and am excited to help spread the word about this pickle dynasty in the making. In honor of today, National Pickle Day, here's to Sheena's Pickles!

(photo courtesy of Sheena's Pickles FB page)

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Upgrade

On Tuesday, my new phone arrived in the mail. Tim called me right away to deliver the news.

"Your phone's here!" he bellowed joyfully. It had been weeks, and we were beginning to wonder if it would ever arrive. "Are you excited?"

"I am! I can't wait!" I answered, doing my best to sound convincing.

Hanging up my loyal and trusty iPhone 4 and holding it tenderly, I thought back to when I got it, and how painful the process was to upgrade from my older version. I recalled how I hunkered down for what felt like half of an entire weekend and fretted over syncing decisions, settings, lost notes, photo sharing... the whole situation was intimidating and exhausting. And yes, as everyone is saying lately, these are clearly first world problems. I have to remind myself of this when I get weird about technology. And this is coming from a woman who works for a tech company, no less.

Still, forced and voluntary technology upgrades terrify me. Because my birthday fell around the release date of the new iPhone 5s, I succumbed to the temptation despite my paralyzing fear of gadget upgrades. I won't lie; I fell for the storage space and the dazzling gold exterior of the 5s. Tim made it easy for me by just casually letting me know that he and the kids were getting me a new phone for my birthday, so he eliminated all of the hemming and hawing that would have gone down had I visited the Apple store to make a selection. Tim, who's arguably one of the most patient individuals on the planet, took on the arduous task of going to the Apple store multiple times, waiting God knows how long on the right kind of blue-shirted youngster, only to find out the phone I wanted wasn't in stock. So he got online and made magic happen so that when my phone arrived, it was already a bit of a friend to me. I am delighted to state that the entire process has been very simple for the most part. If you're like me and never moved to a 5 model, and also never upgraded to the new iPhone software, a few notes:
  • Siri can be a man! Because I've always wanted a little man, this is great news. It's a relatively simple settings change, too. It only took me like half an hour to figure it out. For the rest of you, that will be about 32 seconds. Also, since this is my first Siri, I've asked Male Version of Siri all of the inappropriate 7th grade questions. And he's still being cool so I'm kind of in love with him.
  • The fingerprint technology to unlock your home screen is silly. It may be cool, but that's a lot of hype for a silly product enhancement, if you ask me. My stepdaughter Stephanie had to sit down with me and give me a full lesson, and she's patient as her father, thank goodness, because I was a terrible student. It reminded me of years ago when I took a computer class at work, and one of our older coworkers was so technologically challenged that she didn't know how to properly double-click a mouse, so the instructor began to get frustrated with her, and finally walked up to her and yelled, "It's like Little Caesar's! PIZZA, PIZZA!" With the fingerprint log-on, you have to push the button down and then release it, but keep your finger there while the phone identifies your fingerprint. It's a completely unnatural feeling to me. So I did what the smart folks do and I asked my 10-year old to disable the password option. I am willing to sacrifice password security for sanity.
  • Evidently you don't need 32G or more of storage, and likely never will. My sister tried to explain something about this -- there's a service that costs way less that can store all of your music and photos in the cloud -- but I tuned her out because I was too busy beating myself up for asking for the fancy phone instead of the more affordable plastic variety. I also felt bad about the fact that it was a bit on the wasteful side, especially because the gold phone isn't really gold. As in, I kind of thought it was going to be dipped in real gold. Oops!
  • You may lose your notes. I lost every note taken in 2013, but still have old notes. I don't understand why. So much for every good movie recommendation, random restaurant wine name, cab driver quote, short story idea, kid quote and unsecured password for 2013. All gone. Ugh.
  • There's a flashlight. Big whoop!
  • There's some extra stuff on the camera, including a watered-down Instagrammish filtering option and a fun panoramic option, which is great for seeing what my butt really looks like in dressing room mirrors. That, and my neighbor can use it to capture a group photo of every last one of her cats. It's handy!
Then there's Face Time. Since I'm way too wimpy to use an iPad, and I've never upgraded the software until now, my new phone gave me the opportunity to try out my first Face Time session. Completely by accident.

