Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I’m Leavin’…on a Jet Plane…

As I packed a bag tonight in preparation for a few days out of town, it occurred to me that spontaneous, I’m not. That is so much of an understatement that anyone who knows me really well is probably doubled over with laughter with tears leaking out of their ducts.

Yeah, okay so I can admit it – I’m organized to a fault. I’ve been making lists for weeks and I even typed up a daily list of what outfit I’m going to wear down to and including footwear and jewelry. It’s kind of sick. But isn’t admitting it the first step?

I wish I were the kind of person who could suddenly at the last minute decide to take off for 10 days in Tahiti wearing only the clothes on their back and a duffel bag containing a spare pair of undies, a swimsuit and a toothbrush. I’ve even seen people in airports carrying duffel bags that have, like, spare room in them! This is a concept that I can’t really grasp. My “weekender” bag, on the other hand, is so jam-packed with clothes that I couldn’t possibly wear even if I were going away for a solid month, that it’s nearly impossible for me to load the thing in the overhead bin.

I remember when I was a kid and had absolutely no say in what clothes I got to wear and when I got to wear them. I vaguely recall Mom packing for vacations and me trying to load extra items in the paper bags that she used to pack her four children’s clothes in. Yes, paper bags – from the grocery store! There must be some sort of law against that, isn’t there? Geez. I was a “bag lady” at the tender age of six. And now I’m suddenly starting to see where the problem perhaps started…

The only time I “under-pack” is when I visit my parents at their cottage in Cape Cod, a place I’ve visited every year since I was in diapers. There is no need to get dressed up there and I can get by with a couple outfits and a swimsuit. Not that my weekender bag is any less full.

I remember one year loading up my suitcase with books, cassette tapes and a boombox (in the years before tiny little iPods made packing ever so much easier…). I realized the foolishness of putting a boombox in my suitcase when I saw the baggage handler pretty much drop kick my suitcase into the belly of the plane. When I reached my destination and unpacked, the antenna on the boombox was bent at a 90 degree angle, the cassette doors no longer stayed closed and I think a knob or two was even missing. Needless to say, that boombox went to boombox heaven and that signaled the end of my under-packing days. I figured I might as well load up the bag with soft clothes rather than hard boomboxes.

Anyway, I’m now sitting here after midnight typing away on the computer when I really should be fast asleep in bed. We’re getting up before the crack of dawn to take off and I really shouldn’t be puffy-eyed and cranky when I meet some of Vince’s relatives for the first time.

But my bag is packed…and I’m ready to go... Hahaha. I’m SO funny!! (See, if you young people ever listened to cassettes on boomboxes, you’d maybe know what song those lyrics came from.)

Anyway, I hope you all have a great week. I’m sure I will…as long as I don’t lose my official outfit wearing list. And I can fit my overstuffed weekender bag into that overhead bin.

I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar (or Yelp in Pain, as the case may be…)

I have an appointment tonight for my first-of-the-season pedicure. And I’m scared. Well, actually, the nail lady is the one who ought to be scared. She is, after all, going to have to work on tootsies that haven’t seen the light of day in about 7 months. That’s a winter’s worth of rough, dry, crunchy skin she’s going to have to clear off. Yucky, huh?

Okay, so it’s not really that bad. I mean, I have a sweet husband who gives me foot massages and rubs lotion on them for moisturizing purposes. Personally, I think it’s self preservation that motivates him – he doesn’t want any dragon feet accidentally scraping against his shins in the middle of the night and jolting him awake.

I sometimes only reluctantly hand my feet over to Vince because he thinks that “massage” should be therapeutic, which basically means that one’s body is pummeled into submission. I frequently find myself yanking my feet out of his ministrations and yelping in pain. Sometimes I even yank my feet away and yelp in pain in anticipation, which makes him laugh evilly.

Why do I allow him to keep giving me massages? Because, interestingly, I feel better when he’s done. He usually jokes that it feels good only because he’s not digging into the knots anymore. But after that, I find that I feel better.

The first time he offered to give me a foot massage, I told him that I had really ticklish feet and I didn’t do well with foot massages and I’d never even had a pedicure because of it. His friend – who’d been on the receiving end of one of his foot massages – laughed uproariously as if I’d said the funniest thing in the world. I was a little annoyed – mostly because I don’t like inside jokes when I’m not one of the insiders. But then I quickly learned what the laughter was all about. Ow…ow…OW!

After that experience, I figured that my feet were forever desensitized and so I made my first ever pedicure appointment. And I’m happy to report that there were no yelps in pain, nor did I have to yank my feet out of the soothing foot bath because they were tickling my toes while they loofahed and scrubbed and buffed.

And then I had the prettiest shade of pink polished on my toes – without streaks and blobs and polish that dripped beyond the perimeter of the actual toenail. It was amazing!

So I’m treating myself tonight and I’m looking forward to it. I just hope that what happened after my last pedicure doesn’t happen this time.

My last pedicure occurred the day before our wedding last September, and I had this awesome red nail polish painted on my toes. I figured “Chick Flick Cherry” red on my fingernails might not be appropriately bride-y, but I wanted to let my inner wild child have her way. I thought it was a good compromise. The colors of the wedding, by the way, were apple red and purple.

Anyway, I arrived home all pleased with the results and started packing my bags so we could head over to the hotel for the pre-wedding festivities.

At the last minute, I decided I should bring along my massive Wedding Planning notebook, which was at least 3” thick and comes included with every engagement ring. In fact, it’s mandatory these days when wedding planning. Even though I knew I had all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, I didn’t want to find myself without a critical phone number should some catastrophe like the photographer not show at precisely the time heretofore agreed upon per our contract. Or something. (Nothing like that happened, by the way. It went perfectly. Or perfectly enough.)

So anyway, I went to pick up the notebook from the floor and – somehow – kicked it instead.

Oh. My. God. The pain was so intense it was akin to childbirth. Or passing a kidney stone. Not that I have ever experienced either of those things, but my shrieks of pain were surely similar. I hopped on one foot as tears streamed down my face and beads of sweat popped out of every pore, including my earlobes.

All the while I was trying desperately to keep from shrieking an incredibly creative string of curse words. To console myself, I just muttered them under my breath. I thought that maybe screaming invectives at the top of my lungs might scare Vince just a little bit and he’d wonder what kind of crazy woman he was marrying . Plus, I frankly didn't want to listen to a lecture from my mother on proper ladylike (and bride-y) behavior.

When I finally regained my composure, I looked down and the first thing I noticed was that the flippin’ polish on my second toenail had chipped off. But then equally horrifying was the fact that my toe was swelling and turning an impressive shade of purple.

The good news was that I was somehow able to walk in my wedding shoes, so I didn’t have to limp my way up and down the aisle. And even more fortunate was that I had the foresight to purchase a bottle of “Chick Flick Cherry” red nail polish, so I was able to fix the chip. Except that I’m pretty sure there were streaks, blobs and the polish extended beyond the perimeter of the nail. But it was so swollen and red and purple, who could possibly have noticed the difference?

One of my cousins helpfully pointed out that I had taken the color theme a little too literally by matching my toe to the colors of the wedding. But, hey, I’m that kinda chick. I like to match!

I am, by the way, convinced that I broke that toe since I couldn’t touch it without pain for about six months, which gave my right foot somewhat of a reprieve from Vince’s killer foot massages. I think the left foot, though, got the extra pummeling.

Anyway, I’m hoping there won’t be a repeat incident tonight. But just in case, my pre-pedicure preparations will include making sure that the massive wedding planning notebook is safely stored in the closet. And…I think I’ll steer clear of Chick Flick Cherry. Perhaps a pale pink color that matches my normal skin tone?

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Fear of Math

Do you ever have one of those days where you feel boring and blah? Even to yourself? Yeah, that’s me this morning. I’ve tried tackling a couple different subjects for blogs…and can’t come up with anything.

Oh, I have the “topics” – but as I’m composing, I about as interested in my own writing as I was taking Statistics in college.

Statistics. Yuck. The mere word gives me the heebie-jeebies. That was one class that I would have been better off not taking, but I needed it to graduate. So I dutifully showed up at every class. I listened. I tried doing the homework. I sucked at taking the exams. But I knew I wasn’t going to get out of there unscathed when the instructor came up to me before the Final and asked me if I ever intended to use Statistics in any job I currently had or might possibly have in the future. I assured him that I wouldn’t. I think he might have made me sign something, but I can’t really remember that part.

So he said I didn’t need to bother taking the final. (I think I was the only graduating senior in his class that trimester and he didn’t want to make up a separate exam for me. He especially didn’t want to grade it, probably because he didn’t want to have to consider himself a failure as a teacher.) I won’t tell you my final grade, but let’s just say it was the worst grade I earned in my college career at two different universities – and I think he even bumped it up a bit out of mercy because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to graduate cum laude.

When friends threw a surprise graduation party for me, one of my writing instructors showed up with a hardbound book titled “Everything I Ever Learned in Statistics,” by Jane Domian. Inside the book? Nothin’. Every page was blank. Ha ha.

Yeah, I have funny friends, don’t I?!

