i (heart) men.

I organize my photos into folders by date and place because I have a well-organized mind and I like for my files to match. Or I do it because I'm just anal-retentive like that. In any case, I have a folder called "Serendipity." This folder is for the pictures that I took because I was out somewhere, I saw something and thought, man, I wish I had a camera. Then I realized that I did have a camera, and so I took a picture.

If you can't see the homemade license place, I beg you, click on the picture and zoom in on that sucker. This truck was parked at a salvage shop in Clemmons. I'd never been there before, but I'd been meaning to stop for a long time. It just so happened that I stopped the same time and day that whoever drives this truck did. You see? Fate wanted me to take this picture.

I can just picture myself being stuck behind this truck for ten miles on a curvy rural road, going ten under the speed limit and braking on the curves. I can't decide if it's owned by a feisty broad or an old man whose buddies are playing a trick on him. In either case, I only thank whoever is responsible, because things like this truck are the reason I bought a camera in the first place, for the daily occurences that beg to be documented. This is real life in all its ridiculous glory; I'm only here to take notes.

*For those of you who are interested, I've begun compiling my Thousand Words Thursday pictures in an online album so that you can view them without all the obnoxious commentary. If, by chance, you enjoy the obnoxiuos commentary, well, you know where to find it.



I have been lost twice. Once, my parents had just bought this massive tract of land behind our house, and we were all going out to check out the new property. I was probably ten years old and well used to wandering around the acreage we already had. My parents were walking together, pointing out features of their newly acquired land, while I tagged along several steps behind and got easily distracted by paths and trees and leaves. So I strayed from whatever path there was, and I was soon in a strange place (though it was now owned by my family) without my parents.

I was distraught.

It didn't make much sense to be distraught, because wherever my parents were, they would have been sure to hear me yelling. But I didn't think of yelling because I was too busy thinking of panicking. I was lost, I was abandoned! I scrambled around in my ever-increasing distress, trying to find either a familiar path or a familiar face. Finally, I saw them standing in a big clearing on the top of a hill.

They had not noticed that I had been lost.

True, I'd probably been separated from them for less than five minutes and we did have a "within yelling distance" childcare policy at my house. For whatever reason, I freaked out about being separated from them and then I was hurt and irritated that they hadn't even bothered to notice how close they came to losing me forever. I don't think I ever told them.

The second time, because I said there were two times and it would be mean for me to only talk about one, was a couple of years later. I was taking a nap in my parents' bedroom. It's difficult to get lost while asleep in your parents' bedroom, but I managed it. I wasn't asleep, only lying down for a while in the quiet cool that my parents' room always maintained in spite of the hectic heat of the rest of the house. I heard my mother call for me. I didn't know what she wanted, but I didn't feel like answering, so I decided to pretend to be asleep. I heard her call me again, walking down the hall to my own bedroom. Then she went outside, and I heard her testing her "within yelling distance" policy. I could hear the increasing desperation in her voice as she called my name over and over. I knew that she thought I was lost or hurt or dead somewhere, but I stayed put. Finally, she came back in the house and checked her own bedroom and found me. Remember, I was still pretending to be asleep, so she only sighed with relief at finding her little angel safe within dreamland and then quietly left the room.

I never told her about that, either.

I'm not sure if the two incidents are related, whether I let my mother think I was missing to make up for the time she hadn't noticed that I actually was. In any case, it was probably a rotten thing to do to my poor little mother. But now she knows about both, and she's going to feel bad about the first one. Then she'll get to the second story and figure that we're probably even.


good service.

I find that my best pictures are the ones that I take accidentally. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the manual focus and exposure and changing settings that I don't even understand to take the same picture over and over to have it turn out blurry. Then I just happen to turn and shoot without even looking through the viewfinder and I get something great. Well, pretty good anyway.

This picture is somewhere in between.

I took about ten versions of this picture while I was sitting at Jim's Grill waiting for my roast beef special. Jim's Grill is on the edge of Yadkinville on Highway 601, across from the funeral home. I pass by on my way to class in Dobson, and I've always been a fan of that sign. I wanted a picture of the sign through the dirty window, framed by the cheap curtains. The reason this one is the best is because of the little fly on the window. I didn't even know a fly was on the window until I looked at the pictures much, much later. But when I saw it, the anxiety I felt about eating by myself in a strange restaurant and conspicuously taking pictures from my table was all worth it.

