Thursday, December 29, 2005

Fours Filler

A friend sent this to me, and I thought, "hey, something to put on my blog!" 'Cept I changed the answers to be mine, not hers. :)

So here goes:

1. Geography Intern at National Geographic Society
2. Shoe store clerk
3. Pizza demonstrator at Kroger
4. Server/cashier at a concession stand on the beach

Those are just the fun ones. I've also been a sales clerk in a general/gift store, a dry cleaner, and Waldenbooks; a telemarketer for Olan Mills; a CSR for a long distance phone company; a proofreader, production manager, and traffic manager for a graphics design firm/ad agency; and operations manager for an occupational health services company, my current day job.

1. Lord of the Rings
2. Pirates of the Caribbean
3. Serenity
4. Galaxy Quest

This isn't fair. Picking four is just too hard. What about Speed and The Mummy and The Mummy Returns and every movie with Orlando Bloom????

1. Hot Target by Suzanne Brockmann (really, all her books)
2. It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (really, the whole Chicago Stars series)
3. Watchers by Dean Koontz
4. Another Fine Myth by Robert Aspirin

This was even harder than the movies. These are by no means all my favorites. They're just books that stick out in my mind as hitting me hard at the time that I read them.

1. South Ruislip, England
2. Agawam, MA
3. Delaware, OH
4. Silver Spring, MD

If, of course, by cities you mean "anywhere." I've never lived IN an actual city.

1. Firefly!!!!!!!
3. Alias
4. That 70s Show

Four too many, but it's been a long time since there have been four worth watching. If you insist on current shows rather than shows that have been off the air since, like, 2002, then substitute Prison Break for Firefly. Assuming Fox doesn't kill that, too.

1. The Caribbean (including Tulum, Mexico; Xunantunich, Belize; Nassau, the Bahamas)
2. Williamsburg, VA
3. Killington, VT
4. Misquamicut, RI

The last one was just about every summer of my life, growing up, and as many summers as I could manage since. It's where we scattered my mother's ashes in May 2003

There are at least half a dozen more, but those are top of my list.

1. Skewers on P Street in Washington, DC
2. Red Lobster
3. Neato Burrito
4. Passage to India

I don't know if Skewers is even there anymore, but man, 13 years later and I can still taste those beef kabobs and rice.

1. Popcorn
2. Ice cream
3. Filet mignon
4. Neato Burrito's custom taco salad with their jalapeno feta salsa

Nothing too crazy there.
4. Agawam Junior High

And the nostalgia floodgates open...

1. Grrr. Argh. Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!
2. Hair turban
3. Good morning, Alternatives, Natalie speaking

Firefly reference, daughter number two's nightly demand, self-explanatory, and see previous post

1. Sleeping in my bed
2. Sleeping on the couch
3. Sleeping on my office futon
4. Sleeping on my husband's chest

The only reason Jim's at the end is 'cause I can't sleep there long. He snores and my neck hurts.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Thoughts on Christmas, Chanukah, and More

I don't remember when I first became uncomfortable with saying Merry Christmas to strangers. It seems it was long before I knew anyone who was Jewish...probably in high school, when I was working very hard at figuring out my personal spiritual identity. I get angry now at people who scream how wrong it is to say Happy Holidays instead, because it's a Christian holiday. I say it's common courtesy to acknowledge that you may not celebrate a Christian holiday, but I want you to be happy regardless.

I said something about Kwaanza and Africa lately, and a friend educated me a bit about Kwaanza and it being an American holiday that began in the 60s. She called it a made-up holiday. I laughed and said all holidays are made-up holidays. I think I offended her, because she distinguished between made-up and religious. I don't think religion makes a holiday any less made-up. It's just human beings deciding something is worth celebrating. Religion may make a holiday more important to someone who practices that religion, of course.

