Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Little Plastic Pumpkin

Zoe and my little plastic pumpkin.
Happy Halloween!

When I was a little kid, I had this little plastic pumpkin.  It had a jack-o-lantern face carved into one side, and it was heavy in my hand.  It always reminded me of a supersized Brach's Mellocreme Pumpkin.  Brach's Mellocreme Pumpkins were a staple around our house, and up to Aunt Flossie and Uncle Al's.  I loved those Mellocreme Pumpkins because they tasted like candy corn, but were good for at least two bites.

This little plastic pumpkin, too, was a Halloween staple for as far back as I can remember, back when I was a tiny pre-schooler.  Nobody remembers where it came from.  It has "Hallmark" on the bottom, so it's obviously from the greeting card mother ship.  But as for how I came into it, I can't remember (which is rare for me), and neither can my mom.

I'd forgotten all about the little plastic pumpkin.  Haven't seen it for years.  Then one day last week, when Zoe was staying at my parents' while we were getting the new carpet put in, the little plastic pumpkin turned up.  Whenever Zoe's at my parents' now, she finds that little plastic pumpkin.  It fits right in the palm of her hand, and she carries it around everywhere, like it's a piece of gold. 

Zoe has lots of toys, both here and at my parents' house.  She even has toys that are worlds flashier than the little plastic pumpkin.  But it still makes me smile whenever I see her carrying around that blast from the past. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why This Is Scary

All along the Eastern Seaboard, Hurricane Sandy is terrorizing people.  I've been looking at friends' pictures on Facebook, who live closer to the sea than I do, and I see people in inflatable rowboats, paddling down streets, Battery Park in Manhattan is underwater, the HMS Bounty sank in North Carolina, and at least one friend, in Philadelphia, is without power.

This is some seriously scary stuff going on.

Here in the Bing, we're still bathed in electric light.  The washer and dryer are chugging along, "just in case," but I have my fingers, toes, eyes, and hair crossed that even though the page has us in the large red swath on the map with "likely power outages," that we'll beat the odds and keep our power. 

It's not that we're not ready if the power goes out.  We have a generator so we can keep the freezers going.  We have some gas for the generator.  I drew the Big Tub full of water earlier this morning, so we could flush if the power goes out (the pump has different voltage than the rest of the house, so the generator won't do a lick of good as far as water pumps go around here), and I filled bottles and jugs of water for drinking.  Zoe has enough packaged baby food to get her through a few days, and enough shelf-stable yogurt to get her through even more days.  I know how to use a chain saw now, if I have to.  This is as ready as I think we can be.

It's still scary.  I sit here in the house, thankful to hear the drone of the washing machine, and to see the glow of the lights, but the wind and rain are hitting the wrong side of the house.  In this area, the prevailing winds are usually from the west and south-west.  Today's windy fare comes from the north.  It's one of those things I never really think about until it's happening all wrong.

The storm prep is comforting, because at least that's something we can control.  We can go fill up gas tanks, and set food aside, and make sure we have first aid and toilet paper and hand sanitizer and water.  We can make sure the dishes and laundry are done up.  It's comforting to be busy.  It's the waiting that'll drive you nuts, and the wondering if or when the power goes out. 

It's all scary because there's nothing we can do about this Hurricane Sandy.  We can't hook up giant fans and send this bitch packing out to sea.  We can't turn on giant sump pumps and pump away storm surges.  We can't reason with her.  We can storm prep all we want, but in the end, we're powerless to stand by and watch the water rise and the winds blow.

I've said it before.  I'm a worrier.  It's what I do.  But on days like this when large swaths of the East are huddling in the wind and without power, when the wind and rain are hitting the wrong side of the house, I admit that there's something tremendously satisfying about getting through it unscathed and finding out I worried for nothing.  That's how I hope I feel on Friday, when all of this should be said and done and over, weather-wise.  That I worried for nothing.

Monday, October 29, 2012

How I Would Decorate for Halloween

Pretend that the leaves are all Halloweenish.
Well, I finally pulled my skeleton votive candle porch-standees out of the attic and put them on duty on the deck, and now the National Weather Service is advising people to bring in anything that could blow around in the wind and cause AllState-caliber mayhem on property and people.  So I'm glad I didn't knock myself out decorating for Halloween.  I just have to bring in the skeletons from the deck.

But one of these years, I have a really cool idea for decorating for Halloween, but it'll have to be a year where we don't have this cold, rainy weather.  It's happened!

See, my 1970 AMC Gremlin (pictured above) is Big Bad Orange- I named her Ginger.  And a lot of people think she's a goofy-looking car.  I think she's goofy-looking AND adorable, and is pretty much the ultimate Halloween decoration.

What I want to do is bring my Gremlin out to the front yard and park it so it faces the intersection, and then make big eyes for in the windshield, so it looks like there's a creature in the yard.  I know that the most accepted way to anthropomorphize an automobile is to use the headlights as eyes, but I'm going for big brushstrokes on this one, something that needs to be seen from a couple hundred feet away, and the windshield provides a LOT of valuable visual real estate for this.

An alternate approach to the Halloween decorations using my Gremlin would be affixing a green stem, pumpkin leaves, and tendrils to Ginger's roof and parking her in the yard to be a pumpkin.  Or I could combine the two ideas and have an AMC Jack-o-lantern, with the pumpkin bits and monster-eyes.

There's three years' worth of Ginger-based Halloween fun, right there!  But like I said, Ginger's a 40+ year-old car, so she deserves to live in the garage in inclement weather, not to be out and exposed to all the elements.  Cold and rain makes her temperamental.  I can't blame her a bit for that.  I'm a 1978, and I get cranky if I'm left out in the cold, too!  So my brilliant Halloween decoration plans for Ginger will need to wait for another Halloween, when we're not having a storm straight from Hell.  It happens every so often.  Truthfully, up until this very weekend, it would have been a good October to have implemented one of my Ginger decorating ideas.  We've had beautiful weather, all month long. 

Maybe the moral of this story for me should be to make my decorations ahead of time.  I should fashion the pumpkin stem, leaves, and tendrils right now, or as soon as I figure out and get the materials I'd need for such a thing.  I should cut out the big jack-o-lantern eyes and the monster eyes (to change things up a bit!) out of poster board and have them at the ready for next beautiful October. 

That's what I should do.  I want to be more festive around here.  Not Griswald-festive, so the neighbors call me at Christmas to ask me if my house is on fire, but I could do a little better on the outside-decoration front.  I really could.

But right now, I'd better go out and fetch the skeletons from the deck.  I wouldn't be so happy to wake up one of these mornings and find Frankenstorm pitched the skeleton decorations through a window, or grazed the Jeep with them.  Mother Nature really could have decided just to soap everybody's windows instead of this giant mother of all storms crap.  I mean, seriously!

Friday, October 26, 2012

I'll Be Back Monday!

Hi, Friends!  Don't worry.  I haven't gone out of the blogging business again.  It's just, we've decided to turn our house all upside-down, re-arranging things.  It's a lot like moving, without the U-Haul or housewarming presents.  In other words, everything is strewn everywhere, and I need to get things back in order this weekend.

I'll be back with my posts on Monday, October 29th.  In the meantime, you might want to head to the Wal-Mart and buy your strawberry Pop-Tarts and beer.  I hear a storm's a' comin'!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

This Is War

The house is under attack!

It's that time of year again, when the rodents that are supposed to live outside come inside.  It's just that I thought we'd be immune to the rodentine invasion this year because over the summer when we had all that digging done around the house, we had a RAT in the house that Shane and I both saw.  Shane tried to kill it on the basement stairs when he chanced upon it.  He saw the rat, the rat saw Shane, and he chased it down the stairs, trying to jump on it.

Even though I was upset that we'd have to live with the rat until another method of assassination proved successful, I'm kind of glad really, really glad that Shane missed when he jumped from the third-from-bottom step.  I would have hated to see the aftermath of that, and plus, he probably would have had to throw out his Lugz he was wearing.  I mean, that's what you'd do, right, if you killed a rat in your shoes?  You'd throw the shoes away.  Even if they were only on their third wearing, because you just wore them when you jumped on a rat to kill it.

Thankfully, we don't have to ponder that dilemma much, because like I said, Shane missed that big rat that day.

After the incident on the stairs, I saw the back end of the rat that was in our house.  It had a big rump.  I cannot lie.  I'm surprised it could haul that big butt into the space between the washing machine and the dryer.  It was a biiiiiiiig backside.

Besides just the creepy factor, I was seriously worried about my washing machine and my dryer.  A rat can do serious damage.  When we lived in the Domicile of the Damned, we always involuntarily played host to lots of different kinds of rodents, since the foundation of that house had more holes in it than a colander.  And one time, a rat chewed a hole in the drainpipe of the dishwasher.  We had to use epoxy putty to fix it, because it was right in the elbow, and we were going to be moving soon anyway.

Back to the rat in my house where I live now.  My dream house, which isn't a Domicile of the Damned.  It's actually really nice place to live.  Like rats do, it kept carrying off the rat traps Shane put out.  I readily admit that Shane's the one who deals with extermination duties, because about wildlife of any kind in my house, I'm a disaster.  Out of desperation, Shane ordered an Electric Rat Trap that I've since named Big Yella Momma, just because that makes me howl with laughter whenever I think about it.

