Monday, April 28, 2008

About Indiana the Interesting

Believe or not (note to left- and right-Coasters) (also to Chicago dwellers) (and people from Texas) (also the rest of the world) the State of Indiana can be a darn interesting place to be.

To state the obvious, we've got weather. Lots of it. That's always changing. And what keeps human beings more interested than change? Oh, some like it (weather and change) (personal note: I like weather AND change) more than others (and that's never more true than in Indiana, about the State of Things in General), but one thing for sure: it's hard to be bored by the weather. (For example, one would think a 10-day string of frigid temperatures in January would be boring. But it's not! How can you be bored when you're hating it so much?)

Often, one has to fight the weather--when it's zero degrees out, for instance, and your car won't start. Or you need to shovel that six inches of snow. Or, when a raging thunderstorm with hail and high winds knocks the electricity out and your sump pump quits working, and your basement begins to fill with water, even before you get your generator going. Who's bored then? And I haven't even mentioned tornadoes!

Our tectonics have been interesting lately, too--what gets one's attention more quickly than an earthquake? (Unless you sleep through it; I'm still mad.) A 5.2 in southern Illinois got us all shook up in northern Indiana. And I'm blaming it for the funny sounds my frig made for a a couple of days. A few good aftershocks keeps the interest rolling like nothing else!

The economy is certainly interesting, albeit probably in a bad way. We watch the price of gasoline rise daily, from our office windows (there's a station across the street), and complain to each other that "It cost me $56 to fill my tank yesterday--the most ever!" We note the number of businesses leaving Huntington, one after another. We moan about the price of milk and eggs and groceries in general, and contemplate making Aldi's our grocery of choice. Yet, among my closest associates, everyone is still working and still living their lives pretty much as usual--taking vacations, shopping a little, having a Starbucks now and then. But with a weather eye.

But most of all, living in Indiana has gotten interesting politically. We are ON THE NEWS--and I mean, national. We have CANDIDATES VISITING. (Even their wives.) (And husbands.) We're polled, we get flyers in our mailboxes, we get phone calls. The Democrats suddenly care about us! (One person we've NOT seen: John McCain.)

Not to mention, our state races, particularly for governor, are heating up. But then, local politics is always interesting in Indiana, if often maddening to those moderates and independents among us.

Springtime in Indiana the Interesting: Even as we enjoy the newly leafed trees, the tulips and daffodils, the occasional warm week, we wait for the earth to shake, the speeches to commence, and the election to come.

How about you? What's so interesting?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

About chaos

Tonight was truly a Chinese fire drill of a night.
Come along with me: Ang, Jayme, Julian, Caroline, Taylor, and McKenna go to Old Navy to buy Julian some summer clothes. They call me to see if we want to go. I call Greg and he does, he has to go up anyway for baseball practice at 7. So we all plan to meet at Northcrest Rally's for a hamburger picnic.
So we drive up after work and Ang, with a van-full, is already at the drive-thru window, and Matt (scheduled to take Caroline to ballet) is behind her. Tony drives up a little bit later.
I go to the walkup window to order. Greg and Tony have all the kids sitting at the tables. The Rally's is understaffed so I wait to order after two young couples and a toddler. The little guy is adorable, and the young people clean-cut, but every other word out of their months begins with "f." Not long after I order, three other people come in, two men and a woman, and I wonder if they're traveling--they have that distinctive Kentucky accent.
The people waiting with me at the walkup window are my new best friends. Because we are there a lloonngg time.
Ang gets her food so she drives away and Matt pulls up. I'm still waiting. Ang comes in because they forgot her fries. When she sees the lineup of me and my new best friends she forgets the fries and walks out. The guys are busy rounding up all the kids, because the girls are bouncing around the picnic area like mosquitoes. (Thank goodness it's fenced.)
Chaos seems to reign at this Rally's, because the sounds of rebellion are very clear in the waiting area. (And as Ang later observed that, "I think someone quit in the middle of it all," she was right, because I heard him.) The young man working the windows was so stressed his hands were shaking, and if I were him I would have quit too, because the place was making ME nervous.
My new best friends get their food and go outside to eat. By this time Matt has also gotten his food. While I'm waiting, two of my new BFs come back in because two of their sandwiches are wrong. One is informed that when he orders a "BLT," he indeed will only receive bacon, lettuce and tomato on his bun, because why would you expect a hamburger there too? So he asks, can he buy a hamburger? Indeed he can. (And they were very polite to the poor working people, dropping no f-bombs, but at the table later it was reported that on discovering the mixup, "they were yelling and cussing like crazy.")
If any of my new BFs were betting people I would have bet one of my sandwiches would be wrong too, but no one was interested.
When a sack was finally pushed out the walk-up windows, the other set of my new BFs, the Kentucky bunch, tried to claim it as their own, but were very confused that it did not seem to contain the sandwiches they had ordered; it occurred to none of them that it was not their bag at all but mine--I was sitting 10 feet away, but couldn't get up there fast enough to keep them from opening the bag and a sandwich to check it out. "It's mine, it's mine!" I cried--"Oh! No wonder," they said. As if I wasn't in line ahead of them anyway!
I grabbed it and ran to the picnic tables, starving, where everyone else was close to done, and the little girls busy throwing the bouncy balls that came in their kids' meals into the drive-thru lane.
Greg opened his sandwich and said, "Didn't I order a cheeseburger," and I said, "Yes," and of course his sandwich had no cheese, but I would have no more taken it back than applied to work there myself.
Ang mentioned the kids' meals came with hot dogs with everything, and who would think hot dogs aimed for kids' mouths would be like that? And the "everything" was sure easier to scrape off than get substitutes.
I like Rally's hamburgers the best of all fast food burgers. I think they taste the most like homemade. Come to think of it, the chaos ensuing at Rally's is close to home, too. Although no one has quit lately at home.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