I’ve never liked anything to do with numbers. Could be nature and could be nurture. I’m stickin’ with nurture for now and I’m willing to blame my second grade teacher, Sister Lucy. Don’t get me wrong – I loved Sister Lucy…that is, until the day she introduced us to the Multiplication Tables. Sadist.

I was quite happy having learned Addition. Subtraction was a little tougher, but I was seven years old and I figured I’d taken the whole math thing just about as far as I could go with it.

I can’t be sure about this because, well, that was a lot of years ago, but I think I was unwell the day she tried to get us to wrap our little minds around 2 x 3. After introducing the concept to us, I must have had a completely bewildered look on my face because she called on me for the answer. I tried to skirt the issue entirely and give her the answer to 2 + 3. The answer “5” didn’t make her happy. But did she move on to another victim, er, student? Nooo. If she had, it might have changed the entire direction of my life and I could, at this moment, be some Math Whiz earning big bucks in the Math Industry.

Clearly, I’m not.

But back to second grade and my mean teacher, Sister Lucy. Near panic, my next answer was “2.” Obviously wrong. (Wait a sec…let me get out my calculator. Okay, yes, that was wrong!)

I jest. I mean, now I know the answer.

Anyway, Sister Lucy was getting mad and I was near tears. So she gave me one final try – and I answered “3,” which earned me an immediate trip out to the hall to stand in the corner.

It was the only time in my entire life that I was ever sent out into the hall to stand in a corner and it probably scarred me for life. I was as pissed off and upset as any second grader you ever saw. When she finally let me back in the class, I wouldn’t look at her or talk to her for a long time. Probably 10 minutes in second grader time, which is a really long time.

Anyway, I truly don’t know how I learned multiplication after that traumatic experience, but as the years passed by, whenever a new math concept was introduced I went into panic mode and started fearing corners.

So see? It’s no wonder that years later (decades, even) Statistics completely went over my head.

I don’t even really like talking about Math – so I guess it’s sort of appropriate when I’m having a blah and boring day.

And to my Statistics instructor, whose name I no longer remember? I haven’t used Statistics even once. You’re welcome.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Great 2010 Clothes Reorganization Plan

So I had all these ambitious plans last weekend to get my spring cleaning/clothes swapping chores started and finished. Well, I got it started…but finished is another story. Now another weekend is looming and I’m truly hoping I can get things done since I’m great at procrastination, but also don’t like having Incompletes on my “To Do” list.

Plus, I hate wearing turtleneck sweaters in 68 degree weather.

Last Saturday I made up what I thought was a relatively short list for the downstairs so I could concentrate on the closet and dresser drawers. Downstairs chores included dusting, organizing the pantry and polishing the silver. And, yeah, so there were only 10 pieces of silver that needed to be polished, but since there was no actual silver showing on them, it took a little more polishing time than I’d estimated.

When I finally headed upstairs it was getting later in the day and my energy was ebbing, but I was still determined to make a dent in the Great 2010 Clothes Reorganization Plan.

I started on the laundry, swapped comforters (heavyweight to lightweight) and cleaned the bathroom before turning to the dresser and the closet. And sighed at the daunting task before me.

To enhance my Clothes Reorganization Plan experience, I decided that I needed some music to make the chore seem a little more palatable. So I powered up my computer to get to my iTunes library. Naturally, iTunes had to be updated, which took what seemed like 2.3 hours to load. I wasn’t ambitiously working during this process because I was sort of “waiting” for music. So I fiddled around checking e-mail, updating Facebook and playing computer solitaire. All the while knowing, of course, how much work I still had left to do.

Finally, the system was updated, but then I had to decide which type of music would be most suitable for Clothes Reorganization. After much internal debate, I finally selected some classic Motown. It was now about 4PM. (Yes, I am very, very good at procrastinating.)

So I started with the dresser. I folded sweaters and other assorted winter pieces into nice neat piles ready to be put into the storage bins and swapped with the summer clothes…but that’s about as far as I got. I know! All that prep work and careful music selection for nothin’!

But I had (what I thought was) a good excuse – the bins were in the garage hidden underneath boxes of high school yearbooks and miscellaneous Christmas decorations. (Hey, I never said we were good at logistical planning!) Plus, I would’ve needed to move my car out of the garage to even get close to them. But before that I would’ve had to move Vince’s car out of the driveway. That was just too much to contemplate that late in the afternoon. Besides, there was no Motown music playing in the garage.

I’m sure Vince would’ve been happy to help with this logistical nightmare, but he was in the middle of deep cleaning the downstairs carpeting. I started to ask him for assistance, but the absolutely horrified expression on his face at how filthy the carpeting was stopped me and I didn’t think it was a good idea to interrupt his progress. (The downstairs carpet, by the way, looks 1000% better!)

So all week, my dresser drawers have been relatively empty and I haven’t had any warm weather clothes to wear.

Fortunately, we have had a couple mornings when it was only 30-something degrees when I got up, so I was able to grab one of the sweaters from the pile. It was a little toasty in the afternoons when it warmed up to 68 degrees, but at least I didn’t break any indecent exposure laws. I don’t think the cops would’ve cared that I ran out of weekend and that the bins in the garage had to be excavated first.

Anyway, Friday is here once again and I really, truly plan to get this Plan finished before the end of the weekend. Except we have dinner plans with friends tonight, and I have a baby shower to attend tomorrow. And call me crazy, but I’m kind of thinking that re-organizing the dresser drawers is not really a Saturday night activity.

Ah well, there is always Sunday. Maybe we’ll manage to get up early enough to attend the crack o’ dawn service at St. Andrew’s, which would give us the rest of the day to accomplish something. The good news is that I don’t have silver to polish this week, which should free up a little extra time. And, to the best of my recollection, we have not rolled around in mud and tracked it in, so Vince won’t be deep cleaning the carpet. Perhaps I can persuade him to help with the bin excavation.

If not, maybe we’ll just have to turn the spare bedroom into Jane’s Closet. We can build racks to hang all four seasons of clothes and shelving units where I can store turtlenecks right next to the tank tops. And then we can build shoe shelves for flip flops and boots alike.

Yeah. We’ll get right on that. But first let me pick out some shelf-building music...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tourist Traps. Agree or Disagree?

A friend sent me a link to an article on the 10 world’s worst tourist traps. The link, if you're interested in reading more, is at the bottom of this blog.

However, if you don’t feel like going to yet another link, the 10 worst tourist traps, according to the article, are:

1. Kissing the Blarney Stone
2. Riding in a Venice Gondola
3. The Leaning Tower of Pisa
4. The Empire State Building
5. Niagara Falls
6. Stonehenge
7. Walt Disney World
8. Sears (Willis) Tower
9. Salem Witch Museum
10. Graceland

I have no idea if those were listed in some sort of order of importance, but I must say it was a little disconcerting to realize that I’d been to six of the 10 of them. In my defense, three of them were from when I was a kid and I didn’t have a say in where we went on vacation.

On the other hand, visiting some of these places probably wasn’t all that bad because it was a lot of years ago and (a) they weren’t as “tourist-y” as they are now and (b) there probably weren’t as many people walking the earth, so they weren’t as crowded. Oh, and (c) they were probably way cheaper!

I was astounded to learn that it costs $79 per person per day to get into Disney World. That’s before you buy your kid the first ice cream cone or soft drink or one of those goofy Mouse Ears Hats. Or Goofy Ears Hat. Whatever.

I have some friends who just took their kids to Disney World – there were three adults and four children. That’s…well, I don’t have my calculator handy at the moment, but that’s a lotta money! Paying for food for seven people plus hotel accommodations might necessitate taking out a second mortgage on a person’s home.

I remember when I was a kid and we went to the Empire State building – it was amazing to be 86 stories in the air and looking out over New York City. It was probably more memorable to a kid who grew up in the small town of Alliance, Ohio, where the highest building was probably 4 stories high and elevators were not required. (I jest – I really have no idea what the tallest building in Alliance is. But I don’t really recall encountering too many elevators.)

I will say that I completely concur with the #1 choice – “Kissing the Blarney Stone” in Ireland. I totally hated the Blarney Stone! My dad, sister and I made the trek up the old stone steps to kiss it. I had no idea there was a gap between the wall and the floor. You had to lie down on your back, hold onto metal poles on either side of the wall, tip your head back at an unnatural and uncomfortable angle and kiss the wall behind you while someone held onto you so you didn’t tumble down through the gap backwards and headfirst. Plus, the wall was all wet – whether from the weather or from other folks’ lips – I don’t know, but…bleccchh! All I knew for sure was I didn’t want to get anywhere near that nasty thing! Instead, I did an “air kiss” so my actual lips didn’t touch the actual wall.

I think the guy hanging on to me suggested I give it another try, but I said I was good and I had plenty of “gab” thank you very much. I got up, dusted myself off and thought, if I’d had any idea this was the deal, I would’ve stayed down on the ground with mom. I guess I really should read a tour guide once in a while before heading to some of these places.

