Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Um, Universe. Did you not understand my request?

Amy Leigh asked if I had considered just paying the traffic ticket and being done with it. She also wanted to know where I learned to swear like a sailor. I guess I was a little excited about the flag.

Jim and I sat on the couch and went over my options. He was reading from a website. There are three ways to win in traffic court. One and two involved moving radar, so would not work for me. The third was to argue that I was speeding because of an emergency. After some discussion, the emergency we came up with was this: Danny really had to pee. I wasn’t sure this would be compelling in court, but Jim assured me that most people of the law were also parents and would understand. He stressed that I needed to take it further and say that because we were pulled over he had gone on to have an accident, but this just seemed like too much perjury to me. I think I’m just going to assume the cop won’t show, I countered. Are you sure this will work?

I don’t know, he said, I’ve never actually contested a ticket. You’re kidding? No, he said. I’ve always just paid them.

The next morning it was well below freezing outside so there was no way I was wearing a skirt and I’m really not into the Hillary Clinton mant suit look, so I ended up choosing black pants and a simple wool jacket. For a sweater, I thought pink was too precious and red too brazen. I decided on purple because purple is the color of royalty and royalty always gets off scot free.

I grabbed my coffee, ditched my Walkman and left early enough to arrive at the courthouse with 15 minutes to spare. I was feeling fairly confident because it had snowed several inches overnight and my hearing was at 8:30, the tail end of the morning commute. All the good working folk of Olathe were busy running into each others’ bumpers and sliding into ditches so I was certain that the Olathe police force was far too busy assisting in these incidents to show up at traffic court.

However, when I stopped inside the building to ask which courtroom I was in I was told that my hearing was not at the county courthouse, but at the city courthouse, which was down on Old 56 Highway. Did I know where that was? Yes, now that they mentioned it. So I ran back to my car and determined that I had 11 minutes to make it to the city courthouse.

I decided I should not drive too fast because (a) the roads were icy and (b) were I to be stopped and asked why I was in such a hurry, I doubted that “I’m late for traffic court” would be an answer that would win me much sympathy, even with my good cop karma. When I did arrive at the city courthouse, the parking lot was already full, because apparently all the crackheads and petty criminals of Olathe had read the manual and arrived on time for their 8:30 hearings. So I had to park in the back forty and run through the slush, all the while berating myself for not just paying the fine and being done with it.

For one brief moment, I had this vision of myself, arriving late to traffic court to sit amongst thieves and drug dealers so that I could go before a court of the law and lie about my son’s toilet habits, all to get out of paying a relatively minor fine for breaking a well-posted speed limit. How far had I sunk? What kind of a role model was I for my children? Good god.

I slipped through the courtroom doors at 8:35. My bottom had barely hit the bench when the judge called for those whose last names began with A-B to please stand and form a line. I looked around. I was the only person who had dressed up. Also, I didn’t see any cops. I started to feel my confidence return. The judge was calling the people one at a time up to the bench and then dismissing them fairly quickly. It occurred to me that both my kids had been ill with an intestinal bug the month before. In fact, now that I thought about it, there was one bodily emergency that would qualify as more urgent than having to pee and that would be...

“Ms. Brumm, please approach the bench.”

I did, and the judge asked me if I wanted to pay the fine or contest and I heard myself saying that I wanted to contest the charges. “Very well,” he said, “step to the side.” I did, and a nice lady handed me a slip of paper saying my court date was for 1:00 p.m. on Feb. 10, 2010.



December Stats:

Snowfall: 19”
New flags: 16
Coyote sightings: 1
Migraines: 2
Vicodin consumed: honestly no idea
PTO accumulation: inadequate
Traffic citations dropped: fuck

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Monday, December 28, 2009

I Resolve to Acquire Togo, Belize and Cameroon

First off, I have to say I am crestfallen. I opened the (virtual) Kansas City Star to read Seroj’s column, Ask A Handyman, only to discover that he had chosen to answer someone else’s question, about creosote buildup of all things. I’m going to assume this is because no one bothers to read the paper on Boxing Day so he specifically chose a low interest topic and is saving my question for a higher-readership day. Creosote buildup!

And speaking of Boxing Day, my smart (ty pants) friend Celeste told me that there is this neat little site called Google that I can use to answer burning questions such as “Why do they call it Boxing Day?” Just to be original, I went to Wikipedia instead and read that the origins of the holiday are unknown, but some believe it is tied to the ye olde tradition of leaving metal boxes outside churches to collect offerings for the feast of St. Stephen. So there ya go.

I heard from my old friend Bill in Canberra the other day. And when I say old I mean as in a long time ago. Bill and I studied writing together at KU a couple years ago. Or a couple score. I can't keep track. He's the world's second greatest poet, out-writ only by his daughter. Bill told me he's been reading my blog and is responsible for my first Australian flag, so beat that! No, really. Beat it. There are lots of flags I still need.

And speaking of Australian writers, Veronica and I have bonded over the fact that we both have faux marbley-looking plastic laminate countertops and that if either of us had $8,000 burning a hole in our pockets we have the good sense to spend it on something other than a big attractive slab of rock. Score one, us. If you want to see some beautiful food stuff photographed against her faux marbley countertops just click here, though I’m going to warn you, if you do, you might be slightly less impressed with my suet-cake-in-baggie shot. Just remember, I have other talents (i.e., teen bowling sensation).

It finally stopped snowing, just in time for all the good working folk of Kansas to go back to the office Monday morning (sigh). I was utterly surprised to discover that Amy Leigh decided to voluntarily stay another day at her parents' house, despite the break in the weather, thus sparing me from having to stage a friendervention. I reminded her that this turn of events somewhat screwed with my blog plotline, but she seemed unconcerned. Perhaps when faced with a return to the daily grind and a massive driveway-shoveling, a seventh reading of the Heart is a Lonely Hunter seemed compelling.  Or maybe someone likes a helping of drama with her Christmas ham.

Both the kids are home all week but I have to work because I blew all my PTO on my trip to Australia in September. Jim is staying home with them because he’s been with the same company for more than half his life and accrues PTO at such an advanced rate that if he doesn’t take a day off every six minutes he starts to lose his. It’s a terrible burden.

By the way, I’ve decided to contest my traffic ticket. My court date is Wednesday morning. I don’t think I’ll go with the monster rocks defense. My top strategy is hoping the cop doesn’t show up, in which case I’ve heard they just drop the charges. Failing that, I’ve been reading online what possible choices I have. One site reminded me to show up on time, dress neatly, not listen to my Walkman and address the judge as Your Honor (do they still make Walkmans?).

There are lots of sites that want to sell me handbooks on how to beat the system. One site guarantees results to everyone who has been ripped off and robbed at radar point (no sleazy lawyers needed)! It is endorsed by a former police officer from Michigan who says that EVERY speeding ticket he ever issued could have been dismissed if citizens had known the closely guarded secrets that are revealed in this handbook. One grateful client said that she “based her defense entirely on the fact that the radar gun should have been (omitted) with (omitted) and asked the officer to prove it.” If I can only figure out what words have been omitted then I won’t have to pay the money for the handbook. I’m thinking that the radar gun should have been calibrated with something. Do you think if I just go in there and dress neatly and say Your Honor and mumble something about calibration that I’ll get a pass? I think it’s worth a try. I’ll let you know how it goes. Here’s hoping my good cop karma kicks in.

