Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Rest of the Johnny Rockets Story

Over at, I am posting a sweet story this Friday about eating dinner at Johnny Rockets at Greenwood Park Mall and betting on which child would cry on Santa's lap after waiting an hour to see him. (OK, maybe that's not your idea of fun. Given the right stressors, I define it in sadistic ways, I guess.)

But I left out a big chunk of the story, mainly because I trashed another restaurant earlier this week and didn't want to get a reputation for being a Scrooge. And believe me, it was one of those classic get outta here moments for 2009.

<-- But is it safe to eat?

We were very upfront about why we chose to eat there, and specifically asked for the booth where we could play our game. The hostess was quite perky, telling us all about how her own daughter was one of the screamers. She also passed this information along to our waitress, who started out equally as chipper.

But the more we watched the seasonal entertainment, the more she tried to interrupt our meal with conversation threads that were just weird. For instance, when she brought the patty melt, she asked me to critique it for her. Was it as good as Steak n Shake's? She loves Steak n Shake -- did I like Steak n Shake? She really should have ordered a patty melt for dinner, because she likes it without onions, too, but she kept passing out so she ate chicken.


On the next pass through to make sure we were well stocked on ketchup, she again felt compelled to give us her health report. "Yah, I haven't eaten in like 8 days. Maybe that's why I'm passing out? Why do you think I'm passing out?" I was starting to wonder if I had the Red Cross symbol tattooed on my forehead or something. Believe me, at no time have I ever been mistaken for a medical professional of any kind. Not even a receptionist in the waiting area.

I pulled my eyes away from the Santa scene long enough to suggest she could try drinking water if she'd been drinking soda, as many people don't realize Coke actually dehydrates you. "Oh, I never drink sodas. Well, today I've been drinking Sprite because I threw up and thought that might settle my stomach."


Where do you go with the conversation at that point? Ask her to describe the scene? Suggest foods that can be vomited easily? Invite her to select a child to bet on in the Santa line?

I realize garnering sympathy for your situation is one approach to earning a bigger tip, but she wasn't even accomplishing that. Frankly, I was afraid of her. And if I am suddenly sick for the holidays, you can blame the dumb blonde with the tag saying she's from Whoville.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Disney Finally Apologizes

I just received an online greeting card from Walt Disney Travel Company, bless their little hearts. I'm going to watch the animated Mickey Mouse ears appear on the snowman, who fades to a frosty castle scene at least 84 times to make sure they're really saying happy holidays this time.

You see, last Christmas Eve, we came home from New Albany to find a message from Walt Disney World on our caller i.d. How cute — Mickey wanted to thank me for being part of the team and wish me a happy holiday. Those folks at Disney sure have customer service down to an art form.

<-- You owe me, Mickey.

Except the message wasn’t that lovable squeaky voice. It was Teresa informing me that the Wong family vacation would be canceled by 5 p.m. if I didn’t contact them with final payment. I nearly passed out – this family of five would be on a plane in a handful of days. We’d spent hours selecting the right hotel and getting dinner reservations. I had a receipt for the final payment, so obviously there was a mistake on Disney’s end — but that wouldn’t matter to a hill of mouse droppings if they had, indeed, erased the reservation and opened up the slots to the throng of holiday vacationers qued up for their shot at happy holidays.

My only hope was to be the first caller on the agent line on December 26. Try worrying that over in your mind for 24 hours – no, that wasn’t excitement fueling me on Christmas. I was nervous, jumpy and sick to my stomach (which explains some of the hideous photos Ron managed to take of me. Except the ubiquitous butt shots he likes to snap). And once the world resumed normal operations — yea for me, I was the first caller, unlike my luck with radio contests — it turned out they’d assigned two numbers to the same reservation. My client was fine all along.

But come on, Santa, I still think Mickey needs a time out for that little scare.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sorry, Really Wrong Number

I rarely pick up our household phone line if I don't recognize the caller. On the other hand, I also give it out to clients as an emergency way to contact me, so when the caller id read "New Jersey cell phone," I figured I'd better respond even though I couldn't recall a single New Jersey resident I'm working with at the moment.

So I said the usual "Hello," which triggered the strangest recording in telephone history. "Oh, we're very sorry for dialing the wrong number. If you would like to be taken off our list, call (800) blah-blah-blah-blah."


A recording knows it has the wrong number by the fact I said hello? Or that I answered in the first place? Wow. The Do Not Call list is a useless piece of legislation these days, isn't it?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Toddlers: Best Audience for a Smart Alec

This Sunday was my turn to work the nursery during services. It's always a whiff of burning sulfer, designed better than any sermon to keep you on the straight and narrow toward heaven, if you know what I mean.

My special challenge this week was Isaac, who is not yet two and going through his separation anxiety stage. Which is a fancy psychobabble meaning, "cries for his mommy until you do, too."

Now this is not the first crying toddler I've rocked, held and comforted by a long shot. So I know the drill. You try to talk to him, distract him with toys and Cheerios, and if that doesn't work, you simply spend your hour and a half carrying a sobbing child on your hip. A few pats on the back now and then and it's all good.

Except I couldn't just stop there. I gave in to the temptation to carry on an adult, smart-alec conversation with him that went something like this: "If you want to cry the entire time Isaac, that's what's going to happen here and I can't stop you. But I will insist that we walk over here to the Kleenex and wipe your snotty nose on a regular basis before I get that on my sleeve. It skeeves me out and I don't like to pay dry cleaning bills."

At this he took a shuddering breath, and said, 'O-tay" while nodding his head in agreement. Geez, since when did the diapered set start taking me so seriously?

Friday, September 25, 2009

My NYC Terrorist Plot Connection

I can't believe how small the world is.

Yah, yah, I've spent 24 years as a journalist, so you'd think I'd get used to having lots of contacts. But typically, that translates to occasionally calling the same business consultant twice to help me with different stories. (My number one source: a tossup between Tax Mama Eve Rosenberg and Donald Moine, both of whom I've called at least 7 times now).

It doesn't usually mean you start reading about an arrest that stopped a terrorist attack in NYC and stumble across this:

At Beauty Supply Warehouse in suburban Denver, Paul Phillips said a co-worker told investigators he had sold chemicals to Zazi. Company president Karan Hoss said the firm turned over security video of a man matching Zazi's description to the FBI. A check of sales found that someone bought a dozen 32-ounce bottles of a hydrogen peroxide product in July. More was purchased in late August, Hoss said.

Get outta here! I profiled Karan for Beauty Store Business. I redialed him for inventory advice in the same magazine. I'm connected to him on Linked In, one of the only 70 people in his network.

Now if that doesn't make you feel important before noon, I don't know what will.

