Monday, January 30, 2006

Weekend Update (though not as funny as SNL)

Saw Brokeback Mountain on Friday. It was a good film, in that the characters were vividly portrayed, the scenery was stunning, and the plot dealt with a delicate subject matter in a respectful yet compelling way. It reminded me a lot of If These Walls Could Talk 2, the first story, the one that takes place in the early 1960's. Two old ladies had lived together all their lives as more than friends, but no one knew the extent of their relationship because it just wasn't acceptable in those days. Very sad. But at least in that movie they got to be together, so even though it was a secret, they were not torturously kept apart like in Brokeback.

Behind the Scenes
Saturday I got to peek inside the world of sitcom pilots. Arvind is shooting one next weekend and he had to go check out the studio to see if it had everything they would need in terms of lighting, sets, props, etc. Very cool.

Afterwards we went to Triangle Town Center, which I had never been to. It's nice. I've been searching for the perfect black sweater turtleneck for some time now. Seems like a simple request, no? But the search has been futile indeed. That is, until I entered a store called Coldwater Creek. I'd never heard of them, but I went inside anyway, out of desperation. I saw sweaters of every color and every style. Red cardigans. Blue crewnecks. Even black turtlenecks...with giant gray cats embroidered on them! I was ready to give up and leave, when I saw a round table with sweaters of various colors neatly folded and stacked. As I came around the side, there they were, PLAIN, BLACK, TURTLENECK SWEATERS! The clouds parted and harps played and angels sang in harmonious glory. Ever the cynic, unwilling to get my hopes up, I thought, "They probably won't have my size." But, to their credit, they had several larges. "I bet they're $59 each," I convinced myself, still doubtful that my quest would be over today. But no! They were actually on sale! I held up the sweater, and it looked too perfect, but I had to try it on to be safe. I rushed into the dressing room, only to be greeted by a lady who wanted to ask my name and write it on a post-it on the door. Geez, lady, come on, don't you know this is an emergency? I get in the room, rip off my pink turtleneck, and pull on the black one. Aaaaah. Perfect weight, just enough stretch, good length on the arms, not too tight, not too boxy, perfect length. I had to bite my tongue to keep from shouting "Yippee!" right there in the dressing room! I promptly changed back into my clothes, and ran out to see what other colors they had. Alas, only screamingly bright colors that would not flatter in the least. Convinced, however, that this was, in fact, The Perfect Turtleneck Sweater, I bought two in black. Black fades, you know. Gotta have a backup.

Sunday I went to Cary Town Center and purchased a mint chocolate chip ice cream candle (oh yeah, it smells unbelievably like the real thing!), as well as a new purse (newsworthy because it's about twice the size of my other purses). But nothing as earth-shattering as the Black Turtleneck Sweaters. I'm sure ladies out there know what I felt: that adrenaline rush of finding exactly what you were looking for at a bargain price. It's a particularly sweet victory after such a long quest that seemed like it would end in fruitless defeat, especially with spring drawing nigh. And now it's immortalized forever in my blog. To bore all the male readers and make all the female ones jealous. Sorry. ;-)

How cool is this?!

So there's this company that will scan your blog and pick out the most commonly used words, and arrange them alphabetically in a "word cloud," wherein the more a word is used, the larger it appears. Then they print the result on a t-shirt. The coolest part is that you can try it before you buy it. This is what mine would look like:

Who knew I used the word objectionable that much?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Happy Chinese New Year!

My blog counter is at 888 on the first day of the Lunar New Year. How fortuitous!

Friday, January 27, 2006

The interview: Eh.

I'm sure everyone is waiting with baited breath to hear how the interview went. Bottom line: I was relaxed and well-spoken, but I think I lack experience in the areas they are looking for. Whoever wrote the ad for Monster needs a reality check. It is very generic, when in fact the company is looking for someone with a background in sales or training others in sales. I have neither. Nor have I actually done any adult training. I taught junior highers and I designed training materials for adults. And I mentored a trainee at the insurance company. But really, no hands-on corporate training experience. Which you'd think they would know if they read my stinkin' resume. So much for the screening process. Of course, I know I would be awesome at it--showing people how to do things and helping them learn just come naturally to me and I derive great satisfaction from it. But the issue is getting someone to hire me based on my firm belief alone.

Well, my firm belief and my 15-minute demo presentation. After much hand-wringing I chose the topic of recycling. It's something I have enthusiasm for, and yet is not totally lame (such as coin collecting or digital cameras). I think it came off well. They appeared attentive and engaged at least. The length was fine, the pace was fine, the amount of information was fine (all of which were things I had to work on during rehearsals last night). Here are a couple screenshots of the slides:

I am very pleased with out they turned out. I created the template myself, from the speckled green background to the photo sidebars (which are all pictures I took). Maybe I should think about graphic design again. The time I spent messing with the template was very enjoyable. Or photography. Damn those look good.

So this morning, I awoke three minutes before my alarm clock went off, after a decent night's sleep (no anxiety-ridden tossing and turning as I would have expected). I had already picked out what to wear (and tried it on to make sure it looked okay), and had gotten everything ready to go: application filled out, handouts printed, presentation burned to CD, directions to the office Googled, lint roller set aside (to remove evidence of Comet from my black clothes). It took only 20 minutes to get there. Being right near the airport, the building is tucked behind a ton of hotels. Funny, since my last job was also adjacent to the airport near a plethora of lodgings. There was no place to park, so I had to hike a bit. Good to get the blood pumping.

