Friday, September 29, 2006

The Friday Fie: Driving Edition

1. People who don't signal. As a driver, you have only two truly useful ways of communicating with other drivers: your horn and your turn signal. And yet, most people around here seem more willing to use their middle finger than their turn signal. It infuriates me. Case in point: There is a corner on my way to work where I need to turn left at an intersection, so I put my signal on and wait in the intersection for a gap in the oncoming traffic. Nearly every single day, someone will be coming towards me at a clip that would not allow me to turn in front of them, only to zip into the left-turn lane at the last minute without slowing or signaling. At this point, of course, the gap will be gone and someone else will be coming at me. It drives me batty!

2. Overcompensators. I hate it when I am driving along the highway, at a safe five miles or so over the speed limit, being passed by a good 50% of the other cars on the highway, when all of a sudden, traffic slows completely to five or ten miles below the speed limit. Inevitably, I look out my passenger side window shortly thereafter to see the flashing lights of a police car with someone pulled over. I just don't get it. Slow down, fine, but you don't have to drop below the speed limit. Cops do not take an average of your speeds over the past ten miles when they pull you over. In fact, you're wasting your effort by slowing down now, because in case you didn't notice, SHE'S ALREADY GOT SOMEONE PULLED OVER! If she was going to pull you over, it would have been five miles back, where you were still speeding and she was hiding with a radar gun behind that billboard.

3. Unrealistic speed limits. There is a beautifully resurfaced road near me with a speed limit of 25. I try, I really do. But it's so easy to go too fast on that road. There is also a highway near me that is, if I should believe the signs and cones rather than total absence of work being done, currently under construction. At one point, the speed limit drops from 65 to 55 to 45 all in the span of less than a mile. And it is neither practicable nor safe for me to follow that speed limit when the people behind me are still zipping by at 75.

4. People who run red lights when someone else is obviously sitting in the intersection waiting to turn left. Seriously, I don't care how much you normally press your luck with a yellow light, if there is someone sitting in the intersection already, they should have priority because when the light changes, they could DIE.

5. Gas prices. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Shel Silverstein was my Father

When I was a kid, my dad used to listen to an extremely random collection of music. Ray Stevens and "Weird Al" Yankovic would sit right beside Elvis and the Beatles and Boney M, with some George Beverly Shea sandwiched uncomfortably in between. I suppose I inherited much of my eclectic taste in music from him.

One of his favourite albums to listen to on long car trips was a little white tape called "Kickin' Country". It had such classics on it as "Mama's Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys". But my very favourite song on the tape had to be this one about a guy who rates women on a scale of one to ten, and then a woman turns around and gives him a rating that puts him in his place. It was catchy, witty, and really really funny. I had no idea who sings it, since it is a compilation album, but I borrowed the tape from my dad once so that I could make a copy of it, and I've been keeping an eye out for a CD copy of it in stores ever since.

Today, I wanted to quote that witty ratings song to a friend, so I went to Google to find the lyrics. I found them, but I wasn't sure I could believe what I had found. The song is called "Numbers" and it's written by Shel Silverstein! Yes, THAT Shel Silverstein. The guy who wrote "A Light in the Attic" and "The Giving Tree". But that's not all! Apparently, Shel Silverstein also wrote one of my other all-time favourite childhood songs, The Irish Rovers' biggest hit, "The Unicorn". And that's not all, either! He ALSO wrote the lyrics to several Dr. Hook songs, including "Cover of the Rolling Stone" and "Sylvia's Mother", which my brother and I always loved even if the rest of the world never seemed to get the subtle irony of its crooning. And, at the risk of sounding like a late-night infomercial, THAT'S STILL NOT ALL!!! He ALSO wrote the lyrics to Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue".

It's like Shel Silverstein was quietly in the background of my entire life, secretly scripting all of the songs that would make me smile. It's like discovering that my whole sense of humour was crafted by one man, whom I never even got to meet. Shel Silverstein was the Cyrano de Bergerac in the bushes of my childhood musical amusement. The only way I could possibly be more blown away right now is if Shel Silverstein also wrote the theme song to Astro Boy. (Okay, I just checked. He didn't.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Panoply of Partial Posts

The moon tonight was big and low and crescenty and beautiful.

