My freshman year of college, I lived in an oversized dorm room with three other girls, Ashley, Krystal, and Anna. We had a communal system in the kitchen, meaning everyone bought food to stock it and then everyone could eat what they wanted. It was imperfect, but for the most part everyone contributed and consumed evenly.

Anna was kinda anal-retentive. And though I am kinda anal-retentive, she was anal-retentive about things which I was not, and so I saw her as uptight. She got very upset about things like having bread crumbs in the butter. Some days I want to just sneak into her house and stuff a whole loaf of bread into her butter.

But anyway.

At some point, Anna got fed up with the way we as a group were going through breakfast foods, mainly cereal. With four girls eating every day and considering that cereal is a viable dinner food in college, it really was no surprise that the fiber-filled food didn't last long. But apparently Anna was buying a lot of cereal and then not getting to eat much of it herself. So she decided to ration our breakfast foods. She went to the grocery store and bought several boxes of cereal and a bag of bagels. Then she put the bagels in the kitchen and hid the cereal in a box under her bed. She explained that she would get out the cereal after we had first finished the bagels. To her, this was a great idea.

This great idea was colossally stupid in a few ways. First of all, I didn't like bagels. Secondly, even if we are all eating the same breakfast food, the rate of breakfast food consumption does not change (except for me, since I didn't like the bagels). Thirdly, we knew where the hidden cereal was, so the less privacy minded (meaning Krystal) just ate the cereal anyway and put the box back under Anna's bed when she was done.

Seeing that Anna's food ration idea was colossally stupid, I said "Screw it," and went out and bought several boxes of cereal and put them in the kitchen for everyone to eat. Fine, Anna could do what she wanted, but I was going to have cereal when I wanted it. I wasn't going to steal from under her bed, but I wasn't going to eat by her rules either. The next morning, Anna went into the kitchen and poured herself a big bowl of one of my cereals. I really tried to be nice to her, but this was too much. I raised an eyebrow at her and asked, "Shouldn't you be having a bagel?" She only gave me a very defeated look, and I let it go. It was the last we heard of rations.


aw, shucks.

My brother Barry's church was having a shindig. Not a potluck, not a chicken pie supper, or any of the usual Methodist gatherings I am used to, but an oyster and seafood roast. It was a fund-raiser put on by a Sunday school class to raise money for a family over the holidays. I guess oysters are what you get when you don't live so far inland.

I don't eat a lot of seafood. As a kid, I ate only shrimp. Then I went shrimping, and I quit eating that, too, because once you see those things alive, you have a hard time putting a dead one in your mouth. It is only recently that I've started eating seafood at all again, mostly due to working at fine dining establishments and realizing that there are other ways to cook it than to deep fry it. God bless the South.

I'd never had oysters at all before, except in this stew that my grandmother used to eat. The people in my dad's family are seafood people, having grown up on the North Carolina coast. My grandmother loved that oyster stew, and she'd have one of her children run down the street from her nursing home to this specific seafood restaurant to get a to-go cup of it. I don't remember much of the taste of the stew, just that there were very questionable-looking items floating in what looked like milk. My other experience with oysters was walking along a beach and watching my father fish them out among the rocks and eat them raw. Daddy doesn't hold much with those silly sanitation rumors about undercooked meat. I think he figures that anything he used to do sixty years ago is probably still safe.

Barry and his wife, Holly, invited me and Josh to the oyster roast. I automatically assumed that Josh would not want to go - hmm, hang out with your girlfriend's family and a church full of strangers? To my surprise, he genuinely seemed down with the idea, leaving the decision up to me, and openly declaring in front of Barry and Holly that he had no other plans, obliterating any chance of making up previous obligations to get out of going. Though I myself was unsure about going to a strange church and eating seafood, I don't get to see Barry's family all that often. Plus, my ten-year-old niece Sarah was begging for us to go. So we went.

Man, oysters smell bad. The spread was impressive, though. There were chicken wings (mild and spicy) and hot dogs for the seafood-disinclined, as well as shrimp and hushpuppies and clam chowder. There was a huge table in the middle covered in desserts, and had I been a regular attender of this church, I probably could have identified which little old lady brought each one. I helped myself to a hot dog, some hushpuppies, and shrimp. I'm starting to like shrimp again as the memories of my shrimping experience fade, but these were not the succulent plump jumbo grilled kind that I was used to: these suckers still had their legs on. So gross. But I was feeling frisky, so I helped myself to half a dozen. We made our way around the different food tables, helping ourselves as strangers said hello and excuse me and how are you? and were the very essence of friendly Southern Christians with a night of good food and fellowship in front of them. I grew up in a church very much like this one, and so I felt somehow at home. Even Josh leaned in to me and said, "I'm having a really good time, and I don't know why."

