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.