Thursday, July 30, 2009

It's the Little Things

You know how it is when you're having a not-so-great day/week/whatever and you kind of feel like the world is simply icky?

Or maybe it's just a point when you walk out to your car every day thinking "that car needs to be washed" but you don't have the extra cash to waste on such a frivolity (and you don't have the energy to do it yourself)?

It's times like that when the little things in life can make all the difference.

As Christopher and I were walking out of the restaurant after lunch last Sunday, one of our friends pointed at my car and said "Oh... Look!" I wasn't thrilled that she was pointing out the fingerprints in the dust. Until I looked where she was pointing.

There, in the dust above the back bumper was a perfect little heart. I was a little slow on the uptake, but she was quick enough to ask Christopher "Did you do that?" to which, of course, he slightly bashfully answered yes. Anything else could have been going on in the world, but at that moment nothing else mattered except Christopher and that heart on my car.

Today, because it has been threatening to rain, I drove home as quickly as possible -- cursing every cloud that looked like it might wash off the back of my car. But, since we really do need the rain, I figured maybe I should hope for rain and take a picture, instead.

I'm still hoping it doesn't wash off, though, because it makes me very happy each time I go out to my car.

(Thanks, hon. I needed that.)

Monday, July 27, 2009


Today's post is made up of two different and disparate portions. I'm telling you that now, so that you don't get halfway through and wonder what the heck is going on.

Part one: Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince (the movie). I've read each of the books (up to #6, at least), and Christopher has not. So each time we go to one of the movies we start de-briefing conversations with me asking him if it all made sense. Happily, unlike after HP#5, this time when we left Christopher didn't feel like the movie had left him out in the cold. But he did comment that it felt like a movie entirely aimed at getting us to the next movie.

For me, the movie spent too much time on niceties, and skimped on too many serious background plot points from the book. Of course, Christopher hasn't read the books and so he wasn't bothered by those. Yes, it was fun to see Harry, Ron and Hermione (and everyone else) looking older and dealing with late-teen issues (like dating). Yes, it was emotional in many of the same ways that the book was. But, I wanted to see more of what seemed really important when I was reading the book. And, well, I also felt like the movie was simply a placeholder before the next one. Overall rating: B+

Part Two: If you've been paying attention, you know that I broke a chunk off of one of my molars, yesterday. No major pain, thankfully, but a relatively constant ache and some spikes of pain when I drank anything too cold.

This morning, I called my dentist and was able to get in on one of their Emergency Slots around lunchtime. I contacted my work to let them know I wasn't coming in in the morning, and did a couple of hours' worth of work before heading over to St Paul to the dentist. (By the way, I highly recommend the folks at the St Paul Dental Center. My hometown dentist recommended them years ago, and I've come to really like them.)

My dentist was great. He reassured me that the break was about as "good" as it could have been--clean and even. Since Emergency Slots are only about 20 minutes long, he simply put a filling over the back of my tooth and explained that I probably shouldn't put off getting that tooth crowned any longer. So as I left I scheduled two more appointments: One for the "fitting" and a temporary "placeholder" crown; One for the official crown.

Here's hoping that both the final Harry Potter movie(s) and my new crown will be worth the work, the wait, and the money.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Getting a Little Nerve-y

(aka Not All It's Cracked Up To Be)

The last time I was at the dentist (about a month ago) I complained about having a strange overly sensitive feeling in one of my molars. I was informed I had a micro-fracture in the tooth. I was told that I needed to get a crown on the tooth, because the fracture could go one of two ways: 1) simply chip off part of the tooth and you're done; 2) crack off a large portion of the tooth, expose some nerve, and require a root canal-type surgery.

Normally, that would be a no-brainer for me: Fix it. Fix it now.

But upon closer examination of my insurance policy, I found out that they wouldn't pay for anything until after my one year anniversary on the plan. That's November. Since the pain was only sporadic and not all that bad, I figured I could wait. I wouldn't have to worry about anything major, unless it got worse.

Checking with my hometown dentist, I was reassured that, although having it worked on ASAP was good, if the pain wasn't a problem, I decided I could wait.

So I've been waiting. Ignoring the occasional little twinges. Watching the calendar and counting down until November. Until today.

I was eating leftovers from a really great lunch today, and bit down on--of all things--a chunk of chicken, when I felt a crack. I bit on something, which I thought was probably a hard piece of peanut. And then reality set in. A quick probe with my tongue found something sharp.

No problem, right? The little chip had fallen off, and I would be fine. Except... well... my tongue also caused a nerve twinge. Nerve twinge means that I lost more than a little chip. The sharp feeling? Most likely the edge of my now-exposed filling. Which means I'll be calling the dentist first thing in the morning and trying to get in on one of their "emergency" slots.

Ah, well. Best laid plans and all, right?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Surprising Evening

Last night, after about 8 days of tip-toe-ing planning and surreptitious preparations, I surprised Christopher with a "Half Birthday" party.