I’ve been to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and, yep, it’s leaning. And I think we went to Niagara Falls when I was a kid. I remember a lot of water and a lot of mist. I’ve seen the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) in Chicago, and, yeah, it’s a tall building. Didn’t go up in it, but looked up at it – does that count?! And I’ve been to Venice, though I didn’t take a gondola ride. We were there in February and it was spitting snow and icy rain – they couldn’t have paid me enough Euros to get in one of those things that day!

I have not been to Stonehenge, but I’ve seen photos. According to the article, you’d probably get a better view looking at pictures since these days they keep tourists pretty far away or something. Nor have I been to the Salem Witch Museum, even though my parents are from Massachusetts. Guess my folks figured they should take us to Plymouth Rock instead for a little Mayflower history, which is a tourist attraction I’d have to add to the list. It’s just a roped-off rock with a little plaque! But at least it’s not overrun with tourists and you can get up close and personal – provided you have an interest in seeing a big rock up close.

The tackiest tourist trap on the list, I suppose, would have to be Graceland. One of these days I might have to go – just to say I’ve been.

And, to the writer of this article for making me feel like one of those unsophisticated tourists who go to all the tacky tourist attractions, I say in my best Elvis impersonation, “Thank you…thank you very much!”

Smarter Travel link: http://www.smartertravel.com/travel-advice/photos/the-world-top-10-worst-tourist-traps.html?id=4669842&source=dealalert&value=2010-04-18+00:00:00&u=3F02EED0B9

(Photo: brosner via Flickr. Type of CC Attribution. http://www.flickr.com/photos/brosner/)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Complaint Department (See Next Window...)

I ordered eyeglasses a while ago from Costco and I finally picked them up the other day. The wait seemed interminable and was actually twice the timeframe promised, so I was getting a little cranky about the delay.

Like many people, I’ve become used to instant gratification. As soon as the charge clears my account (and you know that’s pretty instantaneous these days), I want the stuff. Like, now!

I used to buy all my eyeglasses from Lenscrafters because I wanted them in an hour. Once I graduated beyond single vision lenses, however, I realized how pricey those specs were getting. So I moved on to less expensive places that forced me to wait a week or more for my new glasses, which I suppose has been a good lesson in patience.

So this was my first experience buying glasses from Costco. When they said the wait was “10-14 days” I figured they were under-promising like they do in restaurants when they tell you the wait will be 45 minutes and so you’re happy when they call you in 20 minutes to tell you your table is ready.

I guess I was wrong about Costco. (That thud you just heard was Vince hitting the floor.)

I patiently waited until Day 10 when I called. They weren’t in. Day 13 and…nothing. On Day 17 I was told that there might be a problem; that possibly they had broken in production and they were being redone. This was not, as you might expect, what I wanted to hear.

On Day 19 I enlisted the aid of “The Enforcer,” er, Vince. He called the manager and firmly expressed our displeasure with the situation. The manager gave him all sorts of excuses and apologies. Finally, on Day 21 they called to say that my glasses were (finally) in. We live near Costco so we were prepared to drive right over – only to be told that the store had already closed for the day. Grrr.

When we went in to pick them up, the technician was all apologetic about the delay. I wasn’t happy, but wasn’t sure what could be done to rectify the situation. After all, I’d already paid for them and I wasn’t sure how much “waiting impatiently” would be worth in dollars. Vince, who is a stickler for good customer service, kept his cool, but stated our disappointment with the experience. That if someone had only called us to give us a status update, we’d have been more patient. But we had heard nothing from them.

I will say that Costco didn’t slough off our complaint. Actually, we were given a fairly decent refund, which was way more than I was expecting. I’m not much of a complainer, so I probably would’ve been happy with a free bottle of eyeglass cleaner or one of those polishing cloths.

But the refund was enough to pick up a ginormous bottle of ibuprofen, 3-pack of soy milk, and a multi-pack of paper towels that took up the entire trunk of the car and will probably last us through the end of the year. So complaining isn’t always a bad thing.

But I have also learned that there are “rules” to complaining.

The first is: don’t lose your cool. Screaming at the person to whom you’re directing your complaint doesn’t accomplish much. Usually that person hasn’t caused the problem, but is probably at that moment wishing they’d gone in a less stressful direction with their career. Like maybe “Bomb Squad Technician.” Also, refrain from finger pointing unless you want the confrontation to become physical. And just know that most bystanders would be rooting for the clerk you’re abusing.

Be selective. Don’t complain about every little thing – life is full of disappointments and, believe it or not, the world isn’t out to make your life perfect. If you send back every burger you order because it’s not cooked to your exacting standards, the problem might not be with the cook, but with the complainer. Besides, you don’t want to piss off the kitchen help. You don’t know what they’ve done to that burger before returning it to you.

And, finally, understand that most businesses do want to hear about the problem you’re having so they can make it right or can learn better ways to satisfy their customers.

Oh, and one other thing. Consider offering kudos when you get great customer service. I’ve become better at this from watching Vince. He will give compliments when we’ve had a great experience at a restaurant or retail establishment, even going so far as to talk to the manager. It’s very cool to see their faces light up when they realize someone isn’t out to complain, but to compliment.

So now I’m wearing my new eyeglasses. I like them and Vince likes them, too. But the bifocal is stronger than I’m used to and I’m beginning to get a bit of a headache from holding my head at the precise angle with which to clearly see the computer.

Good thing we got that ginormous bottle of ibuprofen, huh? Let’s just hope that I don’t need to send these eyeglasses back to be adjusted. I don’t think I could stand the wait!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


We had our end-of-the-season CSC bowling banquet the other night and, as expected, I didn’t walk away with any big ol’ bowling trophy. I guess bowling 7 games with scores under 100 isn’t quite good enough to garner a trophy.

How do I know I did so dismally? Well, because they provided each bowler with a final stats sheet. Nice of ‘em, huh? Mine was a little discouraging, but I’m guessing I wasn’t the worst bowler either. Fortunately, they don’t write on anyone’s stat sheet “Worst bowler ever!” or “You suck!” or anything like that. Now that would be discouraging!

On the bright side, I did bowl 10 games between 125-150 and 2 games over 150. And we got a steak dinner out of the deal, too. Plus, we had a chance to hang out with friends and even got to meet a few new folks – so it was a pretty good evening all around.

Two of the bowlers at our table won a cash award for being the highest over their average on the last night of bowling. And then they started calling ticket numbers for door prizes. And they called my number! It was a $10 gift card to GetGo so I’m thinking I can’t plan my retirement quite yet… but $10 of free gas is, well, $10 worth of free gas. I’ll take it!

Another bowler at our table won the final door prize, too, so our table was rather lucky.

All in all, I think I’m a pretty lucky person. I’ve had my ticket number drawn quite a bit over the years for various prizes. When I was in my 20s, I used to call radio stations to win prizes – and frequently I was lucky enough to be the correct caller. I’d win tickets to movie premiers, concert tickets, CDs, GCs and other assorted prizes. I even won a free haircut once.

The first time I ever remember winning anything was in 5th grade when I guessed closest to the number of jelly beans in a jar and won an Easter Bunny cake from some sort of fundraising thing at school. (I had to carry that cake all the way home from school that day and I remember thinking I’d probably have preferred winning the jar of jelly beans – it would have been a lot easier to transport anyway. But I remember being excited that I could provide my family with dessert that night!)

I’ve won weird prizes like fire extinguishers and I’ve won cool prizes like $450 designer purses. I can tell you one time I was glad my ticket number wasn’t drawn – the prize was a free tattoo. I don’t have a tattoo and I don’t want a tattoo, but it would’ve been hard to throw away the prize. So I was a little relieved that someone else won that one!

I’ve never been lucky enough to win really big prizes – like a trip anywhere or, say, the lottery. Now that would be lucky and, provided the jackpot was large enough, I probably could start planning my retirement. I did win $20 from a scratch-off ticket once, but it wasn’t enough that I caught the “bug” and started faithfully buying lottery tickets every week.

I’ve been to Las Vegas twice and I can’t say I came home a big winner either time. The last time I was there, I was given a complimentary $10 gambling voucher – so I used it in a Poker machine and got a Royal Flush in my second spin, so I walked away $70 ahead. That was pretty cool.

But otherwise I wasn’t that lucky in Vegas. Like one day, I sat next to a friend who was feeding quarters into the Poker machine and she was steadily winning. I, on the other hand, kept donating my quarters. Very quickly I realized I’d soon be out of quarters and my daily ‘allotment’ of gambling money, so I moved right on over to the nickel machines. I didn’t come out very far ahead, but at least I was able to keep myself entertained for a couple hours.

The luckiest thing that happened on that trip was when a friend and I went to see a Vegas show. Afterwards we grabbed a cab to head back to our hotel…and we found a $100 bill on the seat! Pretty lucky, wouldn’t you say?!

So, while I don’t expect to find a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow, every once in a while I get a fleeting glimpse of that ol’ leprechaun.

Hmmm…maybe I should stop on the way home and buy one of those new Powerball lottery tickets. You never know…

Monday, April 19, 2010

The "Check Engine" Incident

I just finished a blog about how my car was past due for its 3,000 mile oil change, and it reminded me of a story when I was in college that I wanted to share.

