Monday, November 30, 2009

Realistic Really

This is a recurring theme of ponderous thought and thoughtful conversation in my world: when does 'realism' cross the line to 'negativity,' 'pessimism' and/or 'control issues'? This is no longer a rhetorical question.

I can be super-crazy analytical. If I wasn't already like this before Grad School the inclination was developed while there. (Realistically, I probably was like that, thanks to my inheritance of a tiny anal-retentive gene honed by the responsibilites of being the first-born and enhanced with a love of jigsaw puzzles and detective stories as a kid). A past employer invested serious amounts of money for me to endure lectures and projects on calculating Best, Moderate, and Worst-Case Scenarios and their potential likelihood and resultant impact on things like staffing (who's gonna do it?); capacity (where we gonna make it/put it?); costs (how expensive are materials this week? and to where is the finished product shipping?); profits (how much mad coin we gonna  make for the shareholders?); etc.

It would seem (in my business school tainted opinion) that this is a good skill to have, as "forewarned is forearmed." Sadly, my abilities in this matter often seem to be unappreciated. Scoffed at. Mocked, even. Am I (and all those Harvard Business School Case Studies I had to read and analyze)  just plain wrong? Is the desire to drill down to the baseline facts really pessimistic?

Sure, it would be great to land the super-mega-giant project, but let's (just for a second) pretend we did ... do we have enough people to work on it? ... can we meet the delivery date without burning out the staff? No, I'm not trying to pee on your parade, I am actually trying to prevent someone (quite possibly you) being nailed to the wall in a month or so when everyone is stressed out and/or other projects are neglected (affecting the entire client base and their future business) due to a lack of foresight on the front end. So, sure, call me negative or pessismistic or controlling for attempting to save your butt. I still prefer to call it realistic.

If asked to change something delivered to the printer a week ago, I will first say "maybe," inform on the front end of any obstacles of which I am aware that could prevent fulfilling the (however unreasonable) request, and check on the answer with the vendor. Because realistically, there are other players involved and I will not make promises upon which they will have to scramble to deliver (I know how much I resent it being done to me). Nor am I authorized to direct activites that are going to cost someone additional money.

When consulted on something, I'll run "what if" scenarios ... What if the first choice guest speaker is unavailable -- what's our Plan B? What if the client hates this artwork -- do we have another option to show? If the proposed course of action is accepted and the schedule changes, what are the options?

Or maybe it's better we just put on the blinders, ignore the potential pitfalls, skip down the path and hold our breath and hope, knowing that hope is about as solid and lasting a plan as cigarette smoke in the wind. Seriously, once the potential for disaster is at least considered, I will pull for the success of the idea with all my strength. I just won't do it in the dark.

There have been enough hijackings into commitments I wouldn't have agreed to with all the info on the front end. A blindly cheerful response of "Yes, of course!" to an innocent sounding "Can you do me a favor?" resulted in weekends disappearing into hellholes of labor beginning at some half-past ridiculous hour of the morning. Consequently, requests for favors are now met with a tentative, "Ummm... Maybe. What is it?" Sorry. Thank a lifetime of predecessors. Know I invite the same responsible consideration should the tables be turned. If it's really job-critical, as boss you have the power to tell me to do it, and if it's truly a 'favor,' there is right of refusal. Unless of course, this is a case of pretending I have a choice in the matter. I'm glad we had this little chat.

Outside work, there have been accusations of my being negative and/or pessismistic when merely trying to gather info and examine possible angles and outcomes before rendering an opinion on a matter. Invite me to do something "right now," I will likely want to know: 1) Are we expected anywhere soon? and/or; 2) What are the plans of other people involved in the day? and/or; 3) Will this derail any hope  of a meal anytime soon? and/or; 4) Is there any chance my response is going to bite me in the butt later? A girl's gotta know, you know? Without info, there's no informed decision. Without considering the potential ways for screwing up someone else's time or effort or sleep or appetite (or my own) with my answer, I will ask until I know what I need. Or it could go the easy way and present all the information upfront. Just an idea. Not looking to control anyone's thoughts or life or anything (except my own).

If that's negative, pessismistic or controlling, then okay. Whatever. I still maintain it's "realistic," because life happens in reality, not Disneyland. (And I'm sure the Disney folks are masters of running all possible scenarios, analyzing all variables and have a standard operating procedure for each and every potential outcome. Controlling bastards.)

The floor is now open.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Road

Boyfriend and I took a little trip for Thanksgiving – from Clarksville to Virginia – seven to eight butt-paralyzing hours by car, which is a good four hours more than I can usually tolerate in a vehicle. This is probably due to the recurring, nightmarish flashbacks of family car trips when I was a kid – five people crammed in a black car sans air conditioning in July or August, headed from Massachusetts to Texas or Florida – parents arguing in the front seat and Dad pushing the limits of the bladders and patience of all involved by driving straight through, usually exceeding all speed limits to hit some magical timetable and bragging rights known only to him.

We left Wednesday night after I got home from work and we each finally finished packing – an exercise that bore a shockingly strong resemblance to us moving out of the house forever once we’d packed the X-Box, the portable DVD player, two laptops, assorted duffel bags and every snack I could lay hands on. A tiny miscalculation landed us in the drive-thru line at McDonald’s instead of Backyard Burger, which we didn’t want to delay the departure any further to correct and were sorry for later.

Boyfriend did most of the driving, which worked for me, because I hate driving. Ok, ‘hate’ is a strong word – let’s just say I don’t enjoy doing it. It stresses me out, has me clenching my jaw and leads me to outbursts of expletives that are cathartic for me and jarring to everyone else in the immediate area. If I lived someplace where I could walk or take a subway or a monorail or ride my bike or strap on a jetpack to get where I wanted to be, then car trips could be special instead of a daily, necessary evil. And I could save money towards some nice vacations with the $35+ I wouldn’t be dumping on gas each week and the $700 annual insurance – not to mention the periodic oil changes and other upkeep. (I’m already lucky my vehicle has been paid off for a few years. Too bad I haven’t followed through with the ‘put the car payment into the bank for the next car purchase' plan.) And by the way, it’s past the year 2000 – aren’t we supposed to be flying around in personal hovercraft or doing the Star Trek ”beam me up” teletransport thing by now?

But back to the road. We didn’t run into much traffic on the way to Virginia, which was great. We had some tense moments in the car around 1 a.m. when the full effects of fatigue and confinement kicked in, but we found a hotel, stopped for the night and slept it off. The next morning, it was a quick drive and we were at the destination on a peninsula in Eggleston, at the coolest house this side of a Hollywood movie.

After two days with Boyfriend’s family, the nicest bunch of people you could ever have the good fortune to know, it was already time to repack the car and head back to Tennessee, which is actually a pretty good argument for moving further east closer to both our families. (Heck, even moving southeast to Nashville would chop an hour off driving almost everywhere, because with the layout of the Interstates we need to head towards Music City first.)

Our return trip was mostly by daylight, which made it feel easier. Boyfriend had a brilliant idea we weren’t able to execute on the trip out but pulled off for the trip home – an audio book. Before we left Virginia, he bought “The Road” by Cormack McCarthy (now a major motion picture out “in select theaters” which, as usual, means none near us). The book is on six CDs timing out to 6.75 hours. What a brilliant distraction. Sure, the post-apocalyptic story of The Man and The Boy fighting for survival in a burned-out world of ash and danger is bleak (FYI, the most repeated sentence in the book is “It was very cold.”), and I have a tendency to space out during lectures, speeches and conversations (basically anything longer than a 60-second TV spot), so I missed a lot of the story here and there, but it was still interesting.

In a creepy parallel to the story of a burned out world, as we were driving on I-40 West outside Nashville, we saw an 18-wheeler on I-40 East, the cab on fire with flames shooting out the driver’s side window and up at least ten feet in the air.

The Road ended at the last traffic light before our house. (The story, not the actual pavement.) We’ll definitely get more audio books for any future road trips, although I will likely push for books by David Sedaris or some other humorist. I feel a trip to the public library coming on.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Floyd Night

Friday night we drove from Blacksburg, Virginia into Floyd for the Friday Night Jamboree at the General Store, featuring Blue Grass, Gospel and Old Time bands. According to the Wikipedia entry for Floyd, the 2000 population was 432 and the size of the town (also the seat of Floyd county) "is 0.5 square miles (all of it land)." Judging by the size of the crowd at the Jamboree, most of the town was there, plus the seven of us tourists. Judging by the Wiki entry, downtown IS the town. It was an interesting place – a sign proclaiming “Loitering Is Allowed” hung outside the Country Store, where the Jamboree has taken place for about 100 years.