Finally, I have to tell you about this new wine I've discovered. It’s called Pinot Noir. I had a bottle the other night and thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I know what you're thinking. Hey Kristin, welcome to 2004. Ever seen the movie Sideways, girlfriend? Yes, actually, I have. I thought it was a little whiny and tedious for an art house flick. But I'm a bit slow to pick up on trends. I only began to ease off Merlot in favor of Syrah a few years ago. It was incredibly smooth and not too sweet and it didn’t give me a wineover or make me wake up at 3:00 a.m. the way some wines do. You ought to try it.

I'm a little stressed.  I only have three days to come up with my New Year's resolutions.  And I'm afraid all the best ones have already been taken.  I actually reached my major goals last year (start writing again, go to Australia, lose some weight) so now I feel a need to top that.  Then again, if I wait until late in 2010 to come up with my resolutions, I'll have a better chance of achieving them.  Other than more travel and more writing, I'm fuzzy on the rest of my resolution details.  But you can bet they'll include some serious flag accumulation.
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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Just Put Down the Scythe and Back Away Slowly

We had more snow overnight and when I got up today (Boxing Day, why do they call it Boxing Day?) it was almost over the top of the bird bath in my garden. I was feeling kind of bad because I hadn't filled the bird feeders in our yard in some time. They were sitting out there empty and the bird seed was sitting in a large bin underneath the porch steps, which were covered in several feet of snow. There was an empty suet feeder swinging in the wind and I checked the kitchen drawer to see if I at least had a suet block I could put outside, but sadly, no. Then it occurred to me that I could make my own.

You don't know this about me but I'm actually very handy in the kitchen. I've had a subscription to Bon Appetit for almost 20 years. All you know about my culinary skills is that I failed at making a turkey, a recipe that basically involves placing a bird in the oven and removing it three hours later. So I'm feeling a need to balance the scales here.

I have been to a number of blogs that include recipes and also some very impressive, magazine-quality photos of fresh ingredients in various stages of preparation, generally shot against a backdrop of wooden bowls, marble counter tops and Kitchen Aidy-type appliances. I won't mention any names Veronica but I always leave these sites feeling small and inferior. As such, I've decided to chronicle my suet making for your blog reading pleasure.

I found the following recipe online. It comes from Horticulture educator Patricia Collins:

  • Melt 1 cup shortening (or lard) in a saucepan on very low heat.
  • Add 1 cup peanut butter and stir until melted.
  • To this add 1 cup plain flour and 3 cups plain cornmeal. Mix thoroughly.
  • Add whole rolled oats, seeds, raisins or bread crumbs if you have any. The final consistency will be putty-like.
  • Pour into a disposable 8x8 inch aluminum pan and allow to cool.

I have no idea if this recipe is any good because it's not the one I used.

I'm the type of cook who starts in on a recipe without checking to make sure I have all the ingredients in my pantry. Of course, in this instance, I did not. For the corn meal, I only had about 1 of the 3 necessary cups. When searching for a replacement that would have a similar consistency, I hit upon Malt-o-Meal cereal. Mom would have been proud. I also tossed in some hulled pumpkin seeds, dried tropical fruits, rolled oats and flax seeds (because I care about the heart health of our feathered friends). Basically, you just want to keep throwing things in until it reaches the right consistency.

Be impressed

I stuck mine in the freezer to get it to set quickly. Once it is set you can cut it into blocks. Also, I found the 8x8 pan too small and used bread loaf pans instead (each makes 2 blocks). The blocks are a little greasy since they are made of suet, but that's the point, isn't it?

If there is several feet of snow outside and the feeder is quite a ways from the back door, you'll want to hand the block to your husband and ask him, nicely of course, to put it in the suet holder hanging outside. If you married well, he will oblige you in this. If he has a new camera, he will also take attractive bird feeder pictures for you. I stored the remaining blocks in sandwich bags for freezing and then used my husband's new camera when he wasn't looking to take an impressive suet-cake-in-baggie picture.

Warning: rough transition from suet blocks to dinner guests.

Four of our seven guests made it over yesterday and that is only because they were on the road to begin with, driving up from Tennessee, so had no choice but to keep going. These were my friends Kris and Larry from college and their two children. The others chose, wisely, to stay put. We had a wonderful feast of ham and two kinds of potatoes (because when god gives you potatoes, why stop at just one dish?), green beans almondine, fresh bread and all the aforementioned pies and cookies.

We also had an interesting conversation about nerds. Their 12-year-old daughter is a self-proclaimed nerd. She wears glasses and funny shoes and is exceptionally bright, all of which apparently qualify her. She was telling me that when one is a nerd, one can automatically claim all other nerds as friends. I asked her how many other nerd friends she had and she said about 20. I was impressed. I didn't have that many friends at her age. I asked Jim if this was true. About nerds? I figured he would know because he had told me once that had I known him in high school I wouldn't have dated him. But no, he said he wasn't a nerd, he was invisible. Jim said he invoked an invisibility shield at that age, at which point Kris and Larry said in unison, like in Star Trek, you're a nerd! And Jim said, no, more like in Predator. And they all laughed. I listened to them and thought, I wouldn't have dated any of you. Because, remember, in high school I was a teen bowling sensation.

At the end of the day it was still snowing, great enormous flakes, and I stood at the window and looked out across the field behind our house, which had been transformed into a Currier & Ives wonderland minus the horses, and smiled at the sheer beauty of it all. I logged into Facebook to conduct my social life and saw that Amy Leigh had left a rather terse message on my wall about the fucking snow. Her attitude had progressed from one of mild annoyance two days before to out and out murderous hostility. She was still holed up at her parents' house in Western Kansas, apparently suffering severe cabin fever and reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter for perhaps the sixth time, as that is all she had brought with her. In fact, it's probably a good thing the roads were not drivable because it's likely, had they been, she would have gone out and committed assault. There is, you know, an historical correlation between Western Kansas, literature and scandalous acts of violence (I'm referring of course to In Cold Blood).

While I am snowbound at least I have ham and two kinds of potatoes and a truckload of pie and my virtual social life. And lots of suet, for what that's worth. If Amy can't get on the roads tomorrow I may have to talk her down from hauling off and icing some unsuspecting wheat farmer. But it's supposed to stop snowing. (Though they've been saying that for two days now.) I suppose if I get too bored I can always make off with Jim's camera and start cooking again. Lucky you.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Mother Freakin' Nature. Yeah Baby!

You'll be happy to know that my Christmas spirit kicked in at the 11th hour. I was sitting on my couch late on Christmas eve eve (tweve) posting fascinating updates on Facebook: I'm thinking about maybe starting to wrap Christmas presents. Soonish. And Amy Leigh, who was out at her parents' house in Podunk, Western Kansas, took time out from posting about how her mom and dad were giving her the death tour (“tell us what you want when we pass, dear”) to remind me to check on the frozenness of anything I might be cooking for Christmas. Thanks, Aims. But let it not be said that I don't learn from my mistakes. I bought a refrigerated (not frozen) ham for Christmas dinner. Then the other Kristin posted that she was brining chicken and how she was just so skeeved out by raw chicken and I thought, I like that. Skeeved out. And now I want to use it in a sentence. Skeeved out.

