Friday, September 30, 2011

I wanted to use a cool XML reference here, but...

(Title, continued):  apparently Blogger does not let you use out of place references using tags that are not part of their HTML structure.  Boo-urns, Blogger.  Boo-URNS.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled bloggramming:

You know (and I am sure you do), I like to write about cake.  I have done it a lot as of late.  In fact, tomorrow I will be making yet another cake, but this one shall have a real purpose.  We are going out tomorrow night to celebrate the 31st birthday of one of my oldest and best friends, and I want to make her something special.  This means chocolate.  So you will probably have to endure at least one more entry that concerns cake, but it's OK because this new entry will be posted in a brand-spanking-new month! 

Can you believe it is almost October?  Gah!  Where does the time go?  Truly, fall is my favorite season, and I hate to see it pass so quickly, but I have not yet been granted the ability or power to stop time progression, so we will just have to accept it.  For now.

At the risk of sounding crazy, I am going to share with you the topic of an alarming number of my thoughts lately:  Christmas shopping.  I know, it's WAY too early to think about this, but I can't help myself.  Fortunately, my mother's birthday falls in the meantime, so I may be able to direct my gift-buying urges elsewhere. 

Guess what?  No, I did not with the contest for that blue Le Creuset pot on the Pioneer Woman website.  Even though I answered honestly that if I had to pick any age to be at for the rest of my life, it would be 25.  No, the big surprise is that I am learning a little bit of computer mark-up language and I actually find it... interesting. 

My last big foray into the world of real technical computing came when I was in middle school and spent some time on a college campus for "computer camp."  Honestly, I had a lot of fun at these sessions, and not just because we got to stay in real college dorms, eat in their cafeterias and go to the water park.  Learning how to use computer language to create programs was fascinating to me.

Sadly, this experience did not lead me to become a computer programmer.  In high school and college, I unintentionally avoided the computer science courses.  This may have been a mistake. 

In my current class, we are presently learning the language of XML.  To see an example of what this looks like, here is a food menu that has been encoded in XML.  (Note:  I did not create this file.)  Fun, right?

Well, if you would have showed this to me two years ago and expected me to understand it, I probably would have cried.  But here I am, two years later with a lot more knowledge and experience, and it makes sense.  I know.  Crazy, right?

So if you're wondering what I will be doing for the next few months by way of homework, this should give you a baseline idea.  I will also apparently be writing a mock grant proposal, but that is done in regular English.  Or so I believe. 

As a conclusion, if you think of me this evening, hope that I have found something entertaining to do.  My father is going to the farm and my mother has book club.  This means that from 6:30 to 11 p.m. or midnight, I will be home alone with the dogs.  Exciting, no?  Don't be jealous.  If you want, we can come to your house and visit.  Just be sure to have treats - and not just for the dogs. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hey there, Handsome. Try this cake!

This is my second attempt to write an entry today.  My first attempt is still saved in draft form, but it felt just a little bit too... angry.  And really, today I am not angry.  I am sore, but I am assuming that is due to changes in the weather.  Hopefully.

Today is my mother's last day of work at the coffee shop.  Wouldn't you know, the big-wigs at Caribou decided to make today a Buy-One-Get-One special day, which meant that when I stopped in this morning to visit her on her last day, the place was packed.  I ordered my two lattes and waited with the crowd until my name was called. 

From now on, I will probably go to one of the other three Caribous located within the same mile radius as they tend to be less busy, but today in honor of the last time my mother must spend 6-8 hours on her feet without a break, I went to her store. 

For those of you who want a cake update, it was a huge success.  My coworkers nearly devoured the entire thing over the course of the day due to the fact that several of them came back for seconds and thirds.  Oddly, the most ardent admirers of this cake were male.  Perhaps this indicates that this particular cake would be well-suited to attracting male admirers in a broader sense.  (Outside of work, I mean.)

How should I do this?  Walk around with plates and forks in my purse and my cake-save?  I could bring it with me to my mother's coffee shop, a place replete with young attractive professional men.  After ordering my coffee, I could set my cake up on the table and wait for the men to come over and admire.  Once they tried the cake, they would ask for my number.  And so on.

The only problem with this plan is that it could create unrealistic expectations.  Truthfully, as you all know, I do not make cakes all that often.  Yes, my latest cookbook has inspired me to do more cake baking, but I am fairly certain that I am not going to continue making them every few weeks.  I am in the test phase right now; trying out the different recipes to find the best and gaining experience in the process. 

One of my female coworkers did have an interesting suggestion.  Her theory is based on romantic comedy movies in which a young single female opens her own pastry shop only to have a tall dark and handsome man walk in and somehow end up being her magical special someone.  While this does sound appealing, there are a few obstacles that would need to be overcome. 

First, I would need to be a pastry chef.  Baking two cakes in the space of a month does not a professional make.  Second, I would need to own my own business.  I have no idea how to do this, and I suspect that it would be extremely tiring and time consuming.  Third, who would entertain my dog while I baked?  She seems to take baking time as the proper moment to demand my undivided attention to the point that I shower her with treats to distract her from my negligence.

So you see, this may not be feasible as a long-term plan.  If anyone has other suggestions, please let me know.  I am open to new ideas.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cake beats fog!

I was once told that I have a memory like a sponge.  This was due to my ability to recall details from major events in high school, not my ability to recall things that I did yesterday. 

My problem usually turns out to be in the area of quotations or song names.  I will be riding in the car and a song will come on the radio that catches my fancy.  I will consult my car's radio screen and try to make a mental note.  If this fails, I try and note the time of day for later comparison with the radio station's online playlist.  Even so, I sometimes forget.

Yesterday on my drive home, I was listening to the banter between my the "news guy" and the regular DJ on my favorite station, and he finally came to the weather forecast.  Now, I am not normally one to pay much attention to the weather as it is typically neither funny nor entertaining.  But there was one thing I did note in yesterday's report:  patchy fog was expected for this morning.

Actually, it was not so much the fog as it was how the radio man said it:  "Patchy fog makes its triumphant return." 

If I ever had to lend extra description to fog, I am not sure that I would have immediately turned to "triumphant," which is why I promptly burst out laughing when it was said.

This morning, as I harnessed Lena for our morning walk in the dark, I remembered the words and was therefore not surprised to find that our world was just a bit spookier as we emerged from the front door.  Pair this with the fact that I definitely saw some sort of creature dart into the woods when we came out and you can see why I was a bit edgy for our entire outing.

By the time I left for work, the triumphant fog had not yet lifted, but now that the sun is out, it has retreated.  Perhaps it declared victory too soon. 

On a different note, I did bake that cake last night and it turned out moderately well.  Thanks to my first lengthy endeavor, the process seemed to be a bit smoother and faster.  Lena, of course, was still confused and remained at my side throughout the process.  I tried to distract her with toys and treats, but she kept coming back. 

The only major downside to cake baking (in addition to the copious amount of dishes to be cleaned afterwards) is the fact that the oven creates a lot of extra heat in my house.  We have entered the time of year when I prefer to keep all forced temperature ventilation turned off.  It is not hot enough for air conditioning, but it is certainly not cold enough for the furnace.

We did have a cold spell a few weeks back, and it was nice.  Now we are back into the "nicer" fall temperatures (in the high 70's) and I am having trouble.  Sure, it's lovely for being outside and for people who do not have a problem opening their windows.  But I am no such person. 

This means that my house gets a bit stuffy.  I try not to do anything to increase the temperature beyond what my normal body heat generates, but I had to make an exception last night for the cake.  Luckily, I have fans for my bedroom which makes it possible for me to sleep despite the fact that I share my bed with a very warm and cuddle-friendly dog. 

So I know people will hate me for saying this, but I am looking forward to a slight drop in temperature.  I like coming into a warm house and having it feel nice, not stifling.  I want to be able to burn my fall-scented candles and not worry that I am creating too much unnecessary heat.  Knowing that your candles are only there to cover up the smell of one's perspiration is never pleasant.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Personality, memory and missions

There are those who blog with a purpose - to inform, to evaluate, to entertain.  But most bloggers, in my opinion, blog to create a sort of diary or memory of their thoughts and actions for posterity.  Everything else that happens after that is secondary to their real purpose.  How else would I remember what I was thinking about on each particular day?  Especially now that days tend to blur into one another so easily.

So here is what I have been thinking about in the past few minutes.

I do not know if it is an American or a human-based phenomenon, but it seems that we are obsessed with self-assessment.  As we cannot fully trust ourselves to give objective results, we often turn to the genie in the bottle:  the personality test.

These run the range from legitimate tests rooted in psychological study and research to the ridiculous based on someone's partially formed juvenile attempt to be funny.  Of course, most tests require the subject to answer honestly, which may prove problematic for some, but theoretically when done correctly, the results should offer us insight into our personal habits, desires, strengths and weaknesses.

While I am not willing to claim that these sort of tests do not ever render useful information, I am skeptical.  I often find that they end up either causing confusion, anger, or even misguided self-awareness.

I think that secretly (or not) many people really do want to be pigeon-holed.  Labelled.  Explained.  When you do something strange, you can simply point to this test-given label and say, "See?  This is why I did that!"  Almost as an excuse, if you will.

