Wednesday, May 28, 2008

About being in love with certain major appliances

Like, my new refrigerator, which looks like this.

It is a Whirlpool refrigerator. It is a black refrigerator with French doors.

It is a refrigerator with a place in the door to get water and ice. And the ice can be crushed if you want. And it has a light to turn on so you can see the water or the ice.

It is a refrigerator that is just beginning to be filled with food, because I had to throw out all the old food from my previous, dead refrigerator. Although not all, because, don't you think pickles would be okay? And, mustard? How about wasabi paste?

It is a refrigerator that was too tall for the space it has to fit in, so the cupboards had to be taken down. And I don't think I want the cupboards back, because I can't get in them anyway, because they are over the refrigerator.

It is a refrigerator with two minor blemishes, but one is on the side behind the cupboards and the other is way down by the floor, and they took another $90 off the already-marked-down-price, so it was a pretty good deal. So I have done my part with my tax incentive money, you are welcome, U.S.A.

It is a refrigerator that I am getting a rebate on for the delivery. And I know what I'm going to do with the rebate (see next paragraph.)

As a black refrigerator, it matches the stove and dishwasher beautifully. But the white microwave now horribly looks out of place. So I must get a new one that matches better. (See paragraph above.)

It is a refrigerator that has not one, not two, not three, but FOUR lights inside, so I can see all the new food really, really well.

It is a refrigerator that runs very quietly, unlike the old refrigerator, which ran extremely noisily, especially near the end of its life, when it also quit being cold, despite the noise.

It is a refrigerator that has shelves you can adjust, even in the door, so my two-liter bottles of Diet Coke will fit exactly, and I can drink them easily. With crushed or cubed ice, illuminated by that light I mentioned.

It is a refrigerator with more freezer space than I've ever had before, and I am very sad at the loss of my old frozen foods, because I had just bought some delicious new stuff. Which melted. Damn.

It is a refrigerator I will be happy to put food into, take food out of, and not worry about food melting.

Really, I am so in love with my new refrigerator.

Have you ever gotten overly attached to inanimate objects in your home?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

About the duck at the cemetery

My dad wanted to visit the little country cemetery where my gramma, grampa, and various other relatives are buried. It's near Bucyrus, Ohio, in Crawford County.

My gramma's family had a farm in that area in the late 19th century. Her dad died young, at only 35, which I know because I just saw it on his grave stone. Gramma was only six, and her brother a couple of years older. So my great-gramma did what any young widow might do at the time--she packed up and moved to Cleveland to live with a relative.

I would have liked to have known my great-gramma, because of her choice of second husband says something about her. She married a Great Lakes ship captain, a Captain John Betke. You can read all about him here: History of the Great Lakes»

What I find amusing is that my great-gramma is buried beside her first husband, but Captain John is buried with his own stone right alongside them.

My gramma and grampa are next in line, and I'm sure my gramma is comfortable resting in the shady little cemetary just off Rt. 98. I imagine my grampa is a little restless--if gramma was a devout Methodist who read the Bible everyday and harbored very fond memories of living on the farm, my grampa was a quick-witted Irishman from Buffalo who liked the ponies and partly supported his family during the Depression with a small bookie business run from a local tavern (my dad's memory of the Depression!).

My memories of this cemetery go way back--I think the first time I was there was in late summer 1968, the year my grampa died. We returned the next spring and summer so my dad could install grampa's grave marker (it had been ordered from the V.A., since grampa was a WWI veteran--it came during the winter and creeped me out for several months, as it was stored in our basement).

Our best time at the Roop Cemetery: The family who lived next to the cemetery had kids the same age as us. Of course we started talking and playing. They also had something of a menagerie, which we enjoyed, having something similar at our own house. A flock of ducks hung around the little barn, something we didn't have, so we were hanging on the fence observing.

One of the ducks took a look at my little sister and got hostile--just like we bigger kids did! That duck sensed an easy target--just like us! That duck went after my little sister like a missile and attacked her! Just like we did!

She was screaming, the duck was quacking, my mom was speechless, us kids were mesmerized, and the neighbor lady came to the rescue.

My sister has been traumatized for life by that duck, avoiding waterfowl to this day (well, and by some other childhood memories, but really, we swear we saw the alien spaceship leave her in our driveway).

