Monday, December 31, 2007

The Best of A Quiet Year

In no particular order ...

Berkeley Springs Water Festival

A new side career as a writer

Chocolate Banana shakes at the Beach

Cancun (even though I left Camie for dead when she fell in the shower. Sorry 'bout that!)

Antics with Mustard

Finally achieving Full-Fledged American status by going to the Grand Canyon.


Got an iPod and NetFlix. (Maybe next year I'll join the modern world and get TiVo.)

Bashing around DC. I really do love this city!

Blogging (don't think I'm pathetic if I tell you that it can be the highlight of my day!)


Looking forward to being Great-In-O-Eight! (I'm cringing a little bit right now that I actually wrote that. Could I be any more cheesy? eeek.)

On Prayers and Parties

They say that when you don't feel like praying, that's when you should get right down on your knees and pray until you FEEL like praying.

In my opinion, the same goes for parties.

(Especially parties of the New Year's Eve variety. Le sigh. I'm glad you're back from the cleaners, Sequined Top, I need you now more than ever. Dick Clark's siren song is particularly strong this year.)

Top 10 Books of 2007

All told I read 77 books this year. When I first counted them up I thought to myself, "SEVENTY-SEVEN!? That seems a little low for someone who spent a hell of a lot of time with her nose in a book!"

But then I remembered that there are only 52 weeks in a year, meaning that on average I read 1.48 books per week.

Accordingly, I jumped up and ran four or five victory laps around my coffee table.

So which of the Seventy and Seven were the best?

I'm glad you asked. I've done a lot of hemming and hawing over which books I liked the best, and basically it came down to the ones that really stuck with me. There's a precarious balance between reading something you're comfortable with and something that pushes the boundaries of convention to achieve something really remarkable. For me, these were the books that really captured me.

In the Adult Fiction category:
5. Baby Proof - by Emily Giffin
4. The Memory Keepers Daughter - by Kim Edwards
3. A Thousand Splendid Suns - by Khaled Hosseini
2. Austenland - by Shannon Hale
1. Love Walked In - by Marisa de los Santos (my review)


In the Young Adult Fiction category:
(FYI, many of these are series, and as such I recommend them as an entire series.)
5. Faerie Wars (3) - by Herbie Brennan
4. Blue Bloods (2) - by Melissa de la Cruz
3. Eclipse - by Stephenie Meyer
2. Attolia Series: The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia - by Megan Whalen Turner
1. Wicked Lovely - by Melissa Marr
An honorable mention goes to The Myth of You and Me, by Leah Stewart, as the only book that I read twice this year. (Quite by accident. I just really like it, so I'll pick it up every so often.) I recommend this book if you have ever had a best friend that you don't talk to anymore. And even though said friend could be accurately described as a pushy bitch, you find yourself dreaming about her a lot and wonder what ever became of her. Those formative years .... they really stick with you. eh?

I hope you had a wonderful reading year too! I'd love to hear what books made your list for the year. Don't hold out on me now.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Happy Bloggiversary!

One year old! My blog is One Year old today!

Since Mustard and I are friends only because of this blog we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate together. So we went to The Ultimate Birthday Place, Chuck-E-Cheese Pizza, and had a pizza-eating and skee-ball contest. I gave it a valiant try, but Mustard ate me under the table with a disgusting One and a HALF pizzas. I don't know where he puts it all.

But. Justice was served when I completely schooled him at skee-ball. And won some flippin sweet jelly bracelets for my trouble.

It's been a good year, Blog dear. I thought I was going to get a little emotional, thinking back over the year and all of the good times we had. But I didn't. Oh well. Maybe next year.

Thanks, internets, for all of the fun times this year! Shall we go for two?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Watch Out Y'all, I'm about to Get Crafty

I am not a crafty person. I blame this womanly deficiency on a lot of things, but here are the top five:
  1. lack of patience
  2. inability to draw, cut, sew, or walk a straight line
  3. abhorrence of puffy paint and raffia
  4. a nasty childhood encounter involving yarn, popsicle sticks, and glitter glue
  5. unwillingness to contribute to the ugly craft epidemic the world is suffering from
But every once in a while, I need something and I'll think, "I REALLY don't want to buy that!! Maybe I can just make it." You know I'm serious about not purchasing when I'm driven to say that I'd rather MAKE IT! And this is when my Anti-Craftiness and my Cheapness step into the ring to duke it out.

This time, I needed CD sleeves for the boatloads of mix CDs I'm sending out as my lame excuse for a Christmas present.

I had one of those jumbo packs of blank CDs but I did not have the accompanying jumbo pack of jewel cases or equivalent. And I don't mind telling you that I did NOT relish the thought of purchasing one. It's crap like this that it really drives me crazy to buy. I would much rather be spending that 4.99 on something I can really enjoy like a pair of earrings or a Wendy's Single combo meal.

What I needed was a cheap solution and whenever I need cheap solutions I cast my mind back to college when I inexplicably lived like a queen on $300 a month. In college, I had a phase where I refused to purchase envelopes. This was before email, people, when we actually needed envelopes from time to time. So instead of buying envelopes my Sophomore self made them from magazine pages and a roll of tape. It was fun to flip through mags and pick advertisements with interesting images that would add a little extra something to my letter. And I thought, "Voila! What if I make CD sleeves from magazine pages!"

So I did, and they turned out pretty cute, if I do say so myself. Here are the results:


Aren't they cute? Let's take a closer look at a couple of them.

This Dewey Cox ad screams Album Cover to me.



Notice how the title of the story "When Stars Record" looks like the title. PERFECT! By the way, if you've got sharp eyes you might recognize Demetri Martin and David Cross.


This one is Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward ... so suitable for an M. Ward CD don't you think?


Here I added a cute "Hello My Name Is" sticker with the name of the album. But you can just write on it with a Sharpie if you prefer.


I thought this Hershey's one was crazy cute! So good if you're making a "Sorry I'm a loser, let's be friends again" CD.




And just LOOK at how CUTE the CD is peeking up from the top.

I could give you instructions, but basically it comes down to: tear, fold, tape. If you have opposable thumbs you should be able to manage it. I did.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Top 10 Songs of 2007

I love top 10 lists, and I'm sure you all do too. To me they are the best thing about the end of the year. They must be the best thing, because the best thing certainly isn't trying to figure out what to do for New Year's Eve. That's the worst thingl!! Anyway, because you all care SO MUCH about my preferences and opinions I'm sharing my Top 10 songs of 2007.

These aren't necessarily songs that came out in 2007 ... but they are songs that I couldn't get enough of during 2007. And I'd find myself popping them into the CD player over and over again. I've linked to the music whenever I could find it.


10. Paper Planes - by M.I.A. (genre: electronic/dance) This one snuck in right at the end of the year, and actually made a lot of critical lists for top song/album. When it starts you're thinking, "Oh cool, nice Clash sample" and you're cruising along snapping your fingers and doing the White Man's Overbite until SUDDENLY there's an awwwwesome gunshot sample. And then I'm all conflicted because I want to be against gunshots during a song because it's a little too gangsta for me, but DAMN it's catchy. Take a listen and see if you don't agree.

9. Chinese Translation - by M. Ward (genre: sedation rock) If you've got any rage in your life you need to become acquainted with M. Ward. His crooning will sweep all of your troubles right under the rug. One song of his is the equivalent of a 50 CCs of morphine. Chinese Translation kept finding it's way into my earbuds this year since I had a LOT of rage to deal with. Thanks M. Ward for keeping me out of rehab.

8. Sexyback - Justin (i heart you) Timberlake (videolink)(genre: hip hop) I want to bow down before JT and chant "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!" Everything he put out this year was excellent. I liked them all. But Sexyback wasn't just a song, it was a revolution. I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here.

