Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What have I done?

Sunday night, Don and I were 'social'. We 'went out' and 'did stuff with other people'... the dog was confused. Where did they go? Why aren't they at home? His company's holiday party first, held in the hotel. I've gotten so used to working with a very small group of people that seeing the crowd that Don works with is a little overwhelming. Where I work, you know not only your coworkers names but their life stories as well. Where Don works, half the people there are on a nod-and-smile-because-you-can't-remember-their-names basis. Afterwards we changed and went to play darts with some friends from the bookstore.

Darts. Who knew? I have always stayed away from darts, and anyone who knows me and my pitiful klutziness would understand why... sharp pointy objects being thrown? Not a good idea for Mara, right? I kind of figured that I would completely, totally suck at darts, extrapolating from 'sucking at pool', 'sucking at bowling', and 'sucking at all sports'. But darts is so much better than any of those things! First of all, anyone can at least hit the dartboard at least most of the time.
Unlike bowling, where the ball will dive into the gutter any chance it gets, or pool, where maybe you get your ball in, or maybe you accidentally get your opponent's ball in, scoring a point for them, or maybe you get the cue ball in, which for some reason doesn't count. But in darts, once the dart is thrown at the board, there's maybe a 30% chance of it hitting something that is helpful for your team. For example, twice I hit a bulls-eye (the little red circle in the middle, for the uninitiated) and once got a triple-19, just by sheer dumb luck. That almost never happens in, say, bowling, where so much strength and skill is required that luck doesn't count for much. And, my arm didn't even hurt the next day. Also, in darts the total score is scribbled on a chalk board, but unlike electronically-scored bowling, nothing is keeping track of every gutter-ball in an embarrassing fashion, showing a neat line of zeros marching alongside your strange bowling-alley abbreviated name.

Don loves darts. He is wonderfully skilled, but is that any surprise? Any game played in a bar, he is good at. He used to hustle pool. He plays left-handed to give himself a handicap, to make it more challenging. Sunday was the first time in maybe six years that he's played darts and he still kicked ass. At the end of the night, when Jen-from-the-bookstore-and-Co. were determining when we'd play again, it went kind of like this: "So we'll do this again two weeks from now, and Don, you come and PLAY ON OUR TEAM and oh yeah, Mara, you come too..."

And Don's playing again after so long, it's like reigniting a fire, or falling off the wagon or something. On the way home, he rhapsodized about the many ways we can now incorporate darts into our lives... "We can buy darts! And a dartboar, and hand it in your room, and we can practice at home before going out! But not the cheap plastic kind... real darts"

What have I done?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Please Don't Annoy the Barista, Part 2

Things to do while ordering in a coffee shop that will slowly drive the person behind the counter to insanity:

1. Mispronounce everything. I don't mean the overly-complicated Italian names--anyone can get those wrong. But the simple stuff? Latte is pronounced by most of us as LAH-tay, not lah-TAY. Man do I hate hearing "I'll have a tall vanilla lah-TAY, heavy on the vanilla." Lah-TAY sounds both pretentious and misguided. A lots of people precede their drink order by the word "caffe". It means "coffee", basically, but that doesn't mean they're pronounced the same way. It's a little confusing/annoying to hear "I want a 'coffee' latte." Because of course we also sell... coffee. What do you want exactly?

2. Over-ordering. Not too much stuff, just too many words. You don't need the 'caffe' part of caffe mocha-- 95% of customers seem to understand that just a simple "mocha" works fine. And "caffe mocha latte"? Redundancy slows us down. "Breve latte"? SO redundant.

3. Use the word "just" out of context. "Just" implies that you're going to order something very basic and simple. "Just a small cup of coffee for me tonight" is correct. "I'll just have a Venti caramel Frappuccino, make that Lite, with whipped cream and extra drizzle" There is nothing JUST about that statement. What are you trying to imply, that it's somehow less work if you vocally minimize it with a "just"? That you honestly don't realize that you're a complicated, high-maintenance orderer?

4. Me: (smiling) "Hi, how're you doing this eve--"
Her: (interrupting) "I need a whatever, large, extra this and that."
OK. I try to be friendly or at least cheerful with every customer. The damned least you can do is let me finish saying hello before you barge ahead, unsmiling, with your order.

