Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Random Baby Moment

Do you know what this thing is? It's some kind of interesting combination between stuffed animal doggie and blankie. I was eating lunch yesterday at Bodo's Bagels, reading the paper, minding my own business. When this baby--for no apparent reason--toddled up to me, eyed me seriously for a moment, and handed me his... doggie-blanket-thingie. Not in a dismissive I'm-finished-with-this-now way, but very earnestly; it was as though he had decided that out of all the good folk eating their lunch at Bodo's, I alone could truly appreciate the specialness of a well-chewed blankie.

He was quickly followed by an apologetic guy about my age, who rescinded the dog-blanket, scooped up the child, made quick small talk (I'm just the baby-sitter, he's one year old, so sorry, wave bye-bye to the nice lady) and left. The whole thing was weird but slightly touching.

I have lost internet access at home because the modem is dead, dead, dead. BAD modem. I think I may have a slight 'problem' re: being online (like, addiction?) because in retrospect being offline for a few days shouldn't be that big of a deal, right? But I was distraught. 2 days until my vacation, though! Which will be a fairly internet-free vacation, which will be healthy.

Friday, December 15, 2006


We live in a very goal-oriented society, don't we? Everything in life is meant to go by plan, ticked one-by-one off of a list, never left to chance. I've always disliked the question, "So what do you want to do with your life?" because I don't think that life is something to plan. Oh, we make decisions, accept jobs or quit them, move from city to city... we build our lives bit by bit, stage by stage. But I don't know anybody who had a master plan at the age of, say, 20, and followed it faithfully. Most of us are more likely to try something, re-think, try something else. When Don finished high school, he went to school to become an auto-mechanic. A turn of fate and a broken ankle brought him to construction instead. At 19, he joined the army, which took him to Germany, where he began learning the rudiments of hotel maintenance and engineering. Each turn builds on the last. If someone had asked him at 18 what he wanted to do with his life, he would have replied with auto-mechanics. At 25, he wanted to retire with the army. Even now, it's impossible to know what he'll be doing in 10 more years. When I was 18, I wanted to be a chef. In college, I thought about finance-- stocks, fund management, the works. Now? I have no idea. I don't have a master plan. I'm letting my life take it's own twists and turns and seeing where it takes me. So why does everything have to follow a script?

One example: marriage proposals. When Don and I announced that we were engaged, it seems like everybody wanted to know "how he did it", because there's this pervading media-driven idea that a proposal should be a carefully thought-out, planned event. It should include any or all of the following: bended knees, expensive jewelry, a prepared speech, tears, and a "theme" that speaks to the couple's relationship--a ballpark? a restaurant? a movie theater? How he did it? How about very late one night, after a long conversation, in bed, in the dark. Cuddled up together talking about the future, he asked...Would I marry him? And I would. Not planned, not well-reasoned with a list of pros and cons, but a spontaneous, from-the-heart proposal.

Another life event that's supposed to go by plan: kids. Having a baby is supposed to be carefully decided upon. Conception is something that is absolutely supposed to go as planned; a goal to achieve or not, a 'done' on a to-do list. There is a continuum of conception from absolutely trying not to get pregnant to doing everything within one's power to get there, but it is a continuum with a rather large gap in the center. On the far end of the scale is sterilization-- a tube-tie or vasectomy. Then various forms of birth control, from the draconian IUDs/shots/etc to loosey-goosey condoms. Then an abrupt shift, from actively preventing pregnancy to courting it, to "trying"; all the way up to the invasive in-vitro procedures and etc . This is why any time a woman gets pregnant, the couple is asked if it is "planned". Which I would find incredibly rude, but hey maybe that's just me. Why not just ask, "So, did you actually *want* this kid?"

What ever happened to the middle ground of the spectrum? What about not-trying-not-preventing, about leaving things to chance, about letting nature take its course? Is there still room in this world for chance, for spontaneity? Don and I probably won't start "trying" to make a baby until after the wedding, but for the time being, we're existing in this happy middle ground of "well-let's just-see-what-happens". This approach seems to have worked for humanity for millennia, before we felt the need to control every aspect of existence, and it's fun too. So, if I end up writing a "surprise-I'm-pregnant" post, please don't ask if it was "planned", or if we were "surprised", or whatever. Instead, consider it serendipity.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Rant, part 2

Christmas music is annoying. No matter how you much you may actually *like* Christmas songs, by the time December is half way over. . . .it's headache season! What's really bugging me is how the Holiday Season is taking over songs that aren't even related to Christmas, so that 'Silent Night' is for some reason followed by 'My Favorite Things'-- which, hello, is from The Sound of Music and has zilch to do with Christmas, Generic Holiday, or even Winter. Basically there are four categories of "Christmas" songs, although I use that title loosely.

