Archive | December, 2011

Your Opinion Matters

31 Dec

This week I experimented with crowdsourcing opinion on some new eyeglass frames.

It was a painful process and decidedly a situation where the warning, “Be careful what you ask for,” hit me in the gut.

Here’s the photo post that launched a host of comments:

Twenty people told me no, and the votes are still coming in. (This is not counting all of my family members, who also gave a unanimous and repeatedly emphasized thumbs-down.)

I should have known it was going to be bad from the start, when cousin David commented almost instantly:

Cousin David always compliments me. He’s a southern gentleman. While tactfully leaving room for another option that could be positive, this was decidedly NOT a compliment.

Meanwhile, people I haven’t heard from in years gave the glasses the thumbs-down. I haven’t made a post that has garnered this much extreme opinion EVER.

Very good friends were delightfully candid. This type of brevity was telling:

Many friends echoed with similar “to-the-point” reactions, along with additional guidance and welcome honest feedback:

This comment from a former Bexley neighbor sealed the deal:

Even after I reported back that I had decided not to get the frames, the comments continued to roll in.

I appreciate everyone’s efforts to save me from myself. Your opinion matters.

Clearly, I am not qualified to select glasses without supervision. In a fit of wanting to try something different, I went with the cool clear frames, a little bit bigger, with the benefit of being 100% recycled. Alas, I am not cool enough for these frames. They are different, but in a bad way.

And, as my husband wisely observed:

Who wants clear frames? It’s like people who try to hide their a$$es. What’s the point?

You need glasses, and you wear bifocals, so why not go big?

Correction, dahling: I wear PROGRESSIVE LENSES, not bifocals.

I made the trip to the optician’s again today and selected cat-eye frames that are much smaller, blonde tortoise-shell with blue on the flip side. I like them, my husband likes them, and everybody else had better like them.

I am not posting a picture until after they arrive and I’ve been wearing them for a while.

 

 

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An Optimistic Start?

28 Dec

Speeches have been on my mind. I have a few lined up this week, and they do get my blood going. The build-up, the thrill of the unexpected (hopefully not something embarrassing) and the fun of sharing information with a group that is actually interested in learning something. For all of these reasons, I have come to seek out opportunities to present. This was not always the case.

imagesMy first experience with public speaking was with the Reynoldsburg, Ohio Optimists’ Club. I was in fourth grade (I think?). My memory is not so good here, probably because this was not a positive experience. Sorry, Optimists!

There were lots of other kids lined up to speak. Probably 25 or so, several from each grade level in the school district. We were somewhat on home turf for me as the event was held at the church I grew up in. Methodist. (This was before my brother and I transferred over to St. Pius X, which led to my later becoming Catholic.) All of us waited in a hallway outside a very small, hot and stuffy library where each orator had his or her brief shining moment. The judges chose the best orator from each grade level and presented awards to each at the end.

I was more than a little intimidated while waiting in the hallway for my moment. I was nerdy, like everyone else there, so I had no reason to feel self-conscious. but I was probably more obsessive-compulsive than the rest and had an amazing ability to worry about every possible worst-case scenario. Here’s what was going through my head:

  • What if my notecards get out of order?
  • What if I open my mouth and nothing comes out?
  • What if I pee my pants?
  • What if my notecards get out of order?
  • What if I sweat so much that a puddle starts forming underneath me?
  • What if I pee my pants and sweat so much…..and so forth?

I had a good hour of running through these questions in my mind, visualizing each one of them happening, over and over. By the time I got to the front of the line, I was on adrenalin overload. I could have accomplished a major athletic feat, but instead I walked into a very hot little room with lots of serious-looking grown-ups who’d likely had their fill of kids giving speeches. I felt like I was free-falling.

Here’s what happened:

  • I did not get the notecards out of order, clam up or pee my pants.
  • I DID sweat a lot, have a very shaky voice, almost drop the notecards because my hands were shaking so much and talk so fast thatIgotthroughmyspeechinabout30seconds.
  • I did not win an award, nor did I deserve one.
  • My poor dad. He was there in the audience and probably wondered what the hell happened to me out in that hallway with the other kids. (He once defended my honor when I dropped a ball I should’ve caught while playing left-field with my third-grade softball team. Another parent made a critical comment in the stands and he nearly created a scene. Will write more about this another time. Go, Blue Blazers!) Mom was not there as she was stuck at home with severe agoraphobia. Afterward, Dad congratulated me and told me I did a really great job, and he was proud of me.

