happy new year or else.

Let's talk about New Year's Eve. I sorta hate it.

It took me a long time to figure out what I hate about New Year's: it's that sometimes I have a crappy one. Not always, but those are definitely the most memorable. It seems like I had a fine time ringing in 2007, or maybe I'm only assuming that because I don't remember it at all. 2011 came in with a lesson about the dangers of champagne. I started 2008 freezing cold, in the car, miles to go before I slept. The first moments of 2005 sucked the most of all.

Of course, that's unfair. No doubt I have had terrible April 27ths, but I don't bear any ill will toward the day. And like I said, some of my New Year celebrations have been fine. I think. Maybe they were so bad that I'm blocking them out.

I realized last year that I had a certain idea about New Year's Eve that was ruining it for me. I think of it as a harbinger of the year to come. So if I have a rotten evening, I can feel the whole year yawning before me in awfulness. This is not logical. But it is an idea that had been hanging out in my head, making mediocre parties seem like portents of doom. It made having a terrific night a terrible necessity. HAVE FUN OR ELSE. One year, I found out that I was going to spending my New Year's at The Farmhouse, and I think I just wrote off the whole next year then and there.

But now, having pinpointed the source of my New Year's anxiety, I can overcome it. I can, you know, just let the evening unfold like I do with every other evening without feeling frantic that I'm not having the best night of my life. It is hard to have a good time when you're obsessed with the need to have a good time.

And if it sucks, well, I'll just write it off as part of 2012. Which wasn't a bad year for me, so if one day was below average, no big deal.

Happy New Year.



This year, we had a real Wallburg Family Christmas, Wallburg being the tiny town where Josh's mother's family lives. Their tradition is to have a big breakfast at the house of either his mom or one of his aunts (all of whom live on the same hillside). Then they play music, and finally, there is a game of Silly Santa. I think the game is a relatively new tradition, brought on by the fact that it became too much of a burden to get presents for everyone.

Silly Santa (also known as Dirty Santa) is a game where everyone brings a wrapped gift, all of which are placed in the middle of the room. We draw numbers to determine the order of who picks out a gift first, second, third, etc. When it's your turn, you pick out a present, either from the stash of wrapped gifts, or from the selection of things already unwrapped. So you can go with a mystery gift, or you can "steal" someone else's selection. If a person's gift is stolen, then they can either pick something from the middle or steal from someone else. Everyone has their own house rules, but we stipulate that a gift can only be stolen 3 times, otherwise the same iTunes gift card would go back and forth forever.

The gifts in the middle are a hodgepodge of good stuff and gag gifts. The fun of the good gifts is that they are more likely to get stolen. The fun of the bad ones is that then everyone can laugh as you hopefully try and convince someone to steal it from you, knowing that you will be taking it home.

Several years ago, Josh and I came across a glass head at a yard sale. We were fascinated by it. Sometimes, when in the secondhand marketplace, you find something so fantastic that you cannot not buy it. But nor do you actually want it. Such was the case with the glass head. It was $2, and horrifying. I did not want it in my house, looking at me with its empty eyes. But it had defied all logic and sanity by simply existing, and I wasn't about to let it get thrown away. Our excuse was that we would bring it as a Silly Santa gift. Surely, hilarity would ensue.

We wrapped it up in a huge box, padded with torn wrapping paper. And then we did not make it to Wallburg Family Christmas for two years. Luckily, our house is full of random crap, so a wrapped Christmas gift sitting in the corner fit right in. And it was better than looking at the glass head itself.

Finally, this year, the glass head would meet its Christmas destiny. We also wrapped up a giant bar of fancy chocolate, figuring it would be smart to bring one good thing and one awful thing. The first year we played, Josh and I hadn't known to bring gifts, so his mother hurriedly wrapped up some stuff she had received so that we could play. This year, she asked me if we had come prepared, and then gave me a big hug when I said yes, saying that I knew the way to my mother-in-law's heart. I thought it was loving her son, but it turns out it has something to do with family Christmas traditions.

