Friday, December 30, 2005

I'm a slacker; she's a slacker; wouldn't you like to be a slacker, too?

It's a very small world, it seems. I just edited an e-mail that the president of our company is sending to the guy who graduated immediately before me in the Class of 1997 College of Arts & Sciences ceremony at my alma mater. When I say "immediately before me," I mean that they arranged all of the graduates in alphabetical order, and his last name was the next-previous to mine in the list. If we were talking straight GPA or leadership and academic achievement, he probably would have been considerably further ahead of me in the lineup. I was a good student with a higher-than-I-should-have-bothered-striving-for GPA, but this guy was significantly more serious and definitely more involved. He was our own Alex P. Keaton, right down to the diminutive height and the suits and ties to class.*

Apparently this guy's drive and motivation hasn't subsided into lethargy and laziness in the intervening years since graduation (as mine clearly has). This is evidenced by the fact that he currently holds a position within a County office (in the capital city of a neighboring state) that makes the president of my company want to contact him, and furthermore prompts our president to have his resident grammar geek edit that correspondence first to avoid any embarrassing errors.

I doubt this guy would remember me, so I resisted the urge to add "P.S. Stefanie says hi" at the bottom of the e-mail. If I actually were contacting him myself, I'd probably say, "It looks like your career is progressing nicely, and as you always seemed a kind, decent, stand-up sort of guy, I'm pleased to see things are working out well for you. By the way, have you come out of the closet and met a nice young man to share your life with yet?"

I don't know what ever happened to the motivation I used to have. Maybe I never really was motivated, and my initially strong post-college work ethic (the work ethic that made me feel guilty writing personal e-mails or doing non-work-related web surfing on company time) stemmed more from the residual guilt so common among people who grow up with Catholic parents.

I am fully confident I'm not the only one wasting corporate resources on idle web surfing and e-mailing (it's obvious by the time stamps on blog posts and comments that a good portion of the nation's workforce is with me in this boat), but I still feel more than a bit wrong about it. I do typically avoid writing blog entries at work (even if I still read my share of them), though obviously this post itself is evidence that I don't consistently stick to that rule. Actually, it seems only fitting to write a post about slackerdom while actually being a slacker myself, so I'll just chalk this particular incident up to journalistic authenticity.

In high school (and college, too), I was always a good girl, a model student, an overachiever. I got good grades; I didn't cut class; the teachers liked me... So when I think about being one of the many bloggers and blog-readers spending work time hanging out with their "Internet friends," I suddenly feel like one of the greasers sneaking out for a smoke behind the auditorium during study hall. It seems pretty pathetic to hit my "I'm a rebel" phase at 31, but I guess I always was a late bloomer.

* I'm fairly sure the suits and ties had something to do with his frequent meetings with Student Senate (of which he was president our senior year), but I like to think he wore them simply out of an old-fashioned respect for the institution of learning, like in movies set on campuses in the mid-1900s, where professors never wore jeans and always referred to students as "Mr. So-and-So" and "Miss Whatever-Her-Name."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Just your average holiday weekend, I suppose

It seems a little belated, but since not a whole lot else is going on, I'll tell you about my Christmas.*

All in all, my weekend at my parents' house was fairly uneventful, but considering we spent Christmas night 2004 in the emergency room with my father, uneventful is OK by me. Even the drive there and back was fine. The natural pauses in conversation that my sister typically feels the need to overcome through idle prattle and insignificant strings of questions was this time filled with selections from the David Sedaris CDs I wisely thought to pack. I tried to disguise my snobbery when I realized she had no idea who David Sedaris is (she's stated openly more than once that she doesn't read, after all), but I do have to snicker a bit when I recall her referring to one of the most notorious modern humorists as "your story guy."

I like to think that I helped my mother out over the weekend by continuing my Clean Sweep of the snack cupboard, but unfortunately I think I just annoyed both her and my father. Really, though, I ask you... Does anyone need eight bags of jerky and other meat snacks... particularly when five of those bags are four to eighteen months beyond their expiration date? You think I'm exaggerating, but seriously...

Maybe you thought I was kidding about the overstocked mystery snack cabinet, but I assure you, I was not. Check it.

That's right. Three panels. Plus overflow. That's more than three times the space in which all my non-perishables are stored (small kitchens and limited cupboard space being the norm in old houses such as mine), and theirs is just for snacks. They have other food elsewhere I'm not even going to talk about.

I didn't bother seeking out offenses in the refrigerator this time. The only purging I did beyond the meat snacks was to toss last year's tin of mixed nuts from one of my dad's business contacts, which was--as I expected--sitting right alongside this year's tin of nuts from the very same contact.

But enough about food and lapses in cultural literacy. The whole Baby Jesus thing aside, Christmas is really all about the presents, right? So let's take a look at some of mine...

I was a little bit paranoid about my Amazon wish list after I read Wendy McClure's NY Times article on wish list stalking (sorry; beyond the time frame of being free, I guess), but I left the list intact anyway, and even added to and prioritized it a bit. Yes, I've indicated a desire to own Dawson's Creek seasons one through three... what of it? It was a decent show in its early days; you can't tell me different so don't even try.

I didn't actually receive any Dawon's Creek DVDs, nor did I receive the Lucy Kaplansky or Ben Folds CDs I'd marked as "high priority," but I did pretty well regardless, I think. Here are a few highlights...
  • Coleman Sundome 9x7 dome tent - So that next summer at Fat Camp, if Jamie and I still have no dates but each other, I will not be expected to sleep in an obviously undersized structure meant for hobbits or small children. That's right, Jamie; I have a real tent now. Jealous, are you?

