there are fish in this lake.

Another of my photography obsessions, the first being reflective surfaces, is writing. You've already noticed how much I like goofy signs, but I'm talking more about handwritten messages on things which were not made for that purpose. As a result, I have lots of pictures of initials carved in trees, mantras traced in dusty windows, and obscene poetry written on flagpoles. There is something fascinating to me about a message that someone casually writes on a public surface as some sort of contribution to the collective knowledge of the world, or at least the part of the world that might go around reading flagpoles.

This one is my favorite of all such pictures.

I took this on a blustery January afternoon at Salem Lake, where there is a long pier. Apparently, people fish there. And in 2005, at least one was caught and carefully documented.

I like this picture so much because this message is one of hope. Fishing is an act of patience that may or may not ever pay off. But this message proudly proclaims "Hang in there!" to anyone who may be frustrated from the lack of underwater nibblers. I keep a copy of this picture in my office. I've tried to explain to several people what it means to me: blank stares all around.

But whatever, I don't care if no one understands why I get such hope from this picture, because I get it, as if the message were written just for me even though I never fish. Hang in there. Don't give up. There are fish in this lake.


really big, round thing.

Life seems so uncertain these days. Remember back when you were a kid and there were all these infallible truths? You know, like Tuesday is pizza for lunch day, your dad could beat up anybody else's dad, the sky is blue, the grass is green, there are nine planets in our solar system.

Then I stopped eating school lunches, and I met people with really big dads. Then people started questioning obvious things like colors, telling me that what looked blue or green to me could be orange or fuschia to someone else. And now, scientists tell me there are eight planets. We've kicked Pluto out of the club, and I'm all confused.

The scientist in me is glad. Pluto was always included in the list with an asterisk and a footnote that said that it was such a titchy little thing that a lot of people debated whether it should be labelled as a planet at all. So finally someone got up the guts to just call Pluto's bluff, "Hey, man, you're not even a real planet, and we'll prove it by redefining the word so that you don't meet the requirements - so there!" Of course, Pluto doesn't care, nor does Clyde Tombaugh, the guy who discovered the little guy back in 1930 and whose ashes are now making their way to the former planet on a spacecraft.

It also brings up the old Shakespearean point about roses and whether they would smell so good if they were named something else. Yes, of course they would. I don't know how Pluto smells, but none of this changes anything about the space body itself, just how we see it. Many infallible truths turn out to fall because of the words we use to describe them. There are no longer nine planets in our solar system because we changed planet from "big, round thing" to "really big, round thing." It's a finicky thing, language.

Honestly? The worst part about this whole fiasco is that it makes me feel very, very old. You know those people who say they remember when there were forty-eight states? You remember how old they always seemed, as if they had been there back at the beginning of time, taking notes to include in our history textbooks? Now, that's me. And it's even worse, because while it's generally accepted that political boundaries are changeable, you'd think you could rely on planets to be constant. I remember when I learned that My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas, and now I find out that she, while still very excellent, is serving nachos or noodles or gnocchi nuts. Someday, I just know that some punk kid is going to ask me how many planets there are, and I offhandedly will reply, "Nine, silly." And then those dumb kids will all laugh at Granny Sandra, who is only still alive to finish writing first-hand accounts of ancient historical events.

Kids these days.


been better.

I went to a yard sale one Saturday with my mom back in my home town. It was in the suburbs, in one of those older communities where the houses don't all look the same. The carport was covered with various bits and pieces, an overpriced telescope, some clothes, a box of odds and ends, but nothing interesting. The woman manning (womanning?) the sale told us that there was a lot more inside the house, so I stepped inside the door adjoing the carport into a bare living room. Most of the major furniture was gone; only a couple of cabinets remained, and these were covered with knick-knacks priced to sell. There were a lot of figurines, mostly porcelain or ceramic unicorns and the like. There were also a lot of Chinese-themed objects, including a couple of small shadow boxes with landscapes carved out of cork. There were two beautiful velvet paintings, one of a Chinese landscape and another with a bullfighting theme, but they were more than what I wanted to pay for them. The bareness of the room indicated that the people were probably moving and trying to get rid of as much stuff as possible.