The box with the glass head, with its innocuous Snoopy wrapping paper, was the very first thing picked, because the first person to go was using the strategy of picking the biggest box. It was a strategy that would fail him, especially since the smallest package turned out to be someone's old Rolex. As he unwrapped, I barely contained my snickers, and I shared amused glances with Josh across the room. It was a beautiful moment when he pulled out that awful glass head, a moment I'd been anticipating for more than three years.

The second person to go was Josh's teenage brother, who purposefully strode across the room and snatched away the glass head as if he had been waiting for the moment for a long time, too. All these years, his life had been missing a glass head, though he hadn't realized it until that day. For the rest of the game, he hid it behind his back to prevent anyone from stealing it (not sure that was ever a real danger). And then he spent the rest of the day putting things on it and also in it. Meanwhile, his mother tried to keep her sense of humor about having that awful thing in her house. I wondered if that was the way to my mother-in-law's heart.



Six years ago, Josh bought me a wonderful birthday present. Such was my excitement that I wrote an excessively long blog entry about it. While the whole essay was really just an excuse to show off my vintage gumball machine, the frame story was about how some people are excellent gift-givers, and the gumball machine indicated that Josh was among that proud group. I bragged that I had years of excellent gifts to look forward to. Apparently, rather than be pleased that I enjoyed my gift so much, he took it as a challenge that every single gift he bought me had to be to up to the standard set by the beautiful, vintage, cherry red gumball machine.

A few days before Christmas, he announced that he had bought my present. I asked for clues, and he told me that it was blue.

"Is it a puppet?" I asked, because there was no way in the world I was going to be able to guess based on the fact that the thing was blue.

"Yes. And no." He answered, which was not as helpful as I'd hoped. That lead to a discussion of all the things that could be puppets, such as purses or tea kettles, basically anything that you can make talk. In fact, a day or two later, I told him that I'd bought his present, and that it was not and yet was a puppet (it was a book).

It turned out that he was lying. My present was blue, and it was definitely a puppet. It was in no way not a puppet. More specifically, it was a Muppet.

Actually, to be excruciatingly specific, it was an Anything Muppet, or a Whatnot. These are blank Muppets that you can stick features onto to create multiple characters. They are generally used as extras or one-off characters, because of their versatility.

And now I have one, because the world is an amazing place.

Not only can you switch out the nose, eyes, and hairpieces, you can position the features to change the expression, too. The kit also comes with a rod to attach to the hands so that the Muppet can make dramatic arm movements.

As I was gleefully playing around with the different faces, Josh said that he had finally topped the gumball machine, and I found out about all his gift anxiety caused by a silly old blog entry. Then I realized what a great frame story that anxiety would make for me to tell you about the most fantastic Christmas present I got this year. It's blue, and it's a puppet.


music everywhere, all the time.

There are five of us and two guitars on a screened-in porch in Apex. The instruments are passed around, everyone eager to make sure everyone else has a turn. Someone starts picking something out, and whoever is holding the other one will play harmony. Only a couple are songs that the players have ever attempted to play before. Mostly it is songs that we are all familiar with, and it is a community effort to figure out the notes. Listeners call out chords, which are then tried and confirmed or rejected. We sing quietly, because none of us are very confident about our voices and we're not always sure of the words.

* * * * *

The basement is set up for band practice, and when the band is not there, then a band forms. There are guitars lining the walls, a bass, a drum kit, a piano, an accordion. Some people come to the basement with their own instruments, either because they were invited to have a jam session or because they always happen to have a sax in the trunk. Whoever is there will pick up the instrument that they can play, or else sit and wait until someone abandons the instrument they can play. Or if there are five guitarists sitting around and no drummer, someone will give it a go, beginning their drum career then and there. And they all just rock out together, making it up as they go along.

* * * * *

It is Sunday morning, and we are on the covered front porch of a house in the mountains, drinking coffee and looking out at the river. We had talked about maybe trying to go to church somewhere local, but before plans could be finalized, a guitar came out, then another. They traded songs back and forth, one leading while the other listened long enough to pick up the pattern and then join in. It was a different kind of service.