I am really grateful to my dad for his hopeful attitude about my future. I don’t think I gave him a very good glimpse of it that night, but he believed in me anyway. And I am happy that I don’t get nerves before speaking anymore.

To date, the Optimists remain my most difficult audience.

Forgotten Love Letters

27 Dec

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Back in the 90s Ben and I lived in a small brick apartment building in Grandview, right behind the St. Christopher Church and Trinity School playground. It was our first off-campus home as newlyweds. We moved there after I graduated from OSU in 1991.

The building was the smallish variety, with just four units, so that we knew everyone around us–mostly because we could all hear each other through the walls. Below us was an older gentleman from Bulgaria who made exotic dishes requiring mysterious herbs in small baggies, which my cat would retrieve from his apartment and bring back to us on occasion. And next to us was an older couple in their 60s or 70s, named Agnes and Steve.

All of us shared a basement. Around the time we moved in, we were putting a bunch of our boxes down in the basement and were cleaning out the area that was “our” storage space, just beyond the laundry chutes. We found a dusty old box of letters that we’d been told were the remnants of previous tenants. I opened the box and took a look.

These were intense love letters, from WWII, written by a soldier to his girlfriend. The guy was a prolific writer and the passion of a 20-year-old who’s away from the one he loves. He missed her terribly and went through a lot of paper saying so.

There wasn’t anything sublime in the letters–mostly what you’d expect. In one letter, he mentioned resisting the temptation of a solders’ night out in the city, all for her. (The guy was earnest but not a good liar, by the way.) In another letter, he clearly described which parts of her he most missed, in graphic detail. I couldn’t help noticing that he signed his name “Steve,” and the letters were addressed to “Agnes.”

Well, this could not be a coincidence. Feeling a bit embarrassed to have rifled through my neighbors’ love letters, I closed the box back up and went upstairs to tell my husband. Sheepishly, we took the box to our neighbors, not mentioning that it “had been opened.” Interestingly, they said that the letters did not belong to them and told us to put the box in the trash.

We lived in the apartment for about two years, and since the love letter incident, we discovered more about Agnes and Steve, thanks to our thin walls. They argued a lot–loudly. Steve snored–loudly. And every few nights Steve wanted to do things that Agnes didn’t. They argued, things got quiet, and then Steve snored.

The repetition of their argument–the same one every time–was both sad and comical. It was sad because they were oblivious to how ridiculous it had become. I wondered how long they had been caught in this loop.

As a naive and newly married 23-year-old, the state of Steve and Agnes’ relationship baffled me. How could they write letters so full of life and love, then deny ever writing the letters and sink into the opposite of domestic bliss? Maybe the letters were a bittersweet reminder of things past–a life so long ago that it didn’t really belong to them anymore.

I could never find any resolution to this mystery, and after a few years we moved into another Grandview apartment where we could no longer hear Steve and Agnes. That was 20 years ago, and I’m sure that they have moved on as well–perhaps even passed on.

Steve and Agnes taught me a lesson about love. When the spark and joy of relationship fade so far into the past that you don’t care about throwing memories away, when you repeat yourself over and over again and fall deeper into the rut of the same argument, when the status quo becomes good enough, having past tense love doesn’t make a difference. I’m thankful to have learned that lesson.

The Search for Perfect Waffles

23 Dec

Image: Rawich / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday, the kids and I ventured out into holidayland (aka Target) to purchase a gift from them to my husband.

