Tuesday, January 31, 2006

An Average Dental Student

I don't like going to the dentist's office for many reasons. The muzak, admitting I can't figure out how to use toothpaste, the muzak. But, if I'm being honest here, the real reason why I dislike the dentist's office so much: my teeth are average.

I'm somewhat of a perfectionist. I'm used to being top of the class, all As, the nerd who actually read every scene in Hamlet and the accompanying footnotes ... and liked it. The thing is, my teeth are strictly C students. Middle of the road, all the way.

You wouldn't know it to look at them—they're not particularly crooked or falling out of my mouth or anything. They do alright. But that's all they do, and it takes a lot of effort to get that much from them.

When I was younger, I had to get some kind of coating brushed on my teeth because they were weak and susceptible to cavities. I have only had one or two cavities in my life, but that's due to all the fluoride in the water and toothpaste, not to my innate dental abilities. It's the equivalent of remedial classes.

My gums are receding a little, which makes a few of my teeth sensitive, which means I can't rinse my mouth with really cold water. (Probably more than you ever wanted to know about me, but there you go.) And every time at the dentist's office, without fail, their water is ice cold. Straight from the fjords of Norway. Some might call it refreshing, but I can't possibly be the only one in the dentist's office with sensitive teeth. This hasn't occurred to them?

Last time I went to a new dentist, I discovered another way in which my teeth could fall short. They measured my gums to see how deep they were. If they were too deep, that meant the skin was irritated and I wasn't brushing hard enough. (I would say "or flossing hard enough", but I don't floss. Another thing for which I am chastized by a stern dental assistant every six months.)

My teeth build tartar like nobody's business. I hate hearing the scraping and the grunt of effort from the dental assistant as she pries plaque from my incisors. And, of course, my gums bleed because I never floss.

I don't take particularly bad care of my teeth. I promise I take better care than some. So maybe I don't floss enough. Do you know anyone who actually does? Come on! I guess I just need to accept the fact that my teeth will always be average. Smack dab in the middle of the bell curve. Destined to be middle class. Maybe middle managers, but never really rising to the top. They probably think that Thomas Kinkade paintings are masterpieces. *sigh*

And don't even get me started on my eye doctor appointments.

A Reader of Books

My original plan was to write a few blogs about my grandma on Monday and move on, but listening to the Diane Rehm show on NPR today reminded me of another one of my grandmother's qualities that needed to be mentioned.

Not only did my grandmother write, but she read. I always remember there being plenty of books at her house to read; she always said she remembered me as a child, curled up on the corner of the couch, reading, oblivious to the rest of the world. She usually preferred nonfiction, as least as far as I know.

At the funeral service, I was doing okay until the pastor spoke about his relationship with Grandma Stroh. It focused on the fact that when he knew her in her 90s, she was still reading. She would ask him what he knew about Eastern Mysticism or tell him about the book on pirates she was reading. That's when I lost it.

When I think of Grandma Stroh, I think of a Reader. To me, a reader is someone who wants to learn more about life. Who is passionate about making herself better through informed involvement in the world. It can be through fiction that awakens her emotions and causes her to re-examine events in her own life through a different lens.

Or it can be through nonfiction, which teaches him about actual events and people. To me nonfiction is a reminder that the world is always a large, unknowable, fascinating place. And each individual life is unique and fascinating, too. The more I read nonfiction, the more I come to believe that the truth really is stranger than fiction.

Like every English major, I've dreamed about having my own bookstore. But what would make it quirky (and probably a nightmare, but let's pretend for a bit), is that the books would be arranged by person. I would take the typical book categories: literary nonfiction, romance, science fiction, religion, etc., and shelve them according to the people closest to me that read these types of literature. Stephen King/horror books would be in the Keith section. Religion and spirituality would go in my sister Amy's section, while Erin's would hold inspirational and education. My mom would encompass mysteries, romances, and pretty much anything in the store that wasn't covered by others. If you're looking for science fiction or westerns, head to the Chucker aisle. (That would be my father, but I'd insist on calling it "Chucker.")

Anyway, point being, I want to be known as a Reader. I know sometimes perhaps when people say, "Oh, you like to read," they may imbue it with a negative connotation. But to me, being a reader is one of the highest compliments I can get. And if I can be a Reader like Grandma Stroh, even better. Just think—she had 30 years after retirement of uninterrupted reading!

