Friday, November 30, 2012

Silly Laughs

Sometimes a conversation can go skidding sideways in the most innocent, silly way, and effects can linger for hours. Longer, even.

One night my gal pal and I were at Old Chicago for our slightly irregular night out. We used to go there regularly on Thursday nights. In the summer, we enjoy the patio that spares us freezing in the A/C. In the winter, we hunker down inside. And they have electronic trivia, which sometimes we are fortunate to be able to play.

The recent irregularity of our outings was all my fault. After I broke my leg, I hibernated for a super long time – as in, about a year. Yup, the better part of 12 months. The progression of medical implements from October through December 2011 was walker, crutches and cane, and I hated having to use any of them, and especially where other people might be around to see me looking all elderly and frail. I suspect it’s really going to be supremely rough on me (and my ego) when I hit the age and physical stage that a cane might need to be a regular accessory.

When I arrived back in Tennessee from my Christmas 2011 visit with the family, the pretty pink cane was set aside and not touched again due to a newly developed habit of tripping myself with it. I could manage without it as long as my walking was slow and I paid very close attention. Pre-fracture, I walked very fast, like a person on a mission, but nerve damage made it impossible to lift the front of my left foot, so every step still brought with it the danger of tripping, and the mental focus required to take ten slower steps from here to there was draining. (NOTE: MS Word wants me to change the word “was” to “be” – as in, “ten slower steps from here to there be draining.” This is cracking me up.)

Anyhow, the heightened self-consciousness arising from pathetically slow pedestrian progress and the intense concentration requirement to set one foot in front of the other made it a lot easier (and more comfortable) to just stay home on the couch whenever possible. It’s amazing how easily “whenever possible” became a regular condition.

Fortunately for me, my friend is a kind, patient woman -- a humanitarian -- and not the type of person to abandon her friend, even when said friend has transformed herself into something more inanimate than human. She would regularly check in with me to see if I wanted to meet out, and even after weeks (months? eons?) of my saying, “No” she hung in there.

I'm glad to report that in the past few weeks, I’ve finally managed to shed the cloak of gloom and we’ve resumed our Thursday adventures at $2.50 Margarita night. We sometimes eat, and I usually sip away at my second world beer tour (only 29 more beers for my second 110-beer tour and note on the Wall of Foam!).

This time, we convened over sweet tea and a Margarita (her side of the table) and a Cocoa Porter followed by a Double Chocolate Stout from the new winter mini-tour (my side). We talked about her new job and my recent conquests with online Christmas shopping and rewards program redemptions and assorted other topics. At some point into the second beer (the Double Chocolate Stout), our conversation turned to the weather and how my dogs won’t go out when it’s cold (defined as 35 to 40  degrees), and how I may be insane and they will likely hate me for dragging their little doggy butts to New England where it can get super-freezing cold (defined in negative numbers), and how perhaps I should heed the advice of my two west coast cousins and move to Carlsbad, California with them, and how one cousin has an apartment in Barbados and I wish I could just go live there. Forever. Because it’s warm and near a beach.

And I, on my side of the table, arms crossed, all serious, was about to proclaim that it is infinitely colder this year than last, when it occurred to me that last year at this time, I was hunkered down on my couch with my leg elevated and avoiding going outside, so I didn’t actually know how cold it was. I have no clear idea, just a potentially faulty recollection that when I did exit the dwelling, I did not wear gloves. Not once. All winter. Which is probably not even close to the truth, it’s just how I remember it now.

I was about to redirect and make the point that I keep forgetting that I was not out in the cold or not-cold last year, as the case may be. Except it came out of my mouth (all serious) as “I have to keep reminding meself that” and I stopped when I realized what I said. We started laughing and she asked if I was trying to speak Irish leprechaun. It was funny, but possibly more in the “you had to be there” kind of funny that is supremely difficult to convey.

When we paused giggling and I could take a break from dabbing my eyes, now moist with laughter, we looked at the beer bottle to determine what ingredient or alcohol content might have me speaking in the famed Lucky Charms dialect. And then we laughed some more and my eyes were watering again. And I laughed all the way home. And after I got home. And some more when I woke up the next day and thought about it again. I just couldn’t seem to help meself.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rewards Points

Well, well. I have finally hopped on board the rewards / loyalty bandwagon. Yes, we help our clients set up such programs. And yes, I am part of some store and credit card programs, but only in the “automatically enrolled then forget about it” sense of participation.

Well, tonight, my accumulated forgotten rewards have proven their worth. Between rewards redemptions and online shopping, my Christmas shopping is 99% done and I never even had to leave my computer.

On Black Friday, I burned up my keyboard on a couple great online sales and scored a couple awesome, fantabulous gifts that I forgot to have shipped to the correct state, so I'll be doing some wrapping and packing.

At work, I learned the rewards program attached to our Health Savings Accounts is changing and we need to redeem points (which I would have been fully cognizant of, had I actually read the statement telling me my points balance). I visited the rewards site and cashed in my points for a crazy little item that will be arriving soon. Then, I visited my credit card account, and thanks to redeeming all the points from my airfare home for the past five years ... Christmas gifts!

I was so excited about my progress, I of course, posted a Facebook status update, and a few minutes later, a friend sent me a message about a great Good Morning America Steals and Deals special available today only. And BAM! Three more gifts knocked out, being shipped directly to the recipients. The only weird part with that one is they’ll arrive super early because I didn’t want to pay an extra shipping charge for them to arrive two weeks later during the prime delivery period.

This may well be the sixth sign of a Christmas miracle! (The fifth sign was my being the second person to list a dish on the sign-up sheet for the office Christmas potluck.)

Usually, I haven’t even busted out paper and pen to make a list, and now, the calendar has not even hit December and I’m nearly done! And the only time I visited the mall was to go to the movies the night of Black Friday.

Now I can kick back, relax and watch some more Christmas movies.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Doggone Cold

This morning it was something like 30 degrees according to the outside temperature reading on my thermostat. I can’t always trust the reading, as one recent morning it read 26, and I blinked and just like that it changed to 30. I poked my head outside the front door to confirm the freeze factor, and when I got back to the thermostat, it was suddenly at 38, and it’s unlikely the temperature rose 12 degrees in the space of under two minutes. There used to be an old-fashioned thermometer mounted outside the dining room window that I relied on, but it blew off the house in a storm last year.

 This morning, however, the lawn out front was covered in fallen leaves covered in frost, confirming the low, low temperature reading and the woods out back were shrouded in gray fog. When it was time to walk the dogs, I put their little sweaters on them, attached the leashes, and headed for the door.

Moose had already gone out once, and this time he wouldn’t leave the couch. He sat there surrounded by his little pillow fort and avoided looking at me. I picked him up from the couch, set him on the floor, and nudged him to the door. He crossed the threshold, but wouldn’t leave the porch. This is the usual rainy weather behavior, now being adapted for too stinking cold.

Winston and I started walking without him, but I felt guilty and irresponsible leaving him outside unattended, so we turned back as soon as we got to the end of the driveway. I took up Moose’s leash and tried again to get him to move. He dug in his paws and held fast. By some miracle (or my steady tugging), he finally left the porch, but then he wouldn’t proceed down the walkway. He stubbornly planted himself and stared me down. Defeated, I dropped the leash, and Moose ran back to the porch and stood near the door.

Winston and I embarked on the second attempt of our morning walk, which is, unfortunately, about all the exercise I do lately. At best, in nice weather, we’d log a half-mile twice a day -- before and after work. Now, it’s pitch dark at 5:15 when I get home, so we only walk in the mornings, and only if it’s not raining, because the dogs won’t step off the porch when it’s wet. And now, it appears we can strike cold from the list. I’m definitely going to need another fitness plan.

We walked to the end of the driveway, turned left and jogged the distance of the one neighboring yard. Winston loves to run, so I try to do it with him. When it became obvious there was no way I could run fast enough to keep up with him, we turned back, I dropped the leash and said, “Winston, go home.” He became a blur of blue and green sweater and ran to the house so fast you’d think someone was dangling a nice juicy steak in front of him. Then, the two dogs, a combined total of forty pounds of furry fury, began jumping on the door like they wanted to bust it in.

Shivering in spite of my wool coat, knit hat and gloves, I headed to the house to utilize my superior height and opposable thumbs to open the door. At least they will always need me for something.

When it was time to leave for work, the car was still covered in frost. I sat in the with the front and rear defrosters blasting, watching the lacy frost melt while the hot air did its stuff and wondering how on earth the dogs are going to deal with winters in New England. It has the potential to be really unpleasant. If only I could convince my whole family to relocate someplace where every day is hot like the dog days of summer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas Miracle

Attention non-believers! There is a Christmas miracle taking place in middle Tennessee. For real. There are signs.

The first sign of the coming miracle took place on Thanksgiving, when, for the first time in five years, I had a guest and cooked a full-blown Thanksgiving dinner. There was a roasted turkey, dressing, potatoes, fresh cranberries, apple pear and nut side dish and chocolate bread pudding -- and wine. And a guest. This is the sort of thing imagined when I bought the house five years ago, but since that time, ambitions failed miserably, hosting just one New Year's party, one birthday party, and now finally, a Thanksgiving dinner.

Friday and Saturday brought the second sign of the miraculous. After years (ahem, decades) of mocking the Christmas movie genre, I watched many specimens a year ago while convalescing with a busted leg. Back then, the movie viewing was attributed to being in pain and on medication. Certainly, when in possession of full mobility and not under the influence of a controlled pharmaceutical, this would not be the case. Ummmm ... not so much.