My husband clearly defines what gifts he wants for Christmas each year, from me and from the kids. Down to the make, model, and serial number. This is because I have a history of giving him gifts that he really doesn’t like. A few examples:

  • 1987: A snake ring. I thought it was really cool, but he’s not a snake ring kind of guy. Honestly, I’m not sure what I was thinking. They must have been burning some extra-strong incense at Tradewinds (vintage Columbus-ites will remember this hippie campus tchotchke store), which is where I made the unfortunate purchase.
  • 1988: A juice-maker. Although he’d never expressed interest in receiving one, I thought that he probably really wanted one. I was wrong.
  • 2007: A really cool metal mobile made by a Columbus artist who used to be a barista at Cafe Brioso, David Morgan. This mobile is very modern-looking with lots of abstract shapes and mirrors and is hanging in our big room, but it’s become part of the “why the he!! did you think I wanted that?” collection. Several friends have complimented me on it. It truly is a work of art and I love it, but Ben has determined it was more for me than him. Well, maybe.

You will note that I had a good run of 19 years in there. Hey, we’re not all perfect. The only good explanation that I can give is that when pushed against the wall (because I normally buy gifts at the last minute) I have lapses in taste (notably, the first two items above, not the last).

Back to Target. Now, I know that the waffle-maker variety my husband has determined the kids can afford ($40, he won’t let them spend more). In a fit of unprecedented early preparation, I’d skated through the kitchen small appliance aisles at our local Target and found “it” a couple of weeks ago, but the whole point is to have the kids and their wallets with me when making the purchase. So I felt pretty proud that I’d done some reconnaissance work well in advance.

It took us 20 minutes to get in and out of the store, even in the midst of the busy holidays. Yet another pat on the back for me, eliminating wasted time wandering around the store, etc. And, added bonus, the thing was $20 less than I’d originally thought, saving the kids’ allowance money.

We get home, and my daughter has volunteered to wrap the waffle maker. As we’re getting out the wrapping paper, she says, “Hey, this one doesn’t flip.” What? WHAT? WHAATTTTTT!

Yes, it’s true, we picked the wrong one off the self. Dangflabbit. This inferior non-flippable version was right next to the flippable one that we wanted. Explaining the lower price. Ugh.

So last night, after my daughter and I went with friends to see the Nutcracker, we go back to the neighborhood Target to get THE waffle maker. It was 11 pm, and we could have done cartwheels down the aisles it was so dead in that Target. Pretty smooth process with the return, until we get to the small appliance aisle, and of course all of the flippable ones are gone.

After 20 minutes of wandering around the store to find a customer service person (after incorrectly pegging several unsuspecting innocents wearing red), we locate a true Target employee, a young woman with dyed-black hair and multiple swirly tattoos on her arms. She comes to help us out with her revved-up calculator inventory-checker thingy and scans the product code to find out if they have any “in back.”

After five minutes of scanning, pushing buttons, and saying nothing to us, she pronounces, “We don’t have any in back. Do you want me to see what other stores have them?”

Well, why the he!! not? It’s 11:15 pm, and what else do we have to do? There will be no sleep until we finish this thing. I do not want to be hunting for this blasted waffle maker on Christmas Eve Eve.

She asks, “Do you know the DCPI?”

Since I do not speak the Target dialect of Vulcan, why no, I do not. But she tells us that by knowing this top-secret product code we can properly determine whether or not the store has the exact waffle maker of our liking. Since this is still a foreign language to me, I let her do the honors by checking on her revved-up calculator inventory-checker thingy. Polaris, Sawmill, and Lennox have them. Ding-ding. We can quickly run to Lennox.

“Do you want me to have them save one for you just in case?” she asks.

Of course I do. I am taking no chances.

So she pages the friendly guy at customer service that moved me through so quickly minutes ago, but the guy says that I can come up to the customer service desk and use their phone to call Lennox because he “has Guests waiting in line.”

Forget it. I can call them on my way there, or take my chances that no one will take the last 2 flippable waffle makers at 11:30 pm. As I walk by the customer service desk on my way out, I see that there’s one person in line. Thanks, perky customer service guy. Also, I am not your Guest…I am just someone who wants to buy a waffle maker and get the heck out of here.

Daughter in tow, we shoot over to the Lennox Target. I am now competing against a mystery shopping opponent who also wants one of the two remaining superior waffle makers at the Lennox Target. The clock is ticking, and I WILL get there first. En route, I alternately hum and whistle “The Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairies,” which has the intended purpose of driving my daughter nuts and does work.