Nor is this my only connection to terrorist-stopping heros. Remember Kwame James, the guy who subdued Richard "Shoe Bomb" Reid and prevented him from blowing up American Flight 63? He was a basketball player my brother coached. And I have yet to connect the dots, but someone on a scrapbooking chat board with me was also behind the NYC arrest this week.

Now if I could parlay all this into a chance to meet Mel Gibson, I'll consider it a life well lived.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Not By the Hair on Her Chinny, Chin Chin

Friends know me as the one who is always trying something new ... and it is usually has a business/monetary slant.

So this fall, I've started working for CSC, which many Hoosiers know as "those people in the red jackets and yellow shirts at the Colts game." Let's see, a job where I tell them when I want to work, and entails being friendly to people, checking their tickets and giving directions while I get to see a professional football game. What's not to like about that?

Apparently, my co-workers. In the first few events I covered, I met folks like Melvin, who has to be the happiest guy on the planet, and Andy, a construction worker by day who has helped guard the locker room area on game weekends for 5 years now. Last week, I spent the afternoon checking tickets in the suites alongside a couple married 50 years — which anyone could have guessed by the way she told him how to wear the pager system and the patient way he ignored her.

A good friend, on the other hand, kept running into strangers who bummed money off of her in the break room. I figured that was just bad luck of the draw for her.

But then there was Linda. She started out as a very considerate co-worker who even bought me a hot dog on her own initiative during her lunch break, and hesitated to accept my dollar in repayment, even though an earlier conversation had revealed money is tight for her right now.

It was a delicious hot dog, but I'll forever wonder what hers was laced with because after that meal break, Linda asked me out of the blue how long my fingernails were. Thank God I reverted to an old habit and chewed them down to the quick the night before, because if I'd had my usual claws, the next few minutes could have been even more uncomfortable.

It seems Linda had a hair on her chin line that was driving her crazy -- would I please pull it for her? I pleaded that my nails were too short. I told her I couldn't see it. And still she insisted. "Just feel it, right here. You don't have to see or anything. It's very rough, I'm sure you can get it."

Get outta here. Since when do I look like a pair of tweezers from CVS?

She pouted for a minute or two, then went back to a normal conversation. My mind was spinning with ways to excuse myself and find another post when a fellow CSC employee strolled by, spied the men's room door behind Linda's head, and asked if he could duck in. "Sure," she told him, "but you have to pull this hair out of my chin first."

He, too, tried to get out of it, but all I can guess is that the urge to piss finally won. This man reached out, felt up her face and yanked the hair out of its follicle just before he crashed through the bathroom door.

I think he'd have preferred that she hit him up for money.

Photography: anselm (Flickr)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Take Your Dog to the Beach Day is a Wash

My dog adores water.

Dribbler is Mr. Wild Child at the groomer's, until she sticks him in a tub. He loves to play ball with people in the swimming pool, and getting splashed in the face is his favorite part. Once when he was upset at the vet's, I suggested they stick him in a tub and he calmed right down.

<---What part of no don't you understand?

So for the last five years, we've talked about taking our Labrador up to Lake Michigan for the day, where he could romp in the waves to his heart's content. (We punish him if we catch him in the swimming pool, as dog hairs and filters/chlorine are natural enemies.) Today was the day we stopped talking about it, set our alarm clocks for 8 alarms on a Saturday (ugh) and loaded the dog in the back of the SUV.

We took more than four hours to get up there, thanks to whoever decided this morning was a great time to shut down I-65 and route all traffic into winding country roads. We paid $7 to park on an empty beach, got out of the car wearing jackets in the 65-degree breeze and led our water-logged lab to the edge of that rolling water. Wasn't it glorious? Wasn't he excited?

No. That dog ran in the opposite direction. He clung to our legs. The one time he got splashed, Dribbler went into a shaking meltdown. We tried a 30-minute dose of this torture before finally calling it quits. We meandered back home, taking frequent doggie bathroom breaks along the way.

So we couldn't figure out why he was so excited to get home. It's not as if we asked him to hold it or anything. He ran through the house to the back door and shot out with all the intense urgency of a dog on a mission. He flew past the flag he always stops and looks at without his usual salute. He ignored his ball, and the favorite piece of grass where he likes to squat.

He ran straight down the steps of the pool and into that forbidden zone, bold as you please with us standing right there watching.

Get outta here. Our big, highly anticipated day ended with us punishing a wet dog who had the nerve to look pleased with his little stunt. If I find out he's behind the interstate detour, he's going to get it all over again.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Trials of a Night Owl

It's amusing how many people call themselves night owls, but actually turn in at 11 p.m. or — gasp! — midnight.

When I say night owl, I mean I think about going to bed at 2 a.m., just as soon as I get done with my treadmill routine and the All My Children episode I Tivoed that day. Or after I fuss around with my latest scrapbook page or write an article due in the morning.

Which makes my average bed time between 3:30 and 4:00. In the morning.

A 3 a.m. production ----->

Now I realize this isn't in step with the rest of the world, even if we do have more restaurants like La Bomba staying open all night because bean burrito attacks are so important to address any time of the day. Sure, Kroger and some pharmacies also have their lights on and an employee or two on duty. But only a handful of us actually take advantages of these opportunities, compared to the 4 p.m. crowd. So if I need to be up and functioning for my job at 9 a.m., I suck it up and do it (and either go back to bed immediately or grab an afternoon nap).

But I do not consider answering telemarketer calls part of my job, and these bozos have been ringing my phone off the hook lately trying to sell me credit card protection. Nor was I happy with the 8:15 jingle this morning to let me know it's time to schedule my annual pap smear ... next March. I plan to return that call at HER 4 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Perhaps from my cell phone while buying a flea collar at CVS.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Well, That Didn't Exactly Work Out

So I've learned since trying to drum up votes for this Antarctica trip that this is the dumbest contest in the world.

Not the prize — the contest.

The web designers have made this thing so darn confusing, I wound up not having my own four votes count for myself. You see, after registering, this little button comes up and says "vote," and you click on it, thinking "There's my good deed for the day." It's a red herring. In reality, you have to wait until you get your verification email, click through on that link and then START ALL OVER AGAIN. As in from the beginning, searching for the blogger by name, then clicking on their link, waiting for the page to load. Only after all that rigamarole does the vote count.

So my sincere thanks to the 500 of you who did vote for me. Too bad Quark Expeditions will never reap the benefits of our awesome team, huh?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What Was I Thinking?

The moral of this story: don't sit down at the keyboard at 2 a.m.

So Friday night (Saturday morning, technically), I was futzing around on Twitter, looking for interesting people to follow. I clicked through on a blog talking about how you could win a trip to Antarctica with your 300-word blog entry on why you want to see this freezer up close.

