Friday, December 30, 2005

New Year's Resolutions: 5

Part Five: Be a Better Person

On this, my last day of blogging for 2005 and the final installment of the New Year's Resolutions discussion, I'm faced with the most daunting resolution of all:
Help others (Number 9 on the New Year's Resolution list.)

I think most resolutions are aimed at improving our enjoyment of life, as I mentioned yesterday. And number 10 on the list, "get organized", would still fall under this category, as a self-improvement that will free up time and space and increase your zen-like calm and focus on a daily basis.

As many of you who have called me a "freak" or "weirdo" are aware, I actually enjoy organizing. Seriously enjoy it. This is not hard for me.

The helping others part, now that's more of a challenge. In theory, I support volunteering and selflessness all the way. In reality? I never get out and do it. After four years of blatantly not volunteering as an undergraduate at UD (where there's an opportunity around every brick and ivy corner) I did a year's volunteer service to make up for it. It's now been five years since I've finished my volunteer year and I've done next to nothing ... so I think it's about that time again.

I found it very interesting that no reference to religion was anywhere on the Top 10 Resolutions list. It could be part of "help others" or "enjoy life more," but I would really consider it a separate category. For me, I think it might be a sub-category of "learn something new," since I'm intrigued by the Unitarian Universalist faith and I'd like to learn more--if I can get past the cumbersome name.

So finally, here it is in writing, my New Year's Resolutions list, which may or may not bear any resemblance to what I've been discussing all week:

  1. Buy a house. (So much for the get out of debt part!)

  2. Get a dog.

  3. Pay off my first car. (The bank actually controls this, not me, but I'll still take credit for it!)

  4. Read 50 books, with a minimum of 12 classics and a maximum of 10 romances.

  5. Start lifting weights regularly again, run a sub-30 min. 5k, and lose enough chub to banish the "fat face" which has been mysteriously creeping back into recent photos.

  6. Learn more about creating graphics for a website; get up and running.

  7. Join an organization that works to increase literacy and contribute on a regular basis.

  8. Visit 12 places I've never seen before. They can be down the street or around the world--as long as they're new to me.

  9. Finish my travel book synopsis and send it to 10 agents.

  10. Try one new variety of wine.

    ... and because I feel that lists with 10 items are passe:

  11. Write a blog entry every non-holiday weekday in 2006.

Happy New Year's!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

New Year's Resolutions: 4

Side note: In the past week or so, I’ve been shocked and gratified to get a few comments from people that I actually don’t know personally. (Thanks, Andy!) It’s terribly exciting to think that I may be warping the minds of many people’s family and friends. Please keep spreading the word and expanding our fabulous, snarky gapesnest* community.

Part Four: Quality and Quantity

The items on the New Year's Resolution List for today are quite vague and open to interpretation:
5. Enjoy life more.
8. Learn something new.

Enjoy life more. Seems like a pretty tall order for one year. Maybe it should be quantified more. Would this item be considered successful if you enjoyed life 5% more? What if you took one day out for pure pleasure and life enjoyment—which would be the equivalent of enjoying life .027397 % more? Would that count?

For me, personally, I would need to add some parameters on this before I could confidently cross it off my list on December 31. I think I took a step toward this by quitting a job where I worked over 50 hours a week and was a constant ball of bitter, angry stress. But again, that goes back to quitting—taking something away instead of adding something. What could I add?

Maybe I can vow to sit and have a glass of wine and read a book for an hour every week. No TV or any other distractions. To me, though, this would fall under the more specific category of “read 50 books” or “have more quality alone time.” Likewise, if I defined “enjoy life more” as spending more time with my husband or traveling or learning a new hobby, that’s what I’d write on my resolution list. Really, I think “enjoy life more” is actually the overall theme of a New Year’s resolution list, instead of a specific item. If the point of New Year’s resolutions is not to make your life more fulfilling and enjoyable, then what is it? I’m stumped.

This brings me to my favorite resolution: Learn something new. The possibilities here are endless! Last year, I translated this into “read 50 books.”

This year, I think I’ll keep that goal but refine it a bit. I’ll still try to read 50 books, but there will be an additional stipulation that at least 12 of them must be “classics” of some sort. Listed on a Top 100 Books of All-time countdown, or Top 100 Novels of the Twentieth Century … you get the idea. I also think I’ll limit the number of romance novels that can be on the list to 10. So the majority of my reading is composed of works that I may not have read, otherwise. I am, however, still leaving myself the escape route of children’s fiction as a quick read, in case I’m in the same bind next year as I am right now: I need to read 5 books this week to reach 50. Two down, three to go!

When I think of other new things to learn, sadly, the first ones that come to mind are beyond my control. Like “learn what it feels like to be independently wealthy” or “learn how to engage the audience on your first book tour.” Hopefully “learn what it’s like to own a home, i.e., owe a ridiculously huge amount of money to the bank” is on the agenda. Otherwise, this category needs some work. I’d appreciate any suggestions!

Are you working on your own New Year’s Resolutions? Or do you scorn the practice? I think it’s silly, but I can’t help doing it anyway. It’s kind of a superstition, and also I’m rather goal-oriented. If you have any resolutions or suggestions, feel free to share!

*A side, side note: According to The Word Museum, a “gapesnest” is “a wonderment, a strange sight.” I tried googling “gapesnest” so as to link to this definition, for the benefit of my readers that may not be familiar with old English terms that have been out of use for over a hundred years. What came up, however, was mostly links to this blog. How exciting! Everyone who is curious as to the meaning of “gapesnest” will be directed here! So be sure to bring the term back into common usage, and I’ll do my best to give everyone something to stare at.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

New Year's Resolutions: 3

Part Three: Be a Quitter

According to the New Year's Resolution List, quitting smoking and drinking are items 4 and 6, respectively. I think it should be taken into account, however, that one person may vow to accomplish these resolutions every January first for 30-some years. I think this skews the numbers a bit.

If you were determined to learn how to fly, or run a marathon, you could do it once and cross it off your list. Quitting a bad habit or starting a good one (see yesterday's blog) can make the resolution list over and over and over again.

Personally, I don't smoke. I don't intend to quit drinking, because I actually find it to be quite enjoyable to have a glass of wine while reading, or writing, or making dinner ... the list goes on. Anyway, as a moderate drinker, the benefits of a calming beverage from time to time outweighs the negatives.

So what does this leave me to quit? I don't think you can have a New Year's resolution list without promising to quit something. Through quitting, we can make the world a cleaner place (quit polluting), a happier place (quit being snarky), and a healthier place (quit eating junk food and eat more Raisin Nut Bran, if it still exists).

The problem is: I'm not a quitter. I am a Lesser. I tell myself I need to walk sometimes so I am the cause of less pollution. I should aim to keep my snarky comments in check 60% of the time. I'll promise to limit myself to one can of Coke a day and have peanut M&Ms as an occasional (as opposed to hourly) treat.

Because I know as soon as I quit something, I'll want it bad. Worse than I've ever wanted it before. The urge will be irrestible, and I will succumb. Can I vow to quit succumbing to urges after I quit something? Or really, the more feasible solution is that I just need to quit quitting.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

New Year's Resolutions: 2

Part Two: Buff Bodies

I found it interesting that the Top 10 List of New Year's Resolutions had two entries dedicated to health and fitness:
2. Fit in Fitness
3. Lose Weight

Would these not be considered the same thing? I guess maybe it's more indicative of our society's view of fitness and weight being two separate issues. A person may be fit enough *ahem* to run seven miles while carrying a bit of chub. This person may be fit, but according to the Gap and Cosmo, she would still need to lose weight.

So I think that my personal New Year's resolution (because yes, I will continue to make them, even though 98.5% of the time they amount to nothing) should be to think of being fit and losing weight as one and the same. Or rather, drop the whole "losing weight" theme.

However, I do need to pay attention to both the diet and exercise aspects of being fit, since I can run for miles and then come home and happily chow down on pizza and pop any night of the week. Or morning. Perhaps a little more running and a little less pizza might also mean a better ratio of flab to muscle. Hmmmm, what a thought!

Monday, December 26, 2005

New Year's Resolutions: 1

Every January I make them, and every December I wonder at the futility of it. When is making a New Year's Resolution a good idea? The Pittsburgh, PA incarnation of has a Top 10 List of New Year's Resolutions. From this list, I will do a five-part installment on the various ways that New Year's Resolutions go wrong.