About automatic pilot

Yesterday we -- me and Michelle -- were going out to lunch. We were headed to Taco Bell and talking away, she having been at a conference all last week, so lots of stuff to report.

In a pause in the conversation I realized I was heading to the wrong place--I was on automatic pilot. I'd made the turn into Wal-mart, just in back of Taco Bell, without thinking.

There's the operative phrase: no thinking!

I yell at Greg all the time for this same behavior -- he tends to want to drive to work if we're going anyway in that direction -- and now I'm going to remind myself to shut up: our brains love the lull of habit.

But it got me thinking, in what other ways do habits shape our days?

I know my mornings at home at totally habit-ized; not being a morning person, and near comatose for about an hour after arising, doing the same thing every day leaves my mind free for the task of waking up: get up, turn on NPR, rest room, feed cat, iron clothes, shower, get dressed, makeup, pack lunch/snack, leave.

I'm suspecting that as you get older, one's habits get more ingrained, even to the point of being etched in granite. Note to self: avoid that!

Because there's habits of action, like my mornings, which are pretty harmless, and habits of thoughts, which are probably more important.

It's one thing to get up and mindlessly get our shower and drive to work; seems to me, it's another thing to wake up every morning thinking, "this is going to be a bad day," or "another day to get through." And I think we all know people with those kinds of habits.

Worry is a thought habit, obsessing is a thought habit, and perpetual optimism might just be a thought habit too.

Sometimes, I break my morning habits. (Not the shower part, though.) I listen to a different radio station, I don't iron my clothes, I drive to work a different way. Those things are easy--for me, anyway.

It's harder to work on thought habits, especially negative thinking. Harder to get your brain to turn a different way than to drive your car a different way.

But by driving your car a different way occupies your mind; it requires more concentration, and trains your brain in a new way. And just might be the initial step you need to get your thoughts driving down a new path, too.

How about you? What habit are you breakin'?

Friday, April 18, 2008

About earthquakes

Well, I did not exactly wake UP thinking about earthquakes, because I slept through the one we just had.

If earthquakes are indeed infrequent natural phenomena, unlike Winter Storm Warnings and High Wind Warnings, then I seem to have more than my share of earthquake experiences for a midwest kind of girl.

Of last night's quake, I was sleepily unaware. A 6:40 a.m. phone call from Greg asking me if I knew we had an earthquake was my first clue, but his description of the event left me scratching my head. "I was awake and I felt the bed shaking. A lot! I didn't know what it was. I thought you (meaning, me!) were having a seizure."

Until he listened to the radio on the way to work and heard about the quake. So THEN he calls me, and leaves me wondering, if he thought I was some kind of physical distress, why did he not try to wake me up? He didn't have an answer for that one.

The first earthquake I remember was in '87, I think--we were at a T-ball game, sitting in a long line of lawn chairs. I thought I felt someone shake the back of mine and turned around to see who it was. Only to notice that everyone in the long line was looking too--we'd all been shaken. Although Greg, coaching third base at the time, did not feel it.

