Friday, December 16, 2011

It Was A Dark and Stormy Night...


So yesterday I was talking about my tire problems. I said, “it’s December and I’m having tire issues ‘again.’” I’m sure you were sitting on the edge of your seat wondering what other tire issues I’ve had in December, weren’t you? No? Well, too bad because I have a doozy to tell you.

It was a dark and stormy night…

No, seriously, it was. And it was also Christmas Eve. I was on my way home from work and looking forward to spending my first Christmas with Vince. As soon as I arrived home, we were going to pack up the car with gifts and head to his dad’s house for a family celebration.

So I was racing home and was nearly there. The windshield wipers were thumping across the glass trying in vain to keep the water off my windshield so I could see the road in front of me.

And then I heard a loud pop.

Not knowing what it was, but knowing that my car doesn’t normally make that sort of sound, I pulled off the road. So even though I knew I was going to get pummeled by the rain, I stepped out of my car and walked around to see what might have caused that sound. And there, on the passenger side, was a flat rear tire.

So I did what any normal woman does in this sort of situation. I called my boyfriend.

Vince asked me if I thought I could get it up the street to the gas station where I could fill the tire with air enough to get home. And he would take it from there.

Yeah, right.

I did manage to make it to the gas station. Air, as I complained about yesterday, cost 75 cents. And I had to scrounge around in my car to find three quarters. So out into the cold deluge I went with the three quarters clutched in my shaking fingers. So I slid the first quarter into the slot, and then the second…but the third quarter fell out of my icy fingers and rolled under my car. Seriously?

Rather than kneel on the wet and muddy pavement to search for it, I trudged back around my car into the driver’s seat to see if I could scare up another quarter. Fortunately, I found one and managed to insert it into the slot without dropping it. And the air machine whirred to life.

Since my tire was flat as a pancake, I decided not to bother finding out what the air pressure was – I knew it was going to take a lot of air to get it reasonably full enough to drive. So I crouched there squeezing the handle of the air pump. By this point, my hair was dripping wet and it looked as if I’d just gotten out of the shower. I was freezing cold and getting, well, just a tad stressed out. But I kept trying to fill the tire.

After three minutes the air machine shut off, but my tire was still flat as a pancake. And I had no more quarters.

So I did what any normal woman would do in this sort of a situation.

I got back into my car and cried. And then I called my boyfriend.

By the time Vince answered the phone, I was sobbing into the phone – so his first thought might have been that I’d gotten hit by a Mack truck in the gas station parking lot or something. But, no. I just couldn’t get the tire to fill with air. He may have decided that I just didn’t know how to fill a tire with air – but he (fortunately) didn’t suggest any such thing.

So he did what any normal boyfriend would do in this sort of situation.

He drove over to the gas station to rescue me. I think he was a little shocked to see the soggy pitiful state I was in with dripping hair and eyes and running mascara – but he hugged me and told me he would take care of it. Then he steered me over to his car and told me to go home and take a hot shower and get ready to go to his dad’s house.

Which we were late for, incidentally.

So I called his dad’s wife and – still sniffling – told her what had happened. She reassuringly told me it was going to be fine and to just get there when we could. And to bring an extra large bottle of wine.

Turned out that the tire had actually exploded and there was no inner wall – so that tire was never going to fill with air no matter how many quarters we put into the air filler machine. Vince took the wheel off and put the little donut on the car and drove home – pretty drippy and freezing himself. But rather than complain about anything, he just held me close and told me how lucky I was that nothing worse had happened when the tire blew.

Probably if I’d known that was what was happening, I would’ve panicked and rolled the car or something.

Nevertheless, the tire was replaced a couple days later and all was right with the world again. Especially after I drank that extra large bottle of wine all by myself at his dad's house on Christmas Eve.

I kid. (Sort of.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tire Troubles and Louie DePalma


Well, it’s December and you know what that means, don’t you? No, not Christmas or Hanukkah or any of that other holiday and mistletoe-kinda stuff.

What it really means is that I am having tire troubles. (You do realize that the world revolves around me, no? Heyyy. Whaddya mean, “No!”?)

All right, so I concede that the world doesn’t really revolve around me, but I AM having tire troubles.

One day last week I noticed that the front tire on the driver’s side was pretty low, so I took it to the gas station where I had to pay the exorbitant amount of 75 cents for air. Sure, sure, I suppose the gas station owners have to maintain that air dispensing machine and all, but there’s just something galling about having to pay for air.

Anyway, I thought that took care of the problem. But I thought wrong. The tire was really low again a few days later, so I took it to the tire place close to my office. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall tire shop owned by a man who looks to be at least 200 years old.

And he’s mean. I mean, one time I took my car there to have a new tire put on the car and started to write a check to pay the bill. He came hustling out of his little cage, à la Louie DePalma from that old Taxi sitcom. And he snatched my checkbook out of my hands! I was flabbergasted and asked him what the heck he thought he was doing. He responded that customers had written way too many checks that had bounced and he wanted to make sure my balance was enough to cover his bill.

Since I towered over the man, I was able to grab my checkbook back out of his hands and stopped just short of thunking him on top of his little head with it. But I was sorely tempted, let me tell you. I wrote him a check – that didn’t bounce, thank you very much – and vowed never to darken his doorway again.

But, um, the location is really convenient while I’m at work and I’ve been back a couple times since. I usually pay with a credit card, however, to avoid repeating the whole checkbook snatching scenario. I’m a little afraid I’d give in to my urge to thunk him on the head with my checkbook as payback for that first incident.

So I sat in a grimy chair in the waiting room anxiously awaiting word on how much the problem was going to cost me. Working in German Village, a quaint little part of town with many streets paved with bricks, wreaks havoc on motor vehicles. I’m not so sure how well horses did back in the “olden days” either. Suspensions go and nails and other sharp, pointy objects get embedded in tires.

After a few minutes I was summoned to the operating room and Louie pointed at a sad specimen of a tire with a severely bent rim and a tire so flat that I couldn’t believe it had come off my car. And then he started berating me and asking me what I’d hit. I told him I hadn’t hit anything. He looked at me in disbelief and then told me he couldn’t put that tire back on my car; that he’d have to “send out” for another rim and it would take two days for it to come in.

Meanwhile, I’m standing there wondering how I’m going to get back to the office and then how I’m going to get all the way back home after 5 o’clock. I couldn’t imagine sitting in my office for three to four hours waiting for Vince to drive downtown to collect me after he finished with his job for the day.

So while my thoughts were racing and my blood pressure was skyrocketing, one of Louie’s underlings walked in and said, “That not her wheel, boss.” I heard the guy…but Louie was still shaking his head and carrying on about how I had to hit something pretty substantial to incur that kind of damage.

After the young man repeated for the third time that it wasn’t my wheel, Louie finally heard him. And then he grudgingly apologized to me.

So I went back to the waiting room a total wreck. For some reason, car issues really stress me out. And, even though Vince is great at dealing with car issues, he wasn’t there to take Louie on for me.

Turns out my rim WAS bent, but just barely, and air was slowly leaking out around it. (The high curbs in German Village are pretty formidable, too, and I do admit to hitting the curb a time or two. But that was a long time ago. Since then, I do everything in my power to avoid parallel parking in GV.)

So Louie glued something or other on the wheel and said if it didn’t hold, I’d have to have the rim replaced and he handed me back my keys. Surprisingly, I didn’t have to pull out either my checkbook or credit card since he didn’t charge me anything. Probably he was feeling guilty for yelling at me about the other wheel.

But this time when I left, I promised myself I wouldn’t be back. I really don’t need a mean Louie DePalma character in my life. I guess when you get to be that old, you get seriously cranky.

So I’m really looking forward to taking my car to some anonymous tire repair chain that has a bajillion tires and rims in stock. I’ll willingly pay a little extra to ensure that nobody snatches my checkbook out of my hands or berates me for the condition of a wheel that doesn’t even belong to me.

Or…maybe I’ll just leave the car repair stuff to Vince. Problem solved and no head thunking required.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things


The other day someone asked me to name my favorite Christmas gift of all time. It made me pause because, while I’ve received many wonderful gifts over the years, I’m not sure which gift I’d consider my absolute favorite.

I can, however, tell you the first Christmas present I ever remember receiving. It was a “Chatty Cathy” doll and when you pulled a string on her back, she spoke one of several phrases. Now, you have to remember this was back in the dark ages when having a doll that sported realistic-looking eyes was a major development in the world of doll making. So having one speak was high tech for its time.