You see, we had already been planning to have a couple of friends over for an evening we were referring to as "Jason Statham Film Fest, part deux." But, since it's been a while since we had people over to hang out and talk and eat, I decided it might be fun to invite a few more people. Friday being almost exactly 6 months after Christopher's actual birthday, I sent out the "Surprise Half'Birthday Party" invitation last weekend (after clearing it with the "official" invitees), and then waited to see whose schedules were still clear with that little advance warning. (Personally, Christopher and I almost always have open calendars on Friday nights. We're usually of the "It's Friday, let's collapse. We'll do something on Saturday" mindset.)

As I waited to hear whether we would have 4 people or 20, I started to prep. I did my grocery shopping on Tuesday, hiding bottles of soda pop in the basement bedroom, and trying to cover up the massive amounts of extra food in the fridge. Of course, Christopher came home from work on Tuesday and, while digging around for something for dinner, he came across the two rounds of Brie. I explained that one was for Friday night and one was for next week when my folks are in town. (Well... sort of...)

Luckily, Christopher is currently taking a French language refresher course, so I knew he'd be out of the house on Wednesday night. I spent that afternoon/evening baking a (box) cake, which I had wrapped up and stored in the basement bedroom before he got home. To cover the smell of chocolate in the house I ordered pizza for dinner. (Hmmm... Now that I think about it, Freud might say that I baked the cake as an excuse to order the pizza...) But the cake still needed to be frosted.

Christopher's usual night for yoga class is Tuesday, but he had moved it to Thursday this week. Even so, I wasn't sure if he would have to work late and miss yoga. If he took the class, he'd be home at 7:45. If not, he could be home as early as 5:30. As soon as I got home from work, I set about making Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (from the Wilton website) and getting it onto the cake. With a little cream cheese frosting left over from last weekend's baking, I decorated the cake and tossed it back into the basement. Then I toasted up some bread rounds (to use for bruschetta on Friday), and rubbed them with garlic. By the time Christopher got home, there was definitely no chocolate aroma in the air.

So far, so good.

But I still had all of the appetizers to make, and we were both going to be home on Friday. I cleaned the house, loaded the CD player, and gathered a few supplies as he ran errands in the morning. In the afternoon, though, Christopher decided he wanted to do a couple of desserts for the evening. I couldn't tell him "no" without blowing my cover, so I slid off into the other room to await my turn in the kitchen. Around 3:30 I started putting together some Thai Vegetarian Spring Rolls (the basic recipe is here, but the first time I made them they were really bland, so I traded out the bean sprouts for chopped radishes, doubled the ginger, and added some chopped red chilis), and their accompanying sauce (if you use the very nice dipping sauce recipe on that site, please note that it should be 2 TEAspoons of cornstarch, not 2 TABLEspoons).

I also chopped up the tomatoes, onion, garlic and basil to be put on top of the garlic toast rounds for "do-it-yourself" bruschetta. And took out puff pastry to prep it for making our baked brie. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Christopher started asking me whether I was making way too much. Luckily, I'm known for making way more food than we need, so I was able to shrug it off.

The first guests (the "expected" ones) showed up at 6 o'clock, bearing gifts and really amazing cheeses (which we put out on a cutting board, once Christopher wrote out labels for each of them). We settled in to munch on some appetizers and turned on the first Jason Statham movie of the double bill: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.

Just a few minutes into the movie, the front doorbell rang. Christopher opened it to find another friend of ours, holding a small gift and a bag of ice. We chose not to explain what was going on, yet, as I pulled paper plates napkins, plastic cups and forks, and bottles of soda off of the basement stairs. Finally, a few minutes later, Christopher mentioned that maybe he should have made more dessert, at which point I said "Hold that thought" and disappeared into the basement, returning with the cake.

By the time The Transporter was in the DVD player, there were 9 people and a miniature Schnauzer named Fred hanging out in the living room eating spring rolls, cheeses, bruschetta, baked brie, half-birthday cake and Kouing Amman (which nicely served all 9 of us -- even though we've been known to eat one when there are only 2 of us).

As we trundled off to bed, Christopher commented that maybe it's a good thing that he's sometimes a little dense. And I breathed a huge sigh of relief that the subterfuge was done and I didn't have to deal with my stomach being in knots any longer.

Either way, to quote Lewis Carroll, via Walt Disney: If there are no objections, let it be unanimous! A very merry Unbirthday to us!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Closer? No. Not really.

Waiting to hear if anything is going to happen with my job is beginning to feel like a day of waiting for the cable guy to show up. You know how it is -- They say they'll be there between 8am and 5pm, and you can't do anything about it.

Worse, yet, you also can't do anything during that time period. God forbid you decide to run to the store or have a shower, because you know that's when they'll show up. So you spend the day kind of oddly tense and on edge. Frustrated, even though you did agree to the cable company's rules.

That's how it's been at work all week.

I mean, I got the "new offer" on Monday, and when I went in on Wednesday (yesterday) my boss was really busy. So I sent him a nice little email saying "Yes. I definitely want the job, but I have a few questions." I thought it was only right to get a few things on the table before we went much further.

You know... As-yet-unanswered questions, like: "Will I be hourly or salaried? Will I be eligible for insurance and vacation/sick time?" Fairly minor questions, in the grand scheme, but also rather important when starting any job. Oh, and I also asked this: "When does the new position start?"

I sent my email, and went back to work. I waited. I did some book orders. I waited. I did some proofing. I waited. I came home at the end of the day.

