Friday, December 28, 2007

Back home

Just spent the better part of an hour getting alternately howled at and loved up by the cat. Someone's very happy to see me.

Ditter wasn't feeling well yesterday (post-holiday crash, I think), so instead of going to see Sweeney Todd, we rented some movies and hung out in their basement rec. room. We saw Once, which I highly recommend if you like watching a song take shape, and Keeping Mum, an odd little comedy that has Kristin Scott Thomas married to Rowan Atkinson, with Maggie Smith as her mad murderous housekeeper/mother-that-she's-never-met. Cute and funny.

Now I'm about to tick the cat off by going out again. I need perishables. I used them up before I left so I wouldn't have sour milk and a penicillin farm in the fridge when I came back.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday recap

Christmas Eve: The weather has been so horrible upstate that my parents have not been able to do any Christmas shopping. For the first time ever, I'm out in stores on Christmas Eve Day. It's really busy and crowded everywhere, but there isn't the short-tempered snappishness that I was expecting. There's more of a "we're all in this together" kind of vibe.

Christmas Day: First thing Christmas morning, the water heater decides to hand in its notice. Showers are ice-cold. Luckily the dishwasher has its own heating element, so we can wash the dishes without worrying that they won't be sanitary when they come out. Presents are distributed, and everyone likes what they got. My father spends the better part of the afternoon playing with his new TomTom (a GPS driving device). Dinner consists of prime rib, mashed potatoes, corn, and (uh-oh) Brussels sprouts. Later, there is a cloud of methane and sulfur over the house that could probably show up on a weather map.

Boxing Day: A plumber comes to replace the water heater. I babysit the dogs in the back room until he's gone. We spend most of the rest of day wandering around the house amusing ourselves with our presents or our laptops.

Tomorrow: My parents will be leaving in the morning. Ditter and I are going to go see Sweeney Todd in the afternoon. 'Cause nothing says "Christmas" like a murderous dude with a straight razor.

P.S.: I almost forgot! We've been watching the National Geographic channel all weekend (or NatGeo, as it now insists on calling itself (rolls eyes)). They're doing a marathon of episodes of "The Dog Whisperer." We've spent the whole week going "Ch-ch!" at the dogs any time they do something we don't like. I don't know why that noise works, but it does. Thank-you, Cesar Milan!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Just met the newest member of the family

Austin is three weeks old, and a sweetie. Ditter was holding him and rubbing his back, and he started grinning. Of course all the women said the same thing: "Gas."

In Lancaster now

Greetings from Amish country!

I wouldn't be here at all if it weren't for the Chief Loon. Friday evening I decided to call the taxi company to arrange for my ride to the bus terminal on Saturday morning. I figured 11 and a half hours was enough lead time with them. I'd never had any problem in the past.

Ha! And again I say, Ha!

There was not a cab to be had all morning. The only slot that was open was 4:00 a.m. Bus leaves at 8. Bus station opens ten minutes before that to sell tickets. That's about four hours alone outside in the dark in December. Yeah, thanks, I'll see if I can find a ride.

I called Chief Loon to beg a favor. And as far as I was concerned, it was a huge one. Chief is not an early riser. Her body just won't do it. She functions much better later in the day, and for that reason she works a 3-to-midnight shift. During the course of our phone conversation I come to find out that her boyfriend would be arriving from Indiana at approximately 2 that morning, so she'll be sleep-deprived. And she's been working on a hand-made present for her parents for the past week, so she's already sleep-deprived. So now here I come asking her to give up more sleep.

She agreed gracefully, chiding me for even worrying about asking. Bless 'er. And as she pulled into my parking lot to pick me up, we got passed by the taxi that hadn't been able to take me to the terminal. Harrumph. As the Chief said, "Their loss."

My mother is very grateful. So am I, for that matter.

Here's a fun fact I learned on the ride to the bus terminal: if you were to drive fast enough, all traffic lights would turn green. Of course, we're talking light-speed here (something from astrophysics called a blue shift -- the faster you go, the more colors shift to the blue end of the spectrum), so if we actually went that fast I'd probably be a few days early for my bus.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas vacation

I'm on vacation. Christmas break doesn't officially start until Monday. We still have kids taking finals tomorrow. I took the day off, mainly to pack for a visit to my sister's. I won't be going back to work until Jan. 8.

I know I've said this a few times, but the difference between where I work now and where I used to work is striking. It's particularly noticeable at this time of year.

People decorate, for one thing. The Approval Plan/Gifts Team decorated their work space right after Thanksgiving by hanging Christmas ball ornaments from the ceiling tiles with ribbon. It slowly branched out from there. Little trees went up, garland got strung on cubicle walls, candy canes started to appear. People started handing out Christmas cards.

Then last week I came to work and found a gift basket on my desk from my team's librarian/faculty member. When the team went out to lunch later on that week, Deena handed gifts round the table to everyone. That's when I decided to go shopping for my co-workers. I'd been thinking about it before, but we hadn't exchanged gifts in the other department so I thought I'd hang back and see what other people did. I already knew what I was going to give people, it was just a matter of deciding to do it.

I bought everyone mercury-glass ornaments made by a company called Old World Christmas. They do beautiful work. Same day I brought them in, Lana gave out presents, and Bess just played Santa today. Yesterday the entire cataloging department (including staff, librarians, faculty, retired folks who still keep in touch, faculty on sabbatical, and our assistant dean) all trooped over to the fancy-schmancy on-campus hotel and restaurant for lunch. I sat with some people I don't know very well and also with my fellow refugee from the other department, and we had a great time.

It's hard not to make comparisons between this department and the other. We used to decorate, but then one year we kept talking about it without doing anything. Year after that, no one even mentioned it. Ever after, there were a couple of poinsettias at the reference desk, and that was it.

Then there's the whole getting together thing. Back in the day (I love the way that phrase sounds, but I don't really understand it. Which day? When?), our department used to get together for a holiday party at someone's home. Bella had a big house and she loved playing hostess, so we usually went there. After she and her hubby retired and moved south, we'd go to the department head's house. Then it became Lunch Out Somewhere. Then it turned into Potluck Lunch in the Office. Then it was Bagels by the Coffeepot at our ten a.m. break, then Impromptu Cookies Deposited by the Coffeepot (they were announced by email, and we were told, "Help yourself."), and last year I think it was just food passed round during a staff meeting. Bit of a blur, the past year. Bright spot around May 1, but I don't remember much before it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Share and enjoy!

The Chief Loon sent this out in an email, and it's just too good not to share:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wrap party of one

They've been threatening us since about Wednesday with all sorts of nasty weather for today. Apparently most of the forecasts have come true. Massachusetts it getting positively smacked with snow. Here in Pennsylvania we got snow under freezing rain. The storm seems to have stopped for the moment, but I don't think this is the last of it.

After hearing all these weather reports, I decided that Sunday would be a great day to stay in and wrap presents. I had them all bought by Wednesday (except the ones for the folks at work, which I added to my list on a whim Friday afternoon), but didn't have them all in my possession until Friday night. I'd bought my uncle something on ebay on Monday and was starting to panic when I hadn't heard anything from the post office by Thursday. It's part of the set that has to go to the relatives in Virginia, and I was beginning to think I'd have to send them off with out it. But I have it now, so they can all start winging their way southward as soon as I get 'em to a UPS store. I've stopped using the post office for packages after some jewelry I made for my cousin's wedding went missing for a couple of weeks before showing up back at my own doorstep, marked as "undeliverable." But that's a story for another post.

I've got Christmas music on the laptop and everything I need to get wrapping. I'm keeping this window open and will be coming back to it every once in a while, because I usually get fussed while I'm doing this and I want to share my frustration with someone besides the cat (who is, as always, on hand to supervise any project her human attempts).

11:40 am: The "Victorian era antique" shaving mug (the ebay seller bought it at an estate auction, says it's transferware. It may very well be. I'm not concerned about that. My uncle just likes old shaving mugs. He puts them on a shelf in the bathroom over the tub) needs a wash. There's "antique" soap scum in the bottom part of it. I almost get my fingers stuck in there trying to get at it.

11:50 am: Shaving mug's now drying upside-down on a towel. That shall be wrapped last.

12:02 pm: Haven't even started yet, and I'm already annoyed. I bought a pack of scissors because mine go missing the moment they're needed. The packaging material in which these scissors are wrapped is too tough to break into guessed it: a pair of scissors. I just remembered the little Leatherman tool in my purse with the scissors in it. There's a jackknife, if the scissors don't work.

12:10 pm: All right, where's the tape?

12:11 pm: Found it. Under the cat. Where else?

12:20 pm: Am I the only person out there who gets an odd little surge of pride when they manage to make the wrapping paper pattern match up at the seam? Honestly, who's going to notice that? It's not like I'm hanging wallpaper.

12:29 pm: Somehow the tape got under the cat again.