  • Mary Tyler Moore, seasons 1 and 2 - Yes, I've already established** that I'm the only person of my generation to truly appreciate this show. I'm more than fine with enjoying my MTM marathon all by myself some upcoming weekend.

  • Simply Calphalon 5-quart chili pot - Not so much for chili as for pasta and such, as my last large-sized pasta pot met an untimely end several months ago. The bonus with this gift is that it reminded me and my little sister of one of our favorite Simpsons episodes (the one with the chili cookoff and the space coyote, of course), and my sister subsequently leaned over to me and said, "Now you just need a spoon... that you can carve yourself, out of a bigger spoon." (Congratulations to the two of you out there who actually got that joke.)

  • One pack of Orbit wintermint gum - From my little sister, who used to buy me gum as a supposedly legitimate gift when she claimed to have insufficient income for proper gifts. Now I get a pack of gum each year in addition to some more significant gift, just for tradition sake.

  • A Tide-to-Go stain remover pen - I'm really not sure why this is so special, but my mother was very excited about it. My sisters and I each got one. I don't think we've often showed up at her home spattered in unsightly stains, but I suppose it's always good to be prepared.
I know I received other things as well that were equally if not more exciting, but that's all I care to enumerate at the moment. I hope Santa or the Hanukkah Armadillo or the Festivus pole-bearer was kind to you as well. Merry belated whatever to all.


* My family is very white and very Catholic, so for me, the word "Christmas" will suffice. If yours is more of a Christmakwanzakkah sort of family, I hope that went great as well.

** Yes, I realize this is most likely my most "clicky here, link there" post ever. I really didn't mean for this entry to be a clip show, but my thought process is just sort of working out that way.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Animal Dreams

Believe it or not, the absurd length of time that Animal Dreams has been sitting in my sidebar does not indicate that I decided I don't like it so much this time around. It just means I've been busying myself with things other than reading, I guess (though at the moment, I can't really pinpoint what those things supposedly keeping me so busy might be).

In any case, last night I finally made my way to what is my favorite passage in the book, the passage that probably contributed most toward my considering Animal Dreams my favorite book in the first place. It's from the chapter titled The Tissue of Hearts, and it's part of a conversation between Codi, a medical school dropout with a string of random careers and difficult relationships behind her, and her father, Doc Homer, whose growing senility makes him float seamlessly between the past and the present. Medicine is one of the few topics about which he remains fairly lucid, and he seems to think it is one of the few ways he can connect with his somewhat estranged daughter.
"Why do you suppose the poets talk about hearts?" he asked me suddenly. "When they discuss emotional damage? The tissue of hearts is as tough as a shoe. Did you ever sew up a heart?"

I shook my head. "No, but I've watched. I know what you mean." The walls of the heart are thick and strong, and the surgeons use heavy needles. It takes a good bit of strength, but it pulls together neatly. As much as anything it's like binding a book.

"The seat of human emotion should be the liver," Doc Homer said. "That would be an appropriate metaphor: we don't hold love in our hearts, we hold it in our livers."

I understand exactly. Once in ER I saw a woman who'd been stabbed everywhere, most severely in the liver. It's an organ with the consistency of layer upon layer of wet Kleenex. Every attempt at repair just opens new holes that tear and bleed. You try to close the wound with fresh wounds, and you try and you try and you don't give up until there's nothing left.

No, stab wounds and anatomy are not what I typically look for in a novel, but that metaphor alone should guarantee Barbara Kingsolver a solid place in the literary canon.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


I'm off to Wisconsin for a few days, where I will undoubtedly consume three times my normal calorie intake while somehow managing to eat only one possibly real and proper meal all weekend (the rest of the calories, of course, being in the form of salted nuts, Chex mix, cookies and bars from my mother's co-workers, and hopefully not-yet-expired chips and snacks from my father's mystery snack cupboard). I've also planned large blocks of time for watching Dish Network, staring blankly into space, and answering various forms of the same question no less than three times each.

Whatever holiday(s) you celebrate, I hope they are happy. Catch you next week.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A loosely tied string of not-too-Christmasy thoughts

I will probably delete this particular post at some point in the future, as I fear several portions of it may be incriminating in various ways, but for now, I've got nothing else, so here goes.

I'm feeling in a funk this week that I can attribute to a few possible sources (or a combination thereof). I don't want to be the stereotypical spinster singleton who gets all depressed because it's Christmastime and she's alone with her cat (I don't even have a cat, and I actually think Christmas is one of the better times of the year to be alone... no squabbling with each other's families about where to go when; I just do my own thing and have only my own family to contend with...). Regardless, between the damn office holiday party that I complained about for weeks and the ruthless diamond shilling commercials on the radio (reminding me that no one's feeling suckered into buying me something very special in a burgundy box), I'm really not in a particularly warm and festive mood.

An office holiday party is a pretty simple event that really shouldn't shift my emotional state in any way, but to explain why it did would mean explaining things I really don't want to go into here, like my lingering feelings about a relationship that I fear I'll never fully get over and my ambivalence about staying at the same company since college, when nearly everyone else I know has moved on to something new at least three or four times in that same span of years.

On Saturday night, however, I tried to put all of that aside and just focus on getting through a few uneventful hours of small talk with my co-workers. This was made more difficult, unfortunately, by the fact that I unintentionally seated myself at what was apparently the Young Republicans table.