Boyfriend’s sister knew of the Country Store, where the merchandise is relocated every Friday night to make way for the dancing. And the dance floor was packed the whole time we were there. Yes, we joined the crowd in the “flat foot dancing” and a couple of us were troopers and got dragged into the square dancing. I passed that up -- too many bad memories of fifth and sixth grade girl’s gym class. We took enough pictures with our cameras and cell phones that the regulars were probably thinking, “Dang, these people don’t get out much.”

It was definitely the first time I’d seen men’s tassel loafers, like those worn by navy-blue suited businessmen, with dancing taps on them. The tall and lanky old-timer wearing them could tap out some serious rythm with those shoes, too. I spent a lot of time staring at his feet, trying to deconstruct his choreography. Made me wish I’d taken those Buck Dancing lessons.

There was one boy there, about ten years old, decked out in jeans, a western shirt, cowboy hat and boots, who was one terrific little dancer, but he knew it. Thumbs hooked in his jean pockets, he’d be tapping up a storm, then pause for a sip of water, check his audience, and resume. The kid even had posing for pictures down to polished perfection. A girl, about the same age, in a multi-tiered skirt and western boots, hair French braided to one side, reminded me of my oldest niece and I just wanted to hug her, but that sort of behavior from total strangers is just creepy, and I have enough going on without becoming some creepy hugging lady.

There was a contest for who was there from the furthest distance – we figured our group had it nailed with a member from Israel, but it required a check of the old-fashioned pull down map over the stage to verify that Israel is, indeed, further from the Blue Ridge Mountains than Switzerland, scoring Sagi a new cap embroidered with “The Floyd Country Store” for his Appalachian birthday celebration. (A couple hours later, he got to wear the Birthday Sombrero at El Charro Mexican Restaurant, a few doors down from the Country Store, where we had dinner after flat foot dancing up hearty appetites.)

The Jamboree at The Floyd Country Store is clearly the best $4 entertainment investment I’ve made in a long time. It was really fun. And where else could I see the delectable, albeit inedible “Canned Creamed Possum with Sweet Potato Garnished in Coon Fat Gravy” with the grossest ingredients list imaginable. (It bears a warning on the label that it’s a novelty item and should not be eaten.) It had potential as the perfect gift for my Scrapple-eating, Mountain Oyster-sampling brother, but I passed, knowing he's never been the one to follow instructions and might actually eat it, and I don’t want to be responsible for that.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Housekeeping Time

One Thursday night this summer, after Trivia Night at The Front Page Deli, some of the team I sometimes played with was on the move to Old Towne Tavern where the pool tables are free. I was tired from staying up too late too many times, and from not eating dinner for 3 or 4 nights due to a spell of stress-induced appetite loss, forgetfulness and who knows what all else. That night, dinner was cheese fries at the Deli with my beer during trivia, which may have been an improvement over Monday night’s banana and Wednesday night’s ice water. FYI – potatoes were introduced to Europe by the Spaniards – a tidbit I learned that night at trivia, but the history scholars on my team knew it already.

In front of Austin Peay, the light at College Street and University Avenue turned yellow with enough time for me to stop before it turned red. A police cruiser came from University Ave to my right and made a u-turn in the intersection with the college logo that looks a lot like the mark used by Associated Press – a traffic move which I happen to know is an illegal maneuver in Clarksville. The next thing I knew, it was behind me with the blue lights flashing in my rear view mirror. And I’m thinking, “awwwww, fudge.” Except it wasn’t fudge. When the light turned green, I crossed the intersection with my right turn blinker on, obediently pulled over to the side of the road, hit the flashers, and stopped.

The giant spotlight came on, blinding me in my side view mirror with nearly enough eyeball splitting force to trigger a migraine. And the officer was standing at my window, which I had already rolled down. “Ma’am, you don’t have your headlights on.” Errr… crap on a stick. “Really? Oops.” Easy enough to miss – that stretch of road is as bright as day with forever long stretch of lights from the car dealerships. He asked if I’d been drinking and where I was coming from. “Umm… I’m coming from Trivia night at the Deli and I had a beer and some cheese fries.” I did not share my new knowledge about potatoes with the officer.

He asked for my license, which I produced with my insurance card in about one second from my highly organized wallet. He asked for my registration, which is supposed to be in the white folder in the glove box. He shined his flashlight into the back seat, where my raincoat was casually tossed on the back seat and my camera bag had been on the floor with my tripod for a couple weeks.

I dug through the white folder – no registration. And I stared at the glove box crammed with papers representing five years worth of service records, five years of registration renewals and who knows how many paychecks for the lumberjacks who felled the trees to make all that paper. (Hey, they gotta eat, too.)

There are times when being a packrat pays off. This was not one of them. Every piece of paper I pulled out had two names on it – mine and X-Man’s, except that this past March when I renewed my tags, his name was taken off, which at least made it easier to identify the old stuff. The cop was still standing there with his flashlight. “Just keep looking, Ma’am, I’ll be right back.” Back at the cruiser, he did whatever it is they do back there, while I rifled through my colossal stack of junk, chucking the old papers into a growing pile on the passenger seat to either file or discard when I got home, unless of course I was detoured to jail for not having my paperwork. And I was thinking, “Be calm. Be calm,” while wearing a shirt with ‘Jagermeister’ emblazoned across the chest, which probably didn’t look good at that particular moment.

I finally found the precious piece of paper, and remembered yet again at another supremely inconvenient time that the duplicate title ordered through the DMV back in March had never arrived. The cop was back at the window, asking me again how much I’d had to drink and inviting me to step out of the car to join him on the sidewalk so he could check my eyes. In an agonizing exercise that felt like it took forever, he had me follow his finger with my eyes. To my left, to my right, stop in the middle, back to the left, the right, the middle, up, up, up, down, down, down. Cripes. Then he decided to let me go on my way, with a warning to be careful, because he “could see I’d had a little to drink, and if I got pulled over again…” I thanked him and asked if he had given me my license, which he had not – it was still clipped to his chest pocket. Maybe that was part of his test.

I drove my paranoid, now hyper-alert self home, thankful for having called it an early night. This time, though, I turned the headlights on. By the light of the next day, I finally cleaned out the danged glove box and purging the rest of the papers in there. It was long past the time for some cleanup.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Being Thankful

It’s the annual day for giving thanks, here in the incredible land of plenty.

This is what I am thankful for ….

Family – the one I was born into and the others that have taken me in as one of their own along the way
Boyfriend – Wade is supportive, smart, artistic and funny and sometimes I don’t think I deserve him
Friends – we may not see each other much, but we always know we have each other
Country – and the good fortune to be born in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave
Meriwether – the stray cat who found us and chose to stay – he’s great company and highly entertaining
Job – I still have one, even in the tough economy
Co-Workers – we sometimes annoy each other, but we're a talented bunch and a great team/work family
Health – blessed with good genes, come from hearty stock, and am grateful for it

Thanks Be.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fine Furniture

My taste in furniture has shifted. Once, it was all formal and proper and Victorian-era – a living room set with camel back sofa and matching loveseat and Queen Anne coffee and side tables in cherry wood; a fancy, proper dining set with china cabinet to hold the fine English bone china, also in cherry; marble top dressers and a sleigh bed with a six foot tall headboard in a gorgeous tiger oak.

After a divorce where I walked away from a lot of things I once loved – the house with the stained glass windows in the double front doors, some amazing neighbors, and most of the furniture (and yes, the man), my decorating style accidentally sidestepped to an eclectic mash-up of castoffs, which is still a disproportionate overtone of “the look.” My elegant white leather dining chairs cohabitate in a room with a vintage cabinet with drawers and an antique mirror from Korea, a crackle-painted dresser that masquerades as a sideboard and now houses the allegedly wi-fi printer we can’t seem to get to run wirelessly.

In my imaginary bedroom in the arts and crafts style bungalow in my head I have a Mission-style bedroom set, but in my real bedroom in the generic white brick ranch house it’s still the vintage veneer set circa 1930/40 I bought from my dad’s old neighbor back in the 1990s and have since moved into seven different residences in two states. In my uber-cool, urban high-rise apartment (that I do not rent, own or have any assurance exists beyond a page torn from a magazine and that could be a set constructed in a warehouse just for the article), the furnishings are sleek, modern, chrome and cool. Yeah, I probably won’t buy any of that stuff any time soon, either.

I don’t tend to buy new furniture when I move somewhere. For one thing, I already have a bunch of stuff and then I would need to figure out what to do with it. The real reason, however, is that I never think I will stay put anywhere more than six months or so, and why go through all the trouble and expense of outfitting a temporary resting stop. Then, one or three or seven years later I am still in the same place with the same furniture I was bored with eight years ago.