5. Claim to "need" your drink. You don't NEED a white-chocolate mocha. You WANT a mocha. Perhaps you WOULD LIKE a mocha. It really rankles to hear people claim to "need" specialty $4.00 coffee drinks as though it's a roof over their head or a winter coat on their back. I read somewhere that the average American family has $9,000 in credit card debt and basically nothing in savings-- how much does confusing needs with desires contribute to that situation, I wonder? A polite order would sound like this: "Hi, I would like..."

6. Order caffeinated drinks for your kids. Just a hint: those mocha Frappuccinos have as much caffeine as a latte, even if they do taste like a coffee milkshake. Mochas and flavored lattes are caffeinated as well, unless you specify decaf. I guess if you let your kids drink Coke then giving them a cup of coffee doesn't make the biggest difference, but have you ever thought about limiting the quantities of drugs in their systems until they hit adolescence? And, it might contraindicate the Ritalin.

7. Demonstrate a complete lack of irony. One woman comes to the counter to buy a book and a drink. The book is Weight Loss Wisdom: 365 Successful Dieting Tips . The drink is a venti toffee-nut latte, made with whole milk and whipped cream. The drink has 580 calories. 25 grams of fat. I think that may be in the book somewhere, and no, I don't think the book was for a friend.

On the bright side, last night I went to bed, fell asleep, and stayed asleep for 6 hours! I never thought something so simple could make me so happy. If I could only have slept in, too, instead of getting up for work... But still. My head is clear for the first time in days. I'm not fantasizing about taking a nap.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

In My Room

There are a lot of things that I love about this house here in Virginia. I like that it is really a house instead of an apartment; a house in a tree-filled, walkable neighborhood instead of a concrete-covered complex. I love the fact that because it's tiny, it's a breeze to clean; and almost every room is a corner room with windows on two sides. But the single best, number-one thing has got to be having a second bedroom again. I think for a couple living together, having some kind of separate space is important, a place to 'be' that is not the living room or bedroom. For me, it's this room.

It's actually really small, smaller than it looks here-- I was squished in the corner by the door to take this picture. Having a room that's a catch-all makes every other room serve it's own purpose a little better.

Having this table (Thirty dollar! And a place to keep the sawhorses!) means that the dining table in the kitchen is just for eating-- it's not covered in craft materials or puzzle pieces, the way the dining table in Texas perpetually was. It's nice to be able to sit down for dinner across the table from each other. It's like a restaurant, but with cooking your own food and doing dishes after. Ok, maybe it's just like having a kitchen table and chairs.

This is the desk that Don and I made from scratch last year. Remember this? Now it holds the computer and printer, desk supplies and files and stuff, so they're not in the living room anymore. No computer in the living room-- it's almost like we're not college students anymore! Oh, wait. We aren't.

This poor overworked bookcase is holding practically my entire collection of books-- lots more stacked above, and two more boxes beside. It's looking forward to the day that we put in some bookcases in the living room. Hello, Ikea! In the meantime, it's nice to have them out of the cartons and available. I missed them!

One day Don and I will buy a real sofa, something nice. Then we can move the futon into this room and make it a guest bedroom as well. And, our living room will look even less like a college place because, no futon!


Since my birthday last week, I've had a single night of real sleep. I don't know what's wrong, but every night it's tossing and turning, waking every time I manage to fall asleep. I'm trying everything I can think of:

Cutting back on caffeine; not that I drink a lot of it, but I've cut back to the one mocha or macchiato of the morning. No caffeine after noon.

Eliminating alcohol: drinking even a little bit seems to keep me up at night.

Going to bed earlier, getting up earlier. Trying to maintain a consistent pattern. Although it's hard to get up earlier when you haven't had much sleep to begin with.

Having Don sleep in the living room, to avoid the snoring. Didn't help, although it helped his neck a lot. But I still didn't sleep. And it was even worse without him there, I think.


Hot baths or showers before bed.

Avoiding the tv before bedtime. You know, all the colors and noise and ideas. Last night we just never turned it on.

And I'm still getting outside with the dog everyday for a little fresh air and exercise. This is basically every physical thing I can think of, and none of it has helped for shit. I'm not upset or emotionally worked up over anything. Not depressed. Not stressed out. Everything in my life seems like it's going ok, so I really don't think it's an emotional issue. And I don't usually have to be at work until 11:00 in the morning, so even not sleeping at night isn't as stressful as it might be-- you know with that "Oh crap it's 3:00am now and I have to be at work at 8:30 which means I have to be up by 7:00 at the latest which means that I won't have even 5 hours of sleep which means I'll probably screw something up at work and get in trouble..."-- none of that, even.

