Saturday, November 29, 2014

Greenery, Garland, Swags and/or a Partridge in a Pear Tree

For the past few years, I've headed home to my parents' house the weekend of Thanksgiving to help decorate for Christmas.

Depending upon whether they're actually going to be in South Dakota for the Holidays, there is either more or less decorating to be done, since more gets done if my sisters and their kids are going to be in the house.

I'm not entirely sure why it is that I learned early on how to hang greenery on the stairway banister. I'm guessing it's because - as the youngest - I was the easiest kid for my mom to rope into helping. Then, as I got older, I was home more than my sisters. And, having moved back to Minneapolis about 10 years ago, coming home for Thanksgiving made it very easy to help out.

So, long story short-ish, I've gotten good at putting up the stairway garland. Today, in fact, I think it only took me about 20 minutes, and it looks like this:

Some years it has red bows on it, some years it has gold beads - depending what Mom has on hand.
(NOTE: That's not a filter, that's just low light and my computer's camera.)
Everyone has a trigger that makes him/her think of Christmas. Baking a ton of cookies is one of mine. Listening to Christmas CDs as soon as Thanksgiving dinner is over is great for me. But there is something about the greens going up on the stairway that makes me want to fa-la-la-la-la all the way to December 25th.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Why I Won't Shop on Thanksgiving

There are two very different viewpoints on the whole idea of retail stores being open on Thanksgiving. As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I happen to fall on the "no retail on Thanksgiving" side of things.

As I was watching people talk about this subject on social media, I realized that I apparently had pretty strong feelings about it, and I wasn't sure why.

I mean... I know there are a lot of jobs which are always at work - 365 days a year. Nurses and Firefighters and Security guards, for instance. And for as long as I can remember movie theaters have been open on Thanksgiving, as well as some restaurants, and of course places like hotels and 24/7 customer service phone lines are always open. And grocery stores are usually open for at least part of the day. (I did a last-minute back-up dessert dash to the store today, in fact.)

So why is retail so different in my mind?

I think that my reasons have two sources.

The first source is the fact that I grew up working in my family pharmacy in a small town. The store was open six days a week, year-round. And my dad was there each of those six days. On Sundays, even though the store was closed, he'd almost always go into the store for a while after church. There were no days off.

I don't remember any Christmases which weren't interrupted by someone calling with a last-minute need for film or batteries. On Thanksgiving, there wasn't really anything that the drug store had that people would need, though. It was - typically - the one day in every year that the entire family could be together all day.

The other half of my anti-Thanksgiving-Day-retail stance is because, for a number of years as an adult, I worked retail in various malls. A number of those years, I worked in kitchen stores, where Thanksgiving is a huge business. Honestly, with all the people shopping for everything to make a Martha Stewart-style Thanksgiving dinner, it was kind of insane. We all needed the day off to recuperate.

Luckily, I got out of retail before Black Friday meant that stores were open all night. The worst I had to deal with was a year when we opened at midnight. The store had shoppers for about half an hour, then it was dead until about 8am. It picked up for about 4 hours, then was pretty much quiet the rest of the day. We honestly did not have enough staff - even with the seasonal ramp-up - to have a full complement of people in the store the whole time we were open, so the managers all had to work 10-hour shifts, with pretty much nothing to do. (For the record, if you've never experienced it, most malls are pretty much empty of shoppers from about noon until 5 on Black Friday - meaning that all of the shop workers are standing around with nothing to do, trying not to fall asleep after having gotten there at 6am, or earlier...)

I keep hearing people say things like "But there are people who really want the extra money they can make on Thanksgiving. They would rather make money than stay home." or "All those other people work on Thanksgiving, why is it different for people who work in stores?"

Here's the thing: For every one or two people who truly do want to work and make some extra money instead of being at home on Thanksgiving, there are 20 people who don't want to be there, but have been told that they either have to show up or be fired.

There is - at least in my experience - no "holiday pay" in retail. Unlike so many service industry workers who might get "time-and-a-half" for the holiday, retail workers simply get the "work today or don't work again" offer.

Maybe if the people who are actually on the front lines in retail were truly given a say on whether or not to work the day, I'd feel differently about it. But I can't imagine that the folks sitting in the corporate office being told "we might be missing sales" ever thought to actually ask their staff whether a true day off was important to them. (Even though most of those office types probably all check out early on Wednesday to spend a nice 4-day weekend at home with their own families.)