Category One: The Old-Fashioned, Religious Songs.

These are the old classics that stem from the time when Christmas had some sort of religious meaning. 'Silent Night', 'Away in a Manger', 'Little Drummer Boy', and 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' fall into category one. It's actually a small category, because they ain't making more like those, for obvious reasons.

Category Two: Songs about Santa, shopping, and the Christmas Season

Somewhere along the way, Christmas went from being a single day+ evening to being the entire block of time between Thanksgiving and New Years. These songs celebrate the non-religious social side of Christmas. There are lots of songs about reindeer, Rudolph and Santa, like 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town', 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer', and 'Santa Baby' (my personal all-time favorite Christmas song). There are lots of songs about general festivity and togetherness, like 'We Wish you a Merry Christmas' and 'The Most Wonderful Time of Year'.

Category Three: Songs about Winter That Do Not Mention Christmas in any Way, Shape or Form.

Have you ever really listened to the lyrics of 'Jingle Bells'? Really? Are you aware that it is not actually a Christmas song? There are many songs about winter, snow, and weather that could apply equally to December or February (or May up north). 'Let it Snow': not a Christmas song! Don't believe me? (link) Same with Sleigh Ride. There is one line in Sleigh Ride about going to a Christmas party, but the original lyrics are about a birthday party. 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' seems to have been added to this list of non-Christmas winter-time songs, although it's slightly scandalous to go from 'Little Drummer Boy' to 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' without any kind of segue.

Category Four: Totally Random Songs That Have Nothing Whatsoever To Do With Christmas or Even Winter in Any Way.

Umm, 'My Favorite Things', anybody? Yes, it mentions snowflakes, but there are also raindrops, kittens, ponies, wild geese, spring...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Please Don't Annoy the Barista

This whole 2-jobs thing is starting to come together; I'm falling into a routine, a pattern. My body is adjusting for the most part, and I'm sleeping like a rock between shifts. Except for the fact that I have no time to do anything but work, eat, and sleep, things are going well. Last night I got home a little after 8 from the bank's holiday dinner (much fun and frivolity there)... I was in bed by 10 and slept for 11 glorious hours. I just wish I could keep up with the house, the laundry, my friends, family... I talked to my mom this morning for the first time in 2 weeks. Two things really keep me looking fowards, though.

My vacation. Just 12 more days and I'll be flying back to Texas to spend a glorious 11 days with my family, vacationing out at Big Bend.

The idea that this whole situation may be temporary. There's a good chance that the bank will be increasing my hours to almost full time, which would decrease the need for supplementary income. I should know in the next week or so.

So, maybe the bookstore-gig will be a short blip in time, which is good because being back in the Land of Books and Coffee makes me remember everything that annoyed me about coffee-orderers before. I already have one customer-service-oriented job; two makes me a little spazzy.

Customer: This frappacino is a little slushy. Could you remake it so that it's 'thicker'?

Me: Bite me! I mean, um, of course I can.

I think that there should be clear guidelines on ordering a drink. Like modifiers. Nobody should be allowed to use more than two modifiers on any one drink. Modifiers would include things like non-fat, soy, extra-hot, decaf, whatever. Because you know that thing in When Harry Met Sally, where Meg Ryan's character takes half an hour to order anything? Nobody but Harry thinks that's cute. And the waitress is definitely not laughing.

So a grande gingerbread latte, extra-hot no whip? OK! A soy decaf latte? Good! A caramel macchiato, lite on the syrup but with whipped cream? Fine! A grande gingerbread latte, but with soy milk, decaf espresso, no whip, no foam, and extra hot? For God's sake, get a life! You are nowhere near as important as you seem to think; just order a damn drink like everyone else. Thank you, and have a great day.

Whipped cream?

It's a yes-or-no question. Either you want it, or you don't. Do not say, "A little", "some", or "extra" in regards to whipped cream. Because those cups we mark? There's only room for a check mark, or a single word. the cup does not provide room for an essay on how you prefer your beverage. And by the way? Whever reason you had for choosing soy milk is kind of obliterated if you pile whipped cream on top of it.


Kid's drinks, especially hot chocolate? We understand the not-too-hot-please. Taking your drink on the road? Extra-hot is ok. I mean, sure it kinda ruins the milk to scald it like that, but hey, you asked. Do not give us a temperature, please. It is weird and kind of insulting to say, "Steam the milk to 140 degrees, if you would." Ok, do you work in the industry? If you're THAT PROUD of your espresso-machine knowledge, just wear your little apron everywhere you go, it's less of a headache.