People were driving like maniacs tonight.

I bought my first-ever Victoria's Secret bra last week with a gift card. It gave me welts.

I discovered an Italian market the other day, minutes from my house and on the way home from work. They make delicious canolis. I was surprised that no one had mentioned this place to me before, and I went on to have this conversation, almost word for word, with every single member of Jeremy's family:
"Hey, did you know there is an Italian market that sells amazing canolis only a few minutes from here?"
"Really? Where?"
"At the corner of X, next to the gas station."
"Oh yeah, Sam's!"
I wonder what other treasures they don't know they are hiding from me?

I am watching the recap episode of Lost right now! Only one more week until the season premiere! Hoozah!

Yesterday, I had one of those afternoons that reminded me that life really isn't so bad; lying in a hammock in the backyard while my husband read to me, laughing together at the funny bits.

I've invented a brilliant new tool for teaching touch-typing. A keyboard with letters that rub off after they have been pressed a certain number of times. So, letters like 'E' and 'A' and 'N' will wear off first, which makes sense, because you should learn the common letters first, anyhow. Of course, I would probably have to give Toshiba some of the credit for my invention, because they unintentionally invented it first. Those exact letters are completely missing from my laptop keyboard.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Autumnal Musings and New Year's Resolutions

I am not the first blogger to notice that the seasons have changed, and that fall is upon us. I would also not be the first blogger to mention that fall is my favourite season. But, I have come to the conclusion over the years that it is perfectly acceptable to be neither first nor best at everything.

So, have you noticed that the world is starting to smell like fall?

For as long as I can remember, fall has always stood for new beginnings in my life. Even before it meant back-to-school for me, it meant back-to-school for my older sister, and corresponding changes to my own little life. Fall always meant new clothes, clean notebooks that I hadn't messed up with doodles, full ballpoint pens, sharp pencils, and day planners that, this year, I would keep track of all my homework in, and never miss any assignments. I got excited about the new school year, because it was a fresh start, with a new teacher, and a chance to be the kind of student that I knew that I could be if I really buckled down. Then, as I finished each degree, I moved to a new place, a new school, a new city, and started on the next stage of my education. And this time, I promised myself, I wouldn't just coast by, I would really study hard, and I would be at the top of my class, instead of content to simply accept the comfortable place not-quite-at-the-top that came fairly easily to me.

I never understood why we celebrated New Year's in the winter. I would try to pretend that January was a fresh start, and I would make all kinds of resolutions that I knew, deep down, I wouldn't keep. But January was too late to really make any changes. I had already blown my chance at being the top of my classes, because I had gotten that B back in November. My notebooks had scribblings all over them, and even though I would be writing a new date when I got back from break, it was still the same class, the same school year, with the same classmates who already knew I was annoying.

If you're Jewish, fall is the time of year with the highest density of holidays, including Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year. New Year's in the fall - I guess my idea isn't such a novel one after all. And while they're at it, they gave New Year's a meaning, too, it's the anniversary of the creation of the world. That's a pretty great thing to celebrate if you want a holiday for new beginnings, I'd say. And they top it all off with some good, clean, sin-confessing. A whole day of it, in fact.

We went to some Messianic Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services back when we were living in Toronto, and we really enjoyed them. And we have made an effort every year to eat apples and honey (symbolizing the sweetness of the New Year) and to take a walk in nature somewhere (to remember God's creation). This year, I was at a wedding on Rosh Hashanah, and there were no more apples by the time I reached the chocolate fountain, but graham crackers dipped in liquid chocolate definitely fit the "sweet" requirement, even if they did fall a little bit short of the "natural" symbolism. As for symbolism, I can't imagine a better day to begin a new life together, though.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, Happy New Year. Or Unhappy New Year, as the case may seem to be. As much as fall has always represented new beginnings for me in the past, this year sure has been shaping up pretty unbeginningily so far. I really enjoyed the wedding this weekend, and it was wonderful to catch up with old friends, but it did become tiresome repeating the same uninspiring story over and over. It's so much easier to go to gatherings like that when you're excited about what you're doing in your life, rather than feeling like you're treading water until you can start living again.