The sign at Jim's Grill is picture-worthy enough, just because it's classic, down to the neon letters at the bottom advertising "GOOD SERVICE." But the reason that I like this picture so much is because it seems to encompass the whole feeling of Jim's Grill: dirty, faded, down-home, unsanitary, good service.

It's really too bad that the food isn't very good. And the service? Well, it wasn't too bad, particularly considering that my waitress might have been born to a pair of first cousins. It was all worth it for the pictures. However, I have the pictures now, and so I see no reason to go back. There's a reason there's a funeral home across the street.


hold the mayo.

Eleven summers ago, I was at the beach with my extended family. My older sister had read in some teenage girl magazine that you could get rid of all the dead skin cells on your scalp by rubbing damp sand hard into it. It sounded like a great idea to me, because I was twelve and had just gotten my period and started wearing a bra and was really new to all this womanhood stuff. I figured she knew these things; she was eighteen! So when we were in the ocean, we reached down and scooped up big handfuls of wet sand and rubbed it into our hair - lather, rinse, repeat. We enjoyed the tingly sensation and thought about all that nasty dead skin we were purging from our heads. My sister and I were not (are not?) close, and I was happy to be sharing this experiment, bonding with her like a sister, like a woman. I hadn't even known that dead scalp skin was such a problem, but apparently it was enough of one to merit a home remedy in a nationwide publication.

I'm sure that we did indeed get rid of a lot of skin cells, and judging by how hard I was rubbing, I probably took out some living ones, too. What the magazine failed to mention was how to get all the cotton-pickin' sand out of your hair. I think it took us the whole week to get all the sand out, and by then we'd probably grown some more dead skin. I didn't need an extensive menstrual history to figure out that the sand thing had been a stupid idea. Rather than lose faith in my sister and her feminine knowledge, the experience seemed even more like actual bonding; maybe she didn't have womanhood down either.

A few months ago, my sister told me to wash my hair in apple cider vinegar to...do something nice, I forget what. The results were so disastrous that I can't help but think that she might have been playing a trick on me. One day, I will stop listening to the things my sister tells me to do to my hair. Until then, pass the mayo.



I have been cured of diabetes.

True, I didn't actually have it, but I was deeply involved with someone who did, and the disease was a huge part of my life for a while there. But then we broke up, and diabetes hasn't bothered me since.

I knew how to count carbs before Atkins became so ubiquitous that you couldn't even go to a den of unhealthy eating like Mickey D's without seeing some reference to limiting carbohydrates. I knew how to count carbs because I went to diabetic school, a night course offered at the hospital, back when he was misdiagnosed and they were trying to treat him with diet adjustment alone.

Diabetes is a nasty thing. You think maybe it's not so bad because it's very common and has been around for a long time. The worst thing people think about it is that you can't eat sweets. You can eat sweets. You can also go blind, have to get a limb amputated, and develop heart disease. Although I suppose when you are blind and wheelchair-ridden, you have more time to eat sweets. It is a multi-system disease, and it affects everything.

Diabetes is a nasty thing, but it's more like ugly wallpaper than a hole in the roof. It starts out as this hideous thing that seems to ruin everything around it, but then slowly your eyes adjust and you don't even notice it anymore. You deal with it. And so it just became part of his life, just another thing, and also another thing in mine. I don't mean to imply in any way that I felt at all what he felt. It was ugly wallpaper that I saw a lot, but at least it wasn't my house.

I went to the endocrinologist appointments with him. I carted around his glucose monitor and insulin cartridges in my purse and had to explain to bouncers why I had syringes on me when we went to concerts and my bag was searched. I stopped everything to get him a candy bar or a soda or something, just anything with sugar, STAT. I picked up his prescriptions at the drug store. I found countless discarded glucose test strips in my car and apartment. I read articles about life expectancy and research and genetics. I don't regret doing any of these things in the least. Even when it was a hassle, it was just part of the package of being with him, and that was what I wanted, no questions asked.