I know that insomnia can come with the onset of old age, but I wouldn't think it'd be like, "Ding! 26! Time to stop sleeping!" I'm getting just enough every night, maybe 4 hours or so, to stay sane and not completely lose it. The good news is that I'm definitely getting an increase of hours at the bank to almost-full-time, so I'll be able to quit Job #2 at the end of February. I'm thinking that might help, because I work until midnight 3 times a week, which might be messing with my sleep cycles. Although why that would only start now when I've been working there since November I've no idea.

I'm also getting some new responsibilities at the bank soon-- opening accounts, doing wire transfers, that kind of thing. I don't know if it's an actual promotion or raise or just more work, but either way I'm glad. I'd rather be learning new things, trying something new than just doing the same-old same-old. The idea of another raise already is almost scary, like too much good news or something... although I'm sure I'll adjust to the idea quickly if it happens!

I spent all weekend cleaning the house and sorting out my room. My room! The second bedroom of the house, also known as the study/library/sewing room/guest room. It's where all the extra boxes of stuff have been stored since the move, mainly boxes of books since we don't have bookcases here. It's all sorted now, all boxes have dissapeared except for two remaining cartons of books that just won't have a home until we buy shelves. My desk looks great in here, and I have a new worktable, too-- it will be a sewing place soon but right now is the jigsaw puzzle table. It's just a hollow-core closet door from Lowe's ($30!) on top of Don's sawhorses. Cheap and perfect.

Pictures of my wonderful little room to follow, as soon as I can get it together to take picture and post them.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

January Franklin Awards

About a month ago I mentioned creating a new award, like a Darwin Award for banking, the Franklin. I think I've found this month's contender, a girl who brings financial knowledge to a whole new low. This is an (I swear!) un-embellished conversation between this customer and my coworker, Kristin.

Girl: Um yeah, hi. I'm trying to find out why I haven't gotten a statement for my credit card yet in the mail.

Kristin: Ok. How long have you had the card? Because it takes a few weeks, sometimes a month.

Girl: I've had this card for a couple of months now! I keep using it but haven't gotten anything in the mail for it.

Kristin: A couple of months with no statement? Let me check it out. (brings up girl's accounts on the computer system.) I'm not seeing a credit card under your profile... are you sure the card is with this bank?

Girl: Of course it is! It says (insert bank's name) right on the card!

Kristin: If you have the card with you I can take a look at it. (Gets card from girl.) Ummm... this isn't a credit card, it's a debit card. Like, a check card?

Girl: I know that, but whenever they ask me 'credit or debit', I say 'credit'! That makes it a credit card, right?

Kristin: .....

Kristin: (mightily refraining from inappropriate comments like 'How did you ever get into this university' or 'Are you blond underneath') No, hon, all it does is make you sign for it instead of using your PIN. Any time you use your check card that money's gonna come right out of your checking account. It never works like a credit card. A credit card is something you have to apply for separately, and it won't say 'debit' on the front.

Girl: .... (thinking seriously)

Girl: So is that why those transactions keep showing up on my checking account statement?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Low-Rise Long Johns and Airborne Birthday Cake

It finally got cold here in Virginia, in keeping with the rest of the country. I leave Texas looking for snowier climes, and who gets the winter storm? Texas. Here we just have clear, cold, and breezy. Yesterday I was reduced to wearing long underwear under my dress pants for work, because the pants are thin and I have a quarter-mile walk after I get to work. Everything worked fine except for the waistband, which is higher than I'd ever wear a pair of pants and required strategic stuffing, tucking and rolling in order not to show over the pants waist. So attention, underwear manufacturers: the time is right for low-rise long johns. Something that will fit cleanly beneath the sleekest, most stylish trousers.

Yesterday: my birthday, the big 2-6. I feel newly old, wise, mature... yeah right! Maybe if I didn't keep getting mistaken for a University student. It was actually a wonderful birthday and I was surprised, because the first part was kind of...meh. Had to work, work was crazy, etc etc. But when I got home there was a package from my parents waiting on the porch. My mom sent, in addition to birthday presents...