* * * * *

It is Christmas Day, and breakfast is still set out on the counters for grazing, but we are all crammed into the living room, sitting in chairs and on the floor or wherever a body will fit. It's probably Grandmother who gets the ball rolling. While the youngers sit back and make jokes, she is impatient for the music to begin. She picks the closest one and orders them to get to playing, which starts a series of small concerts, like a recital. There is piano, guitar, violin, cello, and it all ends with Cousin Ben on the accordion, playing the song with the tongue twister verses about a proper cup of coffee from a proper copper coffee pot. Grandmother asks me if I play anything, and I shake my head sadly. But she says, "Me neither!" and then looks all about her proudly.

* * * * *

The night before the wedding, the party goes on forever in a two-room rented cabin in the national park. There's one mandolin, three guitars, and six guitarists. Someone is always fiddling, either working something out for themselves or providing the chords to a song that we all sing. We are happy to be in this group of people who know the same songs, even though we have only met some of them this very evening. Some funny phrase floats up in a conversation, and immediately it becomes a line in the chorus of a new song.

* * * * *

Trevor is alone in his room, playing his screaming guitar solo unplugged, because you can't melt faces if you haven't practiced.

* * * * *

The afternoon is mild and the s'mores are delicious. Someone strolls over from the house carrying a huge case, and suddenly from nowhere more cases appear. There are four of them, standing in a loose circle playing bluegrass hymns: A guitar, a mandolin, a fiddle, a double bass. My parents are there, the first meeting between two families that will be joined officially sometime next year. My dad sits at a picnic table, listening to the music, his foot tapping. Then he gets up and stands among them, making requests and then listening with a far-off look of contentment.

* * * * *

Musicians hang out with musicians, and they all get together and play music. They do it when they're happy or sad or drunk or awake. It is incredible magic to me, the making of music, the drive to create sound. I used to worry that my musician would suddenly notice that and make off with one of his own kind. But I don't think about it that way anymore. I'm just grateful to have a passport into these moments when music just happens.


profoundly strange.

*Note: It is not my aim to insult any of the following groups of people: anarchists, socialists, women who pee standing up, sad hobo clowns, Puerto Ricans, people with unusual names or their parents, Franz Kafka, the city of Chapel Hill. You guys are all fine in my book. It's a big world.

"So we went to this puppet show in Chapel Hill tonight-"

"No, no." Ashley interrupted. "Sandra took me to a puppet show in Chapel Hill tonight."

She was right; it had been all my fault. I was the one on a mailing list about local puppet shows. I had said, "hey, let's go to this while you're in town," and I had driven us over to Chapel Hill. I had driven all around the block a few times looking for parking, and I had even paid the $20 donation to get us both in. But I didn't know! I swear, I didn't know. The show was at the Internationalist Books and Community Center, a tiny shop located on the main drag. A travelling puppet show in an independent book store. Doesn't that sound nice?

We came through the door a minute or two late and had a seat among the several rows of folding chairs pushed into cramped rows. I was shoved up against a display of local magazines, t-shirts, knitted goods, and some plastic funnel things that allow women to pee standing up. The stuff at the bottom was free, so I helped myself to a few of the more interesting pamphlets and stickers. The bookstore was clearly a haven for multiple fringe movements. It's cool that anyone with a Xerox can make a magazine and sell it in a real bookstore.

There were a few others already in the seats when we arrived, and more came in. There was definitely an alternative vibe. Some of the people were not regular bathers. Many of them had hairstyles that could be called pieces of art. They were all dressed unconventionally, some of them looking like they were intentionally clashing and others appearing more interested in comfort than fashion.

We felt a little out of place. I wished that I had worn something weirder.

An employee of the book store got up to welcome us and tell us about upcoming events. After all, if we had come to the puppet show, we might be interested in some of their other guest speakers. The very next Tuesday, there was going to be someone that she described as "an anarchist from the South," like being an anarchist was just like being a window washer or a knitter. As it turns out, the name "Internationalist" is not just a nice way to be inclusive, but a reference to a political philosophy. It's socialism on an international level. I'm not sure where the anarchists fit in. It's possible that the smaller groups have to stick together, even if their aims are different. Smaller groups also include travelling puppet shows.