Take, for example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  This is not one of your cheap fly-by-night online personality tests.  This test is big time.  Legit.  It is supposed to evaluate you and place you into a "type" and helps you know what sort of jobs or experiences you would be best suited to attempt.  In a broader sense, I suppose it is supposed to help you understand yourself and your motivations.  Psychologists, am I close?

The results for this test come out as four letters.  For each of the four, there are two possible options.  I have no interest in explaining these, so check out the Wikipedia link above.  If you're interested, I am supposedly an INTJ.  This is possibly not surprising, but to be honest I have never let it play much of a role in my life or my decisions. 

What I find interesting and a bit annoying is when people will use their profiles as excuses for bizarre behavior.  Like they cannot help themselves and pointing to this one label should explain everything and make them seem less ridiculous.  Oh, so you said something without thinking and someone else found it offensive?  Just tell them you are an ENFP and all will be well!  Right.

Honestly, I wouldn't say that this test is useless in total.  I do think that it can be used to help steer and influence one in the decision-making processes of life and in moments of introspection.  I do not think that it should be used as an after-the-fact excuse to explain idiotic moments or lapses in judgement. 

Of course, my cynicism on this subject could be due to my general aversion to the lucrative world of self-help.  You want to know how to really make your life pleasant?  Write a self-help book and sell a ton of copies to the hopeful directionless people of the world and with all your profits I guarantee you will feel much better about your prospects.  This seems to be the common thread in most theories:  it costs at least $25 to get total clarity and objective analysis of yourself.  Oh and you'll also get this handy book/planner/printout/pen to go with it!  Wheeeeee!!!!

Where is all this coming from, you say?  Well, it just so happens that one of my friends is in the middle of a college class that centers around this sort of thing, including writing a Mission Statement.  She is struggling with this assignment, as I know that I would do as well.  I mean, seriously.  Aren't these things difficult enough to write for businesses?  Now we have to write them for people?  Hm.

Now that you have read through all my negativity, let me finish by saying that I am not against introspection and self-improvement.  In all lives, there is room to grow.  We should always seek to better ourselves and to approach our lives in better ways.  I do not have a problem with the idea itself; I have a problem with those who seek to profit and control others through their "tools" of enlightenment that may not serve the best outcomes. 

This has been a philosophical/preachy entry, and for that I apologize.  Every now and again I like to stir up a bit of "controversy" to supplement the usual cake-baking, dog-centered information I share.  But if you're interested, I am hoping to bake a cake tonight and spend quality time with my dog. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cake Dreams

There is something about Mondays that always push me to take a good hard look at my life and figure out what I am doing wrong.  Maybe this is pessimism, but who knows. 

Lately, I have had problems knowing what day of the week I am in at any given time of day.  Yesterday, for instance, I lay in bed wondering if it was Sunday or Friday.  Thankfully it was Sunday and I did not have to work, but it was still a bit strange.  This morning I had a similar experience, but the outcome was less positive.

Perhaps this is due to the dreams I have had lately.  On Saturday night, I dreamt that I was looking at houses with a family.  Not my family.  I am not sure why I was with them, but apparently I was going to be living with them.  Maybe as a nanny?  Anyway, one of these houses was enormous.  A mansion.  Every bedroom had an en suite bathroom.  (This detail is probably due to the fact that I have watched way too many episodes of Househunters International.)

We ended up in an attic space that was supposedly a nursery for the children.  Then we saw the ghosts.  Of children.  And toy horses.  Both of which could speak.  Creepy, no?

My theory for these apparitions is based on the fact that I have slight aversions to both children and horses.  But I do love touring historic old houses.  I am unclear how to explain why when I opened a crawl space door on the tour expecting to see a monster, I found Lena, Pippi and Thor instead.  My own special version of Cerberus?

I realize that I may have blogged about this before, so I won't go into detail, but let us just say that the requirements of school are starting to come into play and it will require quite a bit more concentration than I seem to have these days to keep on track.  Internships, grant proposals, instructional presentations and reading reflections, oh my!

In the midst of all this academic hoopla, I have decided that it would perhaps be wise if I took a break from my ongoing job searches.  I have not had much success thus far, and it has really only served to make me feel hopeless and very very unsure about myself and my future.  Therefore, I have decided to wait until I actually have the required degree completed before opening the door to more rejection. 

Maybe this week, in addition to worrying about school, I will endeavor to do something truly creative, like bake a cake.  Knowing my coworkers, they will eat most of it for me.  However, I really should think about making something for my friends' birthday as well.  So maybe this will be a two cake week.  Now there's something to be happy about.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Sporting Life

When one has remained relatively stationary in terms of one's career for nearly a decade, one earns the right to wax a bit nostalgic about better times gone by.  So sit back, relax and enjoy some jolly good tales, the first of which starts NOW.

Ages ago, when spirits were high and our days were filled with new and challenging activities, we had more exuberance and bonhomie than we could contain.  Although we tried many things (boat parties, hoe-downs, bowling, fancy parties), we still found that we had an excess of energy that needed to be spent in a more physical manner.

This is what I can only assume led to the formation of a company softball team.  When the idea was announced and interest was being gauged, I carefully refrained from comment.  You see, I am not terribly skilled when it comes to team sports.  Actually, I am not terribly skilled at non-team sports either.  Therefore, I make it my general rule to avoid the temptation to join up.

SIDE NOTE:  I forgot, I am actually quite good at badminton.  Just ask my college roommates.  Oh, and Foosball.  I am the champion at that "sport" as well.

Throughout the planning stages of the softball team, I was successful at staying away from the notice of the organizers.  This was largely due to the fact that the chief organizers worked at a different geographic location from me and it is much easier simply not to respond to emails than it is to hide from people beneath one's desk.

But then they went and got all crafty on me; they came to my office.  Ambushed me, really.  I was just sitting at my desk, working away like a little busy bee when the two organizers appeared in my doorway, blocking my exit.  I knew immediately that something was up.

At first I played it cool with a smile and a "Hey, what's up guys?  Can I help you with something?"

They got right down to business, slamming their sign-up sheet down on my desk.

"So, Megan," they said forcefully, "are you ready to sign up for the softball team?"

"Well... you guys, I don't know.  I am not really good at sports.  I mean, I can't throw or catch and I really can't run that fast, so I don't think I would really be an asset to our team, so..." I said in my most emphatic tones possible.  (Yes, I realize that my choice of wording was not exactly convincing, but whatever.)

They then assured me that my skills did not matter, for most of the team was largely unskilled.  As I perused the standing team list, I quickly realized that they were not lying. 

"But," I protested, "I am really not good enough.  I have never really played, unless you count P.E. in 9th grade, and that was, like, TEN years ago!"

"Don't worry," they persisted, "it doesn't matter.  We're just playing for fun."

Then they did the old puppy dog eye trick and I got all flustered and desperate to end this conversation that I caved and agreed to be on their stupid team.  My only consolation was that it appeared that many other females had already agreed and that perhaps I would only ever need to be an alternate.

To clarify, this was a co-gender team.  In the "D" league of our local municipality.  In case you were unsure, "D" is the lowest grade of team allowed, so you can see where our leaders' expectations fell.

One of the league rules was that a certain number of females be on the roster for all games, that the batting order alternated between males and females and that the number of women in the field equal the number of men.  Oh, and if you walked a female, she only took one base.  If you walk a male, they took two.  I gather that this was to avoid deliberate walking of males to get to a female on the assumption that most females were weaker in the hitting department. 

There were a bunch of other stupid league-specific rules, but I let the experts deal with that. 

Let me just say, when my company decided to go for this, they really went for it.  No cheapo t-shirts for us, no sir.  We had the high-quality, breathable mesh jersey-type shirts printed.  The only thing that they wouldn't agree to was putting our names (or nicknames) on the back.  I cursed myself for not using this stipulation as a bargaining tool in our original negotiations, but it was too late.

At this point, you may be assuming that my lack of enthusiasm and skill led to me to skip out on most of the season.  True, this was my intention.  Unfortunately, it is not what actually happened.

The only night of play that I missed turned out to be our opener, a double-header.  This was not due to an overabundance of players; it was because I had been to the doctor that day and received a arm-debilitating tetanus shot.  As much as I would like to say that I did not deliberately ask to get the shot in my throwing arm, I cannot.  I did it on purpose. 

When the painful reaction occurred (as I knew it would) rendering me unable to lift my arm above my shoulder, I informed my captain that I was on the DL for the night.  They accepted this excuse, and I created in my head the belief that perhaps after this absence they would realize that they really didn't need me after all and I could spend the games cheering from the bleachers as I wanted all along.

Oh, but our captain was persistent.  He was upbeat.  He was sickeningly positive.  He would not take "Do I really have to?" for an answer. 

Thus, I played every single game for the remainder of the season. 

To start, they rotated me (along with all the other team incompetents) in that black hole of the outfield, right field.  With four allowed outfielders in a game, our captain's strategy was to stagger us to ensure the less confident were covered by people with skills.  This worked only some of the time. 