And I loved my Chatty Cathy doll. I was the only girl in the family since my younger sister hadn’t yet been born and I only had brothers to play with. I loved all things girly – something they didn’t understand – so I pretended that Cathy and I were sisters.

But then it happened. My older brother absconded with Chatty Cathy one day shortly after Christmas and yanked the “chatty ring” on her back too hard and one too many times. And Chatty Cathy ceased chatting. It broke my little 4-year-old heart.

To this point I hadn’t quite learned the art of retribution. But now that I’m thinking about it and getting mad all over again, I’m wondering if it’s too late to get back at my brother. Hmm. I wonder if he still has some of those little green plastic army men? I could melt them down into a big ol’ pile of green goo.

On the other hand, they’d probably release all sorts of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. So…better not. Besides, I’m pretty sure that even if he did have some of those little green plastic army men stored in a box somewhere, he surely no longer plays with them. Yeah, he’d probably look at me like I’m the crazy one if I whipped out a Zippo lighter.

Apparently I’m not very good at the whole retribution thing.

But I digress. I was talking about favorite Christmas gifts. I’m guessing that talking about Soprano-style retribution defeats the feel-good aspects of “Favorite Christmas Gifts,” eh?

So let’s move on, shall we?

My mom tells me that the year prior to the whole Cathygate incident, I asked Santa for balloons for Christmas. Balloons – really? This is a gift I neither remember asking for nor receiving, although apparently both happened. But since I still get all giddy when I receive a handful of helium-filled balloons, I’m sure this one was true. Santa must have been ecstatic that year. This is great, kid, he probably thought. I can pick up a cheap pack of balloons and the elves won't even have to break into a sweat on this one.

But, Santa, it’s never about the price of the gift. Right?!

As I said earlier, I loved all things girly – still do – so the year I received a little heart-shaped birthstone set with a ring, stretchy bracelet and necklace from Woolworths that I coveted, I thought I’d hit the jackpot. Never mind that the bracelet turned my wrist green and the ring broke within a week or two. I loved those little heart-shaped sapphire “jewels”!

I remember as a young adult asking my parents for specific gifts to furnish my apartment. One year, I asked for a dresser for my bedroom. Another year, I asked for a rocking chair. A third year, I asked for a cheval mirror.

But my favorite gift I received as a young adult was a hammer. Yes, a hammer! I’d decided that I really shouldn’t use my high heels to pound nails into the wall anymore, so I asked my dad for a hammer. This was a gift he could get behind, so off he headed to Lowe’s. And under the tree on Christmas morning was a colorfully wrapped gift – in the exact shape of a hammer. I laughed as I picked it up and said, “I couldn’t possibly guess what this might be!”

When I use that hammer today, it always makes me think about my dad – and I always smile.

As we get older, I think the thrill of receiving gifts lessens a bit since we can most likely afford to buy the gift in question ourselves. What makes it special, really, is the person giving us the gift. That someone we care about thought about what we might like – and chose a gift especially for us.

So I’m just happy whenever I receive a gift. But please don’t go searching through eBay for an old Chatty Cathy doll. I couldn’t bear it if she stopped chatting and it broke my little 50-something year old heart!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Jingle Bell Rockin' it in Tap Shoes

On my commute home from work the other night I finally gave in and tuned to the station playing Christmas music 24 hours a day. They started on Black Friday, but I couldn’t bring myself to listen to any rendition of “Frosty the Snowman” that early – even if I do think that Burl Ives made a really cute snowman in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with his little plaid vest and umbrella.

I haven’t joined the whole Sirius radio revolution, so I’m still listening to only about three local radio stations in my car. So trust me, it’s not easy to avoid the 24-hour a day Christmas music radio station. I mean, even when I listened to the morning show for a few minutes to hear their “Celebrity Dirt” or “I Didn’t Know That Fun Fact of the Day” segments, I immediately switched to one of the other two stations right after they finished.
But, since the Christmas season seems to be truly upon us, I decided to test the waters and see if Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” was enjoyable or got on my nerves.

Fortunately, the first song I heard was “Jingle Bell Rock.” Not the Home Alone version by Brenda Lee, but the one by the man. (Okay, I have a computer and I can look stuff up. Yeah…hold on… Okay, I’m talking about the one by Bobby Helms.)

Anyway, when I heard that song, I was instantly transported back to the third grade.

I know – weird, right?

But in the third grade, I – along with several other third grade girls – did a little tap dance to Jingle Bell Rock for what I assume was a Christmas show the school staged for parents and other adoring family members. As I recall, our tap dance sort of morphed into a Rockettes kind of thing with all of us linking arms and high kicking as Bobby sang “…dance the night awayyyy!”

Since I went to Catholic grade school, I can’t imagine how they managed to coordinate our annual recreation of the whole Baby Jesus being born in Bethlehem with angels and wise men and the whole nine yards scene with a bunch of little girls high kicking to “Jingle Bell Rock.”

It’s weird the things you can remember, isn’t it? I mean, I have no other memory of that evening other than the snippet where I was tap dancing and kicking.

Maybe that’s a good thing. Because my tap-dancer teacher was a nun. Her name was Sr. Lucy. And this – mind you – was back in the day when nuns wore the long black habits with three foot long rosary beads attached to their waist and wimples on their heads so that they rather resembled penguins.

I sort of remember taking tap dance classes in the janitor’s room because it was the only place in the school with cement floors and evidently we really needed to hear the taps on our shoes as we fumbled along learning the difference between a brush and a shuffle.

I remember being most shocked when Sr. Lucy lifted up her habit so we could watch her feet as she showed us the steps. Seeing a nun’s ankles was a big shock to an 8-year-old, who was a little naïve and didn’t think nuns had the same parts as the rest of us. I mean, we’d only ever seen a small portion of their faces and their hands.

Of course, it wasn’t like seeing anything, really. I mean, nuns wore heavy woolen stockings and clunky black shoes.

And, while I don’t really remember what Sr. Lucy’s tap dance shoes looked like, she was one of my favorites and I’d like to think they were shiny black patent with wide grosgrain ribbon ties.

Ah well. Since I can’t remember how to tap dance anymore, I assume that my lessons were short-lived. But hearing “Jingle Bell Rock” on the radio sure brought back some fond memories.

So I guess maybe it is time for the 24-hour Christmas music station.

Except that I reserve the right to change the station the very first time I hear “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It’s ONE Space After a Period. Apparently.


I’ve been reading about the “new” rules of writing. The big one lately is that you’re supposed to put only one space after a period instead of two spaces.

If you’re my age and you grew up back when actual typewriters roamed the earth, you probably find it nearly impossible to comply with this rule. Putting two spaces after a period is permanently ingrained in the same part of my brain as the sentence, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

As a matter of fact, I notice that even though I’m talking about it, I keep entering two spaces after the stinkin’ period. And I’m really trying to enter only one space. Argghh!

Why do the rules keep changing? Sure, I understand the argument about outmoded methods of printing and typesetting and monospaced fonts, blahbedy, blah, blah. What they’re telling us is it’s not only unnecessary to hit the space bar twice, but it's also a serious writing infraction.

Okay. But what does that extra space really hurt? It’s not like I’m using up so much extra space that I’m killing any additional trees, especially since my words are merely floating around in cyberspace rather than printed on actual paper.

Sure, there are times when I’m composing a real letter and there will be one little word all by its lonesome on a line, so I’ll delete some of the extraneous spaces to try to move it up with its friends. If absolutely necessary, I might even delete a word or two, but it’s pretty obvious that I like using a LOT of words and I don’t like getting rid of any of ‘em. But for the most part that extra space doesn’t really hurt anybody.

I read an article the other day wherein the writer was pretty adamant about the one space after a period rule. He even seemed to think it was a jarring experience for readers to come across that extra space – like they were so traumatized whenever they saw it that they simply couldn’t continue reading until they stopped and composed themselves.

Really? This is the problem? I don’t think so. I’d say that it’s pretty darn traumatizing to read some of the status updates on Facebook. Like…well, let me take a quick gander at ol’ Facebook to find you an example. Be right back…

Okay. Here’s one: Someone was wishing a group of people and their families a Merry Christmas, but the line was written “…there family’s...” Oh, happy day. For my dentist, anyway, as he will earn big bucks for fixing the teeth that I’m grinding down to pointy little stumps.