There were two puppet groups that evening. Jawbone Puppet Theatre is a father and son act, the father being dressed as a hobo with a painted sad clown face, and the son being a five-year-old named Corn Snake. Poncili Company is a group of four puppeteers, who were relatively normal-looking. They all had magnificent hair and pretty accents, hailing from Puerto Rico.

Parts of the show were a bit like watching a child play-act with his toys. For example, one sketch was with dinosaur toys, as Sad Hobo Dad and Corn Snake manipulated action figures and made them talk to each other. But the rest of the skits were similar in that there was very little attempt to hide the puppeteer. I don't mind that. Puppetry is a wide open art form, which is one of the things I love about it. A lot of the puppets were plastic toys or stuffed animals, plus some that were constructed with paper mache or cardboard. My favorites were the little cardboard ones with hinged joints. They must have had magnets on the back, because Sad Hobo Clown Dad was able to randomly stick them around the room. He must've had some magnets sewn into his suit, because he stuck them to himself, too, as if he was the stage (okay, that is brilliant). He even had a tiny cardboard Sad Hobo Clown Dad, which rode on an empty coal bucket in an adaptation of a Kafka story. I'm not sure what it says when the Kafka story is one of the more coherent pieces of your act.

I am not sure, but I think that I may have done a poor job of hiding my complete and total confusion during the entire show. It was so strange. I understood some things, while others I couldn't tell if there was even anything to get. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy myself. I liked the puppets, I liked the sets built into battered suitcases, and I liked the sketches. I just didn't understand the point of all of them, nor was I entirely sure there always was one. Then again, I've never been good at symbolism.

At the end, as they were all taking their bows to our enthusiastic applause (Corn Snake held his nose while doing so, which was a nice touch), one of the performers told to us to feel free to stick around and come talk to them after the show, because "some of the skits are pretty weird." I laughed in relief. Thank goodness, it's not just me, this is actually weird. Behind us, a couple of high school kids had different reactions. One was enthralled, either because she is at a higher level of understanding than I am or because she automatically equates weird with deep. The other said the exact same words as his friend, but sarcastically. Either he was at a higher level of understanding than I am or he assumes that anything that he doesn't get is stupid.

I really have no idea. Some of it was really cool, much of it was confusing, all of it was fascinating. It has tumbled in my head since then, hoping to catch on some crag on my brain and find a connection.

Later, we chatted a bit with Sad Hobo Clown Dad. He said he came up with the outfit as a last-minute costume for a hobo party he was going to. For whatever reason, he decided to put on the sad clown makeup, and he said he felt his whole body sort of fall into it, as if he'd really been a sad hobo clown all his life and had only discovered it when he happened to have to go to this party. I wonder how many of us are really sad hobo clowns inside and don't even know it.

We left feeling sort of stunned at the strangeness of at all, discussing what kind of person a kid named Corn Snake and raised in a touring puppet show would grow up to be.

Who does this? Who travels around the country giving bizarre puppet shows? The touring aspect reminded me of Josh's band, but with a band, there is always the hope of getting rich and famous. With puppet shows, there's not really a precedent of someone getting famous from doing this, so these guys really have to be doing it for its own sake. They're just artists, and this is where their inspiration leads them. I cannot comprehend their motivations, but I am glad they exist. Maybe Someone has to be doing this, for our world to be as big and beautiful and strange as it is.


the pod.

Our office bought a Keurig, which is one of those pod coffee makers. You know, you put in a little sealed cup, press go, and a minute later you have exactly one cup of coffee. They're supposed to be convenient for situations where cups should only be brewed one at a time, e.g., an office. We have a coffee machine that brews individual cups on demand, but the results are not tasty. I'm not sure if it's the coffee we are buying or maybe the machine hasn't been cleaned out in ten years, but it is not good coffee. So I just never drink it. I keep a variety of tea bags in my desk in case of caffeine emergencies.

