Friday, December 26, 2008

Old guitar & New Year's Resolutions

Look out world, I got a guitar. I am not talking about a plastic guitar that plugs into a Play Station - although that would qualify as cool, too; I am talking about a real musical instrument! And I am determined to learn how to play.

The piano will probably always be my favorite instrument that-I-never-formally-learned-how to play – and one I would still like to learn. But it's just not practical given the size and expense of a piano. A guitar - on the other hand - I can bring into the house without a moving van and roid-raging dudes. And because it is in my house, I can practice any time I want!

I stole the guitar from my Dad. He used to play. When he was younger, in a band; and when he was older, in the basement of our house (I think to unwind.) When we were growing up he would play and sing songs by America and I would dance around in front of a blinking disco-style light. They were good times. My favorite song to dance to was the one that had the words: "Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man." Probably because it was a Wizard of Oz reference so I understood it. I still don't know the name of that song...

Anyway, I asked Dad if I could steal his guitar. He couldn't really say no, because he hasn't played it in years (I think?) but he looked a bit hesitant. Perhaps he was contemplating how much he would want to play the guitar when he no longer had access to it anymore... that seems to be the way men operate...

He authorized the transaction and into the back seat of my car went the old guitar. I don't know anything about guitars so this should be interesting. I plan to find somewhere in town where I can get it tuned and perhaps get some advice on maintenance, then I will head to the bookstore and get a "For Dummies" book on playing guitar. I know Sheryl Crow taught herself how to play and she probably didn't have the "Dummies" book to guide her, so I am optimistic.

I don't expect to be Sheryl Crow caliber in 6 months, but I would like to be able to play SOMETHING. I think that is an attainable goal. This is part of a larger New Year's Resolution: this is the year I kick the stage fright. I am done with you, stage fright. I expect this will be REALLY hard... but I am going to do my best. I have to if I am going to make a toast at my baby sister's wedding...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Crazy at Christmas

Merry Christmas, Blog Friend(s) (i.e. Trish)

The weather was a bit scary and the roads very harrowing, but I made it home for Christmas! What a relief. The past two days are going by in a blur. It's a little hard to let your guard down and just go crazy with Christmas enjoyment when you know you have to work the day after Christmas. This is the first year I've had to do that. (I am so spoiled.)

This was a weird Christmas, because Little Sister is a million miles away (or it feels like it) in Mexico. Christmas morning was not the same, although still enjoyable and I am happy that she is happy. Christmas Eve was also weird, because my cousin is in Indiana. First Christmas without her, too. Boo.

Grandma must not have gotten the memo that there would be so few people for dinner because she cooked up quite a feast. Wow. It was SOME spread, let me tell ya. Ribs, chicken, seafood salad, calico beans and fruit salad (super yummy). We also had "pigs in a blanket" for appetizers - my favorite.

Today my mom's family is headed over here to continue the celebration. We don't exchange gifts on this side of the family anymore, which I think is pretty progressive. I still usually end up with $20 bills stuffed into my pockets, though. You won't hear me complaining about that.

It will be nice to see everyone, even though it sounds like Grandma & Grandpa are both sick with head colds and coughs.

I am psyched to do some shopping this weekend, with my Christmas windfall - gift cards and $$ galore. I know I should stick some of the money in the bank... We'll see...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

So this is love

I recently *met a new musician (new only to me) who I cannot get enough of. His name is Butch Walker. It might be because he kind of reminds me of Ben Folds, who I had a love affair with during high school - so there is the nostalgia factor. I am not sure how you describe Butch Walker - except to say he rocks in every way - at least that is my first impression. He is witty, clever and a great musician. I spent the day listening to him via YouTube videos because apparently I need a more sophistocated flash to use projectplaylist.com.

I am going to kill my computer. It sucks at staying connected to the Internet for more than 45 second intervals. Yeay.

Merry (Almost) Christmas.

More snow is supposed to be coming. I am going to try to head home if I can stand it and there is the possibility that I could come out of the roadtrip into winter hell unscathed.

I HEART Butch Walker. Google him. I really like "Ships in a Bottle" and "The Weight of Her" - both of which I downloaded via itunes.

One man's 'dream' is another man's nightmare

We are going to be having a really White Christmas; as a result I will not be going home for Christmas Eve and I will instead be working all day.

White Christmases also mean shoveling is a part of every day activities.

I hate you snow. You truly truly suck.

I don't know why I live here.

I want to move.

I am now convinced the only way a person could romanticize the snow is by never actually experiencing it. Shoveling snow and driving in it are surely not the stuff of great Christmas songs.

I highly suspect Irving Berlin never lifted a shovel in his life, nor did he ever make the morning commute going 25 mph trying not to end up in a ditch.

So, Mr. Berlin, this year I say "Pishaw" to your "dreaming of a white Christmas." You don't know what you are talking about.

This year, I will be taking a deep breath and wishing everyone a "Mele Kalikimaka."

Monday, December 22, 2008

No weigh!

I got on the scale this morning and I weigh only three pounds more than I weighed (on average) in high school! I am psyched. Over the past month and a half I have lost 11 pounds!

I guess going to the gym and not eating Subway chocolate chip cookies every single day is finally paying off!

I still have about 8 more pounds I want to lose before Becky's wedding... but the good news is I know I can keep off the 11 pounds I lost because I haven't really changed my life that much. Just not eating as many cookies or as much fatty fast food.

I can't believe I lost weight in DECEMBER!!! The hard part will be going home for Christmas and not gorging myself on those tasty Christmas cookies....

Friday, December 19, 2008

Color me bad

I got a hair cut yesterday. My stylist, Calli, is super cool so with the instruction not to take off too much length, I told her to have at it. I think she did a pretty bang-up job, but after she offered me a hand-held mirror so that I might inspect the back, I made an appalling discovery: oh the roots, the roots! My dye job needs dire help! Unfortunately, dye jobs are something I can only budget for every 6-8 months, so root pain is something that I must live with...unless.... Santa baby brings me some loot!

In any case, I *will get my hair colored again eventually. I think I am going to have it done at Regis though, and I am going to ask them to make my hair look like this:



I have long been an admirer of Jennifer Aniston. She has got it all, in my opinion. (Except for big ol' knockers). There are lots of women out there that are worthy of admiration for their physical beauty, of course, Eva Mendes, Beyonce Knowles, Rose McGowan... but I have always really been fond of Jennifer Aniston's hair. Besides, I don't know if I do a very good job of pulling off the darker hair color hues.

Stress - the gift that keeps on giving

I am afraid that holiday stress coupled with the ever-increasing amount of snow is quickly turning me into a version of Scrooge. Funny enough, that was always the Christmas story that gave me the most nightmares: when I was growing up, I used to think the three ghosts were going to come for me.

I blame this on my Catholic upbringing.

What other religious denomination trains children from early on to be so acutely aware of their sins and guilt – before they even really exist? How *else* could an 8 or even 10 year old child draw the conclusion that he or she is some how on the same spiritual level as an elderly man who accrued a lifetime of miserly misdeeds?

Thank you, Sr. Mary Beth and Fr. Ed.

Another side affect of my Catholic education is the long held the belief that I am going to hell.

There were a few short, fleeting years when all of the nuns were talking about how much Jesus loved the little children, and how everyone must be like little children to enter into the Kingdom of God. I fell into the "little children" category at this time, so I felt (at this time and at this time only) my spot in Heaven was safe. I dreaded the day when I would no longer literally be a "child" of God. Then I would have the heavy burden of a life riddled with adult problems and sin; and of course, a one-way ticket to the land of fire and brimstone.

Which brings us to present day and the adult stresses that are keeping me from enjoying the holiday season and those really great gifts that *God* has given me in my life thus far. I don't know why my enjoyment of the good things in my life must always be tainted by the possibility that they might come to an end.

My gift to myself this holiday season is a promise to make the most of the good things that come to me, accept them graciously, and enjoy them without fear, suspicion and doubt. Merry Christmas to me!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Top 10: It wouldn't be Christmas without...

10. Gifts in pretty paper
9. My favorite movie: Scroodged
8. Piles of Christmas cookies
7. Snow
6. Decorations
5. Warm blankets, slippers and sweaters
4. Fire places
3. Music
2. Family and friends
1. Jesus

Monday, November 24, 2008

How I almost burned my eye lids off

I once read in a beauty magazine of one glossy sort or another a tip for curling one's eye lashes. I mentally filed the tip away for a future day, but like most information I mentally file away, I forgot one critical element in the recipe. In this recipe, you are to take your standard, run-o-the-mill eye lash curling device (the metal contraption to the right) and heat the "curler" under a hair dryer for a few seconds. The important ingredient I couldn't remember was how long to hold the metal "curler" beneath the blazing hot air of the dryer. I opted for 30 seconds.

I tried one eye, inadvertantly touched the hot metal curler to the thin skin that covers my eye, screamed, then did the same to the other eye. Not only was the entire experiment a failure, the resulting tears of pain mucked up my eye liner.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ollie the Camel


Ollie the Camel
Originally uploaded by Ms. Jane
This is what a camel looks like when he is trying to attract a mate. It didn't do anything for me, but apparently the female camels dig it.