While I was looking around, some other shoppers made small talk with the residents. Besides the woman was a man. Someone politely asked him how he was doing, just making friendly small talk, and he mumbled, "Been better." Trying to be friendly and cheerful, I turned to ask him if he'd been worse, but his defeated posture stopped me. He had a long, raised scar running across the top of his scalp, and his hair was all gone except for some coarse blond strands. Maybe this guy had been worse, but I knew I hadn't. Sometimes even I am able to shut up in time.

Strangers continued to come inside and look around while I made my way around the living room, examining knick-knacks. Cheerful, Southern strangers after a bargain, they made more conversation with the couple. "Wow, you folks moving?" one asked as he looked around the bare room.

"No, we're just trying to cover medical expenses," the woman said frankly. I liked her. She wasn't asking for anything, nor was she making a big deal about what most certainly was a very big deal. She was just working on getting by. I was immediately depressed by the idea of having a yard sale to pay medical bills. These people were coming to the end of their ropes.

I, not knowing anything to say and so saying nothing, bought a wall decoration that may or may not have been real jade but was a steal regardless at $4. I didn't try to negotiate the price down or argue at all, because I probably would have paid more. I paid with a fiver and felt bad for accepting my change.

Now it hangs in my room, it's beautiful, and I love it and don't even care all that much if it's real jade, because it's real enough to fool me. It used to belong to a sick man who had lots of lovely things from other countries and maybe he loved it, too, but now he's got more important things on his mind. Maybe he'll die soon and maybe he already has, but at least someone, even some smart-aleck girl who has never had anything very bad happen to her, loves his picture and knows that it has a story, even if she doesn't know all of it.


the flowers in your neighborhood.

Nothing all that special or sage this week in terms of Thousand Words Thursday. Just a pretty flower. I guess the more interesting thing about this picture is where I took it. I was bored one evening and so I picked up my camera and my walking shoes and my mp3 player and set out to photograph Lewisville. I find that when I walk through my neighborhood, I am repeatedly saying to myself, "Wait...how long has that house been there?" It's amazing what you miss driving down the same road every day. I walked over to the elementary school and found this little nature area. I suppose you could consider any outdoors place a "nature area," but this one was obviously set up to be some sort of placid garden where small children should go to read advanced-for-their-age books and ponder the wonder of life. Thus, the area was looking overgrown and unkempt, which made me like it even more. It's like in The Secret Garden, but before it was discovered: just this secluded area that obviously used to be cared for and probably was beautiful, but now was just someone's secret. I only wish that I'd had to find a key to get to it and befriended a cripple and a dude that could talk to animals on the way.

In any case, I liked my newly found secret garden, where man tries to celebrate nature and then nature sort of just takes over. I took lots of pictures of various plants and insects and broken birdfeeders until the smell of some flower became too sickeningly sweet for me. I wondered if any of the hundreds of students and staff of the elementary school even knew about it.


pb & j.

My brother Knocker taught me to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while I was in single digits, and I'm here to announce the following: he did not teach me the proper way.

I'm sorry, Knocker, but it had to be said.

I was taught to put peanut butter on both slices of bread. Then you pick one side, put some jelly on it (preferably my mother's strawberry freezer jam), put the sides together and you've got a sandwich. The first clue that my way was unconventional was when my roommate shrieked, shrieked, when she saw me putting peanut butter on the second slice of bread. She and I are both a bit on the anal-retentive side, and so it's not surprising that we have very firm opinions on things like proper peanut butter and jelly sandwich assembly.

Proper PBJ construction continued to be a sore point between us, particularly when we would have to pack snacks for long shifts working in the computer lab. I would sometimes have to bring her sandwiches. While Knocker's way allows more peanut butter, well, it's just not practical for packing vertically. You see, all the jelly slides across the slippery, peanutty interior of the sandwich out to the bottom and pools in a sweetened, gelatinous puddle in the sandwich baggie. I held up one of these puddle sandwiches after it had ridden in my bookbag, and I confess, I began to doubt my own method.

Now, if you're not making sandwiches for travel, then the double peanut butter method is fine, no problem. The trouble is, I've never noticed much improvement in the taste of the sandwich with the extra peanut butter, plus the fact that the spreading of additional peanut product was an additional step in the sandwich-making process. But I did not want to lose face in front of my roommate after we'd had this elaborate argument about the simplest sandwich since, well, sliced bread. So when I made sandwiches for us, I would make hers her way and mine Knocker's way. I knew most of the jelly was getting lost in the baggie, so I was really having a peanut butter sandwich with jelly on the side, but I ate it without complaint. Eating a weird sandwich was a lot better than eating crow.