There's no ghosts for me in that cemetery. Just duck down.

How about you? What ducks are you ducking?

Friday, May 23, 2008

About the maple seeds

The house on the corner, it has
An old maple tree smack in the middle
of its side yard.
When I walked by today
That tree looked dead, but wasn't,
On closer inspection.
Far from it, just the opposite.
For it's full, beyond full, of seeds,
Light brown, comma-shaped,
Maple seeds. More seeds than leaves
On the branches, so much so
The tree looked brown.
And down below, a lawn
Already peppered with seeds
Already flown in the wind.
Thousands upon thousands
Thousands on thousands
A thousand thousand thousand,
of single-winged aircraft,
Crash-landed, seed-side-down,
A potential maple-tree forest, yet I know--
Not one will grow.

Monday, May 19, 2008

About the fashionable flexibility of Midwesterners

Consider my wardrobe of last week.

The office has been freezing, with both a brisk breeze flowing from the north, a chill undercurrent slithering in the south, and a turbulent east/west convergence around shoulder level.

The great outdoors has been undecided, with a day of summer sunshine and 75-degree temperatures interspersed between rainy cold fronts. Emphasis on cold. (Remembering at this time of year, 60 degrees seems cold and anything below that downright frigid.)

Part of the office's problem is that once the furnace is off, it's off 'til winter; the air conditioner kicks on, and I don't think it goes off 'til winter, either. Come to think of it, it might stay on all winter, too.

Anyway, if on the warmer days I wore Bermudas and a t-shirt at home in the evening, on the cooler days it was jeans and sweatshirts. At work it was pants, with sweaters over my short-sleeve summer shirts. And, well, my feet were a little cold, because I simply had to wear those cute little high-heeled sandals I found at Shoe Show.

I refuse to keep my winter clothes out beyond May 1. I. Just. Can't. So I freeze a little.

As I was out and about last week, on any given day regardless of temperature, I noticed the same kind of wardrobe confusion -- nay, I mean, flexibility -- among my fellow Hoosiers. A trip for errands at lunchtime found shoppers attired in any number of ways: Senior citizens might be bundled up with jackets and head scarves. College students in wind-suits, or some in khaki shorts. There's a certain hardy cohort, mostly male, who wears shorts no matter what. Ladies compromising with capris. I saw winter coats, no coats, light jackets. Young girls in what one might call Daisy Dukes or hot pants, depending on one's birth year. Little kids in flip-flops, or rain boots (prob because those are easy to put on!). And everything in between.

And I got to thinkin', it's expensive to be a Midwesterner, because we need so many different kinds of clothes. I know I have two entirely different wardrobes. When you live in a place where the temperature might be -10° in January and 100° in July, 50° in April and 70° in September, it's no wonder our closets are stuffed with everything from fleece ziptops to cotton halter tops, Carhart snowsuits to bikini bathing suits. We have to be ready for anything.

It's these transition seasons that are tricky--if we know that in January it's winter coats and long underwear, and in July it's cotton tops and sandals, we're left guessing May and and October.

But we Midwesterners, spending our tax incentive dollars on extreme fashion, survive despite and because of the weather. As I said, we're a flexible people.

Even if there are some of us who really shouldn't be wearing those Daisy Dukes, any time of year.

How about you? How's your fashion flexibility?

