there is no problem.

I buy cards at yard sales and thrift stores. I have bunches and bunches (and bunches) of them. I keep them organized in a dresser. Stationery is probably one of those things that most people don't realize you can get used. Not only can you get them, you can find enough to develop an unhealthy collecting habit. The best place to find them is estate sales. Old ladies are card hoarders. They buy them in multi-packs all the time - on vacation, at holidays, to support various charitable causes. And then they die, and someone sells their whole card collection to me for a buck or two. I pick out the ones I like, and then the rest I ship off to a relative with small children. I suggested they use them for crafting, but I really have no idea what they do with all those cards. They probably wonder the same about me.

I've always been big into sending birthday cards. People just like it so darn much. Even as stamp prices rise, it's a pretty cheap way to make someone happy. If you did the math and figured out how much happiness is created with the cost of a card and a stamp, you would find it's an excellent value. Then I would ask to see your numbers, because I'd really like to know how you quantified happiness. It doesn't have to be a nice card, and you don't have to put money in it. Somehow, the act of getting mail, of being remembered, is enough.

I call them "used" cards, but "secondhand" is probably a better term. However, sometimes they actually are used. A person will buy a 25 pack of Christmas cards and then just sign them all in one session before realizing they only have 21 friends. Then they stuff the four extra cards in a drawer somewhere with every intention of using them next year. But they forget about them until the next time they move or clean, which is how they end up at the thrift store, where I buy them. Sometimes, I send them anyway. (For a couple of years, I sent cards signed from the local Masonic lodge to a girlfriend of mine in New York. She thought the first one was weird, but she got really freaked out when one year she moved and they found out her new address. She suspected me, but when she asked, I told her that I would never ever forge the Masons' signature, which was true, though misleading.)

Anyway, while my collection is impressive, it is not exactly a replacement for Hallmark. I used to take a lot of time to pick out just the right card, spending a half hour just to find one. It was pretty stereotypical woman behavior (I make up for it by being good at math). Now, the selection is more limited, though frequently more interesting (and free). I do make myself pull from my stash, otherwise, I would have no justification to keep buying stationery (and I do want to keep buying it).

Basically, I have to get a little creative, but is that ever a bad thing? Luckily, I have a very large selection of cards that are blank inside, so they can be for any holiday. I do write a little note for each one. I frequently feel the need to make an explanation as to why the other person is receiving what might seem like a pretty weird card. I try hard to make the card choice seem relevant. But maybe I don't have to explain that at all. Maybe the people who get cards from me know me well enough to realize that I don't know how to send cards like a normal person. Being weird acts as its own excuse.

Anyway, all this is to explain that I got a couple of odd birthday cards this year. They were from my nieces, who live in a household that has been the recipient of my rejected overstock cards. One of them was an Easter card, and the other was a Christmas card. While the older niece made some effort to replace the Season's Greetings with birthday ones, the little one just stuck a "Dear Aunt Sandra" before the message wishing me a happy Easter. Considering one of those girls once gave her brother one of her baby teeth in a jar as a birthday present, this was actually a relatively sane gift.

I think this is a positively brilliant solution to feeling like I don't have the right card to send. The solution is to not care at all. Frnakly, I should have thought of this myself, since I apply it in other areas of my life.

For instance: accessories! While visiting my sister this year, I wore a green shirt, while I was also carrying a green suede purse. She asked if I had a different purse for each outfit. I told her no, sometimes it works out that way, but in general I'm not that put-together. She said that she always carried a black purse, that way it matched everything and she didn't have to worry about it. My response was that she didn't have to worry about it anyway, and then she could use any crazy purse she wanted. We are different people, so we each thought our respective way was better based on our priorities. It is more important to her to match. It is more important to me to have fun purses.

Just like the problem of having a matching purse, the solution to the problem of using an appropriate card is to not care about the problem. It turns out that there is no problem.

It's funny - my nieces sent the out-of-season cards because they are kids and have not yet succombed to the idea that only birthday cards are for birthdays. They probably picked those specific cards because they liked the pictures. Give them ten years, and they will likely do things differently. Except for the fact that they have an Aunt Sandra, who has decided that the problem of appropriate cards is not a problem. Given my example (which was originally their example), maybe they'll see it that way, too.


burglar fantasies.

I used to work with a guy who would brag that if a burglar broke into his house, he wouldn't know what to steal first. The point was that the guy had many valuable and hockable things, from fancy guns to media equipment. My coworker had an elaborate fantasy of a robber, dressed in all black with a hockey mask, entering each room in a state of building excitement, like Aladdin in the Cave of Wonders. He rubs his hands together as he tries to decide which thing to pilfer first.

I think we can all agree that this is an obnoxious thing to say in public.

I started thinking about someone breaking into my house, and I also concluded that any would-be burglar would find himself at a loss as to where to focus his efforts. In my fantasy, he comes into the living room and then just stops, not excited but confused. He looks first to the obvious grabs, but the TV and stereo are so ancient, the thrift store wouldn't accept them. Then he starts looking around at everything else. He slowly rotates in place, his eyes scanning the room for something to go into his special burgling sack (with his name embroidered on it).

Gumball machine (with gumballs)
piggy bank made from old post office box
mid-90s TV
Antique scientific scale

Though his burgling eye is trained to quickly pick out the valuables among the clutter, he's frankly not quite sure what each of the things even are.

WW II dummy cartridge
1934 encyclopedia set
half-size scuba helmet reproduction
GE Custom Decorator
mid-80s stereo receiver with turntable
Huge three-armed lamp
Giant schoolroom map of South America

And even when he can figure out what an item is, he's not entirely sure whether it's valuable. He can tell from a glance at a video game console how much he can get at Crazy Larry's pawn shop, where they don't ask questions. But what would a gumball machine be worth? He is not sure that even Larry is that crazy.

More books
Giant beaker
Globe of moon
Standing globe of Earth
Lamp made from a fire extinguisher

Even the things he think might be worth something are so oddly-shaped that it's probably not worth it at all. But he's not sure, because he's never had to price a sarcophagus before. Is it real? Is it haunted? Does that make it worth more?

And the answer is that none of it is worth anything at all. His best bet would be to sell the fire extinguisher lamp for the copper. But he'd have to haul it out of there, and it's heavy and has a lamp on it. Our collection combined is probably worth less than one of my coworker's fanciest guns. He was proud because he could make a criminal salivate. I'm proud to just confuse the heck out of him, to make him stop short and wonder what was the matter with these people.

I am being just as obnoxious as my coworker was. My identity is wrapped up in having weird things, rather than expensive ones. We both think that our stuff says something positive about us. It does, but the stuff probably doesn't say as much as our pride in it does. The best thing is probably just to keep our burglar fantasies to ourselves.

Besides, before the thief would even get to the sarcophagus, the pitbull would find him. He probably knows what to do when he sees one of those.


black friday.

I stopped to fill up in Hickory on Black Friday. Not because we desperately needed gas, but because I wanted a snack. That's something we do, stop for a soda and a candy bar. We always split a mammoth soda, the biggest gulp we can find, and lately we've been getting those Snickers bars that have two small bars within one pack. I filled up the tank while Josh went inside the store.

He came back out, empty-handed. Total failure in procuring snacks.

"What kind of drink do you want?" He seemed distracted.

"Whatever is fine." Usually, we share a Dr Pepper, which is his favorite and my second favorite. But most any drink is fine. I don't like root beer, and he can't abide Mountain Dew, but whoever is filling (and paying) can make the call. I wasn't sure why he bothered going in and coming all the way back out to ask. I was finished with my gas-pumping duties, so I said I'd just go inside with him.

"Okay. I'm going to talk to this guy over here." By "this guy," he meant the homeless person standing at the side of the parking lot next to a suitcase of shiny things for sale. I began to suspect that he was not thinking about snacks at all. What happens inside his head is frequently a mystery to me.

When I came back outside, a giant Dr Pepper and share pack of Snickers in my hands, he was still talking to the guy. Homeless people make me nervous, but it was a magnificent day, and somehow that made me less nervous. No one would rob me (or whatever it is I'm nervous about) on such a nice day. Plus, Josh was talking to the guy. Josh exhibits a kind of openness to other people that I wish I had. I could tell that this was one of those occasions that I should be More Like Josh, so I followed his lead on this one.

A mixed-breed but cared-for puppy was tethered to the suitcase full of wares. A red scooter was parked behind him. From the suitcase hung two things: a business license issued by the city of Hickory, and a cardboard sign asking to help the homeless help themselves. I was no longer nervous. Homeless men with puppies and scooters who pull themselves by their bootstraps are not threatening, especially on such a nice day.

"Hey," Josh smiled when I appeared beside him. "Go ahead and pick one out. I've already paid."

When we drove up, we took the shiny things to be watches. In fact, they were SPOON RINGS.

Let me tell you about spoon rings. They are rings that you wear on your finger, just like any other regular ring. However, they are made from spoon handles, and they feature all the designs that you might find in your silverware drawer. I came across spoon rings in New York City. My friend Sarah took me to a shop that she said I would really like. The whole place was filled with things that were made from other things - motherboard coasters, bike chain picture frames, LP bowls. I wanted to buy pretty much the whole store, because I love things made from other things. I love reusing something for a completely different purpose, I love looking at something common in a totally new light. After carefully examining (and wanting) every single thing in the store, I ended up buying a spoon ring. I paid $20 for it, which is pretty spendy for me, but it was my little souvenir, plus it was a freaking SPOON RING.