My favorite part of The Holidays, that time between Thanksgiving and January 2 and everything that's celebrated in between, is the focus everyone has on tradition. No matter what we celebrate and why, there are certain aspects of that celebration that resonate in each of us. Some decry the commercialism and crassness that accompanies it, but I don't have a problem with it. The fact is, the majority of us "buy into" such things out of love. Trampling people at 4:00 a.m. at Target may contradict the impulse, of course, but the reason we do it is because we know how excited our 80-year-old grandmother will be to get that cheap, multi-region DVD player for Christmas. And we want to give that excitement to her because we love her.

And it's not all trampling at Target, either. I couldn't believe the shoppers in Toys R Us on December 16. I swear they were pumping happy gas through the ventilation system. I usually hate crowds becuase you step back to let a couple of people by, and a hundred stream through, ignoring the fact that you're waiting patiently to take your turn, and in the meantime someone behind you decides they're more important than any of you and shoves past. There was NONE of that in Toys R Us. There were smiling, apologizing, considerate people down every aisle. Everyone was relaxed and calm and sweet and helpful. I don't think I've ever seen such a thing.

I bought seven copies of Serenity this year for gifts (including one for my own birthday present). A, because I want to share with all my closest friends this best of 2005 film, which was SO much better plotted, acted, and displayed than War of the Worlds. B, because even though our hopes are fading, there is still a slim chance of getting a sequel, and it all hinges on DVD sales. I also converted a customer and the cashier in line when I was buying them. They both planned to get it, and hopefully will follow up and get Firefly, too.

My kids write a letter to Santa every Christmas Eve, and he always supplies an answer. This year, they had questions for him related to the legends portrayed on Santa Claus is Coming to Town. He revealed, in his answers, that the original Rudolph died long ago, as all things do. My husband was quite sure this was a bad thing to say. My mother-in-law raised her eyebrows when they read the letter to her. My kids? Didn't even blink. Just goes to show. I don't know what, exactly, but it does.

Chanukah is, I guess, just revving up starting today, as Christmas winds down. I wish everyone of all faiths the happiest and most relaxed of whatever holiday they celebrate.

I'll close with something all of us can enjoy:

Saturday, December 17, 2005


I discovered podcasts a couple of months ago, when I was seeking to feed my Firefly/Serenity addiction. I ran out of episodes of The Signal pretty quickly, so I looked for more stuff, and found Pottercast. It's produced by the people who do The Leaky Cauldron, and it's great. They have interviews with fans and cast and crew of the films and fun banter and stuff.

So anyway. The title of this entry is "I Hate Pottercast." So why am I praising it?

Well, the reason I hate it is not a rational one. It's all about sitting in my car, listening to intelligent, interesting people of all ages from all over the world voice theories that I disagree with, and NOT BEING ABLE TO TELL THEM.

Yes. I sit in my car shouting at my iPod. It's always something like this:


Oddly, no other theory I disagree with bothers me like this one does. Snape, Dumbledore, even Neville theories I find interesting, even when, IMO, way off base. But the Harry-or-his-scar-is-a-horcrux theory works me up.

Here's why:

1. Voldemort went to Godric's Hollow to kill Harry. He wouldn't have planned to make a horcrux out of him. A corpse wouldn't work so well, I'm thinking.

2. Creating a horcrux is very complex, deliberate magic. It can't happen by "accident."

3. Tom Riddle talked to Slughorn 50 years ago about creating horcruxes. He definitely killed more than 7 people before he tried to kill Harry. Knowing Harry (or Neville, but he decided it was Harry) was supposed to be his downfall, he'd have prepared well in advance of attacking him, even if he believed a baby was harmless to him.

4. If Harry is a horcrux, he would have to kill himself, then Voldemort. Can't happen. If his scar is a horcrux, he'd have to do something gruesome to it. I can't see JK Rowling going in that direction. She doesn't shy away from violence (sectum sempra) but she doesn't go into pure gore. (Note: This is someone else's argument, I didn't think of it on my own, but I can't give credit because I don't remember who said it.)