I still have about a week until Yom Kippur. To confess my sins and make a fresh start. Maybe I need a new attitude more than new circumstances. Or maybe I should buy myself some new notebooks and pens and see where it takes me. This year, I will underline the titles on every page. In red. With a ruler.

Monday, September 25, 2006

On Shopping for a Wedding

Two of our good friends from college got married this weekend. So last week, I got to go shopping.

I started at Target, where the couple was registered, and bought them cleaning supplies. Boring, I know, but I scanned the registry, and it looked like the one section that no one had bought anything from, and there were several essential-looking things on there. I got the bucket and scrubber and dustpan they had registered for, then decided that the bucket made a convenient gift carrier, so I topped it up with some of my personal favourite cleaning products. And a thong. Because I could only be so boring.

Then I looked for dresses, and discovered that Target doesn't really have dresses. So I went to the mall.

Normally, I enjoy the occasional trip to the mall. But the mall near us really, really sucks. There is a video game store, so Jer can be kept happy for a while, but there is not a single clothing store there that carries anything I would wear. It's the ultimate suburban working woman's mall, and I am so far from their target clientele that they probably wish I wouldn't even shop there, because I might scare away the soccer moms. But, someone gave us mall gift cards for Christmas, and I really need to spend them sometime.

First off, as an aside, let me tell you that these mall gift cards are the worst gift cards ever created. First of all, the mall adds a surcharge onto them when you buy them, which is ridiculous, because they are making the obscenely high "people who forget to spend their gift cards" profit already. Second, they don't work at the detached mall stores that share the same parking lot where I actually shop, like Michael's and K-Mart and Ross. Third, when you try to use them at a store, the store has no way of checking the balance for you, you just have to know how much is still on them, or go to the mall when the customer service kiosk is open and get them to check the balance for you. And finally, if the amount of your purchase is higher than the amount remaining on the gift card, then it simply won't work. So as far as I can tell, the only way to spend the approximately $10 remaining on each of my gift cards is to find out the exact amounts by making a special trip to the mall kiosk, then shop around until I find two separate items that each cost, with tax, exactly the same amount that remains on one of the cards. Any more, and the cards won't work, any less, and there will eternally be a tiny, unspendable balance on the cards, that I probably wouldn't miss but I would rather it be anywhere else in the world other than in the pockets of the criminally greedy mall gift card people. </rant&rt;

I was looking for a pink dress. I don't own a lot of pink, and although there wasn't a dress code for the wedding, the bride had suggested that people wear pink if possible, since it is her favourite color. I thought that seemed like a neat idea, so I decided to try and oblige. If I was a smarter person, I would have started looking for a pink dress a couple of months ago, say, when it was summer and stores were still carrying pink clothes. But I am nothing if not a procrastinator, so no one can really be surprised that I found myself shopping for a dress three days before the wedding.

I walked in and out of at least half a dozen women's clothing stores before I even managed to find one pink dress. Once I did find a pink dress, which did, admittedly, look really nice on me, it was over $200 and a little on the formal side for a morning wedding with a gymnasium reception. I decided to pass on that one and keep looking. I struck out again in every women's clothing store in the mall, and finally decided to give some of the anchor stores a try.

Macy's made me the most hopeful of all of the stores, because the entrance I chose just happened to open into the juniors section, which carried the kind of dresses that soccer moms' rebellious teenage daughters like to wear to proms. I found several pink ones, priced in my hopeful range, and a few black ones with pink accents that I thought might work in a pinch. None of the pink ones looked even remotely good on me, and although I did fall in love with one of the black ones (one with dozens of layers of triangular gauzy skirts - I called it the "Good Witch Glinda" dress), I eventually set it aside based on my decision that one should not wear a strapless dress to a morning wedding, especially when one has very well-defined tan lines from ones only bathing suit.