I'm not sure that Josh knew that I was already the proud owner of a spoon-turned-ring, though he could hardly have missed my excitement when I saw what was for sale and shrieked "SPOON RINGS!" I'm guessing that the salesman does not have a lot of customers who are familiar with silverware jewelry, but maybe I'm underestimating the good people of Hickory.

So I picked through the rings. I am picky about jewelry. A lot of the rings were too bulky, though I'm sure that made them high-quality spoons. A few had really nice monograms, but not my initial. One had a Holiday Inn engraving, and that one would have been mine forever had it not been so thick. I finally settled on one with simple lines. The shop in New York advertised its wares as being handmade by artisans, but I actually got to meet the maker here.

When Josh had walked up, the guy was selling them 2 for $10; he said he was flat broke. Josh went ahead and gave him $10, hoping that I would go along with it. As we were looking, a trio of college girls came up and started enthusiastically poking through the rings, perhaps encouraged by our presence (and the puppy, the scooter, the nice day). They bought four between them.

We left feeling pretty much awesome. It was truly a gorgeous day, Josh was elated at having done a good thing, and I had a new spoon ring (and a boyfriend who loves his fellow man without judgment). He was also happy that I was happy. I guess somewhere along the way, he got the impression that most girlfriends do not appreciate jewelry made from used silverware by men who live on the street. I'm under the impression that most boyfriends don't go shopping on Black Friday in the parking lot of the RaceTrack. I guess it's good we found each other.



One fine Saturday afternoon last May, I was on my way to the local trash dump site. Since I live just outside the city limits, I do not get trash service. There are companies who will allow me to pay them for this service, but I'm too cheap for that. There are several dump sites scattered throughout the county which are quite convenient. One of them is right on Josh's way to work. That makes it doubly convenient for me, though less so for Josh.

However, on that spring day, Josh was out on tour, which meant that I had to be an independent woman and take my own dang trash out. I was sitting at a stop light on the way, when a red pickup truck turned onto the road ahead of me. It had a trailer, which was hauling some cabinets, an old toboggan (the sled kind), and a windsurfer. Fresh from my successful yard sale day, I thought to myself that he had just come from a really great sale. Then I remembered that most people are not like me, and this guy might well be on his way to the dump, too. And if that was the case, maybe I could pick up someone else's trash while dumping off mine. I continued to sit at the intersection, watching the trailer full of goodies get smaller and smaller as it continued down Aviation Parkway. I cursed my red light luck.

But I guess my secondhand crap luck was with me, because I found myself directly behind him in line at the dump. As soon as we stopped, I jumped out of my car and asked if I could have the sled. He said sure, and he didn't even ask when I was due back at the asylum. He'd picked it up at a flea market for $25 several years ago and seemed happy that it would not be thrown away after all. He asked if I wanted a windsurfer, and I had to tell him no. I showed restraint in not telling him that the local Goodwill would be happy to take it (frankly, I'm not sure that they would, but you should always try).

Saturday afternoons are a busy time at the dump, and the line behind us was building up. I'm sure the person in the SUV behind me sighed with impatience at the crazy lady trying to fit an eight-foot sled into a hatchback. I like to think that his frustration turned into grudging admiration as I closed the door with my rescued item inside. Everywhere I go, it's like I'm filming a commercial for the Honda Fit.

Even after I got the toboggan in the car, I'm sure everyone there was wondering what I was planning to do with it. The previous owner had bought it as a Christmas gift. In fact, it still had a battered red bow on it, because after that jolly Christmas morning, it had sat neglected in his basement for years (next to the windsurfer, probably). I wondered if the recipient had been as enthusiastic as the giver. The sled was a little broken and therefore not useful for its original purpose. It was an eight-foot broken sled. As a Christmas gift. That then sat in the basement for years and years, a sad pathetic symbol of resentment and crappy gift-giving.

Of course, I can relate to the guy who saw the sled at the flea market and immediately knew that He Must Have It. I stalked a stranger to the dump and asked for his trash because I was overcome with the same feeling that I Must Have It. Sometimes you don't know why you like a thing, nor do you know what you will ever do with it, but you know that this right here is what they call an opportunity, and you should take it.

In addition to not knowing why I liked the sled or what I would do with it, I didn't know where I was going to put it. I've mentioned this twice already, but the sled is seriously eight feet tall. I put it on the porch, at first so I could take pictures of it, then because it was out of the way. And there it sat for seven months, barely protected from the weather by overflowing gutters. Every time I saw it, I felt both guilty and stupid. Guilty because it was beautiful and it was wasting away on my watch, stupid because it was ridiculous, and I had no idea what to do with it. Eventually, I would have to load it back into my hatchback and take it back to the dump site. Any sensible person would have left it there in the first place.

That is secondhand failure, folks. I have experienced much of that in my life. Sometimes, things just don't work out. I don't mind so much when it's a sweater or a bowl. But the sled was rare and so beautiful. It is old technology, a piece of very specialized craftsmanship. Someone figured out how to bend boards. Perhaps a Jedi made this sled. You know, one hiding out in Vermont. The sled even had a good story. I saved it from certain doom, a relic lost in a world that didn't know what to do with it. Except I didn't know what to do with it.

Last week, Josh got tired of seeing the sled on the porch, so it actually made it inside the house. We tried a couple of different spots, before finally deciding to rig it up from the railing that prevents people in the second floor hallway from falling into the living room (though they could easily land on the futon). And it sorta worked there. Still feeling productive, I mixed up a bowl of olive oil and lemon juice and I rubbed it on the wood to undo some of the damage done by years in a basement followed by months on a porch. The wood was dry and sad and gray. But trees must love olives and lemons, because the stuff revitalized the sled. It looked like wood again. It still looked old, but like someone actually cared about it. Once the sled was restored, we agreed that it totally worked there. It doesn't match the sarcophagus at all, but that could be the latter's fault. It fits in very well with our overall theme of "Stuff We Like."

And thus I felt redeemed. I had not been crazy to rescue this sled. I had vision.

It's a weird thing, I know. I fully understand that most people would not want it. It looks like something that might hang on the wall at a board shop in the mountains or maybe a ski chalet. Some woman was very, very glad to finally get it out of her basement, even as she enjoyed telling the story of the ridiculous thing her husband gave her one Christmas, isn't that just like him. And I hope that the man was comforted by the fact that he was not the only person in the world who thought an eight-foot wooden toboggan was a great thing to bring home one day. He wasn't crazy at all. He had vision.


many, ten, five.

Too many
I organized my books this week. By that, I mean only the books that I have not yet read. My to-read pile takes up two bookcases, one of them stacked two deep. I am not proud of this. It's very easy to collect books and then not read them.

I have therefore put myself on hold in terms of buying books. I am not allowed, as according to me. Unfortunately, it's also very easy to say that you're not going to buy any books and then do it anyway. Which is how I came home from the Goodwill yesterday with seven books. In my defense, three of them are hardback copies of books that I already own, so I can upgrade my current copies. The other four? Well, they look really good.

Seriously, y'all. No more books.

I have a Wii and about five games to go with it. It doesn't get a whole lot of play in the house, but it's nice to have the option. On Cyber Monday, I bought a copy of Lego Harry Potter for $10. Admittedly, a video game made about a toy line based on a movie that is based on a book series is some ridiculous cross-marketing. But hey, if it's a good game, who cares?

My ten dollars was not wasted. Low-stress, hard to die, lots of things to see and places to explore - these are things I like in a video game. In fact, it seems to be impossible to die. You lose all your life points, but you get a fresh one right away. That is a trend I've noticed in a couple of the other games that I have. You can die, but you have unlimited lives. It's like they want you to keep playing.

Anyway, if I don't get sick of it, I hear the Lego Indiana Jones is pretty fun, too.

I stumbled across a new-to-me retail store. I even went inside! It's called Five Below, and the premise is that everything is less than five dollars. It's basically a dollar store, but it's somehow hipper than Dollars Tree or General. For instance, there was a large wall dedicated to smartphone cases.

It's a fun little store. I'm missing the target demographic by about fifteen years, but I'll probably be returning before too long to grab a couple of stocking stuffers. I read recently that dollar stores are doing quite well right now, what with the lousy economy. That's A-OK with me. Widespread acceptance of frugality is maybe the silver lining of the recession.



The Rex Hospital Blood Services sends out the Bloodmobile to my office park every once in a while to ask us all to roll up our business casual shirt sleeves to save a life or three. I am always eager to give blood, both for the warm mushy feeling it gives me and also for the free snacks at the end. As an extra incentive, if you give blood during the month of December, you get a special Christmas ornament that you can take home and treasure forever. These ornaments are nice pewter medallions. On the front is a scene from "The Twelve Days of Christmas," while the back says "REX" and the year.

They've been doing the "Twelve Days" theme awhile, because the one I got this morning has eight maids-a-milking on it. Well, actually, it has women in bonnets and aprons carrying pails. We are assume that they just back from their a-milking, rather than believing them to be just back from a-mopping or a-fire-out-putting. Also, there are only seven, because it's hard to fit eight women in a little space. The eighth one must be short and behind all the others, or maybe she just had a full cow. One additional limitation of the medium means that the maids are all quite homely, if not outright deformed, as if the cows have kicked them in the face more than once.

All that complaining aside, I was very excited to receive my ornament. I got the swans-a-swimming last year, so I am actually collecting the set. Now, I know that's just what they want. They dangle a matching set of ornaments in front of me like a but-wait-there's-more offer on an infomercial, just to get me in the door so they can take my blood. It's very devious, and I hate to think that I am falling into that trap. But I was going to give blood anyway, just because I like to do it. Also, saving others with my precious donated life force is different than buying a SlapChop at 3 in the morning.