12:36 pm: Just wrapped the present for my cousin's oldest kid. It came as a shock this year when I realized K was a teenager, and that I should stop thinking of her as an infant genius. She is pretty darn smart. I remember a phone conversation we had when she was six. My aunt had put her on to say hi, and she greeted me with: "Did you know that plants and people have a symbiotic relationship?"

You know how in sitcoms a character will pull the phone away from his ear and look at it for a second before continuing a conversation? Thought that was just for dramatic effect until I did it myself.

V: Yes, actually, I did.
K: I can't remember how exactly...don't tell me! Don't tell me!
V: Okay.
K: Well, maybe you could give me a hint.
V: It has to do with breathing.

And then she went on to explain the whole carbon dioxide/oxygen thing. She was six, mind. I got taught that in high school. When my aunt came back on the phone, I asked what that was all about. Turns out K's homeschooling group took a field trip to a local printers' establishment, and while they were waiting for the tour to start someone noticed the secretary's war-and-peace set-up on her desk: a Siamese fighting fish living in a glass vase that also housed a peace lily. One of the older kids started to explain to the younger ones about the symbiotic relationship involved there, and then they moved on to the one between people and plants.

My aunt homeschools K, by the way. And when my cousin's younger child is ready for it, she'll probably get homeschooled too. There are a lot of families in that section of Virginia who do that, and sometimes they get together and do things as a group. It's partly so the kids can socialize and partly so the adults can help each other out. Someone might be much better at teaching grammar than math, and vice versa. And the older children teach the younger ones--like that bit in the paragraph above. That was one of the teens who was doing a biology module at the time. I wish homeschooling had been en vogue when I was growing up. I think I would be a much better adjusted adult if I'd never experienced public school.

Not getting many presents wrapped, am I?

I think I'm going to listen to music on Napster. I've put my music on repeat, and I'm getting sick of it already.

1:18 pm: I finally decided to give the tape to the cat to sit on when I'm not using it. It'll be a little more hairy, but at least I'll know where it is. Now she wants nothing to do with it. Naturally.

1:36 pm.: Three things: 1) you've never heard anything 'til you've heard "White Christmas" on sitar and banjo; 2) how come I can fold an origami frog that will jump when you press down on his backside, and I'm good enough at origami swans that I can teach other people to do them, but I can't make a present look properly wrapped unless I've used at least a foot and a half of tape? 3) Virginia contingent's presents are done!

1:45 pm: As I put the presents into the canvas tote bag I'll be schlepping them to the UPS store in, I notice that you can tell which ones I did first by the name tags -- I got more confident with the calligraphy marker as I went along, and there is much more of a flourish in the "V" of my name by the time I get to my uncle's present than there was when I did my aunt's.

1:55 pm: Almost wrapped Dad's present without putting in the wheat's head penny I saved specially for this purpose. Custom is that if you give a wallet (or a purse) with money in it, then it will never, ever be empty. At least that's what my mom told me a long time ago. Also, my dad likes old coins. Apparently this is a family trait. All his brothers and sisters do, too, and they got it from his mother. He's passed it on to at least one of his daughters (ahem) who is at present trying to collect all 50 of the state quarters. This penny is from 1939. I got it back in change from a cup of coffee I bought at the café attached to the library where I work.

3:20 pm: Oh my goodness. Just suffered partway through a jazz quartet's version of "We Three Kings" that made me almost wish for deafness. The clarinet went off on a flight of fancy that sounded like someone strangling a duck. Slowly. Giving it time to recover a little before they attacked it again. I stubbed a toe in my hurry to get to the laptop and change songs, which momentarily distracted me from the pain in my ears.

4:16 pm: I don't think Napster radio was intended for anyone who stays as long as I have. They're starting to repeat themselves. They've done Joni Mitchell's "River" three times, and Holly Cole's version of "Baby It's Cold Outside" twice. But at least they haven't assaulted my ears with that quartet again.

I've just about finished wrapping, so I think I'm going to post this now. One final burst of irritation though: don't you hate when you cut a piece of wrapping paper and find that you're about 1/2 an inch too short, no matter which way you orient the package? I even tried doing it diagonally, but that was just too silly. Just cut another piece of paper, Vee. That's why you bought 100 square feet.

Thanks for spending the afternoon with me. Delilah gave up and went off to take a nap about an hour ago. In between songs I can hear her gently snoring in the rocking chair.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

How did I miss this?

At a loose end and waiting for the snowstorm to start, I decide to surf around and check for new entries on the blogs I read regularly. I stop by Pandemian (which used to be The Green Fairy, back before the writer's blog went kaflooey when she was switching servers). Jack tends to put a bit of time between her entries, but boy is she worth it. I love her wordplay.

Anyway, no new post yet there, but I let my eyes wander down her blogroll and I see...what? What?!? Stephen Fry has a blog?!?!?!

Is this the real Stephen Fry and not just a Stephen Fry? It must be. Jack loves him past all reason, she wouldn't put an impostor on her blogroll. I click the link, and sure 'nough, that's him. I knew he had a web site, that's been up for years. It seems that this September he decided to start blogging, too.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go dive in and let the man's words wash over me. I love him almost as much as Jack does.

Bellefonte Victorian Christmas

Here are some photos from last weekend's Victorian Christmas celebration in Bellefonte. I spent most of the day at the Loons' table asking people to decorate ornaments for the tree in the gazebo at Tallyrand Park. I did manage to get away for a little while, mainly to grab lunch and look around a little. Got some shots of the horses giving buggy rides through town.

On Sunday, we met with the people who had made ornaments the day before (those who hadn't been scared away by the forecast of freezing rain, that is), and gave them their ornaments to put on the tree. The other ornaments we put on later, after we were sure no one else was coming.

It was a pretty good turn-out. We had about sixty paricipants, most of whom made more than one ornament. I'd say we had over 100 for the tree.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Find your daemon

Three posts in one day! Wow, I'm chatty.

Wandered over to Self-Winding and found a link to the Golden Compass website, where you can take a test to find out what your daemon is. Mine's named Myron.

Saw The Golden Compass last Saturday, after spending the whole day at Bellefonte's Victorian Christmas celebration. The Loons had a table in among the craft booths. We were asking people to decorate Christmas ornaments to put on the tree in the gazebo at Tallyrand Park. Got a fair number of 'em too. About sixty participants (mostly children), but a lot of them did more than one ornament. I'd estimate that we had around a hundred for the tree. I got a few pictures, which I will post on Flick'r (and probably here, as well) when I get home.

I really enjoyed the movie, by the way. Events got rearranged a bit from the way they happened in the book, but it worked out all right in the end. I hope they filmed all three parts of this trilogy at the same time, the way The Lord of the Rings was done. The events in these books are supposed to take place over the course of a few weeks, so it could look odd if Lyra's 12 in the first film and 15 by the last one.

My only complaint (and it's a fiddly little detail): the young lady playing Lyra is blonde with brown eyes. The people playing her parents are both blond(e) with blue eyes. Is it possible in nature for two blue-eyed parents to produce a brown-eyed child? I didn't think it was. Couldn't they make Nicole Kidman or Daniel Craig wear brown contacts?


I woke up briefly at four this morning to an unpleasant sound. Stumbled to the window, looked out, turned to the cat and asked, "Should snow hiss?"

Sleet. Yuck.

I'm now at work. The heat has kicked into overdrive to deal with the falling temperature. The great big air-intake vent on the far side of the room is making this whistling noise. It's constant, though there are variations in pitch and intensity. Imagine a cross between between an unattended whistling teapot and a howling windstorm. I feel sorry for the folks right in front of the vent.

Proof that peer pressure works

A friend of mine from high school has been commenting on my blog for the past few months, and I keep telling her, "You really should write a blog. Seriously. Now."

She always protests that she has no time. And she doesn't. She's working on getting certified to be a court reporter, she's raising two small children, working somewhere to get some experience for the above-mentioned job, she does transcript translation at home, and she has a house and hubby to look after. (I may have the lingo wrong for her job.)

But guess what! She just started a blog. It's called Peanut Butter and Bacon Sandwiches. Take a look, and please welcome her to the blogosphere.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


One of my co-workers is forever telling me that I'd look great with make-up. I don't tend to wear it. I don't feel confident that I know how to apply it, for one thing -- I was never interested in learning that as a teen. When my sister (six and 1/2 years my junior) asked our mother when she could start wearing the stuff, Mom was momentarily flummoxed. This was a situation that hadn't come up before. She ended up choosing the age of fourteen, after consulting a teenager who worked in our restaurant about when her parents had allowed it.

"Fourteen?!?" Ditter wailed (she was thirteen and a half at the time), "I'll bet Vee didn't have to wait until she was fourteen!"

"Hey, Ditter? When's the last time you saw Vee in make-up? Outside of Halloween or high school musical productions, that is."

That's the thing. The only way I know how to apply make-up is the way they taught us to use it for the stage. I don't really need to look normal from a distance of 40 feet. I'd rather look normal up close. I always feel like a little kid who's been playing at her mother's dressing table any time I so much as wear lipstick.