But now I live alone and so I can make my sandwiches in private. No one judges me as I put jelly only on the second slice of bread. At the same time, I feel a pang of guilt, of family betrayal, because this is the first time that I've ever noticed my family to be wrong about food. I think if ever I find strawberry jam better than my mother's, I may just lose the will to live.


kid tested, mother approved.

Josh called one night after a show at the Berkeley Cafe. From the noise in the background, it was clear that he was still there. It was a joint show, and he was telling me about the other band.

"You remember them? We played at The Dive Bar with them?"

"Yeah, they have that lead singer who only has one shirt." So that probably wasn't fair, because I'd only ever seen the guy twice, but both times he was wearing the same orange shirt, a faux-vintage one advertising Kix. Maybe it was his lucky performance shirt or maybe he thought the faded orange really brought out the color of his eyes.

We'd discussed the guy before, side-by-side, hand-in-hand critics. The guy was admittedly more interesting than a lot of guys in rock bands. His band, well, whatever, I wasn't impressed, but left to his own devices, the guy was kind of entertaining. The best part of their show was their sound check. A lot of people have a syndrome that the minute their voice is amplified over a microphone, they become colossal idiots, but he managed to become more interesting. In fact, he was kind of boring in regular conversation. The guy was a showman. We decided that if he could ever figure out what was cool and latch onto it, the dude could probably be famous one day, and then he could buy all the orange shirts he wanted. He could wear a different orange shirt that looked the same every day.

"Yeah, that one. Hey, did he ever hit on you?"

Pause. That's an odd kind of jealous streak, to mention a guy and then ask if he'd ever hit on me. "What? No, why?"

"He was telling this story tonight about how they were playing with some other band somewhere and he was hitting on this girl. And then it got to the point where it got to the point, and then she tells him that she's other bands' bass player's girlfriend. I was just wondering if it was you."

"Nope, wasn't me."

"I figured it wasn't. You're taller than he is, and he wouldn't like that." Being taller was just one of the things that he would not like about me. This guy didn't strike me as the kind of guy who would hit on a girl who wore glasses.

"Yeah, plus, you know I would've managed to stutter out that I was your girlfriend before it got to the point where it got to the point." This is true. Whenever I suspect that I am being hit upon, I manage to bring up the boyfriend situation as quickly and lacking as much grace as possible.

"I just couldn't decide if he was trying to be ironic by telling the story when I was there."

"Nah, he's not the type to appreciate irony that heavy. He likes the little irony of the story itself, but to handle the massive irony of telling the story in front of whatever bass player would probably be more than he could take."

"Yeah, you're right."

"So it wasn't me."

"I figured it probably wasn't. You would have thought it hilarious and told me about it anyway."

"Also true."

"Oh, and he is wearing that shirt again."


lonely lady in the sky.

Right at this very moment, there are two brake controllers on my desk. It's not what I call decoration, it's what I call work. However, they're really the most colorful thing in here (besides me, of course).

Our office is moving to a new building next month, to Winston-Salem's lone skyscraper. Exciting, isn't it? I'm going to have to ride the elevator for 10 minutes every day just to get to work from my car. The guy who is in charge of office assignments came by yesterday and asked a difficult question: would I rather share a window office or have a windowless office all to myself? I thought about the question for maybe half a minute, since our office will be on the 22nd floor, so the view should be smashing. However, I'm selfish and set in my ways and prone to obscure music, so maybe I should opt for the solo office. Although, a couple of weeks with me and my office mate might just decide to throw himself out towards that smashing view, and then I will have the best of both worlds.

That being decided, I've determined that I've been sitting in a bare office for far too long. I haven't done too much decorating, just stuck up a couple of cartoons on a message board and left it at that. I do have some bubble-wrap which I've considered hanging up on the wall for stressful moments. It's pink, too.

I had a different office up until about 7 months ago. It had two decorations: two stencilled marker drawings of a puppy and a cat, made by the son of one of my coworkers. I think my coworker went home and told his boys about the lonely lady at his office who has no children to draw her pictures. Coming from an artistic standpoint, they weren't very good, but it was a nice gesture.

