Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Introducing BerryBird

I first started Lake Loop about six months ago. Prior to that, my blogging experience had been limited to casual contributions to a group blog that my Mom had set up to share family photos. Mom and Sis both had blogs that I would check out every now and then. It got so whenever I sent a funny email, I’d hear about it: “you should be blogging that.”

Then I got laid off. All of a sudden, I had a lot more free time. I started spending more time with my friend, the internets. I caved to the pressure, and started my own blog here at Lake Loop. I didn’t really know what to expect. I have discovered a great community populated with wonderful, smart, funny, kind and supportive people. It’s truly been a super experience.

Despite all that, I still suffer waves of paranoia about the whole blogging thing. As much as I love all you random strangers I have become so fond of, the thought of people I know finding and reading the blog kind of squicks me out. I keep an eye on my Sitemeter and when I see mysterious local hits, I always get particularly spooked. Initially I had been careless with real world place names, so I went back and assigned more pseudonymous names to locales I had mentioned. I changed the name by which I reference my mate from his real world name to SodaBoy, and chose a handle for myself.

Now it’s my turn for the change. I have been blogging all this time using my real world first name. It is a very common first name for women of my generation (as noted elsewhere) and that knowledge made me feel somewhat secure. After all, if there are millions of us out there, no one will know it’s me me. However, the thought of having my real name out there and simultaneously working seems a little too risky for me. The last thing I want is people from work reading this. The horror.

To the introductions... Hi, I'm BerryBird. It’s nice to meet you!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Good News!

This morning was my second interview with Prospective Employer. Except truthfully, I can't call them that anymore. How about simply Employer? Yes, that's right... I got the job! Of course I am hugely excited, although perhaps even more impatient than before. See, the system is a little odd there. I don't yet know the terms of the job: the salary, the benefits, or even the exact start date. They are going to send a letter to my house this week to make the formal offer. Nothing is official, not until the human resources people make it so.

I have never been hired under such strange circumstances before. Honestly, it makes me slightly uneasy, but everyone there was very positive and upbeat, and I have no reason to be so paranoid. The interviewer said she wants me to start next week, told me a little bit about two specific projects they will have me working on right away, and took me around the office introducing me to future colleagues. When I saw the two people who had done the interviewing the first time around, they were very friendly and excited to see me again.

I have a lot of hopes invested in this job opportunity. It is a professional position, directly related to my college studies. I had virtually given up all hopes of finding such work locally, and was scrambling to come up with viable options. All previous work I've done in my field has been out of state: in Michigan, Minnesota, and Massachusetts. My last job, in the gas chromatography lab, was not in my field at all, and I only got that because of my general science background. I am so happy to be moving in the right direction again.

Although it is in my field, this new job has aspects of it that will be utterly new. I will get to learn so much. Now I can only wait and see, again! And hope... I hope the terms of the offer are to my liking, though I am so desperate for work now, it is hard to imagine turning them down. I also hope my skills haven't become too rusty in the last four years of disuse. I feel like I should be studying.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Silly Sign Saturday: The Golf Edition

First of all, I need to dish out some acknowledgements here... Murray over at Signs of the Times has an entire blog dedicated signs that are a little bit 'odd.' Anyone who hasn't been there before should hightail it over for some good belly laughs. Also, Jenny F. Scientist included a funny elderly crosswalk sign in her week-in-photos post yesterday that may have just pushed me over the line to share a few silly sign spottings of my own.

Secondly, I feel the need to add the disclaimer that I am not a golfer. Rather, I am the weird girl skulking around the golf course with a camera. Look out!

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Conch Shell

Just last week, my maternal grandmother died. She and I were quite close. I haven’t fully processed this grief, and have yet to write about it here. Living vicariously, though, I have been paying especial attention to other what other bloggers are writing about grief. Mary wrote a few days ago about the joy and comfort she gets from using items that once belonged to departed loved ones. Then today, Phantom Scribbler shared with us the frightening tale of a mercury spill and the sadness she is feeling over the loss of a plate. As I read her tale, I recalled my panicky feelings when I thought I’d lost my conch shell.