This year, I embarked on Christmas movie viewing the entire Thanksgiving weekend. Willingly. Sought out the movies and to maximize the experience -- used commercial breaks to scan the TV guide, read the movie synopses and plan the next movie. Even with a recognition of the formulaic patterns in the plots -- parent/child reconciliation, frazzled person finds (or rekindles) love and becomes less cranky, family business is saved, widow/widower finds love/moves on, pretty girl must chose between two suitors, pretty girl hires fake boyfriend to avoid another holiday of family scrutiny for her spinsterhood, etc. -- I watched (and get this) without snarky commentary AND cried during practically every happy ending. This is much more like the kinder, gentler fifth grade version of me than the crusty cynical me -- closer to the me that existed before school bullying and life and love and disappointment were allowed to erode the candy coating and the iron clad walls were erected around a badly dinged heart.

The Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, the third sign of the miracle came to pass -- Christmas decorations were installed in the living room and on the porch for the first time in several years. Cheerfully. Maybe the Christmas movies are rubbing off. The annual (feeble) excuse of "I won't be here at Christmas, and no one will even see them, so why bother?" was cast aside and replaced with "I'm doing it." There suddenly seemed to be more reasons TO decorate than to not. Everything needs to come down from the attic for moving anyway. I want to pare down the decorations to be moved. Why not get rid of Christmas stuff when someone else will actually be able to use it?

For the third night, I sit in the lovely glow of the shimmery silver tinsel tree. The picture window frame is trimmed at the top and sill with nine feet of artificial pine that perfectly fits each span, the 100 white lights casting soft shadows onto the ceiling. Unfortunately, after one night, the 100 lights woven in the pine on the sill ceased functioning. Maybe they got tired. Or maybe one of the dogs murdered them when trying to look out the window to bark at a deer or turkey trespassing in the front yard. No worries. I'll just pull another strand of lights from the massive storage container completely filled with lights and replace it this weekend.

And there's the fourth sign of the Christmas miracle -- I'm not even bothered by lights that broke after a few hours. Didn't even comment on it aloud. Someone should notify the proper authorities and get this miracle on record.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dogged Optimism

With every trip into the kitchen, I have one or both dogs on my heels. They watch every move, always optimistic that a tasty morsel will fumble to the floor. Their eyes are all bright and pretty, and the practically nonexistent eyebrows raise and knit together.  If I am making my lunch or supper, they’ll follow me to my dining destination -- the couch, the island counter, the dining room, eyes fixed steadily on the plate or bowl in my hand. Watching. Waiting.

This goes on day after day, night after night.

Once in a while, I do drop something in the kitchen, and one or the other dog is quick to pounce. Winston seems to be quicker on the cleanup, even if he's further away from the drop. Moose could have a potato chip fall directly in front of him and he’ll not see it, then he’ll look all put out when Winston swoops in to snatch it.

Approximately 15% of the time, I’ll deliberately “drop” something on the kitchen floor to reward their undying optimism. I’d hate to extinguish the light in their eyes by killing all hope of a floor treat. I don’t want to be one of those parent/guardians who eventually extract the joy out of the younglings with the never ending “no” or “stop it” or “go away.” We are not totally without discipline here, though. Sometimes they need to sit or dance around on their hind legs to earn a carrot coin or cookie.

Once in a while in order to eat in unobserved peace and quiet, I’ll toss bits of something  in a direction away from me, just for the temporary removal of scrutiny as I eat my sandwich or dried cranberries or cereal or whatever.

The dogs are curious eaters. They like carrots and green beans. Moose used to have no interest in cucumbers, but after seeing Winston eat them, Moose is now a fan, too. They like apples and blueberries and peanut butter and cheese. They don’t like lettuce, but that doesn’t stop them from begging for it anyway if I’m making a salad. Maybe they’re hoping it’ll taste better this time than last.

Winston goes through occasional spells of boycotting his food. I’m not sure if he’s bored with the same thing all the time, but the one time I changed from a chicken and rice mix to a fish and sweet potato blend, he developed a rash down his neck and his belly and we got to visit the vet, he got to take an allergy and steroid medicine and I got to buy even more dog food. Lately, about half the time, Winston will eat his food only if I add hot water or soup broth to it. This, from the dog who routinely scours the yard (and the neighbor’s) in search of poop to eat. No one makes poop flavored dog food yet, but I’m optimistic.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Feeding Frenzy

The benefit of cooking Thanksgiving dinner is leftovers. The main dinner is good, but usually, the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sandwiches and the turkey rice soup that follow are even better. The problem with living alone is the sudden overabundance of food.

Generally, in a normal week, (i.e., one that doesn't include a massive feast) I cook something big on Sunday so there is enough to reheat for lunch and/or dinner for several more days. Usually it's a pot of soup or a casserole and I needn't give a thought to food beyond how much time in the microwave will achieve the correct heat level and not blow up the food while I feed the dogs and turn the TV on to the mid-day or evening session of the "My TV 30" school of law programs.

With Thanksgiving leftovers and three days of leisure, the kitchen turned from a whistlestop station featuring one to two minutes at the microwave into a 24/7, all-you-can-eat buffet of potatoes, dressing, turkey, cranberries, apples/pear/nuts, and chocolate bread pudding. Choosing what to have for lunch or dinner became difficult and more than once the choice made was "everything."

Warmed chcocolate bread pudding and coffee made for a rich and lively breakfast on Friday and Saturday. And snack. And dessert, until Sunday lunchtime when it was finally finished. Beginning Saturday, there was soup, which was assembled without a recipe and came out even better than imagined. Sunday's breakfast was a mashed potato pancake.

Sunday, after taking bread out of the freezer for a stuffing and turkey sandwich with mayonnaise and cranberries, I went into the fridge for the rest of the stuff. That's when I saw the pot of soup, hauled it from the fridge and set it onto the stove to heat. Lunch turned from a sandwich into another full-blown feast that started with soup. Then the sandwich was built. The key to the overstuffed turkey sandwich is similar to that of a gigantic grilled burger -- don't put it down once picked up. And heat the dressing and turkey a bit first before assembly, but keep the cranberries chilled. Following the sandwich was pudding. but at least it finally finished that off. Knowing it still existed was torture and the only way to silence the siren song was to eat it.

Shockingly, after 10 consecutive meals of some form of Thanksgiving dinner leftovers, I'm still not tired of the stuff. Maybe it's because I am used to eating the same dish and its variations for three, four or five days. Maybe it's because I made only the stuff I really love.

Perhaps the greatest learning experience is the shocking amount of food I can consume while home doing not much besides eating and thinking about eating. It appears I may be making up for the wiser, healthier choices made during times of self-control. Hopefully, when all the delicios leftovers are extinguished, there will be a return to a more normal, less gluttonous volume of consumption. A feeding frenzy can't last forever, can it?

Creating Want

The confluence of a four-day Thanksgiving weekend, the launch of my second ever Christmas movie-viewing season (inaugurated in 2011 with the advent of a broken leg), nightfall at 4:30, and renewed anti-social hermit tendencies have erupted into long leisurely spells on the couch.

Last year, life on the couch was driven by the mending leg. This year, it's driven by a combination of factors. There's laziness. November and December are cold, and I just don't feel like bundling up to go out.

There's the financial factor -- extra gigs with ridiculously delayed payments that really put the "free" in freelance. Plane tickets home for Christmas. A pay cut in spite of the allegedly improving economy. House repairs. An unplanned visit to the vet with a dog with clogged anal glands and allergies that yielded a $140 cover charge.

As much as I could use a good stiff drink, I'd have to win the lottery first to pay for it. That leaves TV as the primary form of affordable (as in, already budgeted) escapism.

Lately, Lifetime and Hallmark Channel are the destinations of choice. Christmas movies set in snowy locations that remind me of New England (and sometimes actually are New England). People falling in love. Families fighting and laughing. Depictions of dressy Christmas parties and careers and friends and things I once had and long for again. It seems clear that TV movie scriptwriters are receiving major subsidies from the tissue companies. The few channels allegedly specializing in comedy are showing old stuff already seen 10,000 times.

The product marketers are doing a phenomenal job this year inventing the perception of needs and wants that were never even a snarky parenthetical comment in my world. It's everything I studied in my college marketing classes of so long ago. Usually I'm much more impervious to their efforts, but not lately. Over a decade living in the South is making me soft.

Until yesterday, I never knew there was a floor cleaning device called Shark that steam cleans hardwod and laminate, but now that I've seen it, I want to be dancing and floating through my house in a cloud of steam just like the lady on TV. She is 100 shades of happy in her steam cleaned modern mansion, so the logical conclusion is that if I want happiness I just need to get the Shark.

Before I've fully processed the new life I'll achieve with my as-yet-not owned steam-cleaning device, my needs are already being aroused for a one inch cube speaker gadget that serves as a speaker for an iPod, phone or computer. Then it's another need immediately created, this time for the home soda bottling gadget. I don't even drink soda, but this thing reminds me of the seltzer bottles that my former in-laws in the Bronx used to have periodically refilled and delivered by the seltzer man. In one commercial break, I've discovered three new ways to fix my life.

It will be interesting to see what new products I suddenly need tomorrow and over the next five weeks until Christmas. And after Christmas, it'll be time to settle in for the Valentine's onslaught of movies. I'm going to need to stock up on tissues.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cyber Stalking

There are a couple Internet sites I visit enough that I might be considered to have an obsessive compulsive disorder or be a full-blown cyber stalker. At least twice a year, before summer vacation and then again before the holidays, Southwest Airlines is one of them.

It’s amazing to me how often fares change. One minute there is a fare for $190 (one way) ... you blink, and suddenly it’s $290. Since October 1, when vacation requests for the remainder of the year were due at work, I have been checking Southwest every day, multiple times a day. A couple times I missed out on a great fare at a ridiculous departure time (for $106 I can get up at 3 am to depart at 6 am!) or a great time at a reasonable fare that evaporated before 1) the vacation request approval was received, or 2) my credit card was pried out of my wallet. Frustrating, to say the least.