But then our ways parted. In the divorce of our relationship, I got the Muppet DVDs and he got the diabetes. While the rediscovery of life without him was not easy, the idea of never having to carry another tiny syringe in my bag was relieving. You may get used to the ugly wallpaper, but you notice the difference when it's gone.

And now it's been about a year, and the thing of his that still haunts me the most is that stupid affliction. Old letters and presents and mementos have mostly been contained to a box in a closet where they don't jump out and remind me of him when I'm not expecting it. But those confounded glucose test strips - one inch long and a quarter of an inch wide - hide in corners and under rugs until my guard is completely down. I'm just trying to clean out my car, and I have to stare an old love in the face. I suppose it's just an argument for me to be a better housekeeper. A fresh, clean house with fresh, new wallpaper.


one new call.

The other day I sang praises to my new credit card. Now I would like to gripe a bit.

This card is issued to me by Citibank. And like I said, I love this card and all the rewards that I get just by using it. But I'm not wild about Citibank, specifically their marketing. They have a lot of programs that can go with your card, stuff like identity protection and insurance and pet bunny rentals and I don't know what else. They like to call you up and tell you about these programs so that you can pay a monthly fee to receive those services. The fee is charged directly to your Citibank credit card, now isn't that convenient?

They call an awful lot. It seems like once a month they're offering to give me a free month of pet bunny rentals just for trying the service. And they always call at about 2 PM, when I am at work like a good little credit card holder. So I'll have "ONE NEW CALL" on my caller id every day for about a week until they wise up and call me at night. It's disappointing to see "ONE NEW CALL" and find out it's just a stranger trying to sell you crap.

I try to be nice to telemarketers. I let them talk without interrupting them or hanging up on them. Then I say that I'm not interested. I let them talk again from their script, then I say that I'm not interested again. Sometimes I even give them irrefutable evidence that shows that their service is not worth the money. But I am tired of this game, and I want to tell them to take me off their list. I suppose that is my right, but I'm stupidly scared that I won't be allowed to carry the card anymore if I ask them this. I know, that's ridiculous and probably just an excuse I'm using to avoid confrontation. I will eventually try it, because I am rapidly reaching the limit of my patience for these people.

Despite my annoyance with Citibank's marketing, I have to say that it's probably very effective. Yesterday afternoon, I looked in my mailbox and saw a check from Citibank. Surprise money and surprise mail are both good - surprise money in the surprise mail is the best thing ever. I was afraid, though, that I had been accidentally signed up for some service and this was my reward money "just for trying out" the pet bunny rentals. If the envelope had not been so thin, I might have checked it again for my first bunny. So I was all ready to have to call Citibank and cancel whatever service it was that I had somehow subscribed to, secretly hoping that they would let me keep the check because it was their mistake. But then I read the print on the check. By cashing the check, I would be enrolling myself in their identity monitoring service.

Absolutely brilliant.

Send me a check, make me hold it in my little money-grubbing hands, and then force me to not cash it. I am in awe of the marketing genius, despite the fact that I am completely annoyed by it, too. I sighed at the money I would not be getting, and then I tore up the check into tiny pieces - no way was I going to let someone steal my check and get my money while enrolling me in an identity theft monitoring program. That would be some heavy irony.


thousand words thursday.

In an effort to actually do something with all these pictures I take, I'm going to try and start posting them regularly, on Thursdays perhaps, Thousand Words Thursdays, actually. Catchy, eh?

No promises that any of these photos will be any good. The only promise is that I took them, which would be in direct contradiction to any sort of promise of quality anyway. I had a hard time picking out a picture for my first entry, particularly since I had to eliminate all pictures of my amazingly adorable nieces and nephews, since I would get angry calls from the parents whose children were not featured in the first Thousand Words Thursday.

So here is my first Thousand Words.

I have a sort of fascination with reflections in photography. I am constantly taking pictures of myself taking pictures of myself taking pictures of myself...you get the idea. Basically, I think bouncy light is neat.

This picture was taken in Dobson at the Surry County courthouse. I had just eaten dinner at The Lantern and I had some extra time before class. I find that if I take a walk with my camera, I am amused for a good while, because I can spend long minutes taking pictures of things like doors and park benches and parking deck stairwells (all true examples).