Aside: I have a second job for a handful of hours a week (one just isn't enough—I have to fund my frivolous travel). The other Kristin was my boss in the other job, but then she left and now I have this other boss and we're not going to talk about that. Uncomfortable silence. So by this time it was close to midnight and I still hadn't wrapped any presents.

But the next morning (Christmas Eve day) I got up and overnight I had received a magic infusion of holiday spirit. Maybe it was the forecast of snow. Maybe it was the impending deadline. But I started baking like Julia Child on speed. I made a pecan pie and a pumpkin pie. Cranberry orange bread and 4 dozen spritz cookies and these nasty Pillsbury ready-to-bake snowman cookies (in deference to Daniel). The kids periodically “helped” and fought with each other and played in the sleet and gave weather updates (ice Mommy ice Mommy ice Mommy SNOW!), and Jim built a fire and got a serious buzz on from two beers.

When the snow came, the wind came, and then it really started to gust and guess what? It was a blizzard. A blizzard! It was our first blizzard in Kansas City in 27 years (according to Dave on Facebook) and it came on Christmas Eve. It was freaking awesome! Dave, even though he's Jewish, was going all Christmukkwanza and watching It's A Wonderful Life and wrapping gifts for his grandbabies. Apparently, Chanukah had only whet his appetite.

Even though she's a Kansas farm girl and can thresh an acre of wheat with one hand while fighting off locusts with the other, Amy Leigh was being all precious and whining about the storm, but Dave and I were amped up like two crack whores who had stumbled upon Mother Nature's crystal stash. We were singing briiiiiing it, baby!

We put out cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for his reindeer, and took some pictures in front of the fireplace while outside the wind howled like a deranged kelpie. After we put the kids to bed we noticed Anna had placed a small box on the table alongside the cookies. Attached to the box with a pipecleaner was a note that said: Dear Santa, I have made and collected some stuff for you. Inside was a candy bar from her Halloween stash, a penny, a sparkly pink heart sticker, a pine cone and a drawing of her holding hands with Santa. Neither of us had any idea she had done this. I shouldn't have been surprised, because this was so like her, so little-girl-thoughtful, and yet I am caught off guard each time. I have a note on my nightstand—a get well note from my last migraine—that is attached to a candy bar with a pipecleaner. It says: I hope you don't get any sicker. Instead I hope you get better. Love Anna to Mommy. That's my girl, you know.

And speaking of migraines, I woke Christmas morning with a real crackerjack of a headache. It laughed in the face of one Vicodin and shrugged meh to the second, and I got to experience a fuzzy Christmas, kind of like a soft-focus Hallmark greeting card. Every gift, even the gummy lifesavers, was so fucking beautiful I thought I would cry. When I saw that Jim had given me a Greek flag I openly wept. I'm still trying to figure out how to get in onto my widget.

Santa brought Daniel a race track. Like the rest of us, his elves are apparently importing their toys from you know where. So Jim was trying to snap the cheap plastic tracks together and he would get one set attached and move onto the next and then the first would come undone. About 45 minutes into this exercise he was swearing fluently in Chinese.

Finally, even though the wind chill was -7, the kids couldn't stand it any longer, they had to go outside. Fortunately, Santa had the foresight to bring them snowsuits this year, so Jim bundled them up and took them out to go sledding while I sat on the couch and fondled my flag and stared at the flashing lights on the tree. In fact, you have to see our tree. It's amazing. I'm going to take a picture right now.

After about an hour Danny came in and said Mommy I can't feel my face and I said yeah baby, neither can I. Then when the kids were eating lunch I heard him say Mommy a wolf, a wolf! And I looked outside and there was our coyote, chest deep in the snow, standing by a large pine. He looked at me and I just shrugged as if to say sorry friend, I know it's a holiday and all, but I don't have a large slab of meat for you this time. What a magnificent animal. He turned around and loped off into the woods and I turned around and walked into the tree.

Actually, I'm cooking our big meal tomorrow. Depending on the condition of the roads we have sevenish people coming over for dinner. Depending on the state of my head I'm either going to succeed in preparing a hell of a feast or not. But if it's the latter, I will have taken enough Vicodin that it won't really matter, at least to me. They can fling mashed potatoes at me and it will only increase my affection.

And while I'm thinking about it, and since it's Christmas and all, there's something I've been meaning to tell you. I realize most of us just know each other in the virtual sense and maybe reading my blog isn't the most important 120 seconds of your day, but still. I can't tell you how seriously delighted it makes me that you even bother. You are my favorite narcotic, the Kahlua in my brownie of life. What I'm trying to say is that I love you. I really, really love you.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Potential for Significant Wintry Precipitation!

Hey, guess what?  We're under a winter storm watch.  That's right.  It's snowing hard in western Kansas and heading this way (or, in watch lingo, a potent weather system will eject into the southwest plains).

It should reach us tomorrow, which means (drum roll, please) we're having a white Christmas!  Woo hoo!!  5-10" of the fluffy white stuff by Christmas afternoon!  How will I break this to the kids?

And here's some more good news. If you go to Google and type in "demi bras Christmas", my site is the first result that comes up. How cool is that?

So to all my friends who will be on the road this year, please, please, please drive carefully.  And to those of us who will be snuggled up by the fire -- yay us!!

And to everyone else out there, have a most wonderful holiday (or, as Celeste would say, Merry Chrismukkwanzah).

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Salespeople. Heavy Sigh.

I mailed off my Christmas packages this morning. I know what you’re thinking.  Why the rush, Kristin?  Well, I wanted to get it out of the way because I have other things I still need to do before Christmas, like finish my cookie baking. Last night I made kahlua espresso brownies.  (Should I have let my kids lick the beaters?  Probably not.)

Before I left work on Friday, I had a call from a salesperson with ADP.  You know, the payroll service?  We use another payroll vendor and we’re very happy with them, and I don’t have time to be talking with sales people.  I’m usually pretty good at getting them off the phone—when it comes to salespeople, I’m not afflicted with the politeness gene—and I was telling her that while I might be interested in hearing more about their service, eventually, I really didn’t have time to meet with her until perhaps, hmmm, April?  So we chatted a bit more and hung up and, anyway, she ended up coming in this morning and bringing me a latte from Starbucks.  This chick was good.

But seriously.  I told her I could give her 15 minutes, tops.  Because I knew she was going to try to give me the whole dog and pony show and try to sell us the top tier package that has all the HR services bundled in, which we absolutely don’t need, thank you very much.  So she came in and an hour and a half later she left and we had purchased the HR bundle.  Did I mention she was good?  I’m hoping I get more lattes out of the deal.

I logged onto Facebook about 1:30 today (since I had been working slavishly without a break all morning and hadn’t even taken a lunch, not that I feel the need to justify anything) and saw that Celeste had posted this status update: Sandwich-making dude at Dean & Deluca a big disappointment. He should be working at Subway. Ya gotta respect the sandwich, or don't even bother.

Now, Celeste knows that I love Dean & Deluca and even knows exactly what kind of sandwich I love.  And here she had gone and returned and I was none the wiser?  When I confronted her (gently) she said that she had actually planned on going to Hen House to get a salad but at the last minute had changed her mind.  Okay.  But still.