Even while cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I was popping into the computer room to obsessively check airfares, because I had the whole day at home and I could. In the course of setting up a dish for dinner, one flight I was eyeballing to a less convenient airport but at a better arrival time jumped $125. You snooze you lose. Or, in this case, you put some potatoes into a bowl and, so sorry, that’ll cost you a bit more.

It’s been a juggling act coordinating a flight time convenient to a doggy boarding check-in time, that also flies into the most convenient of the three airports serving the Massachusetts area. Since Southwest started flying into BWI, there are no more nonstop flights to Rhode Island or Providence, so there is the added fun of which airport one wants to be dashing through to change planes. Since discovering sushi at BWI several Thanksgiving’s ago, I kind of like that airport. And I’ve seen winter weather reports and the show “Airline” starring Southwest, so I know I want to avoid Midway in Chicago in the winter.

The list of considerations continues. Is it worth saving $50 on airfare if it doubles the drive time to or from the airport? Is $100 saved ever worth the hell of driving in Boston? Can I make a 9 am hair color appointment and fly out that same day with glorious, radiant Christmas hair color? And what day should I return to the current never-will-feel-like-home town?

Not having a flight booked was wearing me out. Looking at flights was stressing me out. I vowed the next decent flight/fare combination I saw would be reserved without delay, because it finally penetrated my thick skull that with Southwest, you don’t have to book the round trip -- they allow one-way bookings.

On Black Friday, when many people were out shopping for incredible bargains, I was in my pajamas checking email. And airfare. You know, for incredible bargains. Email held a sale announcement from Shoedazzle, my new favorite purveyor of fabulous footwear, online or bricks and mortar. There were having a 60% off sale and a BOGO sale. I found boots perfect for my middle niece and some for my sister under the BOGO sale. I popped over to Southwest to initiate the day's fare trolling. And got lucky. The flight leaving Nashville at 2:25 pm and arriving at 7:15 at the airport most convenient to my family dropped $100 since 24 hours earlier and was now the same price as the flight arriving at the supremely less convenient hour of 10:20 pm. And I pounced.

Now I just need to figure out where I want to be on New Year’s Eve so I can go through the whole exercise again to book the return flight.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Turkey Day

This year, I cooked a turkey! By myself. For two weeks, I was excited I’d have a guest for dinner and would (finally) cook and serve and eat Thanksgiving dinner in my own home, which I’ve co-owned with Bank of America for five years this week. As grateful as I am for my friends who took me in for previous Thanksgivings celebrations when I wasn’t back home with my own family, seeing their family’s interaction and love made me miss my own family even more.

The reason I’d have a guest was my gal pal Sharon found a job with good pay and benefits after looking for one for far too long, and she was scheduled to work on the holiday and the day after, preventing her from traveling with her husband and three kids to visit family. Her family’s loss was my gain and I jumped on it.

Turkey masterpiece.
The plan was to have dinner after Sharon was done working, which gave me the luxury of all day to prepare. If I had 7 or 8 hours free from obligations and dedicated to the sole purpose of creating one meal, there would be great stuff marching out of my kitchen more often.

The day kicked off with a light breakfast and walk with the dogs, then into the kitchen I went (with frequent trips to the computer and TV and outside with the dogs). Five pounds of potatoes were sentenced to the oven. The 11-pound turkey was liberated from it’s briny bath, which somehow resulted in me having one leg doused in turkey salt water from thigh to hem. There was no rack small enough for the roasting pan, including the little one from the toaster oven, so my inner engineer built a set of celery stalk rails to elevate the bird from the bottom of the pan at least until they got mushy and collapsed.

Spices were mixed for the turkey and the dressing. That’s when the folly of clearing kitchen cabinets and getting a jump on packing to move hit the spotlight. The marble mortar and pestle, practically never used but now needed to grind the rosemary needles, was in a box somewhere in the basement. At least the metal meat mallet was still in the drawer, and was enlisted to pulverize the rosemary by beating it between two paper plates. The dogs were a little worked up over the violence of it.

When the baked potatoes were done and ready for mashing, the utensil drawer revealed the absence of the potato masher, which is when I remembered the plastic one I had broke a couple years ago. Apparently, I don’t mash much stuff. I peeled the skins off the potatoes, cut them up in a bowl and mashed them against the side with a spoon.

By this point, thanks were going up for good old Yankee ingenuity. Or whatever leads to improvisational skills.

Pork, potato, celery, bread dressing! 
The dressing was mixed without major incident -- just the annoyance of two dogs underfoot, noses twitching from the savory scents of sage sausage. They nearly went apoplectic with joy when given the sauteed turkey giblets.

Fresh cranberries were converted into a super easy and delicious mixture of one bag of cranberries, orange juice and sugar that  took ten minutes to mix, then went into the fridge to chill and thicken. Thank you Internet. I would be lost without you. And my eagerly awaited leftover turkey, stuffing and cranberry sandwiches would suck with no cranberries.

Luckily, the two and a half bags of sugar in the pantry that turned out to be two bags of flour and not a lot of sugar held just enough sugar for the cranberries and the bread pudding. For a minute I was holding my breath and wondering if I’d need to go banging on some neighborhood doors, measuring cup in hand, but I got lucky and thankfully, there was no begging.

Bread was cubed for chocolate bread pudding. The recipe calls for a 1.5 quart baking dish, the search for which led to all glass baking vessels being dragged out of the cabinet and inventoried -- 1 Qt, 2 Qt, 6 cup, 8 x 8, 9 x 9, 9 x 13. Good grief. Finally, suitable baking dishes were found for baking the pudding and the dressing and reheating the mashed potatoes in the oven.

Thanks to the Internet and a two week pre-holiday marathon of reading about turkey, I was versed in the baste / no baste debate. The absence of a turkey baster set me, purely by default, in the no-baste camp. At least I had a pastry brush to brush on a mixture of melted butter, olive oil and spices before the turkey went into the oven for a three hour tour.

And when it all came it out, it was pretty. And tasty. While the fire detectors chirped in the most obnoxious and annoying manner all day, even with batteries swapped and then removed completely, there was no smoke and no need for emergency services, which logs a success in my mind. 

Chocolate red wine accompanied the meal. Sharon brought rum cake. We ate too much. It was a great day! And there are leftovers.

For all this, and much, much more, I am thankful.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pre-Holiday Day at the Desk

Today was the last day of work before a four day holiday weekend. Clients were coming in, so the attire was “normal” business wear instead of jeans for “business casual.” For me this meant a charcoal gray pinstripe skirt, heather-gray tights, tall boots, a long sleeve shirt and a selection from my extensive (impressive, I daresay) cardigan collection. There are 18 or 20 cardigans in my drawer. The cotton and silk sweaters are suitable for year-round wear at the desk under the air vent in the cubicle that is not unlike a horse stall and is slightly smaller than a federal penitentiary cell. Then there are the rotated, seasonal fall/winter cashmere or fine merino wool little pretties, delightfully non-bulky and perfect for layering. Yesterday, I actually layered two cardigans! What a wild woman.

After the latest trip to a thrift store on a hunt for more cardigans, I realized there may be a bit of an addiction. It’s an easy one to ignore until I wrestle open the drawer each morning and sweaters start exploding out of it. A couple were justified as upgrades -- swapping a silk one for a cotton version from the Walmart 2008 fall collection in nearly the same color which can now complete the cycle of recycle by being donated to Goodwill. Upon further reflection, that may have been the only legitimate replacement. Oops. But I wear a cardigan nearly every day, so it's not like they are languishing in a museum.

Traffic was light, so the trip to work was easy. Grab some coffee, read the news and emails and online trade publications, check the to-do list for the day and week, and the day was starting off nicely. On the trip to the kitchenette for a coffee refill, there was a sign of a problem -- a long string hanging from the skirt hem. Investigation revealed that half the hem in the back was unstitched. No biggie, there is a sewing kit in my drawer.

The emergency sewing kit is rarely used, but then again, I rarely find my clothes to be falling apart at work. I pulled out the black thread and noticed the spool of white thread was missing, along with the needle. It looked like it would be a Scotch tape repair if I didn’t find a needle. Luckily, the kitchen drawer held three different kits and ten needles.

Now to secure a suitable location for the repair job. I could tie up a bathroom for however long it took, or spin my skirt around backwards so I could see the section needing stitches and wing it in my cubicle. I chose the cubicle for the better seating and removal of time pressure, and scooted my chair out of the line of sight of the giant picture window to the parking lot. Three times the needle came unthreaded but I managed to keep my cool and not spit out the swears that would be forthcoming had I been at home. Once, a coworker used the restroom, so I was really glad I had ruled out that route. I kept hoping the big boss wouldn’t show up like he sometimes does to say good morning. I got lucky.

After the unusual wardrobe malfunction, which was by no means the worst ever, the slightly unusual day had another unusual twist. For the first time in a while, I got my nerd on and crunched numbers. I looked at a data table, sorted it by frequency, inserted a couple summation functions. For about thirty minutes it felt a tiny bit like the good old days of heavy number crunchiness in corporate finance. But just a tiny bit. Nowhere near my old stomping ground 43-page workbook tracking cash flows for subsidiaries. This was two pages, and only because I copied the table to another page so I could sort it. But it was fun. And as soon as I consciously decided it was fun, I felt like such a geek. But in a good way. Like I actually still possess a few functioning brain cells.

After that, the day was normal. A meeting. Preparing for the meeting by reviewing notes from the last meeting. Then reviewing the notes from today’s meeting and highlighting the stuff that is super important and will need follow-up. Review a budget estimate and send it to the client. Enter billable time into the system. Blah, blah blahbitty blah.