My husband could probably come up with a plausible reason; I've always said I'd hang out in Buenos Aires until his ship returned. Julie and Antarctica do not belong in the same sentence, as I shiver at 75 degrees in July. But since this was a writing contest and my other option was to go to bed, I followed through to read the rules.

And that's where I made my mistake. You win by getting the most votes from your friends. It's not about who would be the best blogger for the audience and Quark Expeditions. The journalist in me saw red. Why would you give away a free trip to a blogger if you don't value good writing? So far, here is a sampling of the people who have a shot at winning this thing:

The Antarctic has a strange pull for many. It is an ethereal pull that transcends the influence the South Magnetic Pole has on a compass. A pull that seems to collect people from all walks of life to an environment that is harsh, even deadly, while presenting beautiful vistas and teaming life found nowhere else on our blue sphere of a planet. I wrote paragraphs like that when I was trying to reach a word count on a high school essay without actually reading the assignment.

I am an Antarctic historian and know a great deal about the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration, yet I have never seen the places that loom so large in my imagination. Spare me from academics who don't know what they're talking about.

If honored to be the recipient of this incredible adventure, I promise to Dream the Impossible Dream with the rest of the world, sharing not only my thoughts, and my music but my photographs and the powerful way only this sojourn will certainly change this humble and curious man. And may I humbly add that it's most curious why you would suddenly choose to capitalize in the middle of a sentence.

Ten days after defending my dissertation ... I got as far as "dissertation."

This opportunity is more than a chance to satisfy a personal dream, it’s a chance to share the story of a lifetime. I’ve read many articles and books from those who have visited the region, and what I can guarantee is an honest account of the Quark Tour experience. When the ship enters the Drake Passage you’ll read not only about the reaction of the passengers onboard, but also the reaction of the tiny ice ship as it cuts through those notorious waves. If I understand this correctly, those many articles and books must be lying if this gal's unique offering is to take an honest approach. And the only reaction I want from my tiny ice ship is that it remains in one piece. Beyond that, I don't give a rat's behind about its reaction, viewpoint, or opinion. I want it to keep its mouth shut and do its job.

So I decided to strike a blow for fun storytelling and defend good writing everywhere. I entered this contest by 4 a.m. — and now I need a mere 1,542 votes to catch up to the leader (someone who uses lots of exclamation points in his essay! Because he's the right person for the job! !!). I have until September 30 to reach voters, and you can only vote once. While I'm doling out bad news, it's one of those dumb registration deals so they can make sure you only vote once on your email address.

If you have a few minutes to help me out, I'd be most grateful for your support: Blog Your Way to Antarctica. My husband will appreciate his big chance to force me into something I said I'd never do.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why Should I Eat at Burger King?

My husband nearly drove off the road when I suggested grabbing dinner at Burger King the other night. I don't particularly crave their food, but I had a $5 gift card and sometimes you just have to eat cheap.

Which explains why I didn't know anything about the XL sandwich, and since my meal was almost free, I figured I would splurge and order the combo deal. After all, its photo looked — well, beefy — on the menu board. But I only wanted to commit if the burger didn't come with mushrooms or bbq sauce, and I'd ask them to hold the pickle, onion, ketchup and mustard if those were also part of the deal.

So I asked the teen standing at the register what came with the XL. "Depends on which variety you get," she said. Well, OK, explain it to me. She stared for a minute and said, "I don't make them, I don't eat them. I have no idea what's on those sandwiches. They used to have a chart here that listed that stuff, but someone stole it."

(Ahem, I'd just like to interject here that if she's not eating at Burger King, she's sure getting her food supply from somewhere because this certainly was not an anorexic waif. I'm thinking she's been sucking down the 1/2 price milkshakes next door at Steak n Shake twice as fast as the rest of the population. And I'd like to take issue with the idea that someone stole a cheat sheet on Burger King sandwiches. It's not exactly a hot item on eBay, now is it?)

Before I could pop my mouth off, my husband tried to head me off at the pass. "Well, could you ask someone who does know?" he suggested. She stared at him, sighed and griped, "Sure thing. I'll be glad to do that in the middle of a big rush."

I turned around: there was one occupied table in the entire unit. We were the only ones in line. I peered through the drive thru and saw ... cement. No cars, no bicycles, no goofballs placing an order on foot at that window. Unless there were 57 people hiding in the ladies room waiting to pounce on the kitchen with orders, we were it as far as customers go.

I did get my burger by basically dictating a custom order, and then we enjoyed further hassling over handing her a gift card she didn't know how to credit.

The sad thing is some poor Joe gave me that free meal as an incentive to get me to try BK burgers again. Instead, I decided I'd volunteer to be fried in the French fry vat before I'd go through that conversation again.

Photography: Pink Moose

Monday, June 29, 2009

I'll Be Back

Just wanted to drop by and say that I haven't abandoned this blog -- not by a long shot -- but a close friend of ours died suddenly in an accident, and this is a time for mourning at our house. I simply don't feel funny/ironic/sarcastic and I'm not looking at the world through normal glasses at the moment.

That will change. It always does. But for now, I need to take care of other emotions.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

When in Naples, Look Behind the Bushes

Naples' big attractions are supposed to be Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii. We did both in what you could call “sweating to the oldies” since the volcano involves climbing uphill over loose ash pebbles and the ancient city lacks shade.

But the real attention-getter? An impromptu walk along the streets of Naples, where we had the great timing to witness a vendor bust. As in 17 cop cars descended on a square to arrest the illegal street sellers. It was definitely an added entertainment bonus for the folks grabbing a pastry and coffee at the sidewalk cafes, too.

But you know, I’m a cop’s kid, so I’ve seen petty crime arrests before. It’s exciting on television — in real life it’s people filling out paperwork. So we went on our merry way, turned the corner to look at yet another cathedral in Europe, and saw something far more interesting.

A man hiding behind the potted plants, one hand wrapped around his signboard full of sunglasses, the other hand dialing the keypad on his cell phone. Which meant when I whipped out my camera to take a photo of this hilarious sight, he had his hands too full to do more than glare at me.

If I had some kind of control over fate, the cops would have seen what I was up to and come over to investigate, cooking this dude’s goose in the process. It would have been great revenge on every annoying street vendor who has tried to make me a deal over the years. That was my only hope, of course, since I can’t speak Italian beyond saying arrivederci in a decidedly American accent.

But I’m sure it was the one word this peddler wanted to hear me say.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Norwegian Dancer Light on His Feet — and Work Ethic

My favorite part of cruising starts every evening about 10 p.m. when the curtain goes up on the live entertainment stage. OK, the dude that played the bells that first night was a bit boring after one number.

Correction. Make that very boring. We walked out along after 15 minutes of politely trying to care.

