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Friday, July 31, 2009

Disqualfied

“It’ll be the first day I’ve had all to myself in at least two years,” I enthused. “Really. At least two years.” Just before bed last night I realized that with my son at a sleepover and my daughter working all day at her new job as a baker, I’d have the house to myself, and no commitments.

“I’ve got a project if you need something to do,” my husband replied nervously.

“A project? Who says I need a project? I’ve got all kinds of things to do. I’ve got some blogging, and some gardening. When I get hungry, I’ve even got a free sandwich,” I said waving aloft a coupon I’d received in a mass distribution at Vacation Bible School earlier in the evening. “It’ll be great!”

Straight out of the box, however, the day took an immediate southward turn when I opened my contact case and discovered that half of them had vanished overnight. I haven’t been to the optometrist in over two years—ironically near the time of my last free day, optometry records would later show. I figure they’ve got the lenses programmed to dissolve when you’ve been AWOL too long from regular eye care, because we’ve got nothing on the whereabouts of the stray lens.

I couldn’t get an appointment soon enough to avoid the headache that always accompanies the wearing of my glasses. From the headache, my mood dissolved into despair over what would later prove to be some unfounded worries I developed over the General State of Things. It was way too hot for gardening. I kicked around on facebook, posting cryptic and decidedly grim comments until I decided it was Free Sandwich time. My spirits could not withstand the disappointing news I received via text message enroute that a planned trip to see some local stray kittens had to be canceled due to the uncertain whereabouts of said kittens. The traffic surrounding the Free Sandwich was practically impenetrable. I took the Sandwich to go, and went right back home to surveyed my sorry state.


My daughter soon came home, took one look at me and gasped, “Oh, no, you’ve been alone all day!”

“It’s that obvious? “

Evidently, my family knows me pretty well, and the consensus is that I "don’t do well” when I’m left alone to my own resources for too long, say, for more than six hours.

Ironically, I was recently recruited as a possible candidate for an online instructor position, and invited to participate in an online conference about the position this afternoon. Although my resume may indicate that I’m a good candidate, but my family doesn’t seem to think I’m qualified.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let's Talk

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you hosted a gathering in your home—let’s, for the sake of discussion, assume it to be an eclectic mix of family, friends, acquaintances, and any number of complete strangers—and despite your best efforts to facilitate engaging conversation the entire assemblage sat inexplicably mute?

Or wouldn’t it just be completely freaky to know-- not unlike that family from Pennsylvania with the guy living in the attic around the holidays-- that you had guests, but never actually make contact with your covert visitors?

Blogging feels a little bit like both scenarios at times. Simply put, comments make my day. There’s nothing quite like coming back to the computer a few hours after a post and discovering that something I wrote made someone, somewhere laugh, or think, or reflect. I’m told that there are bloggers out there who just can’t handle the volume of responses to their posts, either practically, or in some cases even technologically, as the flood of commentary overflows inboxes and clogs servers. I can’t imagine having problems of such magnitude. I’m just a girl trying to host a cozy online space where we can sit back and laugh; maybe kick off our flip-flops and take life a little less seriously for a few minutes. A place where levity might dissolve into perspective, and from perspective, who knows?

So pull up a monitor, grab a coffee, or diet cola, or a sip from a nearby water fountain, if that’s all you’ve got, and let’s talk. If my recent posting history is any indicator, I’ll be in and out a few times each week. And as for you, just come when you can. I’ll be glad for your company whenever you can stop by.

And if it happens to be a quiet, just listening day, that’s OK. But maybe next visit you’ll have something to add to the conversation that will make this virtual space seem a little more like home—and that’s even better.

a note about today's illustration: I fully acknowledge that today's go-along-with the post photo in no way enhances or illuminates the subject matter at hand. I have, however, decided for the time being to make this controversial image the official default photo for blogs that would otherwise go unillustrated.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mocha Monday: Madcap Mayhem and a Bloggy Backlash

“At most, it’s a misdemeanor. We wouldn’t get more than thirty days,” my son laughed, sucking down the remaining centimeter of his free iced mocha from a Popular Burger Establishment. “Besides, it would make a great post.”