On the radio the other day, I heard an author speaking about his latest work‐a nonfiction biography of Milton Hershey's life and work. I thought to myself that Grandma would enjoy that book. I think I might go out and pick it up this weekend. I'm busy with working full-time, keeping you—my demanding public—entertained;), and writing freelance. But I'll make time: I'm a Reader.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Grandma Stroh's Timeline

One of the things that amazes me about my grandmother's life is how much the world changed. She was born in 1910. William Taft was the president and the Model T was extremely popular. In 1912 the Titanic sank. She saw two world wars as well as the Vietnam "conflict." Women got the right to vote, burned their bras, and joined the workforce.

And then Al Gore "invented the Internet." Everything about how we research and find information changed irrevocably. Part of the reason my grandmother was the only one that sent me letters in college is because the rest of my friends and family were e-mailing me. I wonder what Grandma would say about the concept of an electronic journal that's out there for everyone to read.

I'm sure every generation says this, but I just can't imagine my life being nearly as eventful, even if I live to nearly 96. Grandma went from the dawn of motorized vehicles to the age of air travel and space ships. How can I compete with that?

It feels like progress is now measured in much smaller or less tangible increments. An Internet connection that is nanoseconds faster. A computer that holds 10GB of memory instead of 5GB.

My greatest hope is probably that, during my lifetime, I can see significant social progress. The mininum wage raised to a decent level. More fiscal responsibility from big business and government for environmental damage. Raised awareness of and caring for the underprivileged in America. Lower student loan rates, so graduates aren't forced to start their adult lives already deep in debt.

I hope my life isn't measured by the wars and conflicts that were fought, but by progress and innovation. Is that too much to hope for?

A Century of Journaling

As I mentioned, my maternal grandmother's funeral was last week. She was 95 when she passed away—a day before her 96th birthday.

Along with my sisters and cousin, I had the privilege of putting together a collage of pictures and journal entries to commemorate her long, eventful life. I had never realized that Grandma Stroh kept so many journals. She wrote about daily events, what movies she saw (she was partial to Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy films) and her childhood. She wrote:

I was born in Erie Township, Ottawa County, Ohio, on January the 21st 1910. I think in the late afternoon. Mother said they had had a snowstorm on the day before and they were afraid the Doctor would not be able to get through the snowbanks with horse and buggy—I don’t know if he owned an automobile then—a Chandler—or not! Anyway he arrived and I was born into a cold world. Mother had made my baby clothes herself—someone said I needed a bonnet to keep my head warm. And mother told Dad to get out the 2 bonnets she had made from scraps of outing flannel. And so my life began.

During her life, she taught in a one-room schoolhouse, raised three children, earned her college degree at the age of 59, and enjoyed 50 years of marriage with my grandfather, who she describes as "kind, thoughtful, friendly, and a good conversationalist."

I always remember my grandmother as a wonderful correspondent. Once I went away to college, she started sending me letters regularly—and real, actual mail is like gold in the dorms. She had the most amazing memory; she would reminisce about the dorm food when she was at BGSU for her teaching certificate in the early 30s. She knew the address of her first apartment from 1936 and the names of all the neighbors.

Realizing what a faithful, good writer my Grandma was kind of puts my writing into perspective. I feel like it's continuing on a family tradition. It's in the blood, an unavoidable compulsion.

Of course, I think the journal gene may have skipped me by. My mom gets up early and writes in her journal every morning before work. But I'm awful at keeping a regular journal. This blog is probably the closest I've come! I would only ever write in my journal when I was seriously depressed (so I guess I did write in it faithfully for most of middle school;).

I just had a hard time believing that anyone would want to read about my boring, everyday life. Although is the purpose of a journal to be read? If a tree falls in a forest and someone writes about it in a personal journal, does anyone hear it?

I wonder why my grandmother wrote in her journals. Did she consider it a creative outlet? Was it just a part of her daily routine, like grocery shopping or making dinner?

No matter why she wrote, I'm glad that she did and that she passed them on to my mother for safekeeping. I miss her and will continue to—as does anyone who knew her. But I'm looking forward to getting to know her better through her journals. And carrying on the tradition.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Double the Posts!

Okay, sorry for the delay on posting. The good news is that the world is still round and I haven't fallen off the face of the earth.

The bad news is that I was busy this week because my grandmother died last Thursday evening and the funeral was on Monday.

