Dec 31, 2011

New Year's Eve

These are the little things that brought me joy this year, in no particular order.  Family and friends are implied, these are just the things that show what a truly shallow person I am:

Podcasts.  This American Life; Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me; and the Commonwealth Club.  All free, all easily transferred to my iPod and plugged into my car, where I would otherwise be bored and/or angry most of the time while I drive about completing my mundane chores.  What could be better than listening to Paula Poundstone crack wise with Peter Sagal on Wait, Wait?  Or hearing Ira Glass giggle while introducing a story on This American Life?  What a giggle that man has.  (Just as an aside, is there anyone left in the US of A who doesn't have Carl Kasell's voice on their home answering machine? Doesn't that get confusing when you call your friend Susie and Carl Kasell's voice tells you to wait for the beep, then you call your friend Todd to tell him the weird thing that just happened and you get Carl Kasell's voice on his answering machine, too!  You start to wonder if you're stuck in a Twilight Zone episode.)

Nonfat Frozen Yogurt.  Now, I know it must be packed full of calories because it tastes so good but man, the word 'nonfat' gets me every time. And it always comes with one free topping.  Free! There is the weirdest store nearby, Clear|Optometry, that sells very good frozen yogurt.  The store is half yogurt shop and half optometrist.  Really.  One half of the narrow, deep shop is high-end eyeglasses in display cases, and the other side has comfortable seating and a counter with a barista vending yogurt, ice cream, fresh brewed coffee, etc. There is even a very W-ish lounge upstairs where you can eat your yogurt, drink your Blue Bottle Coffee, and look down at the odd little combo shop below.

Caramel Sauce.  I used to be such a hot-fudge-only-on-my-ice-cream kind of gal but this year I discovered caramel sauce.  And especially burnt caramel and salted caramel.  Hoo boy.  Guess I have a bit of a food theme going here.  Hmmm.  Okay, I'll just throw in gratitude for good restaurants everywhere, especially our newly-discovered-this-year Jack's Prime and Flour and Water.

My Back Yard.  That expanse of green just makes me happy every day.  And the last owners left an old-fashioned glider for us.  They were getting divorced and probably neither one of them wanted the darn glider, but it's such a sweetly nostalgic piece of lawn furniture.  It sits way at the back of the yard, under a little arbor, and is surrounded by ferns that get in your face when you glide. Also, there is a very fat black and white cat that enters our yard daily through an opening at the back corner and sleeps on the glider.  I want to make fat cat's acquaintance but don't want to scare it off.  I like seeing it sun itself and knowing that it doesn't have a single obligation to clutter its mind.  Some days it follows the sun to the gravel walk, and then a little later to a child's bench, also left by the last owners.

Bay Area Weather.  Now most years, I wouldn't be grateful for Bay Area weather. I would grouse about fog and torrential winter rains and having to carry a jacket with me at all times of the year 'just in case' I find myself in a chillier microclimate.  For those of you who don't know the San Francisco area, it's known for having a plethora of microclimates, some that feel about as small as the space you're standing in.  Walk five feet and you need a jacket, walk another five feet and you want to add a scarf, turn the corner and you're back to a sleeveless shirt.  But, right now I'm in Vermont.  This is a different animal altogether.  Boots, scarf, gloves, hat, jacket, the whole nine yards of body coverage.  Ice on the car, the sidewalks, the streets, the steps.  So, I'm newly enamored of my very temperate home climate, and because the rains haven't started in earnest, I have a selective memory about what that climate is like.

And my New Year's resolution?  Well, maybe I'll make that on the fourth Thursday in November.

Dec 12, 2011

Happy Anniversary

Hello lovely readers!

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of Is It Just Me.  Okay, the one-year anniversary was actually in September but that was just one lonely post announcing Is It Just Me with great fanfare, followed by three months of nothin'.  I began blogging in earnest on December 13, 2010.

So, let's review our year, sort of like an awards show montage of highlights for a lifetime achievement award:

My negative review of Cutting for Stone is the most read of any Is It Just Me post.  People search for Cutting for Stone spoiler, Sister Mary Praise letter, and many other permutations that bring them to my site.  The other most read posts are, in descending order; "Please Use the Wall Thoughtfully;" "I Think I'm a Little Agoraphobic;" "Well, Have You?"(body noises that shock your cat); and "Ba Da Da Dah Daaah" (buying and selling real estate).  Which tells me that Is It Just Me's demographic is literate, reality show watching, slightly agoraphobic homeowners with gas.  I'll try to tailor future posts to your interests.

And, to my great surprise, there seem to be people from all over the world who are wondering "Is it just me or are you pissed off too?" Top readership is in the United States, followed by the Netherlands in second place, and Russia gaining in third, but there are Latvians, Turks, Australians, Malaysians and other nationalities reading, too. When I started Is It Just Me, I expected maybe two or three of my best friends to read my posts moments before we got together for coffee so they could pretend they were actual followers.  They would say things like, "Oh, that was so funny, your post about ________."  And they would quote one or two lines to prove their devoted readership. They would slap their knees and laugh to show they had truly been amused. I would be narcissistically fooled. But Is It Just Me racked up over 4,000 hits in its first year. (I promise that not more than 3,000 are my views before I found the 'don't count your own views' button.)  Not exactly viral, but 3,900 more hits than I expected.

Now I know it isn't just me, and I hope you know that it isn't just you, either!


P.S.  A big thank you to my wonderful web designer Alana Heng and the talented Cheap Girl Draws, who drew the blog header. 

Dec 6, 2011

The Time of Good Cheer and Competitive Driving

In these first five days of the holiday season, I have experienced so many surprises from my fellow drivers that I have been scared and puzzled by their behavior.  Then I figured out what was going on! I believe a new sport has been announced for next year's Olympics called Most Unexpected Maneuvers on the Road, and half the population is in training.

Events include Sudden Leap From Roadside Parking.  Competitors (do we call them car-letes?) will be judged on the size of the opening in traffic they squeeze into, with the smallest spaces bringing the highest points; the speed at which the traffic is moving (anything over forty miles an hour virtually assures a win); the speed of the contender's vehicle as it jerks into traffic; and, like in figure skating, that nebulous style element.  Style points are usually awarded for the surprise delivered to the driver being cut off and are viewed by the judges on an instant replay camera, trained on the anticipated location of the second car. Facial expressions of the driver such as shock, anger, and especially fear all bring high style points, as does the throwing of items to the floor, particularly food or breakables, the spilling of coffee, etc. caused by the car stopping and the contents not.  If the hapless victim actually hits the steering wheel and inflates the airbag, a perfect ten will most likely be awarded by the Olympic judges.

A second event is the U-Turn in Heavy Traffic. Points are awarded pretty much the same way as the above.  High speed, small space, great surprise are all prized.  Also considered, though, is location. How bold was the location of the U-turn? Mid-block, school zone, entry to the mall parking lot, into oncoming traffic, in a crosswalk, these locations will all garner high scores.  The replay camera will again be used to record the facial expressions of the victims; wide eyes, open mouth, white knuckles, all bring extra points, and an actual scream picked up by the sound equipment may put the contender's score over the top to take the gold.

Another pair of events is the Left Turn From Right Lane and Right Turn From Left Lane.  Car-letes may compete in one or both of these events.  Points will be deducted for the use of a turn signal and added for the number of lanes crossed.  One lane is minimum and I've seen some drivers practicing a turn across up to three lanes.  These should be strong contenders on the US Car-lete team!

There may be a pedestrian event as well.  These competitors will step off the curb into oncoming traffic, usually far from a marked crosswalk.  They will wear dark, hard to see clothes, but will be allowed to add thin shoulder stripes in the colors of their countries' flags.  Absolutely no reflective patches are allowed and this event is anticipated to be scheduled for after dark.   These contenders will be judged on just how close they get to an oncoming car, with extra points awarded for actually making contact with metal. Competitors who roll across the car's hood are sure to garner high points.  Any car carrying traumatized children or the elderly will provide style points for the competitor.

From what I've seen so far this holiday season, the United States is well on its way to forming a strong, competitive Car-lete team for these new events.  So keep that in mind when you get cut off by a car-lete in training. Let's go USA!