Part One: "Quality" Time
For my first installment, I'm combining the first and seventh items on the list.
1. Spend more time with family and friends
7. Spend less money/get out of debt

At first glance, these two might seem to fall under different categories. But I believe that the savvy resolution maker can combine them.

You're deep in student loan, car loan, and credit card debt. And that's just what you're admitting to your significant other. How can you improve your financial situation?

Traditionally, those in debt are counseled to create a strict budget and stick to it. They should reduce personal, discretionary spending. Buy second-hand clothes. Don't eat out so much. Put most of your income toward paying down debt.

If you're willing to sacrifice, that's all fine and good. But if you're willing to spend more time with other people, I have another option for you. Mooch.

The most drastic part of this plan would involve moving back in with your parents, if you can take it. Sucker them into letting you stay for free and feeding you, and virtually all costs of living disappear! You may even get your laundry done, too.

Now, what expenses are left? Entertainment, mostly. This is where friends come in. You know how to work this—we've all known a mooch at some point. "Forget" your wallet when you meet for coffee. When you're out with a group for dinner, order two entrees (the second one boxed for later), copious amounts of alcohol and several appetizers; then suggest everyone split the check evenly, throw your money on the table, and split.

If you rely on others to pay for you, you can't help but spend more time with friends and family. Will it be quality time? Well, is that question ever really answered for sure? Save up for a house down payment so everyone can take a well-deserved break from each other once your year of togetherness and financial frugality is over.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Who Dey Think Gonna Ask Them Prices?

Originally, I planned on writing a happy, joyous account of quirky Christmas traditions around the world. However, lately I've realized there are some rather annoying American Christmas traditions that must be addressed (which is more entertaining, anyway.)

I may have previously mentioned one or two things that annoy me about shopping. And you would think I was done. But no! It has been brought to my attention (Thanks, Carrie!) that clerks at a sports apparel store in Northern Kentucky have been *gasp* rude and unhelpful.

I know, I know—you're shocked. But I have corroborated my source's story, and I tell you it's true. An innocent shopper was trying to find an AFC North Champions item of apparel for a family member. She went to a store with a multitude of AFC North Champs apparel choices .... none of which were labeled with a price. Obviously, seeing as how the Bengals' status as AFC North Champs just became official last weekend, these items are brand spankin' new. How was she to know the price?

She went to the clerks to enquire, and they were seriously annoyed at having to talk to a customer about a price during work hours. Seriously, wasn't it enough that they stood there for eight hours, occasionally scanning in merchandise and swiping credit cards? Just yesterday, someone made them use the pole thing to get a sweatshirt from the 10-foot high row of hooks. God, the pressure! So much being asked of them!

So yes, point of the story: add items without prices and self-absorbed nitwit clerks to the list of shopping annoyances.

For me personally, we've been getting a lot of Christmas cards in the past week. Which is nice--spreading Christmas cheer is wonderful. Except, when they are addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. Keith", this does not make me cheerful. It makes me angry and twitchy. It gives me the uncontrollable urge to break something or drink a bottle of wine to take the edge off the burning inferno of rage.

This is not good for me. This is not something I would like to associate with Christmas. I am not merely Keith's chattel; I also have a name. My own name, which is just as easy to say as "Keith" but actually refers to me as an individual, instead of as my husband's property. So if you would like to send me a card or address me in any way, I would actually prefer it if you would address me.

I know I'm preaching to the choir, as it were, because if you know me well enough to be reading my blog, you know better than to make such an egregious error of judgment. But I still put it out there in case you may, perhaps, be visiting a mutual friend or family member who happens to be writing out holiday greetings.

Please, I beg of you, say something on the behalf of women everywhere and stop the madness. Spread the cheer. Write two names.

Ahem, now that you've finished your shopping and mailed your Christmas cards, have a Merry Christmas! (And if you haven't, Walgreens and Speedway welcome you with open arms.)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Glorified Calculator

I apologize profusely for accidentally turning off the comments feature last week. Your comments are welcome here! As long as they are complimentary towards me, of course.

I'm sorry. I like technology. But my computer, for me, is really just a glorified calculator.

Do you remember when the TI-85s were fascinating new technology? I remember laboriously typing notes to classmates, thinking the teacher might actually believe we were comparing our differential equation results. And the fact that you could beam info by laser? Brilliant! I knew it could also do a lot of impressive math-related tasks, but I wasn't very interested in that. I just wanted to write notes.

That's kind of how I feel about my home computer now. I know that it's capable of many, many calculations and running large, complicated programs that would make my puny mind's synapses quiver in fear. But I don't use it for that.

I use it as a word processor. I like to write. So I write. I am a Word formatting master. But it does still bother me that the program thinks it's smarter than me, and often changes things around to suit its preferences. Like I won't notice.

I use my computer as a DJ. Sometimes I take Keith's fancy new laptop into the kitchen while I'm cooking so I can listen to music. Under this category also falls the uses of computer as radio and CD burner. Do you remember how much time it used to take to make mix tapes? No more!

I use my computer for Internet access. This is a very important task, as it opens the doors to such a variety of knowledge repositories, from to This also encompasses its duty as communications director, in charge of e-mails and IMing.

And, of course, my computer is a calculator. Not in the calculus sense—don't be ridiculous! But in the sense of "I'm writing a 700-word article. If I have five sections, how long do they each need to be?" The kind of brightly colored, Spongebob Squarepants calculator a 2nd-grader might use.

Is this so wrong, I ask you? Sometimes I'm a little ashamed that I use only 12.6% of my computer's capacity. But it's been argued that we only use 10% of our brains, right? By that standard, surely I'm improving over nature.

But maybe what's important is knowing that much of the brain/computer's abilities lie untapped. Maybe it's enough that, for now, it saves me from having a typewriter, CD player and radio, a stack of newspapers and magazines, a TV, a telephone, and a Spongebob calculator all cluttering my desk. Although I am kind of tempted to buy the Spongebob calculator now. (Oh yes! It exists!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Laugh-out-loud Love Story

Who knew that such a thing existed? If you are familiar with our wedding website, than you did! However, others may not have been so lucky. So, for those who have not had the pleasure (and because I've been busy writing articles about cat vaccinations and litter boxes) ... I give you: the true story of Keith and Megan. (As told by Megan.)

Truly, Keith is a Cancer, born on June 25, 1978. From a young age, he showed his precocious and inquisitive nature. “Keith always made sure his clothes matched, and his socks matched his clothes,” proud mother Karen proclaims. He also started playing the violin and reading at age 3 and was personally chosen as Superman’s protégé at the tender age of 5. The protector of younger siblings Nick and Jessica, young Keith lived to serve and obey and play wiffle ball.

Throughout his school years at various Catholic schools in Northern Kentucky, Keith excelled at math, science, and spitwads. Best friend since age 4, Michael Brinkman calls Keith a “rabble rouser” but maintains that it “was all in good fun.” At Holy Cross High School, Keith turned his attention to athletic pursuits, lettering in baseball, soccer, cross country, and track. In his spare time, he also managed to be on student council, maintain excellent grades, and be tapped for the Calculus award his senior year. After such an illustrious beginning to his scholarly pursuits, Keith was headed to major in computer engineering at the University of Dayton in the fall of 1996.

Unlike Keith, Megan did not excel in math. Born on April 2, 1978, she decided early on that, as the Wonderwoman costume didn’t flatter her curvaceous figure (see photo), she would become an actress just like Daisy Duke. In her childhood years, she fought with older sister Amy, harassed younger sister Erin, and took acting lessons. By the age of 10, she’d become world-wise and understood it’s often difficult to succeed overnight in acting. At this point, she took a more serious interest in her schooling and determined that she would “do something with computers” by day and act in her spare time until she was discovered. “Megan would always do what she wanted to do,” her mother Helen shrugs. “She takes after her mother’s side of the family,” adds father Chuck.