So... Anyway... I refuse to buy in to this whole "gotta get there early to get the stuff you don't need" mindset. And I don't imagine a time when I'll actually go shopping on Thanksgiving. I'd much rather spend as much of my day off as possible snuggled in on the couch with Christopher and the pup, secretly hoping that sales numbers tank so that all those corporate offices will reconsider giving their staffs a real day off next year.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pie Season

One of my favorite things about this time of year (referring to a generic "fall"), is that there tends to be a much higher incidence of pie.

Sure, there are pies during other seasons. Summer has the lemon pies and key lime pies and even cherry pies. In the middle of winter there are things like mincemeat pie or maybe chocolate pies.

But fall is when pie really hits its stride. Apple pie with all of its spicy goodness is amazing (I prefer the two-crust variety). Pumpkin pie, though, is my favorite.

Pumpkin, you see, has many of the other attributes all in one. It's got the creaminess of some of the summer pies, but the spiciness of some of the fall/winter pies. Plus, because most pumpkin pie recipes have a greater fruit to sugar ratio, you can almost rationalize it as being healthy. (It has eggs! It has milk! It's a health food!)

Sure, on Thanksgiving the turkey and stuffing and all that are great. But the pumpkin pie is what truly makes it for me.

And... yes... I prefer mine with Cool Whip. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Expectation Management - Freak Show

Christopher and I have been watching American Horror Story: Freak Show on FX. We also watched last season (Coven), but we didn't see either of the first two seasons. But, with the experience we have already had, we kind of knew - on some level - what to expect.

We were expecting something odd, and we knew there would be a whole bunch of character studies helped along by a fairly strange overall set-up. And - given the nature of this season's conceit, we knew that the characters would be an interesting bunch.

Yes, there've been some seriously freaky characters and situations, but for the most part the show is simply a drama. Okay - maybe more of a heightened-emotion drama than most, but still a drama.

It dawned on me a couple of episodes ago, though, that the opening sequence of the show is really really freaky. It's creepy. It's macabre. It's probably the most bizarre part of any episode, if you come right down to it.

I kind of wonder what the show would be like without it. If the episodes simply showed the story, without the credits, would it still be as creepy? Or do the opening credits simply set viewers up for something seriously freaky - so that's how it appears?

Not that I expect to find an actual answer to that any time soon, but it makes me wonder how much of the show's emotional impact is truly only held in the credits.

Friday, November 21, 2014

What a Difference a Day Makes

As of today, Minneapolis has recorded the second-highest number of consecutive days  below freezing IN NOVEMBER since records have been kept. That's 12 days in a row below 32.

To hit the number one slot, we'd have had to do 15 in a row - and that would have tied us with sometime in the late 1800s. 

Yesterday, on the other hand, we were only at 11, which merely tied us with three other years. So pushing through to today put us in that coveted 2nd place slot. (In case you weren't sure, that last sentence is dripping with sarcasm - as would be anything I might say about loving this weather we've been having.)

But, there's a change in the air. And even though we know that it is only going to last for about 48 hours - and most likely result in things being even worse on the roads next week - it's kind of amazing. 

Christopher and I were out tonight, and when we left the bar/restaurant to come home, I didn't even have to do up my coat. After all those days struggling to get out of the teens, tonight at about 11 it was in the 20s. 

It is warm enough out right now that the ice on the sidewalk is melting thanks to the breeze that is happening - a breeze that didn't take my breath away. 

I fully realize that we're supposed to have a rain/snow mix on Sunday and Monday. And that the rain/snow mix will freeze when our highs drop into the teens again on Tuesday. 

But, for that brief, shining moment that was the walk to the car this evening... Wow. 

What a difference a day makes. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Dark Months

I have been reminded, this week, what really bothers me about the cold weather months.

Yes, it's true that I don't much like being cold, and that I don't like having to put on enough layers to look like a linebacker every time I want to go outside. Especially because both of those make it hard to do basic tasks, like getting my keys out of my pocket, or walking down the street without looking like a penguin pensioner.

But I think that the real reason I don't like the dark, cold months is that it is so much harder to get together with people in this part of the world.

We all - or at least most of us - have to rely on automotive transport to get around, which means that our travel is dependent upon the weather. Massive snow - or, worse, ice - means that we can't get out, and if we are out, it means that getting home can be treacherous. So, frequently, if the forecast is bad, the choice to stay home is good.

Even if the weather is good, though, there is something about going outside when it is pitch dark out, and the windchill is in the single digits - or below zero (yes, if you live in places like Minneapolis it is possible to have a day of good weather even when the temperature is below zero). I'm sure there was a time in my life when I had no problem doing that, but these days it just seems ridiculous to come home, get all settled in and cozy, and then have to get re-bundled up to go out and be cold again.