Nov 29, 2011

Chia Obama

I've been on a roller coaster ride of emotions in the last two days. When I saw a Chia Obama advertisement on the tv yesterday, I first  thought I had somehow switched to a Saturday Night Live skit, then, after realizing this was for real, I thought Chia Obama was one of the most racist things to come down the pike in ages. Evidently I don't watch the right tv channels and I entirely missed Chia Obama's earlier introduction into the marketplace and its subsequent 2009 recall from Walgreens' and RiteAid stores nationwide.  Now Chia Obama is baaaack.

You all know the Chia empire, right?  The most famous is the cute little sheep that grows green sprouts in place of wool, but the product line also includes a Chia Homer Simpson, Chia Shrek, Chia Spongebob Squarepants, and many other little ceramic animals and characters onto which you spread the contents of the seed packet and wait for the fun to begin.

A Chia Obama just didn't seem to fit alongside Chia Homer Simpson (although it's simply called Chia Homer so I guess we could have hoped it was that Homer).  However, Chia Obama is part of a patriotic packaging quartet;  Washington, Lincoln and the Statue of Liberty are the other elements.  (Can I use the word 'elements' when discussing Chia products?)

So, is parent company Joseph Enterprises' Obama innocuous or racist?  No Chia Bush or Clinton was ever produced.  There was never a Daddy Bush sprout grower.  Why create a presidential Chia now, in the term of the first African American president ever?  And if this is intended to be a racist product, is there a demographic that wants both the Chia of Lincoln, the president credited with freeing the slaves, and a racist depiction of Obama, the first African American to run the country?

I think the most worrisome aspect of the Chai Obama is that it doesn't look like Obama at all.  It looks like some white guy's idea of 'generic black guy.' Lincoln is a pretty good likeness and Washington is shaped so his green hair forms the shape of the wig in all those paintings.  The Obama design, however, seems to have been produced by the B team.  Lady Liberty's not so hot, either.  I can't believe I'm discussing the quality of the design of a Chia!

I say, if African Americans are going to be thrown into the dubious honor of being made into these late night, $19.95, cheapo, wacko, products, I nominate Don King.  Now that's a guy whose hair just begs to be parodied in a Chia. The white team could be more spot-on as well.  How about a Cosmo Kramer Chia or a Mayor Perk, the former Cleveland mayor who caught his hair on fire?  Maybe Joseph Enterprises could develop a red sprout that grows in the center of his head to create a bigger and bigger flame. Or Chia could ride The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo's popularity wave and do a mohawk Chia a la Lisbeth Salander. Marie Antoinette Chia, anyone?  I just wish they'd leave our current president out of the lineup.

Nov 9, 2011

Texting 1,2,3, Texting

Cell Phone Etiquette is simple.  Ask yourself this question: If you were not involved in this conversation, would you want to listen to it?  If the answer is no, then don't have your conversation in public. It's that easy.

Let's consider a couple of examples:

You're having lunch with a friend in a nice restaurant when an employee calls to ask you where to find a file.  Extremely boring conversation.  Take it to the curb to tell her/him to look in the back of the file near the window.  No, not that window, the other window.  No, the second drawer down, in the back, way in the back.  Better yet, text your employee.  No one wants to hear your filing system.

You need to tell your daughter the details of a manicure/pedicure appointment for the two of you. Boring! Go outside and tell her the time, place, etc. Wait, I'm having a thought, what was it?  Oh yes, text her!  We don't want to hear that you had to take a slot at 2:00, not at 2:30, like you had wanted, that her dad says hi, that you took the dog to the vet today and Winkers is feeling a bit better but still has to take his pills for that urinary difficulty.

That area all around you, where people are milling around, crossing streets, sitting in cafes, having lunch, shopping, is called 'the world.' It is where people are living their lives.  Let them.

There are, of course, exceptions. Say you have inside information on who in the PTA has had Botox.  Wonderful public conversation!  Sit in this booth right behind me.  Please speak loudly and slowly. Spell any names that are unusual or long. This would also be a good time for speaker phone.  Other appropriate public conversations include where you keep the key to the safe, where you got a great bargain on shoes, when your company will IPO, your son's score on the SAT, and a secret cure for cancer.

Now, I have a cell phone, and I am as addicted as everyone else.  I love my phone!  I love being able to check my email when I'm not home, let a friend know I'm running late, find the best route to an unfamiliar place, etc.  You would have to pry my cell phone from my cold, clenched fingers. And it took me a while but I finally got the hang of texting. It's silent.  It's private.  It doesn't ruin the ambiance for fifteen to twenty feet in every direction.

I think we have a generational problem with cell phones.  The younguns do not stand around shouting into their phones.  They text.  They mumble.  They can still hear at that age!  We middle-aged and elderly folks are wandering around like drifting boats shouting every detail of our boring lives into the little gadgets in our hands.  It's not the young ones whose phones go off in concerts and lectures, either.  It's the technologically inept. So folks, find someone who can teach you to text and how to use the many other functions of your phone, like turning the ringer to vibrate, or we may have to start mass producing Max Smart's cone of silence.

Nov 7, 2011


Besides telling me in which countries all you lovely people live, my stats page also shows me some of the search phrases people have tried that have led them to Is It Just Me.  The winner, in my book: "Who would you rather do Eddie Izzard in?" which led the inquisitive soul to my "Would You Rather" post.  Dear Reader, I hope you've found the answer to your question and I hope you're still reading Is It Just Me. 

Nov 6, 2011

Buon Appetito

How much money in tips do you think is involved in a waiter sporting a believable foreign accent?  Because every Italian restaurant I go to is staffed by waiters with absolutely charming, thicker-than-Bolognese accents.  Could there possibly be any adult males left in Italy with all of them over here waiting tables and speaking Italian?  The numbers defy the odds. 

Now, I wouldn't be so suspicious except for the following.  For years we frequented a lovely little Italian restaurant in Palo Alto; Palermo.  The stocky maitre d' would greet my husband with a handshake and a pat on the back, give a warm buonasera to all of us, tease our delighted young children, and generally make us feel like he had been awaiting our return and only ours since the last time we dined there, kind of like a dog with his eyes riveted to the door handle in the late afternoon.  It was a comfortable restaurant, never pretentious, and the waiters were all tall, dark, and had rich Italian accents.  They sprinkled Italian words into every sentence. It was buono this and prego that.  We were totally charmed.

Then, one day, without warning, Palermo was gone. Poof!  A Thai restaurant was soon in the space.  And here's the rub.  A few months later we dined at another Palo Alto restaurant, an American restaurant, and were pleased to see approaching our table one of the old Palermo crew. Our faces were open and happy with recognition as he neared our table to take our order.  He looked up when he reached us and his homegrown Brooklynese, "What can I get for ya?"  He saw that he had known us in another time and place.  We saw that we had been played. It was as though the curtains had parted and the Wizard was openly working the smoke machine and shouting into the microphone.  

Still, it had been a good time, that little piece of Italian playacting.  


Oct 14, 2011

The Need to Pee

Have you ever suddenly had to pee in a very non-pee-friendly place?  Like a tiny boutique in which the young clerk, who must still have a bladder like a Sherman tank (just like yours used to be!) says, "I'm sorry ma'am, we don't have a restroom for the public.  The Walgreens  across the street, down two blocks and through that little walkway, they have one.  Wait, did Walgreens move? No, it was the CVS that moved."

By this time your bladder is in full panic mode with its metaphoric air raid sirens filling your entire consciousness. And you just know there is a closet-sized restroom in the back of the boutique, past the Employees Only Beyond This Point sign. You know, because she didn't say "no restroom," she said "no restroom for the public" and you've cracked that sneaky code.

You're wondering if you could somehow get past the clerk with a boxing feint. You wish you had a friend with you because she could distract the clerk by climbing atop a display table and singing the "Star Spangled Banner" or tossing all the New Zealand wool sweaters on the floor while you rush into the back, find that bathroom and plop down on the toilet, the door not quite closed behind you.

How did things get to this state??

I never took an anatomy class but I don't think the human bladder shrinks to the size of a grasshopper's as we age.  Does it?  (If someone Googles that, let me know what you find.)  So why do I suddenly have to pee every twenty minutes?  Every twenty minutes gives me time to drive somewhere, pee, do something brief like drop off the dry cleaning, pee, do something else brief like buy a single banana, pee, etc. You start to see the pattern emerging.