Upon arrival at the store, we see that since everything’s set up the same, this is going to be quick and easy.

Back again in the familiar small kitchen appliance aisle, there are NO waffle makers of our variety. Of course.

Right around the corner there’s a helpful Target Host ready to assist me, his Guest. He too has been equipped with a revved-up calculator inventory-checker thingy but has learned more English than his Vulcan Graceland Target Hostess friend. Plus he’s funny. While waiting for him to follow the same five-minute scanning and button-pressing process as his cohort, my daughter and I walk around to the end-cap and I knock into a Kitchen Maid can-opener, which falls to the ground and breaks. “I saw nothing!” declares my witty Target Host. And then, “You’re in luck, we have one ‘in the back!'”

And so we follow him, and he smartly agrees with me when I say, “These damned waffles had better be good.” We wait by the bra and undie section while he searches through “in the back.”

As our Target Host swings through the doors with box in hand, the “Hallelujah Chorus” is playing on the muzak. Until I see that the box he has in hand is for the same unflippable variety waffle maker that we just returned at the Graceland store. “This isn’t it, is it?” I now realize that “in the back” is a terrible place of mere illusion.

Are we going to have to leave the store with the same inferior waffle maker that we’d returned shortly ago?

I tried to convince my daughter that a fondue maker or cupcake-shaped cupcake-maker or donut-shaped donut-maker would be great, but at this point I’ve clearly reached the danger zone that brought about the snake ring oh so many years ago.

My daughter helped to find a solution that will (hopefully) make my husband happy. She has good taste and a smart head on her shoulders.

I will report back on the end of this story after the gift has been opened.

Intellectual Elitism

22 Dec

Image: Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The other day my son issued this complaint:

Mom, at my school the kids either don’t read or read boring baby books. There’s no one I can talk to. All of them are dumber than me.

Hearing this, I had a mixed reaction, which went something like this:

  1. This is what I thought: I wish the kids at his school read more.  My is smart, no genius, but intelligent enough to think differently than most, perhaps more than most, often to his detriment. He does have close friends at his school who are wicked smart–many smarter than him. But the whole class isn’t like that…and is probably rare at most schools. Should he be at a school where he’s surrounded by kids who think more like him?
  2. This is what I said: “Never stop reading what you enjoy. I am proud that you read books that high schoolers read. You are a smart kid. But NEVER, EVER think that this makes you better than anyone else.”
  3. This is what I thought about some more: My son is a lot like me. I was a voracious reader in school and as the resident oddball enjoyed Dickens when I was in 3rd grade. I went to a good enough school, a public school with teachers who challenged me, and I was both too shy to talk with anyone about what I read and unlikely to find anyone my age who was reading that. I’ve always been drawn to esoteric stuff that most other people find boring. Over the years, I have grown to accept that this is at times a self-imposed isolation. I need to get out more often and stop taking myself so seriously…this is MY lesson. As a parent and having gone through similar feelings when I was his age, how can I help my son to not feel like he’s alone? Luckily, my son’s intellectualism is balanced by a huge personality (something that he got more from my husband). I’m confident that this interesting mix will result in amazing results along the way, but not without a bit of sanding around the rough edges.
  4. This is the most important thing: In feeling that sense of being “the only one” who’s thinking beyond, or differently, how can my son not begin to think he’s better than everyone else? This brand of intellectual elitism can be found in the ranks of many people who live on the coasts, who believe that everyone in Middle America is an idiot. I have friends and relatives who feel this way and will probably offend them by saying this but don’t care since they’ve already offended me. I’ve also worked with people who felt this way, that because they were intellectually smarter they were innately better. My hackles go up anytime I catch a whiff of this brand of intellectually elitist thinking.

Intellectual intelligence is without doubt one of the ways that we as humans can leave our mark and improve quality of life for our fellow human beings. But it is not the only way.

Social intelligence–the ability to engage thoughtfully and with heart–is a huge force for change. Where would we be without the supportive words of our parents or the unexpected hug from a friend? Social intelligence can motivate individuals and change the world as much as intellectual intelligence–and maybe moreso.