Buying the coffee maker was an act of employee rebellion against the bad coffee. See, the company pays for the grounds that go into the company machine. But apparently my coworkers, the ones who drink the bad coffee, got fed up. So we all chipped in on the fancy pod machine, with the plan that we would each supply our own pods. It was truly an exciting day when the machine came in. We all stood around it, admiring its lovely red shade, waiting for our chance to try out one of the sample pods that was included. We don't get out much.

For the record, I am not really a fan of the pod coffee system. Yes, they are convenient and easy to use. But it's wasteful to throw away a little plastic cup every time you get coffee, not to mention that those stupid things are freaking expensive. My limited experience with a Keurig has been at Josh's dad's house, where they have a plethora of pods to choose from in every flavor except Just Regular Coffee, It's Too Early For Blueberry For Cyrin Out Loud. It's possible that my dislike of pod coffee has a little to do with my dislike of flavored coffee.

Now that I've registered my disapproval, I will admit that I bought get some pods to keep in my desk, for the occasions when I would want coffee. After all, I've been not drinking office coffee for 8 years now (the coffee at my old job was bad, too), so it shouldn't be a big deal to not drink it now. And bonus, the pods are on sale this week at Harris Teeter, so I can pay fifty cents apiece instead of seventy-five. Why yes, that is still pretty expensive, thank you for noticing.


As it turns out, not drinking bad free coffee is really a lot easier on the will power than not drinking delicious and extravagantly-brewed coffee, particularly when there are pods right here in my desk. Because I've already spent the money on the pods, it's easy to forget how much each one cost me. I had a cup this morning...and I'm about ready for another one. So much for my moral stand on the environment and against an over-convenienced society.

There are possible solutions. I can buy a reusable pod, which you then have to fill with your own coffee. The reusable one costs approximately the same as a pack of twelve pods (when they are not on sale). And I'm thinking that I should make it a little harder on myself to give in. I should have to put fifty cents into a bank or something every time I partake of the pod.

I should just go back to tea.


generous donor.

Last year, I read a book called Mountains Beyond Mountains about Dr. Paul Farmer, the founder of a charity called Partners in Health, which provides healthcare to the world's poverty-stricken areas. It's an inspiring read, in that it makes you realize that you are doing nothing at all useful in life compared to Paul Farmer. Some people are motivated to do good all the time, and I don't know how.

When the charity was first starting, they had one generous donor, a small businessman who basically wrote blank checks for Farmer to build facilities in Haiti. There is a scene where Farmer and his donor are standing on a hill in Haiti, overlooking the beautiful countryside, and the donor says that sometimes he feels like chucking it all and coming down to work with the doctor full-time. And Farmer says, no no no, we need your money. You do the most good by making a lot of money and then giving it to us.

While the book did not inspire me to go to medical school so I could treat children in Haiti, it did move me to start giving away money. I figured out my take-home pay for the year, took a percentage, and then gave that away throughout the year to various causes. I made a schedule of the causes and when I would donate to them, as well as leaving myself a little extra to give away when it came up (for example, to sponsor a friend who was doing a walkathon).

It is hard to pick causes. Because there are so many, because it's hard to know which ones are using the money well, because giving money to one cause is taking it away from another. I want to give money to my local NPR station, but how can I justify not giving that money to the homeless shelter when the need seems so much greater? How do I factor in the exposure that NPR gives to important issues against feeding someone a meal?

I tried to cover all my bases. I picked a charity for animals, one for sick people, one for the arts, several for the poor, one for children. I realized that I did not pick an environmental conservation group, so I revised my list this year to include one. I skewed locally, giving as much as I could to causes in Wake County and North Carolina.

I immediately learned that becoming a donor means that you will be asked to donate again (similar to blood, I guess). They will send you letters in the mail, and you will wonder how much of the money you gave them is being used to solicit more money from you. These letters do not make me feel very charitable.

Last week, I got a call from the Raleigh Rescue Mission. The lady apologized, saying that they don't call very often, but for just today, they had a generous donor who was going to match every donation pledged that day, up to $25,000. I was agitated, because just last month, I had sent the rescue mission a nice fat check. Apparently, I had also sent them my phone number. And so I was irritated at being bothered, and yet... I mean, I'm not homeless, am I? What stupid thing have I bought lately? So I sighed and pledged $25. I felt like a sucker, and I felt bad for not giving more. Being a generous donor is hard.


used bookmarks.