7. Clumsy - Fergie (videolink)(genre: Pop) Ahh, The Duchess. I liked pretty much everything off of her album, but I've really been into Clumsy. That chorus is just so darn singable! And as a klutz myself, I can really relate to this song. Except for the falling in love part. I usually just fall on the pavement. And the stairs. (As a side Fergie note, there should probably be a countdown of how many times this year I said "So Delicious" a la Fergalicious ... I said it a lot. That Fergie ... she's a trendsetter.)


6. Stronger - Kanye West (genre: hip hop) Ok, Ok. Before you stop reading this list in disgust, let me just put a disclaimer out there. I originally thought this song was by Jay-Z, who I think we can ALL feel good about worshiping as the hip hop god that he is. When I found out that this song was in fact by Kanye I threw up a little bit in my mouth, since I basically hate him. But it was too late ... I was already in love with this song. And can you blame me?? For all of Kanye's "I'm the best artist in the world while simultaneously being the biggest *&%*#bag in the world" ranting, this is a pretty damn good song.

(And ... if you want to feel like you are really un-dexterous and you have 3:44 minutes to spare you should watch this video. But don't watch it if you are already self-conscious about your manual dexterity.)



5. I'm Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance - Black Kids (genre: Alternative/electronic) I haven't quite figured out how all of the gender pronouns fit, but it's catchy and has a great beat. And I like the moral: Don't help competition. It doesn't get you anywhere but home on your couch with a pint of Chunky Monkey and a sappy chick flick DVD. That's a lesson I should have learned about 10 years ago.

4. A Postcard to Nina - Jens Lekman (genre: Alternative) There's something about the Swedes and me this year. I really got into them. And I LOVED this song by Jens Lekman. There's a part right before the chorus where it sounds like everything slips off kilter for a second in a waaaOOOO sound. It's crazy. I love it.

3. The Crane Wife 1 & 2 - The Decemberists (genre: Alternative) Basically, I love everything The Decemberists put out, but I seriously obsessed over this song this year. It combined two things I really have a passion for: folk tales and vocabulary. These guys always use great words to help weave their story-like songs, like palanquin(!), but this song was kicking great words like "fontanelle" and "keening bell". My dictionary got a real workout. It is, in a word, brilliant.

2. Red Rabbits - The Shins (genre: Alternative) From the Wincing the Night Away album, The Shins always put out kooky and catchy songs. But one line in this song kept me coming back for more. "We've pissed off far too many sprites/And they're all standing up for their rights". I just really liked that line.


1. Young Folks - Peter, Bjorn & John (videolink) (genre: Alternative) Feeling a little less than your usual peppy self? Wish you could whistle along to a great rock song? Well, well, Young Folks is the song for YOU! Just throw this song on and before you know it, you're life will basically be awesome. It's just that good.

I hope you enjoyed my list. Let me know what you loved this year! If you post it on your own blog ... send me the link!

More lists to come!!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Jew That Saved Christmas

Pull out your nearest map of the United States. Locate the East Coast. Now put your finger about halfway up the coast. That's where I live, in Washington DC. Now slide your finger all the way across the Ohio River Valley, the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the radical socialist compounds of Northern Idaho all the way up to the upper left of the United States. That's where most of my family lives.

Pretty far, eh? But in this age of air travel it isn't like I have to spend a week in a steam engine or a couple of months on a wagon train to visit Ma and Pa. Nope. Nowadays it only takes about $400 and six hours to go 3000 miles.

Unless, of course, you factor in all of the non-air travel to get where I'm going:
  • Traffic to the airport and parking (add 2 hours)
  • Security (add 1 hour)
  • Layover (add 1 hour, if you're lucky)
  • Waiting for baggage (add 1 hour)
  • Drive to The Parents home situated distantly (albeit scenically) on an island in the Puget Sound (add 2 hours)
Now we're talking about a solid 12 hours of travel ... all at the busiest, grumpiest time of the travel year. So this year I told my family that they better take a good look at me during Thanksgiving because I wasn't coming home for Christmas.

Given that everyone I know was going to be gone for Christmas I was mildly concerned about getting bummed out here all by myself. So not one to mope around I made a list of things that I could do.
  • Put together a Christmas Card
  • Repack my Grandmother's China (which has been spread all around my bedroom for about 10 months. Maybe longer. I've lost track.)
  • Refold all of my sweaters and stack them by color
  • Clean my house
  • Get some last minute Christmas presents
  • Do some mending ... Holey Socks Be GONE!
  • Take that stack of unwanted clothes to the donation bin
  • Go the the National Cathedral
  • Go see the Temple Lights
Good list, right? Pretty productive. You'll be interested to hear that I have completed approximately none of these things.

Instead this is what I have been doing with my time.
  • Reading (surprise, surprise.)
  • Went to see Atonement (way better than the book, mainly due to James McAvoy's unbridled hotness) and National Treasure (Nick Cage's smokers voice didn't ruin this movie. I was glad.)
  • Went to the Gym (!) TWICE(!!!)
  • Investigating new music and looking up top 10 music lists
  • Eating chocolate chocolate-chip cookies
  • Sleeping. A lot.
  • Making DELICIOUS Christmas Chipotle-Shrimp Enchiladas. BEHOLD the Deliciousness of my traditional Christmas Dinner:
  • Watching the last 10 minutes of a series of Lifetime Christmas movies, making me cry.
  • Watching the Will & Grace Christmas episode, making me laugh.

Good times, eh? But all solo activities. After 4 days of Me Time I was starting to worry that I was turning into a bit of a hermit. I had to get out of the house. And I had to talk to someone. I was in danger of being monumentally bored. Not to mention being a total Christmas loser.

So I called my favorite Jewish friend up and said, "Hey, I've spent all morning celebrating Christmas the Christian way by putting on all of my new clothes at once and riding my new bicycle around the neighborhood. But do you want to celebrate Christmas the Jewish way with me this evening?" Of course, he said "Heck, yes!"

So we met later to go to the movies and then joined the rest of the Jewish population of Silver Spring at the Asian Bistro for Chinese food. I explained to him the meaning of Christmas, and how it's the season of love and giving and please don't love us or give us anything if it isn't Christmastime. He explained that to Asians all white people look the same, which was why our server kept forgetting about us and we had to keep asking for things. I told him about how Christmas came to be celebrated in December instead of in the Spring. And he told me about how the Jews gave Christians Christmas because Jesus was a Jew and all. Then we argued about which came first Chanukah or Christmas. I diverted the argument by saying, "Maccabees-schmackabees. Does it really matter? What matters is that you're the Jew that saved Christmas." And he said, "Yeah. Good point. We're a very helpful people."

It was an evening of great cultural and religious understanding. As well as an evening full of friendship and MSG. Just as Christmas should be.

I hope you all had a Very Merry Christmas too!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Feeding the Monkey

One of the most common questions I hear from people is, "How do you find new books?" Or its equally perplexing cousin "What about new music?" Don't act like you haven't asked this. I know you have. We ALL have.

So since I'm curious what works for you, I'll share my top 5 tricks for keeping my habit fed. So enjoy ... but don't forget to tell me what works for you!