I was eleven years old when I experienced my first death in the family. [And yes, I am aware how fortunate I am to have been spared earlier losses]. It was my paternal great-grandmother (GGM) who had passed away, at the advanced age of 99 years. In my memory, she was always tiny and wizened, but I gather she was a fiercely strong woman in her younger days, and I love hearing those stories. She retained quite a bit of independence in her old age, shoveling her own driveway and patching her own roof well into her nineties.

She lived in an old farmhouse that had been built in 1822, by our mutual ancestors. She had inherited the family farm with an obscene level of debt, and fought tooth and nail to keep the land in the family. Whenever we went to visit her, she would be sitting in a rocking chair by the wood stove. It was probably the very same wood stove into which she put her twin sons to keep them warm after she gave birth at home in 1911: my grandfather and his twin brother were born weighing just over two pounds each.

Eventually GGM broke her hip, and spent her last few years living first with my grandfather, and then finally in a nursing home, so my memories of visiting her at the old farmhouse are not very clear. I remember the big, thick molasses cookies she would always give us kids, and the French doors leading into a parlor where Sis and I would bang away at the piano while the grown ups visited.

From her estate, my Dad selected one conch shell each for my sister and I. Conch shells are sort of incongruous for this part of the country; we are not near any oceans, and unfortunately I do not remember any stories explaining their origin. These particular conch shells have the tip of one end sliced clean off, and can be played like a bugle. Apparently, GGM had used the conch shells to call her dogs.

They were left to my Dad, because growing up, he was the only one to master the trick of playing them. I myself never learned to play, although Sis did, perhaps translating some essential skill from her flute lessons. SodaBoy can also make it bellow. Although I never learned to play, I have always treasured the beautiful shell, and the memories and stories of the woman it evokes. Sometimes I have used it as a doorstop; other times it has graced shelves as a bookend.

After we moved this last time, I couldn’t find the conch shell anywhere. I tore through closets and boxes, and not finding it, became more and more distraught. I became convinced it was one of the many items that had been lost in the move, or accidentally left behind. Like the dish towel printed with blue kitty cats, given to me by my step-mother as a thank you gift for pet sitting services, which may still hang on the refridgerator door in the old apartment. While I wasn’t particularly happy about any of the missing items, I was truly devastated to think I’d lost the beautiful old conch shell, my only physical memento of GGM. I hurled many a cruel invective at SodaBoy, foisting all blame on him.

Months later, when I finally rediscovered the conch shell, I was flooded with relief. Some guilt, yes, for having falsely accused SodaBoy, but mostly just a lightening of spirit. I still have that little piece of GGM, not just in my unreliable memory, but something real, something solid, something tangible.

Something beautiful.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Hopeful Update

Prospective Employer finally called back this morning, and scheduled that second interview I am so desperate for. Huzzah! Next Tuesday, I'll be strutting my stuff once more. I am glad I have the weekend to mentally prepare, because I'd talked myself into the dumps a bit, and while I feel much better today, I'd like to be a little more confident come interview time.

[I had basically convinced myself that I am a total poser lame ass who doesn't deserve gainful employment of any sort of respectable variety. See what I mean about needing a little boost?]

I still have nagging doubts because of the time lapse between my first interview and the call back (ten days). I did email the interviewers a thank you note and link to a writing sample the day after my initial meeting. I received a very positive response practically instantly, assuring me they'd be back in touch soon. Nine days later is NOT soon in my book. I feel like they maybe offered the job to someone else, who turned it down, and now they are falling back to me. SodaBoy has been trying to comfort me all along, saying they were just busy and they would call eventually. Score one for SodaBoy, I guess.