One thing that I love about buying secondhand is all the traces left behind by previous owners. What is so neat about these impressions is that they are completely unintentional. They are pure and unconscious, made by someone who wasn't even thinking that some weirdo might come behind them and try to glean insight from an ordinary object. Sometimes there are no actual physical traces, but the very fact that I know there was a previous owner is enough to spark my imagination, thinking about who they might be or what the thing might have meant to them. I love these traces, because they act as tiny threads between strangers. There is a connection between me and this unknown person. I've been buying and donating so long that I imagine a whole web of threads connecting me to people all over the world.

One of my favorite traces is the used bookmark. People read books, and they use whatever scrap they have on hand to mark their place. Or maybe they just shove a bit of paper into a book as a place to keep it. Then they forget all about it when they donate the book to the thrift store, and it is there when I pick it up. I have found some amazing bookmarks. A boarding pass for a flight to Kenya, a hotel receipt from London in the 60s, a written itinerary for a pheasant hunt, a book report on Washington Irving. Maybe I'm weird and most people would just think this stuff was trash, but I love the unintended documentary aspect of it. It's a little capsule of a particular life at a particular time.

Once, I was in Josh's library, and I found a bookmark. I excitedly showed it to Josh, who also thinks that kind of thing is neat, but not with the same enthusiasm as I have. He told me, "You know, whatever bookmarks you find in my books, you can keep." And I was just floored, like this was the most amazing gift anyone could ever give to me. I was genuinely touched, even as I realized that he had given me to the right to keep pieces of trash that I found in used books. And yet, maybe that's one of the reasons we are so good together - the match of a lover of secondhand books to a lover of the things found in them.


priority mail.

Our fingerprint kit came in the mail last week. It included a thermometer and a pair of plastic tweezers, both marked "Please return." There were two little envelopes containing four black strips of some kind of substance that apparently got malleable when heated. There was also a sample strip of someone else's fingerprint. Finally, the kit contained a set of very thorough instructions with frequent use of caps lock to emphasize such things as "DO NOT BURN YOURSELF." All of this, plus some business cards and advertising postcards, in one priority mail flat rate envelope.
I spread it all over the counter and looked at each piece. Josh, freshly home from work, but not yet in possession of his post-work beer, was not particularly interested. He was downright grumpy, when really he should have been excited and grateful at the awesomeness of this kit that arrived due to no work on his part.

But he had work to do now. We read the instructions completely before starting, as we were admonished to do in the second step. First, we set sixteen ounces of water on the stove to boil. While that was going on, we soaked our hands in warm water. According to the information, this would cause the ridges on our fingers to become more pronounced.

Once the water was boiling, we divided it into two smaller bowls. We used the enclosed thermometer to determine when the water was between 145 and 150 degrees. Then we put a little black strip facedown into each bowl and waited thirty seconds. The hot water made the black stuff on the strip become moldable. Once it was ready to be shaped, we pressed our full fingers down onto the strip and waited another thirty seconds.
Finally, we ran our bestripped fingers under a stream of cold water for ten seconds. We peeled off the strips and then started all over again. There were four strips for each of us in the kit. We were advised to make and return all of them, that the fingerprint experts would pick out the best impression to use on our rings. Once completed, we packaged the completed strips back up with the borrowed thermometer and tweezers and shipped it right back to Maine, priority mail.
I guess it all took a half hour on a weeknight, and once we got the first set down, the rest were easy. The hardest part was soaking our hands in water while we tried to do other things. It was fun, like a little kitchen science project for couples. What was really neat was the feeling that we were a part of the process of making our wedding bands, rather than just going to the store and picking them out. We really helped! Or rather, he helped make my ring, and I helped make his. I can't wait until 8 - 10 weeks from now, when we'll get another priority mail package containing the fruits of our labors.


four corners.