I'm with you here, people. I'm very caffeine-sensitive, and I drink only decaf after 5pm or so. But asking 500 times, "That's decaf, right?" as the barista makes your drink? If you are *that* worried about it, get an herbal tea or a hot chocolate or something. Because yeah, sometimes we do mess up, it's happened to my own beverages at times.

Just Plain Coffee

This is to all of you people that sneer at the idea of an espresso-based beverage and would rather drink truck-stop coffee than a Maple Machiatto. You know, that's ok. For every frou-frou drink, we probably sell three cups of drip. But there is no need to swagger up to the counter, squint menacingly at the menu board, and demand whether we have 'just regular coffee' while muttering about 4-dollar coffee drinks. Of course we serve coffee, and most people can order it politely, without sneering at the entire establishment. I'm sorry that our fancy-pants-four-dollar-coffee gives you an inferiority complex that you have to hide beneath bad manners; if a 50-cent cup of really bad coffee is what you want, there's a gas station on the corner.

I'm not the kind of food-service person that would spit in a drink, but I just might switch your non-fat for whole if you annoy me enough.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Gifts, or, Why Dumbledore wanted socks

Yesterday I was listening to this NPR story, which is about giving real presents versus money/ gift cards, and it really made me think about gifts, what we give, and why they matter. Because, they do matter.

Apparently, economists have long argued that giving cash is much more efficient ("better") because when buying a present we either get exactly what the receiver would have bought with the cash, or else get something they would not have bought, and therefore don't really want, therefore rather wasting the money that would have better been given as cash.

This is basically nonsense, though, as the guy on the radio pointed out. First of all, why assume that I would buy myself nice things if I had cash? I've got bills to pay, some debt to deal with, a house to save for. If someone gave me fifty dollars as a gift, most likely I'm not going to buy something fabulous with it, I'm going to spend it on next month's rent and electricity or else sock it into savings. That doesn't mean that I would value cash more, just that the economists don't take into account the complicated relationships people have with money. For example, when I graduated from college, my parents bought me a piano, which is the nicest thing that I own. It's a beautiful upright, shiny black, that dresses up the whole room and makes me want to take lessons again . . . It's a completely frivolous, impractical, luxury item, and I love it. I would never have bought myself a piano, though, if they had just handed me a wad of cash or a check, instead. I would have to be in a place financially in which everything else was taken care of, before I could ever, ever spend a big chunk of money on something like that. Gifts are often a luxury that we would not buy for ourselves.

Secondly, (and this was the main point that this new study makes) people value gifts, whatever they may be, especially because they're gifts. So what if I would never have bought yourself that paticular coffee mug-- Aunt Sue gave it to me and therefore I love it! This contradicts the either-it's-perfect-or-else-a-waste-of-money idea that the economists go by. Gifts gain in value simply by being given. You can't put a price on that warm fuzzy ya get from looking at or using a gift that was given by someone you care for, whether or not it was originally something you'd buy yourself.

Personally, I have a hard time parting with anything that was given to me. I'm especially noticing this now, because with this un-friend-ing thing that I'm going through; I've noticed more and more things that I have that were gifts from her, that I've held on to for years and years just because... can't get rid of gifts! Ever! Now, as we're still unpacking boxes (the stuff not necessary for day-to-day life like photos and knickknacks) I realize that I've held onto every gift and card that she ever gave me, like this purple ceramic... thing made in 7th-grade art class that has been at various times a flowerpot, a colored-pencil holder for my desk, and a spatula-and-spoon holder on my kitchen counter. It has that lumpy, endearing, hand-made look that usually only moms love, but I was so fond of it because it always reminded me of my friend, and since it was from seventh grade, it always made me think of how long we'd been friends... now thinking about that is painful, and I'm still trying to decide whether to keep this thing or not. That's the power of gift-giving, though. It creates something precious out of a lumpy, sparkly-purple ceramic thing that you wouldn't buy for a quarter at a garage sale.

The thing is, gifts say something about the relationship between the giver and the givee.

"I know you, and know what you'd like".
"I love you, and want you to have something nice".
"I don't know what I'm doing, but at least I'm trying. "
"I'm your mother and want you to have warm feet."