I've decided the best way to repay you, my loyal readers (all 3 of you!) for your patience, is to just skip this week and double my posts next week. That's right! You'll get new posts from me every morning and evening, Monday through Friday of next week. So although I know it's been a dark time for you, at least you have that to look forward to!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Hard Rock with a Fruity Aroma

I'm going to start a new trend in reviews. I'm creating a hybrid category, for the younger generation that has a great variety of interests and turns to the Internet for a majority of their information. Rather than familiarizing themselves with the conventions of several different styles of review, I'm going to blend them all into one: The Dilettante's Review.

I think this is going to be big. Really big. Who wants to learn new lingo all the time? If you can use the same style for all different sorts of reviews, how much easier would life be? For example:

A Music Review
Upon first glance, the new CD from Franz Ferdinand offers bold colors and exciting graphics. You Could Have it So Much Better is a unique blend of hard punk riffs and gravelly vocals that only a band grown in the River Clyde region could create.

"The Fallen" hints at a Clash influence, while "You're the Reason I'm Leaving" brings a more contemporary, melodic flavor to the forefront.

This CD will appeal to fans of The Zutons or Kaiser Chiefs. It may be slightly too acidic for Eagles aficionados, but overall gives listeners a well-crafted listening experience that compliments a rockin' party or evening at home in equal measure.

A Wine Review
After fantastic reviews of a surprise debut hit "chardonnay," fans and critics alike eagerly awaited the sophomore efforts of [yellow tail] vineyards. From the initial note, "shiraz" proved to be a sophomore triumph.

Opening with a bold fruity flavor, "shiraz" then shows the influence of Australian sun and the Riverina region's soil, "shiraz" then moves into a more subtle blend of licorice and spices. Finishing with a flourish, "shiraz" saved the best for last—a smooth, mellow hint of tannin and dry flavor.

Although it may seem somewhat rough and shaggy at times, that's part of the charm of [yellow tail]; a charm which is preserved and enhanced by their efforts in "shiraz." [yellow tail] have indicate that they will be focusing on a huge promotion for "shiraz" for the next few months, but then it will be back to the vineyards for a third offering. This reviewer is looking forward to seeing what changes follow in "merlot."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

For the Directionally Challenged

Okay, never mind about the career angst. It all changed last night as I was getting ready for bed. I found my calling. I can both contribute to society and work from home.

"How can you do this?" you ask incredulously.

I guffaw in reply. It's just so easy!

Last night, I opened a new tube of toothpaste. And, being the obsessive reader that I am, I read the tube as I brushed my teeth. I know! I'm weird. I just can't help it.

So anyway, while the brand shall remain nameless (Although it starts with an "Arm" and ends with an "& Hammer"), I would like to share with you, verbatim, what I found in red writing on the back of the tube:
1) With cap on, squeeze tube from bottom to push product towards cap end
2) Remove cap, squeeze front and back of tube evenly from bottom to dispense
3) Flatten tube from bottom keeping product pushed towards cap end
4) If both sides of toothpaste come out unevenly, continue squeezing tube until both halves come out equally, adjusting squeezing pressure as necessary.
Seriously? I mean, people really need that? I flipped over the tube to the front side and, sure enough, just above the crimped end of the tube it said "Squeeze from bottom. Push towards cap." The text was framed with helpful arrows on both sides.

When I see things like this, I can only wonder why. How? Everyone's heard the storied legend of McDonald's coffee. So now all containers that may contain something more than lukewarm read "Caution: Hot things may cause burns," etc.

But what happened to make such explicit instructions necessary on toothpaste? How, exactly, could a person squeeze wrongly enough to elicit these step-by-careful-step guidelines. This may be a fancy toothpaste where two separate pastes come together at the squirt step (hence the admonition about keeping the sides even), but the precautions still don't seem quite justified. Even a little.

It makes me think of all the little things around the house that I take for granted. Like doors. Who has really told me how to open them? Or what the dangers are? How am I to realize that they could viciously swing into my pate, causing potential swelling and disfiguration? HOW AM I TO KNOW?!?

It's a dangerous world out there. Surprisingly, beauty products are apparently applied by more sensible people. After learning about the difficulties of operating a tube of toothpaste, I examined my recently purchased moisturizer. The instructions on the box leave a lot of details to the imagination, simply directing the user to "Apply liberally on face and neck every night before sleep to smooth and firm skin overnight. Avoid direct contact with the eye."