I consider this an open call for decorations. I have no children, but I bet some of you do. So you should give them some craft materials and tell them about the lonely lady who works in a bare office in the sky and has no children of her own. I don't expect any of you to actually do this, but if you leave me your email address, I'll tell you where to send the pretty things (the decorations, not your children. Please, send NO children. I repeat, NO CHILDREN). Then I'll send you a hand-written note of thanks, as well as a free brake controller! Or maybe just some pink bubble wrap.



On the beach at Lake Erie, there were little froggies. Normally, I would call them little hop toads, because that is so much more fun to say and because that's mostly what we see in North Carolina. Little hop toads are brown and don't necessarily live near the water and make an awful mess when you run over them in your car. Little froggies, well, I don't really know that much about them.

I saw two of these little guys. Either that, or I saw one and he hopped really fast to get ahead of me as I was walking down the beach. I stopped to take a picture of both. The first one ignored me completely. The second one got spooked by my ever-advancing camera and hopped suddenly, causing me to hop and give a little shriek myself out of surprise. Then he hopped to safety...under my shoe, which I had set down to the side so that I could concentrate on taking the frog's picture.

I figured this was fate. Regardless of how often you get the chance to take a picture of a pretty green and yellow frog on the beach, you pretty much never get to take the frog's picture while he's hiding under a Birkenstock.

Afterwards, I got into my sandals while he was still under them and crushed him lifeless. Then I took a picture of that while I laughed - HA HA HA!

Not really.


on men and shoes.

According to the company handbook, dress here is business casual. Of course, as I work here more and more, I find that what actually goes on differs from what is outlined in the company handbook. So we're a t-shirt and jeans place. That's fine with me, I'm a t-shirt and jeans girl. We are required to wear business casual when we have clients touring the company. I suppose I just let out a big company secret there.

Even though I am a t-shirt and jeans girl, I do like to mix it up from time to time. I like to wear outfits that proclaim, "Hey! I'm a girl!" You know, just in case it's not clear from the long hair and birthing hips. And the men at my office just aren't sure what to do with that. Skirts freak them out. I can be wearing the most casual dress in the world, like something you'd wear to the beach over a bathing suit, and they'd ask me what the occasion was or if I had a job interview later.

And they compliment my shoes. I never know what to make of that. Josh says that men are taught to compliment a girl's shoes, because it will make her like them. Is that in the man handbook? It's not such a bad idea, really. You don't want to start praising her body, because that crosses a line. That sends the message that you are interested in seeing more of said body, and what we want is subtlety here. You might could get by with saying she has nice eyes, but that's sort of sappy. And you can only get by with the hair thing when she's had something different done. Otherwise, you're not saying "I like your hair," you're saying "I like your hair everyday." That sort of goes back to the body issue. Anytime you remark upon something of a permanent nature about her, there's a sort of implication that you'd like her in a permanent nature. So we're down to temporary things. Complimenting an outfit is too easy - it's the most noticeable thing on her. But shoes are an accessory, and the fact that a man notices an accessory shows a little more attention to detail, a little more effort. Women like detail, otherwise we wouldn't bother putting so much on. Shoes are easier than jewelry, because a girl may not always be wearing jewelry, except for something like a watch, which doesn't change daily. I definitely would not advise going for the makeup, because most women are not going to be interested in a man who knows enough about makeup to compliment it properly. So, yeah, okay, the shoes are a good call.

But the writer of the man handbook should have clarified on the shoe point. It should be further broken down into a pair of shoe points, one for when you are actually trying to hook up with this girl and another for when you just want to be nice. For one thing, you can always compliment my sneakers. Praise of androgynous shoes is okay. I have a particularly saucy pair of red sneakers, and I'd be amazed if people didn't remark on them. But once is enough. Say, "Hey, that is a particularly saucy pair of red sneakers!" and leave it at that. Don't say something every single time I wear them, and definitely don't praise them more than once in a day. They're not that saucy.

But you have to be very careful when you start complimenting my heels, my lady shoes. Am I the only chick that finds this disturbing? I can't decide if they're secretly thinking about wearing the shoes or wearing me, but either way, I don't like it. Regardless, to me it says, "I recognize that you are female, and there is something about you and your femaleness that I enjoy." And if a man said that outright, you'd be creeped out, right? I have a pair of power heels with very pointy toes. A man at my office complimented them three times in one day. He's a very nice man, and he just may think he's being friendly. Maybe he's thinking that his wife should get a pair, or perhaps he would like to return to the days when women wore heels every day.