Music

My musical tastes are all over the map, with the highest concentration in the indie-pop-rock genre. But I like to get input for all types of music. I don't want to look like a fool when I'm out at the clubs trying to request Fujiya & Miyagi instead of something everyone knows like Justin Timberlake. It's all about balance.
  1. WOXY.com - I sit at a desk all day, and so it is relatively easy for me to listen to an online radio station. I like WOXY because they have a nice balance of really cutting edge and mildly cutting edge. And then they'll throw in a few old time favorites. There have been a lot of times when something I heard on WOXY ends up on mainstream radio ... months after I first heard it. Then I get to feel all superior, which is awesome.
  2. All Songs Considered - ASC offers two podcasts, you should get both. One is its regular show where they review new music and have guest DJs, the other is full concerts. Both are great and I've picked up on a lot of new artists here. The nice thing about ASC is that it isn't limited to a single genre.
  3. iTunes Single of the Week - For all of you iPod users out there, I hope you're downloading the iTunes single of the week. It's FREE, people, FREE! And while sometimes they have some wackadoodle stuff generally it's pretty cool. I'll frequently be listening to my iPod and say to myself, "I have this song?" and after looking at the screen, "Whoa. Cool! Thanks iTunes Single of the Week!"
  4. VH1 Top 20 Video Countdown and You Oughta Know Artists - OK, so this doesn't sound so super secret, but they've got some good stuff! I learned about Brandie Carlile and fell in love with Maroon 5's "Wake Up Call" video here. And other YOKA alums include Regina Spektor, Feist, and Rilo Kiley. Not bad company.
  5. iMixes - When you look up a song in iTunes there are a bunch of links to the right. Junk like ringtones and stuff, but there's also a section for iMixes. These are great for seeing what other people (presumably with similar taste) have chosen. I've found loads of interesting thing cruising these lists. They used to do celebrity mixes ... but I can't find those anymore. Next step for me is to publish my own iMix. When I do I'll share with y'all.
Most importantly you've got to stay organized! I use a couple of tools to manage my music (outside of iTunes). First, I use a Google Docs word document to keep track of any song/artist I hear that I like. I like to use this because it's online so if I hear a song at work I can jot it down, and then download it when I get home. AND I don't have to worry about scraps of paper or jump drives. Sexy.

Secondly, the only useful purpose for My Space anymore is the music section. I always rely on an artist's My Space page to listen to the full song before downloading it. (If it's available, that is.) And some of the less-established artists allow you to download from there. Niiiice.

Books

The problem with books is that you just keep running out of them! I really have to work hard to keep a list on hand. These really help me out:

  1. Amazon's "Also Bought" and Listmania - I do all of my book research on Amazon, and I rely heavily on the recommendations they offer. I'm also getting addicted to the lists on Listmania. Some of my favorite books of the year came from these lists.
  2. Librarian's Choice @ your Library - Most libraries have a Librarian's Choice section or other special display. This is a great place to track down those books that you always meant to read and never quite got around to it. Bookstores also have employee recommendations, you could check them out too.
  3. Display Tables at Bookstores - Ok, this is sort of cheating, since it doesn't give you much of anything to go on. But I find it much easier to pick something from these tables than from the stacks where all you can see are rows and rows of spines. I regularly cruise through Borders on my way home to see what they've got on display. Then I'll jot it in my notebook for future reference.
  4. Favorite Authors - We all know the trick of finding an author we like and reading everything they've ever written. Well, some authors are very helpful and have blogs where they, in turn, share what they are reading. Shannon Hale's blog has been great, offering author interviews and top 10 lists from her nephew (which was a great tool if you're looking for something that a 10 yr old boy would read).
  5. GoodReads.com - Friends are always a good place to turn, but I've started using goodreads.com to keep up with what my friends are reading. I read so much it's hard for me to keep it up to date, but I've definitely taken a look at what my pals are in love with. Let's be book friends!
So those are the tricks I use. What works for you? I've got a whole new year coming up ... and I need a media refill.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wherein I Deck My Halls With Caffeinated Cheer


Ain't this the cutest Holiday Cheer you've ever seen?


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rainy Sunday

I woke up this morning and I couldn't see a THING outside of my window. We appeared to be socked in under a blanket of rain and fog.

Have you ever noticed that fog seems to be a weather condition that was much more prevalent during the 1800s? We almost never get fog anymore. At least not as far as I've noticed. I'm reading this book about Poe right now (The Poe Shadow) and I think the entire thing is set in the fog. It's really weird.

Anyway, I looked out of the window and said to myself. "My my, this sure is a stay at home kind of day. Makes me feel like baking." So I lit some lamps (since it's pretty dark when it's all foggy and rainy), popped in my Rilo Kiley CD and started making Swedish Pancakes.

Swedish Pancakes were a staple in my house growing up, and we'd beg Mom to make them for us every Sunday. They are a lot like crepes, only a bit thicker, and are best served rolled up with butter and powdered sugar (both inside and on top). They are made one at a time, and so as kids we'd always fight over who'd get the 2nd one. The first one was always burned or ripped or otherwise deformed, while Mom got the temperature right and perfected her flipping. They are my ultimate comfort food.

This morning as I made them and danced around in the kitchen in my pajamas and apron, I thought to myself, "This right here? This is a good time." And I considered that if I had a husband sitting on the couch reading the paper, and a couple of kids fighting over getting the second one, well, that would be a good time too. But not having that didn't make this morning's Swedish Pancakes any less wonderful. AND I got to pick the music, AND no one was making fun of me for singing along into my spatula-microphone. Which I always appreciate.

Suffering For My Art

I'm sort of an expert at shopping. Like I do it all of the time. So I'm a little bit devastated to find out that when it comes to Christmas shopping I totally suck!

I tried really, REALLY hard to buy Christmas presents on Saturday .... and while I had a blast ... alas, I was a total failure.

It wasn't that there weren't things to buy. There were. Nor was it that I didn't know what to get for people. I did. The problem was that I couldn't resist buying things for myself at the same time. I do not understand those women who say that whenever they go shopping they never end up getting anything for themselves. WHO ARE THESE WOMEN? And where do they get such discipline? I clearly do not have it.

I started out ok while at the craft store. In retrospect, it's not too surprising that I didn't lose control there ... the siren song of puffy paint is pretty easy to ignore. But then I hit Anthropologie. Experience should have told me that there really wasn't a snowball's chance in hell of me getting out of there without at least a little something for myself. But what can I say, I'm an eternal optimist. (Or delusional, whichever). Here's a peek into my brain while browsing around. FYI, I don't want to spoil the surprise, so I veiled the names and presents, I'm sure you understand.
"This great little knickknack is SO PERFECT for my friend, and ohh-la-la this little treasure will be superglam for my sister. Ooooh! Look at this little guy. This is quite cute. Crap. Now I've done it, I'm seriously in love with this chinoiserie tea light thingy. But No! NO! I'm supposed to be getting things for others. Think, woman, think! Who would like this? hhhmmmm. It isn't really anyone's style. Well, except for mine, of course. It's only $10. You can't even get a coaster at Anthropologie for $10, it'd be a shame not to get it. And I'm already getting this other stuff, so its not like I'm making a special trip to the register for it. Why don't I just get a gift receipt for it, and I'll think of someone to give it to later."
Like how I rationalized that one? I do, cuz it really is SO cute. Doncha think? (don't mind my craptastic photography. My real Christmas present to myself will be a new non-sucky camera.)



This is now displayed attractively on my television, waiting for me to think of a recipient for it. Or not.

Later I was shopping for jewelry for my sister and it was literally a "One for you, two for me" scenario. But here's my FAVORITE thing I ended up getting at Banana Republic (on sale of course!)



Bracelets are hard for me because I've got crazy small wrists and they usually slide right off. But this little cutie is perfect! I didn't really mind being so selfish where there was this much cuteness on the line. (Besides, who knows if others would even like such a bracelet? It's a fairly bold piece and just too risky to risk losing this to the unappreciative.)

I've still got one more week to get my act together. And I promise here and now. If I have to buy something for myself every single time I need to get a gift for someone else in order to get my Christmas shopping completed, well then, that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Next Time Just Lie

Ok, so I promised you all an update on the dinner "invitation" from Captain Underpants. I really struggled with what I was going to say to him. I tossed around the various options in my mind, wondering, Is there a delicate way to say 'There's no way in hell I'm going out with you again.'?

Since I'm not the most tactful person I had to enlist some help. So I asked e and also consulted this website. (Interesting note - When I looked at this the other day this was level "Easy", now it's been elevated to level "Moderately Easy". Yeah, I'll say!) This is what I came up with:

Hi Cap'n,

Thanks, that's a nice offer. But while I think you are a terribly nice fellow I don't think we are all that compatible. I wouldn't want to lead you on or anything.

I hope you have a nice Christmas break!
Gretchen
I struggled with the "lead you on part" because I didn't want to assume that I was leading anyone anywhere, but I wanted to make sure it was clear clear clear that there wasn't anything romantic on my side of things. But overall, I'd say it's pretty good, right? Clear, to the point, pretty nice, but doesn't leave any loopholes. I was very satisfied to get this reply back from him.