And have you ever had to use the facilities in a supermarket? First, you're in trouble because you have a cart full of potentially melty stuff that you have to temporarily abandon, and second, their bathrooms can be a hefty hike from the part of the store we customers see.  You walk through a big set of white swinging doors, past the meat department, beyond the shelves of cans, down a long industrial hall and into the gender specific restroom with an Employees Must Wash Hands sign.  Whew! You are definitely doing that bathroom dance by the time you get there. Then there's the long walk back to your cart, now holding room temperature items that you will be very tempted to switch out for still-frozen treats.

I think when you reach a certain age, city hall should send you a map of all the restrooms in your town, color coded as to likelihood that you will actually be able to use them.  Is a purchase required? Blue. Do you just have to smile and ask nice?  Green. That sort of thing.

And if you're reading this but not of a certain age, if you're still walking around carefree for hours at a time, it's not too early to prepare.  Keep a notebook.  Map out all the back alleys, shortcuts, really leafy bushes, and you just may be okay when the time comes.  Trust me on this. You won't regret the notebook.

Oct 12, 2011


Today I received a package from the Fulfillment Center!  You can just imagine how my heart soared, how my imagination went wild. The Fulfillment Center!? I had no idea such a place existed. What might they be capable of?

And the return address was Kansas, from which odysseys to magical lands of witches and talking lions begin. Fulfillment in a plain brown box?  This was not how I had expected fulfillment to arrive, so nondescript and anonymous.  I had pictured perhaps the Pulitzer spokesperson calling to tell me my work was the absolute best.  They had considered all those slackers and wannabes and chosen me instead.  The spokesperson would spend an inordinate amount of time gushing over my writing, I would finally have to make up an excuse to get off the phone because his compliments would become tiresome.

The Nobel Prize committee spokesperson would have called, too, to tell me that despite my lack of a single published book, they wanted to reward my potential, much like awarding the Peace Prize to Obama just before he doubled down in Afghanistan.

If only I had known about the Fulfillment Center when I was a teenager.  I would have saved all my waitressing money and sent it off to the FC (that's the kind of relationship we would have had, in which I called them the FC), and asked for remittance of 1) popularity, 2) good hair (curly dark hair was not fulfilling, believe me), and 3) a tan.  What's that you say?  Fulfillment is more of a Buddha thing?  More spiritual and monkish?  Really?  I had never heard that.

And what was actually in the box, you might ask.  A magnifying mirror I ordered.  Darn.  Looking at my face in magnification will definitely not be fulfilling, I can tell you that.

Oct 5, 2011

The Art of Conversation

At the risk of getting all Miss Mannersy on you, we really need a National Conversation Initiative.  There is at least as big a conversation crisis in this country as there are drug and education crises, and the three may be related.

What typically passes for conversation these days goes something like this:

Jan: "How've you been?"

Angie: "OK, my brother came to visit last weekend."

Jan: "My sister came to visit, too! She has a new boyfriend.  We haven't met him yet but she's really into him.  She has a new job in marketing.  She told me about a great new book she's reading so I'm going to read it when she's done."...and on and on.  Angie is now leaning back on her heels and waiting for the wind to subside.

What went wrong here?  The first is when Angie failed to ask how Jan is.  That's Conversation 101.  "How are you?"  "Fine, and you?"  The second is when Jan took the idea of siblings coming to visit as her turn to toss in everything she could think of even remotely connected to the subject.  Not to ask everything she could think of, but to say everything she could think of.  No, no, no, no, no!

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I am certainly not the standard bearer in conversation. I, too, fail to ask questions, fail to engage the other person, get too involved in telling my story, and just generally take up too much airspace.  I am fully to blame in our national conversation crisis.  But look at what we all lose when we allow monologue to pass for conversation.

We don't connect.  We don't learn about each other or ourselves.  For that matter, we don't learn much of anything.  And then we feel isolated and go home and check our email for human contact.  Those online snippets of 'conversation' become the main points of contact we have with other people. We pour another glass of wine, play another game of Bejeweled, and wonder why our attention span is shrinking to that of a flea on speed.

People who are genuinely interested in you, who ask endless questions, never look at the clock, have no deadlines more important than their time with you, are so rare and almost shocking when we meet them.  What if we all tried to be that person?

Sep 27, 2011


Oh, Project Runway!  You have sold your soul to the business world!  And you, Tim Gunn, should be ashamed of yourself.  The Project Runway opener tells the whole story: L'Oreal Paris,, Marie Claire, HP and Intel are all mentioned in the little overview/lure at the beginning of the show, before the actual drama of the reality show is underway.  Nary a yard of fabric has been purchased nor a needle threaded and we viewers have already heard a roster of show sponsors the like of which hasn't been seen since the 1950's had shows with the sponsor's name right in the title, like The Texaco Star Theater.

Later in any given Project Runway episode, we learn the contestants live at the Atlas apartments; shop at Mood fabrics; do all their styling and sewing at Parsons, the New School for Design; and send their models down to the Garnier studio for hair and make up. Rolling Stone magazine was prominent in last week's episode, as well as a Canadian band, The Sheepdogs, who must have gotten some bad advice from their agent that appearing on Project Runway would be good for their careers.  The Sheepdogs looked ridiculously uncomfortable and out of place getting dressed like shaggy Ken dolls in (poorly) handmade dashikis, cowboy shirts with swan-patterned fabric, and saggy tan pants with brown pockets somewhere south of the butt region.  They then had to perform their particular brand of harmonizing rock-n-roll in these God-awful getups made mostly by designers who only design for women.  Man oh man!  There was Pleather and fringe and headbands! Finally a product placement that looks awfully sad to have signed up for the honor.

And don't get me started on our sports arenas with their ever-rotating corporate names.  Why can't we just have one name that stays put?  One that doesn't change with the new owner, a name that perhaps had something to do with the fans, the city, the teams. We don't need a Toyota Stadium that morphs into a Preparation H stadium or a Pabst Blue Ribbon stadium every time money changes hands.  It's tacky.  Can the corporations dial it down a notch and find a classier way to advertise?  And Project Runway, I liked you way better before your sponsors were approaching double digits.

Sep 26, 2011


Sorry all, my last post was somewhat offensive and I have removed it.  A new one will come soon.

Sep 18, 2011

Google, Obama and/or Hope, Beyonce's Baby, Lady Gaga + Meat, Rick Perry Might Win

Hello Readers!

Do you remember I told you I found the stats button on my blog toolbar?  I was amazed to see I have readers in Latvia, Egypt, Australia, South Africa, and other countries around the world. Well, now I'm obsessed with my stats. I check them daily.  My stats button finger is tired. And what better way to raise my stats (Hello new readers!) than to have very searchable blog post titles? Note to self: possible future blog titles; Biden Abducted by Aliens, Kirstie Allie's Weight Gain Heartbreak, Rico Rodriquez Promised Tonight Show in Twelve Years, if stats still not up consider Miracle Cure for Itch.*

But enough about those boring old stats.  Now I have a true story to tell you.

A very nice Lady was asked to a Tea Party.  The hostess showed her to her seat on the Far Right side of the Teak Table with Matching Chairs.  All the guests went Gaga over the Currant Scones made with a recipe from The Food Network, the Black Eyed Peas with cornbread, a bit of Meat, and the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Brownies. Everything was Yum-O!  The hostess had a lovely set of Vintage Fiesta Ware including Creamer and Sugar Bowl.  Later the ladies played Scrabble then watched CNN to follow the path of Hurricane Irene. One of the women, who was upset when an Adorable Lab Puppy was almost engulfed in the rising river, spilled some Merlot on her Dress but luckily someone knew the Simple Way to Remove Stains.  A good time was had by all.

I hope you have enjoyed this completely true story.


*Content of blog post may vary.  The author of this blog does not promise nor imply that text of blog will adhere to subject nor tone set in title of blog post.  The author accepts no responsibility for expectations on the part of readers for content to follow from title.

