Saturday, December 27, 2008

Seasonality


Here we are, smack in the middle of the holiday season--Christmas behind us, New Year's ahead. Now that we've enjoyed our feasts and family togetherness (the lucky among us, anyway), we traditionally turn our attention to ourselves. Yes, it's time to rev up for the New Year's Resolutions.

I've never been one for these things, though. I am such a perfectionist that I constantly have self-improvement goals buzzing around in my head. Lose weight, of course, and exercise. Keep up with housework. Get on those house maintenance projects. Volunteer more. Cook more, eat out less. I figure, if I want to improve myself, why wait 'til New Year's?

But as it is, we will start seeing articles and stories, studies and editorials about the traditions and origins of resolutions, suggestions for you and for celebrities, serious and satirical. It is fascinating to watch these ideas spread through our common culture. Kind of like the Roomba-riding cat--first you see it on one internet site, then another. Then maybe a reference on the radio, or a headline on a magazine. Then it hits the tv news, and everybody's talking about it.

So now I am thinking of a brief letter to the editor that appeared in the Christmas copy of the Charlotte Observer. It was one that made me say "Yes! Thank you for putting that into print!" I wish it would also spread through the media:


"This time of year the Observer trots out its several urgings and admonitions to get into 'the spirit of the season' and 'do something kind for others.' Just as predictably, after the holidays most readers will return to their settled habits of self-absobed hedonism.

Meanwhile, the houses of worship in our community are active 52 weeks a year in...the lives of the needy... To truly make a difference in the lives of others,get involved in your local church or synagogue." Bob Jack, pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church.

(I would add "or any charity working for the common good.")

It has long bothered me to observe this overwhelming public desire to provide gifts to put under the tree, or elaborate holiday feasts, for people who may not have a tree to start with, or a table to put that 20-lb turkey onto. Then we, as a culture, go on our merry way, trying to avoid eating too much, while never stopping to wonder what happens to those families after all the leftover turkey is gone. Hey, we did our good deed for the year, now let them provide for themselves.

Somehow, that poor single mother of three who is deserving of our sympathy and assistance for the last month of the year, transforms into a single welfare mother living off the dole. The family whose father lost his job may have gotten Barbie dolls and new clothes for Christmas, but when it comes to putting food on the table in February, he should stop sucking up unemployment and get to work.

We can be such a hypocritical society. I think the political arguments over the past year or two have also brought out the worst in us. We "hate" welfare recipients, CEOs, immigrants, the wealthy, unions, and of course, liberals and conservatives. Somehow, at Christmas, we get past all the arguments about who's celebrating what, or not, and create an outpouring of compassion.

My question to you is: are we doing this the other 11 months of the year? Maybe you are, personally. So are you encouraging others? Instead of New Year's resolutions, perhaps we should make monthly goals for the new year. In January, spend two weekends visiting nursing homes. In February, volunteer in a soup kitchen. In March, raise and/or donate money to an international cause. And each month, advertise what you're doing, to raise awareness among your family, friends, coworkers, etc.

Or you could focus on one charity, but still make monthly goals--so many hours a month, or bring in one person a month to spend a few hours volunteering with you.

Sounds pretty ambitious, and today, another gray, drizzly day, I don't have a whole lot of ambition in me. But maybe I'll play around with this idea and see if I don't come up with something that inspires me. I don't have any extra money in my budget, but I do have time. We should all give what we can. For me, this does happen to spring from my Christian upbringing, but everybody should have some sense of reaching out to make our community more whole, just by dint of living in and with human society.

After all, didn't we all learn something about sharing in kindergarten?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Holiday Hangover

No alcohol involved, but today was a dreary, energy-less day. Not a whole lot going on in the noggin. But I did take a photo of last night's dinner, and wanted to show off. I find Miss Chef's plates so beautiful, even if it is old hat for her. They of course don't come over quite as well as in real life, and I'm of course not a professional photographer, but...YUM!

Dammit, Blogger, why d'ya gotta go flippin' my flippin' pictures around???


Well, anyway, what we have here (from left to...oh, right, I guess from TOP TO BOTTOM, stoopid, grumble, dumb...) is: roasted potatoes (made by yours truly, thankyouvurymush), topped with sautéed apples and duck confit, pan-roasted duck breast in blueberry/pomegranate sauce, and sautéed spinach. Miss Chef loves to make me eat my veggies. Oh yeah, there were some haricots verts in there, too.

It was even better right-side up.

Stoopid Blogger. Hmph.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

It's noon on Christmas day when I'm posting this. And I'm not in the mood to wax philosophical, or to self-edit, so I'm gonna post the equivalent of 5,000 words in picture form. Hope all my two or three faithful readers are having cozy, fun days off.



Here I am! It's Rosie and I (Miss Chef is camera shy, and was doing photography duty).


Coziness abounds...


O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree...


Here is the beginnings of our Christmas dinner--roasted duck bones ready to turn into stock for a duck confit. Whatever did I do to deserve all this? Well, I guess all those weekends alone, plus the extra laundry, has earned me something. Maybe, if I'm not too drowsy, I'll post a picture of the final product later.

Yum!

Correction: Miss Chef has informed me "The stock has nothing to do with the confit." Ah well, I'll eat it all up anyway. And this simply reminds me of the importance of always having something new to learn from your loved ones! (For the curious, the stock is for the pomegranate/blueberry reduction to sauce the roasted duck breast; the confit uses just the fat and the legs. Silly me.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happiness Is...