My fear was so acute in these situations that I was nearly violently ill every time someone came up to bat.  No matter how many practices I attended or tips I received, I lived in constant fear that I would, 1) not catch the ball, 2) not throw the ball to the right person, and 3) not be able to throw the ball at all.

In the end, my captain took pity on me and moved me from the outfield to catcher.  As much as I hate to admit it, I did not mind this change very much.  Despite the fact that I was constantly running to the backstop to pick up the ball when I failed to stop it with my glove.  Despite the fact that the umpires were constantly pulling me back to avoid having my head in the batter's swing circumference.  Despite the fact that I did get beaned in the head quite hard by a ball on one special occasion.  (I played through the rest of that game, thus garnering a reputation as a "tough person.")

By the end of the first season, I was ready to be done.  BUT, as I am loathe to admit, I actually had fun.

So much fun, that when the sign up went around for the next season, I was on it.  Our second season was to be a bit less fantastic than our first, but I did have the distinction of hitting an unplanned triple that only traveled a whopping three feet from home plate upon my initial contact with the ball.  Beat that, Mauer. 

In our third and final season, the captain made the difficult decision to relocate to a league in a different town.  This meant that my career as a softball player was over.  Mostly because it would be a 30 minute after work commute to get to the field, but also because I was ready to be done. 

I was ready to be done because so many of my coworkers had already left the game.  In our inaugural season, attendance was high; everyone wanted to be there and contribute.  The problem was that we were not a very winning team.  On many nights, we were quite pathetic.  Oh, we tried.  We tried hard.  But after so many losses, it is hard to stay motivated, no matter how hard the captain tried to do so.

So when the second season rolled around, only about half the people from the first season agreed to come back.  This led to our captain looking outside the company for help.  Friends were recruited, and even a couple of "ringers" were brought in (including my brother).  We may have had a slightly better record in the second season, but it wasn't enough.

By the third season, the team was almost 75% composed of non-company players.  I have no idea how they did because I did not attend a single game.  I do know that this was the final season for company softball.  It was not just because of low interest; it was also because of changes in the company and a desire to cut back on expenses. 

It has been a few years since we have had a team, and hardly anyone mentions it any more.  This makes me a little sad.  As much as I fought participation and still abhor the thought of playing sports in a public setting, I appreciated the cohesion and sense of community that it fostered.  Maybe someday someone will bring it back.  Maybe I will have a reason to break out my hot pink softball glove once more.  As long as they let me have my lucky number (7) I might just consider it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bling bling!

You know how it goes, one minute you're relishing in the fact that your weeknights are blissfully unscheduled, you blink, and things start popping up during your free time?

Last night I attended a jewelry party with a coworker.  It was conveniently being held in very close proximity to my parents' house, so how could I not go? 

The bad news is that I slightly broke my spending limit, but not by much.  Less than $30 over, so that's good.  I think.  Of course, I have no budgeting husband to answer to, so whatever. 

The "good" news is that my coworker and I volunteered to jointly host another party next month.  We had no problem assembling a list of at least 30 people to invite and it looks like we have a venue that should be able to accommodate us nicely.  The hard part is finding everybody's mailing address.

You would not think this was terribly difficult, but it is.  It is truly an example of just how much email and online messaging has replaced traditional mail in that we have email addresses for most people and barring that we at least have Facebook connections with them, but to actually send them a card?  It sends us scrambling. 

Thankfully, my list is not as long as my co host.  Some might be sad that they had fewer friends or seemed less popular, but it is fine by me.  Less research to do.

It is strange, there is a part of me that feels like I should be the kind of person who avoids these sales parties like the plague.  I couldn't tell you why, but it just seems like a very desperate housewife sort of event, and I am about as far from that lifestyle as you can get. 

On the other hand, these parties are made for me.  Get me in a comfortable chair in a warm room with snacks, wine and sparkly objects and it is a done deal.  Of course, this formula has also worked on me with kitchen gadgetry, candles and baking mixes, so I don't know if the product type really matters.  The wine really helps too.

The only thing that really causes me anxiety in these situations is the not-so-subtle push to encourage attendees to host their own parties or even worse, become a sales rep themselves.  I realize that this is how the business model works, and I acknowledge that people can be wildly successful at it, but it always makes me nervous.  If I didn't have a partner helping me with this, I am sure I would never have volunteered.

That said, I am willing to admit that there was a time in my life when I was nearly drawn into this crazy world.  It was about four years ago, and I was constantly worried about money.  It was driving me crazy to the point that I started to look into alternative sources of income.  Getting a second job was not a palatable option as it would mean giving up what meaningful free time I had left.  Although I am not a natural salesperson, I thought that I could somehow learn and parlay things into a lucrative enough business to quit my day job.  Big dreams, I know.

I went so far as to submit an inquiry to the company's website.  I was promptly contacted by a woman in my area who set up a meeting time with me to go over the setup, rules and answer questions.  Even though I had initiated contact, I was still hesitant about moving forward. 

Of course, life intervened in this situation, and the death of my brother pretty much put an end to this process.  I did host a party because I felt bad for wasting so much of the representative's time, but honestly, I was hugely relieved not to have to continue. 

Back to our upcoming party.  If you know me personally, one thing you probably notice is that I am not usually heavy on the bling factor.  I do not wear a lot of jewelry on a daily basis.  Sure, when there is a formal event or I just want to feel pretty, I may throw on a pair of earrings or maybe even a bracelet or ring.  But generally, necklaces baffle me completely.  I never know what length looks right with different necklines and I am completely unsure of myself when it comes to colors and styles.

When one attends a jewelry party in person, one actually gets to see the necklaces in their natural habitat and assess the features with the added bonus of second opinions from other guests.  So last night, for the first time, I found myself drawn to the necklaces.  It could be dangerous, but I keep reminding myself that my accessorizing skills may not be advanced enough to handle them. 

Every so often I dream that one day I will wake up and have a much better sense of fashion, but every day I get up and face the same type of clothes in my closet.  Until I finally get a personal stylist, I think my jewelry budget is going to stay put.  But ask me about this again in a few weeks.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

This is the way we wash our socks

I can hardly believe that I forgot to mention a momentous seasonal change that occurred last week:  the return of socks.  The obvious reason for the reintroduction of knitted foot coverings to my daily wardrobe is that the temperature up here in beautiful MN has started to drop to my favorite levels. 

Truthfully, I have nothing strongly for or against socks.  The only reason I shun them in the summer is because it helps to keep my internal thermometer at a reasonable level.  Indeed there are moments in the bleakest winter that I overheat inside and wish to remove my socks, but I take pity on my coworkers and do not subject them to the white skeletal objects that are my feet.

I know that I have written about my feet in the past.  Just to give you a little update, I did take a pumice stone to them this morning after my shower.  It was productive but not very pretty.  There is still a long way to go before they could be considered camera-ready.

Now to the part where I complain about the weather.  Actually, no, I am not complaining.  This is my favorite time of year; the blasted unbearable and disgusting heat and humidity of summer are past (hopefully) and the arctic chill of winter has yet to fully arrive.  Let it be known that I truly measure the arrival of winter by when I actually have to bring my Nanook of the North snow boots back into play.  As a fun aside, the actual manufacturer's name for my boots are "Helen of Tundra."  Cute, huh? 

If there was anything that I would say was occasionally frustrating about fall in MN, I would say that it would have to do with the temperature fluctuations.  One day it will be 40 degrees and the next it will be 74.  This may not sound that amazing to you, but after several days near freezing, 74 feels balmy and I almost hate it. 

Getting dressed in the morning can be tricky.  It may feel chilly, so I will put on more insulation.  But the wise MN-dweller should know that this insulation must be layered.  Otherwise, you will find yourself walking out to your car at the end of the day to your car to feel like you are Thanksgiving stuffing roasting inside a turkey in a large car-shaped oven.  Without all the wonderful smells.

Other than the daily question of "How warmly can I dress?" the other change comes in through my laundry habits.  When one is required to wear socks to work, it is necessary that one has a clean supply of work-appropriate sockwear.  Now, my definition of "work appropriate" when it comes to socks is somewhat loose.  Generally, it just means NO WHITE TUBE SOCKS.  Actually, for me, white tube socks are only an option if I am going to the gym, so it is a good idea to make sure that one's sock drawer supply has not dwindled down to hold only these varieties.

Not to admit to being a lazy laundress, but I often forget about it until 10 p.m. on work nights.  In the case of "delicates" like underwear and other sundries, I can still swing a late laundry load because these have to be air dried anyway.  When it comes to regular clothes such as socks, the dryer must be employed, which means that I must stay awake until the wash cycle is done.  This does not make me a happy camper. 

It occurs to me that this is precisely the kind of situation in which women with husbands potentially have the upper hand.  Note I said potentially.  Yes, ladies, I realize that there are men out there who are unwilling or unable to master the process of laundry.  But I would hope that they would at least be able to assist in the process of laundry-reminding.  That's really all I need.  Maybe I could rig up an alarm system of some kind of my iPhone.  Is there an app for that?

Tonight I am going to a jewelry show.  You know, one of those in-home parties where the hostess gets all kinds of discounts and the guests get pressured into having parties of their own so that they can reap the benefits of having another party and spreading the joy to their other friends.  Yep.  That kind. 