Sep 15, 2011


Hello, hello.  "Is It Just Me" has a new design!  I hope you like it.  All positive comments welcome. The header was created by Cheap Girl Draws.  Please follow the Cheap Girl Draws link on the right hand side of the page, under Blogs and Sites I Like, to see some of her other sketches in her Jules-Feiffer-All-Over-Coffee- New-Yorker-but-of-course-her-very-own-unique style.  Isn't she great?

I'm hoping that the new header makes me seem more professional and you won't be reminded  that I'm typing while lying on the couch in my minty green bathrobe.  Excuse me while I push one of my kitties off the keyboard.  "Callie!  I said " 'No!' " "No!  I mean it!"

Professionally signing off,

Cathy Barber
Is It Just Me

Sep 6, 2011

Would You Rather?

My daughter and her friends, all about age 21, like to play a game they call "Would You Rather," in which they pose hypothetical questions along the lines of "Would you rather lose your sense of humor or never eat sweets again?"  Some of the hypotheticals are more intriguing than others and it's difficult to dissect what makes a good "Would You Rather."  There needs to be some tension between the two options; both unappealing but not to a totally different degree.  For example, "Would you rather get your toe bitten off by a rabid rat or be required to promptly send thank you notes for gifts from here on in?" does not have good balance.  If you've ever seen Eddie Izzard's Cake or Death bit, you get the idea.

Her most intriguing, most popular, and most discussed Would You Rather by far is the one about the goat. It goes like this:  "Would you rather (drum roll please) have to live for ten years in some Godforsaken place (which has changed over time) with the two people you hate most in the world, or have to live the rest of your life with a goat tied to you?"  Almost everyone picks the goat, much to my daughter's chagrin.  Not the goat!  Questions have been asked. How long is the rope?  If your goat dies, is there a replacement goat? Can it be deemed a service goat so you can take it with you to restaurants and movies? One friend, who evidently has some experience with goats, asked the very important question: is it a billy or a nanny goat?  For her, that was the only question worth asking.  Either it's a nanny or she takes the ten years with people she hates.

I've never heard anyone ask similar questions about option B.  Can you go to counseling together? Can you sleep in shifts so you never have to see one another?  If you actually start to warm to one of your archenemies, is a replacement sent from the Would You Rather Central Commission? What do these poor people think about suddenly showing up in your Would You Rather?

What would you choose?

I'd take the goat.

Aug 27, 2011

Hi There

Yesterday I discovered the stats tab on my blog dashboard. For those of you who don't know the terminology, the dashboard is the control panel, where I choose the font size, add links, set the background color, and of course, post the blog entries. The stats tab is a treasure trove of information! It tells me in lists and on maps how many times people have opened my blog and where you live (not the actual street address or I would send flowers). It tells what kind of browsers you use. It breaks down readership by the day, week, month and total. Not surprisingly for an American-based blog, I have the greatest readership in the United States.

But here’s what’s really interesting (to me anyway and I’ve got the above aforementioned control panel) is that after the U.S. the next biggest readership of Is It Just Me is in Malaysia. Hello, Malaysia! I’m cyber waving to you. Also in the top six countries for readership is Russia. If I could find a font with Cyrillic letters I’d give you a shout out. Hallo Nederland. G’day Australia, Turkey and Canada.

Maybe I need to change the title to Is It Just The United Nations? Or Pissed Off People Around the Globe.

Aug 26, 2011

Close Shave

We got a very confusing water bill.  It covered two different periods of time.  They overlapped.  By a lot.  The bill was huge, close to twice what we're used to.  I called the water department (doesn't that sound strange, the water department?  how about the air department, the food department?).  Anyway, in an uncharacteristic move for me, I asked polite questions.  After weeks of dealing with ATT, I was way beyond being polite to any company but I decided to try.  So I asked all the obvious questions and the rep explained the bills were for two different properties, our old house and our new house.  When I looked at my calendar, I saw that indeed the water department had it right; we had possession of our new home before we moved out of our old house, the dates lined up.  I said into the phone, "Boy, I'm glad I didn't start with my angry voice."  She laughed.  Hard.

Now, if only ATT had actually done things right, I wouldn't have used my angry voice with them, either.

Aug 11, 2011

New House

What is it like to live in a new house?  It's disorienting, for one. Now, where did I put the salad bowl? And the Q-tips, and the hammer, and the Tupperware lids, and my underwear, and everything else for that matter.

And why don't any of the light switches I flick ever turn on the light I want?  Here's me at the light switch: Flick. "Oh, gosh darn." Flick "Dang! Not that one either." Flick, "Damn it! #*!! Who the hell designed the switches in this house, anyway, a medieval labyrinth nut?  A dyslexic monkey?"

We've been here two weeks and I still haven't found the lights on the garage.  If I don't find them soon,  I'm hunting down that monkey and making him explain his work.  It couldn't possibly be that I'm a slow learner, could it?

Jul 11, 2011

Well, Have You?

Has your body ever made a very loud noise?  One that startled the cats? And their little faces got flat and their eyes got big in that scared/appalled look that they get?  Maybe they hunched down a little and started looking around for somewhere to hide.

Not that this has ever happened to me; I'm just taking a totally impartial poll in the interest of science.

Jul 1, 2011

Spain Part Dos

Where did we leave off?  Oh yeah, I was passed out on the bathroom floor in a hotel in Barcelona.  And not from the wine, either.  Just to refresh your memory of the night before: we had gone to a restaurant for dinner and while we were downing our shrimp and mussels, Barcelona won the European Soccer Cup.  We emerged to a world transformed: epic numbers of really loud, really happy people filled the streets.

Fast forward to the following morning about six a.m.  I woke, feeling unsteady and woozy. I headed for the toilet and made it as far as the bathroom and passed out.  Alan found me face down and ugly. (Let's just leave it at 'ugly'.) Alan tried and tried to rouse me but my distinct preference was for staying put and not trying to "sit up" or "drink liquids" or "speak rationally".

Now, here's where it gets interesting.  Alan, who does not speak Spanish or Catalan, called the front desk and asked, pleaded, that they send an ambulance pronto.  The gentleman on the other end of the phone said calmly, "No, no ambulance." No? Alan asked every way his English afforded him but the desk clerk was firm. No ambulance for the sick woman in 402.  Remember that this is also in the middle of the worst e coli outbreak the world had experienced in years.

Alan paced and fretted and called the desk again.  He tried a new tack; if you won't call an ambulance, how about a doctor?  This, too, took multiple requests and eventually the help of Molly's Spanish speaking friend who was traveling with us. Finally the desk clerk called for a doctor, who arrived with anti-nausea shots to be given through my nether regions. And he explained why no ambulance had been called:  the hospital emergency rooms were packed to the gills with injured revelers.  Evidently celebrating involved bandages and splints.

Sometime in the middle of that afternoon the metaphorical cloud lifted and I suddenly sat up, drank liquids, and spoke rationally, all to Alan's delight. (Later, he too would find himself on the wrong end of this illness but for a few hours he was happy with knowing I would live to see another day.)

The e coli scare was interesting to follow, by the way.  The epicenter of the illness was in Germany: all the many victims were either German or had recently visited Germany.  What was the first thing Germany did?  Blame Spain, of course.  Spanish cucumbers and tomatoes were to blame, Germany accused. So, all of our meals in Spain were infused with a bit of "Oh, what the hell, let's eat the cucumbers anyway" spirit. In the face of absolutely no evidence that Spanish produce carried e coli, Germany finally retracted their accusations, but not before millions of Euros of loss to Spanish agriculture.  Oh, Germany!  Later, an organic sprout farm (in Germany) was found to be the source of the e coli but by that time Russia had banned imports of any and all European produce and they weren't going to back down.  They would not be a fiefdom for Europe. They wanted respect.

Don't we all?

Jun 28, 2011


I promised you tales of our adventures in Spain and I will not renege.  It turns out we chose a very exciting time to be in Spain.

We started in Barcelona on May 26, where protests against the government were in full swing.  We saw a sort of tent city in Placa Catalunya, with handmade signs protesting just about everything you can think of from government cutbacks to navel lint.  There were banners strung from every statue, water fountain, post and pole. Of course, the underlying causes of the protests are serious: Spain's overall unemployment rate is 21% and youth unemployment is over 43%.  And in Europe, where they really know how to protest,  sit-ins and marches took place in cities and towns all over Spain, and across the border in Portugal.