And then it was that glorious, magnificent time to leave! It was that kid out of school for a few days feeling. The traffic home was not even annoying. Set up the Thanksgiving turkey to brine in mere minutes. And now it’s time to play. Grownup drinks. Might even talk to strangers. Never going to meet new people staying home, right?

Just Listed

I make lists -- shopping lists, lifetime “I wanna do this” lists, books to read, blogs to write, music to buy, people to email, photos to have printed, clothes to pack for vacation, pros and cons of a decision in process, the list goes on. Every week at work I update the list of projects and the intermediate steps to completion. Even if the list is crazy long, it helps to lay it out on paper. There is comfort in knowing it’s written down and things won’t be overlooked. Some tasks appear regularly, just under different client names:  write brochure / ad / website copy; proofread brochure / ad / website copy; follow-up on budget estimate; draft meeting agenda; type conference notes; set production timeline. That kind of stuff.

Sometimes, a project is so big it warrants its own spreadsheet list. One of my first projects at my current job was to manage the logistics for a 100th anniversary event for a client. Just the idea of it was panic-inducing, but I started listing. We ended up with a list of roughly 150 items tracking who was responsible for things like sending invitations, receiving RSVPs, coordinating shuttle buses, placing parking signs, placing and monitoring trash barrels, collecting event tickets, etc. The act of getting all the details listed in one place was a relief. The satisfaction came when responsibilities were assigned and we had covered as many variables as we could come up with.

It is not uncommon to reach into a coat pocket and pull out a list -- dog food - potting soil -- half and half; or maybe cardigans - Vertigo Fables #17 - watch battery; or wedding card, facial wipes, nail polish remover. I’ve picked up papers in parking lots that held someone's shopping list -- and wondered about the person who dropped it. Wandering through the store, I’ll be looking at people and wondering if they are “almonds, pears, tin foil, bleach.” Nope, the writing doesn't look right for him. Maybe it's her ...

Often, my lists are drafted and then accidentally left behind on the coffee table, kitchen counter or in the car. I’ll be in the store, searching a pocket or my purse for the list I wrote barely 20 minutes earlier before I left the house. That can be frustrating, but the act of having written the list is often enough and the items can be procured or the tasks completed without actually having the slip of paper in hand. But then I don't get to tear the little notches in the side of the paper like my grandmother did as the item hit the cart.

As helpful as making a list can be, the best part really is crossing things off the list. It’s a tangible map of accomplishments. Mow lawn (done!). Laundry (done!) Call client A (done!).

It’s frustrating to hit Wednesday of a workweek and not have been able to cross anything off the blue ink list with the red pen designated for editing and list crossing. That’s when I have to pause, take a breath, and come up with something accomplished, no matter how trivial, so it can be added it to the list and then crossed off purely for the psychological push to keep going.

We’re now in the season for the BIG lists -- the Christmas List for gifts and the New Year’s list for goals. The practical Christmas list tracks gifts bought and those still to be shopped for and possibly shipped to family. The New Year’s list is grander, harder to focus on, and once drafted, is often tucked into a journal. Usually it reads more like a wish list -- big goals like join a gym,  lose 5 pounds, create a website, publish a book, sell the house, find a job, pay off the credit card, travel. When I slip into adolescent angst and start feeling like I haven’t done anything, it’s helpful to review an old New Year’s list and witness some major accomplishments.  Leave bad relationship (check!). Buy a house (check!). Pay off the car (check!).

The old saying that “the pen is mightier than the sword” may not have been written about lists, but it holds true, especially when my empowering little list is drafted in gel pen in neat penmanship.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Shopping Pain and Pleasure

On Tuesday night a full week before Thanksgiving, I went the Publix grocery store near the house ("Where shopping is a pleasure") to get the stuff for dinner. Armed with the sales flyer with all the buy-one-get-one-free items circled in highlighter, I rolled into the store on a mission. After arriving home and putting away my 11-pound bird,  broth and a bunch of other stuff, I checked my recipes. Granted, that should have been the first step, but, well, it wasn't. The Publix specials run Wednesday to Tuesday, so I was on a deadline and history has proven multiple times that going home first means chances are good I won't go back out to the store later, so I winged it.

The same way that dashing home before the grocery store means I probably won't actually get back out, dashing into Publix with the intention of getting out quickly is also a pipe dream. The staff there is super, super friendly. Beginning with the guy planted immediately inside the entrance at the edge of the produce department with samples of something I never want (usually deli ham), they all say "Hello" and ask if any help is required. It's nice the first time it happens, but after the 12th employee has run through the greeting /need help spiel requiring an acknowledgement of the speaker and then a response, the trip is no longer a quick event. The duration of the response sequence is generally just long enough for me to forget why I was in that aisle, which is not something the staff can help me with. After three or four aisles, I get tired of the chitchat and start scouting out the locations of the employees so I can avoid them.

A romp through the recipe box revealed a need for potatoes for the dressing /stuffing /whatever the heck it's called. And Kosher salt for brining the turkey. And a bag to hold the turkey and brining solution. And whipping cream for the chocolate bread pudding. In spite of the load just purchased, a lot of stuff was still missing.

There was every intention of fetching these things over the weekend but procrastination won out. Time was winding down and the schedule was filling up. A high school job as a grocery store cashier provided stressful memories of the crowds the day before major holidays and forecasted snowstorms and I didn't want to be part of a long checkout line. The night before Thanksgiving I want to be home exercising my options of either cooking or procrastinating. And maybe drinking beer. There is an event I want to attend after work on Tuesday, so that left Monday for getting it done.

Right before leaving the office, the current flyer was reviewed and the key buy-one-get-one free items highlighted. In the Publix parking lot, I reached for my phone, which happened to not be in the cup holder where I usually set it while driving. It also wasn't on the seat, on the floor or in my purse. Hopefully, it's still on my desk, from when I had everything in my hands to leave, and decided to sit back down and check the sale flyer. No point worrying about it. Unless I drive all the way back across town to the office to look for it, there isn't much I can do about it.

Inside Publix, the usual samples guy was not at his station, so I didn't get my customary immediate greeting. While debating potatoes -- loose or two five-pound bags for $5 -- a produce clerk asked if I needed any help, and I said, sort of smarting off, but not completely, "Only if you know how many potatoes I need to have two cups of mashed potatoes." She grabbed three loose potatoes and asked, "Skin on or off?" as she headed for the scale, talking about the loss of approximately two ounces when peeled. She handed me two of them and said they should be plenty. This young woman was a home economics dream. She knew all the stuff it seemed I should know after three semesters of junior high home ec, but the only thing I took away from those classes was the advice to "Always use a rubber scraper to get the last bit of mayonnaise out of the jar," and to polish furniture by wiping with the grain of the wood. I almost asked her to be my new best friend, but that seemed a bit creepy and I don't want to be banned from a really nice grocery store.

Mere seconds after the impressive display by the produce lady, an older guy wearing a hair net asked if he could help with anything. I said "No, thanks. I'm all set for now." The guy then says, "Oh, long day?" which made me totally paranoid thinking I must look like I've been run over by a bus or something. Thanks, old guy. Now I can add reflective surfaces to my list of things to avoid. The rest of the shopping trip was quiet and uneventful, as my employee dodging skills improve with each visit.

At the checkout, the cashier asked if I'd found everything and we conducted our transaction. The lady bagging the groceries, in Publix style, commandeered the shopping cart out to the car and loaded my three reusable bags and two plastic bags into the back. Consequently, it wasn't until I got home and nearly dislocated a shoulder picking up the first bag that I learned that the shopping may be a pleasure, but the sacking really stinks.

The first bag was crazy heavy. That's because it contained both five pound bags of potatoes, 1.5 pounds of sweet potatoes, a 30 ounce container of coffee and a pint of whippng cream. Seriously? I'm surprised the clerk didn't suffer a hernia hoisting it into the car. Another bag contained all the two-for-one canned goods -- two jars of gravy, two cans of diced tomatoes, two jars of Ragu sauce, plus a half gallon of half-and-half. One bag held exactly two rolls of paper towels and was light as a feather. Another had all the lightweight stuff -- like two packs of English muffins, a bag of a different stuffing mix than I got last week and a bag of frozen vegetables.

It appeared we were operating on the Garanimals system of packing, with all the "like items" together in the bag. It took five minutes in the driveway repacking some of the bags so I could carry them up the brick walkway and into the house without requiring a call I can't make for medical attention. The misplaced phone is making me weak and careful. And crankier.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Productive Procrastination

Procrastination has become a sort of a specialty these days. Sometimes, it pays off, like when I'm avoiding housework or laundry or mowing the lawn and writing instead. Every once in a while, and fortunately not often, I find myself doing other things and procrastinating on the writing. Today was one of those days where the writing was the thing being avoided.

Coffee was brewed and consumed and hours were invested in Mad Men episodes (two), History Channel shows on Medieval castles and battle gear, and online news, Facebook and email. Then it was time to get ready for lunch with friends at one of the Korean restaurants in town, which meant slapping on some makeup to accentuate my eyes and tone down the pasty Halloween-esque pallor with which I am blessed and which has been known to frighten children and small house pets.

Three of us relaxed over lunch, and conversation about our favorite local thrift shops evolved into a trip to one of them. While some late 70s funk played on the in-store music system, I reduced a motherlode of 15 sweaters of cashmere, silk, merino wool and cotton to a more manageable (and affordable) three plus one blouse. The three of us browsed (and laughed at) housewares, electronics and toys including more foot massagers than seemed possible, a crazy assortment of ever-so-slightly defective 12-inch decorative Christmas trees and an entire shelf of "As Seen on TV" fitness kits starring Billy Blanks of Tai-Bo fame.