Also, it just seems to be so much work. When I have worn it, sufficiently (I hope) toned down that I don't look like I've just come offstage, I find that when I get home it's all worn off. Lipstick almost immediately vanishes. Eyeshadow I think gets blinked off onto my glasses. Blusher? Where does that go? I must touch my face a lot.

I list these reasons every time this particular co-worker tells me I should wear make-up more often. She jokingly threatened to tie me down and apply some herself. I told her I hoped she had a tranquilizer gun handy, 'cause she might have a bit of a fight on her hands.

Today I came by her desk as I was distributing mail. She looked up at me, grinned, pointed at her mouth and then gave me a thumbs-up.

"Nice lip gloss, Vee."

"It's chapstick, Deena."

"Oh. Still. Looks good."

Sigh. Every little bit helps, I guess.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Gettin' all festive at work

O Christmas tree...
Originally uploaded by JugglingScarves
Keeping Mom company while she was cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I mentioned that I bought a Christmas tree for my cubicle at work. She stopped what she was doing and turned to look at me.

"You really do like that job, don't you?"

"Um. Yeah..."

"I don't think I've ever heard you talk about decorating the other place."

"Well, I didn't really see the point. We used to decorate the office, but then one year we just stopped."

Probably because it was like applying a coat of glittery gold spray paint to a pile of manure.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Open letter

Dear October,

You are my favorite month. The best things that ever happened to me happened in October. Back in my high-school days, I got my first kiss after an afternoon of walking through leaves, hand-in-hand with a beautiful blue-eyed tenor from choir. I once won $75 on a Halloween scratch ticket. I got hired for my first (read:only) full-time job in October 1992--the job didn't start 'til mid-November, but I knew it was coming.

You're also the best-looking month. The snappiest dresser, by far -- who else could get away with wearing brown, green, red, orange, yellow, cream, burgundy, and pink all at the same time? And what about that sky? It's never quite that same shade of blue any other time of the year. Seriously, no one else has your style. Okay, May is pretty too, but between you and me? She goes just a leetle heavy on the perfume.

And then there's all that harvest-type stuff you've got! Indian corn, pumpkins, corn stalks, apples, scarecrows (all right, I don't understand the scarecrows. What use is a scarecrow during harvest time? Who is there to scare away in an empty field? Not a criticism, October, just a request for clarification). Hayrides! Every hayride I've ever been on was in October, usually followed by a bonfire where we toasted marshmallows, made s'mores, and drank hot cider.

To top it all off, you have a fun holiday. No other month lets people get all dressed up like pirates and ghosts and vampires and demand candy from the neighbors. Friend of mine came to work dressed as a worker bee this year, complete with boots, tool belt, and yellow yarn pompoms tied to her calves (as pollen). But you know that, you were there.

Here's the thing that's bugging me, October. For the past seven or eight years now, I can't make it from the end of September to the beginning of November without getting a sinus infection and bronchitis. It comes on very suddenly: one day I'm out playing in the leaves, relishing the taste of the air, admiring the color of the sky; the next day I'm in bed coughing, hacking, sneezing, wheezing, and needing antibiotics.

My doctor says I'm allergic to leaf mold, and she gave me stuff to combat that. Last year, it kind of worked. I had some sort of creeping crud, but it didn't develop into anything dire. This year, however, on your last Friday I got a sore throat that rapidly morphed into a bunch of other things. By the 31st I was diagnosed with...yep. Sinus infection and bronchitis. Trick or treat! Ah, boo, I got a trick.

October, I'm starting to take this personally. It's really getting me down. Did I do something to piss you off? Can I fix it? Come on, call me. We'll go out for a mug of hot cider and some s'mores, and see if we can't work this out.

Vee (The girl in the glasses, cavorting in the leaves she's probably allergic to.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Alternate song lyrics, or, the curse of the creative mind.

I'm minding my own business in the supermarket, looking for dried apples and finding only dried berries and prunes -- or, as they're labeled now, "dried plums." Do they really think they're fooling anyone? The radio I've got my earphones plugged into starts to play "Wild Thing," by the Troggs (I think), and suddenly I'm giggling. Why? 'Cause in my head, to the tune of "Wild Thing, this little ditty just composed itself:

"Prune juice! You make my bowels loose! You send everything....through me. Oh, prune juice..." and then the bit that really cracks me up: "Prune juice, you move me."

Sigh. As Rosie O'Donnell once said of her own brain (back before she went all weird and political): "It's a high-powered machine, but all it does is doodle." Well it keeps me amused, anyway. So what if strangers look at me oddly as they pass?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Conversational flotsam and jetsam

Passing people on the sidewalk, one tends to overhear snippets of conversation that make one (well this one, at any rate) wonder. I sometimes build up elaborate (and probably erroneous) scenarios in my head.

Young lady on a cell phone, walking immediately in front of me:

"Melissa honey, you are outta control. It'll be all right. Trust me. It' know what? Come up here next weekend. There are 20,000 boys on this campus, I'm sure we can find one for you." Melissa must've either just lost a boyfriend, or is having rotten luck on the dating scene "back home."

She turns towards the dorms and is lost in the crowd.

Approaching me from the left is another young woman on another phone, voicing her opinion of someone's apartment:

"It's such a bachelor pad. He doesn't even have spoons! That's why he's always over at our place...." and away she goes. I'm wondering how he eats cereal--one mouthful at a time, straight from the box? Interspersed with swigs of milk right out of the carton, of course.

A man and a woman, both dressed like office professionals, are standing on the corner of the street that divides campus and town.

"You're about to watch me perpetrate fraud on my parents," the woman says, reaching for her cell phone. " I'm not proud of this, but sometimes you just have to do it, you know?"

I didn't stay to hear what sort of fraud this was. I'd like to think that it was because it's none of my business, but really it's more that the pedestrian crossing sign had just changed to "walk," and I had no reason to stay.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Solstrom- Boleadoras

Well, I found one from Cirque du Soleil, but the embedding has been disabled on it. This looks like the same two cast members who are in that other video. If you want to see the other one, click here. The masked troupe members look similar to the ones I was describing. I read in the program I bought that the show we saw is one of the older ones, revived and revamped for a different sort of venue.

Visitation and Cirque du Soleil

I just realized I never told you how my parents' visit was. It went something like this:

Friday (after getting blood drawn at the hospital), I scurried about sorting, cleaning, throwing things out. Saturday, ditto. Sunday morning, ditto. My Mom had said they'd be arriving around noon, Dad later said around ten a.m. (!). This meant (to me) that they'd probably be here around eleven, and that's what I was aiming for.

Ten-thirty, there's a knock on my door. I fling it open, spilling belly-dance music out into the yard, without stopping to think about what I look like: the hand not holding the door has an almost-full trash bag in it. I'm wearing a dust mask, which means my glasses are a little fogged up. Hair is pulled back into what was a very neat ponytail about three hours ago. My mother is not fazed.

"Hiya!" She starts dancing in place. "Nice music."

"Thanks," I take the mask I just remembered I'm wearing and pull it down to my chin. "I figured the beat would make me work faster. Do you need the bathroom?"

"Nope. You ready to go?"

"Almost." I survey the living room. "You know, this looks a whole lot better than it did a few weeks ago."

"Honey, I didn't come here to inspect your apartment. I like the way you have the furniture set up now."

"Thanks. Oh, hey, look at this." I drop the trash bag and cross over to the bookcase. "You know those great big zippered bags? Space Bags, I think they're called. This is the biggest one, XXL."

I grab and lift it over my head. Mom's eyes light up.

"Oooooooh. YARN!"

"Yeh. I am not allowed to purchase or receive any more yarn. Seriously. I have at least three sheep's worth in here. And I keep finding more! Some of it I don't even remember buying."

She nods. "Happens to me too. Hey, I'm gonna go wait in the truck. We'd like to go somewhere where we can get salads. Is there a grocery store around here somewhere with a salad bar?"


Lunch is bought, consumed in the parking lot outside the arena. When we head indoors, the ticket-takers scan the barcodes on our tickets (beep!) with little hand-held devices instead of tearing them in half. I wonder how long that's been going on. It's been a while since I've been in here. Mom and I are directed to another staff member, who searches our purses (for cameras? recording devices? WMDs?) before letting us in.

Our seats are right on the floor (one of the things that had Mom jumping up and down when she got her tickets -- "Floor seating!?! Row eleven!!!?!!!"). We gawk and rubberneck, discussing set design. I point out the two lighting technicians above us. At least I think they're lighting techs. They're wearing headsets, and are in these seats that look like something out of a cockpit--and they're suspended from the ceiling, hanging right over the audience. Yikes. Not my kind of job at all.