Early morning May 27, the police cleared the Barcelona encampment because (this is their stated reason) the next day Barcelona was playing in the final of the European Champions League.  The Champions League is sort of like the Super Bowl of European soccer, only much,  much bigger. It's maybe more like a mini World Cup, judging by what happened next.  Ai yi yi!  Barcelona won and the city went crazy.  Car horns were honked, cherry bombs were set off, team jerseys were worn, a hell of a lot of alcohol was consumed and general pandemonium ensued. I've never seen or heard anything like it.  We were in a restaurant when the game ended so, walking to dinner: normal; walking back from dinner: difficult. Streets blocked to motor traffic were immediately packed with revelers and we were funneled through a pedestrian police checkpoint where we were all made to open our purses (not Alan, of course).  By the way, that tent city was cleared at 7 a.m. on the 27th and reconstructed by noon the same day.  Busy little beavers, both the police and the protesters.

Please take note that we arrived in Barcelona on the evening of May 26 so the above were our first two days in Spain.  On the third day, when the victorious Barcelonians were still blowing noisemakers and attempting to sit up for one more round of vino de la tierra, I woke up very sick, wobbled to the bathroom and passed out on the floor. Ironic, isn't it?  What happened next must wait for the next blog entry so check back.

Jun 22, 2011

Ba Da Dah Dah Daaaah

Today's topic: real estate.  Having just sold one house and bought a new one, we have now been exposed to many different real estate strategies.  We learned that real estate agents price homes in one of two ways: a little low, to generate offers and engage buyers in the process, and a little high, in hopes of raising the eventual sale price.

We learned that if a home does not sell right out of the gate, it will start to look unappealing, like the last doughnut in a box full of crumbs and unstuck sprinkles, a doughnut that no one wants to be seen eating.   Psychology will take over: no one else wanted that doughnut, why should I want that doughnut?  And who ate all the chocolate covered doughnuts and the sugar glazed anyway?  And why is the only doughnut left the one with avocado green bathrooms and a neighbor out of Deliverance? Then the agent must figure out how to bring that stale doughnut back at a later date and make it look like a whole new pastry.  (Which is why restaurants invented bread pudding, by the way.  Today's dry bread is tomorrow's dessert, and no longer free, either.)

In the case of selling our own house, our agent really surprised us. He started by hosting an open house on a Sunday, while we were out of town.  Later that night we spoke by phone to find out how the event went and he told us lots of people came to the open house, lots and lots of people.  He said he felt like he was having a party at our house.  Come in, come in!  He told us that at  least one family wanted to make an offer that day.  Oh, we exclaimed, that's great, an offer!  Well,  I told them we're not taking offers until next week, he said.  Here, our heads cocked suddenly and we made the Scooby Doo "Rhooomph?" noise.  We're not taking offers?  Are you sure that's wise?

And of course he was right.  The following week we started taking offers and we sold the house in a few days. Then we went shopping for our own pastry, I mean house.

Jun 21, 2011

Where to Begin?

Oh my!  It's been seven weeks since my last blog entry!  How did life get away from me like that?  How did I neglect my bloggerly duties so egregiously?   And what have I been doing for seven weeks, you may well ask, with a little tinge of hurt and bitterness. Well, I got my nails done; I bought three new shirts and two new bras; read five books; went grocery shopping and made breakfast, lunch and dinner many, many times; picked up a couple of things at the drug store, dropped off my dry cleaning, picked up my dry cleaning...  Huh? What's that? Not the kind of thing you had in mind?  You do those things all the time, too, and you're not interested?  Well! (Picture Jack Benny.) Alright then, I'll tell you about my adventures.

Adventure number one is we sold our house.  No sooner had we hired our (wonderful) agent than he walked through every room of our house and told us what to clear out before we let strangers with money into our home.  Evidently we hadn't been living a photogenic life. He never said so out loud but I got the distinct impression we were more likely to be featured on Hoarders than in the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. So I rented a big storage unit and started boxing up our books and tchotchkes.  Luckily, and this is true, the big week of manual labor coincided with my treatment for a sinus infection.

Now, why would that be a lucky coincidence, you may rightly ask. The answer is that when two rounds of antibiotics and nasal spray didn't stop the pain, my allergist put me on steroids to reduce the swelling and thus the pressure and pain. And I am here to tell you that when you have a whole week of manual labor ahead of you, steroids are your friend.  Not only did they stop the pain, like turning off a faucet, they gave me boundless bouncy energy and optimism to spare.

I got more done in that week than I get done in whole months of my non-steroid life.  And this was not a heavy-duty dose of steroids; this was just a tiny sinus-targeted dose.  I can't imagine how much energy a Barry Bonds-size dose gives you.  My husband Alan kept saying, and I quote, "Man, it's like you're on steroids!"  Exactly.  The house was ready in a week.

Also in the last seven blogless weeks, our daughter Molly's college graduation and a family trip to Spain.    Many adventures on the trip to Spain so another blog soon.

May 3, 2011

High Speed Rail

All opinion today, no humor.

The high speed rail proposal is quite controversial here in California. We live in a community, San Mateo, through which the high speed trains would pass.  All the communities down the center of the San Francisco peninsula would get high speed rail passing through: Daly City, San Bruno, Millbrae, Burlingame, etc. all the way to San Jose.  Access to the system would be available in San Francisco, the airport, Redwood City, and San Jose. The accusation is that the wealthy communities on the peninsula are anti poor and crying not in my back yard!

So, let's look at some facts.  Would high speed rail be disruptive to the communities on the peninsula?  You bet.  Downtown San Mateo sits along the Caltrain track.  Several major streets cross the railroad track and access to 101 is on the Eastern side of the track.  Long term construction of a new rail would cause traffic delays and noise in downtown.  San Mateo's downtown is about a four block square so you have to wonder how much impact a high speed rail will have on such a tiny town.  The same is true of Burlingame/ Hillsborough.  Some peninsula communities, like Belmont and San Carlos, are farther from the Caltrain tracks and the tracks have underpasses for automobile traffic so they would be less affected by an addition or expansion to existent tracks.

Palo Alto has had a high profile in opposing the high speed rail.  We are looking to move to Palo Alto. One home we are considering sits six doors from the existing rail track.  The noise seems minimal from Caltrain but a high speed track might be elevated, placing the resulting noise above the buffer of trees and other, even closer, homes.  The construction would of course take a long time and cause a lot of noise as well.  The end result may be a reduced property value after putting up with the construction noise for years.  All a big if. The end result may be aesthetically pleasing, who knows.

Is opposing high speed rail synonymous with denying the poor access to a community?  Absolutely not.
I assume Caltrain is cheaper than high speed rail will be and Caltrain makes many more stops, including San Mateo, where high speed rail will not stop.  High speed rail passes through, it mostly doesn't stop. So these supposedly nefarious poor people aren't getting off in my current or future community unless they jump.

Would the train at least benefit the peninsula towns and California overall?  I doubt it.  High speed rail will get you from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about two hours and forty minutes, longer than most flights.  When you factor in how many people might use high speed rail and the cost of building the high speed rail system, you have to wonder if the impact on the affected communities, where a wide variety of people live, mostly middle class and working class people along the rail lines, is worth the cost.  How about we put some shoulder and money into repairing roads, bridges, tunnels, all the existing broken infrastructure that so needs attention and would benefit all citizens, rather than putting our money into this section of high speed rail?

For what it's worth.

Apr 20, 2011

On Hold, Again

Yesterday I was on hold with an airline.  You know what that’s like, yes? I feel like I should leave an extra long space here…

…to mirror what it was like to be on hold with the airline.  At the beginning of the call, that voice told me it would like to help me.  It would like to direct my call so the airline can best serve me.  Then that  same helpful voice told me my wait would be 25-35 minutes!  Not so helpful, after all, mister.  That is a really long time!  And nobody sits around for 25+ minutes just listening to airline chatter about how well they serve us.  I tried it.  My cheek hung up the phone twice and I had to start over. Twice.