Well, how do I get the jar open? And which eye should I avoid? I guess beauty product makers care less about their customers' safety than the toothpaste makers do.

Although I should actually look at this as an opportunity. Maybe I can make the beauty product supplier realize the error of their ways and get them to hire me as a writer of needless directions. I could then branch out and tell people how to flip magazine pages to avoid papercuts or sit on furniture without falling off. Although the point of these directions is probably more to avoid lawsuits than to instruct actual consumers in the proper use of items, I can always hope that someday, I just might save someone's life from an errant tube of toothpaste. In the meantime, I will be making the world a better, less litigious place, one step at a time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

In Good Company

Keith and I just finished watching the movie In Good Company. Topher Grace played Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid appeared as himself, as well. To be fair I may not actually "know" these actors, so it would be more appropriate to say that Topher played the Topher guy and Dennis the usual Dennis Q. character.

And although that all probably sounds like I disliked the movie, it actually hit quite close to home for me. Just a few short months ago, I quit a job that made me miserable. It was a move that would probably not be considered a good career decision—more akin to falling off the corporate ladder and breaking a few bones on the way down.

I always thought I'd be okay without a job. I don't need a job to define me! I have a lot going on outside of work. It's not about the money or the prestige; I just want to be a balanced person who contributes to society.

But see, without the money and the full-time job, it's kind of hard to feel like I'm actually contributing to society. What am I doing, really? As much as I hold this blog near and dear to my heart, I would laugh in the face of anyone who tried to tell me that writing this blog is making a significant contribution to society.

But then again, was my full-time job really such a great contribution? But if you don't work, what do you have? Being house-spouse and doing the laundry, keeping things clean, organizing the photo albums ... these are all things that take time and effort. I am certainly not denying that. But if that's all I do, I feel selfish. These are things that only benefit me.

It's great to take time off work and "find" yourself and it would be a happy, happy world if everyone had actually chosen the job they are in, instead of falling into it by accident. If we all did what we wanted to be doing and worked 35 hours a week and had great benefits.

Now that I quit with no new job in sight, the magnitude of my next move is almost overwhelming. I have the opportunity to actually take time and choose where I'll be and what I'll be doing. Or I can at least try—I may find that no one is willing to hire me as a perfume namer, but I can at least try.

What do I want to be trying for? I'm torn, because on the one hand I don't feel like there's any one career path that I really am excited to take. But, on the other hand, I'm starting to worry about the future. I'd always assumed that some day (FAR FAR away, for any mothers that may be reading), when we had kids I would stay home and raise them. Not because I'm the woman or anything so demoralizing as that. But because I can write from home and Keith's honestly the big breadwinner.

But I don't know if I can take staying home. I may need to be in an office, reassuring myself that I'm doing something. Contributing something that people are actually willing to pay a decent salary and benefits for. I'm not sure if I can get that working from home, without peers and bosses and annual reviews and deadlines. Does this mean that I'm a slave to our capitalistic, corporate-driven culture? Or just that I'm egotistical and crave recognition? What are the chances that hanging my articles on the fridge door with scratch-n-sniff stickers would satisfy this urge?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Running Off Humble Pie

My friends, I have an admission to make: I'm an awful runner. To those of you who have run with me or seen me run from afar, this will not be a surprise. But to those of you who have only heard tales, you may still be laboring under the misconception that I run because I'm good at it. Allow me to disabuse you of that notion, because that is not the case at all.

I run because I'm bad at it. Really bad. I start huffing after about two minutes on a good day. My form drops off approximately three blocks. I start thinking about walking in the first minute and usually find myself actually doing it at the bottom of the first slight incline.

For me, running is sort of a lesson in humility. The amount of effort it takes me to make the slightest improvement harkens thoughts of Prometheus and a large boulder. But when I do make that little bit of improvement, I feel like I can conquer the world.

I'll never be a good runner. The best thing about running is that you rack up the miles whether you move quickly and fluidly ... or not. So I'll keep running and walking. Particularly when I'm feeling impressed with myself for finishing a writing assignment or not spending hours surfing the web, I'll lace up my running shoes and trudge out the door. Not so much to improve, but to humble myself.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A Writer's Life

So I have a new temp job this week. I'm working for a publishing house. Nothing glamorous, or even requiring anything more than opposable thumbs and the capacity to work through the searing pain of multiple paper cuts.

I open packages sent in for a competition, make sure the paperwork and entry fee are there, and bundle everything back up to be shipped to the judges.