Nearly five hours later, I alighted back at my house, where it was just a bit too dark to walk the dogs, a task I had delayed during my pajama-clad morning Internet marathon. That's when it became cable schedule roulette trying to find a show with football scores so I could check on the Patriots game which was not televised in my region, as CBS was broadcasting San Diego/Denver and not Indianapolis/New England. Jerks.

There was a dance around the channels with several short shows before finally settling on a couple Lifetime "I can't believe it's all Christmas movies already" movies. I gotta hand it to the Lifetime folks, the world premier of "Holiday Spin" has me ready to move to Miami and take up competitive ballroom dancing. Not that I have ever done any ballroom dancing or have a partner, but heck, my grandmother did exhibition ball room dance, so it's probably in my genetic structure, right?

The evening's procrastinating took a brief, slightly athletic turn when I laced up my skates for the second time since breaking my leg. This time, however, thanks to the wipeout, bruised wrist and $150 doctor bill that resulted from the first attempt a few months ago, I remembered to use my wrist guards.

A chapter in domesticity included three hand/wash delicate cycles of laundry (gotta get the thrift store stink out of all those "new" sweaters) and a waltz around the house with the vacuum. This procrastinating was taking on new, majestic tones, as these are the same activities usually being avoided by writing and not the other way around. But there was at least the satisfaction of accomplishing something productive -- the house was getting cleaned, the laundry was being done -- it was quite possibly the best bout of avoidance behavior that ever descended around me. I expect a Good Housekeeping award to arrive any minute.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Menu Planning

I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year. All by myself. I realize that for most people, this is no big deal. Most adults with whom I am acquainted have done this for years. Decades, even. For me, however, it’s quite possibly a first (and if it’s not quite a first and maybe a second, the real first must have been completely without catastrophe, as I surely would have remembered it).

During my early years and up through high school and into college, Thanksgiving was at my grandmother’s apartment. The six of us would crowd around the table with the extension leaves added to admire and then devour the bountiful menu including potatoes, squash, turkey, stuffing, corn, turnip, green beans, rolls, relish trays, pies, and nuts requiring tools to bust them open for eating. There was the infamous sweet potato casserole which, no matter how careful we were on the final “two minutes under the broiler” step, managed to end up in flames. Charcoal is good for digestion, right? The whole family would tease Mummu about the excess of food, which seemed enough for an entire village.

And there was almost always Andre Cold Duck, which, beginning at age 13, we kids were allowed to have with dinner in a European inspired philosophy of teaching us about responsible drinking. We were allowed one glass, which, to our tender, underage palates, tasted a whole lot like bubbling crap and we opted for milk instead.

When Mummu moved into a much smaller apartment in the senior’s high rise, Thanksgiving dinner moved to our house. Mom picked up the mantle, even expanding the already huge menu and we transferred our teasing to her. Mummu continued her tradition of amazing pies. Chocolate pecan pie, how I love thee.

When I was married and still living in Massachusetts, the holidays were split between my Mom’s and in-laws in the Bronx, where in both cases, I got to roll in like a dignitary either empty-handed or bearing a meager side dish or bottle of wine. Post-divorce moves to towns between 30 and 50 miles away from family meant it was easier for me to travel to all of them than vice versa, so my gold-medal skating continued. Another marriage (hot on the heels of a Thanksgiving dinner in the mess hall on Yongsan Post in Seoul) meant a new set of in-laws in Pennsylvania and a renewed holiday balancing act of bouncing between families. And another chunk of time where I was a guest and not a cook and hostess.  Ahh, the sweet life.

It is entirely possible the first Thanksgiving turkey prepared within my own household didn’t happen until I was 40. And even then, there was a husband who took charge of the turkey process because he probably figured I’d screw it up or at least not prepare it the “right” way, meaning however his own mother did it. Whichever, it meant I was still off the hook.

Since that second divorce which seems to signal that I’m as bad at choosing men as I am at choosing cuts of meat, (leading me down a road of unintentional vegetarianism),  the skating has continued. The years I didn’t fly back to New England were occupied with Thanksgivings spent with either of several friend's families, and once, a boyfriend's family in Virginia.

This is the year I am going for it. I’ll be in Clarksville. My friend Sharon has a new job and has to work that day (and the next) while her husband and kids go out of town to visit family. She and I are having dinner at my house. We’re having turkey; sauteed apples, pears, cranberries and nuts; my family’s traditional meat /potato /bread stuffing (or “dressing” or “filling,” depending upon regional vernacular). And chocolate bread pudding made from the fabulous recipe from Red Fish Grille in New Orleans. And cake. And beer or wine. Or maybe Cold Duck, for old time’s sake.

It will be a momentous day.  I’m finally going to catch up with the rest of my demographic and cook a stinkin’ turkey. All by myself. I’m kind of excited. Let the brining begin! Wish me luck.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Getting Dumber

As I was driving home for lunch, Science Friday with Ira Flato came on NPR. The topic was a new genetic study that suggests humans are slowly becoming less intelligent, and that human intelligence may have peaked thousands of years ago. Then Flato mentions that IQs are going up, so by now I am completely intrigued by the seeming contradiction and thinking a chunk of my lunch hour may be spent in the car listening to the story. We're getting dumber but Intelligent Quotients are higher? Seriously, feed me teasers like that and I am in.

Naturally, my mind leapt to the movie "Idiocracy," the warning labels required for absolutely everything because some people need to actually be told to not eat their clothing and that hot drinks are hot, the half-wits and simpletons "starring" on reality TV shows, and the news stories of citizens petitioning for their individual states to leave the Union of the United States of America. Seriously, the signs seem to indicate that society as a whole is on a speeding train to Stupidville. I may be right there with the brainless masses.

Over the past decade, I am pretty sure I have gotten dumber. Significantly dumber. More than a few sleepless nights I lay awake, wondering how to regain the mental edge I flatter myself by thinking I once possessed. Various potential factors dance with dust bunnies in the increasingly empty cranium. Poor diet? Social isolation resulting from too much time spent with technology and not enough interacting with other humans? Too much quality awake time spent alone in a cubicle? Dangerously expanding hermit tendencies? Failure to remember to take multivitamins?

I was interested in hearing the NPR story. You know, to validate my suspicions on the declining intellectual capacity of the human race in general, because I love to be proved right, even if it's only to myself. The interview began, and it wasn't long before the brainiac scientist guest launched into a high-level technical discussion. It was probably less than a minute into the story before I was lost in genomes and mutations and feeling stupid and like I was actually the point of the story, which is not quite how I had imagined it would be.

My mind started wandering as I was crossing the bridge on Wilma Rudolph Boulevard, and that's when a vehicle approaching from the other direction caught my eye. It was a rainbow striped VW bug, with lettering on the side reading "fagbug." I dropped the thread to the science story I was so desperately clinging to a moment earlier as I said out loud, "What the heck is that?" And in a flash, we had passed each other and fagbug was gone.

That is not a vehicle I've seen in my daily to and fro, and it took another half mile before I could corral my mind back to the radio, just in time to hear some high level speechification about ... well, I don't really know what the heck it was about. The info is evidently too far above my diminishing brain capacity. I'm pretty sure I won't be reading the new book about human genetic mutations and our dumbification -- I think I'm already too dumb for it.

After work, I visited the NPR website looking for an transcript of the show I could read, but all I found was the audio of the story. Maybe if I can clear all distractions and spend a few minutes (or hours) dedicated to listening the story (over and over), I can grasp it. Just not right now. My easily distracted mind flitted over to something I had a better chance of comprehending. I Googled "fagbug," and whaddaya know, it's got a story.

According to Wikipedia, "Fagbug is a Volkswagen New Beetle owned by Erin Davies of Troy, New York who, in response to graffiti on her car, embarked on a trans-American road trip to raise awareness of gay rights." The trip was documented and the film "Fagbug" screened at U.S. film festivals in 2009.

Of course I was wondered if what I saw in Clarksville was THE FAGBUG, and not some imitation, and dang I love the Internet for the immediate gratification. I had the answer in just a few minutes. Turns out, in addition to a Wiki entry, fagbug has a Facebook page, where I learned that it was at Austin Peay State University today. THAT was information I can understand. As for genomes and mutations ... that stuff is way over my head.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Time Zones

The office I work in isn't the hugest I've worked in. That distinction goes to the building I worked at in Marlborough, MA where it was a quarter-mile walk from my desk to the company cafeteria. My current workplace might actually be the smallest office I've ever worked in, but in spite of the size being ranked on the low end, it holds another distinction. It has the most time zones.

Most of the time, the clock on my computer is two minutes slower than the telephone clock which is usually three minutes behind my cell phone clock. It's kind of annoying. On one end of the spectrum, I seem to get to work earlier than I figured. Like, every day. But at the end of the workday, when the time clock software finally hits 5:00 and I can clock out, I'm already five minutes late for the rest of the world. When I think I'm heading to the conference room early to set up for a client teleconference, I'm suddenly on time or late, and rushing to set up for the call. In the front reception area, the clock on the filing cabinet shows yet another time, and the clock in the large conference has been frozen in time for a couple years. Perfectly fitting -- it seems that time does, indeed, stand still in some meetings.

The thing that fakes me out is, sometimes, all the little clocks at work are in synch. And then they are not. And then they are again. It's like the Universe's master time keeper is messing with me, but that could be the paranoia talking. And I can't understand why, if my cell phone gets the time from some master signal somewhere, and allegedly, so does the PC on my desk and the telephone, why are they different? How many stinking time signals are out there?