The very day he ordered that trap, though, there was a standoff in the kitchen.  Thankfully, it was after Zoe had already gone to bed for the night, and it was late enough that Rozzie had already been carried upstairs.  Shane had the rat cornered and told me to run for his shoes and a shovel.  He was going to take care of that rat then and there.  I brought Shane the shovel from the basement, and his slip-on shoes, and did what anybody with as much courage as I have would do.  I made a beeline for the front stairs and barricaded myself in our bathroom, with my ears plugged and Rozzie staring at me like I was crazy.  So I don't really know how Shane got the rat, but it involved the shovel, and an entire roll of paper towels and half a bottle of Clorox Clean-up.

Because of all of that Drama of the Rodent Kind, I really hoped that this year, the regular mice that usually invade the house when the weather cools and the house warms would just figure our house is Off Limits.  Big Yella Momma is in the house, after all, and if it'll zap a rat to death, it'll turn regular mice into crispy critters (it just has to be taken out of its packing box and plugged in!)  But no.  After Shane took Zoe up to bed tonight, I went to the kitchen/laundry room area to turn off lights, and I saw the floor move.  What I wanted to have seen is the floor move, I should say.  We have gray slate-looking ceramic tile out there, and I saw grayness dart from under Zoe's changing station toward the dryer.  Why do they have such a fascination with my dryer?  Don't they realize that if they ruin my dryer, Maytag doesn't make that kind anymore, and I will go so deeply into mourning that... I don't know.  I'll be upset if there's ever No Fix to my dryer.

And I realized that in this war between Human and Rodent, there is no armistice.  There is no peace treaty that if they just stay outside and don't come in, we won't kill them, and if we leave them alone outside, they won't come in.  Mice and rats are by nature sneaky and they go back on treaties made with them.  It's like they don't even know about them!  Sneaky little jerks!  So now it's Fall, and they're flocking to the warm house, where they're most certainly not welcome, and we have to fight to protect our walls and floors and dryer.  And we will.  We have Big Yella Momma, and we won't hesitate to use it.  And if Big Yella Momma fails, Shane's really handy with a shovel, apparently, and isn't afraid of a little hand-to-hand combat with a rodent.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pessimism With A Purpose!

In the circles I find myself in, worry and pessimism seem to get confused and tangled up in a ball together, and I don't think it's entirely fair.  See, I'm a really good worrier.  I've had ulcers eaten in the lining of my stomach at an astonishingly young age because of my propensity for worry.  And I've been accused of being a pessimist because of my worrying.  That just isn't true.  Bear with me.

"Worry is just borrowed trouble," I've heard it said.  Sometimes, it's true.  If you're worrying about things you can do absolutely nothing about, like what if a giant asteroid hits the earth and wipes us all out in an instant, that's just silly to do.  Not much we could do about it, not much aftermath to clean up.  No point in worrying about it.

I do my share of worrying about stupid stuff like that.  But I'm trying to be better about it.  Other things, though, I don't apologize for "borrowing the trouble."  Instead of looking at it that way, I like to think of it as thinking through all possible scenarios and figuring out ways of handling them.  Escape plans, contingency plans, avoidance plans. 

Think about it.  What's the first thing they do when you're on a commercial flight?  They go through the escape plan.  They tell you where the emergency exits are.  They let you know your seat cushion is a flotation device.  They show you how to put on the oxygen masks if they come out of the ceiling.  They're not saying the plane's going to be involved in an emergency, but in case it is, they want to make sure you know what to do.

When I stay at a hotel, the first thing I do when I get in my room is eyeball the Fire Escape Plan on the back of the door, and you can bet that while I was on my way to the room, I had my eyes peeled for where the stairways and red exit signs were.  I do the same thing in theaters and auditoriums and the arena when I go see hockey games.  I want to know how far I am from the nearest exit, and I spend at least a few seconds visualizing how I'll get there if I need to.

I think it’s smart to think through situations other than potentially life-or-death, though, too, so I'm not caught so flat-footed.  By nature, I'm Emotional, capital E intentional.  High-strung.  It's a ginger-thing.  We wear our hearts and nerves out on our sleeves.  I do think we're more sensitive than the rest of the population, we redheads.  It's not really a flaw or a shortcoming (it can be useful sometimes), but I do think it's something in myself I need to recognize and acknowledge and plan for, especially when dealing with people who have an inability to empathize or people who get off on pushing other people’s hot buttons.  If you leave your hot buttons all out and exposed, they’re going to get all kinds of pushed.  Believe me.  It’s best for me to be prepared before it happens, to handle it.

It’s not just about trying to avoid fights with a certain set of people, though.   It’s also about being prepared for making decisions.  To some people, it looks like I just haphazardly decide things, but if it’s something I’ve seen coming for a while, I slip off by myself, do a lot of reading, a lot of paying attention, form my case, and start laying the groundwork for a plan.  It makes me less indecisive and more confident in what I need to do.  I don’t like to deny something, as unpleasant as it might be, and convince myself that it’ll all be okay, and then find out that the storm of crap is every bit as awful as it could be, and instead of having an idea of which way to jump ahead of time, a lot of hard decisions are needed to be made while inside a dense cloud. 

I just don’t understand people who choose to ignore the warning signs of something Big coming, who hope that by not thinking about it, it’ll go away, and then have the audacity to be shocked when the result of ignoring warning signs comes around and hits them smack in the face.  Then they’re left to scurry like rats on a sinking ship, flailing around wildly, trying to process everything, a tall enough order before you even add in trying to make rational decisions in the face of all of that shock.  I really don’t understand when this happens over and over in some people’s lives, why they don’t start thinking a little bit farther ahead, even if it means thinking about things that are unpleasant.

I don’t mean dwell on potentially bad situations.  I mean just think far enough ahead to have phone numbers at the ready, and a contingency plan or two in place, for when things happen.  For instance, I don’t sit in my house and dwell on “What if something happens to Shane and me, and we leave Zoe behind?”  But I’ve thought about it enough to have talked it over with Shane, and to have measures in place for where she goes if something awful happens to the two of us.  It was unpleasant to think about it, but now we know where she’ll go, and that she’ll be in good hands, should anything happen to us ever, and my sister and her husband wouldn’t be Shocked to find her on their doorstep in the event of the worst.  I sleep better at night, knowing that this is in place.  I think it’s the same idea when people write out their wills.  Unpleasant to think about, yes, but much better than leaving everything up to guess work and then spending the afterlife all pissed off because the fam didn’t know your last wishes, therefore didn’t carry them out right.

I think that thinking a little bit ahead to what COULD come about makes me feel more empowered and less hopeless, less like the universe is picking on me.  I’ve noticed that a lot of times, people who choose to curl up in a ball and deny, deny, deny have kind of a ‘woe is me’ air about them when things do go south on them.  Everything is suddenly terrible.   How dare this happen?  If I’ve done my job, I see the storm coming and I have the flashlight and enough jugged water ready, figuratively speaking.  In the event of a real power outage, I usually lose my stuff altogether, at least for a couple minutes.  I’m working on it.

You know the cliche.  Optimists see the glass through their rosy-colored glasses as half-full.  Pessimists see the glass all gloomy and half-empty.  I don't hang out in either of those camps.  I really don’t, no matter what my husband says.  I see the glass for what it is.  A glass that's either half-empty or half-full, either way, there's room for more, and I make a plan to fill that glass on up.  I’m not usually a gloomster.  I don’t like to hang out in the murk at all.  I really do fight to see a bright side to things, but it doesn’t come naturally to me, rose-coloredness.  I don't know what to call myself on this one.  Not a realist.  A Worrying Warrior?  Maybe a Pessimist With a Purpose: Preparedness.

Yeah, I can live with that label!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Windmills on the Ridge

Monday, we drove to Danville to see Shane's grandmother, who's at Geisinger with some really serious stuff going on.  The ride down was one of those kinds of rides where any and all distractions are welcome.  Really welcome. 

So with that in mind, imagine a sapphire-blue sky, hills of orange-yellow-and red-painted leaf-covered trees, and white wind turbines planted like great big tri-petal flowers, and imagine my delight at the sight.  Despite the controversy and bile and chest-beating and rhetoric on the subject of wind farms, especially in the area where I live, they've always fascinated me.  Back when I was flying my airplane all over the place, I would be downright gleeful to see the wind farms in New York State.  It meant I was almost home from Batavia.  They have navigational landmark value to pilots.  The first time I saw a real-life wind turbine on the ground, we were headed to a Sabres game.  It was the time of day in the winter when the sun has gone down behind the hills, and the snow and bare trees and sky and the very air take on a powdery quality.  Those tall wind turbines on the wind farm along a road called Centerville Road, looked silvery and shimmery, a little ghostly and surreal, a little like giant alien sunflowers.  I couldn't take my eyes off them.

Monday, the wind turbines were turning gently in the wind that was running along the ridge.  We were heading south-east somewhere between Mansfield and Williamsport on Interstate 80 in the late morning.  I needed to see something whimsical, and in this frame of mind, the wind turbines, wind-flowers, standing chalk-white in contrast to the metallic blue cloudless sky and the magic red leaves, fit the bill.  They were comforting to me.  It felt like the wind turbines were waving and saying that everything is going to be all right at Geisinger, no matter what happens.  I couldn't take my eyes off them.

