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Archive for April, 2010

I am 24 years old.  And last night, for the first time in my LIFE, I popped popcorn on the stove-top.  And it blew my mind.

Okay, so maybe I’m easily mind-blown.  But what is perhaps worse is that I didn’t even realize a regular person could do that.  I thought one needed a fancy popper machine or at the very least, a microwave.  For me, it was microwave popcorn or nothing.  Which really, if you think about it, is pretty sad…not to mention pretty telling about my generation and the world I grew up in.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love me some technology.  I am obsessed with my iPhone and can’t imagine how I ever lived without it.  I get mad when my wireless internet goes slow.  I Twitter, for god’s sake.  But lately I’ve been on a little bit of a  ‘let’s live more simply” kick.

Everyone talks about how ‘easy’ life is now, how we have everything at our fingertips.  And everyone is right.  Living is easier today than it has ever been.  Which is probably why Humans are now fat, lazy, and uninspired.

I’ve come to the conclusion that all the things that make life easier really take away from our quality of life.  I mean look at all the news stories–kids committing suicide over online bullying, obesity skyrocketing because people want ‘fast’ (read: unhealthy) food, basic human relationships deteriorating because of our dependence on technology, super antibiotic-resistant viruses…ugh.  Life may be easier now, but it sure isn’t any better.

New York City is a weird place, because on one had it prides itself on being at the very cuttingest edge of everything: fashion, art, cuisine, etc.   On the other hand though, I’ve noticed that there is a burgeoning movement in which people here are trying to remove themselves from all that edginess and return to a basic, more simple kind of life.  Bike-riding is taking off as the newest trend.  People are growing gardens on their roofs and raving about it like they invented photosynthesis.  Restaurants are pushing a ‘farm to table’ style of food.  At flea markets and farmer’s markets business is a boomin’.

It’s a little bit annoying and rather pretentious though.  Inevitably the people who are doing this have the means to do it–that is, they are upper middle class, educated, financially sound. And the way some people flaunt it (“Oh yes, I just bought this 2nd hand bike (for 300 bucks) and now I’m going to attach a darling basket to it and go to the organic market and stock up on tofu and brown rice and spelt!”) is downright grating.

But I’m being a leeeetle bit of a hypocrite, because I suddenly find myself inching towards this group, even becoming (GASP) a part of it.

Up until very recently I was one of those people who turned their nose up at the whole “Organic” thing, claiming it was just a ploy to part me with my hard-earned cash a little quicker than usual.  But the longer I lived in the city, the more I came to understand why these people act the way they do.  NYC is not an easy place to live.  It’s stressful and loud, dirty, unfriendly, exhausting, potentially dangerous at every turn.  Considering that, it doesn’t really surprise me that people have foregone the high-speed, human contact-less, money focused culture for something a little more breathable.  Plus, behaviors etc that are considered ‘old’ now suddenly take on a patina of charm and quirk, of authenticity.  No, I shall not buy my veggies from a grocery store!  I shall buy them from…A FARMER! People are so smug about this–like it’s a brand new idea that they themselves thought up.  Everything old is new again.

Oh well. Guilty as charged: we joined a CSA.  I started buying organic items.  I grow herbs on my windowsill.  One of my favorite activities is Farmer’s Market browsing.  Why the change?

Well aside from the NYC-dwelling and all issues that come with it (see above),  I don’t make a lot of money.  Thanks bunches, publishing industry.  I should’ve known to try another career when in my very 1st interview a manager told me that “no one in publishing does it to make money.”   So that has kind of lit a fire under my bum to do things at home that I would not regularly do.  Like make popcorn on a stove top.

It’s simplicity out of necessity, I suppose.  But I’m not complaining.  I enjoy discovering that I can do things at home for way less dollars than going out and buying it.  It sort of makes life feel more real.   My next attempt in this category?  Making my own bread.

I’m not totally eschewing capitalism and commercialism and technology.  I like to shop, I love my Mac, and I still think that sometimes this whole “Green” movement is just kinda annoying and self-superior.  But you have to admit: there is something refreshing about consciously rejecting the ease of Modern Life.  It’s just not necessary to flaunt it.  I’m looking at you, Brooklyn.