Throughout middle school and high school, Megan continued to act and study, study and act. Taking a decided aversion to math, she focused on English and boys. When not French-rolling her jeans or rollerskating with Ashley and Jenny, she was usually found with her nose in a book. Her saving grace occurred when, as the result of a summer crush after 7th grade, she found soccer. In high school, she expanded her interests, warming the bench in freshman basketball, playing soccer, joining marching band and, of course, becoming President of Drama Club. When she graduated from Avon Lake High School in June 1996, she headed for the University of Dayton to major in English and minor in French. “She promised not to fraternize with people at college,” childhood friend Emily remarks. “I don’t know what happened.”

What Emily couldn’t know was the irresistible attraction pulling Megan and Keith together. By December of their freshman year, Megan “had her eye” on Keith and had already indicated as much to her family and friends. College friend and roommate Laurie remembers, “Megan used to say that she thought Keith would treat his girlfriends really well, and she would look really wistful. That’s when I knew she liked him.”

Likewise, Keith’s college roommate and friend Chris had noticed that Keith was paying extra attention to Megan. “He was always quiet,” Chris says, “but I knew all along he liked her. And I’m a lawyer, so I can’t lie about things like that.”

In March of their freshman year, Megan and Keith finally told each other how they felt and starting dating. Through the good times of college and the difficult times of being separated by an ocean when Megan was volunteering in England, they’ve worked out their differences and reinforced their commitment to each other. Seven years later, they excitedly took the next step: combining their CD collections. “It’s a really big decision,” Keith says. “But we love each other, we want to be together for the rest of our lives, and I think we’re ready to seriously commit and purge any duplicate albums.”

“I love him. He’s fantastic,” Megan says simply. “And he tells me I’m smart and that I look gorgeous. If he asks me to get rid of a Beatles CD, I would do that for him.”

Keith and Megan were married on September 25, 2004, at a small ceremony somewhere near Cleveland, Ohio. Their kick-ass reception took place three weeks later on October 16, 2004, at the Packard Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Can Christmas be PC?

In a word, "no." The essence of Christmas is not to be PC. Christmas is a religious holiday celebrated by a particular sect of believers to whom Christ was a very important guy. If you do not believe in Christ as the Savior, you don't get Christmas presents. That's how it works.

The muddy area comes as it always does in the United States—when government and religion intersect. Maybe you already heard that Boston nearly had a holiday tree this year. On the one side, we have officials so worried about neglecting anyone that they changed the name to a holiday tree. On the other side, we have the righteous Jerry Falwell, protector of rights most of us couldn't care less about, who threatened to sue with the fury of "700 Christian lawyers" if Boston didn't change the name back to a Christmas tree. And so the life of the holiday tree ended abruptly, and the Christmas tree was reborn in Beantown.

Why is the city putting up a Christmas tree, anyway? I've never really understood how a division between Church and state suddenly became moot at Christmas. Was it written into law as a strict division of Church and State "except at Christmas. Everyone loves that holiday!"?

It's pretty common knowledge with his God-sprinkled speeches and stern take on that new-fangled "science" stuff that G-Dub considers the division between Church and State to be a pesky little wall soon for demolition. As a matter of fact, it was recently announced in the press that the CIA has been chipping away at the bottom of the wall since Sept. 12, 2001, as G-Dub gave them special powers that the little people of the U.S. didn't need to know about. With one sharp rap of the Christmas tree-topper, the wall will be down and Church and State can live happily ever after! Creationism will be taught in schools and everyone will be required to say "God almighty bless you!" when someone sneezes in public!

However, until that happens, Church and State are still separate. Christmas is not PC, it is not a state holiday, and should be celebrated by those who share a belief in Jesus Christ. (And possibly those that were raised with those beliefs and, although not completely buying them anymore, would really miss the cookies. But that's another blog entry.) Just as Kwanzaa and Hanukkah should be celebrated by select groups of people. The city shouldn't be decorating for or celebrating any of them. If the government is going to sponsor any holiday festivities, it should be Festivus.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Very Commercial Christmas

I know I may come across as all "in the Christmas spirit", loving the holiday and all of the trimmings. And while that's mostly true, I can't stand some Christmas commercials. I know, I know: it's a big time of the year for retailers, people are buying stuff so why not get them to buy your stuff?, etc. I get it.

But even so, the premise for many of these commercials is so far out there as to be completely ridiculous. Mostly because they take themselves so seriously. I loved the Kia "Save the Greenbacks" campaign, because it was laughing at itself and the car industry. Personally, here are some of my least favorite commercials/themes this year:
  • The Car: A Perfect Surprise Gift. A person sits at a computer, shopping online. She just can't think of a unique gift for that special someone. She looks out the window and sees a car parked beneath a decorative bow and a smile crosses her face ....

    Um, yeah. A car is definitely an impulse buy. Sure! Why not? It could be a house down payment, but a car with a bow is so much more fun and spontaneous! I know if Keith surprised me with a car, I'd have a few choice words for him. Once I started talking to him again, which might not happen until mid-2006. Perhaps this commercial appeals to you if 1) you like to drop ludicrous amounts of money to show your net worth, and 2) you and your significant other have not yet combined finances.

  • Diamonds: A True Necessity. Thoughtful, personalized gifts are nice, as are platitudes like "I love you" or "you're the most important person in my life." But if you really want to show your love for a woman, you need to give her diamonds. Lots and lots of diamonds. Even if she's the type of woman who says she doesn't want diamonds, she's just denying her inner voice. Give her expensive diamonds and she'll be won over just like that!

    I think my favorite example of this commercial is the one where a woman is asleep in her house. She's woken by flashing lights. She goes to the window to see that her adoring husband has apparently stolen a snowplow and driven it into the end of their drive because he couldn't wait until the next day to give her the diamonds--she needed them now.

    Okay, let's start with the snowplow. If the weather is so bad that he needed to drive a plow to get home, mightn't that be needed elsewhere? Perhaps a bit more urgently? What did he say to the snowplow driver, "I have diamonds for my wife, man!" and the driver just backed away and let him have it.

    I also wonder why he needs to give her the diamonds right away. Is his mistress coming to Christmas dinner? Is there some reason why he needs to convince her of his love ASAP? Very fishy, if you ask me. Maybe he should have traded in the diamonds and bought her a luxury vehicle with four-wheel drive that he could have used to get home.

  • The "Oh no, we don't have cell phones!" dilemma. A perfect WASP family of four is at the mall, making plans of how to reconnect after they finish shopping. Dad outlines an elaborate plan of who calls whom, and then Jr. realizes, "Hey! We don't have any cell phones!"

    By the end of 2005, you don't just not have a cell phone. Like it's never occurred to you. If you haven't bought a cell phone by now, it's a personal decision and you're taking a stand against "The Man" and overuse of technology. (Michael, I'm looking at you.)

    Or maybe the moral of the story is, if you have a cell phone and forgot to bring it with you, just buy another one! And sign up for a 7-year contract, while you're at it. Two is better than one, and a family pack of phones is the best!

  • Last-minute shopping is easy. This is actually a type of commercial that I've just started seeing today. While writing the blog, I saw a Walgreens commercial that encouraged last-minute shoppers to visit Walgreens for all their shopping needs. True: I would have been very pleased with a fabric shaver. But what else could be bought there? A paperback novel, crossword book, candy ... I think after four or five presents, I might start suspecting a last-minute present run at Walgreens. If you must resort to this, buy at least one or two gifts early, just enough to mix it up and hopefully dispel your significant other's suspicions.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Is It Really that Hard?

Welcome to the first installment of an ongoing series, "Is It Really that Hard?" In this forum, we'll discuss how "people" (meaning everyone else but us, of course) make even the simplest task amazingly difficult. In keeping with the theme of a few earlier posts, today's topic is: the grocery store.

You make a list, get the items on your list and put them in your cart/basket, and check out. Is it really that hard?