I don't talk politics with my co-workers very often. There's the occasional banter between my boss and me prior to any major election, and my desk neighbor (Churchy McBushfan) and I have been known to find ourselves in a friendly debate from time to time, but other than that, I don't pipe up too much at work. So I was caught a little off guard when a co-worker with whom I have never discussed politics asked if he could sit across from me, and then proceeded to direct his wife to sit on his opposite side, so as not to engage in conversation with me. Apparently I might, in his words, "Try to fill her head with [my] liberal ideas."

I repeat: I have never discussed politics with this person. I have never forwarded him an email message from NARAL or the Sierra Club. I have never passed along a "W. is a moron" link of any sort. But I do have one of these on my rear car window, so it's not like I have no idea where he got his opinion of me.

Politics is not a particularly popular or suitable conversation topic for a company holiday party, so really all of this should have been a non-issue. Movies should be a safe topic, right? Er, yeah...

First someone brought up Narnia. Conversation immediately turned to the books and to the religious story behind the story. I had nothing to add, having not seen the movie and not read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe since grade school, so I held my tongue. Then I decided to have a little fun. Just to rile him up a bit, I asked Churchy McBushfan if he's planning to see Brokeback Mountain. I thought surely he would know about "the gay cowboy movie" everyone's talking about, but surprisingly, he wasn't familiar with it. The wife who was not allowed to sit by me explained: "It's about these two guys who get married and have normal lives, except once a year, they go off into the mountains together on these secret fishing trips..."

The air quotes around "fishing trips" made no secret of her opinion. It's a reaction I was expecting, and therefore my own fault for bringing it up, so I'm really not complaining about this. What did surprise me, however, was what came next.

Also at our table was the cute, young, hip co-worker who's mildly ditzy but nothing but sweet. I know this particular young woman is fairly religious, but given her age, I somehow assumed she might be a bit more open minded about certain things that I know Mr. McBushfan is not. Clearly I was mistaken.

Upon hearing the description of Brokeback Mountain, this young woman said, "Ugh. I walked out of Rent, so I know I couldn't sit through that one."

Now, I had mixed feelings about Rent myself. I loved the musical, so I wanted to love the movie, but, like many other people* who've written about their reactions to it, I sort of feel I've outgrown Rent's impact. I loved that they used almost all of the original cast members, since those are the people who worked directly with Jonathan Larson and who made that show what it was. But those actors are all my age or older now. They've outgrown the story as well (or, I hope they have). At 23, being a broke, brooding artist in New York without a proper job or home makes you romantic and charming and adventurous. At 32, it makes you a loser. I don't want to think of Roger or Mark as losers. I want to remember them as interesting guys who were braver than I, not afraid to forgo the traditional "college to job to contributing member of society" plan in favor of chasing their dreams. But now? Now I have to agree that "You know you're old when you suddenly realize that Benny has some valid points."**

I also had mixed feeling about the musical to movie transition. As a general rule (films like The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz being exceptions, of course), I'm not a big fan of the musical on screen. Somehow, in live performances, I can handle the absurdity of characters going from straight dialogue to suddenly breaking into song. On film, for some reason, I have a significantly harder time with suspension of disbelief. It's the reason I can't get behind West Side Story, no matter how legendary that film's supposed to be. In Rent, this problem was even more pronounced, because they kept a lot of the original dialogue, which, on stage, was sung. Not set to music, however, poor Taye Diggs was speaking in rhyme, which was just awkward and absurd.

But I digress. None of these were the reason my young co-worker walked out of Rent. The reason she walked out? In her words, she "just can't stand to see two guys kissing or making out."

People who know me know that I'm not often rendered speechless, but at that comment, I really had no idea what to say. It wasn't even that I was holding my tongue, trying to keep from chastising her intolerance or starting a debate in the middle of what was supposed to be an innocent and uncontroversial social event. No, at that point, I was honestly just trying to think of what in the movie Rent would be so objectionable as to make a young, modern woman living in a major metropolitan area walk out. Yes, of course there are gay characters in the movie, but the physical contact between them is actually pretty minimal. I can think of only one scene where Collins and Angel kiss, and at that point, Angel is in drag and could almost pass for a woman anyway. But regardless, I still can't get past that comment. She walked out because she can't stand to see two guys kissing. Is it really still OK, in 2005, to feel that and to say it out loud?

Obviously it is, in far too many circles. And I'm probably being too hard on her, as I'm certainly not advocating a mandatory censorship of all thoughts and comments that don't match politically correct or popular points of view. Everyone is entitled to her own opinion, however misguided I think it may be, right? So I don't really know why this bothers me so much. But what I keep thinking, ever since Saturday night, is that I hope in my lifetime that particular comment will become unquestionably unacceptable. I hope that one day it will be just as universally inappropriate as saying "I just can't stand to see those black people walking around free" or "I just can't handle women thinking they have some right to vote."

I guess I live most of my life surrounded by the safe cushion of my liberal, open-minded friends, and I forget that we're not quite there yet.

Happy holidays.


* I didn't want to link right to this in the paragraph above, as this post is scattered enough as it is and I didn't want to disrupt the flow even further, but here are two posts that do a good job, I think, of explaining some of the reasons those of us who loved Rent nine years ago have a bit of a problem loving the movie version now.

**This comes from Red's post, here. (Plagiarism is surely not my intent.)


Monday, December 19, 2005

The plinth of a raccoon dog

I've written before about my little sister's eBay addiction. Each time she sends me a link to some bizarre item, she swears she found it by innocently looking for some entirely unrelated item, but I'm not convinced. I'm fairly certain she's simply amusing herself by making a game of finding the most absurd things available online. It's some odd and twisted scavenger hunt she's on, I'm sure. There's probably a whole group of people like her in some chat room or Yahoo! group somewhere, all battling each other to be the first to find that jump rope made of human hair or the rag doll that the seller swears fills the ice trays for him while he sleeps at night.