There is, however, one furnishing that has captured my attention and with which I have been enchanted for many, many years. It is the one item for which I might be convinced to part with a serious wad of cash. Maybe. It’s a magical thing (no, not a flying carpet, although that would be cool, too), a mechanized piece of furniture and if I had one, it might take some real convincing to get me to ever leave the house. It’s better than any recliner, sleep sofa or expensive fancy number bed.

The model of the item with which I am currently acquainted is called the “Quantum 400,” upholstered in vinyl, with a small rolled pillow. My heart skips with joy when I see it. It’s the massage table at my chiropractor’s office – a padded couch/table/bed of sorts, with a roller that massages the back from butt to shoulders and back down again. A timer, variable firmness on the rollers (I like the hard-core setting, evidently). I’m tempted to get a job with a chiropractor just so I could use that thing on my lunch hour. Every day. A couple weeks ago, I asked how much one would cost, and the tech at the office said “Oh, $5,000.” I think it might be worth it. Of course, I’d have to divest some of the mid- to late-twentieth century collection of clutter to make room for it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sexy Things

This past weekend, my eyes were privileged to behold one of the sexiest sights I have ever had the good fortune to behold live and in person. The magnitude, the glory, the sheer magnificence of it was truly breathtaking.

My vision took place on Saturday morning, which started out like any ordinary Saturday morning, with me fighting the awakening, desperate for more sleep but unable to achieve it, finally conceding defeat, slipping out of bed and putting on a pot of coffee. Junior had already quietly arisen from his bed, crept with the stealth of a ninja out of his room and downstairs to play video games. I settled onto the couch to practice poor posture and check my far too numerous email accounts and Facebook updates to see what had transpired in my cyber world over the past ten hours since my last check on things. Because it was Saturday, I would be heading to yoga class, but that was still a couple hours away.

When Boyfriend got up, he did his usual ‘wake up’ activities – smoke a cigarette out on the porch, grab a cup of coffee, head to the office off the kitchen to check on his own cyber world. Then he started cooking breakfast – bacon and scrambled eggs. All was peaceful and normal in the household. And then, after breakfast, things got interesting.

From my perch in the living room, laptop balance on my crossed legs, I could see Boyfriend in the kitchen rummaging around in the cabinets with cleaning sprays, scrub pads and paper towels. I conducted a brief (remote) orientation to the kitchen cleaners under the sink and the bathroom supplies in the bathroom closet which was less a guided tour and more of me barking coordinates from the couch. “bottom shelf, bathroom closet next to the paper towels," and "under the sink, on the right hand side. No, the right hand side…..”

And the next thing I knew, that hunk of manliness was in the shower getting intimate with the tile, going all sassy on the soap scum. This is the category of work I refer to as “invisible work” because when it’s done regularly, you don’t notice it, and when it’s not done, you may not notice for a while, then suddenly one day, it’s a case of “ewwwww…..when did that happen?”

He started his mission before I left for the gym, and finished while I was gone. On my way out, I popped into the bathroom to thank him for busting his butt, because lately, he has become a major player in the upkeep of the household. The yard was his territory (he can mow and mulch like a landscaper and his chain saws skills are stupendous), but lately he’s been taking his A-game inside, too. He’s always made the bed better than I do, so when he does it, it looks like hotel housekeeping just visited or maybe a drill sergeant is on his way. He’s been visiting the grocery store and throwing down some great meat meals. Even with his musical talents and his abilities in the visual arts, this act – cleaning the bathroom, was still quite possible the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen him do. I’ve seen him in a shirt and tie. He has some casual outfits that can still stop me in my tracks. But he has never looked sexier than when he was in a wife-beater tee shirt and wielding the tub and tile spray. Oh, baby.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Shortly Busy


Short holiday weeks sound good in theory. The part with the extra days off from work is great. The best. Cause for a quickening of the pulse with anticipation, really. The part where five days work is jammed into three days is much less great. Pulse-poundingly stressful, actually.

My Thanksgiving holiday short work week opens Monday at 7:45 a.m. with a full day video shoot, which didn’t seem like a big deal when it was scheduled by the art director, but the previous Friday night at 7, when the scripts were still not finalized or approved, it was feeling like a crushingly huge ordeal (the kind involving chest pain and a sudden desire to take up heavy drinking) to the peon trying to get it all done (me). Some of the speakers scheduled for the video added some great ideas when they reviewed their scripts, but the problem is, by inserting their company’s name an extra three or four times and constantly exchanging longer words and phrases like “accomplishments” in place of “results” and “a result of” for “due to,” they also added time to my carefully crafted, appropriately timed passages. Scripts targeted for 20 to 25 seconds were suddenly running 37 to 40 seconds, even with my fast-paced New England read, which can be twice as fast as the measured pace many people speak around here.

Do the math – five or six or eight scripts lengthened by 10 to 15 seconds each by the speakers (who are likely thinking, “it’s only a few words/seconds…”) and suddenly the five minute video is an over-budget six minute video.

Tuesday is slated to start with a dentist appointment (7:50 a.m.) and wrap up with a home energy evaluation at 3:00 and somehow an eight hour workday squeezed in there to prepare for Wednesday’s schedule – a working session with the staff of a client company to finalize the content of their web site. It’s painfully obvious that Tuesday’s life maintenance appointments need to be postponed to a week with a full five day work schedule – I can’t justify missing three hours of work for what suddenly feels like frivolity when I have project deadlines looming. Once again, the time-space continuum is not my friend, I need a double, I need more time.

Wednesday at 5:00 and hopefully earlier, my workweek ends and the holiday kicks in with a drive to Virginia for Thanksgiving with Boyfriend’s family. I like car travel with Boyfriend, we like the same music and we have some very interesting conversation in the car. And I haven’t spent much time in Virginia – if anything, it’s been a pass-through state on the way to somewhere else, with the notable exceptions of the 2001 Denbigh High Graduation (Newport News) and about an hour at Virginia Tech depositing an incoming freshman for fall semester, 2001. I’m looking forward to the trip, which fulfills multiple objectives for me, including a change of scenery, quality time with Boyfriend and meeting more of his family. It’ll be a short visit, but it will be fun. How could it not be? His mom and sister like Scrabble!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Seeking Sanctuary

The Saturday before Thanksgiving featured a delivery run for “Sanctuary,” another show with the Underground 9 at Tennessee Art League. The show's theme got me thinking about various aspects of ‘sanctuary.’ Beyond the obvious church sanctuary references, I was thinking of things like refuge -- structural (buildings, rooms, forms of shelter); spiritual or mental (moods) and physical (tasks, activities).

My photos for the show are a mix of black and white handprinted and color digital images, a collection of old and new work with a church interior, a lighthouse window, an isolated church in the barren Icelandic landscape, a simple chair and basket, a pair of images from inside the car in the rain, my grandmother’s hands knitting and Boyfriend in the man cave playing his guitar. There are many more images I could have used, including some capturing the peace and solitude of the woods and a bamboo grove forming a cathedral-like space, but there are always space limitations in any show (wallspace) and I have resource limitations like frames, matts and the checking account balance. There are many more images I’d still like to shoot on his theme.

Boyfriend, Junior and I drove into Nashville, and after delivering the photography, we changed our initial plan to visit the 55 acres of tranquility at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum. It was 3:30 by the time we left the art league building after a comical romp through the darkened second and third floors, multiple elevator rides and finally banging on the locked door of the main level gallery for help. The sidewalk sandwich board sign said ‘open’ but for a few minutes we were the only signs of life there. Cheekwood was still a trip across town (and closes at 4:30) and perhaps more importantly, the big people were hungry, so we decided to head to Opry Mills mall for food and a movie.

Opry Mills sits on the site of the former Opryland USA Theme Park, erased from the face of Nashville after the 1997 season to erect a shopping mall with 200 stores and the Regal Opry Mills 20 movie theater and IMAX. Opryland Hotel, the largest non-casino hotel in the world, the Grand Ole Opry House and The General Jackson Showboat are in the immediate vicinity.

Approaching the mall, we could see insanely long lines of traffic snaking along the service road at the perimeter of the complex. Vehicles were backed up in all directions – coming and going on the access roads, jammed in the parking lot aisles, and there were pedestrians everywhere, including an overabundance of the really smart ones who choose to walk in the middle of the roads and parking lots.

It may have been the perfect (hell)storm of activity – the latest Gaylord ”Ice” show opened Friday, the Christmas lights have been installed and lit at the hotel grounds for weeks, the General Jackson Showboat Dinner Theater was between lunch and dinner cruises, stores in the mall are having sales. The line at the movie ticket counter was about a hundred people deep, most probably there for "New Moon," the Twilight movie sequel which was showing on at least a third of the screens.