Thank goodness it is a brand that I have purchased in the past, so I am fairly knowledgeable of their prices and selection.  I have therefore instituted a spending limit on myself of $50.  If the item cannot be purchased for $50 or less, I will not buy it.  Don't worry, this is not a per item limit either.  It is a TOTAL party limit.  I feel pretty good about it and my ability to follow the rules.  Of course, I don't have anyone at home to hold me accountable, but now that I have told all of you, my accountabilibuddies, you will help me out, right?

(By the way, Bill and Rox, if you're reading this, it is a Lia Sophia party.  You know what I mean.)

Ancient blogging

This new blogger format has opened my eyes to an interesting circumstance.  As much as I would like to say that this blog was my first experience in blogging, it was not.  My first was actually done as part of a final project for one of my first classes in graduate school called Organization of Knowledge.  Essentially, an intro to cataloging.

My professor was pretty loose on requirements; he wanted us to be creative and find our own medium of presentation.  Many classmates found this lack of direction to be unsettling and therefore opted for the tried and true presentation format of a formal paper.  One enterprising gal did something called a zine.  I can only assume that this is some sort of ultra-hip and artsy offshoot of a magazine, but I didn't care, so I didn't ask.

A few of us took up the blog idea and made it work.  Truth be told, I found that it was much easier than a formal paper would have been.  It allowed for much more free flowing ideas and far less attention to proper writing protocol.  My only problem was in determining a subject to blog about.  Again, the professor was thin on requirements.

So I decided to take two things that interested me, poetry and Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) and mash them together somehow.  If you don't know (or don't care), LCSH are standardized terms chosen by the Library of Congress to be used as subject descriptors in catalog records.  It allows for better searching and categorizing of items.  OK?

Due to the fact that this project was time specific (due by a certain date), I started before the end of class and stopped at the end for a grand total of four entries.  That's right.  FOUR.  I then submitted the URL to my professor and two classmates for review.  It must have been good enough because I got rave reviews from the classmates and an A from the teacher. 

Honestly, I felt a little funny about doing well with the project.  It was so easy. 

The final outcome of the blog was that I found an interest in blogging which led to my attempt at the cookie blog, which was also short-lived but not graded.  I knew that I could take down any blogs I created at any time, but I didn't have anything in any of them that would reflect poorly on me, so I let them be and ignored them. 

Now that Blogger has started to update their interface, my full blog list has returned to my immediate line of vision.  The cookie blog remains largely unviewed, but my LCSH blog manages to get sporadic hits.  Enough to put it up over 250 views, which to me is pretty incredible for a four entry blog from two years ago that no one supposedly knows about.  As I imagine that you are all anxious to get a view of this mysterious blog, I will relinquish the URL:  http://odetolcsh.blogspot.com/

Maybe you will read it and think "What the heck, Megan?"  Or maybe you will say, "Wow, this is how all your blog entries should look!" 

So there you go.  The good news is that my rediscovery of my old blog has inspired me to share a story from my high school years that was heavily intertwined with poetry and awkwardness, with a little pinch of hormones thrown in for good measure.  But not now.  Let us part for now and rejoin on the morrow, alright-y?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Learning from Lena

Although I realize that I have already posted today, I had another interesting thing to add and I just didn't feel like editing and re-posting. 

As you know, I have a dog.  She is a two year old Rat Terrier/Papillon mix.  I do not have any experience with either of these breeds in specific, so I rely on web resources such as Wikipedia for my information on their expected behavioral traits. 

One thing that I can say for certain, when you mix the two, you get a lot of energy.  Whether she is waking for the day, being released from her kennel after a varied length of confinement or just jumping down off the couch, she is always "ready to go."

In her limited vocabulary, the word "outside" has special cache.  Merely utter the word in a hushed voice and she will spring forth and bound to the door expecting you to immediately follow.  If you do not follow quickly enough, she will bark.  Incessantly. 

For this reason, I normally wait until I am already walking to the door before I say the magic word. 

At my parents house, the excitement is tripled as she knows that release to the outdoors is unfettered by a collar and leash as it is when we are at my house.  During daytime hours, Lena usually has a companion in the form of Thor, one of my parents' Jack Russells.  Their female JRT, Pippi, does not share their enthusiasm and will usually only join them if she really needs to go out.

For Lena and Thor, the need to be outdoors is not always driven by bladder or bowels.  There are squirrels and chipmunks to chase, dirt to eat, smelly things to roll in.  Lena bounds into the yard with the energy of a jackrabbit.  Seriously.  She SPRINGS into the back flower bed and mulch flies in all directions.  Thor is usually bit less crazy, but when there are critters to be found, he is never far behind.

As of late, the anticipation of this release has caused a change in Lena's morning behavior.  When her internal clock (and the sunlight through the window) tells her that it is time to wake up, she joyously shares this information with me, usually by licking my face and leaping on top of me.  Cute, right?

Normally, this is enough.  She patiently waits until I drag myself out of bed and make my way to the door. 

For some reason, she has lately added incessant barking to her repertoire.  In my face.  Try as I might to reason with her, she will not be denied.  It has proven too effective for her. 

I have now decided to take up this tactic for my own life.  From now on, when I want cars to move faster, I will honk repeatedly.  When I need to get the attention of an inattentive cashier, I will make beeping noises at the top of my lungs.  When I want to get an annoying Sirius XM Radio sales clerk off the phone, I will bark like a Rat Terrier/Papillon.

Home invasion

I like to think of myself as a girl of simple pleasures.  This is never better illustrated than on weekends when I get to be "alone."  I use the quotation marks because with the addition of dogs to my life, I am rarely truly by myself.  It is a qualified statement that means "without human contact."

These weekends have become increasingly rare these days.  Actually, if I had to date it I would say it has been about four years.  Coincidentally, today is the fourth anniversary of my youngest brothers untimely death.  In many ways, his death changed the way that I live my life.  I will likely spend a lot of my down moments today thinking about him and my memories of the life he shared with us for almost 20 years, but I will not spend most of this blog entry doing so.

My brother died around the same time that my parents were finally moving back from Wisconsin to Minnesota.  They were still in transition; their house back in WI had not yet sold when he died which enabled us to have a place to stay during his funeral and memorial activities.  In fact, the house did not sell for another six months after that.  Again, a mixed blessing as it allowed us to gradually let go of a place that was filled with memories, mostly of him.

In the end, my parents bought a house and now live fully in MN.  But for the first five years after I finished college, I lived in this state without them.  At best, it was about a five to six hour drive that separated us.  This meant that unless I had plans with friends or obligations otherwise, it was perfectly possible for me to spend my weekends alone at my house.  I could read, do laundry, watch movies, go on walks. 

Everything was different, even my dating life.  It was much easier to carry on active dating under the radar of my parents and thus avoid the scrutiny and dissection of potential boyfriends (not dissection in a literal sense, if you were worried). 

Now that they are here, I do not spend many weekends at home.  There is more to do from their house, and of course, there are the dogs.  Now that I am in graduate school and a dog owner, their house is a necessary holding place that allows me to keep my sanity in the midst of a busier schedule than I have had in a long time.

This past weekend, I had the responsibility of caring for all three dogs under my parents' roof while they traveled to the farm to clean, see my grandfather and visit the grave of my brother on the anniversary of his death.  I did not join them for several reasons:  there are not enough places to sleep, the dogs make it difficult to get anything done, and I had to be at an internship orientation on Saturday in St. Paul.

Saturday was interesting, but I have already highlighted that in my previous entry.  Saturday evening, after I had written my blog entry, I sent the dogs out for one last bathroom break and gathered my things from the basement to get everyone to bed.  One of the items I gathered was my cell phone. 

If you do not know me well enough to be on my contact list, you probably do not know that I have the (sometimes annoying) habit of leaving my phone's ringer set to silent.  This is more often the case than not as I feel it is inappropriate to have one's cell phone ring during work, class or internship orientations.

As I am also not known for being overly attached to my phone, it is not unusual for me not to look at it very often to check for missed calls or messages, unless I am expecting to hear from someone.  In an unusual act, I did happen to press the wake-up button on my phone as I went to bed on Saturday, around 11:15 p.m.  I noticed that I missed some calls from my parents, but there was a voicemail message from my father.  He simply said that they were at my grandpa's apartment, and that if I felt like calling I could.  As the message was left at 9:30 p.m. and the present time was after 11, I opted to let my parents sleep.

Sunday morning was a bit off for me.  As luck and my biological calendar would have it, my period started that morning.  Not a fun feeling, believe me.  The pups let me stay in bed until 8 a.m., when their patience ran out.  We arose, and I released them into the cold and soggy backyard for their morning bladder and bowel relief.  Once this was done, the eager beavers dashed back into the house (after some foot wiping with Megan) for their breakfast. 

Once their food was consumed with lightening speed, I rewarded them by giving Pippi her medication in a piece of string cheese.  Never one to be unfair, the other dogs also received string cheese pieces, without medication.

After I was satisfied that everyone was relieved, fed and medicated, I decided to lay down for a bit longer.  I figured I could get in another 30 minutes before the dogs decided that they needed to bark away the rest of the morning.