Now to the part where I ask for advice... I only have one suit, which I wore to the first interview. I do have several sweaters that look nice under the jacket. Do I wear the same suit with a different top under it? Or completely separate dress pants with a slightly less formal sweater/jacket piece? Both pairs of pants are black and would look identical to an untrained eye. The interviewers were dressed comfortably in corduroy and plaid. My backup fancywear is still much dressier than office casual. What do I wear?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Feeding the Birds

I am getting really discouraged because I haven't heard back from that prospective employer I interviewed with last week. I guess the interview didn't go as well as I had thought. That's the trouble when you view the world through rose-colored glasses. Only I am not known for being especially optimistic; I must be getting desperate. See, I thought when they said things like they could market my skills and how I had much more experience than other applicants, I thought that meant something good. It wasn't just them being polite and me lapping it up. Or maybe it was. The bottom line is they haven't called back.

So I am feeling a little poopy. Watching the birds is one of the only things cheering me up these days. I got a bird feeding complex for Christmas, a big stand that hold three different types of feeders. There is the house-shaped one that holds black oil sunflower seeds, a cylindrical one that dispenses nyjer seeds, and then the peanut feeder. We couldn't find any unsalted shelled peanuts when we were buying birdseed, so got cracked corn instead. The corn is not very popular; we'll have to look elsewhere for the peanuts. We didn't get many visitors at first, with the unseasonably warm weather, just a few friendly chickadees. Once it got cold, other birds showed up.

It is so fun to look out the window and see a rainbow of species jostling for seeds. We regularly get gold finches, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, chipping sparrows, cardinals, and woodpeckers. The house finches were late to the party, but now show up in droves. I think the blue jays will show up once we get some peanuts. I wish I understood their behavior a little better though. Some days it's a mob scene out there, with every feeder full to capacity and a queue of hungry birds fluttering around the birches waiting for their turn. Other days, it is completely desolate. Today, for example, I have not seen a single bird. Where are they all hiding?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Basketball Confessions

I was going to jump right into a rant about how I hate day games, but I realized that would make little sense in the context of this space, for I have never outed myself as a basketball fan. So there it is: I am a fan of the Hometown University’s mens basketball team. SodaBoy and I transitioned from fair-weather fans to something a little more serious a number of years back when HU won the NCAA title. Before that we’d tuned in to a few games here and there, but when the team would start losing, we’d bail. The year of the National Championship they never started losing. It was hard to not get caught up in that excitement.

For me, it all started much longer ago than that. It goes back to spending time with my Dad as a kid. I grew up in a small town outside current hometown. Distance had more meaning when this area was first settled, and Childhood Village was a completely separate place, with its own little downtown. It was not originally a suburb of current Hometown, but the automobile changed things and the suburbs are spreading. During my lifetime it has always been an easy commute between CV and current hometown. Dad has been a season ticket holder to HU basketball games for maybe 25 years now.

He had two tickets, and would rotate through game day companions. It was always a big day for Sis or I when it was our turn to tag along. I remember parking in Tall Trees Cemetery right after the Thriller video came out. I’m not sure I would have admitted to the zombie fear, but there’s no denying I was hyper-vigilant on that particular nighttime walk through the graveyard. We never bought the overpriced venue food, but would often stop on the way home at a locally-famous hot dog stand in a neighboring town. The most exciting part of this was the spicy ginger beer we'd get along with our hot dogs. Soda itself was exciting enough in those days.

I recently had occasion to examine an old diary I kept in seventh grade. It was not one I considered “real,” because it was an assignment for school. Periodically the teacher would collect them, and then read and grade the journals. I think the grade was just a participation sort of thing; as long as we wrote something, it didn’t matter what we wrote. So in a struggle to find a topic I was willing to share with my teacher, I wrote about basketball. And pretty regularly, too: apparently I was watching all the games then. Something changed in high school. I don’t know if the team hit a slump, or if I didn’t want to hang out with Dad anymore. Maybe I just lost interest.