In the end, I feel I did my best at the interview, and we'll just have to see what they decide. They said they'll have a decision in two weeks. They've intereviewed seven people so far. That's a lot of competition. One thing that caused me to wince a little: the job requires 60% travel. I would love to travel, but three out of every five days? Sheesh! Unless, of course, the travel occurs during business hours and I'm getting paid to read a book on a plane. There are worse ways to spend a workday.

Thank you to everyone for your very kind and generous support and encouragement. I appreciate it so very much and it helps to know so many people are rooting for me and have confidence in me even when I have doubts.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

We live in a strange, strange world

I just checked my email. Two new messages.

CNN Breaking News 12:42 pm (12 minutes ago)
-- Islamic militant group Hamas wins landslide victory in Palestinian parliamentary election, officials say.

BMG Music Service 12:38 pm (16 minutes ago)
Your ASHLEE SIMPSON Featured Selection is here!

We really do ask a lot of ourselves to live in a world where the disparity of things competing for our attention is so vast.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I got an interview!!

Woo hoo! When my cell phone rang at 9 am on the dot, I knew there was a 94% chance that it would be job-related, so I jumped out of bed (yeah, yeah, I was still sleeping) to answer it. Sure enough, it was one of the employers to which I had applied for a training position. She asked me a bunch of questions, the standard interview fare, which I guess has now become the standard pre-interview fare. Like, "What are your strengths?" (Attention to detail, time management, organization) "What are your weaknesses?" (Easily frustrated with incompetence--not with trainees, with them I'm extremely patient--and struggling with diplomacy) "Why did you leave your last job?" (The boss was an egomaniac) She asked if I had any questions, and I asked about their timeline for filling the position. She said they are working pretty quickly on this. In my head, I thought about how the job posting was dated 12/15 on Monster--either their definition of quickly differs from mine, or it's just NOW that they've decided to jump on the ball. I also asked where the job is located--it's in Morrisville, which is not a bad commute. She gave me her phone number and said I could call her to follow up if I hadn't heard anything in a week or so. Very considerate, since at most jobs you never know one way or the other.

Not 45 minutes later, the phone rang again--while I was writing the above paragraph! It was the same company calling back to set up an interview!!! I have to prepare a 15 minute training presentation on any topic, which is so exciting...that means I will get to show them what I'm made of, for real. I always felt like answering questions in an interview did not convey my true talents, so this is a great opportunity. They offered me two interview times: tomorrow at 3, or Friday at 10. Normally I would have taken tomorrow, but I took Friday just to have an extra day to prepare! After I got off the phone, I was jumping up and down with glee, the the point where I scared my cat!

I could not be more excited, or more relieved. I was beginning to wonder if I should just go back to school, or lower my standards and take a boring secretary job. I sure do hope this works out! Rest assured I will report all the details here. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Monday, January 23, 2006

More deer, but innocuous this time

Saturday, I went to visit my parents. After the usual rundown of what's new (granite countertop replaced for the third time, new oven b/c last one was chipped inside, etc.), my dad was just about to point out the goodies he'd left in the backyard to attract deer, when lo and behold, a deer appeared!

We spent the next hour staring out the breakfast nook windows, first at the single deer, then after the corn was replenished, at two of them.

They were quite tiny, and their fur is an unbelievable camoflage. If they are standing still in the trees, they really do disappear. I tried to keep at bay thoughts of my previous encounter with a deer, especially because these were so cute. The smaller one was either very hungry or very gluttonous, because he (she?) ate and ate and ate,

while the larger one did not so much as take a nibble of any of the treats. (In addition to the corn, there were apples cut in half, and peanut butter smeared on a tree--supposedly they like it but there were no takers Saturday.)

On the way out to visit my parents, I drove through quite the downpour, which is no big deal except that my windshield wipers were not functioning properly. I thought the blades had shifted or something, but upon closer inspection, it was revealed that the wipers were on backwards. The long one was on the driver's side and the short one was on the passenger side and it should have been the opposite. This resulted in the windshield not being fully wiped in the the appropriate places, and one wiper kept hitting the edge of the windshield and trying to go further. The only possible explanation was that the body shop had taken them off during the repairs, and then put them back on incorrectly--although I'm not sure why they had to take them off in the first place since the repairs were to the fender and door, not the hood or windshield. Anyway, today I took the car back to the body shop and they fixed it for me on the spot.

Afterwards I went to Target to do some grocery shopping. I miss Trader Joe's like you wouldn't believe. They had certain items that you couldn't get elsewhere, and their prices were always unbeatable. Well, I was delighted to see that Target carries some similar items under their premium brand, Archer Farms. For instance, mint chocolate cookie clusters (imagine Junior Mints and Oreos in a chocolatey clump) and parmesan sourdough twists (imagine the subtlety of parmesan cheese in the crispiest cracker you could ever taste!). Another thing that caused me to squeal with glee (albeit under my breath so as not to appear like a freak) was the discovery that Viva now comes in select-a-size! Viva paper towels are the best, but I was a devoted Bounty girl because I prefer using the smallest amount of paper towel possible. Waste not, want not, right? Now I can have the best of both worlds. Yee haw!