Today, I went in to work at my usual 10am (enjoying it as long as I can since the new schedule will be 9-5). I did some book orders. I dealt with some authors. I waited. I checked my email. I did some book orders. I waited.

At about 1pm, I got an instant message from the boss saying "I haven't forgotten about your email. I need to talk to A about it, first." ("A" is someone who is between him and me in the chain of command.)

Here's the thing... He's the boss. He basically does whatever he wants in the hiring/firing realm. But on this matter he apparently needs to check with someone down the ladder from him? I'm very confused.

So... I left the office today for the weekend, with no more solid answers than I had when I left work on Monday. For all I know, I'll go in next week and find out one of three things: 1) I should have come in at 9, because they thought I was starting the new gig; 2) the offer is off the table; or 3) that I've got more time to wait.

At least when you wait for the cable guy, if he's late you can bargain for free HBO.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Aww... Hail...?

It hailed today. Not nearly as much as it did last summer (when we had ice floes in the street and holes in all of our basement window covers), but still enough to be a little freaky.

I've never understood hail. I mean... I understand the physics of it and how/why it happens. I just don't understand why it exists in the grand cosmic scheme of things.

The weirdest thing of all for me is that, since hail almost always happens on really warm days, you end up with little ice balls in the yard when it's summer-y out. I can't get ice to stay in a soda while I drink it, but the hail sits in the corners of the yard for hours.

Rain makes sense. Drizzle makes a little sense. Fog is cool. Snow is, basically, winter rain. But hail. Hail is weird.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Closer... But Still Vague

Alright. I realize it's been a few days since I updated you on my work situation (and the whole Project Lead position possibility). Well, that's in large part because I hadn't been updated in quite a while, either.

Last week, on all three of my days in the office, my boss was in and out of meetings. When he wasn't in meetings, he was frequently in his office on the telephone with the door closed. I honestly don't think he was avoiding me, he was just oblivious.

Finally, as I was about to leave on Thursday, I shot him an Instant Message (because I knew he was at his desk even though his door was closed), and asked if he had time to meet with me. He didn't. He asked if I'd be around after 3. (No. I was done for the day, and my parking meter would be expiring.) He asked if we could meet on Friday. (I don't work Fridays.) He suggested we schedule a meeting for this morning. (We did.)

So, at 10:30 this morning, I found myself back in his office. Only this time I was much more relaxed. Much more willing to just let whatever he had to say kind of flow over me. And flow it did.

The flow started with "It seems a lot of the people who have been here longer really want to take on the website work I was talking to you about." (Okay. Gee. Wonder what that means...?)

Then it moved through "E is going to be taken off of her current position and taking point on the website, so some of what she current does is going to be up for grabs." It took a strange detour around "R is going to be moving entirely into sales, so I'll be hiring someone to come in as an Office Admin to take care of all of her old tasks -- as well as a bunch of the stuff that S will be leaving behind when she leaves the company." Oh, and before disappearing down the drain, the flow swirled to a stop with the facts that T, A, and M might all be shuffling what they do to some extent.

This all came at me within about the first 3 minutes in his office. It felt kinda like being hit by an ice floe, as opposed to just a nice water flow. Or maybe more like that massive blob of algae that's been floating in the North Atlantic but no one could figure out. I thought I was understanding what this meant ("Sorry. No job to offer. Go back to your desk.") but I wasn't entirely correct.

You see, next came a discussion all about how -- although each of these other people would be working on the writing-intensive projects we had been talking about 2 weeks ago -- he's thinking I might get to do some writing since they "will probably need some writing done for them." (No. Really? Let's see... We've got two completely blank websites being written by people who barely put sentences together in email. The target audience is people who know -- or at least should know -- good language. And he thinks the project leads might need some writing help? Who knew?)

But wait... There's more...

Since all of these people are going to be taking on other tasks, someone will need to be picking up the slack. The new Office Admin person will pick up some of it, but apparently -- if I'm interested -- I could also pick up some. Yep. I'm being offered the chance to pick up some of the tasks that no one else wants to do. Boy. How do you pass up a job offer like that?

Especially when you're also told that if the websites don't produce enough traffic to generate more business, everyone might go back to their old jobs. So, in 3 months or so I could be back to 15 hours per week of book orders.

Imagine how you would feel having all of that come at you in about 10 minutes. I think my brain was on overload for the next half hour of more.

Which brings me to the few bright spots I was able to pull out of all of this: (Please go with me on these as being bright spots. I can only support the Pollyanna attitude if I have help.)
1) I'll be moving to full-time hours. (Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.)
2) I'll be getting a bump in pay. (Small, yes, but still a bump.)
3) My parking will be subsidized AND in an off-street parking lot. (I think I'll be paying about what I currently pay for 2 weeks of short days for a full month of parking.)

Things I don't yet have answers to (but thanks for asking):
a) No idea if this means I'm going to be salaried or hourly.
b) No idea if this means I'm eligible for health insurance. (If you know anything about this, let me know!)
c) Not a frickin' clue what my new job description/components will be. (Granted, this is kinda the same as where I am now...)

So. Yeah. That's where it all stands. On Wednesday I give him my answer (as well as a list of any days I know of when I can't work -- probably a bunch of Fridays, just 'cuz).