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Alone Again (Naturally)

Before I moved in with my boyfriend, I had my doubts.  Everyone always said that it was best to live on your own for a while, give yourself time to really get to know yourself and be totally independent.  Moving in with H, apparently, meant that I was giving up all my chances of 20-Something Gal in the Big City adventures.
Well I clearly didn’t follow these people’s advice.  And while I understand where they are coming from, I think the whole living situation thing is sort of beyond assigning over-arching rules.  You have to do what’s right for you, at the time that’s right for you to do it.  Rules schmules.

My current situation gives me the best of both worlds: I get to live with my boyfriend, and I get to live on my own in a way, too.

Because H travels a lot.  Have I mentioned this?  He travels a lot and it makes me pretty grouchy.  On the flip side, it has also forced me to be OK with living “on my own.”  So there’s that.

Anyway, while H was gone wreaking havoc in Alabama, I had primo living-alone-time.  And what do I do when I am alone (other than watch every episode of “16 & Pregnant” I can find)?

I cook!  Now, I know some of you aren’t the greatest fans of my ‘food posts’ but guess what.  I’m going to post them anyway, because 1. my life is not so exciting that I have things to post about every couple of days and 2. it makes me feel accomplished.  So too bad for you haters out there (ahem…DAD).

So, last week at the grocery store I splurged and bought fancy organic baby spinach, and green beans (the green beans weren’t a splurge, per se, but they looked yummy and fresh).  Can you guess what I ate all week long?

By the time Friday rolled around I was craving something hearty, so as I did laundry and cleaned (an epic Friday night, I know), I made myself a pretty tasty pasta dish, if I do say so myself.

Pasta with Carmelized Onions, Green Beans & Spinach

Ingredients

Pasta of your Choice

2 big handfuls of fresh baby spinach

1 tablespoon of butter

1 handful of green beans, chopped

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 eggs (optional)

1/2 an onion, sliced

1 pinch of red pepper flakes

*Note: these measurements were for a small, 1-person portion, so adjust accordingly.

1. Carmelize sliced onions: melt butter, saute onions over LOW heat, stirring constantly until onions turn deep brown color (carmelizing is a slow process…but its yummy and worth it)

2. While onions are carmelizing, cook pasta

3. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot.

4. Add carmelized onions to pasta, set aside

5. Using the same pan the onions were in, saute garlic in olive oil until golden brown

6. Add green beans and spinach,and a splash of pasta cooking liquid and cover.

7. Once spinach is wilted and green beans are tender, add contents of pan to pasta

8. Stir in parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of cooking liquid into pasta. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes.

9. Serve with 2 poach eggs on top…if that’s your thing.

Mmmm carbs

I ate approximately 1/2 of this on Friday night, and when I got home Sunday from a weekend full of fun and shopping and Hoboken-ness I decided to add the leftovers to some chicken broth and simmer the crap out of it until it made a very good, light soup.  I needed a light something because I literally spent all of Saturday eating everything in sight–lobster roll, Ben & Jerry’s, Chinese food…It. was. exhausting.  And I needed soup because it was raining and utterly disgusting here on Sunday.

So the moral of this story is that this concoction was the perfect thing to curl up with on the futon as I watched 12 movies and 4 episodes of The Office that evening.

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No Good Very Bad

I’m having a bad day today.

  • Fact: it is 70 degrees outside, delightfully breezy, and sunny as all get out.
  • Fact: I am sitting in my cubicle, shivering in the AC.
  • Fact: Last night was quite possibly one of the worst nights of sleep I have ever gotten.
  • Fact: Still got up on time this morning, showered, and dragged myself to work.
  • Fact: It is Thursday.
  • Fact: That means I still have 1.5 more days of work until the weekend.

Me, Today.

See what I’m getting at here?  I’m feeling tired, headachey, distracted, fat, bored, sad, ugly, mean, disappointed, snarky…you name it.   There’s more, but I don’t want to burden you, dear reader, with my incessant whining (although there is nothing that I like more than good whine, ask my family and my boyfriend, those lucky ducks).

I knew it was going to be a bad day even before the day started, and not only because I had the truly unfortunate experience of thinking today was Friday when I woke up.  So I’ve sort of settled into the badness and intend on relishing it with all my might.  Is it weird that I sort of take some kind of perverse pleasure in being just flat-out grouchy on occasion?  Am I the only one?  Please say no.