It was that kind of day.  Things in this world can be really ugly, terrifying and out of control.  When things start feeling like this for me, I really start looking for the beauty in everything.  I found it in spades in those wind turbines on Monday.  I'm not trying to stir up controversy about the wind farms, but I know all you have to do around some people is utter the words "wind" and "farm" and they'll turn into screaming banshees.  I don't have time for this.  This is my blog, and I have a free pass to come right out and say I think the windmills are beautiful.  If you disagree with me and have your own blog, feel free to badmouth me in your corner of cyberspace, and then guess how much of a flip I give.  You see what you want to see in the world, I'm more convinced of this every day.  If you want to see fear and ugliness, that's what'll greet you at every turn.  If you choose to see the beauty in things, the world becomes a much less scary place.  In those windmills on the ridge, I choose to see wind-flowers waving in the breeze at me, reassuring me that no matter what happens in Danville over the next few days, things are going to be all right.  I choose to see the beauty.  That's all.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Not Anytime Soon

"So when ya havin' another one?"

On November 9th, Zoe will be fourteen months old.  She's long been out of the "infant" bathtub one of my friends got us for a baby shower gift.  We have an inflatable one for her from One Step Ahead.  Late in the summer, we installed a Britax convertible carseat in the Jeep and decommissioned the infant carrier/carseat that's part of her travel system.  She's been off the bottle since June, and she's been drinking out of straw sippy cups since.  She rides in shopping carts like a Big Girl, even if she's always trying to turn around in the seat to see where we're going instead of where she's already been.  She's an old pro at feeding herself finger foods.  She says a few words and understands a lot more words.  Last weekend at my sister's, she started Walking.

Zoe's not a baby-baby anymore, in other words.  I really enjoyed her when she was a baby-baby, when she'd sleep a lot and fall asleep in my arms while we sat together on the couch.  I didn't really mind getting up for her one nightly feeding she required, because I'd miss her when she went to bed and I loved the snuggle time, just us, in her dark room, although now, I really like not having to get up out of bed in the middle of the night.  Since before Christmas, it's been a rare occasion that I've had to, and I've grown spoiled of being able to sleep through the night.

She's always been a lot of fun, and always displayed a lot of personality, even before she was born, believe it or not.  Now, though, her personality is really coming out, loud and clear, and she's showing independence, and a delight at the things she can do for herself.  I love watching her eyes light up when she can do something that she couldn't do yesterday, or when she notices something that's been there all along, but she's just now discovering it.

And now, thanks to me signing up for "What to Expect" emails the day the stick turned blue, I've been getting daily emails from WtE that helped me know what to expect through pregnancy, and labor and delivery, and every step of the way with Zoe.  We're on the "Toddler" emails now, but something else is also coming through the WtE emails that I just don't know about.  Since Zoe was about 3 months old, every so often, they've put in "How do you know when to start trying for another baby?" articles in their emails.  Way back then, it was a lot easier to ignore those articles, because it was Just Too Darn Early, as far as I was concerned.  Now, though, Zoe's over a year old, so I figured I ought to give them a look.

Two years ago at this time, I'd just about bawl every time I saw a baby, thinking I'd never get to have one of my own.  I think they call it Baby Fever.  And since Zoe's an easy little kid to have around and I have time to read articles, I've read other people's signs of Baby Fever, on the WtE message boards.  Some people get Baby Fever almost as soon as their newborn outgrows their first batch of clothes.  For others, it hits them when they pack away the baby tub.  I've stopped reading those boards, just because, but I'm sure that packing away the infant carrier and the first steps trigger the Baby Fever for others.

Maybe I'm just dead inside, but I don't get all googly over newborns.  I loved my baby as a newborn, and I appear to be fairly good with newborns.  And while there have been times I've wished I could just reach up to the clock and stop time for a little bit, every day with Zoe is a new adventure, and I'm loving the ride.  More importantly, I feel like with just Zoe, I can Do This.  I rarely feel like I'm juggling things.  Nothing that's come up so far has put me over any edges, because I can handle it.  Traveling with Just Zoe means hauling along a lot of gear, but it's doable.  It's really doable.  Fun, even.  She's the best kid in restaurants, because our attention isn't divided between her and another kid.  We can tell when she's about to get fussy, and we can usually deflect it.  It's not because we're superheroes.  It's because we can focus all our attention on her.  It's easy to stay calm when she gets herself worked up, because there's only one of her and two of us.

Originally, Shane wanted three kids and I thought I wanted two kids, exactly two years apart.  Doing out the math, it would mean we'd need to get crackalackin' on that pretty darn soon, but you know what?  I'm just not ready.  Shane's even hinted that he's pretty okay with just Zoe.

So what does that mean?  I don't know.  Shane doesn't know.  People ask us when we're going to have another one, and we never have an answer.  It isn't for any other reason than we're comfortable with the way things are right now, and it feels as though the dust is just settling from Zoe's arrival (although she's been extremely easy).  I feel like I'm just starting to get back in shape.  I don't avoid water before a long car ride anymore, if you catch my drift.  And I can afford to give Zoe unwavering patience, even in the face of overtiredness or a budding Sense of Independence.  It still feels too early to me to be thinking about Another One. 

We're holding onto all Zoe's baby stuff, just in case.  The Snugabunny bouncy seat and swing are packed away in the attic with care, along with the baby tub and infant carrier carseat.  Her outgrown clothes are clean and folded and boxed.  My maternity clothes are organized in boxes.  Just in case.  But the only time I think of them is when I'm carrying something else up to the attic and see them.  I don't obsess about pulling the baby-baby stuff out of the attic.  I don't feel the gnawing emptiness I used to, Before Zoe.  For once, I'm really content with the way things are.

I love my daughter.  I loved her as a baby-baby.  I loved when she'd fall asleep on me.  I loved her when she started rolling over, and smiling and giggling.  I loved her when she started crawling, and when she started eating cereal and sweet potatoes.  I've loved watching her take her first steps and hearing her first words.  And I'm going to love going on whatever adventures she takes us on in the future.  And if it's just the three of us, me, Shane, and Zoe, that'll be okay. It'll be okay.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sour Apple Cotton Candy

I have a little table-top cotton candy maker, but it hasn't been used in years because I ran out of the sugar to go in it.  One time, I tried making cotton candy with regular granulated sugar, and the burnt-on sugar mess was the stuff of nightmares, both from the perspective of cleaning it up and also because after a certain point, the smell of burnt sugar stops being charming and starts being stinky.  I never bothered to buy more cotton candy sugar, and packed the machine away in a never-opened kitchen cupboard.

Lately, though, I've been on a kick to use the things in my kitchen cupboard, and also, I've been in the mood for some cotton candy, and Zoe's at a fun age and likes to try new things, so I figured we were due for some "flossing sugar."  I noticed on Amazon that they had a kit with three 8-ounce jars of sugar and 4 reusable plastic cotton candy cones.  Despite the mixed reviews on the sugar, everybody seemed to agree that the reusable plastic cotton candy cones were where it's at, so I went ahead and ordered the kit.

Sometimes, I think negative and positive reviews on Amazon can be a bandwagon thing.  One person says "this is awful," and all subsequent reviews also agree that something's awful.  That's what I was thinking happened to the Sour Apple cotton candy sugar that was included in this kit.  See, the other two flavors are blue raspberry and pink vanilla, to standard cotton candy flavors, and if the company that made the sugar for this kit couldn't get those right, then there's no hope for them.  The third jar of flossing sugar is "Sour Apple."  My jar of Sour Apple arrived kind of clumpy, like a jar of paprika you've shaken directly over the pot of goulash one too many times.  Clumpy, but not rendered unusable, necessarily.  I took a spoon to break up the clumps so I could shake out an appropriate amount of the green sugar into my cotton candy maker, and decided to help myself to a spoonful of it.

Eating the Sour Apple flossing sugar, I thought that the people on Amazon gave it a bum rap.  It wasn't bad at all!  It was a pleasantly unnatural shade of acid green, and tasted like Nerds candy, that blend of tangy and sweet.  How could a sugar that tasted pretty good from a spoon go wrong in the cotton candy machine?  I was prepared to be the dissenting vote on Amazon, let me tell you!

You know, for this time of year, Pre-Halloween, the Sour Apple flossing sugar is kind of perfect.  Acid green in the jar, weird flavor combination, and when it comes out of the machine, it makes a spooky, cobweb-looking pale green ball of cotton candy that tastes magnificently like...

Oh, my God, it's terrible, the cobweb-looking ball of pale green candy floss.  Bitter.  Bitter, bitter!  Good lord, I thought about licking the floor to get the taste out of my mouth!  How could something that tastes like Nerds candy go through a hot spin art for sugar and come out tasting like bitterness and food color and a hint of bile?  Was this the Harry Potter Candy Floss version, without the appropriate badging?  Remember when Jelly Belly was making Harry Potter-themed jelly beans?  My sister got me a bag for my birthday then.  I got a vomit-flavored Jelly Belly in my mouth, and I'm not going to lie.  I've had kind of a fear of jelly beans ever since.  I'll still eat them, but I sniff them first, each individual one, before blithely popping it into my mouth and chewing.  That's what I thought was going on with this Sour Apple Cotton Candy.

It also occurred to me, if it wasn't Harry Potter the people at the cotton candy sugar factory were going for, maybe they were trying to translate the taste of bitter disappointment into a candy.  Boy, do I get that!  I've never been so disappointed at cotton candy in my life.  I've suffered other disappointments, and if they had a flavor, it would probably taste a lot like the Sour Apple cotton candy sugar.  Something sweet overcooked to nearly acrid burnt-ness, bitter coloring that makes the tongue curl while you reexamine your life's choices.  The dark side of Willy Wonka, for sure.

