I have thus far managed to resist the cell phone craze, despite having several of them foisted on me by well-meaning relatives. [Don’t worry: I still have them. Should anyone want theirs returned, they are on a shelf in my basement.] And I know I shouldn’t imply that cell phones are a passing fad; clearly they are as deeply entrenched in our popular culture as television or the internets. The day will likely come when I will be forced to succumb to modernity, but I'm really not looking forward to it. The problem is, I despise all things phone.
This extends to the wretched answering machine. I acquired the thing through another foisting, actually, when I was working for the Woodland Agency. My boss worked from an office two and half hours away, and was frustrated by not being able to leave me messages at home, so when she got a new fancy-pants model, the old one came to me. I didn’t feel like saying no was much of an option, but when I moved back east… the thing went into deep storage. We went many years without using it, and only plugged it in recently to aid in the job search. Email, people!
Luckily, SodaBoy shares my distaste for all things phone. Discussing the issue after resurrecting the fool thing, we discovered that we both hate the way our voices sound on tape. We both think we sound nasally and high-pitched. I confessed that just hearing that whiny not-me gets me all paranoid. If that’s what I really sound like, I probably say “like” all the time, too. [See look: twice in the last sentence alone! I’m doomed.]
SodaBoy was kind enough to reassure me: he doesn’t think I use the word excessively. Of course, during the subsequent conversation, we peppered our dialogue with it: like this, like that, like whatever. It turns out that even when trying to misuse the word, we aren’t very good at it. We kept accidentally using it correctly, as a simile, and not as a mere interjection. So then we switched the game up a bit and substituted “similar in regards to” whenever like was to be used. What fun that is!
OK, so we’re big dorks. But, really… you should try it. It’s similar in regards to, totally awesome.
Today was sunny, the first golden light and blue sky to come our way in what seemed like an eternity. I decided to take advantage of the day and rake the leaves that have been piling up. We have a big Norway maple out front, and the next door neighbor’s red maple had made some contributions as well. The leaves were pretty thick out there. I’d been waiting to rake, putting it off and putting it off. Partially because the weather has been so cold and wet and miserable, and partially because even though the leaves were ankle deep, the Norway’s not close to done yet: it’s still holding onto half its leaves.
I couldn’t resist the call of the vitamin D though, so I tackled that lawn with a vengeance. We don’t normally go in for the whole suburban lawn one-upmanship, eschewing the lawn services and chemicals and even mowing whenever possible. But I raked the shit out of that lawn: it looks like it’s been vacuumed. There is a veritable wall of leaves at the curb.
The obvious, visible progress makes raking a rather satisfying chore, at least when the weather cooperates like this. I was way overdressed, having prepared for the indoor temperature of 55 degrees with long johns under my cords, a thermal shirt under the turtleneck sweater, and a fleece vest. The temperature outside was a few degrees cooler, but I was kicking ass, so kept having to peel off layers and hang them on the mailbox. [Back inside, I’ve reapplied all layers, and added one more sweater on top of it all.]
Now I just have to wait for the rest of the leaves to fall, and I can go do it all over again.
During Arlo’s recent visit, I discovered that the two large trash receptacles at the north end of the local city park have been removed for the season. I’d made a habit of routing all dog walks past that corner. The walks are a little less pleasant now that I have to lug steaming bags of turds for the whole duration of the walk. And for the record, insulating them with fallen leaves doesn’t seem to help reduce the stench waves; I’d actually thought there might be a blocking effect, but no such luck.
I am curious about the whole phenomena of picking up after one’s dog. It is not something I remember from my childhood. My earliest years were spent out in the country, where there were no close neighbors. It wasn’t remotely an issue there. But we moved to a subdivision eventually, and brought the five dogs along. We never once followed them around with plastic bags, and we weren’t neighborhood pariahs or anything. Well, not for that reason, anyway: none of the neighbors picked up after their dogs either. It did get pretty nasty, especially in the spring when the snow first melted. I remember going around the yard with a wheelbarrow and shovel.
With those memories in mind, I’ve always been grateful as an adult to those dog owners courteous enough to clean up after their pets. No one wants to step on dog shit in their front lawn, an experience that’s particularly bitter when you don’t even own a dog. I wish our current next door neighbors could keep a better control over their charming golden retriever’s eliminations. Mowing the lawn invariably detonates at least one shit bomb. So I definitely recognize the value of doggie hygiene.