OK.

Have a nice Christmas.

Cap'n U
Hooray! Success! I wouldn't have to go out on anymore lame dates. Ding Dong Merrily on High! I ran around my office giving random people high fives declaring, "Who's da man? Dat's right! I's da man!" (I'm not very good at saying 'no', so this was a pretty major success for me.)

But then 20 minutes later this little gem arrived in my inbox:
Gretchen,

Now that I've taken a few minutes to actually think and to take care of some matters at work, let me give you a more complete (and appropriate) response.

I appreciate your directness, and I have to agree with you that we aren't very compatible. Still, that doesn't mean I don't enjoy your company.

Take care my friend and I'll see you around.

Cap'n U

P.S. If you know of someone with whom I might be "compatible," please feel free to share. :-)
My overwhelming thought after reading this was, "Well, DUH! I'm fun to be around, that's why you enjoy my company. Buuuuut the problem is that YOU aren't so fun ... so you can see why this won't work for me."

My second thought was, "Yes, I think I know someone you'd be compatible with, but I don't really want to talk to her because she's kind of annoying. Perhaps that's why I think you'd be compatible."

My third thought was, "Man, I really sound conceited."

And my forth thought was, "Next time, I'm sticking with my original plan of telling him that I'm moving to Cuba with my new boyfriend Mario, so going to dinner with him would be really weird. Telling the nice version of the truth doesn't work out that well."

The moral of this story is that telling the truth is out, and lying and avoidance tactics are back in. It's just a lot less messy.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Burried in Boston

Help! Help! I'm stranded in Boston!

I came up for a 1 day seminar and due to the 6 inches (and counting!) of snow that have fallen in the past 4 hours my one day trip is turning into two.

Not only did I only pack enough clothing for one day, entertainment wise I'm really really unprepared to be stranded. I didn't bring my laptop. I didn't bring my cell phone charger (yeah, battery's pretty much dead) so no phone calls. I didn't bring more than one book, I figured I had enough left of the current one to see me through. BIG mistake. BIG. I finished my book last night, and the gift shop doesn't have any books, even of the tawdry bodice-ripper variety. Sure, they've got HBO, but I've already checked the schedule and the only thing on is Ever After, which I just watched from NetFlix like 2 days ago (seriously, WHAT ARE THE ODDS? That movie is like 40 years old. Isn't HBO required to show relatively current content? I do love Drew in that movie though.)

So with no way to entertain myself you know what's going to happen, don't you? I'm going to end up hanging out in the bar with all of the other stranded people, that's what. And we'll probably all start by making small talk about the weather, and what brought us into town and if we'll ever get back home again. And before you know it, we'll be having a gay old time. Ugh. We'll probably end up drinking mulled cider and singing carols around the fire. Then the concierge will take off his jacket and loosen his tie and accompany us the piano, because the normal pianist is stuck on 95. Then as the carols die out since no one can remember the words to Auld Lang Syne, he'll start playing something a little more soothing and we'll all stare out dreamily into the courtyard chatting idly while we watch the snow continue to fall. At about midnight the party will start to break up when someone stands up and says "Well better hit the hay; long day tomorrow" and we'll wander laughingly back up to our rooms where we'll sleep soundly under our hypoallergenic comforters.

Doesn't that sound AWFUL? Don't you feel sorry for me? Socializing!! At Christmas!! Sheesh!

This could be the WORST enforced vacation EVER.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

7 Things About Mustard

Julie tagged Mustard to tell us 7 things we don't know about him. Since Mustard doesn't have any fingers with which to type, I agreed to be his scribe. Here is the transcript:

"Ok, Mustard, we need 7 things that people don't know about you yet."

"Hmm. Let me think. Ok. Well, first of all, I'm AWESOME. And then there's number two in which I am AWESOME. And Thirdly, some friends are apt to describe me as Totally Freaking Awesome."

"No, no, none of those are going to work. You've got to be serious about this. You can't just say that you are awesome for all seven things. Try again."

"Well I think that's limiting my creative output."

"Too bad. Think of something else."

"Fine. .... Alright, here's one. I like Kung Fu movies."

"My, my. That's a surprise."

"Are you being sarcastic? Just write it down."

"No, that's a good one. Keep your pants on, I'm writing it down."
1. I like Kung Fu movies
"OK, what's number 2?"

"Well, I love racing. Racing is my favorite."

"Racing? Like car racing?"

"Sure, cars, running, eating, drinking whatever. I like to win and the best way to win is to race."

2. I love racing to win at anything.

"OK, that's a pretty good one. Think of another."

"OH! Here's one. When you're at work I like to print out pictures of trees and nests and stuff and then prop them up on the window sill and see if I can trick any birds to try to land there. It's hilarious when they smack into the window going full speed. hahaha!"

"Are you kidding me?!"

"No, it's SO funny. Next time you have a sick day we'll do it. I can teach you how to do some wicked good bird calls."

"You're a little bit of a sick-o, you know that, right?"

"What? They don't get hurt. It gets boring here all day. Besides they like it. It's like a wake up call."
3. I spend my days taunting birds so they'll run into the windows.
"What's next Hannibal Lecter? Maybe think of something less violent. Like your favorite music or color or something."

"Ok. Let's see. My favorite music is smooth jazz. And my fav- "

"WHAT? You're favorite music is SMOOTH JAZZ?"

"Yeah, what's wrong with that?"

"Everything. Everything is wrong with that. Smooth Jazz is like the opposite of good music. Where did you even hear any smooth jazz?"
4. Inexplicably, I like Smooth Jazz.

"Hey! I didn't say 'inexplicably'. Erase that. Don't be such a hater. ANYWAY, as I was saying, my favorite color is blue. Like the blue on my label. I think it complements my skin tone very well. Don't you?"

"Oh yes, you're ravishing, dahling. Ravishing!"

5. My favorite color is royal blue.
"Alright, you have five. You're in the home stretch. Try to think of two more."

"Hmmm. This is kind of hard. Any more suggestions?"

"Er, Boxers or Briefs? Ewww - strike that, I can't even think about that. Let's stick with pet peeves. Got any of those?"

"Do I have pet peeves? I am entirely comprised of pet peeves. Let's see. My worst pet peeve is when people put the toilet paper roll in so it drapes behind rather than over the top. May the Hammer of Thor protect you if you ever take to installing it that way."

6. I hate it when the TP roll is put in backwards.

"Ok, but what are you doing worrying about toilet paper?"

"I use it as a jungle vine when I'm playing Tarzan in the bathroom. When it drapes from behind there's no traction, so the roll just unrolls and I can't get a good swing in. It's totally annoying."

"Uh-huh. I see. Ok. Let's finish this up. I think I've learned just about enough about you for one day."

"Alright. My seventh thing is that I'm totally AWESOME!"

"Didn't I tell you that you couldn't use that one?"

"You said I couldn't use it for ALL of them. Not that I couldn't use it for one of them. And besides it's the truth."

"Man, I hate it when you are right."

7. I am totally AWESOME!!

And there you have it. 7 things you may not have known about Mustard, and frankly probably never wanted to know about him. Boy, am I glad we're done with that exercise. I think I like him better when he's entertaining himself by strutting around the apartment practicing wrestling poses.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Email, The Modern Caveman's Club

To: Gretchen
From : Captain Underpants
Subject: Dinner?

Hey, would you allow me "take" you to dinner sometime this week? Or next?

Captain Underpants

P.S. If the restaurant isn't metro accessible, I'll let you provide the transportation. :-)

And here I thought chivalry was dead. Silly me!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mixing Up Your Holiday Mixers

It's the time of year in which Holiday parties are running rampant. If you find yourself with multiple parties to go to in one weekend I recommend that they be as different as possible. You don't want to stagnate halfway through and thereby deprive yourself of your share of swedish meatballs and mini quiches. The key to avoiding Holiday Burn Out is mixing it up. Its the same principle I use when creating seating arrangments at a dinner party. Just as a simple shallow-deep-shallow-moody-shallow-deep pattern works best for encouraging conversation, you should mix your party types to stave off a crushing sense of pointlessness. You shouldn't pool your shallow people or your shallow parties. Just a tip I've picked up over the years.