I'm glad the pink vanilla and blue raspberry sugars taste delicious after a spin in the machine.   And in a way, I'm glad that while the Sour Apple really didn't work out at all (how DID it get past the taste-testers in R+D at the cotton candy sugar making facility?  Do those people have taste buds?  Are they mentally ill?), it's not so bad to eat straight-up as a tangy-sweet spoonful on "that kind of day."  It wasn't a total loss, the Sour Apple cotton candy.  But I'd like to know what they were thinking, thinking it was a good idea in the first place to create such an odd flavor and then making enough to have to sell it in kits with two good flavors and reusable cotton candy cones, just to get rid of it.  Is there some twisted population that actually LIKES the Sour Apple cotton candy in this kit?  I'd really like to listen to what those people have to say, if they have anything to say! 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I Really Should Decorate for Halloween

The first year we lived in our house, I went NUTZ buying Halloween decorations at Target.  It was '07, before everything went in the crapper, economy-wise, and I remember it was a rainy day at the beginning of October.  I remember, because I was supposed to have a flying lesson that day, but it was called off because of the weather.  I felt like I was playing hooky from school, hopped in the Jeep, and made a break for Big Flats.  Target was having a glorious sale, with after-Halloween prices on Halloween stuff, way before Halloween! 

I can tell you what I bought, even.  My two gunmetal-colored resin skulls, Yorick and Horatio, who've made their permanent home on the mantel.  I have a thing for skulls.  Before Zoe, I even used to "dress" them up for other holidays: Indian head dresses and feathers for Thanksgiving, custom-knitted Santa hats for Christmas, bunny ears for Easter.  Besides the skulls, I got a couple big, heavy-looking plastic chains, a couple of claymore-type swords, a black "trick or treat" basket to hold the candy for the trick-or-treaters I was sure were going to flock to our house, and 4 Really Big Bags of Halloween Candy.  The Halloween candy didn't make it to Halloween week, so I had to run to Tops for a replacement bag before Halloween went live.  I also got some of those foam tombstones, and I had a coupon for Jo-Ann's, so I bought two of their little skeleton votive-holders that stand on a porch or that can be used inside.  They're really cute!

All that stuff is up in the attic, waiting to be brought down and put in place.  Even the foam tombstones, which is kind of a miracle, because they're lightweight, and I thought I lost one after a good North Bingham wind one night, but I found along the road when I went after my mail the next day.  All it needed was some more stakes.  The feeble plastic ones snapped off when the wind whipped it from its place.  A couple sharpened pencils hot-glued in did the trick.  Plus, I wedged it in to the lilac bush, so it was nice and secure, even if nobody driving up the driveway could see it. 

I even went really crazy and made two flags for the banner poles outside the front door.  I used black tulle and garbage bags and a macrame technique known only to me to make some tatty-looking flags, in the mood of the moth-eaten Black Pearl from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

I want my house to look cool for Halloween.  I really do!  Even though we only ever get six trick-or-treaters and hardly any visitors.  I just can't seem to find the motivation to go up into the attic and grab the stuff and put it up.  Seems kind of waste-y now.  Halloween's only 12 days away. 

My mini-Smiley Cookies arrived today, though, for the trick-or-treaters.  They taste really good with hot cocoa and milk and coffee, too.  And they call my name, right out loud.  I'm not sure they'll last the 12 days until Halloween.  I really am not all that sure at all.  I'd say that keeping my hands busy, decorating for Halloween would keep my mind off the cookies, but that'd be a bald-faced lie. I know they're in the house, and I'm obsessed with Smiley Cookies.  Maybe 12 days is a really long time, now that I think about it. 

I might have to re-visit calling it too late to put up Halloween decorations, after all.

Friday, October 19, 2012

When All Else Fails, RTFM

A few weeks ago, I bought a shiny new Mr. Coffee Burr Grinder.  It's red, like a sports car, and it has a big hopper on it for holding lots of coffee beans, I can choose how fine or coarse the beans are ground, and it'll grind up eighteen cups' worth of beans at once.  Let me put it in a way that conveys my excitement: IT'LL GRIND UP EIGHTEEN CUPS' WORTH OF BEANS AT ONCE!

I know that if you're Really Into Coffee, you grind your beans right before you brew them.  Well.  I'm not Really Into Coffee like that.  I'm Really Into Coffee in that when I want coffee, I want coffee.  I don't want to stand there, dragging out coffee beans, grinding them up, and then finally getting them to the coffeemaker.  My old coffee grinder from 2001 was a little tiny thing.  It ground 3 coffee cups' worth of beans at a time.  I usually ground up enough beans to fill my Fresher Longer container, so I could just scoop out two cups' worth and set my coffeemaker going.  It took a long time to grind up enough beans to fill up that Fresher Longer container.  I always made a mess, too.  And it just wasn't the kind of coffee grinder that you could leave out on the counter.

So I got the shiny new red Mr. Coffee Burr Grinder with the big hopper and the holding chamber for the ground beans, and the prettiness and design to be able to stay out on the counter, full of beans, and today, I could FINALLY try it out, because I'd used up all my already-ground beans.  So I took the lid off the hopper, filled it with Tim Horton's Medium Roast to the "Max Fill" line, and pushed the start/stop button.

Nothing happened.

I started to panic, because here it was, brand spanking new, this coffee grinder, bought weeks ago from, and it wasn't working.  Amazon's good about taking returns... if you still have your packing slip and the boxes the merch arrived in.  Don't you know that three weeks ago when this coffee grinder arrived, I ripped open the box, high-pitched, maniacal yet delighted laughter ringing through the house, tossed the packaging and shredding the packing slip!  Because how could something so beautiful not work when I need it to?  How could it?

Today, I was starting to feel just how something so brand new and so beautiful could not work, and it made my stomach sink.  I looked through tear-filled eyes at my red coffee grinder, wondering if I had a $50.00 paper weight sitting on my kitchen counter. 

Then it dawned on me: even though I sent the box to recycling and shredded my packing slip, I still had the manual around here... somewhere.  Yes!  Right on the kitchen island, which hasn't been de-cluttered since about three weeks ago!  Oh my goodness!  What a nice looking owner's manual!  Maybe there was a trick to getting the coffee grinder to do its thing!  I could read all about it now!

There it was.  Instead of guessing when I had the hopper installed correctly, I learned that I have to tighten it down so I'd hear a "series of clicks," and then have the arrow line all the way up with "Fine."  Then I could fill it with beans, select how fine or coarse a grind I want, select how many cups to grind up, and use the attached scoop and brush to get the burr-ground beans into my coffee maker.  Right there, in five seconds, I knew for sure what I'd been trial-and-erroring for a good twenty minutes, and still not getting it right.

I've made this mistake too many times to be proud of.  I try to hurry and figure I'm saving myself lots of time by not RTFM, and then dozens of minutes or even a couple hours later, I get the manual out, and there in black and white, is everything I ever needed to know, and the only frustration I suffer is kicking myself for not reading the flippin' manual sooner.

So that's that. Now that I've RTFM, that burr grinder works beautifully.  It looks so nice, sitting on the counter, full of Tim Horton's Medium Roast.  It makes the whole kitchen smell like Starbuck's when it's ground up some beans, and is so much fun to use that I think instead of grinding up a bunch of beans ahead of time and keeping them in my Fresher Longer container, I'm going to keep the hopper full of beans (it looks so pretty and hip!  I'm never hip!) and just grind up enough for my 2 cups every day.  I don't think I'll ever be a Coffee Snob, but I might just come to appreciate the superiority of a big latte bowl of coffee made with just-ground beans.  I might just, anyway.

I wish I could say this is the Last Time Ever that I plunge headlong into something before I read the directions.  I really wish I could.  But we all know that's an unrealistic expectation for myself.  But right now, I'm basking in how much easier life is when you just RTFM.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

We Should All Be So Lucky

Something disconcerting has been happening lately.  More and more songs I remember sounding awfully fresh as a kid have started popping up on the local oldies station.  The first time it happened was last fall, and it was John Waite's "(I Ain't) Missing You."  My husband, newborn, and I were at brunch, and he and I both blanched.  The baby remained oblivious and asleep in her infant carrier, refusing to be as horrified as we were.

"You know what it is," Shane said.  "That radio station was just a regular radio station back when that song was out.  They probably just had it in the back of some closet, waiting until it was sort of okay to play it."

"I'm sure that's it," I said.

It happened more.  The theme from "Ghostbusters," they played Halloween weekend.  But, we rationalized, practically every radio station in the free world plays the theme from "Ghostbusters" around Halloween.  It was a reflection of the holiday, not an indictment of our ages.  For the record, I was six when that movie came out; young enough to be really, really freaked out by the Library Ghost.  Trust me, for years- YEARS!!! I refused to go to the stacks in the Wellsville Library, even though Mrs. McHenry, the children's librarian, said it was okay. 

Mama didn't raise no fool.