But I was glued to my seat during the musical nights when the singers and dancers put on an hour of high action and talent for us. I tend to pick seats close to the stage (the better to try to rip off an illegal photo with the Nikon hidden in my purse), so after three separate performances, it’s no surprise I became familiar with their faces.

Which is how I recognized the lanky European dancer working the breakfast buffet on our fourth morning of the cruise. I know these employees often do more than one job on a large ship, but typically the entertainers double as … well, someone entertaining. A tour conductor, the gal selling you Bingo tickets in the casino, etc. I’ve never seen one busted down to busboy duty.

Technically, I still haven’t. This kid kept my attention at first because he was a bit bow-legged and walked very oddly for someone with such a flexibility on stage. Second, he was so skinny, I couldn’t help but wonder how he kept those pants up around his hips. And in the midst of all this pondering, it came to my attention I never actually saw him pick up a dirty dish.

Whenever a family would abandon its table, Mr. Teenage Dancer subtly wandered down to the next section of the dining room, carefully looking in the opposite direction of the dishes with their scrambled egg remains. At one point, the table right under his nose became empty. He stood there staring at it for a second, glanced around to see who was watching, and sauntered away. A few minutes later, two regular Joes showed up and bussed the table for the next diners.

Ron and I sat there for a good half hour, specifically to laugh at this performance. We never saw him do a lick of work, unless you count trying to flirt with one of the girls. “If he keeps it up, that boy’s going to get his ass kicked from the rest of the dining crew,” my husband predicted.

We couldn’t stay long enough to see the end of that number, but he didn’t look anally challenged on stage that night, so I’m assuming he managed to dance past the consequences another day.

If anyone plans to take the Gem’s Mediterranean cruise this summer, email me. Not only can I get you a great deal, but I’ll point out this guy so you, too, can watch the side show.

Friday, May 29, 2009

iPhone Addiction Strikes Again

My husband has Fridays off. I had this fantasy where I, too, would not work on Fridays and thus we'd have wonderful 3-day weekends together. But we self-employed types scramble 365 days a year (yes, I've been known to do work on Christmas) and in the end, it simply wasn't practical.

But I could have lunch once in a while.

So around noon today, I walked out in the kitchen, where Ron was tapping away on his computer. "What are your lunch plans today?" Dead silence. "Well, I guess I'll just fix a bowl of Raisin Bran then and hit the bank." Dead silence.

I woof down my cereal to the sound of my own chewing, and head back in the office to fill out my deposit slip. And that's when Ron's almighty iPhone rang.

"Hey! Great! OK, I'd love to have lunch -- McDonald's, Burger King, Qdoba. I can meet you anywhere." Get outta here! Not 30 seconds earlier he was too engrossed in his work to take a break, and now he's headed to lunch (real lunch, not Raisin Bran) with a buddy? Them's fighting words.

Ron, as usual, looked pole-axed. "I didn't hear you. I guess I had other things on my mind." Yah, like apparently how important it is to answer the iPhone but not your wife standing right in front of you.

Next week, I've learned my lesson. If you want to talk to Ron, that's 317, 987 ...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Welcome to Spain — We Sell Expensive Toiletries

Sorry for the long pause in posts. I got caught up in jet lag and holidays this past week ...

Which is the same thing that happened to me on the Barcelona end as well. Now this was not my first transatlantic flight by a long shot. I know the rules of jet lag: Force yourself to stay awake and go to bed at the proper time in the country you are now in to get adjusted faster.

But I still hit that hotel room at Diagonal Zero, took one look at the bed and announced I was taking a nap. Sometimes, staying up for 48 hours straight simply isn't as easy as you wish it would be.

Neither is getting up an hour later, when the alarm goes off. Or two. Heck, after three hours of deep sleep, I finally grabbed at enough consciousness to stumble into the bathroom and turn on the shower. Surely hot water would get me back on my feet and out there exploring the city, like I'd paid $234 for this hotel to do.

And that's when I discovered that there is a curse on travelers who thumb their noses at the jet lag rules. I stuck my hand in my toiletry bag for the shampoo, and pulled out a gooey mess. The conditioner's contents had shifted big time during the flight, oozing all over everything in that compartment: Qtips, deodorant, hairbrush, rubber bands, cotton balls, razor. I spent the next hour washing off everything in my bag and making a shopping list of A) things I couldn't salvage and B) things I suddenly realized in the unpacking process that I'd left at home. Like ... oh, toothpaste that I'd bought 12 hours before the flight, and sunscreen that was in that same CVS bag.

Here's an ugly truth about shopping in Europe: These things cost more in Barcelona than they do Indianapolis. But at least they aren't goopy and they kinda make good souvenirs if you like trying to read the ingredients in Spanish.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No Hablo Espanol -- Please!

Foreign language instruction in school is a dangerous thing.

Oh, I'm all for sitting through two years of Spanish, French or German — as long as you either use it and get better or forget it completely. But if you're lost in the middle, you arrive in Barcelona, Spain and do really stupid things.

Like wander into a tapas bar and order paella negro. Heck, they even translated it for me as "dirty rice" right there on the menu. Which, of course, means "black beans and rice" for people like me who last sweated a Spanish exam in 1979 and think we still recall what was on that culture test.

Ask any counter person at Qdoba — Julie Sturgeon loves black beans and rice.

So naturally I said Sí — and 10 minutes later was staring down an unbelievably smelly skillet of rice, some kind of black coating and a big crawdad smack in the middle with mussels spread around as a bonus. I stared at it for a good three minutes trying to find the courage to stick my fork in that mess, steering around what looked like a dead cockroach, and take a bite. It was about as far from black beans and rice as you could get. Merde -- whoops. That's French, the only word I managed to pick up from my college roommate's vast store of foreign language knowledge.

I managed to tolerate about 6 bites, but the fact my husband was enjoying a nice chicken and a belly laugh the entire time wasn't helping. I finally coaxed half his chicken from his plate to mine, using the threat that I'd have to spend still more money filling up on the one word I could translate in that city if he didn't: Dunkin Donuts.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Toilet Paper: Wiping Away the Mystery

Yah, it's a picture of my bathroom closet.

Big chunks of time go by in Bloggerville without a good, reportable get outta here moment. Every day is the same: You get up, go to your job, work at whatever pays the bills until dinner, then go to bed and start the cycle again.

And then this week, I took a few personal moments, if you know what I mean, to open a magazine. Just my luck — stuck here and all I have is Consumer Reports. Not the greatest photos like my scrapbooking titles, but if you're going to be a while, it has some in-depth reading to keep you glued to your seat.

The May 2009 issue rates toilet paper.

That in itself was ironic enough. But you see, my husband has always insisted we buy Northern tissue. Not Cottonelle, not Angel, not White Cloud. God forbid I buy a store brand. I've spent 26 years in a personal relationship with Northern for reasons he could not explain to my satisfaction. (I accused him of having a thing for the little girls on the logo.) For Pete's sake, the man doesn't even use as much of it as I do, but somehow his quirky buying habits have ruled the shopping cart.