Or how about this one: “Life is to short to worry about thing’s u cant control. Everyone has there problems.”

How can two tiny sentences have so many errors? On the other hand, there was only one space between sentences, so I guess I should be happy about that.

Yeah, not really.

I would have been slightly mollified if the writer had at least spelled “their” correctly.

I think it’s interesting that despite the proliferation of cell phones, our communication has become much more written than verbal. We don’t call people to carry on a conversation; we text or IM or simply update our statuses on Facebook or Twitter.

Maybe our message reaches a bigger audience this way as it would be nearly impossible to call all 1,497 of your closest Facebook friends to tell them you’re next in line at Starbucks and can’t wait to get you’re too iced venti macchiato’s because you sooo need the buzz.

But, c’mon, people. Before we worry so much about the one versus two spaces after a period rule, why don’t we worry about the correct usage of to, too and two? (And a basic review of apostrophes and possessives also wouldn’t hurt.)

Okay, I’ll step off my soapbox now. But before I go, I’d better look this blog over one more time. I’m sure I have a lot of extra spaces to delete.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Great Office Beautification Plan


I walked into the office the other day to find all the pictures off the wall and furniture moved around in the “middle” rooms. This was my first clue that big changes were a comin’.

On and off for the past year we have been in the midst of an “office beautification” project that started with the copy room and eventually progressed to my office. And now, apparently, it’s the middle rooms’ turn.

This is not a bad thing since the carpet and wallpaper in the office have been around for about 30 years. And don’t tell anyone, but there may even still be shag carpeting upstairs. Maybe that explains why the new guy has been dressing like Austin Powers.

Thankfully, I was on vacation when my office was redone. Sure, I had to spend a couple days ahead of time packing up my files and desk paraphernalia. But it was oh so nice to come back to what looked like a brand new office. And I kind of like not staring at gold foil printed wallpaper every day. The only downside is that I can’t attach paper to the walls with thumbtacks anymore, so I have to search through folders on my desk to retrieve important information. Not fun for a visual person who can’t recite the office address without looking at a cheat sheet. Sigh.

So the plan for the next phase of the project was that someone would be in this week to remove the wallpaper in the two middle rooms as well as my bathroom. And then over the weekend, wall prep and painting would commence as well as carpet reinstallation.

But while my boss was standing there telling me his plans, he started picking at the wallpaper. He started pulling and a large section of paper came easily off the wall. So we looked at each other and then back at the wall – and then we both started pulling wallpaper off in a mad frenzy to see which of us could rip the bigger sheet of paper off in one pull.

We’re not competitive or anything, are we?

Eventually we tired of the “fun” so we washed our hands and went to our respective offices to get a little real work done.

But after spending some frustrating minutes on the phone with a vendor who didn’t seem to understand the importance of communicating the status of a project, I went into the bathroom, closed the door – and ripped a whole section of wallpaper off the wall. Hey, a new way to relieve stress. Who knew?

We continued to pull more paper off the wall throughout the day whenever boredom struck – or we didn’t feel like dealing with recalcitrant vendors – and managed to remove about 80% of the paper covering the walls.

I figured that the guy who was hired to work on this project lost a chunk of change. I imagined he intended to spend an entire day taking the paper off the walls before prepping them for the painters. Oh well. If he’s being paid hourly, I’m sure he’ll stretch it out. And if he’s being paid by the job, well, we did him a major favor, didn’t we?

This experience is far different from the first time I was asked to help remove wallpaper. I was 10 years old and we were visiting our cousins in Michigan. One cousin and her husband had recently purchased an old farm house and wanted to remove the wallpaper. What cheaper labor can you get than little kids? All you have to do is promise ‘em a burger. Throw in an overnight sleepover and make it sound like a big adventure and they’re all in. So we were handed some sort of scraping tools and were presented the wallpapered wall.

And suddenly that burger didn’t seem like all that big a deal.

What I remember about the experience was that it was not fun. Well, other than the fun I had whenever I got to hang out with my cousins. We scraped and scraped, but only managed to free little slivers of paper from the wall at any one time. And underneath the part that we cleared? Another layer of wallpaper. And underneath that? Newspaper! Someone glued newspaper to the wall!

I had my first lesson in futility that night. I just so didn’t want to continue because it seemed too gargantuan a task to a mere 10-year-old. I wondered what they used to put that stuff up in the first place – cement?

I clearly recall vowing right then and there never to put up (or take down) wallpaper again. Ever. Yep, my little 10-year-old brain decided at that very moment that wallpapering was bad and painting was good.

But I have to admit, it was kind of fun yanking the wallpaper off the walls in the office the other day. I’m guessing they didn’t use cement to affix the paper to the walls 30 years ago. No, I’d say it was more like Elmer’s Glue Stick.

So I’ve amended the vow I made when I was 10 and my new plan is to only remove wallpaper from walls if Elmer’s Glue Stick has been used to put the paper up. After all, it’s a great stress reliever.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

'Tis the Season


It’s the first of December already and I am, surprisingly, just about ready for Christmas. How did that happen? Oh yeah, I’ve been spending all my free time making lists, checking them twice and shopping like a crazy person. I’ve ignored my family, various friends, the laundry and the cats. Come to think of it, Vince’s face has become a little fuzzy in my mind, too, which tells me I’m probably not spending enough time with my husband.

And I’ve ignored my blog writing. Big time. Been way too long since I’ve written anything.

But my loving husband, who is my biggest blog-writing supporter, has been very helpful this year in the holiday prep department, so I really don’t have much of an excuse. Last weekend he and his son even moved the furniture around in the living room and put up the Christmas tree with very little prompting by yours truly. It was the first time in years – no…make that ever – that I didn’t have to free the Christmas tree from its dusty plastic bin in the garage and put it up and decorate it entirely on my own. (And, okay, so let’s not quibble too much about the fact that for many, many years I was single and there wasn’t anyone else around to handle the chore…)

Nevertheless, their efforts were greatly appreciated. It was a wonderful break for me given that I was elbow deep in other plastic bins hauling out a variety of glitter-covered holiday decorations that were put up with time and energy to spare.

And all our plotting and planning and shopping efforts have resulted in a fully decorated abode and a box full of gifts. Now all I need to do is wrap them and stow them safely under the tree. Unless Twinks, who is the “chewer” in the family, decides that the gaily wrapped gifts are her personal chew toys and rips off all the paper and bows covering said gifts.

If I have to re-wrap anything, they’re likely to end up in plastic shopping bags, so let’s hope that the cat keeps her gnawing to a minimum. That pair of slippers for Mom would look a whole lot less classy and appealing were they to be stuffed in a brown plastic Kroger bag.

Another task still to be checked off is the whole Christmas card sending business. I’m not sure why we bother with this one, except it’s a tradition I still like. Yet I fear that it’s a tradition that is fading into obscurity since we receive fewer and fewer cards each year.

But we have all manner of boxes of Christmas or Holiday cards (depending on the receiver’s religious beliefs) as well as a bundle of stamps and return address labels. And I’ve been working out my writing hand so that writer’s cramp doesn’t hinder my card signing plans.

What I haven’t done is write the annual letter to enclose in our cards. Since neither of us scaled Mt. Everest or backpacked across Europe or brokered any million-dollar deals this year, I fear we won’t be able to compete with our more accomplished relatives and friends who write about such achievements in their annual letter.

Oh well. We’re still here. We’re healthy. We’re gainfully employed. And we haven’t committed kitty-cide (as of this writing, anyway. Depends on how Twinks behaves around those wrapped presents…).

But I’m sure I’ll figure out something worthwhile to share. And, at the very least, we haven’t resorted to taking goofy photos of ourselves wearing ugly Christmas sweaters or sporting cheap Santa hats on our heads to send to everyone on our card list.


Small favors, eh? (On the other hand, you can get a good laugh out of some of those photos. If you can take a break in all of the holiday hustle and bustle, take a look at this link. It’s both horrifying and hilarious. Oh, and you’re welcome.)

‘Tis the season.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Help Desk


Back in the day when I worked at a big company, we had actual departments filled with people who fixed things like our computers. For some reason, we called that whole department the “Help Desk.” (Hey, don’t blame me; I wasn’t in charge of naming departments.) But I loved the Help Desk. They were my favorite people in the whole company. Well, right after the Paycheck Lady who came around every Friday and handed me money.

But whenever our computers messed up, we’d blame little gremlins. The Help Desk would tell us to do a basic analysis, which meant we were supposed to turn off the computer and then turn it back on.