I don't listen to the oldies station very often.  It's the station my alarm clock/radio is set to, simply because it's the one station that comes in and isn't the Christian channel.  In the car, I always have my iPhone set to a playlist- I think I talked about that yesterday.  At the airport, when I was flying a lot, the airport manager always had the radio set to the oldies station, but it's the local station for Wellsville, and I always thought it was kind of cool to preflight the Piper while listening to the Beach Boys.  They hadn't started pulling this crap, playing music from my childhood (the 1980s, maybs the early 1990s).  The other day, we were back at brunch again, and I mentioned to our waitress (and next door neighbor) that WJQZ was playing some awfully new-sounding music that morning.  She broke the news that she heard Bon Jovi on that station earlier that week.  It's only a matter of time before we'll hear the familiar guitar lick from "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on JQZ.

I've always said the day Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Oasis, and Deep Blue Something, and No Doubt hit the oldies station is the day I'm buying a walker and a girdle and developing a strong affinity to butterscotch candies.

But you know what?  I think I've had the wrong attitude about hearing music from "my day" on the oldies station.  About a year back, a friend of mine who's about 13 years younger put up in her Facebook status that she was listening to "The Freshman" by the Verve Pipe, and I commented that I was actually a freshman (in college) when that song came out.  Her reaction was "woah."  And that didn't even hurt. 

Really.  I think we should all be so lucky as to hear the songs that take us back to the fifth grade, or senior year, or college on oldies radio.  Isn't that the point?  We want to stick around at this party as long as we can, and squeeze every last drop of living out.  It's a privilege not everyone gets, to hear their prom song on the oldies station, and to find their Jostens Class Stein in an antiques shop.  And regarding those steins:  a show of hands of anyone who'd spend that $19.95 on a stupid stein with their graduation year on it if they had to do over again, anyway?  Anybody?  I hear crickets.  I wouldn't, either.  Mine's up in the attic and reached its apex of usefulness when I needed a pencil cup for my desk at college that was tall enough to accommodate a full-size pair of scissors without tipping over if I looked at it cross-eyed.  They belong in antiques stores, alongside the other stuff that's not terribly useful, but what we feel bad getting rid of, simply because it's been around so long.

I'm not going to blanch the next time I hear a song on the oldies station that I remember being shiny and brand-spankin' new.  I'm going to get up and do the closest approximation of dancing I can.  Or maybe not.  I make Elaine from Seinfeld look like a prima ballerina.  So what I'll do is sit there and be happy that I have the privilege to hear the songs I grew up with on Oldies Radio.  I hope you are as delighted.  Yeah, it means we're not kids anymore.  It means time is marching on, but that's going to happen with our without us.  If we're hearing the music, we're still here.  We win!  We should all be so lucky!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

XM Will Sirius-ly Mess You Up!

Last Friday, while on the way to Pittsburgh, a curious thing happened with the built-in touch screen navigation in my Jeep.  See, when I left home, I put in the address where I was heading, let the directions load, selected a playlist from my iPhone that I connected, and set out on my way.  Because we were making a stop at Paul's Chrome in Evans City, Shane and I were driving separately, and because I'm not as familiar with getting to Pittsburgh via Evans City as I am by going my regular way, having the GPS on was for more than just seeing how close (or how much sooner) I could get to my destination than the little ETA in the upper right corner said.

We stopped and got gas at Sheetz in Emporium.  Easy, easy.  But when I started the Jeep up again, the boot-up screen in the Media Center appeared.  That's weird.  It only does that if I use the on/off radio button to turn the whole works off.  I didn't do that when I cut the engine to get gas.  But electronics are prone to glitchiness, I figured, and there was no time to reflect on it, because I saw Shane in the Liberty already turning out of Sheetz. 

By the time I got to the bridge at the end of town, I saw that instead of my NAV screen, with its wonderful map, I had a white screen with plain black Arial Bold letters telling me that the NAV database was unavailable and some disc was needed to install it.  It annoyed me, but didn't alarm me.  After all, hadn't I JUST used the database?  I did the most logical thing people do when a gauge or a screen goes effectively blank: I tapped on it, hoping to wake it up.  Nothing.  I went to the NAV menu, hoping to find the list of addresses I've collected in the GPS over the last year, so I could just pick a different one to wake the system back up.  That didn't work either- the addresses were GONE, or hiding behind the White Screen of Nothingness.  I turned the Media Center off and on a few times, at the many temporary stoplights between Emporium and Clarion, thinking it just needed a [re]boot to the butt, and things would be fine, my map would pick up where it left off, and I wouldn't have to worry, all the while wondering what Sheetz is putting in their gas these days, to give the NAV centers in dashboards amnesia.

I was too optimistic.  So when we got to Eat'n'Park in Clarion, I mentioned to Shane that the GPS in the Media Center in the Cherokee appeared to have suffered a stroke, and he off-the-cuff answered that I'd "just take it to the dealership and let them fix it, because it's under warranty."

That pissed me off.  See, usually Shane's all about trying to fix something himself, and I was sure that there must be SOME magic thing we could do to get the map back, and stop this nonsense about the NAV database being unavailable. And I was sure he knew what to do and just didn't want to bother taking the time with it just then, because he wanted to get to Evans City and pick up his precious chrome.  I was resenting that chrome.

While we waited for our food at Eat'n'Park, I looked on my iPhone on the Jeep Forums for any help whatsoever, while I gave Zoe lunch.  The best I could find was "take it to a dealership" and that nobody who'd posted on the forum knew why the Media Center was acting like that, but it was not an uncommon problem. 

I was still hoping for a miracle when we got back to the vehicles.  I hoped I'd start up the engine, and my map would come back on the screen.  It didn't, so I made sure I stuck to the Liberty's bumper like glue between Clarion and Evans City, since Shane had the only working GPS on this trip, and we were going a way that was unfamiliar to me.  And at least my iPhone would still connect to the Jeep, so I could control my own music. 

While we were stopped at Paul's Chrome, I got Zoe squared away with a couple essentials to make the last half-hour of our trip more comfortable, and then right back to the Owner's Manual and my white-screened NAV screen.  As a side note, I feel like the Owner's Manual is little more than a PR brochure these days.  There's nothing in it about troubleshooting anything. 

But it dawned on me to check out what the Sirius/XM was up to.  Just the night before, I got a call from them, telling me my 12-month trial subscription was up, and which package would I like to renew.  I didn't want to renew.  I've used the satellite radio in the Jeep a grand total of thrice since last October, and even then, it was just to show that we had it.  When I'm in the car, I'm awfully short-fused when it comes to music.  I don't like to leave it to chance that I'm going to get stuck listening to a bunch of songs I don't like.  Satellite radio makes it a little better, but I prefer to have a playlist all loaded up, and then not have to think about trying to find a better station than the one I'm listening to.

Sure enough, all I got was a screen telling me a number and website to use to activate my subscription to Sirius/XM.  At least now I knew that I didn't fill the Jeep up with Stupid Juice back in Emporium, to wipe out its hard-drivey brain.  Shane was taking A While in the chromer's so I went back to the Jeep forums and found that these hard drives in the Media Centers are Touchy.  One guy got the same disappearing NAV database after he'd tried to put addresses into his media center with a thumb drive. 

Even though this sucked, because I'd be without GPS the entire weekend and until I could get to my dealership, I felt better, knowing that at least it wasn't only MY media center that's a spazz.  So when we got to my sister's, I called my dealership, back in Corning, and made my appointment to have them fix my media center.  I head that way this morning.  I'm sure it'll just amount to them putting in whatever disc they need to, in order to load up the NAV database, and also to fix the UConnect, that has the car paired with my phone, so I can talk hands-free on the rare occasion anybody calls me and I'm driving.  I will have spent more time worrying about all this not working than it will take them to fix it. 

It really irritates me that just letting go of a satellite radio subscription that I never used and that has no bearing on the navigation system or the bluetooth phone pairing can seriously mess up both those things when XM/Sirius cut me off.  I'm not sorry to see the satellite radio go in the car.  I'm not a fan of paying for things I don't use.  But I make liberal use of the GPS, which does not require a subscription, even when I know where I'm going.  It's really handy to know what time the Jeep thinks we're going to get to our destination.  It'll be good to get that NAV screen back, and to have everything working properly. I don't even mind having to input by hand all my addresses again, even though it's kind of a pain in the butt.

I think that as far as the Jeep is concerned, I've broken up with XM/Sirius.  I won't be going back.  Mostly, from all of this, I hope that I won't ever have to make a trip back to the dealership to have my media center re-booted.  This is the kind of trip to the dealership that I feel is a stupid waste of time.  I should have a disc I can pop in and reload the NAV database when things crash.  I'm at least smart enough to do that.  Things that strike me as appropriate to need to return to the dealership to be fixed are things like air conditioners that quit working or mapping sensors that go on the fritz, or brakes that are cherry-red and smoking.  Not so much just putting in a disc and reloading a GPS database.

One thing's for sure: XM will Sirius-ly mess you up!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The New JCPenney Looks A Lot Like The Old Grace Brothers

I got an email from the CEO of JCPenney.  I'm not important.  It's not like it was a personal email.  It was one of those emails the CEO of a large company sends when he or she wants to make hoi polloi feel all important and in the know about things happening in the huge corporation they head up.

So the deal with Penney's now, or jcp as they're branding themselves, is that instead of a department store in which you go to buy things, they've revised their stores to be a "collection of smaller shops" staffed with super-knowledgeable, specialized sales associates.  I get where they're going with this.  I suppose in the past, Penney's associates was that yesterday, they worked in home furnishings, today, they're bounced over to the cashwrap in Menswear, tomorrow, they'll be manning the jewelry counter.  It's hard to know everything about everything in the store, and by breaking the store into smaller, organized departments, and training up the staff to know their department inside and out, and not have them bouncing all over the store from day-to-day, Penney's will be able to deliver better service to its customers.