So this got me to wondering; what do those airline reps hear when they finally answer our calls?  Because I was very close to attempting a brief trip to the bathroom during my wait.  They must sometimes catch someone tinkling or flushing after 20 minutes or so.  As I’ve hit middle age I seem to only have 20 minutes between bathroom stops so the 25-35 minute wait is pretty much asking for a shared auditory experience.

And standing around waiting is also a trigger to snack!  I’ll bet the reps often pick up to hear someone who just took a huge bite of chips and salsa.  “How can I help you today, ma’am?”

“Ri ramph rimph ri romphing raph.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you, ma’am.  Could you please repeat that?”

“Ri raid, ri ramph rint ri roarding rass!” 

“I’m sorry, one more time, ma’am, you said your ramps rid high swording mass?” 

Swallow. “No!  I can’t print my boarding pass!” 

And after the rep does or doesn’t help, she gets off the phone and turns to her co-worker, laughs a really long time, and says “Chips and salsa again.” 

Maybe that’s why the waits are so long.

Apr 12, 2011

The Good Show(s)

Well, of course you'll notice the new look of the blog so let's get that out of the way.  Done? Whew!

Now, the content.

I guess since it's finally Spring, I'm not in the mood to rant.  Instead I'll gush.  No middle ground.

In the last year my husband and I have taken to watching TV shows together.  It's our new little ritual. We have certain favorites that we TIVO.  Then we get out the old-fashioned TV trays at dinner time and watch. The Good Wife is one of our favorites.  Great show.  Julianne Margulies is excellent. Chris Noth is always great, no matter what the role.  Archie Panjabi, who plays Kalinda, is captivating and a little scary.  And doesn't it just make you happy as heck that Michael J. Fox has a recurring role?  Here is a guy who takes life's lemons and makes some of the best lemonade ever.  He has created a smarmy, sleazy, surprising, strong, memorable character. Not bad for someone dealing with severe health problems.  And the cast has many other actors worth mentioning too, but I'm going to skip over most of them to Alan Cumming, who is my personal favorite.  He walks on TV-water.

Another of our favorite shows: Shameless.  Did you hear the screams of agony from our house a couple of Sundays ago, when we learned the season had just ended?  Damn, that show is fun.  William H. Macy as a drunken low-life who isn't above throwing his kid in front of a car for the insurance scam.  Joan Cusack as the agoraphobic dingbat.  Emmy Rossum as the eldest and most responsible child, in over her head but treading water.  If anyone knows when Shameless returns, please send up a flare because we need to know.  We really, really need to know. Our Sunday night replacement: The Killing, not quite Shameless, but it has a deliciously slow reveal.  Let's hope the show continues to deliver; so many shows seem promising at first and then lose all their charm.  Castle, you know I'm talking to you.  And it's a long time until March, 2012, when Mad Men is slated to return.  Don't make us wait too long, Don, we may have found new loves by then.

Apr 5, 2011

What Is It With Drivers?

There are some basic driving maneuvers, call them steps in the choreography of the road, that every driver should know and practice.  California drivers have been ignoring these basic steps for some time and I'd like to offer a little refresher course here.  This is a gentle nudge to do the right thing.

1) Lane changing.  The changer should use his turn signal to indicate a lane change.  But here is the crucial step, usually missing from the lane change dance, and the main reason so many otherwise good drivers have abandoned the turn signal: the driver in the other lane should be receptive to the change.  He should alter his foot's position on the gas pedal, not by accelerating and preventing the merge as so many are wont to do, but by gently lifting the foot enough to allow the car to enter the lane.  This seems to be the big point of confusion here in California: lift the foot gently to allow merging, don't hit the gas to protect your position like a 300 pound tackle trying to stop a touchdown, like a Rottweiler keeping the mailman from coming through the gate, like a jealous child clutching a toy and screaming "Mine, mine!"  Oh, the metaphors could keep coming but you get the idea: just let the guy in your lane!  He's not stripping your masculinity; he probably just wants off at the next exit.

2) The Zipper.  The Zipper is used when a whole lane needs to merge into another.  The unwritten rule is that a one-to-one merger is done.  One car from lane A, one car from lane B, etc., just like the teeth of a zipper meshing together, thus the name. Do the drivers in lane A ever, ever let the drivers of lane B merge using the one-to-one choreography?  They do not.  You get some nice people, of course, and then you get some real schmucks who stare straight ahead and pretend they haven't even noticed the twenty or so cars that have merged ahead of them.  What? Your lane is gone over there? Why I hadn't noticed! Well, couldn't you just ride along on the berm there with the broken glass, the dead raccoon, and the shredded tire for a few hundred feet or so and then take a right turn and get out of my sight? Couldn't you just drive off a cliff? Boy, they have perfected that staring ahead business, haven't they?

3)  Turning right on red.  This is a great rule, being allowed to turn on red.  Not every state allows it. Right on red means drivers don't have to sit and wait at a red light while no one is around to take advantage of the green light.  However, right on red does not mean sneaking your little ass in there when the patient cross traffic drivers are trying not to block the intersection. No, no, no, it does not.  If your light is red and there is a long line of drivers with a green light who have not entered the intersection, it is not a signal that they wish you would go ahead.  They do not think you are the most worthy driver in the world.  After you, after you, most esteemed driver.  No, they are waiting to cross when they won't get stuck in the intersection.

Well, these are a few basics.  You probably have some maneuvers of your own to share, pet driving peeves.  Like those people who drive fifty miles an hour on the freeway, and the lane darters, and the people who think the world is their parking lot, and, and, and...all those wacky drivers out there.

Mar 24, 2011

Winter Blues

I've now got a three part plan for kicking the endless winter blues.

Part one (1) was the Happy Hour Task Force, now in its third week of minimal but quality participation.  A little drinking, a lot of conversation.

Part two (2)  The fancy schmanzy anti S.A.D winter lights. I bought one (count 'em, only one) of those lights.  I think it helps!  It's like a one-foot square of artificial sunshine blasting at my face.  It has a button for 'ions' too.  "Odorless, tasteless, microscopic negative ions."  Who knew you could buy ions?  And shoot them at your face for "safe...use in the home or office." Now, the important question is, can you operate heavy machinery while using the ion generator?

And part three (3) babies laughing in YouTube videos.

Normal run-of-the-mill baby laughing:

Baby with "devil" laugh:

And the now infamous "baby laughing at dad tearing paper"

For added enjoyment, I played a couple of them at the same time. (I don't need to say whether I discovered this because I just couldn't figure out how to close the browsers.)

Mar 19, 2011

Make it Stop!

If this rain* doesn't stop, I'm installing those lights for Seasonal Affective Disorder on every available inch of wall space, ceiling space, floor space, and counter space in our house. I'll nail them on the closet doors.  I'll stack them on the table, my desk, the washer and dryer, the unused beds. I'll put them on the stovetop, in the fruit bowl, on my printer, on my dresser, on the elliptical machine, on the couch, the recliners, and I'll balance them on top of the regular lamps. I'll string clothesline in every room and dangle the anti SAD lamps from the clothesline until you can see our house from outer space. This rain has got to stop!!

Plan B: throw everything that will fit into the Prius and move to Arizona, which would have the added benefit of adding a blue vote to a red state.

*If you live in another part of the world, feel free to replace the word rain with the word snow.  You have my sympathy, too.

Mar 13, 2011

With Apologies to All You Amazing Women

I can't forward another thing!

I can't add my name to your niece's school research project.  You know my name or you couldn't have sent me the email; you add my name to the list and forward it. For that matter, your niece could have added your name.  I don't care that it's not scientific; it's less trouble to me.

I can't change one letter in the last word of Word Scrabble and forward it to the next victim. Is this like a long cyber game of musical chairs?  Will someone eventually get stuck, unable to form a new word, and lose the game?  Is there one loser and three hundred and fourteen winners? I'm thinking there probably aren't prizes for us. So no forwarding.  I quit.

I can't send uplifting cartoons to my friends and wait for the surprise message that comes when I do everything correctly.  No surprise message ever comes.  I have waited an embarrassing number of times for the surprise.  It never ever comes.