One homemade carrot cake
One tub of frosting
One plastic knife
A package of birthday candles
Detailed instructions regarding the cake, including "Have Don sing Happy Birthday" and "Make a wish"

Enough to make someone cry, really. My mom makes the best carrot cake. Then Don came home and took me out to dinner; to a fancy place, the kind of restaurant you dress up for. And gave me a beautiful necklace. And... yeah. A good birthday.

P.S. If there's anyone out there who happens to turn 26 on January 21st... Happy Birthday and God bless.

Monday, January 15, 2007

New Song

Apparently, Don and I have a new 'our' song. I was not consulted about this, but we seem to have migrated from heavy metal to country, from sexy to sappy sweet. But, who can complain? Every time we're in the car and this song comes on, he sings along (off-key) and pokes me in the leg for any lyrics he finds applicable.

"She's Everything"
Brad Paisley

She's a yellow pair of running shoes
A holey pair of jeans
She looks great in cheap sunglasses
She looks great in anything
She's I want a piece of chocolate
Take me to a movie
She's I can't find a thing to wear
Now and then she's moody

She's a Saturn with a sunroof
With her brown hair a-blowing
She's a soft place to land
And a good feeling knowing
She's a warm conversation
That I wouldn't miss for nothing
She's a fighter when she's mad
And she's a lover when she's loving

And she's everything I ever wanted
And everything I need
I talk about her, I go on and on and on
'Cause she's everything to me

She's a Saturday out on the town
And a church girl on Sunday
She's a cross around her neck
And a cuss word 'cause its Monday
She's a bubble bath and candles
Baby come and kiss me
She's a one glass of wine
And she's feeling kinda tipsy
She's the giver I wish I could be
And the stealer of the covers
She's a picture in my wallet
Of my unborn children's mother
She's the hand that I'm holding
When I'm on my knees and praying
She's the answer to my prayer
And she's the song that I'm playing

She's the voice I love to hear
Someday when I'm ninety
She's that wooden rocking chair
I want rocking right beside me
Everyday that passes
I only love her more

Yeah, she's the one
That I'd lay down my own life for
And she's everything I ever wanted
And everything I need
She's everything to me
Yeah she's everything to me
Everything I ever wanted
And everything I need
She's everything to me

And I'll have you know that it takes more than one glass of wine to make me tipsy... more like one and a half. And really, who doesn't steal covers?

Friday, January 12, 2007

New Year

I finally got pictures up from the trip. We took almost 400, so I just kind of picked a few. Every day with the hiking and the mountains and the canyons--it was wonderful. I feel so blessed, so grateful to have such a close-knit family; even though my sister and I are grown we still take family vacations together with my parents. It's a bittersweet feeling, because that was probably the last time that it will ever be just the five of us. Don was invited on this trip but couldn't make it, next time he'll be with us, and maybe my sister's boyfriend, and eventually we'll have our own family as well.

My parents have bought a vacation house in New Mexico that we will all be using from now on-- they've given Don and me carte blanche to crash there whenever, and probably K and her guy as well. It looks beautiful, and I keep imagining future vacations-- just the two of us, or my entire clan, or maybe with new babies-- mine? My sister's? I think, I hope that having this family vacation place will help to keep us close, even as we branch out. I want us to remain the kind of family that voluntarily spends time together-- hard-earned vacation time. Maybe we'll take up skiing.

So it's January again. I love January, and not just because it's my birthday month either. I love the clean, fresh-washed feel of a new year; all the decadence and splurge of Christmas washed away; everyone looking forwards with goals and resolutions. I went back through my blog to look up last year's goals to see how I'd done in 2006. Answer... not bad. Not great, but decent. The most-achieved category were the financial goals, the least being dietary changes. It was harder than I thought it'd be to stay out of debt, and I've got a bit now that needs paying off again. Yo-yo dieting? No, try yo-yo budgeting.

But, I try to look at debt as a income-to-debt ratio. If you make, say, $25,000 (just an example, read nothing into that please) and have $1,000 in debt, that's like what, 1/25? Equal to one (gross) 2-week paycheck. But if you make $25,000 and have $6,000 in debt, you owe like a quarter of your yearly income before it's even made! This makes me feel pretty good about the little bit o' debt that I have, because I know I can pay it off in the next few weeks-- it's not even enough to make a goal over. And, my Discover card is back in hiding and out of my wallet. My 401(k) goal rocked. Seriously, I didn't know how easy it'd be to set it up and put money there. I only kept track of my spending for 3 months, but really that was enough. I'm not that 'detail oriented', really.