I tried to concentrate on my work but I could not get the thought of a Dean & Deluca sandwich out of my mind, so I just had to do it.  I had to get my own.  When I got there, I noticed that there were two sandwich guys at the counter.  I quickly judged that the one who approached me must be the more competent one and I was not disappointed.  The other one, who was clearly the “dude” Celeste had encountered, was rather slack-jawed and was struggling to ladle soup into a small container for two ladies ahead of me.  My man, on the other hand, was creating an artistic masterpiece of a swiss cheese on baguette for me.  I asked for tomato but at the last minute diverted to roasted red pepper because the tomatoes looked anemic.   He hunted through the bin to pick out the brightest red peppers (such attention to quality)!  Meanwhile, mouth-breather was ladling crab bisque onto his shoe. And when I got back to the office, oh, the sanwhich tasted simply fabulous. It was seasoned with just the right amount of stone ground mustard. Celeste, I'm sorry that yours was a disappointment. Next time I'll bring you one made by my guy.

Finally, today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year (for those of us in the northern hemisphere). It's also exactly three years before the end of the world (for those of us following the Mayan calendar). Which makes getting to work on those New Year's resolutions all the more imperitive. Just in case the Mayans were onto something, you might want to focus on short-term goals. I'll be getting around to mine in the same timely fashion that I mailed off my Christmas packages. Like perhaps, hmmm, April?

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

You Must Read This. And This. And This.

When I first started my blog I wanted to see what else was out there, which is what led me to Blogcatalog, which is what led me to my virus fiasco (we've been through this before). But I persevered because I wanted to see what other writers were up to. I used to think that if you were talented, you would be publishing novels or memoirs or articles or whatever. But as I hunt through the shelves of a bookstore for what I want to read I find a lot of published material that is really quite ordinary. And likewise, a lot of very talented writers are not publishing, but are writing snippets of thoughts in a blog and are living lives that are really quite ordinary.

Blogging is a fairly casual form of writing.  Most of us are shooting off posts in between work and shopping for dinner and pretending to help the kids with algebra and tucking the cats into bed.  Some of us are still finding our voices.  But still, you can tell who out there has the heart of a writer.  And if you'd like to read some of their work, here it is:

The first blog I want to recommend is called AbodeOneThree. Matthew is a lovely writer who posts short pieces that offer us glimpses into his world. He lives outside Sydney, Australia with his wife and son and writes about some of the ordinary challenges we all face and can relate to. His writing is leisurely, soothing and modulated. It draws the reader in slowly and winds to a poignant conclusion. It has depth and honesty. Writing can be a way of finding solace and coming to terms with our life narratives, and I am reminded of this when I read Matthew's work. Here is one of my favorites.  His style is very different from mine. My writing, at least what ends up in my blog, is fairly playful and I tend to flirt around with the language, and his work is a reminder for me bring it back down to earth from time to time and keep it real.

Next we're heading over to the European continent to visit the alpine country of Austria (Austria!). Badger showed up as a follower on my site one day so I thought I'd go over and check out his blog, Vienna for Dummies. His profile said “An Austrian living in Vienna” and I thought: What? Is that the best you have to give us? But his occupation was listed as cat minder and his interests as cat minding and cat minding, so I knew right away I would like him. The first post I read was on beetles and suggested that God had spent too much time perfecting insects, at the expense of other creatures, such as cats. When you're done reading this post click on the word beetles and read it. It's hilarious. Then a few days later I read a post that talked about how he was having trouble with the German language so I looked again at his tagline and realized it said an Australian living in Vienna! Okay. That makes more sense. And I know what you're thinking. That in addition to a flag fetish I have an Australian writer fetish. And maybe I do. But in my defense, Matthew is half English (I think) and Badger is at least half badger (just look at him). He writes about his everyday life in Vienna, but when you're a good writer you can write about the most mundane things and it's fascinating. I always look forward to reading his posts and it never fails, there is something in each one that makes me laugh out loud (even when I'm not hopped up on Vicodin).

Finally, we're going to head north up to London to visit the Buffoon Blog for yet more humor (my weakness). This is written by Stanley and guess what? He's not Australian. He's 100% British and so is his wit. Stanley posts short but hilarious pieces about his unfortunate escapades, such as trying (for the sixth time) to pass his driver's test (give it a read here). Stanley is fairly young (relative to some of us) so I hope he sticks with it. Don't do what I did, Stanley, and stop writing for half your life, because you're good. Thanks for the laughs!

I know that this time of year, with Christmas just a few days away, you probably have nothing but time on your hands, rigtht?  But if, like me, your kids (or cats) are lying prone across your keyboard trying to get your attention, then bookmark these sites and come back to them when the packages are torn open and the cats are in a sugar coma.  You won't be sorry you did.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Freak of the Week

I was reading a blog post the other day on a site called Antipodes on the topic of Mormonism, a religious movement that the author found just inane enough to be cute. It reminded me of a trip I took through Mormon country once, which I relate below, and got me to musing on the topic of religious movements and inanity, which so often go hand in hand.

Maybe twenty years ago I was driving cross-country with a friend and we were passing through Salt Lake City. We stopped to see Temple Square, home of the Mormon Temple and Tabernacle. I was secretly hoping to peek in a window and get a glimpse of a secret Mormon wedding, which was rumored to involve large undergarments and the ritual washing of body parts. We passed a booth with Lost and Found written in big letters across the top and a young man at the helm. Because he was handsome and because we were young and clever, we walked up and asked whether he was lost or found. “Oh, I'm definitely found!” he enthused. He handed us some maps and happy Mormon literature. We suppressed eye rolls and moved on. (The blogger at Antipodes tells me I missed an opportunity to tell him to get lost.)

If I didn't live smack in the middle of the Bible Belt I might find such ecclesiastical zeal cute, but being inundated on a regular basis with evangemania tends to strip any religious sentiment of adorableness for those of us who aren't religiously inclined. And when you have to fight for the right to teach science in a science classroom, it crosses the line to just plain asinine.

When I first moved to Kansas from California I was a little unprepared for the holy roller climate. I was a student at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Lawrence being something of a hippie-liberal mecca in the middle of hard hat hell. Nevertheless. Every morning I would trudge up the hill toward campus and on an alarmingly regular basis, a scenario like this would unfold: Another student would come up from behind and match my pace. She would nod and say a friendly hello, comment about the heat/rain/snow, tell me how nervous she was about her biology test, ask, by the way, what was my major? I would be taken aback by her overt friendliness, but give polite answers. And then the bait would be thrown. There was a Bible Study class meeting that night at the Union. Would I like to come?

The students were always young and attractive and impossibly perky. No matter how fast I walked, and I was in good shape back then, they always managed to keep pace with me. It was weird almost, how regularly it happened. Different students, different days, same conversation. As if they were earnest little pinballs shot out at intervals from God's spring-loaded proselytizing machine.

It was always a fun conversation when I told them my major, which was, ironically, Religious Studies. I actually have respect for religious belief in a general sense and feel that everyone should have the freedom to practice their chosen faith, preferably away from me. I don't, however, think those beliefs should ever encroach on the state or the classroom or, again, on me. I have my own spiritual beliefs, which don't involve a church or a religious group and which I pretty much keep to myself, but which I find nourishing.  Religious pluralism is a wonderful thing if we all stay in our own backyards.

