Thursday, May 29, 2008

My Savvy Consumer Decisions

I decided to get rid of caller ID and long-distance service from my landline. To accomplish this near-impossible feat, I stayed on hold with the phone company for 40 minutes. But geez, was the operator ever nice to me when I finally got to talk to him. He wanted to know about whether we have sunny, beautiful weather and if I enjoyed my Memorial Day holiday (ooh, I sure did, thank you very much. You went to Virginia Beach? Interesting. Good to know.). That was worth the wait. So, without caller ID and long-distance service, my bill will be $12 less each month. People have told me, "Get rid of your landline and just use your cell phone. It will be liberating." I'm not ready to be liberated, but I realized that my caller ID really isn't useful at all, and I never use my long-distance service (I'm ready to be proven wrong on both counts), so I might as well get rid of them and save a tiny little bit of money. I guess what had been holding me back was that I usually don't have an hour to spare to wait for someone from the telephone company to talk to me. So, now that I don't have caller ID, everyone, please call me and make anonymous prank calls. I won't know who you are because I got rid of caller ID. Oh, and salespeople. Please, call as much as you want now. I will most certainly pick up because I won't know it's you. It will be worth it, since I no longer have to pay $8.20 per month to avoid those kinds of things. The last era people made anonymous prank calls was probably more than 15 years ago. There's no one I really want to avoid. I never have screened my calls. I don't think I'll miss it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


-- Today I realized I have had the same Netflix videos for almost two months. Neither of them were ones I wanted or watched. They were dusty.
-- Today I came home for my one-hour lunch break, which involved driving for half of it to get home and back, and cleaning my living room. Not for anybody special. Just because.
-- Today I had a frustrating experience with health care coverage.
-- Today I believe I have finally conquered the ant problem in my house.
-- Today I took a good 20-minute walk. Passersby included three women and one man who were walking. We passed by two men who were working by their garages on nondescript projects.
-- The above consists of the remarkable events of the moment.

May 28

I remembered the other line, in addition to the "you fight like a young man," comment I wrote about a few days ago, from the new Indiana Jones movie, that I liked. Indiana Jones's colleague said, in relation to both of them not having their jobs anymore, "We've reached the age when life has stopped giving us things and has started to take them away," referring, I suppose, to people who reach their 50s. I saw my life flash before my eyes, and thought about all the things life had "given" me up to this point. I thought about what the future holds for me, and what life might be taking away. Youth, for one, obviously. And all the things that seem to slip away with it. It's an interesting and sad comment, but I would disagree in a way because life does tend to keep giving you things, all the way up until it gives you death. The things life does give you at that point may start to turn negative, but what about retirement, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and the opportunity for exciting hobbies like card games, gardening, shuffleboard, painting, and woodworking? Mr. Jones's colleague was just depressed. But it did make me think. Of course, I forgot for four days what I thought was so interesting, but it came back to me. Sometimes life takes things from you and then gives them back. Like memories.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Electricity and Technology