I found this image while looking for a "happy" pic for an earlier post, and doesn't it just bring back some memories! Actually, I don't remember any of the other images, but I do remember coming up with my own, less philosophical versions over the years. I think I shall share them, and see what I can add (apologies to Charles Schulz if I accidentally step on his toes) :

Happiness is a drawer full of clean underwear.

Happiness is an empty bladder. (ahhhhhh....)

Happiness is a warm shower on a cold day.

Happiness is not having to scrape your windshield on a cold morning.

Happiness is a quiet early morning that belongs only to you.

Happiness is when somebody else did the dishes/mopped the floor/mowed the lawn...before you got to it.

Happiness is finding out it's just a dead light bulb.

Happiness is coming home to the smell of dinner.

Happiness is a warm dessert.

Happiness is when that semi does not pull out in front of you.

Happiness is when someone brings donuts the morning you didn't have time for breakfast.

Happiness is a sale price on the item you have a coupon for.

Happiness is unexpected chocolate.

Happiness is seeing the speeder who tailgated you earlier, on the side of the road in front of a police car.

Happiness is thinking of the perfect comeback before it's too late.

Happiness is getting your hair to do the same thing the hairdresser did.

Happiness is finding plenty of leftover time on the parking meter.

Happiness is losing weight accidentally.

Happiness is realizing there's no school traffic the day you're running late.

Happiness is figuring out how to fix it--in front of an audience.

Happiness is when the dog stops dead and comes running back at your desperate whistle.

Happiness is having all the ingredients already for a new recipe.

Happiness is pulling that person's name up out of your memory just in time.

Happiness is finding comments on your blog!

And on that note...got any others to share?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Road Rage


I was just over at Horrible License Plates--a blog dedicated to exposing ridiculous vanity plates--and was sucked into a Hummer hatefest. So far, not a single defender of the giant road beasts. Honestly, I've only known one person who owned a Hummer, and he was so weird everyone in our office was kind of scratching our heads over that one. It really was a case of making up for something--or everything--because then he went and bought his wife one! Mind you, these folks were nearing retirement age, and though they were doing fairly well, they were both just cubicle rats.* I don't get it.

But the Hummer is not alone--it's just the most extreme manifestation of the ego-via-vehicle phenomenon. I don't imagine our country is unique in this sickness, but I suspect we have taken it higher and wider than anywhere else. It used to be Old Money went for the German imports; New Money for the flashy sports cars, probably Italian, maybe American. But then we got this new version of middle class--all of the income, none of the discretion. Whatever was bigger, stronger, flashier or just more expensive; we NEEDED it.

Oh, it started out so subtly, so innocently. Somehow it became impossible to drive two kids to a soccer game in a sedan. No, we NEEDED a minivan. After all, we have to haul all that gear. Really? Shin guards, cleats and maybe a soccer ball? Well, no, there's more--now that we have all that room, how about we bring a cooler full of iced-down goodies for the kids?

So now, instead of a simple game requiring two goals and a single ball, we've got vanloads of chairs, coolers, umbrellas, extra uniforms and shoes...and we NEED all of it. Can't possibly get along without it. Hey, parents, we all have to pitch in an extra $25 Snack Fee!

Then along comes the SUV, and suddenly the minivan isn't good enough. Oh, it's alright for getting the kids to school (bus? Why let my poor little Susie ride the bus that goes by our house every morning? She might have to breathe fresh air for entire minutes; and she just might start talking to those other kids whose parents don't have SUVs). However, now that we have all that new equipment for those soccer games, it's really so much more convenient to have the bigger vehicle. Plus, y'know, Dad wouldn't be caught dead in a minivan. He NEEDS an SUV.

True story: my brother, once married, declared he would never have a minivan in his name. When their second child made it more or less a necessity, he made his wife put it in her name. Today he drives a "crossover," which he doesn't seem to realize is the minivan of tomorrow. I snicker gently behind his back, smug in my childless superiority. It still has crushed Cheerios in the console, regardless of the horsepower.

Anyway, our culture's sick cycle of needing more space for more Stuff we don't need simply amazes me. I occasionally wonder if I'm the crazy one, living in a house under 1500 square feet, without even a minivan in the driveway, no pool, no boat, no flatscreen tv, no Wii, no hot tub, not even Tivo, for crying out loud! How can anyone LIVE this way??

Um, well, just fine, as it turns out. I have other things--books, a garden, a dog, a blog, quiet time for contemplation, and a positive net worth. I stepped off the rat racetrack a several years back, and while I do still envy some of those material goods, I know that it's an addiction. Like any recovering addict, I need to stay "clean," and remind myself that as long as I have my home, my health, my love and my mind, there's really nothing else I need.

Want? That's a whole different story. In fact that's the key: want does not equal need. A lesson I dearly wish our whole society would learn. Why the heck are we sucking up resources, not only from nature, but from other humans who could use a roof over their heads more than we could use another toy? Because we earned it? How? By being born in an overprivileged nation that protects its own? By sitting on our duffs in front of a computer or on the phone, or perhaps even driving around to meetings?

I keep hoping this current "economic downturn" will shake us out of our collective state of denial. However, all I've sensed thus far is lip service to the concept of "simplifying" one's lifestyle. I remember hearing that about 10 or 15 years ago, just before the SUV boom. So excuse me for being doubtful. I guess I'm just going to have to wait for everyone who's overextended to end up either selling off their oversized toys, or living in them. Maybe then they'll "get back to nature." Or at least get real.