Exchanging gift cards--or cash-- doesn't really express a relationship the way that gifts do. Time and thought go into gift-purchasing or -creating. My mom gives me socks every year for Chanukah, sometimes pajamas and things, and it means a lot to me. Sure, she could give me 50 bucks or a Target gift card and I could go out and buy some socks, but the gift expresses something more than its cash value.

In Harry Potter, Dumbledore doesn't want socks in the first book, when asked what he sees in the Mirror of Erised that shows the heart's desire. Obviously he could go out and buy socks-- the thick, woolen socks that he mentions to Harry. What Dumbledore wants is to be given socks. His heart's desire is not for footwear (which apparently confused some readers) but for the kind of loving relationship that would result in a gift of socks. After all, who would give an old man (even a great, powerful, old man) socks? Who gives a gift that says, "I care about your personal comfort and warmth", a gift like the handmade sweater that Harry just received from Molly Weasley? A wife, a daughter, a grandchild? All Dumbledore ever got was books.

Kids... really just an excuse to play with toys

Don and I have a holiday tradition of getting one of the Salvation Army angels instead of buying presents for my parents, who already have everything they want or need. So we spent Saturday shopping for someone that we had only the barest information on, which is difficult. First. Why is all the boy's clothing at Target non-cotton? Is it that hard to sell shirts and things that are 100% cotton and reasonably good quality? Old Navy does it... Old Navy turns out to have better clothing at better prices than Target as far as little boy stuff goes. But, they don't sell Thomas trains.

Second. The Salvation Army in Texas went into a lot more detail and care than the one here. They give out an informational brochure that explains what to buy, how much to spend (they reccomend about 100 dollars), what to do with your purchases, etc. They give a stack of labels and big bags, so that you can write the serial number of your 'angel' on a label and stick it to each shirt, toy, whatever, to ensure that they end up with the right kid. And each 'angel' card has a wants and needs list in addition to all the clothing sizes, so that it says something like this: "Joey, age 4, sizes blah blah blah, needs winter coat, shoes, and jeans. Wants Spider-man stuff." Because the point is to provide a 'complete' holiday for that child, with the toys they want and necessities to get growing kids through the rest of winter.

The SA here does not give brochures, tags, or bags. They don't give a suggested spending amount. Their Angel cards don't list needs/wants, just the size of the child and their desired toy, so that ours said "Joey, age four, sizes..., Thomas the Tank Engine train." So basically, if I hadn't been doing this for years and was new at this I would assume that all I was supposed to do was... buy a toy train! My mom always stressed the winter coat, shoes, and jeans. So basically I'm wondering about what these SA angels get, compared to the ones back home.

When you're with someone like Don (i.e. boyish, likes toys, still in love with trains), never stand in front of the Thomas the Tank Engine display and say, "Ok, Don, pretend you're 4. Which Thomas train set do you want?" Because you will be at that Target display for 20 minutes, examining each train, and walking out with the biggest, most expensive ThTE train set that Target offers--but the coolest, according to One Who Knows Trains!

Third, the Salvation Army informational thingie said that our little guy wears a size-12 toddler shoe. Does that mean that he wore a size-12 at the time the form was filled out which was probably over 6 weeks ago and now he wears something bigger and size-12s would be too small? From what I understand kids go through shoes really fast, right? Or are the powers that be thinking ahead and filling out the form with the size that they think he'll be wearing by Christmas, when this stuff will be received? Because we found a pair of size-12 Thomas the Tank engine shoes! Which will either be totally cool or really dissapointing depending on the fit.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Christmas Ramble

The weather here has finally turned winter-y, and it feels holidayish. Last night it even snowed, for about ten minutes. I was finishing up in the cafe when I looked up to see the snow swirling under the parking-lot lights, something I haven't seen since Vermont. Speaking of which, it turns out that my supervisor is from Burlington. Not just Burlington, but the very neighborhood that Don and I lived in. He described the area in such detail (going over his childhood paper-route) that I felt very nostalgic and homesick for a moment. It's funny how easy it is to be homesick for a place I only lived in for 2 years, while Texas still doesn't inspire much of that feeling and I grew up there. I'm sure spending another (6-month-long) winter in Vermont would cure me pretty quick, right Becca?

I'm noticing this year that I've become much mellower and less cynical about "the holidays" than I was in years past. As a non-Christian, Christmas means exactly nothing to me as a holiday, and I've had trouble trying to figure out why it is THE HOLIDAY, the day that controls everything from television to the stock market to travel. "Christmas" seems so far removed from any religious meaning that I actually sympathise with the put-Christ-back-in-Christmas types trying to reclaim what would seem to be the most important (?) holy day of their faith. Christmas is *actually* about the following (according to all T.V. commercials, movies, songs, and other culture-bearers of our time): Family. Spending time with family. Food. Showing love, ideally by buying the right presents. Presents. Santa Claus. Shopping. Chocolate. Shopping. Presents. Family. They keep re-running these awful old Christmas movies from when Don was a kid (probably earlier) that all seem to be clay-mation or puppet-based and feature Santa, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph, and various elves.