I am not one of those Pollyanna’s who try to make the best of everything and always look on the bright side, oh no.  I am quite the opposite of a cock-eyed optimist.  Anything that can go wrong will.  I belong in a garbage can, a la Oscar.  Maybe that’s why I sort of enjoy just giving up all pretense of cheer and wallowing in my own grumpaliciousness.

Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.  This isn’t like a daily thing for me.  I am not Eeyore with the constant rain cloud over my head.  I smile (though smiling and walking at the same time is not my forte).  I’m happy.  I take joy in living life.  It’s just that sometimes, when the Universe just spits in your eye, it’s a relief to just give in and be miserable–no effort, no pretending, no forced sunshine…for the appropriate time period, of course.

Tomorrow I’ll wake up and it will be better.  First of all, it’ll be Friday.  But even beyond that, I think that days-after-bad-days are always, always good days.  Maybe because it’s all relative–ANY kind of day that isn’t like today is bound to look good.

I do plan on making a few small efforts on improving my day.  There is a plan for a chocolate croissant in the works, as well as some retail therapy (my FAVORITE remedy for a bad day).  Plus, as corny as this is about to sound, blogging helps too.  It’s like the monster under the bed.  As soon as you start talking about it out in the open the power of it just disappears.

And if that fails, I usually self-medicate with doses of http://1000awesomethings.com/ and  http://www.ruminations.com/site/

These always manage to lighten my mood, even against my will.

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There are some things that my boyfriend does that I don’t even pretend to understand.  Fishing in Central Park, for example.  Refusing to take medicine when hurt or sick (very very manly, I know). Getting up really unreasonably early on the weekends.  And the tip-top of this list: going to Nascar races.

Yes, you read that right.  My boyfriend goes to Nascar races.

Now, as a disclaimer, he is not a Redneck by any means.  He grew up in a fancy sea-side town south of Boston.  He owns his fair share of Vineyard Vines clothing.  So it is even more mind-boggling that he likes going to these things.  But I guess it doesn’t really matter what your background is.  In most guys’ brains, Nascar = fun, lady-free, manly, beer-y pastime.

The reason I’m bringing this up now is because this weekend H is going to the Grand-pappy of Nascar Races: Talladega.  Yes, as in Talladega Nights.  As in Ricky Bobby.  If you’re like me, you’re shocked this event actually exists in Real Life (rather than only in Will Ferrell’s imagination).

This actually happens

But it really does happen, all the way down in the foreign land of Alabama (Roll Tide!  That’s for you, brother).  And it draws quite a crowd, apparently (according to H it is 80% dudes, 10% sales people trying to sell said dudes stuff, and 10% “buffalos” aka very unattractive Redneck Women).

Now from what he says, the main point of Nascar races are not watching the races themselves, but rather the RV’ing and the beer drinking and the male bonding.  The race itself is secondary and (apparently) kinda boring.  I mean…it’s 500 laps of the same thing.  The only reason people watch is for the potential crash factor.   And to me, that raises a basic question: how can you count Nascar as a sport?

With enough practice anyone can hop into a car and drive it really fast.  The competition aspect seems pretty dull, too.  In my opinion Nascar falls into the gray-area category of “sports” that aren’t really Sports.  Other examples?

1. Fishing.  I’m going to get shit from H for this (and probably his brother, his Dad, and his friends), but I’m sorry.  You do need some skill to fish, sure.  But this is mostly based on luck and patience.

2. Curling.  I don’t care if it’s in the Olympics.  A bunch of portly guys in overly loud pants (I’m talking to you, Norway) pushing things around an ice rink does not a Sports team make.

3. Hunting.  Another one of H’s favorite activities.  But again, this requires more patience and luck than skill.  I mean yes, you must have a decent shot…but if you really want it to be a sport, why not arm the poor defenseless animals too?  THAT would be a sport.

4. Professional Eating.  They show this on ESPN, so someone out there considers it a sport.  Do I even need to explain why I disagree?  That little asian man who eats the hot dogs does not equal a professional athlete.