What is amusing about this job is not the work itself, but my co-worker. She's a very nice woman; she works at this place full-time on contest entries, including many entries for writing competitions. I'm pretty sure that, on my first day, I mentioned that I did some freelance writing. However, that remark must be long forgotten because in the past week I've been regaled by many stories featuring crazy, self-centered, cheap, and eccentric writers.

Understandably, as someone dealing with contest entries, she sees writers from a unique perspective. Anyone who puts pen to paper can enter a writing competition. This is not the perspective of a literary agent or well-known editor, who has only the most promising work cross his or her desk.

So I don' t begrudge her this attitude, and I believe that every single one of her crazy writer stories are true. What irks me and makes me laugh at the same time is the stereotyping of Writers. This is what Writers are like. Writers are all _(fill in the blank)_. It's taken me a lot of time and courage even to think of myself as a writer. I wrote for years before I was finally convinced that the act of writing actually made me a writer. I almost felt like I wasn't a writer because I:
  • don't have any significant vices
  • enjoy normal sleep patterns
  • approach writing in a logical, procedural manner
  • can also hold down a full-time "real" job.
I suppose, as a writer, I should be trying to disabuse her of the stereotypes. Break down the barriers and help her see writers as individuals. But why? Let's be honest, she's probably right about the majority of the contest entrants. And hearing about the foibles of other writers only makes me think that much more highly of myself. And as everyone knows, that's my favorite pasttime—next to writing, of course.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Is It Really that Hard? Phone Etiquette

Phone Etiquette

I'm not a very good phone talker, in general. I get easily distracted by shiny objects and lose track of the conversation. Or I ramble and completely lose sight of my original train of thought—if one even existed.

But there are other reasons why I don't particularly enjoy talking on the phone. Since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, people have been using this fabulous instrument to annoy each other on a daily basis. The annoyance can come from the phoner or the phonee, but most likely both.

The ring. Historically, the ring of a phone is shrill and irritating. But the arrival of cell phones in recent years has taken the potential for "ring rage" to a whole new level. As the person being phoned, it can be your own fault for choosing "Ice Ice Baby", or you may be an innocent bystander afflicted by J. Lo in tinny, cell speaker glory. Either way, the ring sets the tone (couldn't resist!) for the next 10 to 200 minutes.

The salutation. A phone greeting should be subtle. Boring. Stick with your basic "hi" or "how's it going?" Don't try to spice things up by modulating your pitch or using popular expressions like "How's it hangin'?" or "Whasuuuuuuuuuuuuup." (Okay, so those phrases are severely outdated, but I don't speak Britney. So sue me.)

And for Bell's sake, identify yourself. Serious pet peeve: "Hey, it's me." I know I may come off as a curmudgeonly hermit, but I do know more than two people. When I'm doing something else and am interrrupted by the phone in mid-thought or mid-washing dishes, it takes several moments to switch tracks and participate in the conversation. Refusing to identify yourself only prolongs the part where I stand with my mouth hanging open and stare blankly at the phone, trying to fit this voice into a context, based on one or two syllables.

The pleasantries. After all parties have been appropriately identified, the pleasantries commence. Relatively insipid topics like "how's the weather?" or "watcha been up to?" They
require little thought and equally banal answers.

I actually am in favor of the pleasantries. As I mentioned before, phone calls usually interrupt an activity, since I am a very busy, important person. A proper salutation and exchange of pleasantries gives me some time to focus on the phone call and prepares me for the conversation. However, pleasantries can go wrong. I've heard it happen, and it's not a pretty sound.

Pleasantries can become over-extended, consisting of a conversation in and of themselves. Resist the urge to ask every polite question about a person's well being or state of mind; one or two will suffice. On the other hand, a pleasant question deserves a pleasant (read short) answer. Everybody knows the person who actually answers the initial "how's it going" with an in-depth self-psychoanalytical analysis and uses it to launch into a discussion of the latest depressive episode and fear of where one's life is heading. Don't be that guy.

The conversation. This element can only be judged on an individual basis. In general, I approve of conversation. Unless you're a telemarketer, in which case it's less "conversation" and more "belligerent badgering of an innocent citizen."