Throughout high school, and college, and even graduate school, I watched very little sports of any kind. I was a huge fan of the television series Northern Exposure in college. The syndicated reruns would come on weeknights at 11 pm, the perfect time to unwind after doing homework. There is a scene where Holling VinCoeur says to a very pregnant Shelly Tambo, “For people to judge a man's worth and his very manhood according to the way he feels about sport, and not to recognize it for the piddly, inconsequential goings on that it really is…” Yes, that’s right: inconsequential goings on. I just loved that. It was my answer for years whenever sports came up.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from watching big games when the team was playing well. In college, I watched the game where HU made it the Final Four, and loved the excitement when the team won and all my neighbors poured out into the street. It is the excitement that gets to me still. I love the energy of a live game, dressing in team colors, cheering the team on. I love the hometown traditions, the drunken rowdiness, the crowd screaming bullshit in unison at bad refereeing calls. I even love the wave. How cheesy is that?

One thing I do not like one bit: daytime games. I want to watch the game, but I hate turning on the television before sunset. It feels wrong somehow. It disrupts the natural flow of the day. In my mind, television is for evening hours. I don’t like matinees at the movies either. I always get all disoriented if I emerge from the theater and it is still light outside. Disoriented and cranky. I can’t fathom why games are scheduled during the day. It must be advantageous for someone. I wonder how the players feel about it.

OK, I better run along now... I don’t want to miss the game.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

In Place of Words, I Offer Video

I would like to apologize to my readers for disappearing like I’ve done this week. You all know I’m a spotty and unreliable poster under the best of circumstances, so I’m sure you will find it in your hearts to forgive me. This week has been a little rough. And for those of you wondering, my job interview on Monday went pretty well. I don’t want to jinx myself by being to optimistic, but I have a very good feeling about the whole thing. I am almost certain I will get the call back for that groovy second interview early next week.

So in lieu of anything meaningful, I present to you this video rant. It’s not new; many of you have probably already seen it. But it makes me laugh, and we could all use a good laugh. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Back off, Spidey!

I am not afraid of spiders. They do not seek out people to bite; we are not their prey. Spiders might bite a human if they feel threatened, but a creature can't be blamed for simple self-defense. As an adaptive trait, people may be genetically predisposed to learn a fear of spiders, along with snakes, as certain varieties of these animals have posed threats to hominids throughout our evolution. However, there are no poisonous spiders in my area, and I never had that initial bad experience that often ushers in phobias. So to me, spiders remain an object of fascination and wonder.

Occasionally, I will relocate them to what I deem to be a more suitable location. One place that warrants a reassignment every time is the shower. I don't know why spiders seems to favor the shower so much, but I suspect they are merely attracted to moisture, especially in the winter, when the air becomes so dry. But I hate seeing them in there, because I often fail to notice them until it's too late and they are swirling down the drain (and then I feel terribly guilty). It also can be hard to carry out the logistics of catch-and-release while soaking wet and possibly soapy.

Yesterday, I was lucky. The spider showed itself as soon as I opened the shower curtain, dropping in front of my face on a cord of silk. I grabbed the string of silk, and reattached it to the knob of a nearby cabinet and went about my merry business. Apparently, I wasn't thorough enough, though.

This morning, Spidey was back, and I didn't spy it until I was already lathered up. The poor creature was clinging to the wet shower curtain. I was careful for the rest of the shower, trying to keep water from spraying in Spidey's direction. Once I toweled off, I freed the little spider from the water droplet where it was trapped by surface tension. The spider seemed to recover quickly, suggesting by its mobility that it had not drowned. This time I moved it further away, to the guest room, where I put it on a houseplant.

Spider, meet spider plant.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Snow Removal

Winter has finally arrived in my neck of the woods. It took me an hour to shovel the driveway this afternoon, which is actually a good thing, because it means I got some exercise. I have a much harder time motivating to go for walks when it is cold out. Mind you, once I get going, I invariably enjoy myself, no matter the weather, but like I said, I have motivational issues. You could even say I am motivationally challenged.