I'm being unfair and suspicious. The majority of these men are long-married, and I suspect that they have been trained by their wives to always notice dresses and skirts. Their wives taught them that dresses mean a special effort, and by gum, you had better notice. I'm not sure that their wives meant them to apply it to the twenty-something working at the office, though. And it is possible that some of them do wish women dressed up more, like back before we got all liberated and crap. I've never felt particularly harrassed, but I just get the feeling sometimes that there is some sort of communication breakdown, where a male is trying to be friendly and it comes across as too much to a female long-taught to be wary of the opposite sex. Of course, these same men warn me that all men are after just one thing.

Maybe they're after my shoes.


weegee, weegee, are you with us?

The summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I went to a nerd camp called Summer Ventures. You had to apply to get in, and it was geared toward students with an inclination to math and science. It was held at several college campuses all over the state of North Carolina, each one hosting about 90 students or so. I was assigned to the Summer Ventures held at Appalachian State University.

The funny thing about Summer Ventures is that the total group at each campus is small enough so that people quickly group off into the little friendship circles that they will maintain for the entirety of the 4 week program. By maybe day 3, I was a part of a group of 5 girls. By day 5, I could've sworn I'd known those girls for forever. You could be yourself at Summer Ventures, or at least the self you'd always wanted to be, because everything was temporary. You only had to see these people ever again if you wanted to. And so we shared with each other like we never did with people back home, because what did it matter? The worst case scenario was that they would go home to their high schools across the state and tell everyone your deep dark secrets.

Penny was not in my tightly-knit group, but she lived on our hall and we all knew her and liked her well. She was part of some other group, but she hung out with us from time to time. She was a bright and bubbly cheerleader from a one-stoplight town in the foothills, but Penny had had some rough times. She had just recently been in therapy for bulimia. Her mother had also died in a car accident several years back and her father had remarried.

One night, a couple of the other girls, Penny, and I decided to play with the Ouija board that was held downstairs in the game room. We borrowed it and brought it back up to one of our rooms, dimmed the lights, and started to play in a circle on the floor. We weren't allowed to have candles, so I think we found some small desk lamp to set the mood. Penny had never played with one before, but the other girls and I all had, so it wasn't really anything new. I'd played with one with a bunch of girlfriends back in the seventh or eighth grade, and despite all the creepy stories and supposed coincidences, I had long ago decided they were crap. I suspect the other girls had, too, but Penny wanted to play, and even if it was silly, the Ouija board did tend to be a good lark.

The reason an Ouija board works is because the people who play with it want to believe it. There's a lot of power of suggestion in it. There's also probably someone pushing the little indicator around the board. No one would ever admit to controlling it, of course. I never pushed it when I played. There may be something in the theory about the hand's natural vibrations moving it, I have no idea. But when you get a group of teenage girls who think they are dealing with the supernatural, they're going to interpret the board in any way that works.

Nervous parents in my town often forbade their kids from using an Ouija board. I think my mother disapproved of it, but never said I couldn't play with it (or if she did, I conveniently forgot). My father, had he been consulted, would probably have said it was a stupid waste of time, kids these days. Some people said it was a Satanic tool, as if bored kids were trying to ask the devil who the cutest boy in class was. There were lots of rumors about people we knew who knew other people who had tried to throw one out, but found that the board mysteriously kept reappearing within their homes. All of this controversy only made it more exciting and appealing to us and ended up giving the Ouija board a lot more credit than it deserves.

We started out with four girls playing: me, Penny, Sarah, and Liz. We were all dead tired from having gone hiking that day, and Liz quickly got bored and dropped out to just watch. We started out with some of the typical silly questions about boys and people we knew. Then we all just kind of looked at each other, at a loss as to what to ask next. Sarah and I probably would have both been content to be done with it, but then Penny said, "I want to talk to my mom." Sarah and I looked at each other, thinking maybe this was dangerous territory, but it's not like we could say no. So we "summoned" Penny's mom. We started getting some movement on the board and we thought we had "contacted" her.

The questioning started shyly, because, really, what does a girl say to her dead mother talking through a board game? Sarah and I were both bored and exhausted, but this was obviously important to Penny, so we continued. I told Sarah she could drop out if she wanted and I would stay and play; you need two people. So I sat on the floor with Penny while she continued to talk to her mom. The questions started to get a little intense, accusing even, and more specific about both the car accident and the man who had been in the car with Penny's mom.