We’d just calculated that it would take roughly four of the short, squat samples to equal a standard small. From there, it was a mental hop, skip, and a jump for my son to calculate that our pre-determined errand route would take us past an equal number of the same drink-distributing establishment. He shot me a look that basically confirmed my status as the coolest mom in the world if we could stop for a quick (free) sip at all four Establishments.

I wondered aloud if there were social or legal mores which would be violated by such a romp. My son gave the thirty days tops estimate, which we laughed off as improbable and commenced on some carefree summer hi-jinks.

“So, how do we get in on this Mocha Monday?” I found myself saying moments later, in the lobby of Similar Establishment #2.

“Iced or nonfat?” a jovial barista queried, already reaching for the sample sized cups.

We slurped our samples en route to the site of our java junket. The sugar rush kicked in before we hit our next site: what fun! This, my son assured me, is what summer’s all about.

Unfortunately, the good folks at site #3 had opted out of the free caffeine campaign, which we completely respect. We waved our thanks and headed back to our vehicle, where I documented my son’s gesture of mock disappointment.

That’s when Mocha Monday took on a dark, biting edge.

A rather burly and decidedly angry manager approached my vehicle. Wow, I thought, that was quick. Some sort of McLert must have been issued. Burry images must have been distributed of us wiping the foam from Mocha one off our mouths as we sauntered in for our second round; still frames, possibly sound bites of my clever little, “How do we get in on this Mocha Monday” line. How long, exactly, is thirty days anyway? Would my boy make it out of juvie hall in time to start school?

I was prepared for just about anything to come from the manager’s lips. Anything but the booming question that actually met my ears. “Are you taking pictures of the property? Because you can’t be taking pictures of the property.”

“Ummm…I’m taking pictures of my son,” I responded. “And I absolutely can take pictures here,” I surprised myself by adding.

“No you can’t,” he insisted.

“Actually, I’ve studied the law, and I really can.”

At this point, things threatened to dissolve into a schoolyard battle of no-you-can’ts, yes-I-can’s, and the images were, after all, safely on my compact flash card, on my person, in my getaway car, so I didn’t press the issue. But I’m glad that this time, I spoke up. Because I spent a lot of time last summer feeling like a criminal for walking around with a camera, and putting up with a lot of harassment and general ill will and poor treatment: I was bounced from shops on site, snarled at for having a camera on my person in commerce sectors of tourist towns, and subsequently opted not to support the local economy by purchasing anything from these watchdog vendors.

Readers, discrimination against the innocent, camera-toting public is now an epidemic, and, in light of the number of photography-enhanced blog posts I read every day documenting the normal comings and goings of average citizens, bloggers must be prepared to defend themselves against the hysteria associated with the common camera.

I have printed off copies of the flyer The Photographer’s Right, by attorney Bert P. Krages II outlining my rights as a photographer and American citizen. The flyer will now be a permanent part of my camera gear. I have also educated myself further on the issue through reading The Legal Rights of Photographers, a document by photographer, reporter, and concerned citizen Andrew Kantor. I don’t intend to use the information to create further dissension between the camera and anti-camera factions—we photographers apparently have enough venomous sentiment coming our way anyway—but I do want to be armed with the facts I need to exercise my rights as an artist and an American.


Here’s the contested image—I’m publishing it here, because I can. The law says it’s mine.


Mocha Monday back on track, my son and I headed to location four, where we were promptly served. Iced brew, for the record. Do we have photographic evidence? You bet. And you know why?

Because the restaurant was ironically outfitted with an in-store, pre-fabbed photo op. We narrowly missed having to wait in line for our chance to snap our commemorative shot.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A (JC ) Penny for My Thoughts?

I may live in one of the top 40 metropolitan area in the country, but as a girl with a few crisp 20s burning a hole in her pocket, I’d rank my environs somewhere near compost level.