Today I hope my sister won the hunt. Because today, she sent me a fabulous item: a "Japanese raccoon dog garden/yard step" titled "The plinth of a raccoon dog." Here. I'll add a picture so you can enjoy it even months from now, when the eBay listing is dead.

I don't know what a raccoon dog is, but I have to agree with my sister that this little guy "looks more like an owl with nipples than either a raccoon or a dog." The poor little dude has a Buddha torso. Maybe you're meant to rub him for luck. And he's either in beauty pageant training or is graduating; I don't know how else to explain the book or mortar board atop his head. I suppose it is the "step" part of the raccoon dog "garden/yard step," but as the figure is, by my estimations, no bigger than a Smurf (not to mention made of porcelain), I can't imagine his head is a particularly sturdy place to step.

If you haven't yet clicked through to check out the listing, be sure to do so, while it's still there. Go ahead... I'll wait...

Note that there are 30 available, so there's no need for us all to fight over him. Unfortunately, as he ships from Japan, it might be a bit pricey to arrange delivery by Christmas.

I think what won me over, however, was the description. After all, "It is how to the accent of your yard"! And "A mailing cost will become cheap if it collects"! You can't argue with that, now can you?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

One of the many reasons I hate clothes shopping

[Note to the men out there in my regular reading audience (all four of you): You can probably skip this one. Go find something about football to read instead. This particular rant may be completely foreign to you.]

Why is it that, when clothes shopping, the simpler the item I'm looking for, the less likely I am to find it? How hard should it be to find a basic black A-line skirt? (Preferably one that hits just above the knee and has a low waist with a wide band, but hey--I'm willing to compromise on a few of the details just to find something close.) Pretty hard, apparently, in a year when it's all about the stupid gauchos. Seriously, who is buying those damn half-pants? They're everywhere, which makes me think somebody must be excited about them, but I'm really not seeing anybody wearing them. Maybe that's partly because they're an impractical choice for winter-wear in the Midwest, but I haven't been seeing a lot of Hollywood starlets filmed or photographed in them, either. Even celebrities apparently know better than to pick up this crazy trend. Now that's saying something.

This season has seen some strangely omnipresent trends, and I'll admit I've bought into some of them. I have the tiny jackets; I have the strappy camisoles to go under the jackets; yes, I even bought a half a sweater (a.k.a. a shrug) or two. I will not, however, buy something that is a normal pair of dress pants at the top and then decides to morph into some kicky little wide-legged capri thing below the knee. I won't do it.

Somebody must be doing it, though. Those damn half-pants are everywhere. Even Briggs, the women's clothing brand best known for highlighting the old lady side of business casual, has jumped on the gaucho bandwagon. Their version (spotted at Herberger's today) features an ever-stylish polyester blend and an elastic waistband, but yes, they do offer them. Personally, I think gaucho pants are bizarre enough on a young, hip woman with the figure of a stick insect; I cringe to envision them on a sexagenarian with thick ankles, white socks, and comfort sandals.

That was unfair and mean-spirited, I know. I'm just cranky because without a proper skirt, I have only two-thirds of the outfit I wanted to wear to my stupid company holiday party tonight, so I'll have to settle on something else in my closet instead. And I'm annoyed because each time I thought I found a black skirt on the rack of every store where I looked, I was faked out by the silly half-pants.

Next year, of course, A-line skirts will be everywhere. And clearance racks will, I hope, be jammed to capacity with stacks and stacks of deeply discounted gaucho pants. Or so I imagine.

Incidentally, I will admit that yes, I did own a pair of gaucho pants somewhere around 1984 (back when we referred to them as culottes). And I realize that my condemning the culottes on their latest go-around makes me sound old and unhip and out of touch with today's fashion. Women in their early 20s would probably scoff at my reticence about the gauchos in much the same way I did when women 10 years my senior refused to wear flare jeans (claiming they'd worn their share of bell-bottoms in the 70s and didn't want to go back). I don't care. Part of getting older, apparently, is the right to a feeling of righteous superiority over the young. I'll make a great cranky old lady some day; don't you think?

Friday, December 16, 2005


Perhaps you're familiar with the "Open Dictionary" available at Merriam-Webster's site, where amateur lexicographers can freely submit alternate uses for existing words and new definitions for made-up or modified words. It's sort of like the Sniglets books my sister and I had when we were kids, which featured entries like "Pajangle" (the tangled mess your pajamas get into as you toss and turn in your sleep) and "Comebacne" (a zit that continually returns in the same place).

My guess is this is just the latest of Merriam-Webster's attempts to make their site more fun and hip (the assumption being that dictionaries aren't inherently fun on their own... an assumption a word nerd like me has a hard time understanding). Apparently it's not enough to offer Word Games, Word of the Day, and Merriam-Webster for Kids... the folks at M-W decided they also need to provide something to rival the interactive nature of Wikipedia and the modern fun of Urban Dictionary. The user-compiled Open Dictionary is their response.

I've noticed this new feature really only because they've been highlighting recent entries in the sidebar on the M-W home page. Some of them are moderately amusing, some of them I'm not tech-geeky enough to get the relevance of, and some are just plain gross. (If you aren't yet familiar with the term "dingleberry," do yourself a favor and don't read the definition at Open Dictionary.)