The Cirque troupe comes out and warms up the crowd for about fifteen or twenty minutes before the show starts. They're pulling members from the audience to do things on stage, interacting with people in the aisles. There are two kinds of costumes for the troupe members -- one set is more elaborate, with wigs and heavy make-up. The other set is simpler: a unitard and with some simple clothes over it, white gloves, white shoes, and a hat of some sort. Instead of make-up, this costume comes with a mask--plain white, like it's made from papier-mâché. There are two little eye holes, one more for the mouth, and a great big hooked nose. The people in these costumes are silent, and somehow they can be both cute and creepy at the same time. They keep sneaking up on people in the audience and hanging over their shoulders. One of the masked ones in blue does that to the woman a row ahead of us.

A little while later, while I am watching a troupe member playing with a kid from the audience, I feel this presence over my left shoulder. I turn, look right into one of those hooked noses, and shriek. The clown runs off, mission accomplished.

The show itself is amazing. We each have favorite acts. Mom likes the bungee and trapeze acts. Dad is very taken with the acrobats working with the Chinese poles--at intermission he talks about their impressive arm strength. My favorites are the bicyclist (he did everything to that bike but ride it completely upside-down) and the boleadoras (no picture of them on the web site, but I found something on YouTube that I'll post later).

The boleadoras are like flamenco dancers with accessories. A man and woman come out onto a stage that is set up specially for them. They're dressed in red and black, and each carries a drum. First they dance together, drumming at the same time; then they take turns accompanying each other. Then they set down the drums and bring out these little metal balls on thin silver chains (bolos, I'm guessing), spin them around, strike the floor with them, and dance. Wow. At times the bolos are moving so fast, it looks like they're dancing in/with silver hoops.

All in all, it was a great time. Mom said this is something she's going to remember forever (aw!). And, as an added bonus, Dad enjoyed himself. He can't stand watching Cirque du Soleil when it comes on TV, so I was a little worried he was going to be bored for two hours. Nope. He says it's much different live.

It sure is.

My teacher's on YouTube!

This is the woman who teaches my dance class. I think I'm in pretty good hands, don't you?

Monday, October 08, 2007

A new experience

Well, that's it, I think to myself. I have no more gifts to catalog, no more surrogates, level changes, or call number requests to work through. I've gotten caught up on my end of a project I'm working on in conjunction with someone from Circulation, and am awaiting further instructions (we correspond via email). I've sorted out everything in my problem pile. The only thing I have left to do is my last-resort project (ugh), the never-ending search-and-correct list from the Government Printing Office's Administrative Notes Technical Supplement. I can do that for a while, but after about four hours of unadulterated hey-I-already-fixed-this-record crap (Admin. Notes has a habit of repeating announcements a few times, just in case you missed them the previous month. And they mix them in with new announcements in such a way that you can't just cull out the stuff you've seen before. 'Cause it all looks the same after a while, see.), I'm going to be found under my desk, rocking slowly back and forth, sucking my thumb. Time to bite the bullet and go see a team mate.

"Hey, Bess?" I poke my head into my coworker's cubicle. "Do you have anything for me to do?"

She swivels around and scans her desk.

"Um. No. Well...wait! You could see what's going on with this." She indicates the gray tub just inside her entrance. "Holly thinks there's something wrong with the records, and I haven't looked at 'em yet. It won't take very long, but it's something."

"Okay!" I swoop down on the bin and carry it back to my desk. It doesn't take long, really, because there's nothing wrong with the records. I prettify them a little, write a longish note to Holly, put everything back into the bin and schlep it over to the mail room to be delivered. Half an hour down. Four and a half more to go. Not counting lunch. When I get back, Bess is in muffled conversation with Lana. I hear the phrase "not really enough to train her with" waft over a wall. They're trying to find something for me to do.

Bess comes over to visit a little while later.

"I'm going to talk to Janice about you needing stuff to do. This is a brand new experience for us. We've never been caught up before, and we've never, ever had to scrounge around for work. The monograph team is in a similar situation. It's weird. It's like no one's ordering anything. I think we need to ask for projects. Janice's out today, but I'll talk to her first thing Monday."

"Okay." My eyes drift to the red folder full of Admin. Notes photocopies, and I sigh inwardly. I can probably handle it if I know I won't be doing it all day, everyday. And Tracy might email with the next part of our project (hope springs eternal).


Bess emails our supervisor because she can't seem to catch her in her office when she's not busy. Janice answers the email quickly, and Bess forwards it to me with the comment that I should probably expect a visit after lunch.

And I do get a visit. I'm now going to be reclassifying of a bunch of serial microfilm from some obscure, arbitrary, in-house call number scheme over to Library of Congress call numbers. Not only that, but Janice told me to go ahead and contact the documents librarians about some cataloging projects they briefly mentioned they'd like done, but didn't go into detail about at the time. I tell Bess about this after Janice has left.

"Odd," I say. "Where I was before, things like this involved intense negotiation between my supervisor and the whoever wanted the work done, and I got brought in at the end. Now it's just me doing the talking."

"Uh-huh," Bess smiles.

"Is that normally how it works down here?"

"Well, sometimes. With some people, no it wouldn't. Some people around here you really have to watch closely, for a number of reasons. But sometimes...yes. With you, yes."

I look at her quizzically. "Because I know the documents collections so well, and I used to work with those folks?"

"She trusts you."

"Oh." Huh. So that's what that feels like.

[All names changed to protect the author]

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Whoop! Whoop! Parent invasion imminent. Take cover!

Remember back in July when we gave my Mom tickets to see Cirque du Soleil? The show is this Sunday, here in my town. Sooooo. Yeah. I've been trying to make the apartment look a little less like Oscar the Grouch lives there, with limited (very limited) success. I keep getting distracted by things I find as I clean up -- "Oh! That's what happened to that Laurie King mystery I bought last month. I never finished reading that....Hey! There's that knitting project I started and put down. Why'd I put it down? Oh, look, here are those pictures I got printed. I should organize them..." and suddenly it's 11 pm, and the place doesn't look much better than when I started at 6.

I'm taking tomorrow off to clean (and for some blood work my doctor wants. I get to fast for 12 hours prior to being poked with something sharp. Doesn't that sound like fun?), and I swear on Delilah's fluffy little head that by Sunday morning this place will look like a responsible if slightly untidy thirty-(mumble) woman lives here, not some messy teenager with ADHD.

I hope.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Wheeee-whaah. Wheeee-whaah.

There's a little boy running around my apartment with a harmonica in his mouth.

Wheeee-whaah. Wheeee-whaah.

I have no idea how he got here, who his parents are, or how to make him settle down.

Wheeee-whaah. Wheeee-whaah.

I'm chasing him around the place, trying to catch him and make him cut it out. He's a fast little monster, and I'm starting to get winded.

Wheeee-whaah. Wheeee-whaah.

Got him! I put one hand on each shoulder and shout, "Stop it!"

He takes the harmonica from his mouth, looks at me with great big innocent eyes, and says:


Wheeee-whaah. Wheeee-whaah.

His face transforms into that of my cat's. She's sitting on the pillow next to my head, looking concerned. And that horrible noise....

Wheeee-whaah. Wheeee-whaah.

Yeah, that one. It's coming from me. Not an asthma attack, not quite, but pretty darn close. Wonderful. It looks like my allergies are demanding some attention. I rummage around in the drawer of my bedside table for my inhaler, take a couple of puffs, and spend the rest of the night trying to sleep sitting up.


On my morning break I step outside with my cell phone and call my doctor's office:

"Hi, I need my allergy prescriptions renewed. I know she probably won't do that without a visit..."

"How long as it been since Doctor's seen you?"

"A while. Over a year." Why do nurses and receptionists use the title Doctor like it's a first name? Does that get done in other professions?

"Let me go get your file." She puts me on hold for a moment. I wonder if she could hear the outside noises on my end of the phone when I was speaking. A bus vrooms by as she comes back on the line.

"Wow, you really haven't been here for a while! Your chart wasn't even out front any more."

"Yeah, well, I'm an if-it-ain't-broke kind of girl, and it hasn't been broken for a while."

"How's tomorrow at 2:15?"

I consult the little piece of paper where I wrote all my scheduling conflicts. 2:15 will work.

"That's fine. See you then."


The doctor's given me Nasonex samples to see whether I have any success with the drug before I start buying it. She's also refilled my Allegra-D and inhaler prescription, and prescribed a week's worth of cortisone to calm my lungs down. She said the Nasonex takes a couple of weeks before it starts to work, and if I start taking it right away it should be at full strength by the time the steroids wear off.

I'm doing my imitation of a lost soul in the pharmacy waiting area at Wal-Mart. When I handed them everything at 6:45, the woman at the window said it'd take 45 minutes to an hour to fill them. That was an hour and ten minutes ago. I've had dinner, I've gone shopping, I've wandered around aimlessly looking at stuff. I've bumped into acquaintances and gotten caught up. I've spent a good five minutes trying to get a very, very serious-looking Asian baby to give me a smile. She wasn't having any of it. She just looked at me like I was nuts. Her parents seemed to enjoy the attention, and they were trying to get her to smile too. Just as I gave up she looked straight at her Daddy and gave him a big toothless grin. It was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud.

