Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sacker Slacker

Today it snowed. It began in the morning, with lazy, floaty flakes that drifted in the air, sideways and downwards and loopy and swirly and criss-crossed the road in paisley patterns.

For most of the morning, I sat in my office in my pajamas, cropping images and working on some Christmas gifts. Usually, I would have slipped on my favorite sweat pants -- the gray ones with the white stripes down the sides and the drawstring in the waist, but this morning, they were in the laundry. It was a chance to practice sitting around in PJs for the roller derby team Christmas party, which has a jammies theme I've been reluctant to buy into. In fact, if you ever see me in WalMart wearing pajamas or anything that looks like pajamas, you can assume something has gone terribly, horribly wrong. Like maybe my house blew up and all that remains are my pajamas, most of which are a bazillion years old.

Sitting in my hideous and unflattering pink pajamas, I was chilled from the drafts from the two walls of windows. For one thing, I was wearing half the usual number of layers for December day wear. I drank coffee and multiple cups of fruit tea to stave off the chill and realized that unless the temperature at the jammie party is at least 80 degrees, I'll freeze my arse off. Nope, no jammies for me, unless I layer three or four pairs, which would be nuts because I don't even own that many.

I finally finished monkeying with photos, got them uploaded, and dressed with the intention of going to the skating rink for open skate, (aka in our derby circle as "Skate Church"). Skate church dress for me is jeans and a long sleeve tee shirt, and in the cold weather, like now, my team logo hooded sweatshirt. With my knit hat on, I finally raised my body temperature enough to stop shivering.

The snow was still blowing around and sticking to the ground. A herd of at least a dozen deer ran through my yard, high-tailing it from the direction of the houses and road and into the woods behind the house. I debated blowing off Skate Church, a reversal of my earlier resolve to actually get there right at 2:00 when it begins instead of my usual 2:30 or 3:00. I finally got off my butt and went.

At 4:00, the rink DJ announced it was still snowing and cautioned, kiddingly, that when we left the rink, our "skating experience might continue." At 5:00, it was blustery and blowing snow in every direction.

The roads were covered up and there was no indication any of our many salt and brine trucks had been out. The main roads were snow covered and the lane markings couldn't be seen. Several times I experienced the  sensation of the pumping action of my anti-lock brakes, and uttered "oh, oh, oh, crap!" While on the tough-to-navigate 101st Parkway, I debated stopping at Kroger for milk and baking supplies and Walgreens for the photo prints I ordered in the morning. I was already out, so what the heck? And stopping then meant avoiding the agggravation of a cat meowing angrily when his cries produced no refreshing milk. He'd already been on a two-day hunger strike/meow-fest that ended only when I got more Meow Mix to replace the food he didn't like.

Kroger was less packed with people and more full of bread and milk than I expected. At the checkout, I chose the lane with the mile of empty conveyor belt. It turned out the customer had forgotten her Kroger card and gone out the car to get it. Really? I thought it was a joke at first, that we were standing there doing nothing. My few items were all arranged on the belt, so there was no turning back. When my stuff was finally being checked out, the girl packing the groceries into my ecologically-friendly reusable bags was lecturing the cashier about laying the milk down on its side "so it doesn't fall over." She packed my two bags, then left me trapped in the checkout row by my empty cart and the cart she'd set my groceries in. As she stood there staring vacantly into space, I considered shoving the cart closest to me to bust my way out, but instead, cleared my throat while thinking, "Ah ... doofus, help me out here." She helped clear the logjam so I could leave.

In the vestibule, I decided to leave the cart in the store and carry my bags two to the car. I picked up one bag and nearly ripped my shoulder out.

When I was in high school, I worked in a grocery store. In the olden days of paper sacks, we were trained in bagging -- things like "keep the bag square -- no bulges" and "don't put all the heavy stuff in one bag." Apparently, these archaic basics are no longer taught at grocery store orientation and the rocket scientist who packed my bag had a different philosophy. I've noticed, usually as the handles to the plastic store bags are shredding in the parking lot, that many baggers operate under a different model than what I was taught.

The first bag removed from the cart, the one that nearly crippled me, held a quart of coffee creamer, a half gallon of milk, five pounds of flour, four pounds of sugar (the chic new size in sugar), a pound of butter and a can of pineapple chunks (1 lb., 4 oz.). The other bag held a loaf of bread and a backage of cookies. There's some balanced packing for you. I set the bags back in the cart and began to repack them. A thought stream was tearing though my brain, the gist of which was "What idiot puts ALL the heavy stuff on one bag?" but the tone was harsher and the words were richer and more colorful. The kind that might bar my entry into heaven.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What Luck

It’s holiday time. That means gift shopping. And stress. Traffic. And stress. Potluck holiday parties. The biggest stress of all.

I totally get the concept of potluck. Everyone brings something, and everyone eats a bunch of stuff. The term “potluck” has origins in “the luck of the pot,” which suggests there is a factor of mystery, potential risk, you know … “luck.” With luck, the food items will be great and you’ll like at least one of them (probably the one you brought in).

What I don’t get is the sign-up sheet to list what we’re bringing – and not just “side dish” – the menu Nazis usually want details. What side dish? What’s in it? I don’t know. I’ll decide the night before and the end result will be completely dependent upon what time I actually arrive home and how much time is available for its preparation. It is highly likely that my contribution to the event will be whatever is available at Kroger on my way to the event. I am rarely home (awake) long enough to make myself a proper supper never mind whip up a potluck dish. Unlike some potluck participants I have known in the past, my dish is not an attempt to win a popularity contest.

In my mind, once the menu planning comes into play, there is no luck involved in the potluck. It’s now a catered event. Might as well just bring in Martha Stewart and have her start dishing out assignments. My friends who specialize in improvising and accuse me of over-planning everything will probably be surprised by this, but I hate the management and planning aspects of a potluck, which just feels like more of the logistics I have to deal with at work every day.

As if having to commit to a particular dish isn’t enough, there is the scrutiny of the list to deal with. Hearing someone whine for a week before the no-luck-involved potluck that “Nobody signed up for green bean casserole!” can really add a layer of poop icing to the crap cake. You know what? If the damned green bean casserole is that important to you, bring it yourself. I don’t know what it is, I don’t care if we have it, I don’t want to hear about it, and I will not be badgered into making it, whatever it is.

With three potlucks on my immediate horizon, I am stressing over them all, and haven’t signed up for anything yet. I expect the harassment to begin any minute now, and having to decide one to two weeks in advance what I am going to make and commit to it in writing on a sign-up sheet is stress I don’t need. Seriously, I can’t even decide a day in advance what to wear to work, or four hours in advance what to have for lunch. This is one big reason why I eat so much ramen – it’s fast. I can decide to eat, and in five minutes, be eating. If I could predict what I’d have time to fix (or feel like making) two full weeks from now, I could set myself up with a job in fortune telling.

Just trust people will bring something, and if you are lucky, they will. I like to live life on the edge. Or maybe I just have great luck.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Treasure Hunt

The Red River Sirens will be in the Clarksville Christmas Parade. We’ll be easy to spot – we’ll be the really cool looking ladies in the awesome black hoodies with the (NEW!) team logo on the front (in silver!), waving from our gorgeous and creative illuminated float and walking alongside it handing out candy.

What was NOT easy was finding the parade information for this year. Several weeks ago, I searched for it, because we needed an entry form and the parade theme for this year. Yes, they are themed – and not just “Christmas.” It seemed simple enough – search on “Clarksville Christmas Parade,” right? Any monkey could do it. Yeah, right….

The search on the keywords “Clarksville TN Christmas Parade” pulled up the entry forms for the 48th, 49th and 50th annual parades, which was nice, but this year’s is the 51st. There were stories of past parades and lists of winners. A visit to the City of Clarksville website (a co-sponsor) yielded nothing. The first time I searched, I somehow found it through an ad for the Downtown Association, which showed the date for the parade (which passes through downtown) and had a link to the entry form. Voila! Success! The form was retrieved and saved to the desktop of my lhome computer. Now I know how it felt to find one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets.

In the course of things and upon my return to the ‘Ville from Thanksgiving visiting in the land of the Pilgrims, I picked up the entry check and a printed version of the form from a teammate (thanks, Heartless!), and proceeded to fill it out so it could be submitted to the Parks and Recreation Department. While filling in the info by hand at my desk at work (damned non-editable PDF files!), of course I make a mistake, used the correction tape and made a mess of that, and decided to print off a new form when no bosses were harassing me. That led to the second ridiculous search for the form, because I had messed up the printed one someone else found, and the PDF was at home.

I searched on “Clarksville Jaycees” (the other co-sponsor) which yielded listings of the organization in several directories and info about the Easter Egg Hunt (in 2008). Apparently hiding things is a special talent of this particular organization. The link titled “Christmas Parade Entry Form and Rules” (eureka!) near the top of the search results was, alas, for the 49th Annual Parade. You know, the one in 2008. And there was a list of the 2009 parade winners. It was all the more frustrating because I had already done this once. The form was right there on the desktop of my computer at home. But unless I could get Moose to unlatch his cage, fire up the computer and email it to me, it was of no use. And I didn’t have time in a 60 minute lunch hour to race across town (8 minutes each way in easy traffic), get the file, take it back to work to print it, (no ink in home printer) fill it out, and deliver it.

I have always had great research skills, but this was really putting them to the test. The search continued, using every combination of relevant keywords I could think of, including the name of the organization where I thought I saw the ad for the parade on the first go-round, and the most obvious – “Clarksville TN 51st Annual Christmas Parade,” which yielded a story in daily newspaper from December 1, which said, in its entirety, “There’s a parade Saturday. It’s downtown.” I finally found the blasted form through an online news source buried in an article about “Downtown for the Holidays.”