Ollie the camel was one of many special and unique creatures I discovered when touring Door County's Washington Island one October day.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What Our Features Say About Us

I feel as though my entire life has been one long quest to find out who I am. I’ve consulted psychics, had tarot card and...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When in Vegas...

Trish left for Vegas today. I will be thinking about her every day until she comes back... wondering if she and her beau are going to pop into a drive-through chapel and get married by an Elvis impersonator.

I really don't mind if Trish gets married - in Vegas or anywhere else. I would be super happy for her. I just would like to be a part of her big day. If that means over the phone, that is OK too. It just is really important to me because the reality is marriage is a big deal - no matter how you do it. It's life-changing. I would feel very honoured to share that life-changing event with Trish. If that makes any sense.

At the same time, if she didn't call me until she got back, I guess I would be OK with that too. I just want her to be happy. It's so funny how pretty much everyone in her life has observed aloud the fact that she COULD get married while she is in Vegas. Really, she and the man could get married anytime they wanted by a justice of the peace. But somehow going to Vegas makes it seem somehow more possible. WHy is that? Because people have a tendency to make bad decision in Vegas or because of the ridiculous number of no-questions-asked chapels in Sin City? Whatever the reason, I would not be surprised if Trish came back with a different last name. If she did, she would no longer be T-squared. That would be the saddest aspect of her marriage. She could no longer be a moniker squared. But then she could always ask him to change HIS last name. I like that idea....

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Schizophrenia

I changed my blog again. This is me acknowledging that a change has taken place. Again.

I have a schizophrenic blog that way. It is what it is.

In other news: My blog isn't the only thing to undergo a lot of changes recently. Recently being a relative term. I am going on week four of a new job in a new town.

Cheers to that.

I am not good at picking places to live. I have decided this after two post-college moves - both motivated by forces other than personal preference. I think the next place I live is going to be a place where I want to be.

For now I am living and working in a place that is unsuitable for normal people who want to live normal lives. In other words, its a tourist destination.

I apologize, my friendly little blog, for being so scatter brained. I am typing as many words as I can get out in 15 minutes because using a computer with an Internet connection in a Main Street coffee shop is $2.50/15 minutes and I have been without my catharsis for so long. I know. I could always keep a journal...maybe I will.

We will be spending more time together in the near future, because the cable man is coming Thursday. For what I deem to be an exorbitant amount of money I will have high speed Internet access and cable. If I were more clever I might say - Cable and Internet:$69.99 a month; Being connected to the world during winter: priceless. And This is my life.

Well - I shall say good bye for now because I need money for candy more than I need to share things with the Internet abyss.

See you Thursday, Friend.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Why Do People Say...

I always find the English language an interesting creature to study - especially under the literal lens. Here is an observation I made only recently, although I've encountered this phrasing many a-time:

"That's not a bad idea."

My boss told me the other day that an idea I had wasn't bad. The inflection in his voice added a little something to the statement - it sounded almost like surprise.

So. What we have established is that my idea was not bad, and the fact that I had an idea that wasn't bad is a surprise to those I work with.

I know that this is not the message my boss was trying to convey. I know that (at least in this case) my boss believed my idea was not ONLY "not bad," it was good. So why not just opt for the affirmative: "good idea"? That would be better for morale if you have employees who dissect your statements and take them literally.

But seriously.

Why do people even say, "Not too bad" or similarly backhanded compliments. I would have to do some research on this, but I have a theory. Whoever first uttered these words probably did so at a time in history when paying compliments seemed to show a sign of weakness. This sort of philosophy still has some weight in small towns where "the women are strong and the men are good looking." Strong, silent types often have farms, milk cows, drive tractors and say, "Not too bad."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Small-town Journalism

Minnesota is divided into two geographical locations that clearly establish the "us" and the "them" of the state. There are the "Twin Cities" or even "The Cities" (Minneapolis and St. Paul) and the rest of "us" - also known as "Greater" Minnesota. At least this is my understanding of the term - I am a foreigner (originally from Wisconsin) so I could be misunderstanding something - if that's the case, bear with me.

"Greater" is not intended to be an assessment of the quality of the state beyond the Twin Cities, but rather the quantity of land and people beyond them. It's a tidy, yet meaningless blanket term applied to everyone and everything not associated with these two densely populated areas of the state.


Since there is so much MORE of Minnesota than "The Cities" it's unsurprising that I ended up working for an agriculture newspaper in one of the many small communities that make up the "Greater" part of the state. The county where I live has a special claim to fame, because there are more cows than people here.

During my short but shining career as a small-town journalist, I have worked in three different communities for three different papers; I interned at another during college. I have learned a lot since I graduated in 2003.

When I was a journalism student, there were several miscommunications that took place during my Mass Communication education: 1) Most journalists work for large daily papers and cover fascinating topics; 2) Journalists get a decent salary -- eventually; 3) Weekly papers are inferior and for sissies.

What I have learned since then: 1) Most "average to good" journalists work for small daily papers, or even weekly newspapers. There is only ONE Star Tribune and ONE Pioneer Press and they are EVER downsizing their staffs! Most large markets are controlled by tyrannies - lorded over by one massive paper that is more than likely a merger of many papers over many years. This is just the way it is. Competition (at least in the traditional sense of newspaper vs. newspaper) is dead in most markets. 2) Journalists sacrifice more than they make in time, money and lifestyle. 3) Weekly newspapers rock. Thank you weekly newspapers - for keeping me employed even when we have had our differences.

Bring on the Cheesy Goodness

In only a few short days I will be making the 445 mile-trip to the "old country." I can't wait! As usual, the next few days will be dreadfully busy with packing and other preparations. Ella's reservation at the doggy boarding house has been made, more dog treats have been bought, and she will be ready to go! On my end, I have plenty of laundry to do so I have some clothes to wear when I am at home and my lawn will probably need to be mowed twice before I leave! Fat chance that will happen. Oh how I wish I could cultivate a yard full of Minnesota native prairie grasses.

Friday night I plan to visit with my moniker-squared BFF Trish in Madison. I cannot wait to see her short hair cut! Unfortunately, it was cut super short a month or two ago, so by the time I am seeing it, it will not be as dramatic; I am still excited though. I love to see Trish and hang out and the cool farmhouse where she lives. She has been working on a flower garden, which will be very cool to see, even though it will be at night. I will take photos if possible.

Saturday TBM and I are going on a pre-birthday shopping trip, which will enable me to acquire some new clothing in a no-holds-barred scenario (i.e. many merchandise are "gifted to me" so I will actually get more than one item, and it will probably be something other than a black or white T-shirt). Stacy and Clinton would be so proud of me! I am looking for two pairs of dress shoes/boots in black and brown; a pair of new tennis shoes that have never seen cow-shit would also be nice. I already have two nice pairs of dress slacks, so some tops are in order. I could use a good Khaki pant, too, but nothing too light.

Sunday is the "family BBQ" formerly known as my Grandma W's birthday celebration. We are all so special in my family...

Monday through Wednesday I will be in Door County! I am excited because it is my first trip to Cherry Orchard Town!

Wednesday I will be stopping in Green Bay - my first trip to that town that is not work related. I hope I will get to see something more interesting than the inside of a newly built hospital that requires construction clean-up!

Thursday thru Friday I want to TAKE IT EASY! Leave me alone to bond with the family and the new doggie - Goliath. I will see if he is as amazing as TBM would have the world believe.

Saturday back to MN to get my boo-boo from the boarding house and back in her own bed!

Fun fun!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Lord Help Us All

I changed my blog! All by myself! Granted, I accidentally deleted my links and will have to fix some stuff, but right now, I am pretty proud of myself. It took me many hours because I am new to all of the programs but I am satisfied that I could make-over one aspect of my life relatively quickly. Yeay.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Sink Full of Spoons

Because my normal diet of food I "prepare" at home consists mostly of cereal, frozen dinners and yogurt, I run out of spoons far more quickly than a normal person. Although the spoons pile up in the sink, it seems silly to dedicate too much water and soap to such a meager amount of "dishes." Instead, I eat with every type of spoon I have until there are no more.

First I use the dinner spoons, then move on to the soup spoons. After exhausting the supply of soup spoons, I use my two grape fruit spoons with the serrated scooper.

Finally, I use my measuring spoons - all but the Tablespoon because it won't fit into my yogurt container. If I still haven't amassed enough dirty dishes to make a washing worthwhile, I eat my yogurt with forks. Once the forks are gone, I must get to washing.

Disenchantment

Lately I've been thinking that I should rename my blog "Domestic Me." I feel like I in any waking hours that are not dedicated to my job I am a slave to my domestic duties. Is this what life is - a series of tasks that must be repeated over...and over...and over again? And that is if you are lucky.

If you aren't lucky, you are living in a third world country or some other awful circumstance just struggling to survive so that one day you too can be a slave to everyday tasks.