If that didn’t work and the gremlins were still at work preventing our computers from functioning, we simply called the Help Desk back and they’d come to our rescue and would solve the problem. Those guys could fix anything. On the rare occasion when the gremlins got the best of them, the Help Desk guys would take our computer away and then bring us a new one that worked perfectly.

Did I mention that I loved the Help Desk?

Nowadays I work at a small company and we don’t have “departments” let alone a department called the Help Desk. We don’t even have a Help Person. Instead, we have a graphics guy. He’s our resident computer expert and that is only because he can go at least one step beyond turning-the-computer-off-and-back-on.

I miss the Help Desk.

So our Internet was down at work the other morning. Crack computer expert that I am, I knew that it wasn’t a problem with my computer specifically because nobody else in our office could access the Internet either.

But that was as far as I got. Eventually, I learned that the German Village area was having slow or no Internet connectivity.

So that meant that all morning I was at a loss. I’d start to check to see the last time a customer ordered – but then realized I couldn’t access the program since it’s online. Or I’d remember I needed to send an email to my coworkers about something – only I couldn’t send emails. Telling four people individually the news I wanted to share seemed monumentally tedious and repetitious.

Oh how we have changed in our communication delivery methods. Communicating face-to-face? Pshaw. Who does that anymore? (Thanks, Steve Jobs.)

Not only was the Internet down at work, but the night before we were again having computer problems at home. Darn gremlins. I had a photo I wanted to print, but couldn’t access my email to download it. I went upstairs to my computer and it was somehow connected to the Internet, but I don’t have a printer upstairs and I’m not connected to the printer downstairs. And, no, I don’t have any idea how to connect to the printer downstairs – don’t even get me started on that!

I’m really starting to re-think my degree in marketing communications and PR. Probably I should’ve gotten a degree in Help Desk. Maybe then I wouldn’t be so frustrated whenever we have Internet and/or computer problems at home. Because my first inclination is to assume the hardware is broken and needs to be replaced. Usually I’m wrong. (Wait. Did I just say that?!)

Nevertheless, it was a lesson in frustration the other night. Vince kept running upstairs to fiddle with the little black boxes and getting more and more frazzled when he couldn’t get the Internet up and running on his computer. Meanwhile, I stayed out of his way and didn’t voice a single complaint. But not being able to check Facebook before heading to bed was a real hardship. What can I say? I’m addicted. (Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg.)

Vince wondered if somehow the cats were playing with the computer wires. Or possibly they heard the word “mouse” and became intrigued and curious? Who knows? But When Vince came downstairs the next morning, he said his mouse and keyboard were on the floor. Twinklebelle was curled up on the couch looking all guileless and innocent. And Jinx was squeaking and standing at attention by her food bowl. Both cats looked at Vince as if they couldn’t imagine how that mouse and keyboard ended up on the floor.

Gremlins, indeed. I think our gremlins might also be known as Twinks and Jinx. And our problems might be solved once we figure out how to keep our computer-related paraphernalia out of reach of little paws. But still. I sure wish I could call the Help Desk.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Middle Age Woman's Handbook


I’d been thinking of lopping off some length on my hair for a while now. I felt like I needed a change and my hair had been getting pretty long. So Saturday I had an appointment with the fantabulous Rhaya from Q Salon (you should so make an appointment with her!), and told her I was ready. So she did it – cut off about 5”. She did a great job, and I really liked how she styled my hair.

I felt so much “lighter” without all that extra hair and I kept tossing my head around, which was probably annoying to anyone standing in close proximity to me, but whatever.

But Vince’s response when he saw my hair? “Well, it probably won’t take as long to fix now, will it?” I think this is Vince-speak for “I am trying to find something positive to say.” Oh well. He likes my hair long. At least until he vacuums and then has to deal with all the long blonde hairs that fall off my head and onto the carpet, which then clogs up the vacuum cleaner.

But it’s not like I can glue the hair back on, so we’ll just have to deal with shorter hair for a while. And it's not like it's super short either. It's more shoulder length. So I'll live with it until I get bored and decide to grow it out again. This has been happening my entire life, with longer hairstyles winning out far more than shorter hairstyles.

Probably the biggest reason I’ve kept long hair all these years is that I’ve been defying my mother. When I was still in my 30s, my mom said that women over 40 shouldn’t wear their hair long. This was apparently some archaic law that no one bothered to enter into the Middle Age Woman’s Handbook. I still had long straight hair, but the closer I got to my 40th birthday, the more I dreaded the deadline. And it wasn’t just that fact that I was turning 40 and would be immediately branded Over The Hill, either.

I wondered if there was some secret ceremony where black-hooded hairstylists wielding sharp scissors converge upon your head on the eve of your 40th birthday and cut all your hair off and style it in that short, poodle curl old-lady hairstyle that I’ve always hated.

So I went into hiding (in Steubenville, Ohio) and had fake IDs made that subtracted 6-7 years off my age just so I could keep my hair long for a few more years.

But, eventually, you have to come out of hiding and attend family functions. Like Mother’s Day. And Thanksgiving. And since mothers always know how old their children are, there was no fooling Mom. So she’d make those veiled comments that are Mom-speak for “You look ridiculous with long hair!” But she never came right out and said anything, mostly because she knew I was being defiant and we were doing the classic mother-daughter passive-aggressive dance.

So probably I have caused my mother stress for over 10 years now just because of the length of my hair. What a bad daughter I am.

Well, she should be happy now. I’m still about 5” shy of that poodle curl old lady hairstyle that I hate, but it’s only a matter of time. Maybe Rhaya will save me and will refuse to give me that hairstyle when I give in and request it.

Now, I’d love to say that Mom was right and that I feel more “age appropriate” (whatever that is), but I’m not so sure. I’d also love to say that Vince was right and that styling my shorter hair is a breeze.

But I can’t. I can state unequivocally that it takes far more time to take care of shorter hair. Sure, it takes a little less shampoo and a little less conditioner, but it adds at least 20 more minutes to my morning routine. And have I adjusted my schedule and gotten up 20 minutes earlier? No, of course not.

So Vince is sitting at the table downstairs waiting for me to show up while my eggs congeal and my coffee grows cold. Meanwhile I’m upstairs wrestling with my curling iron in an attempt to achieve that tousled look. I then spritz and spray my curls into some semblance of a sassy style – only to have the curls droop and fall out by the time I hit the door to head to work.

Sigh.

I need Rhaya to come over every morning and fix my hair because I clearly cannot do it myself.

And I can’t throw it back in a ponytail anymore because it would look ridiculous. I’d look like one of those show horses that have only a little stub left of their tail. And my little stub of a hair tail would be sticking straight out the back of my head. Not a good look for anyone, let alone someone my age.


So I’m resisting the idea of getting a perm to give my hair a little body and maintain the curl. Because you know what the next step is, don’t you? You have your stylist lop off that last 5” and just go with the poodle curl look.

Fortunately, I think the Middle Age Woman’s Handbook states that you can wait until you’re 60 before you are forced into that style. But maybe I should check with Mom. I’m guessing she’d have an opinion.

Meanwhile, I’ll figure out how to deal with my new hairstyle. I’ll get up 20 minutes earlier. I’ll practice with the hair styling implements. And I’ll get the hang of it. But probably not before my hair grows out, oh, about 5”.

Hey, I never said I played by the rules. And the Middle Age Woman’s Handbook? It has an entire chapter on “hot flashes.” I want no part of that!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Holiday Frenzy Season is Here


So Halloween is over and November has begun. And so has the Christmas music, and the holiday television and radio ads. It’s like they’re telling us, Hurry up, people, you’re running behind. GO. SHOPPING. NOW!

Yuck.

I didn’t want Halloween to end because I knew the holiday frenzy would begin immediately thereafter. I’m surprised I’m not feeling pressured to put up our Christmas tree already.

Over the years I have been known to shop for Christmas gifts throughout the year so as not to become immersed too heavily in the holiday shopping madness, but this year has been different. I haven’t purchased that first gift, card, bow or stamp, although my little mind has been churning through ideas and possibilities. Of course, until I start an actual list, the “process” cannot truly begin.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the whole holiday season. I do. It’s just that there’s way too much hype about it.

And, heck, the poor Thanksgiving holiday gets lost in the process.