Man, it’s like this is the “Top Secret” themed parade, and it will be a surprise if there are any floats besides ours in it. I think the team deserves a prize just for the ridiculous level of nonsense it took to learn anything about it. In any event, it got done, and on time. The form turned in was clean and neat, with a separate sheet attached that describes the awesomeness of our “Tribute to Clarksville” themed float. Go to the parade if you want to see it. It’s Saturday, December 4 at 5:00. Wave to us.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Candy Sales

Now that carwash season is over for a few months, the derby girls of Red River Sirens needed some other methods of fundraising. Right now, it's candy sales. Those really good chocolate bars made by World's Finest, just like the schools sell.

I picked up my box of 50 candy bars on the weekend before Thanksgiving and took it into the office. I was smart enough to leave it there, knowing that if they were in the house, I'd eat them. All of them. Anyone who knows me and my history with chocolate will not be surprised by this. I can make a box of Valentine chocolates disappear in something approaching a world speed record. I used to smuggle my Halloween candy to bed with me and eat it all (except those nasty NECCO wafers, which should be banished from the candy kingdom). When I was about 9 or 10, I ate my multi-pound solid chocolate cross during that tiny window of time between Easter egg hunting and the morning's church service. This is my special superpower and I embrace it. Need to rid your home of some Godiva? You know who to call.

The first day I had the box in the office, I sent an email around the office saying there were candy bars for sale. One boss bought a couple for his wife (nice!). Later that day, when we were stuck in a meeting for several hours and I was glazing over, he suggested I bust out the candy bars. Ka-ching! Five candy bars sold to get us through the rest of the meeting. And sure enough, Monday night, I wanted a candy bar something fierce, but they were at work. Maybe that's why I wanted one so much.

Tuesday brought another marathon meeting on the same project. When the head of the historical research team came in, he was waving a dollar bill and asking for another candy bar. My first repeat customer! They are really good, which is why they can't be in the house. At least I know myself well enough to come up with the work around. Unfortunately, 'out of sight, out of mind' is not working on the candy front. It has become more of a case of 'absence makes the heart grow fonder.' Seriously, I just ate the rest of a jar of chunky peanut butter in desperation over having no chocolate at home, and knowing there is a half a box worth at work.

Upon returning to town yesterday, I realized that as much I would love a chocolate bar, they were all in my locker at work. I had to visit a teammate at her work to pick something up, and took money inside in case she had some for sale there. She did, and I bought the last one. It was the W.F. Crisp, which I realized only today stands for "World's Finest" Crisp and not the much cruder thing I kept seeing, knowing it wasn't that, and yet still giggling inside my head ... WTF Crisp?

Today was my first day back in the office after Thanksgiving vacation, and candy sales were brisk. Every time I returned to my desk, there were fewer candy bars and more money. Nice! I love a product that sells itself. Some mysterious benefactor in the office (I have no idea who) may have been anticipating a rough day and bought five candy bars when I was preparing a cup of coffee. I hope it wasn't my return that triggered the need ... but hey, if it sells candy.

I have limited myself to one candy bar a day. Ok, ok, some days there are two. And then there are the long nights of no candy. I tried taking one home one night, but ate it in the car. It was gone before I even reached the stop sign at the end of the street I work on. The one that is spitting distance from where I park.

I briefly considered including chocolate bars with Christmas gifts, but the self-knowledge is sufficient enough to be realistic. Christmas is still 24 days away, and I couldn't even make it through a ten minute ride home with a candy bar. I am surprised I have held out as well as I have with a box of candy bars on my desk at work. Luckily, I am so busy, I don't really have time to think about it. The meetings lasting three and four hours that keep me away from my desk help, too. Turns out those meetings are good for something after all.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Airport Hospitality

After waking at what felt like the butt-crack of dawn after days of sleeping in until as late as 10:30, Mom delivered me to the TF Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island. We weren’t sure what traffic would be like around Worcester on a workday morning, and for some reason, I thought my flight was at 10:20, but it was really at 10:50. The traffic getting there was tolerable even with road construction and the heaviest volume seemed to be headed in the opposite direction. Consequently, there were a couple hours with which to entertain myself before my flight.

Baggage check-in was quick for me, but not for the woman two kiosks away. I don't know what the specifics of the situation were, but her suitcase was partially open on the scale, exploding jackets like one of those trick cans of nuts with the snakes in it. There was a puffy black quilted down coat hanging out and she was trying to jam a black glossy fur (or maybe fake fur) into it, and clothes were hanging out the sides onto the scale. She was waving a hot/cold thermal bag and asking the attendant "Will they check EVERY SINGLE item in here?" I am not sure if she was genuinely dense, had never flown before, or if it was some kind of an act. Maybe it was an airline  "secret shopper" test for customer service. She had been there at the kiosk for the entire time I was in line, with eight or nine people checking in between us.

The clerk at my check-in kiosk rolled her eyes (ever so slightly, in the most polite manner) as she handed me my gate number and luggage claim ticket. When our eyes met, I said, "And for this morning's entertainment ..." She said, "Yeah, no kidding." She smiled, looking relieved the drama was not her station, and then I was off to the nearly empty security queue. In virtually no time, I was through the procedures and on the other side. No body scan. No groping. Just the regular level of disrobing (jacket, scarf, shoes) and a quick walk through the funhouse doorway or portal to hell or whatever it is, depending upon the day.

The airport shops featured the usual array of overpriced college (Brown University) and professional sports team branded tee shirts, sweatpants, hoodies and ball caps, but as much as I liked some of them, I could not justify $24.99 for a ball cap. My analysis for expenditures is simple – "How many hours do I have to work to pay for Item X?" I didn't like the answer for the $24.99 ball cap. Ditto for the $19.99 tee shirt. I barely spend that much on groceries in any given week, or on clothing items for work, where I occupy most of my quality awake time. Blame growing up hearing "We can't afford it." Blame the Frugal Finn gene bestowed upon me at birth. Blame the wage differential that has me earning my 1999 New England income in 2010 Tennessee. Blame whatever you want. I am not paying that kind of money for a ball cap unless one of the New England Patriots or Boston Red Sox are handing it to me in person and taking me to dinner afterward. And it better not be some third string player or bench warmer, either. I want a personal encounter with the A Team for that kind of money.

I did get a couple books for 50% off at the Read and Return cart – there is no problem justifying two books for $21. There was only a slight twinge when I stopped for a bottle of (overpriced) water on the way to my gate. The twinge had less to do with the cost of the water and more with the sales transaction.

The woman at the kiosk greeted me with “Good morning princess! You are my first customer today!” Well, good morning to you, too. There was an accent, but I couldn’t tell from what region of the planet. “Is that all for you sweetheart? Thank you very much honey! Here is your change darling.” She was trotting out every candy covered term of endearment possible, and I wondered what chapter of the ESL book these were from. “Have a great day, lovely.” Wow. That was a heavy dose of sweetener for so early in the morning. I’ve had long term relationships that didn’t use that many pet names throughout their entire run, never mind in one 30-second exchange. I wondered if that was the daily ‘first customer’ treatment, and considered hanging around a bit to see if she talked to the second customer like that, or if I was really the special, lovely, honey princess she had just built me up to be in my head. But then I figured why push it. Why spoil the fantasy? Why not bask in a glow of specialness for just a few minutes? Thank you water lady!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Home School

I am not a teacher. Some of my friends are, and others are in school to earn their certification and licensing to teach. The closest I have come to teaching was at the ballet studio I danced with in high school, where I taught three-year-olds how to skip and do plies, elementray school girls how to do more advanced movements, and suffered harrassment and heckling from my sister and her friends while leading their class. Until that time, teaching was high on the list as a possible career, but teaching dance classes effectively eradicated that notion. Forever. The idea of dealing with students gave me chills for years and resulted in the choice of business and marketing for a college degree.

While working as a writer in Worcester, my bosses instituted a new form of personal workplace torture when they assigned me the task of training new writers in our writing templates and protocol. I was convinced their confidence in me was completely misdirected, and relieved we had very low turnover and few new hires. There was never negative feedback, physical violence or psychological scarring resulting from my tutelage, (of which I am aware), so I guess it went okay.

Occasionally, my friends exhibit blatant signs of insanity and suggest I become a teacher. They'll casually say something outrageous like "You have a Master's degree, you should teach business or marketing." On the inside, my laughter is bubbling up as if some comedian is on stage, but all effort and energy is directed to maintaining composure and saying something benign and intelligent like "Oh, really? You think so? Huh. Hmmmm." This is followed by serious questions like "What are you, nuts?" "Have you suffered a recent head injury?" "When did you start doing stand-up comedy?"

My visit home continued into a school week, and my bold sister let the girls stay home from school on Monday so they could spend more time with me. While flattering, this development struck terror in the schoolgirl who still lives in me. The one who always yearned for perfect attendance, but was thwarted by recurring bouts of strep throat. The guilt over my niece's school skipping is equivalent to that one time in junior high when I skipped school with a classmate and we walked around West Fitchburg all day in the rain, dumb enough to think the swimming party at McTaggart's Pond was still happening. The rest of the party skipped school too, but they were all smart enough to stay in bed.

My aversion to teaching made my choice of activity with the nieces on the day officially marked "Hooky" on the family calendar more of a surprise. I decided we would play "Home School." There were no tears or protests over this plan, so it seemed acceptable. We started our day with Cooking /Life Skills class, where the oldest niece made pancakes with the youngest, and the middle niece and I set the table with plates garnished with Clementines, syrup and hot cocoa. The second half of Life Skills was cleaning up after breakfast, before we moved on to the next module -- writing (blogs). We spent an hour writing, the youngest (age 6) crafting her tale about her loose tooth, the middle (8) telling the story of our Thanksgiving dinner, the oldest (11) relating her version of our roller skating adventures. As for mine, well, y'all are looking at it.