And, in conclusion: Bah, humbug! But don't worry; I've got a real happy-happy post lined up for tomorrow!
*I can say that...I am a cubicle rat.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Thankful



I was just reading over some of my old posts, something I like to do to see if they sound any different to me than when I wrote them. I was also trying to imagine what kind of image a stranger might get of me and my life from the little bits I choose to describe. (This partly thanks to Alix, who has so graciously linked to my blog from hers--*blush*).
Somehow, what emerged from my self-perusal is a realization of how much I have to be thankful for. Not the obvious things, but the things that I've started to take for granted, and might make someone from the outside say, "Gee, it must be nice...".

For example, I mentioned in an earlier post the possibility of refinancing my mortgage. It sure is nice to have a mortgage! I'm in my first house, finishing up our second year, and it's truly been dreamy. Oh, well, yeah, keeping the lawn mowed is a 9-month-out-of-the-year headache, and every single door seems to need repair, BUT...no shared walls, no fighting for a parking space, no trips to the communal mailbox, no wondering if we should call the police about the argument next door... I recently helped a friend move out of an apartment, and it was a wonderful, glorious feeling to know that I've left that all behind--fingers crossed--forever.

It sure is nice to be able to pay the mortgage, on time, every month.

It sure is nice to have such a nice, quiet, friendly, safe and well-maintained neighborhood. Ours is a classic "modest neighborhood" of pretty small houses on 1/4 acre lots. But there is not a single overgrown yard or junk car, and I haven't heard of any break-ins. Yes, we have an HOA, but they don't really do very much--believe me, if they were patrolling grass length or weed control, we would know!

It sure is nice to have the time, the equipment, space and know-how to bake Christmas cookies. How many people are so busy working two jobs they don't have an hour to themselves? Or are so tired at the end of a 14-hour day they can do nothing more strenuous than crack open a beer? How many young people are raised without ever learning how to cook a single thing for themselves? It's truly a sad, sad society we live in when it's so easy to get by without even knowing how to do the most basic thing of all: feed yourself. This is not a judgment on these people; it's recognition of how hard it is to be poor, uneducated and/or excluded from mainstream society.

It sure is nice to have a partner. I spent 5 years living entirely alone in various apartments, and let me tell you...it sucked. Miss Chef doesn't realize it, but every day I come home and prowl around the house, trying to find clues to what she did before she left for work. Cup and book on the coffee table--she read all morning. Papers on the desk--she paid bills. Dog is sleepy--she did something in the backyard; let's go check it out! It's just nice to have that little bit of animation in the house; the movements of another life. Even though we only get a couple evenings a week together, living with at least one other person is the way we were meant to be.

It sure is nice to have a dog. And such a great dog! Rosie is so obedient (most of the time), eager and attentive. She's the perfect size to fit our wee little ranch house, but still big enough to give bear hugs to. She's not nervous or aggressive in any way. When I had her tested for Therapy Dogs International, she had to do a down and stay while I walked away and back to her. As I approached her, she rolled over on her back, and I think that's when she passed! The tester was really happy to see her so relaxed and submissive.

It sure is nice to have internet access. We went for a brief while without the internet while living in Mobile, and it was surprising how hamstrung I felt. It still irritates me to this day when I hear news broadcasters say "For more information, log onto our website." Are they not serving the poor? No, I guess not. Even the companies trying to get your business as your internet provider would only advertise a website, not a phone number! Um....duh?? Today, I see lots of CSAs about the need for digital converter boxes for folks who still use rabbit ears. Again, "...visit www...." C'mon, what are the chances that someone without access to cable or satellite is gonna have an internet connection? (Ok, we do, but we're crazy suburban hippies.)

I sure could go on...it sure is nice to be able to read, to have a job, to have all my own teeth, to have an education and be aware of the world around me, to have two living and still-married parents, to have a sister-in-law I love...but right now I'm thinking, it sure would be nice to get into bed and read my book for a while.

Yup. Sure is nice around here today.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

Oh ho, ho; the Christmas spirit is strong in this one! I found out last week that I'll be getting out early from work Christmas eve, which means Miss Chef and I will get one full and two half days together--48 hours' worth over 3 days. That also means that I will be getting 4 1/2 days off in a row by using only 1 vacation day. Time off with a loved one: what better gift can there be?

As a result, I'm already starting to relax--the gifts and cards have been mailed out, presents wrapped, and there isn't even any snow to shovel. So what's a happy Christmas girl to do? Why, bake cookies, of course!



Hey, Miss Chef isn't the only one who knows her way around the kitchen! Making and decorating cookies was always one of my favorite holiday activities as a child--even as a teenager, I still deigned to join my mother in the kitchen for this one event without complaining too much. More recently, I've made my sister-in-law very happy by taking over cookie-making duties with her eldest. (Miss Chef and I are working on making him a kitchen god!)

Since there are only two of us in the household, I decided to make this batch for our neighbors--something I wanted to do last year, but never got around to. Unfortunately, Miss Chef didn't have the werewithal, nor the time, to join me this year, but I was in a good enough mood to enjoy the project alone.

For me, the most fun is decorating. I'm not one to get out the royal icing; I'm still more than satisfied to go for the undisputable homemade look:

Hey, just give me some colored sugar and sprinkles, and I'll see what I can do! My favorite is the stripey Christmas tree garland, but I'm having fun "dressing" the angels.