Now CR has rated Quilted Northern Ultra Plush at the top of its rankings. It won categories like softness and tearing ease. while the Soft and Strong version scores well on those plus disintegration. (OK, who sits on the crapper and worries about this kind of thing? As long as there is enough of it and it doesn't leave scratch marks, I'm good.)

So at last I have the answer to a 26-year mystery in our house: We buy Northern because my husband reads Consumer Reports on the john. He's lucky I don't make him wipe with that next week.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

So That's What You Call a Bible Thumper

I may have officially seen it all.

I was standing in the seasonal aisle at Hobby Lobby (yes, I hang out there enough to know it by its technical name), looking for crafts or geegaws or something to put in my niece and nephew's Easter baskets this year. When they start selling this stuff at 50 percent off a month before the holiday, you know it's all cheap crap, but then they are kids. Who cares if it's some off-brand toy trucked in by a nearly unknown distributor?

So I was rather happy to find color-it-yourself paddle balls. You know, the kind where they put a rubber ball on a piece of elastic and you whap the snot out of that ball with the paddle as it bounces back? I suppose it teaches coordination; I rarely get past 5 hits before I miss and the ball swings back and smacks me in the eye.

There's one with Easter eggs to decorate, and a sweet one with a lamb in the meadow, and oh, look! Here's one with a Bible.

A Bible? You want to hand a kid a Bible and let him smack the holy tar out of something with it? And if this toy ends up taking the same path in my nephew's house that it would have in my childhood, Dad will eventually rip off that little elastic appendage and use the paddle to tan his hide.

Whoohoo! Getting spanked by the Good Book. You don't think that will require counseling?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Southern Hospitality a Little Too Friendly

Today's post will not come with a photo. Believe me, you don't want one.

I've always preferred to travel in the South because that famous hospitality thing isn't a myth. Heck, even the mall bathrooms down here are very upscale -- nice tile floors, wide stalls with multiple coat hooks on the side to hang your purse and several shopping bags.

But it seems the previous users in these stalls want to share more of their life with me than I am comfortable with knowing. The first three stalls, in fact, left presents in the toilet. This, after checking out two stalls at the restaurant restroom the night before I found a blank slate, if you know what I mean.

I think we need to teach a few people down I-75 that is OK to reach back and use the flush handle.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Don't Pinch Me, I'll Be Irish!

I was standing in the closet, picking out today's clothes with the shower running to make sure the temperature in there was good and steamy, when I remembered the weather man said today would hit 70 degrees.

As I pivoted to the rack on the left side -- the one with short sleeves instead of sweatshirts -- I also recalled another fact. I needed to pick something green or I'd get pinched.

Yes, grade school memories can be that powerful. For starters, we're not Irish. My family background is English, in fact, so my ancestors weren't exactly yelling "Erin go braugh!" any day of the year. And second, my mother is a teetotaler. March 17 meant so little to her, she sent me to first grade wearing orange. I came home black and blue. Second grade was no better, except I'd wised up enough to try coloring a green shamrock and taping it to my shirt. My classmates said that didn't count and continued to pinch the hellfire out of me.

It was clearly time to take matters in my own hands. "Mom," I said with complete authority at dinner that night, "You need to circle this day on the calendar and tell me when it's coming so I wear green." She looked a little confused -- and just why were grade schoolers celebrating a bar holiday? Beat me, but I knew the rules. March 17, wear green or die. Forever. Even when you're 46.

Here's the sad part: I have no plans outside my house today. I'm not meeting anyone for lunch, I'm not picking up something at the grocery store or dropping off a check at the bank. We're having grilled cheese for dinner in our own kitchen. It's me, the dog and my husband, who won't join us until around 7 p.m. for a few hours until he hits the hay. (And trust me, if he pinches me, he understands he's going to get a mean right hook to the solar plexis.) The only person who would pinch me is me.

And I'm still wearing green.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

Study: Dow’s Decline Is Fastest for a New President in Nearly a Century

Well, isn’t it just my luck to be around to read that headline? I mean lots of people in this country are born, live their lives, die and never have to deal with an economic meltdown.

I don’t know why God chose me in particular to be among the millions on Earth for this event. You’d think if I were cut out for this, I wouldn’t A) have a passion for travel and B) a writing gig talking about restaurants and C) a dog who ate our expensive pool cover for the fifth year in a row. (This year, he also took out the patio furniture with his toenails.) You know, it’s probably not handy to have a scrapbooking hobby right about now, either.

On the other hand, I’ve never missed my grandpa more. Carl Burkhart lived through that big Depression in the 1930s, and the autobiography he wrote for us is full of hilarious stories of the times. How he bought a car when he didn’t have a clue how to drive it home. The conversations he had with people while running an elevator in a department store. The times he told his boss to shove it because he didn’t want to be treated that way — and walked away without a clue where his next job to feed his family would come from.

OK, that one’s probably more gutsy than funny. And I'm sure there were times he was nervous, scared, and frustrated just like we are today. But at the end of his life, that wasn't what he remembered strongly enough to write it down for future generations.

And my favorite part is that he continued to travel throughout the 1930s, even if it was to pile people in that car and head down the road two hours just to see what was there. He hitch-hiked. He hopped trains, which was illegal and I just want to go on record as not advocating illegal activities. He never quit dreaming of the places he would go and things he would see when he had the money. It never occurred to him that might not happen. He wanted it — he would make it so. He died having visited all 50 states.

I can just hear his comment reading that headline over my shoulder, “Hmmph. Do you have the money in the bank right now? Then go – the future has always been uncertain and they can’t take your memories away.”

I always said I wanted to grow up to be just like him. Looks like I've been handed that chance.

Photo credit: scazon

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Taco Bell Logic

So we drive down to Bloomington an hour before the game to have dinner with Kevin, our friend’s son who has the good luck to be a college student in 2009. Unfortunately, we still didn’t get it right, because Scotty’s Brewhouse was packed. We knew better than to even try Mother Bear’s.

There was no other choice than to hike across the street to Taco Bell, where all three of us visibly jumped when we saw the new Southwestern remodel.

“Wow, what else do you need in life except the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, a large Mountain Dew and a clean Taco Bell?” Kevin said.

Can I please be a college sophomore again?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Let's Get This Straight

Yes, it was my decision to perm my hair in November. Now it’s my prerogative to change my mind and want it straight again.

Apparently, however, this is not an entitlement.

My goddaughter says all I have to do is use a round brush with my hair dryer and blow it out straight. Well, honey, it’s obviously I’m an old person so I know that. And if I had that talent, do you think I’d be hunting all over hell’s half acre for a solution to an unwanted perm?