In the evenings, when I get home, it is Syrus, Josh's brother's dog, who greets me most enthusiastically. He is waiting for me when I open the door, while Remix looks up groggrily from where she is curled up on the couch. I was flattered by this doggy love, and a little scandalized that an animal who is not my own loved me so, as if canine affection was subject to the idea of fidelity. But I shouldn't have worried. Really, Syrus is happy because I can perform a service for him: open the back door. With that, he shoots out and over to the fence to see what the other neighborhood dogs are up to. Remix follows, with a mighty leap off the porch.

The fence is the thing that separates us from Gail and her foster home for wayward dogs. It used to be that her dogs were only out when she was home. Either this policy has changed or she's not working much anymore. In any case, Syrus charges the fence with a snarl, which is answered by the barking of half a dozen dogs on the other side. And then they start running. Back and forth in parallel, up and down the length of the fence. Syrus will do this forever. Remix gets tired of mindless running and wants to fight, at which point she runs behind Syrus and tries to bite his back leg to goad him into a game of Wrestle. That's her signature move, the back leg bite.

It's funny to me to see the way a dog's original job manifests itself in the life of a pet. These traits seem to pop up in play, as each dog seems to instinctively know certain games. Rottweilers were bred to be shepherds, so Syrus loves to play the game of Run. He also is very good at Wrestle, I guess from generations of keeping unruly sheep in line. Pitbulls were bred to fight other pitbulls while people bet on them. As a result, Remix has a great short game and that's about it. She cannot run forever, though she can run very fast for a bit. Her hearing, sight, and smell are not spectacular, nor is she especially smart. She is moderately stealthy and very nimble. Her grab-bite is excellent.

So whichever of Gail's dogs have running in their blood play Run with Syrus, while the ones whose ancestors had other jobs hang out at the corner and play Bark. Of course, Gail is not the only one with dogs. The people behind her have two, a pair of large shepherd types with the most magnificent flowing white hair. I call these dogs the Clydesdales, after the fancy horses. I can't imagine what a pain they must be. One of my requirements for a dog was that it had short hair. Syrus is only shaggy, and yet whole spare coats of his fur accumulate underneath the futon. We all have our ideals of dog ownership, and mine does not involve going to the groomer or needing to sweep more than once a week.

And behind our house lives a shaggy terrier thing named Hope. She has a wimpy and shrill bark that would scare only the meekest of burglars. I can always pick her barks out of the crowd, as well as Remix's, who has a powerful and throaty voice. The rest of them sort of meld together in a general din.

All of these yards meet in one corner, where the dogs will congregate in order to sniff, bark, and wag at each other. It's tempting to think that they are relaying special dog secrets, but they're probably just saying "Hey" over and over. It is a right lot of noise. Bark bark bark, run run, run, bark bark bark.

Now, Syrus is not a young dog. He is eight years old, which for a ninety-pound rottweiler, is a respectable age. You can tell his age when he gets up from lying down, slowly as if his butt were still asleep. Once, he must have gotten up too quickly, because his back legs just collapsed on him. He sat pathetically on the floor, wagging his nub of a tail. He eats senior dog food, because that is a thing that exists.

But we have all noticed that since moving next door to the foster home, Syrus has regained his youth. Previously, he lived in more urban areas, and he watched a lot of TV. He had a canine roommate, but that dog was part coyote or something; his favorite game was Skulk. Playing with other dogs who know his doggy games has done him a lot of good. He runs the fence a couple times a day with the neighbor dogs, and then he comes inside where Remix pesters him until he finally agrees to kick her butt for her. All that adds up to a strong and energized Syrus. He is a beast. It's especially terrifying when he comes in from a brisk run at the fence. He's also a drooler (not sure what the evolutionary advantage is to that), and after that much exercise, he is foaming, with long trails of slobber running down his front. He looks almost rabid. Except that he looks so happy, gulping at the bowl of water and asking to be let out again.


fingerprint rings.

I ordered our wedding rings this week. More specifically, I ordered fingerprint rings. What are fingerprint rings? I'll tell you.

Some nice people in Maine send you a kit, where you can make an impression of your finger and the finger of your beloved. Then you mail the kit back and they put each fingerprint on the inside of the other person's ring. So when I wear my ring, I will be wearing the impression of Josh's finger snuggled around my finger. It's like we're holding fingers. Awwwwwww.