I suppose turkeys everywhere would rejoice at this news, except that somehow, some way turkeys still manages to get purchased at grocery stores everywhere by the fourth Thursday in November. Sure, we have to push aside the Christmas hams to search for the perfect turkey to feed 18 people and we are forced to listen to that incessant canned Christmas music piped through the loudspeakers while having an internal debate over serving yams or mashed potatoes or both this year. It’s distracting, I tell you.

Okay, that whole paragraph is a lie. For me, anyway. 1) I’ve never prepared a turkey for 18 people. I’ve never even prepared a turkey for two people. I’m not crazy about turkey. 2) We don’t have ham for Christmas. 3) Yams, while healthier than your standard mashed potato, are orange. And I don’t eat orange food. And, yes, that pretty much involves all orange food, including pumpkin pie. And orange Skittles. You have to throw away orange Skittles.

Uh oh. After careful review of the multitudes of orange-colored foods out there, it occurs to me that I DO eat carrots. Oops. Lied again.

The only thing about that paragraph that was true (for me, anyway), is that we DO have to listen to canned Christmas music over the loudspeakers at the grocery store before we’ve even experienced the happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Of course, what sort of music could they possibly play to celebrate Thanksgiving? I think we only have “Over the River and Through The Woods.” And wouldn’t that get old really fast? Horse-driven sleighs are, after all, a rather outdated mode of transportation these days. And nobody has written any new songs about heading to grandma’s in a Kia, for example. Even after all these years. Go figure, huh? Probably there isn’t a big market for hit Thanksgiving songs.

The other reason the Thanksgiving holiday gets the short shrift is that shoppers everywhere have to gear up for the craziness that is Black Friday. The cooks in the family have to arise at the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving Day to prepare the meal that their family is required to eat at 10AM. And the shoppers in the family avoid turkey entirely at Thanksgiving dinner because it contains L-tryptophan and they don’t want to be sleepy and miss their 9PM alarm. (And by “shoppers,” of course, I mean “women.” Men spend Thanksgiving watching football and drinking beer and eating leftover turkey sandwiches. They think the shoppers in the family are crazy to go shopping at 1 o’clock in the morning.

I blame the retail industry. Over the years, stores have competed for our holiday dollars by opening earlier and earlier the day after Thanksgiving. It started out that stores opened at 6AM on Black Friday. Then other stores started opening at 5AM. And it continued on until now you see store managers, with napkins still tucked under their chins holding plates filled with turkey and stuffing and marshmallow-y yams in one hand while they unlock the store doors with the other.

Shoppers, meanwhile, have been congregating outside the store in the cold for hours. Eventually they start pushing and shoving each other to get the prime entry positions. You’d think the store was giving away pure gold bars or something.

The closer time gets to store opening, shoppers assume the typical bull stampede stance. This includes snorting to intimidate the other shoppers and stamping and pawing the ground in anticipation so as soon as the doors open, they can rush inside to buy Tattoo Barbie or the newest Wii game before the other shoppers can get their grubby hands on the goods.

And you know what happens as soon as the doors open, don’t you? The slower-moving store managers who can’t step aside fast enough don’t make it. All that is left after the crowd has surged inside is a little smear of yam on the floor. And the napkin. That’s it.

It’s very risky to be a store manager in charge of the keys to the door on Black Friday. I hope they get combat pay.

Thus far, I have avoided joining in on the Black Friday madness. I feel sorry for the dear departed store managers for one thing. And, for another, there is no toy, sweater or iPod worth getting up for in the middle of the night. Not even if they gave it to me free.

So I say, RELAX, PEOPLE! You’ve got plenty of time. But probably you should think about putting up your tree this weekend. Unless, of course, you never took it down after last Christmas. Then you’re good. Instead, you can spend the weekend picking the orange Skittles out of your kids’ stash of Halloween candy. And maybe think about writing a Thanksgiving song with the word "Kia" in it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween 2011: The Pink Year


Vince and I went to a Halloween party Saturday night and…well…party animals that we aren’t, we were home before 11PM. I guess we finally have to admit that we just can’t hang with the big boys like we used to.

It’s not like it was a boring party or anything. As a matter of fact, it was a lot of fun. The friends who host this annual party are notorious for going all out. They decorate both the front and back yards and decorate every room inside their house, including the bathroom, with lots of lights and scary motion-activated ghosts and goblins. Plus, it’s fun just seeing the costumes they come up with. This year they were Snookie and Lady Gaga. She was Snookie and he was Lady Gaga. Too funny!

Their food is even Halloween-themed. Well, except for maybe the hot dogs. Fortunately, they didn’t hack them into jagged pieces and squeeze ketchup liberally over the “stumps” – that would’ve just been a little too realistic and unappetizing. (Uh oh. I hope I haven’t given them any ideas for next year’s party!)

Vince’s costume was a simple one born out of the fact that he had to work Saturday and didn’t have time for anything elaborate. He wore a T-shirt that read: This IS my Halloween costume.” Simple. Easy to put on. And no makeup or wigs or masks required.



I, on the other hand, didn’t have to work on Saturday and thus had way too much time on my hands to create my costume. I went as “Pinky” the Save the Ta-Ta’s Fairy. I wore pink – from my pink wig to my hot pink socks and from my fuchsia fingernail polish to my electric pink shoes. And I sprayed pink “fairy dust” (aka glitter) all over my face. Clearly, if there is one color you can easily find in October, it is pink!

I carried a Save the Ta-Ta’s bag and handed out Save the Ta-Ta’s buttons and stickers. And I carried a “Fight Like A Girl” pink ribbon cup from which I drank my pink drink that also had pink flashing “ice” cubes in it. There might have even been a little vodka in a couple of those drinks, but don’t quote me on that. I mean, it wasn’t pink or even cranberry flavored. Oh, the shame.

The “Fairy” part might not have translated as well as intended since I wore a pink cape. I looked a bit more like Little Pink Riding Hood. But, hey, I wasn’t out to win a costume contest or anything. Probably I should’ve considered pink fairy wings, but I’m not into costumes that prevent one from sitting comfortably. Plus, I’m just not that creative anymore and the thought of trying to build fairy wings that would have to somehow be affixed to my back was way more work than I wanted to do.

I drove over to the party with Muammar Gaddafi, which is interesting because he’s supposed to be dead. But he looked pretty good and wasn’t riddled with bullet holes or anything. This was a good thing since he was driving. Also in the car was the guy from the Hangover 2 – the one with the glasses who ended up with a tattoo all over his face? He may even have had a hangover, too, because both he and the monkey with him were pretty quiet on the drive over to the party. Either that, or maybe it was the monkey who had a hangover and Tattoo Guy was trying to avoid agitating the primate.

But what do I know? I was wearing a pink mask that kept me from seeing or hearing anything clearly and I barely stumbled up the steps and into the house before I yanked that stupid mask off my face and tossed it into my Ta-Ta’s bag. I ask you, who has ever been able to wear a mask for an entire party?

After that, we ate, drank and enjoyed ourselves. We watched a little college football. And Vince was able to make it to the party by the second quarter. By the time the third quarter ended, however, I’d had enough of trying to keep an unattractive neon pink wig centered on my head and Vince was tired from working all day. So I gave him the “time to go home” signal. Actually, it wasn’t even a signal. I just basically said, “Wanna go home?” And he said, “Yes.”

Yeah, we’re subtle like that.

It was probably a good thing we took our leave because I heard later that they broke out the Jagermeister. And whenever Jagermeister appears, tequila shooters can’t be too far behind. That’s just plain dangerous if one plans to have a productive Sunday instead of lying on the couch bemoaning the fact that Jose Cuervo packs a punch and leaves a mean headache to remember him by. (Not that this has ever happened to me. Well, maybe once. In my 20s. Long time ago, barely remember it.)

So, anyway, we made it home in time to see OSU pull out a win over Wisconsin. For some reason, it was way more exciting cheering for the home team sans my full pink regalia. Maybe because I’m scarlet and gray through and through – and wearing pink while watching Ohio State football just didn’t feel right.

So that was our wildly exciting Halloween 2011 experience. Of course, it could have been worse. We could have ignored the whole event and stayed home wishing we were at a Halloween party. So I think we deserve some props for making the effort. And who knows? Maybe next year I’ll get all creative and work on those fairy wings. Yeah, you know what would happen – I’d end up being Little Red Riding Hood wearing fairy wings. Sheesh.

Maybe we should just set a more realistic goal – like staying at the party at least until midnight.

Party animals.