When I was very young, I thought the best thing about being a "grown up" was that you could eat ice cream late at night - and as much as you wanted. Now that I have done that, I am starting to feel like there is not much else to look forward to in adult life.

My "adult" life consists of the following: doing laundry, vacuuming, washing dishes, cleaning, avoiding cleaning, putting off cleaning, wondering why the place is such a mess, mowing the lawn, having the lawn mower die so I can't finish, folding laundry, taking showers, drying hair, putting on make up, shaving legs and arm pits, curling hair, and going to work so I can afford to do it all over and over again.

You never REALLY finish any domestic tasks. The laundry WILL get dirty and need to be washed, line dried (if your dryer doesn't work - like mine) and folded AGAIN. It's really maddening. I can't believe how long people have been doing these things without one day spontaneously combusting. Some days I just want to throw my lawn mower off of a bluff in southeastern Minnesota and laugh maniacally until men in white coats carry me away. Of course that is only a temporary solution. Eventually it would be decided that I am competent enough to work at McDonald's and mow my own lawn again - or live in an apartment where that is that landlord's responsiblity.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Gone to the Dogs

The pet magazine I was freelancing for is shutting down without something short of divine intervention. I am trying to brainstorm ways to prevent its demise that are practical and cost-effective; unfortunately "practical" and "cost-effective" are not my areas of expertise.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Evidence of Negativism Magnetism

This weekend I saw "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Overall, the film was unsurprising, but I don't think that has to be a bad thing. It was kind of like a warm embrace from an old friend - comforting in it's familiarity. Among the little gold nuggets the film shook out, there was one idea - one comment - in particular I took with me from that theatre.

In dialogue between Professor Jones and Dean Charles Stanforth, Stanforth said the following: "We've reached the age where life stops giving you things and starts taking them away."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Reasons for My Month-Long Hiatus

I would tell you why I have been absent from my blog for a month, but none of my reasons are that interesting, they are merely run-of-the-milll ordinary boring excuses. Oh well, here they are anyway - in no particular order:

o My computer was gone for a week, it had some malware (bad, nasty computer stuff) on it, so a friend was exercising the demons;

o I dedicated most of my waking hours to what is the biggest project of the year for work, although my boss is cooking up some more "stuff" to make the most of my locked in weekly salary;

o I was sick. A small amount of unpleasantness lingers on, but for the most part I have recovered;

o My car was gone for a while and in need of repair, which put me in crabby mood;

o My dryer took a lesson from my stove and decided to start cooking my clothes, which also put me in crabby mood;

o I have been spending all of my free time following the dog around with a vacuum;

o My landlord left me a lawn mower that doesn't work and everyone else has mowed except for me. On the brightside, I now know my property boundaries;

o I had to figure out how to put up a clothesline since my dryer isn't working - not as easy as it looks and my clothes are almost touching the ground;

and... after all of that ... I have just not felt like writing!

The good news is; I am back. And since Spring TRULY appears to have sprung, I should be done with the bad attitude graphs for a good six months. I hope.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

No Country for Critics of Cohen Brothers

For months I have lived in a world where it appeared that I was one of two people in America who (admitted) not being impressed by the Cohen brother's movie, "No Country For Old Men." Today is a day that I feel validated.

Dana Stevens, a movie critic for Slate.com and a screenwriter, put into words - more concisely than I ever could - the flaws of the movie whose Oscar-success and mainstream admiration confound and disappoint me. So rather than dedicate a blog to my analysis of the movie (which has been a LONG TIME in coming) I will direct my "readers" who are interested (if there are any) to her review. That is pretty much exactly how I feel and I am glad someone could articulate it for me!

Monday, April 14, 2008

As Promised...



EXPLANATIONS:

WEATHER: The snow is melting, which is a good thing... but the white clumps (even as they slowly - ever so slowly - evaporate, disintegrate, and/or muddy up the streets) are a reminder that the Midwest clings to winter even as everyone else is saying, "Hello, Mr. Springtime." The Calendar, try as he might to move winter along, (the First Day of Spring, according to the Calendar, was March 20..*hint, hint*) is always put in his place by Mother Nature. Assigning deadlines to seasons is an arbitrary, human policy that unfortunately means very little to the greater powers of the universe.

WORK: My bosses fired my friend and co-worker so I am very bummed. They tried to convince me it is best for everyone. In the long-run, this is probably true; but in the immediate future it is only best for them.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Just Kidding

I hate myself for saying that winter is gone and making a mockery of Mother Nature's authority. Apparently she has been offended by my insolence and as a result, is threatening to bury me - and my fellow Smalltownians - in 15 to 20 inches of snow over the course of the next three days.

An updated "Bad Attitude Pie Graph" will follow.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Winter Doesn't Live Here Anymore

When I got home from work I made a decision: I was going to rollerblade.

Only four hours earlier I wouldn't have considered this an option. Four hours earlier, Mother Nature was dumping soppy snowflakes upon us for the umpteenth time. Then merciful sunshine intervened, turning those little pesky flakes into shallow sidewalk puddles.

As I sped on down the freeway, making my way back to work from a farm at about 5:30 p.m., I assessed the walking/biking trail. Rollerblading on winter's coattails can be risky: as evening approaches, the air cools and turns harmless puddles into sheets of black ice. Rollerblading on a day such as today could either be very exhilerating, or potentially dangerous.

At home after work I consulted with the dog.

ME: What do you think?
ELLA: I'm game. I'd really like to pump up my cardio program before I have to go to the vet again. Jerk.
ME: If we go, you have to promise to be a good dog, and not pull me anywhere. And if there is a hint of snow or ice, you must slow down.
ELLA: What are you so afraid of? This wouldn't be the first time you fell down this year.


She was correct. March alone boasted three noteworthy falls:

Fall No. 1 took place in early March - in the shower. I fell sideways out of the tub when I was trying to wash my left foot while balancing on my right leg.

Fall No. 2 took place the day I came home for Easter break. I was in my "bedroom" and one of the area rugs I stepped on bunched up right as I stepped forward and I wiped out, nearly hitting the back of my head on the floor - close call.

Fall No. 3 happened just last week. I was on a farm, taking notes and roaming about in my plastic biohazard "booties," which are required attire. Seems like a smart way to keep cattle safe, but people - not so much: this practice is the equivalent of tying a plastic bag around each foot and hopping around in ankle-deep sludge. Guess who falls - arse over tea kettle - onto a thick blanket of mud?

I had fallen all of these times, and put myself at risk of potential bodily harm - and for what grand prize? To have clean feet? To turn off a light? To write yet another story about cows and the people who milk them?

If I am to be hurt because I fall, let it be because I live boldly; not because I shower thoroughly.

So, rollerblading I went! The pathway was really quite clean and I avoided the onset of evening with the accompanying scary black ice. April 2, 2008 - spring has sprung. Winter doesn't live here anymore.

Bad Attitude

I am sorry dear blog, I haven't felt like writing lately. This is mostly because I have been consumed by crabbiness. I have learned I can write quite well when I am throwing a pity party, or when I feel I have something profound to say (even if it is not perceived by others as profound), but not when I am necessarily crabby. And crabby is what I have been. There are a number of reasons for my crabby demeanor (See "Bad Attitude Pie Chart" below).



As you can see, work and general self-loathing take the bulk of the blame, but not far behind is PMS and the weather.

Crap.

It just started snowing again....

I may have to update the chart.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Celebrating Easter in Wisconsin

What is Easter in Wisconsin without 12 inches of snow? I think it is safe to say we are all ready for spring. But, as usual, Ella is able to make the best out of a bad situation.



Thursday, March 13, 2008

What Does It All Mean?

Ella and I went for a walk tonight. For the first time, I was able to really see what my neighborhood looks like. Daylight-Saving Time really didn't do me any favors, though. The most memorable sights were as follows (and in no particular order): a lot of soggy looking yards, a Christmas wreath on the door of one house, a pile of fluorescent leaf bags with jack-o-lantern faces piled high along the side of another, and dogs - everywhere - barking. Unleashed Dog even left his yard to keep Ella and I company on our walk; Ella did not appreciate the intrusion. She said as much in her nastiest, snarliest voice. Unleashed Dog then wandered into the road, lingering in the middle of a well-travelled intersection. An SUV approached slowly, and laid on the horn. Unleashed Dog was wide-eyed and apparently frozen, so I summoned him in my most welcoming doggy voice and posed myself in what is considered in the dog world to be a "friendly and playful" stance. Unleashed Dog then dashed across the street to join us, despite Ella's very inhospitable demeanor.

How does the story end? What happened next is too difficult, and not interesting enough, to explain. Suffice it to say that Unleashed Dog took his leave. He dashed safely across the street but not in the direction of home, which concerned me. Ella and I concluded our walk. Once she was fed and watered, I slipped out of the house to collect Unleashed Dog. Or at least look for him until I was convinced that he was safely home.