Watched Closer, with Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law, and Clive Owen. Should have known from the lousy rating on Netflix (two stars) as well as friends' reviews that I would hate it. Very crude and just all around sleazy and dysfunctional.

Also saw Ladder 49 again. I love the score. No surprise, since I'm a sucker for an Irish penny flute. It's such a riveting film, and although I am not married to a firefighter and thus am no expert, it seems very realistic. I couldn't imagine being married to someone who risks his life on a daily basis like that. There's enough risk in the mundane things, like commuting, let alone running into burning buildings and what not.

Started a new scarf, another two-yarn effort. It's coming along nicely. It's only ten stitches across but it seems so wide.

Must be an illusion created by the Bernat Disco yarn. The fibers are longer and straighter than eyelash. They also have the appearance of being sparkly although there is no metallic in the weave. It comes across as rather dressy, which probably means I will hardly ever wear it. But you never know.

Also, I'm continuing to work on my purple scarf.

I started it weeks ago. I was going to do it all stockinette (one row of knitting, one row of purling). But I took it to knitting group, and wouldn't you know, I got distracted talking to everyone and I forgot to alternate. So I decided to invent my own pattern: alternating blocks of stockinette and straight knitting. It looks kinda cool, but it's taking forever. The yarn is the thinnest I've worked with, and the needles are the smallest (even though they're only 10's). I can't imagine doing something with 8's! I haven't the patience. But I am making progress and hopefully will finish in the next week or two.

Latest Geeky Game
I'm relatively new to iTunes. I used Real Player for a long time, but when I got an iPod around the middle of last year, it made sense to convert. I will never look back. iTunes rocks! It is so clean and simple and user-friendly. (Duh, Melissa, it's like everything from Apple!) So my latest thing is to play with the search box. I type in random strings of letters and see what songs come up. For instance, just now I typed in "rst" and it showed, among other things, the tracks from Erasure's greatest hits album, "Pop! The First 20 Hits." "Ghts" gets you REM's "Nightswimming," Matchbox Twenty's "Bright Lights," Faith Hill's "When the Lights Go Down," and Jewel's, "Leave the Lights On." Silly, but when you have over 2100 songs, so many of them go unplayed unless you pluck them from obscurity like this. The party shuffle feature is also good for bringing up random tunes, but I like finding wildly different songs that have something in common, even if it is as meaningless as a series of letters in their title or album name.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Knitting update

At knitting group this week, I had a somewhat rude awakening: I've been doing it wrong. (Anyone else think of Mr. Mom whenever someone tells you, "You're doing it wrong"?) Seems I've been "knitting into the back of my stitches," for whatever that's worth. Since I'm only doing scarves right now, it really doesn't make that much of a difference, as long as I'm consistent. But I'm told that when I start trying to follow patterns, like for sweaters and stuff, knitting "my way" will simply not work. Good to know. So one of the ladies in the group, who teaches knitting classes at a yarn store, taught me the "proper" way to knit. She also taught me the "best" way to cast on. That's all well and good, but when it came time to start a new scarf a couple days later, I did it the old "wrong" way because it just felt more comfortable. Oh, and in case you're wondering--and why wouldn't you be?--my purling is just fine.

I don't know why I'm in such a "quotey" mood today. I've used (overused) this bit of punctuation so much I feel like Joey in that episode of Friends where he puts air quotes around the most inappropriate of phrases, like "I'm sorry." I haven't seen that episode in ages. I need to get the Friends boxed set of all ten seasons on DVD. Such a bargain at $'s on my list for when I start getting a paycheck! That, along with good computer speakers.

Anyway, back to knitting. I finished two scarves this week.

The green-ish one is half "my way" and half the "right way." You can kind of see a difference if you look hard, but it's not really obvious. I used size 13 needles, with one skein of Lion Brand Wool-Ease yarn in Willow, and one skein of Moda Dea Jai Alai in Raffia.

The pink one is all "my way." I love it because it is so soft, and not bulky at all. So I can wear it as an accessory all day long, not just with a coat. Which is good, since it's like 68 degrees here today! It's colder back in Santa Clarita! Unreal. But I'm loving it. For the scarf, I used size 11 needles, and only one skein of No Boundaries yarn in Panda Space. Strange name for pink and white yarn.

And just because I never reported about my first foray into two-yarn knitting, I thought I'd post a picture of the scarf I knitted over Christmas. It's hard to picture what two yarns will look like together, so I was very pleased with how it turned out. I used size 13 needles, and one skein of Bernat Boa Furs in Soft Mink, along with a bulky cream-colored yarn (I think it was Wool Ease but I can't find the wrapper).

Monday, January 16, 2006

Weekend adventures

What a full weekend! Saturday I went with Arvind to the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill.