I think this probably is a great idea.  Nothing's more frustrating than having a question about a product in a certain department, asking the person in the store nametag who's hovering around in that very department, and getting a blank stare in return. 

Thing is, this doesn't sound so new to me. 

Remember that show "Are You Being Served?" that took place in Grace Brothers, a department store in London?  It was a fictional store on a Britcom, but I think it had a real-life antecedent in department stores all over London and even here in the States.  The characters on AYBS? were assigned to their own departments, mainly Menswear and Ladies' Ready Made.  They stayed in their own departments, knew their wares inside and out, and none of them was bounced all over the store.  There was an episode where the staff of Grace Brothers was cross-trained in toys, but it was such an uncommon occurrence that the characters were scandalized, and it provided much opportunity for laughing at the awkwardness that ensued.

The New jcp reminds me a lot of that.  Which means everything old is new again.  I wonder if this means that instead of everything moving farther and farther from where people live, if in another few decades, we'll see a return to downtowns.  I kind of hope so, and I hope it happens before all those glorious old buildings come tumbling down and are replaced by the metal box-buildings everybody's putting up these days.

Monday, October 15, 2012

You Called Me An Idiot. I Believe What You Meant To Say Is This:

There's this thing happening these days that's really unpleasant.  It's this tendency to think that one's own way of thinking is the only way, and anybody who doesn't agree with those views is "an idiot."  I think this is why everything is so odious.  Anybody who doesn't share your opinions in politics is "an idiot."  Anyone who doesn't follow your particular religion is "an idiot."  Anyone who likes or dislikes something you dislike or like, respectively, is "an idiot."

I go through spells in my life where I get called an idiot a lot.  I will not say that it rolls off my back like water off a duck.  Quite the opposite, I'm afraid, as evidenced by the fact that I'm even writing about it.  Do I identify myself as an idiot?  No.  I don't think I know everything and have all the answers, but I'm not an idiot.  I DO know a real-life idiot, and I could introduce you to her, so you could see with your own eyes what an idiot is really like, but I believe that there are enough actual idiots running around that we all know one, so I shan't waste your time or my sanity.

I'm not sure if those who call/have called me "idiot" think I'm one of those actual, "Oh my Gawd, how does he/she not drown in the shower" idiots.  I mean, I've done some idiotic things- opening two loaded filing cabinets once, and the thing tipped over on me- idiotic?  Yep.  I was filing invoices, found one that I missed two drawers above the one I was working in, didn't even think, opened the drawer, and had an object lesson on why you don't open two file cabinet drawers at once.  Doing things like that are not part of my daily life, though. 

Then there are the kind of idiots who say things without thinking.  We've all been there, as well, either out of distraction, ignorance (the kind of ignorance that means Not Knowing Any Better, not ignernce, meaning they either know better or not, but aren't self-aware enough to self-edit), fatigue, stress, you know, heat-of-the-moment situations.  Saying an idiot thing once in a while does not an idiot make.  It's if someone has a track record of pretty much every single time you see them, every time they open their mouths, idiocy flows forth, well, then.  There you have an idiot.

I really don't think I'm either of those kinds of idiots.  What I do think is that the people who call me and other people "idiot" really mean to say "I disagree with you, but I'm too inarticulate to voice my disagreement in a coherent way, so I will insult your intelligence and hope it sticks and makes you think that I think you're as stupid as I feel right now."

It usually happens when somebody draws me into a political discussion.  I'm not a political scientist.  I'm not a Republican, I'm not a Democrat.  I'm a registered independent.  I find it troubling when someone can sum up their political beliefs in one word, or on a bumper sticker.  I choose my side on an issue, based on what I know about that issue.  I don't say yes to something because all my friends do, and on the flip, I don't say no because everyone else is saying yes.  Sometimes, when I am presented with new evidence, I've been known to change my mind.  This doesn't make me a flip-flopper; it makes me somebody who uses her brain.  I probably do more research on matters that matter than the people who tramp around in their "Arch Conservative!!!!" or "SuperLiberal!" T-shirts (figuratively- I've never actually encountered someone who's wearing T-shirts like these) who are the ones calling me "idiot."

I don't know what to do about all the rancor and idiot-calling that's going around.  Especially since it's an election year.  But I don't enjoy it.  I don't like debates.  I mean I don't like being drawn into them.  If I were attracted to that sort of thing, I'd run for some kind of office where you have to debate other people.  It just isn't me.

I definitely don't come from the school of thought that says "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."  Life isn't always nice.  People aren't always nice.  Are there some real idiots out there that deserve to be called out for their idiocy?  You bet!  I just think that idiot shouldn't be the default response to the different or the other opinion.  Why not say what's really happening?

I wish that instead of "Idiot!" being the first response to a dissenting opinion, even an opinion one feels strongly, even viscerally, that people could just say out loud what's really going on, that they disagree, and the disagreement is kind of uncomfortable for them.  If done right, disagreement can lead to discussion, which can lead to learning new information and seeing things from another angle, which can lead to changing a mind, or having to say 'I was wrong,' or less pejoratively, 'I used to think a certain way, but in light of new things I've learned from listening to people and reading things I didn't agree with, I've come to a conclusion that's different from the position I held in the past.'  We're so afraid of having to acknowledge ignorance.

It's less time and energy-consuming just to bellow out "Idiot!!!" and go on our ways.  And that's too bad.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Some Dreams Are Better Left Unfilfilled

The other day, I saw a piece of small farm equipment go past the house, and it looked like the kid who was driving it was doing so on a pallet jack.  You know what a pallet jack is.  It's a motorized thing, not quite like a fork-lift, but it'll hook onto pallets, pick them up a workable distance off the floor, and enable the operator to move them around.  The operator drives the pallet jack by standing at the controls, which are located at the back of the machine.  Think of the Segue Scooter's distant, muscled-up, blue-collar cousin, I think.

My senior year of high school, and all school breaks until the summer after my freshman year of college, I worked at a warehouse.  It was a little place.  The whole building wasn't even as big as a quarter of a Sams Club, but it was big enough to need automated help in moving pallets around, especially from the loading dock to the warehouse proper, when we'd get shipments from our suppliers, and from the packing table to the loading dock, to load up our customers' orders that we pulled and packed.

We had a couple of the manual pallet movers that were just forks with wheels and a handle.  That's the one I'd use to slog pallets around.  It was school bus yellow and its brand name was "Big Joe."  Big Joe was difficult to get rolling and even more difficult to stop.  I always said Big Joe needed Jake brakes.  It always felt a little like punishment to have to drag a loaded up pallet with Big Joe, especially when there was a much cooler pallet jack in the warehouse.

The cool, motorized, ride-on pallet jack was a Hyster, for what it's worth.  That's all I know about it.  That, and it was big and a more lemony yellow than Big Joe and much cooler and more fun-looking to run than Big Joe.  My mom aptly called it "the surfboard," because the kid that got to drive it around looked a little like he was surfing when he drove the Hyster pallet jack. 

Oh, how' I'd dream of getting to drive the Hyster pallet jack around the warehouse sometime!  I didn't even care if it was loaded up or not, in fact, it probably would have been better for all if it weren't loaded.  I would have "Squeeeeeeeeeee'd" like the schoolgirl I was if one of the people in charge, which included my mother, who was warehouse manager by the time I went to work there, would just let me take a parade lap from the loading dock, into the cigarette stamping room, then into the main part of the warehouse to tour the rows and aisles of goods in style.

Of course, nobody ever let me drive the Hyster pallet jack.  Of course not!  That'd be like handing the spider monkey the keys to the locker where they keep the crack.  But from the very first time I laid eyes on that Hyster pallet jack seventeen years ago, I was in love.  Every so often, I'll see a similar motorized pallet jack at Sam's Club or one of the home improvement superstores.  Or maybe even that kid and the piece of small farm equipment the other day.  I see the motorized pallet jack and feel a pang of regret for never getting to drive one.


Although, I cannot promise that even now that I'm allegedly a "grown up person" that if I DID get at the controls to a motorized pallet jack, that witnesses wouldn't hear shrill, maniacal, possessed-person laughter while the pallet jack darts and dashes and travels at speeds completely inappropriate.

It's sad, but I guess some dreams are better left unfulfilled.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saturday with the Grammar Witch: Enough with the Fecking Ellipses!

Oh, I hate to go all Grammar Witch on everybody on a Saturday and everything, but something has gotten so far out of control that I'm afraid we're at an epidemic.  What's so dire?  I'll tell you.  Lately, it appears to have come into fashion among some circles to replace all punctuation with ellipses.

Did I just get a 'huh?'  Okay.  It goes something like this:

I'm in a thoughtful mood today... Not sure why... Maybe it's the General Foods International Coffee I'm drinking... French Vanilla Cappuccino...  Tasty...

See what I did there?  Any possible punctuation, especially periods, and I just added two more dots, effectively turning my full-stop sentence enders into rolling, North Philadelphia stops.  If you read the passage above aloud, it takes on kind of a mushy, NPR Ladies quality.  That's the best case.  It's not that important of a passage.  It's about being in a thoughtful mood and drinking an International Coffee.