Josh had never had oysters either, but he was an old pro with shrimp de-legging. So he did a couple of mine for me while I watched with wrinkled nose, and then I took on the amputations for myself, trying not to look too hard at the little legs that I was ripping off. I would make a lousy vegetarian because I love meat so much, but I have a hard time when I'm forced to associate what's on my fork with an actual creature. We sat around and ate, us adults making jokes about what they say about oysters while Sarah demanded to have the joke explained and then being denied. This was Josh's first time among any part of my family, but he fit right in, joking and telling stories and teasing Sarah with the rest of us. She is gorgeously gullible and good-natured, a perfect combination for light-hearted teasing. I told the story about Daddy eating raw oysters on the beach, to which everyone was disgusted, but the ones who knew my dad were not at all surprised. Sarah, who is not an adventurous eater, was especially revolted. She refused a piece of my freshly legless shrimp, and wouldn't try a hushpuppy, even after I assured her that no animals were injured in their making. I tried to convince her to eat an oyster, promising that I would eat one if she did. She asked for cash payment instead.

And then Josh came back from getting seconds with a pair of oysters, raw. He pulled out his Swiss army knife and began prying the first shell open. I was amused. I grew up eating raw cake batter full of raw eggs, and I don't generally hold much with those silly sanitation rumors either, but even I was a little grossed out. Holly watched, delighted, and Sarah, disgusted. The idea of swallowing a creature while using its house as a plate was too much for her. Having opened it, Josh eyed the thing for a few seconds, then slid it down his throat, paused thoughtfully, and then said, "Salty." He grinned at me, saying that he had honestly wanted to try one, but that he also really wanted to gross out Sarah. After he polished off the second one with slightly less trepidation, we made our way to where the cooked oysters were being served. I'd decided that I was going to be brave and try one, and Sarah had decided that she was going to be brave and watch me.

Salty is about the word for it, like eating a giant booger marinated in saline. I'd probably eat one again.

Holly, Josh, and I were still invested in getting Sarah to try an oyster (cooked). At first she refused to eat it out of the shell. Problem solved, we got her a plate. We set her up with a nice big juicy one. Josh leaned in and patiently explained the process of shucking an oyster while Holly and I watched with little smiles on our faces, both of us suckers for a man who is good with kids. In wearing Sarah down, she had worn us down, and Holly had promised her $3 to eat one, meaning she couldn't get it in her mouth and spit it back out. We all stood around her and egged her on. She would put the thing on her fork (who eats oysters with a fork, anyway?), bring it closer and closer to her mouth before giggling and putting it back down while we sighed in increasing mock frustration. This went on for several minutes. I was starting to lose interest with the game, though we had drawn a crowd of half a dozen people by now. Finally, she put the oyster in her mouth and swallowed in one gulp. When we asked how it tasted, she replied that she hadn't really tasted it because she swallowed it so fast. Then she demanded her $3. Holly promised to give her the money when they got back to the car, where her purse was, but Josh pulled out his wallet and handed her a couple of bucks. He told me later that he had easily gotten $2 worth of entertainment out of the experience. Sarah realized that she had made $5 just by swallowing and immediately offered to eat some more. Imagine how much money the church could raise by having people pledge money to watch little kids eat gross stuff.

The night was chilly, and we moseyed over to the small marshmallow-roasting fire, which Barry was manning. Sarah excitedly told him about her dining experience and the money she made off of it. Barry didn't say anything, but was obviously not impressed. Holly asked Barry what was wrong, to which Sarah whispered, "He doesn't approve." I grinned, because I knew that she was exactly right, that his reaction was exactly the same as my own father's would have been at having his children be paid to eat something unusual. I was even more amused that Sarah, at only ten years old, picked up on it immediately. She may not be adventurous, but she is sharp. And then Sarah herself solved the problem by putting all her oyster earnings in the donation jar for the underprivileged family.

Wow. Josh was impressed, as was I. I knew already that Sarah is a good kid, but she even surprises me sometimes.

Neither Josh nor I was really dressed for spending a mid-November evening outside. It was getting cold, and the only hot chocolate they had was water-based (I prefer milk), so Josh and I decided that it was time to head out. We said our goodbyes, promising Sarah that we would see her soon at Thanksgiving at my parents'. We hurried shivering back to my car, huddling close for warmth, and I left happy, because I had a wonderful family and a wonderful boyfriend, and the two had been successfully combined with beautiful results.


college student success.