I didn’t own a car in college. Heck, I didn’t own my own car until I was 23 and realized that it was taking me 45 minutes to get to work – and I only lived about 5 minutes away. I even had to transfer buses downtown! (I didn’t know how close to work I actually lived because of, again, that whole “directionally challenged” thing. But that’s another story…)

Anyway, in the years before I entered the world of car ownership, my parents generously allowed me to borrow one of their cars, usually without requiring me to sign promissory notes. More often it was my dad’s ugly green Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler/whatever car and not my mom’s sporty cream-colored Mustang, but I was happy to borrow any wheels at all, so I didn’t care all that much.

Their only requirement was that I had to put gas in the car. And they wanted me to keep it dent-free, but that was pretty much an unspoken assumption.

So one Friday night, my girlfriend Diana and I decided to drive to Salem to go dancing at a place called, “The Hunt Club.” Yes, I’m ashamed to say, it really was called that. What’s more, we went to this club whenever I came home for the weekend, which was fairly often – so we must have liked the joint.

(Oh, and just so you know, I wasn’t into “hunting” all that much. I was, after all, a serious college student and didn’t have time for silly things like chasing boys. Um, yeah. Okay, the truth is that I wasn’t into long-distance romances at the time.)

Anyway, we never made it to the Hunt Club that fine spring evening.

I had asked my dad if I could borrow his car and without hesitation he handed over his keys. That was easy, I thought. So I picked up Diana and, dressed to the hilt in our finest dancin’ clothes and high heels, we took off for Salem.

Between Alliance and Salem is (or was back then, anyway) a long stretch of 2-lane country road without streetlights.

There we were sailing along the road chattering away without a care in the world when about 5 miles before reaching our destination, the “Check Engine” light came on. I said to Diana, “Hmmm…wonder if that’s serious?” Diana, clearly not a car expert either, shrugged and said, “Dunno.”

So we kept on going. I figured I would call my dad once we reached the Hunt Club to ask him what we should do.

Oh, the irony of hindsight.

A few minutes later, we realized it was sort of serious when the car stalled and then died.

This was back in the day before cell phones, so I couldn’t whip out my trusty iPhone and call home. Instead, there we were on a dark, lonely stretch of road too far away from the Hunt Club and too far away from home. We sort of thought we remembered seeing a pay phone about half a mile or so back at a deserted gas station, but we weren’t positive.

For about five minutes we sat in the car debating what to do, but since no one passed our broken-down ugly green car the whole time, we realized we were going to have to hoof it back to see about that pay phone. Diana didn’t want to stay in the car by herself, so we carefully locked the vehicle and started teetering down the road in the dark in our high heels. There was no berm on the 2-lane road either and, again, no lights.

Now I realize you probably don’t know my friend Diana, but let me just say that the girl could talk. When I first met her in grade school she was shy and quiet, but then at some point in high school, the dam broke and all the things that she’d been holding back came out in a torrent. And she didn’t ever really stop talking. It’s one of the things I loved about her because I could pretty much just toss in an occasional “uh huh” and a “yeah” and she’d just keep on going.

So there we were click-clacking down the road in our heels. I was slightly worried about the car and praying that we’d find a pay phone once we reached the deserted gas station, and also hoping that maybe it wasn’t anything serious so we could still possibly get in some dancing and not waste our cute outfits. All these thoughts were going through my head when I took a step…and then landed flat on my back in a ditch! One minute the road was there, and then suddenly it wasn’t.

And as I was lying there on my back, I knew for SURE that we weren’t going to be dancing that night as my entire back – from my carefully coiffed head to the heels of my strappy lavender sandals – was now covered in mud.

Diana, oblivious, kept on walking and talking. After a few more steps, she must have realized I was no longer beside her. The next thing I see is Diana’s face looming above me from the roadside. As she peered down at me in the ditch, she said, “Jane! What are you doing down there?!”

Like I’d done it on purpose.

I said, “Well, I was getting tired, so I thought I’d take a little break and…what are you – nuts? I fell! Get me outta here!”

Right then the absurdity of our situation hit me and I started giggling. Then I started laughing. Once Diana realized I wasn’t seriously hurt, she started laughing, too, and it got so bad we couldn’t catch our breath. She just kept pointing at me and howling.

Finally, she managed to pull herself together and reached down to help me climb out of the ditch. Then, she looked at me and said, “Jane! You’re all covered in mud! We can’t go dancing now!”

That did us in. We were both doubled over laughing so hard we had tears running down our faces. Which ruined our makeup, but was sort of a moot point by then anyway.

I don’t remember what happened after that, except that we did reach my dad who came and picked us up in my mom’s sporty cream-colored Mustang. Probably he brought a towel so that I didn’t get the interior muddy, but again, it’s all sort of a blur.

It turns out that Dad’s car was out of oil, which he’d intended to replace, but had forgotten about before handing me the keys.

Filed under the category of “Duh,” a car without oil is not a good thing. And, yes, we fried the engine. And I never saw that ugly green Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler/whatever car again.

Surprisingly, my parents didn’t give me a lot of grief about killing their car, but I suspect that my dad felt responsible and was willing to take the blame for the incident. They did, however, impress upon me the importance of immediately stopping if ever the “Check Engine” light comes on again in any vehicle.

This has happened a couple of times since then and, you should know, I positively panic. My instant reaction is to stomp on the brake in the middle of the freeway in rush hour traffic and stop the car right then and there. Fortunately, I am able to realize the foolishness of such a decision, so I pull over to the side of the road. But I do so immediately. And then I whip out my trusty iPhone to call for help.

Oh, and I rarely wear high heels anymore. If you’re ever forced to walk down a dark, lonely country road, it’s far better to be wearing flats.

Friday, April 16, 2010

It's Oil Changing Time. Yippee.

I just realized that my car is in dire need of an oil change. Fortunately, that realization did not come about because my car sputtered and died on the freeway, but because I actually looked at the little tag in the corner of the windshield and realized how overdue it is. You mean they’re serious about that 3 months or 3,000 miles thing?


Things like oil changes and tire rotations are not in my bag of tricks. Thus, I have to bring the vehicle to someone better qualified than I to perform such maintenance procedures. And I hate it. Why? Because I know absolutely nothing about the car’s mechanics. And, before you get all snarky on me and tell me about the myriad of classes I can take to learn about such things, let me just say that I don’t want to. I really don’t want to know the difference between a lug nut and a carburetor. Yeah, yeah – I know one is a whole lot bigger than the other and probably way more important, but I really don’t want to learn their functions.

One time, shortly after Vince and I met, he went into a long explanation about how a car’s engine operates. I tried really hard to pay attention, because, after all, we were still in the early phase of our relationship where everything the other person says is fascinating. Before the poor guy got to the part about fuel injectors, my eyes started to glaze over and I started to think that maybe – compared to this – root canals couldn’t possibly be all that bad. I managed to listen without interruption, but I changed the subject at the earliest possible opportunity. Probably I mentioned my next dentist appointment, but I can’t remember for sure.

Oh, c’mon. I’ll bet you Vince feels the same way when I go into minute detail about the pros and cons of waxing versus threading or anything shopping-related unless the word “steak” is mentioned.

In Vince’s defense, he might’ve thought I was actually interested in cars because I had done extensive research before purchasing my Mazda6, so I could tell him how many cylinders it has and what the horsepower is. I don’t technically know what those terms mean, except that a 6-cylinder car is gonna go faster than a 4-cylinder and I knew my car went fast.

Impressive, eh? Nah, I didn't think so either.

The problem with not knowing anything about car maintenance is that car mechanics get all happy when they see someone like me walking into their shop. Before I leave, they think they’ll have me convinced I need to replace every little doohickey and thingamajig in the car lest I face an immediate breakdown the next time I turn the ignition key.

Then, of course, I’m all defensive and keep saying “NO!” when they tell me what needs to be replaced, some of which might actually be required. But if one more guy at an oil change place pulls out the old air filter to show me how disgustingly filthy it is, I may just bean him over the head with it. I know the air filter is going to look filthy. That’s its job! It’s gonna look filthy a week after replacing it! (Hey! I guess maybe I have learned something about vehicle maintenance after all. Must be through osmosis or something because I’m sure I didn’t learn that on purpose.)

I have a friend whose granddaughter knows how to fix cars. I’m so impressed by that. A girl who actually likes getting her hands dirty and who knows what a head gasket is and where the timing belt is located. The best I can do is figure out where the window washer fluid goes. Not that I change it. That’s the benefit of putting up with a guy pushing a dirty air filter in my face – one of their jobs is to “top off” things like window washer fluid.

My very first car was a used Pinto. If you know anything about old cars, you know that the Ford Pinto was not a good car to own. They leaked oil. Copiously. Whenever I drove to Alliance, a 2-1/2 hour drive, I’d have to stop at the halfway point and replace at least two quarts of oil. I routinely carried a case in the trunk. I’d have truckers stopping to offer their assistance, but by that point, I was an old hand at funneling oil into its proper place under the hood of the car.