For some odd reason, it was a quiet morning.  This is the only reason I can give for why it was noon before I opened my eyes again.  Seriously, I haven't slept this late in a very long time, but I must have needed it on some level.  It did, however, serve to make me feel quite disoriented.

Due to the weather and the fact that my parents were not coming back until Monday, I decided to make it a pajama day.  I moved my messy self to the basement and settled in with a book and the TV remote. 

About two hours later, I was startled to hear some very loud knocking at the front door to the house.  It is important to keep in mind that at this point, I was still in my pajamas and looking quite a sight, and it was 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon.  In my experience, the only people who come a knockin' at this time were activists or politicians.  As I had no interest in speaking to either, I allowed the dogs to go nuts at the door while remaining ensconced in the basement. 

I did peer surreptitiously out of the office window to see if there were any cars in the driveway indicating that perhaps a friend or other known person had stopped by.  Seeing nothing, I quietly returned to the basement.  Several minutes later, when I figured the visitor was gone, I crept upstairs.  I needed to use the bathroom.

As I sat on the toilet, doing my business, to my horror and dismay I heard the garage door opening.  Many thoughts ran through my head, not the least of which was that someone was breaking into our house and here I was sitting on the toilet.  Then I remembered that I had the foresight to lock the interior door before going to bed the night before and that I had not had occasion to unlock it yet. 

I finished my bathroom duties faster than I had ever done in my life just in time to hear the garage door close.  It was in this state of panic that I heard my phone vibrating from my bedroom.  As I had been contemplating a call to the local police, I took this as a sign that I could perhaps communicate my situation to someone before an axe murderer broke through my back door.

The incoming call was from my mother.  My frantic and angry mother.  Apparently she had been in a panic because I had not answered my phone.  In her state of overreaction, she called not one but two of her neighbors to ask them to stop by and "check on me."  This explained the knocking on the door and the opening of the garage as my mother had given the neighbor our code.

Said neighbor and I are not acquainted.  I have never met or spoken to the woman.  I have seen her in the distance across the street, blowing leaves off her driveway in a fit of OCD, but I do not know her by sight.

At this point, both my mother and I were upset and annoyed.  She because I did not pick up my phone or call them back to check in, and me because I am 31 years old and do not like being treated like I am 4.  As my only scheduled outing had been to the Cathedral on the previous afternoon, I could hardly think what my mother thought could have happened to me. 

To be clear, I have lived alone for almost a decade and daily I travel and do things without checking in with my parents.  In fact, days often go by with little or no communication between us.  Not because we are avoiding one another, but because we simply have no need to speak.

Perhaps I am odd or old-fashioned, but I have a slight aversion to being constantly available through the use of cell phones.  Part of me misses the olden days when speaking on the phone required the right timing and one had to accept the fact that sometimes you just can't reach out and touch someone through the magic of technology. 

That said, did I deliberately avoid my parents' calls?  No.  I received their message that they had arrived safely, and thought that was enough.  Unless there was an honest emergency, I did not anticipate hearing from them until they were one their way home.  To make this point stronger, I also missed a text message from a friend inviting me out on Saturday night until Sunday as well.

In the end, I did speak to my mother and apparently she was satisfied that I was alright.  Unfortunately, she must not have fully relayed the all-clear to her neighbor.  Around 7:30 last night, I was in the basement when the garage door opened once more.  Still clad in my pajamas and likely smelling of wet dogs, I did not run up to greet her, but I did double check to make sure the interior door was locked.  I briefly contemplated releasing the hounds, but the hounds can be mighty hard to get back into the house, so I kept them inside.

When it started to sound like she was having problems getting the door to shut, I feared that I would have to reveal myself to this stranger in all my smelly and Monchichi pajama pants glory, but fortunately, she mastered the machinery first.  I have to admit that at this point I was a bit irritated.  Clearly, there were lights on in the house.  I have no idea why she thought that she needed to invade my privacy once more as I am pretty sure that my mother did not ask her to come back. 

So even though it is Monday, and an important anniversary to boot, I was quite relieved to return to work today in order to bring myself back into the normal world.  Hopefully the neighbor lady does not make a return visit today because the interior garage door is now open and I know of two little Jack Russells who would be more than happy to accost any snooping visitors.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday: A retrospective

Shocking news, all.  I am spending another night as mayor of Dogville, USA.  Super fun, super fun.

It has been an interesting day. 

The morning started with a scheduled visit to my car dealership for a free oil change.  They were done in record time, and I got a car wash.  Score.  I made a stop to visit a friend who recently started working at Caribou.  Again, good.

I arrived home and sat around for a bit before volunteering foolhardily to take the dogs for a walk.  By myself.  It was not easy, but not impossible and everyone survived.  Despite Pippi's valiant attempts to cut the walk short by steering us back towards home after the first few blocks.

Sadly, we could not continue on our path of awesomeness as my next major experience of the day was a very minor family driveway fender bender.  No, it was not my fault and no, the damage was not major.  But it will require repairs and insurance adjusters.  Just a little more excitement for the coming week, right?

Fortunately, as I said, the damage was minor and my car is completely drive-able.  This is good, because my parents went back out to the farm and I had to get myself to the Cathedral of St. Paul for my archives internship orientation.  It went well, and I am very excited (and a little nervous) to start my 16 hours in a few weeks.  I expect that I will learn a lot about archiving and quite a bit about the Cathedral's history as well.

After my religious experience, I returned home to the attention-starved pooches.  We spent the rest of the afternoon/evening moving around, playing, reading and sleeping.  What an exciting life we lead. 

Tomorrow, I do not expect things to be much more lively.  I should definitely get working on my reading for class this week so that I can write the necessary reflections, so hopefully my housemates will allow it.  They can get a little jealous when it comes to books.  Or maybe it is just that they don't like me to focus that intently on something that isn't them.  Whatever.

This is one of those weekends where I really do have time to hang out and have a little fun, but wouldn't you know most of the people I would do this with are busy or out of town.  So the party stays a bit more local.  Oh well. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Burning sensations and bad moods

Today I am feeling cantankerous.  Curmudgeonly, even.  Watch out.

Why?  No reason, of course.  Well, there is a contributing factor (I am fairly certain), but it is purely biological and cannot be helped.  Nothing short of a beach chair and a pina colada on a secluded beach somewhere is going to make it go away. 

So let's just move on from there, shall we? 

Last night after class was over and I wandered zombie-like back to my car to drive home at 9 p.m., an interesting thought popped into my head.  This is my third fall semester as a grad student.  While the courses I have taken for my fall semesters as well as the particular days I have scheduled classes has changed, one strange phenomenon has remained constant.

Actually, this phenomenon is not likely directly related to school itself.  At least I do not think so.  It is related to my weak physical structure.

Every time I have an evening class that takes place after a full day of working in the office, around 8 p.m., my eyes give up their will to live.  Yes, they get droopy and it becomes hard to keep them open, but this is not the strange thing.  They do not just droop, they start on fire.  In order to put out this fire, they begin to water.  They itch.  All I want is to shut my eyes in a dark room and go to sleep.

Unfortunately, at 8 p.m., I usually still have an hour left of class, so this is not an option.  The only relief comes from removing my glasses for about 15 minutes.  It doesn't really help the fact that my brain is shutting down from exhaustion, but at least I can keep my eyes open without looking like I have been crying all day.

My first guess as to the cause of this drama would be allergies.  After all, I tend to have a similar reaction when trapped in rooms with cigarette smoke or when my car's air circulation system brings in outside air during the fall or spring.  Yeah, that's right.  This sometimes happens to me while driving.

But if this is so, why does it only happen around 8?  Why not all day?  Or at least from the beginning of class?

My next theory is that it has something to do with computer screens.  I sit in front of one all day at work, followed by three hours in front of one for school.  If this is the case, it may explain why the removal of my glasses causes some relief.  It allows my eyes to fall out of focus and not spend as much time looking at the glow of the screen. 

My final theory is that my school is haunted.  Not by evil ghosts, but by mischievous ones, sort of like Peeves from Hogwarts.  Every night around 8 p.m., this silly little spectre sneaks in and sprays dust or pollen into my eyes beneath my glasses.  The reason that the removal of my glasses helps is that it allows the dust or pollen to escape. 

Which theory sounds the most plausible? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In the shelter with the Cat Man

Oh tangents, how you distract me!  I just deleted a long-winded entry that I realized contained way more tangential information that was necessary.  Really, it just distracted from the story I wanted to tell way too much. 

So I have been spending my down moments working on homework (oh the joys of metadata!), avoiding housecleaning, and fantasizing about reorganizing my second bedroom.  To fill you in on the status of these items, the first is almost done (but not quite), the second is a slam dunk, and the third has moved into the next phase (determining what, if any, budget I have). 

After an interesting discussion the other day regarding creepy people that we have encountered over the years, I had a flashback to an incident that occurred when I was still a teenager working at my first job. 

As first jobs go, mine was pretty sweet.  I worked at the first (and best) coffee shop in Willmar.  It was started and owned by two ladies from my church, and they were about as laid back and kind as any two first bosses could be. 