I have the same situation at home. The battery operated living room clock gains about five minutes every two months. When it hits ten minutes fast, I take it down from the wall and roll back the time. Meanwhile, in the bedroom, the iPod dock / clock radio loses time, and suddenly I'll notice that it's seven minutes slow. In the kitchen, no timekeeping device is even close to reality. Every few weeks and sometimes multiple times in a week, the clocks on the microwave, coffee maker and electric stove would be flashing the message that the power blipped out again. I'd reset them all. A day, or week or two weeks later, all back to flashing. While it was a festive look, it was annoying. Now I keep the coffeemaker unplugged except when I use it and just ignore the other little clocks.

The story with my watch collection is also bleak. I used to always wear a watch and had six or seven to choose from. There was a silvertone watch with a triple chain band I got in Quebec. There was the goldtone charm bracelet watch with everything from cupids and hearts to tiny handcuffs and daggers on it that I got at TJ Maxx. The brown tooled leather strap watch with sterling silver trim an ex bought for me in Fort Worth. The watch that showed the moon for PM and the sun for AM that my grandmother gave me. A rugged Seiko I wore a lot and a very dressy gold one with a diamond in the face that I never wore because it has no numbers so I still never knew what time it is. A watch with a purple leather strap I got because it's pretty. Watches for all moods and outfits!

One by one, the watches ceased functioning, until only the rugged Seiko and the purple band watch were left operational. I gathered four of the sickly patients and transported them to a mall jewelry store for batteries, because the two jewelers downtown I usually visited had gone out of business. The girl at the mall counter took my watches and told me to come back in an hour. When I returned, she looked at me with a serious expression and informed me all my watches were broken. Seriously? Not just dead batteries? Four broken watches? I left the store less than happy and full of questions. Were the watches so unhappy in my custody that one by one they committed timekeeping harikari? Or were they somehow murdered? Do I have a face that could stop a clock?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Magic Eraser

After seeing countless airings of commercials featuring sidelined cleaning products giving a play by play of the amazing Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (and worrying their own positions are in jeopardy), I caved and bought a box. It's not that the commercials are particularly inspiring, thought provoking or entertaining that a race to the store was in order -- I find them annoying. Somehow, however, the message evidently penetrated my cocoon of cynicism, as I ultimately forked out the dough for the product. Chances are good I also had a coupon.

For the best ha ha factor in cleaning product commercials, I nominate the Bona floor cleaning ad. I still remember the first time I saw that commercial. It was November 2011 and I was laid up on the couch with my broken leg, underdosing on pain pills and overdosing on movies on Lifetime Movie Network and Hallmark Channel. That first time I saw the commercial I was a bit afraid that maybe I'd accidentally lost track, doubled up on meds and was imagining things. Really funny things.

The commercial itself was an ordinary floor cleaner spot -- expanses of wood floor, a mop, cleaner. Nothing special until the end of the spot when the announcer said, "Bona. When the wood matters." I couldn't believe I'd heard that, and almost wrote it off as suffering a side effect of Hydrocodone. It felt like the Saturday Night Live fake commercials of the 70s and 80s where you were never quite sure it was a skit or a legitimate commercial. A quick check online confirmed it was a legitimate company and product. The 12 year old that has permanent residence in my head began attaching the tagline to other commercials and crafting patchwork ads. Like "Cialis -- Chubb Insurance -- When the wood really matters."

The Mr. Clean Magic Eraser talking spray bottles commercial is no "Bona. When the wood matters" attention grabber, but the product was bought, and sat under the sink until one day, in a cleaning frenzy, I finally realized the magic it contained.

After previous effort with glass cleaner that just complicated the messes on the glass doors of the toaster oven and the microwave, I checked under the sink for a bigger gun. And there was Mr. Clean and his eraser blocks. And dang, if it didn't work better than anything I've ever used. I was inspired to keep cleaning -- the window in the oven door, the faucet, the shelves in the refrigerator.

That crazy little eraser block was amazing. My stuff looked brand new. It was like an 'Undo' command for the kitchen, which got me wishing it could do the same for life's intangibles. Say something stupid to make someone else feel bad? Magic Eraser and undone. Royally eff things up at work? Boom! Magic Eraser! Regretting that special "one that got away?" and wanting to undo a breakup? Magic Eraser!

If only there really were such a thing. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Moose Shadow

If Moose wasn't already named Moose, "Shadow" might be a great name for him.

When we're walking, he positions himself near my right foot, in contrast to Winston's doggy neurotic need to be always left front and choking himself by straining against his harness. While Winston dozes on the bed or the couch, shadowy Moose follows me around the house or silently sits by my side, staring at me when I'm watching TV.

Since April, when the office carpet was cleaned and I added kiddie gates to the doorways to keep the canine monsters from further destroying it, I climb over the gate to use the Mac. At some point I'll notice my little brown shadow sitting on the other side of the gate watching me through the plastic screen. If I acknowledge him and say "Hey Moosey," he'll raise his doggy brows and look at me with his soft brown eyes. He'll take a step closer and raise up onto his hind legs, front paws on the top of the gate, looking at me as if he's wondering what the human mommy did to be sent to the cage. And he'll continue to watch me until I climb back out of the office, then follow me wherever I go.

When I'm in the kitchen, which Moose is well aware is the place where the edibles are stored, he is completely underfoot, waiting for something to drop to the floor. In those moments, "Dyson" or "Hoover" are also appropriate names.

I wish I knew what goes on in his doggy brain. Moose's facial expressions change, and I can only ascribe human emotions, because I don't have a clue what is really behind them. When he lowers his head and looks meek and even "guilty," is he just exercising a doggy technique to calm humans like I read about in a book?

When I'm talking to the TV when stupid things happen, he'll perk his ears and cock his head like the old RCA Victor dog at the gramophone. I get to talk to the TV often, because there is a LOT of sloppy work out there. Far too many shows use propmasters who need a clue and actors who need to learn to act. Granted, I have taken only two or three intensive weekend acting workshops and read practically none of the acting books on my shelf, so I'm no expert, but when "acting" like one is drinking a beverage, it might be more convincing if the actor held that (obviously empty) vessel as if it had some weight to it, and paused at the lips long enough to provide time for that pretend sip and maybe even swallow afterward, instead of moving the cup away after a mere nanosecond to deliver the next line.

Likewise, when the actor is carrying a paper sack allegedly full of groceries, it might be more realistic if the grocery bags weren't lifted like they are full of empty boxes and if the bag that we just saw leave the store didn't look all crumpled like it was pulled out of the trash. And what is up with the TV and film "drivers" moving the steering wheel back and forth? I've seen toddlers in toy cars with better fake steering technique.

An ex once said I ruined TV for him with my observational commentary. Well guess what? TV ruins TV for me with the constant lack of attention to detail. At least Moose and Winston don't seem to be too bothered by my cursed eye for detail.

As I'm voicing my displeasure at the steady stream of televised flaws, if Moose has been napping on my arm or lap, the poor little guy might startle at my sudden outburst, but he won't tell me to shut up. His head may pop up when I mutter, "Damn, I wish my grocery bags were that lightweight and portable!" and look at me when I exclaim "Who in the hell drives like that?" but mostly, he is quietly by my side ... like a shadow.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Messy Memories

Sometimes people remember with startling clarity events that seem totally trivial (or completely unmemorable ) to another person. Perspective can etch an event or comment permanently in the mind, or wipe it out completely.

This was clearly demonstrated to me a lifetime or two ago (and countless times since). On that day, Mary, my brother's girlfriend of the time, asked if we remembered the time that I threw the hissy fit. While the singular 30-second snippet of life was stamped indelibly in her mind, I had no recollection of what she was talking about until she shared her tale.

Part of the problem was, hissy fits and temper tantrums (often involving flying objects) were a regular event in my world, and I had a room full of broken (and reglued) stuff to prove it. Some of the explosions most memorable for me occurred when I was alone. Unfortunately, other people remembered the displays outside my bedroom.

In junior high, we had an after school ski program at one of the nearby ski mountains. My parents left early to get to their jobs and we kids walked to school. One week on ski day, having forgotten to leave my books at school the day before, I was schlepping skis, boots and books to school over the wintery, messy sidewalks. The load was heavy and awkward, and approximately every five paces, something dropped -- a ski, the boots, a book.

In total frustration at having made it barely a third of the way to school, the reality of arriving late due to slow progress, and the ridiculous difficulty of the normally simple task of walking, I totally lost it right there on Pine Street. I hurled one of my books into the street (probably with a profanity for effect). I was mad to have forgotten about skiing and taking home homework the day before. Mad that my parents left early for work, leaving me to walk to school loaded like a pack mule with skis and boots. Mad we didn't live a couple streets away so that the bus would at least be a transportation option. Basically, I was mad about everything. After retrieving the book and reassembling the load, I continued to school, still dropping stuff all the way, but feeling slightly better from the exertion of the book toss and recognition of the silliness of my outburst.

In high school, after one of many fights with my Dad, I stomped upstairs to my room (as usual), took off one of my wood-soled clogs, and slammed it toe-first into the floor so hard the bottom of the shoe split. Oops. That wasn't something fixable with the Elmer's Glue.

When I was attending the state college in town, my brother worked the overnight shift in the boiler room at the local sunglass factory and we both lived at home. This one day, my brother, his girlfriend, Mary, and I were at the house. Apparently, there was some difficulty opening the jar of peanut butter. Allegedly, I slammed the jar down onto the kitchen table. The impact of the bottom of the jar left a ridged ring in the wooden tabletop and a clear memory for Mary.

While I didn't remember the specific incident when the story was being told, it sounded like something I would do. There was a bit of a tendency to get all pissy when inanimate objects failed to operate as expected. What was surprising (and embarrassing) to me was how vividly Mary remembered it. Years later, she was recounting the event in detail like it had happened earlier that same day. Evidently, what was normal at our house was quite memorable for visitors.