Take this weekend, for example.

Friday night was a sweet and innocent affair as I took my Young Women for pizza and to see Enchanted. Then we came back to my apartment where we gossiped and read fashion magazines. (I love pretending I'm a teenage girl!)

Saturday night's house party, on the other hand, was not exactly sweet and innocent. The Diet Coke was flowing, my hair was in excellent Farrah Fawcett-flipping condition, the music was just how I like it (loud, danceable, old-school), and the flirting was in high gear. I was lucky to be home by 4AM. It was a little bit crazy. And by crazy, I mean Crazy FUN!

And then on Sunday, as befits a holy day, I attended an intimate dinner party. You know those dinner parties that you see on romantic shows like Notting Hill where the table is immaculate and there are several courses of food, all of which is amazing? And everyone is clever and stunningly funny? And you think, "Oh my gosh, that looks like it would be so much fun! Why aren't the dinner parties I go to that much fun? And why isn't Hugh Grant at any of them? This is so unfair." Well, friends, that was the dinner party I went to on Sunday (complete with the role of Hugh Grant as performed by my adorable friend Joseph). I sort of couldn't believe I was at such an amazing event. Everything was perfect! Especially the company. I have some damn funny friends, just so you know. And I could really wax lyrical about the food. It was all so beautifully prepared! And even more beautifully tasty. I practically made myself ill with all of that eating and laughing and eating and laughing. That can't be good for the digestive tract.

Three parties in three days, each as different as could be, but each one super fun. See how that works? Without mixing the formats up I would have been bored half way through, I guarantee it. I may not know much about some things, but by golly, I know how to get through the gauntlet of Holiday parties.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Christmas Miracle

Today's special thing wasn't so much something that I did on purpose, as it was something miraculous that happened.

To truly understand the miraculous miracleness of this you need to know two things.
  1. I am the QUEEN of parking tickets. If I'm even a minute late back to my meter I can pretty much guarantee that I'll have a ticket waiting for me.
  2. The meter maids of Bethesda will be reincarnated as vultures. Vicious and unrelenting vultures. From hell.

So now that you know these things, you will of course jump to the same conclusion I did when I was sitting in my boss' office at 3PM and realized with a jolt that I was supposed to go out and feed my meter at 2PM. And I had TOTALLY FORGOTTEN. And worse yet, I was stuck in her office for like 20 more minutes, just sure that there was no way on this earth that I would get away without owing the county $35.

As soon as I got out of her office, I sprinted down 6 flights, said, "Hi! What are you doing here? Sorry, can't talk now!" to a friend in the lobby who as far as I knew was A) in Columbia and B) going blind (both topics that really needed some immediate discussion) before I darting out into traffic to get to the parking lot, noting that the meter maid was at that very moment giving some poor guy a ticket. I had hoped that since it is so snowy and cold they wouldn't be working ... but clearly they were. It was my last scrap of hope. And now it was gone.

So I walked defeatedly to my car. And looked at the windshield, where my ticket would be waiting for me. Ready to grab it and curse and cry out, "WHY ME?? WHYYYY??" But lo ... there was no ticket! I'd been expired for at least an hour and a half and had somehow eluded getting a ticket.

Like I said, It was a Christmas Miracle. Perhaps the most miracally miracle EVAH!

Beat this Courier and Ives

Yesterday I found myself driving through Rock Creek Park at dusk. Here's the thing about Rock Creek Park: It's this huge wooded park that runs through DC. But even though there's a MASSIVE metropolis all around it, once you get into the park you would not have a clue. You're totally isolated.

This abrupt move from urban to rural is kind of popular around here. One second it is wall to wall buildings and asphalt, but turn a corner and all you can see is hardwood. It never fails to surprise me, and I'm always like, "Holy crap! I'm in the COUNTRY! Everywhere I look there's NATURE! I gotta get the hell outta here!" You'd think that growing up in Colorado I'd be more comfortable with nature, and I am when I'm expecting it, like when I deliberately leave the city and go to the Mountains. Here there is no gradual transition. It just springs up on you when you least expect it. And you just can't throw that on a person and not expect them to freak out a little bit.

So anyway, I've been through this particular section of Rock Creek Park before so I was prepared to be transported to the wilds of the Yukon. But even if I hadn't been prepared, the line of cars in front of me would have been a comforting reminder that I was still very much within the city limits. I have not, however, been in RCP when it is under a blanket of new snow. And I have to tell you, seeing the park like this was beautiful! I was completely charmed! And I wasn't even annoyed to be going at a snail's pace, since it just provided more time to enjoy the beauty. (I mentioned the line of cars in front of me right? And I mentioned the snow, right? Round these parts they call that Peas and Carrots. Peas and Carrots.)

Wanna know how beautiful it was?

Well, just picture your favorite snowy forest scene ... Got it? Now throw in some stone bridges, a cardinal or two, and some gently falling snow in the pearly evening light. If your imagination wants a little more action, you could add some kids sledding down a hill. And then if you're feeling a bit chilled because it's really cold out there and those kids sure look chilly with their pink cheeks, just imagine that you are sitting snug in your little MINI with your seat warmers going. And imagine you are singing along heartily with Christmas carols.

And if you've imagined all of that, then your little heart is probably near to bursting at the coziness of it all. Or else with envy. It can be hard to tell which.


(Do I need to mention that this was the "special" thing I did yesterday? This countdown is going to get tedious if I have to keep mentioning that. What do you think? Did you get it?)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

One Battle Does Not a War Win

This was the view from my apartment two weeks ago:


This is the view today:


Winter, that cold and calculating season, has successfully broken through Fall's defenses and won it's first significant battle. Even though this is the first snow -- and so it's kinda exciting and beautiful and all that crap -- this is no time to embrace snow angels and sledding!!

We must go to Anti-Winter Defense Level DefCon 4.

Deploy the Chili and Cornbread!

Load Ratatouille, and snuggle in your down comforters ON THE DOUBLE!!

And Pray, men, PRAY like you've never prayed before for a Snow Day! Otherwise none of us might ever see Spring again.

It's up to all of us. This war can't be won single handedly. Over and out.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

One Month From Today ...


It will be my Birthday!!!!!!!!

Aren't you totally STOKED? I am. 32 is the age I have always wanted to be ... and while it has been an OK year it hasn't completely lived up to the hype. There are only 30 more days for 32 to show me what it is made of.

So, readers, this is what sporty types call a Hail Mary. For the next 30 days I'm going to try to do something special each day to make 32 the year I always hoped it would be.

If you have suggestions I would appreciate them! Or if you have birthday presents I would appreciate them too!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Who Moved My Cheese?

I've got a serious problem, people. There seems to be a conspiracy afoot.

A couple of months ago I was grocery shopping and went to get some grated parmesan cheese. I like the pre-shredded kind, like what Sargento provided. I do not like to grind my own (hello that’s WAY more work than I approve of doing). And I don’t, out of snobbery, like the green can powdered kind. Do they even make that anymore?

Anyway, so I was shopping at the oh-so-ghetto Safeway across the street from my house and lo and behold when I went to refresh my supply of the queso there was NO parmesan, of any ilk, available. This had never been a problem before. What happened? Isn’t parma one of the most popular cheese of all time?

I chalked the missing cheese up to this particular Safeway being HORRIBLE. And since I like to make dramatic statements that don’t impress anyone but me I decided to immediately switch grocery stores. So I started shopping at Bloom which was a heck of a lot further away, but had attractive vegetable displays, those cute little half-carts, and a hearty supply of my favorite cheeses.

This worked very well for several months.