We saw their presentation entitled "Life in the Universe." It was pretty cool. I hadn't been to a planetarium in ages...not since grade school, I think. Griffith Observatory in L.A. is pretty kick-butt, however it is closed for renovation indefinitely. Anyway, the experience is somewhat similar to IMAX, in that your field of vision is incredibly large. The film discussed whether life on other planets is feasible, from a chemical perspective. We saw lots of molecule models dancing around on the screen. I think I might enjoy "Carolina Skies" better...more stars, less scientific narrative. But it was a fun thing to do on a Saturday afternoon. The highlight was getting a pressed penny. Being the nerd that I am, I collect these. Unfortunately, being the unemployed oaf that I am, my mind has taken what I hope is not a permanent vacation, and I used the machine incorrectly. Long story, not worth explaining. Suffice it to say, I felt like a rah-rah, but the coin turned out okay I guess, just not the design I'd originally wanted.

Afterwards we strolled along Franklin Street. The wind was biting cold, and there was occasional drizzle, but the area was bustling with people. The UNC campus is very stately...I bet it's beautiful in the spring. Or summer. Or fall.

Sunday I woke up to an absolutely gorgeous day. No more clouds or drizzle, but instead a glorious blue sky and a strong sun. Perfect day for a scenic drive! Arvind and I went to Jordan Lake, which is about 20 minutes west of where we live in Apex. I pass by it every time I visit my parents in Pittsboro, but have never stopped. On a clear, sunny day like Sunday, the water is a gorgeous blue, and although many of the trees are now dead brown sticks, some of them are evergreens so they have that going for them.

We parked in the nearly-empty lot and strolled down through the trees to the beach. There were picnic benches and a designated swimming area, and even a shelter with a stone fireplace.

I bet this place is hopping on summer weekends. We drove deeper into the park and walked around one of the campground areas that was open. I imagine that would be a very relaxing place to camp...great views of the water, not many people around. And of course by "camp," I mean, "in an RV." The sites appeared to offer electric and water hookups...all the comforts of home. My favorite part was the smell of the campfires. I wish they made a camera that could capture smells.

The forest was very peaceful. Nothing but the sound of the breeze in the trees. The temperature was chilly but with the sun blazing it was definitely manageable.

I can't wait to see everything in the spring and must be so beautiful and green. That was pretty much my mantra this weekend: must be so much prettier in the spring, summer, or fall. Everything is so unattractive in the winter. Dead brown sticks aren't exactly scenic. Unless you like the stark, barren look. I prefer lush and verdant.

That said, I do try and find something to appreciate about every experience. And when you start thinking about it, there was a lot to be grateful for. I was not alone, but rather had top notch company. I got to take lots of pictures. I got to explore an area while it was more or less vacant, so when I return I will know where to go. And even in the dead of winter, nature does afford bountiful opportunties to find beauty.

Friday, January 13, 2006

When it rains, it pours

I can go for days without anything of real interest going on, at least nothing interesting to blog about. And then I have a day where, like, 38 interesting things happen. Yesterday was one of those days!

Job Hunt
I had a "pre-interview" of sorts over lunch with someone at a giant techie corporation in RTP (Research Triangle Park, for those of you outside NC). I was quite nervous, because I am in no way qualified for an IT job. But apparently for this one you don't need a background in IT. They expect you to learn on the job. Apparently I made a decent impression, because the guy who met with me decided to pass on my resume to his boss. So hopefully that will lead to a real interview. I feel like I did after I quit teaching...I'm at the point where I'm willing to take any job that will pay the bills...not desperate enough to apply at McDonald's, but okay with putting the search for a dream job on hold because this is a great opportunity to beef up my resume in an entirely new field, and it pays well. Well enough that I might be able to get monthly massages! Woo hoo! Oh, and buy a house and save and all that responsible stuff.

(I think I'm on a massage kick lately because I am suffering from some serious tension in my shoulders. Another sign I'm spending way too much time on the computer.)

So it was my first trip into RTP, and it is very impressive. Big expanses of trees, with little clusters of buildings here and there. They all look rather new, and none of them are tall. It's the kind of business park where occupants call their offices "campuses." It definitely felt like college at lunch. We ate in the company cafe and it was like a new-fangled dining hall. Not the kind where the lady behind the vat of mystery casserole plops a giant helping onto your plate, but the kind where it looks more like a food court and all the options are genuinely tempting. I would love eating there everyday! The most college-y part was when you put your tray into the cleaning racks after you're finished. Definitely a flashback!

Field Trip
After the lunch meeting I went to see where my friend Arvind works. I felt like a kid on a school field trip. He does the closed-circuit TV broadcasts for the giant techie corporation. Yes, the corporation is giant enough to have several of its own TV stations! They have little talk shows where they discuss techie stuff. And I think they do quarterly meetings that way too. Anyway, the control room was much equipment, so many buttons and little screens, and all of it just a comlpete mystery to me, and like a second home to Arvind.

And you thought YOUR cord management was challenging!

Amazing. It's basically a one-man shop, too--he does the lighting, the sound, the cameras, everything. Down to brushing the suede chairs before a show so that they look better. It's all in the details. There are people who notice that kind of thing, and I'm one of them. Here's me in the studio...

On my way out, I encountered some geese, which I'm told refuse to leave the campus because they are so well fed. I think they are cute, but they are also rather dirty. Giant birds=giant bird droppings. Enough said.