It was a small store; I think the kitchen in my townhouse may have been about the same size.  The location was perfect as it was in a strip mall on the main road through town.  This was before the whole espresso-drink craze took over the world, so words like "latte," "mocha" and "cappuccino" were all new concepts to the general public.  As the first crew of baristas to hit the town, we became well educated quickly in how best to explain these mysterious (and more expensive) beverages to our fellow citizens.

Despite the confusion over drink composition, the little store soon developed a loyal following.  Most of the regulars came through in the morning/daytime shifts, which meant that they rarely encountered the high school employees during the school year.  However, there were a few regulars that chose different hours to visit.

One would think that in a small town, one would know the names of all the regulars.  For some reason, this was simply not the case.  Perhaps it was because this was before the time of credit/debit card use and it is hard to see someones name if they're always paying in cash.  Or perhaps teenagers really don't give a rat's hinder about anyone but themselves.  Both are true.

Most of our regulars (nameless or not) were pleasant folk.  We happily chatted with them and served them their coffee and treats.

Then there were the creepers.  Not many, mind you, but enough to make young teenage girls take notice and be cautious.

One of these creepers was a nameless fellow we had dubbed "The Cat Man."  I have tried to recall the meaning behind this name, but I cannot answer with certainty.  I do not think it was because he had cats.  Not that I know he didn't, but he was not the kind of gentleman who would share that kind of information because he rarely spoke to us beyond his beverage related requests.  It may have had to do with the fact that he was quiet and sneaky like a cat.  Or something else.  I forget.

What I have not forgotten is that he used to come in alone, dressed casually and carrying a briefcase.  He would order his drink in a glass mug and sit down at a table to read whatever book he had in his briefcase.

He would sit there for hours, silently keeping to himself.  When his drink became cold, he would bring it back to us and ask us to warm it in the microwave.  When his drink was empty, he would refill it with coffee from the urns out on the counter.  When his refill coffee became cold, he would again ask to have it microwaved.  This was the extent of our normal interaction with The Cat Man.

Until the summer before my senior year of high school.  It was a strange time in my life.  My family was preparing to move to Wisconsin, but I was going to stay home to complete my education in Willmar.  On one particular week in July, my entire family went (without me) to Wisconsin to look at houses and familiarize themselves with the area.

This meant that for one week, I was alone at our house.  Of course, I did have the protection of our fearless Sheltie, but she was more of a lover than a fighter.  Rather than take the normal teenager route of hosting some wild and raucous parties, I kept a low profile.  Looking back, I am a bit ashamed of my square-ness.  Our house was on a lake in the woods and relatively secluded.  Really, an ideal place to host a bunch of people.  Oh well.

I decided to fill my alone time with more shifts at work.  The summer traffic at the coffee shop was typically a bit lighter, which meant that most shifts were done solo.  Long afternoons staring at pastries and swilling copious amounts of fountain Dr. Pepper were the norm.

All of this was to explain the scene for my Cat Man story.  One afternoon during my week of living alone, I was all by my lonesome at work.  Well, actually I was not totally alone.  There were a few customers, but I was the only barista on duty.  It was a slow day; however, the Cat Man did manage to make an appearance.

As early evening approached, I started to anticipate quitting time and my return to an empty house.  The seating area eventually emptied, with the Cat Man the final person to depart. 

That is when I noticed something odd.  The sky, which had up to that point been a beautiful shade of blue, was turning a very alarming shade of green.  If you are from the Midwest, you know what this means.  For the uneducated, this means that "a TWISTER be a-comin'!"

In normal tornado safety procedures, one knows to get to a safe location.  Usually, this is the basement.  In the absence of a basement, one moves to a central part of the building away from glass and windows. 

For the coffee shop, this meant moving into the back storage area.  In what I can only describe as a very odd layout decision from a safety and security standpoint, the back hallway of our little shop was openly connected to a thrift shop located next door.  Here is a crude map:

This is in no way drawn to scale.

While this always caused a slight unsettled feeling for me, it never really caused a real problem.  The thrift store was not open on this specific day, but this only meant that the entire place was dark and not exactly a place I would want to hang out.

After I noted the change in weather, I made a phone call to my boss.  She instructed me to lock the doors and ask that any remaining customers be invited to take shelter back in the bowels of the building with me.  This was not a problem, because at that point, there were no customers in the store. 

Before I could hang up the phone and lock the door, it opened.  The Cat Man was back.  In a rare moment of verbosity, he related that he had been half way home when he realized that a storm was starting.  So instead of going home to take shelter, he came back to the coffee shop.

This was an alarming development.  Not only was I isolated in a basement-less building during a potentially severe storm, I was now trapped in said building with a man that I considered creepy.  Was he dangerous?  I wasn't sure.  All I knew for sure is that he was weird.  Weird enough to think that it was a good idea to return to a basement-less building for shelter.

Various scenarios flashed through my mind, mostly ending in my gruesome and painful death.  Who could rescue me?  Who would find my body?  How could I tell the police who to look for when I didn't know the man's real name? 

Against every fiber of my being, I informed the Cat Man that I was locking the doors and that he was welcome to seek shelter in the back area of the store.  If he accepted my invitation, my plan was to hide out in the ladies bathroom.  For some strange reason, he declined my offer.  He chose instead to remain stationary at the front store windows, watching the sky and the storm unfold. 

Trying not to seem too relieved, I retreated to the back storage room/office and locked the door.  Yes, I realize I left the Cat Man alone in the front of the store with our merchandise and cash register.  But after all of our outside furniture was abruptly swept away by a large gust of wind, I decided that my safety was more important.

So I sat back there for what felt like hours but was probably only 20 minutes.  Occasionally, I peeked out around the corner to see if he was still there.  As is the case with most super severe storms, the worst part passed relatively quickly and the sky resumed its blue shade. 

I emerged completely from the office and asked if it looked like the storm was over.  The Cat Man nodded.  I told him that he was welcome to stay, but that I had to receive confirmation from my boss as to whether or not we would officially open for business for the remainder of the day.

Uncertain as to what his long-term plans were due to his aversion to verbal communication, I made myself busy behind the counter.  Finally, he started to shuffle towards the door and I quickly ran up to open it for him.  He thanked me and departed.

After re-locking the door, I called my boss to inform her that I was alright, the customer had left and that all of our outdoor furniture was probably on the roof or somewhere in the next county.  She agreed that due to possible damage and the low probability that anyone would want to venture forth for frothy espresso drinks, I could close up shop.

This was a relief.  Once everything was closed up and clean, I drove home to an empty house, unsure of what I would find.  There was indeed a large tree branch barring the driveway, but I kicked the '87 Chevy Celebrity into high gear and drove around it.  Thankfully the power was still on and my dog seemed unfazed. 

Later, I learned that there had actually been a tornado that touched down less than a mile from the coffee shop.  Hence the airborne furniture, I guess.

This was the last summer that I worked at this coffee shop, and to be honest, I do not remember much else for the remainder of my tenure.  I am sure that the Cat Man came back, but there was no bond of survivors between us.  Maybe he is still alive and living in Willmar.  I do know that my coffee shop no longer exists, so if he is still around he has had to find a new hangout.  Maybe this one will have a basement.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Oh well, whatever, nevermind

Oh dear.  It looks like I have been slacking in the blog department, and the sad thing is that I don't really have a legitimate excuse. 

Sunday would have been a perfect day to write; I was enclosed all day in a house with three dogs and no other obligations.  Honest truth?  I did not turn on the computer all day.  ALL DAY.  What did I do instead, you ask?  I did NOT do homework.  I did NOT read a book.  I did NOT call a friend. 

No.  In between feeding the dogs and myself, I watched a NCIS marathon.  We may have also had a dramatic reenactment of some scenes from said marathon.  If you're interested, Thor was McGee, Lena was Abby, Pippi was Ziva and I was Gibbs.  Yes, I realize there are some gender inconsistencies here, but there are only so many cool female roles in this show.

By the time my parents arrived home, they were all ready to go out for dinner, so of course I obliged.  This led to me staying the night on Sunday.  Which meant that I had to go to work from their house on Monday, resulting in a return voyage to the inner city to retrieve my dog Monday night.  Needless to say, we did not get back to the sticks until 9 p.m.  Way too late to write an update. 

So here we are, almost into the middle of the week. 

At the risk of revealing too much about myself, I will share that on Friday I had a bit of a breakdown.  My continuing job search has yet to materialize into any interest on the part of employers.  While I realize that this is also due to the state of the current job market and a saturation of qualified individuals, it still carries a whiff of failure.

The people who care about me have offered positive words and what they hope will be helpful advice.  My first order of business has been to reconsider the formatting of my resume.  To be honest, I have had doubts about my original resume based on the fact that the entirety of my job history to date has been with one company.  This may have positive meaning to some, but it is very hard to convey the amount of skills I have gained or accomplishments I have achieved when there is not much diversity in my work experience details.

Honestly, I do not have doubts about my ability to write effectively.  I know that I am using the right "action" words and that my grammar and spelling are correct.  My descriptions are honest, even when I am trying to make sure that I am listing the ones that are specifically pertinent to the job at hand.  Oh, did I not mention that I tweak my resume for each job application?  Yes.  It results in several saved versions of my resume in Word, but I feel the effort is worth it.  At least I would if I could even get an interview.