Last Saturday, however, I went to Bloom for my weekly shopping. And when I got to the dairy case I looked, and I looked, and I LOOKED. But even though they had specialty cheeses such as goat, Muenster, and even HAVARTI, there was NO PARMESAN! Oh sure there was mozarella in 5 lb bags all ready for the fatification of America, but no, no parmesan could be had for love nor money.

How can this be, I ask you? Is it just me? Am I the only one in the world that is buying parmesan cheese – thus making stocking it impractical? It seems unreasonable to me that there should not be any parmesan cheese at any of my local grocery stores. But perhaps I am just unreasonable. (I'm not.)

Just so you know, I have a history of my favorite foods being removed from the grocery store supply chain and it's getting old. First it was my favorite salad dressing: Parmesan Peppercorn, followed by my favorite flavor of Barilla pasta sauce (Green & Black Olive), culminating in the removal of the entire Barilla pasta sauce line. Sigh ...

My needs are few, grocery store people. In fact, here is my weekly grocery list so you can make sure to have everything I need stocked. I'm sure if we work together we can make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen anymore.

  • Chicken Nuggets (or other frozen treat like pizza or tater tots)
  • Apples/Pears (or some other seasonal fruit), 5 pieces
  • Roma tomatoes, 3 pieces
  • Romaine lettuce, 1 bunch
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 3 pkgs Deli Meat
  • 1 pkg Sliced cheese, Colby-Jack , Muenster or Provolone
  • Frosted Mini-Wheats
  • ½ Gallon Skim milk

That’s it. (Generally speaking of course, sometimes I get all crazy and throw a can of chili in). Could you please try not to remove any more of these items from your stock? I'm not sure how much more paring down this grocery list can take.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Introducing Mustard Skywalker

Last week when Mustard and I were in Arizona, I sat my slacker family down and said, "Listen. I've been to all of the malls here. Arizona no longer holds any mystery for me. There's only one thing left in this state that I need to see. Tomorrow morning, we're all getting up early and we're going to the Grand Canyon."

"But it's really far!" they cried.

"No matter." I responded coolly. "I've made an executive decision. Mustard, prepare yourself. Tomorrow we're going to the Sky Walk. It's this cool glass bridge that extends, unsupported mind you, out over the Grand Canyon. And it's got a glass floor so you can look down like 4000 feet. It's going to totally freak us out!"

Mustard's little head whipped around so fast he almost twisted off his safety seal, "Did you say Sky Walk?" I nodded. "So once we go on this thing, we will be 'Sky Walkers'?"

"Yeah, I suppose so."

"This is going to be so awesome! Road Trip! .... Star Wars style." And he skated off singing the Imperial March.

"Whatever you say, little dude." I said, rolling my eyes.

Accordingly, we got up bright and early and started out on our trek. Mustard hasn't gone on a road trip before and he enjoyed it. He played the license plate game, and slug bug, but most of all he liked sitting up in the front "with the men".



He loved to watch the GPS navigation map and say, "Stay on target! Stay on target!" And then my brother would chime in with, "UH! But I was going to go down to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!"

I guess it's because he's only had me to hang out with (and heaven knows I'm no male role model) but he really bonded with my dad and brother. They had all kinds of man talk going on up in the front seat. Football, yard work, power tools. That kind of junk. It was good for him. And I was happy to let them jabber away up there, while I chatted with my mom in the back seat about sophisticated topics such as books and the rockin swing coat I got in Mexico.

Mustard especially took to my dad. Here they are when we stopped for sodas having a veritable father-son talk.


It really was a long drive, and the last TWENTY MILES on a dirt road didn't help any. But we finally arrived at Grand Canyon West.

The Hualapai Tribe runs the show charging a pretty penny, but ultimately delivering an enjoyable experience.

Mustard enjoyed the entertainment provided by this native dancer and flute dude. But he was disappointed that they wouldn't play "Freebird". I had to let him pick out a Dream Catcher from the gift shop before he perked up again.


We boarded a bus to take us to the various vista points: Eagle Point, the Sky Walk, and Guano Point.


For some reason Mustard kept saying "Guano" over and over again. "Guano. Guano. Haha. Guaaanoooo." He is such an idiot.

We arrived at the Sky Walk and had to relinquish ALL of our personal effects before being allowed to go out onto the bridge. But it was seriously cool! It was hard to realize just how high we were, with no cars or people below to put it all into perspective. But occasionally a hawk would be sailing around below and then I'd grip the rail a little tighter and say, "Damn kids, we're like crazy high! If we fell from here we'd definitely die." They don't call me Captain Obvious for nothing.

Here's the Sky Walk ...


It was all very peaceful as we enjoyed the canyon winds and the raw power of the nature below us. Peaceful, that is, until Mustard got out there.

"YOU ARE NOT MY FATHER!!!!" he cried making light saber noises and thrashing around all over the bridge.

"Mustard, what are you doing?"

"I'm fighting the Dark Side, woman!" more thrashing and saber thrusts. "And HELLO!" he paused his slide tackles to tell me sincerely, "My name is now Mustard SKYWALKER!"


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Wherin Thanksgiving Inspires Me to Give Thanks

Thanksgiving Vacation is sadly, so sadly, coming to a close. Le sigh.

In a way I'm sort of happy to see it go. As far as Thanksgivings go it was a bit of a rough one for me.

It all started at about 3AM on Thursday morning when I woke up and said to myself, "You know, I could really go for a nice vomit right about now. That would really hit the spot."

This is weird for two reasons. First, it is against my religion to wake up in the middle of the night. Once I'm down, I'm down for the count. Second, puking my guts out isn't really my idea of a great way to spend, well, any amount of time really. And if it must be done, it should be done at a convenient time like when I'm at work or something. ("No, I will NOT rewrite that project proposal -- Baaaarrrfff! -- So there!") Puking should under no circumstances interrupt my precious sleep time.

So I was surprised at how nonplussed I was to trot down the hall to worship at the porcelain throne. I practically skipped there.

But even though the first trip was sort of my idea, my body took over after that and thought it was Great Fun to send me running, and I mean RUNNING whenever it thought I wasn't paying attention. The element of surprise was its favorite tactic, it seemed. From 3AM to 9AM my brother's house was turned into a track meet as I sprinted around corners and hurtled over couches in and effort to avert disaster.

So I spent much of the day in bed. It was essentially the Thanksgiving that was the opposite of all that Thanksgiving should be. No playing Mayflower with the kids that came over, no nonchalant picking in the stuffing, no decorative napkin folding. And most heart wrenching of all, no desire to eat so much I wanted to puke. Which is just wrong. So wrong.

And yet, oddly, I gave thanks. Many thanks, as a matter of fact.

I was thankful to be at my brother and sister-in-law's house for several reasons, but foremost among them was that since my SIL has been combating morning sickness they were well stocked with saltines and ginger ale. The closest thing I have at my house to invalid food is penne pasta and Diet Coke. I have no jello, no juice, no bread, not even any medicines that haven't passed their 'Use By' date. So I was thankful that I wasn't at my house where I would have ended up a dessicated husk of a person.

I was also extremely thankful to have so many hands on deck. I had a steady stream of people coming in to check on me. And I'm here to tell you, I may talk a big game about being a sassy independent single chick, but in the face of illness I'm a total wuss. I felt no shame about blatantly using my Mom to do the simplest things for me. I'd just lay there and yell, "Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!" until she'd come check on me. And then I'd ask her to pass me my juice box. It's been a long time since I've been sick and had my Mom around to fuss over me (in that perfect not-too-fussy way that Moms have) and I took full advantage. I appreciated it so much I told her that I'd forgiven her for calling me the "weirdest of all of her weird children." And yes, I've forgiven her. But I have not forgotten. I will never forget. You hear me, Mother? Never! (Mostly because it's totally NOT TRUE! My brothers and sisters are so much weirder than I have ever been.)