A year and many, many quarts of oil later, I replaced the car with a new one and promptly forgot how to add oil to the car. More likely, I refused to learn. Cleaning under my fingernails shouldn’t require lye soap and a heavy duty scrub brush.

One of the perks about being married is that vehicle maintenance is no longer strictly under my domain. Vince, being a car guy, is great at knowing what to do and when to do it where our vehicles are concerned. And few mechanics thrust the dirty air filter under his nose demanding that he inspect it and allow them to replace it. (Unless I was the one who took the car in for its last oil change and I automatically yelled “NO!” at them when they said I needed a new one.)

I suppose, however, I need to give Vince a heads-up that the car is past due for an oil change. Or maybe I’ll just let him find out by reading this…

Um…Honey…? What’cha doing this weekend??

Thursday, April 15, 2010

LOST! (And, no, this has nothing to do with the television series)

I am unequivocally one of the most directionally challenged people I know. And I’m not afraid to admit it.

I can get lost driving around Columbus, and I’ve been living here more than half my life. (And, yes, that's a long time. Ha.) I used to move to different sides of the city just so I could learn to navigate around that particular part of town, but it was a not the best idea I’ve ever had as some sides of town can be a little dicey.

The area where I currently reside has been home for over 8 years and I’m pretty comfortable there. I finally figured out how the suburb is situated in relation to the city and can (most of the time) tell you which way is north, south, east and west without a cheat sheet. And if I get turned around on occasion, I simply look up at the handy-dandy compass permanently on display on my rearview mirror. It doesn’t mean that I can get myself from Point A to Point B without getting lost, but at least I can tell you which wrong way I’m headed.

My father and sister are excellent navigators, but I was evidently absent when they handed out that particular skill set. Instead, the level of expertise I inherited was the Can’t-Find-Way-Out-Of-A-Paper-Bag Level. This is, as you might guess, a rather low level, ranking only slightly higher than the Hopeless-Don’t-Even-Bother Level.

I used to envy friends who were adept at giving directions. They could, without hesitation, tell you precisely which way to go to reach a particular destination. They’d say, in what I thought was sort of a smug tone of voice (but that might’ve just been me), “Jane, it’s simple – all you need to do is take 71South and exit at East North Broadway and the building will be on the southwest corner.” Those kinds of directions made me want to slap them. Just tell me Left or Right – and make sure you put a landmark in there, i.e., “If you reach the Dairy Mart, you’ve gone too far, so just stop and call me back.”

Very quickly my friends learned to give Regular Directions (as in the above example, for normal people) and Jane Directions, which basically meant that they drove me there.

I also had to build in extra time for backtracking. Otherwise, I’d always be late. As it is, my record is about 50/50. I’d say that I was leaving at such-and-such a time and people would look at me like I’m nuts. They’d say, “Why would you leave so early?” I’d just pointedly look at them and they’d say, “Oh, yeahhh…never mind!”

I think it’s really cute when my husband hands me directions from Mapquest and tells me I’m the navigator. He knows perfectly well my limitations in this area. “But all you have to do is read them to me,” he says. “How hard can that be?!”

Is he kidding??

Take the other night, for example. We got turned around no less than three times trying to reach an area precisely 13.27 miles from our home. There were 13 Mapquest steps altogether, and really only 6 if you consider that most people know how to get out of their own neighborhood. And, okay, I will concede that, for me, there were 13 steps.

What’s worse is that we were headed to an area of town where I used to live! It looked familiar and I knew I should’ve been able to guide him without any problem, but, well, it’s me we’re talking about here.

Fortunately, Vince is a patient man. It’s also fortunate that once he has driven to a particular destination, he usually doesn’t need directions the next time. This, to me, is unfathomable. It’s like understanding quantum physics without getting a headache just from contemplating the subject matter.

And then they invented GPS systems. You’d think I’d have gotten one immediately, wouldn’t you? Well, I’m also cheap and was waiting for the price to drop. I did, however, get an iPhone and it has a little GPS system on it. Yay. I thought my navigational problems were solved!

Not so fast there, Skippy…

I’ll give you a perfect example. Last year we drove to northern Michigan to visit my cousins. I’ve been there countless times and have even gotten myself there on quite a few occasions, although not always without incident or without taking, as I’ve started calling them, “Jane Detours.”

This time we were driving to another cousin’s house and I’d never driven directly from here to there.

For some reason, Mapquest was wrong (imagine that), and at about Hour 7 we were left scrambling for the atlas to compare it to Mapquest. And just so you know, northern Michigan (north of Traverse City), has a lot of little back roads without any landmarks. You can drive around for days and not find your way. Or at least I could.

Anyway, I finally remembered my iPhone’s GPS system, so I plugged in the address of our destination and started from our “current location.” We faithfully followed the instructions even watching the little dot as it plotted our progress. Suddenly, the little dot stopped and indicated we were at our destination. I looked up from my trusty iPhone expecting to see my cousin’s house…only to see that we were on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere!

Vince, who’d never before been to northern Michigan, looked at me as if I was supposed to know what had gone wrong. That’s like expecting your mechanic to perform delicate arthroscopic surgery on your knee because he uses tools and knows how to fix stuff.

Fortunately, I was able to reach another cousin who somehow managed to get us back on track and we eventually arrived safely at our destination.

So my faith in GPS systems is not absolute, but there is always hope. Plus, I think I am trainable. Like, for instance, right now I can tell you that I’m in a building situated on the southeast corner of the street and my desk is facing south.

And that, my friends, is progress.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Friendship in the Age of Social Media

I was looking at the list of former high school classmates on Facebook the other day…and I realized that someone I had been friends with is no longer on my list of friends. I think that means I’ve been “de-friended.” Or is it “un-friended”? Aww. Either way, it’s sort of uncomfortable.

I wonder what I did? Or maybe it’s what I didn’t do. Did she expect a personal note and I didn’t produce? Did I not put enough “likes” on her comments? It certainly couldn’t have been something controversial I said because I’m one of the least controversial people I know. In my own mind, anyway. I don’t think I could have offended her in a chat because I hardly ever do the IM thing. And I rarely jump into debates over politics or religion. So I’m sort of stumped.

Now that I think about it, I have mentioned shoe shopping, so maybe that’s it. Maybe she is vehemently opposed to shoe shopping.

Oh well, I can’t get too worked up about it. I mean, this is someone I haven’t laid eyes on in more than 30 years and, other than a few good laughs on the school bus back in high school, I don’t think we shared many deep, meaningful conversations. So while I don’t think I’ll miss the friendship all that much, it is still a little disconcerting.

Ah, the challenges of social media. Facebook is a great little tool to reconnect with immediate family and extended family, new friends, long time friends, old neighbors, current coworkers and coworkers from jobs in the past. And it has been great finding classmates from college, high school and even people I barely remember from grade school.

But sometimes it’s like a barometer to see how popular you are. Or how someone feels about you. I guess we never truly grow up, do we?

I even know some people (who shall remain nameless, but one of whom I might be married to) who put their friends in categories because they have freakishly large numbers of friends. I, however, am not that organized, nor do I have that many friends. And I can only hope that my memory stays intact enough so that I don’t look at someone on the list and question whether they were a friend from third grade – or if I worked with them at my last job.

I have to admit that it would bother me if I found out that someone cancelled our friendship because of some computer virus, particularly since I don’t have any control over those. (I never open e-mails from unknown senders and try to keep my computer virus-free, but – y’know – stuff happens.) Nevertheless, I can only imagine how that conversation would go:

Former Facebook Friend: “You gave me a computer virus.”
Me: “No, I didn’t.”
Former Facebook Friend: “Yes, you did. And I don’t like you anymore, and I’m unfriending you.”
Me: (making raspberry sounds) “It’s DEfriending me. And I don’t like you either and I’m telling all my other Facebook friends not to talk to you anymore either!”

Evidently, arguing on Facebook must be like arguing on the playground in third grade. Except in third grade, you usually ignored your former friend for about 12 minutes before you forgot what you were arguing about and magically became best friends again. That’s probably because third graders have the attention span of a gnat. There isn’t enough room in their little heads to remember their locker combination let alone keep both the answer to 3x9 plus the reason they were arguing with their best friend.

Maybe that’s the way grown-ups on Facebook should do it. We could go back through the list and re-send friend requests. My former friend would say, “Oh – I haven’t seen Jane in more than 30 years. I will definitely accept her friend request!!”

And life would be good again.

PS, wouldn’t it be interesting if there was just a glitch in Facebook and sometimes friends inexplicably get dropped? If that’s the case…then, um, neverrr mind! Please ignore the preceding blog.

Oh, and I also want to apologize for the crack about third graders. They’re all super-smart and I love them all. And, Vince? Your list of friends is not freakishly large – you’re just a well connected, friendly kinda guy. And I love you, too.

(See? Not controversial.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

And As We Say Farewell to Another Bowling Season...

So this past Sunday was our last night of bowling and all that is left of the season is the banquet. Fortunately, I wasn’t anticipating winning any bowling trophies, which is a good thing because I simply have no more room on the mantle for another award. Oh, sure. Who am I kidding? Like I have any other trophies on there. I don’t really seem to have the talent for trophy collecting.