I can't tell ten amazing women they made a difference in my life, including the amazing woman who sent me the email.  And she is amazing, truly awe-inspiringly.  It's so hard to tell each of these amazing women that you aren't playing.  And of course, the woman who forwarded the email to you couldn't tell some other amazing woman, maybe her sister-in-law, her best friend, her mother, that she wasn't going to forward this time or ever again.  So each time we get one of these emails, we incredible women each consider who among our friends and relatives are the nicest, or the most sentimental, or who like us the most, or to whom we haven't forwarded for awhile, and we hit send. We say a little silent prayer that our friends will understand.

We are collectively wasting enough time to stop the Iraq war, turn the economy around, get gay marriage legalized in all fifty states, and maybe even de-weird Charlie Sheen.  

Can we all just say no?

Just to be clear, I still want anything funny.

Your local curmudgeon,


Mar 11, 2011

Happy Hour

I've decided that what is missing from the suburban day-to-day life is the Friday night watering hole experience.  The tribal gathering around the fire.  The bowling league.  The Irish pub.  I  want a weekly tete-a-tete (look it up) with my buds.  I want to have a place I can go where there will be someone, anyone, who I know and who will be glad to see me.  Better yet, a few people who know me and are glad to see me, and glad to see each other, too.

So, I have created the Happy Hour Task Force to research and find an appropriate bar for a weekly drop in.  Tonight we had our first meeting.  I meant to get around to an agenda and name tags but we got along without them.  We checked out the pool hall and a tapas restaurant and then settled in at the upscale bar for white wine and a mixed drink.  Three people, five drinks between us, so we're not the heavy lifters.  This place has good potential, though, and I'll send out an invite for next week's happy hour.

Don't you think we need this, we middle-agers?  In our college years and early twenties we had that community, that amorphous amoeba of friends who gathered weekly or daily.  Now that we live in the burbs we rarely meet in groups.  We see one another but there is no spark, no unpredictable possibility that comes from having a group together.  Or at least it doesn't happen often enough.  The Happy Hour Task Force will trudge on in behalf of the group.  Watch for minutes of the upcoming meetings.  Perhaps sign up for a committee yourself.

Feb 27, 2011


Just when you think advertisements can’t get any weirder, they do.

Take this ING ad (Please!): Woman walks into a home via the back door, into a family’s kitchen.  Mother, father, daughter in the home are moving in extreme slow motion.  Daughter putting books in backpack s-l-o-w-l-y.  Visiting woman asks what are you doing? Resident woman says our mortgage was taking so-o-o long to pay off, we thought we might as well live in slow motion. Visiting woman does not ask are you nuts?  She does not ask how does one do that, live in slow motion? She doesn't even ask how do you pee, which is the first thing that came to my mind. No, she suddenly has a large orange ball in her hands, a sort of exercise ball for underachievers.  She approaches kitchen woman and commands: touch the ball. Really?  Touch the ball?  A little sexual are we?  Maybe ING should change their signature color to blue. They could just go the distance and add a second ball, while they're at it.  

Another ING ad man walking on hands in home improvement store and complaining about something money related. (I wasn't paying attention; there's a man upside down, going around and around on his hands.)  Woman approaches with that damn orange ball. Touch the ball.  Really?  Which hand?  Do you want him to fall on his head? But this is no ordinary home-improvement-store guy.  He can reach up and touch the ball!  It's a DIY miracle!  I think if I saw some nut walking on his hands in a box store, I’d hightail it out of there. And if I were walking around on my hands in the paint department and some wacko told me to touch the ball I'd call security, if I could reach a phone. Or I’d at least ask where that ball's been; the hand sanitizer would have fallen out of my pocket back in the lumber department.

Feb 25, 2011

Blog housekeeping

Sorry I've been out of touch for a couple of weeks.  I was trying to fix some issues with the blog and then I had a no good, very bad week.  (Lots of fodder for future blog posts.)

So, the housekeeping.  Turns out when you signed up to follow my blog, you were really just doing sort of an e-shout out to me.  It was a web wave.  It was a "Hey, Cathy, I read your blog." It was sort of the equivalent of the facebook 'like.' What it doesn't mean, evidently, is that Blogspot sends you notices when I post a new post.  No, it does not.  I had no idea. I thought all of you were getting a brief little email from Blogspot every time I posted saying "Hey Marian, Hey Cindy, Cathy has a new post so read it."  Dang, following is a worthless (although appreciated) gesture. 

So, now I will email you a notice when I post something.  I will do what Blogspot has failed to do! My web person tells me there is also the option to sign up for an RSS, which will notify you of the postings.  Some of you younguns may know about RSS but I didn't. My understanding is that RSS links are at the top of the blog page or on the url line or somewhere up there and are easy to activate on all browsers except Safari.  If you use Safari and you want instructions, let me know and I'll email them to you.  They're long.

Also, I removed any restrictions on commenting so if you had trouble commenting directly on the blog before, you should be able to now.  I had been advised to have restrictions so all the wackos and spammers couldn't send comments but we'll see what happens, won't we?

Is it just me or is all this technical stuff just too damn technical?

An actual content-based blog post coming soon.  


Feb 7, 2011

I Think I'm a Little Agoraphobic

I think I must be a little agoraphobic.  I would rather stay home than do most anything.  I like to be in my own kitchen, on my own couch, in my own office.  I like to have one of my cats nearby (sometimes they're too near) and have the view out my own windows.  I am always a bit surprised the world is there when I cross over into it. Oh, fresh air.  Has that always been here?

My friend Suzette is a real outdoorsy, former jock type person.  She often calls me and says "Isn't the weather amazing?  Isn't it great outside?" and I answer, to her chagrin, "Is it?"  I really don't know. I have been happily reading and poking around at all the indoor things like laundry and emailing and trying to write.

My husband often comes home on Friday nights and says, "Let's go to the movies," and I answer "But I got us movies from Blockbuster," or "Really, go out to the movies? Tonight?"  (Now, I know what you're thinking: she had to go out to Blockbuster, didn't she?  I do go outside.  I do plan ahead for the weekend and go grocery shopping and all that, it's just that when there's a choice, stay here or go out, I'll often take stay here.)

Maybe the problem is we have to drive everywhere, and I mean everywhere: the supermarket, the dry cleaners, a coffee shop.  If we go for a long walk, all we get are more houses.  We want to move to a house in a walkable neighborhood, where we can walk to the movies and a restaurant and a coffee shop, all in one go.  If I still just want to stay inside there, in a new house, then we'll know: I'm a little agoraphobic. Or maybe just lazy.

Feb 1, 2011

Hi, It's Me

Do you ever call someone and then, before they answer, forget whom you've called?  

You dial the number and as you hear the first ring at the other end, you get up from the table to absentmindedly sort the mail, putting a dangerous amount of distance between yourself and any note to self or clues as to whom you've called.  Or your cat rolls over on its back, and looks absolutely adorable, so you walk over to the couch to stroke its belly and out the window you see a bird you don't recognize and you start to wonder, "Is that bird book around here somewhere?  I think I left it on the shelf in the kitchen." Or you hear the buzz indicating the end of the dryer cycle and you wander down the hall and open the dryer door to feel if the clothes are damp or dry.  No matter how it happens, a couple of rings go by as your mind and your body move about your house.  The ringing continues softly. You enter a meditative state.  Ring, ring.  

Jan 27, 2011

Rule #

How can I waste so damn much time?  Let me count the ways:

Computer games!



My blog!

Checking whether I have comments and/or new followers of my blog!



Checking my email!

Typing exclamation points!

Solving crossword puzzles.

Working kenken puzzles.

Reading the paper.

Making lists.

Crossing out things I've done.

Making updated lists.

Thinking up reasons why I probably shouldn't do something.

Watching Zombieland again.  Okay, that's not a waste of time.  It's just fun.  Zombies, Twinkies, an amusement park, Bill Murray, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin as a con artist, even Woody Harrelson.  And a list!  Always check the backseat.

Jan 24, 2011


We're left wingers, far left wingers, and so it makes me very sad that some of the people who bug me most in this world are the Democratic and left-leaning groups that I support now or did in the past.  I'm not talking policy here, I'm talking phone calls.  Ever since we put our phone number on the do not call list years ago, we have had delightful, precious silence from aluminum siding companies, hot water heater companies, long distance service providers, and all the other phone solicitors, fly-by-nights, and those looking for a sucker willing to buy a satellite dish over the phone.  We had uninterrupted dinners for several years after the do not call policy was put into place.