There was a formal lesson plan for Home School Day, developed by the middle niece and me. After blog writing, it's Physical Education (crunches and pushups), Math (focusing on Christmas budgets!), lunch, and ice skating (more Physical Education). I have visions of being accosted by a truant officer when we arrive at the ice rink at 1:30 in the afternoon on a school day, but I am armed with a story -- this is Home Schooling! As long as they don't ask for a license or something official from the fine Commonwealth. Maybe I'll just carry the day's lesson plan (lettered in pencil on notebook paper) with me.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Church Guest

Traveling home for Thanksgiving means a break from the norm and spending time with family. This is a mixed blessing. The part where work is barely a thought is a relief. Hanging with the family is fun. Monday morning when I don't have to get up for work will be amazing. The parts where I miss fun things like Sunday afternoon skate church at Magic Wheels and Monday night practice are slightly less great. But not impossible.

Luckily, my hometown has a skating rink nearby, and even luckier, my sister and nieces were willing to spend two afternoons there during my stay. They were seeing it to that packing my skates was worth the effort. My peeps have my back.

The oldest niece (11) wanted to skate when I was home in the summer, but we never scheduled time for it, and the next thing we knew I was headed back to Tennessee. That's kind of how vacation time works -- if it isn't nailed down as a plan before I board the plane north, the chance of it happening is reduced. Greatly. Much like work, fun expands to fill the time available. Just like the little sponge "magic" farm animals and dinosaurs that grow when water is added.

On Black Friday there was a five-hour open skate at Roll On America, with half-price admission for bringing in a wishbone. We hadn't even indulged in our dining table crushing family feast yet, but my sister, the clever Martha Stewart of the family, has an inventory of wish bones she saves to tie onto birthday gifts for a "birthday wish," so we were covered. All of us. The rink was also having a coat drive, so we received free passes for another visit in exchange for coats the girls had outgrown.

We skated a few hours on Friday on the smooth, shiny, yellow and blue floor where the derby track was marked out with smallpieces of black tape. Friday there was a girl there skating in knee and elbow pads who seemed to be a derby girl. I wanted to talk to her, but we seemed to be on opposite timelines for being on the floor -- when I was off the rink she was on it, and then she was gone altogether. I guess I should have chased her down on the floor, but that felt stalker-esque. The price of procrastination. I pay it often.

Sunday afternoon at the rink, there were several derby girls clustered in a corner near the entrance to the Laser Tag room. A couple of my wheels were getting a bit loose, so I headed for their ranks, figuring if anyone in the place had a tool (beside the rentals dude), one of them would, and maybe I'd make a couple new acquaintances. Liz loaned me her tool and was the only one there who even acknowledged my presence in their cluster. It was a sharp contrast to the welcoming attitude of the Red River Sirens, who always seem to be on the lookout for anyone who looks remotely like a derby sister or is a decent skater. And then we talk with them. I guess there is something real to Southern Hospitality after all.

Liz told me they had their skills test coming up this week and she was getting nervous. I meant to wish her luck on the way out, but I couldn't find her. There I go again with the infamous procrastination and lost opportunity cost.

We skated. And it was good. The floor was smooth. The music was decent. The games requiring the clearing of the floor were minimal. Kids were everywhere, but it wasn't too bad. Maybe I was just enthralled by the shiny patina of the floor.  The youngest of the nieces was on skates for her second time -- the first being Friday. She was a persistent little trooper and never gave up. She'd skate a lap and come off the floor to have us guess how many times she'd fallen. The middle niece skated in the driveway over the summer, had developed her skating legs and did a great job. She skated for hours and never fell. The oldest one plays ice hockey and was a whiz on her inlines. My friend and her daughter came and were great skaters, too. The young'un knew how to handle inlines, and even tried the quads. Heck, I could send over a whole roster for a junior league if there was one.

We skated until we were done skating and then we headed out. Unlike church church where you have to fill out a guest card, skate church is a low profile, no follow-up gig.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Game Night

Trips home to Massachusetts always mean family fun. There is time spent running around with the nieces -- literally -- we play chase in the house and do things they would get into trouble for if I wasn't the one 'supervising.' There is a lot of talking and laughing, pajama parties, and board games. My mom, sister, oldest niece and I (in total and in various combinations), engage in Scrabble matches. Sometimes we huddle around the dining table to make a jigsaw puzzle.

After this year's family feast for Thanksgiving, held on Saturday for scheduling ease, we convened at the dining room table for a game of Scrabble. My niece set the board up, and while waiting for Mom and Sis, we got silly with my cell phone's camera and practiced our "game faces." After one match, we decided to play a different game. The niece suggested Yahtzee, but I asked for a game that "required thinking." Monopoly was vetoed because it takes too long. The game that was finally pulled from the closet was Word Yahtzee -- a game with dice marked with letters and certain combinations that must be made -- like three letter word, six letter word, all vowels. I thought it would be fun because I love word games.

Oddly, the game chosen in place of Monopoly (which would take too long) took about as long as the most drawn out game imagineable from the folks at Parker Brothers. Our Word Yahtzee marathon took forever -- for one game. After 45 minutes, we were barely a fourth of the way into the score sheet and understood why the brand-new looking game cost a mere 50 cents in a yard sale. At the one hour mark, we were plotting its demise as a donation to the next church flea market. We are not quitters, however, so we played to the end.

As un-fun as the actual game was, we laughed the whole time we played. We made fun of the rules. We mocked my choice in game. We laughed at our leftover pizza. We forgot to take the leftover dinner salad in from the back porch and it risked freezing, so when Butch got home and wanted dinner, we laughed over having eaten his pizza and frozen his salad. That turned into one of those silly times where the three so-called adults were laughing to the point of tears, and the 11-year old was looking at us like we were totally nuts. Which, of course, made us laugh even more. The child may be scarred for life.

These are moments for which I am thankful. These are the family moments I miss by living 1,200 miles away. But it is the rarity of them that makes them even more special for me.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday

My family are not Black Friday shoppers, and for this, I am thankful. If they had harbored any fantasies about my getting up at 3 am to go shopping they would have been in for a very hard sales pitch, crushed by my emphatic "No!" along with some foot stomping and, if necessary, tears. My sister's lifelong hatred for shopping, an activity in which I used to engage with fervor, about a million years ago, is now lovingly shared by me. She still has it, so we were all safe.

Instead of staying up all night camping out in a line for the privilige of spending money, my neices and I went to bed at 10:30, all in one room like a big pajama party. And in a glorious stretch of the best sleep I've had in months, I slept until 9:30, well into (or past) the hours of any early bird specials. At 10 we had a hearty breakfast of sausage gravy and biscuits, followed by a card game, and by noon, still in pajamas, were turning our thoughts to what to do for the rest of the day. Options included shopping at antique stores and roller skating. And the winner is ...
 
Coming up after the break ... the winner of "What shall we do today?"

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Holiday Travel

Work has been so busy the past several weeks, I never even had time to get excited about going home for Thanksgiving. The expense of airfare, plus work deadlines, directed my travel to happen on the holiday, which was almost a relief. The thought of flying on the day before Thanksgiving, the busiest travel day of the year, plus having to pay twice as much to do so, was harrowing.I wish I could afford convenience, but my wallet mandates inconvenience.

The ride down I-24 was a breeze with light traffic and a friend behind the wheel. The easy ride was preceded, however, by a spastic tear through the house in search of my cell phone a full 20 minutes after the planned departure time. In a frustrating, panic-stricken search, things were wrenched out of my purse, some of which never made it back in. Like my reading glasses. And my sunglasses. The cell was finally found after a frantic request to my friend to "call my cell!" It could be heard ringing (faintly) from the suitcase in the back of the car, accidentally packed in toiletries bag when the charging cable was added to the mix. I fighting tears and the raccoon eyes that would have accompanied them for a solid five minutes by this time.

I did a really poor job of packing for this trip. I left the "real" camera (i.e. heavy Nikon with changeable lenses) behind with the failure to invest the time exploring my several carry on bags and then packing one of them. Instead, I took my purse, which carries my netbook, and has my crappy Kodak Easy Shot camera from the pawn shop tucked into the pocket in which a calculator was nestled at purchase. And on Southwest, I would have been able to take my wheeled camera bag AND my purse, a fact I tortured myself with the whole journey. Note to self: Remove head from butt before packing.

The airport was blissfully quiet. The flightto Baltimore was less so, with an infant screaming in the row in front of me. My ears were uncomfotable in spite of chewing gum like a cow with cud, so I could sympathize with the wee baby. Spent most of the flight chatting with the lady in the seat next to mine, who halfway through the flight, apologized for sitting there, saying that if she and her husband weren't there, maybe my Mr. Right could have sat there. No big deal, my Mr. Right was probably on a flight to Los Angeles or Bangladesh anyway.

Baltimore featured nearly three hours in which to entertainmyself before the flight to Providence. Three long hours in which to curse Southwest and its recent elimination of nonstop flights to Manchester and Providence. Three hours in which to forage for some semblance of thanksgiving lunch. Three hours to pace in my new boots in search of a manicure salon, massage spa or gel insoles.

Having neglected to eat breakfast, lunch was definitely in order. The Food Court featured Arby's, a pizza place, Charlie Chiang's, Quizno's, and a couple other spots. Charlir Chiang's advertised a rice/noodle bowl for $5.50, which the serving lady informed me, in broken English, was $10. Really? Quizno's menu board offered cheesesteak, but when I ordered it, was informed there was no steak, so it was back to the chinese place for a sushi box. They had no chopsticks, but the wasabi was beautifully strong and brought tears to my eyes as it cleared my sinuses.

Post sushi sans chopsticks,it was off to the gate to wait and the Detroit / New England game. The Pats were behind, then the score was tied when I headed to the boarding line. By the time we got on the plane, they were ahead 31 to 24. I was going to be a long and agonizing wait for those who wereinstructed to powere off electronic devices. The flight was 1 hour 15 minutes and there was only 13 minutes left in the game when we took off. In NFL time, maybe we'd end up even.