Today I clicked on a word out of curiousity and found this definition:

spoup : A morally wrong flavor of Cup o' Noodles (e.g., Nacho Cheese). (ex.: I saw more varieties of spoup at the grocery store than I care to count.)
I've never personally pondered the available flavors of Cup o' Noodles. I kind of thought you needed to show a valid student ID to purchase Cup o' Noodles, Smack Ramen, and all other variants of freeze-dried noodle and broth products. I have, however, noticed a horrifying bastardization of Kellogg's Pop-Tarts recently, and I'd like to propose a new term for this strange scope-creep in breakfast foods as well:

Not-Tarts: A Pop-Tart variety more suitable as a dessert or unhealthy snack than as a food appropriate for the "most important meal of the day." Often, Not-Tarts feature imitation components meant to simulate already unnatural ingredients, thereby creating a junk food whose main goal is to taste like other junk food. (See also: Food scientist experiments gone wrong.)
If you haven't yet noticed the Not-Tarts yourself, take a look in the cereal aisle on your next trip to the grocery store. My local Cub currently stocks these varieties of Pop-Tarts and Not-Tarts:
  • Chocolate Fudge
  • Chocolate Chip
  • Hot Fudge Sundae
  • Cinnamon Roll
  • Cookies & Cream
  • Frosted S'mores
  • French Toast
  • Sponge-Bob Square Pants Wild Bubbleberry
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
  • Caramel Chocolate
  • Strawberry (frosted and unfrosted)
  • Cherry
  • Raspberry
Does anyone else think it's strange to offer this many ways to incorporate chocolate into our breakfast when there's a childhood obesity epidemic going on? And I realize it's unlikely there's any trace of actual fruit in the fruit-flavored varieties, but weren't there at one point more than three fruit Pop-Tarts available? Ah--Kellogg's is on it. Strawberry Milkshake is on its way. Well that's a relief. I'm sure Mr. Kellogg would be proud.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Ow. Someone remind me again why I bought a house instead of a condo? Yeah, yeah, faster appreciation, supposedly greater equity potential, no association fees, no smelling somebody else's nasty dinner in my own home, nobody next door banging on the wall when a game of Pit gets a bit rowdy and out of hand*, blah blah whatever. People who live in condos don't have to do the shoveling themselves when it snows six inches. People in condos get to look out the window from their warm home and watch as some burly man with a handy snow-blowing machine takes care of all that snow for them. I imagine that for those few brief moments, it's not unlike being a princess or a Hilton, sitting perched on a satin pillow all fancy-like as some lowly servant does all the hard work for you while you simply ponder what pretty little outfit to try on next.

I'm exaggerating, of course. The shoveling wasn't really all that bad tonight, though I do feel my right shoulder and lower back will be aching quite seriously tomorrow. And really, I suppose comparing condo living to a luxurious life of entitlement is stretching it more than a bit. I wouldn't have to be a princess or pay condo association fees to have someone else do the hard work for me. I'd just need to revert back to childhood.

Snow was a lot more fun when I was a child. No shoveling to do, because my dad did that. No driving in the snow, because the bus driver or my mom did that. Sometimes, of course, we even got to stay home from school because of the snow. Now, not only do I not get a snowday, but I have to drive in the crap to get to work, spend 20 minutes getting the snow off my car before I can leave, and then get to shovel it all from my driveway and sidewalk when I finally do return home for the night. How am I supposed to enjoy the pretty snow when there's all of that to contend with?

Plus, as a kid I at least had the proper footwear. I realized this morning that I really should invest in a suitable pair of boots for days such as this. Somewhere around 7th grade, it was no longer cool to wear enormous yet practical snow boots with your pants tucked inside. Dealing with wet feet and pant legs for the first two hours of the school day was far preferable to wearing the moon boots. It's been years, of course, since I actually cared about any fashion faux pas or peer pressure related to my snowgear choices, yet I still haven't owned a proper pair of snowboots in at least 17 years. I do hate the wet feet and pant legs, however, so when I looked out the window this morning and realized that my useless little ankle-high boots weren't going to cut it, I did something I felt only a little bit stupid about: I took two plastic Target bags from the recycling stash in my stairwell and I put one on each foot. I then pulled a rubber band up around each foot and secured the bags around my shins, because, apparently, if a neighbor should see me leaving my house with Target bags on my feet, I should at least be walking upright, rather than hunching downward to hold the bags up by their handles. Clearly I had my priorities in order there.

Yeah, so... snowboots. That's going on the list. Straightaway.

* Yes, this really happened once--in my old apartment. Clearly we're a dangerous bunch, my friends and I. Some people trash hotel rooms; some people play card games too loud.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Sign #47 that I've been at the same job for too long:

The holiday season feels a lot like Groundhog Day. The movie, I mean--not the day itself.

I've been watching the past several days as the same treats and freebies arrive from the same vendors who sent them as thank you and suckup gifts last year... and the year before that... and the year before that. The gifts essentially say, "Here's a tin of mixed nuts. Might we suggest you send a little business our way?" or "Hey, how 'bout you bring this stylish and practical travel mug bearing our logo to your next client meeting?" My job doesn't put me in direct contact with clients or vendors very often, so I can generally enjoy the free food without feeling bribed or manipulated. (Maybe this isn't such a good thing, however, as perhaps a little ethics-inspired guilt would keep me from eating so many of the treats, instead of relying on my near-nonexistent will power to keep me in check.)