Friday, May 16, 2008

About how baseball could save the world

Thursday night at the baseball fields. Cool again with threatening skies and a brisk breeze. The field lights are on early and bring a cheery if faux brightness to the complex.
At least three games are going on when I get there, so the parking lot is full and you better drive slowly, because kids are popping out between cars everywhere. Grownups too. They're carrying bat-bags and lawn chairs and coolers and ball gloves and it's hard to tell who's arriving for the next game and who's leaving the last one.
I pass the concession stand and there's a crowd around it, and the little kids are buying ring pops and now-n-laters and the players are buying hot dogs and pizza and the parents are buying coffee and popcorn.
There's a girls' softball team practicing on a ball-field to my left and a dad is working with the pitcher who's maybe 13, and she takes the ball from him and whips it around so fast it looks like her arm has been wound and released by a rubber band. She smiles at the smack the ball makes in the catcher's glove and high-fives the coach/dad (hers, maybe?) and gets ready to throw it again.
I luck out, snagging a parking space right by the field I'm headed for, which means I won't have to lug my own lawn chair, cooler, blanket, purse and umbrella all the way from the outfield parking lot to the bleacher area.
In front of me, on the other side of the visitors' dugout are the batting cages, and it's a kaleidescope of color -- the green team is there, and the yellow team, and the burgundy team (ours). And some kids are taking pitches from coach/dads in the cages, and others are waiting, and others are throwing balls back and forth, and still others are just hanging.
The game on the field is finishing up, so there's a full contingent of parents and grandparents and siblings of all sizes, from babies to teenagers, watching. Well, the grownups are watching, and most of the teenagers, but all the little kids are in their own world: climbing on the flagpole stone, running around the utility shed, throwing stones ("Megan! Don't throw stones!"), and eating snacks from coolers and concession stand.
I climb out of the car and unload, and cast a weather eye to the west, determining that while I don't need my umbrella immediately, I might in an hour. And I haul my stuff near the action, waiting for the last out of the game so I can plant my chair in a good spot.
Around me the conversation swirls like words caught in the wind at Wrigley Field. From the dugout come the coaches' staccato instructions ("Matthew! Back up! This is their big hitter!" "Tom! Don't swing at that pitch!") and the more lugubrious comments of those (10-year-olds) on the bench ("Euuuch! Mitchell just farted!" "This guy struck out the last time." "Did you guys have recess today?")
From the stands, the parents shout encouragement ("You'll get 'em next time, Chris!" "Yea! That's the way!"), while maintaining non-stop chit-chat among themselves ("And then we decided to go to the mall, because I was not going to shop outside in the rain." "Yea, the lawnmower quit running, so I took it to that place you told me about last week.") And the teens have their cell phones to talk to, or text on, and make the occasional comment: "Mom, are we stopping at Quiznos after? Can we just get takeout?"
Around the world, it's been a tough week. I've seen too many news stories, and had too many conversations about Myanmar, aka Burma, and the China earthquake, and how high can gasoline go in one week? And there's not much I can do about these problems except write a check to Doctors Without Borders, or ponder carpooling to work next week.
But standing there listening to and watching this little-world-within-a-world, I think back to 2001, and how in the days after 9/11, it was baseball that made life seem a little more normal and sane.
And maybe that's what this little league is doing here, tonight, under these gray skies and bright lights. Dads coaching sons and daughters, moms bringing the snacks and the support, kids learning a game that in turn teaches them lessons they will need as grownups, about teamwork and winning and losing. Other kids just playing and having fun.
The game ends, and watching the boys shake hands after, it's hard to tell the team who had the most runs from the team who had the least. As soon as the two lines snake past each other, boys high-fiving each other, coaches shaking hands, the lines break, the boys run away, and every one gives a "whoop!" and heads to the dugout to grab their stuff and look for their moms and beg for food. Because they are all starving and need food now.
Two new teams take the field and throw their stuff in the dugouts, and the scoreboard is set back to zero-zero, first inning. The field is groomed a little as the young umps take a break. The teams warm up. The coaches start their encouraging chatter. New spectators take over the bleachers.
I set up camp for the evening. When I go home, I'll have to face what the world throws at us once again, earthquake or cyclone, tornado or war. But for a moment, I'll listen to the boys' silly talk and the crack of the ball, keep an eye open for rain, and have some popcorn. Such small things.

How about you? What's your stadium of sanity?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

About saving money

I have a very vague childhood memory of my dad yelling at my mom for spending too much money at the grocery store one week. For some reason, I remember how much she spent:

Twenty-three dollars.

For a family of six, and a couple dogs.

Isn't that laughable, now? That $23 seemed so excessive at the time (it was probably the mid-'60s)?

Today, we drop $23 at Panera Bread. For one meal.

At least we did until gas started tickling $4 a gallon. I'm starting to think that $4/gallon is the long-sought tipping point for folks to change their habits.

Because it's got me thinking about how to save money--not eating out as much, combining trips, carpooling to work (at least a day or two a week), shopping at old haunts like Dollar General, Big Lots, and Aldi's.