Unfortunately, I didn't even move to Raleigh until after they'd started the "Twelve Days" ornament gift, so I missed my opportunity to get several. My set will never be complete, and there is nothing sadder than eight (or seven) maids-a-milking without three french hens.


Last year, I found two other Twelve Days ornaments at thrift stores in the area. So some people out there are giving blood, but for some reason do not care for the highly collectible pewter keepsakes. So, I bought them. I added the golden rings and the partridge to my set. I paid for them with cold hard cash, rather than warm flowing blood. And I feel a little guilty about that, like I didn't earn them. I imagined someone coming into my house and accusing me of fraud. No, I did not give blood to Rex Hospital in December of 2008. But I've given blood a bunch of other times when there was no seasonal gift. Can't I just transfer my March 2010 donation to that December so I can say that I have a legitimate right to the fifth day of Christmas?

It's a silly thing to worry about.


viola jokes.

We used to have a guy named David working at my company. He was a funny guy in a lot of ways, for example, he knew a lot of jokes about viola players.

Q: How do you know when a violist is playing out of tune?
A: The bow is moving!

I get it, but I just don't know any violists, so the joke doesn't resonate with me. What's the fun of cracking jokes about a group of people when you don't know a representative? David himself played the violin, and I think his twin brother played the viola. So I guess it's funny if you look at it that way. My viola knowledge is nil, but I know a thing or two about sibling rivalry.

Besides his obscure stringed instrument humor, David always used to take advantage of our monthly company lunch. He would bring in plastic containers, sometimes cleaned-up take-out containers from a previous company lunch. After everyone had finished eating and gone back to their desks to try and work on too-full stomachs, he would go into the kitchen and fill those plastic containers with free leftovers. Then he took them home, where I presume he and his family made a dinner out of it. I never got the impression that it was out of need; that was just something he did. Of course, we all made fun of it. Maybe it's the high testosterone levels, but you'll get teased for pretty much anything here. Some people probably did think it was weird or would be embarrassed to do it. Leftovers are for poor people, I guess. I was not raised to think that way. I was raised by a woman who used to collect all the soda cans from her workplace and then turn them in for money.

And then David left and we couldn't make fun of him anymore. I mean, we still mentioned it on company lunch days. "Someone call David, his dinner is ready!" The thing is, I never realized that when David went to get his leftovers, he also cleaned up the mess, too. Who has been doing it since he left? I suppose the cleaning staff takes care of it, but I bet they just toss it, no matter how much lo mein is left. Basically, we were making fun of him for being prudent and also cleaning up after us. Man, people are jerks.

This afternoon, a company lunch day, I passed through the kitchen on the way to the bathroom. And the food was still sitting there on the tables where we had left it. It was near the end of the day, so most people had already gone home. Food waste makes me sad inside, so I did the right thing and took care of it, while grumbling only a little. Clean-up consisted of throwing away empty containers, consolidating the half-empty containers, and packaging up the leftovers and putting them away in the fridge, where come Monday lunchtime, a couple of people would be happy to find them there. Some people think that leftovers are perfectly acceptable, but they wouldn't think to take them home. Then I wiped down the tables, even though the cleaning staff probably would have done that.

As I was cleaning up, I found a couple of smaller empty containers. And then somehow, they weren't empty, but filled with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I mean, it was silly to save three (okay, five) measly rangoons and one little spring roll. Might as well take some of this beef with vegetables, too. Before I knew it, I had a nice little dinner all ready to be reheated. I suppose they'll start making fun of me, now. Whatever. Free dinner!



Being an only pet, Remix does not get to play with a lot of other dogs. It's too bad, because she is a great playmate. I mean, okay, she's kind of enthusiastic. It may be because she's not yet two years old, but she can be very energetic. Her encounters with older dogs remind me of being a little kid and always wanting to play with my older siblings. Hey! Wanna play? Wanna play? And she's also pretty big, without being very aware of her own size. So little dogs can end up a little bruised.

But she is not aggressive, and she doesn't try to bowl the other dog over.

I am happy for every opportunity for her to play with other dogs. She loves it so much. To see her running in frantic circles makes me realize that not only am I not exercising her enough, I'm probably not even capable of exercising her as much as she could take.

As it happens, we live next to a goldmine of playmates. Remix has limited interaction with them. They bark at her when she goes out. She wags her tail and cocks her head to the side while not barking, as if listening very closely. She does "play" with one of Gail's dogs, a little black one. They run around in their own yards, then come back and sniff at each other through the chain-link fence. It's sort of pathetic to see them do it, but of course, they're dogs, so they think it's great.

I mentioned one time to Gail that it would be nice if one of her dogs could come over for a playdate sometime. It seemed like a waste for her to have all those eligible playmates over there and poor Remix all alone with her yard full of stick toys. So she picked up the little black dog and dropped her on our side of the fence. That's how I met Brownie, who looks a lot like a similar black dog that my uncle had, named Blacky.

The thing about dogs is that they know and play different games. My sister has border collies, and their favorite game is called Herd. Remix enjoys Chase, and so she and the border collies are able to combine their games in a way that each thinks they are playing what they like. Brownie seemed to enjoy Run, which also can be played in tandem with Chase.

When you get Remix with another dog, you can tell that she does not get a lot of dog interaction. She constantly bothers them, hey hey hey. When the other dog gets tired, Remix will sit next to them for a second, then go back to hey hey hey. Brownie quickly revealed that she gets plenty of dog play, but she sure would enjoy some people time. I sat outside and watched them run in circles. Every five laps or so, Brownie came up to me to get some affection. Remix is not a jealous dog, so rather than try to get in between me and Brownie, she would just try to start up another game of Chase.

At one point, I went into the house for a minute or two. When I came back out, the book I had been reading was on the deck, rather than on the railing where I left it. It had chew marks. I sighed, but it was a used book anyway, so I just decided to pretend that it had come that way. Then about a foot away, also on the deck, I saw my smartphone. The protective cover was off, and so was the battery cover. I alternated between cursing Brownie and saying hopeful prayers as I replaced the cover and turned the phone on again. Luckily, it worked just fine. Lesson learned: do not leave your stuff outside with Gail's dogs.

After a half hour or so, when I was ready to go back in the house, I picked Brownie up and dropped her back into her yard. Despite the phone incident, I considered the playdate a success and thought it should happen again the future.

However, Josh is afraid that this is our first step into animal hoarding. He is afraid that by encouraging Gail's dogs to come and play, we are encouraging them to come over and stay, that Gail will want to give us dogs. I am not worried about this at all; it would never have occurred to me. Gail is pretty self-conscious about her menagerie. She knows that she has an unusual situation and is far more worried that her dogs are bothering us. But he is convinced that we are going to end up with ten dogs, six chickens, three cats, and a bunny. I told him that the only way that could happen was if we let it happen. If she tries to give us a dog, we can just say no.

One night last week, we were sitting on the back porch, enjoying the mild weather. Remix was sniffing around the yard. A minute or two later, Gail's brood noticed her presence and started up a ruckus. When this happens, we just shrug our shoulders and put Remix back in the house in the interest of neighborhood peace and harmony. Gail called out to us through the night, "Want me to drop Brownie over the fence?"

I didn't want her to, because we were only going to be out there a few minutes. I looked at Josh, who was wearing a tired sort of I-told-you-so look. I sighed, then called out, "Nah, we're just going to be out here a little while." Gail responded, "Okay!" Josh smiled, happy to not have an extra dog in the yard and also not to have to be the one to say no.

I still think it's a good idea.


buying happiness.

Our most recent book club choice was The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. The author spends a year researching happiness and trying to find small ways to boost her own. She has a chapter on money and the old question of whether you can buy happiness. She comes to the conclusion that you can. She tells about meeting a woman who disagreed very strongly with her on this point, explaining that she had no money because she spent it all to buy a horse, and that horse brings her so much happiness. Rubin responds that she just proved that you can buy happiness - the lady bought a horse, which made her happy. The lady vehemently said no, she was happy even though she had no money, because of the horse. BUT YOU BOUGHT THE HORSE.

I can imagine getting into an argument with the horse lady. YOU BOUGHT THE HORSE. WITH MONEY.

I agree that you can buy happiness. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that you can buy some happiness. I'm not saying that more money equals more happiness, nor that anyone's happiness comes entirely from things that were bought. I'm saying that you can exchange money for things that make you happy. Money is a tool in our world that can give you access to things or experiences. I bet that for everybody, there is something that could be purchased that would make them happy. My house makes me happy. I need a place to live anyway, and it is also a long-term investment, but my particular house just makes me happy. The silly things that I buy at yard sales make me happy. That ridiculous sarcophagus makes Josh happy. Every time he sees it, it gives him a little burst of joy. Other things that he did not (and could not) buy make him happy, things like tall, goofy girlfriends. The fact that a bought sarcophagus makes him happy does not diminish the happiness that I give him.

Like the lady's horse, my dog makes me happy. A pet is a great example of a bought-happiness situation. Remix costs money. I paid to get her, I pay to feed her, I pay to keep her healthy. She does not bring anything tangible to the household. She does not do the dishes, she gets fluff all over the place, and she eats the furniture. She does lick the floor clean, but I'm not sure that counts as paying her way. I feel better having a ferocious pitbull in the house, but thus far there hasn't been a situation where she has actually protected us. She brings peace of mind and entertainment and compansionship. We pay for happiness in the form of a slobbering goober dog.