Friday, October 28, 2011

No Cooties Allowed!


I think I was just dissed by a 4-year-old. And I did not like it!

It all started this morning when my coworker brought his three sick children into the office today rather than miss work to stay home and care for them. Noble intentions, perhaps, but I’m not thrilled with the prospect of catching their cooties. I think he should’ve given me advance warning so I could’ve stopped at the drugstore on my way in to work and stocked up on plastic gloves, face masks and extra Purell to try to keep the germs a safe distance away from me.

That’s a losing proposition if I ever heard one since these kids plant themselves in the TV room outside my office and use my restroom and touch all sorts of things that I surely come in contact with on a regular daily basis.

I am certain those germs are sitting on some innocent surface eagerly waiting for me to touch it and then touch my face so they can infiltrate my sinuses. I’d try sitting immobile all day long with my arms bent and my hands up in the air like a surgeon who has just scrubbed for surgery, but that’s rather impractical and would make it nearly impossible to get my job done.

Thus, I made a concerted effort to avoid touching my eyes, nose and mouth. Interestingly, it’s when I’m not supposed to be touching my face to avoid catching others’ cooties, that’s precisely the time my eyes, nose and mouth itch inexplicably. Weird.

I think the cooties fool my nasal cavities into thinking that hosting a germ-party is a good idea. The germs make it sound like it’ll be a lot of fun. So they tell my nasal cavities to send a message to my brain that my nose needs a little scratch. When I do, and subsequently catch a cold, my nasal cavities suddenly realize the error of their ways.

It’s rather like a kid in high school whose parents go out of town so he decides to throw a small party for a few friends. His friends start texting other friends and suddenly the house is exploding with raucous teenagers and the kid host knows there’s no way his parents won’t find out about this mess. The kid starts begging his friends to get rid of the party crashers before the cops are called.

That’s the exact same thing that happens to my sinuses. They think inviting a few little germs over will make for an interesting get-together and then suddenly there are too many germs joining in on the fun and my sinuses know there is no way I’m not going to find out about this mess. Then they start begging me to get rid of the unwanted party crashers by pointing me toward the Puffs Plus.

You’d think after all these years my nasal cavities would learn their lesson, wouldn’t you?

My coworker’s children have a field day in our office since my boss has a bad habit of keeping a big tub of pretzels and assorted candy in a glass candy jar in the TV room. The kids gorge on the junk and, in my humble opinion, completely ruin their appetites for a healthy dinner. I really wouldn’t care since I’m not responsible for the feeding and watering of them, but the chomping and smacking sounds they make are a little distracting.

My coworker, whose office is at the top of the stairs off the TV room, sometimes realizes what is happening by the furtive rustling sounds made by little hands trying to open candy wrappers, so he’ll come downstairs to remove the contraband.

But sometimes he doesn’t realize what is happening – perhaps he is wearing childproof ear plugs or something – and so someone whose office may or may not be close to the TV room might anonymously send him an email suggesting that if he doesn’t remove the junk food, his kids will soon either be throwing up or bouncing off the walls. Neither scenario of which the anonymous email sender cares to witness.

So what does he do? He puts the pretzels and candy out of reach in my office. The only good thing about this action is that there ain’t no way I’d dare to put my hand in those cootie-infested containers.

So how was I dissed by a 4-year-old, you ask? (Hey, thanks for asking.)

Well, I had taken off my boots because they were pinching my toes and I was walking around in my stocking feet. I left my office for a few minutes and when I came back, the 4-year-old was standing in my office mentally measuring the distance from her little outstretched hand to the top of the shelf where the candy was.

This 4-year-old, by the way, is adorable. Long blonde ringlets and a cherubic face. But in the two years she’s been coming around, the kid has never once spoken to any of us in the office. We’re all starting to feel a little paranoid. Was it something we said?

At any rate, I walked in and with a big smile on my face I said, “Aha! I caught you!”

Naturally, she didn’t respond. But she gave me a very disdainful look. She pointedly looked at my stocking feet as though she could scarcely believe her eyes that a grown-up could be walking around without proper footwear. She crossed her little arms across her little chest. And then she silently marched out of my office in her very stylish pink tennis shoes.

Wow. That kid is gonna be one scary woman.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to put my boots on – and go pop another Airborne with a Vitamin C chaser. Just a little insurance in case my sinuses are thinking about throwing another party. And it might be a good time to stock up on a new box of Puffs Plus.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Nighttime Adventures of Twinks and Jinx


We’ve never let the cats sleep with us at night. And now I know why.

Believe me, it was not a conscious decision to allow them into our bedroom for an overnight sleepover; it was purely circumstantial.

Lately Twinks has been very “needy” and she starts meowing after we close our bedroom door. She’s on the wrong side of the door and she doesn’t like it. Extra petting right before I escape to our bedroom hasn’t seemed to help. So the other night I let her come in while we brushed our teeth and got ready for bed. She jumped on the bed and did the flopping-on-her-back maneuver, which is my cue to give her a belly rub.

Unbeknownst to me, the stealthy one, Jinx, also slithered into the room. Jinx doesn’t hop on the bed and demand love and affection. Instead, she crawls under the bed and explores. I’d call it “hiding,” but Jinx doesn’t want a reputation as a scaredy cat.

We don’t usually know she’s under the bed until either Twinks, who was politely escorted out of the room, starts meowing because her cohort is still inside and it’s unfair or (b) Jinx squeaks at us to let us know that she’s done exploring and wants us to get up immediately and let her out. Who knew a squeaky kitty could be so loud?

So after I gently encouraged Twinks to leave the room the other night and I closed the door Vince said, “You know that Jinx is still in here – right?”

I hadn’t known, but realized he was right because Twinks commenced meowing through the closed door to let me know that I was playing favorites.

Knowing it would be nearly impossible to get Jinx out from under the bed, I sighed and opened the door to let Twinks back in. And right then I knew it was going to be a long night.

Vince wasn’t too happy with this turn of events (not that he volunteered to crawl under the bed to try to retrieve Jinx-the-Explorer or anything). Instead, he grabbed earplugs from his nightstand and stuffed them in his ears to drown out the twinkling sounds the bells on their collars make whenever they move.

Clearly, our cats are nocturnal creatures and move around at night. A lot.

Thus began a very long sleepless night with one or more cats crawling over the bed and us to find comfy spots to sleep in, which usually meant crowding us in some way. Once they’d curl up, they’d start whapping their tail on my cheek every 10 seconds or so. They’d whap, I’d twitch and scratch the ensuing itch the whapping caused and then I’d flip over to avoid the tail entirely.

Yeah, like that worked. My cats are persistent if nothing else. Once I turned over, the cat would move such that my cheek was once again in her line of fire.

Sigh.

Did I mention that it was a VERY long sleepless night?

I contemplated trying to get them out of the room, but being dark, I wouldn’t have been able to see them clearly. And I wouldn’t have been able to see Jinx, the black one, at all. Made me wonder why I hadn’t considered adopting an orange tabby or something more visible in low light situations.

Besides, I knew that even if I was successful in getting one of them out of the room, I wouldn’t be able to get both out simultaneously. So what would happen is that if I eventually herded the second one toward the door, the moment I opened it, the first one would rush back in.

So I lay there trying to count sheep in the hopes that I might eventually fall asleep. Inevitably, the sheep turned into cats and I started having nightmares that we lived with an entire clowder of 'em instead of only two.

At some point in the early morning hours, I heard the bedroom door slam. I figured either Vince gave up and decided to sleep on the couch – or he managed to convince the felines that they were no longer welcome and was able to escort them out of the room.

Since he came back to bed, it turned out to be the latter. Probably they were hungry and had gotten bored with torturing us. Of course, by this point we didn’t have a whole lot more snooze time before the alarm went off.

When it did, Vince turned over toward me, blearily opened a bloodshot eye and said, “this thing with the cats sleeping with us? It’s not gonna work.”

Yeah. No kidding.

Cats. Ya gotta love ‘em. Can’t sleep with ‘em.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Talent Is, er, WAS Baking…


Our church had a rummage sale and Harvest Festival on Saturday and I volunteered to bake both brownies and cookies for the bake sale portion of the event.

I didn’t volunteer to work the cash box for the rummage sale since trying to make change for people would have given me nightmares for a month. Adding and subtracting on the fly is not my strong suit and if more than one person was standing in line waiting for me to figure out exact change I’d end up embarrassing myself by frantically counting on my fingers and then blubbering in utter defeat when they corrected my bad math.