I shoveled my car,too, in addition to the driveway. There was just way too much snow for a puny little brush. I didn’t touch SodaBoy’s car, though, because he can get a little uppity about scratches and such. He came out and brushed it off himself when I was almost done with the driveway. Of course, then I had to shovel all around his car again (we really got quite a bit of snow).

Strange little snow removal detail… when the city plowed the street this morning, they only did a narrow landing strip down the center of the road, leaving about six or seven feet on either side unplowed. Normally, I shovel through the plow crap all the way to the street, just to have a clear opening. But after shoveling four feet of road, I started to feel like an ass and threw in the towel. This is the first big snowstorm we’ve had since living here, so I’m hoping this isn’t how they routinely do things in this part of town. I’ve been scoping out the neighbors and their shoveling habits. It’s pretty well split between the OCD types who removed every speck of snow in the vicinity, and those like myself who didn’t shovel the entire street. Along with a few who apparently don't shovel at all.

Onto non-snow-related issues, I had two good things happen today:

1. After I finished shoveling, I convinced SodaBoy to take me out for a milkshake at the neighborhood scoop/sandwich shop. The counter boy looked at me like I was batshit when I ordered my milkshake. Yeah, I know, it’s cold outside. But I’m all warmed up from shoveling, and I’m wearing a down coat and a wool hat and leather gloves, and I’m not cold, and I’ve been craving one all week, so make with the milkshake already. No, I don't want chili. I want a freaking milkshake! Mmmm, milkshake. We also stopped on the way home and got SodaBoy some cough syrup.

2. I got a call from a prospective employer this morning, and we set up an interview for Monday.

Clever of me to save the best for last, huh? Wish me luck.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

In Sickness and In Health

SodaBoy has been sick the last few days, with a bad cold that is migrating from head to chest. In the last three days he hasn’t strayed from bed except to the couch. This has meant even more television than usual. Now, I’ve been sick and I understand that it’s no fun. I was prone to strep as a youth, and fairly susceptible to bronchitis as well, and I even had scarlet fever once. The only childhood illness I missed out on was chickenpox, mysteriously enough.

[I had one reddish spot at the same time my sister had chickenpox, but other than that, none of the normal symptoms. This will frighten me if I think about it too much, as I don’t want to get it as an adult and end up with shingles. Adult onset chickenpox is clearly a foolish thing to fret about, though. My grandfather had the pox twice, once as a child and then again as an adult. There are no guarantees with immunity.]

Even reading can be too much of a strain when you feel like crap. Intellectually, I know that; I remember it from my own past suffering. And, yet... despite knowing all that, I’m still struggling to suppress my resentment about the constant television chatter. It’s driving me bonkers! There is no escape. Frankly, it is the biggest disappointment of home ownership. Living in apartments for years, I constantly fantasized about having a house and being able to get away from the idiot box. But it’s not really possible. I can hear it jabbering from in the house, even the basement.

As a kid, I could read through anything and everything. I would carry books to the grocery store and read while Mom shopped. I would happily read away while Dad watched television. Not a problem. I never saw Star Wars until I went to college, because when it came on cable and Dad watched it? Yeah, I was busy reading. Somewhere along the way, I mostly lost that skill. I’m much more easily distracted as an adult. And reading? Reading is easy compared to writing.

Unless I want to end up with drivel like this.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Not Too Proud

As part of my ongoing quest for employment, I took a civil service exam yesterday. Another new experience, but hey: I’m not too proud for job security and good benefits. The exam was for a technician title in an applied science department with the county. The tests will be scored and ranked by performance, a process that is scheduled to take up to three months. I don’t see how it could possibly take three months, since the test was multiple choice. Then again, I may be biased by my eagerness for work. It is the government, after all. I shouldn’t expect efficiency.