As if that weren't adventure enough for our heroine, she had to rush off to Bunco night afterwards. It was our first meeting, and I didn't know what to expect. The lady who volunteered to organize it did not give us any indication of how prepared she was, but it turned out great because she had a delicious spread of munchies and had photocopied rules for everyone. It is not a hard game to learn...there is no skill involved...but it can get confusing when you don't know which table to move to, and what to do when there are "ghost" players. But we all managed to do fine. It helps when everyone is laid back about it, and just rolls with the punches. You forgot to ring the bell? Eh, who cares? We scheduled the next one for four weeks from now, and I'm already looking forward to it! Everyone there was positively delightful. I enjoyed meeting all the new faces.

News Flash: I'm French!
One incredible coincidence: when the hostess asked my last name, and I said it, one of the ladies there exclaimed, "Did you say 'Mertz'?! That was my maiden name!" I have never in my life met a Mertz I'm not related to! She was from St. Louis and said there are tons of Mertzes there. Her family got into researching their geneology, and traced the Mertz clan all the way back to the 1500's in the Alsace-Lorraine region of Europe. Now, is that part of Germany, the country I always assumed was my ancestral homeland? It sure sounds French. Hold on. Apparently it flip-flopped between German and French control, and is now vehemently bi-cultural. How cool to think that I've got French blood in me!

The other thing I wanted to write about is a couple movies I've seen. I saw Wedding Crashers the other day on DVD...I was very disappointed. It had done so well at the box office, and from the previews I'd imagined it having a lot of potential. But it was basically just crass and dumb. Granted, I did watch the unrated version, so maybe the theatrical version would not warrant "crass," but I bet it would still be "dumb." The other movie I saw was The Family Stone. It was very good. More of a drama than I'd expected, but that made it meaty, so to speak. The cast was amazing. I adore Sarah Jessica Parker, and Rachel McAdams is rising on my list. Of course Diane Keaton rules (Something's Gotta Give is in my top 10, if not my top 5). Stone is definitely one I want to watch again...I often like movies more the second time around. But Wedding Crashers? Nope, doesn't warrant a second viewing in my opinion.

You gotta check these out because they are fun and incredible, respectively. First, a time-wasting game (thanks, Arvind!): my high score is 318...anything over 250 is doing well though. And second, a fascinating concept site (thanks, Mom!): photos taken with an extremely high-resolution camera. The photos are gorgeous by themselves, but then when you see the cropping/zooming capabilities, it just wows you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Lazy blogging

Thanks to Gabrielle for this meme...

What were you doing ten years ago?
Let’s see, January 1996 I was still in college…my second-to-last quarter at UC San Diego was just starting about now. I was living in a three-bedroom townhouse in La Jolla, with my friends Brittney and Meredith. Unfortunately I have no idea where they are now, or what they are up to. Last I heard Britt was working with autistic children in San Diego, and Mer was going to grad school in upstate NY. Anyway, I had just returned from Fall Quarter at Dartmouth, which was an incredible experience. It was my second plane trip ever, and my first (and so far, only) visit to New England. I was in awe of the landscape...the foliage was breathtaking, and then of course the first time it snowed I was beside myself. The history classes kicked my butt (Two B’s?? How dare they?!) but it’s Ivy League, after all. Back in So Cal things were easier. I think around January is when I started volunteering at a local middle school, in preparation for applying to teaching credential programs. We know how that ended up.

What were you doing one year ago?
One year ago I was living in Playa del Rey, right near the LAX airport. It’s funny the amount of noise pollution people will put up with to be near the beach. I loved that my commute was only 5 minutes, but I did not love that I had to sell my condo and practically all my furniture in order to cram myself into a single bedroom. I was working for the Josephson Institute of Ethics as an instructional designer and editor. I loved the work, both in terms of the actual tasks I performed, as well as how it was all driven by our mission. I loved my department. You could not ask for a brighter, funnier, kinder bunch of guys. The only snag was the king, as he liked to call himself.

Five Snacks You Enjoy:
1. Baked Doritos, nacho cheese or cool ranch flavor
2. Cheez It Twisterz, cheddar and more cheddar flavor (they taste like Kraft mac & cheese!)
3. Honey roasted peanuts
4. Hershey kisses, mint flavor (only available around the holidays, alas)
5. String cheese (but only if it’s firm and dry; mushy wet string cheese is gross)

Five songs to which you know all the lyrics:
I love singing along to my favorite artists, so picking just five songs is hard.
1. 10,000 Maniacs – Headstrong
2. Natalie Merchant – Not in This Life
3. Alanis Morissette – Hands Clean
4. Kelly Clarkson – Beautiful Disaster
5. Sarah McLachlan – Answer

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire:
1. Quit my job. Wait…
2. Travel. In style.
3. Buy a house.
4. Furnish it.
5. Get massages three times a week.