So, no money handling for me.

I also didn’t volunteer to do face painting on the kids attending the Festival because I can’t draw on demand. They’d ask for a butterfly and they’d cry when they saw the big purple blob adorning their cheek, which would be the Jane version of a butterfly.

I know where my talents lie – and it’s in doing the behind-the-scenes baking.

Or at least I thought it was.

You know how you have certain talents that you can always count on? Say you volunteer for an event. Some people are good at promoting it. Some people are good at entertaining. Still others are good in the execution phase – getting things done beforehand. And then there are others who are good at running the show.

If I’m running an event, I’m large-and-in-charge – but if not, my “thing” is preparing party foods and baking simple things like brownies and cookies. I’ve been baking since I was a kid and, other than that first lopsided cake wherein I used granulated sugar for the frosting instead of powdered sugar, I’ve had pretty good success with whatever I’ve baked.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know I’m not good enough to audition for Cake Wars on the Food Channel or anything. I don’t do fancy desserts that are scrumptious enough to be featured in gourmet magazines and I don’t do pies. I’m not, after all, the second coming of Martha Stewart – but you want soft, melt-in-your mouth brownies? I’m your go-to person. Want thick, chewy Oatmeal Scotchies or decadent Chocolate Chunk cookies? I am woman, see me bake.

I needed to bring my confections over to the church early Saturday morning, so my plan on Friday night was to mix and bake like a mad woman so I could go to sleep knowing I’d be ready for Saturday morning bright and early. I figured I’d bake a couple pans of brownies and, while they were cooling, I’d mix the cookie dough.

So what did I do as soon as I arrived home from work Friday evening? Did I haul out the measuring cups and mixing bowls? Noooo. I relaxed on the sofa and watched my DVR’d episodes of Modern Family and Survivor.

The whole time I was sitting there watching TV, I kept thinking that the brownies could be baking. But did I get up? Noooo.

As soon as Jeff Probst said “The tribe has spoken” and snuffed out some blindsided player’s torch, I hopped up and headed to kitchen where I finally hauled out the measuring cups and mixing bowls. I made two pans of brownies and put them both in the oven to bake. And then I started mixing the dough for Oatmeal Scotchies. I doubled the recipe, thinking that probably there would be a plethora of chocolate chip cookies and I didn’t need to bake any of that variety.

So what happened? The brownies in one pan came out half burned and half raw. The other pan was good except for the very middle pieces that were undercooked. And the cookies were so flat they stuck to the Airbake pans (which they are never supposed to do). When I was finally able to remove them, they came out in crumbles.

Arrrrggghh! How did this happen?? I never have these problems with baking – and how are we going to sell any of this mess?!?!

I suspect that I should have baked the brownies one batch at a time. I’m not sure I’ve ever attempted to bake two pans – let alone two at one time. And I obviously didn’t double something in the cookie recipe, but I still haven’t figured out what.

I was able to salvage about a dozen good-sized brownies and wrapped them for the bake sale. But I went to bed completely stressed because I didn’t have any cookies that could be used. In desperation, I looked around our pantry, but we didn’t even have the odd Oreo I could wrap up and pretend it was homemade.

So I got up at some ridiculous hour in the morning and once again hauled out the measuring cups and mixing bowls – and started over. Since I was completely out of butterscotch morsels, I had to go with the tried and true chocolate chip. I didn’t bother doubling the recipe. I figured if I had enough to fill my tray, I’d be good.

So I mixed and baked like a mad woman. I packed a lunch for Vince and brewed his coffee. I even got as far as cutting up onion and bell pepper for his eggs, but since I didn’t have a fifth hand, he actually had to crack his own eggs and cook them. Darn. And here I was thinking I was Superwoman. Guess not.

But the chocolate chip cookies came out perfectly.

Vince helped me wrap them – still soft and slightly warm and gooey. He headed to work and I headed to the church, happy that I had something to contribute.

But, man. My faith in my baking abilities was severely shaken.

Next time I should probably forego the DVR and sofa and get right to the baking task at hand. I should no longer trust myself to double recipes correctly. And next time I go to the grocery store, I think I’ll stock up on some Oreos. Just in case.

Friday, October 21, 2011

'Tis the Season. Trick-or-Treat Season.


It’s a cold, rainy day in October and I can no longer fool myself into thinking that the warm weather is going to last.  Instead, I know we’re heading smack-dab directly into winter.  How do I know this?  Because I flipped the switch on the “butt-warmers” in my car this morning.  That’s a for-sure sign right there.  It’s as significant as when Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow and it means six more weeks of winter.  I probably won’t turn off those warmers until mid-April – whether I see my shadow in February or not. 

Plus, Vince finally turned on the furnace.  Fuzzy mittens and fleece-lined boots and winter jackets cannot be far behind. Sigh.

I’m not sure why we stick around Ohio, but we continue to do so year after year.  Maybe I like self-torture?  Probably.  Even when Vince suggests we move to a locale with a warmer climate (like Barbados, perhaps?), we don’t do it.  I start thinking about all the family and friends we’d be leaving behind and I get nostalgic and homesick before even thinking about packing that first teacup.

At least there are a few fun activities we can participate in before the snow flies.  Hopefully.  Like, we have a Halloween party to go to next weekend.  I’m looking forward to it because I think I have a cool costume – if it all comes together.  If it doesn’t, I might be wearing the same costume that Vince is wearing.  It’s a T-shirt that reads, “This IS my Halloween Costume!” 

Hey, it counts.  He won’t, after all, wear it to Sunday dinner with the in-laws.

Also, Vince’s son was over the other day and he wanted to carve a pumpkin.  So off to Kroger we went where they carefully reviewed their options and finally selected two decent sized pumpkins.  I assumed that Vince would be joining his son in carving the second one, but it turns out he expected me to carve it.  Me?

I have to confess – I have never in my life carved a pumpkin!  Seriously. I mean, sure, we had jack-o-lanterns for Halloween when we were kids, but do you think my father trusted any of us with sharp implements?  Not on a bet.  He probably figured we’d already filled our family quota of ER trips for stitches, broken bones and life-threatening fevers.  He wasn’t taking any chances.

So we all gathered around him while he did the honors and made the pumpkins come to scary life.

That was actually okay with me because the insides of a pumpkin are pretty gloppy and ooky. (And, yes, as a matter of fact, those are the technical terms.)  I didn’t really want any part of scooping out the guts of a pumpkin.

As I grew older, I realized that carved pumpkins were a target for neighborhood hoodlums and I didn’t ever want to walk around picking up bits of orange-y smooshed pieces of pumpkin goop.

Plus, I’ve seen more than my share of decaying jack-o-lanterns on neighbors’ front porches and stoops.  There IS an expiration date, people, and while a scary-faced jack-o-lantern that is caving in on itself IS even scarier than the original creation, it should probably be tossed well before Thanksgiving.  I can’t imagine it’s a fun chore to pick up something that has the consistency of a giant rotten tomato.

But mostly, I don’t want to carve my own jack-o-lantern because I don’t like scary faces.  I would’ve totally carved some happy face on the thing and it would’ve completely missed the point.  Halloween is supposed to be about scary witches and bad-luck black cats and ghosts and goblins.  Not about smiley faces.

So I wimped out in the end.  I implored Vince’s son to carve the second pumpkin, too, and he finally did.  Made the second jack-o-lantern afraid of the first one.  I thought it was clever.  And it was way better than my happy face idea.

So now we’re sort of in the Halloween spirit with two carved jack-o-lanterns gracing our doorway.  But I’ve come to realize that we’re woefully underdecorated for the holiday. Around the neighborhood, houses with strings of orange lights and blow-up ghosts on their front lawns abound.  They have Halloween-decorated wreaths on their doors.  And, if you’re lucky enough to be invited inside, they have some great Halloween decorations on their walls and tables, plus they’ve stocked up with bags full of the good candy.  In contrast, all we have is a bowl with a few expired fun-size Kit Kats. And those were probably leftover from last Halloween.

Huh.  When did it become a requirement to decorate for all these holidays?  Pretty much the only holiday I decorate for is Christmas and that alone is a big pain in the patootie.  Don’t get me wrong – I love the twinkling lights and festive atmosphere the holiday brings, but it’s still a pain to haul out all those lights and garland and wreaths and candles.