I think it’s important to teach our children to appreciate their strengths and nurture them. It’s also important for them to remain humble and to use their intelligence as a way to innovate for the greater good–and connect with other people rather than becoming more distant from them.

Birthday Magic

21 Dec

Image: m_bartosch / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday was a good birthday. Let me count the ways:

  1. While I love my work, I was able to leave a bit early, and a minimum of annoyance happened throughout the day. While at work, I celebrated with a colleague who shares the same birthday by giving her a mix tape/CD that I made for her…I think she will like it.
  2. I got my new license, sliding in just under the wire 15 minutes before the BMV closed.
  3. I ate dark chocolate (during my last two conference calls of the day, phone on mute).
  4. My friend Ali Cloth gave me a yoga gift certificate and some beautiful flowers. Plus a great card with this hilarious message: “It’s so nice to have friends that are worth the time….otherwise I wouldn’t keep hanging around your ass.”
  5. Lots of people wished me happy birthday, thanks to the electronic reminders at work and on Facebook. It really is the best thing just to hear/read people say/write it!
  6. My husband made the most fabulous dinner: Medium rare filet mignon, giant baked potatoes with sour cream and freshly cut chives, and a lovely salad.
  7. My husband bought me the best birthday cake from a new bakery close to Graceland. Fluffy white cake with three layers of chocolate ganache and a butter cream icing (not too much, not too sweet). And hey, guess what’s for breakfast today?
  8. My kids and husband bought me a new set of Fiestaware (lime green)–since they know I like practical gifts. They also got me a new necklace and earrings, since they also know that I like personal gifts. Added bonus: The dishes came wrapped in a very large sheet of bubble wrap, which made a thunderous popping sound as I jumped up and down on top of it.
  9. And then, my kids and I watched all of “The Simpsons” Christmas episodes. I always believe it’s good to end the day with something sublime.
  10. Today, as I have my second piece of birthday cake for breakfast, the world will officially begin to become a brighter and better place. So even though it’s raining cats and dogs in Columbus, Oh. and becoming more like a rainforest by the second, the days are getting longer. Take THAT, crappy wet weather.

And that, my friends, is the making of birthday magic.

So Muchmas

19 Dec

Image: John Kasawa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

I really am blessed. I have all of my family members around me, happy and healthy, as we close in on the holidaze.

Counting down, it’s just six days to Christmas. We had my family over yesterday. I enjoyed seeing my nephews, niece, sister-in-law, Mom, and Dad. I missed seeing my brother (but to be fair can see him anytime because he’s in town.)

My husband cooked up a big pancake breakfast, and I made real hot chocolate and smoothies for everyone. It felt good to get the house cleaned up and host a shin-dig. I particularly enjoyed watching my 3-year-old niece open her gifts (art stuff) and experiment with her new watercolors, paintbrushes, and over-sized SpongeBob coloring book.

There’s a bittersweet-ness to the holidays that has me down, though. I wish I felt closer to my family of origin. At this time of the year when everybody gathers around, there’s a sort of expectation that everything’s perfect. Well folks, it isn’t, in so many ways. Everybody has their story about this–nothing to feel ashamed or sorry for myself about–just reality.

My challenge this year, I think, is to break free of the expectations around Christmas. How much to spend. How much to feel that overwhelming sense of togetherness. How much to givegivegivegive. And forgive. How much to expect. That’s the problem with the holidays. It’s the “much-ness” that gets me down.

There’s an expectation that this time of year is the coming together of all that is good in life–family, acquisition, food and drink, generosity, the overall milk of human kindness. Yet when all of the pieces don’t come together it’s easy to feel disappointed and resentful. Like I am not working hard enough or am not innately good enough to attract that fairy dust of muchness around me.

In the end, families, friends, and life in general will be what they will be. Children will appreciate what suits them and not me. Parents will be themselves–not the superheroes that I at times imagine them to be. Friends will remember or not remember that my birthday is tomorrow and that I do not want a combined birthday-Christmas present (TAKE NOTE!). Husbands will be unnecessarily grumpy or inexplicably kind. And I can choose to take it all too seriously–or let it go and let it be.