One of the best ways to save money shopping, but hard to do with busy days, is planning what you need a little more carefully. You know, plan your menu, look at your pantry, look at your sundries, check ads for sales. But I think I've reached my tipping point of time and money. I'll take the time now to save the money.

I like to shop for clothes and pretty things, and always try to find the bargain--TJ Maxx, Ross's, Marshall's, clearance racks are some of my favorite places to browse. I've added a new one this spring: Clothes Mentor. Second-hand clothes, gently used, brand names. I'm getting lots of compliments on my Clothes Mentor stuff this spring and feeling pretty economical too.

I'm having these conversations not just in my head, but with all my friends. We compare how much our last fill-up cost ($62! The most I've ever spent! is a common lament), and talk about carpooling and whether we're going on vacation or not, and what bargains we can pick up at Aldi's.

I've been reading about where gas prices are going, and it's as unpredictable as a Cubs score. One bunch of analylists are saying $100 a barrell oil (or even less) by the end of year. Another bunch says it's climbing to $200. I suspect it'll be somewhere in the middle, but tending towards the higher price point.

With that in mind, I'm instituting my new frugality measures. I'm not anticipating any big sacrifices, but who knows what my next tipping point will be. Keep an eye on the gas station sign.

How about you? How are you saving money?

Friday, May 9, 2008

About my musical devices, James Taylor, and John Mayer

I added another musical device to my arsenal this week, a Creative Zen V. One gig.
Welcoming the Zen was my Creative MuVo Slim 256mg (which I mostly use for the FM radio), my Audiophase one gig, my Pionner INNO that is also an XM radio.
Hey, the Creative Zen was free just for upgrading my Napster + XM subscription for a year. Unlimited downloads for $14.99 a month? And a free mp3 player? Sign me up.
Okay, so I wrote a letter of complaint (actually, two letters) because I can't download for free to the INNO. That's really dumb, considering the XM/Napster partnership. Nor can I download for free to the Audiophase or the MuVo--seems they are "not compatible" with Napster.
And even the Zen--while most downloads are free, not all--some of the songs I tried to sync, Napster tried to charge me 99 cents for--no thanks, Napster. How about a little more truth in advertising in your promo emails?
Enough complaining. What caused me to start thinkin' about all this was the beauty of the little Zen V.
Smaller than a credit card, a half-inch thick, a color screen (you can also put photos on it), an intuitive interface--I like this little music player. And I loaded it up in less than half an hour with tons of music that I could get as part of my Napster subscription.
I'm not real picky about the audio quality of my music, being no audiophile, but the sound was great.
I sat on the sofa looking at the Zen V and thinking about the new iPod Nano my neighbor tween received for her 12th birthday. That is a beautiful little device too, thin and pink and able to hold hundreds of tunes. Does a 12-year-old have that many favorite songs?
Because I do, and sitting there the other night, I flashed back to the musical device I received when I was 12 or so--my first record player.
Black, with a clear top, no automatic stacker (our family stereo had that), two big black speakers. Not having a job, or much allowance left after buying books (bookworms are like that), my record collection was pretty limited--a few 45s (FORTY-FIVES! WHAT THE HECK WERE THOSE!), less than half-a-dozen albums. James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, Elton John. All of which I played, over and over again.
One Christmas I asked for the 45 of the Beatles's "Come Together." After I opened it, I ran up to my room to play it, only to find it skipped. My needle didn't seem heavy enough to stay in a straight light over the grooves. Being a problem-solving kind of girl, I took a penny and put it on top the needle. The record played perfectly, and I could sing along about Ole Flat-top to my heart's content.
In the '70s, I was annoyed by skipping records. Today, I'm annoyed by DRM licenses that don't copy properly. If a penny and five minutes solved my problems in 1969, now it takes half-a-dozen emails sent over a week to solve a download/licensing problem problem.
I've read that real albums and record players are clinging to life, indeed staging a little renaissance among audiophiles.
Obviously, I'm not one of them. I've scratched too many records and still reeling from that Come-Together-need-a-penny experience.
I downloaded most of John Mayer's oeuvre onto the new Zen V. Napster of lots of his blues and live performances, and now they're all ready for me to listen to this afternoon in the cubicle. John's a couple decades younger than me, but music knows no age, right? I bet James Taylor listens, too. On an iPod.
How about you? What are you listening to?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

About Myanmar, AKA Burma

If my Tuesday was taken up with the normal weather of life: work, errands, dinner, a concert, American Idol, interest in the election, across the planet in a place with two names, people were taken up with surviving weather, and its aftermath. Instead of wasting time feeling guilty for my blessed life, here's a feeble attempt to do what I can to help those who need it.