Lest you think I was sad and lonely without Miss Chef, don't forget I had the undivided attention of little Rosie. Here she is patiently waiting with me while the first batch bakes:

She absolutely hates to get her picture taken. I suspect as a puppy she must have had too many flashes go off in her face. So most of her pictures have that guarded look about them. Anyway, this is her favorite kitchen observation corner, but usually only after we've told her to "get BACK!" She takes her KP duties very seriously.

Twelve minutes later, here's the final product (not sure why it's rotated this way, but you get the idea...they're cooked.):

Ah, but the story's not quite over yet! I had some scraps left to re-roll and bake, and while they were chilling in the fridge, I thought I'd go ahead and run some errands before it got dark. I packed up all the decorations in a box on the table, leaving things neat, but ready for action upon my return.

However, it seems that little Rose decided it was time for her to be a Christmas elf, and help me out with the baking. When I returned from KMart, the box of decorations was sideways on the table, and some of the sprinkles had mysteriously migrated to the opposite corner of the living room--along with the last remnants of the bag of flour.

Look at those paws! Look at that guilty expression! If you look closely, you can just see the bits of flour glued to her whiskers. At any rate, I guess her plans didn't work out--she didn't get any cookies made.

I'm glad that I've loosened up enough in my adulthood to be able to laugh when these things happen. But I've still got a red spot in my carpet to clean up; and haven't finished that last batch. The neighbors have gotten theirs, though, and that's what counts.

I didn't put Rosie's name on the gift labels, in spite of her efforts. Some things are better left alone.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wish List


Hmmm...things are slow at work today, so I thought I might play around a little. As with the elections, Christmas seems to seep into every thought, so let's go with it. How about a Christmas wish list?

Let's start with me, since, well, this is my party. What would I truly wish for? First, enough money to pay off my debt. Not even the mortgage; nope, I'd be satisfied with a little refinance action there. And thanks to the Fed, I just might get that wish.

What of material goods, you say? Hmmm... Well, two round-trip tickets to Paris, with reservations in a 3- or 4-star hotel in one of the first 5 or 6 arrondissements, and, what the heck, two metro passes. And connecting flights to Rome or Florence.

As long as we're at it, gimme some extra vacation days, to visit family and friends. Uh huh, yeah, there's New Jersey and Mobile, Chicago and Cleveland, maybe even San Francisco. Y'know, airline travel is a big pain in the derrière, so how about some private jet action? There should be a couple of extra corporate jets hanging around in Detroit. (You know they just mothballed those suckers until the storm dies down and they get their money.)

Around the house, just a couple weeks' worth of free handyman labor and supplies. Fix some doors, clean the siding, create some raised garden beds, and weed, weed, weed. Okay, maybe more than a couple of weeks. How about a year's subscription to handyman services? Yeah, now we're thinking.

For fun, I sure could use a bike. And while you're at it, some actual bike trails that connect to something without having to depend on the skills & alertness of phone-talking, coffee-drinking, kid-wrestling drivers of large vehicles, as well as avoiding inhalation of their exhaust fumes.

Oh, and speaking of exhaust fumes, let's get a couple of Priuses. And a garage to park them in. Sure, we might need to knock down the neighbor's house to fit it, but they were thinking of moving soon, anyway. Heck, they can live free in the guest quarters in exchange for that handyman service, if they want.

Ok, enough about me, what about some other people?

For Miss Chef, forgiveness of student loans, an addition to the house to expand the kitchen & create a library, and a Wii.

For my parents, a second home in northern NJ or upstate NY, plus use of that private jet. And a private physician and nurse on call. And maybe a cat.

For my brother and his family, job security and some extra time and attention for Ethan. Just for a little bit, though; let's not go crazy.

For my (other) neighbors, dog training sessions and/or a bark-control collar.

For my northern friends, a winter's worth of snow-shoveling service and an extra guest room in my house for when it all gets too gray up there. For my southern friends, a snow day.

Phew, that was fun! But I guess my first wish should be that there really is a Santa Claus, who can grant all these wishes.

Santa Claus, thy name is Lottery!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree


It is now the time of year during which most of my daily strolls with Rosie happen after dark. I am most definitely not a morning person, but even if I were, it would still be dark. Winter'll do that to you.

So, during the past couple of weeks, I've enjoyed seeing the different holiday decorations go up around the neighborhood. Thankfully there are fewer and fewer of those giant inflatable snowmen and huge snow-filled globes being kept erect by the efforts of industrial fans roaring into the "silent" night. I did see one such behemoth for which the engine had been tucked into the owner's garage. I applaud such thoughtfulness. The muffled noise didn't even make the dog's ears perk up.

I am a bit jealous of those people who have well-placed front windows to display their Christmas trees. We ourselves have quite a lovely, tall tree this year, but our only logical space is in the back of the house. I do hope the neighbors behind us can enjoy it, but since their shed is in the way, and they only use their backyard about 4 times a year, probably not.

Is it just me, or are there more, um, "active" light displays these days? I remember as a child, I always thought blinking lights were cool. They added animation, and I suppose a sort of hearkening back to a day I never knew, when real candles flickered on trees. Plus, growing up, it seemed we never had enough working ones to use on the tree. Not having something that "everyone else" does always adds allure for deprived young folks.

Tonight, though, I stopped to look at a big, full (probably artificial) tree prominently displayed in a large front window. It had multicolored and white lights, both of which had their own blinking programs. But this went beyond evoking quiet candlelight. These lights practically zoomed around the tree, changing up the pattern every few seconds, so as to prevent boredom, I guess. But, I thought, that's not what I want from a Christmas tree. I want peace, and quiet reflection. Not a Disneyesque laser light show.