When used liberally all over the place in an email, status update, note, or other communique, it makes the writer look wishy-washy, hesitant, gutless and nutless.  I cannot think of one person who, in real life, would want to be seen as wishy-washy, hesitant, gutless or nutless, so why has it become so cool to replace any and all other punctuation with these damn ellipses?  Have people really become as afraid as they look to just pinch off the end of the sentence?

I understand that one reason might be because people are trying to convey a mood of thoughtfulness and musing.  It's okay to use an ellipsis here and there to do just that, but when it's every sentence just fading off into three or four dots at the "end," the dots start to draw attention away from the musing and to themselves.  They're distracting in their rambling.

I suspect that in certain kinds of messages, there's a need to convey something that could be construed as unpleasant to the message's target, so instead of just coming out with it, the message writer gets all passive-aggressive in hopes of padding the brunt of their message with lots of ellipses, so maybe the reader understands how much the writer really didn't want to have to write a criticism or a suggestion or whatever.  The thing to remember in this case is that "dots do not equal diplomacy."

The least charitable part of me thinks people just don't know better.  Now, am I always grammatically correct?  Not by a mile.  I find myself starting sentences with "And" way too much.  I lean heavily on cliche sometimes.  I dangle participles and splice commas.  If I'm not Queen of the Run-On Sentence, I'm at least a duchess, or maybe a baroness.  Sometimes, I break the rules of grammar for effect.  Sometimes, it's just plain sloppiness.  I admit that.  However, I try not to let any one grammatical infraction happen over and over on a page, paragraph, or sentence so as to let it call attention to itself and make itself a nuisance.

Truly, as Carole Maso said, you need to know the rules before you can break them, and with the amount of ellipses as periods, commas, semicolons, and such that I see on a daily basis, I think people just don't know the rules.  When CAN you use ellipses correctly?

It's okay, correct even, to use ellipses at the end of a sentence, ONCE IN A WHILE, to convey kind of a trailing off of your train of thought, to convey musing or rambling.  The emphasis on ONCE IN A WHILE cannot be highlighted enough.  Here, let me try: IT'S OKAY TO USE ELLIPSES SPARINGLY IN THIS MANNER!

If you're quoting a passage and need to shorten it up, take out the bits you think are redundant, insert a set of ellipses to show that you removed something, and sew it up.  Don't change the meaning of the original quote, though.  This is a tricky line to walk.  With clever enough trimming, you can decontextualize just about anything and twist it to whatever purpose you wish.  Know your power, wield it correctly and judiciously.

When you're writing out the number such as pi, that good ol' decimal that goes on forever.  All I remember is 3.14...  That shows there's more to the story than what I'm taking the time to write, because sure as sugar, as soon as I wrote out pi to the fourteenth decimal place or whatever on that geometry quiz in the tenth grade, I went to the girls' room, had a whiz, and forgot all the numbers past the four, which is all you really need to figure out the area of a circle, at least for my purposes.

I use ellipses a lot when I type the captions for Zoe's pictures on Facebook, but I use them to indicate that someone out of the frame is "talking" to her.  You don't "hear" what the other person is saying, only Zoe's reaction to them, thus, the ellipses.  I've excised half the conversation, but I want to show the reader that Zoe's interacting with someone they don't see.  I'm not just using the ellipses as my exclusive form of punctuation.

I'm not an island on this one.  There's an excellent resource called Grammar Girl.  Find her at when you're in a grammatical pinch.  I had to consult her to find out if it's ever okay to use ellipses at the end of a sentence.  She'll back me up on the whole sparingly thing.

And no, I'm not Grammar Girl.  I wish!  Alas, I'm just me.  I'm me, but it makes me some kind of Grammar Meanie when I see ellipses dotting up an email or a status update like some kind of herpaderp Morse Code that's all dot, no dash. I don't expect everyone to have perfect grammar.  Honestly, I don't WANT everyone to have perfect grammar, because then what would I have to be smug about?  I'm not good at sports!  I'm not particularly handy or good in emergencies.  But I DO know grammar.

Maybe just knock it off with all the fecking ellipses for a while, and do well enough with your grammar to keep yourselves under my radar for a while, then come out with a whopper of a mistake, so I can help you fix it and then I can feel important and good about myself for a little while. Does that sound okay?  Okay.  I promise tomorrow, I won't get all Grammar Witchy on you.  It's the weekend, after all.

Friday, October 12, 2012

When "Good Enough" Isn't

In a lot of ways, like I wrote yesterday, I'm a perfectionist, and it's hobbled me a lot in life.  And I'm working to change that.  I really am.  I'm trying to embrace "good enough."  But there's one place in my life that good enough just isn't good enough.   Not anymore.  And that's the gym. 

For a long time, I've ridden on the wave of feeling like anything I do in the gym is better than what a lot of people do, so it's okay if I half-ass form, or phone in this stretch of cardio workout, or pick up lighter weights than I really ought to for this exercise, because at least I'm doing something, and that's better than doing nothing!

In a way, it's true that doing something is better than doing nothing, exercise-wise, especially when you're just starting out.  You don't want to get mired in perfection.  You want to do your exercises right, and use excellent form (for results as well as to prevent injury), but you don't want to get hung up on feeling discouraged because you didn't get all the choreography down, or you couldn't get through the set of weights.

But I've been at this a while, and I'm sure that it's the exercising that's kept me off anxiety meds and also kept me off those scooters at the Wal-Mart for people who are too out of shape to make it around the big box on foot.  I can't even use the excuse of 'I'll dial back this workout today a little bit because I'm pregnant [or just had a baby]!  I get points just for being here!'  That one only worked during 2011.  I meant to pack that up and put it in the attic with the rest of the maternity stuff.

So it's time for me to ditch the "Good Enough" attitude in the gym.  I need to start wrapping my head around "I could not have given more today," and really mean it.  I want to be the best I can be, and also for a much more shallow reason, I'd like to buckle down and do better in the gym so I actually look like I spend the time in the gym that I do.  Right now, I look like somebody's frumpy mom, because I've hit a plateau with a giant belly-flop.

So here's what I'm doing about it.  In Oxygen magazine, a publication dedicated to women's fitness without a lot of fluff, I saw a reader's workout featured that's called a "Delt Stack."  My shoulders are one of my muscle groups that are seen a lot in the summer, since I'm either no-sleeves or long-sleeves, no short-sleeves to be seen, and even in long sleeves, I look weak-shouldered.  So this Delt Stack thing, I was really interested in.  I basically do a tri-set, 3 exercises for the shoulders (in this case, Overhead Press, Front Raise, and Bent-Over Lateral Raise), 12 repetitions a piece (that's a set), repeated three times, resting a minute between tri-sets.  Then I pick up different dumbbells and do a SuperSet, which is two exercises that work the shoulders (in this case, Upright Rows and Posterior Flyes), done right smack back-to-back, 12 reps apiece, like the tri-set.  Same drill.  I rest a minute between supersets, and repeat the whole thing three times.  Then I finish off with lat-raise drop-sets.  These are the killer.  For me, I use a pair of 8s, 5s, and 3s, because I start with the heaviest pair, do lat raises until I can't eke out another rep, then I pick up the next lightest right after, work until I can't move the muscles in that exercise one more time, and finally, with no rest, I pick up the lightest dumbbells of the three, and do the lateral raises until I can't eke out another rep.  And then I rest a minute and start all over again, and I repeat until I've done three sets of Drop Sets.

It's really hard, this Delt Stack!  I mean really hard!  I'm really glad I work out in my own home gym in my own basement, where there aren't windows where the casual observer can just see me working out, or hear me for that matter.  I've never been one much to make noise in the gym, apart from the occasional "woo-hoo!" if I nail a tricky step combination.  Doing this Delt Stack, if you just had the audio and no video, you'd think I was in labor.  And in a way, maybe it's sort of like that.  This is my weakest muscle group for me, and this Delt Stack is a collection of very challenging exercises, in challenging weights, done in a mind-bendingly challenging sequence and pace.  And the precision and pushing through the hard parts is starting to make its way into other workouts.  I'm not cheating on squats and lunges so much anymore.  I'm making an effort to do Puddle Jumps, and not just step side-to-side while the video presenters I follow are leaping and looking tortured.  I'm every bit as tortured as they are now!

This is Hard Work, and now every time I'm in the kitchen, and I eye up my jar of Nutella with thoughts of devouring the whole thing, my shoulders whimper a little, as if to say "we worked so hard, and you're not going to ruin it all by digging into that jar of Nutella like a savage, are you?"  And instead of doing that, I either eat something else, or just take a small spoonful.  It's a step in the right direction for me.  There was a day not too long ago when I would have scooped out half a cup and eaten it all.  Sometimes, I can even walk away from the Nutella and not even hear it calling out to me from the cupboard, because I think about what I want to see as payoff from the Hard Work I put in, in the gym.  I want to keep this up, and move on from where I was before. 

Good Enough just isn't good enough for me anymore!

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I think the reason I'm such a procrastinator is that I'm a perfectionist, deep down!  I will call this condition procrastifection.  I know they seem like two diametrically opposed things, procrastination and perfectionism, but hear me out.

When I have a project in front of me, especially on I'm not particularly happy about (okay, I'm talking about housework), I get bogged down in making sure everything's perfect, meaning everything from trying to make sure the finished product is perfect to having the conditions be perfect for me to even start in the first place. 