I didn't have to walk far to spot him. He was not alone. It was dark, so the person with the hand around his collar was hard to distinguish. "Is that your dog?" I asked. A very pre-pubescent male voice answered from the dark: "Yes." I asked him if he would like my leash, which I brought to collect his dog. He politely replied "No, thank you." The tone in his young voice said clearly that this was the end of our social encounter.

On the short walk home, I had a chance to inspect an object on the ground that had been of great interest to Ella on our walk. I hurried her away from it because it looked like either a dead animal, or a chocolate covered rabbit. I was half right. It was a small, stuffed rabbit that looked as if it had been dipped into a mud fondue fountain. I picked it up by the ear, which was the only clean area on its little body, and carried it home.

Why? I don't know. I can't tell you. Maybe its the same reason why I rescued a boxelder bug from the sink as I prepared a dish-soap bath for the tar baby rabbit I pulled off the road; or put a yellow-rose corsage into a water-filled vase. Maybe its the same reason I talk to my mail when I take it out of the box...could there actually be a good reason for that?

In many ways, the world just seems to me to be a very fragile place. But now, perhaps, I am just projecting...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Comparing Apples to Apples

To the man who said comparing two similar item is like comparing apples to apples, I issue this challenge: Look around the produce section at today's grocery store. Comparing the different kinds of apples to one another is like comparing apples to oranges!

The stores where I normally do my shopping have a ridiculously large selection of apples - there is the Gala, the Pink Lady, the Rome, the "Java" (which I am still not sure what that means) the Golden Delicious, the Delicious, the Granny Smith, the Braeburn, the Jonagold, the Fuji, the McIntosh and the newest edition - the "Grapple" - which looks like an apple but is said to taste like a grape. Why you would try to make an apple that taste like a grape when you already have something that tastes like a grape, GRAPES, is unbeknownst to me and for the sake of this blog -neither here nor there.

All apples, I know, are NOT created equal, in fact, they have many more differences than similarities: texture, taste, size, color. All they really have in common are the general shape - and yet in this there are many differences. The McIntosh is short and round, for example, while the Delicious is long and oval shaped. Then of course there are all of the organic varieties.

I was once like the "apples to oranges" man. I thought, "Eh, an apple is an apple."

Not so, I now say.

If you replace my McIntosh with ANY OTHER VARIETY (and I do challenge you) I will notice. In my humble opinion, the McIntosh apple is far superior to others. It is sweet, and white fleshed; not too hard, with a very pleasant, smooth texture that is not crumbly or spongy. It is crisp and juicy. Yum. Consider this my official endorsement for the McIntosh apple.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Fighting Illiteracy

This weekend I completed a (free) 12-hour training session to become a tutor in my community. After getting some paperwork filled out and my background check, I will be approved to help the illiterate learn to read. I will also be able to help those who are learning English as a second language learn to read, write and speak. The training session was sponsored by the Minnesota Literacy Council

Friday, March 7, 2008

Creature Comforts

I share my domicile with a hyperactive dog and a small army of boxelder bugs. The most I have ever seen at one time are two, and since I don't kill them, I don't know if each sighting is a new sighting or just the same bug(s) making the rounds.

Ella hates our box elder bug neighbors. She always has. The first time she saw one was at our old apartment. I was asleep and woke to find Ella hovering over me, her ears dangling down and her eyes fixed on a spot on the wall above my head. Behold - box elder bug.

Ella has recently discovered that we have box elder bugs in our new place. For whatever reason, box elder bugs really bother Ella - believe the reason to be because they move. After she spots them moving she flies from wherever she has perched herself to investigate. She sniffs, licks, then stomps. Rarely is this method a successful means of terminating the box elder bug, although it does effectively disable them, temporarily. This appears to be all that Ella wants.

Lucky box elder bugs are rescued (by the sympathetic human in the house) and returned to a safer dwelling place. If they are wise, they will stay away and tell their friends - there is a box elder bug hunting dog in the house!

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Justification

I wanted to eat cheesecake. Not a single piece, but an entire cake. Turtle cheesecake, to be more specific. I was in Wal-Mart buying "sanitary napkins" - standing in line - hating everyone.

If I could find a cheesecake, I knew I could find peace.

I looked at my small basket of items: the generic brand of sanitary napkins, some Jiffy pellets, seeds for African Daisies and Cherry tomatoes, and some foam wedges for make up removal. I dumped my items on the conveyor belt. I proudly displayed the generic brand of "sanitary napkins" so the man behind me could see them.

I hated the man behind me.

He had a few more items than me and he had followed quickly behind me as I chose a checkout line - as if he was determined to figure out which of the shortest lines in the store I was going to choose and how to get in front of me. I wanted him to see my "pads;" yes pads. Because that is what they are. The truth is, I use napkins at a restaurant to wipe food off of my face. I stick "pads" in my underwear during menstruation. They are not interchangeable. But whatever you want to call them, I wanted man-behind-me to see them and know I am a dangerous woman. I had "Super absorbent" pads, which meant I should be as intimidating as a motorcycle babe carrying a crowbar.

I looked him dead in the eye. He gave me the wide-eyed-blissfully-ignorant-man look.

Back off buddy.

Feeling better about instilling the fear of hormones into man, I returned to thoughts of turtle cheesecake. I was confident I could eat a whole cheesecake tonight if the opportunity presented itself. It just so happened I knew a place where I could buy a piece....or two..... but that would be a little indulgent, wouldn't it? But then I wasn't sure it was a matter of "wanting" the cheesecake, as much as it was a matter of needing it. Its rich, chocolate, creamy goodness. Cheesecake. (Confession: I had actually had a sliver with lunch (my boss's treat). But that wasn't turtle cheesecake...)

At last the woman with the scanning device slid my items down the line and rescued me from the ants-in-his-pants man behind me, who undoubtedly had some REALLY important engagement to attend to. He pushed his cart as if to shuffle me down the line.

I glared at him.

The pads were in a bag now, so he was feeling brave. I paid the clerk and cast one more withering glance at the evil man. I wished PMS upon him and walked away.

I then shifted back to more pleasant thoughts....cheesecake.

I couldn't have cheesecake. I knew I couldn't. Not again. Not the same day. Even if I AM PMSing. It was just calorically irresponsible. If I don't lose weight before I go on vacation I at least don't want to GAIN any!

I ended up getting a healthy roasted chicken sandwich at Subway...and two chocolate chip cookies. Hey - at least it wasn't cheesecake!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My Top 10 Most Overrated

In their respective categories, these items & people take the cake for being the most overrated and in some cases most annoying by their ubiquitous-ness.

Kenny Chesney & Rihanna (Most Overrated Singers in their respective musical genres)
No Country For Old Men (Most Overrated Oscar-award winner)
Eli Manning (Most Overrated Athlete)
Paris Hilton (Most Overrated Celebrity)
Vanilla (Most Overrated ice cream flavor)
Stephen King (Most Overrated writer)
Barrack Obama (Most Overrated political figure)
SNL (Most Overrated comedy show)
American Idol (Most Overrated reality TV show)
Lindsey Lohan (Most Overrated actress)

Congratulations. For whatever reason, people perceive all of you to be better than you actually are! Enjoy it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Will the Real Gil Grissom Please Stand Up?

In the absence of an appreciation for human life and/or a well-calibrated moral compass, the marvels of modern forensic science should definitely be enough to give a would-be "bad guy" a reason to take pause.

Last night, Mechanic Bob and I attended a presentation on one of the practical applications of forensic science: Crime Scene Investigation. Both Mechanic Bob and I got our introduction to "forensic science" in front of our respective boob tubes, watching episode of "CSI." During our careful study of the Hollywood-ified version of crime scene investigations, we saw well-coifed men and women collect evidence, haul it off to a lab, and eventually, "help" catch bad guys.

Whatever our motivation, natural curiosity or a desire to more deeply understand our favorite TV show, Mechanic Bob and I took a trip to the University (and down memory lane for me) to hear a REAL crime scene investigator speak about his craft.

CSI James has been working with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension since 1999. He majored in chemistry, thinking he would like to be a teacher, then eventually decided to pursue his master's. He worked in some labs for a while, then one day saw an ad for a job as a forensic scientist. He applied twice and was rejected twice. Then he attended a seminar presented by a leader of the MBCA and introduced himself. The men had lunch and "Prominent Man" gave CSI James some helpful feedback for his next interview. The rest is history.

CSI James is a specialist in "trace evidence" - that's the teeny, tiny stuff that can't been seen by the naked eye. He also is well studied in a number of other areas.

He said the crime scene teams (of as many as 25 qualified people) collect evidence and take it back to their lab for processing. He said about 100 people work in the lab.

Usually one scientist who is the leader of the team works directly with law enforcement to make sense of whatever happened.

CSIs are an impartial body, he said, whose job is just to analyze the evidence. The lawyers must use the evidence that they find to prove or disprove a case.

Besides learning all kinds of fascinating things (like the MBCA has about 6,000 firearms on file and burn patterns can help CSIs determine the source of a fire) I learned that the TV show isn't all that much like real life CSI - although I think it captures the best parts!