Driving past a construction site today, a passenger in my car (also known as member of my household) said, "Look, something is being built over there," and pointed out the steel beams that are the frames in the initial phase of the construction of a large building.
"It's going to be the Hilton Garden Hotel," I explained.
"Oooh, can we stay there?" she asked.
I said, "Well, you're the second person to ask me that. If the power ever goes out, and we have no heat, and it's in the middle of winter, then maybe."
"Can't we just stay there for a mini-vacation?"
"For $100-plus a night, to stay about a mile from our house? Nah, I don't think so. No, the power would have to be out."
About 10 minutes after we returned home, and a few minutes after I had started cooking a feast of spiral noodles and cheese and frozen veggie burgers, the power went off. Both the noodles and the burgers were halfway done, so by putting a lid on both, they actually managed to cook all the way, despite there being no more heat source.
Luckily, since the Hilton Garden Hotel is about a year away from having its steel beam skeleton filled with walls and ceilings and fountains and glass elevators and gardens and furniture, we didn't need to start packing up. We aren't living during that time of year when we need to depend on the heat, either. But something said to me, I wish I had a place to go right now. But I don't. The power came back on after a half hour, but it was just enough time to make me think a little differently. Do we have a battery-operated radio? Check. Do we have candles? Check. Do I know where my elastic-banded headlamp is? Check. Is there anything in the refrigerator that will go bad? Not really; unless you count milk, tangerine juice and eggs. There's really nothing else in there other than stuff I want to keep away from the moths. Does our automatic garage opener work if we don't have electricity? Check (the power company's on-hold message told me that). Do we really need electricity? Not sure how to answer that one. Can we live without it? I guess we'll find out.
Today my head was filled with all the possible ways people can communicate with each other. Since 1995, the avenues of human contact have quadrupled for me from (1) telephone with no caller ID and no answering machine, and (2) U.S. Mail, to the present, to: (1) telephone with caller ID and answering machine, (2) U.S. Mail, (3) cell phone, (4, 5, and 6) three e-mail accounts, (7) text messaging, and now (8) And there might be one or two other ways I could be found, not including Instant Messaging and Web cam, which I don't use. I'm sure I've left something out. And that leaves, sadly, exponentially more opportunities to be reminded that no one's going to any sort of effort whatsoever to find out what I'm doing, how I'm doing, or why I'm doing it. That's really an exaggeration. I really don't mean that. I like technology. When technology can make me feel like I am overjoyed that there are so many ways to get in touch with me, then I will love technology.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

At the Movies, Then and Now.

The first time I saw an Indiana Jones movie, I was really frightened. I hate to admit it. But the scary music on Scooby Doo used to scare me, too, which is just funny, I guess. My sister recently explained her theory about why movies used to affect us so much: it was because we didn't have TV and hardly ever, ever, went to movies. We could therefore not foresee the formulaic plot because we did not know the formula. I could count on one hand the number of movies I went to until I was 10: On Golden Pond, Tron, ET, Windwalker, and some Clint Eastwood movie ... oh yes, thank you IMDB, it was Bronco Billy. Windwalker was the worst movie in memory. It was the worst because it was supposed to be something fun I did on my birthday, and I remember that the whole movie seemed to consist of a Native American walking through the snow and the wind was blowing. That was how I felt about my birthday. Since my birthday is in the cold, dark, dead wintertime, there's nothing fun to do on my birthday, usually. At least not when you live in a very small town, a small town that had one movie theater with only two movies at one time (I think it has grown to about seven now). My mom was going out of her way to do this nice thing for me, take me and a friend to the movies. I believe there was pizza involved, too.
Ah, but I have digressed. My point was that the most mild of movies made me afraid. I didn't know that the good guy always gets out, gets away. That is, if we're talking about Scooby Doo or Indiana Jones. I didn't know how to predict the twists and turns and I didn't have the knowledge that everything was actually all going to be safe, that there would be something entertaining, amusing, or sort of awesome to come out of a suspenseful or chaotic scene. That would have made it all a little less interesting.
I guess I sympathize too much with the pain and the stress that the characters are facing. That's the curse of the sensitive person. You can sense what other people are thinking and internalize it. If you are away from home for two days, and the phone did not ring once during that time, you internalize it and wonder why no one likes you. Others who are less sensitive would just be glad no one was bothering them and glad that there was no affirmative duty to stop what they are doing and call back.
One of my favorite lines from the new Indiana Jones movie is:
"You fight like a young man. Too eager to start and too eager to finish." I could relate to that. There was another line filled with wisdom that I liked. It was something Harrison Ford said. I can't remember it right now.