Anyway, I’m sort of sad that the season is over, but I’m also sort of glad. I was running low on Advil, and now I’m thinking I won’t need to restock until just prior to the start of the next bowling season. Let’s hope not, anyway. Besides, I’m kind of tired of beer.

Yeah, I had to take a lot of Advil (and drink a lot of beer) to keep the ol’ joints from complaining too much. Knees, elbows, shoulders – you name it – they weren’t happy that I repeatedly hefted a 12-lb. ball and threw it down a wooden lane trying to knock down some pins at the other end. The number of throws was even higher considering I didn’t get very many strikes.

But oh well. It has been great hanging out with friends on Sunday evenings for the past few months. Got us through the long winter, that’s for sure. Plus, we had cool bowling shirts and, well, where else are you going to wear hot pink and black shirts with “Pin Panthers” imprinted on the back? At a Putt-Putt course? Euchre Tournament? I don’t think so. That would just look silly.

I figured that our last night of bowling would be stress-free because we weren’t in any sort of play-off situation, so it would be purely for the fun of it. Because of this, I assumed I’d be getting strikes right and left. I assumed wrong. Well, I was throwing the ball down the lane right and left, which meant I wasn’t getting the middle pins and thus, no strikes. Not a single one. All evening.

So, as you might imagine, my scores were pretty abysmal. I didn’t even break 100 the first game. I did break 100 the second game, but only barely. I finally managed to squeak by at a little higher than my average on the third game, but for the most part it was a pitiful performance.

As if bowling itself isn’t enough jam-packed fun, we also throw in a buck per game and we play poker. At the first spare or strike, we pick up a set of 5 cards and we get to draw one card from the pile. And any mark after that earns us another card. Well, I wasn’t earning many cards all evening. Which is a shame because we were playing with Chippendales cards. Who wouldn’t want the chance to pick up a card featuring a smiling, bare-chested oiled up dude with a six-pack? Well, bedsides the two dudes on our team?!

Lest you think we get to play with Chippendales cards every game, I must tell you the rules. We play with “normal” cards regularly. However, if a woman bowls a game with a score over 150, we get to play a game with scantily clad men. Cards, I mean. Not real scantily clad men! And if the men bowl a game with a score over 175, we play poker with cards featuring scantily clad women. Oh, who am I kidding? The women on these cards are not wearing any clothes whatsoever. And, no, I didn’t make the rules.

One night my parents, who happened to be in town that weekend, came to watch us bowl. I had to forewarn them about the cards thing because one guy on our team bowled TWO games the previous week with scores over 175. But my 80-something-and-change mother did me proud. One of my teammates kept trying to embarrass her and would hand her two cards and ask her to pick which “woman” he should keep and which one he should discard. My mom didn’t bat an eye – she matter-of-factly studied them and then told him which woman she thought had better, uh, attributes. Go mom!

(Dad, by the way, was probably getting eye strain from furtively looking at the cards out of the corner of his eye all the while feigning complete indifference. But I wouldn’t swear to that in court.)

Anyway, on our last game of the season, I bowled three spares. That meant I got to pick up my first set of cards and draw one. I had three natural Aces and a 10. The card I drew was a 10. Yippee – a Full House on my first hand! At the second spare, I drew another Ace. Wow – 4 Aces. Finally, after my third spare, I drew a Joker/Wild Card, which meant I ended the last game of the season and the last game of Poker with FIVE ACES. Yay, me!

It was a great way to end the season. It even took some of the sting out of my abysmal bowling scores, but I’m not dwelling on it too much. I don’t want to go through the summer bummed because I bowled crappy the last night of the season.

Maybe we could practice all summer and be bowling champs next year? Well, “champs” might be a bit of a stretch, but I could see weekly practices – provided we play poker with the Chippendales cards. I’d maybe even be willing to buy some more Advil for that.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Old is When…

You know how when you’re young and you buy a birthday card for a friend who is the same age – you think cards making fun of old people and the ones with the Grim Reaper on the cover are hysterical? And then when you get a little older, you suddenly don’t find them all that humorous?

Yeah, I’m at that stage.

I have a card box at home filled with cards for all occasions. And whenever I need to send a birthday card lately, I seem to bypass those Grim Reaper cards. Sadly, I think they might be hitting a little too close to home or something.

Not only that, but I seem to receive more and more joke e-mails about aging and senior citizens. I try to laugh – really, I do – but with the last batch I couldn’t quite pull it off. The right side of my lip started to turn up a little bit, but then the whole thing sort of turned into a grimace. So I gave up trying to smile and actually harrumphed instead.

No wonder old people are sometimes called cranky – people keep reminding them that they’re old! (Harrumphing, you should know, officially qualifies one as old. Young people do not harrumph.)

I have a friend who’s 16 years older than I am and we’ve been friends since the 80s. That put me in my early 20s and her in her late 30s. Our friendship may have been a little unconventional due to the difference in our ages, but we made it work. She’d been recently divorced and wanted to find someone who was ready to go out and have some fun and show her where the happening places in town were. I fit the bill perfectly!

With age also comes wisdom and I realize now how very patient she was with her young, immature friend. I must not have been too obnoxious, though, because we remain friends to this day. Now we’re both way older – and way wiser!

Anyway, going out and doing things that single women do together – shopping, meeting new people, double-dating and so forth were great ways to bond and become good friends. A couple of times I even spent the night on the couch at her condo if it was late and I didn’t feel like driving across town to my place. (This is code for “overindulging” but remember, I was (a) young, and (b) behaving responsibly by not drinking and driving.)

I swear I don’t remember this, but about 10 years later she said to me, “So…Jane…now that you’re a little older, do you ever get out of bed in the morning and make noises?”

I was completely baffled and said, “What are you talking about?”

Apparently, at the cocky young age of 23, I’d made an observation that she made a lot of noise when she woke up – I heard her groaning as she got out of bed and then I heard all sorts of cracking and creaking and popping noises from joints that had stiffened overnight.

Oops. Guess I was a tad rude, wasn’t I?

Fortunately, she asked me the question when I was still young enough not to have creaking and cracking joints and I wasn’t yet at the stage where I needed to groan as I got out of bed. And so I vowed right then that I would never be forced to admit that, yes, in fact I did make noises when I got out of bed in the morning.

Nowadays, whenever I’m even a little tempted to clutch at my achin’ back and let out a groan as I rise in the morning to start my day, I think of my friend – and I do my best to keep my mouth shut!

By the way, I have some birthday cards in the card box at home featuring the Grim Reaper. Any takers?!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bonding Over Fried Rice and Yum Yum Sauce

Vince and I went to a Japanese Steak House for dinner the other night. The food was tasty and I had a couple glasses of plum wine since they were included with the meal. (Vince didn’t want his.) Maybe it was just me, but plum wine tastes a little like Kool-Aid. Fortunately, they were served in tiny aperitif glasses, so I didn’t get tipsy on Kool-Aid-tasting wine. My wino friends would be appalled. Oh wait, maybe that should be winer friends? Ah, wait – I’ve got it – wine aficionado friends! (Whew.)

But plum wine isn’t really why I’m writing about this place.

What is interesting to me about these types of restaurants is that, unless you are dining with a large group of family and/or friends, you end up sharing dinner with complete strangers. Since it was a Wednesday night, the place wasn’t exactly packed, and we were seated at a large table around the hot metal cooking surface with only one other couple.

But they were nice folks and Vince immediately struck up a conversation with them. By the end of the evening, we pretty much knew their life story. That’s Vince for you. Maybe he should consider a career change and enter the wonderful world of espionage – I think he could get our enemies to divulge state secrets. They wouldn’t even realize they’d done it until it was too late.

I do appreciate Vince’s outgoing personality because as someone with a basically shy nature, striking up conversations with complete strangers is not my natural inclination. I might make an off-hand goofy comment, and I will probably smile and be pleasant – and I will certainly respond if they start conversing with me, but I don’t get overly involved in asking for details about their lives. I sort of figure that I will never see them again after our evening of sizzling steak, fried rice and veggies, so I don’t need to know their third daughter’s birth date.

Once we finished the business of learning all pertinent information about our dining companions (like their SAT scores, total annual income and social security numbers), we got down to the business of watching our chef prepare our dinner.

Unfortunately, I think maybe he needed a larger audience to appreciate his cooking theatrics, because he gave us only a mediocre cooking show. We sort of knew we weren’t going to be dazzled after he spun the raw egg around the cooking surface a few times, caught it on the spatula…and then it flipped sideways and landed on the floor with a splat. (I know this because it came dangerously close to hitting my shoes. When he asked someone to bring him two more eggs, I thought, uh oh – that’s not a good sign. He’s calling for back-up!

Once he dropped the egg, he seemed to lose his confidence and didn’t do any other tricks with his spatula. Instead, he quietly went to work cooking our dinner, which was okay since we were hungry. I’d done a little retail therapy earlier in the evening and as most educated people know, shopping has been scientifically proven to work up an appetite. “Educated” meaning everyone of the female persuasion. (Hey, we’re talkin’ shopping here. We make up our own scientifically proven facts!)