Afterward, Mechanic Bob pointed out that "forensics" is a word that is popping up in a lot of fields: there are "forensic accountants" for example, who investigate fraud and testify in court about their findings; or people who investigate computer hard drives - computer forensic experts.

Mechanic Bob thought perhaps he might be able to bring his own brand of expertise to a crime scene investigation as a "forensic mechanic." I think the position I am best suited for is one I currently hold: armchair forensic scientist.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I Will Surv-hive

My doctor's visit made me none the wiser of my special little splotches. She suggested (prescribed) steroids. Supposedly this 5-day deal will cause the hives to go away. I am looking at my skin now and it appears there are only one or two that are really noticeable. Maybe they are going away on their own...I read that 70 percent of the cases of hives go unsolved....**Hmm**

Mystery Maladies

Sometime Thursday night into Friday morning I developed hives. I am not sure from whence they came. The past three days, two or three doses of generic Benadryl have been keeping them somewhat under control. The side affect, however, is that Benadryl makes me super sleepy. Today is Monday and they are still blotching up my arms and legs, so I made an appointment for 11:40 a.m. to see if the medical community can offer up any explanation for what is going on with my body.

I am grateful that pants and long shirt sleeves are able to keep my splotchy skin under wraps and out of the public eye.

Weekend In Review

The Blessid Mother (TBM) and The Wise One (TWO) came to town this weekend. Their last visit was about a year ago and a lot has changed in my life since then - the most obvious being the location of my domicile.

I went to great pains to make sure that everything was "just so" for their arrival. The good news is, that process took about half of the time it used too, since I have been doing a better job of keeping my house clean on a regular basis and clutter at a minimum.

They arrived late Friday evening, but just in time for a real treat: a fish fry at a local pub. This all-you-can-eat fish fry is the best kept secret in Central Minnesota, and I was delighted to share it with my parents who I consider to be fish fry connoisseurs. Saturday was spent doing some grocery shopping with Mom and computer rehabilitation with Dad. We also headed to the local lanes to roll some balls. The surprise MVP of the event was Mom. She was a great bowler many years ago when she was in a league, but since then she has had some hip and back problems that have prohibited her from rolling. I can't remember now what the final scores were, but I am pretty sure she spanked Dad in at least one game, which is funny because Dad has been bowling in a league for the past 2 years. I was really surprised. I performed above my most recent league average (106 - yuck) with a 118. I was having trouble connecting with the head pin. I partially blame my performance on a persistent case of hives that has been making me really itchy lately.


TBM and TWO left early Sunday morning in pretty foggy conditions, but thankfully they made it back to Wisconsin without any trouble.

Friday, February 22, 2008

'Rents

The Blessid Mother and Wise One will be visiting this weekend!

It's been a very, very long time since they have made the journey to the great north to see their firstborn child (me). This is understandable, as their vacation weeks are limited and they would rather spend them baking in the sun than freezing their asses off.

I have a half day to complete my preparations and make sure my house is as perfect as possible. Wish me luck.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Serious Commitment

I have recently noticed, although I am sure it has been going on far longer than I have cared to acknowledge, I often refer to myself as "we." This makes sense for people who are married and have two brains making many of the decisions for a shared life, but not for a single-person, single-income, presumably single-brain household like mine. What is my excuse? I have a dog.

Ella is her name. She believes she is human - but that is neither here nor there.

Our lives are inextricably intertwined, and perhaps this is why if someone asks, "What did you do this weekend?" I find myself saying, "We just hung out at home." We, being of course, the dog and me.

"We" do a lot together, it turns out. "We" clean the house, surf the Internet, watch TV and do laundry. However, "I" perform the activities that take place outside of the house. "I" bowl, do the grocery shopping and go to work. Is it strange that I factor the dog into the equation when describing what goes on at home? I am not sure. I often call her "the dog" to remind myself she is just that, a DOG, but it doesn't seem to help.

I try to be careful who I say "we" around because the listener may a) become confused; b) think I am nuts; or c) all of the above. Still, sometimes it just slips out.

The truth is, as a single-twenty-something-year-old, 300 miles away from family, and about 90 miles from my closest friends, "the dog" is a very big part of my life. We do a lot of activities together (even if she doesn't actually help with the cleaning, the moral support is evident) and in some respects, she is like a significant other or a special friend - but better (in some respects). She is always delighted to see me, she never judges me, and she does not complain if I leave dirty laundry (especially underwear) out in the open. Sure, she leaves hair everywhere, but that's a minor inconvenience.

And let's not forget, she is super cute.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The World Gone Mad

Sometimes I feel like the world is going mad. When I say "world" I mean the planets in the universe known as my life. Sameness is something that can be a blessing and a curse in life, but generally, I like a certain amount of "sameness" in my life. When the people in my life make changes in their lives, it makes me aware of the fact that words like "constant" and "unchanging" don't describe a real aspect of life. Nothing is ever really the same. Routines exist - this is true. Routines being the human way of trying to create sameness. Routines being a means of enforcing the illusion of sameness. But then, I am not talking about routines. I am talking about the world gone mad - or at least the planets in my world slipping out of an alignment I had accepted.

My sister has decided to move to Mexico. My sister is a blond-haired, blue-eyed American who has a fascination with the Mexican culture (if this weren't true, I don't know how she could be nearly bilingual) and a Mexican boyfriend she first made contact with on a family vacation last May. My sister is 23 and has the blessing of not having made any really big missteps in her life thus far -- I hope this doesn't turn out to be the first. She will be leaving for Mexico in about a month. I don't know the details of her plans. I do know she is going there without a job or a place of her own.

I find these things a little scary, despite having a good deal of faith in my sister. She has, in her life, always seemed to make good decisions -- or at least well-thought out.

I admire her sense of adventure - and after a year of living with Mom and Dad and working hard, she has been able to save enough money so she can afford to be a little more adventurous than your average 23 year old.

I know that the world hasn't really gone mad, and in time, I will be able to make the mental adjustments necessary to deal with my sister's move. I think perhaps my sister has a mental capacity for bigger dreams than I. My dreams are kind of small, and within what I consider a realistic scope of expectations. I guess I can't fault someone for having big dreams. I can, however, miss my little sister. And I will.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Mailman Brings A Package

A small package arrived for me at work today. I knew where it originated because the sender, Grandma Pat, contacted me in advance of the package's arrival, but I did not know what could be inside.

Grandma Pat is a no-nonsense kind of gal. She is well-read, and a honor student of life. She grew up in Winona, Minn. an area she has described as rather insular (and very humid in the summertime). She moved to the big city of Milwaukee when she was 19 years old and got a job working for that company that makes bowling balls oh-why-can't-I remember-the-name...

I have always thought Grandma Pat was very brave; leaving her family to go live in a strange place in another state. I don't know what Grandma was like as a girl, if her confidence, wisdom and unapologetic curiosity were traits she always embodied, or if they were developed over time. I have trouble imagining Grandma Pat any other way than straight-forward and fascinated by life.

There is a lot to love about Grandma Pat, besides the pre-made meals she sends home with me when I come and visit, or the apple sauce, or the strawberry jam, or the cookies at Christmas time (especially the frosted ones this year, oh yum). She loves her children, and her grandchildren, especially. She is the only person I know (besides my mother) who can randomly break into song and make it seem perfectly natural. She does not dwell on the bad things in life and never takes herself too seriously. She keeps the special things we grandchildren made for her when we were growing up. She is not afraid of the Internet (she may be the biggest fan of the e-mail forward button I know!) and is one of my only blog readers. (But I would never allow that to influence my objectivity).

Grandma Pat is a person who will randomly send a package to you in the mail just to let you know that she is out there -- and she is thinking of you. The world needs more people like that.

I feel lucky to have such a wonderful grandmother. (I Love You, Grandma ;-)

Just Another Thursday

This morning a girl I work with greeted me as I entered my cubicle. She stood in the tiny opening, a mischievous expression on her face. The last time I saw such a look, she had transposed our boss's head on Brett Favre's body, so I asked her what she was up to. She flashed a shiny engagement ring and a smile to rival the diamond's sparkle. Her boyfriend proposed to her last night - on Valentine's Day.

I did something on Valentine's Day, too. It was not romantic in the least. Ex-fiance called me up. His alma mater was playing the local basketball team at the high school's gym. Ex-fiance intended on going to the game. Did I want to come? Considering the alternative (spending the night with TV boyfriend Gil Grissom doing autopsies and solving crimes) I agreed to go.

The team lost and we left the game early. Ex-Fiance offered to buy me dinner at the freeway truck stop. I am not in the habit of turning down free meals, so off we went. He was enjoying his eggs and bacon and I my BLT when in walked in his parents. Turned out they were in town for a wake. Ex-fiance half-heartedly invited them to join us in our tiny both. They did.