I think that's why this month's weather is such a bummer. Usually, we get to gradually ease into the cold. Most years, we get to readjust to the crappy road conditions, and slowly add on more layers of clothing. We can gradually pare down our social events, so that we keep ourselves active, but also get used to a little extra hibernation.

What we have to go through to get somewhere on Thanksgiving is usually more food-related than it is weather-related (though there have been plenty of years with snowy Thanksgivings), so we can be pretty certain we'll go.

Then, by the time Christmas and New Year's roll around, we're pretty used to it all, and the over-the-river-and-through-the-woods-ing that we do is less scary, but is also more heavily planned. There's more travel-work involved, on top of everything else. Which probably adds to the extra cocooning that happens in January and February as the days take their time getting longer.

This year, though, we got tossed into the deep end, where we're expected to sink or swim. No easing in. No psyching ourselves up for it. Just flat-out winter smack-dab in the middle of fall.

Suddenly all of the events on the calendar look daunting. Will it be too icy to drive home if we stay late on Thanksgiving? How long will it take to get there if the snow starts blowing around and we have blizzard-like conditions? If parking is difficult, how many layers should I wear - all of which I'll have to take off when I arrive? And there's been no chance to get ready for the isolation and the angst.

Yes, winter has its moments - and there are days when I really love what it's like on those cold, sunny days when everything just kind of shimmers in the light. Or the nights when the moon makes the world seem irridescent. In the cold, harsh darkness of winter isolation, though, sometimes it's hard to remember that.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Weather... or not

I have not, yet, complained on this blog about the massive cold snap we've seen in Minnesota. Even though the temperatures and wind chills of the past week or so have been the kind of things we typically see in January - and are a full 20 or more degrees below average.

I haven't complained about having to wear my "dead of winter" coat because nothing else keeps me warm.

I haven't mentioned that my hands feel like I've coated them in sandpaper or that the outer brick wall of my office at work is cold enough that it actually creates a sort of downdraft across my desk.

I haven't even pointed out that, at this rate, we could end up with a full 5 months of the year with snow on the ground, since usually the November snows melt after just a few days and aren't replaced until December.

But... if the weather doesn't turn around soon, there is a very good chance that I'll mention all of that in the very near future.

I thought you deserved appropriate warning.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The "Friend" Situation (with bonus video!)

I have been having a few strange occurrences with the whole online "friend" situation, lately.

Well, it's really not just been "lately" as it's been going on for a while - pretty much ever since I got hooked up to Facebook. I fully admit that I am fairly selective about who becomes my online "friend."

For one thing, I refuse to become online "friends" with anyone I work with. If they leave the company, sure. If they want to connect with me via online business-networking sites, maybe. But if we are currently working together, no. There are simply some lines I don't want to cross.

I don't necessarily need people I work with to see photos I post of family events. I don't need them to know what TV shows I watch. And I certainly don't need them to read my "personal" (in quotation marks since we all know that anything online stops being truly personal) comments about life and/or work.

But there are other people in my life who also don't show up in my Facebook feed. These, for the most part fall into two groups: People I've only met once and really haven't spent enough time with to know whether or not we might be friendly offline; and people whom I've met more than once and have never considered to be friends of mine in the offline realm. Unfortunately, this has - over time - resulted in a number of contact requests being left un-dealt-with, which keep popping up as "reply to this request" notices in the margins.

For the most part, though, I'm okay with this. If I know - at the time of the request - that we have nothing in common and would never spend time together over dinner (whether we've only just met or have known each other for decades), I simply don't feel obliged to say "want to be my friend?" to the person - or to reply "gee, I'd love to" when asked.

The trouble (of sorts) comes in when people who seem to know a ton of my/our friends show up and say that they want to connect. There's that weird gray area of "Did we meet at a party? Were we introduced 5 times, and I just don't remember?" mixed with "I'm pretty sure you don't know me, but it might be rude if I don't reply." But, with more sophisticated spam out in the world, it's becoming harder and harder to know for sure.

Oddly enough - for me, at least - it's causing me to throttle back the big, wide Internet and narrow my window. Making sure that my "friends" are truly my friends. Which, when you come right down to it, probably isn't a bad thing. It's just a thing.