There's countless ways in which shoppers make an economy-sized toilet paper pack purchase out of a pack of gum, if you know what I mean. For example:

  • The squeezer/sniffers: Yes, you want your fruit to be fresh. Ripe, flavorful, but not teetering on the edge of illness-inducing decrepitness. That's fair. But exactly how long does it take to determine the fruit's status? How many ways much you check, repeatedly? And why must you leave your cart in front of the peppers I want while you test the tomatoes?
  • Poor cart form: Speaking of leaving your cart... what about the people that don't understand the purpose of a grocery cart. I thought a grocery cart was meant as an extension of your arms. You keep it close, and it holds all of the things you can't physically hang on to all at once. Pretty useful! It's not meant as a ramming tool, with which you can careen around the ends of aisles and shove unsuspecting shoppers out of your way. It's not meant as a barrier to prevent people from reaching products that you just might want in the next few minutes. And it's not meant to be left unattended in the middle of a busy aisle because something shiny caught your eye, causing an ugly traffic jam in front of the coffee filters and fresh beans.
  • Incessant cell phone talkers: I can almost understand the grocery store conversations along the lines of, "Hey, you wanted Raisin Nut Bran, but there's none on the shelves. Will anything else satisfy that craving for nutty, crunchy, sweet goodness?" I cannot understand the Trigger Happy TV show-esque conversations of, "What are you doing? ... Oh, nothing. I'm just at the store... Yeah, my fridge is empty .... No way! I can't believe she said that. What'd you say?" These conversations are usually carried on at high volume, while the offender is simultaneously committing the cart sins mentioned above. It makes me twitchy
  • Checking out faux pas: 1) If you picked up a frozen or refridgerated item while perusing the store and decided not to purchase, don't leave it to melt onto the front of Martha Stewart Living, out of sight of the cashier. Not that I'm a Martha Stewart fan, but really. 2) If you are in an express lane, don't stare into space until the cashier has rung up all your items and bagged them, and then rummage through your purse for a checkbook. Not cool.
    3) When you've finished putting your items on the belt, check out etiquette dictates you should put the plastic bar on the belt also, since the person behind you cannot reach it. If you don't put it there, I have to waste half a belt and precious minutes until you've moved out of my way and I can slam down the plastic divider and start loading up my groceries.

But I'm not angry or annoyed when I go grocery shopping at all! Whatever gave you that impression? Maybe I need to start from the alcohol, open a bottle of whisky, and work my way backward. Come on people, is it really that hard?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Just My Luck

*Author's note: Because I have a cold and feel like crap today, you're getting a short piece from my fiction writing class in college. If you were counting on more of my witty, insouciant nonfiction, deal with it.*

I heard once that if you saw a spring robin and it sang, you’d be really lucky that year. That year I was a high school freshman—a young man fresh from the disappointments and constant embarrassment of middle school. A young man newly acquainted with the wonders of the female flesh displayed on high tone, glossy paper. A young man eager to see how reality would fare in comparison to my most vivid imagination. To be blunt, I was hoping to get lucky, preferably with Meredith.

Like most of the school, Meredith went to every Varsity baseball game that year. Our Carlisle Cardinals had been doing pretty well that season, but personally, I suspected the consistently high attendance had more to do with the blonde goddess in the stands than the jocks on the field.

It was a blazing Saturday afternoon, and Meredith sat a little to the left and two rows ahead of me in the stands behind our team’s bench. The game that day was against our biggest rivals; the whole school sweated side by side on the bleachers. With the Cardinals down 7–6 in the ninth and two outs, our third batter strode to the plate. When I stared at home plate through the fence, I could still catch a glimpse of her golden ponytail swinging as she laughed and gestured, flinging tan arms in arcs around her very attractive body. I took a deep breath, watching the batter swing and miss on a fast ball just as a spring robin cheerfully chirped overhead.

Suddenly, the crown of my head felt a little warmer and a little wetter. I froze, then stretched casually, reaching over my head and using my fingertips to affirm what I already suspected: the robin had ruined the chance of a Meredith rendezvous in the foulest way possible.

With my hand clasped to the top of my head, I looked around, horrified. Shit! I muttered, as nearby spectators began to giggle. No one even heard the umpire bark, “Strike Two!,” as they were all too preoccupied with the viscous slime I was trying to wipe on the splintery wooden bench. With increasing speed, the laughter and whispers spread outwards in ripples until I saw the blonde ponytail begin to turn. I yanked my hand off my hair, stuffing it underneath my khaki Gap shorts. Tilting my head back so the top was out of her sight, I smiled and feebly waved to Meredith as her thin, tan shoulders began to shake with laughter. The other team cheered as our last batter struck out, and I made my way down the bleachers towards my bike.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Six Games to Help You Through Another Day at Your Crappy Job

We've all done it, so let's just make it official: here's 6 games you can play at work when you want to be anywhere but there. This goes out to the many, many people I know who are dissatified with their jobs, but don't have a sugardaddy like me to help them escape the daily grind.

Play Margaret Mead, intrepid scientist.
You are not one of them. You're just there to observe these creatures in their natural habitat and take notes on individual and group behavior so you can discuss your findings with the rest of humanity. Although you need to befriend them and learn their secrets, just remember: you are an uninvolved, highly trained observer. Special rituals at this time of year: Secret Santa, provision of Christmas cookies, holiday parties, many unaccounted-for midday disappearances.

Invoke the 20-minute rule. (Props to K.)
I can't take credit for this one: it belongs to a former coworker. For protection of the innocent, I will not name names, but you know who you are.

It doesn't have to be 20 minutes necessarily, just choose the amount of time per day or, if you're really dedicated, per hour, that you actually owe the company work. For example, let's say that you decide the company deserves one hour of your time a day. You can get the hour out of the way in the morning or split it up throughout the day. While you're doing your hour of time, you are super productive and focused. But the rest of the day belongs to you.

Send the roaming gnone on office adventures.
Ah, that crazy gnome. This one requires coming in early or staying late when no one's around, so you may want to make this an occasional diversion.

Buy a Travelocity® Roaming Gnome from this guy or at the Travelocity Gnome Store. He's journeyed through the most glamorous cities in 6 continents--why not your office? Take pictures of him around the office (on the bosses' desk, answering the main phone, sending an "I quit" email). Create a blog on blogger to tell people about his adventures. On days when you play this, spend most of the day working on his blog. Bonus: also get props for your dedication and working so many hours!

Role play the perfect employee.
Pretend like you care. Pretend like you think this company is the best place ever and you'd be crazy to even consider leaving the comforts of your cube. Tell your boss she looks like she's lost weight, or his tie compliments his blue eyes. Bring in coffee and/or donuts for everyone, and be the office sweetheart. Don't worry too much about getting work done, just work on getting everyone to like you. What does that feel like? Bonus: Although you're doing no actual "work" or anything of "substance," you may get a raise out of this behavior! As we all know:
Crappy Job + $$$ > Crappy Job

Pretend you are acting in an episode of The Office.
Either the American or the British version; I'm not particular. Choose a character from the show and be that character for a day. Interact with people as if you were that character. Be sure to pick a spot for the camera wherever you are, so you know where to send the deadpan looks when applicable.

Play the repeat game.
"What," you ask, "Is the repeat game?"
"What," I reply, "Is the repeat game?"
You remember this childhood favorite. This is only for large office meetings when you are seriously disgruntled. Bring this one out if you are ready to be fired.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Unsolved Mysteries of the Grocery Store

Grocery store organization is a mystery to me. And this is coming from someone who actually considers organizing a fun hobby. Who does it for other people because she finds it enjoyable. Even so, I cannot wrap my head around grocery store organization.

I was talking about it with some friends this weekend. I asked Andrea if she had one of those little gadgets to get fuzz off her sweaters, because I needed one and I had no idea where to look. A puzzled look came across her face. She admitted she did have one, but it was a gift and she had no idea where to look for one, either.

So today I decided to investigate. (And I needed to go grocery shopping anyway. But at least if I pretended I was involved in investigative journalism, the doddering old people comparing brands of tomato soup for 20 minutes might bother me a smidge less.) Armed with a shopping list and a list of items that mystify as to their placement, I headed to the Hyde Park Biggs.

I parked near the grocery store but walked first to the drug store. Why, you ask? Because I also find perplexing the relationship between grocery stores and drug stores. They live in such close proximity to each other; often even sharing a parking lot, like my local Biggs and Walgreens. But if they offer the same product, why are they both there? I can never keep straight what items would be at a drug store that could not also be found at the grocery store. Keith's given me the lecture several times. It goes like this:
Picture a grocery store. Now take away anything perishable or relating to groceries. The area you have left is significantly smaller than the area of a drugstore. This means that drug stores can carry a wider variety of non-grocery items than grocery stores do.
I waltzed into Walgreens, ready to test Keith's crazy theory. And he was right! You'd think I'd be used it after so many years, but it still seems wrong for one person to be right all the time. However, I would like to point out that the sweater de-fuzzer (or Fabric Shaver, according to its packaging) was with the clothes hangers, far removed from the laundry items. This still makes no sense to me.