It turned out the movie we wanted to see, “The Fabulous Mr. Fox” isn’t even playing yet (but tickets go on sale starting Tuesday the 24th). After a 25-minute wait for a table at TGI Friday’s we ate, then shopped, jostling in and out of the massive, ever-present crowds. The best spot in the mall seemed to be the Gibson Showplace – a guitar and banjo workshop and store -- and by 'best' I mean a cluster-free spot of sanctuary from the madness in the mall, where Boyfriend and a few other customers played guitars and one guy was playing a bass. Sweet.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Haute Cuisine

My theories of what is “cooking” vary with time. Depending upon what is going on (or not) in my life, my idea of cooking swings between “a minimum of three ingredients plus seasonings” to “requires electricity.” It's a crazy wavering alternation of meals worthy of a magazine feature and toaster pastries or microwave-cooked popcorn or leftovers.

When I first moved into my house and lived alone, there was a great amount of cooking happening in my remodeled kitchen with a center island – a radical departure from my occasional philosophy of “it’s too much trouble to cook for one person.” It was a household rich with homemade spaghetti sauce, my own versions of Thai, Indian and Korean, homemade soup simmering on Sunday afternoons, pork tenderloin roast, and tasty conglomerations from odd leftovers, never-to-be-repeated due to the unlikelihood of the ingredients being present again. One evening meal could yield lunches for the rest of the week.

When Boyfriend moved in, my cooking shifted a step or so in an attempt to first decipher and then accommodate his sometimes picky (and fickle) palate. He protests against mushrooms in stroganoff sauce and sneers at them on pizza. He’ll dissect and scrutinize a sausage to make sure it is thoroughly cooked (geez, does he think I’m trying to sicken him?). He turned his nose up at my favorite black olive and pineapple pizza, but trust me, when he’s hungry, everything is fair game no matter what it is or how much it was criticized a few hours ago.

Boyfriend has recently been on the no carbs diet – heavy on steak, chicken, veggies and salad, so he’s been grocery shopping and cooking more – and it’s been meat, meat and more meat for breakfast, lunch and supper. Generally, the less meat I eat, the better I feel, a position firmly reinforced last weekend when he we ate lots of meat and I felt like I had bricks in my stomach for three days. Friend Stacy says I need to accept that I am a vegetarian and move on, but I’m just not that dedicated to the work that seems to be required.

Lately, I’ve not been in the mood to cook, so on the nights when Boyfriend is at work it’s been “dinners” of art reception snacks. Kitchen grazing on tortilla chips or potato chips (Tuesday, I lived it up and had both), the occasional cooked meal of my beloved cheesy ramen (Thursday night). Friday night it was cheese fries, pretzels, chips and beer cheese dip, washed down with stout at the local brewery for friend Heather’s birthday. Fortunately for my nutritional requirements, my lunches are more substantial – sushi with Amy, veggie subs from Subway, and microwavable box lunches bearing words like “healthy” and “lean.”

When winter hits, I’ll be back in the kitchen. There’ll be soup on the stovetop again. I love to use the oven – it heats the kitchen, and the smell of casseroles, fruit crisp or cookies is comforting and “homey.” I’m looking forward to it, especially on the weekends when Junior is around. He’s five, the perfect age when “helping” is exciting, and if the grownups say so, everything is fun. We may start with dinner tonight – sliced steak with Korean pepper paste, sesame oil and whatever else we find in the recently-stocked-by- Boyfriend refrigerator.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Head Movies

I grew up with TV. When we reached the magical, albeit arbitrary age of ten, for our birthdays, my grandmother bought me, followed in turn by my brother and sister, our own TVs. They were small sets that would sit on a dresser nicely. If my memory serves me correctly, mine contributed to my immediate withdrawal from family TV viewing, as I hunkered down in my room, face lit by the pasty glow of the twelve-inch screen from my black and white set. With extendable rabbit ears and a round UHF antenna. Hey, it sounds pathetic now, but back then it was not common to have a TV in every room and my grandmother’s gift made me privileged for my time. Certainly none of my friends had their own TV sets. And when my dad got a job with the local cable company, my set was outfitted with a cable connection, along with every other set in the house. (Years later my TV would sit on a cable reel Dad brought home from work, covered with a table cloth. Call it Yankee ingenuity. Or being broke. We called it furniture.) I think we had one TV set per person by the time I hit junior high school, thanks to my grandmother’s gift giving practices. Today it’s personal computers and gaming devices that send a family to their own worlds in separate corners, but in my day, at my house, it was television.

My bedtime as a kid was 8:00. In theory at least. Beginning when I was in fifth grade, after we moved into our ‘new,’ old as dirt, looked like something from a horror movie the day we moved into it home across town, each of us kids had our own room. So sure, when I was told to go to bed, I promptly and obediently went upstairs to my room. And there, night after night, I’d stand in front of my dresser and watch entire movies on network TV with the volume so low it was barely perceptible, my finger on the power switch, ears tuned to the house noises and on high alert lest one of my parents climb the thirteen stairs and catch me out of bed. If I heard a footfall on the stairs, I would power off the TV. I had seen enough detective shows and had enough awareness of details to realize they would be able to see the TV glow emanating from beneath my closed bedroom door if I did not turn it off. With my heart pounding wildly and my fear of detection causing spikes of adrenaline to course through my body, I would slip into my bed as silently as a Ninja. If the parent on the loose was just making a visit to the bathroom at the top of the stairs, I could return to my show promptly. Often, I was watching the same show my parents were watching downstairs, so the interruption was usually during a commercial break and I wasn’t missing anything more than the latest ad for Alka Seltzer. I don’t recall ever being caught by my parents for my little TV habit. I was good. Or good at being slightly bad, anyway.

My parents could never figure out why I was always tired, and I didn’t really enjoy being tired, but there was a lot that went on in my life that they didn’t know about, and it was just better that way. Being tired was a small price for me to pay to attempt to right some of the defects of my life.

Our move meant I had been launched into a new school. Technically, it was an old school, built in something like 1899, so it is more correct to say I was the new kid at school. At my new, wicked-old school, my clandestine TV watching was strictly a matter of attempting to survive in a new social setting. There were elements I could not control, and others I could. For example, I could not control the fact that most of my female classmates looked like the 1970s equivalent of Victoria’s Secret models. I, On the other hand, looked like a pathetic and scrawny stick figure, subjecting me to endless “flat as a board, skinny as a nail” and “sunken chest” comments from the mouths of my oh so sweet looking tormentors. (It may have been something in the water on that side of town, and had we moved earlier in my life, say during my formative years, I might have had time to benefit from it.) Once, several of them even cornered me in the hallway by the milk refrigerator and put orange peels down my shirt while chanting that they were “adding to the cause.” Yeah, there were definitely things my parents didn’t need to know about my life, including what a loser I was, as they seemed to think I was reasonably okay. Moody, but okay.

I had already been ridiculed and harassed by some of my (evil) classmates after confessing that no, I did not see the fantastic movie of the week last night because my parents made me go to bed at 8:00. It only took once or twice of that before I took action to control the things I could and began watching shows in my room, in secret, so I could participate in the morning after analysis of the actors and the story. The analysis usually centered on who was the cutest male actor and if the female lead had a good haircut and wardrobe or not.

The result of my watching movies at night, in addition to my regular fatigue, moodiness, and newfound ability to participate in movie analysis as conducted by ten and eleven-year olds, was that soon, I was picturing my small-town life as if it was a movie. Granted, it was Fitchburg, so it was a really long and boring movie, but at least I got to be the star. And I could watch myself on the movie running on the screen in the back of my head. My ten-year-old self would be walking downtown to ballet class after school, but instead of my thin and breadstick-like real-life self with long, stringy, mousy brown hair and glasses, I was the sassy and curvaceous heroine of a movie. Heads would turn to follow me as I walked past, jaws would drop, and men would erupt in spontaneous applause in recognition of my incredible and flawless beauty, fantastic and stylish wardrobe, and amazing and glorious head of long, blond, flowing hair. (I was (am) a dork with a rich inner life. I still cling to the last shred of hope that my outer life will someday catch up.)

Even years later, many of my physical actions were being conducted based on what I saw on TV. If I was walking down the street, I’d be trying to imitate the cheerful stride of Mary Tyler Moore (sans street corner hat tossing). I’d sneak a peek at myself in a storefront window to see if my hair was bouncing like that of a girl in a shampoo commercial (it never did). If I was on a date and about to kiss a guy, I’d be picturing the tilt of the head of beautiful actress as the handsome leading man leaned in for a kiss, and mimicking the closing of the eyes or the parting of the lips (right before our noses would meet in a painful and embarrassing collision).