I recently received some bonus spending money as a graduation gift from my parents, and I’d love to spend a nice afternoon comparison shopping, ducking in trendy boutiques, and snagging a few great bargains. In my wildest dreams, I’d even pause to regroup with a fresh brew from a local beanery, but Regular Readers already know why that’s a pipe dream.

Simply put, we have no stores. Perhaps “no” is a bit harsh—we currently have an under stocked and overpriced Macy’s, inconveniently located in the nucleus of a ring of construction. We have a Target, but I’m sad to report that it has been reduced to a ghost town in recent weeks as the store braces for a move. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit to having a Wal Mart, but I haven’t voluntarily entered the not-so-super center in the past decade.

What we do have is a relatively new and reasonably well-maintained JC Penny. I have lots of things from JC Penny. You could, quite possibly, go through my wardrobe and see the history of the JC Penny catalog unfold, not unlike the rings on a felled tree. Capris from the summer ’07 collection. Jeans from winter ’08. Tops from late spring. And so on.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate JC Penny; rather the contrary, actually. They have frequent sales, some of which come in the form of a complete surprise when the total at the register comes up shy of the anticipated damage. And they’re good about sending a steady stream of coupons. So I’m not complaining when I say that I’d like a little variety. After all, it’s not reasonable to expect one store to meet my every fashion whim, let alone some of my non-clothing needs, such as specialty art supplies, which can’t be procured in this town, either, ever since the sudden shuttering of our one lone arts and crafts store.

Now, I don’t doubt for a moment that our plummeting economy has a lot to do with the sad state of commerce in our city. I also don’t doubt the influence of some poor urban development in the mix, either. I trace the trouble back to the razing of our mall back in ’06. I’m the first to admit that the archaic structure needed a complete do-over, however , the implementation of the project mirrors another great Virginia scandal, aka Jim Gilmore’s late-nineties elimination of the car tax. Again, a good idea mismanaged beyond recognition. Turns out you can’t take millions of dollars out of a state’s operating budget without some consequences—it just would have been nice if the consequences had been anticipated. Instead, institutions across the state turned up suddenly poor: museums operated on slim and erratic schedules, libraries were hobbled, and free moonlight canoe rides at our favorite state park now came with a cost-prohibitive price tag of $40.00 for our family of four.

Well, it also turns out you can’t level a city’s primary shopping center without fostering a general since of disillusionment, particularly when near-completion of the new Really Big Deal Shopping Center approaches without much to show. The past months have seen some notable developments—the rubble around the Macy’s has been largely contained, the Barnes and Noble returned…and now (drum roll) Target has moved 500 yards across the road, and a full six days ahead of the grand opening date stamped on a recent circular.

All this may sound like progress. until you rewind 3 years and realize that back then we had a (less than 5 year old) Barnes and Nobel. And a Target. And a JC Penny. And an under stocked and overpriced Macy’s, sans rubble. Not to mention a couple dozen other stores as well. And you start to wonder, what new ground has really been covered? And what’s going to happen to the former Target, anyway? And—of most pressing concern—when am I going to find the time to travel to our neighboring town to shop? Because I’m pretty sure I don’t think I want to spend a dime of this particular spending money at JC Penny or Target. At least until I read over the stack of coupons JC Penny sent this week.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

No Chance For Lance?

Lance Armstrong’s bid for an 8th Tour de France win is in serious jeopardy. Turns out the cyclist has fallen a full four minutes behind the completion and stands little chance of out peddling the deficit.

Four minutes? Really?

If Lance can’t recover from being four minutes off course then what hope is there for me? At my current pace, I estimate that I’m falling a full 24 hours behind schedule each day. To date, I’ve faced my situation gamely, tacking each day’s list right to the bottom of the one from the day before. I simply watch the list unfurl before me like a well-charted, albeit lengthy course. Before the word on Lance, it never occurred to me that I might be in real trouble.

I’m on full alert now, oh-so-aware of the second hand traveling circles around the clock like so many revolutions of Lance’s wheels.