Before giving up completely, I decided to make one, last-ditch stop at Sears. On my way to the women's wear section, I passed a clearance rack with a skirt that looked so much like it belonged it my closet that I couldn't help but notice it. I grabbed the skirt, promising myself it could be my $4 treat for all of my hard work shopping. I asked the helpful store clerk where the dresses were, and she told me Sears doesn't carry dresses anymore. I was a little surprised, and told her I wasn't looking for anything too fancy, but she insisted that they only have tops and skirts and one slinky black dress, which she pointed out to me. I asked if there might be any summer dresses on the clearance racks, and she shrugged. Thank you sooo much, helpful store clerk.

I spent about an hour digging through the clearance racks, and managed to dig up a couple pink skirts, several pink tops, and two pink dresses. I also managed to dig up a really funky pink suit jacket that I figured could be worn over a black dress to the wedding if none of the other options worked. I made my way back to the fitting rooms with my arms full, and a different store clerk told me not to worry about the fitting room limits, just bring back out whatever I didn't want. I found a few things I definitely wanted to buy, but the dresses didn't prove so simple. One of them was several sizes too big, but I figured I could take it in if necessary. The other one was a great colour, a comfortable shape, but it had a really busy pattern, and I genuinely could not make my mind up as to whether I liked it or not.

I asked a girl in the fitting room beside me, "What do you think, is this dress retro-cool, or someone's-grandmother?" She looked me up and down, and said, "Honestly, I think I would have to go with someone's-grandmother." I thanked her, and I fiddled with the belt a bit, and she said she liked it better tied a little higher, and I left just as undecided as I had been before. But, it was only $6, and I didn't fancy another trip back to the mall, so I bought the dress, as well as the pink suit jacket, and figured I could decide later.
Jule Ann's dress (Rudd wedding)
After I got home, I modeled the dress for my mother-in-law, and she said she liked it, but somewhat hesitantly, so I still wasn't entirely sure whether I would wear it or not. But when I took it off, it turned inside out, and I noticed that the gauzy liner was sewn the right way to wear the dress with it on the outside. So, on a whim, I put the dress back on inside out, and asked the family members what they thought, and everyone agreed that, if I could get rid of the tags, it actually looked much nicer inside out.

So, I did some careful tag cutting, and strung some black beads, because I didn't really have any jewelry that would match it, and I threw the belt around my neck like a scarf. I think I can honestly say that this is the first time I have ever gone to a wedding wondering, "What if someone else is wearing the same dress as me? Right side out!"

Monday, September 18, 2006

Two Shorts

I needed work clothes, so I threw in a load of darks. When the wash finished, I didn't have time for a full dryer cycle, so I threw one shirt, one apron, and one pair of pants in the dryer. I pulled them out just as I was heading out the door for work, and was disappointed to note that my apron didn't seem to have gotten very clean at all. I was halfway to work before I realized that perhaps the apron wasn't so clean because I forgot to add detergent to the wash cycle.

There was a recipe in the paper today for "Dutch Baby". I laughed, and pointed it out to my husband, who immediately quipped, "Take two Dutch people..."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Excerpts from My Diary: Volume Two

July 26, 1989
Today was terrible. Danny pushed me in the lake twice, and he and Aaron and Tim found you (they didn't read you) and my brother told them that I liked Aaron. Aaron said that he would burn you if he got his hands on you so I was running for about 1/2 an hour and got really tired out. Later, when I was resting (well, sort of resting I was "RELAXING") I heard the dog barking. It didn't sound that bad to me so I just yelled to her to be quiet, because whenever I go to shut her up, I leave then she starts barking again. How could I know that she would brake the screen of the tent? Now I'm being blamed! Bye!

November 21, 1989
Dear Diary, I haven't written to you in a very long time because I was afraid someone would find something personal in you, so I just didn't write. But today, I had something so important happen that I just couldn't let it go. While we were crossing the street after my doctor's appointment, another car hit ours. It totally smashed in the passengers window. My mom is feeling terrible because it was her fault. She only saw a car about to hit her on the left, so she stopped and a car hit her from the right. Marecca, a girl that we babysit, was in the passenger seat, and if it weren't for a bar that goes through the door, both she and I would have been badly hurt. Luckily no one in my car was harmed, but an 80 year old lady in the other car hurt her leg. P.S. Please pray for my mom. She feels awful. Bye!