Don has tried to convince me to have "Christmas spirit" by calling me the Grinch, and by insisting that there's absolutely nothing Christian about it and to see it as a fun excuse to decorate, bake cookies, drink eggnog, light candles. Each time I say, "Spell it, Don. Spell the word Christmas. C-h-r-i-s-t-m-a-s. " I basically stand by my refusal to celebrate the birth of a religion that has nothing to do with me. But like I said, lately I'm mellowing and trying to take a broader view.

To the marketing executive, government officials, and other powers-that-be, the fact that so many religions have holidays that converge in December must seem like a god-send. It's not so PC in this wonderfully diverse, separate-church-from-state country to make everything Christmas, and so we get "holidays" instead. Holiday greetings, holiday season, season's greetings. Holiday cookies. Wonderful coincidence, that Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa et al coincide like that and give us the generic Holiday, right?

Not much of a coincidence really. We're all celebrating the same thing, and it's not what our respective religions would dictate. More like a primal human urge to fight the darkness and cold that descend each winter, to thumb our noses at the darkest night of the year--the Winter Solstice--with light, noise, and celebration. The most basic of human instinct covered with a thin veneer of religion. The more I consider this, the less annoyed with Christmas I feel; it's just the modern, American version of an ancient tradition. After all, what are the symbols of Christmas? Light, light light... lights on houses, trees, everywhere. Neighborhoods and townscapes lit up at night. Christmas trees, wreaths, and greenery that celebrate the fact that even in the dead of winter, something is green and alive--does a Christmas tree or sprig of holly have anything to do with Christianity? Nope. And there's the feasting and song, gathering together as kin and friend. Chanukah is also celebrated with light, song, and food. So, I think I'll go bake some cookies, and celebrate humanity's triumph over the dark night.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Customer Service

I like working with people. Really I do. It makes my day interesting and connected. But sometimes the naivety, the inexperience, the sheer airheadedness of some of my customers just amazes me. Everyone knows what Darwin Awards are, right? The "award" given to those people stupid enough to accidentally kill themselves, thereby taking themselves out of the genepool? I'm proposing a new honor for financial idiocy. Instead of losing your life, you lose your money! I'm thinking I'll call it the Franklin Award.

ATMs take customer deposits. Pretty simple, really; insert card (as for every other transaction, yes?) enter PIN (again, just like taking money out or checking the balance) and from there choose the "Deposit" option and follow instructions. Eventually you insert an envelope containing said deposit of checks or cash into an envelope-slot on the machine. The slot is only "open" or activated during the deposit process to keep random things from being shoved into it and to make sure that each deposited envelope receives a printed validation from the machine.

I've seen some pretty weird stuff when sorting the ATM deposits: someone who decided against an envelope and inserted individual bills into the machine, one at a time; someone who attempted to deposit coins. But the other day we had a girl come in and complain that her ATM deposit never got posted to her account.

Turns out she was skipping that whole "use your ATM card at the ATM" thing and merely shoving the envelope between the ATM and the wall. Like, into this narrow little crack (not really even big enough to fit the envelope into!) where the wall-mounted ATM sits against the drywall. How did she think that this qualified as "making a deposit"? HOW? My supervisor was on the phone with the ATM people all that morning, trying to find out if they could send a technician to dismantle the ATM and get this winner her check back.

Seriously, Franklin Awards! They'll catch on! The really funny thing is that she insists that she's been "making deposits" this way for two years, and that they've all gotten into her account fine. Yeah, and I send mail by owl post and it always arrives!

You are The Tower

Ambition, fighting, war, courage. Destruction, danger, fall, ruin.

The Tower represents war, destruction, but also spiritual renewal. Plans are disrupted. Your views and ideas will change as a result.

The Tower is a card about war, a war between the structures of lies and the lightning flash of truth. The Tower stands for "false concepts and institutions that we take for real." You have been shaken up; blinded by a shocking revelation. It sometimes takes that to see a truth that one refuses to see. Or to bring down beliefs that are so well constructed. What's most important to remember is that the tearing down of this structure, however painful, makes room for something new to be built.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Well, that's surprising. Go figure...