Lance may still be four minutes behind, but I’ve lost another fifteen just writing this post.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Queen of the Garden

“There’s been another kill!”

The daybreak headlines from around our house have, of late, included enumeration of the nighttime conquests of our jet black Whiskered Wrongdoer, Camille.

Plaintive, still-of-the-night meows typically alert us when a successful night of hunting has occurred. The only element of surprise is who, exactly, has succumbed to the nighttime carnage.

Initially, it was just this guy:



He may look innocent like an innocent designer screen wipe, but to Camille’s predator gaze this seemingly innocuous toy/tool combo is public enemy #1. Making regular prone appearances on thresholds and belly up on carpets, this poor creature has been killed more times than Kenny.

Over time, Camille’s thirst for fluff has rendered her emboldened. She’s been stalking larger prey from higher shelves, putting the stuffed community on notice that it’s open season.

We emerge, then, from our respective bedrooms , stepping gingerly around a trail of carcasses. The body count typically consists of a couple of downed finger puppets, a washcloth folded in the likeness of a baby bunny, and a handful of small creatures of the beanie/stuffed variety.

For several weeks and counting, I’ve been trying to obtain footage of a kill for documentary purposes. I keep my digital camcorder at the ready, prepared to move in at the faintest wail. When readiness alone yielded disappointing results, I’ll admit to baiting the cat by planting favorite nemeses in provocative positions throughout the home. Although the creatures invariably turned up limp in doorways , or out of doors altogether-- as the dogs dutifully drag the kill out to the lawn--it didn’t go down in my viewfinder.

“Just think, Mom, the National Geographic photographers are out in the wild for months, and even they might only get one good shot,” my son consoled me. I suppose he has a point. To date, all I have to show for myself are clips of the after-the-fact variety:


video

Undaunted, I continued my attempts to film the phenomenon, grabbing my camcorder just the other day when sounds of a rare daytime kill pierced the home. Walk with me, if you will, to witness the crime first hand:


video

Now, I know there wasn’t much in the way of action, here, but did you happen to get a good look at the perp? Recall from the written description and prior video that our Feline of Interest is solid jet black. Replay the footage, if you must, but the stripy gray hide and white nose of this suspect is a tell tale indicator that what we’re dealing with here is a copycat crime. Worse, according to Wikipedia, my fascination with documenting the delinquency may have encouraged, or even caused it. “Sensational publicity about violent murders or suicides to result in more of the same through imitation,” reads the Wikipedia entry on the Copycat Theory. The entry continues with an even more troubling assessment of my copy kitty’s mental health and stability:

It has been shown that most of the persons who do mimic crimes seen in the media (especially news and crime movies) have in most cases prior criminal records, prior severe mental health problems or histories of violence suggesting that the effect of the media is indirect (more affecting criminal behaviour) rather than direct (directly affecting the number of criminals. It has also been seen that there is a certain small population of people who are at more risk for harmful media influences than the general audience.

As bad as the Wikipedia report appears, it fails to cover what is, perhaps, the most troubling element of the whole sordid affair. That green blob that Little Xerox decided to take down? It’s a knitted shamrock.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Remapping Adventurous Terrain

I’ve gone to bed every night for the past month hoping I’ll wake up in a hotel room, preferably in 2007.

Flipping the calendar to the present month and failing to see a large segment of the squares blocked out for travel spawned this irrational wish and concomitant listlessness. The last time I was this desperate for adventure, it ended poorly, in the form of murder at a downtown Ethiopian restaurant .

It’s July, and according to my calendar, I’m only destined to cross the state line once, and that’s just to Maryland. And although the Maryland weekend is a long anticipated and indisputably joyous occasion (a belated graduation celebration with friends and family), it’s just not quite July-caliber on the excursion scale. Past Julys have seen me commune with wildlife in the southern hemisphere,




consume wild berries in a Maine forest,




consume ripe raspberries on a Northwest farm,



enjoy authentic cuisine on a Mexican construction site,



or, better yet, simply disappear into the heart of the country as I did for the entire month in 2007. Waking up to fresh adventures in different states every day—let’s just say I’d still be out there somewhere if August hadn’t summoned.