Civil service law requires that appointments be made from among one of the three highest scoring candidates interested in the position. I was optimistic before the test, thinking to myself, I’m pretty smart, I should have a decent shot. Now I’m not so sure. More people took the exam than I expected, at least 20 warm bodies. And the questions were hard! Well, not all of them. Half the test was math of some variety, all ridiculously easy. However, the subject related questions were very, very specific. I’m trying to comfort myself with the thought that everyone else found those questions difficult, too.

In two short weeks, I'll be taking another exam for a different technician job with the county. Maybe I’ll do better next time.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bribing Myself

I didn’t have any pressing errands to run today, but I knew it was going to be nice out again. I told myself I couldn’t go for a walk until I applied for another job. Going out this morning to bring up the empty trash can and recycling bin really lit a fire under my butt; it’s gorgeous out today, sunny and 55 degrees. Of course, even then, I putzed around for a while first: putting away clean dishes, loading the dishwasher, checking my email, reading blogs, updating lists.

I finally hunkered down to work on the job application early this afternoon. It was another application that must be completed online, and of the worst variety, too. “Paste your resume” into this rinky box and lose all your formatting. Super! So I dinked around with that for awhile before I got it into acceptable shape. Then I was free. I grabbed the camera and headed for Stormwater Park.

Our city has a great program where they pick up holiday trees curbside starting after the New Year. The trees are taken to one of several compost sites, where come spring time, they are ground into mulch. The mulch is available free to anyone who wants to come and pick it up. So to entertain myself along my walk to the park and back, I kept a tally of the discarded trees. Three balsam firs (Abies balsamea), two Douglas-firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and one Frasier fir (Abies fraseri). Nice trees, with the exception of the one Doug fir that had been spray painted with white streaks; some people are really desperate for snow, I guess. What the fake snow does to the mulch, I don’t even want to think about.

The park was bustling, mostly with families at the playground, and dogwalkers. I swear, dogwalkers are the friendliest lot you ever could meet. I love how when you make casual conversation with a stranger and their dog, you invariably learn the dog’s name but not that of their human companion. Today I exchanged greetings with many a fine folk, and had a friendly conversation with one man. His canine friend Reese approached me while I was taking pictures of the ducks, and tried to sit on my feet. Of course we talked about how the water should be long frozen by now, what a beautiful day it is, and how happy the foolish little mallards look.

All us foolish little humans looked pretty happy, too, if truth be told.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ginkgo Alley

The unseasonable warmth continues in my neck of the woods, with highs in the 50s forecast for the rest of the week. I just returned from a walk to run errands, two banks and the post office, exactly four miles round trip according to Google Earth. It feels good to be able to propel myself on these routine missions, for several rather obvious reasons. Why use the car, and burn fossil fuels, when I don’t need to?

Plus, I enjoy the walking. Of course I like walking in nature best, but any old walk will do: I’m easy. Fresh air, sunshine, interesting sights. SodaBoy used to mock me sometimes when I’d try to talk him into joining me in a prowl around the neighborhood. He loves hiking, but wants his walks to be somewhere interesting. Forced marches is the term he coined for my “boring walks” around the neighborhood. But I always find things of interest.

Today’s walk led me through Tall Tree Cemetery, then through campus. I passed a tombstone marked with a birth year of 1904, but no year of death had been added later. Is that person still alive? Or did the family move away and inter their loved one elsewhere? And in a small parking area near the biology building, I saw vanity plates on approximately 15% of the cars: CASTANEA, CATFOOT, and YBE NRML. There were zero customized plates in two larger parking areas by the engineering building and the gymnasium. This is obviously too small a sample size to tell us anything meaningful, but do biologists get customized license plates more often than other academics? See how it works? I can entertain myself endlessly with such minutia.

I chose my path so that I walked on Ginkgo Alley in both directions. Ginkgo Alley is my name (I’m sure the cemetery administrators use another, more official, designation) for a lane in the graveyard that is lined on both sides with majestic old ginkgo trees, the biggest I’ve ever seen. Ginkgo biloba trees are dioecious, and oddly enough, both male and female trees were planted along Ginkgo Alley. This is highly unusual. The male trees bear pollen cones, and the female trees produce ovules, which develop into seeds after pollination. The seeds have a fleshy, fruit-like covering, and look much like pale cherries or small apricots.