Breakfast every day? Ha! Only if a Starbucks Grande non-fat Caramel Macchiato counts as breakfast. But, I didn't gain any weight for the year and even lost a few pounds in Big Bend-- must have been all the walking up and down mountains.

Don's and my real goal for 2006, though, was to get the heck out of Dallas and into greener pastures. Check! One cross-country move ticked off the list. This year I'm not going to make a list of goals . Rather, I'm going to go for smaller, monthly goals to keep things interesting--small changes, nothing major, just something to challenge. My goal for the weekend is to clean the apartment, set up my new work table w/ the sewing machine, and stock up on groceries. As I said... nothing major!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Terlingua: Not a Ski Town

Man. I have about six post's worth of stuff swirling around right now, and no way to get it all out except for my favorite, the rambling stream of consciousness! This was seriously an amazing vacation. Amazing amazing amazing. I'm the first to admit that a hiking-based trip is not my favorite kind of vacation; give me a big city with cafes and art museums and I'm happy. But, hiking is good too! Who knew? My brother and I took about 400 photos between us-- coming soon to a blog near you!

So, my entire family-- parents, brother, sister, me-- squeeze into one vehicle and drive the 10 hours from Dallas to Big Bend National Park. Big Bend is that green area there in the very southern tip of Texas, bordered by the Rio Grande. My dad very recently purchased one of these new smaller SUV's and let me just say that they don't really comfortably hold 5 normal-sized adults with a week's worth of luggage. The fact that we were all still on speaking terms on arrival is kind of miraculous.

The drive between Interstate 20 and the park is very remote; we'd go half an hour at a time without seeing another vehicle. The park itself is remote, too. No cell phone reception, no TV's in the lodge rooms, no Internet. Hiking, kayaking the Rio Grande, and communing with nature are really the only things to do out there, but there's enough of that to go around. The nearest town is the ghost town Terlingua, which we visited twice. If you think that you know Texas because you've lived in Dallas your whole life (like me) and have maybe driven out to Austin and San Antonio a few times, let me tell you that you have to see this park, 'cause you don't know Texas. Texas has mountains! Cliffs! Gorges! Wild pig-like creatures called javalinas! Fantastic photos to follow soon, with explanatory text and stories!

My trip back to Virginia yesterday was... interesting. Had to be at DFW at 7:20am for my flight. They begin boarding. They stop the boarding. They reverse-board, because the plane is very broken-- something about loose screws ripping up fan-blades that are supposed to be perfectly calibrated. They announce that this particular aircraft is going to be "grounded" for a few days (I love that, because it sounds like the plane has misbehaved) and because they don't keep extra planes sitting around for things like this, our flight is canceled. Every single person on that flight has to be re-routed through other airlines, terminals, and cities to get where they're going-- the line for getting re-routed takes more than an hour. I get routed through Cincinnati on a flight that leaves from the other side of the airport four hours later. But, at DFW it's very easy to get from one terminal to another with the Sky-line-rail-thingie. I know I sound biased but DFW really is the best airport in it's class. Well-laid-out, easy to understand and navigate, heavy on the Starbucks. Especially compared with crazy places like the Cincinnati airport, which was utterly weird. I'm not exactly an airport virgin-- I've been through La Guardia and JFK, O'Hare and Detroit, Washington Dulles, San Fransisco. Never anything like yesterday, though... I was wandering around lost like some kind of hayseed. It seems like that place is stacked up in layers instead of being sprawled out horizontally, and the terminal at which I landed was some kind of reject leftover, tacked onto the very end.

Because my new flight plans were made so suddenly, I got to be on the list for the Special Search every time I went through security, at each airport. Yay for the 15-minute search of the backpack, in which all the little Chanukah presents are poked through and swabbed for explosives; for the physical pat-down, the new air-puffy thing (also for explosives). I pointed out at Cincinnati that I'd just come off of an airplane and hadn't left the airport but it made no difference-- "detailed search" was apparently encoded into my ticket. I wonder if the hundred or so other passengers that I was originally scheduled to fly with had to do the same thing.

Still, if the original plane was broken, I'd much rather be canceled and re-routed and delayed than, you know, dead. I'd rather them figure out ahead of time that the plane needs repairs than search through wreckage trying to figure out what went wrong. I only got in six hours later than planned, and the flights themselves were perfect, so no harm.