November 28, 1989
I'm in Adam's group for a radio show, and to record it I have to go over to his house. Audra and Taylor are going as well. I do not love him either. he's not even my friend. He's always telling dirty jokes. Today I had CLC, and I made a graham cracker house. I'm not allowed to eat it untill tomorrow because I need to take a picture of it whole to give to Barb. P.S. Taylor likes me, but he won't admit it. I don't like him either. ZZZZ

December 13, 1989
Dear Diary, are you bored of me writing "ZZZ" at the end of each entry? I am! Goodnight!

December 15, 1989
Dear Diary, tonight I'm at Angie's. I won't write anything private because she is listening to me mouthing this. As soon as I close you I won't fall asleep because I'm not tired. In that case I won't write ZZZZZ at the end of my entry. goodnight ZZZZZZ
P.S. I told you I wouldn't write ZZZZZ, I didn't I wrote ZZZZZZ. Goodnight!

Volume One

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Two-Fer

I celebrated the fifth anniversary of 9/11 by refusing to live in fear.

I drove down to Washington D.C. to help a blogger friend move up to Princeton. We had a great time together, which she blogged about before I got home, so I will let you read what she wrote.

I put on a dress and went to Center City Philadelphia for Restaurant Week, where I had dinner with a friend at a fancy French restaurant, and ate incredible food, including the Best Crème Brulée Ever™.

I enjoyed my life today. That's my tribute.

Cause and Effect - A Bonus Post

Because I couldn't find my Scrabble letters, I went exploring in a closet I had ignored for a long time and found my reserve deck of blank white cards.

Because I had recently found my blank white cards, I played it last weekend when I had friends over.

Because my friends had loved the game so much, I posted the instructions for the game on my blog.

Because I had posted about a game, Scott tagged me for the word association game.

Because I wanted to tag Kate for the word association game, I went to my bloglines account to get her blog address and found out that her blog had somehow fallen off my blogroll when she upgraded to Blogger Beta (Boo!).

Because I was catching up on the entries I had missed on Kate's blog, I discovered that she needed help moving on the exact same day that I had off of work this week.

Because I was driving to Washington D.C. in the middle of the night, I discovered the Greatest Radio Station Ever™ somewhere around Baltimore.

Because I was listening to a unique and interesting radio station, I heard a fantastic new song that I had never heard before. It was a simple song with clever lyrics, a catchy tune, and artfully complicated vocals. I listened to the radio station for another 45 minutes until it was nothing but static, but they never back-announced the song, so I didn't find out who was singing it.

Because this new song was running through my head all day, I googled the lyrics that I could remember: "I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair." I quickly found the song, which is titled, fortunately, "I wish I was a punk rocker (with flowers in my hair)". The artist is Sandi Thom, and I before you read anymore of this post, go to her website and listen to the free, one-minute clip of the song, or watch the music video over on YouTube.

Because I was exploring the website of a cool new artist I had never heard of before, I went to her bio page to get an idea of who she is. There I discovered the most incredible story of an overnight success that was years in the making. You should read the whole story yourself, but basically, she got sick of touring and decided to offer 21 free webcam concerts out of her basement. 70 people tuned in for the first concert, but by the second week, her audience had grown to 70,000, including several record execs who had gotten wind of her talent. She ended up signing a recording contract, fittingly, live on her webcam.

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Prayer Vigil

My church is on the brink of closing.
It has been for years, I'm told.
Last winter, we lost heat, and we can't really spend another winter squeezed into a Sunday School room.
So, we pray.
And God provides, a little at a time, as our need is greatest.
Always enough.

Noon today will mark the end of a 24-hour prayer vigil at my church.
24 hours, 24 people, each praying for an hour apiece.
Not a bad feat for a congregation of only 40.
I signed up for three am, because I figured it would be the hardest slot to fill.

I forgot to bring my watch.
Of course, I knew that I didn't really need a watch; I just had to leave at four am when the next person showed up to relieve me.
But it was difficult not knowing if I had been kneeling for four or forty minutes.
And the dead silence of the massive sanctuary allowed the slightest noise to echo all around.
Like the ticking of that clock that I couldn't see.
(I'll confess, I went looking for it once, on a stretch break.
It had the wrong time.)