There didn't seem to be anyone interesting on this flight. Some beautiful Asian women, a couple dark-skinned adults who were speaking a language other than English and seemed to be on their first airplane flight. I guess when I say there were no interesting people aboard, what I mean is there were no attractive or interesting men. And that is what matters. To qualify a bit further -- there were no attractive, interesting men who wanted to interact with me. Just another day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Expandable Packing

Working expands to fill the time alotted. This includes packing.

I had two hours to pack for a five day trip, and that's how long it took. Had there been three hours available .... well, you know where I'm going with that.

Now, I will spend the rest of my awake time mentally reviewing the contents of the suitcase. And chances are pretty good the editing will take an active form before bed and again before leaving for the airport. For instance,I have already rethought the footwear choices, which negates the need fo an entire outfit. The one at the bottom of the pile ...

Generally I travel with my too large suitcase, but this time I have a borrowed suitcase of just the right size. I might avoid the hernia tag that I am nearly always bestowed, but the addition of my roller skates to the bag might have pushed me back into the heavy zone. I'll know soon enough.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sleep Interrupted

I love sleep. This wasn’t always the case. My feelings toward sleep have wavered between absolute love and utter disdain.

As a college student, I saw sleep as a waste of time – time spent missing out on living. A night at home doing something ridiculous like relaxing or sleeping would be the night that something stupendous would happen and I would miss it. I got by on what is considered by medical literature (and my adult self) as insufficient sleep – generally four hours a night, often less.

My position on sleep changed after college and I loved it for its properties of escape. During my first professional job, I began going to bed around 8:00 each night. It eventually occurred to me I was acting like some kind of senior citizen, but in retrospect, maybe it was depression. When considering graduate school, I practiced staying up late to make it through classes that would run until 10:00 or later.

During a phase of frenetic energy that lasted for years of grad school, two jobs, photography class, a marriage turned bad then separation then divorce, and a social life, I again viewed sleep as time lost. Then, I couldn’t sleep when I wanted to, anyway, and would lay awake in bed, trying to subdue my pounding heart with controlled, deep breathing. When I finally managed to fall asleep, I’d wake up frequently during the too short night, often in the midst of a nightmare about home intrusion or some other intensely stressful event. Days overshadowed by fatigue were managed with massive quantities of coffee and Diet Coke.

These days, sleep is a tightrope precariously stretched between my love of it and its occasional disdain for visiting me. I love naps. I love nighttime sleep. Currently, once I take to bed, I rarely have difficulty falling asleep (which could change without notice). It’s the staying asleep that is tricky.

For the past year, many of my sleep problems are Moose’s fault, but I probably instigated it. For the first couple months Moose was at the house he slept in his own bed, a polar fleece ring that was lightweight and portable enough for him to carry in his mouth from room to room and up onto the couch as part of the pillow fortress he likes to build in the corner. After boyfriend moved out, Moose started sleeping on the bed with me. There are problems with this plan. Once he jumps off the bed, he can’t jump back up, which doesn’t stop him from wanting to be there. He stands on his hind legs and claws at the mattress beside my head until I wake up to determine if he needs to go outside or just wants to come back up onto the bed. Half the time he wants to go out. This happens roughly every two hours, all night long. Every night.

On nights with thunderstorms, it’s worse. The first hint of electricity in the air sets Moose to trembling. He runs around the house with no destination and tries to dig his way under the bed, his nails making an awful scratching sound on the hardwood floor. When I finally catch him, I try to calm him, stroking his head, telling him in human words that it will be okay. He probably doesn’t understand, but at least I feel like I’m trying, and he eventually calms down when the storm has passed. This is how we spent the time around 1 a.m. this morning as lightning flashed and rain slammed against the windows. At least I didn’t have to worry anymore about the giant oak tree falling on the house.

Two hours after we got up in the storm, Moose woke me again. And two hours after that. Another hour later, and it was time for me to get up for work. And when I get home from work, he naps on the floor near my feet, or beside me on the couch. Sometimes I just want to wake him up.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Salad Spinner

One of the current projects at work is a big writing project, which would be great if I could just sit and write the words, but it isn’t up to me. Said project has a team of historians allegedly researching and writing content that I would edit. Ha! Their team leader told them the content was due “mid-November,” which was last Monday, according to my calendar (and a couple others I checked just to be sure). Apparently, the historians, being rooted in the past, are having a hard time dealing with the present, because one week beyond the due date the content is still missing. As a result, my boss, the head historian (whose team seems to have hung him out to dry) and I are spending insane hours in the conference room attempting to explain Clarksville’s role in the Civil War in 50 to 75 word sound bites. And when I say “insane hours” I mean a minimum of three and as many as six hours at a stretch. It now appears certain that by the time this is done, the hours logged in preparing the copy will equal the total hours of the actual Civil War.

The conference room incarceration is killing me. The problem is not spending that much time on a task, especially writing, which I love to do. Spending focused time on one project is a luxurious change from being at my desk, where I am interrupted approximately every 2.7 minutes. The problem is being trapped in one spot for that long, butt growing roots to the chair.

Working at my desk, I get up a lot – speed walking to the printer for a report, to the kitchenette for water, to someone’s desk with a question. (Why amble when you can race?) But there is nowhere to go in the conference room. Running laps around the table would be fun, but there’s no space for it, and I am usually trying to type, which is a horror story in itself. I am a crappy typist under the best circumstances. Add an audience witnessing my abominable typing skills on a gigantic flat screen, and the stress of trying to keep up with three people spewing sentences at the same time while flipping through notes to answer a question from another end of the table and it’s quite a recipe for fun.

The conference table surface is too high for typing for any duration, and my shoulders end up hunched to my ears. Elevating the chair prevents the arms from fitting under the table and trades hunching with hyperextension. The alternative is to curl one leg under me and sit on my foot, which raises elevation and works great for the whole ten minutes until the foot goes numb, soon followed by the attached leg. Then there are the contortions involved in angling to see the computer screen some 90 degrees over my shoulder. Setting the keyboard in my lap and facing the screen directly didn’t really work much better.

Water deprivation and being rooted to one spot is tolerable for roughly three hours and then I glaze over and hit the wall. I can literally feel my system shutting down as my ears start ringing, my head gets swimmy, my shoulders scream with tenseness, and my typing gets even worse. By the four hour mark, I get snappish and feel like I need to lie down. Lips dry, head pounding, fingers shriveling with dehydration. It’s like being run through one of those salad spinners that whip the water out of the just washed lettuce. By the time we stumble out of there, I can barely function.

That is how I spent 5.75 hours of my 10.25 hour Monday, and at least three hours each day last week. Thank goodness I remembered to bring my roller derby league fundraiser candy to the office today – five chocolate bars were sold just to get us through the rest of the meeting. Tomorrow looks to be much of the same, with a meeting on the calendar from 12-3, (because who needs lunch, anyway?) and then back with the historian at 3:30 for hopefully the final marathon. I better keep the candy box handy.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Skate Church

Every weekend, both of the skating rinks in town have open skate sessions … as in open to the public. Over the summer, several of us scoped out Friday and Saturday night skate sessions, as well as the weekend matinees. The night sessions were full of testosterone driven teenaged guys showing off for the girls. The Sunday skate sessions are dominated by birthday parties and a crowds of tweens and younger.

There are always several of the Red River Sirens at open skate, and we have been referring to the time as “Skate Church.” We congregate, we engage in celebration of a common belief (skating), it’s on Sunday afternoon, there is music, there is socializing – it seems to fit some of the high points. Today’s Skate Church service was heavy on the under-ten set – knee high little ankle biters everywhere. There were tiny arms and legs flailing and kids dropped all over the floor like broken toys. Sometimes they would fall in more of a dominoes chain. However they landed, they often would stay there on the floor, like it was suddenly nap time at day care. When they were upright, they were crossing the track, or moving (it was not really skating) against the flow of traffic. That is where the prayer element of Skate Church comes in. For me, anyway. I am usually praying fervently to not knock over some kid, not be taken to my knees by one, and not skate over any delicate young fingers splayed on the floor.

Open skate is the best obstacle training available. Ten derby girls on a track will be a piece of cake after fifty out of control kids. At least we can hit the other girls.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Life's Sentences

“This dog goes to animal control.” He’s sentenced to a cage with some other dogs and has a mug shot posted on PetFinder. He’s spotted by a couple considering adding a dog to the household. Instant love on the part of the female of the couple. And voila! The sentence has been transferred to a brick ranch home with nicer accommodations. Doggy wins.

“We have a dog.” Negotiated sentence of shared responsibility for food, water, potty, play time. The reward is a creature to dote on and a feeling of family. Everyone wins.

“We are breaking up.” Half the couple is sentenced to a life of single pet-parent responsibility including hefty vet bills. But the rewards are endless cuddling, companionship, kisses, playing, Kong toys underfoot, a living creature to babble to incessantly. I win.

“Moose needs a friend.” Restless wandering over to PetFinder thinking maybe there is another doggy needing a sentence commuted. Hmmmm…

Friday, November 19, 2010

Date Night

It’s Friday date night in the ‘Ville. I look forward to this night, as it doesn’t come around with much regularity. It’s mostly my fault because I have filled my life with a lot of cool stuff, but the tradeoff is limited room around the edges. Every couple weeks, for my own sanity, I make an effort to clear some time and get out on a date.

I am fortunate that my date is always in a good mood and happy to spend time with me. He knows I’m busy during the week, always rushing to work, or skate practice or dance class. Lately, I’ve been even scarcer, working through lunches and staying late to finish some work on a project because the days keep being sucked into a vortex of meetings. There was not one day this week with fewer than three hours of meetings. That’s actually a conservative number, most days had nearly twice that much time incarcerated in the conference room, but I’m too brain-fried to think about it any further. Fortunately, when I leave work for the day, I leave work. It’s done. Move on to the next thing.