I think I’m finally over it now, mostly because I am a little more rooted in reality and I allow myself to be guided by Boyfriend’s well-considered movie choices. The movies I watch in real life now are action films and science fiction. Romance movies (and the books they are based on) tend to make me ill. Give me the comedies please. I already have enough drama and tragedy playing in my real life in an endless loop like freakish nonstop emo film festival. I really need to fire the film company.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Feast Famine

For some reason, it’s feast or famine when it comes to social and work events. There will be a week or a month (or even and entire quarter) with nothing much going on, then bam! -- a weekend, an entire week and sometimes even a month,  jammed with stuff.

This week has been one of the full weeks, with recurring events and some special gigs that have me busy every night after work. It's shaped out like this:

Monday: Soiree and chamber ensemble concert (special)
Tuesday: Dance class (weekly recurring)
Wednesday: Photography group meeting (monthly recurring)
Thursday: Hairdresser appointment across town (every six or seven weeks, but usually on a Saturday afternoon) and an artist event back downtown (special)
Friday: Heather’s birthday dinner and girls’ night out downtown (annual recurring)
Saturday: Yoga class (weekly recurring) and a bridal shower (special).

While all this is going on, I am also getting ready for the next Underground 9 group show in Nashville, which goes up on the walls December 1, and which I have to finish before Thanksgiving. I need seven (or so) pieces of work matted, framed and delivered on time, some of which are not even printed yet because all my time seems to have been absorbed with other things. Besides, I work better under a tight deadline so I kind of let it all slide for the two months I've known about it.

Thanksgiving week includes a heating and cooling company energy evaluation and system estimate at the house on Tuesday (which also features a dentist appointment and a day at the office). It is entirely possible there will be a heating and cooling system installation beginning at the house on November 30 that will require a major organizing of the embarrassing basement or there is no way the installers will be able to move. Shoulda had that yard sale I thought about last spring. And summer. And early fall. Woulda delayed the estimate appointment, but there are certain rebates involved that expire, you guessed it, November 30 (and the estimator has been at a conference for the past week). Coulda seen it coming if I'd just removed my head from my derrierre.

Last week and the week before that and probably the week before that were much more typical – arrive home from work (meanwhile, Boyfriend is headed to work), graze on a sumptuous repast of crackers and chips, write and goof off on Facebook. Unfortunately, after a spell of several months where I was hitting the gym maybe once or twice a week, and a review of the budget and slowdown in the rate of savings, I scaled back to a weekend membership (Fridays after 4:00 through Sunday night) -- which of course means that lately most Mondays and Thursdays my schedule is free for me to go there. Except now I can’t. Timing is still not my forte. Or I want what I can't have. Feel free to discuss.

There are weekends where I am tossing the mental equivalent of a dart to choose between social gatherings, art events and dance workshops. A couple weeks ago there was a Halloween Burlesque show in Nashville (annual event) the same night as a performance by the famous tribal belly dancer Rachel Brice in Kentucky (rare event).  When belly dance workshops hit the area, they seem to be in two or three or more locations all on the same weekend (and all teaching something different I want to learn), followed by a dry spell of four or five months with no workshops. And lately, any musician or band I might want to see is playing locally on the every-other-weekend schedule – as in, the same every-other-weekend Boyfriend has Junior at the house.

The feast/famine principle also applies at work. It's either neck-deep in major projects tracking with the same deadlines or horrible stretches of unbillable time cleaning out paper files and reading trade journals. It's either scrambling like a gerbil in the Habitrail or slipping into a coma in a cubicle. We don’t get to leave the office early and go do something crazy like have a life when there is no real work to do -- there seems to be a minimum face time requirement.

This week I'm pulled like a rag doll in a childhood fight between writing content for a web site for one client and planning a script and images for a video for another client. Both are great projects worthy of dedicated, singular focus, but for the next couple weeks, they are tracking on a deadline collision course. The three-day Thanksgiving workweek opens with an all-day sechedule of video taping for the video project and closes with a content development work session at the website client's office, which is followed by four days out of the office to totally lose compression (along with all memory of what was done). The ‘no overtime’ mandate of June 2008, plus with the new timeclock software, mean the option of staying at the office to finish things is just a memory.

The time-space continuum is not always my friend and there are some days I really need another one of me. (Of course, many days, one of me is more than plenty. Ask Boyfriend and my coworkers.) Life is about choices, some days there are just more of them to make, and the famines help to inspire appreciation of the feasts. Or something like that. As one of my Grad School professors said: "When the poop hits the fan it is never distributed evenly." True dat.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Headache Season

Headache season is here. It’s actually been around for a while, making its initial appearance around Independence Day when Hobby Lobby started clearing out the summer goods and stocking the aisles with Christmas. Yes. In July. And good luck trying to find a swimsuit for a pool party around that time – it’s already fall sweaters in the clothing stores. Ah, retail.

The season of the pounding head kicks into a higher gear in late September and into October when it’s tobacco smoking season and visitors and newcomers to town think some pyromaniac somewhere set all the barns a-smoldering or the Civil War re-enactors have gone overboard and are re-invading Clarksville and burning Palmyra again. I know a couple people who have a really tough time with allergy-provoked headaches during smoking season, not to mention the other symptoms – burning eyes, trouble breathing.

For the past two weeks I’ve been visited by nightly headaches, and coworkers or clients and I occasionally compare notes. Some are having allergy symptoms from raking leaves, various sinus problems, and colds with headaches and sneezing, but I don’t think any of these are the source of my problem. Mine doesn’t really feel like the ‘haven’t been drinking enough water’ dehydration headache, and I’m also having neck tension, so I’m thinking the likely culprit is my teeth. Probably because the holidays are approaching.

Stay with me.

Many, many moons ago, I worked for a company in New England that had a great health plan. The company owned its own health insurance subsidiary, and the plan had the broadest coverage I’ve seen in all my years of servitude to the man. The coverage had a low copayment (like $5) and covered pretty much everything, including alternative practices. Over the course of my five years with that company, I went to a Ayerveda doctor for a laundry list of issues (which were fixed), a chiropractor (back issues) and an acupuncturist (back and neck pain). I tried the acupuncture route after a year of chiropractic treatments still left me with ongoing headaches and neck pain (which may have been caused by an ex-husband, but why drag him into things now). I avoided the Western doctors because I was tired of being handed a prescription for every ailment, and wanted to find the root of the problems instead of turning into a pill-popping zombie.

It’s possible that my current (and ongoing) neck aggravation is rooted in my former habit of neck cracking, a skill learned sophomore or junior year when I hung around with a chiropractor’s daughter. Apparently I did it a lot, because I once bumped into a guy from high school in a coffee shop, and after exchanging the usual pleasantries and “I haven’t seen you in ages!” he said, “Hey, do you still do that gross thing where you crack your neck?” Great. Ten years later, that’s what he remembered me for – my neck cracking. I used to be able to crack my entire spine, but some time since high school, I guess I got all uptight. Or maybe it’s “more uptight.”

Anyway, to recap: headaches, neck and back pain, one year of chiropractic, one year of acupuncture.

A breakthrough came during a routine dentist visit when I casually remarked how, if I was ever in a car accident, I’d likely lose the insides of my cheeks from biting them between my back teeth because driving stresses me out. Dr. Dentist recommended I chew gum while driving to keep from tensing my jaw, and then he said, “You’re probably grinding your teeth in your sleep from stress, too. Do you have a lot of neck pain and headaches?” Bingo! And I was fitted with the prettiest little custom bite guard to keep my teeth apart when I sleep. It is one sexy accessory that makes me spray spittle, speak with a lisp and drool all over my pillow while alleviating my other issues. Hot cha!

Back to today.

Every year since 2001 when I moved to Tennessee, as the holidays approach, I have entered a cycle of stress and guilt, and look at the calendar, right on time for the annual angst! My molars will be ground to tiny stumps any minute now. The stress focuses on the decision making of where to spend the holidays. The family wants me to come ‘home’ and I have a yearning to just stay put. In the past eight years, I have had exactly one Christmas in my own home. My bank account votes for home – even the largest tree is less expensive than airfare. And my heart cracks with guilt every time my sweet nieces are on the phone asking when I’ll be back. ‘Cuz lord knows it is easier (and less expensive) for one person to go North than for an entire clan to travel anywhere. And they’ve been working on me since July when I neglected to schedule my precious few vacation days for a summer vacation (like a normal person) and chose to save them up for “in case I can go home for Christmas.”

So yeah, it’s the season of a little stress, a little guilt, and a string of headaches. It's my own doing -- after all, I'm the one who chose to move 1,200 miles from the kinfolk to a place nobody wants to visit. If only I'd opted for living in the pretty castle at the Magic Kingdom... Wait, that was never an option. And no, I haven’t been using a bite guard lately. But it might be time to get another one, before I bite someone’s head off.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Windy Monday

The week got off to a very cultural start when I accepted friend Stacy’s invitation to attend a “Soiree” (yes, the event was truly, officially, called a "soiree"), followed by a woodwind concert by a chamber ensemble. I like finger foods and wine and lovely classical music, so I was looking forward to it. Talk about shaking up a Monday!