After all of that, I think I need a Technicolor Pollyanna moment. (Which, happily, also makes this my Movie Monday posting. :-)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

One More "Time"

After finishing yesterday's post about my watches, I realized that I should probably come out with full disclosure.

You see, it's not just watches that I like. It's any kind of chronometric gadget. Especially analog (as opposed to digital) ones. We had chiming clocks when I was growing up, and I loved winding them. And my parents still have a cuckoo clock which they got in Germany probably about 50 years ago. (At least I think that's where/when it's from. I'm sure I'll hear about it if I'm wrong.)

I started picking up different clocks a few years ago. They are remarkably cheap pieces of artwork, and they come in all different styles, shapes, colors, you name it. I think a square metallic one from IKEA was the first one I really bought just for looks (it's the one that reads 5:06 in the second picture, below). But then I picked up an "antiqued"one. And, somehow, like with the watches, people started to give me clocks.

I was given one from the Museum of Modern Art which simply has a single red ball on it marking the passage of time (bottom left in the second picture, below). And I was given one with a chromatic wheel on it, where, as the seconds pass, the color wheel is altered.

Unfortunately, after a while, I decided I needed a way to answer the obvious question "Why all the clocks?" when people came over.

Okay. Yes. I do like to be on time. But my main fascination with the clocks (and watches) is, admittedly, aesthetic. I just like the way they look. But people look at you funny when you say something like that. So I came up with a way of explaining a large number of them.

You see, since I've moved a lot in my life, I decided to put up a cluster of clocks so that I could keep track of what time it was in different parts of the world. That way I knew what time it was when I tried to phone people. (After all I didn't want to wake anyone up, right?) And, since that "used up" 5 of my clocks, I figured that was a good start.

** Timezone Cluster Sidenote ** In case you're wondering, they are set to the times in: (starting on the left, top to bottom) Paris; London/Cardiff ; Hanson, Idaho; and LA/San Francisco. The one on the right is local to Minneapolis (and East River South Dakota). For some reason, it's really easy for me to remember the time in Baltimore and New York, so I don't have one set to that timezone. But if I get a new one, that's what it will probably be set to. ** End Timezone Cluster Sidenote **

How many clocks do I have? Well, not counting things like the ones on the TV, VCR and such appliances, I can easily count 10. And, no, none of those are Christopher's. They're all mine. There are the 5 in the "timezone cluster" (above) , 1 chiming clock on the shelf, 2 clocks in the bathroom (one is a radio), 1 in the pantry, and 1 in the bedroom.

In case you're wondering, I am very glad that we only change the clocks twice each year. It takes me a good half-hour to do, and I invariably forget one. (And I can never remember how to change the time on my car clocks, but that's a whole different story.)

Watches and Clocks. Nothing like functional accessories that also look good.

Oh, and that "helping me be on time" thing is nice, too.

Friday, July 17, 2009

It's About Time

Or, more precisely, it's about timepieces. These timepieces, to be exact:

I'm not sure when I started finding watches so interesting. (Which, come to think of it is kind of ironic.) I do know that there was a time in college when I wore 2 watches at a time (no pun intended), but I haven't done that for quite a while.

But, along the way, I started collecting watches. Not that I went out and bought them, but I just sort of started to have them show up in my life. And, no, I also did not shoplift them. One was handed down to me, a few were gifts, and I probably did buy a couple of them.

I'm not like the people who collect shoes and wear a different pair every day, though. In fact, there are long periods when I'll only wear one specific watch for weeks at a time without switching to another. Which is probably why -- as my collection gradually became smaller as one suffered a broken winding stem, one lost its crystal, the hand-wound got over-wound, the non-Fossil fossil watch simply stopped, and the Timex simply wouldn't run (but I don't want to send it back to Timex, because they'll probably just replace it, when I just simply want it fixed) -- I didn't immediately get them fixed.

But then Mickey's arms stopped moving. The Cat could no longer decide to Play, Eat or Nap. The London Underground wound down (that's really fun to say). The pocket watch went back into the pocket to stay.

Eventually, the Theory of Relativity stopped being relevant. The new Disneyland one stopped. And the Kodak-sponsored Olympian had its photo-finish. (In an a twist in the space-time continuum, the Relativity watch was actually last to go, even though it's not the farthest right in the picture.)

Suddenly, I was down to just one working watch. And, while I really like the tank-style and all, something needed to change.

I grew up working in my Dad's Drugstore, and I hate paying the folks in mall stores close to $10 per watch to change the batteries. So today I took the life of my thumb into my hands, grabbed a small pair of scissors and started popping the backs off my watches. (I am happy to report that I only drew one small dot of blood.) With my list of batter numbers in hand, I headed to Batteries Plus, where the guy behind the counter only did a couple of double-takes when I put 7 watch batteries on the counter.

Back at home, re-powering the watches went pretty smoothly. I may have dented the back casing of one of them which didn't watnt to close, but overall it wasn't bad. And as I flipped them over, I got to see them all running, again.