The distractions. While conversation is a good thing, distractions during the conversation is a bad thing. If you have called me, or have answered the phone when I called and deigned to talk to me, then we've entered into a nonverbal agreement to pay attention to each other. Don't start a conversation with someone in your geographical vicinity that I cannot partake it. Especially if it doesn't even concern me. Don't answer your other line/phone multiple times for minutes at a time.

You may engage in activities like cooking, knitting, folding laundry ... anything that requires physical effort but no mental engagement. You may not read a book, watch a TV show (and tell me what happens), or play Typer Shark.

The sign-off. We've greeted, conversed, and are ready to get off the phone. The best good-byes are short and sweet. "Talk to you later" is always appropriate. You obviously have my phone number and/or I have yours and we've made it through the conversations, so it's a pretty good bet that we will, indeed, talk again at a later point in time.

There's no need for words to come flowing out of your mouth and over the phone lines in a rushing torrent, about any last thoughts that may occur to you. If we've been on the phone for a significant amount of time, if it were really important you would have said it already.

So now that I sound more like a curmudgeonly hermit than ever, I'm expecting my phone to not ring for the next few days while you all wonder, "Is she talking about me?" I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about everyone—myself included. I do the extended I-might-never-talk-to-you-again good-byes, and oftentimes my conversation probably leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe I'm just saying try not to break all of the rules in one phone call.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Stationer's Account

If I were independently wealthy (something I think about quite often), I would buy stationery.

This is what I decided yesterday, while standing in the stationery section of a local bookstore.

Of course, I make decisions like this several times a day—about what I would do if I were independently wealthy. Sometimes they involve financial planning (I'd pay off a mortgage, invest, save money for future kiddies' college). Oftentimes they're benevolent (I'd start a literacy charity, give money to my family, make the world a better place). And other times, they're just silly.

But beautiful, well-designed stationery is expensive. And if I were independently wealthy, I'd have plenty of time for correspondence between salon appointments and afternoon teas. I could still e-mail, but e-mail is so bourgeoisie and crass. Using hand-crafted, heavy weight stationery is elegant. And I would be an elegant, independently wealthy woman.

Never mind that I had to look up "stationery" to ensure that I didn't say I would purchase lack of movement. I'm sure once your wealth exceeds a certain amount, you get an embossed letter in the mail (on stationery designed just for this purpose, of course) telling you of the requirement to attend Etiquette for Independently Wealthy People classes.

In these classes, I would learn to remember the difference between stationary and stationery, which fork to use, how to air kiss. Maybe, if I were truly lucky, they would also provide us with a list of the very best stationers around the world. With one of my new-found, independently wealthy friends, I could set off on a trip across the globe, sightseeing and picking up the very best in stationery.

For now, I guess I'll have to satisfy myself with ogling the stationery in book stores, and fantasizing about the decadence of having all the stationery I could ever want.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Double Shot of Coffee Talk

First of all, I must give props when they are due. And Bob's description of a "Decaf no fat with whip frappa-mocha-latte-chino" surpasses my drink in ridiculosity. Well done, Bob.

Secondly, Keith directed me last night to an article on Slate about the mega-cup of all coffee shops, the caffeine empire: Starbucks.

According to this article, a smaller size than the vaguely-named "tall" does exist. Starbucks claims that the "short" is not listed on menus because there's not enough room, but you can order it at any Starbucks in the country and you'll get it. An 8-ounce cappuccino with just as much caffeine as a 12-ounce tall.

Now, I don't know whether this applies to my preferred mocha drink, or if it's only for a cappuchino. If I'm brave enough to risk looking cheap in front of a snobby barrista, I'll let you know. But it also reminds me of some other things that don't make the menu.

Like the tea selection. No one ever posts their tea selection and coffee shop workers tend to be impatient people. If you haven't conveyed your order within five second after stepping up to the counter, you get at least a raised eyebrow. And if you step up to the counter and then lean away from it, squinting at the menu and muttering "Now, what do I want?," forget about it. They despise you already.

But what am I supposed to do when I know I want tea but have no idea what teas they offer? When I ask for the tea menu, either I get an extensive list printed in size 9 font that had been tucked away behind three layers of advertising, or I am directed to look at the tea boxes 10 feet behind the counter. Now, I'm getting older and my telescopic vision isn't what it used to be. So if it's the boxes behind the counter, and I'm seriously determined, I'll make the barrista read the teas to me.

They hate that. They get irritated very easily. I think this is why all beverages are made in plain view of the customer—because we can sense that coffee shop workers have an 87.6% higher chance of spitting in our drinks than even normal food service employees.