There is also the possibility that the hiring agents are getting high volumes of applicants and are doing some highly objective sorting methods.  If this is the case, I have no way of knowing what will ultimately work. 

The good news is that I still have a job.  I imagine that this process is at least 100 times more frustrating and gut-wrenching for someone who is unemployed. 

One thing that actually gets through my haze of frustration is the knowledge that in a few months, I will be able to update my education section to show that I have completed my MLIS degree.  While I have been careful to include the fact that it is in process and scheduled to be completed in December 2011, the edge will always be given to the person who is all done and finished.

Moving on from my job search woes, I had to go through my calendar yesterday and figure out potential time off for the next couple of months.  It was a bit surprising (and perhaps sad) to find that the majority of my vacation time is going towards the act of dog-sitting and not to actual vacation.  Said dog-sitting events are usually the result of my parents taking vacation. 

Don't get me wrong, my parents have definitely offered to include me on more than one of their outings, but with school and the dogs, it becomes difficult for the three of us to be away at the same time.  I keep saying that once school is done and my schedule is clear, I can plan a real vacation for myself. 

At this point, I am open to ideas.  Obviously, I would prefer to be economical about the costs.  No voyages around the world or stays at the Four Seasons Maui.  Unless you are willing to pay?  What say you??

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Les chiens qui dorment

Goodness, it's getting late.  What am I still doing up?  Well, I will tell you. 

The pups have been out for their last bathroom break of the day, which was severely truncated due to the fact that some young gentlemen are carousing at high volume in a backyard somewhere within hearing distance.  They must also have a dog with them, which of course leads to doggie conversations.

As I am sure that none of my other neighbors care to listen to doggie conversations at 10:45 p.m., I had to lure them back in with treats. 

I am now contemplating the joy that is piling three terrier-sized dogs into a queen-size bed with one fully grown female human.  Sure to be a delight.  As a precautionary measure, I think I may bring up some doggy beds for the floor as the canines have a propensity to jump down at an hour that is far to early on a weekend for me to contemplate getting up.  Due to the fact that most of said canines cannot or will not jump back UP on the bed, they need comfortable accommodations to allow them rest after the initial hoopla of waking up.

Of course, this afternoon we also had "Orbit Gum Scare 2011."  I found the remains of a partially consumed wrapper with what I took to be already chewed Orbit gum.  As I know that sugar free gum can be toxic to dogs, I immediately called my vet brother.  He did some research for me and we determined that if any of the dogs ate gum, we would be seeing symptoms.  After conferring on the phone with my mother, I learned that it was likely a piece of ABC gum (Already Been Chewed), thus rendering the toxic sugarlike substance far lower in concentration.

Here we are several hours later and everyone is fine.

Today I had some exciting news.  My Saturday class, which is scheduled to meet for five hours every other week, is being truncated due to our required participation in an internship.  I know that three hours instead of five may not sound like much to some, but trust me, it is wonderful.

So now that I have completed my first week of class, I can say that I think this final semester is going to be a good one.  I find that I am without my usual anxiety over new courses and new information.  Is that a sign of the "senior slide" that usually precedes graduation?  We shall see.

Wish me luck.  I am about to attempt the process of putting the household to bed.  It's now or never, people.  Or dogs.  I get them confused sometimes.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Coasting into the weekend

Watch your backs, folks.  I am dangerously close to becoming a drooling flesh-eating zombie and I would hate for you to succumb to being one of my victims.

Yesterday I made the mistake of agreeing to accompany my father on a 5:15 a.m. dog walk on the streets of Edina.  In the dark.

By the time I arrived at school last night, I was starting to drag a little.  After two hours of my three hour class, which is held in the basement of the library building in a room full of computers, I was on the floor.  It is not my teacher's fault.  She had a lot of interesting information to share and she made lots of nice Power Point slides. 

It isn't as though the class runs to some ungodly hour, either.  It is from 6-9 p.m.  But by 8, I found myself drifting.  Eyes glazed over, thoughts turning to mush.  My brain became a giant sieve; all words being spoken floated in and out. 

I felt terrible.  My teacher was so earnest, so eager to impart knowledge.  But I fear that my trance was contagious because she noted seemed to pick up on a vibe that focus was waning and let us go a bit early. 

My only concern from that point was driving.  Even though it only takes about 20 minutes to get home, I was uncertain.  Of course, the fact that I had also skipped dinner in favor of an iced tea was not helping my blood sugar levels. 

Then I got home, and in a moment of what I can only assume was sleep deprived stupidity, I agreed to get up again this morning with my dad.  It is a wonder I am still functioning in an upright position. 

Thank goodness tomorrow is Saturday, right?  At the very least, I hope that this means I can get a little extra sleep, although I doubt it will help much in the long run.  I get to spend five hours in class tomorrow afternoon followed by a night in which I must share my bed with three space hogging dogs.

So to that end, I find that I cannot be clever today.  I cannot create long sentences.  Heck, I can hardly create coherent sentences without concentrating extra hard.

So instead, here you go.

I call this masterpiece, "Bread Monster."

This is how I used to sleep, surrounded only by pillows.

I've got skillz, man.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

It begins. Again. For the last time.

I have school tonight. 

This is all I seem to be able to think about today.  You would think that this could be interpreted as a signal of distress, but don't worry.  I am alright.

This is my third fall semester of grad school, so all of the first day jitters have pretty much been overcome by now, but I still find that the brief period before my first classes meet to be a little unsettling.

It isn't a fear of not having any friends or not knowing anyone.  By now, I always know at least one person in my class.  Even if I didn't, it's grad school, not Kindergarten.  I can handle it. 

My professors have already published their syllabi's, so I have an idea of what kind of workload to expect.  It's always a little overwhelming at first, but that is largely due to the mental shock of accepting that one's free time is going to be much more limited for the next few months. 

Fortunately, I am generally pretty good at maintaining proper perspective in this case.  I always know that there is an end date to the hysteria.  In this case, it is December 20.  Graduation.

The only real bummer to the start of school is the fact that I usually end up having a class that meets in the evening.  In the case of this semester, we meet every Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m.  This means that I must get up for work in the morning, spend my day in the office, rush out at closing time and drive through traffic across the city to my university's campus.

To date, I have never been late.  I cut it very close only once, in my first semester.  This was due to heavy snowfall, so I was not the only one.  So it doesn't really count.

Normally, I do not consider 9 p.m. to be very late.  But when I depart from the classroom tonight into the cold darkness of the evening knowing that I have to drive back to my parents' house and will be going to bed within an hour of my arrival only to arise early tomorrow morning for work, it will seem like midnight. 

Of course, this feeling is not aided by the fact that like a fool I told my father to wake me up at 5:15 a.m. to take the dogs for a walk.  True, I do normally get up at 5:30 when I am at my own house, but somehow that feels different.  Maybe it was the fact that my mother had to work at 5 this morning and my ever-perceptive dog managed to hear her moving silently through the house at 4:20. 

When we are at home, this wouldn't be a problem.  Lena would just go back to sleep.  At my parents' house, she is a completely different animal.  For some obscene reason, she assumes that any slight noise is the all-clear to get out of bed.  She springs forth to the floor and lays her head down by the bottom of the door to see if anyone is out there who will let her out.

If no one does this, she usually resorts to laying down on the pillows that I thoughtfully laid out the night before knowing full well that she would do this.  This enables her to rest a bit more (if she wants) and it also relieves me of the duty to pick her up and put her back in the bed.  Never mind that she is fully capable of jumping back up on her own.  If she wants attention, she will not do it.

So essentially, I have been somewhat awake since 4:20 a.m. today.  I went on a walk around 5:15, and left for work around 7:30.  I (of course) picked up a latte because there is NO WAY I could fathom any coherent conversation without it.  Surprise surprise, I will probably pick up ANOTHER latte on my way to school tonight. 

Thus begins the final semester routine. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bake your cake and eat it too!

Apologies are in order, folks.  While I did bake a cake and it was highly successful and delicious, I did not capture any of it on film.  Does this make me a crappy blogger?  Maybe.  But let me explain.

This cake that I made last night?  It was a simple recipe, really.  But the instructions were a bit intense.  I am not a naturally gifted baker, and I appreciate specific tips and suggestions.  I appreciate that they will result in a superior result.

If I had to summarize the process, I would say that it was a bit... painstaking.  Seriously.  I had to mix or "cream" the butter for two minutes.  No biggie.  Then I had to add the three cups of sugar, half a cup at a time, beating the mixture for a full minute between additions.  Oh, and I had to scrape down the sides of the bowl in between as well.

After that, I had to add each of the five eggs, one at a time, again beating for a full minute in between additions.

If you're doing the math, you should realize that this means that total mixing time is now up to 11 minutes, not counting the extra time needed to add new ingredients, scrape down the bowl and break the eggs.

Next, I had to whisk together flour, salt and baking soda.  Then?  You guessed it, I had to add it in separate amounts, alternating with sour cream, until it was all "incorporated."  Finally, I got to add the flavor extracts.  Her final instruction was to let the whole thing mix on high for two minutes.