5. If Harry is a horcrux, it would change Voldemort's intent and knowledge on the night he tried to kill Harry, and though Rowling loves to surprise us, she always sets up her surprises well in advance. Hindsight shows us where she did so. So making us believe that Voldemort wanted to kill Harry for six books, then switching that completely in the seventh, is a cheap device I don't believe she would do.

There. Maybe someone at Pottercast will find this by virtue of the subject and read it. Just the possibility that they might will save me a lot of screaming in my car. :)

Motorola Rocks

Last week, on Thursday night, as I pulled my backpack out of the car, it bumped the car door. I keep my cell phone on a clip on the pocket, and I paused and glanced around, because it's always falling off. I didn't look very hard for it because it hadn't hit the ground.

That night, it snowed. About 8 inches. The next morning school was canceled and the day care had a two-hour delay and my street wasn't plowed, all of which equals...SLEEPING IN. I got up, shoveled out, and slllooooowwwllly drove the kids to day care. All morning, I couldn't find my phone.

Now, I'm from Massachusetts but live in South Central Pennsylvania. We are in a variable zone such that predicting the weather is difficult. Conditions can shift and change a forecast every hour. So we're constantly having predictions of six inches of snow and ice that amount to not a single flake when the time comes. Consequently, the municipalities have a very hard time budgeting and planning. The weather is treated with higher drama than ANY other news story. And the entire region panics, buying out entire stores full of bread and milk and canceling everything days in advance. Whereas I scoff and go about my normal business.

Anyway, because the boroughs don't want to run out of money for plowing and salting late in the season, they don't do it early in the season. I had thought my phone was in the car, but it wasn't, and conditions were bad enough that I didn't want to be on the highway without the phone. *I'm* fine driving in snow, but not everyone is. So I went home to look again, remembering on the way that I'd bumped the backpack on the door. Sure enough, the phone still wasn't in the house, not even hiding under the desk in the kitchen or behind the cereal on the counter.

I grabbed the snow shovel, gauged where the car had been, and shoveled about three square feet of grass. Sure enough, there was the phone. In single-digit temperatures for 14 hours, buried under 8-14 inches of snow (we'd cleared the driveway on top of it!).

I took it inside, dried it, charged it and, you guessed it. It works FINE.

I will never own any cell phone but Motorola.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Smart Cat

We have a rather large dog:

And a rather dainty cat:

Their food dishes are rather close together. I don't have a photo, but it's something like this:

______ (dog)
xxxxxxxxxxx______ (cat)

Both animals are fed at the same time. Dolly, the dog, is not dainty like Maya, the cat. She gobbles her food, then heads for the water. She drinks with such gusto and splashes and drips so much of it that my kids run screeching, "tsudoggie, tsudoggie!"

Yesterday, my husband noticed that when the dog started drinking, the cat retreated to the dining room, sat and waiting patiently, and when the dog left, went back to her dish.

Poor thing. I'd noticed that she interrupted her eating, but not why. I figured she had to use the litter box halfway through or something. Oh, well, she figured out how to deal with it on her own!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Popcorn Love Affair

Very little in my life has as much meaning for me as popcorn.

Popcorn was Our Treat when I was growing up. Popped in oil in a saucepan, coated in real butter and salt. It was my mother’s treat first, and I would lie in bed, listening to the kernels hit the pan, and it was a comforting sound. Maybe because it meant she was there, keeping me safe, doing what she could to make me happy and healthy. Maybe—and more likely—it was comforting because it meant she was doing something to make herself happy. That was an extremely rare thing when I was growing up.

When I was older, popcorn, made as described above, was a family thing. We sat around a giant wooden popcorn bowl, passing around the hand towel, while we watched the earliest incarnation of Must See TV, when NBC first began dominating Thursday night with the Cosby Show. Later, when we finally got a VCR, it was movie nights on the weekends. Popcorn represented family togetherness.