The soiree began at 5, which meant I went straight from work, conveniently located just a few blocks away. The reception was in the fifth floor function room of a local bank, in what is probably the most remarkable room in town with terraces on each corner of the building and the best views of the courthouse, the museum, the Cumberland River and sadly, the jail. Or is it a prison? I never know the difference. It’s a big building with tiny windows and if you do bad things you get to spend some quality time in there. That place. Which is unfortunately located in the backyards of beautiful Dog Hill historic district blocking the sun from all the really cool older homes. I bet tending the roses is a blast when you think there are incarcerated eyes trying to peer out the frosted windows at you.

Back to the party. I mean soiree. There was a pianist playing the grand piano in one corner of the room. Many of the staff of the University art department were in attendance, along with a couple clients from my work, a few artists, my bosses, and my former boss from when I worked at the museum, plus his wife (who I was very pleased to see wearing a multi-strand citrine chip and pearl necklace created by me). The food was prepared by the culinary department at the University, one of the top secret programs that many in town don’t know even exists. Sadly, there has been a lot of cool stuff going on at the University that many don’t know exists – including the art classes KB and I sign up for that keep being cancelled because the minimum enrollment of five is not reached.

It was a couple hours of mingling and sitting in an alcove chatting with people including the musicians in the concert before a change of venue to the University concert hall. It’s always fun being with Stacy, a local celebrity – born and raised here, a journalist with the local paper who knows everybody and their mommas and daddies and first cousins once removed. That’s where it gets tricky, because it is nearly impossible for us to have a conversation with the constant interruptions from well-wishers and friends and family and people she wrote articles about at some time or another. She handles it with grace and charm and I am used to it taking three or four attempts to finish a story.

The concert was great – woodwind arrangements of pieces originally scored for orchestras. It opened with a comedy sketch when the musicians came out and the seating arrangement was short one chair and one music stand. Oops. Musical Chairs? Accident? Mischief? Or was it malice aforethought? Intrigue in the music hall.

The concert opened with a piece by Gioachino Rossini, then a piece by Antonin Dvorak. A quick intermission, then a long lost piece by Richard Strauss. Stacy asked if I wanted to bail during intermission, but I like Strauss waltzes, so I was interested to hear the “piece that may never be played anywhere else in the world.” And when I said “long” … try 30 minutes long. I was starting to glaze over like a Christmas ham about 20 minutes into it. Evidently, I missed the part in the introductory speechifying when the conductor said it was a half-hour long. That’s what I get for spacing out. I don’t care how pretty it is, I’m not sure any single piece of music should run that long. And it wasn’t that it was unpleasant, the music was lovely. It was just long. Blame my sound-bite attention span.

When I remarked how the clarinets had gotten quite a workout in the opening piece, I was informed by the journalist who had interviewed the musicians that they were oboes. My bad. I thought the mouthpiece looked weird. But really, what do I know? I also thought the bassoons were the oboes and the cello was a viola. Hey, I was a ballerina who wanted to play piano and spent all of the third or fourth grade mastering faking the flutophone. My brother and sister were the family blowhard wind musicians (trombone and clarinet).

I was enjoying watching the musicians, and gave some of them nicknames. (If the program wasn’t printed in such tiny lettering, or I wasn’t too lazy to pull out reading glasses, I could have read their real names, but my way worked fine.) There was “bored French Horn guy,” “bassoonist with cute ankle strap shoes,” “cellist with the intensity of an ax-murderer,” “flutist with great glasses and high-heeled boots,” and “spitmeister,” the oboist who would run a cloth on a string through his instrument between sections of music. The contrabassoon player had a brown plastic prescription container of water on the floor that he rewet his reed in. Well, I assumed it was water. Who knows, maybe it was vodka.

Overall, it was the most interesting Monday night I could have hoped for. I love being the journalist’s “+1”.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Two Minutes

A lot can happen in just a few minutes. At work, I can put my frozen, boxed lunch in the microwave, set it for three minutes, get back to my desk, shuffle some papers or type a sentence before the timer dings and I return to the kitchen to fully remove the lid, stir the contents and heat for an additional minute, during which I scan the front page of the newspaper on the table nearby (and sometimes, a large portion of the contents).

At home, two minutes is enough time to pick a fight with Boyfriend, or visit the bathroom and be back on the couch and not miss a moment of whatever show I’m barely watching on TV. In the darkroom, two minutes is plenty of time (and sometimes, far too much time) to expose a negative onto photo paper, or run it through the developer solution. Heck, I’ve performed entire belly dance routines that are in the two to three minute time frame.

Two minutes is an eternity, really.

And as we saw last night, two minutes is the perfect amount of time to blow a decent lead in an NFL game. Geez, Bill Belichek. And we all get to see headlines like this on Monday morning, “Colts take advantage of Pats’ gamble for 35-34 win.” Tom Brady is probably pretty miffed this morning. And Peyton Manning and the Colts are likely giddy with joy.

And speaking of Peyton Manning … two minutes is plenty of time to chat up an NFL player and his entourage, too, but that is more my friend Stacy’s story than mine. About a year and a half ago (during the off-season), she, my friend Amy and I went to Nashville for the night. We were at The Stage on Broadway, Stacy was going to get a beer from the bar, so I asked her to bring me one back, too. After what felt like a parched forever of me staring at my empty bottle, she returned to the table. With a story. She had gone out to the alley in the back of the place for a quick cigarette, and while there, met Peyton Manning and his friends, who were in transit from one spot to (allegedly) nearby Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. There was sharing of matches or lighters or cigarettes under some smoker’s code of generous camaraderie, and they all hung out back talking for a few minutes, and to clarify – NO, Manning was not smoking cigarettes, but one of his crew was.

When Stacy got back to the table and told us of her encounter with a major sports figure and where they said they were going next, we held a quick conference (15 seconds or less – plenty of time to reach a consensus or determine the next play) and decided to get over to Tootsie’s. Seriously, I don’t care for the Colts because my undying NFL loyalty and affection are pledged to the Pats, but one does not let precious information like the whereabouts of a star quarterback slip past without taking action, no matter what team he plays for. We never did find Manning and friends at Tootsie’s, so Amy and I didn’t get to experience a brush with fame that night. We were probably just two minutes behind.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cinderella Moment

When shopping for my house, I made a list of 'must-have' features that included porch, fireplace and hardwood floors. The house I eventually shelled out the ducats for not only had all the features on my list, it had two fireplaces – one on the main level in what is my dining room, and another in the partially finished basement. Sweet.

Oddly, as much as I wanted a fireplace, in two years in the house, and in spite of the presence of firewood and manufactured artifical logs that crackle and burn cleaner, there has not yet been a single fire lit, because I thought it would be wise to have the chimney checked out first, and I just never got around to that step. I thought about it many times – usually on the cold nights that are perfect for a fire I was afraid to light because I had not yet found my own personal chimney sweep. (C'mon, there's no chimney sweeper gang prancing through the city like in Mary Poppins.) And in the same two-year period, I was also planning to clean out the basement fireplace, which had some ashes in it from the previous owner. I know what you’re thinking, and it's true, I probably won’t be winning any Martha Stewart awards any time soon.

In any event, Boyfriend got home from work early last night and we were watching 30 Rock DVDs, sipping on Jack and coke and chillaxin. After a while, he suggested we hang out in the basement/man cave, a partially finished space that might someday be a master bedroom suite, but which, for now, is the storage spot for a very proper and formal living room set in need of a good home, and where he practices his electric guitar and he and Junior play video games. I visit the basement only to do laundry, so our trip downstairs would be an interesting change of venue.

While Boyfriend played his newest action-packed, testosterone laden video game (involving a voice over constantly barking orders at “Ramirez”), I was imagining the space with French doors where the sliders are now, picturing where new walls might go, redesigning the staircase, and arranging furniture we don’t own to maximize enjoyment of the fireplace. And while I was ruminating on the sweet room I think I want, I decided to (finally) clean out the fireplace.