The second inevitable sign of the Christmas routine is the office potluck lunch signup sheet that has once again been taped to the fridge, with the same people signing up for the same items they always bring. The boss is always first to sign up with the same main dish contribution as every year (sloppy joes from a local deli). By next week, when everyone has had ample time to mull it over (which, for many people, means consulting their wife to see what she's willing to bake or assemble in a crockpot for them), the list will fill up, and our Russian co-worker (who sounds just like Latka when he says "Thank you very much") will make me smile yet again by writing "Shrimps" under the Appetizers category.

This weekend I will attend the exact same company holiday party I've attended the past many years--always the exact same three-part event, the only variety being a rotation between one of four different downtown restaurants.

Yes, yes, it's all very nice and I realize that for many people, Christmas is all about tradition. I'm no stranger to the comfort of predictability; I'll be the first to admit that I'm not always entirely open to change. But right now, the tedium and repetition of it all is making it easy to understand why so many people get depressed around Christmas time. Maybe it has nothing to do with loneliness and stress. Maybe everyone just needs something different to look forward to at their company Christmas party.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I think CNN needs a geography lesson

I'll be the first to admit I'm no geography whiz. I'd have a hard time identifying the exact location of several of our 50 states on a map, but I'm confident I'd at least be able to point to the right general area. At the very least, I am 100% certain that Wisconsin is not considered a "Northeast" state.

My guess is the article guy told the photo guy "Snow! We need a picture of snow!" and the photo guy said, "Hmm. Stock photos of snow. Better check Wisconsin." It's a safe bet, usually, I guess.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Because nothing's more interesting than listening to someone else bitch about traffic, right? (Right??)

In Wisconsin, there is one day (or maybe it's one full weekend) a year when anyone can fish without a license. I assume this is to allow young children or poverty stricken individuals a chance to catch a sunfish for free without breaking the law. Maybe the DNR is hoping to hook everyone on the joy of fishing with the same sort of freebie logic popular among drug pushers (or so I've heard)--the "Hey, the first one's on me" sales tactic.

Whatever the rationale behind the license-free fishing day, I think Minnesota decided to offer the same one-day free pass to unlicensed drivers today. I do realize that anyone who drives in any kind of traffic every day regularly encounters their fair share of morons, assholes, and incompetents, but truly, today the ratio of normal, attentive driving to jackassery was entirely skewed beyond belief. And so in response, I offer a few tips... a public service tutorial, if you will... a refresher course on some rules and standards for respectable driving behavior that I think we'd all appreciate everyone abiding by. Ready? Here we go.

  1. The left lane of each half of a divided highway serves two main purposes: passing and driving at least four miles per hour above the speed limit. If you are doing neither and there is ample space for you in the right lane, move the hell over.

  2. Littering is littering, no matter how small the item you're tossing. Yes, ashtrays are gross and I imagine cleaning them out is a nuisance, but so is smoking itself (gross and a nuisance). The world is not your ashtray; quit tossing your butts out the window (particularly if they're going to bounce squarely onto the windshield of the car behind you when driver of said car is already in none-too-friendly a mood).

  3. The longer, skinnier one on the right is the gas pedal. The pressure and frequency with which you press it affects the number that the needle reaches on your speedometer. Those rectangular white signs with numbers on them on the side of the road indicate the speed limit. Do what you need to do to make those numbers correlate. Ideally, the number you shoot for on your speedometer should be at least a few notches higher than the number on those signs, but I realize not everyone sees things that way. There was an episode of "Growing Pains" once where Mike, Carol, and Ben's grandma, upon being chastised for her slow driving, responded, "Fifty-five is the limit--the limit! It doesn't mean you have to go that fast!" Don't listen to Grandma Seaver. The speed limit is just a suggestion--a guideline, really.*

  4. When your half of an intersection has a stop sign or a red light and the cross traffic does not, you do not have the right of way. It is not OK to just pull on out into the lane of oncoming traffic and assume that traffic will slam on their brakes to wait for you. I repeat: not OK. Frankly I can't even believe I have to mention this.

  5. On the flip side, when you arrive at a stop sign and it's unquestionably clear that there's no car in sight from the intersecting directions, a brief stop is really all that's necessary before continuing onward. Delaying any longer makes me wonder if you're seeing imaginary pedestrians or if perhaps you're just a hopelessly slow reader. ("S-T-O-P... Oh. It says 'Stop.'" Yes; yes it does. Now GO.)

  6. As long as we're talking about stop signs, let's review the rules of conduct for four-way stops, shall we? First, as you approach the intersection, pay attention. Look around. See who's approaching at the same time as you and who was already there before you arrived. If you have that information, the procedure for who goes when is really pretty simple: (a) Anyone who reached a full stop in front of their stop sign before you stopped at yours goes first. (b) If you reached a full stop at the same time as anyone else, look to your right. That person gets to go before you. If someone to the right of that person stopped simultaneously as well, that person goes first. It's that simple, really. You don't get to skip ahead and not wait your turn just because you're quicker with the gas pedal or you had a bad day or your great aunt's hairdresser's third cousin is the Queen of England. Wait your turn. Likewise, if it is your turn and you have the right of way, take it. I know it's Minnesota and we're all supposedly nicey-nice and "Oh, no, you first; really." Stick with the program. It's so much easier.

  7. Back to stop lights for a minute. When the light is red at an intersection with no left turn lane, you cannot assume that everyone in front of you is turning left and pretend the right shoulder is an actual traffic lane that you can use to skip ahead of everyone. I know there's some confusion as to whether and when it's acceptable to go around a car rather than waiting for him or her to turn. In no circumstance, however, is it OK to go around seven cars who may all be proceeding straight.

  8. You really do need to check your blind spot before changing lanes. I know, I know--we all slip on this one sometimes. But it's important. Really. Check it!