When I registered for classes at Surry Community Classes, I had them obtain a copy of my ASU transcript in the hopes that I could avoid having to take a bunch of core curriculum classes. A couple of weeks later, I received a notice from SCC listing the courses that I now had credit for, thanks to my having taken them at ASU already. The results were disappointing. Granted, it's true that math/computers don't have a lot in common with agriculture, but I was hoping for a little more. I managed to meet my English and History requirements, and they were nice enough to say that I didn't have to take Intro to Computing, what with my degree in computer science and all.

What was more noticeable were the classes they said that I still had to take. One of them was an intro-level math class, something about mathematical modeling (you'll all be relieved to know that the subject has nothing to do with combining calculators and catwalks). I have a math degree in addition to my computer science degree. Specifically, it's an Applications of Mathematics degree - it's a bunch of mathematical modeling. I feel like I should challenge the decision to make me take this course, but then again, maybe plotting graphs will be a nice break from all that high-level calculus I had to do during my last semester in college.

The second course that I feel like contesting is called "College Student Success." I assume that the course covers time-management skills and study habits, though maybe it includes some of the lesser-lauded ways to be successful in college, including cheating, sleeping with professors, and blackmailing the dean. Now I hate to keep harping on the fact that I am a college graduate already, but I feel that this fact entitles me to avoid classes with vague titles that will be a waste of my time. I want to bring my diploma into the dean's office and say, "I was a college student for four years. Note this piece of paper that prooves that I was successful at it. Ergo, I have already achieved college student success. Q.E.D."

I am going to end up having to take more classes than I expected to get this wine degree (not to be confused with a whine degree, which I already have). Chemistry and business courses, fine. Also, a class called "Spanish for the Workplace." They might as well call the class "Communicating with Migrant Workers." I know a few spanish words from kindergarten and watching Sesame Street and reading the menu at La Carreta, but I get the feeling that those won't help me much, unless my vineyard employees happen to ask where the library is or want to be paid in quesadillas.

In any case, this degree is going to take a long time if I take it two courses at a time. It makes me wonder if I really want the degree, or if I could be satisfied with a certificate. The certificate program seems to be geared specifically for adults working full-time, as the suggested semester course load is 6 hours. That would allow me to avoid taking math, chemistry, and spanish classes, but somehow just going for the certificate is disatisfying to my nature. I want the degree. I just, you know, don't want to have to work all that hard for it.


easier than stalking the mailman.

I heart the internet.

I'm part of that digital generation, one of those people who only vaguely remembers life before the internet. I was 12 or 13 when my parents got their first dialup AOL account, and there's been no turning back since. Now I live alone and I refuse to pay any money at all for even basic TV service, but I shell out $45 a month for broadband without a second thought. Those are my priorities.

I've done all my Christmas shopping online. I'm down to getting just a couple more last gifts, and then I am finished. I've got FedEx, UPS, and the USPS leaving notices and packages at my door practically every day. Trouble is, I shop for things for other people and end up seeing things that I myself would like to find under the shrubs outside my apartment door. I've had to limit myself. It's the accepted season of giving and receiving, but no one really says anything about what you give to yourself. My mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told her, "I dunno. But if you can't find anything, you can just pay me back for the stuff I bought myself."

Online shopping has gotten even more exciting in the past couple of years with the invention of tracking. I love this idea. I like to log onto my online accounts and then click the link to be transported to UPS or FedEx or the USPS website to find out just where my packages were last sighted. It's so exciting to see the natural progression of my purchases from some warehouse in Maryland or Texas or Michigan all the way to Lewisville, NC. Tracking brings out the full spectrum of emotions. There's the initial excitement at seeing that first entry that says "Shipper notified of package." Then there's frustration when it was scanned for arrival in Tempe at 3:14 AM five days ago and it hasn't moved since. Then comes the confusion when it ends up in Albany, which is by no means on the way to Lewisville from Tempe. And finally comes the relief when you see that blessed description "On the truck for delivery at local facility" at 7:38 this morning. Then you've got nothing left but worry when you see "Left on doorstep in full view of sticky-fingered neighbors" at 9:04 AM and you've got another three hours before your lunch break.

Tracking is great. It's all the excitement of a private detective in a film noir without having to find out who your wife is sleeping with on the side. Plus, when it's all over, you've got a present! For someone else, I mean. Yeah, someone else.


in computers.

My computer is on the fritz, and I don't know what to do. I've tried all the things that I know how to do, including restarting, unplugging and replugging and then restarting, and shutting down and waiting ten seconds and then rebooting. At four years old, my computer is long past its warranty.

By the way, I'm "in computers."

What a dreaded phrase. As soon as someone hears what I do for a living, there is a roughly 53.1% chance that the person will say, "Oh, hey, you're in computers, how do you..." and then proceed to describe some problem that has nothing to do with what I do. I write software. More specifically, I write software for the transportation industry. So, really, I have no idea why your mouse freezes up sometimes or why Windows doesn't recognize a particular kind of file. Have you tried rebooting?