My friend’s daughter loaned me her flat iron to try. Sigh. An hour later and I had flatter frizz and an anxiety attack wondering how I’d find roughly 5 more hours in my week to style my hair this way.

A friend suggested I try an Aveda product called Hang Straight. I’m sure it’s effective for what the bottle says: smoothes flyaways, boosts shine, and resists humidity for curly or wavy hair. Not a peep about perms, and at $17.99 plus shipping for an online beauty store, it’s a lot of money to invest on a hope.

So I did the next best thing. I drug my friend’s daughter (Ms. Flat Iron Wizard) to Wal-greens with me one evening to hit the hair care aisle. She went nuts gushing over how Pantene’s Pro V Extra Straight shampoo and conditioner saved her life when she needed her hair to lie flat. We were off to a great start because it was on sale, 2 for $7 or something like that.

I had the styling gel in that set in the basket too, when my teen advisor showed me a cool gadget that looks like a flat iron with bristles. Apparently you clamp it onto your hair and pull the brush through it while holding the hair dryer to the vents on the outside of this contraption. “Make blow drying your hair straight a snap.” At $8.99, I was sold.

Then I stumbled onto the end cap clearance goodies, where I discovered a product called EasyStraight styler. “Flat-Iron Style, No Flat-Iron Required” it shouted. (I should have known the inventor was clueless, as the second Flat Iron reference doesn’t need a hyphen because it’s not an adjective.) The back of the bottle was even more promising: Say good-bye to your flat-iron (yep, there’s that misused hyphen again!) without saying good-bye to sleek, super-straight styles. This revolutionary formula coats each hair strand with high-tech styling polymers to hold it straight all day long – no matter how coarse or curly hair is.

And it was half the cost of the Pantene version, so I was in business. If you’re adding as we go along, I’ve now dropped $18.50 + tax on this product bonanza.
As you can see even from this crappy photo my husband took, I might as well have set $19.79 on fire in my driveway this week. By the time I use enough coupons on other purchases to recoup that money, the perm will grow out.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Capital Idea

I've received press releases that made me giggle, a few that mystified me, and a handful that got my goat in the past quarter century. And then, I opened this little gem this week:

dear ms. sturgeon,

i would love to discuss with you a story
about what happens upon graduation
from a school of hospitality-

the question i would like to work with you on to answer is-
who is getting the jobs and why?
and where the jobs are.

i would like to introduce you to the hospitality industry
using the fiu school of hospitality as a jumping off point.

as you know, the hospitality industry is contracting, a bit
but graduates of the fiu school of hospitality are still getting jobs in the industry-
from restaurants & hotels, from casinos to cruise lines- to starting one's own business.

the hospitality industry is a career
that draws up on a balance of education & skills, experience & contacts,
with a natural desire to please-
but do people know what hospitality really is....

i would love to work with you on a story about hospitality in motion-
a behind the scenes look
at south beach wine & food festival-
with fiu school of hospitality students as your guide.

the students have been given responsibilities that in the real world would have to be paid for:
from soliciting restaurants to sponsorship fulfillment to cooking food served up by celeb chefs.

(for your reference, south beach wine & food festival, the nation's largest such event in the country,
raises money for the school of hospitality for scholarships, curriculum and faculty. students work side by side
with some of the most innovative chefs, sommeliers and cocktail inventors working in the industry
jamie oliver, giada de laurentiis, rachael ray, emeril lagasse, bobby flay, anthony bourdain, rachael ray, tyler florence, among others.

for your reference,
i've attached a bit of info about cooking for south beach wine & food festival's signature event,
bubble Q BBQ, and about fiu school of hospitality, in general.

thank you for you time and patience.
please read and think about all of this info at your leisure,
i look forward to exchanging ideas with you.

enjoy your weekend,
and i'll speak w/u soon,


Wow. Just wow. I supposed if you twist my arm, I could forgive the fact it looks like a haiku verse gone wrong, since that could be an email formatting problem. I'll take sole blame for the fact my poor eyesight read all these references as the Flu School of Hospitality.

On the other hand, if someone can't come forward and prove to me that this p.r. gal's capitalization key is broken on her computer, I gotta bust her chops for this mess, and everyone who ever worked with this child in English class. Being in charge of promotions for a big-time university division typically requires you to present yourself more maturely and with a tad more polish than if you were texting your friends.

My fear is that she did pound this out on her iPhone, in which case she just sent the longest text message in history and was still too lazy to capitalize my name, the name of the event, the city, her school name, celebrities' names ...

But the real offense? I considered giving Ms. Lisa a pass because I don't want to come off like a complete witch every time I sit down at my keyboard. You'll notice I'm not waxing on about her use of punctuation or the rambling nature of this pitch.

Then she emailed it to me twice.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Seat Talk, Or How I Nearly Lost My Mind at the IU Basketball Game

Holding a ticket to a basketball game at Assembly Hall is like winning the lottery as far as I'm concerned.

But this past Saturday, the prize wasn't so great. Yah, I know. We lost and I could go on for pages about how I beat Ron's arm black and blue in frustration with most of the calls. But that wasn't what made me roll my eyeballs.

OK, I confess: I made fun of the gal singing the National Anthem. I actually like opera, but not when I'm wearing candy-striped warm-up pants and eating popcorn. So yah, I might have mentioned to Ron after she finished the last warble that I could applaud the fact it was over. Three minutes later, the guy behind me tells his seat mates, "Well, it was nice talking to you, but here comes my woman and our tickets are actually in the next row."

Yes, out of 17,200 people, I had the good luck to sit next to the singer and her husband after making that crack.

Any remorse I felt quickly evaporated, however, when they spent the entire first half chatting about everything except the action taking place on the court. Curious, I eavesdropped on what was so fascinating you'd waste seats at the Ohio State game over, and got to hear where the bathrooms should be located in some building for my effort. Get outta here -- if that's so frigging important to you on a Saturday afternoon, why not just head across campus in the opposite direction with a jack hammer and start the renovations already?

Surprisingly, and sadly, they weren't the worst of my neighbors. That honor goes to the diva in front of me, who traipsed in wearing a tight green shirt amidst the sea of red sweatshirts that is Assembly Hall on game day, and clutching her Coach purse tightly in her lap. Apparently Coach purses aren't cleanable -- I wouldn't know as I'm forever throwing my $5 Target bag in the washer.

She didn't wait five minutes before blessing the rest of us with her high-maintenance demeanor. During the team introduction, the crowd was on its feet, screaming out players' names when suddenly she whipped around around and whined, "You hit me with your pom-pom." Really? Look around. They passed these out at the gate, so 17,199 other people just got hit, too. And for the record, Princess, it's a wad of plastic stringers touching the back of your hair. I would hardly qualify that as painful.