After purchasing one snazzy little fabric shaver, I headed over to Biggs. Below is a list of some of the mystery items and where I did or did not find them. If you have any other ones to add, please let me know!
  1. Fabric Shaver. Was not to be found in the grocery store. Double damn that man! What else I found interesting about Aisle 13 was that it did contain bugsprays both to be applied to humans as protection, and to be applied to bugs as lethal force. The sign for Aisle 13 read: "Air Care, Laundry Care, Fabric Care, Bags/Wraps, Paper Plates." Where do you think Off! and Raid fit in those categories?

  2. Marshmallows. In my past experience, I had looked for these in baking, only to be sorely disappointed. However, in Biggs they were indeed in aisle 10: baking. This made me realize a) that grocery store organizers really don't know what they're doing, or b) it's all part of a nefarious plan by the big chains to have their regular customers confused when they go into the competitor's stores since items are moved around, so they will retreat to the comfort of their usual store.

  3. Maraschino cherries. Again, another item that I've seen in several places. My instincts told me that it would be with the canned fruit. And it was! Nearly. The last item on the Aisle 2 sign actually said "Can Fruit", which brought to mind several amusing images. And that PotUSA song about peaches.

  4. Batteries. Ah yes, the bastard child of grocery organization. These are never in one spot. They are always scattered on random displays throughout the store. In this case, I was looking for a 9-volt battery. The display stuck near carbonated beverages did not have any 9-volts so I continued my search. Finally, I found a cardboard display at the end of Aisle 9: Pets.

    Okay, my parents' dog did eat a battery once. And some glasses and my sister's homework and chocolate brownies ... however, I didn't think anyone would actually encourage this type of behavior. What sort of pet needs batteries? Our society is entirely too pampered these days if pets are now getting battery-powered toys.

  5. Fake meat. I think the proper term for this is something more along the lines of "soy-based meat replacement product." Either way, it's frozen products made from not-meat ingredients, but made to resemble ground beef, chicken pieces, corndogs, etc. Although I'm not vegetarian, I like eating the fake meat because it's healthier and usually cheaper.

    Never easy to find in the grocery store, though. Typically it gets put next to the frozen breakfast section. This time, however, they switched it up and included it with the organic options. Way to keep me on my toes! Interesting that it's never actually in a case remotely near the meat.
Some other points of interest:
  • I was looking for a sponge to replace the one on that plastic wand filled with dish soap that we keep in the sink. You know what I'm talking about--everyone has one. Well, there weren't any with the sponges, but I did find a package of replacement sponges for "liquid dispensing dishwasher." They were round, I needed rectangular. Is it really that hard, people? Where is the Liquid Dispensing Dishwasher Quality Control and Regulations Committee (WLDDQCR) when you need one?
  • A single tear rolled down my cheek as I rolled the shopping cart past the spot where Raisin Nut Bran should be.
  • TAB still lives!! How the hell can TAB stay around but Raisin Nut Bran gets the boot?!? It seems wrong that it can now be purchased in the new-fangled fridge pack. If you're going to buy TAB, I think you should have to buy it in an old school fridge pack and then put the cans in the fridge individually. Like the Bangles and Huey Lewis used to do it back in the day. (Sorry, Chris.)
While in line at the checkout, I was again irritated by seeing a new issue of Shape magazine in the rack. Why do I even bother subscribing to Shape when it's ALWAYS in stores before I get my copy? Is it really that hard? I don't move every month! Grrr. But then I heard Bing singing "White Christmas", and I was immediately cheered up.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Procrastinator's Vow

I've grown soft. Not that I ever realized I was hard. As an undergrad, I thought I had the life. Write my paper two days before it was due? Pah! I scorn the thought. I'll write it the night before it's due, staying up until early morning light peeks through the windows and I'll like it.

I want to call it English major tendencies, but I guess everyone did it. It's just a little harder to save an entire chemistry experiment for the last night when a solution needs to set for 10 hours and the lab closes after 9. So guess it was more prevalent amongst English majors because we could. Particularly once Internet research became accepted in academia. Not only could I wait until the last night to write the paper, I could sit down after dinner that night and start my research!

Those were heady days, living on the edge. Waiting until the last minute to write feverishly on a paper. Telling myself I'd be better next time, I'd start early, maybe even get it done *gasp* a day ahead of time. And proofread! For content! And yet, my procrastination tendencies would take over and it would happen the same way the next time.

I think it was addictive. I knew I was a good academic writer. Since senior year in high school when I slapped the five-paragraph paper on the ass and called it my bitch. I could think of a thesis, create supporting ideas and nail down textual quotes like nobody's business. So if I gave myself plenty of time to write a paper, where was the challenge in that? It was the papers I wrote at 2:00 am that I got back with As that filled me with satisfaction. Especially when I re-read them and realized not only were they acceptable—some parts were actually pretty well written! I would muse, "If I'm this good under pressure, I wonder what I would write like with more time?" I honestly didn't know.

In grad school, it became a little tougher. I'd been out of college for 1.5 years. Not long, but long enough for the typical undergrad paper length to change from 5 pages to 10. Um, that's quite a leap. Math majors might call it "double." And grad students? Fifteen to 20 pages. I might call that "a hell of a lot more than double, and a really freakin' long paper."

The motivation was also difficult because, where I might have been able to convince my boyfriend to read a 5-page paper I was proud of as an undergrad, he would take one look at my 18-page grad level Lit. Theory paper on "A Psychoanalytical Reader-Response Analysis of Maxfield Parrish's Daybreak" and probably fall over, dead asleep. It would take two episodes of Sportscenter to revive him. So now I was writing papers that were three times longer, that would only be read by myself and my professor (and, to be perfectly honest, I only skimmed the finished version), and I had the same amount of time to do it in. Because if you're going to procrastinate, you can not start a paper while it's still light out the night before. That doesn't count. Oh, and I worked full-time.

In my class on Toni Morrison, a mousy girl was talking one day about how she'd stayed up the ENTIRE night working on an assignment for class. I looked at her.
"Do you work?" I asked.
"No," she replied. Which meant she'd stayed up all night to complete her paper ... and then slept 8 hours to awake refreshed and ready for our evening class. That, also, does not count. You need to write your paper, take a shower while it's printing out, and be ready for a full day ahead.

So anyway, it's been a while since I've experienced that. And now I feel old because I didn't feel the same rush. The heady excitement of being under the gun. Mostly I was tired and cranky. It sucked.

Since quitting my job, I've been applying for freelance writing jobs left and right. And until last Thursday, nobody cared. Before you ask—No, I did not send them my paper about reader-response to Parrish's Daybreak painting or the shorter, yet more intimidating 14-page paper on "Chaucer's Psychological Motivation for Feminist Elements of The Wife of Bath Prologue and Tale." And yet, no writing assignments.

Until Friday, that was, when I was assigned 30 articles—all due by Monday evening. This is why I spent my entire weekend researching and writing. Writing and researching. Even so, I still missed my deadline—to have everything turned in by 6 o'clock Monday evening. I finished the last article at 11:00 pm, 5 hours past deadline.

It was my fault, really. I took breaks occasionally. I talked to people. I even slept for a few hours on Saturday night. I went to Keith's work party, for heaven's sake! If you're going to procrastinate (or, in this case it was out of my control), when you finally start writing you'd damn well better dedicate yourself to the cause or all is lost.

And it really, really sucked. Maybe it was a good reminder that, as much as we all may talk about "those good old college days," we most definitely cannot go back. Although after sending off the last article, I did have a hankering for Papa John's pizza, breadsticks with cheese sauce, and a 2-liter of Coke.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Christmas Music: A Defense

So apparently there's some bitter people out there who don't like Christmas music. Moreover, he maintains that NO ONE actually likes Christmas music. Even if you claim that you do, it's only because you are misguided and having Santa's woolly beard pulled over your eyes by the excitement of the season. If you were to listen to the music with different words at a different time of the year, you'd find it insipid and vomit-inducing. (These were not his actual words; I made him more poetic and intelligent-sounding.)