"Were you drunk?"

"Why were you with him?"

"How could you do that to Daddy?"

"Were you upset when Daddy got married?"

"Do you miss us?"

"Why did you let Daddy marry that woman?"

Oh man, it was scary. I just closed my eyes and spaced out, trying not to think about what was going on, trying not to fall asleep. I just let my hands rest on the indicator as it scooted around the board. Penny was crying by now. Then the indicator moved over to the corner onto the word "Bye." Penny begged her not to go, but the indicator was still. All of a sudden, Penny collapsed across the board into me, sobbing and hugging me. I was pretty good at consolation, but this was way out of my league, so I just hugged her back and didn't say anything. I looked at Sarah and Liz helplessly and they rejoined us on the floor to try and soothe Penny. She calmed down after a few minutes, we talked softly, I told a couple of lame jokes to lighten the mood, and then she went off to bed.

I don't necessarily believe that Penny's mom was actually talking to her. It was obvious that the poor girl had a lot of unresolved issues dealing with the whole situation, and she was likely desparate for anything to hold onto. But I can't make myself dismiss the possibility. I still believe that Ouija board experiences in general are a sham, but this was way different than having some unknown spirit of a little girl who died of polio in the 50s telling us the initials of our future husbands. I won't dismiss the dead trying to communicate with the living, and if they want to use the product of Parker Brothers, let them. If, when I am dead, I get the opportunity to scare the devil out of some stupid teenage girls playing with an Ouija board, you better believe that I am going to do it.

In any case, none of us ever mentioned the incident to Penny for the rest of the summer, and we all lost touch with her after that. I don't know what she thinks about it, whether she believes it was real or just some unfortunate night where her emotions caught up with her. Clearly, I have no conclusions. But even if Penny was just interpreting what she wanted to believe her mother would say, even if the dead laugh at us every time we pull out an Ouija board, even if some random spirit is in charge of amusing stupid teenage girls, I hope that Penny got what she needed out of the experience, some closure and resolution. Maybe it was God Himself realizing that Penny needed comfort and was ripe for listening to Him that night; I hear He works in mysterious ways. Who knows? Even if it wasn't real and even if Penny herself dismisses the whole thing now, it was very real to her that night, and that counts for something.


a real beach.

The nice mechanic at the Humvee garage was giving me suggestions on how to spend my free evenings in Michigan. He might have been willing to suggest himself as accompaniment, but I specifically avoided giving him a chance to do so. I told him that I wanted to go to a lake. He launched into directions on how to get to Lake Kensington.

"No, no," I interrupted. "I want something that people from home will have heard of. I want a Great Lake."

So that was how I ended up driving the rental car to Monroe, Michigan's Sterling State Park. I drove in and paid the $6 entrance fee with misgivings. What if I didn't like the park and wanted to leave before I gotten $6 worth of entertainment? I drove in and I saw some water, a small pond that looked like it might have a big sister off somewhere behind the trees. My misgivings increased. You'd think a mechanic who was trying to impress a southern girl would at least send her to a decent lake. A sign pointed up ahead "To beach." I might have laughed out loud, these silly inland states trying to say that they have a beach. Listen, you Michigan punks, I'm from North Carolina, and we have beaches. The graveyard of the Atlantic, they call us. The Atlantic - that's an ocean. People used to think that if you sailed far enough along that sucker, you'd fall off of the face of the earth.

The mini-pond near the entrance - I was already feeling disillusioned.

But I'd already paid my $6, so I decided to see what exactly constituted as a beach up here. I parked in a large lot and walked towards where all the people seemed to be. There was a public restroom and grassy picnicking areas. A couple of walking trails veered in either direction, and big deciduous trees gave shade to barefoot families. Finally, I caught sight of "the beach."

Okay, yeah, that's a real beach.

I felt like apologizing to Lake Erie, to Sterling State Park, to the entire state of Michigan for doubting them all. I don't even care if they carted all this sand in here, this is legit. There was sand, there were pink and brown children in funny little swimsuits, there were tiny, crunchy seashells that hurt my bare feet. There were even waves, albeit tiny ones that were probably caused more by the wakes of jet skis than gravity. Most of all, the amazing thing to me was that as I looked out across the water, I knew it was just a lake, but I couldn't see the other side. In Europe, this body would be called a sea. I felt like a moron, because I, being so skeptical of this thing that Michigan called a beach, had not brought my swimsuit. I'd brought it as far as my hotel back in Detroit, but I hadn't brought it to the lake. I hadn't known it would be like this.