  9. Turn signals aren't for sissies. They're helpful cues. Use them, would you?

  10. If you don't know where you're going or think you may have missed your turn, do the rest of us a favor and pull over while you figure it out. Oh, and by "pull over," I mean properly pull over--out of the lane of traffic and completely onto the shoulder or parking lane. Oh, and use your signal when you do it; don't just hit the brakes and sort of drift on over. Got it?
I think that's all for today, class. Maybe tomorrow we'll talk about merging. In the meantime, take a tip from the sergeant and let's be careful out there.

* Update: The more I think about this, the more I think it was actually an episode of "Roseanne" where this transpired, not an episode of "Growing Pains," as I originally remembered. Regardless, whether it was Grandma Seaver or Grandma Conner, don't listen to her!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The one in which I give a specific supermodel entirely more thought than I ever deemed reasonable

On the trip back to Minnesota after Thanksgiving, my sister was reading some gossip magazine beside me while I drove, and at one point, she announced that Tyra Banks weighs 150 pounds. Now, I'm not a 22-year-old male with crazy delusions of scale, thinking any woman over 115 pounds is a fatty. I know that for a tall woman, 150 pounds is not fat. I'm a tall woman myself (an inch taller than Tyra, actually, according to her profile on IMDB), and I know that if I weighed 115 pounds, I would look not unlike a bobble-headed Bratz doll (or, you know, more frightening than an over-the-hill Olsen twin). But 150 pounds? Tyra Banks, supermodel? I just don't see it. Here's why. I don't weigh 150 pounds. And yes, yes, muscle weighs more than fat, and it's highly likely that Ms. Banks's fat to muscle ratio is quite different from mine, but still. I really have to question any source that says Tyra Banks weighs more than I do.

I considered doing a bit further research on the matter, but my attention span is short and my commitment to the truth is, apparently, lacking, and by the time I got home, I nearly forgot about the whole thing. Forgot about it, that is, until this evening, when I flipped through my 12 television channels (life without cable: yes, it is still possible!) and landed on the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

What an interesting event the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is. I can't say I've ever caught it before. I'm not sure if the enormous alphabet blocks and stuffed bear flanking the runway were supposed to somehow complement the million-dollar diamond-studded bras and g-strings or if they were an attempt to make an otherwise purely sexy show more family friendly in some absurd way. I'm also not sure what Ricky Martin was doing on the stage... Is he still around? Really? And what happened to his hips? Didn't they used to wiggle like a vibrating Magic Fingers bed? Did someone forget to put the quarter in him tonight? Because he wasn't shaking it like he used to and frankly, Ricky Martin without the ass and the hips is just bad hair and mediocre (at best) singing, so I really don't understand the point.

You know another thing of which I don't understand the point? Shaggy fur boots. Seriously, can we be done with these already? No one needs to be a Yeti from the knee down, particularly when the rest of the body is wearing nothing but underwear and angel wings. (OK, so that last part refers only to the Victoria's Secret runway models--I hope--but it's good advice for the rest of the nation as well.) You know, what really scares me about these ridiculous boots is that trends tend to trickle in slowly in the Midwest and then stick around long after they've been abandoned by the coasts. Knowing that, I have a feeling I've seen only the beginning of the Sasquatch boots around these parts (which, really, I have to say, is more than enough), and they'll truly take over full force long about January 2008. (Something to look forward to. Joy.)

But I digress. Back to Tyra. As you may have heard (unless you've been living in a cave or, I don't know, actually working while at work instead of trolling various Internet sites), Tyra Banks plans to retire from supermodeling, and tonight's Victoria's Secret show was to be her last runway stroll. Given that fact, the show paid particular attention to Tyra, and I suddenly remembered my question of her weight and paid particular attention to her myself. This time, however, I had a computer nearby, and since the Internet knows everything, I thought I'd see what it has to say on the matter. The answer was a lot, but not much that was very helpful. Various sources put her anywhere between 108 (sorry, I don't think so) and 146 pounds. Suddenly I truly pity the teachers who have to grade children's papers in the age of Internet-as-source-material.

What I did find, from a presumably usually semi-reliable source, were the measurements that Tyra herself supposedly revealed on her talk show earlier this year. I'm not going to bother listing them; you can look them up yourself if you're so inclined. Suffice it to say that Tyra apparently lives in some Bizarro World where up is down and celery tastes like fried chicken and cameras magically shrink normal sized women, rather than revealing the extra ten pounds we've always been told that they add.

Because I'm lame and apparently have nothing better to do with my time (and because I have a cute new tape measure that I recently purchased at Jo-Ann Fabric & Crafts), I decided to do a little comparison study. If I am to believe Ms. Tyra's alleged word (and my presumably accurate discount tape measure), my chest is actually one inch larger than hers, which is, of course, just plain crazy talk. I mean, have you seen that woman's knockers? Of course you have. My waist is two inches larger, which is significantly easier to believe. And my hips? Well, I've never really figured out just where you're supposed to measure your "hips," which is just one of several very good reasons I'm not a seamstress. Regardless of the point at which I choose to measure, I can't get my hips to be as wide around as Tyra's allegedly are. All of this means one of two things: 1) Tyra is a liar, or 2) I have no idea how to use a tape measure. Either way, there's no way that woman weighs more than I do, but I suppose it's fun to think there's a possibility that she does.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Snacks, lies, and videotape

I really wouldn't consider myself any kind of snack snob. I've made jokes that the people in my office will eat anything if you put it in the kitchen and announce it as a free treat, but really I'm no better than the rest of those scavengers. I know I have seen things in the kitchen at work that, if left in my own home, would go untouched indefinitely and yet, at work, due either to boredom or to actual hunger with few alternate options, I'll eat without question or second thought.