Fortunately, I have matured and mellowed with age. Now things are broken by accident and rarely in a fury. This may be because I know what things cost now, and I'm more interested in studying why things don't work than flying off the handle and sailing them acrosss the room when they don't. And the lesson of Mary's memory has not been forgotten.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Flashbacks in a Box

Tonight I made Rice-A-Roni (the San Francisco Treat!) for the first time in ages, with "ages" defined as quite possibly not since junior high or high school when I'd get the occasional phone call from my Mom (who was at work) saying to start dinner, usually Hamburger Helper or Rice-A-Roni.

After graduating college and setting up my own kitchen and independent life, I rebelled against boxed supper kits and baking mixes. I didn't see that they save much time and it's less expensive to stock the components separately because they always have a multitude of uses.

Months ago, on a whim, I bought a box of Rice-A-Roni that was on clearance. It sat in the pantry, bypassed meal after meal as pasta, ramen and the ingredients for homemade soup were chosen instead. That poor box of rice dinner was living my public school gym class experience for my entire K-12 academic career.

One Sunday, I debated the merits of grocery shopping, a trip to PetSmart to exchange Winston's new harness that is too small, and a trip to Goodwill for "new" cardigans for work, against a strong desire to not spend any more money in a weekend that already included two nights out and a hair salon visit. The stay home to not spend more money options included glamorous chores like raking more leaves (ultimately overruled by high winds) and multitasking TV movies by using the commercial breaks for trips to the basement to deal with laundry and schlepp up boxes still unpacked from one or more previous residential moves and quite possibly not needed for yet another move.

The Publix flyer had already been studied and the grocery list made, but going to the store would have meant laying out money and defying my no-spending day. Even worse, I would've missed half of "Shall We Dance?" starring Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon and Richard Gere. Consequently, the list was set aside, and operaton "Possibly Pandora's Box" was launched.

A specific basement box containing computer stuff was chosen and carried up to the main living area without injury, which, halfway up the stairs, seemed almost impossible. The box contained home office stuff including disks (yes, pre CD square disks) full of my writing from three long-abandoned computers and as many as 15 years ago. I need to take the disks to work to transfer the documents to a more user friendly medium. The long bypassed, kitchen box of Rice-A-Roni memories was chosen from the Lazy Susan cabinet because, as long as I was going through the contents of an old box from a previous chunk of life, it might be fun to layer on a sauteed rice flashback.

I remember this costume, but not this version of me.
As the smells of family suppers long ago began to waft from the kitchen, next door in the living room, the basement box of mysterious computer stuff was opened. A treasure trove of visual memories was pulled out when I found two photo albums underneath the computer disks.

One album had been made by my Mom for my birthday years ago. It contained a lot of ephemera of my young life, including the hospital bill from when I was born, the birth record for baby "Girl Simonds" with my tiny baby footprints and birth time and weight, the birth notice in the newspaper and dozens of photos and report cards from kindergarten through sixth grade, plus some from high school. It even had my baptism and Sunday School promotion certificates.

I thought the movie about dressed up people dancing made me cry? HA! I obviously didn't know the water works would be on full force from looking at photos from birthday parties and ballet recitals. It kills me that I don't remember being that quiet looking little girl in all those images. All I can do now is wonder who the heck she was, why she's wearing all my cute little outfits, and how I ended up so far from home, sitting on a couch all alone eating Rice-A-Roni.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Changing Times

The annual “Fall Back” with the clocks has come and gone, and one week into it, life is slightly altered. On the bright side, I no longer need to slap the crap out of the snooze button every nine minutes for nearly an hour before dragging myself out of bed. It’s already getting light outside at the new 6:00 that used to be 7:00, and I am able to leap out of bed like Baryshnikov at the first bleat of the clock. In my mind, it's like that anyway. It's not an actual leap, but I'm pretty sure I at least stumble out of bed with a modicum of grace.

There is plenty of time to get dressed, sometimes multiple times, depending upon how the wardrobe choices and weight are matching up. There is plenty of time to feed, water and walk the dogs without feeling like we are running sprints. And bonus -- I’ve been able to drive to work without screaming at too many other drivers and still arriving early every day for a week. It’s great!

Well, it’s great until 5:00 rolls around, and I’m leaving work in darkness that feels like the middle of the night. That part is horrid. Thank goodness for my thrift store living room floor lamp plugged into my IKEA timer, or I’d never be able to fumble my way into the house. The now five-year-old outside solar lights stopped lighting my way months ago, and I haven’t yet managed to check if it’s something that can be easily fixed or if I should just buy new ones, but I need to figure it out quickly, before I bust my head coming up the walk in the dark.

Once home, the evening routine kicks into gear -- TV goes on to Judge Judy for my 5:30 class with the CDE Channel 13 Law School Independent Study program. The fur babies are fed, and then it’s time for our evening walk. The dogs are attached to leashes, I grab a couple poop pick-up bags and a flashlight and out we go. And that is where it comes to a stop. Winston heads down the walk, but without his morning exuberance, and Moose won’t step off the porch. I call to him to “Come!” and he looks at me and plants himself by digging in his paws. If I return to the porch to try and cajole him off, he stares me down like I am his adversary in a duel, which is what it is beginning to feel like.

A couple times, I’ve managed to get Moose off the porch and onto the walkway, where he stops, digs in and holds his ground again. On high alert, he is the perfect example of “head on a swivel” as he looks all around, nose sniffing the air and eyes darting in every possible direction.

If (and it’s a might big “IF”) I can get the dogs to accompany me to the end of the driveway, it feels like a victory. Then it’s an effort to drag Moose down the street while Winston ignores me and busies himself sniffing the decaying leaves on the side of the road. We may get three houses away, with my crappy flashlight cutting a feeble yellow beam through the darkness and a full-on battle of wills taking place.

When I finally concede defeat and give the usual end of our walk command, “Let's go back,” Winston and Moose execute a perfectly choreographed 180 degree turn, pick up the pace and head back towards the house. And by “pick up the pace,” I mean that they are now dragging me down the street, and with my still weak, broken one-year-ago leg, I am not match for their speed or strength. I drop the leashes, and tell them to “Go Home” and in a display matching that of a pack of sled dogs in The Iditarod, they are back on the safety of the porch, waiting for me still in the dark street. Thanks for the protection and company, guys.

Oddly, these are the same two dogs who, until very recently (as in, one week ago),  would bolt out of the yard in the dark and go exploring in the woods and neighboring yards for 15 to 30 minutes. I trust their ability and awareness of things I can’t see or detect, and I don’t take their reluctance lightly. I’m not that keen on walking around after dark in our neighborhood either. There are no sidewalks and barely one street light every 10 houses.

It has me wondering what they know that I don’t. What creepy predator might be lurking in the woods behind the house with the deer, turkey and owl? I read enough Stephen King novels in high school and college to have slept with the light on for several years. I hear the mysterious beast in the neighborhood that emits the chilling howl that wakes us up after midnight every few nights. I’m trusting the dogs on this -- if they don’t want to go walking after dark, we don’t have to. We'll stay inside and grow fat and happy together.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Headline News

Every day, multiple times a day, I scan the headlines on Yahoo. I don't always read the articles, because sometimes the headlines alone are plenty of entertainment. In with the legitimate, hard (read: usually depressing) news is the soft news -- heavy on the Hollywood "Who really cares?" variety, that offsets the gloom of everything else. Without the fluff news, it's possible we'd all be sobbing raw nerves in need of therapy. Those who read the news, anyway.

Every once in a while, my selective attention plucks out a series of headlines in a day or a series of days that send me over the top. It happened again this week.

On the heels of the national election that dominated the news for what felt like forever, these are some of the real Yahoo headlines that caught my eye from  amongst the hard news of weather disasters, stock market drops, the near-daily gunfights in the 'Ville,  and 8,000 year old bones in an ancient well:

"Worst celeb tattoos"
"Party schools that pay off"
"In Hollywood, I’m obese"
"Middleton rocks same dress"
"Michelle Obama recycles Michael Kors dress"
"Sasha Obama election night skirt was first worn by Malia"


It’s "news" that Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States, and Kate Middleton, the wife of Prince William, recently wore dresses they had already worn before? And Sasha Obama wore a hand-me-down skirt on election night? OH MY GAWD!!!  Public figures behave like everyone else and presidential children have to suffer with hand-me-downs?

And this is newsworthy?!?!?

Perhaps, since the election, these are slow news days (until the breaking news about David Petraus resigning from the CIA, anyway). Maybe it’s the work of publicists attempting to illustrate that Royals and First Ladies with access to top designers and money that most people can only dream of, are just like the rest us (at least in a tight economy). Sure they live in palatial residences with cooks and staff, but look -- they wear their designer clothes more than once!

On the bright side, parents everywhere can now say, (with full journalistic backing), that "If hand-me-downs are good enough for the president's kid, they are good enough for you, [fill in first, middle and last name of whining child protesting wearing clothes of older sibling]."  

Imagine if this was "news" for normal people -- all of us non-royal, non-presidential, working-stiff  types. I can see the shocking headlines now:

"School teacher wears same cardigan over five year period"
"Office worker wears same suit to three different client meetings in one month"
"Utility worker wears same five uniforms in rotation throughout 15 year career"

If wearing clothes more than once is a newsworthy event, then most of us probably deserve a medal. Or a new outfit.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Macaroni Love

Sometimes things get stuck in your cranium. Well, mine anyway. The things vary --it might be a passage of music or snippet of lyrics, odd phrase, snatch of fragrance from a passing co-worker that lodges in my sinuses, a memory of a flavor or food texture -- pleasant or otherwise.