So now I have 8 working watches. Only 5 more to go. But I guess, for now, 8 will have to do.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


In case you've been following along and wondering about some of the things I talked about last week, here are some follow-up points:

1) I still have no news about the new position at work. All week my boss has either been in meetings or out of the office. At least today he stopped by my desk to verify that I would be in tomorrow and said "We should talk." I have no idea if that's good or bad. I'll let you know.

2) I have not, yet, gone to a movie this week (my movie-going night is usually Tuesday), but I have plans to go to see the latest Harry Potter flick on Friday. So that should give me something to talk about next Monday.

3) The friend of mine from Idaho (whom I saw last week in Stillwater at the Teddy Bear Park) emailed me this morning to say that they made it home. Her younger child was actually even okay with it all until about the South Dakota/Wyoming border, at which point he apparently started crying because he wanted to get home. I don't know how she does those long drives with the kids. Or how my parents did them with 4 kids in the station wagon.

4) Have I mentioned that I've been playing "Pub Trivia" at a local establishment (well... in downtown Minneapolis) on Monday nights? I missed this past Monday, but Christopher and a friend of ours still took first prize. Which is really cool, since most weeks there are 4 of us on a team and we struggle.

5) The weather is GORGEOUS this week. Okay. So a lot of people are probably upset that it's not warm enough, but I love this weather. Sunny. Breezy. Highs in the 70s. This is why I moved back to this part of the country (from Baltimore). The winters may be frigid, but the summers are definitely a good pay-off!

And, with that, I'm going to shut off my computer and enjoy the evening. HOPEfully I'll have a few, more substantial, updates tomorrow.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Shooting Stars

Alright. I promised the other day that I would talk about the new Transformers movie, as well as a new John Barrowman sighting. So here you go:

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. If you go to it expecting... well... another Transformers movie, you'll be fine. If you expect anything else, you'll be disappointed. Shia LeBoeuf does well as the hapless anti-hero. Megan Fox is fine as the scantily-clad (and way too hot for the hero) heroine. And the rest of the human cast are fine. Shia's family is great. And there's even a very very small shot of Matt Iseman (the "Go-to Guy" from Style Network's "Clean House"), if you pay attention to one of the scenes with Josh Duhamel in it. And, yes, there's two Autobots (the good guys) who are just as racist-ly drawn as all of the critics are saying. But, again, if you've seen any of the hype, you know all this, already.

It's loud. It's fast-paced. Lots of people and robots get shot. Lots of things blow up rather spectaculary as the non-shot people and robots travel all over the globe. And it's best to not try to figure out how you get from point A to point B, let alone getting to point C. But it's fun. Overall: A-, because they spent way too much time showing us the "conversion" of the machines from car to robot. Waaaaaayyyy too much time.

And now on to John Barrowman... In case you've forgotten who that is, I give you this:

Through the miracles of modern technology, I was able to catch Season 3 of Torchwood last weekend. I will say here and now that I do not plan to say anything about how I was able to watch it (although I gotta tell you that if it were up to me and technology I wouldn't be seeing it for another couple of years, at least). But here's the deal: for whatever reason, the folks at BBC1 had decided that this year they weren't going to run a full series of the immensely popular show but, instead, show a five-night miniseries all in one week. We did them one better: we watched it all in one night.

I had forgotten how many people died in the course of Series 1 and Series 2, and I found myself floundering a bit at the beginning as I got my bearings. But then I got caught up in it all and although I was kind of tired, there was no dragging me away before watching all 5 hours.

Don't worry. For any of you who might be Torchwood fans, I won't be giving you any spoilers. I will only say this: The story was captivating, compelling, and completely unexpected. Unfortunately, after the 5th hour had ended, I was left with the feeling of having eaten a wonderful meal out at a fancy restaurant with friends, which had been spoiled by everyone leaving and sticking me with the bill. It was that feeling of "I really enjoyed our time, but I'm not sure I ever want to see you again."

And it was made all the harder because John Barrowman is still dreamy. +sigh+ But, to paraphrase a friend of mine out in Baltimore: Some [stars] are like that -- You can't live with 'em, you can't shoot 'em.

(Oh. And I do want to see them again. Really. Just not right away...)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Seeing Signs

For those of you paying attention, you know that the past few days have driven me into a rather large period of existential angst. The whole "What am I worth?" question is never a fun one.

During such times, I find that I enjoy getting as many opinions as I can. I ask friends and family for their thoughts. And I occasionally check out my horoscope and cast about for any other signs I can find to point me on my way.

Christopher was off from work on Friday, and since that is one of my current days off as well, we decided to make the pilgrimage to see "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" with a friend of ours. Since we had experienced some technical difficulties while watching "Star Trek," we got to go to this one for free. We set off from home, and about half a mile along the drive, my dashboard came to life with the brightest dashboard light I had ever seen: the CHECK ENGINE light.

Since I haven't experienced that in the 10 years that I've had my car, I turned to Christopher and asked what I should do. He reached into the glove compartment and flipped through the pages. We had two options: "Steady CHECK ENGINE" and "Flashing CHECK ENGINE." Flashing CHECK ENGINE meant, basically, "stop what you're doing, don't use your accelerator, get thee to a repair shop." On the other hand -- the lucky hand -- Steady CHECK ENGINE simply meant "you may have something wrong in your fuel line and you probably ought to have it checked out."