I think the thing that I like about semi-reflective surfaces is the fact that you get to see three layers. One, you see the surface itself, in this case, the door. Then you see what is reflected - me, Dobson, and the water tower. But you also see through the door, and you can dimly make out some stairs with a patterned floor, a water fountain, and the opposite exit. It's like three pictures in one.

Hey! That's like three thousand words! And I wasn't even trying.



I am enamored of my new credit card.

I know that sounds like a bad, bad sign. Just wait until I tell you how having this new credit card has changed the way that I spend.

I decided that I wanted a new credit card a couple of months back when I noticed that there were a lot of credit cards out there with benefits. My credit card had one benefit: it gave me the ability to buy now and pay later. While this is indeed the primary thing I look for in a credit card, I had the feeling I might could get more if I went somewhere else. There are credit cards with rewards out there. These companies want you to spend money so much that they will give you things to do so. I like this idea.

So I did a little research and picked out a nice card that was shiny and silver and gives me rewards. It still had the old beneft of allowing me to buy now and pay later, but it also had the glorious concept of cash back. I get one penny out of every dollar that I spend put back in my pocket (er, put into a check that I can request after I have 50,000 pennies accumulated). I get 5 pennies out of every dollar that I spend at a grocery store, drug store, or gas station. I think that is the most awesome thing I've ever heard of. I'm constantly doing math at the store now. People all around me complain about gas being three bucks a gallon while I silently grin to myself, thinking, ah, but it's only $2.85 a gallon for me. Of course, if gas were one dollar a gallon, I'd still be pretty happy that it was only $0.95 a gallon for me.

I told my mother about my great new credit card, because I knew she would be excited about it, too. She was skeptical, because she thinks she knows a lot more than I do about finances.

"I got a new credit card, Mama. A platinum."

"You qualified for a platinum card? They're just giving them away to anybody nowadays."


"Did you check and see if there was an annual fee?"

"Of course there's no annual fee. And, I get one percent cash back on everything and five percent cash back at grocery stores, drug stores, and gas stations."

"Five percent?"

"Five percent."

"Is that like for three months? Some cards will give you a big percentage for the first 90 days or so and then they go back down."

"Nope, that's the standard rate. I can earn up to $300 a year."

"Huh. Well, you have to be careful now. I hope this isn't making you spend more money."

"Of course not, Mama. It's no different from when I used the other card, I'm just getting money back for spending what I would spend anyway."

"Well, I guess that's alright."

"Plus there's this network of vendors online where you can earn more cash back, which varies by the store. And that's unlimited - it doesn't count against your $300."


"And I get virtual account numbers. They're temporary credit card numbers that you can use online so that you don't have to give out your credit card number all over the web."



"Hmm. Maybe I should get one of these cards."

"I'll send you a link. I might get a referral bonus."

Score one for me. The day I received my bright and shiny card in the mail, I immediately wanted to go out and buy something. I had two-thirds of a tank of gas, but I decided to fill-er-up anyway. So I put $8 of gas into my tank, grinning widely and thinking about the forty cents that was coming straight back to me. For the first month, I would go around and fill up at different gas stations (with the same prices) to see which ones would qualify for the bonus rewards. I was going to do this thing right. Then when my rewards statement came, I sat down with my bill and a pencil and made sure that I was earning back every penny. And bless those nice credit card people, they round to the nearest cent when they calculate rewards, even if that means rounding up.

Like I said, this card is changing the way I spend. I'm not spending more, I'm just charging more. I would have bought that soda and candy at the gas station anyway, but charging two bucks is a new experience for me. But that is ten cents back, and it all adds up. And my mother would point out that charging allows my money to sit in the bank longer and earn more interest. I still pay the statement off completely every month, which is just what my new credit card company does not want, because they don't earn any interest that way. They're just paying me to do what I do anyway. Suckers!

You know, with the new North Carolina lottery, it just occurred to me that if I buy lottery tickets at the gas station or the grocery store, for every $1 scratch-off card I buy, I will get five cents back.

Okay, maybe I need to stop.


something in computers.

My ex-boyfriend used to make fun of me because I didn't know what my siblings did for a living. He would ask me what a particular brother did, and I would say, "He's a computer programmer."

