Friday, February 25, 2011

The science of cat ladies

While cats have plenty of male admirers, a new study in the journal "Behavioural Processes" (one of my favorite magazines -- I kid, I kid) shows that women tend to interact with their cats more than men do.

The study, which analyzed interactions between 41 cats and their owners, shows that felines attach to humans - particularly women - as social partners. It says the dynamics surrounding cat-human relationships are nearly identical to human bonds, with cats sometimes even becoming a furry "child" in nurturing homes. And get this: researchers determined that cats and their owners strongly influenced each other, such that they were each often controlling the other's behaviors. The study also concluded that cats also seem to remember kindness and return the favors later.

Next up for the researchers? They're taking on a long-term study of the relationship between humans and dogs. Count me in!

So if you know a "crazy cat lady", go knock on her door. And once she stumbles through the maze of litter boxes, empty tuna tins, and giant furballs than line the pathways of her subterranean, rent-controlled apartment, give her a hug. Crazy cat ladies need love too!

Monday, February 21, 2011

You'll never guess where Aunt Linda's hiding the vacuum cleaner

The folks over at D-Listed ran this hilarious photo and asked folks to submit a caption (that's mine above). Think you do better? Leave a comment!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Try this: High-Rise Pancake

Here's something eggy and delicious that looks really fancy, but is a cinch to make. It will also impress guests at any breakfast table. It's called a German Pancake, but it's sort of like a popover. I got the recipe from a back issue of Gentleman's Quarterly and made it this morning to snack on as we drank coffee and read The Boston Globe in bed.

3 tablespoons butter
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Put the butter in a 9- or 10-inch pie plate or ovenproof skillet. Place in oven and remove once the butter is melted. 
  3. Mix the remaining ingredients together with a whisk and pour into the skillet. Immediately return to the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes till puffy and evenly browned on the outside. 
  4. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Slice (or pull apart) and serve.

The (crunch, crunch) King's (talk, talk) Speech

I think I'm officially jinxed when it comes to enjoying a movie at a public theater. We've been happily enjoying watching movies at home for well over a year now, thanks to NetFlix, one of the best inventions in my lifetime. We watch the films we want to watch, when we want to watch them, and can pause for bathroom or snack breaks whenever we want. Best of all, there are no other people around whose mission seems to be to ruin our movie-watching experience. This brings me to the point of my story.

Yesterday, we decided to go see The King's Speech, which is up for a slew of statues at next Sunday's Academy Awards. We went to an early afternoon matinee, and as we were walking across the parking lot to the theater, I said to Peter, "We'll be able to count the number of people in this theater on two hands, but I still bet someone will sit right behind me and crunch on popcorn."

Well I guess I should learn to shut my pie-hole, because that's exactly what happened! We started off fine: two seats on the aisle, about halfway down the left side of the auditorium. We watched a bunch of trailers, and the cursory clips about where the exits are and the gentle reminder to keep quiet during the film. We were about five minutes into the feature presentation when a couple entered the theater and, ignoring the tens of dozens of empty chairs scattered around the theater, plopped their asses directly behind us. 

After the expected "getting settled" noises, out came the trough of popcorn. "Shake, shake, shake," went the bag, as the man tried to coax the most delicious kernels to the top of the bag. "Rustle, rustle, rustle," went their greasy hands, digging again and again into the crinkly paper popcorn container. And then the munching and crunching began. "There's not enough butter on this," the woman said in a loud stage whisper. "Be right back," the man replied. A few minutes later, he was back and the feeding frenzy began anew.

After finally finishing their snack, the commentary began. I tried my best to focus on the dialogue up on the screen, not on the one behind me. After a few minutes of back and forth banter, Peter finally turned around and said with a smile, "I'm sorry, would you please be quiet?" The man immediately replied, "Excuse us...enjoy the movie."

(Peter confesses that what he wanted to say was, "Now that you've finished your popcorn, would you please be quiet?"

To their credit, the couple was silent for the rest of the movie. And as the lights came up at the end of the film, Peter turned back to the couple and said, "Thanks". The man laughed and said, "No problem, we're usually louder than that!"