However, appreciation doesn’t necessarily translate into eagerness. The first time we dogsat for Arlo when Dad & D were out of town, back at the old apartment, I asked them, “I don’t have to pick up his crap, do I?” Dad told me I had to watch the neighbors. If they picked up the poos, I had to, too. And that was that, I knew I was doomed. Everyone does it now, everyone who walks their dogs at least. Those who just open the door and let doggy run free seem to be exempt.
So what happened? Don’t get me wrong. Not having my lawn covered with fecal matter is a good thing. But, when did scooping poop become the norm? What precipitated this cultural shift? How did it go from something peculiar to the expectation?
Well, this tidy bit of commerce has been completed: last night saw the exchange of one loopy little dog for one highly anticipated clay jack-o-lantern. Dad is already scheming about how to get more of these things, complicated plans involving pallets and half-full semis.
Amazingly enough, one rinky-dink tea light candle provided all the necessary glow, which is mighty convenient since I have about a gazillion of them. I think we'll keep it on top of the curio cabinet until I figure out how to set it up in front of a window for Halloween night. Which could be a little tricky, since I can't think just what table would do the job, but I certainly can't put it outside and risk a smashing after such an epic journey.
My Dad & stepmother stopped by last night around 7:30 pm to drop off their dog for the weekend. Arlo always stays with us when they’re out of town. Our hospitality services are already reserved up for a trip planned for next July, but this venture was a little more spur of the moment. They were debarking on an 18 hour drive to a southern state, where Dad’s brother lives, and planning on returning Monday, which seems to leave very little room for sleeping. And all this for pumpkins!
Well, jack-o-lanterns, to be more precise. Apparently on a previous visit with my uncle, perhaps 25 years ago, or more, Dad bought a couple of these ceramic jack-o-lanterns for my sister and I. Sometime over the years, perhaps during a move, they either got lost or broken; no one knows exactly where they went, but the bottom line is no one can find them. I only have the faintest memory of them to start with, so I have a feeling they’ve been missing for a while.
After all these years, Dad was evidently still carrying a torch for these jack-o-lanterns. He had his brother buy dozens of the things for a program at work. But ceramic jack-o-lanterns are pretty heavy, and shipping turned into a nightmare. So they’re doing the only logical thing: driving down to get them. I guess there wouldn’t be room in the vehicle for two people, umpteen ceramic pumpkins, and one small Australian shepherd, so Arlo’s hanging out with us for the weekend. File this one under People Do the Strangest Things.
I bet I get a new jack-o-lantern as part of this deal.
Every winter I turn into a dragon. My skin becomes terribly dry. My hands will crack and bleed; knees and elbows turn to leather; large scaly patches develop in strange, unexpected places like the backs of my arms, or my sides. Out of absolute necessity I might get out the moisturizer every few days, but I am not dedicated enough to apply it very frequently. Part of my problem is I detest the slimy feel of the stuff. My first instinct after using lotion of any kind is to run and wash my hands. Most fragrances also irritate me (quite literally).
I’ve always attributed this dryness to heat. Furnaces seems to crank out excessively dry air, and it would explain why I don’t suffer the same malady in the summer months. So what is my problem now? The early signs have started: my hands are already roughening up. However, we haven’t turned the heat on yet. Oh, there was temptation. It was 54 degrees in the house when we got back from the wedding Sunday night. But we persevered. There are goals to be reached, after all, standards to be upheld. It's been years since we've turned on the heat before November 1st.
I did go up in the attic and bring the space heater down for SodaBoy the other day. He loves that foolish thing. I haven’t spent much time in the immediate vicinity, though. Why should my hands be dry already? Why, internets, why?
I had a new experience this past weekend, with a portable DVD player, of all things. Mind you, I’ve seen them before from a distance, in other peoples’ vehicles, and always found them very distracting. Especially at night. Especially when they are mounted up high in the vehicle, right by the rearview mirror. The glare those screens produce on a dark night can be virtually blinding. And if they effect me, the driver of a separate vehicle, so acutely, I am pretty suspicious about the impact they have on the attention and focus of the driver of said vehicle. I know some people favor them to stupefy their children during car rides, but I don’t have kids, so can’t appreciate even that dubious boon. OK… we might detect a wee bit of bias here.
Flashback to Friday. We are three hours into a six hour drive, heading up the northway. The scenery is spectacular, everyone jumping over themselves to point out another scarlet hillside, another rocky outcrop, another pristine lake, another funny sign. Conversation is buzzing. We make a pit stop at a fast food restaurant, get a snack of french fries. When we hit the road once again, T gets out the portable DVD player and starts up a movie. Based on my preexisting notions regarding these things, I immediately feel a little bristly, a little bitter. All of a sudden, I have to keep quiet so as not to drown out the movie; all human conversations cease.