So, all in all, it was a thankful Thanksgiving. Even though I wasn't thankful for normal things like a turkey leg and mountains of mashed potatoes and had to settle to be thankful for stupid stuff like 'good health' and a 'loving family'. Sheesh. Is that the lamest thing you've ever heard or what? Like I said, it was a rough Thanksgiving.

FYI, you'll be pleased to hear that Mustard wasn't put out by my illness. I caught him trying to make off with this pie while everyone was watching football.


Oh he tried to backpedal by telling me he was "bringing it to me because I didn't get any." I wasn't buying it, however. He wouldn't bring me pie if I were on my death bed. Fortunately for him, I didn't have the energy to stay mad at him, the little stinker.

I hope you all had just as Thankful if much less Pukey Thanksgiving as I did!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Polish Dog with Very Green Relish



Mmmmm. Lunchtastic!

America, it's time to talk about the dearth of excellent hot dog stands. It's not just for baseball games and NYC street corners anymore. The People need hot dogs.

Fortunately, there is at least one hot dog stand in Gilbert AZ doing its part to serve up a quality dog.

Step it up, America. Step it up. (You're not going to let GILBERT Arizona beat you on this one are you??)

By the way Good thing I'm eating every three hours here or I might have gorged myself on these. If I don't come home weighing 400 lbs it will be a minor miracle. Can you pass the tortillas?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Vacation Part Deux

What's this? I'm on vacation AGAIN?!? That's how it goes when you live the vida loca like I do.

This time I've jetted off to Phoenix, AZ for a little Thanksgiving hoedown.

Some notes from my travels today:

  • I saw a middle aged woman in a CareBears sweatshirt (not really surprised since I was in the Midwest. I expect that sort of thing there. Just as I expect the scrunchies per capita to go through the roof.)
  • I watched my first television show in HD. In my opinion HD reveals more pores than I'm really comfortable seeing. I like my television stars blurry enough to make me feel bad about myself.
  • FYI, I am a Majhong GENIUS! 23 games played, 21 games CONQUERED. Would FreeCell dare to enter the ring?

And finally, this isn't technically from today's travel ... but it should be noted. And since I'm talking travel, this is as good a spot as any.

  • On the flight down to Cancun last week, the woman I was sitting next to started using her cell phone while we were landing. I realize that while it is against the rules to use your cell phone on a plane it isn't technically the biggest catastrophe you're going to encounter. But if there is ever a time to not use you phone, you know JUST IN CASE something could go wrong, I think during the LANDING would be that time. I'm just sayin.

Happy Thanksgiving travels to you all! I'll be bringing you updates from my stint in the Grand Canyon State.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Available for Adoption

For a while now I've been getting email from a Hanson family that isn't MY Hanson family. At first I was mildly concerned that Gmail was sending another Gretchen Hanson's mail to me accidentally. But then I saw this little note next to my address on the message:


And since everyone knows that Google doesn't make mistakes, I stopped worrying about it.

For the most part, they seem like a pretty normal family, sending notes about Halloween and Christmas visits and whatnot. I kept thinking I should let them know that Google thinks that I'm their Gretchen Hanson, but the messages are infrequent and devoid of any real personal information. It hardly seemed worth the effort. And honestly part of me wanted to see if anything interesting like Halloween pictures showed up. Then yesterday this exchange came through, and I can't say how happy I am that my inner voyeur won out.

First Ashleigh sent this message to the whole family about her boyfriend Jason not coming home with her for Christmas:

Hey family!

Not sure if or what you all were planning on getting Jason for Christmas this year, but just an FYI that he won’t be coming to Seattle this year (Please, hold back the tears
) so if you happen to get something that’s bigger than a gift card and don’t want to make me lug it on the plan back to LA (Please don’t!) feel free to ship it to our place via my attention. Just shoot me an email telling me its coming so I know to keep an eye out for it. I’ll wrap it and tell him who it’s from when we do our own Christmas the weekend of New Years. Sound good?

Next message from Ashleigh. (This one just to the siblings, which apparently includes moi):

Hey siblings-

Omigosh. I just got the BIGGEST email from dad regarding the email I just sent to everyone saying that Jason wasn’t coming to Seattle for Christmas. Apparently he thought my comment about “Holding back the tears” was my way of telling you all that Jason feels like an outsider…not quite sure how he got that, but it’s hard to interpret emails…so I just wanted to clarify with you all that that was NOT what I was trying to say. I was just trying to be funny. Jason’s not coming to Seattle for Christmas; it’s really not a big deal so I’m not expecting anyone to be upset. Dad seriously just sent me a HUGE email talking about all of the significant others of his generation in the family and how people have treated them like outsiders…goodness gracious! Can’t a girl be funny anymore!

So hopefully none of you guys interpreted my email as Dad did

See you all in a little more than a month!
Peace Out.

Brother Dave replies:
Ashleigh,
I just wanted to take this opportunity to tell you so you can tell Jason...that he is an outsider. We're all very happy that he is not coming to Seattle. The city is happy that he is not coming back. It's just better that way. We all feel that outsiders should remain outside. Mom even told me she'd rather spend seven Christmas' in a row at her place with Dad than have Jason back in Seattle.

And no. A girl can't be funny anymore. Not now, not ever. Girls aren't funny. They're not good at it. Nor are they good at sports, politics or thinking. That's man's work.

With Love,
Your brother
Brother Nate chimes in with:
Amen. I am not concerned with Jason's feelings at all...if in fact he even has feelings. I know a guy who loves to say, "Stop it...you're hurting my feeling." Because he says he only has one.

Anyway, Dad's a tender flower sometimes. Let's all get him tissues for Christmas in case he gets misty-eyed over Jason not being here this year.

Low five,
Nate
From Brother Dave:
I'm getting Dad tissues, a sweater with Jason's face stitched in the front made from 100% pure emotion and a years supply of dance studio passes
No disrespect to my biological family, but will this family PLEASE PLEASE adopt me? I know they already have one Gretchen Hanson but surely there is room for another! They like witty banter, I like witty banter! Think of the happy funny times we can have together!

Please. Adopt me.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Yo Soy Mostaza

Mustard had a blast in Mexico. He was off and running from the second we got off the plane exploring the beach and making friends with the locals. He certainly didn't need me to shuttle him around. I barely saw him, actually.

His favorite thing at the beach was climbing the palm trees. He thought it was hilarious to perch up there and holler out "Yo Soy MOSTAZA!" at all of the people lounging below. Mostaza, which is Spanish for Mustard, rhymes with Mufasa. And he loved saying it all Lion Kingy. Over and over again. It was SO annoying.

I was like, "Yo Doofus, I'm trying to take a nap down here. You're driving me crazy!" He wasn't about to let me rain on his parade so he gave me a cold look and said, "I'm sorry, am I confusing you? I am not 'Doofus'. YO. SOY. MOSTAZAAAAAA!" And then he doubled over laughing at how hilarious he thinks he is.


He has no respect for me. None whatsoever.

After an insufferable amount of time, he gave up the tree (and the shouting) and decided to get a game of Soccer going with some of the local kids. He played goalkeep, and did a surprisingly good job for someone who is only 5" high and has no arms or legs.


After his game, he grabbed a fruity drink and chilled out. Thank goodness. It isn't often that he's quiet ...



I asked him if he wanted to go shopping with me. And surprisingly, he said yes. I didn't think he'd be interested in it at all. But he said he was up for it ... but only if we didn't look at lame chick stuff. I told him I wasn't making any promises, and to get his lazy butt up and come get ready.

Here we are on our way back to the room to get ready. Obviously, we're both actively Bringing Sexy Back.


(Just a side note - See my visor? It's pretty sweet, eh? I was napping on the beach one day, and Camie poked me with a stick and said, "Hey! Here comes your Club walking down the beach." Groggily I looked up, and said, "What? These 3 old women? In the visors?" She nodded. "You think that just because they have visors, and I have a visor that we're in the same club?" I asked. Obviously pleased with her joke she nodded again and said "Yup!" I said, "A of all, that is SO not my club. And Secondly, I can't believe you woke me up just to piss me off. You totally suck." Let me just say that one of us now has a burned forehead, and it isn't the person that had a VISOR.)