Five Bad Habits:
1. Spending too much time on the computer
2. Staying up and sleeping in too late
3. Not picking up after myself
4. Saving everything like a packrat
5. Being too critical of myself and others

Five Things You Like Doing:
1. Reading blogs (see #1 above)
2. Taking pictures
3. Checking my change for state quarters
4. Eating out
5. Road trips

Five Things You Would Never Wear or Buy Again:
I’m going with “buy”
1. a L’Open pass (tour bus in Paris)
2. a chicken cheesesteak sandwich from Rick’s at Reading Terminal in Philly
3. Mediaworks cable tv/internet service
4. a Kia Rio (okay, so I didn’t buy it the first time; renting one is warning enough!)
5. Red Heart “plush” yarn--it takes forever to make a scarf!

Five Favorite Toys:
1. Computer & the internet
2. DVD recorder
3. Digital camera
4. iPod
5. Knitting needles

Five People I’m Tagging:
1. Tammie
2. Gabrielle
3. Kathy
4. Teri
5. Larry

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Art project

An art gallery sent blank nesting dolls to eighteen artists. These are the results. (You must take a peek--they're so cool!)

I can't explain why nesting dolls intrigue me so much. Perhaps it's the notion that there's always something more, hidden beneath the surface. Also, the thematic possibilities are endless.

You can even get custom-made ones if you don't want to paint your own. It doesn't get more romantic than this.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Dolls and Movies

I met with my friend Amy for lunch today at the Peak City Grill on Salem Street in downtown Apex. She brought her laptop and showed me pictures from her recent trip to Europe. She went to Paris, Copenhagen, and Munich with her mom over Christmas. I was so jealous! She said she had a terrific time, and her pictures were beautiful. We talked about Paris for a while (one of my favorite topics!) and I was interested to hear that they didn't even check her passport when she arrived (I would be clamoring for my stamp!). Meanwhile here were gendarmes--soldiers armed with machine guns--everywhere in the city. Odd.

I'd only met Amy once before...we had lunch at Carolina Bakery and cruised the shops at Cameron Village in Raleigh. In one of the stores, I'd pointed out some nesting dolls. I have always had a fondness for them, but I don't have any. So I was very touched and surprised when she pulled out a souvenir gift for me--nesting dolls from Copenhagen! Not only did she think of me when she was vacationing, but she remembered something that I like, then actually bought it and lugged it around Europe and across the ocean for me! I was blown away. They are adorable, and absolutely perfect for me, because they are animals!

I also love that she gave them to me wrapped in the brown bag from the store they came from. Of course I will be keeping has Danish writing on it! So cool.

Later I went to the Streets of Southpoint in Durham. Yes, yes, I know I said I would never return on a Saturday because it was a madhouse last time, but I was meeting another friend, Melissa, at the movies. The mall wasn't crowded at all. I did a little shopping before I had to be at the theater. I got two calendars at Barnes & Noble for half off, and a blazer at Casual Corner...they're going out of business! I was so sad to hear this, because although I don't shop there often, I love the things I have from there, and I even got my first suit ever there! In fact I will probably wear it when (if??) I get an interview here.

We saw Fun With Dick and Jane, starring Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni (who, for me, will forever be defined by her performance in Spanglish). It was pretty funny, as can be expected. (Spoiler alert: Stop reading here if you don't want to know details about the plot.) I was relieved that the couple does not resort to robbery until they are about to be evicted from their house, and that they have to work up to it (the first thing he steals is an Icee) but then they commit some pretty serious crimes and they are never caught or pay penance of any kind. Not even in a justice-enough-for-Hollywood form of karmically making up for their indiscretions, such as by giving money to charity or something once they return to financial solvency.

Before the movie we saw a couple previews that looked very promising. RV with Robin Williams...of interest to me because I'm familiar with the RV way of life, and because Robin is almost always hilarious. Also Click, with Adam Sandler. He gets a universal remote control from the "Way Beyond" section of Bed Bath & Beyond...which can control his whole life, from the volume on his dog's bark, to the speed of his life. The premise is similar to a folktale I used to read to my students...if you had the power to fast forward through difficult situations in your life (an argument, the flu, etc.) would you? Naturally. But then before you know it, your life is over, and you've missed it. So the lesson is to savor everything about life, the ups and the downs, yadda yadda yadda. There's potential there. And then there was the new Superman flick. It was a pretty minimalist preview--a teaser--the kind with only a few glimpses of what the movie will look like, but man, the power of music. The score, somewhat revamped, gave me goosebumps. Definitely want to see that.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Game night

As I mentioned, I went to game night at Larry and Carlee's house in Cary yesterday. I had a fabulous time! I started out teaching Mike and Cindy how to play Taboo, and eventually it grew into a group of 5-6 playing--including Melanie, who never plays anything! We don't follow the regular rules...we just take turns giving clues while the whole group guesses. The first person to guess correctly wins the card. If there needs to be a winner, it's the first one to collect X number of cards, X varying depending on how many are playing (a larger group=fewer needed to win). But sometimes you just want to have fun, and identifying a winner is unnecessary.

Next I learned Spades. Larry had showed me the gist of the game a while ago, but I'd never actually played. It's difficult! I mean, you can play with about 20% of your brain capacity, but then you miss the finer nuances...which clearly was the circumstance I was operating under. In one particularly embarrassing round, not only did I undercut my own partner, but I missed a chance to play an ace and do a take. Ah, well, what can you ask from a beginner, and one whose mind is on vacation no less!