I can’t imagine decorating for Arbor Day and Valentine’s Day and Easter, too.  If I were to purchase more decorations for all these holidays, I’d just have to give up thinking that our garage could be used to house an actual car and instead we’d use it solely for holiday decoration storage.

Ah well.  Maybe those carved jack-o-lanterns will inspire me to get into the holiday spirit.  I’ll buy witchy wreaths and decorate with orange and black strings of lights.  I’ll fill the garage with more boxes of “stuff.” 

Or maybe not.  After all, unless I go out and buy some more candy, I’d have to give the Trick-or-Treaters the few expired Kit-Kats we have left.  And I really don’t want to walk around picking up bits of orange-y smooshed pieces of pumpkin goop when they smash our jack-o-lanterns in revenge for giving them crappy candy.

Plus, I don’t want to have to park in the driveway because years ago I vowed not to spend my mornings scraping snow and ice off my vehicle.  But that’s another story.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bridesmaids. Gross.


We splurged on a premium movie on cable the other night, mostly because neither of us felt like going out to one of the ubiquitous Redboxes around town.  The closest one to us is a mere 1.45 miles away, but we didn’t really want to stand outside Kroger’s wearing our jammies. 

So we spent five whole dollars and watched “Bridesmaids.”  I’d heard how hilarious the movie was – and, since I was a recent bridesmaid myself – I thought I’d get a lot of yuks out of the film.  I thought I’d recognize all those pre-wedding bridezilla “moments” that surely every bridesmaid has experienced. 

Well, except for my bridesmaids, of course.  I was the epitome of a calm, cool bride who didn’t put an iota of stress on her bridesmaids.  And, no, I am not giving you their names so there’s no point in trying to check the veracity of my statement. 

Oh and, uh, that one moment shortly before the rehearsal dinner?  We’re not counting that. 

Anyway, I’d read that Bridesmaids was a female buddy movie and that it IS possible for women to carry a comedy based on the nonstop laughter the movie inspired

Yeah, not so much.

Maybe it was just me, but I thought the movie sucked.  I didn’t laugh.  This was very disappointing because I really wanted to (a) spend a couple hours laughing while watching a funny film and (b) pump my fist in the air in support of Girl Power.  Alas, I didn’t do either. 

The early indication that it wasn’t a great movie was when after only about 10 minutes Vince let go of my hand, got up and went over to his computer to do some Facebooking.  He played a little backgammon, checked out the status of his 9,000 friends and generally ignored the movie.

I, on the other hand, sat rooted on the couch with a look of horror and disgust.  Have you seen this movie?  The scene at the chichi bridal shop where all the characters suddenly experience a nasty bout of food poisoning?  I wouldn’t have laughed if it had been a bunch of guys blowing chunks and fighting each other for the use of the toilet, let alone a bunch of women.

That scene was just plain nasty.

Plus, I couldn’t really get over my dislike of Kristen Wiig as the lead in the movie.  I kept expecting her to break into one of her annoying characters from Saturday Night Live.

Actually, the entire movie seemed sort of like a skit from SNL that ran on way too long and went awry somewhere along the way.

Oh well.  They can’t all be hits.  In my mind, anyway.  For all I know, the flick could’ve broken all sorts of box office records and the producers don’t care one little whit whether or not I liked their movie.  They’re probably laughing all the way to the bank.  Meanwhile, my bank is five dollars lighter thanks to them. 

I wonder if my opinion of the movie would’ve been different had I seen it at the theater along with a big crowd.  Maybe hearing other people laugh would’ve inspired me to do the same.

Or maybe not.  I think maybe I’ve just moved beyond that sort of gross-out humor.

Next time I’ll let Vince pick the movie.  Couldn’t be worse – could it?!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

iCloudy with a Chance of iCranky


I’m tired today and am feeling decidedly less-than-inspired. Actually, I suppose the truth is that I’m feeling decidedly cranky. 

For some reason, we’ve been staying up later and later this week and I think I snagged – maybe – 5-1/2 hours of sleep last night.  That’s practically pulling an all-nighter – and I can’t do all-nighters anymore. 

Part of the problem was that Apple released their new iOS 5 and iCloud thingies yesterday and I wanted to be in on the cutting edge of technology for once.  So last night around 9 o’clock I started uploading or downloading all sorts of things that had cutesy names beginning with small “i’s” and clicking on things I had no business clicking on. Did I know what I was doing?  Nope.  I did not.

So as of this very moment, I have no idea if my iPhone is iClouded or not.  I don’t even know what that means except that supposedly I don’t have to plug my phone into my computer any longer to back up the stuff on my phone.  Where that information goes, I have no clue.  Will someone now be able to snatch my Uncle Lou’s address out of thin air?  Will all the provocative texts that I’ve sent my husband be accessible to someone by accident?  It’s a frightening thought.

Oh, and if you must know, the most provocative text I’ve sent Vince is: “T O Y,” which means “thinking of you.” 

Yeah, hackers just got bored, too.

By the time we finally decided to get some sleep last night, it was technically this morning.  But my iPhone was still plugged into my computer and iTunes was still updating something or other and warned me NOT to unplug the phone.  Another three hours were needed to finish the task.  Apparently I don’t update my phone enough.

Anyway, my immediate concern was how I was going to manage to wake up on time.  I use my phone as my alarm clock and I was worried I wouldn’t hear my alarm a few hours hence since it would be in the spare bedroom hooked up to my computer. 

Being half deaf means I usually sleep on my good ear so all sound is blocked and I sleep completely unaware of things like rumbling freight trains and meowing cats and nuclear bomb explosions.  So I can hardly be expected to hear the ringing alarm clock sitting on the bedside table a foot away from my head, can I? 

But Vince is very good at nudging me to get me to wake up and turn off the alarm.  I don’t like being nudged.  Of course, Vince probably doesn’t like listening to ringing alarms.

So when Vince suggested he’d nudge me awake when he heard my alarm go off in the other room, I reluctantly agreed – but only because I didn’t think I had another choice.  We couldn’t use the alarm on Vince’s phone as an alternative since it was plugged into his computer downstairs going through the same machinations as mine.

So all night I kept waking up because I was afraid of oversleeping.  Grr.  I did manage to drop off into a sound sleep, but, naturally, it was a scant 20 minutes before Vince poked me and said he heard my alarm.

Poking, in this case, is the same as nudging and I don’t like being poked either.  But I grudgingly got up, fumbled around for my glasses and then stumbled out of the room to shut off the alarm. 

In my groggy state, I forgot that the phone was still tethered to the computer – so as I grabbed it from the desk, it ricocheted and landed back on the desk, but my hand kept going – and I smacked myself in the nose. 

Now I was mad at my phone.  And it was still buzzing and ringing. 

I quickly disengaged it from the computer and did the swiping thing to get to the menu where I could shut it off.  Except that that didn’t work.  Apparently with this new upgrade, you have to answer all sorts of questions before you can use the phone. 

I kept trying to hit Cancel so I could do the set-up later, but it either wouldn’t let me – or I wasn’t awake enough to figure out how to do it.

Under normal circumstances, entering passwords and answering questions wouldn’t be a big deal.  These weren’t, however, normal circumstances and I was getting more irritated because the buzzing and ringing sounds were so incredibly grating.  How I am ever able to sleep through that noise is a mystery, deaf ear notwithstanding.

By this point, I was afraid I was going to wake up the entire neighborhood if my alarm didn’t shut off, so I tried smothering my phone underneath a pillow while I struggled to key in the answers to the questions.  Like that helped.

So then I tried holding my thumb over the speaker, but that barely muffled the sound.

Meanwhile, I’m frantically tapping answers and filling in the blanks.  On the fly I even had to set up some new email account. For what reason, I have no idea.  I have more than enough email accounts.  And I’m not even exactly sure what name I selected – although I clearly recall it telling me I couldn’t change it once I picked something.  That can’t be good. 

Finally, I answered enough questions that the phone seemed to be satisfied and it allowed me to get to the normal screen where I could turn off the infernal alarm.

Obviously, this was not a peaceful, refreshing way to wake up in the morning after only maybe 5-1/2 hours of sleep.

I was proud of myself, though.  Because when I went back into our room where Vince was soundly sleeping and blissfully unaware of my stressful wake-up call, I didn’t nudge, prod, poke or kick him awake.  Nice of me, huh?

And the next time my phone needs some major upgrade, I think I’ll just toss it in the garbage and buy a new one with the upgrade already installed.  This technological stuff is for the iBirds.