Tonight, the next thing was my date. He’s a great companion but shorter than I usually like my men to be. Hey, some stuff just needs to be overlooked – he makes up for it in personality. He’s handsome and makes me laugh, but his breath could use some help. And he has a problem with gas, but it’s been my experience that most males do – once they become comfortable, they just let it rip whenever and act like nothing happened.

We headed out, me in my short brown skirt with brown tweed tights and brown boots, maroon vee neck, and cream and brown hoodie, topped with my latest leather jacket acquisition from Goodwill – the same thing I wore to work. Why mess with cute? I already learned a lesson earlier this week about fixing something that wasn’t broken and messing it up big time in the end.

My guy looked great in a red and gray sweater with a narrow white stripe – my high school colors. We went to PetSmart for dog food and treats. It was a relaxing half hour of roaming the aisles and looking at dog beds (plusher than my own), rawhide chew toys, Science Diet Sensitive Skin formula food (more expensive than most of what I eat). I’d like to buy larger bags so I don’t have to go there every two weeks, but I don’t have a place to store the 15 or 30 pound bag, so, it was the 4.5 pound bag which fits neatly under the kitchen sink.

With that critical errand accomplished (there was not one nugget of Science Diet left), we headed back to the house. It was already dark, so walking at Dunbar Cave was out, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go. The house is a cluttered mess because I’m never there long enough to clean up what I leave behind in my whirlwind jaunts through the place. Luckily for me, he doesn’t even notice.

Now that we’re home, my date is ignoring me. I might as well be wallpaper. He no longer cares to sit with me. All he cares about now is gnawing on a rawhide chew. He got what he needs (a trip out and some new chew toys) and now I’m on my own. Such a dog.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Salesmanship 101

This course teaches activities that will motivate another person or organization to utilize the services promoted (i.e., sales). This module illustrates concepts from the consumer’s (potentially harsh) point of view. It's for your own good. No, not you, her.

Question: What do consumers care about? Answer: What’s in it for them.

That about sums it up. The consumer cares about the payoff at the end of the transactional investment. The salesperson would be wise to remember this. And please be truthful in your product claims. Customers will figure it out pretty fast when you’ve exaggerated and then they will be mad. And they will tell other people.

Don’t tell me you need my sale so you can hit a sales quota. I don’t need that kind of truth. Unless I am your mother, I don’t care (and depending upon the woman, she may not, either). My wallet doesn’t exist to fulfill your objectives, your performance objectives are not my problem, and they have nothing to do with the product.

Exhibit the benefits to be received through the use of whatever you are selling. Will pain be avoided or pleasure attained? Will time and/or money be saved? Will I look and/or feel hot enough to attract a mate? There may be others, but these are some of the basic concerns. These apply to pretty much everything – appliances, cars, clothing, chocolate, pharmaceuticals, banking, services, auto repair.

People don’t generally spend their money unless the product or service will provide physical comfort (food, shelter, chocolate, entertainment, alterations to a mental state); time-savings and convenience (appliances, transportation, babysitter); increased self-esteem (cosmetics, luxury goods and motor vehicles, high-end food/alcohol); etc. Are you getting the picture?

The sales presentation also applies to you. Please recognize that you are a product. Yes, it sounds cold, but it’s true. Every encounter, every transaction, reflects on you, as a product. If you want to sell yourself as a douchbag, feel free. But don’t be surprised when people call you one.

Remember, Mr./Ms. Job Applicant: Hiring managers generally want more than a body with a pulse. I would bet that most (there are probably some exceptions, so I am cutting myself some slack) want employees who will make their work days easier and/or make them look good to their own boss. So, demonstrate what you’ve got. Tell how my job will be easier if I hire you. Don’t waste both of our time babbling about how the company can fulfill your need for esteem and a paycheck, tell how the company (and my department) will benefit by hiring you.

As for you, Mr. Online Dating Site potential-significant-other: Don’t waste your words on me if all you have to say is that I am [choose any one or combination] pretty, interesting, hot, cool, intelligent, funny. You are not the first one to tell me this. Trust me. It’s been said dozens of times by my awesome and supportive gal pals who will lie (convincingly) to my face (if needed) to make me feel better.

You need a much better spiel. Don’t tell me how I will improve your life. If I wanted to work in charitable service I would join the Red Cross or a convent or something.

You may not know me, but I hope you know yourself (i.e., your product). What do you offer to the females of the planet? Don’t kiss my butt (at least until we have met). Don’t tell me you’re going to make me laugh, just make me laugh. Don’t ramble on about long walks if you know darned well the only walking you do is from the couch to the refrigerator. Be truthful in your advertising. I will find out soon enough if you are blowing smoke. So will all the other ladies (and we talk).

And please don’t put your sales presentation on me. Don’t write if all you have to say is, “Hey you’re cute. If you’re interested, write me.” Ummm…. Interested in what exactly? The fact that you think I am cute? Welcome to the club. So do my mom, dad, nieces and my dog. How am I supposed to respond to that, exactly?

In summary, know your product, sell the benefits to the buyer, and don’t lie.

This concludes today’s lecture. Please join me at a future date for additional lectures.

Testa Patience

What. A. Day. Oy! It began with an 8:00 meeting and went downhill from there. Star attractions were traffic, meetings, stress over a deadline (tomorrow!) and crushing workloads that prevented oxygen flow to the brain and resulted in a morning dominated by dizziness. Okay, I was only dizzy when sitting still, and it felt better if I moved quickly, like maybe it couldn’t catch up with me. That would have been fine on a normal day full of jumping up from my desk every few minutes and speed walking to the copier, but this morning’s schedule included a three hour meeting. The fun part (if there was one) was when Boss 2 started feeding me Tootsie Rolls and asked if I was hypoglycemic. I didn’t know. The production manager, who, after nearly five years of working together is attuned to my peaks and dips, mentioned I didn’t look very well. This news was not surprising.

I felt like death on a cracker, but there was nothing I could do about it. Especially not today. I can’t actually be ill until January 22, after the other fast-tracked, top priority project I am also currently working on is due. And the derby skills test was after work, and I had every intention of nailing it, which is why I spent an hour cleaning my wheels and bearings last night.

Lunch was eaten while writing copy, flipping through checklists, and reviewing photos with Boss 2 and a historian. Food improved the lousy feeling, but not as much as hoped. The early arrival, working lunch, missing lunch on Monday and working late Tuesday, justified my intention to leave at 4:15 and arrive home without rushing and get to practice with plenty of time to warm up and stretch.

Heading to practice 20 minutes earlier than usual set me loose in a new world of traffic I was unprepared for. Arriving at the rink early was a waste of time, because it wasn’t even open yet. I sat in the car listening to CDs and trying to relax and mentally prepare to nail 25 laps in 5 minutes plus all the other skills on the test like jumping over things and shoving girls. At least I felt loads better, an instantaneous improvement that coincided with the departure from work.

Gearing up, I engaged in my wheel ritual. Ever since the time my wheels were too loose and uncontrollable on the turns, I check them before every practice and 100 times during. I flipped my skate over and spun the wheels. Most of them didn’t move. At all. The ones that moved made a clicking noise. Blood turned cold, I stared at them. Obviously, my skate tech skills stink and obviously I should not have messed with my wheels the night before a skills test. Because whatever I did stopped my wheels cold. They were fine last night when I was skating around the house. I panicked and started pulling wheels off and checking bearings, almost none of which spun. The last skills test, I had lost my mouth guard and had to run over to WalMart for a new one, missing the warmup and stretch. The dramatic ordeal was familiar and maddening.

Some lube from an angel was a godsend. Or so it seemed, until I got on the rink, and my skates were squeaking loudly enough for other people to hear. And the wheels where barely spinning with my weight (all 120 lbs) on them. I left the rink and added more oil. Meanwhile, warmup laps and group stretch were taking place, and I was missing it. It finally seemed like the wheels were okay, so I hit the floor to skate the 25 laps in 5 minutes speed/endurance test. And that was when my wheels felt like they were mired in mud. They had been turned into decorative stage props designed to not actually function.

I was more frustrated and angry than I have been in a while, which anyone who has been around me in the past year will realize is a LOT. I stopped trying to skate – it was pointless as they wouldn’t actually travel. When everyone else finished their laps, I added more oil and did the test for T-Stops. My left inside wheels seemed loose. I tightened them. The right skate was still clicking. Colonel Cuntroller checked them. After an hour of testing and skating, they were finally operating better. As in spinning, and I could travel. We were given another attempt to skate the 25 in 5 test. People were cheering us on, timing us and counting laps and I was damned if I was going to let my screwy wheels stop me again. And I did it. I think someone said with a five seconds to spare, but it was more likely .05 seconds. In any event, 'tis done for a while.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Zen Chores

Sometimes activities that are necessary can be enjoyable. Simple things – like cleaning my skates, vacuuming, or chopping vegetables are a nice time to let the mind wander.

Tonight it was skates. Wheels off and cleaned. Bearings wiped. One drop of sewing machine oil for each (yay Singer!). Wheels swapped from one skate to the other.

There is a certain Zen-like feel to the process. Well, for me, anyway. I like the rhythm of repetition. Remove the wheels, pop the bearings. Clean the bearings. Line them up on the coffee table in orderly rows. Add a drop of oil. Reassemble the wheels. Test the skates. Clean up after the clean up.

The whole time, Moose was eyeballing the process like he just wanted to chew my pretty blue indoor wheels to bits. (Except when I was skating around afterward and he was busy trying to disappear into the couch.) He’s already done some specialty design work chewing on several combs, which now have teeth pointing in several directions all crazy-like, or gone altogether. Note to self: Remember to guard skates carefully.