5. Golf.  Great napping TV, yes (the commentators are always so darn soothing).  Great sport, not so much.  It’s a hobby, really. Just look at Tiger: you can be hopped up on Xanax and STD meds and still be a great golfer.  To me, that pretty much screams non-sport.

Other activities that toe the line, in my opinion?  Darts, Pool, Bowling, Cheerleading, Figure Skating, Rock-Climbing.

In the end I suppose it doesn’t really matter if Nascar is actually a “Sport” or not.  H is still going to go.  He’ll hopefully return home with wallet, cellphone, and dignity intact, but we can only hope.  He will probably spend the weekend like this:

God help him. More importantly, God help his liver.  And the people who inevitably have to look at his pasty bare torso.  H never passes up an opportunity to be shirtless.

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I would be really impressed if you knew. Because up until approximately 3 days ago I had no idea what a turbot was (and clearly if I don’t know, you probably don’t know. Clearly.). And then I saw them in the very meager seafood section of my grocery store (really not even a section, more like the tail end of the meat section. An afterthought at most).

It’s yet another Mary-fends-for-herself week here, so I bought some on a whim, comforted by the fact that if it was gross I could just toss it and I wouldn’t get dirty looks from H about ‘wasting food.’ It was like 3 dollars for a small-ish fillet–perfect for 1 and cheap enough that I wouldn’t feel guilty if it sucked.

So what to do with this mystery fish? After some online hunting I discovered a turbot is a member of the flounder family. And it is one ugly creature.

Hi. I'm a Turbot.

Luckily for me my piece of Turbot did not look like this when I bought it. Which is good, because I don’t do so well when my food has eyes.

I decided to cook it using the “en papillote” which is a fancy French term for cooking things in a pouch. Which basically means I threw some crap onto aluminum foil, sealed it off, and put it in the oven for less than 10 mins.

Turbot “En Papillote” with Lemony-Dill Wine Sauce.

Ingredients

1 fillet of Turbot (or, any other white fish)

2 tablespoons of butter, softened

2 teaspoons of Dill (I used dried. I’m sure fresh, for those of us who have such things on hand, would be lovely)

3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

2 teaspoons of lemon zest

Salt & Pepper

a shot-glass worth of dry white wine

1. In a small bowl combine butter, dill, garlic, lemon zest, salt & pep. Stir well.

2. Place 1 sheet of tin foil on a cookie sheet.

3. Take a small amt. of butter mixture and spread it on the tin foil before laying down the fillet. This will make sure the fish doesn’t stick. Turn up edges of aluminum just a bit (so wine doesn’t run wild).

4. Spread rest of butter mixture over the fillet.

5. Add wine around fillet

6. Cover the fillet with another sheet of tin foil. Make sure you seal the edges well. Creating steam is the key to this technique of cooking.

7. Bake in a 425-degree oven for no more than 10 minutes. I think mine (a rather thin fillet) took 8 mins.

Turbot & Salad

Voila! If you’re feeling extra gluttonous you can pour the remaining juices over the fish, but I found that my fish was quite buttery enough. Olive Oil would be a healthier alternative than butter, obviously. But I love butter (as I might have mentioned). So sorry, EVOO. You can suck it.

And you know what else I love? NOT WASHING POTS AND PANS. The fish was good and stuff but my favorite part of this little experiment was that it left exactly ONE plate to wash…or (let’s be honest) for me to leave in our sink until H gets home and washes it for me.

I know what your thinking…but why don’t you try living without a dishwasher, and then we can talk.

In other, totally unrelated news, I wanted to share something that I am extremely proud of myself for:

BAM.

I BOUGHT THESE. TO PUT ON MY FEET. After whining through that fashion-y post I decided to put my money where my mouth is. Literally. Encouraged by a particularly chic young lady (and blood relation), these little beauties are now all mine. I am still flabbergasted by my sheer edginess.

The photo at left is me, whipping out said edgy shoe in my cubicle, snapping an iPhone pic of it as my neighbor gaped at me (she liked them, though), and sending it to literally everyone I know. Well…I didn’t send it to Sister 2 (sorry, sister) because Sister 1 gave me this response:

“THOSE are the shoes you bought?…………..Interesting.”