The sun was still shining; I wanted to continue enjoying the beautiful scenery. I vowed to myself that I would ignore the damn thing, and carry on with my delight; it would just be a solo experience instead of a group one. But the problem is, I am terrible at ignoring a TV screen: it's the main reason I am so ambivalent about them. It is always a companion that initiates viewings. I do enjoy certain shows, but hate watching the crippety-crap that comprises the majority of all programming. I hate how watching TV is such a passive activity. I hate how I turn into a vacant minded slack jawed drone.
Of course, I inadvertently got sucked into the movie, American History X, which I had never seen before. The movie is profoundly disturbing, featuring racism and violence, tragedy and redemption. Overall, a quality film, although unpleasant to the utmost degree. When it was over, D made a comment about how depressing it was, and T defended herself, saying that’s why she couldn’t watch it at home (they have two small children). And I understand that sentiment: it’s definitely not imagery you would want a toddler waking from a nightmare to stumble upon whilst seeking parental reassurances.
So even though I liked the film, I don’t think the experience changed my perspective of the technology significantly. I guess it’s cool that such things exist, because apparently much of the world enjoys them. But me? Not so much.
I was away from the internets all weekend, so I'm a little behind the times, but I couldn't resist participating in this fun little meme. I first saw it on jo(e)'s page, and then again at In Blue Ink and No Polar Coordinates. To add to the excitement, I will disclose that this is my very.first.meme!
Comfort Beverage: Earl Grey tea, preferably organic. The tea must be plain; additives like milk and sugar only sully the simple goodness.
Comfort Food: Macaroni and cheese, the variety I grew up on, made from scratch. Again, very simple, only three ingredients: macaroni, milk, extra sharp cheddar (and it cannot be yellow). Combine and bake.
Comfort Seat: The south corner of my green loveseat, with the pillows all rearranged just so and a big comforter for coziness. A cat is a huge bonus.
Comfort Television: I would have to say Seinfeld, only because I can watch the reruns over and over and over, and it is always funny.
Comfort DVD: No doubts about this one. The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring. The scenes from the Shire.
Comfort Music: Tom Petty's Wildflowers. The Grateful Dead's Reckoning. Joni Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon.
Comfort Read: Oddly enough, this is the hardest for me to elucidate. I love to read, and as a kid I reread my favorite books ad infinitum. However, I made a conscious decision to move away from that habit as an adult. The problem is not that I wouldn't enjoy rereading favorites; I know I would. However, there are so many books out there I that I want to read but haven't yet. So I tend to stick with the unknown over the comfort. I guess to be cooperative, I will admit to the guilty pleasure of Jean Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear. The quality of her writing got progressively worse throughout the rest of the sordid series, but the first one holds up to many a reread. It even helped stimulate my interest in plants. The internets are also comforting, especially with that first mug of Earl Grey in the morning.
This afternoon, we depart for a drive to Mountainous New England State to attend the wedding of a college friend, B, to his beautiful and charming fiancée, J. We are traveling and staying with another friend from college, D, and his wife T. Financially this trip didn’t come at the best time, with our underemployment and the unexpected expenses related to Meshoe’s death last month. The wedding is in a touristy sort of town, and hotel rates seem rather high, not to mention the outrageous hospitality taxes.
All my usual mind-fuckery aside, it should be a fantastic weekend. The drives themselves will be more enjoyable than in any other season, especially since today is sunny and bright. The fall color is brilliant this year, and D has already threatened to make frequent photographic stops, welcome news indeed. And the camaraderie… we expect many other friends from college to be in attendance, people we see terribly infrequently. So I think we’re all pretty excited about the whole thing.
I feel a need to complain a bit about women’s clothing. Does anyone on the planet understand how the sizing works? What is this 6-8-10-12 crap? What are the units? Why is there no uniformity? I might wear a 6 from one store and a 12 from another. I might wear a 6 and a 12 from the same store. The numbers seem completely and utterly meaningless. This is part of why I hate shopping so much. Often when I shop for clothes, I get frustrated and buy nothing. Other times, out of desperation, I buy crap I later decide I hate.
As an example: back in May, I bought two pairs of jeans produced by the same manufacturer. Both were labeled as being the exact same style/cut. I bought one pair in size 8 and one pair in size 10, in different shades of blue. The fit is completely different between the pairs of pants. The size 8s fit great, very comfortable, whereas the size 10s turned out to be both snugger and shorter (a full two inches shorter!). If I had noticed this in the store, I wouldn’t have even bought the 10s, but I suck, plain and simple. I suck.