That was twenty minutes ago. I am now just really wanting to get my meds and go home, please. At ten after 8 they finally call my name. When I get outside, it is fully dark. The sun wasn't even beginning to set when I walked in. Note to self: try not to fill a prescription on Friday evening ever again.


From the information sheet that came with my steroids:

"Psychic derangements may appear when corticosteroids are used, ranging from euphoria, insomnia, mood swings, personality changes, and severe depression, to frank psychotic manifestations. Also, existing emotional instability or psychotic tendencies may be aggravated by corticosteroids."

FanTAStic! Which do I want more, breathing or sanity? If I go nuts, will I notice? How will I be able to tell if I'm not sleeping because of the steroids or I'm not sleeping because I'm worried about the steroids?

The steroids themselves are in this little foil-backed bubble pack with dosing instructions printed on it. I take six the first day at various times during the day, five the next, and so on until the last day when I only take one. You have to wean yourself off 'em. So apparently this stuff is just as dangerous to stop using as it is to start.


It's a week later now, just took my last steroid dose on Thursday. Never saw any signs of craziness. The Nasonex appears to have kicked in. I have clear, dry sinuses for the first time all summer.

And, just as I feared would happen, now that the doctor has her hooks in me she wants to do "routine tests" and a general physical. Sigh. I'm going for blood work at the hospital in a week or so, after I'm sure all the steroids have left my system.

But at least I can breathe without sounding like a musical instrument. There's that silver lining.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Operatic Orange

Here's another one that I remember very well. This was very cleverly done.


I just went to check my AOL account. I've been using the university as my ISP for a few months instead of AOL and forgot to check my email at the other account. Whoops. I had 18 messages, most of them from my two old friends from high school.

One of the messages had a link to the above YouTube posting from Sesame Street.

I remember a while back watching some sort of "History of the Muppets" show on TV with my folks. They showed this clip and had the original air date listed at the bottom. I would have been about a year old when it aired. I said to Mom, "I think I remember that, but I can't be right. Look how early that is. And besides, I remember it in black-and-white."

She looked at me for a moment and then said, "That's because we didn't have a color TV until you were three or four."

Mom said she used to sit me in front of the tube in my little rocket seat when Sesame Street came on, hoping I'd absorb some knowledge. Educational children's TV was a pretty new idea when I was an infant. I must have liked it: I spend the whole time pumping my arms and legs.

Well, back to catching up on my email.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


I bought myself a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements as a birthday present. I've been trying to figure out how to use it. The whole "layers" thing has me completely mystified. I think I'm going to have to go out and get one of those "For Dummies" books. I know there's probably all sorts of help available on the web, but I'm kinda old-school. I want to have a book in front of me while I try out what it's telling me to do. I don't want to bounce from window to window on my laptop, and I don't want to work from a print-out if I don't have to. I tend to lose print-outs, anyway.

Through trial and error I have managed to learn a little bit. That band-aid tool is great (Adobe calls it a Spot Healing Brush)--takes out blemishes on people's faces, scratch marks from old scanned-in pictures, probably all sorts of other things I haven't figured out yet. I'm also really partial to the filters, especially the watercolor one. Look what it did to a washed-out, bluish picture of my parents' dog:

Blue Pippin watercolor

Here's the original:

Blue Pippin

Cool, no? I think I may have to get that printed out (on fancy-schmancy paper, as if it were an actual watercolor) and present it to my Mom and Dad, framed. I suppose there is somewhere that I could do that. Kinkos, maybe?

I realize all this stuff isn't news to anyone who already uses this product, but I'm a newbie and I'm all agog.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

My ditter on vacation

Originally uploaded by daisy04202004
My sister just opened a Flickr account. First thing she loaded onto it were photos from her recent trip to Key West.

I love this one.

Friday, August 24, 2007


A request for a call number label just came across my desk for the following journal:

Markers: the Annual Journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies

I kid you not. Gravestone studies. I had no idea these people existed. They have a website, a conference, a newsletter, scholarships, all sorts of stuff. They list their mission as: "to foster appreciation of the cultural significance of gravestones and burial grounds through their study and preservation."

Preservation? Are people going around tearing up cemeteries? I'm assuming they mean more than just mowing the lawn once in a while, but what exactly do you preserve in a graveyard? And study? Of what? Burial practices? Styles of stone carving? I know there are people who take rubbings of headstones, but I thought that was more for the family tree. Nope, never occurred to me that a burial ground would need study. I'm intrigued.

Now, this journal is at another campus so I can't flip through it and see what's there. All I have is a filled-out form and some photocopies of the cover and title page. Hmm. I wonder if this is something our local library carries. Apparently the only campus interested in the title is all the way over in York, PA, a longish distance from here.

Now, don't worry. I'm not about to go out and hang around in graveyards. That's my sister's idea of fun, not mine. She chases ghosts.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Q & A -- meme from G

The following is a meme from G, based on the Guardian's questionnaire in the Saturday magazine:

When were you happiest?
I'm not sure I've hit my happiest moment yet. So far, it's been watching my sister get married.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Up until a few months ago, I would have said my friend and colleague, Mary, for putting up a 20 year (with time out for remissions) fight with cancer, never losing her sense of humor, and continuing to find joy in the world around her. She died in January. I don't have a new hero yet.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

I can forgive just about anything except deceit.

What was your most embarrassing moment?
You know what? I think I've blocked out all the embarrassing moments. The only one I can think of has to do with some fellow who used to live in my complex. We'd chat at the bus stop and on the bus as we made or way to and from campus. He remembered my name the very first time he heard it, and I could never remember his. He must have told me his name half a dozen times. Finally, one day he gave me both his first and last name and that made it stick. Of course he moved out two weeks later, but now I know his name -- Dan Smith.

Where would you like to live?
Stratford, Ontario.

What would your super power be?
I'd like to be able to fly.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I'm overweight.

Would you rather be clever and ugly, or thick and attractive?
No, thank you.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
Helena Bonham Carter. Not that she looks like me or anything, but I believe I could just about sit through watching my life flash before my eyes if she were playing me.

What is your favourite smell?
Springtime rain

What is your favourite book?
My favorite book is whatever I happen to be reading at the moment. If we're going by number of times read, it's a tie between Jane Eyre, Little Women, and Persuasion.

What is your favourite word?
Fünf. It's the German word for "five." I like its sound -- like a pillow fight in progress.

What is the worst thing anyone has said to you?
"I'm not going to marry you. It's not like I'm in love with you."--This from the guy who'd been wasting my time for three years, letting me think he was my boyfriend.

Cat or dog?
I like both, and for the same reason: attitude. Cats because they have so much, and dogs because they don't have any.

What do you owe your parents?
Life, love, my values.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?

To my great-uncle Bill, for not returning what would be the very last phone call he ever made to me.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Managing to make it through last April without spilling blood on the brand-new carpet at work. Kidding! (sort of.) Haven't quite gotten to my greatest achievement yet. I'll keep you posted.

Whom would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Good lord. Would I have to cook, or may I have it catered? I'm assuming the guests can be anyone at all, living or dead: Anne Boleyn, J.K. Rowling, Robin Williams, Oscar Wilde, Zora Neale Hurston, and my mom.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Haven't met him yet.

What does love feel like?
When it's returned: a calm, sure warmth. When it's not: a stomach ulcer.

What was the best kiss of your life?
My very first one. I was fourteen, he was sixteen, we were sitting on a rock in the woods behind the high school. One minute we were talking, and then we weren't. It was as easy as breathing.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
"Actually" -- that's the big one. I'm constantly deleting that from my emails and blog posts.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Finding out that "aging" and "growing up" are not synonyms. I'm often surprised how much of the politics of adults resembles the politics of the playground.

When did you last cry, and why?
About 3 hours ago, I got choked up by some song I heard on the radio. Don't even know which one now. My guess as to why? Hormones.

How do you relax?
Embroidery or knitting.

How often do you have sex?
Sorry, the only person not involved in my sex-life who may ask that question is my physician.

What is the closest you've come to death?
February 1989, I was going to a conference in Pittsburgh over Spring Break with some friends. We got lost, the driver got a little rattled, she made for an exit to take us back the way we came....and hit a tow truck that had been hiding in her blind spot. We bounced off the truck, skidded across a four-lane highway without hitting anyone else, and smacked into a cement wall. We all survived, but no one is sure how. The car was a mangled mess. The driver was hospitalized for a bit -- she was having chest pains that turned out to be a mild heart attack. The fellow in the back seat had been asleep. He'd hit his head, but after a scan or two was deemed okay. Me? I lost my glasses, and had a seatbelt-inflicted bruise from right shoulder to left hip like a beauty pageant sash. Other than that, I was fine.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
Maid service.