Saturday morning, I was grocery shopping when I remembered that I desperately needed my mom's pimento cheese recipe. (It's another story I intend to tell soon about this great girl Tim and I met who makes pickles, and how she suggested pimento cheese to eat alongside her pickles, so I was on a mission). I called mom's cell first, and it went to voice mail, so I called her home number and my stepfather James answered. Mom was in Dallas at a music rehearsal with her friends, the Choir Hoes. Now, they are not referring to landscaping tools here. My 65-year old mom and her friends, classically-trained musicians who sing in church choir, refer to themselves as the Choir Hoes because they jump around from choir to choir. I think they just spell it "hoe" so they appear respectable. And they really are respectable. They're just hoes.

Anyway, my stepfather and I are awkward and formal on the phone together, so while my mom was out hoeing around, James and I had a short but hilarious exchange about the key ingredients of pimento cheese, and determined that it's just pimentos, cheese, mayonnaise and salt and pepper. He's frugal, so he suggested that I just make a tiny bit and taste it first in case it was a disaster, and asked me to call him for a report after I made it. I thought that was cute.

Evidently when I called my mom's cell that morning, I did it via Face Time, so when my mom's rehearsal ended, she saw a missed Face Time call, or whatever you call it. Except I didn't know I used Face Time. Much later that night, I saw I'd missed a Face Time from my mom, but I don't think my mom knew she used Face Time, either. I was perplexed.

Later Saturday night, my girlfriends came over for an impromptu spa night -- a terrific idea my daughter had that day to invite over friends, soak our feet, do face masks, and read magazines. Tim served as our personal chef and made a fantastic vegetarian dinner, and we had such fun we never even opened up a magazine. Since I had kicked back with a few glasses of wine, a rejuvenating aloe mask and lots of giggles and girl talk, I was nice and relaxed. I picked up my new gadget and pushed the Face Time button to give it a whirl.

Lesson 1: It's a really good idea to forewarn someone before you invite them to a Face Time session what's about to happen. In this case, I only had a vague and general idea of what I was doing, and it was nearly 11:00 at night, so when I pushed the Face Time button, Mom answered the session. Right away I noticed a face on the top right hand corner. The face was of a scary woman with no make-up, unfamiliar forehead wrinkles, and she was contorting her face in unknown positions, trying make out the larger image. That was me. Note to Apple: let's get some filters on Face Time stat, mkay? Because thanks to Instagram, I'd forgotten what my real face looked like, and I liked it that way.

The larger image was almost 100% darkness, save for some undetectable movement and then two shiny dots that I later figured out were little dotty reflections of my mom's glasses that she had reached for in the dark when her phone began ringing. Just as I began to wonder if I'd called a random coal miner by mistake, the dots wiggled around a minute and finally Mom's bare arm and shoulder appeared as she flipped on the bedside lamp.

"Mom! Are you DRESSED?" the scary woman in the upper corner asked, mortified and very tickled all at the same time. Lesson 2: unless you have planned some kind of awkward online date night, answer Face Time calls when fully clothed.

"I'm in bed!" she replied, and instead of getting angry or annoyed like most parents, my mom just burst into a fit of laughter that easily tacked some extra years onto her full and rich life.

From there, my first official Face Time session consisted of at least five full minutes of non-stop hysterical laughter. Except even better is that my mom's service at home is spotty at best, so every few minutes her face would freeze in an open-mouthed fit of laughter, and my face would do the same on her end, so it just made us laugh even harder. I wish desperately that we could have recorded it.

Tim got the pleasure of witnessing this from the opposite couch, so all he could see was his scary wife looking at her phone and wiping tears, saying, "Mom! What is happening? Why is this happening?!" He was definitely amused by the whole scene.

There might have been a moment when, in an effort not to wet my pants, I used Face Time to show my mom the bathroom to explain where I would be for a minute while she kept on laughing. Because that's just how we roll in my family (and I'm famous for laughing so hard I wet my pants). There might also have been a moment where I left my mom looking at my bathroom ceiling while I left her on the laundry basket, and we might have laughed the entire time, because the moment was an instant family classic.

From there, we finally got things under control and I took my mom back to my daughter's room where I flipped on her light to let Rosie and Mimi say hello. I was waking up all sorts of people with Face Time that night! I even shoved the phone in our dog Taco's face and let him say hello as well. The only person in the family who didn't get in on the fun was my stepfather James, who was next to my mother, sleeping peacefully during the greatest Face Time session ever, dreaming of pimento cheese sandwiches.

Lesson 3? Even if you lose a little data along the way, go ahead and take the plunge and upgrade your gadgets. The fun awaiting you on the other side is well worth it.