Ask Ron. He would have been grateful to merely feel a pom-pom on the back of his head. But at least he was one husband in our section who got to watch — and enjoy — the game.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Text of the Matter

Checking my agency phone is an expensive proposition these days.

Some high school girl practiced in the high drama of how to nag your friends 24/7 has confused my number with someone else’s, and sends me scads of text messages a day.

I don’t know what most of them say, because I’m one of those fuddy-duds who did not pay for text service on my phone plan, so it costs me .20 to open each one. But curiosity runs high, so I have opened about a half dozen of these gems. Here’s what I bought with my $1.40:

“Why r u txting Nick and not me?”

“Hey come on txt me back u no I can cu right?”

“I hate u”

and my favorite:


Yah, you got that right, kid. You didn’t have to yell at me to make that point.

The very savvy among you are wondering why I don’t just text her back. I have a pink Razor phone. It’s slim, fits nicely in a little pouch in my purse and the color makes me happy. And it has one of those flat keypads that make entering a phone number a studious exercise, full of wrong buttons and do-overs. I shudder to think of trying to use that thing to reach letters of the alphabet.

And I don’t happen to know how.

My solution would be to call the number (duh! It’s a phone! We still talk with our voices in some parts of this society) but my husband actually thought he would be more effective donning his “Mr. Mean” demeanor and threatening to kick her butt to St. Louis the next time she texts my number. My husband is also a guy, with that Y chromosome that means he procrastinates anything and everything.

And so the messages continue to pile up — and a part of me is hoping this kid will glean a valuable life lesson from the silence: Sometimes, dear, the problem really does lie with you and not the other person.

Oh, and you owe me $1.40.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

And the Winner Is

Thank you to everyone who racked their brains to come up with a name for my vacuum cleaner. Sure, it's stupid ... what else do we have to do the first three months of the year when you live north of the Mason-Dixon line and somewhere between Portland, Maine and Portland, Oregon?

Truly, all the names were better than what I came up with, but one in particular sparked a wonderfully naughty idea in my head. I tried to ignore it, I tried to say it was too ... well, blue for a family blog. Then I put all the suggested names in front of my husband, and his mind immediately jumped to the same conclusion. So thanks to Alisabow:

Meet Mr. Floor Play.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Talking Dogs Say the Darndest Things

My dog is a smart alec.

No, I haven't officially gone insane courtesy of Sesame Street songs. And I’ll bet a majority of pet owners know just what I’m talking about: You hold running conversations with your dog.

Most of my remarks are what we journalists call closed-ended questions, as in, “Would you like to go for a walk?” “Is it time for some food?” “Let’s go outside and do your business.” Which isn’t a question, of course, but I’m dealing with an animal, not an English teacher.

Those of us blessed with an imagination naturally take the conversation one step further and translate the dog’s body language into English. Out loud. Otherwise, it isn’t a conversation — it’s just me talking to my dog.

Most of the time, Dribbler — yes, that’s what we named our four-legged friend, after the basketball move — responds to the routine questions about his day with, “Ohh tay” or “Hoe de doh” as he heads in that direction. Occasionally, I get the “You’re kidding me, right?” backtalk.

But where he really shows off his sarcastic side is when I ask for an opinion. “Dribbler, do you think I should scrapbook or read a book tonight?” and his trusty response is “I dunno. I’m a dog. What’s reading?” His response to my plea for help in deciding between vacationing in Fairbanks, Alaska, or the Caribbean: "Make sure someone comes over here to feed me every day. I love to play the pitiful abandoned dog and snooker more food out of them."

A few days ago, I asked him when the temperatures would warm up so he could stay outside and play with that stick he seems so fond of. “Do I look like a meteorologist?” he shot back. When I asked what he found after a prolonged sniffing episode near our heat vent, he cocked his head, thought about it for a second and said, “Uh, something in the wall.”

So this morning, I asked his permission to post about him on my blog. He doesn’t mind, of course, since I hold the dog food bag, but he couldn’t resist the obvious wisecrack: “They’re all gonna think you’re crazy doing a ventriloquist act with a dog.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sweeping Up the Pieces

It’s here!

My new Eureka vacuum cleaner, the best ratings for the price appliance my husband could find on the Internet, shipped to me straight from a mysterious warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, where dock hands felt a need to wrap the box in neon yellow tape screaming: Refrigerate Upon Arrival.

For some reason, God has decided this is my month to deal with folks' nonsensical tape issues.

Now I’m probably the last person on the planet to wax on about a sweeper — it’s a bit of an oddity, actually, that I know how to plug one in and run it across the carpet. I darn sure won’t have a clue what to do when it comes time to change the bag, beyond sending my husband an email to add this to his to-do list.

So I gave it a test run out of boredom — I mean, curiosity — and learned in the first seconds why they named the brand Eureka. As in Eureka! It’s picking up the confetti. Eureka! It’s dragging me across the floor like an untrained puppy on a leash. Eureka! This thing truly sucks!

Now I’m in love with a vacuum cleaner to the point I’ve used it since my cleaning gal was here last week, and clocked in an extra 50 steps on my pedometer in the process. There’s just one problem: the name. Every time this bad boy stares up at me with its The Boss SmartVac label, I’m irritated. Hey, I’m the human in the house — I get to be the smart boss. This appliance needs to be called something else, and I’ll send one of my infamous flip-flop shoe books to the person who suggests the best nickname.

As a bonus, I’ll wrap my own piece of tape bearing this new name around the canister and send you a photo. Maybe we’ll both figure out what’s so fun about tape.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The End Is Near

Winter has officially won the battle for my sanity.

It was scoring on the little skirmishes all week: I don't especially enjoy mail that comes in from the box feeling like little pieces of dry ice. I'm not a fan of feeling as if the wind is about to break your bones. I don't think it's funny when people send me notes asking if I know it's -11 outside. Yes, I do. That's why I'm wearing three layers and have locked myself inside.

<-----Before I lost my mind

But this morning was the last straw. I woke up with a song stuck in my head. Now it happens to everybody, and it's usually annoying to walk around humming Take This Job and Shove It or Bubbly for hours on end. Although I kinda like when my brain locks on to Devil Went Down to Georgia because I have an excuse to say son of a bitch.

However, I'm now catching myself in odd moments singing that Sesame Street classic, Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood. I don't even know all the words because I don't have kids, so it's a tune from my brother's childhood in the record library of my mind. I'm not sure of half the notes.

I'm willing to pass the crazy crown and straight jacket on to someone else who can top that. Kudos if you can also get that stupid jingle out of my head in the process.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Post Office Goes Postal

I went back to the Greenwood Post Office yesterday, where I’m such a beloved patron to start with. This time, I was dragging a box of paperwork from Globus to send to a client, along with a gift I’d wrapped to thank them for their business.