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. When we saw "The Fighter" last month, there were folks seated all around us talking, texting, and eating. And then last year at the Mark Knopfler concert here in Boston, we finally confronted the man seated behind us who was loudly narrating the event to his son.

Some people may tell me that if I'm so bothered by other people's behavior in public, then I should just stay home. But aren't there some unwritten rules about how to behave when you're in the tight quarters of a movie theater, concert hall, or airplane? No loud talking, no eating loud or smelly foods, no kicking my chair - in short, treating others like you'd like to be treated.

As for me, there are a bunch of movies I'd love to go see: "The Social Network", "Blue Valentine," "True Grit", etc. But after yesterday's experience, I think I'll wait until they're available on NetFlix.

UPDATE: A man in Latvia was shot and killed over a movie theater dispute over popcorn. According to this report on The Huffington Post, a man accused another patron of chewing his popcorn too loudly during a screening of "Black Swan". When the lights came on at the end of the movie, the popcorn eater fatally shot the man who complained. I'm thinking more seriously about just staying home and watching movies from the comfort and safety of my couch.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Elisabeth Hasselbeck reads the New York Times?

Whoopi Goldberg is thinking pretty highly of herself these days. If you've not seen this clip for yesterday's "The View", I urge you to watch it (unless you've just eaten) to get a sense of how off-base and big-headed Whoopi has become.

To sum it up, Whoopi was "embarrassed" and "hurt" by a recent New York Times article that talked about the racial diversity among the nominees for this year's Academy Awards. It seems the article mentioned several black actors and actresses who've won Oscars in recent years. But because of what Whoopi labels as "sloppy journalism", her name was left out of the article. (She won an Oscar for her role in "Ghost" in 1991.)

"I am embarrassed to tell you it hurt me terribly," she said on Monday's cluck-fest. "When you win an Academy Award, that's part of what you've done, your legacy. I will always be Academy Award-winner Whoopi Goldberg, and [I] have been dismissed and erased by The New York Times film critics, who should know better."

"Not only am I an Academy Award winner," she said as she hauled out her Oscar statue to show her studio audience. "I have made over 50 films. I have been nominated twice – once for The Color Purple, once for Ghost. And I won for Ghost. This is not hidden information, and to these two critics, who are the head critics of The New York Times ... it's hard not to take it personally. There's a lot of stuff that people say and do but this is sloppy journalism. People in Somalia know. People in China know. I know it's hard to believe, but I'm a worldwide person who's known."

Late yesterday, a spokesperson for The Times responded to Goldberg's rant by saying, in part, " The point of the piece was not to name every black actor or actress who has been awarded an Oscar, it was to draw a comparison between the number who won prior to 2002 (the year Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won) and those who have won since."

To me, Whoopi's statements are right up there at the top of the obnoxious meter. What an ego! And whipping out her Oscar like it's a medal she earned for curing polio or orchestrating a mission to Mars? So pretentious! Really now, she won an award for playing - let's be honest - a character who's very simliar to her usual Whoopi schtick. Whoopi Barrymore? I think not.

In any case, "The View" co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck says she is siding with Whoopi and -- get this -- as a sign of solidarity, says she is cancelling her subscription to The New York Times. I don't know why, but the idea that Elisabeth Hasselbeck ever read The New York Times is somehow the most ridiculous part of this entire story!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A great name for a wine club

Go here: Stowe, Vermont

Looking for a great winter get-a-away? Look no further than Stowe, Vermont. We just returned from our second visit to Stowe in the past month. In January, it was all about the downhill skiing, which we hadn’t done in 7 years. This past weekend, we treated a dear friend and her son to a birthday blowout.  On Friday, while our friend enjoyed a few hours of bliss at the Spa at the Stoweflake, we took her son cross-country skiing. We thought Otis would be in his glory, running along the trail, sniffing all the great country smells, and doing assorted dog things. But no – for some reason, he got very excited by the sight of us on skis and spent the entire afternoon chasing us, barking, and jumping up to bite our gloves, pants, or whatever he could get his teeth into. He’s done this before while we were downhill sledding. 