Since all his existing jeans were decomposing as he wore them, and multiple holes can get chilly this time of year, we went to the dreaded mall yesterday to get SodaBoy some new jeans. It seems to me, from the outside looking in, that shopping for men’s clothing is much, much simpler. Numbers have units; they mean something. Here in the states, numbers are measured in inches. A 34 inch waist is a 34 inch waist is a 34 inch waist. Also annoying: the department store where SodaBoy bought his new Levis does not stock Levis for women, only hoity designer brands. Sigh. I may have to go back to wearing men’s clothes.
My Mom is in the process of moving to a distant city in a lake state. While sorting and packing, she discovered a box of family photos from the late 1970s that probably hasn't been seen since. She offered, and I jumped at the chance to borrow them before they migrated westward.
What a hoot! The 70s clothes, hairstyles, shoes... the whole scene. I spent hours poring over them last night. This morning I started the slow work of scanning my favorites. Here's a little taste: Sis and I, circa June 1978. Aren't we cute?
Yesterday was a gorgeous day, warm and bright, the sun dazzling the colors on every hillside. This week is the last pick-up date for city brush removal, although they'll be back later for the leaves, and we should have been working in the yard. Needless to say, we weren't. We tried to go to Brain Rock State Park, but turned around and left after remembering the $6 admission fee is still collected on weekends until after Columbus Day. So we ended up at the Experiment Station instead.
The experiment station is one of the many properties owned by my alma mater. A tiny little main campus with a small student body, the school prides itself on their properties, owning more land than any other college in the nation. The acreage at the current Experiment Station is quite limited; the original experiment station was bisected when the interstate went up in the early 1960s and the college donated the other half to the city. The remaining portion serves as the college arboretum, and contains a diverse array of beautiful trees. Sections of the trails open up to big park-like areas, with tall trees towering over grassy knolls.
I had not been there in eleven years, not since I was a teaching assistant for dendrology, shepherding my section of students through the woods. Returning was bittersweet. On the one hand, I loved the courses where we spent the entire three hour labs outdoors, especially the plants courses: dendrology, dendrology II, systematic botany, winter botany. Winter botany was a class I'd begged for; it hadn't existed previously, but a group of us convinced our dendro professor that two fall semesters of dendrology were not enough, and we needed to keep going out to look at plants all through the spring semester as well. And I loved being a TA. It forced me to learn all the taxonomic features, inside and out, so I could teach them. Challenging, but fun. Remembering those days was the sweet.
The bitter came in when I realized how much I've forgotten. Plant taxonomy has aspects of a foreign language to it. The old adage, "use it or lose it" really does hold true. Before getting laid off in the end of July, I'd been working indoors in the chromatography department of a lab for 3.5 years. Not much opportunity for keeping my skills sharp there. So it was hard for me, walking these trails I had known so intimately... I used to know every single woody species there. I still know most of them, and I still retain the knowledge and skills to key out those I've forgotten, mostly specimens planted in the arboretum, many that I haven't seen in eleven years because I never actually saw them in their natural habitat. But it was sort of a slap in the face to be confronted with all that lost knowledge.
There is a chestnut tree growing in the arboretum section, large enough to bear fruit. This I remembered clearly; it was always a landmark on my past visits. So yesterday, like every other past autumn visit, I hunted for chestnuts. The search is never particularly bountiful: fresh chestnuts are sweet and tasty, and the squirrels always clean up. I usually find just a few by nosing through the spiny husks littering the ground. Yesterday I found ten, which might not sound like much, but was a new record for me. And you know what the strange thing is? I've never had roasted chestnuts, of holiday song fame. I guess because I never find enough to bother, and I like them raw, obviously. Someday I'll try them roasted. Someday...
Our cat Elijah loves to go for walks. He trots along behind, stops to smell things, gets all zippy, and bolts ahead. Stops to smell things again while we catch up. It is how we met him, before he was our cat. We went for a walk, and he came along. He is very charming about it, the way he prances so proudly, stopping to be admired. And he doesn't just follow for a little while, then get distracted and melt away, forgetting about us. Nope, not this cat: he's got focus.
The old neighborhood was more urban, big old houses on tree lined streets just off a busy thoroughfare with a bustling little commercial district. All our promenades were along sidewalks, very tame sorts of affairs. Elijah didn't mind. He loved to walk around the block. So much so that if we were going down to the commercial district to pick up takeout for dinner, we'd have to sneak off, not wanting to be followed onto the busier main street. We were rarely successful. But Elijah knew better than to mess with traffic. He waited patiently behind a privet hedge, and resumed the pitter patter footsteps when we came back his way, laden with catfish burritos or moussaka.