It can strike with sudden ferociousness, like when I'm at my desk pushing around papers with lots of headache-inducing banking regulatory language and suddenly it pops into my head that I need mashed potatoes, which will be stuck in my mind for as long as it takes to either procure and devour mashed potatoes or forget that I wanted them. Sometimes, it's more subtle -- overhearing someone talk about ice cream on Monday, seeing an ice cream ad Tuesday, then slipping into a full-blown ice cream craving on Wednesday, even though dairy is not always my friend and stuffs up my sinuses.

Many a morning I have  awoken with a song stuck in my head -- the past few weeks it's been Barenaked Ladies crooning the theme music from Big Bang Theory. Lately, I drift off to sleep to and endless loop "Heart and Soul" from the new iPad Mini commercial.

Sometimes, a food craving can be triggered by actually eating it. The most recent addiction was instigated during a Satruday lunch at the Old Chicago pizza bar. I've known OF the lunchtime pizza bar for years, but ordered it only once, a couple years ago. About ten minutes into raking leaves, my mind was wandering and I started thinking about lunch. After checking in with a friend and considering Korean food (our usual) we made plans to shake things up and meet at Old Chicago for the lunch pizza bar.

I'm not sure if the pizza bar has the same things all the time, but that particular day there were pepperoni, vegetarian, and ham and pineapple pizzas set out, plus garlic bread sticks and marinara. And macaroni and cheese. I was there for the pizza, but the macaroni intrigued me -- pale, long, loose curls of macaroni in a creamy sauce. I took a small scoop. It was good. It tasted like more. I went back. The mac and cheese bowl had been replaced with another pizza. Sad face.

Immediately upon leaving Old Chicago, I was already thinking about having the macaroni and cheese again. On Sunday, I was still thinking about it. Based on my obsessive food history, I figured the best way to handle it was to tackle it head on. I hit the recipe box and visited the pasta reserves in the pantry, where there is almost always an array of pasta shapes and sizes suitable for capturing sauces, swimming in soups and baking in casseroles.

The recipe I used is good, but nowhere as tasty as the other one I have that calls for five types of cheese, nor as creamy as the stuff at Old Chicago. I didn't have five types of cheeses (only two) and was too lazy to look up a creamy recipe. Because I live alone, that 8-inch square baking dish of my dense mac and cheese has fed me for five days now. Lunch tomorrow should (thankfully) finish it off and I suspect it will be a while before I'll be loving macaroni and cheese again. I hope.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Packing Right

Packing for a trip is one of the most challenging tasks of which I know, with "challenging" being positive-speak for "colossal pain in the arse." I love to visit other places, but the idea of gathering clothes and being separated from my closet for any length of time is frightening. I rarely plan clothes in advance and feel disloyal choosing “favorite” outfits. Any time I've tried to plan clothes ahead, I wake up in the wrong mood or the wrong weight, and it's back to square one anyway.

Once upon a time, I was really, really good at packing. A blissful stretch of time in Massachusetts in the 1980s and 90s involved frequent weekend trips to Maine, Cape Cod and New York, and grand vacations on cruise ships and to Caribbean Islands. Back then, life was a Travel Channel adventure and "What if..." was the guiding mantra. What if we went into Manhattan?  What if we went to the theatre or a nice restaurant? What if there was a great new dance club? What if ... I could pack blindfolded and knew exactly what to cram into a bag or two or three to provide critical and varied wardrobe options to cover all potential scenarios.

Overpacking to cover any and all foreseeable social situations resulted in a sense of obligation to change outfits for each activity -- as many as three or four times a day.  It was part of the fun of stepping outside regular life and being someplace else. A single day in "real life" rarely included shopping and a picnic and a trip to the beach and a nightclub and ice cream stand and a restaurant, but those were the norm on a weekend or vacation trip.

"Real life" featured endless hours trapped in the same spot at work, interrupted only by trips to the restroom and maybe outside the building for lunch, followed by a car ride home or to the grocery store. The only times outfits were changed during a "normal" day was if catastrophe struck -- like a coffee spill or the unfortunate explosion of a critical seam in the back of one’s skirt or pants.

A wardrobe evolution to predominantly black made packing even easier. Mostly black equals instant coordination and clothes for a week-long visit to Paris in November 1999 fit into one suitcase that technically qualified as a carry-on – and even included an extra coat. It was the epitome of coordination and efficiency which has never yet been replicated.

Since moving to Tennessee, my travel schedule has declined from regular, interesting and frequent to once or twice a year, at best. Sorely out of practice, there are semiannual panicked tailspins at the horrific idea of packing for a holiday visit home.

One of the difficulties (of course I mean "challenges") is the abundance of activities that may be proposed while 1,000 miles away from the comfort of the closet. Past travel has included sledding, ice skating, hiking, swimming, night clubs, fine restaurants, casinos and midnight swims in the ocean immediately after leaving a nightclub -- most of it spontaneous. Toes were frozen, snowsuits borrowed, clothing items destroyed by chlorine or salt water. Sometimes, activities were declined due to the absence of proper footwear or a swimsuit.

A recently cultivated nuance to packing involves forgetting some ordinary, yet critical, everyday item.  I’ll arrive with a suitcase stuffed with 50 pounds of clothing and shoes and still need an emergency trip to WalMart or Target for pajamas, sweatpants, a toothbrush, contact lens supplies or underwear.

For Christmas 2011, it felt like I had a pretty good idea of what to pack. The Christmas itinerary was planned and weather forecasts called for not too cold and not snowy. Basic standard needs were something to wear for Christmas and to church, something in case I went out with friends, pajamas, and sweats or jeans for relaxing time spent at the table annihilating family members in Scrabble (my favorite game on the planet). Seemed simple enough.

The Parisian wardrobe packing model was followed with everything charcoal gray or black mix-and-match with punches of color in the purple Christmas jacket, a teal jersey and a bright green cashmere sweater. If a garment didn't work in at least two outfit combinations or coordinate with the pearly pink cane supporting me and my compound fractured leg, it stayed home.

In a crazy, whimsical moment of fantasy, a "Let's pretend I go out on a date or have a job interview" cream-colored lace shirt was tossed into the mix, to be worn with a cardigan or the purple jacket and either the black skirt or jeans or pinstripe pants (multiple combinations!). It was crazy, because there had been exactly three dates in the previous 18 months and it is questionable that one was an actual date. There were also no interviews scheduled, but I am a little bit of a Boy Scout (Be Prepared!). 

While no dates or job interviews materialized during the week, a much grander invitation was extended -- to be a guest on a TV talk show. That launched a wave of total panic over the paralyzing wonderment of what to wear on a show taping in two days. Of all the varied activities that ever flitted through the imagined realm of possibility, "being on TV" was NEVER once considered when packing for a trip. Now that it’s happened, I guess it can go on the list.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Reflection

Some people I know (or have known) can recollect with amazing clarity every ballot cast in their voting histories. I am not one of those people. Granted, some of them are decades younger than I am, with briefer, fresher voting legacies than my own, and that might help. Others are much older and their ability to remember such things makes me feel like an amnesia patient.

Legal voting age (and at the time, drinking age) greeted me right before starting freshman year of college, but it was a couple years for the next presidential election. My first and perhaps only “political activism” (the term is used loosely here) took place in college when my wardrobe was rich in flannel shirts and Wrangler jeans. Basically, I dressed a lot like the guys I had crushes on, and that is the type of outfit worn to at least one anti-nuclear themed keg party held in the woods. Our beer drinking was punctuated by the occasional fist-pumping chants of “Hell no, we won’t glow!” to remind us why we were there as we shivered in the dark. That is the type of stuff I remember. If you can tell me what I was wearing, I can probably tell you what we were doing.

I have no idea how we thought a cluster of a dozen college kids drinking in the woods in the dark would change anything related to the debate over nuclear power, but I’m sure it made sense at the time.

As for the candidates in my first national election? Well, I’d be one fresh corpse if my next breath depended upon recalling which name I marked in that first major election (or many of those to follow).

My grandmother, who could relate with amazing detail stories from her youth during the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression, could list every candidate she ever voted for and the reasons why. On the approach to Election Day, she would proudly declare that she was officially registered as an Independent voter and never voted a straight party ticket. She believed it was bad for one political group to hold all the power, and balanced her choices amongst affiliations, focusing on individuals in whom she felt she could place her trust.

I share my grandmother’s philosophy about parties and candidates, but, unlike she could, I can’t reel off my choices in most past elections. This is not especially alarming to me, as many days I can’t recall what I ate for breakfast. Perhaps if I was involved and passionate about politics (or had a voting outfit designated for the occasion) it all might have a more permanent impression.

The political impression I do hold is that it’s a personal responsibility as a U.S. citizen to vote. I’m hugely offended by people who piss and moan about elected officials and/or candidates campaigning for office, and who haven’t voted in the past and have no intention to vote at present. One friend, in advance of the contentious 2000 Presidential Election, complained about candidates and issues the entire election season, then confessed that at the age of 30, had never registered and voted. Ever. Seriously? That’s the same year I deliberately scheduled an international trip and wedding plans for after Election Day to ensure nothing hindered my ability to vote.

While not the most politically involved citizen (I don’t campaign for candidates or post political displays of affection in my yard or on my vehicle), I take voting seriously. Before heading to the voting machine, I almost always review a sample ballot for my own comfort level – a lesson learned after at least one head-splitting election featuring complicated referendum questions that read like the deliberately confusing word problems on a standardized test. As tough as some choices may seem, I can’t even imagine living in a place where people can’t help shape their society with a vote.

My bottom line (for what it's worth) – please vote. It doesn’t matter to me for whom you cast your ballot, just be part of the process. And if you choose to not vote, please keep your mouth shut for the next four years.