It turned out the ashes were about three inches deep, and while filling four WalMart bags with someone else’s ashes, it dawned on me that I was like Cinderella. Granted, there was no evil stepmother or stepsisters, no fairy godmother, I’m not exactly a young maiden, and my Prince Charming was already present, so the parallel was limited to the domestic labor part, but hey, it was my night of Tennessee whiskey-fueled imaginings and flights of fancy. The Boyfriend Prince and I were sharing space, each content in an activity, and I gotta say, I found my chosen activity somewhat enjoyable (maybe it was the Jack Daniel’s), and felt like an archeologist while examining a few pieces of curved metal, some long nails and screws, and a corner bit of cardboard that had somehow survived the fiery fate of whatever it was once a part of. And I never knew there were so many colors of ash – white, brown, light gray, dark gray, black. Enjoyable and educational.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Scarce Supplies

It never fails. If I like something – say a TV show, a band, a particular food product at the grocery store – it will be cancelled, break up or no longer be carried in stock. It’s aggravating. Especially the grocery store part, because once I discover something I like to eat, I want to keep eating it.

When I first moved to Tennessee (2001), the Kroger store in North Clarksville had a terrific International section – full of Italian, Indian, Asian and Latino fresh and dried foods, oils, sauces, beverages and spices. It was like going to the Farmer’s Market in Nashville, but without the 45-minute drive. The packaging with pretty labels in languages I couldn’t read was fascinating, and once I tried the Tandoori spice mix, I was a regular consumer of that corner of the store. Then, the product offerings began to diminish until one day the square footage, the size of a small shop, was transformed into a beer and tailgate party folding chair department, which later became a gift card and holiday wrap nook, and ultimately, the pharmacy. The International section, which had boasted its own pink tube lighting announcing its presence, was reduced to half an aisle of ramen and canned chilies. No more Tandoori spices. No more dried chiles. No more anything interesting. Welcome to homogenous America.

There are certain staples I try to keep in the house, because with them, I can throw down a meal in about ten minutes. One of these items is creamy chicken flavor ramen noodles. It’s the best flavor for making my beloved cheesy ramen with Korean hot pepper paste. Trust me on this. I've tried every other flavor – oriental, shrimp, roast chicken, chili, pork, beef – but the creamy chicken flavor rules. So, guess which flavor ramen I can’t find anymore? Anywhere. There will be a mile of shelf space housing case after case of crap-flavored ramen – and not a single brick of creamy chicken to be found. We are now stuck with funky flavored noodles. At least I still have the pepper paste covered, thanks to the proliferation of Korean markets across town. For now, anyway.

I am (or more correctly, I was) a fan of the fresh refrigerated pasta products, especially the linguine, fettucine and angel hair, which of course means those are no longer available, either. There is enough ravioli and tortellini in town to sink an entire naval fleet, but not a box of fresh flat pasta to be found for my fried noodle cake recipe – flat fresh pasta noodles pressed into a giant pancake and fried in olive oil with pine nuts. No fresh fettucine to accompany my creamy pesto sauce made with basil I grew myself. No more ready in five minutes flat fresh angel hair with white clam sauce. Bastards.

When I first moved to Tennessee, I naively assumed there would be sweet potatoes on every menu I saw. It’s the South – they grow them here, don’t they? There are Sweet Potato Princesses in every town, right? I even researched (and confirmed) my initial impression concerning my beloved sweet potato to make sure I wasn’t completely delusional. According to www.sweetpotato.org, “During the Civil War, the supply of some foods in the South started to run low. When coffee became hard to get, the sweet potato was used to make a tasty hot drink. It was cut into thin pieces, dried, ground and brewed just like coffee!” Wait, there’s more… “Nearly every large farm in the South had a sweet potato patch during the Civil War. This was a large area with a fence around it where hills of yams were covered with straw and soil. This covering protected the sweet potatoes from the cold and frost of winter, helping them become sweet and tasty.”

Heck, I used to eat sweet potato fries in Worcester, Mass all the time – served with the amazing Cajun catfish with mango salsa at Tortilla Sam’s on Highland Street. Imagine my shock upon realizing the only place I could find sweet potatoes on a menu in Clarksville, Tennessee was Outback Steak House (and those are baked and smothered in 1,000 calories of butter and brown sugar). And imagine my unbridled joy upon discovering sweet potato fries in the freezer section at WalMart, where I was able to buy them in large bags. Well, for a couple months, anyway. Then they stopped carrying them. Soooo….. whassup, fine people of the South? Why are there no danged sweet potato fries?

I once heard a comment that was alleged to have been uttered by a manager at a military Post Exchange (“the PX”). A customer asked if there was any more Product X – and the manager is now infamously quoted as having said, “Oh, no. We kept running out of that, so we stopped carrying it.” Is that the retail mentality consumers are stuck dealing with?

I have a glimmer of hope that there may be a solution to my scarce supplies. “Dear Santa, I have been a kinda sorta good girl this year. This year for Christmas, I would like a case of sweet potato fries, a case of fresh fettucine (and a freezer to store them in) and a pallet of creamy chicken ramen noodles (they are only 17 cents a brick). And please don’t let 30 Rock be cancelled.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ripe Pickins

It’s Friday, and my thoughts are turned to another weekend with few to no plans. Ugh. I’m not sure what’s worse, the soul-sucking drudgery of the work week or the wasted potential of a weekend with no plans. I’ll go to yoga on Saturday morning, so I have a 45-minute stretch to look forward to.

It’s cruddy – last weekend there were three or four things going, and I had to pick and choose. This weekend, sadly, not so much. I guess I’ll turn my thoughts to beer and catching up on Netflix viewing and email reading.

One of my favorite email newsletter topics for the past year or so has been relationships. I read Rory Raye and Christian Carter, who advise the women on what to do, but only with teasers so we’ll fork over the ducats to buy their CD programs. It’s interesting. Carter is all about telling the girlies how to “Catch Him and Keep Him.” To balance my reading, I also read the newsletters for men by David DeAngelo and Bobby Rio, featuring helpful tidbits on how to pick up women just about anywhere, also in teaser fashion so the reader will buy the program. Yes, I’m spying on the enemy. So what?

Here’s what I’ve noticed – first, three out of these four relationship program writers have the lovely alliteration thing going with the name, which makes me wonder if they took pen names. You know, like the writers who publish their romance novels under a pseudonym so as to not dilute the weight and seriousness of their writing careers in nuclear physics or economic theory. Or are those the names given by their parents at birth, and because I lack a cool name with alliteration or a reference to a hopping spot (Rio!) does that mean I can never be a newsletter writer for relationship issues? These are the things that keep me up at night. Ok, not really. I am more likely to be kept awake at night turning lovely phrases in my head that I will not remember in the morning.

The second thing I’ve noticed is that these writers actually have some interesting and valid points (once I weed through the spelling and grammar errors). For example, I have read many times in DeAngelo’s “Double Your Dating” that attraction is not a choice (although I could have told you that one a hundred times over). I have also learned that women tend to view relationships on a timeline (after dating for this amount of time, that landmark event should have happened) and for men, there is no such timetable for falling in love or wanting to be in a committed relationship.

There may not be a timetable for falling in love, but according to Rio, there is a season for scoring a girlfriend and that season is now. Forget about Alfred Lord Tennyson’s lovely and poetic proclamation that, “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love” (it’s in the poem Locksley Hall, if you really care). According to Bobby Rio of TSB Magazine, “You need to be taking advantage of this PRIME TIME for pulling women off online dating sites. The fact is, no woman wants to be alone for the Holidays... so the single ones are STARVING to meet someone... And we all know that quickest way to score is to get in front of a starving crowd.” (FYI, TSB = The Seduction Bible).

So, single girlfriends of mine, if you really are 'starving' as Rio puts it …. get thee to an online dating site. And single guys, I guess you would be wise to do the same. And if you really want a deep, lasting connection (and not just an arm to cling to at your company Christmas party) I recommend eHarmony, not because I have experience with it, but because I have friends who met on it last year and are getting married in December. Sweet!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Issues 'n Stuff

I am usually careful with my ‘stuff’ – a near-obsessive need to keep the few things I actually buy new, well, looking new. Forever. I can read a paperback book, multiple times even, and it will still look brand new, with nary a mark in the spine, not a single page dog-eared, any fingerprints on the glossy cover carefully wiped off. My book issues include a reluctance to loan out books, as few others share my respectful obsession with their ‘proper’ treatment, and I doubt I could be a librarian, as I’d probably institute harsh punishment to anyone treating a book with insufficient care and respect. Yes, I realize it’s extreme.

I have a few objects I’ve owned for decades that are pristine, because I think about where to place things, how to clean and store them so they remain as close to ‘mint’ as I can keep them. A few items are still in the original packaging – safely packed away in boxes, rarely seeing the light of day, waiting for that elusive ‘someday’ and the perfect house/room/ life for their display/use. And when that magical ‘someday’ arrives, they will emerge into the light like debutantes at the ball, in near-perfect vintage newness. Or, more likely, forever tainted with the icky smell of a damp basement from languishing in storage. Every time I hear Boyfriend rattle the delicate Japanese lidded candy dish that was my grandmother’s and that has taken me years to finally unpack and display, my heart skips a beat. It must be time to pack it away again for safety.