"Could you be more specific?"

"He, uh, programs computers."

Apparently, I was expected to know more than that. Then at some point, I became a computer programmer, and then he asked me what I did. I said, "I'm a computer programmer."

"Could you be more specific?"

"I program computers."

"More specific."

"I write software for the trucking industry."


That was all he wanted. He wanted to know what kind of programs my brother wrote. I'm not sure why that's important, and truth be told, I still don't really know the answer about my siblings. They program computers.

Now people do frequently ask me what I do, and I tell them that I write software, because I prefer the title "software engineer" over "computer programmer." Usually, I get blank stares or some comment about how I must be smart or make a lot of money or maybe I would like to come look at their computer and figure out why Windows freezes sometimes. Every once in a while, someone will ask me to be more specific, so I tell them about the trucks. An even smaller percentage will continue and then ask what kind of programs the trucking industry uses and how they work, and then I start talking about truck diagnostics. Still, for most people, the title of "computer programmer" would be enough. And if later, someone else asked them what I did, they would say, "Oh, something with computers."

It's true that I have run into some confusion when I say that I write software. "You, uh, write? Software? Um, okay." Some people do not know that a computer program is something that is written. Maybe they think it is somehow generated automatically given some settings (although programming does seem to be going in that direction). So, for the benefit of all you who do not know about software (which, once you subtract my family out of my readership, counts as probably two people), I will explain to you how software is written, how a computer is programmed.

The computer is basically an instrument that carries out instructions. It can do lots of neat stuff, but you have to tell it what to do. That's my job, to tell the computer what to do given a set of circumstances. The computer speaks computer-language, but I do not. So I write the computer's instructions in a special kind of language, one that is not quite plain English, but definitely not computer-language. Then I feed my file into a special program that acts as a translater. Basically, it turns what I wrote into something the computer can understand. Obviously, what I wrote has to follow a very specific set of syntax rules, otherwise the translation program gets confused and can't read it. After all, it's just a program and it doesn't have any intelligence on its own.

So that is what I do on a very simplistic level. I know you didn't ask, and if you had, the fact that I am a computer programmer is enough for you. After all, just those two words give you an understanding of what I do. I program computers.


mail spies.

When I was about twelve, I was on vacation with my family in Kansas when my sister and I went to send some postcards to friends back home. We were at the post office, putting our mail into the outgoing box, when my sister mentioned something about how I should never put anything personal on a postcard. I was confused - why not? She explained that everyone between me and the receiver would read what was on the postcard. So that meant whatever postal workers handled the card, in addition to whoever saw the card on both mine and my friend's end, would know whatever I said. I knew immediately that my sister was right, because I had already snuck and read her postcards. I was horrified at this terrible breach of privacy. Something should be done! I wasn't really interested in all those voyeuristic mail carriers, because I was only twelve years old. I was worried about parents and other authority figures.

I continue to be fascinated by this idea, but now I am entirely interested in the postal workers. Think of all the postcards that pass through their hands, all the peeks into the lives of strangers that they get. It makes me wish that I was a postal worker. Even if you mostly only read wish-you-were-heres and weather reports of vacation destinations, you still get a glimpse into someone else's life.

And you know what? It is true. The mail carriers are reading your postcards. Here, for a Ladybug Picnic exclusive, is an in-depth, hard-hitting interview with a postal worker who asked not to be identified.

Ladybug Picnic: So, do you read people's postcards?
Anonymous Postal Worker: Yes.

And there you have it, folks, a confession straight from one of the readers of your secrets, a spy who does not respect the privacy of those she serves and yet still continues to call herself a United Methodist.

I've been trying to spread the word about the sneaky mail carriers, because I feel strongly that they are a menace that many postcard enthusiasts do not take seriously. Concerned for one particular friend, I sent her the following text on a postcard:

Did you know that mail carriers read your postcards and now yours knows that YOU DON'T WASH YOUR HANDS AFTER EVERY VISIT TO THE BATHROOM?

Yes, perhaps it is a harsh method of notifying someone about the evils of nosy postal workers, but I feel that it really got the message across. Strange, she hasn't called to thank me.


oh, what a good girlfriend am i!