So, we headed for our late afternoon matinee, and I breathed two sighs of relief. One that my car was parked. The other that the movie was free (and parking was only $2). As many of you know, I tend to talk about Movies on Movie Monday, so I'll get into that, tomorrow. For now, we'll jump to...

After we got home, I started looking online for the closest auto repair shop. I'd had really good luck with a Firestone when I lived in St. Paul, but after I moved southwest, they moved northeast. That put them out of my driving distance (especially when I was already questioning whether my car would make it). Luckily, there's a Firestone not far from us, so I checked with them. They're even close to food and a mall, just in case. And -- the most important thing -- they had an opening first thing on Saturday morning.

No surprise, I started Saturday dropping off my car. I hung out for long enough to have them present me with the "Recommended Service" lists. Sure. It started with 2 "must-dos" which were the things causing my CHECK ENGINE light to come on. But then it went on to some items which are periodic maintenance, and ended in a list of items that included such ridiculously small things as changing the wiper blades. The good news? I turned down about 80% of the list and saved myself about $900. The bad news? The other 20% was all about my fuel system and the anti-knock system, and comprised about 40% of the total originally recommended price.

Okay. That's a long story, all to circle back around to the idea of seeing signs. Horoscopes can be bad things. If you read them in the morning, they can be self-fulfilling prophecies. (You know... If it says "Today you'll have trouble focusing at work," you might end up spending your day at work thinking "I can't focus, but that's okay.") Consequently, I usually read them in the evenings. Here is the main line from my horoscope from yesterday: Today the troubles you have in getting from one place to the other are more likely to be self-caused. What do you think? Does dropping off my car to have it fixed qualify?

And, since I'm fine with giving credit where credit is due, I certainly know that the bill from Firestone was a huge sign for me regarding taking on the new project at work. What do you think?

** Oh. And on Monday I may also have my first John Barrowman story in quite a while! **

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Putting a Price on my Head

Ahhh... What a wonderful thing the current economy is. It has opened up all sorts of new possibilities for so many people, myself included. Today I got to experience yet another of those.

I've been offered (or at least "informational interviewed for") a new freelance gig. It would be about 15 to 20 hours per week for at least the next 6 to 8 weeks. I could do it without leaving my current part-time job. And it would still allow me evenings and weekends as my own time -- either to look for other work or to actually attempt a social life ("attempt" being an operative word on my current income).

The job would be kind of a cross between website copywriting and project management. It's a fairly exciting project, actually, with a lot of ins and outs and a lot of autonomy. The subject matter is totally up my alley. Heck. If all goes well, it could even extend beyond the end of the currently planned timeframe.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Well, here's the deal: I know plenty of people who work in the industry as copywriters, designers, project managers, and the like. And I know that the average per hour rates could -- at least before these fun economic times -- run anywhere from a bare minimum of $25/hour up into the $100s/hour. This job? Well... This job's pay rate makes that bare minimum looks like it's wearing an Armani suit. Granted, it's more than my currently hourly rate, but nowhere near what I know the job should be paying.

When I mentioned what would be considered "standard" rates to the person in charge, the response was: "Well. I guess I could just go to one of the colleges and get someone who can work for minimum wage." When I cautioned that that might not be the wisest choice, the answer was: "I guess I could just write it myself. I mean... that would be a lot cheaper."

I'm a member of a couple of different groups of freelance writers and creative types, and I know that everyone has been through this. We all hear the same thing: Clients who feel there's no reason to hire a professional writer, designer, editor, whatever, because "anyone can do it."

** Sorry. I need to continue this rant for just a moment longer. If you'd prefer, join us after the next set of asterisks. **
Why is it that someone with 6 years of college for Writing gets the "anyone can do that" response, when all through those 6 years other people wanted me to write their papers?
Why do people pay $150 to accountants with a certificate from a 6-week course (or less) to do their taxes, when all that is is basic math, but still won't pay a living wage for the person who has literally decades of education and experience in writing in the field?
I'm more than happy to pay an expert "Drain Guy" to come out to fix the drain because I know he can do it right, do it well, and do it quickly -- why don't people hire creative types in the same way?
** End -- at least for now -- of this rant **


Right now, unfortunately, even at about 1/3 the going rate for copywriters, it would be income. And income sounds really good.

** Spellcheck fun, Day 2 ** Spellcheck is still having issues with the word "professional." Today it also highlighted "possibilities." Oh. And since it really wants me to make "timeframe" two words, I hit the suggestions button and it gave me two options for "timeframe": "time frame" or "dimorphism." Dimorphism? What the heck is that? ** End spellcheck fun, Day 2 **

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

And Introducing...

I have realized that there is a very good chance that some of you would enjoy some of the other blogs which I read. They're always listed along the side of my posts, but that doesn't mean that you ever read them. And you really should read them. (Since the links are in the left margin, I'm not linking to them in this post.)

If you're interested in food, you've got a few nice options. You've got someone writing from her Manhattan kitchen in Smitten Kitchen, someone in the middle of an acreage in The Spiced Life, and someone right here in the Twin Cities in Culinary in the Desert.