To make this less of an odd downer of a post, I decided to include the following video by Garfunkel and Oates. I debated between this one and another one, but this one seems to work best, here. Enjoy. (Though you may want to send any kids out of earshot, since it's wonderful, but does include some adult language.)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Funeral Insurance

I've kind of gotten used to the fact that a lot of sites track all that you do to try to figure out how to advertise to you.

It's a little weird, sometimes - like when you go look at a pair of shoes online, and for the next three days every sidebar includes an ad for those shoes. But, for the most part, it's unobtrusive, and I fully admit that I kind of like seeing ads that I might actually be interested in.

After all, I'm just never going to be clicking on the "Meet sexy women over 50" ads. And - as far as eye candy goes - those ads don't do as much for me as the brown-on-brown Bass saddle shoes that have been showing up, lately.

A while ago, I created a social media group for some friends of mine and I to keep in touch a little better as we plan to meet up next spring. In the title, I included the word "reunion," and a number I'd rather not discuss at the moment.

Almost immediately, I started getting ads for Rogaine and Just For Men beard coloring. For the record, I have not purchased either. Considered them, yes. Purchased them, no.

Today, though, I got one that I was even more surprised by. Yep. It was an ad for Funeral Insurance. This strikes me as odd for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that I'm pretty sure at some point I'll have a funeral. I'm not sure I need to pay someone to guarantee that. I mean... we all die. And even if all you get is a pine box and an unmarked grave, that's still - in essence - a funeral. Don't need insurance for that; Death will take care of it for me.

All things considered, I kind of feel like I need that insurance almost as much as I need the sexy women over 50. At least the women might appreciate cool shoes.

**Yes, I know that the insurance is supposed to cover all the costs so your family doesn't have to. But... still... I'd rather have the shoes at this point. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bad Quote Quotient - Just Desserts

When I was at the South Dakota Festival of Books, I heard a couple of editors (literally, they are a couple) speak, and one of their tips was that you should always read your entire manuscript out loud as you're in the final stages of editing. Word for word, whatever is on the page you should read out (preferably with a partner in the room listening to you).

Well, today at work, I found that to actually be a helpful technique.

You see, sometimes, when I'm editing, I'm working with authors who might rely just a tad too heavily on spellcheck to do their dirtywork. So you get the wrong versions of it's/its or their/they're/there, but you also get words that are a little less common.

You might have someone telling you that he checked his suite in the mirror before leaving. Or that a fax had gotten into the chicken coop the night before and eaten all of the checks.

Seriously. I've seen some doozies. And, about 98 times out of 100, I can usually figure them out pretty quickly and substitute in the right word.

Today, however, I was stumped. I read the sentence about 5 times, trying to figure out what the author meant. I put the questionable word into an online dictionary to see if there was an alternate meaning I was missing - or whether just maybe there was an "often confused with" suggestion that would clue me in. I was completely at a loss.

Finally, I turned to my office mate and said "I have no idea what this means. You have to help me."

Here's the sentence:

"He licked the gelato where it started to melt down, then sat at a table under the big canapé."

When I got done, I said, "I have no idea what that is supposed to mean."

She laughed, and said, "When you first read it, I heard it as 'canopy.'"

"OHMIGOD. That's it! It's supposed to say canopy!"

I could have sat there for another hour and never figured that out, since in my head I kept reading it the way it was spelled, and not letting the context take over.

Here's hoping the author realizes how much we're going through for him - and just how hungry the manuscript is making me.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Yet Another First

As you get older, there are fewer and fewer things that you can do for the first time. It's just basic math and logic.

First steps, first words, first day of school, first solo bike ride, first lost tooth... They all take place pretty early on. Then you move on to things like first date, first kiss, first time driving a car. Again, for most people, these are pretty early in life.

Eventually, the firsts take more time to come around. There's typically a big gap between the first day of high school and the first day of college.

First day at your first real job comes up at some point. Maybe first passport. First massive hangover. First plane trip.

Yes, you can keep finding firsts if you look hard enough, but some of them may mean you're trying to hard. If you start tagging the "first time at this new Starbucks" or "first time I've commuted home using that road" they just don't seem to mean as much.

Well... I happened to have a first on Friday night which I don't think I'd ever expected I would be having at age 47: My first time at a "male revue."

There's a mid-length backstory which got us to that point - it involves people Christopher works with and a group of au pairs - but that's not the important part. The important part is that at 8 on Friday night we were in the suburbs at a bar where the sign outside said they were hosting a "Male Review" and the crowd was 99.8% women.