It’s been a few Julys—circa ‘05, I believe, since I last found myself largely home for the month. That year, I had decided to head off disappointment by adopting a vacation-at-home mentality in which I would do one new thing every day of the summer: I’d go to unfamiliar parts of town, experiment with unexplored buttons on my electronics, sample unfamiliar food. It was mere days, perhaps only hours into my home-style adventure mindset when Ethiopian cuisine emerged as my experience du jour, but to my surprise and chagrin, I couldn’t convince my family to gamble their dinner on Ethiopian fare. The menu I procured was shunned and historical facts about regional famine were cited; in short, it became clear that if I were to sample east African fare, it would be during a solo lunch.

Alas, by lunchtime the next day I received an I-told-you-so-style phone call from my husband. The Ethiopian restaurant, he reported, had been shut down in the wake of violence which erupted the previous evening. In my husband’s opinion, the resulting murder was a cautionary tale on straying too far outside the carefully patterned lines of safe, familiar, and ordinary. Although I am sure I did not agree, I can’t seem to recall much coming from my summer of the experimental. It’s almost as though the Ethiopian meal was some sort of prerequisite that lingered, perpetually unsatisfied.

Which brings me full circle to the current month. I toyed with the idea of Daily Random Adventures 2.0, but wound up retooling the whole package. See, I’m still all about embracing new experiences, whether I make a specific, daily, point of it or not. Perhaps that’s why I don’t have a lot of concrete memories of the ’05 experiment—they’ve just sort of melded into the general hodgepodge of craziness that I refer to as “normal.”

What I’ve come to realize is that the adventures I’m really supposed to be seeking right now are all about enhancing the lives of other people. So I’ve made it a point to volunteer for a few more things than I typically might (or had time to, during my Academic Phase.) I’m taking some risks, picking up the phone and not know what I might find myself into. I’ll going outside my comfort zone, too, all next week when I set the alarm for 5:45 so I can do crafts with inner city kids. I’m switching it up the following week, devoting my evenings to dabbling in the art scene at my church’s VBS. I’m looking beyond what will give me my daily thrill, and finding that I get it anyway.

So I guess you can say that I’m blocking out the second half of July ’09 as a home-based mission trip. I may wake up in my own bed each morning, but I’ll be traveling beyond the borders of my own interests. I’m stretching my definition of adventure, and discovering that it was too narrow anyway.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Optical Illusion

It’s been nearly a decade since 2k specs made their appearance on the celebratory circuit, and my sister and I nearly missed the fashion sensation altogether.

The subject comes up for at least a quarter hour every December 31st, at the apex of our New Year’s Eve festivities as we pause our rented film to witness the descending of the orb in Times Square. With a click of the remote, throngs of revelers crash comparatively muted gathering. Although the distinctions between us and the Big Apple partiers are numerous, in the heat of our disappointment, the lack of decade shades among our number seems the most glaring.

“Sister,” one of us exclaims to the other, “if we were wearing such festive glasses, it would be us having all the fun.”

“Ah, yes,” the other of us replies, “how shortsighted of us. We’ll have to get some next year. Then that will be us,” we say, looking longingly toward the on-screen merriment.

Despite these annual conversations, neither my sister nor I have ever owned turn of the century glasses in any year’s model—until now. Always abreast on the latest trends, my sister was quick to act when she discovered that year-themed eye-wear has gone academic, popping up at graduations everywhere. Within hours of turning in my final final, my sister appeared at my house with—you guessed it—Decade Shades 9.0, the Farewell Edition. (My sister and I came to the sad conclusion on December 31, 2008 that 2010 shades just won’t work, unless asymmetrical eye-wear with awkward nose bridge is unlikely to catch on).

Of course, I was immediately eager to see the view through numerically-rimmed glasses. I expected 20/20 vision, reading my hot-off-the press credentials through designer celebratory wear. But if I’m to be honest, I must admit I ’m a little disappointed in the clarity.