There's also a professional chef currently in New York City who writes Ms. Glaze's Pommes d'Amour (if you go back a-ways, you can find her stories from her time in Paris, as well). And finally a blog which is a cross between food and humor in Cake Wrecks.

If you're interested in following author Neil Gaiman, well, you can check out his eponymous Neil Gaiman's Journal.

For someone who critiques the ridiculosity of jewelry design, you can check out Perhaps I Should Be Working.

The two which are currently my favorites, though, are NajMania and Tiz and Ass. NajMania comes to us from someone I went to college with, who now lives in Fargo, North Dakota, with her husband and their four boys. The stories are written from the heart, and often make me laugh from the belly.

Almost diametrically opposed to the family-friendly NajMania is the rather more risque Tiz and Ass. Both have heart and soul, but... wow... so different.

Tiz and Ass follows the musings of a friend of mine who is a working actress out of New York City. "Miz Tiz" (as she sometimes signs herself) writes her tales of heartbreak and belly laughs partially as therapy and partially as a wonderful way to keep the world in touch with her.

Please take the time to check out these various blogs. They're a lot of fun.

And, if you do, come back here afterward and let me know what you think. I'd love to hear from all of you!

** Odd sidenote ** I decided I'd try spellchecking this post. I knew many of the blog titles would get highlighted. But it also highlighted "professional" and "diametrically" -- each of which is spelled correctly. How can I be sure they are correct? Because the spell check suggestions gave me the current spellings. Odd, no? ** End Odd sidenote **

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Not Taken for "Granite"

I have to say that I had a great day, today. I spent the middle portion of the day hanging out with someone I have know for... well... more than half my life.

The person in question is my friend Cindy, whom I met during my first semester in college. We've stayed in touch ever since. Although we've never lived close to each other after going our separate ways back in 1989, lots of phonecalls and letters and emails have kept us close.

And although my visits out to Idaho to see Cindy and her family have been pretty seldom (I think I've been out there twice?), I'm very lucky that she comes back to Minnesota from time to time to visit her family.

So, today, I met up with Cindy and her two kids in Stillwater (where Christopher is from), and we enjoyed some time talking while the kids played at the Teddy Bear Park. From there, we wandered down to Main Street, where we picked up lunch and picnicked on the grass near the St. Croix River. Much to the joy of Cindy's 3-year-old son, we even got to watch the lift bridge (there's a picture of it on the Stillwater site) get raised to allow for passage of one of the paddle wheel cruises to go through.

Walking back along the street, we did a little shopping before taking the kids back to the park to play (and get worn out) before Cindy packed up for another 90-minute-or-so drive.

The entire time we were together, we talked. From the time we met up, to the time they drove away. We talked about family. We talked about work. We talked about the weather. We talked about... well... everything.

And, unlike the granite teddy bears in the center of the park, I never plan to take this relationship for granted.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday Quickie

Just a quick comment about last night to wrap up the three-day weekend.

While we were in South Dakota, I let Christopher in on the fact that one of my favorite kinds of "fireworks" is the smoke bomb. Just the nice, simple, no frills, colored-smoke producer. You light it. It sparks a little. It sends plumes of blue, red, pink, white, orange, green, purple, or yellow smoke into the air. And, while we were at my folks', Christopher found some large smoke bombs (about 6 inches long and an inch or so across), that go for about 10 times as long as the little balls you usually find.

On the way back to the Cities, we stopped at one of the big fireworks stores outside of Sioux Falls and found more of those long lasting smoke bombs, as well as a few "fountain" type fireworks and a few sparkly-spinner-y things.

Then, yesterday, as the sun was going down, we headed out to the driveway and lit things off. The fountains were sparkly. The spinners spun. The smoke bombs were incredible. And it was just for us.

As much as I enjoy the big she-bangs that you can find either on TV or in the middle of thousands of people, I really don't think any of those can beat a private showing.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Celebrating in the American Way.

Although today Christopher and I have absolutely no plans (what with shooting off fireworks last Saturday and all), we did have some friends over for a cookout-y meal last night. And it dawned on me, as I looked at the food on the table, that this is a very odd holiday when it comes to All Things American -- especially where the food is concerned.

You see, Thanksgiving -- as far as the food and tradition are concerned -- is truly the quintessentially North American holiday. After all, as far as I know, only Canada and the US have them. And, Thanksgiving -- at least in the States -- has at its center foods which can really only be found here (like Turkey and Pumpkin Pie). On the other hand, the food on the Fourth of July is usually much more... well... international. Sure, there are the stand-bys, like burgers on the grill or Jell-o salads, but you never know what else will be on the table. For instance...

We started the evening with a homemade Lavender Lemonade (Christopher combined a few recipes he's found and came up with something amazing), which was served along with our appetizers: Guacamole and Chips on one side of the table, Fresh Vegetarian Thai Spring Rolls on the other.

After the lemonade was gone, we moved on to Lime Sorbet and Coke "floats" (although the sorbet sank, so "float" may not be the right word), some with Rum, some without.

When I headed outside to drop the Hamburgers on the grill, they were accompanied by Zucchini and, eventually, Asparagus (the latter two, once grilled, were tossed with lemon juice, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper... yum.) -- and a couple of Tofu dogs, as well. Back inside, we were met with a Bok Choy salad and a Chickpea and Couscous salad (with some kind of cheese and veggies in it -- it was really good).