So Mustard, oh sorry - MOSTAZA - and I headed into town to check out the Mexican wares. By and large it was a bunch of junk. A fact that one vendor refreshingly acknowledged when he said, "Hey guys, there's more crap inside". I gave him points for honesty. Mustard started off strong, admiring these little bobble-head turtles. He thought they were adorable and he ran all over the display table trying to keep all of their heads bobbing!


He kept this up until the shop owner glared at me and said, "BASTA!" Which translated, means "STOP IT, you annoying Gringos." After that, Mustard had no interest in shopping, and he dragged along behind me as if this were the worst torture he had ever endured in his life.

I was just about to tell him that it was his choice to come, and if he didn't like it, he could try to make his way back to the hotel himself. And it would be pretty interesting seeing a bottle of mustard hail a bus, so good luck with that you little whiner-face. When suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks and breathed, "Soooooo AWWWESOME!!!" I turned to see what he was looking at and saw this:


"Mexico is the COOLEST country!" he cried. And since he was transfixed by this wrestling poster, I happily left him to stare at it while I finished my shopping.


Speaking of things that transfixed Mustard, he was ADDICTED to the MTV. I mentioned before that MTV plays videos all of the time in Mexico. Both Mustard and I couldn't get enough. Here Mustard is rockin to Kanye's "Stronger" video while we are getting ready to go out.



Now, you'd think that Mustard's night life would be a little dull. But, oh no, he went out practically every night. Hooking up with his "hombres". Seriously, he'd say that (he's such a nerd!) "I'm going out with my hombres tonight. I think we're going to that beach-side club we saw earlier. I hope there are some Honeys there." I was like, "Whatevah. Just so I don't have to bail you out of jail."

These are Mustard's "Hombres" ...


They're all a little too spicy for my taste. Trouble makers, every one of them. I prefer his American friends: Tartar, Ketchup, and Mayo. But I've given up trying to control Mustard ... he does what he wants when he wants.

So that's it. Mexico was AWESOME! Mustard stayed out of jail, didn't get detained by the HazMat people in and out of the country, and all in all made the trip even more fun. Not surprising since he always makes things more fun ... that's just how he rolls.

Mexico Requires Too Much Math

Even under the best of circumstances I'm not so great at math. I recently took an assessment test that asked me a lot of complicated math problems which I did quite handily, so it's not that I can't do math ... it's just that I CANNOT be bothered. I will only do math under extreme duress or if I am the only possible person available to do it. Usually I'll just stare at the dinner bill until someone just tells me how much I should leave for a tip, and Voila! doing math is avoided once again. So far this strategy has worked like a charm.

Camie isn't a mathematical wiz either (for a while there we were outsourcing our math to one another - I handled subtraction, while she had addition. It worked very well), so you can imagine my distress while in Mexico when we had to convert Real Money into Mexican Pesos for practically EVERY TRANSACTION. It was a special form of torture. And I don't mind telling you, I was a first class moron at it.

The conversion wasn't really that difficult - like 10% - the only percentage I can actually handle. But I could never figure out if it was up by 10% or down by 10%. It continued to eluded both Camie and me for the entire vacation. Secretly, I was glad it wasn't just me ... I hate being an idiot by myself. Here are a few examples of our bumbling. Just for your reference, 5 Dollars = 50 Pesos.

The first night at dinner our waiter brought his little hand held credit card machine to the table, which, incidentally, I really like from a security point of view. But it sure made my "stare at the bill until someone tells me how much to tip" strategy seem especially awkward. When it became apparent that I was on my own for this one I started looking for the Tax so I could double it. BUT THERE WAS NO TAX! (at least as far as I could see). The only option at this point -- much to my horror -- was guessing. Even at this point I wasn't about to do actual math. So I just looked up at him and asked $7?? I have no idea if that was even remotely close to 20%.

Out at the most sucky bar, Senor Frogs, Camie and I bought some RIDICULOUSLY expensive drinks. And, I was so proud of her, she accidentally gave the bartender a 30 CENT tip instead of a 3 dollar tip. The place was so sucky and the drinks so overpriced I felt that this was a case where bad Math was doing a good deed.
Camie haggled a vendor down to $15 dollars for some little presents, but then tried to only give them $1.50.
I tried to give a waiter a 500 peso tip, or $50, when really I wanted to give him $5.

Ugh. Don't these people know that when I'm ON VACATION the last thing I should be required to do is perform basic MATH? That's why I go on vacation, so I don't have to do anything I don't want to do! Duh.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mexican Minutes

Here I am, blogging from the beach. Well the lobby actually. While lovely and charming in every other regard, our hotel doesn't have wireless access in the rooms. Y'all should feel extra special that I felt compelled to trek out to the lobby to bring you this little sneak peek into the trip so far. The lobby, as far as lobbies go, is pretty nice. It's an open air plan so I'm enjoying ocean breezes and a poolside view while I write this. But still, it's not as convenient as say writing from the balcony of my room. In my underoos.

Anyway ... the important thing here is that I'm in MEXICO!

A couple of interesting things about Mexico and me.

First, some of you know that I speak Spanish. This was a side effect of serving an LDS mission in Chile. Don't feel bad if you didn't know that I speak Spanish, it is a fact that I don't share readily. There are ample opportunities to hablar in my neighborhood, but I avoid it like the plague. It just isn't something I feel comfortable doing. But oddly enough, here in Mexico I'm proclaiming my Spanish skills far and wide. I am surprising myself at every turn as I chat up vendors and cabana boys in Spanish. In fact, the whole South America - Spanish thing is really taking me back to my mission experience. But in a good way, a reminiscent way. Not in a "get me the hell out of here right this minute" way.

Second weird thing about me in Mexico is my fixation with the time. In my normal life I don't care very much about the time. None of my clocks (except my VCR) say the right time. I don't wear a watch. I don't think I've been on time (whenever that is) to work in years. And I'm generally not too stressed if I'm late arriving at certain places. I just don't get all worked up about the time. You'd think that I would be thriving here in Mexico but I find myself wanting to know what time it is all of the time. Heaven forbid I don't know the exact hour and minute while I'm laying on the beach!

The fixation started on Saturday night when we got into our hotel and I couldn't figure out if my cell phone clock had updated with the time change or not. Was Cancun on Central Time? Do they do Daylight Savings? Does that make it one hour or two? There was no clock in the room to compare with, and so I had to count backwards to see if the pieces fit together. We'd arrived at 7 pm, and my clock said it was 10 pm ... had it really taken us 3 hours to get through customs, listen to the sales pitch offered to all naive tourists, and take a long shuttle ride? It seemed like 3 hours was too long, but where was the proof? (Let me also note that I was SERIOUSLY sleep deprived since I'd gone to bed at 5:30am the day before ... which is another story all of it's own.)

I felt like one of those time-deprived psychology experiments. I kept asking Camie what time she thought it was. Of course this did not drive her crazy at all. After going on at length about what time I suspected it was she threw up her hands, brushed the sand off and went and asked someone. We found out that my clock was one hour faster than the local time.

You would have thought that knowing the time would have made me calm down. But it didn't. Instead I started in telling her what we'd been doing at various times during the day. "That means we were on the beach by 9AM! We had gotten up at 6AM. We went to dinner at 5:30PM. We might as well have joined the Senior Tours Bus and gotten the early bird special." I cried.

Fortunately, we did not make that mistake today. Today it was out of bed at 9AM, on the beach at 10AM, and dinner at 8. Like normal people.

Also on the agenda for tonight is dancing. One great thing about Mexico is that MTV plays actual videos. We've been glued to it! It's got me totally ready to shake my bon bon. I can't remember the last time I saw a music video, let alone five or six in a row. Way to go Mexico!

Just for your information, Mustard is having a blast. I'll post pictures when we return on Wednesday. But the boy is all over the place.

Until then ... hasta! (see that Spanish? I just can't stop myself!)