Probably my favorite class was called New Religious Movements--a class that we affectionately dubbed Freak of the Week. It was my favorite class for two reasons. One, because it's where I first met my good friends Amy Leigh and Matthew (and Matthew, who knew that 18 years and 4 kids later I would jet off to Australia with your wife? And Amy, who knew that we would toast marriages and divorces, and move triumphantly off to opposite coasts only to slink quietly back to Kansas, propping each other up with friendship and low humor? Rock chalk gestalt.).

It was also my favorite class simply because it was so bizarre. It met every Wednesday night and each week someone from a different religious movement would show up and open our minds ever so much wider. We talked auditing with the Scientologists, shook with the Shakers, broke nan with the Krishnas and were thoroughly confused by Jews for Jesus. The Moonies chose Matthew and me to represent the perfect man and woman in their explanation of the spiritual parents of humankind. I'm not sure if this was because of our stunning good looks or simply for the purpose of illustration. It's hard to say.

After dodging the Stepford Christians on the walk up to campus, I found the Freak of the Week class oddly comforting. It was almost as if I were back home in California and had merely driven over the hill into Berkeley. Growing up in California in the 70's, sampling the latest new religious trend was practically a rite of passage. My parents had embraced the consciousness-raising movement and sat through EST and Mind Dynamics and lord knows what other sales pitch. I wouldn't have known a Bible if you had thumped me on the head with it when I was a kid.

So, no, I don't find Mormonism cute, or most any religious movement that requires suspension of gray matter. From where I stand, deep in the heart of God's country, it's just not novel enough. Now, agnosticism, that's kinda cute. Secular humanism? Absolutely precious.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ho Ho Hum

It’s true. I gave my kids donuts for breakfast. The little pre-packaged kind covered in powdered sugar. You would have thought that Hello Kitty had personally flown in on a winged bunicorn to serve them, that’s how excited they were. They were probably in a sugar coma before noon. It was an impulse buy while I was at the store last night trying to find something to bring to today’s potluck. Why do people insist on having holiday potlucks? I think we have enough to keep us busy this time of year.

When Celeste was passing around the sign-up sheet with the different categories I could have taken an easy out and just signed up for a dessert, but I was feeling generous or martyrific and told her to just let me know which category was looking light after everyone else signed up. Coming into the home stretch, it was looking like it would be entrees and I joked that maybe I should bring a turkey (ha ha), then I thought a pre-sliced ham would be easy (but wait, no – oy, vey). But at the last minute entrees filled up and so it was that I ended up wandering the aisles of Price Chopper last night in a post-migraine hangover thinking to myself: appetizer...appetizer. I walked past a display of tortilla chips sporting a photograph of deliriously happy people gathered around a bowl of queso dip with ground beef and chilies and thought: that’ll do.  I don't know what's gotten into me this year.  Seriously, someone inject me with some holiday spirit before I pass out.

When I got home Jim convinced me that we should take the kids out to look at Christmas lights. So we piled them into the Big Ugly. Aside: We have a car named the Big Ugly and this is how we got it. Last year Jim drove out to California to take care of some rental property he has out there. He took his little Saturn, which was on its last leg, because he didn’t want to buy a new car and then put a bunch of miles on it driving it across the country. Jim always buys little economy cars. He hates SUV’s—has a visceral dislike of anything that gets less than about 80 mpg—God forbid you drive by him in a Hummer. Anyway, he was on his way home, halfway between Albuquerque and nowhere and his Saturn gives out, loses a rocker gasket or some essential piece of engine matter. He sputters into a one-horse town with a gas station, a motel and a porno shop and his car coughs and dies. There is no car rental place within 300 miles, no bus station or train depot, and the gas station says it will take a week to get a new rocker gasket delivered. He’s fortunate, however, as they do have a few vehicles for sale, priced just right. The man takes him around back to reveal three early-model, rusted-out SUV’s.

When Jim pulled into our driveway in the 1995 kelly green Ford Explorer I knew I could never let him live this down. Despite the fact that it has no air conditioning and the left door doesn’t fully close and there is an Air Supply CD permanently stuck in the player, it’s not a bad truck. We use it for hauling mulch and Christmas trees and taking the kids to go look at lights. The kids get so excited every time we take it anywhere you would think we’d served them powdered donuts.

So anyway, we drove around and found some neighborhoods that were pretty decked out and one commercial establishment that had really gone all out and set up a light display that was coded to flash in time to the music on a radio station.  We parked across the street and ate Christmas cookies and watched that for a while until the kids fell into a sugar coma.

Finally, I’m kind of excited because our very own handyman, Seroj, is mildly famous. He’s getting his own column in the Kansas City Star: Ask a Handyman. We’re also featuring him in our monthly agency newsletter. To get things started, they’ve asked us to come up with questions for him. So I sent him one yesterday. Here it is:

I have some cracked ceramic floor tiles in my bathroom that I'd like to replace. I noticed that they had been glued down to 1/2” plywood with a 5/8” particle board underlayment. What I'm wondering is, if I have 1-5/8" drywall screws spaced every 4", can I get an Armenian flag?

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hello Vicodin, My Name is Kristin

I haven't posted in a few days because I've had a migraine.  Pesky things, those.  I started getting migraines about two years ago. I never know when one is going to hit.  I try to prevent them, and failing that I try to abort them (you should see my pharmacopeia), but if that doesn't work, I have to resort to Vicodin. Because Vicodin is a narcotic, if I'm taking it I'm not supposed to operate any complex machinery, such as cars or accounting software or brains for that matter. So if I take it at work I usually end up calling Jim to give me a ride, which is a nuisance because then we have to work out how to get my car home. So I try to avoid doing that if at all possible; however, since my headaches are unfortunately frequent, my coworkers have had several opportunities to witness my drugged state.

Celeste loves my Vicodin days because she thinks I'm a barrel of fun. One day I asked Catherine, our receptionist, if Celeste had returned from lunch yet, when I heard Celeste laughing behind me. Not only had she been back from lunch for a full 3 hours, but I had had several in-depth conversations with her. So, you see, this is my brain on Vicodin.

But sometimes, I just have too much work to get done and I can't afford to take a day off. Like today, for instance. I really need to close the November financials. I've only taken one Vicodin, so it's not like it's going to knock me off my feet. I'll just slow down a bit and double-check my work, that's all.

So here's the plan. I ask Catherine to hold my calls and she says she will. I run into the wall and apologize to it. I ask Celeste to stop laughing at me and she says no way. I sit at my desk and stare at the computer screen.

I'm looking at the balance sheet and there was something I was going to do with it and I'm trying to remember what it was when my boss Don walks in and asks if I have the cash flow analysis completed. I nod and hand him my stapler. I see a look of comprehension cross his face and I know he must be pleased with my work. Which is great. Because I just love Don. And Celeste and Catherine too. I mean, I really, really love them.

But back to the balance sheet. I think I was going to add something to it and I'm pretty sure it was a number. It probably started with something between 1 and 9, and there may have been more digits that followed.

You know I've never noticed this before, but I'm staring at the fluorescent lights on my ceiling and thinking how much they remind me of those moving walkways in airports. Just two long strands. I can't believe I've never noticed this before.

But I can't think about that right now because I need to focus on the balance sheet. Except that I can't, because Don keeps coming in and giving me Sudoku puzzles and telling me he needs them completed before I even start on the financials.