I looked out of place and unprepared, but I wanted to enjoy this thing, so I rolled up my jeans, exposing my unshaven calves and ankles, took off my shoes and headed down the beach, right along the place where the water lapped at my toes. The water was a marvelous temperature - it would cool you off on a hot day, but was immediately warm enough to require no time to get used to it. I had my camera at the ready, and I took pictures of the lake, of the water that stretched to some other shore that I had to trust was there. I took pictures of the sand, the little children, the little green frogs that sat dangerously in the way of being stepped on. I kept an eye on the shells and rocks near my feet, so fascinated was I by these tiny freshwater sea creatures that, to me, proved this beach was the real thing more than anything else. I kept finding the shiny, pretty ones and cleaning them off in the water before dropping them in my pocket. I had no idea what I was going to do with a bunch of Michigan seashells, but it seemed the thing to do.

The real beach.

This lake, this freshwater ocean, it was like the good stuff about the beach without the bad. There was no salt or hot and sticky feeling, and the water was gentle enough that little kids could play without being tossed around. There were sandbars where adults would stand around and chat many meters out in the water, but only shin-deep.

I was having a great time, but I was lonely. I'm no stranger to myself, and I'm more than comfortable spending lots of quality time with Sandra. But this lake was so beautiful and surprising to me that I really wanted someone to be there to share it with me. I wanted my boyfriend to lie down on a blanket on the sand with me, I wanted my own nieces and nephews playing in the water in their various shades of pink and brown. I sat down upon some big rocks and called Josh. I told him about the seashells and the little frogs and the endless water and how much I wished that he could immediately transport himself to me, and could he bring my swimsuit? Then I called my mom and told her about how I'd gone to Detroit and now I was at the beach, like a real beach.

"Well, it's not like a real beach, I mean, there aren't seashells or anything like that."

"No, Mama, there are seashells. It's a real beach."

Lake Erie, a free-standing grill, and my shoes. Do you see the other shore? No? That's because you can't, not even if you squint!


the one.

"Don't ever settle. Ever. Ev-ver."

Somehow I'm now being lectured about marriage by a woman who is not related to me and who doesn't even know me all that well, but sees an opportunity to pass along some knowledge that she learned the hard way. This whole conversation came from my retelling the story of my sister calling me an old maid.

"Don't ever marry someone unless you are sure he is the one for you. If you have any doubts, drop him. I mean, you can keep him around for entertainment or whatever, but don't marry him. And if you end up marrying him, don't ever have children with him, because it's impossible to get rid of him then."

I'm beyond the point of interrupting and saying that keeping someone around "for entertainment" is a pretty terrible thing to do to someone who might not realize it. But I'm not about to disagree with her. I'm not even married, what do I know?

"There is one person out there for you. One. One person that can make Sandra whole. And if you marry someone else and then you meet that one, you got problems. A lot of people say that there are lots of people who you could be happy with, but no. There's only one."

I disagree. I disagree strongly, because I'm analytical, not romantic. I'm in the group that says that there are lots of people out in this world who, given the right time and situation, could make Sandra very happy indeed. You know what? Maybe there's even one who is the most compatible, if you could quantify such things. But I don't know that I could tell the difference between the guy with a compatibility quotient of 98.2 and the guy with 98.15.

But my opinions do not matter here. I'm not married and I've not been in the trenches. Don't believe in soul mates? You've obviously not met yours. Her eyes are wide and clear and serious and I know to shut up, because she's been waiting on a young woman to save from a marital cage. Even if I don't believe in soul mates, I know that she does, because she's met hers already, but too late.


old maid.

"So, do you think you'll be married by 24?"

I've got a curly fry halfway to my mouth, but I halt it and stare at my sister Carla, my mouth still partially open. "Um. You know that's in like 3 months, right?"


"So, no."

"Yeah, I figured. Both Rita and I got married at 23."