What keeps you awake at night?
The cricket who's taken up residence somewhere in my apartment. I can't find him, but I sure can hear him. They say it's good luck to have a cricket in the house. It will be extremely bad luck for him if I find him.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
"So Long, Farewell" from the Sound of Music. No? Why not? As long as it's not some soppy sorrowful thing, I really don't care what it is. At my Grandma's grave someone whipped out a tape recorder and played "Live Like You Were Dying." Ugh.

I suppose it really doesn't matter. I won't be there anyway.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

It's not the destination that matters, it's the journey. Enjoy the ride. And take lots if pictures!

Where would you most like to be right now?

Pretty happy where I am at the moment.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Spam subject line poetry

Unsightly cashier
Saved My Marriage.
It just keeps
Posh watches at tiny prices.
Beware of fake pills.
Crazy defoliator
Georgia lake properties for you.
Hello, my dear
algorithmic more fiend!
You've received a greeting ecard from a Worshipper!
Kittens, kittens & more kittens!
What's your opinion?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

For every silver lining, there is a gray cloud

Here's a funny little side-effect of enjoying one's job: vacation is no longer the get-out-of-jail-free card it was this time last year.

Don't get me wrong, I still like vacations. Love 'em, in fact. I especially enjoy vacations like this one, the kind where I stay in town and just loaf. But when 5pm Friday rolled around last week I didn't feel like skipping to the exit, and I know I'm not going to be at the bus stop on Monday wailing like a little kid, "I don't WANNA go to work. Waaaah!" (On the inside, of course. Don't want to scare the students.)

Huh. Odd.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

My birthweek

Vacation time again. My birthday is coming up, and I decided to take the whole week off. "Calling in old," that's what an ex-coworker of mine used to call it.

Most of the week is a blank slate. Today I have a Loons event to attend. My official role is as Event Photographer. Here's hoping that a) it doesn't rain (it's threatening to. Very gray at the moment), b) people show up, and c) they enjoy themselves. I'll post pictures, if I have any.

Wednesday evening I'm going to dinner with a friend of mine. Saturday (my birthday) is Games Night with the Loon(s). Other than that, I have no idea what to do with myself this week. Love it.

On a related note, the Chief Loon has set up a website for our organization. She's asked me what I want my title to be (you know, since she's Chief Loon, we all need titles along those lines). I toyed briefly with "head cook and bottle-washer," but I think that means I have to cook. I dunno. Maybe an idea will present itself today. Right now the only thing on it is the notice for today's event, Mutts Gone Mad, with pictures from previous years and a link to my flick'r set for MGM 2006.

We had a costume contest the first year we did this. One little girl came dressed as a princess. We were worried at first that she hadn't understood it was an event for dogs. Then right before judging started her family put the costume one their mastiff --butterfly wings and halo. Perfect. Princess being guarded by a gargoyle. There were two other contestants: one dog dressed as a ballerina and one little terrier in a bathing suit. We judged by rounds of applause from the audience. Of course, they applauded for all three with equal enthusiasm. We shrugged and said it was a three-way tie for first place.

We were planning to have a costume contest last year as well, but it was so hot nobody wanted to torture their dogs with clothes. This year we've changed it to a costume/dog-owner look-alike contest. That way you can dress like your dog if you want to. Own a Dalmatian? Come in a white dress with black polka dots. Own a shih-tzu? Do your hair the same way. Things like that.

I sure do hope people come to this. We weren't as good with the advertising this year as we were last year. Chief said to me last night that what we really need is an Advertising Loon -- someone who's good with deadlines. Was that some sort of hint about what my title is going to be?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Street painting

Venus on Sunday
The Central Pa. Festival of the Arts was last week. One thing I had forgotten about last year was the Italian Street Painting Festival that is held over on Heister Street, away from most of the foot-traffic. I wouldn't have remembered it this year, either, except that I went over there to go see "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" Thursday evening, just as things were getting started. Lucky I remembered to pack my camera in my bag that morning.

I went back Sunday evening to see how things turned out, and just finished posting a whole mess of pictures on Flickr.

Accidental eavesdropping

I couldn't help it. I was the only other person on the bus (except for the driver, of course). These four teenage or twenty-something girls were behind me, playing what appeared to be one of their favorite games: Character Assassination. They were loudly, viciously, gleefully gossiping about some absent friend, tearing her apart flaw by flaw, calling her lazy, selfish, and rude. Given the examples they were citing, to me it sounded more like she had other priorities, didn't unthinkingly give them what they wanted, and told the truth. This is someone who no doubt they will greet with smiles and hugs when they next run into her. I tried to block it out, but this one sentence floated in my left ear and has lodged itself in my brain:

"When I first met her I hated her, but I wanted her to like me. Do you know what I mean?"

No, I don't.

And sadly, on some level yes, I do.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Mom's birthday present

Here's the thing I made for my Mom's birthday. It's my first attempt at découpage, and it might be my last. It was time consuming, frustrating, sticky work, and I can't believe it took as long as it did to complete. Mom likes the box though, so it has that going for it.

This was a landmark birthday for my mother--one of those ending with a zero or a five. When my dad turned this age, we gave him a ride in a race car (I believe I've mentioned he's a huge NASCAR fan), so the bar was set kind of high for Mom. We had no idea what to do there for a while, and then in May the perfect gift presented itself: Cirque du Soleil is coming here at the end of September. Mom loves them. Whenever Bravo airs one of CdS's shows, Mom is right there for it, camped out in front of the TV. It doesn't matter if she's already seen it or not.

I thought we should do more than just hand her a few tickets, so I went to a local craft store and bought an unfinished wooden box, along with glue, paint, sealer, rubber stamps, ink pads, and assorted equipment to turn it all into the box you see above. I also wound up buying a little fold-up patio table to working outside with the the paints and sealer. Not really interested in knocking myself out with paint fumes. The cut-outs are from greeting cards by an artist named Patience Brewster. I liked the whimsical feel of them. A lot of them looked to me like costumes you'd see in Cirque du Soleil, though my favorite one doesn't really. I put that one on the inside top of the box.

I wasn't able to be there on her birthday, so I went up on the 4th of July and stayed until the following Sunday. I was going to make her birthday dinner on Saturday, but my parents' reflexologist called and asked if she could reschedule their Friday afternoon appointments for Saturday. Small family emergency. Her grandson was visiting and he was horribly homesick. She'd decided to take him back home. That's a six hour drive. So we flipped Friday and Saturday's activities.

I made dinner--chili, though it's more like a goulash than what everyone else thinks of as chili. It's what I grew up knowing chili to be. When I ordered it in a restaurant and there were no egg noodles in it, I was disappointed. This is some sort of Depression-era recipe of Grandmom's. I think the noodles are thrown in to make it feed more people. I got what I consider to be a great compliment on that from mom: "It tastes just like my mother's did." Then there was a devil's food cake I made from a Weight Watcher's recipe, topped with strawberries and a low-fat Cool Whip. She and Dad went out onto the porch while I did the dishes, then I called my sister on my cell phone, handed the phone to Mom, and we sang happy birthday to her on the porch and over the phone as I gave her the box.

First she was just excited that it was Cirque du Soleil. Then she got a good look at the tickets: "Floor seating ?!? Row eleven!! Oooooh, I have to call your aunt."

She told me later on that weekend that more she thought about the present, the more excited she was getting. And she's relieved that she doesn't have to go ride in a race car.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Trying out Pictobrowser

This is a nifty little widget. Thought I'd try it out and see if I can get it to work on my blog. Apparently I can. If you want to do something similar, just click the "INFO" link and you'll get instructions.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Signs you're approaching Harry Potter overload...

  1. While explaining the layout of her garden, your mother points out that the romaine has been placed within a small circle of snap peas so it won't get too much sun and bolt. Your immediate mental image is of lettuces lifting themselves out of the ground and running full-tilt for the edge of the forest. Warning.
  2. Because the weather is absolutely gorgeous today, you decide to take stroll through campus over your lunch break. In your travels, you notice one particular area where it seems to be raining quite heavily. You look up for the teeny raincloud that must be making this happen instead of down for the half-hidden sprinkler in the ivy that actually is causing it. Danger.
  3. You knock a plate off a table. It breaks in two. You have to fight the urge to grab a pencil, tap the pieces, and say, "Reparo!" Seek help now.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Just in time

Centerpiece in reds
A few weeks ago I decided to bite the bullet and call the Circuit City protection plan folks about my poor blind camera. I was all set for another couple of rounds of "Chase the FedEx Guy," but it seems their policy has changed. They no longer repair cameras under $25o (mine was $249). What they do instead is get you to send the camera back to them, and they send you a gift card for its full purchase price. You can use that card to replace the one that broke, or for anything else you want.

So I did that, and last Wednesday I bought a new camera. Same brand, but a little bit of an upgrade. I have a 12x optical zoom now. I think the last one was 6x. This one also has the option of focusing manually, which eliminates a problem I used to have with the old one--sometimes the camera would focus on the background instead of what I wanted to be the foreground.