You know, I'm actually really good at Sudoku. But these are tetty prough. And I have to hurry up because it's already eleventy-thirty. Jim will be here soon to prick me up. I wonder if Celeste would hrep me. I'm trying to mebmember her number but for the rife of me I can't recall it. I think I'll jus lay drown and brake a rittle breast.

But it's hard becrause my desk is spinnink. I'm trying to strop it. Fruckin dresk. De henner Jim gezir.



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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blogging Queen

I finally figured out how to add captions to photos. You wouldn't think this would be something interesting to write about, but bear with me. It turns out that Blogger has something else in common with Facebook (besides winning top awards for being the place most likely to download a virus). Both can also be very user-unfriendly. I've been trying to figure this out for weeks. The other day I went to Google's help forum and found a thread on the topic. I had actually read the thread before and abandoned it (you'll see why in a moment). But I really wanted to add captions, so I returned. Anyway, someone had posed the question about how to do this and another blogger had posted this answer, which I will quote verbatim (in italics):
Check out my caption!

To place a caption under a photo and to center it, is very easy. Here's how:
 After loading a photo or photos, add the following code above the Google Blog code:

< div align = "center > IMAGE CODE /div The div (division) code simply centers the photo. But what about the caption?

The caption is type into the space between the "anchor code", namely < a IMAGE CODE > Caption written here  < /a >

I stared at this. I stared some more. It finally occurred to me that I should ask Jim for help. So Jim came over and stared at it. He laughed a little and stared some more. He pointed out that zero out of one persons had found the post useful. And then he took my computer away and did something and gave it back to me and now I have a “cheat sheet” that I can use to insert code when I need to add captions.

Jim explained that the code was right, but the guy had left out a few words. It would be like if someone who spoke Greek but knew a little English was trying to decipher a quote from George W. Bush.

I also read the other day that Blogger has been improving some of its features, such as the “Next Blog” link at the top of the screen. It is now supposed to take you to blogs with content similar to the one you are reading (whereas it used to just take you to porn sites, as far as I could tell). So, curious, I logged into my own blog and hit it to see where it would take me. I ended up on the site of a Swedish teenager who blogged all about the music scene. Okay. As long as I was there I left him a short note to say hello and invited him to drop by my site and leave me some Swedish flag. I tried again and this time ended up with a series of mom blogs (this is April at 15 months, this is April on her 2nd birthday smearing pink frosting in her hair, etc.). I tried one more time and ended up with several writing-related blogs (poetry, writing workshops, etc.). I was thrilled! Until it occurred to me that whatever Blogger had recognized in my site that linked me to serious writing could have been as tangential as that which linked me to the Swedish pop music scene. Alas.

My new friend Kim from Tasmania told me that all the real writers use Wordpress instead of Blogger. Except that she didn't say it like that. She said it much more politely, because she is Australian. By the way, you should check out her site, Frog Ponds Rock (there's a link on my blog roll, to the right), and while you're at it, her daughter's, Veronica Foale. They are both great writers. Kim lives on an island off the coast of Australia and writes and throws pottery and raises chickens and pigs and it all sounds very romantic. There are some days I think I would like to trade lives with her. In fact, tomorrow would be great since I have a board meeting and need to present our 2010 budget and probably won't get home until close to 9:30, and it's supposed to get down to 12 F (and Kim, the November financials need to be completed by Tuesday; you can just put them in Don's box. Thanks bunches!).

Finally, I'm going to leave you with this image of a thread from Facebook, which I found on the Huffington Post. You can click on the image to enlarge it. Since I was just blogging on the topic of compassion, I thought it was timely. Apparently, Lilah's friend Caleb doesn't go in for drama, either.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Have a Little Compassion (or Not)

There was a conversation that developed on Facebook the other day on the nature of compassion. And this is pretty unusual, because generally our conversations revolve around the inadequacy of Facebook or kitty crack or fudge-shaped-like-bacon or where I can buy an abacus. But on this particular day we were feeling deep and contemplative. I think this thread was started by Alec, my new best friend whom I haven't met (a phenomenon courtesy of the age of social networking).

But it got me thinking about compassion. I think too often we confuse compassion with being nice, or at least having the willingness to share another's perspective—agree with them in their misery. But more and more I think compassion is having the willingness to remain true to our own perspective and communicate it with integrity and kindness. I still have trouble with the kindness part at times, depending on the situation. But I'm beginning to think that may be optional, depending on the situation. Because women, especially, have been so indoctrinated to be nice at all times that many of us have gotten so good at it that we've forgotten how to be authentic.

The reason I went into the nonprofit field was because I wanted my work to be imbued with meaning. At the end of the day, I wanted to know that whatever I was doing wasn't just contributing to lining the pockets of a handful of shareholders, but was making a positive difference, even a small one, in someone's life. But as we all know, a job in theory is different from a job in practice.

One of my first jobs was managing a consumer credit counseling agency. We helped people get out of debt. While I didn't work directly with clients I would counsel them occasionally because I needed to be licensed in order to supervise the counselors who worked for me. I realized very quickly I had little tolerance for this line of work. I would sit across from someone who was mired in debt and our conversation would go like this:

Me: Mr. Boob, your income is $2,000/month and your expenses are $3,800/month. I think you may need to cut back a bit to bring things into balance. Now, these car have 2, no 3 cars...

Mr. Boob: One's a Ski-doo.

Me: Well, I think, given your deficit, you may need to sell at least one.

Mr. Boob: Well, now, that Dodge Ram is my baby. I can't part with her.

Me: Speaking of babies, you have two kids, correct? But no health insurance?

Mr. Boob: My kids stay pretty healthy.

Me: Yes, well, how about canceling either the landline or the cell phones, or perhaps the cable?

Mr. Boob: No can do. Can't miss Monster Bucks.

Me: You know Mr. Boob, I'm looking over your expenses here but I'm not seeing your hospital bill for the lobotomy.

And so it was that I quickly moved away from the front lines of nonprofit work and into the back offices where I currently play with spreadsheets and accounting software. I used to see this as a shortcoming within myself, that I didn't have the tolerance to sit with the Mr. Boobs of the world and explain patiently to them why they needed to grow the fuck up and be accountable for themselves and their children. I felt I lacked compassion. But now I think that to sit and pat Mr. Boob's hand and commiserate with him over the hardship of having to sell his Dodge Ram is a waste of good energy that could be better spent elsewhere. Because our time and our emotion and our words have currency. And we need to choose how we use them. And the older I get, the more prudent I am about how I spend my currency.

Let me tell you a story to illustrate my point. We have a lot of people that come through our agency and stay for a short time—interns and temps and volunteers—and they share a handful of desks we have in a central area. And because we are a small agency with limited resources, we are at times challenged to find places to put people and so play a game of revolving desks. But for the most part people are patient with this—we're all working for a good cause. This is a story of one such woman, whom I'm going to call Margie. I'm going to assume she will never read my blog, because if she did, she would surely be offended by what I'm about to write. But that's okay, because I'm 100% certain that I've already offended her in some unknown way, and so have you, even if you live in another country and have never met her. Trust me on this one.

One day Margie came into Celeste's office and she was red hot mad, and this is what she was mad about. That morning when she walked into the cubicle she was using, there was no space heater. The day before, a space heater had been there. Pretty fucking unbelievable, isn't it? So she marched into Celeste's office (Celeste being in charge of HR, among other things) and carried on for about 20 minutes. She was convinced, you see, that another intern had stolen, yes stolen, the space heater from her temporary cubicle, and she knew who it was, and this other person didn't like her, and she really, really, really wanted Celeste to do something about this. Celeste refused.