Still, I firmly feel that if you're going to send out an e-mail announcing that you've left snacks in the kitchen to which everyone should help themselves, those snacks should not include the packets of Saltines that probably came with your chili at Wendy's. There's a distinct difference between bringing in a legitimate snack to share and trying to pawn off the items you discovered while cleaning out your desk. It's strange to me that these two scenarios should actually ever be confused and yet today, somehow, it seems they were.

Thinking about snacks made me think about my visit to my parents' house for Thanksgiving last weekend. In recent years, my sister and I have made a little travel game out of guessing what food item my father will offer us first upon our return to their house. Our usual (and safest) guesses are pizza or Kentucky Fried Chicken, because the man pretty much always has pizza and Kentucky Friend Chicken in at least one of the four refrigerators in their house. (I could write an entire entry on why they have four refrigerators and what's stored in each one, but right now, I'm talking just about snacks.) I'm not sure if my father always has pizza and KFC on hand or if he buys it deliberately before our visits because he thinks it's some special treat we've been deprived of while away and we'll be excited by the chance to eat day-old (or older) reheated fast food. I know that he means well, so I try not to question.

It's odd to me, though, that he even feels the need to specifically offer or point out anything to eat in their house. Even if I don't live there anymore, I don't think I'll ever feel uncomfortable or out of place digging through the cupboards and refrigerator in the house I grew up in and helping myself to anything I find. I really don't need a host or guide to direct me where to find the leftovers. I know, though, that my father probably feels he has little to talk about with me, and I know that him offering me a run-down of what he's got on hand is his way of reaching out and breaking the ice and welcoming me back home. So I humor him and I eat a biscuit and everyone's content.

I've recently realized, however, that my father's menu recitation actually serves another, unintentional purpose beyond the general welcome, and that's to help me determine what's safest to eat. The things that he specifically offers are the things freshest in his mind, which means they're probably the things freshest in the house as well. Knowing how neither of my parents seems able to throw away any of the food that they for some reason buy and then ignore, this is invaluable information.

I don't know why it's so difficult for my parents to keep their food inventory under control. The fact that they buy food they apparently have no intention of eating is confusing enough to my usually frugal self. That they can let that food sit in their fridge or cupboard for weeks, months, yes even YEARS beyond its expiration date without noticing is even more inexplicably baffling. Last weekend I foolishly ate from a bag of honey mustard pretzels I found in their cupboard without checking the date first. I assumed that since the bag was unopened when I found it, the contents would be fresh and crunchy. When I realized they were stale with a slightly "off" flavor, I checked the date stamped on the bag only to see they were "Best before September 2003."

Both of my parents are pack rats (a trait I'm not too happy to have inherited to some degree myself), so maybe the hoarding of bad food is just an extension of that. When I try to purge them of their bad habits by cleaning out their cupboards and fridge, though, I get the same type of resistance I've seen from the homeowners on those "Clean Sweep" shows on TLC. My mother is only slightly more rational than my father in this situation: she actually encouraged me to continue my cleanup as long as I didn't throw the flotsam and jetsam in their household garbage bins. Instead, she suggested I load it all in a bag to take with me from their home (presumably so my father wouldn't get mad that anyone had thrown away what he might deem perfectly good food). I called her an enabler and ended the cleanup. Clearly my father is of the same school of thought as my ex-boyfriend, who insisted that expiration dates were merely suggestions printed by companies to avoid law suits. That may be true for certain foods and up to a certain date, but even Twinkies have a limit on their window of edibility.

I think my father's strange hoarding of snack foods is actually a compulsive behavior that he somehow can't control. Some sort of addiction therapy may be necessary to break him of the snack-buying habit. In lieu of any other significant hobbies, he's taken to collecting off-brand chips and discount candies at Dollar General and Big Lots. It doesn't matter what he already has in the cupboard at home; if he sees Reese's Swoops two for a dollar, he just can't leave them on the shelf.

Snack shopping has, it seems, replaced another long-held addiction that none of us could understand. For years, my father compulsively bought videotapes. Any videotapes. Full-price, sale-price, discount bin--the budget and content was utterly unimportant, apparently. It got to a point where my mother would not leave him unattended at Shopko or Wal-Mart, because he would inevitably return to her with a handful of videos he decided he needed to own. My mother bought no fewer than three floor-to-ceiling bookcases to hold his video collection, and the tapes still need to be stacked two deep with additional overflow balancing atop each row. Some are movies he saw once and liked. Others are movies he never saw and probably never needs to. Still others are documentaries, "making of" specials, NASCAR programs, pro-Republican conspiracy theory propaganda, and travel and tourism films. The video library in my parents' house would likely be a treasure trove for the Mystery Science Theater staff if that show were still in production today.

In the past few years, my father's video obsession seems to have finally subsided. Perhaps he's capable of only one addiction at a time, and the snack pack ratting has simply taken over. I'm not sure which is better or worse. On one hand, snacks are generally cheaper than videos, so he's not spending as much of my inheritance anymore. On the other hand, videos are undoubtedly less detrimental to a diabetic 60-something-year-old man's health than fatty snacks (particularly expired ones) are. So I suppose it is a toss-up.

I realize I have my own share of unusual quirks and obsessions, so I really shouldn't poke fun. For now, however, I'm just glad that lip balm is, I think, the most severe of my addictions, and I'm holding out hope that the pack rack gene is mostly recessive in my case.