The relationship between money and happiness is complicated. There is no simple equation that explains it. For one thing, if you have no money, such that your basic needs are not being fulfilled, you're likely to be unhappy. A lack of money can correspond to a lack of happiness. Rubin compares it to good health in that way. When you are not healthy, it's hard to be happy. But being healthy doesn't necessarily mean that you are happy. So it goes with money.

What's also interesting is that you can feel happiness by giving money away, like by giving it to charity or buying someone a gift. And money itself, rather than the things you buy with it, can also make you happy. I am happy that I have money in the bank. It's like a pitbull in the house.

Money is not good or evil, it's just a tool that can only be what we make it. You can worship it, and many people do. You can pin all your hopes on it, only to be disappointed. You can use it to try and buy happiness and fail. Or, you can buy a horse!


explanations in charity.

“From 15 to 18 is an age at which one is very sensitive to the sins of others, as I know from recollections of myself. At that age you don’t look for what is hidden. It is a sign of maturity not to be scandalized and to try to find explanations in charity.”
-Flannery O'Connor

While it has a certain touchy-feely niceness to it, I declare the practice of finding explanations in charity to be logically sound. So, if someone cuts you off in traffic, you can yell and holler and call that guy a jerk. It's very easy to assume that because that guy cut you off, then he is just a jerk all-around. He is not a nice man, not even his dog likes him, he will probably die alone. Or you can find an explanation in charity, like he is hurrying to his wife at the hospital, or he's distracted because he just got some really horrible news.

Now, which way you choose to feel about it makes no difference to the guy whatsoever. He is off in his car, in his thoughts, maybe cutting other people off, too. He can't hear you call him a jerk. So you can pick the one that makes you feel grumpy and generally hateful to your fellow man, or you can let it go and hope that whatever situation is making him behave that way goes away before he causes an accident. Advanced users can even feel grateful that they are not having whatever kind of day makes you cut people off in traffic. I can't imagine ever being that zen. I'm just trying to not let people who cut me off ruin my day. Bad moods are contagious, but you can always work on boosting your immunity.

But hey, it works the other way, too. Because someday, you will have a crappy crappy day. Your wife will be in the hospital or you will get some terrible news or maybe you'll just oversleep and miss your morning cup of coffee. You will give other people reason to believe that you are a jerk. You should hope that they are practicing in explanations in charity for you.


ladies' book club.

As part of my general effort to get out more, I joined a book club.

Book selection is pretty democratic. From what I've heard, this is a necessary part of a successful book club. If one person chooses all the books, then there is certain to be grumbling by people who routinely do not enjoy the selections. In our group, we hold periodic nomination evenings, where everyone brings a book, talks it up, and then the gathered group votes on eight favorites. Then a poll is posted online for the whole group to pick what we'll read for the next four months. I've never been to a nomination meeting, since I've only been in the club for four months. I'm a little shy about what book I would bring and also about having to give a little report to the group about why they should want to read it, too.

The selections have been hit-and-miss for me. It was maybe lucky that I really enjoyed the book we read for the first month I joined, because I wasn't impressed with the two after. It's funny how the reactions to each book are different. When I go in feeling pumped about a book, I find that a lot of the other women couldn't even get through it. And then when I go in ready to rip the book up, there are people there who give it the highest ratings. And that is why you need a democratic nomination process.

Even when the book doesn't do much for me, the discussions are routinely great. The one thing we've got in common is being women who like to read and then talk about it. There are so many backgrounds and a very wide age range. We all bring our own perspectives, without even meaning to. By doing that, we expose the others to the myriad of ways to approach life. Sometimes it's amazing to me that we actually read the same book, because I came away from it feeling completely differently.

The variety of perspectives is great, but it wouldn't work if the group didn't also have a very open and accepting atmosphere. You can tell that there is disagreement, even if no one really says anything, but it's all taken in stride. And people do disagree, but they do it in a just-my-two-cents kind of way.

Aside from meeting new people and being exposed to ideas that I might not come across otherwise, the book club is giving me practice in discussion. I am rotten at it. I tend to just sit by, maybe crack a joke or two, but I never join in to say anything of substance. I get very anxious and upset, so much that I can't speak without my voice shaking. It's a highly physical reaction, like an allergy. I hate it, and I am tired of it. So my first step in getting better is participating in discussions in these open and welcoming environments. Then, eventually I'll be ready for more aggressive ones. I don't seek those out, but I would really like to not freak out when they happen. I would like to be able to say something if I feel compelled to give an opinion. I do not want to be trapped by my own anxiety.

It's goofy, I know. I want to get over my discussion anxiety so I joined a ladies' book club. But I think it's working. We are all coming to the table with the same amount of knowledge, because we read the same exact book. And I know that the women will be nice about disagreeing. I can be nice about disagreeing with them, even though sometimes they say some crazy crap. That gives me permission to say my own crazy crap. Each time I go, I feel more confident about speaking. Pretty soon, I'm going to be obnoxious! I can't wait.



During the first couple of years at my job, I spent my lunch hour playing board games with a group of three or four others. This period was a lot of fun. I learned a lot of crazy new games, which I have been introducing to my brother's family on fortnightly game nights. I also got to play board games with people, which doesn't seem like a big deal until you consider that I spent my childhood playing them by myself. The only not-fun part about playing with others is that you do lose sometimes, but the upswing is that I got a lot better at that. I'm proud to say that I'm now an accomplished loser.

But then the guy who owned most of the games was laid off. We switched to playing Mario Kart during the lunch hour. I also hold those hours in a special place in my heart, because I finally found out what it was like to be good at a video game. It's not a major life accomplishment or anything, but I feel more a part of my generation. Plus, I got really good, and it's fun to be good at something, even something useless. But then we had to stop playing that, because some of the other people were not accomplished losers, and maintaining good working relationships with my coworkers is more important than that elusive perfect game.

I have turned to a solitary activity during my lunch hour now. But like the others, I have found myself relishing and looking forward to the noon hour. I've been reading.

I always feel like I don't read enough, particularly since I have so many books. For years, I've been picking up books based on their cover. When they cost less than a dollar (sometimes less than a quarter), you pick up anything that looks remotely interesting. It's easy to buy cheap books, but hard to read them. I tried reading at bedtime, but somehow I fell asleep every time. Then I would abandon the habit for a week, and by the time I got back to the book, I'd forgotten what it was about. I had several books on my nightstand with a bookmark about 25 pages in. And then I'd just feel guilty for having all these books and never reading them.

It's something I enjoy when I do it, but somehow I never make time to do it. Why do I need to be made to do something I love?

So I started taking books to work. After eating leftovers at my desk, I go into a rarely-used meeting room with squashy chairs. Lo, and behold, I discovered that I love to read. I think I knew that already.

This system works great for me. Besides making sure that I do make time to read, I frequently get so interested in the book that I pick it up again when I'm back home. No more lonely dog-eared books, I finish them, usually inside a week. I mark passages to copy down later in a little book, otherwise they would probably all start blurring together. When I finish, I either keep it, give it away, or put it in a bag bound for the used book store. And since I'm reading now, I have an excuse to buy more! I just feel...happier somehow. I feel like I am challenging myself, like I am broadening my horizons without having to go outside.

Like the board games and the Mario Kart before it, I am becoming a better reader. Josh told me once that I read like a scientist. I really had no idea what that meant, but even then, I suspected that it wasn't a compliment. I skim more than read, picking out the important stuff while leaving the details behind. Details are pretty and all, but I want to know what happens! I follow what is happening, but I don't really savor the language or the writing. With a lot of books, like most of the books I read in school, you can still get a lot out of reading that way. But when I tried to read something that was slower and less plot-driven, I struggled to get anything out of it.

These realizations have only come lately. For a long time, I did not know that I read this way. I didn't know there was any other way to read.

Recently, I was reading a travel journal written by a guy who went into British Columbia to talk to old prospectors and see the last of the wilderness before it disappeared. Man, nothing happened in that book. I liked the part where he told stories about local characters, and I liked the history of a place so shaped by a long-ago gold rush, but I struggled with the rest. It was a slog, which seemed appropriate considering it was mostly about travelling to places where there were no roads to get there. One night, when I was reading, I couldn't focus. I was skimming to the point where I couldn't have told you what the last sentence had said, because nothing had happened in the last ten pages. In an effort to pay attention, I made myself reread a passage several times. And then finally, something clicked. There was a line in there about a wall full of filleted salmon hanging up to be smoked, like a wall of leaves in autumn colors. I realized what a beautiful image it was, and as I kept reading, there were more and more. There was a whole chapter about salmon. All they did was swim upstream, but I was riveted.

By then, I was more than halfway through the book. I realized that the parts that I had considered a chore were also probably full of such lovely writing, but at that point, the memory of the slogging was too strong. I finished the book wishing that I had paid more attention to it in the beginning. But it was worth it, for the little bit that I got out of it and also the realization that I needed to slooooow down. It was like discovering reading again, not just for the story or the ideas, but the transportive feeling you can get from it. Before, I was learning about the British Columbian wilderness, but now I felt like I was there. It's more than a little sad that it took me so long to figure this out, as I've always considered myself a reader. It makes me wonder what I've been getting out of reading. I swear I loved it before. I bet I wrote college scholarship essays about how much I loved it. I bet I used the word "voracious."