Last week I hosted a somewhat belated graduation dinner for some recent high school grads. Talk circled around careers and programs, scholarships and plans. I’d like to report that I had the same sense of direction when I was their age, but I don’t know if I can ever recall having a similar level of certainty about anything. It was refreshing, actually—at least until the moment the girls asked what happens next for me, and the conversation turned down a vague and meandering path as I admitted that I really don’t know.

As the days pass, I’ve come to the realization that the calendar may say July, but for me, it’s been December 31st since mid-June, with me walking around in my party shades wondering what the next several hundred days may see.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A Taxing Situation

“Will I be getting a bailout?” my son inquired with an earnest squeak.

He’d just completed his first job application, following a tip about a particular fast food joint known for including a token 14-year old on the payroll, and my husband was helping him estimate his post-tax earnings should the job materialize. Evidently, he found the numbers so staggering his thoughts immediately went to bailout.

When my husband explained that he’d get some of the money back when he did his taxes, the poor kid blanched. “I have to do taxes?” he asked. It was one thing to have the government take taxes, but the news that he might have to do taxes exacted quite a toll.

“What if I don’t do it? Will I be audited?”

“Audited? No, you go to jail for not doing your taxes,” my husband informed him.

“I can go to jail over this?” Despair washed over the boy. “What if I just can’t do taxes?”

“Son, it’s a simple one page form. It should only take you a couple minutes.”

Brandon fell silent. “Dad?”

“Yes, Son?”

“If I get this job, I’ll have just as many jobs as you do. What takes you so long?”

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Post Post Postscript

It took me four days, but once again I’ve learned that there are reasons why I’ve established certain guidelines for general operation.
I don’t, for instance, eat chocolate in the car, because every time I do—no matter how cold the temperature or careful the consumption—I end up with brown stains in unfortunate places.

I never leave my camera bag open on a table or counter top, because I know the first time I do, one of my five furry creatures will manage to get a paw or a snout tangled in the handle and whatever lenses or gadgets happen to be in the bag will take a hard downward tumble.

After the unpleasant experience of arriving at a remote travel destination only to discover that my glasses case contained nothing but air, I’ve adopted the maxim my sister promotes to her bespectacled brood: “on your face, or in the case.”

And this morning—a full four days after my last post—I remembered why I don’t post at night. We’re all familiar with the disappointment of finding the perfect comeback or clever quip hours or days after it would have been witty. I get that feeling anew every time I post at night. I’ll wake up in the morning with the word I struggled to find the night before just hanging out in my head. The connecting link between two thoughts that I couldn’t quite articulate the night before suddenly appears obvious. Embarrassed, I’ll hop out of bed, hoping I can change the offending prose with my readers none the wiser—only to find a comment or two. I’ll still make the change—but now I know that members of my readership experienced draft-quality copy—all because I didn’t take advantage of the delay feature we’re denied in real –time communication, but should use in full online. The opportunity to sleep on your one-liners and retorts—what a deal! We’d all be such witty people if it were real life.

I, of course, have given up on real-life wit and have tossed all of my metaphorical eggs in a single online shopping cart, so you’d think I’d take full advantage of the chance at a well-oiled delivery. But no, I put Monday’s post to bed with a snoozer of an ending simply because I was too tired to craft a real eye-popper.

I didn’t think about the post again until this morning, when I woke up with the post’s current and rightful ending just hanging out just below the surface of my consciousness, where I undoubtedly would have found it Tuesday morning, if I patiently reserved posting.

Having resolved the issues with my prior post (check out the better ending!), my concern now turns to the one you’re currently reading. I began it on Friday, but have just realized I typed straight though midnight into Saturday. I’m thinking of throwing caution to the wind and sending it off into cyberspace. Oh, I know if I do, I risk ending up with egg on my face when I read it later on, which would leave me just one indiscretion away from having chocolate on the back of my khakis as well. At that point, it’s anyone’s guess what kind of rebuttal you might find here by Wednesday.

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