I think this "argument" shows a decisive lack of understanding of the appeal of Christmas music. To base like or dislike of the music solely upon the score itself is short-sighted. You cannot separate the notes from the intent. It's Christmas music. That is the whole point. I like Christmas music even though I am fully aware that it's kitschy and overdone and sappily sentimental (see my earlier post for my thoughts on this, entitled Christmas Cheese). For the short time between Thanksgiving and New Year's, I revel in music that is purely optimistic, unrepentently good-humored, and simplistic in tone, message, and delivery. At other times of the year and in other genres, I would find this unacceptable. Does this mean that I truly don't like Christmas music, because my standards for it are different from my typical listening preferences? Absolutely not. I enjoy Christmas music in the context and will tell anyone, when asked, that I adore Christmas music without getting into the finer points of its relative criteria.

What I find most appalling about this person's argument is not the idea that Christmas music should be judged the same as other music. It is perfectly within one's right to decide that. However, to tell me that I don't actually like Christmas music is ludicrous. That insinuates that somehow I've failed to notice the simple chords and repetetive lyrics. Like if someone showed me the sheet music, I'd be absolutely floored. "That's what 'Jingle Bells' really is? I can never listen to it again!"

No. I accept Christmas music's deficits along with its many benefits in full awareness that my standards for this genre are different and, in some ways, more lax. And I will continue to say "I love Christmas music" to anyone that asks. I would appreciate it, Scrooge, if you would not disparage Christmas music on my behalf and that of other Christmas music afficionados, and tell the world that we don't actually love Christmas music; if only we realized what we were saying, we would renounce it. I will not be renouncing Christmas music or my love affair with it at any point in this lifetime.

Long live Bing and White Christmas!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The More the Merrier

I always work very hard on my Christmas budget, trying to balance stingy and generous to a more even-handed adjective of thoughtful. One category I overlooked in my first Christmas budget was that of the tree and decorations. Since we buy a live tree, this is actually a significant expenditure. So this year, I accounted for both. And yet, somehow, we managed to spend double what was budgeted for. The “somehow” being two beautiful, matching Christmas stockings and a silver stocking holder, all late-night spontaneous purchases at Meijer this past weekend.

On Monday, I was at Meijer exchanging my new Christmas stocking. Not returning it—the damage had already been done and I’m not woman enough to return impulse purchases in the cold, hard, stingy light of day. I just tell myself to do better next time. I was merely exchanging because, in my buying frenzy, I had managed to get a stocking that didn’t have a loop for hanging.

So, as I waited in line at the customer service desk behind an older gentleman exchanging a malfunctioning flag holder (God Bless America!), I noticed a sign. It was obviously hung in honor of the holidays, and consisted of decorative text reading “The more the merrier.” And I just thought, “have we no shame?”.

“The more the merrier” is, in some alternate universe, supposed to refer to friends and family. Good will and generosity towards the poor. Love and camraderie. Not stuff. But seeing as how it was hanging up in a mega-store, I doubt that they were encouraging me to call a friend and wish her happy holidays. No, they were reminding me to buy more.

And I fall for it, too. When I went to the Christmas decorations section to find a replacement stocking, I also picked up a $3 strand of decorative beads because I thought they would look nice draped throughout the chandelier in the living room. A necessary expense? One that brings peace to the world and joy to the starving children of underprivileged countries? Of course not. But Christmas is about treating yourself, right?

Maybe it should be less about treating myself and more about treating other people. What a revolutionary concept! Maybe my Christmas budget should actually include an entry for charity. I’m ashamed to admit that it doesn’t. Because that only happens if we don’t go over budget on the rest of the baubles, decorations, etc. And that never happens.

What is even worse—the thought terrifies me. The thought of not getting so much stuff, even though I whine after the holiday is over about the excess. Too much eating, drinking, stuff with no home in our apartment …. And yet, I can’t contemplate not doing the holidays like that.

It’s already too late for me this year. (Since I am also obsessed with getting my shopping done early.) But maybe it will be my New Year’s Resolution: to rethink what “more” I want in my holidays.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Room Temperature

I never realized that room temperature was actually, well, a defined temperature. defines it as "An indoor temperature from 20 to 25°C (68 to 77°F)."

Our rooms, my friend, are not room temperature. They are more appropriately defined as frigid, gelid, or arctic in nature. I understand that old houses are often drafty and colder, and this is a price we pay for having high ceilings and hardwood floors from 1918. But here's the problem: because we're renting there's not a thing we can do about it.

We put that sheet plastic on the windows in the bedroom, which helped a smidge. But it's not like we're going to be replacing windows or getting a better heat system or anything that would make a signficant difference. And the drafty windows are just the tip of the iceberg. (Sorry, really couldn't resist.) When I am in the kitchen, which is happening much more often now that I'm house-spouse, my feet get frozen through my socks because the linoleum floor is so cold. The floor. Whoever heard of such a thing? I get tempted to turn on the oven while I'm using the stove so I can let the warmth seep out. Yesterday I stood on the rug letting the heat vent under the sink put some feeling back in my frozen toes. I had to lean sideways, if you can picture it, to cut vegetables on the counter while I stood at the sink. But it was worth it.

I know that the problem is partly that I tend to be cold. All ten digits turn to blocks of ice starting in mid-November or so; I've just accepted this as inevitable. But having a floor so cold my entire foot gets frostbite? Feeling the need to wear a scarf I'm currently knitting around my neck as I work? That's just plain crazy.

This morning, as I was getting water for the Christmas tree (feet relatively guarded from the linoleum tundra by my shoes), I reminded myself that it should be room temperature, according to the tag's instructions. And then I began to wonder exactly what that meant, which is how we ended up here. Would I need to let the water sit for a few minutes, and then heat it up because our rooms are not room temperature? Is the poor tree's base as cold as my toes are? If it dies by December 24, I think we will be responsible for arboreal murder by hypothermia.

When friends and family visit, they bundle up. Maybe my knitting project for this winter should be scarfs, hats, and shawls to keep in a box by the door. Like posh places that keep umbrellas for their customers' convenience, except these items will be for use when people are coming rather than going.

So we can't afford to keep the heat going 24/7, nor are we going to put in carpet or get new windows or better heating. The only answer I've come up with so far is to drink a lot more wine. If it's red, though, I'll have to warm it to room temperature.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Turquoise Lung

You may be familiar with Black Lung, a disease peculiar to coal miners. It’s known as an “occupational disease” because people mine coal for work, not fun.

As a hypochondriac, I have recently diagnosed myself with the recreational form of the disease: Turquoise Lung. About nine months ago, I spent a ridiculous amount of money on decorative yarns to knit a shawl. It would be fabulous—bright turquoise and whites and blues intermingled. Have I ever knitted a shawl before? Of course not! But why should that stop me?

So right up front, before even picking up a knitting needle (I had to go buy new ones of those, too, for this project), this was the most expensive craft project I’d ever done. Now that I have some extra time on my hands, I’ve finally gotten started on the shawl … and I’m afraid it may cost me my health.

Oh yes! I have developed Turquoise Lung. In working with these fluffy, flowing yarns, they have worked their way not only into the beginnings of a fabulous shawl, but also into my body. When I sneeze, I sneeze turquoise. My snot? Turquoise. It’s quite alarming.

I’m almost done with the shawl, which definitely is looking fabulous. I hope to wear it this weekend for Keith’s work party. So if you see me in it, be sure to compliment me on it. And turn discretely away as I cough and pay the price for my recreational activities.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Color Commentary

Now that college basketball season has started again (Go Flyers!), much of our time is spent courtside. And it has been declared that I would not make a very good basketball announcer. My commentary gives more of a sense of the overall atmosphere rather than focusing strictly on the game play. You might find this approach more appealing; let me know.

Megan’s calls

Tip-off: Look at how long Warren’s shorts are. It’s like he doesn’t even have ankles!

15:30: We’re losing.

13:25: We’re still losing.

Under 10 time-out: Oh, look! The cheerleaders are cheering at center court! No wait, they are lifting one cheerleader and holding her up. Wow. That’s really motivational. I feel like our team can go out and win, now that the cheerleaders have held one of their own in the air for at least 30 seconds. What would we do without their encouragement?

8:15: Look at that guy on the visiting bench. I think he’s picking his nose.

5:47: Hey, we’re winning now! That’s exciting.