The number of dead and missing keeps going up in Myanmar. If the headline I read on last weekend said 341 dead, by later yesterday it was 22,000 dead and 40,000 missing--a disaster of tsunami proportions.

And it's not a place that accepts help easily, between the catastrophic damage done to infrastructure and its closed, "miliary junta" government that, surprisingly, has asked the U.N. for help. If people can get visas to enter the country and help.

Fort Wayne is home to the largest Burmese refugee population in the U.S., so we're a little more aware than most of the situation and what it means to people--our neighbors--who have relatives and friends there. Read more about Fort Wayne and Burma at and

Mayanmar (which the refugees still call Burma) is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. And may be the number one most devastated.

Here's a few ways to help:

World Vision is supplying Family Survival Kits for $25»

Caritas Internationalis is coordinating relief efforts for 162 members. Donate through Catholic Charities USA» is gathering supplies to ship to Myanmar» works with local partners to provide relief»

Doctors Without teams are being sent to Myanmar»

International Red Cross to send food and other help»

If you have a charity to add to the list, please include it in the comments.

I'm sitting at my desk warm, dry, fed, and with a bed to sleep in tonight. Let's help those who have lost everything--and didn't have much to begin with.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

About thinkin'

I'm also thinkin' I pay way too much attention to Oprah, but I've already written about that.
I woke up thinkin' about thinkin' because I read Eckhart Tolle's book, A New Earth, as promoted by The Big O Herself.
And why I would a read such a book? Partly for research. Her online class caught my attention--since I work for a book publisher, I was curious as to how the class would be presented.
And of course with the resources The Oprah Colossus has to offer, it was a first-rate job, although at least the first class or two they had so many hits on their servers some people had iffy connections.
But the sessions are available after the live event, there are workbooks and questions, and opportunities to connect with other readers, and of course tie-ins with Oprah the Show. And Oprah the Magazine (O).
I watched a little of the first live session, but just haven't had/taken the time to watch any more.
But I did read the book, all the long miles from Fort Wayne to Minneapolis, a couple weeks ago. Echhart Tolle on the it were.
You know, I'm not a psych-y kind of girl. I'm not a person who dissects other people, I don't ponder motives, I don't try to get in your head. Because I know your head is not a place I want to be in.
And I'm a pretty straightforward kind of gal. I don't want or need to manipulate you, I don't want much from you, I don't actually really even need you. (And if you try to manipulate me, the only reason I'm going to pick up on it is because I'm 52 years old and have learned to recognize the signs. At 25--not so astute.)
I'm not complex, I'm not deep, I'm not a bunch of stuff other people are. Do you want drama? Not gonna find it here.
And my psychology education has amounted to a couple college requirements. So I'm not up on Freud or Jung and whoever else is the flavor of the era in what makes people tick.
So I can't even begin to analyze or criticize Tolle's book on a psychological level. I don't know what I don't know. But I do know enough that old Eckhart might be on some shaky psychological ground in a few chapters.
Because old Eck is all about what you're thinkin', and that voice in our heads that we think is us, but it turns out, is not really who we are, that it's often a bad voice telling us things about ourselves that might or might not be true and the voice is probably keeping us from knowing our true selves and being the spiritual is-ness we really are.
I tried to follow Eck's advice and shut my inner voice up as I was reading along, to little avail. I was having a hard time finding that inner me that hangs around calmly in the infinite now. My in-the-moment-me, in full voice, seemed to be filling up my head pretty loudly. And insistently.
Ah, sorry, Eck. I'm afraid my voice is me. Some days we're more calm than others, but the effort to shut me up is just too, too much. I'm kind of used to me, so I think I'll keep me. How psycho is that?
What about you? Can you enter into the silent, infinite now-ness of the true you?