There are different types of computer people. I am a black box kind of girl. I don't know all that much about how a computer works, and unless I wrote the software, I don't know how any of that works either. Granted, I probably know more than the layman, because I did go to computer college, but I don't know enough to fix computers for a living. That isn't my job. There are computer people who know it all, either because they are just interested in taking that bad boy apart and seeing what it can do, or because they've worked tech support. Those are the people you want to ask for help. I can run tech support for my parents, but they just need to know how to do things like delete icons off the desktop or plug something into a USB slot.

So now I've got this computer problem, and though I could drop three hundred bucks for a new machine, I'm afraid that the problem is related to my hard drive. Since I want to be able to retrieve all my files from my current hard drive, getting a new machine could just mean infecting a new machine. It's quite a quandary. So I thought I'd ask some people at work if they had any insight into my issue, because, well, they're in computers. Without thinking about who would be the best person to ask, I asked the person that I know the best, Dave. He asked, "Have you tried rebooting?" I then admonished him for not being of more assistance, insisting, "But you're in computers!"

Then Rob walked in, and so we asked him. He then proceeded to tell me that the problem was probably not hard drive related, and started listing a whole slew of things that I could do, all of them relating to the parts of a computer that I know nothing about, some of them I'd never heard of. Apparently, Rob is one of those other kinds of computer people, the kind that doesn't just blink in confusion when the blue screen of death pops up. And if his suggestions do not work, I could probably persuade him to take my machine home and monkey with it. Worst case scenario: I have to buy a new machine, which is not so bad, because for one thing, I get a new computer. For another, I can afford it. Why?

Because I'm in computers.


shut up and stop being such a big baby.

I've run across a lot of ways to tell someone to shut up and stop being such a big baby. Most of them are not very interesting, as they do not stray far from the original theme of "Shut up and stop being such a big baby." But some of them are good, in that they effectively get across the point that the other person is being whiny while being a little more original.

Thing 1: Things are tough all over.
The original, as it it my mother's. She used it liberally while us kids were growing up, answering with it whenever we would complain about all the trivial woes in our lives. Yes, you're hungry, yes, you are bored, and oh dear Lord, you're tired, too? Things are tough all over. The phrase brings a funny image to my mind, maybe something from World War II, where a soldier is listing the ways in which they are losing lives and ground. Then he adds, "And...I've got a hangnail!" His superior answers him with a sigh, "Things are tough all over." More than one person has been shocked at my mother's use of sarcasm to her small children. Dr. Spock said we shouldn't spank because it would twist developing minds. He would probably say that mothers should not answer their children with facetiousness for the same reason. It did twist our developing minds: now we're all sarcastic, too. For the record, we were spanked, too. Things were tough all over.

Thing 2: What does not kill us makes us stronger.
This one is mine, though my use of it has caused Mama to latch onto it sometimes. I suppose that's only fair, as I've been known to tell someone that things were tough all over. The phrase is one that came from somewhere, some inspirational poster meant to encourage kids in boot camp or something. It sounds harsher to me than other similar phrases I've heard and is frequently met with irritation. Maybe it's the mocking way in which I say it. Maybe I should work on my people skills.

What this and the previous one do is to put things in perspective, which I like about them. They not only tell you to shut up and stop being such a big baby, they tell you that your problems are infinitesimally itty-bitty and that there are a lot worse things going on out there, like when you're whining about your new botched haircut and then you run into a guy going through chemo. One of the reasons I started using the "What does not kill us makes us stronger" line (aside from the fact that I think that it's a stupid phrase when used in seriousness, and I wanted to mock the line itself) was the way it so brutally put the situation in perspective. It essentially dismisses all things which do not run the risk of making you drop dead. "Yeah, your hair does look stupid, but are you dying? No? Quitcher bitchin'."

Thing 3: Pobrecita.
Josh had a high school science teacher that gave him this one, which is spanish for "poor girl." Kids would come in and give long excuses about why they didn't have their homework because they had football practice or a date or knitting class. The teacher would listen nicely, cluck sympathetically and say "Pobrecita," before taking up the homework anyway. I like this one because it gives the illusion of sympathy before you realize that the person is making fun of you. Josh and I use this one on each other, although he has taken to telling me that things were tough all over, too. He's also used this one genuinely, too, when I was sick once, and it was sweet, like when my mother says "poor, sweet baby" when I've called her up, sick, all grown up, and wanting my mommy. At least, I think Josh was using it genuinely. Maybe he was just telling me to shut up and stop being such a big baby.