3:11: My boy is in! *Shouting* Go, Marcus! I clap enthusiastically. Meanwhile, on the court, plays develop that are not at all related to my favorite player, which I ignore.

2:08: Are we going to get something to eat at half-time? I was thinking maybe nachos, but a hot dog sounds good, too. Do you have to go to the bathroom? Maybe we should go to the bathroom and whoever finishes first can get in line and then the other person can meet up with them. And when you’re paying, I’ll get the condiments and napkins and straw. Can’t forget the straw!


20:00: Oh, Cripe’s playing instead of Alvarez. Cripe is kind of goofy looking, but I guess if he gets the job done…

18:45: Band director Willie is wearing a new jumpsuit. Are those lights or sequins? Oh my god, it actually does light up. Look! It’s like a mini-landing strip, running right up the side of his pants. Wow. He really does go above and beyond.

14:23: I can’t believe we’re winning by two. It doesn’t feel like we’re winning. Did you realize that if Roberts score another 4 points his number/fouls/points will read 2-2-22. Crazy. Go Roberts!

11:57: Have you noticed that the people to our right have gotten up and left about 10 times this game? There must be a reason. They look a little older. Maybe they have a daughter who’s pregnant and due any day, and they’re anxiously waiting to hear. Or they’re drug dealers.

9:03: Are we in double bonus? I can never remember when that starts. Do you think that Monty will score again? If so, four of the five players on the court would be in double digits, which makes me happy.

3:29: Look at everyone leaving just because we’re up by 10. Fine, leave people! Hurry out to your cars and get out of our way, thank you very much. And you call yourselves fans!

1:13: Hey, I found a typo in the program! Look here, it’s a single right quote in front of the year, but it should actually be a single left quote …. I know that I’m the only one that will ever notice, but it’s still wrong!

Final buzzer: Enthusiastic clapping. Go Flyers! That was a good game. Well-played, especially by Marcus. And the Burger King ran around the arena to start the wave, which I always find amusing. Good times!

p.s. For those kids counting along at home, I’m on book 43—Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. The Tony Danza Christmas movie involved a town called Evergreen, a girl named Noel, and Betty White. If you enjoy Christmas cheese, I highly recommend it!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Christmas Cheese

I love cheesy, made-for-TV Christmas movies. And Christmas music. And decorations. I'm a sucker for all of it.

The other day I watched a fantastically cheesy Christmas movie on USA starring Leslie Neilsen. And then I DVRed one starring none other than The Boss, Tony Danza. I can't wait to watch it this weekend! I'm sure it will be moving and eloquent and deep.

I think what I enjoy most about the holidays is that you're allowed to be optimistic. To think the best of people and that good things are going to happen. You'll get all the presents you want and next year will really be the year that you "make it." (Whatever that means to you.) If you act like that during any other months, people would just shake their heads in disgust.

Normally, I am somewhat picky about my forms of entertainment. I try not to watch too many TV shows, carefully choosing the ones I do watch for plot and character development. My music tastes are also pretty specific; I scorn most pop Top-40 bands and generally refuse to listen to commercial radio stations.

But at Christmastime, the cheesier the better. It's only December 2, and Keith is ready to strangle me because I've listened to Bing Crosby's Christmas album 20 times. I'm trying to figure out how I can watch all of my favorite Christmas movies; which is nearly ever Christmas movie ever made. Or, actually, I prefer ones involving Santa. When adults realize that they don't know everything, and magic is rediscovered. Everyone gets to be a child again, filled with wonder and excitement.

If you'll excuse me, it's my lunch break. I think I'm going to go sit in my car and listen to Bing.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Beady-eyed Bob and Money

I have this friend. Let's call him "Beady-eyed Bob." He and I like to talk about financial matters. We're both savers and planners. When we talk IRAs and how much to put down on a house, he gets a gleam in his eyes, probably similar to the one in mine.

The first time we talked about money was at a picnic. I usually try to keep it on the downlow that I have read nearly every article on MSN Money (my favorite columnist is MP Dunleavey) and am drawn to books like The Millionaire Next Door and How To Marry a Millionaire Vampire. Oh wait, sorry--that's a different kind of book entirely.

Anyway, for some reason Bob and I started talking financial planning strategy. And I discovered that he'd read over all the same articles as I had, and probably even more. Our spouses laughed at the two of us, excitedly recalling our favorite bits of advice.

But to me, it was great to discover that I wasn't alone. Another person our age actually thinks about retirement. Not that Keith doesn't plan with me, but he doesn't get quite as excited about it as I do. I'm not sure what to attribute it to--my obsessive-compulsive personality; a fear of being poor; a sneaking suspicion that everyone else knows more about finances than me, and I'm very far behind.

Especially at this time of year, with Christmas presents adding up, the financial nerd in me comes out. And when I quit my job with no replacement; that also triggers it, I've found. I create 5 different versions of our monthly budget, based on whether I can't find any work at all or I get a $10k book advancement or somewhere in-between. I play with the numbers to figure out whether or not we can pay off our student loans before our 10-year reunion. (We could, but we won't because the interest rate is so low, it's better to use the money elsewhere. Just fyi.)

So tonight when I see Bob, I'll probably ask him about the status of his and his wife's student loans, and whether he'd rather put money in a Roth IRA or increase his monthly house payments. And whether or not he has an Excel Christmas budget that calculates the difference between budgeted costs and actual spending. Hopefully, I'll be reassured that I'm not the only one. And even if I am, well, maybe someday you'll be buying my book, How To Become a Thousandaire through Diligence and Stinginess. A bestseller, I'm sure.

Bonjour, Monsieur Rocket Scientist

I like to tell people that I minored in French. True? Oui. But misleading.

Sadly, I can barely speak a word of it now and can only read one in every five words or so. And my writing has always been terrible, so that's not something I can claimed has fallen into disrepair, because it's always been like that.

My sister and I try. She's much better at it than I am. She writes me long letters in French. I sit down on several occasions and stare at a blank piece of paper for 15 minutes before I get too frustrated and give up.

I have been to Paris once, and actually used my French while there. I asked directions of a shopkeeper and nodded diligently as he spoke and gestured. When we got outside, my friend (who majored in Spanish) asked what he said. I shrugged.
"I know we turn left. When we get to the corner, I'll ask someone else." We proceeded this way to the hotel, with me only understanding one direction at a time. Would this be called a "functional use of French"? I think it depends on how much time you have before you need to be at your destination.

This is why I only tell Americans that I minored in French. Their eyebrows rise and they make that little "oh" with their mouths to indicate that they're impressed with my obvious intelligence. (Or so I like to think.) But they don't actually expect me to demonstrate my capabilities in any way. If I ever find someone who replies, "Really? Because I lived in France for 5 years!" I'll be in serious trouble. Maybe I should do an informal study. For a week or so, make an extra attempt to tell people that I speak French and track how many actually want me to prove it.

Or maybe I'll go the other way and play devil's advocate. Whenever someone tells me they know something, I'll test them on it. Personal experience having taught me that most of it is probably a lie. "So you're familiar with rocket science, huh? Very interesting. So what can you tell me about jet propulsion and Newton's third law of motion? Just briefly, of course."

I suppose my New Year's Resolution could be to increase my fluency in French. Would this be more or less time-consuming than reading 50 books? What if I again pledged to read 50 books, but this time, 10 of them were in French. The thought makes me break out in a cold sweat. Maybe I'll just read about Rockets on Wikipedia--in French--and consider my bases covered.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

I can't believe it's happened so quickly. I've been writing my blog, what? A week? This is my 5th entry ... and I have writer's block. So soon!

Typically, I find myself so amusing. I think, "If only other people knew how amusing I was, surely they'd want to hear more." And now I have that opportunity with my 6ish dedicated readers ... but you all are used to hearing me rant anyway.

I think it's the running of errands that's making me stupid. And the fact that they're never done. Being House-spouse isn't all it's cracked up to be. Although, in my mind, I was both House-spouse and a writer extraordinaire, earning a decent salary in a few hours of work a day.

Instead, I blog once a day (not counting when I'm in Cleveland for the holidays, of course). I think about all of the other projects I should be working on. I apply for freelance jobs that I know I'll never get because I actually have a scant amount of that indefinable quality they like to refer to as "experience." And I sit and wait for that fabulous book deal to come in. I'm sure it'll be any day ...