Something that is usually on display, yet notoriously hard to get, are ceramic coffee mugs. I like the environment. I'd like to think that we get along okay, and I do what I can to make life for my friends a little easier. So when a coffee shop has ceramic mugs piled high next to the register, I make sure to say that I'm getting my tall decaf nonfat no whip frappa-mocha-latte-chino for here. And they charge me tax, and put it in a flimsy paper cup with an extra layer of dead trees to insulate my fingers. Is it laziness on the part of individual barristas? Or is it a corporate mandate that the mugs are just for show?

Either way, I'm starting to think that we may need to lead a revolt against some of the coffee shop practices we've just been taking for granted. Order a "short." Or even better, refuse to use Starbucks' manufactured sizes and order a small. Ask for the tea selection and take five minutes to decide, if that's what you need. And stage a sit-in until you get a ceramic mug, if that's what it takes. As people who enjoy overpriced beverages, we have rights!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Coffee Talk

I don't drink coffee. Or rather, I don't drink the hard stuff, straight up. I drink "cafe mochas" and "lattes" and "frappachinos." I often go to coffee shops or bookstore cafes for a tall mug of green tea or chai.

I did try drinking coffee, mostly because of the influence of The Gilmore Girls, and because I felt I was being—dare I say it—a smidge weak-willed. If I want my caffeine, shouldn't I just go and grab it? Take it black and steaming and straight from the bean, instead of with all of the fripperies and whipped toppings?

It didn't work out. Every time I took a sip I made that face. The scrunchy this-tastes-absolutely-wretched face. The face I used to make when I wasn't used to beer, and ended up taking so long to drink it that it was warm, which didn't help things much. This face, while mildly amusing at college parties (or hilarious, depending on the lateness of the hour), is seriously embarrassing in a coffee shop surrounded by connoisseurs.

So now that I've accepted I'm solely a frou-frou coffee drinker, I get jibed occasionally about always asking people to "meet for coffee." Personally, I don't understand why other people insist on taking this phrase literally. If you say you'll meet for coffee, does that mean that you have no other beverage options? If they are out of coffee, do you turn on your heel and head home?

I think that, although I get teased about saying "let's meet for coffee," it would be even stranger and more affected if I started saying "Let's meet for chai." Or "Shall we discuss over a mug of green tea with jasmine?" Or "Let's imbibe a caffeinated beverage together." Out of these options, I think "let's meet for coffee" is still the best bet, even if I technically order a tall nonfat mocha, no whip.

Friday, January 06, 2006

A Raging Inferno of Anger

Okay, right now I am a raging inferno of anger. Techno-anger, because my computer thinks it's smarter than me and should decide what's best.

I leave my computer on all the time. It takes forever to boot up, I can leave open websites that I'm using to research articles, it's just more convenient. When I haven't turned it off in a couple weeks or if I need to reboot for updates to happen, I am happy to do so.

I am not, however, happy to have my computer decide to reboot for me.

Yesterday, I was nearly finished with a 700-word article. It was so painful to write, my fingers were practically dripping blood by the end. I was about 50 words away from finishing and decided to call it quits, so I could finish it up quickly in the morning and have a good start to a day of writing many more boring, painful articles.

When I got to my computer this morning, it informed me with a chirpy message that Windows downloaded an update and needed to restart. So apparently it restarted without my permission. All of the programs I was leaving open because they were trials (Photoshop, Illustrator) are gone. Okay, yes, I deserved that.

BUT, all the websites I had found for references for my articles are gone. AND when I opened my Word doc, any versions of the painful article that had been autosaved or I had saved myself were gone. Completely gone! I checked where I usually save articles. I checked the temp file. I checked the tilda versions of the file. All old and pre-bloody finger work. Everything I'd worked on during the evening when I could have been having quality chill time on the couch with Keith was gone.

So who's in charge here? Because I used to think that the computer was a useful tool that I commanded with my superior brain to do my bidding. But if the computer is taking decisions like when to reboot into its own black plastic and microprocessing hands, where does that leave me? A computer shouldn't decide to reboot without at least mentioning it to me first.

Maybe if the computer would write the damn articles itself, I could handle its suddenly self-assertive nature much better. Maybe I'll write that suggestion into notepad, take the day off, and see what happens ...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Life Multiple Choice Quiz

Figuring out the rest of your life is hard work.