Any doggie psychiatrists out there who can explain why a mild-mannered dog goes insane while his owners try to enjoy some winter outdoor activities?

Anyway – Saturday was the big activity day. After a delicious breakfast at our townhouse, we went into town and rented snowshoes. We then drove to Wiesner Woods for a two-hour trek on some beautifully groomed trails. The best part, however, was venturing off trail, and having a race up a steep hill covered in deep snow.

After all that work, we headed back to the townhouse for a quick lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, and then headed back into town to rent two snowmobiles for a guided, two-hour trip. Since we took the 4:00pm tour, we left in the daylight, but came back in the darkness.  The trails were spectacular and we had a great time. Peter drove the first hour, and then I took over for the second half of the tour, which included some really steep, winding paths through the woods. I hadn’t been on a snowmobile since I was a kid – and it was a blast! 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Diane Horner ruins everything...

A few observations:
  • Is hip-hop really the latest trend in country line dancing? 
  • Does Diane Horner ever blink?
  • Is Susan having a stroke during her introduction?
  • Nobody rocks cut-off jean shorts, bike leggings, and a fringe vest like Diane Horner.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Live blogging the Super Bowl halftime show

Is this one big hot ugly mess, or what?

And OK, maybe I'm just cranky tonight, but did Christina Aguilera totally butcher the National Anthem? Her "dramatic" ending makes me want to poke my eardrums out.

Watch this: Marty

It’s been a virtual movie marathon this week here in South Boston. I think all the snow has made it much too easy and comfortable to pop in a film just about every night. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. We’ve seen some great stuff: “Up the Air” with George Clooney (MUCH better than I expected; both female leads were phenomenal), “Toy Story 3” (hadn’t seen installments 1 or 2, but yup, this sequel brought tears to my eyes), “Ryan’s Daughter” (a classic, beautifully filmed in Western Ireland), and “Revolutionary Road” (like “Up In the Air”, much more than I had expected; surprisingly good performance be Leonardo DiCaprio).

We also got a chance to watch one of my favorite all-time movies, “Marty”. Haven’t seen it? It won “Best Picture” at the 1954 Academy Awards, and earned Ernest Borgnine a “Best Actor” Oscar, too. It’s the tale of a lonely butcher who lives in the Bronx with his mother. Everyone’s after the 34-year-old, kind-hearted bachelor to find a girl and settle down. But Marty’s been burned too many times before and has all but given up on trying to meet that special someone. In one heartbreaking scene, Marty calls a girl he had met recently at a movie theater.

...Oh, hello there. Is this Mary Feeney? Hello, there. This is Marty Pilletti. I-I wonder if you recall me. Well, I'm kind of a stocky guy. The last time we met was in the RKO Chester. You was with a friend of yours, and I-I was with a friend of mine, name of Angie. This was about a month ago - The RKO Chester on West Farms Square. Yeah, you was sitting in front of us, and we was annoying you, and - you got mad and - I'm the fella who works in a butcher shop. Oh, come on, you - you know who I am! That's right, and then - then we went to Howard Johnson's. We had hamburgers. You hadda milkshake. Yeah, that's right. Yeah, well, I'm the stocky one, the heavy-set fella. Yeah, well, I'm - I'm glad you recall me because I hadda pretty nice time that night, and I was wondering how everything was with you. How's everything? That's swell. Yeah, well, I tell you why I called. I was figuring on taking in a movie tonight, and I was wondering if you and your friend would care to see a movie tonight with me and my friend. Yeah, tonight. Why, I know it's a little late to call for a date, but I didn't know myself till - yeah, I know. Yeah, well, what about - well, how about next Saturday night? Are - are you free next Saturday night? Well, what about the Saturday after that? Yeah. Yeah, I know. Well, I mean, I understand that. Yeah. Yeah.