I would say it was awkward, but it was so beyond awkward, it was no longer awkward. It struck me as very, very funny. Because we were already half finished with our meals when they showed up, Ex-Fiance and I left before their food arrived, our dirty plates in a heap on the table. Ex-fiance tried to get the waitress to take them away, but she was oblivious. And so we left.

I feel bad for Ex-fiance. At least I won't see his parents for a while after this "incident." Surely his mom will have a million and one questions for him why he was "out" with me on Valentine's Day. Both of his parents have always been nice to me, even after our romantic relationship disintegrated. I got the feeling that his mom was somehow, relieved that he found someone to put up with him. When we broke it off, she assumed it was his fault - not a very motherly point of view. But then, she did raise him.

If only they would realize, for us, yesterday was not Valentine's Day at all - just another Thursday.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Valentine's Day Autopsy, Anyone?

I have an important decision to make. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and I haven’t decided to whom I will give my heart. I have two possible choices for “leading man” in my life – both will be somewhere on my cable TV tomorrow night. They are (drumroll please) Gil Grissom of CSI: Las Vegas and Horatio Caine of CSI: Miami.

Gil Grissom (William Petersen) is a forensic entomologist and the night-shift supervisor of the Clark County, Nevada CSI (forensics) team, investigating crimes in and around the city of Las Vegas. His hobbies include: Bugs, dead bodies, history, and quoting from a variety of literary sources, including Shakespeare and Keats.

Horatio Caine (David Caruso) is the Head of the Miami-Dade crime lab, a forensic analyst and former bomb-squad officer. He is a commissioned police officer, and thus carries a badge and gun. His hobbies include: Wearing black, helping people and putting bad guys behind bars.

Hmm....Grissom is emotionally unavailable and Caine is obsessed with catching criminals. Both sound so promising. Good thing I still have a few hours to think this thing through...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Thoughts of Love


Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

-Shakespeare

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Three Cheers for Civic Duty & Holy Days of Obligation

Voters in 24 states are going to the polls on today: Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.

As much as I am NOT looking forward to having to drive 20 miles to my caucus, barring any natural disaster I will be there at 6:30 p.m. to register. The good news is I won't have to stay and argue for two hours with my "neighbors" about issues: I can just fill out a presidential preference ballot. Thank goodness! This isn't to say I don't care about issues, but it's a Tuesday night of a publication week for me and I am super busy...I have stories to write, a dog to walk, exercises to do, etc. etc. Then I have to get up early tomorrow morning for the Ash Wednesday service before work, so I will need to get to sleep earlier tonight.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Philosophising Farmer

The man who was the subject of an interview that took three-plus hours, called me today to personally thank me for a job well done and to request that I mail him a few more copies. (Not because he "likes to toot" his "own horn," but because he has a lot of family who would like copies of the story. I find it endearing when people are so modest that they feel compelled to preface their requests for additional copies of an article about them with this sentence.)

The man also called to tell me why he liked the article and how he was pleased with his decision to allow me to print it without a pre-screening. The article gave him closure, which he really needed as he was leaving the dairy industry. I think it was a reaffirmation for him, too, to see in black and white the reasons behind his decision. I think this whole experience will prove useful when I come across people in the future who either a) object to being the subject of an article; or b) feel like they have to see the copy before it is printed.

In addition, the man told me he had thought about me after the story was written. (He has children my age so he meant this in a fatherly way). He said he believes my future will be filled with good things because I "have it coming." It's nice to here that "I have it coming" in THAT context. He also offered some romantic advice, telling me not to settle and to "keep shaking bushes" until something good falls out. I love people in rural communities - where else can you hear something like that? He also advised me not to cling to anyone with the hopes that someday I could change them - because I can't.

It was a dose of philosophy I wasn't expecting today, but it went down pretty well. Days like today I am glad to be a journalist.

Here is a snippet of the story about the man, whose name has been changed for the purpose of keeping my blog semi anonymous. NOTE: The story ran in advance of his retirement, which is why, taken out of context, the verb tenses may not make sense.

Dairyman Joe will complete the final chapter of his dairying career Monday, Jan. 28, when he takes his herd to the Smalltown Stockyard.

Joe, who farms with his wife, Elsie, has milked between 10-12 cows on his dairy operation the past 14 years without exception.

The beginning of the end of Joe's dairying days was in November, when he tore his left rotator cuff. He had milked through the pain for the past three months, hoping his body would heal itself; now the time has come for him to defer to the experts.

"I went to the doctor and he said, 'Dairyman, you're not connected,'" Joe said. "I will need to have surgery and after that I will have to do several months of rehabilitation. I am told the rehabilitation will be hard work."

But the last thing Joe is afraid of is a little hard work.

For the past 14 years, Joe has been milking between 12-15 cows in the stanchion barn his father built in 1963. Little has changed on the farm since then.

Joe milks his cows with a Surge bucket milker. After the bucket is full, he transfers the milk to a stainless steel 5-gallon pail. Joe then carries the pail into the milk room where he pours the milk through a strainer and into his 160-gallon bulk tank. He repeats this process for each cow. Milking 12 cows usually takes Joe about an hour and a half.

For manure handling, Joe doesn't use a skid loader or a barn cleaner, but a manure carrier. The manure carrier runs on a track traveling down the middle of his barn. Joe estimated the manure tub holds waste from about four animals. The waste is then carried out of the barn about 60 feet and dumped either onto a pile or into the manure spreader. Cleaning the barn takes about 45 minutes.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Reporter vs. writer

A lot of things that have been happening in my life lately have lead me to the conclusion that - barring some kind of crazy, unforeseen event - I am going to remain a journalist for probably the next 20 years. At that point I can think about going back to school and being a journalism professor. I think that sounds good.

I really wrestled with the whole journalism thing my first three years out of college. Honestly, I wasn't prepared for the reality that existed beyond the safety of the campus walls, where I feared nothing. I have come to believe that just like some people are "right brained" or "left brained," journalists can also be divided into two camps: those who are "genetically" more "reporter," and those who are more "writer." Those with more "reporter" genes, are those who will seek the truth until the ends of the earth and ask the hard questions - sometimes even when there are really no "hard answers" to be found. They are either not easily intimidated by nature, or are so bound by the power of their convictions, they can overcome intimidation. Those with more "writer" genes, may still want to seek the truth, but are more easily intimidated. We would rather ponder the telling of the story, the words, the rhythm of the piece, etc. I definitely have more writer than reporter genes. The good news is, after three four years of being at this, I am becoming less intimidated by topics, and people. I have come to stop looking at people I interview as hit and run accidents. ( i.e. interview them one time, then disappear from their lives forever). Really, good reporting is part of relationship-building. Recognizing this has made my life much easier.

Both the reporter and writer can become better at the areas where they are less naturally gifted by practice, which is a good thing.

What a Week

Tuesday

I drove two hours to Pelican Rapids to conduct an interview. I arrived around 4:30 p.m. and didn't depart until about 7:30 p.m. I have mixed feelings about interviews lasting this long. My instinct is to say - wow - that is waaaay to long to be conducting an interview for a story that will be somewhere other than the front page. An interview that runs too long is dangerous because of its ability to create information overload in the mind of the reporter/interviewer. However, the more time you spend with the person you are interviewing, the more accurate a picture you are able to paint of them in your story - no matter how abbreviated. The day after the interview, my editor actually received a call from the man I interviewed, vehemently praising me. He said our "interview" was like a conversation, and nothing like he expected (this being a good thing). Initially, this man only agreed to do a story if he could read the article before it ran; he told my boss on the phone that he trusted me and he didn't need to see the story. That is a great compliment.

Wednesday

I hustled my hinder at work so I could skip out early, around four, and meet my broadcasting journalism buddy in St. Paul, Minn. for a media workshop (which is actually a 10 week course) sponsored by the police department. The chief of police, a training Sergeant and various others spoke at the introductory class. Unfortunately for me, the inaugural class focused only on the history of the St. Paul PD. It was interesting, but not particularly relevant to me since I don't, and probably won't ever, live in St. Paul. The information they are planning to cover in the future classes - how police approach a crime scene, the difference between misdemeanors and felonies and which city/county agencies work with the department, Q&As with investigators/detectives (the difference between the police department ranks) - promise to be more interesting. I only intended to go to one class, but I am really fascinated by these topics - so I hope to continue to attend the class.

After the class, my buddy took me out to dinner at this place called "Cafe Latte" where we had some tasty soup and pasta salad. Then she gave me a tour of the television station where she worked and I was able to watch the anchors deliver the first segment of the 10 o'clock news -- Live! It was a rockin' good time! I was really pumped after such a great night.