So yeah. I discovered, at the age of 29, that reading can open your mind and transport you to other worlds. I could've saved myself a lot of time and just listened to LeVar Burton, but I guess some people have to learn things the hard way.


evidence of my idiocy.

I've been a regular journaller for a long time. So in addition to what goes here, there are pages and pages of handwritten stuff hiding in my closet inside various books. It's boring, daily writing. A lot of it is just what-I-did-today kind of stuff, plus a fair amount of relationship drama, though sometimes I try harder to have actual thoughts. I never write about events larger than my own world; the words "Arab Spring" just haven't come up. That's right, folks, what you see here is the exciting version.

I use a wide variety of books. I have stopped buying them, because I already have a couple in reserve, waiting to be christened. The first thing I do when I start a new one is to number the pages, so that later, if I need to reference an earlier thought, I can do so easily. I always feel weird writing about intensely personal or negative stuff on the very first page, as if it sets the stage for the whole book. I have associations with some of my books. There's a spiral-bound teal one that I associate with a lot of crying and a lot of red wine.

I don't go back and read them, unless I want to look up something specific. This is rare. The few times that I have done it, I always remember something anew, which is one of the selling points that a door-to-door journal salesman will use on you. They never tell you that it's not all good memories.

In fact, I probably avoid going back, just because I am afraid of what I will find in there. I know what I will find in there: undeniable proof that as recently as this past July (when I started the current one), I was an idiot. I didn't even try to hide it. Instead I went on and on, leaving page after page of evidence of my complete and total idiocy. And I keep doing it, as if this time it will be different. It will be such a pleasure to go back and read this book, the one where I stopped being an idiot.

Logically, I know that we are all basically idiots. My writings are an indication of my humanity. It's also a sign of growth, that I can see the flaws in thoughts that were sincerely held. But then I read them again, and I'm like, gah, shut up, you moron.

I am a little obsessed with my audience, namely who it is. Obviously, Future Me, who, having grown out of Current Me, is very judgmental. But who else? Children, grandchildren, strangers who come to my estate sale, county dump workers, no one. My ex-boyfriend used to say that when he died, he wanted all his notebooks and letters destroyed immediately, like before the body got cold. He gave an example of some famous guy that was like that, too, though of course the heirs of the famous guy completely disobeyed his last wishes and published the unfinished works and correspondence instead. What's the point of being an heir if there is nothing to inherit? This ex-boyfriend would probably be appalled to find out that I simply threw his old letters in the dumpster, rather than burning them. In my defense, it was in the middle of the summer. Also, burning seemed too melodramatic for a shoebox of mementos that I just wanted to stop carrying around each time I moved. I wanted to move on, not have an exorcism.

I suppose he had the goods on me, too. More evidence of my idiocy, I mean. Maybe he burned them, or maybe they all got tossed one time when he moved. Or maybe they gradually escaped, one spring cleaning at a time.

I have had a lot of pen-pals over the years, so I've done a really good job of distributing the evidence. I came across some letters from a girl in upstate New York that I corresponded with during my middle school years. I read one where she told me about her first kiss, and being on the soccer team, and all the silly little things that fourteen-year-old girls care about. Her letters were really sweet. Then I thought about my letters being in the bottom of her drawer wherever she is now, and I was sickened. I know that I was a complete blockhead at that age. She was sweet, but I was just an idiot.

I'm just embarrassed to admit that I'm just winging it, all the time, making it up as I go along. And then documenting it all, for whatever reason. Maybe so I can go back and say, well, at least I'm not that stupid anymore.



I never had any sort of affinity for sloppy joes until one fateful evening in college, when my roommate Krystal decided to make sloppy joes and I decided to eat them. I will forever hold her in a special place in my heart just for that one meal.

I felt like I had never really known sloppy joes until that moment. My experience up until then had been with Manwich, which came in a can and had a silly name. I think this was what my mom served. Actually, she probably served some sort of generic alternative, maybe Misterwich. It was okay, but I wouldn't recommend eating it without pickles. It just can't stand on its own feet. We also had sloppy joes at the public school cafeteria, and I don't know if there is a better definition of mystery meat than something that can be scooped and plopped onto a bun.

Krystal was a pretty good cook, but she didn't do it very often because there were so few opportunities to cook for more than herself. I feel her pain. Now, I like to cook and I'm not bad at it, but it's really hard to muster any amount of enthusiasm for cooking for one. I cook very regularly, until Josh goes out of town. And then it's fried eggs every night or cucumber sandwiches if the skillet is still dirty from the night before.

Anyway, Krystal made sloppy joes, not from a can, and I found out why anyone ever bothered to make a product such as Misterwich. To have a successful canned product, you must first have a successful homemade product. Otherwise, people will notice that what you're selling is pretty crappy, actually, rather than feeling it is a convenient approximation of something they had once back when they were small.

I had dreams of Krystal's sloppy joes, though she never made them again, probably because I ate all the leftovers (a clear violation of roommate protocol, though I see it as repayment for the time she was going through a bad break-up and drank all my liquor). A couple years later, I decided that I was ready as a chef to tackle the daunting task of browning ground beef, so I asked for her recipe. It was:

"ketchup, brown sugar, maple syrup, garlic powder, onion powder, worcheshire (sp?), beef and green olives."

Now, if you are looking to make sloppy joes, this is a good solid recipe. Brown the ground beef, add in the saucy stuff to taste. You don't even need pickles. To me, it tastes like a basement apartment in a cold mountain town, with a dash of roommate bonding. If all you've ever had is Misterwich, it just may change your life.

But just as Krystal's sloppy joes made me go "Wait, they can taste like this?", I naturally began to wonder just how good they could get. I wanted a definitive recipe, one that would make a can of Misterwich hide in the corner, too ashamed to be in the glow of a truly awesome sloppy joe. I scoured the internet.

I first tried this recipe, and I found it wrong, all wrong. It was sloppy, but it must have been some other dude. I got on board with the addition of vegetables, but I could not abide the sauce. It was delicious and tangy, but just too strange. I was so distracted by its non-joeness that I couldn't enjoy it. These were sloppy alberts or something.

I despaired. Woe! Would I ever find a sloppy joe for my very own?

Once I discovered that I could make my own very excellent barbecue sauce, I decided to try it as a sloppy sauce. I used the vegetables and browning technique from the sloppy alberts recipe, but went with my own sauce. And then I just kept doing that. The result is probably not really a sloppy joe either, but something more wholesome with a certain spicy smokiness. It is still sloppy. Maybe sloppy rogers?

I have started a small tradition with myself of making these when Josh goes out on tour. You see, he did not have a special moment with a plate of sloppy joes, and he is so-so on them, even though the ones he gets are about as fancy as Manwich can get, like Monsieurwich. So I wait until he is gone to make them. I forego the cucumber sandwiches for a night and go through the arduous task of chopping an onion and grating a carrot and browning ground beef. It takes like a whole hour, just to cook dinner for one measly person! However, I do get to eat all the leftovers by myself.


waste not.

Note: I'm about to say "poop" a lot. Just embrace it. It's a funny word.

One thing that I never anticipated about dog ownership was how much you have to think about poop. Not poop itself, but the last time poop happened. In addition to the regular clock that tells you when you have to go to work or meet a friend for lunch, you have to keep track of the last time the dog pooped. You've got a poop clock, which probably will need to be reset before you go to work or meet a friend for lunch.

You do also have to deal with the poop itself. Remix does a lot of her business in the back yard. I'm sure a lot of poop has happened back there. Luckily, there is a thriving circle of life back there, because I don't have to see very much of it. As soon as she lets it go, a bunch of wee beasties are there to, well, whatever they do with it.

We also take her on walks around the neighborhood. And there you have the need for poop bags, a first-world invention if I've ever heard of one. People do not like for your dog to poop on their lawns. I guess verdent lawns are not the home to the kind of wee beasties that get rid of dog poop. I have a yard full of dirt and leaves. Whatever lives in the leaves loves poop, but whatever lives in the grass does not. So the owners of lawns get mad at your dog, when they are the ones who ruined their own poop-recycling environment.

Thus the need for poop bags.

At first, we used plastic grocery bags. These worked pretty well, except that sometimes there were holes in them, but you didn't realize it until it was too late. Newspaper or produce bags worked better (less likely to have holes, better shape for the purpose), but they were harder to come by. I used to grab an extra produce bag or two every single time I went to the grocery store. It was kinda stealing. But we were bagging poop every day, sometimes twice a day.

I am perfectly aware that you can buy poop bags by the hundred. But if you thought that I wouldn't try to get out of buying something, then you haven't been paying attention.

I mentioned my woes to my mother. She laughed at me, because they could hardly be called woes.

But the next time I saw Mama, she gave me two large bags full of newspaper bags. She gets two papers every single day, which is two poop bags. She was thrilled to do this, because she personally was overrun with newspaper bags, perfectly good plastic bags, that she had no purpose for. But now! She could give them to me. They were no longer going to waste, they were containing waste. She even told one of her friends about it, who also started donating newspaper bags to the cause.

I'm sure you can see the connection between the mother who refuses to throw anything out and the daughter who refuses to buy special plastic bags.

The problem was that we no longer had a problem - we'd found another solution to all the poop. When we walk Remix, we just direct her to poop in one of the many wooded areas that are scattered around the neighborhood. These areas are owned by the same people who own lawns, but for some reason, it's okay to poop in the woods; even bears do it. Plus, those wee beasties take care of it right away.