Now let me just say that if I’d had a box big enough for all of this, I would have arrived with my stuff already in that box. The fact I was holding it in two hands was the first clue I was about to be a pain in their side again.

But it is NOT my fault the clerk at the counter took the measurements, and then told me to select a Priority Mail box 17 x 17 x 17 from the little store and bring it over to her. Only the box read 17 x 17 x 16 on the side, so I drug the next size up back to the counter as well. Because everyone knows that a missing inch can make a difference down the road.

It only took a few seconds to realize this gal’s name wasn’t Everyone, because she insisted on working up the first size box. Whatever. I was already stuck shipping priority class instead of something cheaper because unless you bring your own packing tape gun and assemble it yourself there in the middle of the lobby, that’s the default. They wait and tell you that when you're standing there empty-handed and helpless. Silly me, not thinking to carry packing tape along with the umbrella, first aid kit, spare tire, and bag of salt riding around in the trunk of my Miata.

Eventually, she had something that resembled a box ready for my shipment, and you already know it was too short on one side to hold the gift. I offered her the bigger box, but instead Ms. MacGyver started pounding it down in there until the side of the box bowed out and now there’s a 2.5-inch gap between the top flaps. Again, I offered to hand her the bigger box, but no! She can handle this! And out comes the mighty tape gun.

She ran it over that gap about 25 times, then started plastering both sides of it as well. She flipped the box over and started slapping tape on the bottom. She circled the box about five times with the Priority Mail messaging, like she was tinseling a Christmas tree. Oh, that gap in the corner? Whap! More tape.

Finally, we had a misshapen thing that couldn’t sit flat on the counter — you couldn’t really tell it was a box and not an exhibit in the World’s Biggest Wads Of Priority Mail Tape Museum. I would have taken a picture of it, but I didn’t have a camera in my emergency stash, either.

Final step: We needed to weigh it to determine my cost. Sigh. I knew it would be in the $30 range, so that didn’t shock me. Still, I couldn’t help getting the last word:

“And should I attribute $27 of that to the tape art?”

Uh, I might be banned from the post office by now. I don't intend to go back any time soon to find out.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Treadmill Tales: Climbing the Stairway to Infinity

Contrary to my reputation, I do exercise and on purpose. I've owned a treadmill for five years, and wear a pedometer constantly as my self-imposed requirement to walk 10,000 steps (read: 4 miles) a day.

Not to tick you off or anything, but I conquered the challenge of walking while I watch TiVoed episodes of Scrapbook Memories, NYPD Blue reruns, Desperate Housewives and All My Children after the first 6 months. To stay interested that first year, I added my point total, divided it into total miles and figured out I had walked from Indianapolis to Hollywood, Florida.

That didn't exactly trip my trigger. It’s quicker to drive.

Here we go again

Year two, I started a Pedometer Hall of Fame, wherein I recorded my top 10 list of most steps in one day. Eventually, all of my entries were in the 20,000 range, which requires the kind of time and opportunities you only find on vacation (it’s not coincidence the chart today has locations like Washington, D.C., London, Dublin, Buenos Aires). Those days are rare and I needed a challenge on, for example, Tuesday, February 17 as well.

Then I found out about the President's Challenge –- that organization of dweebs that came into our schools and tortured us to do sit-ups and run obstacle courses in the 1970s. Only now those geeks have decided that any activity that moves your butt away from the couch equals exercise, and they have an online program to incentivize you. Even housework counts as a category where you can earn points toward bronze, silver and gold medals.

A gold medal. Now we’re talking.

It took nearly three years and four pairs of Reeboks to reach the summit, but I finally saw the magic 160,000 appear on the screen just before the holidays. That’s when I learned those chumps at the Challenge make you buy your own medal. Get outta here -- all that sweat and they think I’m forking over $7 plus shipping?

I have a better idea of what I can do with that fork.

But that’s not even the real insult. Because suddenly, automatically, audaciously they started pushing me toward the next level: a platinum award bestowed for racking up one million points. Nowhere on the website does it explain this option. It doesn’t say what the reward is, and I'm sure it wouldn't be encouraging to tell me how much that costs. I'll probably have to write my own blog post to tout my win. But, sucker that I am for finishing what I started, I have 824,925 points, or 83 percent of the distance, to go.

I should reach that by the time One Million B.C. rolls back around. And, I suspect, Erica Kane will still be up to her same tricks when it happens.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year's Eve Confetti Caper

I always host the New Year’s Eve party for one reason: I’m the only person in Indianapolis insane enough to encourage guests to throw trash bags full of confetti on my floor. And in my Christmas tree, under my couch cushions, on top of the light fixtures, down the toilets, around the dog’s cage, through the pool table, and hidden in our underwear.

Why? Because it’s fun.

OK, it was also fun to throw it off the balcony of the Embassy Suites in Chicago when we used to book rooms there, mainly because someone else would have to clean up the mess, but when the group got to big to transport everyone three hours away, I decided to suck it up and spend my first few hours of the new year getting personal with a sweeper.

For years, we handmade our confetti by whipping out a three-ring hole punch and asking the kids to go to town with construction paper during December. But for our 2009 bash, I had a truly lazy streak and sent those obnoxious orange, yelling yellow, neon pink, hot red, and glowing green sheets through the shredder in my office. Ten minutes = two trash bags of celebration.

Somehow, you know this isn’t going to end well, don’t you?

Well, we threw our confetti and then wallowed in it before wandering off to sing Paradise by the Dashboard Light on the karaoke machine. And when everyone left around 1:30 a.m., I started the familiar routine: First you broom sweep the paper pieces into piles you can pick up with a dustpan. Then you fire up the trusty Kenmore and start walking.

So I’m humming along when suddenly the sweeper began spitting paper back on the floor. I guess this happens when the bag is full … I’m no expert on this as I usually make the husband deal with anything technical, mechanical or logical. He took 10 minutes to change it out, and away I went again … still spitting paper back on the floor. He tinkered with it, and it spit paper back on the floor. We got out the central vac system, and the hose clogged two minutes into the process, refusing to suck the paper through the walls and into that bag. He was changing more bags while I stuck a knife into the hose, trying to break the log jam.

After an hour of this, Ron nonchalantly asked, “Where did you get this paper?” Where else? I stole it from his Toastmaster stash upstairs because it was pretty. It was also 65-pound cardstock, or cement as sweepers know it. I blew the motor in the Kenmore and have most likely killed the 28-year-old central vac system.

All I cared about at that moment was the fact I still had half a floor full of paper no machine could tackle. Yep, 3 a.m. and I was looking at a hand job.

That’s not fun.