Thursday

I woke up around 5:30 a.m. to hurry up and pack my stuff for the Minnesota Newspaper Convention, get myself looking all fine and professional, and take my doggy to the Puppy Boarding House. I got on the road, Bloomington-bound at about 8 a.m. I checked into the Sheraton hotel and got situated. Then I took a little nap before my first seminar because I was exhausted. The highlight of my day was the luncheon, where career journalism and WCCO anchor DON SHELBY shared his thoughts on the First Amendment and the challenges facing journalists today. I could write an entire blog on it. It was really emotional and insightful. After his speech, I was able to introduce myself to him, shake his hand, and mumble something silly and high school girl-ish about how he is my favorite anchor. (see "Dear Mr. Gable: You Made Me Love You," as sung by Judy Garland). I also enjoyed sitting in on a seminar about small-town journalism that feature a panel of newspaper editors, including my former editor. I was able to ask a question that had been plaguing me and received a somewhat satisfactory answers. It was so great to be around so many people from small town papers (of varying sizes) and listen as they shared their struggles and triumphs.

Afterward, I reconnected with a lot of my college friends who have gone on to work at newspapers, mostly moderately sized weeklies. One friend even won a second place award. I was very excited for him! I know how fun it is to win an award at MNA (even if my present editor makes like its no big deal). Plus he is a pretty talented writer, so I know the award is deserved. The paper where I used to work took home about seven awards at this year's convention (according to my friends/colleagues there). I was glad to be able to congratulate them. Soon they will need to put up more walls in the building to accommodate their growing number of awards.

My current boss (not to be confused with editor) took all of my paper's staff (mostly sales reps and me)to dinner and it was nice because I really got to know the rest of the staff more intimately (especially the sales rep I roomed with - she is something else!). Attending a sales meeting also gave me a better idea of how the other half lives. We don't always understand each other, but we need each other to be viable!

Friday

I attended two rockin' seminars - one about photography/web video, which is all the rage now. It's really exciting and overwhelming at the same time. I hope to be able to put together web videos someday. It seems like tremendous fun (and work) plus it will increase my marketability. The second seminar was about writing better leads (the first paragraph of the article/story). I was psyched to learn that I was already employing a lot of the techniques the speaker described as effective (and sometimes the one he described as less effective.) The funny thing is, I think we small town journalists all learned the less effective technique from looking at the New York Times and Washington Post, which we automatically assume are the poster children for effective, professional, journalistic writing. All in all I had a FANTASTIC time at the MNA convention, learned a lot, reconnected with a lot of old friends/colleagues/editors/teachers, and am pumped for my future in journalism! Yeay!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My Faucet Runneth Over

Handyman Bob saved the day yesteday, when he stopped by after work to assess the frozen faucet situation. He brought with him a device that looked and acted like a turbo-powered hairy dryer. First we tried heating up the pipes using this device with little progress.

Then we went into the basement to inspect the pipes further. There is a portion of my pipes that is exposed almost directly to the cold ground. I can see them through a hole in my basement wall that looks like a window. The window revealed a few pipes tunneling underground away from my house. They would not be easy to access.

Bob and I pondered how to deal with this.

Bob had an idea.

We went back into the kitchen and started dumping hot water from the bathroom sink through a hole in the floor of the kitchen beneath the sink that followed the cold pipe down into the business. We dumped several bowls of water down the hole and saw no evidence of improvement. So I called my land lady. She seemed genuinely surprised that this happened.

Was I gone over the weekend? No.

Had I turned the heat way down? No.

Just as she was advising me to take my space heater into the basement and point it so it blasted heat through the hole/"window" in the wall onto the pipes, water began to drip from my faucet. After dumping a couple more bowls of water onto the pipes, soon the cold water was flowing. Not long after that, so was the hotwater.

Bob advised me to keep my water running at a slow dribble until the cold weather has subsided, and we return to the balmy, above-zero temperatures we so adore.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Spoon-less in Stearns County

The cold snap that we have been experiencing in Minnesota lately is taking its toll on my mind, my body and my breakfast consumption.

Yesterday when I attempted to do dishes, I noticed that the kitchen sink was no longer working, i.e. I turned the levers and no water came out. Apparently a pipe is frozen.

A woman in my bowling league last night suggested that I turn on the oven for a while. I guess that is something most people do on a regular basis and would probably provide some heat to the much cooler side of my house. Since I am not a very domesticated animal, the only device that gets much use in my kitchen is the microwave.

Desperate for water to wash my cereal bowls and spoons, at about 10:30 last night I turned on my stove. After about 45 minutes, I was tired and the water was still not flowing, so I turned the oven off and went to bed. This morning: still no water.

A friend of mine with mechanical tendencies will be stopping over tonight to try to help me address this problem. The sooner the better. I am all out of clean spoons. This morning I had to eat my cereal with a grapefruit spoon, which is downright dangerous. The good news is that I still have running water, hot and cold, in the bathroom, which is where I really need it the most.

Friday, January 18, 2008

You've Got Mail

And I don't mean e-mail.

That is right, good old fashioned snail mail.

Although modern technolgy has attempted to trump the tried-and-true, if not always reliable, United State Postal Service - the door to door service cannot be replaced.

Until I moved into my house in December, my relationship with USPS was perfunctory. I never had my own mailbox, but instead, a PO Box. I didn't care about my mail. It was always bills that I also received online, or junk. In the event that someone was sending me something important: I was notified to be on the look out.

Part of the reason for my bad attitude toward the USPS was that the office in my town kept very inconvenient hours. It opened after I left for work in the morning and closed before I got home. The office was open a whole two hours on Saturdays and was closed an hour every weekday during the only conceiveable time I could get my mail: lunch hour. As a result, my mail was often held hostage for weeks at a time.

Now I have my very own mail box -- attached to my house. Mail comes right to my door and I can get it whenever I want (every single day, any hour). I am also experiencing the joy of ordering things and having them sent to my house, instead of my office. I only had necessities (i.e. things I forgot in Wisconsin when I visited the family) mailed to my office, because I didn't want to overstep any bounds. Since moving into my house I have ordered two items that have successfully arrived in my mailbox - parts to repair my dryer and a DVD set.

I even like mailing cards and letters now.

The whole event of ordering something you want, then knowing it could arrive at your house any day is a fun experience. It's as if you know Christmas is coming, but you don't know what day it will be. Fantastic.

Who said being a grown up is no fun?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Good Old Boys: I'm About to Crash Your Party

Next week, the Minnesota Newspaper Association will be having its annual convention in the big bad city and guess who is going to attend? Why none other than little ol' smalltown me!

Although the convention takes place during an exceptionally busy time for the newspaper where I work, my editor has given me permission to attend. I even get to stay overnight at a semi-posh hotel with the newspaper's sales staff (at the newspaper's expense). Very exciting.

This is the first year that I have attended the event since 2005. Unfortunately, I won an award at the 2006 convention, but was just starting at the paper where I currently work and my former editor failed to notify me so that I might attend the convention. (The award-winning article was published in his paper). He is a nice man, so I am sure this wasn't intentional, but I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to walk up and receive my (first professional) award in front of all of my colleagues. My former editor was kind enough to mail me the signed certificate, however, which is now displayed proudly in my little cubicle.

In my new capacity as writer/intern supervisor/copy editor/photographer/classifieds manager/go-to for all things "Dairy Princess," I have not been able to attend the arguably prestigious convention. Nor am I eligible to compete for awards. However, I can still take in the numerous workshops and seminars that will help me to become a better journalist. Best of ALL, I get to attend a luncheon for which the keynote speaker is none other than the incandescent, Don Shelby! (http://wcco.com/bios/don.shelby.anchor.9.313263.html).

But the mind-bending will (hopefully) begin prior to the MNA convention. There is a law enforcement journalism workshop in the Cities on Wednesday night. I hope to accompany a broadcast journalism friend who heard about the workshop from one of her contacts. Although right now I don't really see any immediate place where I can apply this knowledge, the workshop sounds very interesting and you can never know too much.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Update on My Great Resolve

About a week ago I made the following resolution:
1. I will keep better track of holidays, birthdays, and other important events in the lives of those around me.
2. I will think about what I eat before I put it in my mouth.
3. I will try to exercise more discipline and take better care of my physical and mental health.

There is already evidence I am making slow progress in each of these areas. Resolution one has been met with flying colors this month. Card were sent out for two birthdays and one retirement all in advance of the special events! Go me! However, there is one strike against me for forgetting a rather important event in someone's life. I am currently at a 3-1 record.

Resolution two has been going pretty well. I have been giving the food I eat slightly more thought before sticking it in my mouth. I have been eating my lunches without the highly caloric desserts of either chocolate chip cookies (Subway) and apple turnovers (Hardees). I have been making an effort to eat breakfast every day, as well. And breakfast is either cereal or a bran muffin (not chocolate chip cookies). My biggest obstacle for the upcoming four weeks or so will be my beloved Conversation hearts. I loveeeeee them and have in two weeks, consumed two bags...Yikes!

Resolution three also has been going pretty well, thanks to my hyperactive doggy and my new guilty pleasure, "Charmed." I easily logged an hour of calorie burning on my recumbent bike watching an episode of the the series 5 out of 7 days last week. I have also walked the dog 5 out of 7 days last week (about 25-30 minutes) Eventually I would like to through some strength building stuff into the mix, but that probably won't be until mid-February or the end of February. In the meantime, I am just going to shoot for 5 days minimum of an hour on the bike and walking the doggy.