So, like I said, dinner was tasty and I was able to successfully ignore the rapidly congealing egg on the floor by my feet. We paid the bill, tipped everyone – including the poor kid in the back with the mop who had the fun job of cleaning the floor. We then made final arrangements with our dinner companions to spend our next five vacations together. And then we said our goodbyes.

Will we go back to this particular Japanese Steak House? Sure. I’m confident that the chef has learned from the egg spinning debacle and will never make that mistake again. Besides, we have an opening in our schedule for a vacation in January of 2015 with complete strangers and we need to start the interview process now.

Oh, and by the way, I was kidding about the SAT scores.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Flowering Trees and Stuff

The other day I was driving back to the office after my lunch break and I have to admit that I was a little distracted. I was thinking about the tasks I needed to accomplish that afternoon and about the busy schedule we had that evening. I think I was also noticing the chipped nail polish on my left thumbnail, which started me thinking about the sorry state of my toes, but that’s another story.

Suddenly, I looked – really looked – at the road ahead of me. And I was knocked out! Not literally, of course, which is a good thing since I was driving.

But the Flowering Pear trees that line the street were bursting with blooms and it was like fluffy white clouds had descended from the sky and landed on the trees. I was awestruck. I say this, because my eyes snapped open just as my lower jaw unhinged and my mouth opened wide. I probably looked like a fish, so I’m thinking that should qualify as “awestruck.”

Right then I wished I had my camera so I could stop in the middle of the road to take a picture. Thank goodness the camera was safely tucked away at home as I’m sure I would’ve at the very least pissed off the drivers behind me who would’ve had to slam on their brakes to avoid the foolish woman taking pictures of the trees from the middle of the road. The very worst would’ve been if the drivers behind me were also distracted enough not to notice the foolish woman standing in the middle of the road snapping pictures of trees.


I’ve worked in German Village for about eight years now and the beauty of the flowering trees and carefully tended gardens around here never cease to amaze me. But it’s like I have this reaction every single year. Wouldn’t you think I’d be used to it by now? Oh well, I guess I’d rather be amazed at the beauty of God’s creation than to be blasé and all world-weary about it.

Okay, and if I am to be completely honest here, I think I especially like that other people are doing all the gardening work and I just get to enjoy it! I’m not a digging in the dirt kinda person. Just think what it does to a good manicure. Or at least that’s an excuse I can come up with off the top of my head. Yeah, I think I’ll stick with that one.

Sometimes I get cranky about German Village. The cool looking brick-lined streets can be a bumpy ride from hell that tortures the shocks and struts on my car. I cannot tell you how many nails have had to be pulled out of the tires over all these years because the spaces between the bricks are perfect hiding places for sharp, pointy objects. And I sometimes have to say a quick prayer and hope for the best as I attempt to cross a street at which the drivers perpendicular to me do not have a stop sign. It’s way too hard to see oncoming traffic down here. Sometimes I think I even close my eyes a little bit. Probably I shouldn’t admit that.

But even with all of those shortcomings and take-your-life-in-your-hands moments, I do appreciate the beauty of this small community. Just don’t ask me to move down here. Parking is another issue altogether.

I hope you enjoy these spring-filled, flowering trees days. They only come once a year.

Oh, and I brought my camera today. Film at 11.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Disco Fever?

The only reason I listen to the radio on my drive home these days is to hear the traffic report. By the time I usually hear it, however, I’m already on the specific route that is jammed up because of some accident ahead. But at least it confirms for me the reason we’re inching along at about 5MPH.

Once I hear said traffic report, I generally turn off the radio to enjoy a little peace and quiet before arriving home. Not that once I get home it’ll be strife and mayhem – not in the least. But once in a while, I just like a little quiet.

Except for the other day. As soon as the traffic guy finished his report, the song “Brick House” by the Commodores started playing. And, boy, did that take me back wayyyy more years than I’d like to admit. So I turned the radio up – loud – and started bopping my head along to the beat. I even confess to warbling along with Lionel Ritchie, but since I was completely off-key I’ll deny even knowing the words should anyone ask me for my rendition of the song.

“Brick House?” I’ll say. “Oh, I was barely born when that song came out, so I really couldn’t even pretend to know the words!”

Nah. I doubt anyone would buy that story…

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed my blast from the past moment. And I thought, isn’t it funny how songs do that – remind you of another time in your life? What’s even more interesting to me is that nostalgia tends to color our perspective. Because, if I were to be completely honest, I don’t think I even liked that song back in 1977!

Don’t get me wrong, I (reluctantly) admit to being a true “Disco Queen” and spent many an evening at the Serene Lounge on the south campus at OSU. I could probably also dredge up the names of a couple other discos in the area – like Charlie Bears on the East side, and…? (Oh, thank goodness, I can’t remember the name of the other place we’d drive to on the west side of Columbus to, um, “boogie down.”)

There were a lot of guy friends who wouldn’t be caught dead in any of those discos, but then we also had a great group of guys who loved to dance as much as we did. And, whether we like to admit it now, or not, we had a great time!

Today when folks hear those songs, even if they were “barely born” back then, they tend to bop their heads along to the beat. And I had to laugh when I watched “Mama Mia” and heard all those ABBA songs (another group I didn’t especially care for back in the 70s). Yet I bopped along in a nostalgic haze to “Take a Chance on Me” and “Dancing Queen.”

So while this was sort of an embarrassing walk down memory lane (disco did that to us!), I take comfort in the knowledge that the music kids are listening to today will also, one day, be a little embarrassing.

Yes, time marches on and someday, somewhere, someone will hear a song on the radio – and they will bop their heads along to the beat and may even warble off-key along with the singer, too. And they’ll think about how much fun they had as a teenager back in 2010.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

You Want a Drink with Those McNuggets?

My salad today was sort of boring. A little Boston/Bibb/Butter (pick a name!) lettuce, a few sliced black olives, slivered almonds and some garbanzo beans thrown in for good measure. But no meat. Guess we haven’t grilled any chicken at home lately and haven’t had any to add to our daily salads.

Yes, I make salads for our lunches every day. Except for the nights we’re out and get home too late or I’m just plain too tired to make them. Vince might say that happens a lot, but I say the percentages are on my side and we have salads for lunch more days than not.

Anyway, I was bored with a salad without meat, so I went through the McDonald’s drive-thru at lunchtime. I ordered a Diet Coke and a 5-piece order of Chicken McNuggets so I could break them in half and add them to my salad du jour and give it a little extra ‘something.’ (A discussion about the unhealthy aspects of Chicken McNuggets not appearing in this particular blog. Thanks for asking.)

Anyway, I drove on my merry way to the park to enjoy my now chicken-filled salad. There I was sitting on a bench in the sunshine, munching away happily and reading yesterday’s newspaper (I’m a little behind the times, what can I say?!). And then it happened. I took a sip of Diet Coke and discovered it wasn’t Diet Coke at all – but regular Coke. With sugar. Bleh!

I’m one of those people who didn’t drink sugary sodas as a kid and was only introduced to the caffeine aspects of Diet Coke as a freshman at Ohio State. I didn’t like coffee in any form and when I tried regular Coke (now called, what? Coke Classic?) I thought it was way too sweet with a sugary aftertaste I didn’t like. I know it’s sort of backward since many people don’t like the “chemical” taste of Diet Coke. Anyway, I must say that Diet Coke got me through many an all-nighter at OSU.

But I digress. The point – and, yes, there IS one (!), is that I was annoyed because I ordered a Diet Coke. I paid for a Diet Coke. But I received a regular Coke, which I wasn’t remotely interested in drinking. And by this point I didn’t want to take the time to drive all the way back to McDonald’s to complain and get what I’d ordered.

So instead, I whipped out my trusty iPhone and called the store to complain. The manager was very nice and told me to use his name and when I came in the next time I would get a Diet Coke at no charge. Well, that’s nice and all, but I honestly don’t make a habit of frequenting McDonald’s so I can assure you I won’t remember the manager’s name, nor will I remember the date of my last visit. And it’s a pretty good ploy on their part to get customers who were dissatisfied with the service the first time around, to come back in and spend more money.

I guess that’s a good lesson for me. Vince would tell me that, yeah, the lesson is to stop buying Diet Coke! That’s because he’s been trying to wean me off Diet Coke and has been urging me to drink coffee. Only he has to doctor up the coffee so much with sugar-free flavorings and soy milk and whipped cream to get me to drink it, I shudder at the number of calories involved! (Hey, honey, guess how many calories Diet Coke has? ZERO!)

Yes, I could drink water. And I do – believe me. I drink water from the time I come in to work in the morning until I leave at night. Sometimes I even drink a glass of water in the evening, provided the preferred glass of red wine is not on the table. So I have no problem getting in the requisite number of glasses of H2O. Sometimes a person just wants a different taste.

But apparently not Coke with sugar. Bleh.