But about two years ago, the political calls started: Emily's List, League of Conservation Voters, the Democratic Senate this and the Democratic House that.  I hate these calls.  They're annoying!  They come at all times of the day and night (we are on the west coast and sometimes get Sunday morning calls).  The people on the other end of the phone are often paid employees, not actual zealots for the cause.  They are pushy.  They want me to know how important it is that I send money NOW!  By credit card. Over the phone.  Just give us your numbers and we will a) stop the Republicans, b) save the environment, c) save the world.

So my big question is: why money?  Why is it always money that is needed to a) stop the Republicans, b) save the environment, c) save the world?  Why do 'my' Democrats need so goddamn much money to be lobbied into voting the way they should have in the first place?  And why does my money need to be sent right now, number over the phone, the security code on the back, expiration date please? Why not an old fashioned check?

These should be the good guys.  They are my team.  Why do I hate when the phone rings?  If I'm one of the good guys, shouldn't I be trusted to send that check?  Why do I wish I'd never given to a single thing I believe in?

It ain't right.  It just ain't right.

Jan 18, 2011

Things Add Up

Do you keep a mental list of everything you get done in a day or a week?  Does your head keep track: five loads of laundry, three loads of dishes, one trip to Safeway, one trip to Costco, a stop at the vet for cat food, wrapped two packages, took them to Fedex, searched for daughter's car registration, made turkey meatloaf, and on and on. Obviously, I make such lists.

Sometimes, I keep an actual, on-paper, list.  On a slow day, I keep track of everything.  "Made the bed."  Making the bed takes ten seconds but if the list is thin "made the bed" goes on the list, even if I write it in at night, long past the actual making of the bed and as obvious filler.  Sometimes "called the plumber" goes on the list, as does every call I made that day.  A list of five phone calls looks like five actual tasks, whether the call was five seconds or twenty minutes, whether the call accomplished anything or not.   I imagine if I had a very, very,  slow day "brushed my teeth" would make the list but I've never fallen that far.  I'm wimpy but not that wimpy.

Sometimes, when I make an actual, physical,  list and I look back at my week's accomplishment, I am actually impressed.  I did get the car serviced, plan the vacation, arrange to have the trees trimmed, take the old clothes to the Goodwill, design a rooftop windmill, make bread, cook three dinners, pay all the bills, cure cancer, and cut up the boxes in the garage for recycling.  Whew, what a week.

Now that I'm in an MFA program, I imagine that "read five pages of poetry" will make my lists on slow days, and "wrote five poems" will go on the list in full weeks. Maybe I should vary the type?  Sixteen point bold for big jobs, 14 point for medium jobs, ten point for my little fake jobs like making the bed?   Would creating the system make the list? You bet.

Jan 15, 2011

A fun site to check out

Hello all:

A fun site/blog to check out is Catalog Living, the creation of L.A. based Molly Erdman.

Erdman has created two characters, Gary and Elaine, and uses home furnishing catalog photographs as backdrops for their lives.  Gary and Elaine are never seen but you will learn all about their lives, their disagreements, their tastes, through catalog living.  If you've ever wondered who places a giant wooden pear on their dining room table as a centerpiece, you have to meet Gary and Elaine.



Jan 11, 2011

We Need a Sign

Boy, stay away from the blog-creating keyboard for a few days and the readers get restless (you know I'm talking to you, Ray.)  I don't want to have a blah-g so I am back at the keyboard, putting my random thoughts and untested theories to the cyber page.

Today's subject: signaling while driving.  We seem to have signals for so many movements and situations in driving. Like: I-want-to-cut-in-front-of-you-is-that-okay-with-you?  In stopped traffic, this involves pulling right next to the car you want to cut in front of, (sometimes with a bit of your car jutting into their lane so there is no actual need for discussion), getting the attention of the driver and giving questioning looks while pointing repeatedly to the space in front of their car and smiling as though you actually know this driver, until he nods his head expressively, sometimes adding a shrug and the mouth movement shrug. Sometimes you bite your lip as though there is real money on the table. After he lets you in, you give another universal signal, a big wave aimed at the back window to thank him.

There is the head shake, sometimes accompanied by a finger shake when someone tries to take the parking space you're waiting for.  There is often verbalization, heard only by you, but it helps, doesn't it? "Nuh uh, you are not taking my parking space.  Oh no you don't, you little ____." And we all know the sorts of signals that arise when someone takes that parking space, does not let you merge, or is generally a jerk.  That is a well-established gesture we don't need to go into here.

There even seems to be a universal and well-choreographed routine for your-coat/belt/scarf-is-hanging-out-the-door-and-maybe-even-dragging-in-the-sludge.  This involves following the driver in question, tooting your horn, pointing energetically at the bottom of their door, acting like a mad stalker, more honking, ignoring their puzzled and annoyed looks, finally deciding they will wish they had listened to you when they get home and see their coat/belt/scarf in its new state of ruin, and driving on your way, irritated as many good Samaritans get.

So, with all of the above signals and more not mentioned here, why don't we have a universal signal for I'm-really-sorry-I-almost-killed-you-fellow-driver?   Haven't we all pulled in front of innocent strangers who were in our blind spot?  Innocent strangers driving 65 to 80 miles an hour?  Haven't we all cut across a lane of traffic we thought was empty only to hear the horn of distress and see the terrified faces in the other car?  Turned a city corner just as the ancient woman with the walker entered the crosswalk? Haven't we?  Or is it just me?  Yikes.  I think we need a warm, fuzzy signal that says life is short and I'm truly sorry I almost shortened yours.  I am really, really sorry.  Forgive me, stranger and accept my universal signal.

Jan 5, 2011

I've Got You, Babes

I'm still in Vermont and I'm really busy attending workshops and lectures and readings and I didn't think I could get to my blog.  But then I realized, I have followers who count on me. There are ten of you out there! That's more than a softball team, more than many town councils. It's nearly a dozen.  We are approaching the head count of an egg carton!  So don't worry, Alan, Molly, Marian, Kate, Jacqueline, Cindy, Maggie, Woody, Carol Ann and Tina, I will not let you down.  I will blog on.

By the way, this thing I'm doing in Vermont is wonderful.  I'm enrolled in the low residency MFA program in Writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. This is my first residency: ten days of back-to-back offerings on the craft of writing, getting published, reviewing, what have you.  We attend workshops where we discuss our writing and the writing of others.  We go to readings of other students and big name writers.  It's all too much for my slow, old ass, but I attend everything I can and I'm learning so much.  Meeting great people, too, from as far away as Australia and Vancouver.  

I've been assigned a mentor, Jen Bervin, who has given me a list of thirty plus books to read between now and the semester's end in late December.  Didn't she get the memo on me having a slow, old ass? No, she did not and that is a very good thing.  She will challenge me and encourage me and she is also just a very nice person so I think I'll like getting to know her.

As an aside, a great thing about Vermont is the maple syrup.  Of course you know that; Vermont is known for its maple syrup.  But I come from another part of the country, where I often have to ask for and pay extra for real maple syrup, where I have sometimes found myself staring into the blank eyes of a waitperson who is baffled when I ask for 'real' maple syrup, and who seems to think I am asking if the container they are holding exists, as though I may be in the middle of a bad acid trip or am just one strange customer.  Being in Vermont’s maple-syrup-friendly zone is like stepping into a world one hoped existed but hardly dared wish for. Yum.

Jan 1, 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year everyone!  I'm staying in a hotel in Montpelier, Vermont this week and raucously celebrated last night by staying in my room, writing reports on lectures I'd attended, and drinking alone, as I've heard real writers are obliged to do. Don't feel sorry for me; I'm not much of a New Year's Eve kind of person.  I never cared much about the symbolism of the fresh start or the noting of time passing.  Now, Thanksgiving, that's my kind of holiday.  Food, family and friends.  Bam, you've got a great day. No staying up beyond my bedtime to watch a ball in another city slide down a building.  No confetti.  No noise.  No silly hats. No kissing strangers. And I repeat, no silly hats, unless you're into pilgrim reenactments at your house, but we try to stick with contemporary clothes at ours.

Drive safely, everyone.