I wonder if there are children in that household, and if so, whether they ever spend time lying on the floor, just looking at the tree. Lying still. Just looking. Maybe even...pondering. Wondering where Santa is right at that moment; what he's doing. Or, older, thinking about how good it feels to know there's a pile of presents with your name on them. How cozy it is to have the family all home, warm inside the house regardless of the weather outside. How great it is to have absolutely nothing else to do but lie on the floor, smelling pine and thinking of happy things. And to not have school tomorrow!

I just don't think I could do all that pondering, with a disco ball of a tree overhead. But perhaps, for a generation weaned on MTV and Playstation, it's hardly noticeable.

No, not the lights; I mean the tree! The tree is probably hardly noticeable. I mean, how can you win your Pokemon if you lift your eyes from the screen of your PSP? *pshhh* Like, whatev.

Well, whatever is right. I will continue to enjoy lying on the floor with the dog, poking through the presents when nobody's looking--never mind the fact that I wrapped most of them myself--and thinking about how nice it will be when Christmas morning arrives, with its excitement and food and togetherness. To each her own, but now that I've gotten past the childish thrill of presents, I'm learning to enjoy Christmas in a an entirely new way.

Of course, the presents don't hurt.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Speaking of Time Travel...


Where has it been going lately?? We have been incredibly busy, with visits from both sides of the family and Miss Chef's inhuman holiday schedule. She has been working from 8 am until 10 pm or later, every single day. I think she had last Saturday & Sunday mornings off. We miss each other, and now I have to do her chores, too.

Miss Chef certainly makes it hard for me to complain about being too busy, or tired. However, the end of the year inevitably takes its toll on everybody. I took a vow in August that I would opt out of the usual Christmas commercialism--no buying presents for folks who don't need them; no buying something just because everyone else is. And I've been pretty good about it. However, I still have two nephews and a niece, all under 10, who don't need to be Scrooged this Christmas. And of course, Miss Chef is certainly deserving of a few well-chosen tokens of the highest esteem in which I hold her. And, well, I did buy those gifts for my parents before I made that vow...so, really, it looks like my brother & sister in law, plus my co-workers, will be the only ones truly getting the shaft this year.

On the other hand, I have encouraged family members who really want to give us gifts to donate instead to Heifer International or Second Harvest. So maybe I will be making a difference after all.

Speaking of family, my parents left this past Monday after a 5-day visit. We went to a concert of The Boys of the Lough, an Irish quintet of typically sparkly fellows who play traditional Celtic music. They are very interested in preserving traditional tunes and gave us quite a musically geographic tour of the isles. Mom & Dad visited Ireland this past summer, and this was my birthday gift to Dad. Not only did they enjoy the concert, but also driving through the heart of downtown Charlotte after dark.


On a completely unrelated note...well, no; it is actually related in that, being busy, I haven't kept up with these friends as I should have. A couple I know from graduate school are in Ethiopa right now, meeting and bringing home their new daughter. This is their first child, and they have been very, very busy going through adoption proceedings and preparing themselves and their home for this lucky little girl. I can't imagine how excited they must be right now; they've been preparing for nearly a year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Little Tigist!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Time Travel


Last weekend, Miss Chef and I traveled north to the Cleveland area for a wedding. It was for one of my friends from college, and was a great opportunity to get the whole gang together again. My friends were happy to meet Miss Chef, and I was very happy to show her around the area where I grew up.

The wedding was fun, but that's only natural, since the first part of the ceremony involved generous pours of wine and whisky for all who wished to participate. The actual wedding ceremony was, of course, very touching, though I think the father of the bride cried more than anyone. Awww! I have to say I've never seen a happier bride--she nearly skipped down the aisle afterwards. The groom seemed pretty happy, too; at least he didn't have any trouble keeping up with his new wife.

At the reception, I managed to figuratively splash a little cold water at our college-reunion table when I began musing about how much our group has been through together--parents passing, degrees earned, and our first reproduction (one month old!). I started to figure out how long ago we had all met, but after the words "19 years" tumbled out of my mouth, there was a bit of a silence. Holy ---- ! I demand a recount.

What happened? I feel like we just graduated five years ago! Maybe precisely because we're still marrying off our friends, and "our" first baby is only a month old, I never readjusted my mental slide rule beyond "twenty-something." But now we're rolling rapidly toward 40--urgh. That is one birthday that is NOT going to go down easily. I don't want to imagine my friends as middle-aged. I had a weird moment when I looked at one of my friend's husband and saw him simultaneously as a 19 year-old and a 50 year-old. Weird. At least I managed to keep my mouth shut at that point.

I'm beginning to realize that I'm not ready to age, gracefully or otherwise. I prefer to remain in blissful denial, even as I recognize my parents' and brother's aging. Yep, he can turn 40, no problem there. But he can keep that for himself; I'm perfectly happy in my 30s. On the other hand, I know I should really stop worrying about only having so many "3"s left, and enjoy what I've got without counting. I've done that up to this point, why should I change that now?

Well, as at the wedding, I have found there is, if not a solution to this aging thing, at least a tool to manage it well. Wine. Not only does it soften the harsh edges of life, but it's doctor-recommended. I'm doing it for my health!