So now I have lots and lots of poop bags, with no need for them. I use them when I need them, and I recyle the rest. I'm happy, lawn-owners are happy, my mama's frugal heart is happy.


the little things.

"You know. It bugs me that you never wash my clothes. You just wash yours."


"When you do laundry, you only wash your clothes and never mine."


"I know it's because you don't do laundry until you need work clothes, and-"

"Well, yeah, I have to wear a uniform to work, and-"

"And all your work clothes take up a whole load, so-"

"I only wash mine."

"Right, I know. That's why I haven't mentioned it until now. It just bugs me."


"Just throw some of my socks in there. To make me feel better."



the scenic route.

I don't know why it's so hard for me to get off my duff and walk the dog.

Especially when I walk out my front door and this is out there, waiting for me.

There's really no excuse for such laziness.

Even when it's 7:30 in the morning and 40 degrees out.

Okay, maybe then.


friday night's alright for things.

Thing 1: Wish fulfillment
I came home yesterday to find an unexpected package. Rather than call the Department of Homeland Security, I took my chances and opened it. Inside was a biscuit cutter set and some wide-mouth jar lids - the weirdest terrorist attack yet. Apparently, when you whine on the internet about how you're too cheap to buy yourself a biscuit cutter, your sister takes pity on you and buys it for you. Had I known that the world worked this way, I would have asked for something fancier, like a jukebox. However, it probably only works when your wish list is pathetic enough to include jar lids. I celebrated by throwing away two years worth of olive jar lids.

As for the Harry Potter DVD, the price went down to $6 on Amazon, so I just bought it for myself.

Thing 2: Classic!
From a yard sale listing on CraigsList: "Classic, approx. 25 year old VCR that still works. I actually paid $1200.00 for it because they had just come out."

I sincerely hope that they mention this just to make conversation. Too often, when someone mentions what they paid for an item, they are using that to justify what they want you to pay them for it. I should start replying, "Yeah, that's why I shop at yard sales."

Thing 3: Futon privileges
I got home today and immediately saw too much fluff. Remix had ripped into the futon and strewn its contents around the floor. She went into submissive mode because I was obviously mad. Honestly, I had been expecting this one to happen for a while. One of Remix's favorite things to do is de-fluff from that which is fluffed. A futon is one giant ball of fluff, protected by a thin piece of cotton (actually, most things are basically a thin piece of cotton to a pitbull). Still, the fact that she had not yet turned her teeth into my most expensive stuffed thing had lured me into a false sense of futon security. It is a smallish hole, near the seam. I can fix it, but all the same: ARGH. Tonight, as punishment, she has lost her futon privileges. Of course, her tiny doggy brain cannot connect the punishment to the crime, but I feel better about it.

I wondered if it would have happened if I had gotten my lazy tail out of bed early enough to walk her this morning. Josh is on tour, and so she is alone in the house for nine hours while I'm at work. If I had exercised her this morning, maybe she would have been too tired to rip open the futon. I used the semi-drizzle as an excuse. She doesn't like the rain. I had to go out with her into the back yard just to get her to go off the back porch and pee; otherwise, she would have just sat by the back door and waited for me to open it. I guess I probably wouldn't like peeing in the rain either.

But when I went out with her to make her go, she looked up at me like we were on a grand adventure. Where are we going today, boss? I bet there are squirrels about. Remix doesn't care where we go or whether she gets enough exercise. She is happy just to be with her pack.

It is a funny thing that when you take care of simple-minded creatures, you blame yourself for their mistakes.


spherical map.

When I brought home the fire extinguisher lamp, Josh was suddenly filled with dread. Hidden upstairs was my birthday present. It had been there for the better part of a week, but I had agreed to not peek. He did not quite trust me on this point, one day accusing me of looking, claiming there had been fingerprints on it. I declared my innocence. He asked if I had looked inside.

"There's an inside? With another present?" I guess that convinced him that I had not looked. I think he just randomly accused me because he figured I would cop to it if I were guilty. Men and their mind games.

Josh is nervous about giving me gifts. He thinks I have high standards. I think that if he did not want me to have high standards, he should not have given me such good gifts in the past. If you do not want your girlfriend to expect gumball-machine-level-excitement every year, then I guess you should give her scented soaps or something.

So while he was pretty excited about this year's gift, the super amazing fire extinguisher lamp that I bought for myself made him wonder if his gift would be overshadowed. I told him there was plenty of room for many ridiculous and wonderful things in my life, including him. Actually, it was pretty cute, as I watched him think to himself about what he had bought, and his face gradually revealed his confidence in the present.

Throughout the course of the week, he let drop several clues.

  • You can put things inside it.

  • Made in Italy

  • He saw one in a rich person's catalog when he was little

These clues were pretty much useless.

Finally, on Sunday, he went upstairs and came back down carrying a liquor cabinet globe. A spherical map. That you can put things inside. Yes, please.

Now, we already have a liquor cabinet made out of an old stereo console. That stereo sat in the living room for a year, looking mid-century and cool, but not doing much more than take up space. But then we had the idea to put booze in it, and Josh fixed the sound, and hey, presto! Custom liquor cabinet. We call it Jeeves (we've gotten in the habit of naming our appliances). So we will have to come up with something else to put inside our globe.

We did find the perfect place for it, though we had to shuffle some things around. It's sitting next to a bookshelf in the living room, which is chock full of our random crap. On top of the bookshelf, on the side next to the globe, we have a globe of the moon that I inherited from my uncle Johnny. The placement was unintentional, as the moon was already sitting there. But the effect is like a little model of the earth and the orbitting moon, except that the moon is 3/4 the size of the Earth and the Earth has a hinge where you can open it up and make it talk like a planet puppet.

I am taking suggestions for other things to keep in the globe. It should not be too valuable, as it's not really a secret compartment. And anything roughly bottle-shaped would work well, since the interior is carved to fit that shape. It could be a wine holder, but I already have two of those. I have a lot of things.

In any case, Josh can feel satisfied about his gift giving, at least until next year, when he will curse himself for setting the bar so high.


i love lamp.

A month or so ago, I saw an antique fire extinguisher at a church yard sale. It was battered and silver with a thick layer of basement dust on it. They were selling it for $40. It even had the hose still attached. I looked at it, thought it was amazing and neat, then didn't buy it. What am I going to do with an old fire extinguisher? It is not useful and it takes up space.

Last weekend, I saw another antique fire extinguisher. However, this one had been turned into a lamp.

You may not know it, but I have a serious weakness for lamps. This weakness is actually a general one for decorative items that are useful. I have many stuff-related weaknesses, and they are pretty much all utilitarian things - lamps, clocks, dishes, linens. Of course, when you have a strong desire to collect such things, the fact that you have 50 of them makes them a little less useful and a lot more in the way. I have to be picky. Thank goodness I have a high tolerance for clutter, or I'd have to be really picky.

Picky or not, I had no chance of resisting this lamp. A month ago, I hadn't even known that an antique fire extinguisher was something one could have. But now that I knew that not only could you have one, you could have one that provided light while you read in the evenings, then it had to be mine. At first I was in denial. I took pictures of it, so that I could show people the crazy thing I had seen at an estate sale. Then I walked away from it to go look through the rest of the house, thinking that it would surely be gone by the time I got back around to it. And then I lugged it downstairs and wrote out a $45 check for it.

Forty-five dollars is a lot of money for me to spend on something, hence my indecision. But then I thought about the retail stores, and the kinds of lamps that millions of people buy in those places for $45. Those lamps suck in comparison to this lamp. If one is to pay that much for a completely unnecessary light fixture, it might as well be freaking amazing. That is not good logic at all, but I really just wanted to buy the lamp.

I guess if I were a more creative person, I could have seen the lamp possibilities in that first fire extinguisher. I'm not and I didn't. Perhaps this will teach me to think more of this in the future, to go to yard sales and think about what crazy things could be lamped, which would then make them useful and give me a reason to buy them. That's probably a bad idea, actually.

My silly purchase was redeemed later when Josh came home and saw it. Our tastes do not always align, so I'm always worried when I let my inner lamp lady have control of the checkbook. Luckily, he proclaimed it amazing, too. We cleaned it up, but decided not to polish it because we like the patina. The body is copper, with brass details. For a ridiculous lamp, it's quite handsome.

The neatest part about this thing is the label. We also have two modern household fire extinguishers in the house, and they have instruction labels on them. How to make the stuff come out, where to point the stuff (at fire), where not to point the stuff (at eyes). These labels are brightly colored plastic stickers. On the antique one, the label is made of brass, like a plaque marking a historical building. The instructions tell you how to make the stuff. I never knew it, but modern fire extinguishers are the fire-fighting equivalent of Bisquick. In the olden days, you had to mix it yourself.

See? It's educational, too. And it's a lamp!


birthday money.

A few days before my birthday, I sent my mom a wish list. We are the kind of family where you can just ask for presents. While Josh was horrified the first time I just came out and asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he was very happy with the results. Surprises are nice, but so is getting exactly what you want. My mom used to send me an email at the beginning of October, which basically asked if there was something specific that I wanted or if she should just send money. That's the kind of straight talk that you can expect from my family.

I guess I asked for the money too many years in a row, because she is just sending cash without asking these days. The trouble is, there are some things that I want, but don't want to buy for myself. Basically, these are things that I'm unlikely to find at a thrift store anytime soon and I kinda really want them now. Here was my birthday list:

  • a set of widemouth plastic jar caps - I found a boatload of various wide-mouth jars at a yard sale and replaced my entire storage jar collection with them. Unlike my previous collection of hodgepodge mayonnaise and pickle jars, they did not come with lids. I have some of the canning lids, but those are kind of a pain to deal with.