I re-learn this every time I come to a crossroads, but conveniently manage to forget it during the quiet, predictable times between. When I need to make a big decision about where to live or getting a new job, I am constantly quizzing myself. Trying to view the situation from every possible angle that might shed some light on the correct path.

Because I convince myself that there's probably a "right" choice. Even though I know life is more complicated and messy than a multiple-choice test, I want it to be that simple. I feel like if I study my options enough, the answer will become obvious. If I choose "A," happiness and riches will follow. If I choose "B" or "C," there's nothing ahead but heartache. I want it to be that simple.

So to distill my options, I question myself with determined persistence. "What is appealing about that job? Would you be happier working at home or in an office? What do you really want to be when you grow up?"

Most of the time, I have no good answers to my own interrogation. I fumble around for some easy, non-committal answers, but my inner critic isn't satisfied. Where is the book I can study from to get these answers?

I tell myself to relax and not put so much pressure on finding the exact right answer. Life is complex, decisions are made in shades of gray, etc. But I'm still consumed by the fear that, if I stop thinking so much about the future, it will catch me by surprise. Five years from now, I'll see the error of the decision I made today—an error that could have been prevented if I had just thought about it more. Worked tirelessly through every pro and con.

I think the biggest problem is that I don't know what I want. If I had a definite goal to work toward, it would be much easier to sort choices into the "gets me closer" pile or the "leads away from the goal" discards.

So if anyone has figured out what you're doing for the rest of your life and how to get there, I'd appreciate some tips!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Quaint Old Town

Last night I saw Capote. It was an excellent movie, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone that's read In Cold Blood. But in the first 15 minutes, I found myself getting distracted by the period costume and, mostly, the cars. Where do all these 1960-era vehicles in mint condition come from?

I started picturing a small town somewhere out West, where all of the citizens have signed an agreement with Hollywood to keep buildings and cars in perfect historical condition. Maybe somewhere in Montana is 1960-ville. Where all of the cars people drive were made between 1960 and 1970. All of the residents wear 1960s-style clothes and have 1960s-style hair. They talk about McCarthyism and Martin Luther King's march on the capital.

In return for their endless preparation and constant readiness for Hollywood to descend on their town whenever a 1960s-era movie is filmed, the townspeople get certain perks. Because the town is subsidized by Hollywood, they pay no taxes. Any Beatles, Bob Dylan, or Woodstock artist albums are free. If you or your child grows up to look like a 1960s celebrity such as Truman Capote or Allan Ginsberg, you are given a bonus if you agree to maintain this likeness in case this person is required to make a brief appearance in an upcoming movie.

Modern-day reality does intrude at times. The youth are still required to be taught at current standards, and every family is allowed a room in their house for HD TVs, CD players, and a computer. When they go on vacation, they're amazed by the pace of modern life, and are happy to retreat back to the relative peace and quiet of 1960s-ville. If they're looking for something a little less traumatic, Hollywood has also extended them a 20% discount on travel to 1970s City, Ohio, or WWII, Idaho.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Post-Party Depression

The New Year's Resolutions are no more. I'm sitting on our couch, staring at the holiday/traveling related piles that fill our living and dining room. It has suddenly occurred to me that I need to find a place to put all of our new toys. And our apartment has grown smaller while we were away this weekend. Nooks and crannies that potentially could have held our gleaming new haul have been sucked into the walls, leaving only blank and unusable space. And under the bed is already taken.

Post-holidays reality also nudges at my conscience in other ways. All those New Year’s Resolutions? Yeah, I should probably be doing something about those. The Christmas tree—or the few needles still clinging to branches—needs to come down and be disposed of. I need to retrain my body to learn that two sugar cookies and a piece of fudge do not, actually, compose breakfast.

But, even as I write this, I’m surprised to feel some excitement stirring. Or is that gas? No—a smidge of excitement, I swear. First of all, I'm excited to be starting the year off right—with a box of Raisin Nut Bran, thanks to my friend Cathy. Additionally, I’m excited that I can read whatever books I want, because I don’t have to finish them quickly. I can focus on my priorities (books and napping), instead of slavishly following my holiday marching orders: “Bake, Buy, Wrap, Eat, Party.”

And I’m looking forward to accomplishing my New Year’s resolutions. Even if I can just check the first two off my list—buy a house and get a dog—what a huge life change that will be! I’m excited to see how 2006 turns out. And to blog about it, of course;)