Maybe you know this drill: while looking through cruddy windows, I think I ought to wash them.  But wait.  It's sunny out.  When it's sunny, the windows will streak.  Better wait for an overcast day.  Or dusting.  I figure that if I'm going to get out the Pledge and dustcloth, I need to dust everything, and the coffee-table's all piled up, so maybe I'd better clean that off first, but there's stuff on it that I need for [some imaginary project] I'm working on. My kitchen counters suffer the same neglect by way of procrastifection.  Thanks to Facebook, I see pictures of the insides of my friend's houses, and I have one friend in particular, who's busy up to her eyelashes, and yet her kitchen counters are always so beautifully absent of any clutter whatsoever, that I feel Ashamed when I cast my glance into my cluttered up countertops.  Actually, my sister's countertops are always free of clutter, too, unless I'm at her house.  She and her husband must feel like Pigpen's in da house whenever I come for a visit.  But I want my countertops to be like theirs!  Clutter-free and wide open in case I want or need to do anything like cook or bake without first having to put away three weeks' worth of dishes I left out to "air dry" and just got used to them being out where I could see them. 

But here's how the sickness works in the case of the kitchen counters: I roll into the kitchen with a good head of steam behind me, repeating that TODAY'S THE DAY THESE COUNTERS BECOME COUNTERS AGAIN AND NOT A CATASTROPHE OF CLUTTER!!!  And then I see that the dishwasher is busy in the middle of a wash cycle, and the sink is piled with dishes for another wash cycle right behind it.  Well, the procrastifector can't just put away the dishes that are already dry.  No.  If the procrastifector is going to put away dishes, she wants to put ALL the dishes away, so we'll just wait until that second load is done.  But then, the reason those dishes are sitting out is because the cupboards are too cluttered up with stuff I don't really use, but am not so ready to just get rid of yet, so I need to sort the drawers and cupboards and take up to the attic purgatory the stuff I'm not ready just to let move on, and if that isn't an awful job.... hey, is that the Lipton Tea I'm supposed to try out for the Amazon Vine Program?  I think I'll have a cup of that, and then go write my review.  That's productive.  Yeah, I'll feel good about myself, having been that productive.  Okay.  And right here's a perfectly good air-dried cup to make that tea in!  All right, me!

I know I need to actually start reading and following my FLYLady emails again.  FLYLady, if you don't know about her, is this homekeeping guru who was once a procrastifector just like me, and she got her house on track by first starting with keeping her kitchen sink shined, and then just working fifteen minutes at a time until everything was in place, and then the rest is maintenance.  The trick to following the FLYLady is to time your 15-minute intervals of work just right.  If you've got a big job to do like I do, it'd probably behoove you to do a 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off plan for a couple hours, and repeat daily.  Trouble is, I'll do 15 minutes of tidying up and take off the next 3 days.


I'd like to become a recovering Procrastifector.  I don't think it's something for which there's a cure.  Just treatment and recovering.  But that's what I'd like.  And that means letting go of thinking I need to have everything perfect before, during, and after I do the work.  I've got to learn to be okay with "good enough," without being "half-assed," and "well, it's better than it was before," instead of "oh my goodness, my house just rolled out of the pages of Museum House Digest, if there's such a magazine.  There probably isn't.

I'd just like my house not to look like an article entitled "Crap!  There's people at the door and this place looks like the Hoarders show barfed up in here!"  And the way to do that is to roll up the ol' sleeves, kick the excuses to the curb, and start Procrastifection Rehab. 

It's really all just an excuse not to do anything at all. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Birthday Cards from Years Past

I've been sorting through the boxes of stuff I took from Zoe's closet and thrown into the spare room upstairs.  It's a little bit like Andy Warhol's time capsules.  I never know what I'm going to find in those pack-ratty boxes!

Yesterday, I found my scrapbook of birthday and holiday cards from when I was a toddler.  Mom gave me the album before I had Zoe, and I looked through it then, and then put it in a box for safekeeping.  I was so happy to find it today!  Talk about a time capsule!

Not only are the cards themselves like looking into the past, design-wise, but they're like hearing the voices of people who are gone now, like Aunt Flossie and Uncle Al, Grandma Evans, Great-Gramma Whitmire.  On another day, looking through my scrapbook of birthday cards from over thirty years ago would be bittersweet.  Today, it's just fun, especially because I'm also sitting here, looking at the stack of birthday cards Zoe received for her first birthday, and I have a pink scrapbook I bought and haven't really known what to do with.  This is perfect!

Neat handwriting from Adeline
Grandma Jeanette's handwriting
I love looking at the handwriting.  I'm sure I look at today's handwriting (especially my own!) with a jaundiced eye, and figure all-around our handwriting today is messier than people's writing was, thirty years ago, but I'm sure that back then it was just the same as today.  I think we all tend to be a little more meticulous with our handwritten messages when they go on a card.  Still, though, we wrote with pens a lot more back then than we do today, and it shows.

 Some of the cards, I don't really remember very well, but there are others that I do remember vividly.  I remember this card to the left, with the little girl and the pink gingham background, because it always fascinated me, the way her head or her hair came to a point on the back of her head.   And I remember the card on the right because the little doll's legs were a wheel that turned, making her look like she was walking.  I must have been two when I got that card.

 I vividly remember getting the Halloween card on the far left.  It was from Almyra Lovell, a friend of my parents'.  She lived in the trailer court in Wellsville, by the railroad tracks and near where WJQZ is today.  I remember visiting Almyra at her trailer a few times when we'd make a trip to Town to shop at Giant or Bells. The card has a scarecrow on it, and even though I was just 2 when I got that card, that scarecrow with his friendly crow friends have always been what come to mind when I think of Halloween.

The Christmas card with the little girl with the red pigtails, canopy bed, and colorful quilt is from my parents for Christmas that same year, when I was two.  That card has has stuck with me over the years because I always wanted a canopy bed, but our trailer and house were always too small for canopy beds.  And I wanted my hair with bangs and pigtails!  My hair was always in a pixie-cut, for ease of styling and for minimum brushing meltdowns due to tangles.
Valentine's Day, 1982, From Great-Grandma Wynick

Other cards are special because the people who wrote them are gone, and seeing their handwriting brings them back to me.  Great Grandma Wynick, for instance.  I'd recognize her handwriting anywhere.  She wrote with felt-tip pens a lot, and even when she wrote in ballpoint, she pressed down into the paper hard.  

Then there's Aunt Flossie and Uncle Al.  I spent a lot of time at their trailer when I was a pre-schooler.  It was there that I got to watch Sesame Street and Mister Rogers.  We didn't get PBS at our place until almost right before I went to kindergarten, so up to Aunt Flossie and Uncle Al's it was a treat to get to see Grover and Oscar and Bert'n'Ernie.  Their place always smelled like Newport News menthols, Skoal, pipe tobacco, and lemon air freshener.  They had air conditioning in the summer, and in the winter, Aunt Flossie always let me sit on the heating vent!  I never got away with sitting right on the heating vent at home!  Plus, they always had those little cookies that come in strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate, with the thin layer of frosting between two styrofoam-like wafers, and I loved those!  And Aunt Flossie made me my first ice cream soda, with vanilla ice cream and 7-up.  There's more to Aunt Flossie and Uncle Al, but that's all for another day.  Today, I'm talking about my cards.

Birthday Four was apparently a big one.  I remember Grandpy and Grandma got me my red Radio Flyer wagon.  Mom and Dad got me my blue "Bop-Ball," which is what I called my "hippity-hoppity." Looking back, that Bop-Ball was a great thigh, glute, calf, and hammie workout.  Does anybody know if they make those in big-people size?

Raggedy Ann was big for me that year.  I had a Raggedy Ann cake.  I remember it because first of all, Raggedy Ann had red hair, and so did I!  And second of all, Raggedy Ann had red hair, and so did the Raggedy Ann on my cake.

Do you remember what red food color used to taste like, back in the 70s and 80s?  It tasted like gawdawful, is how it tasted!  It's a little better now, but not much.  In 1982, I remember I wanted a BIG piece of cake with the red icing, and my tongue turned inside-out from that bitter red food color!

Handwritten Birthday Wishes from Cousin Theresa
My sister got a Raggedy Ann birthday cake once, too.  Mom had the special pan that's all molded to Raggedy-Ann shape and all.  But Colleen's Raggedy Ann birthday cake had yellow hair.  At the time, Mom said it was because Colleen was blonde.  I think we all know that Mom was just trying to save us all from the mind-numbingly awful red food colored icing.  And I for one, appreciate it!

The card that makes me laugh the hardest, though, is from my Cousin Theresa, whom I've always looked up to.  She wrote me a card on a flap of wrapping paper, in her beautiful handwriting.

This card bears typing out for you.  It says:
Dear April,
You're 4 years old & you'll soon be starting school!  You'll enjoy it, though, believe me!  Your favorite year will be your sophomore I guarantee!
Well, you have a nice birthday!
Love Theresa

Theresa would have been a sophomore in high school that year, so apparently, she was happy with school that year.  And what makes me really, really laugh is that sophomore year WAS my best year in high school, the year I came closest to being a Cool Kid, plus it was the year I had the best hair of my entire high school career.  I really had those crispy bangs down pat by then.  1993-94 was really the last year when it was acceptable to have big hair in the 1990s.

I have all the cards Zoe's received in her whole life, and I'm going to make her an album like this so 34 years in the future, she can leaf through it and smile, too!