Ginkgo trees are often used in landscaping, and as urban street trees. They are considered extremely tolerant of salt and pollution, are disease and insect resistant, and can even withstand massive radiation. Although the seeds are attractive enough, female ginkgo trees are rarely planted, at least in the United States. I’ve heard that the planting of female trees is actually banned in some municipalities. The city of Boise went so far as to remove 26 female ginkgo trees, and replant them with male cultivars.

The seeds contain n-butanoic acid, which has a distinctly unpleasant odor, most often compared to rancid butter. Vomit is actually what comes to my mind: ginkgo “fruit” smells exactly like vomit. The smell is strong enough that walking down Ginkgo Alley in the fall, with the seeds littering the pavement and squishing underfoot, can trigger the gag reflex. Really, all you can do is just try to hold your breath, and walk faster. It’s that bad.

The calendar says it’s January now, so I thought the time was well enough past for stinkiness, and I like the ginkgo tree. It’s a living fossil, after all, and damn interesting, and pretty, too. So I walked Ginkgo Alley today. There were a few malodorous seeds still lying about. So to immerse myself in the moment, I stopped, knelt, tied my shoe, and inhaled deeply. Oh yeah, baby, I'm alive!

Monday, January 01, 2007

I've Got the Fever

For the last several years I’ve noticed, with little more than passing fancy, how people in all stages of air travel seem to entertain themselves with little grids of numbers. I could see that some numbers were missing, and the apparent goal was to fill in all the blanks. Like a crossword puzzle with numbers? Where you do a lot of adding? That was about as far as my interest took me. I like to read on airplanes anyway.

Then while visiting SodaBoy’s parents last year at Thanksgiving, we saw them working on these number games. At this time, I first learned the name of the mysterious wordless crosswords: Sudoku. I also made a mental note that a book of Sudokus might make a good future gift for them. [And then I actually remembered, and bought a Will Shortz book for them this past Christmas. Hot damn! I’m on a roll.]

It wasn't until their recent holiday visit that I actually learned how Sudokus work. The first night of their stay, we had 6 o’clock dinner reservations, but were instructed to come by their hotel earlier, since they were eager to see us. When we arrived at their room for pre-dinner cocktails/cokes, both SodaBoy’s parents were working on Sudokus, so they explained how to solve them. I was immediately intrigued.

It’s very simple really. The puzzle consists of a 9 x 9 grid, which is further divided into 3 x 3 squares. Each little box must contain a number from 1-9; no number can be repeated across any given row, down any given column, or within any given 3 x 3 square. There is no adding required, just the most basic of counting skills.

This handy little diagram from Wikipedia beautifully illustrates why the green-colored box must be a 5. It simply cannot be any other number.

After dinner that night, I rustled around the house, looking in our paper recyclables until I found an old Sudoku. Unfortunately the puzzle was classified as “HARD” and I did not persist long enough to solve it correctly. I decided HARD wasn’t the best level to start with, and looked online. Goldmine! This site offers "billions" of Sudoku puzzles, all free and designed for either printing or online play. Of course there are many other sites as well... you’ve gotta love the internets.

I have been printing them up, because as a newbie, I need to a few make notes as I go along. Even printing on both sides of the paper is a getting a little consumptive though. I am not keen to play online: I spend enough time on the damn computer already. I may need to go back to the bookstore and pick up a book of puzzles for myself; it might be cheaper than all this ink and paper.

Seriously, if you've never tried one before, go check out the Sudokus. They are totally addictive, and more fun than they look. And I probably shouldn’t call myself a novice any more, even though it’s only been a week or so now. Last night I completed my first “EVIL” level puzzle. Thank you, thank you...

I will accept your congratulations now.