My Wal-Mart Haircut

In my relatively short time one earth, I have spent a lot of money on my hair. Initially, I did this believing there was a direct correlation between the amount of money spent at a salon and the quality hair style you received. This, however, is misnomer. Over time, I learned that you can get just as crappy results for half the cost, so why waste all of that extra money for the same end product?

And so, I went to the Super Wal-Mart in town (the store that is like a small city) and had my hair trimmed.

They only take walk-ins, and the going rate for a hair cut (with shampoo) was $12.95. "Why not?" I thought. I was overdue for a trim and I wanted it done cheaply.

Prior to my visit to Wal-Mart, I had been going to a mid-level salon in "the big city." I had been seeing my stylist, Jamie, for about a year before she left the salon to pursue her dream of becoming a navy mechanic: no joke. I was happy for her, but sad for me. It's not easy to meet a stylist who really understands you.

Part of my problem with stylists is communication. Rarely do we seem to understand each other as intended. My mistake in the past has been to put all of my trust in the stylist (who, let's face it, doesn't know me, she just knows the trends) and usually end up allowing her too much power over my hair. My misplaced reverence for her superior authority (as denoted in the certificate issued by the cosmetology institution from which she graduated, displayed proudly by her little hair station) has resulted in one too many bad experiences -- and sometimes, at a hefty cost both monetarily and psychologically.

My last bad experience (before I met Jamie) was with a stylist named Katie. Ironically, the stylist at Wal-Mart who informed me she would be cutting my hair was also named Katie. Under normal circumstances, my somewhat superstitious self might have run the other direction, but it has been my experience that the majority of stylists have two-syllable names with five letters or less. So I hopped in her chair.

Because I was getting my hair cut inside a Wal-Mart (where I also get my eyes checked, buy groceries, get prescriptions filled, and pick up assorted other items) I mentally decided I was not going to be intimidated by this stylist. I (perhaps, unfairly) decided that because she must be working in this setting, she somehow was less pedigreed; this made me feel comfortable telling her exactly what I wanted, without asking her opinion.

"Just a trim, I am trying to grow my hair out," I told her. "And I like my bangs angled, but not too short."

We discussed this a little bit further (If I wanted to get the split ends off, I would need to lose about 1/4 inch from my layers; the rest would be sufficient with a 1/8 inch trim). I agreed to these terms, and she went to work.

After she was done, I told her to blow dry my hair, knowing it was $2 extra. It was snowing outside, after all, I didn't need my newly healthy hair to freeze and break off. So she got out her dryer and when she deemed me adequately dry, she turned off the device and allowed me to view my healthy hair through her hand-held mirror. I gave her my approval and it was time to pay.

My total amounted to $18.95.

Mysteriously, $3 had been added to my bill. Apparently there was a fee for conditioner. By conditioner I mean a CREAM RINSE. Not a fancy conditioning treatment that needs to be left on for 10-30 minutes. This annoyed me, but I said nothing, keeping in mind I did just get my hair cut in a Wal-Mart. I was more annoyed by the fact that my hair was not dry. It was actually quite damp. I try not to make a fuss with people that hold sharp objects around my hair or head, so I just paid the bill and left. This was the first time I left a "salon" without given a stylist a tip.

My hair is adequate. Sometimes that is the absolute best you can hope for whether you pay $20 for a haircut or $50. Right now, I would rather pay $20.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Getting a 'Handle' on Things

A couple of days before Christmas, the snapping-latch-device that keeps my dryer door shut bust beyond repair. Never having been responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of a large mechanical device, my reaction (after I verbally assaulted the device for inconveniencing me) was to panic. What had I done? Why had I been so rough with the dryer door? I didn't think I closed the door anymore aggressively than I have ever closed a dryer door in previous history. This time, had I gone too far? Why didn't I use more finesse? Was it really necessary to slam it shut? I was a bad, bad person. I immediately jumped to the absolute worst conclusion (a personality trait that is, no doubt, a part of my immense charm): My landlord would make me replace the whole entire machine at my expense. Oh God help me!

After Christmas break, I calmed down somewhat, and tried a more level-headed approach to the situation. This was in fact, only the door latch. Surely replacing such a small item couldn't be that complicated or costly, could it? I took a notebook downstairs and jotted down the machine's vitals: Brand, serial number and model number. I used that wonderful resource called the "Internet" and quickly learned latches for this brand of dryer were pretty universal, and one could be shipped to my door in eight days for about $10. I figured it was worth a shot.

To dry my laundry while I waited for "the part" to arrive, I arranged my ski pole in about a 65-70 degree angle and wedged the door shut. By this time, I was feeling about as resourceful as a carrot-chomping Bugs Bunny. "Go me."

I waited in breathless anticipation (no exaggeration) for my dryer "part" to arrive. By Wednesday I was getting a little concerned and doubting the validity of the Web site I had visited to order "the part."

Then Friday, it arrived. I didn't even take my coat off. I went immediately downstairs to the basement (OK, I let the dog pee first, I am not inhumane). I ripped the bag open and in about 10 minutes my dryer door was again operational. It was a proud day.

A lot of people would laugh at the fact that I am savoring this "small" accomplishment. I understand. The people that know me also would laugh, but because they know me, they would be aware of the fact (while laughing) that (for me) this IS a noteworthy accomplishment.

I have a tendency to rely on the opposite sex to "rescue" me whenever a situation arises that I feel (or am too quick to assume) is beyond my can. At the risk of sounding like a Lifetime Original Movie, I have learned an important lesson here: Maybe I should try to handle things myself before hitting the panic button and involving someone else.

*Wow.*

When you are having a drink this weekend, have one for me and make a toast, "to small victories." When you are a small town girl, that is all you have!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Notes on Being a "Journalist"

I don't always feel it is appropriate to call myself a "journalist." This is because for the past two years I have been writing about cows, farmers, agriculture, dairy princesses and related topics. The degree I earned in college, however, declares that I am, in fact, a journalist. Still, to me, the title seems to suggest an occupation with a higher purpose than describing milk parlors or farm implements.

Still, writing about these things comes with its own challenges.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Raisins and the Need for Truth in Advertising

Has anyone ever noticed that raisins appear EVERYWHERE? I have nothing against raisins, but sometimes I don't want to eat them -- and don't expect to find them -- but then there they are: in bread, cereal, muffins, cookies, salads, and even chicken entrees. Today I wanted a bran muffin for breakfast. I stopped at the coffee shop and eyed *their bran muffin. Kindly, they posted a sign identifying that this was not JUST a bran muffin, it was a RAISIN bran muffin. Many places don't make a distinction. Not in the mood for raisins today, I opted for something called a "Prairie Muffin." I didn't know what would be in it...I thought maybe oats or corn? Wheat? Wrong. Carrots, apples and RAISINS. I thought Raisins were shriveled up, dehydrated grapes, which grow in vineyards. I was unaware that prairies include vineyards. I guess you learn something new everyday...

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Brief Retrospective

2007 was the year I...
• Made the smart decision to move from one small town to a slightly larger small town
• Accepted that I gained 10 to 15 pounds since college
• Dramatically reduced my budget-related stress (thanks to help from my family of advisors)
• Accepted that the dog had gained 10 pounds since 2005
• Realized "it" was really over. Still haven't completely accepted it.
• Lost my grandfather.
• Reconnected with old friends.
• Developed a new appreciation for my sister (that wiener).
• Made a dream come true.
• Lived without cable (actually it was the second year I lived without cable).
• Refused to be somebody's doormat.
• Had a health issue that scared me.
• Grew watermelons in my garden.
• Bowled a 203 game.
• Successfully maintained a blog. Who'd have thunk it?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Damn Pores

For Christmas my sister gave me a new make up product called "Bare Minerals." While the product DOES seem to work pretty well (I still feel kind of exposed without my tried and true caked on compressed poweder, foundation and three different kinds of concealers) it has brought something to my attention that I hadn't given much thought since the angst-ridden years of my adolescence.

My pores are as numerous as the stars, and some as big as black holes! Even AFTER the blemishes clear (as promised by the Bare Minerals, and as appears to be happening in my reality) I must enter a NEW level of self-criticism. Why doesn't my face look as airbrushed as those featured on the instructional DVD? I swirl, I tap, I buff.

Although I am grateful to not have as many blemishes as I have had previously, it was easy to blame my imperfect skin on them. Now that they are GONE, I realize my skin is STILL imperfect. It has all of these tiny little pin-prick-sized or bigger HOLES just waiting to gobble up oil and dirt. Oh YUCK. I will just try to be happy that my skin is still healthier, even if it does look like the moon’s surface.

High-Powered Resolve

My January-resolve is strong and my goals are realistic. This year will be different than the other years. I will make up resolutions as I go, all falling under the theme of “Personal Accountability.” Here are three to start with:

• I will keep better track of holidays, birthdays, and other important events in the lives of those around me.
• I will think about what I eat before I put it in my mouth.
• I will try to exercise more discipline and take better care of my physical and mental health.