Update: I remembered. See May 28.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Another Friday

Town was unusually empty Friday -- did everyone leave to go somewhere interesting and exciting this holiday weekend? There wasn't even a line at DQ. Straaange. The only sign of life was with the large crowd of people standing around, sitting around as they typically do, seeming to do nothing at all but sit or stand around, maybe talk a little, meander a little, by the church steps. All evening. All night, maybe, I don't know. Maybe they're waiting for the bars to open. I feel like I'm walking through a punk-rock music video when I walk through there. Guy with Black Leather Jacket and Ponytail was there, as he always is, with the crowd. Thursday night he was on the church steps polishing his black leather shoes with a bottle of black polish. Last night he was across the street, with shiny black shoes to match the rest of his ensemble. Outfit, that is.
I came home at 8 p.m., crashed, and slept until 9 a.m. this morning. I didn't think it was possible. I feel better.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Week O' Lunches

This week has been The Week of Lunches Like No Other for me. Today I feasted on taboulleh and hummus in the company of my dear mother and friend Katarina (they also came to bear gifts, for no reason at all), yesterday with Yousiphanes to venture to a hotel-on-a-river restaurant (want to go there again as food was exceptional), and the day before with co-workers and new intern. Most days I have a brunch of water, coffee and granola bars and don't eat until dinnertime. This week I have been immensely spoiled. It's hard to go back to mundane at-home cookin' after a long string of magic food. I can't cook anything all that interesting, because the longer I spend in preparation the more I am assured that the rest of the members of the household will scorn the results, which is what happens almost invariably. Instead, I read a lot of cookbooks and imagine what I'd cook if I had a willing audience.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Global Energy

A member of the well-informed, idealistic youth with ambitions to change the world has given me some perspective this week, reminding me of how it feels to have the horizon wide open, to be young, to have the luxury of that collegiate vision that anything is possible once a degree is obtained. While the degree is pending and there's no looming graduation date anywhere nearby to drown you with apprehensions about the immediate future, you think about what could be. Contrast that with people all around you, outside of school, who have settled. Who have worked the same unsatisfying job for decades. Who once had that idealistic vision and gradually saw that the possibilities have closed in on them, one by one, closed first by someone with higher qualifications landing their dream job or winning their targeted scholarship, then by substandard grades, then by money, then by babies, husbands, or wives, then by convalescent parents, then by addiction, or disease, or anxiety, or fear, or ... whatever else imaginable that could work to cloud their potential. I think that's just what happens when many of us get older. We find reasons, or reasons find us, for why we cannot conquer the world, the world as we see it, or our personal world, in the way we once imagined we would. Being reminded of what it feels to know that the possibilities are endless inspires me to appreciate that energy, to remind me of why I wanted an education in the first place, to seize the moment and to not settle for unsatisfying and draining work. Many people will tell you that most jobs are drudgery, draining and unsatisfying. The sparkle will disappear from your eyes, the spring will go out of your step, and your hope will be extinguished if you let yourself believe that. You will start wearing a lot of gray and brown. There has been a lot written, and a lot of movies and stories, about that concept, so I'm not relaying anything original or different, I know. But to actually be reminded of the optimism for life potential, the great unknown, by someone of a tender age combined with the global energy to believe in himself and his future, is somewhat rejuvenating.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Library

Yesterday I received an e-mail from my friendly local library about a book I had returned a month ago. The e-mail was somewhat alarming, since it stated that it may pursue legal action against me if I did not return the book. I called the library and told them I'd returned it about a month ago. The person at the circulation desk said she'd look for it. No one called back or sent me another message saying, "Sorry; we made an error; we found your book," or "Bring that book or else!" So, I went to the library yesterday evening and asked whether the book had been found. My account had been cleared and they had apparently located the book. At least I didn't have to pay the flat fee for being late. It's $5 per book when the book is more than two weeks late. It might be more cost-effective for me just to go to Barnes & Noble.
Something funny happened on the way to sleep last night. I said my usual good-nights to the smallest child in the house. Every few days, right after she gets buried under her covers, she decides she's thirsty and cannot possibly get back up to fetch water for herself, and asks, "Will you get a drink of water for me?" This instantly irritates me, since I'm usually grumpy by bedtime, I'm eager to go to sleep and it always takes an excruciating amount of time to round her up and get settled in. I said my usual, "Arrrgh. You get it yourself. I need to go to bed now." She said, "OK. If I were from England, I would probably say, 'Pardon me one moment, mother. Please, would you so kindly carry a cold, refreshing beverage to my bedside? I'm rather parched.'" She won me over. I came back with the cold water, responding, "My dear daughter, I so appreciate your most eloquent request for a cold beverage with which to quench your thirst. I would be glad to carry it to your bedside." The articulation of the request was much more compelling than the need to stifle the perpetuation of the water-fetching favor.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