For the second one, I was at work, sitting at my desk. We often feel our building shake. There's a quarry nearby and they dynamite regularly. So when I felt a weird little shake one day, that's what I thought it was. Until a co-worker came to my cube and asked if I'd "felt that?" It was an earthquake, not a blasting.

I was in La Jolla, CA, a few years ago for a conference. I was sitting in a darkened room looking at a PowerPoint presentation (and, near comatose) when I felt a little bump. Part of me dismissed it as dynamiting at the quarry, until I came to and realized I wasn't anywhere near the quarry. Then a much harder shaking--the room rattled before my eyes, and the California natives among us quickly suggested we exit to a nearby courtyard. Little damage or aftershocks, but as it turned out, it was a 5.2 quake and the hardest the La Jolla/San Diego area had had in 20 years. They were quite freaked out by it too, as I watched the news later, although the worst damage the TV stations could come up with was an electrical poll that toppled over a bit.

Indeed, the world is a shaky place, and we must always be ready for aftershocks.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

About breaking news

In my job as web site administrator for a Catholic publishing company, while most days pretty calm, certain news-worthy events cause us to spring into action. Papal deaths and elections being at the top of the list.

And I have a predilection for being on vacation as news breaks.

Three years ago, Pope John Paul II had been hovering near death for several days. At work we lingered near the TV (nearly always tuned to CNN), waiting for news. I was scheduled to head to Florida for spring break, with several family members. Loath to cancel my vacation, we instead made contingency plans for some long-distance workarounds, and I quickly trained a co-worker in several web and email tasks.

So of course: As we left the house for Indianapolis for our flight, it was not looking good for the former pontiff. At the airport, he was still with us. Just before we boarded, I called my mom and said, if the pope dies in the next couple of hours, call me and leave a message so I can get it as soon as we land.

Our flight plan was Indy to Washington Dulles, then on to Tampa. A thunderstorm in Washington put us on tarmac hold. With no news source. We were late into Dulles and missed our flight--along with several hundred other testy travelers.

And as soon as I deplaned and turned my phone on, it beeped. Sure enough, the pope had passed away while we were over Pennsylvania.

Then my phone started ringing. And ringing. As my co-workers, in the office on a Saturday, tried to get the web site updated and the emails sent in my absence.

That set the tone for the week. For even as we visited Busch Gardens, lounged at Clearwater Beach, and attended a Devil Rays game, stuff happened, and I had to deal with it long distance. So I was kicking myself our motel didn't have internet access (how did that happen!? never again!), and I had to haunt the Panera Bread nearby to get email and update web stuff.

And my phone would ring at very interesting times--near tiger exhibit at Busch Gardens, for example--and I'd find myself explaining "how-to" while watching tigers sleep, or while in line for a roller coaster. Or viewing the Budweiser Clydedales. Rather surreal.

Last week, it was a pre-news-event vacation. We spend that latter part of last week in Minneapolis, freezing and shopping (in that order). And the office was consumed with getting ready for Pope Benedict's visit this week. Luckily, I took care of most of it before I left; and the Radisson had free internet, so I could email and update with no problem (and no Panera).

It's a little crazy this week. I'm posting news and sending emails, and keeping in touch with our news team in Washington (later, New York). It's easy in the office, and at home too (thanks to my trusty Sony Vaio and Verizon FIOS).

And fun, especially when you hear stuff like this:

How about you? Are you following any breaking news?

Monday, April 14, 2008

About when you travel, it's hard to write

Even though we had free internet access at the Radisson we were at in Minneapolis, it was all I could do to keep up with some necessary work emails and to check my Gmail occasionally, much less craft a coherent post.
Not that I spend days tweaking my entries anyway!
Until I get my brain back in gear and my fingers back in the keyboard just let it be known that:
10 hours in a car is long time.
Wisconsin is a big state.
Minnesota is very cold.
The Mall of America is very big.
IKEA is very fun.
Even girls play hockey in Minnesota, as evidenced by the team staying in the same hotel.
Nobody goes to the MOA on a weekday, but watch out on the weekend.
10 hours in a car is still a long time on the way home.
But it wasn't conducive to writing!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