(The people working there, however, were incredibly gracious to us - as the random men who showed up for the show. Yes - that's one of those things you hope for in the 21st century, but at a dive-ish bar in the 'burbs, you really never know.)

I'm going to cut to the chase and bullet point this for you:

  • It wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. 
  • We figured out which dancer was the gay one before the performance even started.
  • We think we've probably gotten spoiled by the quality of dancers that typically perform in the places we go - like on Broadway show tours. (And, sadly, this seemed to be pretty much the "third string, playing to the 'burbs" troupe.)
  • Yes, we each tipped at least one dancer who came to the table (it was actually less uncomfortable to just tip them so that they'd move on). (Ironically, it was not the gay one.) 
  • The fried cheese curds were decent, and the beers were cheap.
  • And, okay, it was actually kind of fun - and definitely not a boring Friday night by any means.

Will we ever do it again? I won't say never, because that usually means whatever I say never about ends up happening. But... definitely not any time soon.

For now, we'll just look at it as one more first checked off the list.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Time Change Hangover

No. You didn't miss a blog post this week. I did. I completely missed Wednesday's blog post. It wasn't intentional. I had planned to write one - though I hadn't thought about a topic, but that's pretty normal for me. I just found myself going to bed on Wednesday night thinking "I was supposed to have blogged today."

I thought about posting something yesterday, and moving ahead from there, but I decided to wait so that I could stay on the same every-other-day schedule, simply with a missing one in the middle. Which brings us to today.

I have to admit that this kind of "oops" is not confined to the blog, lately. I'm only 10% of my way through reading a novel for my book club - a book that I recommended - and I'm close to realizing that there is simply no way I'm going to get through it in the next 10 days.

I've decided to blame pretty much all of this on the change of seasons and the time change that happened last weekend. Suddenly I'm getting home after the sun goes down, and walking the dog in the dark. Oddly enough (because I'm not a massive snow fan), I was thinking last night that some snow on the ground would be nice, because then it would be easier to see her. 

The office at work has suddenly gone from being too chilly because the air conditioning was on to being too chilly because the heat isn't flowing properly through the ductwork. My mousing hand is constantly cold, but I refuse to work while wearing gloves or sitting under a blanket.

Hmm... a blanket might be nice... and a pillow... maybe just a short, autumn-inspired nap...

Monday, November 3, 2014

When You Realize Your Age

Yesterday, one of my nephews was in town for a three-hour layover at the airport. He and his girlfriend were flying from South Dakota back to California, and I was able to carve some time out of the weekend to go pick them up and give them a driving tour of the area.

Among other things, we did a purposeful drive across the Mississippi River, because his girlfriend (a Californian born and raised) had never been east of the Mississippi. We later went on a walk halfway across a bridge over the river in downtown Minneapolis, so that we could take their picture "in the middle of" the Mississippi.

In return, she took a picture of my nephew and me in the same spot. At which point something odd dawned on me.

I'm starting to ramp up for a 25-year reunion trip to Paris, to see some of the people I knew when I lived and taught there between college and grad school. And, when I lived there, when people would send me postcards or photos I would put them up on the edges of the window in the "living room" (it was a very small apartment, so that's using the term very loosely).

One set of photos was of my sister, and included a photo of her newborn son. My nephew. My now-25-year-old nephew. With whom I got my photo taken in the middle of the Stone Arch bridge, yesterday.

Yeah... if the years don't get you, the photographs will.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

There's A Time For Everything

I think that Christopher and I have set all of the clocks back tonight. At least all the ones in the house. (If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that this is a relatively large event, with more than a dozen clocks, not including watches, car clocks, etc.)

I haven't tackled my watches, yet, and the car clocks will have to wait until tomorrow. But the majority of them are done.

I wish I could say I was excited about the extra hour of sleep. I mean... I am excited about the idea of an extra hour of sleep, but there's one catch to that that every pet owner knows: pets don't pay attention to clocks.

This means that the pup will still be getting up at 5am (make that 4am) because that's what time Christopher usually gets up to feed her.

And she'll be sure it's time to go for a walk at... umm... I guess it will be about 7am, since I usually take her out for a walk around 8am.

It's going to be very strange for her, I know. And it's going to be kind of difficult for us, too, I'm sure.

Oddly enough, although we lose an hour of sleep in the spring, it makes this kind of thing easier.

You'll forgive me if I yawn a lot the next few days. But, of course, if I'm doing it when I walk her in the evening it won't matter - starting tomorrow, by the time I walk her at 5:45pm, it'll be too dark out to see my face.