  • biscuit cutters (double-sided, with both round and fluted edges) - I had one biscuit cutter and I managed to lose it. I do not like using jar lids or drinking cups for cutting biscuits, they just don't work right. You can find these at estate sales once in a while, but they seem to be the kind of thing that people mostly hold on to.

  • Harry Potter and the Dealthly Hallows, Part 1 DVD - I just want it.

  • I even sent the list with helpful Amazon links, telling her she could just pick and choose what was in her budget (secretly hoping that she would just go over budget and buy them all). But she responded that she had already sent the money.

    And that's a bummer. Because while it is one thing to know that you have birthday credits coming and ask that they be dispensed in a certain way, it is another to have the money in your hand and actually spend it on jar caps and wizard movies. I already had the money to buy those things for myself, but not the inclination. I would instead look at the jar caps and then look at the price, all the while calculating that I could probably spend as little as a dime a cap (maybe even free), if only I could find someone to sell them to me.

    So when the money came, I just folded it up and put it in my cash stash. I will probably pull it out next month to stuff in birthday cards for my niblings. Maybe I will buy those things for myself. Maybe I will wait until I find them used, and my secondhand lifestyle will be redeemed. Or maybe I will wait so long that I will forget that I ever wanted them.

    Anyway, Mama, thanks for the birthday money.



    I bought some new shoes this week. Like, actual new shoes from a retail store. Not only that, but it was a retail store located inside a mall.

    I was driven there out of desperation. Sometimes, in every secondhander's life, they find that they need something kinda like now. They cannot wait until they find whatever they want at a yard sale or a thrift store. Plus, it's amazing how when you actually need to find something used, all of those things suddenly stop appearing.

    This desperate situation was brought on by the dog, who has made great progress in not chewing our stuff, but still cannot resist the siren's smell of shoes. Dogs interact with the world in a different way than we do, and there is something about shoes that turns Remix into a very bad dog. She turned my favorite pair of sneakers into open-toed shoes. Then she did the same to my backup pair, and though I still wore them for a week, I realized that even a small hole in the toe is kind of annoying. I'm considering duct tape. Then if anyone asks, I can just tell them that there is a recession on.

    Obviously, I need to do a better job of keeping my shoes away from the dog.

    In search of new shoes, I went to several retail stores. I was disappointed as usual by both the selection and the prices. Actually, I was disappointed by the selection and nauseated by the prices. We'll skip my growing frustration and all the angry muttering I did as I left each store roughly five minutes after I came in.

    But finally, I found a pair of cute little slip-on sneakers at Payless for $11. The only problem was that they were a size 10.

    I have big feet. It's not something I mind for the most part, because I figure it is something that goes along with being tall. I know girls who are of average height with big feet, and if I were them, I would feel very ripped off. It is harder to find shoes in my size, just because stores do not carry very many of them. Plus, a lot of women's footwear does not translate well to large sizes. Just looking at them makes me think "get on de boat."

    I actually wear size 10 1/2. However, most shoes don't come in that size. They come in 10s and maybe they come in 11s. There just aren't enough women with clodhoppers that size to merit making the half-size. So most of my shoes are either a little big or a little small. On the rare occasions that I come across an actual 10 1/2, it fits like it was made from a mold of my foot. It is a miraculous experience that I'm sure women with size 7 feet take for granted.

    I'd found the shoes that I wanted, but the size 10s were a little snug. There were no size 11s at the store. I could order them online, but then I'd have to buy them without trying them on, at which point I might discover that the 11s were too big. It's tough being me, with my shoe size that doesn't seem to exist.

    Bigger problems that being a size 10 1/2: being a size 13, not being able to afford shoes, having your feet bound, not having feet.

    So I decided to just suck it up and get the small shoes. My big feet would stretch them out after a day or two, and it would be fine. I was really just tired of going to stores. The plan was to wear really thick socks for a few days. I would break in these shoes like a rebellious colt. Then I had a better idea.

    You know those shoe form things? You know, old men have them for fancy shoes so that the shoes don't lose shape when they are sitting in the closet, waiting for the Queen's visit. Well, I bet I could use a set of those to stretch out the shoes so that I didn't have to.

    Amazingly, I happened to have a pair of them. I bought a giant bag of wooden hangers (Josh favors them) for a dollar at an estate sale, and in the bottom were a nice set of wooden shoe form thingies. I'd kept them, because...well, I don't know why. Because they looked cool and vintage. Because maybe Josh wanted them. Because they might come in handy someday. And they did! And since I have great big feet, they actually fit into my size 10s. Now I didn't have to use my own poor suffering feet, I could use these fake wooden ones. In just a few days, I'd have my own custom pair of 10 1/2s.

    Just keep them away from the dog.


    twin pet.

    Lately, dog food has gotten me down.

    Before we got a dog, I was anxious about how much pet ownership was going to cost. I knew that dog food could be very expensive or it could be very cheap, but I wanted to be a Good Dog Owner. I was afraid that my desire to be a responsible pet parent would conflict with my desire to not spend very much money on anything ever. I did a little research online. Consumer Reports told me that dog food is dog food, and that as long as it says "nutritionally complete," then it was fine. I felt like a savvy customer, not falling for clever dog food marketing.

    I went to Wal-Mart to scope out the options. Next to every name brand was a bag of Ol' Roy that was meant to compete with it. So if you were a Purina kinda person, right next to it was a bag of Ol' Roy in the same color, a couple of bucks cheaper. Or if you were Iams all the way, there was an Ol' Roy for you, too. It's a pretty clever strategy. They're assuming that people are attached to their dog food brands. So if they only made Ol' Roy to compete with Purina, those Iams folks would walk on by and never even consider the store brand option.

    I was disappointed that while I could get Ol' Roy in a variety of knockoff flavors, it still was only a couple of bucks less than the name brand. And then I found Twin Pet. Man, that is some cheap dog food. While the Ol' Roy bags come in a variety of bold colors, featuring happy and energetic family pets, Twin Pet comes in a beige bag. On the front is a beagle that looks sort of sad and plaintive, as if he is saying, "Gruel again?" While the name "Ol' Roy" conjures up an image of a faithful hunting dog, "Twin Pet" doesn't give you any sort of picture at all. What the heck is a Twin Pet?

    I bought the Twin Pet. I bought 15 pounds of it for $4. It's funny that there is this ultra-cheap option for the ultra-cheap (or ultra-poor). Maybe Ol' Roy costs the same as Twin Pet to manufacture, but I bet they sell more of it if they put the price closer to the name brand options. I know from experience that buying Twin Pet makes you feel like a jerk.

    Consumer Reports or not, I felt like a bad owner for spending so little. I normally don't buy into the idea that you have to pay more to get more; in fact, in any other case, I would feel superior and smart for not falling for that myth. But no, I just feel bad. Here Remix, I only love you $4 worth.

    She seemed to eat it; in fact, Remix can set records for eating speed. And she seemed healthy and energetic. She was enthusiastic at feeding times, and in my mind, I tried to imagine her saying "Twin Pet! Twin Pet!" like a dog in a commercial. Then she said a bunch of other silly things, because I sure do like pretending my dog can talk.

    At some point, I read an article about dog food. Reading an article about anything is a dangerous activity. The article talked about corn in dog food. Basically, it said that most dog foods have a high corn content, but that is a waste of your money. Because dogs can't even digest corn, so it's basically just a filler. Dogs are naturally supposed to eat mostly meat with just a little bit of vegetables ("roughage" - yum!), but not grain. So the dog is not getting good nutrients, and is basically just a machine that turns corn into poop. Also, they will age faster and die sooner (but only after racking up a lot of expensive corn-related medical bills). I was already feeling a little guilty about the Twin Pet, and now I was feeling worse. Because if anything was chock full of useless filler, it had to be the Twin Pet.

    So I went back to the dog food aisle to check out the various Ol' Roy options. I was even thinking about more expensive brands, depending on just how expensive they got. After all, I love my dog. I want her to be happy and healthy, to reach her full doggy potential.

    Guys, all the dog food has corn in it. ALL OF IT. Ninety percent of them had corn as the first or second ingredient, even the snooty organic ones. I found one brand that did not have corn in the first five ingredients. It was made by Rachael Ray, who appears smiling on the cover with her rescued pitbull. However, I happen to know that her pitbull bit somebody, so maybe she's feeding it too much meat.

    I checked every single bag. I got pretty frustrated right there in the dog food aisle. Finally, I gave up and bought a bag of Ol' Roy that had corn as the fourth ingredient. It was $11 for 18 pounds, more than twice the cost per pound of Twin Pet. I took my relatively expensive dog food and my irritation home. Then I looked on the internet to find out what kind of mixed up world will only sell you dog food that your dog can't even digest.

    The thing is, there is not really a consensus on the corn issue. There are articles going either way, and then below them are comments calling the authors of said article an idiot. Dogs can't digest corn, they're carnivores! I've been feeding my dog Purina for 15 years and she's healthy as a horse! I make my own dog food! I run a kennel and have never had a problem!

    Nothing sounded particularly authoritative. No one seemed to have any data beyond anecdotes or vague ideas about what was "natural." At the end of it, I pretty much sided with cost and availability. I am not going to cook my own dog food, nor am I going to pay $2 a pound for some stuff that I can only get over the internet. At some point I realized that most of the pets in the country were eating the corny stuff, and they managed to live pretty happy, healthy lives. At some point, you have to decide that it's probably good enough. That's the kind of practical thinking that makes me sound like a terrible person. You know, the kind that feeds her dog Twin Pet.