A weekend of the great outdoors brought a little good energy into this weekend. Saturday and Sunday involved rock climbing, braving windy and panoramic vistas, and study of wildlife and dinosaur-sized rocks. The only living, breathing wildlife I noticed were birds, a chipmunk and a delicate, large spider (do spiders breathe?). I spent most of last week and this weekend worried about the dangers of the Internet and how it can negatively affect our children. I talked to some parents about it, and not all of that went well. Some parents take a hard-line approach, not tolerating any exposure with the big, wide, world, and other parents think that their children's privacy should be respected, not permitting themselves to question who their children are talking to and passing judgment onto those who do question.
I read a book this week with a chapter that gave advice about dealing with difficult people. The book suggested imagining that all people are our teachers. When someone is difficult, rude, aggressive, or mean, instead of taking it personally or getting angry about it, think about what that difficult person has to teach you. I see this as the ultimate re-framing.
Are parents dealing with Internet issues and my thoughts about dealing with difficult people connected? Yes. The big, wide world is saturated with difficult people. There is much to learn.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Yesterday I went through a seatbelt checkpoint. Twice. Once coming, and the other time going.
The police officer arched his eyebrow in suprise when he looked in my car, in front of my car, and behind my car. "Well, you're all legal," he proclaimed as he smiled at me, almost in disbelief. What's more, I looked all legal, since I was wearing a conservative, black, legal-looking suit under my fastened seatbelt. He gave me a handy card about seat-belt wearing. Obviously this stop is not so much about seat belts. It's about whether you're all legal. It takes a lot to be all legal: yearly inspections, yearly license registration, current driver's license, seatbelts, money for all those things, and, definitely, a pleasant attitude when you greet the police. Oh, and you can't be all bleary-eyed or smell faintly of alcohol or smoke. There's a wide-open invite to the police to suspect that you're not all legal. As I drove away I mused at myself for being so legal. I think I went back through that way a second time just to prove to myself how legal I am. Or maybe to be glad I wasn't in one of the cars that had been pulled aside.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Maternal Thoughts

Today and yesterday we enjoyed some good, all-natural pumpernickel bread made with coffee and cocoa, a gift from my mother. Freshly baked hearth bread makes life seem happier. The more Mothers' Days I earn as a mother, the more I think that mothers never stop giving and never stop working for their children, and that the idea of Mothers Day being a day to appreciate our moms is an oxymoron. Not that there's anything wrong with that. She took a big group of us out to la trattoria for dinner. It was a good day for moms.
Last week a 10-year-old reported to me that she's living in a tent with her father in a park nearby. My mind has been swirling with the implications of such a lifestyle since then. The latest word is that she is spending the next week and a half in Disneyworld. I guess life can't be all that bad, then ... except that she lost her mother to a fatal heart attack not too long ago.
One day I'd like to find out how my grandmother's mother died. All I know is that she died when my grandmother was 10, in the year 1916, and an "Aunt Clara" was there to help take care of her after that. Back then, any lady friend of the family was designated as an "aunt," so I don't know if she was actually an aunt. My grandmother was placed three years later into an all-girls boarding school in Peekskill, where she lived and learned until she was 18. My impression of life with single dads back then (coincidentally around the time of the very first Mother's Day, in the year 1908) meant one of two things: (1) new mother figure, or (2) boarding school. Fortunately for most, child-rearing is no longer the great unknown to man.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Adventure vs. Experience