While I was swallowing the bitter pill of utter humiliation over my Spades ineptitude (j/k, everyone was more than kind and understanding, at least to my face!), other groups were playing Word Thief and Scrabble, so everyone was engrossed in group revelry and having fun.

After Spades, I wanted something less we played Balderdash, which Chantel had brought. I'd played this with some friends in CA (hi Nicole and Debby!) and knew it was very fun. I had to play recruiter, though, because most people didn't know how to play. Basically, players take turns being the leader. The leader reads the "question," which can be a movie title, acronym, person, law, or vocabulary word. The fun part is these are all so obscure, no one's ever heard of them...and your job is to make up a definition, plot summary, acronym meaning, etc. You can be as outlandish as you wish, but the goal is be convincing too, so other people think yours is the correct one. Meanwhile the leader writes the real answer down, and then reads all of them consecutively. Everyone chooses the one they think is correct...if yours is chosen, you get points. You also get points if you choose the truly correct one. Let me tell you, when we finally got a group together, we had a hilarious time! Other groups commented on how there would be periods of silence (while we're writing our BS answers) followed by periods of maniacal laughter (when we listen to the answers being read). It helps to have some creative, sick, and twisted people playing. One drawback of the game is if the judge flubs reading one of the answers; you can tell it's not the truth, because the judge himself wrote the truth and thus wouldn't flub it. More than one round was "ruined" that way. But I want to give props to Larry, who was able to cover his flub so well, it fooled me and one other player completely!

After Balderdash, most people left, and we ended up playing a game called "Things...Humour in a Box." We made up our own rules. Basically a card says something like "Things you should not say to a teacher..." or "Things you should not do in public..." and players each write down one thing on a slip of paper and hand it to the judge (we all took turns playing the judge). Then the judge reads all the answers aloud and picks his or her favorite. Very subjective, but you can play to the judge if you know him/her well, and with such open-ended prompts, things can get very creative. Things quickly turned rather raunchy, but it was all in good fun. I was laughing so hard my sides were hurting!


I got my car back! I got the call a little after 11:30 am yesterday...yippee!! She's beautiful. She's now fully functional, thanks to a whole new door panel for the rear driver's-side. That means the whole inside part of the door was replaced. Apparently the difficulty in procuring it is somewhat warranted...seems that most LX Contours have cloth door panels...mine is plastic. The guy at the body shop said this interior trim package is so unique, it must have been special-ordered by someone. (Not me! I ended up with her because I wanted anti-lock brakes, and she was the only one left in CA with that option.) He also said that I got the absolute last non-cloth Contour door panel available on earth, so this better not happen again! As we parted ways, he said, "I hope you don't need our services for a long time!" Amen to that!

Of course, as soon as I drove off, I realized that I'd forgotten to fill up the rental car's gas tank. Nauseous at the though of paying $5 a gallon or some ungodly rate, I turned around and had to walk back into that office yet again. They were very nice, and let me take the car real quick an fill 'er up. Tiny tank. Three quarters empty and it took like six gallons. Anyway, when I finally drove off in my car for good, I had to get used to her layout. After a couple weeks in a different car, things felt a little off. The steering wheel is much thicker, and also tighter to turn. Also, it was very obvious that my car is SO much heavier than that little Rio. One thing I missed sorely was my stereo. The Rio did have a CD player, thank goodness, and pretty good bass, but virtually no treble. Compared to mine, which has separate tweeters...makes such a difference.

So last night, I went to game night at Larry and Carlee's. I didn't count how many showed, but it was at least 15 again, if not more. I had tons of fun. But when I parked, I left the window down a few inches to let the car air out (she reeked of paint). Well, when it came time to depart, I was surprised to discover it had been raining...which means the inside of my car got soaked! Must have been windy, because I found raindrops as far as the center console, and I'm sure the passenger seat got a few too. My car was still basically empty, so I didn't have any towels to mop things up. The steering wheel was wet, as well as the entire door panel, but that was nothing compared to the seat...the cold water quickly soaked through my pants, which as I'm sure you can imagine, was oh-so-snuggly. I hope everything dries out okay. I guess it was a baptism of sorts...for the next 7 years of her life!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Macaroni Grill brings out the drill sergeant in me

Last night I went out to dinner at Macaroni Grill with Arvind, Larry, and Carlee. It was intended to be Larry and Carlee's last big pasta hurrah before starting their new diet. I was impressed that neither of them cleaned their plates...if I was headed into months of deprivation I would totally pig out.

Anyway, our server, Tiff, was new, and under the supervision of Jan, the trainer. I remember their names because they wrote them on our table. If you've never been to Macaroni Grill, let me explain. Instead of table cloths they use butcher paper to cover the tables (and to give all their patrons paper cuts), and they provide you with crayons so you can scawl at will. One year, I went to a Macaroni Grill in California for my birthday, and I wrote "Happy Birthday Melissa" on the table, then spent the rest of the evening trying to cover it up with plates because I didn't want the server to see. As if regular waiters and waitresses singing some non-royalty-protected version of natal well wishing isn't bad enough, Macaroni Grill often has trained opera singers going around...having one serenade me would turn my cheeks crimson and make me want to crawl under the table.