Eventually, my mother remarried, and my stepfather made his one significant contribution to our household. Prior to this marriage, we poured the melted butter (melted in the popping pan, because we had no microwave) over the popcorn, salted it, and carried the salt into the living room with the bowl so we could add more when we got down into it.

My stepfather taught us about tossing. He made the BEST popcorn in the universe, and it’s to him I owe my own reputation for popcorn-making. You spoon butter over the popcorn, salt it, and then toss the bowl so it all mixes together. Repeat until the whole bowl is coated. Perfect!

Over the years, we switched to air-popped corn and butter substitutes in an effort to be healthier in our indulgences. Movie popcorn, special on its own because of the experience that went along with it, began to decline (it has never recovered). Microwave popcorn came along, but was rarely worth chomping. In 1991, my mother gave me and my then-fiancĂ© her air popper. We lived in a pretty small apartment, and the popper—the kind that blows the hot air and the popped kernels out of a chute into a bowl—regularly shot hot, UNpopped kernels from the kitchen counter, across the room, through the bathroom door, and into the tub.

In 1995 we bought a better popper, one that kept all the corn in the container. For a long time it was sufficient, but I was really fooling myself. My mother would come visit, and I’d make ’corn, and she’d complain that it was hard in the center. She sent me this super-great popcorn from Connecticut that…turned out to be just as hard. Which meant the problem was my old popper. But I couldn’t find another hot air popper that didn’t shoot the kernels across the room.

So I said the hell with it. I started cooking it on the stove again, and it was wonderful. Light and fluffy and just right to collect the butter. But I now have a flattop stove, and shaking a pan on it isn’t such a good thing. So a couple of years ago I bought a new old-fashioned popper with the turning handle.


Nostalgia aside, what does popcorn mean to me now?

It means I really can make something unique to me that my husband and kids love and will always beg me to make. It means legacy.

It also means stress removal. On the worst non-crisis days of my life, I can snuggle in with popcorn and a book, and relax. Nothing else in the world can do this so easily. And in a world like ours, this is a really good thing to have available.

It means continuity. When I make popcorn, I feel my mother (now deceased), and I sense my brother way off in Texas, and the threads connecting us even when we don't talk for weeks and weeks.

It means I have to go make some right now. :)

Theories Shmeories

I was reading a post on a blog recently about Choice Theory. A man had admonished the poster to just let go of all the things that make her stressed, not pick them up again, and be 100% her. That she has a choice regarding the things that stress her out.


Okay, some of it was on the button. People tend to get very stressed about things they can’t control, and I would agree that some of them should be let go of. But the way this guy was talking, he was saying that everything you do is your choice and you need to dig deep and work hard to make the choices that don’t stress you out.

Paraphrasing quite a bit there, but that’s what I got out of it.

One of the commenters said most proponents of Choice Theory seem to be men, and another commenter said maybe that’s because men tend to focus on one thing at a time, while women focus on multiple things.

I don’t tend to like philosophies that divide men and women, because nothing’s that neat. For example, it seems to be accepted knowledge that men want to solve problems, women listen and sympathize. I am SO not good at just listening and sympathizing. I try to fix EVERY PROBLEM someone puts in front of me. And I’m also SO not a man.

But let’s adjust it to be that proponents of Choice Theory tend to focus on one detail at a time, and those who don’t like CT tend to see all the entanglements associated with the choice.

For example.

Having to rush home to pick up my kids on time, then feed them, then make sure all their homework and practice and studying and chores are done, then catching up on their days and getting them showered and ready for bed and sometimes throwing in family reading or game playing time and making sure they don’t watch too much TV and eat a balanced dinner and get enough exercise?

THAT’S what stresses me out. But most choices I could make to change that would cause other problems that would create the same, but different stress.

Like, I could leave my family. Or quit my job so I’m home sooner so that whole paragraph doesn’t have to be done in three hours. I’m sure the consequences of those choices are obvious, though they would eliminate the stress.