Got it just in time, too, because my friend's birthday party was Friday. I took a ton of pictures, some of which I put on Flickr. The set isn't complete yet, mostly because dial-up takes forever. I did bring the laptop onto campus yesterday for a wireless connection, but only got done about half of what I wanted.

I've been up to my neck in a project for my Mom's birthday. That's where I've been lately, by the way. There was a fair amount of hand-dirtying work, and no matter how many times I washed up I still felt sticky. I really didn't want to accidentally prime/paint/glue/varnish myself to the computer, so I just stayed away from it. As soon as Mom's birthday has passed, I'll show you what I did.

P.S. If you were here earlier, this photo was smaller and darker. I've been editing 'em and replacing 'em. The pictures looked fine on the camera's monitor, but a lot of them seem a little too dark everywhere else.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Librarian-free zone

The American Library Association is holding its annual conference in Washington D.C., from today through June 27th. It was noticeably quieter around here this morning. Like a ghost town, almost. I expect to see tumbleweeds blow by my cubicle entrance. [Sound cues: wind, and the occasional wolf howling in the distance]

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Games night

"Did I tell you," Chief Loon asks as I tally up our scores, "that we received another $25 donation for the Wasp? That brings our total to $844."


"Yeah. I have half a mind to go down to the library with a check for six dollars, just to make it an even $850."

"You're still winning, by the way." I deal the cards. "By an embarrassing amount."

"I think I kinda like this game." It's a card game called Five Crowns. I bought it last winter from one of those games-and-calendars stands that pop up in malls all over the country right around November and vanish by the end of January.

"Me too. It's like a kinder form of gin, except with five suits and really nice artwork."

"I don't play gin." She picks up her cards and starts to rearrange them.

"No, me neither. Not with people, anyway. Gin makes me swear."

"What does vermouth do?"

"Don't know yet."

"Ah. Working your way through them alphabetically, are you."

I nod, concentrating on my cards.

Games night is something the Chief came up with last fall. At 7 pm on the first Saturday of every month, we (the Loons) open up the teeny little ex-train station that serves as Bellefonte's Chamber of Commerce building, hang out a sign that says, "GAMES NIGHT!" and play board and/or card games for three hours. The idea is that people can drop in and play with us, bring their own games, whatever. It gets announced in a couple of the local papers, and the Chief puts out a come-one-come-all message over the libraries' email the day before (did I mention we're coworkers? We are. Different departments, same building). So far, the only time anyone who wasn't a Loon (or a Loon's spouse) showed up was accidental. People asking directions, looking for info on Bellefonte, etc. Nobody stops in to play with us.

Here's the thing: I don't like playing games. Chief knows this, and thinks that I'm either extremely kind, I'm slightly masochistic, or she's a lot better with the guilt than she thought she was. I keep showing up because I have this image in my head of her playing solitaire for three hours or (as she put it jokingly at the last games night, when this subject came up) playing rock-paper-scissors by herself all night and losing.

It's not really accurate to say that I don't like playing games. I do play them, see. I even own a few. I don't like competitive people. I want to play just to play. My childhood friend Suzanne and I used to drive her mother crazy with the way we played badminton. She'd sit on the porch and watch us bat the birdie back and forth, back and forth.

"You do know that you're never going to score if you keep hitting it to each other," she'd point out.

"Are you keeping score?" Suz and I would ask each other in unison. Our unspoken common goal was to keep the birdie aloft as long as possible.

My family is full of poor losers and worse winners, and I still bear scars from a Monopoly game where my father swore at my mother. If I run into someone who must win, I get put off. At first. Then I feel the Beast rise within me and I need to win. I need to crush this person who presumes to think they can beat me. I want to send them home crying. That disturbs me.

And so, I play games online at Pogo against a computer whose feelings won't get hurt. Or I play with the few members of my family who are gracious winners and losers. I try to model my playing after my Grandma Ruth, who died a year ago this past April. She was an excellent game player -- anything you wanted to play she'd try, but she really liked cards, scrabble, and yahtzee best. She taught all of her grandchildren how to play some of the games she liked, and now the whole clan (and there are hordes of us. We could populate a town, these descendants of Grandma Ruth's) plays canasta, at least. Most of us play shanghai rummy, backgammon, and hearts as well.

She was cutthroat. If she saw an opening she'd take it, and she'd expect you to do the same. But when she won (which was most of the time) she didn't rub your nose in it. She'd just reshuffle the cards, or collect the dice, or slide the tiles back into the box, and say, "Again?" And whether she was winning or not, she always complimented the good moves you made, marveled with you over your stroke of luck if you rolled 5 6's as a double yahtzee, applauded your seven-letter word.

I try to be like that, and most of the time I can silence the Beast and be a gracious winner or a good loser.

As long as I don't play gin.

Friday, June 08, 2007

How I amuse myself at work

The following title just passed across my desk on its way to the Earth and Mineral Sciences Library:

Memoirs of the Faculty of Sciences, Kyushu University. Series D, Earth and Planetary Sciences*

I couldn't help it. An imaginary conversation popped up in my head and had me giggling. The only way to get rid of this is to share, and so now I inflict my hallucination on you:

"Hiro, remember that time when Dr. Kurosawa came to lunch wearing that 'Stop Plate Tectonics' T-shirt?"
"Do I? I'd just taken a sip of tea before I turned around to look at him, and I shot it out my nose!"
I feel better already.

*It's a very, very slim volume.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Lovely Stephen Fry

And, not slight Mr. Fry, here's another bit of Fry and Laurie.

Hugh Laurie - I'm in Love with Steffi Graf

I don't have much to say today. But I thought I'd share this. It had me laughing so hard I couldn't breathe. Partly the song, but mostly the mannerisms. I flashed back to my twenties, which was full of watching music videos by guys who looked and sounded like this.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Green bowl

I found my way out of the ordering chicken and broccoli rut.

The place I go to now is called The Green Bowl. They have no menu. Yes, really. What they offer instead is an all-you-can eat stir fry that you put together yourself.

When you are seated, you're given a wooden stick with two numbers written on it: the first is your table number, the second is your seat at the table. You take this stick with you up to a largish cold table -- like a salad bar -- where you pick up a bowl and start piling on what you want in your stir fry. There are vegetables, fruit, noodles, tofu, eggs, all kinds of seasonings, oils, and sauces. Once you've built your dinner, you pick up one of the colored plastic sticks at the end of the bar (they denote which meat you want added to your dinner, or whether you'd like it to be done as a soup or a wrap sandwich), put that and your wooden stick in your bowl. You then leave it on the counter and go sit down.

The whole glorious mess gets cooked up on this huge griddle in the middle of the establishment. When it's done, the wooden stick goes back in. This stick is how the wait staff identifies whose dinner belongs to whom when they bring it back to your table, along with rice. You can have white rice or brown, whichever you prefer.

I'm usually stuffed after the first time through, but you can go back as often as you like.

What I like best? I never have the same dinner twice. They rotate ingredients in and out of the cold table (depending upon what's in season, I suppose), and even if I get all the same ingredients as I did the time before, the sauce I used may not be there. Or (and this is more likely) I forget what I did last time, or I don't get the proportions the same.

I suppose if I got nostalgic for chicken and broccoli, I could always put a whole lot of broccoli in a bowl, dump some brown sauce on it, and put in a chicken stick.

And yes, the bowls are green. Originally they used white ones, but they finally bought some green ones a year or so ago. I guess they got tired of people asking them why The Green Bowl didn't have green bowls.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Maggie Mason wrote a book...


Ahem. Anywho, sometime before Christmas 2006, Maggie Mason of Mighty Girl and Mighty Goods put out a book about blogging called Nobody Cares What You Had for Lunch: 100 Ideas for Your Blog. I bought a signed copy straight from her site. Once it got here, I set it aside to read later and promptly got swept up in Christmas preparations. I just found it this past Friday while I was cleaning my desk. I've been reading it ever since. There are a lot of good ideas in there. Looking at my own blog, I see that I'm already doing some of the things she suggests. There are a few others that I'm going to attempt to employ. Like posting more often, for example (she writes, after leaving things silent for four days).

How about this, for instance:
Show some skin.

How did you get those scars? The one on your thumb is from when you were three and you wondered whether scissors could cut skin. The one on your stomach is from your emergency appendectomy. Your boss figured you had to be in the hospital, because it was the only reason you'd ever be late for work without calling.

Your scars indicate what type of life you've lived. Whether you're athletic, fighting for your health, or just occasionally clumsy, let each scar remind you of the story behind it.

When I first read that I thought, "Scars? I don't have any...wait. There's that one. And that one. And the one from...hmm." So here we go, starting with the head:

On the left side of my forehead, a very small thin scar right at my hairline. I got this when I was around ten years old, from Brian, the five-year-old brother of my playmate Janet. Brian used to have some sort of crush on me and this was how he announced he was over it, by smacking me in the head with a small spade. I ran home screaming, more from fear than pain--it bled a frightening amount. Headwounds do, I'm told. After I was cleaned up, Mom showed me how very tiny it was. She said I didn't need stitches, probably just a butterfly bandage. And I didn't need a tetanus shot because I'd had one the previous summer before I went to that horrible Girl Scout camp. Ugh. But that's a story for another post.