Sigh. Can’t win ’em all. Judginess be damned, I love these shoes. I know they aren’t anything special, but to me, they are a step (ha, shoe pun!) in the right direction.

Oh and one more thing: HOW ghostly does my hand look in that picture? Horrifying. I’m embarrassed.

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Anyone who knows me knows that one of my great loves in life (aside from my Harold, of course) are Noodles.  I’m not talking pasta, I’m talking good ole asian-y noodles.  Ramen, Soba, Udon–you name it, I’ll eat it.

The love affair started in college with the little packages of heaven called Top Ramen.  Being a great fan of salty things, I thought this stuff was the best, and ate it way to much than my cholesterol, I’m sure, appreciated.  Once I graduated I convinced myself that it would only lead to trouble if I continued to eat Top Ramen 12 times a week.  So, making a rare adult decision, I cut myself off, cold turkey.  No more salty, noodley, steamy, brothy goodness.  I was devastated.  But it was the right thing to do.

But then I moved to New York City, and discovered something that brought light back into my being.  There were places–entire restaurants–in this insane city that actually served Ramen. And this wasn’t just freeze-dried Top Ramen, oh no, this was authentic, fresh, homemade ramen noodles.

In little time I became ramen obsessed yet again.  I’m telling you, if you haven’t had authentic ramen your life is incomplete.  My favorite place for ‘noodles’ (as I affectionately call this little guilty pleasure of mine) is a hole in the wall place in the barren stretches of Midtown East called Men Kui Tei.  When we go, Harold and I are generally one of the only few white people in there–a great thing, considering that is my barometer of whether an asian food place is any good. The wait staff now recognizes us and it’s one of the few places in the city where I actually feel like a ‘regular.’  Every time we have nothing to eat at home and we’re looking for something cheap, I get a twinkle in my eye that H knows all too well.  Before I can even utter those two magical syllables he is measuring out how long its been since we’ve been there (it’s usually never more than a few weeks).  But he likes it too, so he usually gives in.  And he is left with a very full and very happy girlfriend.

So why am I telling you all this?  Well I want you to understand how much my world was totally rocked a couple of weeks ago when I made a discovery in the grocery store: they sell noodles.  For consumption.  In the home.

I’ll let that settle in for a second.

After I died of happiness in the organic food aisle I scooped up a package of these little beauties and traipsed home, practically floating.  Noodles whenever I wanted!  Noodles in my jammies!  Noodles in the morning, noodles in the evening, noodles at supper time (cue pizza bagel theme song).

My first attempt was less than stellar.  These noodles aren’t like regular pasta.  You only cook them for 2-3 mins tops, or else your left with a gooey unappetizing mess.

But tonight, with an empty apartment (yes, Harold has another woman in his life, and her name (that hussy) is Corporate Softball) and a package of noodles waiting in the fridge, I decided to get a little creative.  The result, below, a Thai-esque (thanks to the lime and coconut milk) noodle soup that I didn’t even follow a recipe for.  That’s right: a Better Off Red original for you, my dear readers (all 8 of you).

I just finished my second bowl of this stuff, and let me tell you.  It. Is. GOOD.  It’s got a sweet and spicy thing going on and the veggies stay crunchy because you add them at the end.

NOOOOOODLESSSS.

Ahem.  Here we go.

Thai-inspired Noodle Soup

Noodley Noodles

Ingredients:

1 package japanese style noodles

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

Sesame oil

4 cups chicken stock

1 can coconut milk

3 tablespoons Siracha hot sauce

3 tablespoons Soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine (mirin)

1 pinch cinnamon

1 pinch curry powder

1/2 grated carrot

1/2 cup shelled edamame

1 teaspoon of lime juice

  1. Boil noodles according to package directions, drain and set aside.
  2. In same pot, coat bottom of pot with a drizzle of sesame oil and add minced garlic and ginger.  Saute until golden-brown
  3. Add chicken stock, coconut milk, Siracha; bring to a boil
  4. Add soy sauce, rice wine, cinnamon, curry powder
  5. Let sauce simmer for 15-30 mins, covered.  Add noodles back to pot with 5 mins to spare.
  6. Remove broth from heat, add carrots & edamame, lime juice
  7. Ladle into a bowl, enjoy noodle nirvana

A quick note about Siracha: I read about 23 million blog posts about this stuff before I gave in and bought a bottle. It is a Thai chili sauce. I found it at a little organic shop although I have a feeling you’d be able to find it at larger grocery stores (sadly, Key Foods just isn’t at the forefront of international cuisine).  I was never a big fan of spicy things, much less hot sauce, but OH MAN.  This stuff.  It’s a subtle heat that kinda comes up in your throat…you know what, I can’t even describe it. It is amazing.  Just buy it.