And, while I’m not exactly sure what we’ll be doing tonight, I sort of suspect it will involve chicken on the grill. But, that’s okay because, hey, I’ll take Vince’s grilled chicken over Chicken McNuggets any ol’ day!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Swoerij Dowier Hlorper

The other night I was driving home from work and I had a million ideas swirling around in my brain for future blogs (as well as some not-so-fun chores to add to my “to do” list). I was so filled with inspiration that I grabbed the notebook from the passenger seat that I keep there for just such opportunities and I scribbled down all those great ideas for future contemplation. I was mindful of my primary purpose, which was to maneuver a large heavy metal machine through rush hour traffic. And, yes, while I did take my right hand off the wheel temporarily in order to write, I kept my eyes on the road the entire time.

I can prove it, too. How? Well, because I took a look at the notebook last night…and I couldn’t decipher a single thing I wrote. Nope, absolutely no freakin’ idea! Fortunately, I also couldn’t decipher the not-so-fun chores, so it looks like they aren’t gonna get added to my “to do” list anytime soon. Small blessings, eh?

Nevertheless, it’s a little frustrating. I mean, scribbles that look sort of like “hlorper” and “riolding” don’t help much. And I simply can’t remember what I was so inspired about, either. Wouldn’t you think if they were so inspirational, I’d be able to recall at least some part of the concept that might allow me to piece the idea together again?

I don’t think I can blame it on getting older and more forgetful because I’ve been like this for a long time. And, no, it’s not because I’ve been having “blonde moments” my entire life either. Sheesh! (Welllll, okay, so there have been a few moments – but I think I’ll just keep those incidents to myself for the time being...)

No, there have been many nights just before I fall asleep when I’ll come up with the perfect gift for that impossible-to-buy for relative. Or I’ll compose the perfect letter – whether it’s for personal or business. Or I’ll think about some key ingredient I absolutely can’t forget to buy when I hit the grocery store the next day. Then, in the morning, I’ll have completely forgotten what I’d come up with. I’ve kept notebooks on the bedside table, but I have to admit that the results were similar to my note writing experience in the car the other night.

So…c’mon. Help me out here. Haven’t these things happened to you, too? It’s not just me – right? Right?! Haven’t you meant to add “laundry detergent” to the list because you’ve used up the very last drop in the container and have a mountain of laundry still to do? You figure you couldn't possibly forget such an important item. And then you go to the store and the one stinkin’ thing you’ve forgotten is the bottle of Tide?

I think my cell phone has some sort of application that will allow me to record notes, which would be helpful – if I only knew how to operate the application. Besides, it’s not really convenient for those times when I must keep my eyes on the road because I’m maneuvering a large heavy metal machine through rush hour traffic. Hmmm. Maybe in the future I should pull over to the side of the road to record my ideas. Knowing me, though, I’d probably push the wrong button thus losing my perfect idea for eternity.

So…the subject of today’s blog is: “Swoerij Dowier Hlorper.” Hahaha! Isn’t that hysterical??! I think it might be the best thing I’ve ever written!

Yeah, well, anyway. I hope your day is inspired. Happy Riolding…

…or something like that.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Blue Lips Story

My most vivid Easter memory is not, I’m sorry to say, of some stirring sermon I heard in church one Easter Sunday. Nor is it of any particular “Easter Bonnet” I once wore. (And I did, by the way, wear Easter Bonnets once upon a time when females were required to wear headwear in Church.)

No, my most vivid Easter memory is from second grade. My brothers and I woke up at some ungodly hour all giddy with excitement because the Easter Bunny had surely arrived and we could feast on chocolate to our little hearts’ content – at least until Mom and Dad got up and took away our baskets until after dinner when we might be allowed to have a sweet or two.

I was the sage eldest sister at the ripe old age of 7 and my brother Andrew was a cute 5-year-old towhead. That year we were introduced for the first time to those pastel-colored malted milk eggs – you know the ones I’m talking about? We had never had them before and, instead of crunching into them as John and I were doing, Andrew started sucking on them. And, to our horror, his lips turned a vivid shade of blue! We didn’t know what had happened, but we wondered if he was going to be forced to live forever with bright blue lips. Or perhaps he might succumb to some horrible Blue Lip Disease. We simply didn’t know. And, c’mon, you’ve gotta remember – we’d only lived thus far into the single digits. We didn’t have the life experience of, say, a 10-year-old!

Anyway, being the sage eldest sister at the ripe old age of 7 meant that I had a judgment call to make. We could immediately awaken our parents to handle the blue lip situation. Or we could let it go for a short while and see if Andrew keeled over dramatically clutching at his lips, at which time we would, without question, wake up our parents.

Naturally, our oldest brother, John, didn’t want to sound the alarm because our parents would take away our Easter baskets a whole lot sooner than anticipated. But sage eldest sisters also don’t want the responsibility of forcing younger brothers to go through life with bright blue lips.

So, Andrew and I tiptoed into our parent’s bedroom and gently shook my mother’s shoulder. As an RN, we figured she had all the medical knowledge required to handle a situation such as this. And we thought she’d take one look at Andrew and bound out of bed with an immediate solution.

Instead, she sleepily looked at him and then looked at me. I must have had such a look of consternation on my face that she simply laughed! And then she told Andrew to get a washcloth and wipe off the blue dye.

Oh, and then she told us to put away our Easter baskets until after dinner. Bummer.

When we got a little older, my little sister Denise and I would take the pink eggs and smear them over our lips intentionally so we could wear “lipstick.” I don’t really remember, but I suspect Mom probably told us to get a washcloth and wipe the pink dye off our lips.

Anyway, I still remember that particular Easter Sunday and it makes me smile.

I’m not sure which of the priests will be delivering the sermon at St. Andrew’s this Easter Sunday, but I’m sure it’ll be stirring. And it might even replace the blue lips story as my most vivid Easter memory. Maybe.

Whatever your plans, I hope you’ll spend Easter Sunday with family and friends making lasting memories of your own.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Just a Coupla April Fools

Today is April Fool’s Day, and no, I’m not going to try to trick you or anything else. I always thought April Fool’s jokes were, well, a little foolish. Yeah, okay, so that maybe deserves a “Duh, Jane…” (Okay, all together now…!)

The funny thing is that Vince and I had our first date on April 1st two years ago. (Insert joke here.) But it seems like a lifetime ago already, and it feels like we’ve known each other so much longer.

We met online – on MySpace – if you can believe it. I had just created a profile on MySpace and was just dipping my toe, so to speak, in the whole social networking arena. (Yeah, okay, I realize that was a mixed metaphor. Work with me here, people!)

Anyway, one Friday we had a big snowstorm and I was stuck inside all weekend and I wanted to talk to someone else from Columbus who was also stuck inside. Somehow I chose Vince. But, while he may have been stuck inside, he wasn’t manning his computer right then. I wrote a note in my goofy, chatty way and waited for a response so I could enter the Wonderful World of IM-ing. And…nothin’. He finally responded two days later after I had shoveled my way out of my driveway. Timing, eh?

Fortunately, he responded in a non-threatening way, so we started e-mailing each other. I was e-mailing other people, too, because I wasn’t really on a “meet my future husband online” quest. I wasn’t even really interested in dating – just in getting to know what the whole IM-chatting-MySpace-Facebook thing was all about.

And guess what I discovered? Some people on these sites are – gasp! – liars and stuff. Can you believe that?! I heard from scammers and men who were married but pretending they weren’t. Not only that, but then I’d hear from women I didn’t know who wrote to warn me about these scammers and married men. I thought the whole thing seemed a little seedy and sordid and made me question the entire social networking business. If I had truly been interested in actually going out with any of these men, I might have been upset, but I wasn’t exactly emotionally invested in any of these (quote) relationships (end quote).

All I could do was shake my head and wonder what had happened to people. Where, I wondered, had all the good, honest people gone? But, I figured if I was good and honest (relatively speaking, of course!), then I had to assume there were others out there, too.

And, yes, by Vince’s second e-mail he wanted to “close the deal” (as he says) and get me to agree to go on a date with him. Hey, he’s a car guy, that’s how they talk! Anyway, I told him (gently, I hope) that I wasn’t interested in dating. He didn’t seem like one, but I needed to find out if he was a scammer or a married man pretending he wasn’t.

He wasn’t. Just for the record.

Vince also wasn’t easily deterred. Apparently I wrote him an e-mail every day – and one day I didn’t. Guess I was busy that day or somethin’. He wrote me a very nice e-mail that evening saying how he really looked forward to my daily notes and hoped that all was well. So, ego-driven person that I am, I was diggin’ the fact that there was someone out there who enjoyed hearing from me.

Eventually, we moved on to actual IM chatting and then phone calls. And then, as April approached, he tried the ‘let’s go on a date’ thing again. And this time I accepted. Hey, I figured if it didn’t work out, we’d both get a funny “I went out with this joker on April Fool’s Day…” story out of it.

Life can be so unpredictable, can’t it? I mean, I could’ve chosen a dozen different people to write to on MySpace that snowy Friday. Why Vince? You could call it fate. You could call it luck. Whatever. We both call it a gift from God. And we are grateful.

So…Happy April Fool’s Day, everyone. And Happy Anniversary, Vince. I love you!