In this scene, Marty’s widowed mother, played by Esther Minciotti, urges her son to go to the Stardust Ballroom, a local dance hall, where he eventually meets lonely-heart Clara, a 29-year-old teacher. 

The movie’s beauty is in its simplicity: two ordinary people, both a bit beaten down society’s expectations, finding common ground and perhaps love.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Two tales of customer service

This is a tale of two customer service experiences from this past week. I'll start with the good news:

My mom bought my dad a Keurig coffee machine for Christmas, one of those fancy units where you can brew one cup at a time. You put one of those little coffee pods (called "K Cups") in the machine, press "start", and seconds later, you've got one cup of piping hot java. Anyway, I was talking to my mom last week and she was about to order a supply of pods from Keurig. I told her not to order anything, knowing that somewhere online, i'd be able to find a better price than what the manufacturer was offering. A quick Google search landed me on, a Philadelphia-based company that sells dozens of brand-name coffee pods for about half the price my mom was about to spend.

So after browsing through their vast inventory, I put two boxes (each containing 12 pods) into my shopping cart. After entering my credit card number and selecting "Complete Sale", I got my order confirmation. Oops! My parents only drink decaf, and somehow, I had ordered one box of 'regular' coffee. So I immediately called the toll-free number on the company website. "We usually can't change an order once it's placed online," said the pleasant young man, "but hold on a minute and let me see what I can do." He came back on the phone about 30 seconds later and said that he'd be happy to switch the box of regular I ordered with a box of decaf. Excellent!

Two days later, I got an e-mail from, confirming that my order had been shipped to my parent's house: one box of decaf and one box of regular coffee! So I called the company's toll-free number again, and this time, spoke to a nice young woman. She looked up my order and confirmed that the switch I'd requested hadn't make it into the books. And after apologizing, she said wanted to investigate further, so she confirmed my phone number and e-mail address, and promised to get back to me.

Yesterday, I got this e-mail from

Dear Mike: In regards to your order number XXXXX, your request to have the Donut Shop replaced with Wolfgang Puck Decaf has been actioned and this new order has been shipped. Your original order has already been shipped with tracking number  XXXXX. If you have received the Donut Shop item by error, you are welcome to keep this box at no cost to you.

With that simple e-mail and the gift of a free box of coffee, this company has earned a new, very satisfied customer. If you're looking for a place to buy coffee pods, and want great selection, discount prices, quick shipping, and excellent customer service, look no further than

On the other hand...

When we moved into our apartment two years ago, I was the one who called RCN to purchase a bundled package for our telephone, internet, and cable TV services. So naturally, the account was established in my name. We recently learned that when Peter, who runs a business out of our home, was making phone calls, it was my name, not his, that was showing up on people's caller ID screen. So he asked if I'd call RCN and have them switch the name on caller ID. No big deal, right?

I called RCN on my way home from work. After navigating through their automated phone system ("Press 1 for this, 2 for that..."), I finally got through to a service representative. After I explained what I wanted to do, he told me that this was a billing issue, and that the billing department was closed (it was 5:30 pm), and that I'd have to call back the next day.

So the next day, I called 800-RING-RCN and once again, waded through the web of pressing this and that, in search of a living, breathing human. I'll cut to the chase here, but 45 minutes later, and five representatives (no kidding) later, the name on our caller ID was successfully changed.

Here's the kicker about RCN: every person I talked to was consistently inconsistent. They each told me a different story. I'd have to cancel the entire account and re-open it in Peter's name. Or they'd have to mail me a form, which once I filled out and returned, would take 2-3 weeks to process. Or they could make the switch immediately, but it would mean we'd be without phone, cable, or internet service for a "short time".

I talked to two folks in customer service, two folks in billing before being kicked up to something called the "Customer Care Unit" (or some ridiculous name like that; at that point, i was barely listening). In the end, for a $3 fee (really, RCN? This transition costs you $3 to process?), the change was made. What a waste of my time and RCN resources. 

It seems we hear about -- and experience -- so much bad customer service these days. Do you have a good customer service story to share? Grab a cup of coffee and tell me about it!


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