I get the same mental state when mowing the lawn. Walk, walk, walk, (20+ paces). Pivot. Turn. Walk, Walk, walk … Mind clearing with the first couple strips.

Bicycling used to be an amazing tool for clearing my head, although I haven’t done it in a couple years (in spite of having bought that nice new road bike). Time to get back on it. Pedal, pedal, pedal …

Skating can send me into a nice space, once I find my rhythm. Push, push, push, cross, cross. Sometimes it takes me a while to get it into a groove, but when I finally find it, it’s great.

Other things that help clear my head: Ironing! This was a profitable endeavor when I was in college. I would do my mom’s ironing (which I enjoyed), and she would pay me to do the chore she hated. It was a partnership made in heaven.

Writing can clear my head, too. It seems weird, as most of the other things that work are more physical in nature. Once I get past my frustrating and terrible typing skills, I can get in the zone and be writing about one thing while kinda sorta thinking about something else in the background.

If only all of life was that simple -- get in the zone, enjoy the task, and move on to the next. Or maybe it is and I just don’t see it. Maybe I should go mow the lawn and mull it over.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Accidentally Cinderella

When I was a kid, my Mom’s favorite Disney musical soundtrack was Cinderella. Back in the day when music came on dinner platter-sized discs prone to scratching and warping, she had a vinyl album set of the music from the movie, which also had a picture book. I remember playing the music and turning the pages of the book. Bluebirds tying dress sashes, a Fairy Godmother, “Bibbity Bobbibty Boo.”

The story books I read featured beautiful young ladies who had nearly always suffered domestic trauma, generally under the hand of a jealous female, often an “evil Stepmother.” (Really, is there any other kind? There must be some global training program for that.)

There was Snow White. Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty. In the end, youth and beauty triumphed and said young lady lived happily ever after in a pristine castle with Prince Charming, who, if he was the same Prince in all stories, appeared to get around. I prefer to think these were all different princes in different kingdoms, and he was not the playboy cad as he is portrayed in the Vertigo Fable Series. Plenty of princes to go around. These tall tales were actually a perfect training ground for the genres of romance novels and soap operas. Which, incidentally, I detest.

The early indoctrination at the hand of the myths starring a handsome man arriving in the nick of time to provide rescue from all one’s troubles was a sharp contrast to what my grandmother practiced (and preached to me) in her own life – that men are a disappointment and no woman actually needs one. She and my grandfather divorced when Mom was six years old, back in a time (the 1940s) when divorce was rare and only Hollywood movie stars (who were not actually human) did it. This set Mom up for a lonely childhood that was not a classic Norman Rockwell image. As an only child, there were no siblings to play with. Worse, other kids at school were told not to play with her (by their parents) because “her parents are divorced” (whispered). Like it was a communicable disease and contact would bring divorce upon their own households. Or something.

The messages delivered by my female elders was that, “All men will disappoint, it is just a matter of time.” (Um, hello …? Is this not true of most fellow humans?) When my mom went through her Women's Lib phase, the mantra was that women can do anything, we don't need men to take care of us. We can work and raise families and do it all. And the expectation was that I would go to college and have a career and do it all. It felt like a mandate, not a choice. I don't remember being asked. Some standardized test in high school set me on the college path, and off I went to continue my training in how to not need anyone.

As for real-life beautiful ladies and princes … they exist. I even know some of them – people who are living happily ever after (as least as it appears from outside the decorative snow globe). Couples who have been together for as many as 30 years. High school sweethearts who are still in love decades later.

I, on the other hand, cannot reach a decade with the same person before I write an ending. Sadly, it seems like this has been imprinted on my DNA. Or maybe I subconsciously construct a reality that fulfills the prophecy because even if I know what I believe is a load of bull, I get to be right. I do, however, have a job. And ex-boyfriends who complained that they felt unnecessary, like I didn't need them. And it's true, I didn't need them. Not in the clingy, "take care of me I am a dainty flower" way. But I wanted them, and that is the part that must have gotten lost in translation.

This is not to say I don’t have my fairy tale moments. I have lots of pretty dresses and sparkly jewelry that make me feel like a princess. Or I think they would, if I ever actually wore them. I feel like Cinderella frequently – like when cleaning dog pee from the rug, or digging through the mess of a closet on a mad search for my missing shoe. Or those times when my ride seems to transform into a pumpkin, or worse, a lemon. Fortunately, there is no evil stepmother or wicked stepsisters, but I have been blessed on a couple occasions with a fairy godmother or two. Just need a Prince Charming.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gotta Wonder

One autumn evening, I was driving down College Street on my way home from the office, becoming one with the flow of the traffic, mind wandering, and this thought occurred to me: “Why bother?”

Seriously, why do I bother busting my ass to do a good job? It feels like I get the same pay, time off, and recognition when slack off as when I push myself to the limit of mental and physical exhaustion. I gotta wonder, if I stopped giving a crap, what would happen?

Why bother saving today so I’ll have money at some mythical moving target of a retirement date? Our company’s 401(k) advisor preaches the value of “saving now to continue your lifestyle into retirement.” Excuse me, but my current lifestyle is pretty bare bones. I thought an MBA would help me trade up, but since I moved to Tennessee, it’s been the lowest quality of life in, well, my life. If daily sacrifices now (no big vacations, shopping clearance racks and/or secondhand clothes, no frivolous weekend trips, living on ramen and cheap pasta) are to ensure more of this ridiculously low-key lifestyle in the future, what exactly is the point? Why bother? Why not just live large now and let the future chips fall where they may?

My job includes health insurance, which costs me a solid $2,210 per year in premiums, PLUS an annual deductible of $2,500. That comes out to $4,710 a year I paid before things are actually covered Ok, my annual mammogram is covered, making it one heck of an expensive test. If I could have bankrolled that money, I would at least have something to show for it. Why bother? If I had no insurance, the system of taxpayers somewhere would cover it, right? Or I could use the thousands of dollars I was no longer dumping into premiums and deductibles.

Some days I cannot even figure out why I am on this earth. I have failed in the Biblical mandate to “be fruitful and multiply,” so it’s not like I am here to be some shining example for offspring. I am not curing cancer or solving world problems. What the hell am I doing here? Why bother caring what the heck I do?

Spontaneous Usefulness

My weekdays are usually booked from 8 a.m until about 8:30 p.m., starting with work and followed by skate practices and dance class and, if I have a modicum of energy when Thursday rolls around, trivia team. At work, it is exhausting trying to get things done. Frequent short timelines mean the work is often rushed. A micromanaging boss means the days are frustrating and even the most interesting projects are drained of joy. Overall, it has become an unfulfilling ordeal, and after nearly five years, I feel totally burned out. What feels like a crushing workload means I can’t even take a sick day until at least January 22. Lately, I find myself fighting back tears as I drive home at the end of yet another unsatisfying workday.

The weekends swing between two extremes – either totally busy or a blank slate. This weekend was mostly a blank slate. Friday night was sans plans, and was spent at home writing and proving that projects, no matter how small, do indeed, expand to fill the time allotted. If there is an hour to write a blog, then that is how long it takes. If there is an entire night available, then that is how long it takes. Consequently, Friday night produced one bit of writing, many conversations with the dog, and not much else.

The only commitment on Saturday’s plan was an appointment with the heating/cooling company. There was also the foggy notion of attending yoga class (depending on how long the service call took), but nothing else on tap. Sunday’s schedule had an afternoon belly dance meetup in Nashville, which I then withdrew from to attend a meeting. Bummer, because I haven't invested much time in dancing lately. Then the meeting was shifted to a later time, so I could have done part of the dance event, but I’d already cancelled by that point. Oh well.

Saturday morning, the heating/cooling company was due at 8:00 to fix the thermostat connection to the outdoor sensor on my system. Since last February it has been reporting that the outside temperature is either 115 degrees or “- - “, both of which I knew to be incorrect. I am certain if it really was 115 here last winter, it would have made international news and been touted as irrefutable proof of global warming.

In any event, the regular service hours for the heating/cooling company are a super convenient Monday-Friday, 8 to 4. (This is in contrast to the general willingness to meet any time, any day when they are trying to sell you a system.) I work 8 (ish) to 5 (ish), making scheduling service tricky, as they were not sure how long it would take. For the last few months I’ve been slammed with projects on short deadlines, so taking as many aas two or three hours off from work to eal with a service technician feels like a virtual impossibility. I’d have to get into work at some crazy-ass hour (or on the weekend) to make up the time or take the hit to the paycheck. Perhaps I am the only single homeowner in town who has a daytime job, which would certainly explain the hours of most of the banks and service providers.

Anyhow … I was up at 7:30 drinking coffee, feeding the four-legged housemates and goofing off on the computer. At precisely 8:00 the service technicians arrived to address the temperamental thermostat. By 9:00, they were done, and I had the rest of a wonderfully unscheduled day stretched out before me. There was still plenty of time to get to yoga. The lawn needs a final mow/mulch, which takes about 30 minutes, but the lawnmower is out of gas, so that requires a preliminary trip to the gas station. The trash and recycling need to be delivered to the transfer station. Fall/winter wardrobe needs to be pulled out, but the recent 50 degree temperatures make that feel less urgent.

Options were floating in my head as I was scrolling through Facebook updates and saw a friend’s update about needing help painting. . I still remember how helpful it was when my basement needed painting and a friend provided much-needed company and labor. And suddenly, painting a house seemed like exactly what I was supposed to do. Screw yoga and grocery shopping. This was the perfect chance to help someone else, but just as important, it gave me something productive to do. Because I know how things work – I would have wasted a good six or eight hours thinking about what to do for the day, until it was finally too late to do anything at all. I know this, because I have done it countless times.