The purpose behind this mixing was to incorporate air into the batter.  Not too much, but enough to make the cake rise up "proudly" in the 10-inch tube pan.  Said pan had been "prepared" using a disk of parchment paper on the bottom and copious amounts of Pam baking spray. 

Let me take a side moment to mention that I was extremely nervous about using the tube pan.  Any time I have used a "molded" pan in the past, my results have been mixed.  Oh, the cake turns out fine, but the de-panning process usually is disastrous, with chunks of cake coming out separately resulting in a heap of large crumbs.

In between all this mixing, adding and preparation, I didn't even think to grab a camera.  Even if I had, it would hardly have been beautiful.  I suppose I could have captured a shot of Lena who followed me like a shadow and pawed at my leg incessantly despite my numerous attempts to engage her with toys and treats.  Now that I think about it, this is the first time that I have done any serious baking since Lena came to live with me (in February), so her confusion is not that surprising.

Once I had finished the batter and poured it into the pan (being sure to let it "lava" itself around), I put it in the oven for 90 minutes.  That's right - 90 minutes.  Sounds unheard of in baking, right?  If the instructions had not been so adamantly clear, I may have doubted it, but I put my trust in the written word and resolutely left my cake to bake undisturbed for an hour and a half. 

Turns out, 90 minutes was perfect.  After 23 minutes cooling in the pan, during which time an alarming sound of deflation nearly caused me to jump through the roof (it sounded alarmingly like a ghost), I followed the detailed instructions for de-panning.  Guess what?  It worked.  Truly, this was the most amazing part of the experience for me. 

Once it was finally cool, I put it in my cake-save.  Then, I decided that I should probably try a tiny piece, just to be sure it didn't taste like chalk.  I was suitably impressed. 

So this morning, me and my cake-save marched into the office to try out the recipe on my favorite guinea pigs:  my coworkers.

The verdict was unanimous:  yum.  Everyone was pleased that I was returning to the world of experimental baking.  Perhaps I will keep it up, although I have no intention of making it a weekly routine.  I like to keep them guessing, and if I set up expectations, they will only be more disappointed when I decide I have to quit for lack of time, energy or funds for ingredients.

Now, if I was your average food/cooking blog writer, I would not only have shared pictures, I would now share the recipe.  But alas, you are to be disappointed.  Not that it is a complicated or proprietary recipe, it's just that I feel that the author, Melissa Gray, did such a good job with her instructions that I feel it would be unfair to deprive you of her words. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Never gonna stop

Sometimes I wonder if as I age, my hearing will be the first to go.  I always assumed it would be my eyes, or more likely than that, my brain. 

Today, I was speaking with someone about State Fair experiences and she informed me that she almost purchased a "camel hat."  At least that is what I thought she said.  This did not seem odd to me.  I imagined it to be something like my old Daisy Duck hat from Disneyworld. 

But alas, no.  I misheard the word "camel."  She actually said that she almost bought a "camo hat."  Camo, as in camouflage. 

A sad reflection of my hearing abilities to be sure, but it sparked an odd coincidental anecdote on my part.

Many many years ago, I did purchase a camo hat. 

Why?  Well.

Back in the day, my best friend and I were known to kick it around town in her super sweet mid-90's model teal/green Pontiac Sunfire.  It was a two-door vehicle, with no power upgrades whatsoever and it was manual transmission.  This meant that I could never drive it, but I was more than happy to be the eternal passenger in our missions.

When we were in our early 20's, both single and somewhat carefree, we really did have a lot of fun.  I will perhaps highlight some other escapades in another entry, but I think that I will keep this one to the story of the camo hat.

At this point in time, my friend's baby brother, Kevin, was working at the local Gander Mountain store.  He was still in high school, I think.  We were (of course) at least 21 years of age. 

After some sort of outing that involved eating and drinking, we decided to pay little Kevi-poo a visit.  Honestly, what high school aged guy wouldn't be thrilled to see his sister and her slightly buzzed best friend saunter into his place of work to chat?  Kevin, that's who.

I believe we made some inquiries (in jest) about firearms, but we were denied on this front.  We then examined their tent collection, even going so far as to lay in one of the displays. 

Once it became clear that our 10 minutes were up, we decided that we were going to make honest purchases after all.  My friend selected a lovely woodsy sweater and I chose a brimmed camo hat from the bargain bin.  Never mind that it was size XXL.  I have a large head.

Purchases in hand, we returned to the Sunfire.  (I feel I should again reiterate that I was the only one buzzed in this story.  My driver was NOT.) 

As it was summer and the weather was fine, we elected to forgo the air conditioning.  We did, however, make use of the Sunfire's one high tech feature:  the CD player.

My friend and I are known to have somewhat divergent tastes in music.  However, when one spends a great deal of time in a car with someone, one learns to appreciate different genres.  Or one does not have as much fun.

In this instance, at this point in our history, one of our top songs was Rob Zombie's "Never Gonna Stop."

OK.  I know.  Your head is spinning right now.  Rob Zombie?  Me?  You never knew I was that hard core scary rock, did you?  Next I will be telling you that I love Insane Clown Posse. 

Worry not.  Other than this song, I am not terribly familiar with Mr. Zombie's work and do not listen to it on a regular basis.  I don't think I have ever even downloaded it on iTunes.  But now I might.  Just for old time's sake.

Anyway.  Picture this:  two blonde girls in their early 20's, sitting in a small teal two-door Pontiac Sunfire, windows down, speakers blaring "NEVER GONNA STOP ME!!!!  NEVER GONNA STOP!!!" along County Road 42 in Burnsville.  One is sitting upright wearing shades.  The other is slightly reclined in her seat (low-riding) with a broad-brimmed camouflage hat pulled down over her eyes.  Both are bobbing their head to the beat.

Are you impressed?  You should be, because it was totally bad-ass.  I wish I could say that the story only escalated from there, but that's basically it.  Maybe we managed to freak out a few Squares, or maybe we impressed a few of the fellas we passed on the road.  You never know. 

Fast forward to nearly a decade later.  My best friend is married.  She just recently purchased a new car and SOLD the Sunfire.  I would like to hope that the Rob Zombie CD is still in her possession, but I haven't really ever thought to ask. 

One thing I do know for certain is that the camo hat is still with me.  It sits perpetually perched and ready for action on the back of a chair in my room.  Maybe someday I will revive it and take it back out into the wild.  Or at least as wild as I am willing to get with the hearing aid I will no doubt be purchasing soon.  Is there any correlation between the time spent blaring Rob Zombie and my current hearing problems?  Good question.

It's good to have goals. And cake. Or both.

I am always impressed by people who have goals.  Or at least people who follow through with their goals.  Sadly, I am not usually among this population.  Oh sure, I can do the little stuff.  I once had a goal of driving a Toyota Corolla; now I drive a Toyota Corolla.  I once wanted to try Sweet Corn Ice Cream at the State Fair.  Mission accomplished on that one, too.

Generally, when it comes to the big stuff, I am 50/50 on completion.  College degree?  Check.  Boyfriend?  No check.  Graduate degree?  Almost check.  Millionaire?  No check.  You see?

If I had to specify an area of my life where many goals fall by the wayside, it would have to be in the side project/hobby category.  For example, inspired by the blog/book/movie spectacle of "Julie/Julia," I took matters into my own hands and decided to set my sights on a more attainable goal:  I would bake my way through the Betty Crocker Cooky Book.  Oh, and I would blog about it.

Well, I did create and write a blog for the recipes I managed to do.  The problem with this was that I undertook the project while on winter break in my first year of grad school.  When one has a full winter month of no homework and no responsibilities, baking is not such a difficult task.  Sadly, once classes resumed, I had only made it through the first rounds, and I was closing in on some flavors that were highly unappealing.  Some may have involved raisins.  Yuck.

The blog itself and all of its magical five posts are still available at http://cookybooky.blogspot.com/  Please don't judge me based on the fact that I cannot do food photography for the life of me.  This was before I ever looked at the Pioneer Woman's blog and was put to shame by her beautifully lit creations.  I blame my shortcomings on the fact that there are no windows in my kitchen.  Right.

To get more to my point, this weekend (at the Fair), I purchased a cook book at the MPR stand.  Does this sound odd to you?  Perhaps it is but I find that I do not care.  It is called "All Cakes Considered," by Melissa Gray.  It is a cake cookbook, obviously, but it is more than that.  Ms. Gray spent a year bringing cakes into work every Monday to try out on her coworkers.  Also, she spends quite a bit of time elaborating on the sometimes neglected necessary steps to successful cake baking.

I was intrigued, it was cheap, I am an MPR member, so I bought it.  Don't get too excited, I have no intention of bringing a new cake into the office every week, but it has been a looooooong time since I did baking of any kind, and I have that lovely KitchenAid Stand Mixer just sitting on my counter begging to be used, so I figured, why not try a few out?

So tonight I will attempt to bake a cake.  If it turns out well, I will let you know.  Now that the weather is cooling, the use of my oven does not seem so onerous to me.  If the cake turns out, my coworkers will reap the benefits.  If I fail, my garbage can will be a little fuller this week.  I hope all the kitchen activity does not confuse my dog too much as she has never known me to use much besides the microwave.