Later that day, Margie's supervisor came into Celeste's office and explained that Margie had come to her and there was apparently an issue with a space heater? And Margie had talked to Celeste? And Margie's feelings were hurt, and she was sure Celeste didn't like her, etc, etc, and could Celeste, as the HR person, please apologize to her? And this was Celeste's response: This is not an HR issue. This is an office supply issue. I would be happy to order an additional space heater.

Celeste recognizes something that many people do not. She knows that there is enough true pain and heartache in the world that its not necessary for us to spin our own drama out of nothing. And that this was not something worth expending much of her own personal energy on; and finally, that sometimes the kindest approach is not to be nice, but merely to be honest and direct. I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Celeste is a very bright person.

I think I would like it if we could all be a little less nice and a little more honest. I'm not advocating meanness or spite or any such thing. In fact, I think the more honest we are, the more compassion we feel. At least I know that's true for myself. Because nothing breeds anger for me like having to pretend to be something I'm not. And if all I have to do is be authentic, then I'm not adding anything to my to-do list; I'm taking away from it. And this time of year, that's a welcome relief.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Always Wear Condoms in March

It was a brisk 4 degrees when I left the house this morning. That’s up from -3 last night when I took the kids to pick out a birthday gift for Jim. And the stores were still packed. It occurred to me as I was shuffling my kids across the icy parking lot (and I’m convinced they have a negative body fat percentage), that people should absolutely never have unprotected sex in March. Because not only is shopping for anything in December other than Christmas/Chanukah gifts just ridiculous, how fun is it to celebrate yourself when that celebration is crammed up against another major holiday? Anyone I know whose birthday falls around this time of year has always complained that they feel short-changed. You know, having your birthday gifts arrive a few days after the fact wrapped in snowman paper (“Sorry, it was easier just to mail everything together.”). I’m so glad my parents had the foresight to get busy making me in November so that I could celebrate myself in July.

I’m just going to say this now and get it out of the way. Someone from Belgium visited my site last night and I did not get a flag. I’ve considered writing NeoCounter and voicing my disdain, but I’m not sure I can find the proper tone to complain about what is basically a free widget. So for now I’ll just say this: BELGIUM, COME BACK!!

Celeste, since I inserted the above paragraph after the fact you may note the lack of transition taking gentle readers from flag widget to Chanukah.

And speaking of Chanukah, I dropped off some gifts for one of our clients (we’ll call him Fred) on the way into work this morning. We have a program where I work (a social service agency) where we distribute gifts around the major holidays to needy families. I had planned on just dropping off the box of gifts and heading out, which is what I always plan, and which is never what happens. You would think I would learn. Fred was an elderly gentleman (they are usually elderly) and he invited me inside (they usually invite me inside) and so I came in. He lived in a mobile home and it was small and excessively warm and thick with cigarette smoke. A golden retriever (we'll call him Scooter) greeted me through the haze of smoke. Fred started rummaging through the box (what do we have here?) and shaking a few items and motioned for me to sit. It occurred to me that he wanted me to stay while he opened the gifts. But first he showed me a few pictures: Scooter in a tuxedo, his granddaughter and here, his son. There’s a cat in here, too, somewhere, where was that cat? The cat was shy. Didn’t like strangers. I wanted so much to stick my head out the door and take a deep breath, even if it was cold enough to freeze my lips.

The only significant things in his place were a well-worn couch, which appeared to belong to the dog, and two computers. And you just knew that that was his world—the dog, the cat and the computers—pretty much in that order. He opened the gifts. There was a book on dogs, some toys for Scooter, some oven mitts and kitchen towels and a box full of gifts cards to local stores (including a pet store). Whoever had put his gift box together apparently knew him pretty well--probably a case manager. He told me about his neighbor who was supposed to come by and salt his steps, how his COPD was acting up (no shit) and how Scooter was really too old for toys. We chatted for a bit and then I wished him a happy Chanukah and picked my way down the ice-covered steps.

As I was about to open the car door he called out: Is that really your last name? I paused. It then occurred to me that when I called last night to get directions, the caller ID must have shown my husband’s last name: Christmas. Yes, I said. When our agency was looking for people to sponsor families we had joked about this, how someone would feel about having the Christmas family sponsor them for Chanukah (the answer is grateful). Isn’t that something, he said.

It’s such an odd feeling, wanting to leave and yet not wanting to leave. I felt uncomfortable in this man’s home. I didn’t know what to say to him, a stranger. I didn’t want sit in his too warm house and breathe in his acrid smoke. And yet. There he stands, alone, and here I step into my car, and drive away. And there are so many Freds in so many tiny rooms in so many cities across the world. And this holiday I wish that for every Fred there is a Scooter. Because a man and his dog is a beautiful thing.

And you know what else is beautiful? Obama’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, in which he graciously acknowledged that he hadn’t really done anything to deserve it. Because so much cockshit has come out of the mouths of U.S. Presidents of late that it’s nice to hear some gentle truth. And maybe this president can undo some of the damage to our international reputation (keep talking Big O, it’s a long row to hoe).

Protected sex in March. That’s another beautiful thing. And the Belgian flag. That’s one seriously sexy flag.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Your Hussy Questions Answered

Wow. Had I known that writing about my flag obsession would generate so much interest in my blog, I would have ventured into soft porn sooner. Thanks to all for your flag love and your comments. I'll devote today's entry to answering some of your more pressing questions:

1. Is that you in the photo? No silly. I have light brown hair and I sleep under Australian sheets. Except now that the weather has turned cold, I'm going to be switching to my flannel Nordic Cross sheets (it's 29 and snowing in Kansas today).

2. Can I illegally download the photo of the naked woman (oops, I already did)? You know, I hate those pesky copyright laws, too. And I did notice there was a little download action going on. And now there's a second photo sitting up there and the two make a nice, well... pair, don't they? So here's what we're going to do. On the count of three, I'm going to close my eyes. That way, I will not see what's going on while you are not downloading the photo. Better yet, you can email me and I can just not send you the higher resolution jpg. But if you've already not downloaded it, why don't you do this? Since I paid $4 to Fotolio for each of those photos, why don't you contact your friends in neighboring countries whose flags I don't have and ask them to not click on the link to my blog. Then we're all happy, right? That's what I call win--win. Or, um, not win--not win.

3. Does Celeste seriously eat seaweed? Yes. But she is concerned that her international reputation is suffering because I have portrayed her as an incense-burning, seaweed-eating cat woman. So I have promised to make it up to her by devoting an entire blog entry to her. Now she is really afraid.

4. What other flags would you like? I am so glad you asked! (Actually, I'm very intuitive and I just sensed you wanted to know this.) So, in no particular order, here are some of my most coveted flags. Just in case you're planning a visit to one of these locales for the holidays.

  • Christmas Island – I married into the Christmas family, so it goes without saying that I need this flag. But with a population of only 1,400, this could prove challenging.  And I have a sneaking suspicion I would just end up with another hit on my Australian flag.

  • British Indian Ocean Territory – Pot plant and wavy lines. I feel a Cheetos binge coming on.

  • Chile – I’ve always wanted to go to Patagonia

  • Isle of Man – 3 severed legs joined at the thigh. What were they thinking?