I can’t just up and leave those stresses.

Which makes me wonder. Does someone who gives that advice do it in an effort to really help? Or because they have a need to feel superior to the average person?

Bad Service

I order a lot from the Internet. Especially clothes, because I’m very picky and very difficult to fit. So I’ll order a bunch of stuff, try it on, and keep what I like. What I don’t like I pack back up, mark on the packing slip why I’m returning it, seal it, and slap on the label they provide. Some of them even supply prepaid UPS labels. I pay the shipping later, but I don’t have to stand in line. And my refund usually comes through within days.

Maybe I’m spoiled. But a few weeks ago I ordered a backpack from a reputable online retailer. I didn’t like it. But they had no packing slip or proof of purchase or anything in the box. I had to call them (have I mentioned how much I hate the phone? I even order pizza online) to get an RMA number. Then ship it back. Then wait forever for the refund, minus a 15% restocking fee. And though they provide a 30-day deadline to return the merchandise, there’s no indication of how long they’ll keep my money.

So not too much later I found a better item at another retailer. Two potential items, actually. I ordered both, because they were excellent prices and I couldn’t tell which one would work better.

The first problem was that even though the image was of the brown leather, the default color was black, and I didn’t notice until I’d finalized the sale. I called immediately and waited on hold forever. When someone finally answered, I explained my problem and asked if there was any way to change the color of one of the items. She said, “uuuuhhhhh….not until you get it” in this whiny, dumb-blonde voice (I’m not saying she was a dumb blonde, just that she sounded like one). I should have asked for the supervisor, but decided to see if the item was workable before I worried about it. If I liked it, I’d exchange it. If I didn’t, I’d just send it back.

Man, I should have talked to the supervisor.

It took nearly two weeks to get them, something else I’m not used to, but I didn’t gripe. One item just didn’t work for me. The other was perfect, but black when I wanted brown. So I went online for the return process. Because this company ALSO provided no purchase info in the box and requires authorization for return.

At least they have an online process. But when I went online, it only allowed me to select one item at a time. I wanted to return both. I had trouble getting labels. I couldn’t tell if I had authorization to return both or not, but I was to get an e-mail. I decided to wait.

And wait and wait and wait. Every two days I’d get a response to my communication. First they wanted to know why I wanted to return one item, because the system didn’t send the reason through. I explained why I wanted to return both. I got two separate return labels that incorporated the restocking fee and the postage I would pay if I sent both items separately.


I finally got authorization to return them and paid for the postage myself, which was half of what they were trying to charge me.

But that’s not all. I subscribed to LOST magazine way back in mid-September. The first issue was supposed to go on sale October 4. The web site said it could take up to 8 weeks for the next available issue to arrive, but I kind of discounted that because it’s a bimonthly magazine and the next available issue was only a couple of weeks away.

They took my money immediately. I did not get my magazine. It became November. I e-mailed them for the status. No response. I called them for a status and had to leave a message because they have “regular business hours” instead of the usual full customer service hours. I got no response.

Finally I got an e-mail back that my subscription had been processed and would start with the second issue. I immediately fired back that they had plenty of notice to send me the first issue and I wanted the first issue. I got an immediate response that I’d get a full subscription, five issues plus a yearbook. But starting with issue #2.

I almost let it go. But then I thought about it. The second issue isn’t until December, which meant I had to wait another four weeks, and they would have had my money for 12 weeks without supplying me with the product. That’s just unacceptable to me. I told her to cancel my subscription.

No response.

When did the customer become the enemy? I understand that companies need to protect themselves from idiots and scammers and general overexpense. And I've worked in customer service, so I'm not unsympathetic to the travails of the individual CSR.

But if the cable company can turn things around (the last two times I had to get the cable guy out, they admitted their own culpability in my problems, spent plenty of time and quality product fixing it, and didn’t charge me a dime), then these simple retailers should be able to get it together.

Needless to say, I don’t expect to buy from any of those companies again.