Our house is only a mile or two from the old neighborhood, but it's more laid back here. We can go for walks around the block without worrying too much about traffic. Except we rarely do, because we have the woods, and we walk there now. Although it seems unlikely that he's ever spent much time in the forest before, Elijah loves the woods. He might play the cool cat and ignore us in the backyard, yet as soon as he sees us heading to the path, he cannot be deterred in his blurred sprint across the lawn and up those first few steps.
The tiny little path that starts in our backyard empties after a few hundred feet into "the open area," a big field that appears to have been heavily disturbed a number of years ago. Bare gravel is still evident, but succession is at work now, and the open area is flush with pioneer species and exotics: goldenrod, asters, knapweed, sweet clover, butterfly weed, sweet pea, autumn olive, dogwoods, and buckthorn. The open area stretches most of the length of our block, and from it spurs a whole network of footpaths so tiny they are almost invisible.
We love to go explore those deer trails with Elijah. He crashes through underbrush like a champ, scurries up hills, crawls through ditches, and scampers over berms. Weather does not phase him. We turned back towards home one blisteringly hot summer day when he started panting on a steep hillside, because he certainly wouldn't have the good sense to turn back alone. We still have to sneak off on him sometimes, when we hike to the quarry or the water towers or the cemetery, as he's just too small to go for miles long hikes. It is almost like he is powerless not to follow. If he has any say in the matter, Elijah is a comrade on all foot campaigns departing from the house.
For the last week or so I've been indulging myself and my nerdly tendencies. I suspect not too many of my readers are big gamers, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say I'm not either. I am what those in the industry designate a "casual gamer." I only buy a new game once every year or two. The last game I played with any persistence was Children of the Nile, and that was released in 2004.
With the exception of Tetris, which is all about nostalgia anyway, I avoid console games, and stick to the computer. First person shooters and sports games of all varieties bore me to tears. The Sims never interested me. I've tried racing games and always get lapped repeatedly as I bobble around in the shrubbery. It is the historical city-building games that captivate me, games with complex economies: agriculture, raw materials, manufacturing, trade, diplomacy.
Especially in the honeymoon period after first acquiring a new game, I can spend hours at a time completely engrossed, immune to the passage of time. My current obsession is the new Caesar IV, released just last week. This specific game is particularly exciting for me, because of the whole Caesar thing. Computer gaming all started for me with Caesar III, and I have played with enthusiasm every subsequent incarnation Sierra Studios put out, from Zeus to Pharaoh to Emperor, and all expansions, too. I also played the Age of Empires lineage of games. But I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Caesar: he was my first.
And so I while away my hours, building reservoirs and aqueducts, city walls and gate houses, theaters and actors guilds. Providing goods to the citizens is quite a process. Producing olive oil, for example, requires an olive farm, olive groves, and an olive oil factory. And then the distribution network: warehouses and markets. I had quite a shock last night when I abruptly realized at 1:30 am that I'd been playing for hours without even checking my watch. I quickly took this screen shot, and closed up shop. I might need to take the day off today. Otherwise I'll be dreaming of my miniature Roman empire. Plus SodaBoy might want to play.
I awoke this morning to a loud, repetitive banging noise coming from the north side of the house. I thought maybe the next door neighbors were having some work done on their home, so I went and cracked a blind and peered through. The noise continued, yet I could see nothing out of the ordinary. I raised the blind halfway up and took in the full view, but with the same results. Definitely no roofers in sight, nor any contractors of any kind. Still with the pounding.
So I went downstairs, and after putting on the water for my tea, went out on the back porch and from there outside, and around the corner. It was a woodpecker! The both of us were so startled, I didn’t get the best look at it, but it was small: either a downy or a hairy. I see woodpeckers in the yard frequently, in the spruces or the birches at the edge the woods. Flickers, too. I like them. However, I do not like the idea of them boring a hole in my house. Or the possible implications: what if the woodpecker was foraging for food? Are there insects in our siding? I want my house to provide neither bed nor breakfast to these fowl.
The rest of the morning has been quiet; the bird has not returned. Due to our various states of underemployment, either SodaBoy or I (or both of us) are often home. This is the first time I have heard the woodpecker. And it was very loud. I simply cannot imagine that we wouldn’t have heard it previously were this a return visit, although apparently SodaBoy can sleep through anything. So I tend to think this was a random stop, or else the bird was staking out plans for a new shelter. Let’s hope for the former.