Yeah, like, awesome, dewd.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Yardwork

It's wonderful how much fuller my days are when I plan nothing. All I had on my list today was to go to the Humane Society--which didn't happen--and maybe go to the grocery store--which also didn't happen.

By the time Miss Chef left for work, I was sitting on the couch feeling sorry for myself for various reasons. But I knew that it wouldn't help to stay there, and Miss Chef had admonished Rosie to make sure I got off my butt and lived, or something to that effect.
Good dog!

I eventually found myself wandering outside, ostensibly with a plan to repot some houseplants. Somehow, this is what ended up happening:



I decided to try out the hedge trimmer Mom & Dad got me for my birthday (5 months ago...). When I took this picture, I thought I was pretty much done: we have 4 hollies in the front, but I hadn't really planned to work on more than one, and I had already rediscovered my shocking lack of upper-body strength as I worked to get this monster down to size. I had also already done these two bushes:


Yay! Now we can see out the kitchen window! I was pretty satisfied with what I had accomplished, but I was wondering how hard it would be to reach the top of the one closest to the front door, which had grown even more intimidating. (The truly intimidating thing is that Miss Chef had already attacked most of the hollies a couple of months ago, but they were still in need of...discipline.)

When I finally made myself quit, I almost had two matching shrubberies:
That's what I call "good enough." At least, until I head back out to trim the other two bushes, one of which I've been trying to reshape into something less round. I'm not sure I remember what my original goal was; there's a good chance it will end up looking just like these two. But that's a job/story for another day.

As for the trimmer, it was lovely to use. I felt like a sculptor. And I only cut the cord a little bit: Ha, ha, oops. Oh well, maybe a little electrical tape will fix it up.

Epilogue: I did also manage to get those houseplants repotted. Told you I had a busy day.

Editor's note: Please excuse any random spacing between paragraphs. There is something very fishy about Blogger's editing software, which seems to add and subtract empty lines somewhat at random.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Day in the Park

Miss Chef and I were celebrating this weekend, and decided to leave the chores behind for a day (sorry, dirty clothes, you'll have to wait). That did kind of put me behind this week, since it's now Wednesday and I'm just putting up pics.

As you've probably figured out, we decided to go to the Schiele* Museum, a natural history museum in Gastonia, just west of Charlotte. We had tried to stop in on our way home from a trip last month, but managed to arrive 20 minutes before closing, so put it off.
We were blessed with a perfect fall day: clear blue skies and temperatures just under 70 degrees. We did wander through the exhibits for a while, but the highlight was the trail through about 20 acres of woods.


These are a species of redwood, so I'm guessing they are evergreen. I just thought this would be a nice way to show what a beautiful day it was!



Miss Chef found the pond very attractive, but I simply pointed out that we have a perfectly picturesque pond at home that's much larger and has birds and turtles and such. So there.




As a natural history museum, the Schiele includes a replica of a Catawba Indian village. Unfortunately, it seemed to be under renovation. While we did get some insight into the construction of a stockade fence (which could not have been a fun chore for anyone cutting their own timber), we only had a peek through the logs at the village itself.




There is also a grist mill along the stream, which is also apparently undergoing renovation. (They sure do like to keep things new here at the Schiele.) You can see the newly constructed sluice extending under the bridge, and the very beginnings of the mill wheel to the far left. It all looks surprisingly rickety; no wonder they have to keep rebuilding it. I wonder if that was a regular event in the Olden Days? How long was a sluice or wheel to last? Well, the mill was closed, so I didn't get to ask anybody.




In the opposite direction, the stream wanders in a very picturesque way past another little footbridge. We saw tons of birds in silhouette, flying down to drink on the other side of the bridge. I was able to determine that they were mostly robins; probably one of the migrating flocks we see invading our lawns in the fall.




This was one of our favorite pictures, a cluster of mushrooms atop a stump next to the mill.

We did take lots more photos, but time limits me here. Still, I thought it might jazz the place up to have some more pictures; I know I like photos more than reading a wall of text!

*rhymes with "steel"

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Vous et nul autre


I kissed a girl, and eight years later she gave me a ring.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Not Much


Life is made up of little things. That is my attempt at being pithy in saying I haven't had many deep thoughts to work out in print. My mind is becoming cluttered with the usual collection of things to do, which is really more a list of things to worry about until I feel like doing them.

I am stupidly proud of myself for not missing any walks with Miss Rosie this week. Usually I start coming up with excuses mid-week about being too tired or too busy to spend a half-hour wandering the neighborhood. Perhaps it's the crispness of the fall weather, or the dog's resultant energy spurt, but I've been good. I'm even seriously considering dragging my butt back to the Humane Society to get back into that groove of dogwalking. (Please, if anyone's reading this, don't hold your breath.)

Today I decided to take Miss Rosie down one of the little cul-de-sacs that don't have sidewalks. I developed the habit of sticking to the sidewalks because I spend half the year walking a black dog in the dark, which does not make for safe conditions. I swear her coat actually soaks up light; crossing a room in the dark where she's lying in wait is a fast way to wake yourself up.

Anyway, so off we trundled, down what was essentially new territory for the doggie nose, and it was like walking a defferent dog. She was all over the place, leash manners be damned. Oh, she would listen to me when I told her to straighten out, but then a new lawn would beckon, something in that bush over there would move, or she'd hear an unfamiliar noise (no matter that it was ME putting something in my pocket; it was still worth going on high alert).