All right, so back to the server-in-training. She was awful. I was unwilling to cut her any slack because, as the trainer told us, she was in her second fourth "follow," or observation. Meaning, after initial instruction, trainees get followed four nights by a mentor server. After the fourth go-round, they should be ready to be on their own. But this chick was on her second fourth follow. Funny they don't call it a fifth, but rather a second fourth. Of course, I was perfectly courteous to the trainee's face, but when the mentor asked my candid opinion, I was honest. The girl interrupted us constantly, disappeared toward the end of the meal, and had zero personality. Or rather, not the personality a waitress should know, friendly, outgoing, at ease with new people. Now, I'm sure this lovely girl is perfectly adept at many skills and tasks at which I fail miserably, but some people are just not cut out to be in the food service industry. I openly admit I'm probably one of them, but then again I'm not working in a restaurant, am I?

Well, one of my dining companions (who shall remain nameless because turtles love anonymity) thought I was being rather harsh in my judgment of Tiff's skills. Granted, I was in a very spicy mood last night. I get that way sometimes. Usually I'm compassionate to a fault, but I felt fully justified in my assessment. As I explained to the server, I used to be a teacher, and if someone is not performing up to standards, you should not pretend they are. It behooves everyone in the long run, although it can be a little wince-inducing to deliver the news.

So here's where the table cloth and crayons come into play. The nameless turtle decided to express his dismay with my hatefulness by writing "Big Meanie" on the table, then drawing an arrow pointing to me. In response, I wrote "Big Weenie" and drew an arrow to him. Not content to let the immature insults end there, he proceeded to scrawl "Poopy Head" and draw a less-than-flattering portrait of yours truly. Yes, this is the kind of witty repartee my friends and I engage in. Delightful, no?

Notice how the N's are both messed up...we were writing upside down and who knew that a capital N upside down is the same as it is right-side up? Guess you learn something new everyday. Unless you're Tiff. Ouch. Did it again. I'm so hateful.

You'll be relieved to know that if Tiff doesn't make the cut as a server, apparently she still gets to keep her job. She'll just be a hostess instead.

The job search continues

I applied for two positions today. While I still have high hopes for the Environmental Educator job with the county, I cannot put all my eggs in one basket so to speak. Now that the holidays are over, more employers will be hiring, so I jumped right into the job pool this morning to dive after a couple good finds. I'm still at the point where I feel comfortable being selective; I do not want to apply for anything and everything willy-nilly, because then I'll end up with some nondescript office job that is neither challenging nor rewarding, in either the financial sense or the karmic sense.

The first one I applied for was for an agency called Timely Text. They are seeking instructional designers and trainers. Of course, not knowing which company I would be placed with concerns me a little...I would prefer something mission-oriented rather than profit-oriented, but at some point beggars can't be choosers. At least this position would make use of my more unique skills and experience, unlike a boring clerical job that any kid could do straight out of high school.

The other job was with the NC Trial Lawyers Association, as their public education coordinator. This one intrigues me, because among the duties is organizing the annual mock trial competition for high schools. While I myself have never had an interest in becoming a lawyer, I respect any high school student who is dedicated enough to put in the hours necessary to be good at a mock trial competition. Teaching left me quite disillusioned with most students' sloth and ineptitude. Helping create an arena for top-notch students to demonstrate their intellectual prowess sounds like something I could really bite into. The other aspect of the job is public outreach and education, so there's that whole betterment-of-society angle, which is always a draw for me.

So let's keep our fingers crossed, shall we? And do a ceremonial job dance. And wish on a star, or a birthday candle, or a lucky penny. If you have a rabbit's foot, put it to good use, for pete's sake, and I'll pretend it doesn't bother me that you have severed animal limbs lying about.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Phooey on the fuss over resolutions

How's this for thumbing your nose at New Year's Resolutions:

My only intention is to be unapologetically who I am. It is the resolution to favor authenticity over manipulation.

Thanks to Teri for pointing this out, and to JackZen for writing it in the first place.

Oh the drama that can arise over the spectre of self-improvement--the struggle, the cautious optimism, the fear of failure, the fear of success, the fear of the unknown world which awaits, if only.

Yeah, I guess that's where my mind goes when I don't have pretty flowers to distract me on New Year's morning.

But let's get 2006 off to a less glum start! Last night Arvind and I went to a lovely gathering at Larry and Carlee's house. We played Apples to Apples and even breaking the rules I couldn't manage to win a round! Of course at midnight I could be found plopped in front of the TV watching the ball drop. I squealed with delight when I saw the local station's inset of Raleigh's Acorn dropping, right next to the fancy New York number. Poor Dick Clark. I applaud his hard work--recovery must be quite tedious--but how sad...I think he should have left the hosting duties to Ryan Seacrest, and just enjoyed the festivities. Heartbreaking to see what has become of such an icon.

So last night, at the party, I met Carlee's sister, Cynthia, and her husband, Dan. Dan has a grown-up camera. Big, heavy, expensive--and fabulous! It takes amazing photos. Gasp-worthy photos. I must have one. I always knew an SLR would do better, much better, than my dinky point-and-shoot, but man, I never knew how much better. It's a whole new world, as Aladdin would say.