At the right eye, following (and mostly hidden by) the brow bone, a scar from an operation I had when I was just a few months old. It was to remove a cyst, a large one. If it hadn't been removed pronto I might be blind in that eye right now. Mom said the doctors didn't tell them that until after the operation was over. Didn't want them to "worry unnecessarily."

On my midsection, a trio of scars: a small one in my bellybutton, another small one on my right side, and one about two inches long on the right side of my belly. They are souvenirs of a laparoscopic surgery to remove my gall bladder. My gall bladder attacked me one spring, during a long-planned visit to my great uncle Bill at the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home down in D.C. It finally got taken out that July.

On my left knee, a faded scar from my falling on the gravel driveway of my grandparents' home in Iowa. I was seven, I think. On my right knee, a much larger, newer scar from the gravel in the parking lot of a local supermarket. They throw down gravel on top of the snow and ice around here in the winter time. It helps with traction. That is, until the ice and snow leaves. Then it's a hazard in its own right, at least to me. I skidded, landed on my right knee and cut it up, ruining my favorite pair of pants in the process. I went into the grocery store, asked for a band-aid at the customer service desk, and told them that the lot was dangerous. They gave me some song and dance about how the parking lot wasn't theirs, it belonged to the landlord. They almost wouldn't give me a band-aid until I asked them if they'd rather I bled on their floor. "Biohazard," it's a magic word.

On my left heel, an almost circular scar from a broken piece of china. I was washing dishes in my bare feet and dropped a bowl. The cat came to investigate (of course) and while I was trying to simultaneously clean up and chase her away, I stepped back onto a very large shard. Took a taxi to the emergency room, sure that I'd need stitches. Nope. They used superglue, and gave me a tetanus shot. This happened a week before Christmas 2005. I had to spend a few weeks in thermal socks and backless shoes, hoping there wouldn't be any more snow. I could just see myself losing a shoe in a snow drift.

And that's it, at least for now. Here's hoping I don't get any more.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Call me Cleo for short

Reading posts from my first month of blogging I came across this:

Juggling Scarves: I'm Not Management Material

Goodness gracious me. Did I really write that? It seems that as late as January 2006 I really enjoyed my job and thought I worked for some good people. Looking at it now, I realize that the third paragraph from the bottom describes my old department.


[Extends hand] How do you do? My name is Cleopatra, Queen of Denial.

Can't get there from here

Anyone from Pennsylvania probably already knows this joke.

Pennsylvania has four seasons: early winter, mid-winter, late winter, and construction.

A large chunk of road running right through the center of campus is going to be under construction all summer. A very large chunk. Of a very important road. It connects one end of campus to the other, and divides one half of campus from the other. And now there is practically no way to get across it.

My library is on one side of that road, and my (temporary) bus stop is on the other. For the past week and a half I have felt like a character in a video game, trying to avoid hazards and blind alleys in an attempt to get from my bus stop to work. I swear, this morning I heard the theme music from "Mission: Impossible," as I stepped off the bus.

You see, it's not just the road that's under construction. They're also redoing the landscape around the road to make it more accessible to people with disabilities, and they're doing a major revamp to the bus stop I normally use. It'll be nice when it's done. Right now, though, it's a nightmare.

Last week wasn't so bad, mainly because they hadn't really started fencing things off. Monday was a little tricky, but I managed to avoid the tree-ripper-outer (me and my high-tech language) and not trip over fleeing rabbits and chipmunks (who apparently had disregarded their eviction notices. Poor bunnies. Poor chippies. I sure hope everyone got out okay). I saw men with hard hats wandering around, pointing, consulting plans, and I knew that Tuesday wasn't going to be nearly as easy.

And I was right. They'd blocked off a section of the road, parked a truck right in the middle of a crosswalk (nice), and pretty much made all foot traffic impossible to the part of campus where I needed to be by 8am. I found a way across by cutting through one of the courtyards of the dormitories and coming out in the parking lot right across from the library.

This morning I found that they had fenced off part of yesterday's route, as well as a large section of the side street that stands between the lot and the library. I don't know why. It doesn't look they're doing any work in that area. Spite, maybe? Some sort of psychological study? I got through anyway by going through the lower courtyard of this same dorm complex and coming out at the other end of the parking lot.

Let's see if someone saw how I did that and fenced it off, too. I'm beginning to think that the only way to get from my bus stop to my place of employment is to get air-lifted and dropped off on the roof. That, or sprout wings.

P.S. : Post #101! Woohoo!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Spelling wasp

The Bellefonte Loons hosted a spelling wasp a week ago Saturday evening, in the annex to the Bellefonte court house.

What's a spelling wasp, you ask? It's like a spelling bee, but meaner. The entrants must not only spell words, but be able to spell them backwards, rearrange the letters in alphabetical order, replace vowels with sound effects, pantomime the letters (a la the dance done to "YMCA"), and any other thing we could think of to get them to do.

It's a team competition rather than individual, and no one gets eliminated. Instead, teams earn points for correct answers, and these points determine who wins first, second, and third place. The word list was taken from the book "Bee Season," by Myla Goldberg, and it was important that the contestants read the book, because some of the bonus round questions dealt specifically with plot points and characters. One of the bonus rounds consisted of mispelled words from the various spelling bees that take place throughout the book.

The main difference between a spelling wasp and a spelling bee, though, is that a wasp is done as a fund-raiser. There is an entry fee that is paid upon registration. Teams are encouraged to find sponsors -- either straight donations, or people who pledge a sum for every correctly spelled word, every incorrectly spelled word, every time a word begins with a vowel, things like that. And during the event if a contestant misspells a word, they have to opportunity to buy a "do-over," giving them a second chance to spell the word. They can either buy it themselves or solicit donations from the audience.

This whole wasp thing was the brainchild of the Chief Loon. She acted as pronouncer, and got a friend from work and an actual sitting Judge for Centre County to be judges for the event. For the event, the Chief dressed herself up as a caricature of a WASP, in a pink tweed suit, high heels, with her hair done up in a beehive. She looked impressive and more than a little scary. Gave me flashbacks to kindergarten, actually.

She was hoping that this event would make perhaps $200 for the Historical Library in Bellefonte. When the final tally came in, we had $819 to give them. You could have knocked her over with a feather.

Best of all, everyone enjoyed themselves. The contestants were laughing at themselves and each other all night. The audience, though small (it consisted mainly of friends and families of the contestants), was lively and very generous when it came to the buying of do-overs. Judge Brown said he thought the whole thing was quite clever, and gave us all sorts of useful suggestions for next time. We already have the offer of a local opera house-turned-movie theater as next year's venue. It should be perfect. There's a stage, and I think there are even spotlights.

And the fact that we hosted something that raised over $800 for Bellefonte might just make us look legitimate to some of the businesses and societies there who don't quite know what to think of us.

Confessions of a Pioneer Woman

I don't know if you noticed, but I added another blog link under my "Good Reading" links a little while ago. I wanted to point it out and explain a little bit about her, but my old high school chum Amy B. already did a very good job of that in the email she sent me introducing me to the site. Below is our exchange, reprinted with her permission and with names deleted to protect the innocent:

Subject: Okay, I'm weird.

Date: 5/6/2007 1:34:17 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time

I really love this website. It’s a ranch wife’s blog with her photography. I get a kick out of her stories and love her photography, and [Amy B.'s husband] thinks I’m a weirdo stalker because of it.

The only reason I stumbled upon it was someone posted a link to her site on a message board I belong to (Cooks Illustrated, if you care).

When I poked around in her archives and read the story about Tanner, Barbie’s dog, I nearly peed myself and was instantly hooked. If that link doesn’t work, I see it was posted 12/27. Her archives are set up by month as well as subject (Children in this case).

She picked up a camera for the first time and started this site a year ago, and she just had her first gallery showing of her photographs. If you decide to take a look, see the entry for May 5. In there is a link to the gallery photos, just in case this link doesn’t work. My favorite is the horses’ manes, I think, and the one that
looks like rocks on the beach (they’re not) is another.

Why am I up so late? Deadline.

Back to work.

My response:

Subject: Re: Okay, I'm weird.

Date: 5/6/2007 6:52:26 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time

I can see why you like it. I only read the latest entry and decided to bookmark it. Might even link to it from my own blog.

Reading someone's blog doesn't make you a stalker. Reading someone's blog, figuring out where they live, driving cross-country to their home (with or without astronaut diapers) and camping in their front yard -- that makes you a stalker.

What was I doing up so early? Pushy cat who wanted attention, food, and my pillow. In that order.

Her blog really is excellent, and so is her photography. She copyrights her work, so I can't embed an image here, but please to go take a at her photos on Flickr. They are wonderful.