Rosie is quite adorable when her interest is aroused: half-flopped ears up, eyes wide open, bright pink tongue dangling from her open mouth and tail at full mast, she strikes a beautiful pose and stands stock still. Passerby often comment on her appearance, while I smile, try to thank them and do my best to avoid looking like a beast master as I struggle to get Rosie's attention again.

She generally has good leash manners, but when there's another dog to check out, every rule flies out of her head. She tends to forget there's something other than an anchor at the other end of the leash. As I learned the day I got her home, trying to move in a straight line from the driveway to the front door, that little 50-lb ball of fur can yank me right off my feet if she's of a mind to.

Well, we yanked and pulled and ran our zigzag path up and back on that cul-de-sac, until we got back to familiar territory: Sidewalk Land, where the rules have been well-established.

It's supposed to rain tomorrow, so I may have a great excuse to avoid walking her then...but the memory of her hop-skip-jumping along should goad me into remembering how much she needs to stretch her legs, and stimulate her mind (read: nose). And it's not like she's the only one who needs it!

Final thought for the day: If your dog's fat, you need to get more exercise.

Post-final thought for the day: If your dog's nonexistent, you should look into rectifying that situation.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pigeonholed


I am getting way too caught up in the election. I already know who I'm going to vote for in the major races (no, I have NOT finished my homework on judgeships and the like), but I can't stop reading online articles about--well, let's face it, I'm really only interested in the Presidential and VP candidates.

Every day I get irritated at the humunguous split between Conservative and Liberal; Republican and Democrat; Redneck and Intellectual Elite, etc., blah blah blah, so on and so forth... Such hatred is spewed, and boy howdy, if the internet isn't just a playground for anonymous name callers and conspiracy theorists.

And I'm part of the problem.

Because man, am I ever judgemental. I consider myself all tolerant and full of concern for my fellow man, and you can read my rant about judgemental Christians below...but I cling as tightly to my stereotypes as anyone out there. Okay, I'm aware (sometimes) of my hypocrisy, so that makes me a little better, but not much. I steam over the haters so much, I start to...hate them.

Duh.

Every once in a while, I'll read a comment or article that says, more or less, "Guys, chill. It's an election. Everyone gets a vote. Someone's gonna be President; someone's not. What are you gonna do about it Nov. 5th?" And I'll calm down for a while and be reasonable. But it's so much more fun to point fingers and prove yourself right, that I'm soon back at it.

One online article I read proposed that, in a society that has become largely ideologically segregated, the only place most people interact with those of differing opinions is at work. I think the author has a point, but many of us in fact don't even work with people much different than ourselves. Wouldn't liberal-minded lawyers be more likely to join liberal-leaning law firms? Don't most intellectual elites end up in academics and most capitalism-supporters end up in business? Of course, I know there are conservative professors and liberal managers out there, but I'm talking tendancies.

I work in an office that does have a mix of liberals and conservatives, and I am impressed that we all manage to talk politics without nasty labels or namecalling; maybe even exchanging an idea here or there. I have a good idea of who's voting for whom, but I respect their decisions regardless of their vote. I get frustrated with their reasons, even some who will be voting with me, because I think they are being brainwashed or focusing on unimportant issues. But at least they're thinking about it.

And through it all, I am often thankful that the nutcase next to me, who thinks we never landed on the moon, is there to remind me that nutcases can still be perfectly enjoyable human beings.

Still, I wish he would vote for MY guy.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Boob Tube



Miss Chef has the tv on in the next room as I sit here wondering what musings I had today that might develop themselves into something interesting. Though I'm not actively watching it, there's something magnetic about the sound of canned conversation that continually breaks my concentration. Which makes me think about the overwhelming presence of tv in American life.

When we moved, we decided to forgo cable for budgetary reasons, which has subsequently restricted our options to 5 networks plus 3 different PBS stations. With only 8 channels--or fewer, depending on the weather--I've often found it impossible to find anything watchable with a decent reception, and so have become much more comfortable turning the set off.

Nowadays, when people ask me if I watched Big Losers Star-Dancing with Bachelorettes, or whatever, I've developed a perverse enjoyment in responding "No; we don't have cable." Usually I get a pause, a blank look, and then a "well, anyway..." as they continue on. And I find myself exempt from trying to pay attention to or express interest in something that doesn't really deserve either. As an added bonus, my interlocuter realizes they need to cut to the chase, and the lack my knowledge in that show eventually leads the conversation into more fruitful areas.

However, the best bonus of tv lite is the incredible amount of time I have to do other things! Instead of spending an hour or two every evening staring into space, I often walk the dog, play in the garden, do chores or, perhaps most often, read through a hundred pages of a library book. All this, and we save hundreds of dollars every year.

*********

For example...now two hours have gone by, and instead of watching reruns of Two and a Half Men, I have enjoyed a wonderful hearty meal prepared by Miss Chef, followed by s'mores toasted over our fire pit outside (under the quiet supervision of Rosie the dog). Don't get me wrong; I really enjoy that show, and it makes me laugh, but it's still easier for me to turn it off for something else. For now, I'm free of the addiction of tv.

An addiction it is...Miss Chef and I occasionally discuss what channels or shows we miss in our uncabled home, but I'm nervous about the day we decide we can budget for cable. It won't be two weeks before I "have to" catch a different show every night. Our conversations usually end with "if only we could just pick the half-dozen channels we really want." (Don't worry--I'm not about to start analyzing cable and satellite packaging schemes.)

So, tomorrow at work, I may not be able to swap stories about how Jake learned something off-color from Uncle Charlie, but I'm betting one or two people will be just a leetle bit jealous of my s'mores fest on the patio.