About the voices in my head

New Napster lets me listen to about anything, so I put in my ear buds as tight as they'll go and crank the volume up even though I know I shouldn't and I may end up deaf as Pete Townsend, but right now who cares? It's been a long day and all I want to do is fill my head up with somebody else's smooth voice and somebody else's sweet song and something besides stuff that makes me frustrated or bored. When I turn the music up so loud it drowns out the TV that's on another basketball game and whatever it was Greg just said to me about the chicken and the furnace when it comes on and the phone that rings, I can't even hear the click of the keyboard, that's how loud it has to be to fill up my head and drown out the everyday voice that JUST WON'T SHUT UP. And this invention called new Napster, all legal and everything and I just have to click on whatever songs I want and they go in my playlist and they play and play. And sometimes I need to touch base with the past, so last night it was Cat Stevens and Elton and Doobie Brothers and Loggins and Messina. But really that is so yesterday's news and tonight I stay in this century and it's John Mayer's voice in my head, for there is some trueness there he shares with the others that knows no generation, and if the kids he's singing to in Waiting for the World to Change are not my demographic, well hell I don't care--I keep forgetting I'm so dang old anyway, that I'm closer to the generation that sang with now-departed John and the boys All We Need Is Love and sadly that has not worked out so well either. We are a Generation Failed. But no matter of things societal, I just feel like having young John's voice in my head singing Slow Dancing in a Crowded Room and Say and even Your Body Is a Wonderland, even when I know the reality of that statement. Not so much.
Sometimes when morning has broken I get up with the same songs floating around in my head, sans headphones, and I wonder how they stay there? Where do they hide all night, floating around with my dreams, singing to each other, James Taylor in a duet with Lenny Kravitz, and both Johns' voices is in there too, and I think hear Cat, old Yusef Islam himself, declaring once again it's the Year of the Cat, which is eversomuch more romantic than singing it's the Year of Yusef Islam. But oh baby, it's a wild world, and with this mix tape of the mind, maybe I've been dreaming with a broken heart--but I won't let it bring me down. From this vantage point, I can see for miles, and I won't get fooled again. I may need a little quiet, though, here inside the infinite now of head. Can't seem to learn that lesson. I'm not frustrated or bored, anymore, though. Worth a few decibels.
What's on your playlist?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

About skanks, and the lessons we should learn

Or skags.
So today we're going to lunch and George Clooney came up, don't ask me how. Because we want to marry him but some of us are more available to him than others. If only he were more available to us.
And Sarah said of his girl-thing, I have to admit I'm upset with him because his girlfriend is so skanky.
And I said, I forgive him but I don't know why he has to date a skank. Also, I didn't know she was skanky--I really didn't know much about her.
And I was thinking that skank might be my new favorite word.
So later in the car, we begin to speak of our high school experiences--again, I don't know how.
And, still thinking of skanks, I mentioned that back when I was in high school, we did not use the word "skank" -- we used "skag." Or said somebody was "skaggy."
Sarah said they used "skank."
Now, I'm talking '70s northern Ohio vernacular. Sarah is talking '80s South Bend vernacular.
So we turned to Beth, and asked her what her friends in mid '70s Minnesota called "skanks" or "skags." And she had to think a minute. And think.
And all she could come up with was "mean."
Mean doesn't mean the same as skank or skag, we told her. A skank might or might not be mean.
I don't know, Beth said. I don't think I know what the word might be. I was really nice in high school. Nicer than I am now. I got voted Best Walk, and Friendliest.
That revelation stopped us in our conversation.
Because Beth, today, is the nicest, friendliest person I know, and I really have a hard time imagining her any nicer or friendlier.
But I can imagine her being kind to the skankiest, skaggiest girls in school--the girls no one would talk to, or that got made fun of, or that would sit by themselves in the lunch room. That's the kind of person she is, even as a grownup--whomoever needs the hug, whomever seems lonely, whomever needs a lift up, Beth is the one to count on to be there.
I'd vote her friendliest, today. (Although I'm not so sure about "best walk" -- that might go to George.)
I have no idea if George Clooney's girlfriend is a skank, or not. I think she may have allowed some very ill-adviced photos to be taken, but there you are. If Beth had been in the room with her, she would have counseled against the photos, and given the young woman a hug, too, and told her what a nice person she was--the word "skank" would never have been mentioned.
I'm not vowing never to use the label "skank." It might have its uses. But I'm going to think twice about how I use it, and in reference to who. Because I hope I've learned something since 1974.
How about you? Skank, skag, or no label at all? Who are you voting "best walk"?