In taking stock of the day, it felt better than most days in recent memory. I got to spend some time with Aimee, who I usually see at trivia where it’s too loud to talk. We got a lot done on the house, and I got to meet a couple of her and Joe’s other friends. We painted until the rain came, then we hung around and ate pizza. And it was fun. It was fulfilling. I was smeared in random patches of blue paint like Smurfette. And it was satisfying to get out of my own sphere and be useful.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Happy Family

One night, upon arrival home, I saw the scene I had imagined when Moose first came to the house: The dog and the cat curled up on the couch. My heart did a little flutter. I was awash in a golden aura of domestic tranquility.

It lasted about two seconds. That’s how long it took me to fully absorb all the details of the scene – a rich tapestry of clues akin to a CSI episode crime scene. The couch and loveseat, usually arranged with a dozen toss pillows each, looked a little different. The loveseat was bereft of its pillows. Ditto for the couch. The hardwood floor was now carpeted in pillows. It looked like the aftermath of a magnificent and prolonged pillow fight. There was one lone pillow on the couch, upon which Moose sat, lodged as far back into the corner as he could get. He cast me a wistful, pleading look – as if he was thinking, “Help. Please. Hurry.”

Merriwether, meanwhile, was stretched out in front of Moose, as calm and relaxed as if some cool kitten was on her way over to deliver him a nice bowl of lactose-free milk and some catnip. At my entrance, the cat stretched, slinked off the couch and headed for the kitchen, where he parked himself on the floor staring at the refrigerator door. He launching into the incessant meowing that ultimately ends in a bowl of milk,  just to shut him up. The dog heaved a sigh and relaxed in his corner. It reminded me of junior high, when it was possible to intimidate someone just by standing near them. And the huge wave of relief when they finally walked away. Or was that just me?

I wondered how much time Moose had served in his incarceration, and how many more sentences were in his future.

It’s been nearly a year now, Moose and Merriwether are still dancing around each other, but the glacial caps seem to finally be melting. Slowly. The cat was initially so peeved at Moose’s arrival he disappeared for a few months. Like the prodigal son he returned, scarred, thinner, worse for the wear and tear he had endured where ever it was he had gone. And a bit less haughty. Less hostile towards Moose. More humble.

Sure, there are the subtle bullying tactics like the couch entrapment and the cat dropping his tail into the dog’s water bowl, but at least there has been no more hissing and swiping of the lethal claws (of which I am aware). When they meet at the threshold to the front door, they pass each other in silence en route to their respective business. When I’m home, they coexist peacefully on the couch, one on each side of me, napping, snoring, and at ease.

It’s not yet all cotton candy and rainbows. Moose still avoids passing through a room occupied by the cat whenever possible, and they still each keep a wary eye on each other. But I think they are finally warming up to the idea that we are all here to stay.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Missed Signals

Education and an eye for detail do not necessarily mean that one (okay, it’s me) will notice some of the major points. I can spot a coin on the ground from four or five parking spaces away (even in low light!). But can I find my car in the same lot? Yeah, you already know the answer. At least all the walking in search of the car yields a coin or two. If I could troll parking lots more regularly, just for fun, I might have a nice supplemental income along with reasonably firm calves.

I am getting better at reading Moose’s signals when he needs to go outside. During the night, he sleeps in the bedroom and I close the door. He wakes me up when he needs to be released from my lair by jumping up and down beside the bed that is a bit too tall for him to jump onto. Sometimes this occurs during the hours I prefer to be sleeping, (say, 2:00 a.m.). He almost always does it at 6 a.m. when I need to be getting up. He has an incredible inner clock for my wake-up call. Unfortunately, in the first few days since the clocks went back an hour, he’s been waking me at 5:00. Poor little guy doesn’t understand standard and daylight savings time, and isn't much better at discerning weekends.

When I am in my little office and he wants attention or needs to go outside, he’ll plant his paws on the arm of the chair and jump around. If I ignore him, he will issue a single (loud!) bark that gets my attention by causing me to jump. It’s shocking, because he rarely barks when I am home. If we are in the living room, he’ll saunter over to the door, plant his grubby little paws on the wall (Ack! It’s flat paint!!) and jump around like some sort of circus performer. These signals are easy to read now that I know what they mean. I missed them a few times, but learned pretty quickly.

Other signals, especially from fellow humans, are not so obvious to me.

There have been arguments with a Significant Other (at various historical points when I had a person designated as such) after a conversation involving myself and a waiter, salesperson, restaurant patron, co-worker, whatever. A former boyfriend once shrieked at me, “Are you the most na├»ve woman on earth, or do you just play one on TV?” Why all the aggravation? Because what I often interpret as “polite conversation,” the S.O. read as “flirting.” Not necessarily by me, but flirting nonetheless. And then I get yelled at because some dude is flirting when I am just talking. As if I can control what someone else says. I may have a few superpowers, but that isn’t one of them. (Trust me, I would use it if I had it.)

In the missed signals department, there were a couple that could have changed the course of history. Well, not your history or world history, but definitely my history.

There were guys I liked (heck, loved) who apparently liked me back. And when they ended up with other women, my friends would comment how they never understood why [insert hot guy’s name here] and I never went out. And I’d be looking at them, puzzled, saying, “What are you talking about? He never liked me.” And THEN they would fill me in on all the signals they saw as clearly as illuminated billboards that I never saw. All the ways they witnessed that guy I was pining for was also crushing on me. And the whole time I was clueless. I would like to take this opportunity to, um, *thank* those friends for not speaking up when it could have made a difference. You know, before a great guy ended up with someone not me.

These days, I am not much better at reading the clues. Not when it matters, anyway.

Let’s take Monday, for example. I was on an airplane, on the first leg of a journey home from a business trip. As passengers were standing in the aisle at the front of the plane to get off in Detroit, from my seat way, way in the back of the plane, I noticed a tall man with dark hair and really cool glasses. Our eyes met, but being me, I quickly averted my gaze (and immediately hated myself for it). Why am I never like the girls in movies who lock eyes with a handsome stranger and then in the next scene they are laughing over dinner and a few scenes later living happily ever after? (Except maybe on Lifetime, when they usually end up abused or nearly dead first.)

For an few minutes, I berated myself for not holding that gaze, for not being the bold girl who can meet a man in an airport, or on a plane, or in a checkout line, and for being my own uptight, too timid, ridiculous self. Then I forgot about it. Until I got on the plane for Nashville and took my seat in the first row (it was 1B if you really care for details). And in true Hollywood fashion, in the seat directly behind mine, and next to my client, sat the handsome dude with the cool glasses. A short time later, Mr. Client pulled me into their conversation about where to watch the Monday Night football game. I recommended a couple places I knew that had TVs, including Old Chicago. Because I was wrenching my neck trying to talk with Larry in 2B (who likes the Steelers), I returned to my in-flight, upright, uptight, forward facing position and my issue of Psychology Today.

After we landed, as people were beginning to clog the aisle, Larry asked me, “So who’s buying tonight at Old Chicago?” Now, I am sure any normal person would have recognized that as an opening signal and jumped on it. It was a chance to, at the very least, to make a new friend, expand the network. Not me. I was in the midst the very graceful process of standing up and slamming my head on the overhead compartment, hard enough for me to see a couple stars. Sadly, none of them were Robert Downey, Jr. I was trying to get the attention of someone across the aisle and one row back to open the overhead on that side. I needed to retrieve my purse, which the flight attendant put there, because it could not go under the seat in front of me because in Row 1 there is no such thing. Once I had my purse, the tide of passengers swept me out the door and down the jetway, past the pickup point for my “pink-tag bag” carry on that had to go into the cargo section (along with everyone else’s) because the plane was tiny (like a school bus with wings). I was long separated from even responding to the question, Larry was now nowhere to be seen, and I was beginning to recognize the potential signal that had gone unheeded. Or maybe he was just making conversation. I will likely never know.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dish Appointment

Chain restaurants do not really thrill me. Granted, there are a few rare exceptions. I like Old Chicago, mostly for the 110 beers, but generally, the idea of a homogenized America with an Applebee’s, Chili’s Ruby Tuesday and Olive Garden on every corner, spewing forth calorie-laden dishes developed in a corporate kitchen/laboratory depresses me. Don’t even get me going on fast food. Give me an independent mom-and-pop place any day of the week.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the population seems to favor the idea of every American city (and now European and Russian and Asian) being exactly the same. That way, we can go someplace different, but not have to actually deal with anything different. While we are at the different place, (over)eating our same (supersized) formulaic chain restaurant food, the only differences we’d need to deal with is that the WalMart in this town, which probably sells exactly the same stuff as the other two WalMarts in the area and the four we left at home, may not be a “Supercenter” – no food and not open 24-hours! Oh my, how do people live like this?

On the recent business trip, our host explained that, because it was Sunday night, the mom-and-pop restaurants he prefers were not open. (So much for "any" day of the week ...) Well, that’s one disadvantage to the small family-run places, but I can forgive that – everyone deserves some time off. After a discussion involving five people, three with no preference beyond “some place we don’t have in Clarksville,” Bennigan’s was chosen.

The Guinness glazed bacon cheeseburger won the selection process, becasue it sounded interesting. Just like in Clarksville, (and every other town) the chain restaurant server asked how I wanted my burger cooked, and as always, I replied, “medium rare,” because I hate dry meat. I don't even like fancy white Albacore tuna, because it feels too dry to me. And, like so often happens, the Bennigan's  kitchen issued a burger (over)cooked to within one nanosecond of becoming a roofing shingle. Was the question about meat cooking merely a formality? Is it to create the illusion of choice? Or are the cooks there just idiots who don’t understand how to cook? Thank goodness for the moisture provided by the Guinness glaze on the bacon and the mayonnaise on the bun. The fries were anemic and limp. 

Before returning home, we had the chance to eat lunch at an independent restaurant at an apple orchard. The place was cozy, had a small but creative menu and an array of fresh pastries. Apple pumpkin soup, anyone? Four of us opted for the chicken salad with dried cherries on flat bread. Someone ordered a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie which four of us then ended up sharing. Yummmm. It about made up for the night before.