Huh. I think that I was just called an old maid. Nearly twenty-four and still unmarried while my two older sisters had husbands already locked in by my advanced age. Oh, I know she didn't mean it that way, and she'll probably post an irate message in response to this entry (please check below). Due to, I don't know, vestigial childhood bitterness, I have a tendency to take what Carla says the wrong way. I even suspect sometimes that she is a bit oversensitive when it comes to me, too, or maybe I'm just insensitive. Neither would surprise me.

But I've decided not to get upset about this slight, whether it was even meant as a slight or not, because I've become more and more thankful recently that I'm an old maid. I won't say that I've not gone through moments of panic, particularly in the past couple of years when it seemed like every girl I knew had a ring on her finger and a china pattern on her registry. But I've got absolutely no chance in the world of getting married anytime soon, and when the facts stare you in the face like that, they're much easier to accept, no matter how many girly, giggly showers I attend. I don't even have a goldfish, and so I can be as selfish as I want right now. I can figure out what it is that I want and who it is that I am without having to figure out any other people, too. Someday, yeah, I want some attachments, I want to be an old ball and chain, I want to have little mouths to feed. But it hasn't happened yet, and that's okay. I'm not on a set schedule. My life has turned out this way anyway, so I've decided to enjoy it.

My niece, Sophie, is a beautiful little toddler in a family of five children. She's like me when I was little: the concept of not constantly being surrounded by people is not even present in her mind. One day, she asked me, "How many children do you have?"

"I don't have any children."

"But who is your husband?"

"I don't have a husband."

"But, then what do you have?"



tribe nuge and for emergencies only.

The roads in Michigan suck. At some point, the Michigan Department of Transportation, tired of having to repave every road every year due to the ridiculous bad weather, said, "Screw it. Just leave 'em. It'll keep the tourists away." So now they spend all their money on those Adopt-A-Highway signs. The roads suck, but they sure are clean.

We have Adopt-A-Highway in North Carolina. In fact, I've participated in it before. Back when I was too young to stay at home by myself, my dad would take me with him when the Ruritan Club cleaned up Highway 18 in Lenoir on Saturday mornings. So I'm used to seeing the signs, but I'm not used to seeing the kinds of organizations that clean roadways in Michigan. I think it's probably more of a big city thing, because big cities have enough people to support obscure organizations. So while Lenoir (population: 17,000) has the Ruritan Club, the Kiwanis Club, and even the West Caldwell High School Key Club, Detroit (population: 950,000) has the Jamaican Association and the Muslim Association of the West Suburbs. I suppose Lenoir could have a Muslim Association, but two miles is an awful lot of road for one dude to clean.

I obviously have not seen every single Adopt-A-Highway sign in the world, but I feel like I can say this is one of the best. This organization is real, and what's more, they're eco-friendly (depending on whether you define hunting as eco-friendly). It makes me wonder - did Ted Nugent himself help clean this very stretch of interstate highway? Was I taking this picture from a shoulder made litter-free by the Nuge himself?

The mind boggles.

Note that Michigan also has signs on all the ramps to the interstate that list the types of vehicles that should not be on the interstate. One of these vehicles is farm implements. Not even in North Carolina do we have to tell our residents not to drive their tractors on the interstates. Perhaps that is why the roads are so bad - people keep trying to plow them. I also saw one sign that prohibited farm animals. I suppose a horse pulling a plow is definitely out, then. Silly me, though, I forgot to take a picture.

A bonus thousand words, to make up for the fact that I've been such a slacker blogger lately and haven't even been able to cough up a picture and accompanying entertaining commentary. Here, at least, is the picture. Commentary follows, but no promises on quality.

I have two that I considered for this one, but this one is basically another sign, and I thought we'd go with a theme here. Did you know that Detroit is just a short swim in a remarkably clean-looking river away from Canada? It's true! Luckily, there's also a bridge, which is the route we took. This is a view of the Ontario River with Detroit looking shiny in the background. But the sign, ah, that's where it is. Zoom if you must.

Simple pleasures for simple minds, whatever, but I think this is amusing. See, I'm just picturing someone drowning. No, no, that's not the funny part. The funny part is the dude standing on the shore, trying to verify if the other person is really drowning, because he doesn't want to get charged $300. "Are you absolutely sure that you are drowning? I mean, you're positive on this one?" Then maybe the shore guy finally does throw the life preserver out in the river because he realizes that he's in Canada, and so the fine is only like $266.38 in US dollars.

Well, I thought it was funny.