"Oh, hi, baby, I didn't expect you to even pick up the phone. I figured you'd be watching the hockey game."
"Oh, well, uh, I am."


"Do you want to call me back after the game is over?"


"You're my favorite person in the whole world."


tough brakes.

I write diagnostic software for trucks and other large vehicles. My job implies to a lot of people that I both know a lot about computers and a lot about trucks. Neither of these are true. I know a fair amount about computers and very little about trucks. Basically, I know just enough about both things to do my job.

I bet I sound like a big slacker, doing only just what I need to do to get by. But honestly, I don't really have to know anything about trucks. I need to know about the computers inside the trucks - the ones controlling the engine and the transmission and the instrument panel, et cetera, but that's about it. And really, all I need to know about them is how they communicate with my program. So when the transmission is sending out messages, I need to know how to turn transmission-speak into mechanic-speak, but if you ask me what the resulting mechanic-speak means, I'm not going to know. I'm not interested in the topic, and so I haven't made myself informed.

I'm working on an application for a new Humvee. Not like those gas-hogs you see on the road driven by men with a lot of money and a need to compensate for something, but the ones that soldiers drive around in the desert or wherever. This hummer, being the ultimate in vehicular technology, has brakes. Our application is supposed to send messages to the braking system to make it, uh, do stuff. See, here I am getting a little vague, because I don't actually know what the brakes are supposed to do when they receive those messages. I don't really care, either. All I care about is that my application sent the message and the brakes did whatever they were supposed to do.

I had to ask a coworker of mine how to send these messages to the brakes and whether to expect any sort of messages back. This coworker is a very nice man, but a trifle long-winded. He is not like me in that he cares and knows how trucks work. Apparently, he desires knowledge more in-depth than "brakes make things stop." I go in, I ask him how to send the message, which is a strictly software question, and he responds with, "Do you know how an ABS system works?"

Sigh. It's been a long day, I'm already a little tired and grumpy, and though I do not want to be rude to this very nice man, I really really really don't want to talk about how brakes work. I trust the brake manufacturers - as long as the brakes make things stop, that is good enough for me. So I say, "Well, no, but I don't really care."

"Oh," he says, clearly disappointed. "Okay, so when you send this message to the brakes to check the valves...well, see the brakes have these valves, and then...yadda yadda yadda...coefficient of friction...blah blah blah...slipping...blah blah blah...traction..." I'd already been rude once, and I just didn't have the heart to interrupt the impromptu physics lesson. I had more than enough heart to stare blankly out the window while he talked, though.

When he was all done, I still didn't know any more about what I actually needed to know, but I did know that brakes...have valves. Also, they make things stop.


brits and special olympians.

Three, oh, it's a magic number.

Thing 1: Computer scientist lady-killer.
I am currently leading a project at work that involves me working with the nice people at Lotus. For those of you who do not know anything about cars, I'll try not to get too technical and put it thusly: people who work at Lotus have British accents. I've had to speak on the phone with our main point of contact several times, and I tell you, the accent does not get old. When he calls, the secretary announces his calls with a dreamy sigh. My program manager is also female and therefore not immune to his softspoken words. We are all in love with this man. I can only hope to meet him someday to find him old and fat with bad teeth so that I may be cured of his charms. I'm sure he has no idea that he is such a lady-killer with southern computer scientists.

Thing 2: Wrong way.
This past weekend, I was driving past the bottom of an interstate off-ramp. It being just like most interstate off-ramps, it was one-way, and there were two red signs facing my direction, saying "WRONG WAY." However, under one of the red signs was a small white sign, also facing my direction, with a black arrow pointing to the right and the words "SPECIAL OLYMPICS."

Thing 3: And now for something completely different...
I've been trying to cut down on spending lately to save up for a little vacation this fall. However, I ran across the following online deal: the complete Monty Python's Flying Circus, new on 14 DVDs, for $50 shipped. I personally am not equipped with the will power to not jump on that kind of deal. I confess that I'd never actually seen an episode of Monty Python, though I'd seen all the movies. Now I'm slowly becoming an expert, and I predict that I will be borderline obnoxious about it within a couple of weeks. Remember though, I am obnoxious for only fifty dollars.