There is only one brand of this stuff--and you're looking at it.

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No, not diamonds (although I am fully confident I could write an entire post on that topic, too! And maybe I will, some day, when I have a diamond all my own….AHEM.)

What I’m talking about is dogs.  More specifically, PUPPIES.

It’s slow here at work today…and after I’ve exhausted my go-to amusement websites (Gawker, NY Magazine, Facebook, Twitter), my mind turns to little furry bundles of joy.  I start puppy-stalking.

Growing up, my family always had a dog.  There was Tiny, the psychotic beagle.  Casey, the doofy easy-going English Cocker Spaniel.  Libby, the ladylike and graceful Chow-Lab mix.  I refuse to mention the current dog in our family since he is not actually ‘mine’ and he’s the worst dog in the history of the planet.  I am not exaggerating.

They were all good pets in their own ways (minus he-who-shall-not-be-named), and I think that having a dog around made for a much better childhood (minus the fighting about who walks the poor thing.  That was always a big issue in our house, because we are a family of lazy-bones).  Now that I am out on my own, I find myself missing having a pet.  And so for the past few months I have had puppies on the brain.

At first I was insistent: medium sized, non-white (white dogs are yucky), non-shedding.  Because dog hair grosses me OUT.  I have had enough years of plucking (or having people pluck) long black dog hairs from my clothing/belongings with a disgusted expression.  Bleckkk.  So my solution?

How can you resist?!

ARE YOU DYING FROM CUTENESS?!  This guy is a Schnauzer.  I am a big fan.  They don’t shed, they aren’t too big (unless you get a Giant Schnau, and why you’d ever do that I don’t know), and they are smart and good-natured.  Apparently.  My aunt and uncle (Hi Aunt Lisa & Uncle Chris!) have a Schnauzer and he is just precious.

However, as I gushed about Schnauzers and Schnauzer mixes (please, do yourself a favor and google “schnoodles”.  Your day will be made), my darling H started complaining.  You see, he grew up with small dogs.  His currently “girlfriend” (and I’m not talking about myself here) is a Rat Terrier named Penny who lives with his parents in Massachusetts.  Small dogs are easier, says H.  Small dogs don’t wreak havoc like bigger dogs, says H.  Small dogs are smart, says H.

Well FINE.  I was pretty biased, since every small dog I’ve ever met has been sort of ‘eh’.  But being the open-minded girl that I am I started casually perusing dogs of the smaller variety.  And what did I come across?  Ladies and gentlemen: I give you, the Morkie.

CUTENESS OVERLOADDDD

And just because I can’t resist, here is another.

Oh Hai!

I literally cannot breathe due to how freaking cute this things are.  YES they are ‘designer dogs’ and YES they could potentially fit into an obnoxious purse, but let’s not judge.  I never thought I would be a small-dog kind of girl, but dare I say I am being convinced by every new Morkie I see.

There are so many more contenders.  The noble Cock-a-poo.  The playful Pomeranian.  This blog could be entirely dedicated to puppies and I wouldn’t have enough space to show all the ones I love (by the way, there is a blog entirely dedicated to puppies: thedailypuppy.com)

Sadly though, I live in the real world.  And in the real world, puppies are expensive to both purchase and to keep.  They require an owner who can hang out with them, rather than work from 9-5.  They are loads of responsibility.  And they need a landlord who allows them in apartments.  None of these things really mesh with my lifestyle right now.

So I guess I remain puppy-less. Sigh.  Browsing petfinder.com (it will break your heart, beware) will have to suffice, for now.

But my puppy biological clock is ticking.  And it’s only getting louder.

PS: If I hear one ‘that is a rat’ comment about my beloved Morkies I will sever friendships without a second thought.  Don’t even try.

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