Not too long ago during a trip to one of the big city's Half Price Bookstores, I picked up a college literature textbook, a giant anthology like I had in college but sold as soon as the semester was over. The one I had in college was actually a British Literature anthology, an incomprehensible beast written in Old English that made me realize that I wanted to change my major from English to ... to ... something else, anything else, but what? I couldn't decide at the time, so I switched to a major called "liberal arts." That only lasted a semester and then I switched to journalism. Turns out it didn't really make a lick of difference after all, except that I sometimes wonder what switching majors caused me to miss out on; hence, the interest in consuming the college literature textbook. Most of the anthologies have some sort of category, like "American Literature," and the above-mentioned "British Literature," but this one is just "Literature." So far I have only read the introduction, but am getting something out of it. One part of it included a woman's commentary about the difference between "adventure" and "experience." She thinks an adventure is a waste because the adventures she's put herself through (mountain climbing) have resulted in sore muscles and injuries and not much else to show for them except for stories that she can tell her friends later (and her friends have stories about taller mountains, scarier wildlife, and sorer muscles). I suppose she was comparing the idea of a treacherous, dangerous event to just the sort of life that most people have --- the day-to-day experiences that cause us to shuffle through life a little bit at a time --- errands, reading, cooking, gardening. I thought back to college, again, about the time I went bridge swinging with a boy I just met. He said he'd do it if I did it. I jumped first, swung off the bridge by a climbing rope, jumped as I should into the river below, and swam to shore, and I think that's when he fell in love with me. (Some good reason.) Then we ended up married with children. Exhilaration. That's why we love adventure.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Yesterday I heard someone accuse someone else of assuming that she was one-dimensional. I realized that I know people who do this. They make snap-judgment decisions about peoples' personalities and label them and shelve them away into some category relating to how they perceive the person's level of shyness, athletic ability or mental acuity, or some other category that could be easily imagined. (Insert sample label here.) People like labels. Do we truly deserve them? Or are we all actually complex, multi-dimensional creatures that deserve more? Or is the truth somewhere in the middle?
I can think of several occasions when people who have labeled me with one classification or another, say, for example, "nice," are later shocked when I do something that doesn't fit behind that label they so quickly assigned to me. They become confused, saying, "You've changed," or, "I don't understand you."
Why don't we give more credit to ourselves and assume that we all have layers of personality, instead of one shallow level of existence? Wouldn't that be "nice?"

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

How badly can it hurt?

Today I wonder how it feels to die from a physical injury, as if from a gunshot wound, stabbing, or internal bleeding. I think it would feel like I feel, but I don't know. I'm probably a very long way from death. There's no objective standard to measure pain, except to vocalize where your pain would rate on a scale from one to 10, one being the lowest and 10 being so bad you'd go to the emergency room. That's still not very objective. It's hard for a mind to focus, being in so much pain.


This morning started off the usual way, with me trying to calculate time and rush to fit everything in to those regimented time slots that occupy my schedule and my mind. I don't think regimented can be used as an adjective, since I don't see it in the dictionary and I often wonder about such things, but I do use it as one anyway. I think you should be able to turn anything into an adjective if you want to.
Yesterday someone used the word "brandishing" in a sentence, as in "brandishing a sword." I considered correcting him, since I knew the person he talked about did not actually brandish a sword; rather, the sword was strapped to his back. My hesitation in correcting him stemmed from the fact that I doubted the accuracy of my definition of the word as I imagined it to be, and I wasn't sure if he was using "brandishing" with "carrying in a holster" synonymously. Did he actually mean the guy was brandishing the sword(?), or did he mean that he just had the sword on his body(?), or did he misunderstand the meaning of the word(?), I silently pondered at the time. This morning I took a second that I didn't have to look it up, as it was, well, not so much weighing on my mind, but resting lightly on my mind. So, I confirmed to myself that, yes, brandishing means, in the context of having a weapon, "menacingly waving about," and, looking back, I was glad that I had not been so sure of myself that I corrected him in the moment. It wouldn't have been worth it. Plus, the story sounds so much better with the sword being waved around rather than tucked away on his person.
Do people carry swords nowadays, with the possible intention of brandishing them? Is a sword more than just a collectible? Apparently, they do, and yes.
I also learned "brava" is a word and can be used "interjectionally," as the dictionary puts it, to congratulate a female instead of "bravo," as one would for a male. I also did not know that "interjectionally" was a word.