  • Micronesia – Because you have to respect a nation with the balls to go with powder blue

  • St. Pierre & Miquelon – Viking-type ship, lions, ermine pattern… there’s a lot going on here and I’m not sure it all flows. I think someone forgot to send this flag to editing.

  • Papua New Guinea – Cannibalism

  • Madagascar – Lemurs

  • Mongolia – Do they even have internet in Mongolia?

  • Bosnia & Herzegovina – Reminds me of the Sticky Fingers album cover

  • Armenia – Seroj… who loves ya?!

  • Mayotte – Because I've never heard of it

  • Libya – Solid green. Either a stunning lack of imagination or they could only afford one dye color. But I want it.

I think that will do nicely for now, but if you happen to find yourself in Myanmar or Bangladesh, please, feel free to visit my blog.  And I am always happy to send you a U.S. flag because I know how hard those are to come by.

Now, I really need to get off my blog and get busy with my Christmas shopping or my kids won't have anything under the tree this year.  So.  What do you think of these shoes?

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Shameless Flag Hussy

First and foremost, let me say that this blog is all about writing. That's the only reason I do this. But. Did you see that sexy little flag counter down on the right hand side? Let's talk about that bad boy.

I first saw that on someone else's site and I thought: Hey, I like flags. I love flags! I'm going to get one of those for myself. It started out that simple.

I’ve always had something of a flag fetish. Ever since I was a child I’ve poured over geography books and dreamed of traveling the world. Though I know very few people who live overseas, the thought of international flags populating my blog was exciting and somewhat romantic to me.

Shortly after I published my first post an American flag popped up on my site (expected), but so did a Canadian one! It was only day one and I felt so international. I told Jim that I had 4 Canadian visitors. He said they were probably spiders from search engines whose servers were housed in Canada. I told him to go away.

About a week later, I had an ingenious idea. My boss was in Israel. So I sent him a link to my blog and invited him to visit it while he was there (I’m sure he had nothing better to do) and that’s how I got that sharp-looking Israeli flag.

It then occurred to me that Seroj, who works as a handyman with our agency, was born in Armenia. Armenia! Now that is a flag to covet. So I began to follow Seroj around and suggest that perhaps his distant relatives would be interested in reading my blog. He seemed mildly acquiescent, but this may have something to do with the fact that I oversee payroll.

Nevertheless, an amazing thing began to happen. The Universe must have picked up on my flag lust because people from around the world began visiting my blog without me having to do anything! Or maybe this was because I had listed my site on Blogcatalog, Google’s blog directory where you can sign up to receive free viruses. Suddenly, I had flags from Indonesia and Egypt and Kuwait! I was feeling quite cosmopolitan. And hey, more visitors = more feedback on my writing!

While I’ve been to other sites that have thousands of visitors and an impressive scroll of flags, I try not to be intimidated. After all, most people have been at this blogging business a lot longer. And it’s not as if I live in Switzerland or Belarus or some international nave surrounded on all sides by hot little flag-bearing nations. I’m in Kansas (sigh). And we all know it’s best to refrain from comparisons against others (a philosophy long embraced by artists, special ed teachers and men in locker rooms). So I keep reminding myself that the vast flag accumulation on other sites is really unimportant. Ultimately, it’s all about me.

I actually have two counters on my blog. One day, my second counter showed I had a visitor from Greece. But, get this. My flag counter didn’t catch it. No Greek flag! The injustice. I felt violated.

If I were really desperate I could go trolling the internet for blogs in some obscure country, stop by, leave a sincere comment (Hey -- nice widgets!) and more than likely the blogger would be curious enough to check out my site. And that's how I got my flag of Nepal.

But that's a hell of a lot of work just to get a little flag action. As I write this, I have 21 flags, and that should be enough. But it's not. I want more. And I want it bad.

My friend Celeste fails to understand my flag obsession. She doesn’t even have a visitor counter on her blog. She could care less. Celeste also ran a meditation center for several years. She lives with cats and burns incense and eats seaweed. I am impressed by her ability to rise above matters of flesh and pennant, but I just am not there yet. “Isn’t the whole idea behind your blog to write?” she asks. Yeah, writing, writing, yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah!

Sometimes, at night, I lie awake and think about that Greek flag.

I can't believe I'm the only one wanting a little flag love. Surely, there are some other bloggers out there whose scrolls are feeling a little empty.

So come on, darlin’, how about you and I engage in a little consensual flag exchange? I’m feeling seriously intercontinental. I know you're out there in Paraguay, Myanmar, Bhutan, Yemen, Mozambique. Look, you don't even have to read my blog. All you have to do is click on the link. No one will know. It's just between you and me.

I just need. A little flag.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Rainforests, Demi Bras and Christmas Cheer

Earlier this year I lost some weight and while I requested that it only come off my butt and thighs, that's never what happens, is it? It comes off everywhere. Which meant I had to get new bras. Which is why I started placing orders with Victoria's Secret (they have the best bras). Which is how I got on their mailing list. And apparently I placed enough orders with them (because nude is not enough, there's also peony and sugar plum and hello, leopard print) that I made their mega-marketing list--what Jim calls their Platinum Panty list. In fact, they are mailing me so many catalogs, 2-3 a month, that even Jim has gotten tired of looking at them and I now just toss them straight into the recycling bin.

After a while, I began to suffer from green guilt. In my quest for superior lift I was slowly destroying a corner of a rainforest somewhere in Borneo. Besides, if Anna sees these lying around I'm afraid she's going to start asking Santa for silicone implants and Botox injections. So I sat down this morning and sent them an email:

 Dear Victoria's Secret:

Can you please remove me from your catalog mailing list?  While I enjoy your products, I don't need to receive catalogs so frequently.  I'm happy to continue ordering online and receiving the occasional catalog with my order.  I want to preserve our environment as long as possible and, in fact, think your bras and panties make the perfect accessories for enjoying our beautiful natural surroundings.

Within a few hours they had sent me back a very professional and humorless response letting me know that they were removing my name from the mailing list and that it may take up to 90 days to process my request. While their response was prompt, I'm not sure why it should take 90 days to stop mailing catalogs. When I first placed an order with them, I think I had not only received my products, but probably about 10 catalogs within the first 90 days. But I suppose with the Christmas rush they have other priorities.

And speaking of Christmas, Jim took the kids out today to cut down a tree and it is now fully trimmed and standing in the corner of our living room. After a frenzy of near fatal excitement the kids have collapsed into bed and are sleeping soundly. The picture above is Daniel testing out one of the Hallmark ornaments that light up (by the way, if anyone out there knows how to add captions to photos on Blogger, please email me and enlighten me. I can't for the life of me figure it out).  Anyway, while they were out getting the tree I went to Target to buy Chanukah gifts for a family we are sponsoring through a project at work. I had planned on hitting a few different stores but never made it past the first one. It was so jam-packed with shoppers I could barely maneuver through the isles. I think I've mentioned that I hate shopping and hate crowds even more. It's hard for me to imagine that people actually do this for enjoyment. (I just noticed that I typed isles instead of aisles. I think I'm going to leave the typo in and run with the fantasy!) 

Only 19 more shopping days until Christmas and I haven't even started – haven't bought a single Christmas gift! I'd better get busy with some online purchasing. Demi bras, anyone?

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