APPENDIX: Y'know, if you google images of "boob tube," you don't get a whole lot of pictures of tv sets. Just a little extra info for your personal edification.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Furballs


Sunday, and the living is...dusty. Since I've moved South, I seem to have more motivation for Fall Cleaning than Spring Cleaning. Finally, we can open the windows and air out the stale funk and humidity, and let in the cool breezes and sounds of the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, this probably means my neighbors are treated to the piercing sound of my aging vacuum cleaner. It has--I think--a hyperactive full-bag alarm, so that after the first 3 minutes of happy housewife vacuuming, I am forced to push an earsplitting siren around my living room, trying unsuccessfully to suck up carpet-clinging black dog hair. Grrrrr....I would love to ditch this thing in favor of one of those tornado-action bagless jobbies that are becoming ubiquitous.

I actually spent several minutes today poring over the vacuum page of the Target flyer, wondering what the difference is between the $79 model, the $129 one and the $459 one. Sheesh; are there really that many people who have that much money to spend on a vacuum cleaner?? No wonder everyone bursts into tears when the economy or rising gas prices threaten household budgets. The "typical" American has gotten used to the best of everything.

Of course, this being two weeks before the election, everything in my mind relates back to the candidates. And the same thought occurs to me during many daily chores: When was the last time Senators Obama, McCain or Biden, or Governor Palin pushed the vacuum through their own houses? Do you think they even know where the vacuum cleaner is? Or the bathroom cleaner? Do you think they have a preference of Tilex vs. Lysol with Bleach? What are their stances on environmentally-friendly laundry detergent?

Do you honestly think any of these people can really relate to you and me?

Honestly?

Me neither.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Decisions, decisions...


I've spent the afternoon trying to choose whom to elect to the various offices up for grabs in my precinct. Besides the well-publicized presidential and gubernatorial races, there are 30 other contested seats, and four bond referendums to be decided. That's a lot of homework! After a couple of hours, I still have 20 more decisions to make.


This raises three questions in my mind:


1) Is it asking too much of the "typical" voter to spend 6 hours studying candidate statments and endorsements? This is beyond the 5 hours or so I've already spent watching televised debates (and I didn't even watch the first presidential debate). I only work 40 hours a week and have no children; I can't imagine parents finding that kind of time to surf the net as I've been doing.


2) Why can't we centralize candidate information? The state Board of Elections should set up a web site containing brief statements from all candidates who file to run, including links to their own web sites.


3) How the hell am I supposed to know what qualifications are necessary for the Register of Deeds or the Commissioner of Agriculture? North Carolina judges are also elected positions; there are 13 contests for judgeships that I am to vote for. I'm going to be elitist here: if I, a very well-educated voter with excellent reading skills and an active interest in seeking out information, have a hard time making these choices, what about the rest of the voters? The people who barely finished high school, people who aren't interested or not comfortable reading "between the lines," people who don't care or don't have the time to figure out what important issues will face a District Court Judge--how are they to make informed, intelligent decisions?


I remember the giddyness of our entry into the "Information Age." Now it's the Information Overload Age, and we're not doing a very good job negotiating it. Thank God for Google.


Also, if I am still blogging in April, be prepared for my income tax rant, which will decry the increasing complexity of a task required of all US citizens in the labor force. Should be fun!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Religious Difficulties


I've started keeping up with the blog at http://www.venganza.org/, or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can get more info at the website, but it's essentially a fake religion created in response to a Kansas schoolboard's attempt to install creationism as an equivalent to science. There are quite a few atheists on the site, and a fair amount of Christian-dissing, but the original idea is to squelch our country's ironic penchant for religious intolerance.

I posted the following in response to a news article about a conflict between pro-life and pro-choice protesters at a college in Missouri:



I’m gonna go out on a limb here and admit that I consider myself a Christian. I’m a child of two biochemists who don’t see any conflict between science and Christianity, I think the Bible is a flawed book open to interpretation, and I’m happy to accept the unprovable parts of my beliefs under the banner of “faith;” nor will I dispute the unprovability of it… but I have stopped identifying myself as Christian.

Nowadays, in the US, whenever I see a symbol of Christianity, or read/hear someone state “I’m Christian,” my first reaction is not “Oh, goody, a follower of Christ’s message of love and tolerance.” No, it’s “Oh, great, another narrow-minded, brainwashed, anti-intellectual conservative who will automatically hate and exclude me from worship because God made me gay.”

I’m not ready to give up my spiritual beliefs, but I feel like “my” church has betrayed me. Just as extreme Islam has made westerners equate “Muslim” with “terrorist,” the word “Christian” has been co-opted by social & political terrorists. Where are all the “centrist” Christians who should be rising up against this identity theft?

Oh, wait, that’s me…chased out of the church by the witch-hunters–again.

Diving In


Questions: Who will read this? What will I say? Will anyone respond?


Answer: Only one way to find out.


Email and the internet have been the only way that I've kept in touch with many, many people that I like, love, admire and miss. Combined with my love of writing long letters about nothing--or about that stuff that happens while you're busy making other plans--I thought this might be a natural way to let all those people keep up with me. If they feel like it.


I wonder if I'll be able to be disciplined enough to keep this interesting? Stop by in March, and let's see if I am!


I'm gonna cheat and start off with a rant I just posted at http://www.venganza.org/, home of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. If you haven't visited yet, go check into it...but only after you read my next post.