My neurotic control of my things probably started with the tragic disappearance of my blankie when I was a toddler. Mom says I was a thumb-sucking blanket-dragger, and she asked our pediatrician what to do about the blanket (probably while we were there to have my infected, over-sucked thumb lanced). He recommended she get rid of it while I was sleeping. So, one day she put me down for a nap and disposed of my security-providing fabric while I slept. It’s a wonder I could ever sleep at all after that. (How to Develop a Child with Control Issues, Part 1.)

Years later we moved to a different house. I unpacked my precious stuffed animals, searching for my favorite gray elephant which had long before lost an eye and its pink felt ears. It was gone! My confused tears and wailing temper tantrum (I KNEW I had put it in the box!) finally elicited a confession from Mom – she had tossed it in the trash because it was ratty looking and missing its ears and an eye. Deliberately. So, there I was, in my unfamiliar ‘new’ room, in our creepy ‘new’ house (which was some 50 years old and looked like it belonged in a horror movie), trying to sleep through steam radiator racket and haunted house noises and other strange goings-on, and my primary comfort, my beloved, defective gray elephant was gone. (How to Develop a Child with Control Issues, Part 2.)

As an adult, further crimes were perpetrated against my personal property – by an ex-husband who threw out treasures including my rhinestone tiara (hard-won in the Ms. Yankee Pageant) and by an ex-boyfriend who chucked albums of my childhood photography and my yearbooks from ninth grade through college. My neurotic, protective stance concerning my stuff was now cemented. Note to all – it is recommended you keep your filthy hands off the crowns of beauty queens and the early work of fledgling photographers. (Adults with Issues, Chapter 34 – How to Become an “Ex.”)

My stuff, which may seem like crap to some observers, means something to me. During the divorce from the tiara-tosser, we negotiated every stick of once-new furniture we’d bought for our eight-room house, and he got most of it. At the time, I told myself it was “a small price to pay” to get out of a bad scene. Since then, most of the stuff I have is second- and even third-hand castoffs from friends and family who were upgrading their lives. A vintage bedroom set from Dad’s neighbor who was emptying the family home of 50 years worth of things after the death of his parents. A dining table bought from a friend who moved to a place too small to house it. Night tables and dressers given to me by a friend who was moving out of state for a fresh start. Mom complimented me on my “shabby chic” d├ęcor. I explained it was not a conscious decorating scheme, just the way things worked out.

So, Sunday night, after assembling the (oh my gosh, it’s actually something new) etagere for the bathroom, I tried to make a photo of it. That’s when I came close to experiencing a new heart condition when I dropped my digital camera on the tile floor in the bathroom. I have no idea how it fumbled out of my hands, but it did. The plastic door to the battery compartment was completely detached from the body of the camera, the hinge pins broken off and missing, likely down in the ductwork from the floor vent. I cannot believe I was so reckless. It looks like there is going to be another new item in my future.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Broken Routine

My mornings are ruled by routine. The alarm clock goes off at 6:00. I am allowed (by my own decree) to hit the snooze button up to three times, depending upon whether or not I need to wash my hair, an operation that can add 10-15 minutes to the shower time plus the time it takes to blow it dry and style it. In the summer, I tend to save time by tying it in a knot while it’s wet, and leaving it that way until lunchtime or later, at which time it comes loose in a bunch of wavy curls, still smelling fresh with shampoo, and usually still damp.

Once I un-ass the bed, I stumble down the hall and into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee, pass through the living room to turn on my computer, hit the shower, then settle in for a few minutes of quality time with a cup of coffee and the computer, checking email, Facebook, the news and sometimes writing. During these activities, I am usually mentally running through the things in the closet, so that at 7:15(ish), when I finally head to the bedroom to dress, I know what I am wearing for the day. The routine serves me well. I get done what needs to be done with minimal brain activity, I have a little time to myself, and by the second cup of coffee, I am able to wake up (kind of). I need this time (with coffee) to become a semi-civilized human. Trust me, this nugget of self-knowledge benefits everyone.


One of my favorite things about Boyfriend is his spontaneous nature. He has his routines, but he is quick to mix things up. Tuesday night, around 10:00, when I was ready to wrap up my day, slap a bow on it and call it done, He asked what it would take for me to be able to get up early and go to IHOP for breakfast Wednesday morning. He had the day off from school for Veteran’s Day, already a nice break in the routine for him, and the idea of him wanting to get up early on a day when he could sleep in was a novel one to me – he’s sometimes worse than me with hitting the snooze alarm and has gone as much as an hour delaying (which stinks because his clock starts going off at 5:00 – so guess who is the one awake?). Wednesday was just another normal workday for me, so the idea of shaking things up with a visit to IHOP sounded great to me. It was supposed to be “shampoo the hair day,” so I would either have to get up really early or do it before I went to bed. I was in the shower in record time, and in another routine-buster, went to bed with wet hair (and got up some seven hours later with still-damp hair).

It’s funny that I can have such a hard time getting up on a normal day, but knowing we were going out for breakfast in the middle of the week made it a special day and I bolted out of bed, dressed and was ready in about 30 minutes flat. We went to IHOP, and I managed to be at work at the unheard of time of 7:40. Heck, I’m usually just putting makeup on at that time and hurrying so I can arrive at work some time closer to 8:00 than 8:30. Oddly, others had broken their routines, too – four people were already there – and we were standing around with surprised looks asking each other, “Why are you here so early?” It was weird. And a great start to the day. I don’t, however, expect it to become the new routine.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Paid Off

This weekend, I realized with a tiny amount of terror that a bill was due on the 8th (Sunday) and I hadn't paid it. It was not a large bill, and it may not have carried any consequences (i.e. the world was certainly not going to end), but I am a real stickler about paying things on time, so it bugged me. It was one of the bills that arrives in the mail with a payment coupon. How 1960s is that? The payment coupons don’t arrive with much lead time, so when it hits the mailbox, it has to go back out pretty quickly. It never lands here on payday, however.

When I realized that bill had come in but not back gone out, and that the due date was basically, right that minute, I was shopping for options. I invested quality time reading my loan payment notice. This fine and modern company with franchise operations nationwide, has a Customer Service 800-number for telephone payments that operates Monday through Friday, 9 to 4 central time. Wow, that is the epitome of customer convenience. There was a web address on the bill, so I checked that out. It had links to their various companies for lawn care, furniture repair, cleaning, warranty services, and even home inspections.

I visited the area for the termite treatment franchise. Apparently, customers with service contracts for routine pest control can pay online, but I lacked a “customer number,” an “account number” and a “billing statement.” I had a "finance account payment notice" with a loan number for the financing of a one-time, expensive termite treatment and that, apparently, was not good enough for their system, which rejected all my advances. Hard to get.

Upon reading my "finance account payment notice" I realized was paying an interest rate of 11.75% on this account. Even the fine folks at my credit card company get me for only 7.74%. Cripes. Why do I always forget about my high-falutin' finance education?

So, four months into the payment schedule on a high rate termite service loan, I finally wised up and decided to pay it off with the lower rate credit card to reduce the interest rate on the balance and consolidate a payment. If I had been thinking, that’s how I would have paid for it to begin with and collected some bonus points on the credit card's "Thank You Network." Duh. Oh well.

Monday after lunch and a morning filled with an eternally long meeting, I called the 800-number to pay off the Termite loan. The phone rang and was answered by an automated system, where a soothing female voice told me my call was important and that, "due to unexpected call volume, all agents are busy." I was invited to hold or leave a message (in what is usually the black hole of automated message systems – who falls for that?). The lovely voice said calls are randomly monitored or recorded for quality purposes. Then some music began to play. Five minutes. Ten minutes. At 13.5 minutes, I hung up because my neck hurt from cradling the phone and I couldn’t stand the music anymore. A half hour later, after updating some website copy for a project, I tried again. Same routine of recordings and music, but after five minutes there was the sound of a phone ringing. My heart leapt with hope that a person would be on the line to assist me, a valued customer. No dice. It reverted to recorded messages and music and my realization of the cruelty of false hope. I lasted for 11 minutes in Round 2 before I hung up. It appeared the randomness was the actual answering of calls.

Another 30 minutes passed where I did some more work. I was after all, at my desk at work during all this. I dialed the number again, and this time, after a mere three minutes of soothing recorded messages and music, Patsy came on the line. Her voice was like that of an angel from heaven. Ok, it wasn’t really, but I was darned glad to have some live human help and she could have been an angel. And in three more minutes, we were done transacting my business. If they only had online payment capabilities they'd have gotten their money on Saturday. Whatever. They are paid off and I don't have to deal with them again.