Palates were cleansed with slices of Watermelon, and we finished the evening with both a Strawberry/Rhubarb pie and a frozen Key Lime pie -- both with a lightly sweetened homemade whipped cream.

Maybe that's what makes the Fourth so American, though: The fact that the foods come from all over, yet fit together to make a wonderful meal. Great American Melting Pot, indeed.

Oh. And as a bonus, I found this amazing (-ly silly) video (sorry... haven't figured out how to embed a video directly into my blog, so you'll have to click through to it.) while reading someone else's blog this morning. Oddly enough, it also makes me kind of proud to be an American (and it has fewer calories than most of what I ate, yesterday).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Reunion Tips

For those of you who may be going to reunions this weekend over the Fourth of July, I thought I'd offer you a few tips I picked up last weekend:

1) If someone walks up to you and says "What are you up to these days?" Don't respond with a sneer, saying "The same thing I've been doing for the past 10 years." Instead, assume that the question was meant as an ice breaker. Even if you say the same thing, say it with a smile.

2) It's probably not the best way to make friends (even with your relatives) by walking up and saying "You've got a lot more grey than you used to." You might mean it as a cute, friendly way to say hello, but it's probably not going to taken that way.

3) Try to get where-ever you need to be on time. Not too late. Not too early. On time is a really good time to get there.

4) Whether or not you bring something really should be based on your host. You've still got a day or two. Why not call and ask? (If your hosts say "No. Don't bring anything." Feel free to bring a bottle of wine, something nifty for them to use after you leave, or some already-in-a-vase flowers. Or, even better, just bring a fabulous attitude and a desire to help out. Even if your host says they don't need anything, I don't know any host who doesn't like offers of help.)

5) Although a little alcohol may make reunions easier for some, too much alcohol is, simply, too much alcohol. Know your limits. Stick to them. And stay away from small children, grills, automobiles, and fireworks if you over-imbibe.

6) Smile for the pictures (even if you don't want to), take the time to say "hi" to everyone (even if you don't know them), and enjoy yourself (even if it's in spite of yourself).

Happy Family Reunion! May all the fireworks be pretty.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Further Reun-ing

Okay... Okay... Okay... So yesterday's post may have been a little on the overdramatic side. I get it. Mind you, I don't apologize for it, but I get it.

In deference to that opinion, I hereby give you the following snapshots from the long weekend. (No. They're not actual snapshots. They're written things. I have no digital camera, remember?)

1) It was really green back home -- That may sound strange to some people (like, for instance, Christopher, who got very tired of me pointing out the windows and saying "Wow. It's SO green!" and "There's not supposed to be water standing there." and various other brilliant comments on the drive home), but SouthEast South Dakota is, usually, beginning the seasonal slide to golden/brown this time of year. As you might have guessed, though, it was lush and green and gorgeous. We didn't even have to worry about starting the yard on fire when we were setting of fireworks on Saturday night.

2) Leaving home, for me, isn't as easy as it used to be -- Don't get me wrong. I was exhausted after the weekend. Christopher had been trying to get me to slow down for about half of Saturday and all of Sunday morning, while I was moving from one meal to the next, setting up and clearing away and figuring what needed to be done. But I feel like I've done that forever in my parents' house, and so it's nothing new. Even so, when I go home these days, it's usually just me and my parents -- sometimes with Christopher along for the ride. This time, with 15 people at dinner on Friday and lunch on Saturday, then 40+ people for "snacks" on Saturday afternoon and 30-ish people for brunch on Sunday, well... it kept me on my toes. And, yes, I fully admit that the quiet of the car-ride back to Minneapolis was a nice change of pace. (I've gotten very used to living a fairly quiet life -- or at least a semi-quiet one.) And I think I was ready to head out. But it was still hard to say good-bye to everyone on Sunday. I guess that's one of those "wistful" situations, where the happy and the sad all join together and make you notice the passage of time.

3) Fireworks are really cool. A tad scary. But mostly really cool -- You see, in South Dakota, all sorts of things that go boom and whizz and shreee-pow are legal and useable. And in my home town, you can shoot them off right outside your door from June 27th until July 5th. Which is what we did after the big reunion dinner on Saturday night. My two brothers-in-law had purchased various stashes of sparking, flashing, exploding and/or spinning gadgetry which took about 45 minutes to get through. We set up in the street about a quarter block from home (too many trees in our yard), with spectators (mostly family) in lawn chairs or on the sidewalk, and various cousins (first-cousins-once-removed, mainly) helped to light them off. There were things that went way up in the air, things that stayed on the ground, and things that were full of (good) surprises. All of which were accompanied by the requisite Oooohs and Aaahhhs. A lot may have changed over the years, but shooting off Fourth of July Fireworks (even a week early) took me right back to my Grandma's backyard when I was a kid. Only this time I didn't blow up any crab apples, and the "whizz-bangs" didn't burn a hole in anyone's blanket.

And, well, that's pretty much what the weekend was like. At least in my three snapshots. :-)

** Oh. In case I haven't mentioned it, lately, I'm from here. **