On the drive from the airport to Clarksville, I invited my friend who took care of Moose to dinner as thanks. I was considering Tandoor Indian Bistro (an independent place) untiI remembered my favorite sandwich – the Roasted Filet Focaccia at Outback (yes, a chain). I love that sandwich, their take on a French Dip. I crave that sandwich, which is the only reason I go to Outback. Suddenly, it had to be Outback.

We settled in at our table, and I scanned the menu. No longer any such sandwich listed. I read it again. Still didn’t see it. I asked the server, who had, by now, already been to our table four times to see if we’d decided. Nope, it is gone. My favorite sandwich in the city was a casualty of the corporate menu redesign. I could taste my disappointment, which could not be washed away with my ice water with lemon. I told the waitress the only reason we were there was because I wanted that sandwich, and snarky with hunger and dismay, added that there was no reason for me to come here anymore. Yes, it’s true, I sulked like a five-year-old. I was tempted to suggest we just leave, but there was no Plan B, we were already seated. We ordered some new appetizer featuring chicken and artichoke hearts on what was described as a crispy flatbread, but was actually limp, soggy flatbread with edges that were crisp because they weere nearly burned.

After much deliberation, (and staring at the menu hoping if I blinked and refocused, the dream sandwich would magically appear) I chose the Bloomin Onion Burger. The server asked “what color” I wanted it cooked. Is this the Outback slant on the dumbing down of America? I ordered it medium rare. Using words, not colors. I wondered to what extent that would confuse the server. Or the kitchen.

I was settling with the burger. I didn’t want the burger. The memory of the latest beefy disappointment on a bun was still fresh. But I also didn’t want chicken, which violates the rule about ordering things in restaurants that can be made at home. I wasn’t in the mood for seafood. Or any of the salads which, by the menu descriptions, are just expensive, leafy beds for a bunch of chicken, shrimp or steak.

The burger arrived, cooked as ordered (hooray!) and served with limp, anemic fries. What is the deal with fries lately? Overall, it was adequate, in the way that a canister of bread crumbs might be adequate to person craving a nice, fresh baguette. In the end, half the burger came home for Moose and the fries stayed on the plate, prompting a decision to enjoy a less expensive flavor of disappointment and eat at home for a while.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wardrobe Malfunction

The recent business trip spanned Sunday to Monday and included air travel. Having been a few years (ok, I’ll count it – 15 years?) since my last business trip requiring a plane, and a year since my last overnight trip of any type, I am out of practice. Consequently, omissions occurred. Poor choices were made.

During a ‘normal’ week at the office, with hours spent sitting (in a chair that happens to be really fun to spin in), the wardrobe features skirts with high heel boots, dresses with heels, pants with heels … basically lots of stuff with heels. My general philosophy is to dress every day as if a client will unexpectedly drop in for a meeting. (this rule developed after a client dropped in on a casual Friday when I was dressed what felt a bit too casually.) Weekends are spent in jeans or cords with boots (if I am going out) or sweatpants (if I am not).

I haven’t dug out my fall/winter clothes yet and can’t even recall what I own or where it is located, so the wardrobe choices are a bit slim right now. There was every intention of shopping Goodwill on Saturday for the monthly ½ off sale, but a nap won the time slot instead.

Once upon a time (my first job after college), I worked three months without repeating an outfit. For reasons no longer understood, it was important enough to require planning outfits in advance and a shopping trip to prevent the horror of a repeated outfit. Life was a mix of emptiness, high balance store credit accounts and an absence of actual problems, and my coworkers on the teller line were impressed by the absence of repeated ensembles.

This is no longer the case, nor has it been for the past several years.

Currently, wardrobe decisions are based on a two part quiz: 1) Did I wear it yesterday? and 2) Does it fit today? Two “yeses” yield a winner.

For the trip, black pinstripe pants, a charcoal gray jacket and a blue long sleeve shirt won the lottery and landed in the suitcase, along with a patterned tie to use for a belt, and an actual belt in case I changed my mind. (Sadly, the belt was accidentally left behind at the hotel.) Comfort while touring a facility was a key consideration. After hearing a weather report that it had snowed at the destination on Friday, an apple green cashmere sweater was added in case it was cold. Pajamas were remembered. I planned to wear my black boots both days. There was room to pack my client notebook and the paperwork Boss 1 of 3 asked me on Saturday to go to the office to retrieve. The netbook went in, as most hotels seem to have wi-fi. These all proved to be good decisions.

Halfway to the airport I realized I had not packed deoderant. The contact lens storage solution problem (only had the hal-gallon "small-village size" bottle and no travel size) was  resolved by packing a new pair of lenses and chucking the pair I was wearing at the end of the day. I skippped packing my Estee Lauder foundation, because it is the kind-of a liquid variety possibly too large for carry-on, and too expensive to have confiscated at the security gate. People would just have to deal with me pale and freckly. Usually all the health and beauty stuff is in my checked bag when I go home for the holidays, and therefore not an issue.

On Sunday, also known as travel day, Boss 2 of 3, dressed in khakis, a sweater vest and leather jacket, picked me up at the appointed departure hour. We picked up Boss 1, who was decked out in black pants, a plaid shirt and a black windbreaker. At the airport, we met up with our client, who was in khaki cargo pants and a sweater. The guys all looked pretty sharp – casual, professional, comfortable. At the hotel, we met up with someone else from the client’s office. She was decked out in black pants and top with a sweater.

And me? Let’s just say it wasn’t one of my best fashion moments, and it left me feeling more self conscious than I have in years.

When choosing clothes for travel day, I donned my classic leather double-breasted trench coat, a long sleeve turquoise tee shirt, my black low dress boots. And jeans. Not the dark, new jeans (they failed question 2), but faded, slightly worn, secondhand jeans. So much for my work wardrobe rule. I felt like a schmuck. Nobody said anything (out loud), but I could imagine the Bosses thinking “wow, we thought she had more style sense than this.” Now I remember why I have so many rules about things – it’s because they work. At the hotel check-in desk, I had to ask the helpful young man at the counter if he had any deoderant available. Thank goodnes he did, or I would have been asking our host to stop at the WalMart Supercenter next to the hotel on our way to dinner.

Monday, November 8, 2010

yawn

I am very tired. Good night.

Je suis tres fatigue. Bon nuit.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Separation Anxiety

Apparently I am more of a homebody that I care to think. Back in my days (ha! decades) of living in Massachusetts, I directed a lot of energy to getting out of town. It was easy to blast out for a weekend to visit friends and family who lived in great places like southern Maine, Cape Cod and Long Island. I could pack an overnight bag and be out of the house in about 30 minutes and within 1.5 to 3 hours had arrived at a fresh destination that was ripe with possibilities.

Friends and family still live in great places, but I am now 1,200 miles away from most of them. I rarely travel, except for the annual week-long trip home during either Christmas or Thanksgiving. Overnight trips for me were driven to near-extinction when I left New England for Tennessee in 2001, which makes them that much trickier to deal with now. I stay home a lot, because for one thing, I don't really have any place else to go for just a night or two.

My job requires rare overnight travel. Because I am so out of practice, it now takes me about as long to pack for an overnight trip as it does to get to the destination. A three hour car trip to southeastern Tennessee is easily worth four hours of planning and packing. At least with a car trip, there is more latitude in taking extra stuff. There are more places to put stuff, like the trunk, the backseat hanging hooks, by your feet, the entire back seat.

Recently, I was handed the ultimate nightmare assignment – an overnight trip by plane. With two of my bosses. We leave today.

The first issue to deal with in this most distressing scenarios is baggage. It turns out I don’t even own the right bag for a one night plane trip (where I care what the baggage looks like). I have a dance bag, several gym bags, a carryon bag with a shoulder strap that broke last June when I went home, a duffel with a shoulder strap that broke on the last overnight business car trip, and a wheeled camera case. My smallest wheeled suitcase is more like a weekend bag and slightly too large. My other suitcase is large enough to have accommodated me in Korea for three weeks. An intact overnight bag that is not embarrassing in front of the superiors is not currently part of my reality. And even though I thought about shopping for a bag during a five minute window of opportunity back on Thursday, it was the five minutes right before TJ Maxx was closing, and I was a good ten minutes from the place.

I am not much of a wardrobe planner, either, so choosing clothing in advance is like the ultimate punishment. What will the weather be? What activities do I need to dress for? What mood will I be in? I am not a freeking psychic. In daily life, I usually wake up, check the thermometer outside the dining room window and boldly wing it in the clothing department. An incorrect guess can usually be rectified during a trip home for lunch in about four hours (three if it was a really big miscalculation).

Being away from the wardrobe department for an extended duration (like 24 hours) is tailspin territory. Almost always, some critical item is not packed – like pajamas. Or the jacket to the suit I thought I would wear. Or shoes with the correct heel height to prevent my pants from either dragging on the ground or looking like I did after that mortifying 7th grade early-fall growth spurt that resulted in having to wear floods the rest of a school year when capris and cropped pants were not in style.

So off I go, on a business trip, seemingly to the middle of nowhere. No time in the schedule for a side trip to WalMart for corrections (if there even is one). No time for shopping at the airport, as the menfolk are running the day on a much tighter schedule than I would have if on my own.

I already miss my Sunday routine of home cooking, laundry, relaxation and shows on AMC. Hey, it may sound boring, but it helps me gear down for the coming workweek. There is aggravation from missing the Sunday open skate and a team practice just one week before the next derby skills test. Completely stressed out from packing, and not sure I have the right clothing, my bag is now half stuffed with the paperwork one of the bosses sent me into the office on Saturday to retrieve.

Staying home is so much easier. No wonder I do it so much. And I have finally chilled out enough to be good at it.