Monday, May 5, 2008


I attended the viewing of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day in the upstairs room of a theater where, if you don't sit in the spacious back row, or the very front row in which you'd have to look about 180 degrees up to the screen, your legs get crushed by the seats in front of you. I vowed a long time ago that I would only sit in the back row of that theater in the future, after a series of leg-crushing, constant-crossing-and-re-crossing acrobatic incidents. This time, most of the seats in the back row were occupied, since I missed the first 10 minutes of the movie. I can imagine what I missed from later references, but it's just not the same, knowing that I didn't see the whole thing. The story wasn't a giant disappointment, but the comedic parts weren't as funny as they were supposed to be. I liked the message about the importance of being true to what you know is right, and it was nice to be reminded that you should follow what your intuition whispers to you (it's never as loud as we'd like it to be). An older woman, Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand), lost a few opportunities when she was younger, so she tried to impart to a younger woman, Delysia (Amy Adams), the knowledge she gained from her loss. And she did have an action-packed, life-changing, unforgettable day. What I liked most about the movie was the setting, 1939 in London. I haven't been exposed to much context for that particular year (nor have I searched for a context), but I have been curious because that is the year my father was born. The only other event I can link to 1939, besides the beginning of World War II, is The Wizard of Oz release to the theater. Color was mixed in to the usual black and white picture and it was a rarity. People began watching movies in the leg-crushing theater starting in 1931. Many of them are probably dead now. Many of them probably watched The Wizard of Oz in that theater. Sometimes a cool breeze blows on the back of my neck when I'm sitting in my seat there. If I were a ghost, I'd probably like to watch movies in the theater when I got the chance.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Gender-based tragedies, with a happy ending

Last year at this time I went to a fund raiser that was only for females. Within weeks of that event, I went to a party to which only females were invited. Both times, I was happy to have been invited. Both were awkward. Part of it was not knowing any of the guests very well, and part of it was that I felt something was missing. Back before boys thought we were interesting, we girls had non-stop fun together: we had our slumber parties, silly pranks, secrets, jokes, phone calls and games. But not anymore. Those girls gradually slipped away with their boyfriends, husbands, kids and their in-laws.
Tonight I had dinner with three other women, and it was really nice. Our original agenda involved patronizing the aforementioned female-only fund raiser for the second year in a row, but we elected instead for a quieter night of la trattoria, where a place to sit is guaranteed and you don't have to search for a refill. I liked the stories I heard. We all listened to each other. We laughed. We lamented. We learned. We had good food. We will do it again.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Carnivorous Thoughts

I haven't eaten red meat in a long time, and the hamburger I got today looked to me like it was almost still breathing, ready to jump off the plate, and bleeding from several wound sites. It was shaped and textured very much like a large toad, and a piece was falling off one side like a stray back leg. My dinnermates enjoyed poking at it so that the blood and grease poured out. I felt sorry for it. I did not want to eat it. My eight-year, vegetarian-like streak has been more a health decision, not so much for humanitarian reasons. But I feel the tide (and my stomach) turning.
Someone I know was told repeatedly as a child that eating meat is the equivalent of consuming raw, rotting flesh and is done by ruthless evil people who slaughter innocent, living beings. I found that hard to grasp, that people would be made to believe that from a tender young age. It paints a horrifying picture, one that would help to permanently fix anti-carnivorous thoughts in one's conscience. On the other hand, I think a lot of children initially have trouble with the idea that meat comes from a once-living, gentle, beautiful animal, when they find out.