Sad. Sad and pathetic. I thought I'd have all of this energy with a whole day ahead of me that I can spend how I choose. But it's kind of tiring to be choosing all the time. And worrying about finding a job.* And I feel guilty if I don't clean the apartment every freakin' day. It makes me wonder how we did it before I was home all the time. We're slobs! (Sorry, Keith.)

So yes, apparently today is a feeling sorry for myself day. If you'd like to be entertained, perhaps you should go here instead. (Cathy, I'm thinking this is what you were talking about?)

* Um, yeah. I quit my job before Thanksgiving, just a little FYI.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Miasma of Books

I did a foolish thing.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I've done many foolish things, including driving on the sidewalk (thanks for reminding me of that, Mom) and singing karaoke. But the specific incident to which I am now referring is when, at the beginning of the year, I heard of the challenge of reading 50 books in 2005.

"Sounds fun!" I thought. I'm a dedicated reader--voracious, even, some might say. I knew reading 50 books in a year would be no problem. But I thought it would be fun to keep track of what I've read and also see just how many books I do read per annum, so as to drop the astonishing number into casual conversation. "Actually, I found Proust quite entertaining. When I read 160 books last year, he was one of my faves."

Um, no. Not quite how it has worked out. There's now only three days left in November and I still need to read 9 more books. Since it's taken me 47 weeks to read 41 books, that means I average .87 books per week. On my usual pace, by the end of the year I'll have read 3.48 more books. That's just not going to cut it. I need to cram in 2.25 books per week, including this week.

Not only that, but I feel pressure to read Books. Since I've actually recorded the titles and authors of the books I have managed to finish, I can't lie to myself and pretend that I've been slow because all of the books were weighty tomes on solving the world's problems or the dilemma of reaching for the American dream. There it is in black and white: I read children's literature and romances. And a handful of other, more literarily-challenging books every now and again. But by and large, my selections have been brain candy. And I'm still significantly behind schedule.

The final hurdle: I'm picky. I'm a word nerd. And if an author has typos, uses the same words/phrases too many times, etc., I get annoyed and put the book down. I'll still usually finish it, but it will take me longer (also contributing to my dilemma, I'm sure). Over Thanksgiving, I was reading a short novel that was highly amusing. I was pleasantly surprised to find the word "miasma" appear on page 60ish. It's one of my favorite words, being so descriptive and fun to say (although difficult to work into conversation, unless you live in a foggy, polluted place).

But then it appeared again around page 100. And with increasing frequency--miasmic on page 124, and I put the book down when a miasmi popped up again on page 136. Please! If you use a specific word like that, it must be used sparingly or else it loses all effect.

So, what are the chances I'll finish 9 books in the next 4 weeks? And how many of them will be children's books? To the former, I give it an 87% chance. I'm feeling optimistic. To the latter: at least one, because I now have book 10 of the Lemony Snicket series in my possession. But if time's getting seriously tight, expect to see Amelia Bedelia and novellas like Holidays on Ice on the list. If you know of any short, quick reads, I'm open to suggestions!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Annual Turkey Day Trek

Ah yes, the holiday traffic. I have a short temper on good days with idiots on the road, and today is going to be awful.

We're doing the drive from Cincinnati to Cleveland, through some of the most boring landscape in the continental U.S.--except for the highlight of Grandpa's Cheesebarn, of course. (Gifts! Souvenirs!)

In honor of the trek, I'd like to do a sporadic early holiday countdown:
  • 10 = number of times we'll be cut off by a car that refuses to signal, like if they pretend they're not wandering 2 feet in front of our bumper, we won't notice. The vehicular equivalent of a man whistling and staring at the sky while cutting in line at the cash register.
  • 9 = number of Hummers (1, 2 or 3) with vanity plates. Because it's not enough that you spent more than a 20% house down payment; you also have to prove that you have money left over to spend on frivolities like a license plate that declares "FLTHY RCH"
  • 7 = number of times I drift off during the drive, because being in a moving vehicle never fails to put me to sleep. It makes me feel like a 3-year-old, fighting to keep my eyes open. But if it makes the drive go faster, I guess I shouldn't complain.
  • 5 = number of times I'll see Spongebob Squarepants on TVs in the back of hi-tech vans. What happened to punching each other and staring? Kids these days.
  • 3 = number of times I'll admit to falling asleep during the drive.
  • 1 = number of nerves I'll have left when we finally arrive at my parents' house. It's a good thing I actually like my family.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Nut-covered Raisin Experts

Where is my Raisin Nut Bran?

As I write this, I stare disconsolately at my oatmeal square, which just isn’t the same.

When it comes to breakfast, I am not adventurous. Dinner? Sure, I’ll try sushi! I enjoy spicy foods and dishes eaten with chopsticks and drinks set afire.

I’m sure I don’t need to explain this to you, but breakfast and dinner are not the same meal. Breakfast is all about comfort and preparing one for the trials of the day at the office with fiber and raisins. Breakfast is eaten while one is still half-asleep, which is my excuse for hardly ever varying my routine. Hot tea (Twinings English Breakfast, actually), with Raisin Nut Bran. Mayhap oatmeal, if I’m feeling really crazy. I like my breakfast monotonous and predictable.

At first I tried to give General Mills the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps, I thought, the only factory in the world that is capable of covering the succulent raisins with their delicious nut coating was located on the Gulf Coast. Slowly, the surplus dwindled until we are now all feeling the effects. Nut-covered Raisin Experts are out of work with a bleak outlook for future employment in their chosen field. I suppose they can try switching to chocolate-covered foods, as there’s a lot more variety in that field, but with the variance in viscosity I would think it’s an entirely different skill set requiring years of apprenticeship.

I realized that theory might be a bit out there, even for me. A more likely scenario would be that RNB is actually being discontinued, which would upset me greatly. You don’t mess with breakfast. I take my breakfast ritual very seriously. What am I supposed to do now?

I went to the General Mills website to disprove my theory and found the following in the company history:

“General Mills traces its roots to the 1860s and a pair of flour mills on opposite banks of the Mississippi River. These two flour mills revolutionized the milling industry and created the foundation for the General Mills of today.”

So it just might be possible after all. I’ll make do with my oatmeal squares and Mueslix for now, and hold on to the hope that as prosperity returns to the Gulf Coast, Raisin Nut Bran will return to the shelves in my local grocery stores. And I’ll toast the Nut-covered Raisin Experts with my cereal spoon.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Dreams: Prognostication or Trash?

My family likes to interpret dreams. I can’t remember when it started—whether my sister Amy or my Mom had the first dream interpretation journal. But for the past several years, I’ve been informed that falling is bad, flying is excellent, and trips could go either way.

When my then-boyfriend (now husband) Keith told my mom he’d had a dream about his teeth falling out, she giggled and informed him that it could mean he was worried about losing control … or impotence. Luckily, I was not there to witness this conversation.

So last night, I had a dream. And, after years of being told about my sister’s and mother’s dreams and interpretations, I usually remember my dreams. At least the most vivid fragments. And my dream last night revolved around someone singing “Humpin’ Around” by Bobby Brown.


I refuse to believe that this could possibly mean anything. I prefer to think that it’s my brain finding completely useless and annoying bits of information and rejecting it. Clearing out the synapses so I can find the cure for cancer or write the next great American novel.

And yet, the conundrum is, now that I dreamt about it, I keep thinking about the song. And singing it to myself. (I would like to note, however, that I only remember about three words.) And trying to find meaning in it. Who is or is not “humping around”? And isn’t that an awful term for something that most people find quite pleasant? It’s now firmly embedded in my brain.

Perhaps people who interpret dreams are actually defeating the whole purpose of dreams, which is to rid the brain of the flotsam and jetsam of modern life that cannot be avoided. Maybe trying to interpret dreams actually makes us less able to be creative and innovative because we cling to ideas/memory fragments that cloud our thinking process.

My sister once had a recurring dream over a course of seven months that focused on water. The ocean. Lots and lots of water imagery. She wracked her brain to figure out what it could possibly mean—what she should be doing differently in her life, or if she needed to reconcile some past event.

And then, one night, she woke up during the dream and realized her cat had jumped on her bladder. Case solved.

If you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go download “Humpin’ Around” from iTunes. Maybe if I insist on singing it, I can at least sing more than three words.