    However, I have switched to Ol' Roy. I'm just a sucker that way.


    it's a shame about ray.

    Friday, 4:03 PM
    Someone has taken the newspaper funnies from the breakroom. I suspect it could be found sitting on a toilet tank in the mens room. I cannot go get it, nor am I sure that I would really want to now. I look through the Weekend section instead, not that I ever find anything I want to do in there. Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, is going to be in Durham on Saturday night, but I have no idea what his act would be. Also, The Lemonheads will be in Carrboro, performing the entirety of their 1992 break-out album It's a Shame About Ray. I file this item in my memory. Josh had told me many time how much he loves this album.

    Friday, 8:37 PM
    We are on our way to Winston-Salem so Josh can play a benefit for burn victims. I mention the thing about The Lemonheads, and he responds enthusiastically. I also mention the Dog Whisperer, and he doesn't realize that I'm joking.

    Saturday 10:50 AM
    I ask whether we need to buy tickets in advance. He says yes.

    Saturday 11:34 PM
    I buy tickets.

    Sunday 9:20 PM
    We leave for Carrboro. We have timed it so that we will miss the two opening bands.

    Sunday 9:53 PM
    We arrive and magically find a close parking space. We have missed the first opening band, but the second hasn't showed up yet. We go around to the new side entrance and find that they've taken down the wall separating the club from the bar area. It's now just a great big room. We get beers and find positions in the middle of the room. There are people here, but not so many that we won't be able to see.

    Sunday 10:18 PM
    A man in a hoodie comes onstage with a guitar. The crowd cheers. This is Evan Dando.

    I don't know any of The Lemonheads's songs. In fact, all I know is from a Kimya Dawson lyric about the kind of binge drinking she used to do before she got clean: "Evan Dando never planned on telling you the truth." From this, I decide that Dando, if that is his real name, cannot be trusted. His appearance now doesn't help. The hood is up on his sweatshirt, making him look like a recluse. Whether he is one of those crazy geniuses, I don't know, though I could hazard a guess on the crazy part.

    Evan says that he is going to entertain us for a bit. The second band got lost, but they are on their way. He doesn't want us to miss them, so he's going to play so we won't leave. Considering that it's him we are all here to see, it seems doubtful that anyone would go. But maybe he just wanted to play. In any case, we are thrilled at this spontaneous performance, this secret show. He plays a couple songs, and then just starts taking requests from fans who probably know his whole catalog.

    Once, during a show, Josh's brother broke a guitar string. While he fixed it, Josh and the drummer made up a song on the spot and just played. They've been playing together for so long that they can compose as they go in front of an audience. Once the broken string was replaced, the guitar came screaming in during the middle of this brand new song, as if they'd planned it that way. They finished it, and someone from the crowd yelled out, "That's rock and ROLLLLL!"

    This lone guitarist on the stage in front of a reverent crowd, this was rock and roll.

    Sunday 10:34 PM
    Evan leaves the stage and the second opening band starts setting up. I don't care about the second band, no matter what Evan Dando says, and besides, I am hungry. We walk outside and across the parking lot to a taco truck. We order two burritos, one steak (asada) and one lamb (borrego), $10. They are ready in minutes and are delicious, simple peasant food, our favorite kind. Meat, rice, lettuce, cilantro. We finish eating them in the car, because it is the first cold weekend of the fall.

    Sunday 11:01 PM
    We walk back inside just as the second band is thanking the crowd and saying goodnight.

    Sunday 11:13 PM
    The Lemonheads, all three of them, take the stage. They play It's a Shame About Ray, though they skip track 4 ("Rudderless") and have to go back. Evan seems scattered. The bassist is not amused.

    It's a good show, but there is no encore. Well, we can't complain. We did get a secret show. Josh buys a t-shirt. He is happy.

    Sunday 12:30 AM
    We walk outside. Behind us, a man complains that the taco truck has left.

    Sunday 12:31 AM
    We stand next to the car while Josh smokes a cigarette. Maybe twenty feet away is Evan Dando. He is talking to the lead singer of the second band. Every minute or so, another fan comes up and asks him to sign something or have their picture taken with him. A couple just say "Great show!" and walk on. Evan is being friendly and cool about it. I ask Josh if he wants to go say hello, and he hedges, feeling shy. So we continue to stand there awkwardly at the outskirts. It's silly for him to be bashful. Hasn't he stood around after shows and talked to fans before? I encourage him to just go shake the man's hand, saying he might regret it if he does nothing.

    He decides not to, and we drive home. He says that Evan seems too fragile to approach. Whatever.

    Sunday 1:11 AM
    We pull into the driveway, and he says I was right about regretting it. But it's okay. Lemonheads. Secret show. Burritos. It was a good night.


    goober smile.

    Being female, I periodically get emails that are full of pictures of cute animals. I resent the implication that just because I am designated double-X, I enjoy looking at such things. I mean, really, I am a highly educated, logically-minded woman. I would complain, but awwwwwwww...look at the wittle puppy!

    I recently received such an email from a coworker. It was full of dog pictures - dogs wearing hats, dogs snuggling with kittens, dogs making funny faces. There was one picture of a pitbull. It was sitting next to a chair that had been so thoroughly destroyed that it was not even a chair anymore. The dog was smiling. Not that dogs smile in the sense that we do, but pitbulls have huge wide jaws full of teeth, and when they pant, it looks enough like a big goober smile that you'd want to put it in an email and send it to your best girlfriends.

    Now I resented the implication that pitbulls were destructive. Okay, fine, my particular pitbull is kinda destructive, but doesn't mean they all are. There are probably some really old ones that you could leave alone with your chair.

    Like I told you before, we give Remix stuffed animals to destroy so that she won't turn our chairs into not-chairs. It sorta works. We call them Cartmans, after the first toy, and she occasionally seems to understand what we mean by this word. New Cartman day is a special one in our house. We take her into the spare bedroom where she is generally not allowed to go. Ah, forbidden room with strange unsmelled smells! Then we dump the bag of possible Cartmans on the floor and allow her to pick one. Sometimes she sniffs around indecisively for a while before grabbing one and getting down to the hard work of ripping it open. Sometimes her decision is more immediate. Once she pretended to look at something on the wall before snatching a brown stuffed dog and bolting from the room.

    Thus she has selected her new toy, and its days are numbered. The easiest thing for her to go for are almost always the eyes, which are usually hard plastic. Those are pretty much gone within the hour, chewed and then abandoned on the floor. By then, the hull has been breached, and she can start getting the fluff out, which she does by enlarging the hole left by the missing eyes. When you come to visit, our dog will probably offer you a toy that has no face. It is disconcerting.

    Aside from being an outlet for pure destructive energy, the Cartmans also are tug toys. You can't tug in earnest, because they'll rip right in half (which is what happened when another pitbull came over one day and played tug). But you can tug a little bit, enough to make Remix really, really happy. You will never win at tug. Opposable thumbs are useful, but they are no match in this game against a wide jaw full of teeth and backed by huge muscles. These dogs evolved to bite and hold on, or rather, we bred them to do that. However, you can occasionally outsmart the dog and get the toy. And then you throw it a few feet away and she joyfully leaps to get it. Then she brings it back, because she wants you to try and take it from her again. Go ahead. Try.

    I don't spend more than fifty cents on these things at yard sales. Stuffed animals are as ubiquitous as Christmas tins, the secondhand marketplace is lousy with them. I try to get the ones that are stuffing only. Obviously, the ones with voice boxes or battery packs are right out, but a lot of them have beans in them, either in the body or the feet. I try to avoid these as well, since she would probably swallow them. At the very least, they'd be a pain to clean up. But once I accidentally gave her a green brontosaurus with beans in the feet. I didn't figure it out until I heard them hit the floor in a steady stream, and thus the term "foot beans" was introduced into our house.

    Usually if I'm buying Cartmans at a sale, I'm buying a bunch. People who have stuffed animals to sell never have just one. So while I'm standing there, paying for my armload of new-old toys, I tell the seller that they are destined for my dog. No one really responds very well to that. They look a little uncomfortable, as if they're not sure they want to sell them to me anymore. Perhaps they have fond memories of their children sleeping peacefully with those toys. I can't understand being squeamish about something you were selling for a quarter. I dunno, maybe those people don't like dogs.

    I went out of town a couple weekends ago. Before I left, Remix had been working on the destruction of a stuffed lamb. When I returned, I asked Josh if she had gotten a new one yet.

    "Well, yeah. But I didn't give it to her."


    "She got into that room where we keep them. It's a stuffed Snoopy?"

    "In a Santa suit?" I had been saving that one for Christmas (SHUT UP, I CAN GIVE MY DOG A FIFTY CENT CHRISTMAS PRESENT).

    "No. It had beans in it."

    "Oh. That one was not for her. It was mine."

    "I'm sorry." He was sorry, but we both know that this is what happens when you live with a dog.

    "My ex-boyfriend gave it to me."

    "I'm sorry." He was not really sorry anymore. He actually smiled at that.

    Remix was ecstatic to see me, as she always is. She immediately came running up, Snoopy hanging limply from her mouth, his face chewed off and beans leaking from his foot. I took it from her and sighed, as it was far too late to salvage the toy. So I threw it across the room and she bounded to get it. Then she came straight back with it clenched in her big goober smile, daring me to try and take it.