I love everything about these rings. I love that they are custom-made by a husband and wife metalworks shop. I love that it mimics physical touch, which is an important avenue of affection in our relationship. I love that I don't have to spend forever trying to come up with an inscription that won't seem goofy in fifty years. Of course, anything we picked would immediately become Significant, but that wouldn't keep me from agonizing over it now.

Mostly, I love how the fingerprint works on a much more basic level than anything else we could inscribe. It's him, and it's me. We don't have to try and pick out words that symbolize our relationship. We already picked out each other, and that's really the only choice in all this wedding stuff that matters.


giraffe notebooks.

Years and years ago, I bought half a dozen cute little notebooks at Big Lots for 99 cents apiece. They were brightly colored, with several different designs, all of them featuring giraffes. I bought them with the intention of giving them away to...I dunno, whoever I knew that might want a giraffe notebook. I ended up giving one to my friend Amy, and then the rest got stuffed into a box in my closet.

I did start carrying one of the notebooks around in my purse. The idea is that I would always be ready when inspiration strikes you. 'Cause I'm a writer! But it turned out that inspiration didn't strike me as often as I'd thought it would.

I met a guy at a party once who carried an even tinier notebook in his pocket. It was plain black, no giraffes at all. I found out that he carried a notebook because he whipped it out to write down something someone said. And then he explained that he just had to have this notebook on him all the time so he could write down all the interesting bits of conversation that happened in his life. Of course, the woman who had been talking was all a-flutter. After that first time, he kept pulling out the notebook to write down something else.

This dude really pissed me off. For one thing, the things that were said right before the notebook came out were not interesting. They could have been lost to the ages, and the ages would have been no worse off. So either he was lying about what he wrote down, or he was not an interesting person either. But really, it seemed like a ploy for attention. Look, buddy, if you're going to be a deep and thoughtful person, you can't be flaunting it. That's what bothered me - that everyone else thought he was so cool because of his stupid little notebook with its boring quotes inside. I wanted to whip out my own notebook and be like, dude, you're not special. But I didn't, because I didn't want to talk about my notebook. Even the existence of them is private. I've come a long way since then in terms of sharing feelings with people.

And also in not being pissed off at people for no good reason. I realize now, if not then, that my feelings were completely unfair. I could've easily piped up and said that I carry a notebook, too, and likely we would have had a nice conversation about notebooks. But instead, I was petty and jealous about nothing at all. Not that I said anything. In my head, though, I made nasty comments. Nasty, but funny and interesting.

Anyway, this entry is about my notebooks, not my uncharitable attitude toward people who seem to me to be trying to draw attention to themselves.

Since inspiration was rare, and I didn't whip out my notebook at parties to jot down bon mots, mostly my notebooks were things that I wrote in when I was bored in public. It's like bringing a book to read. I wrote about whatever I was thinking or maybe I people-watched and wrote down made up stories about strangers. I did this a few times at a couple of Josh's band's poorly-attended shows (I would pause to cheer in between songs). Once, in a bar in Rocky Mount, an obnoxious bar patron complained loudly about how the band didn't play any songs that he knew (right, because they write their own songs). And then he pointed at me across the room and said, "See, she's taking notes about what to do next time." While I had been writing about people who dance by themselves, I actually did write down what he said. And you could say I did take notes about what to do next time, if what to do next time was to never ever play in Rocky Mount again.

But my notebooks got a new lease on life when I started reading regularly. I started taking notes about books. I wrote down thoughts, quotes, reactions. For some non-fiction books, I wrote notes as if I was reading the book for a class. This system has worked great for me. For one thing, the act of writing something down helps to seal it into your memory. So I retain what I've read better. And if I forget it, hey, there it is behind the giraffe. And while I used to only pull out the book to write, sometimes I pull it out to review. It's much better reading than my regular journal, which is boring and self-absorbed.

Anyway, that's all I have to say about notebooks. I just finished one yesterday, and so I'll get to pull a new one out of the box in the closet and start fresh. I wonder what this giraffe will hold.