I prayed.
My mind wandered, and I prayed again.
I meditated for a while, but got lost in my thoughts, and went back to my prayer list.
I wondered how people do this for an hour every day, as I searched for more words to ask for the same things.
And I wished that I wasn't so afraid to break the silence, because it would be easier to concentrate out loud.

I sang a hymn.
Falteringly, quietly, unable to let my voice fill the room.
With no accompaniment to keep me on key.

I sat in silence.
I tried to quiet my mind, and be at peace.
Tried, but came nowhere close.
My mind is a busy, little place.
But I was out of words, and the only thing I had left to offer was my feeble attempt at silence.

Then the door opened, and the four o'clock relief arrived.
They had coffee and donuts, and were ready to start their day.
I went home to end mine.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Word Association

Saved by the bell. I was just starting to worry about my blogging delinquency, and wracking my brain for something to blog about, when Scott tagged me for a word association game. That's a whole entry's worth of content without resorting to writing about snakes carrying toothpaste on a plane!

Here are the five words I was assigned, followed by the first word that popped into my mind when I read them.

  • Kumquat - Florida

  • Gobbledygook - Harry Potter

  • Lollygag - umbrella

  • Diphthong - threat

  • Masticate - Mr. Sutherland

Wow. My brain is a strange place. And, like Scott, I seem to have leaned heavily on the proper nouns. In Ms. Rowling's defense, however, I think my Harry Potter association has more to do with the word gobbledygook sounding like a word she would use than my general impression of her books, which I find very non-gobbledygooky.

The second half of the word association game involves me offering five other bloggers the prime opportunity to write an entry without thinking too much. So here are five new words for you to associate:

  • aluminum - ?

  • braid - ?

  • claustrophobia - ?

  • dumpling - ?

  • elevator - ?

And, without further ado, here are the five bloggers I am tagging to associate these five words:

And of course, in the true spirit of memey games, these five bloggers must post their word association results in their journals, and then pass the torch along to five more bloggers, and those five to five more, until EVERYONE IN THE WORLD HAS BLOGGED ABOUT WORD ASSOCIATION AND BILL GATES WILL BUY THEM ALL DINNER AT APPLEBY'S!!! Or something like that, anyhow. Have fun!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Blank White Cards - The Wakeman Version

I didn't invent this game. I honestly don't remember where I heard about it anymore, but if you enter "blank white cards" or "1000 blank white cards" in a search engine, you should find quite a few variants on the game. Jer and I have been playing this game for a few years now, and we have modified the rules over the years in order to make the game go more smoothly. Our rules work best for us, but you may find that you need to make your own variations for the individual quirks of the people you play with. It's a malleable game, though, it won't mind.

What you need:
- A pack or two of ruled 3X5 index cards (we tried using completely blank index cards, but we found that the kind that are ruled on one side made it easier to distinguish between the front and the back of the deck)
- A pen for each player
- Your card reserve (if you have one)

The Deck:
We usually play with a deck of 60 cards for 4 or 5 people, and a deck of 90 cards for 6 people or more. The main thing is for the deck to be divisible by three, and then again by the number of players. This will make more sense in a minute.
- 1/3 of the cards should be blank
- 1/3 of the cards should be made in the pre-game phase
- 1/3 of the cards should be chosen from the reserve (if you have no reserve, double the number that each person has to make in the pre-game phase)

Pre-Game Phase:
This is where that weird "deck divided by three divided by the number of players" number comes in. If you're playing with a 60-card deck and 5 players, for example, this number would be 4. Let's call this number X, according to mathematical convention.
- Place the blank third of cards face-down in the middle (the blank side is the "face", in case you were wondering).
- Pass around the reserve deck and let everyone choose X cards that they like. Place them face down in the middle on top of the blank cards. If any of your guests have played this game before, they may have reserve decks of their own to choose from, if not, then just let everyone choose from yours.
- Give everyone X more blank cards to make. As they finish their new blank cards, they may add them to the deck on top of the blank and reserve cards. Shuffle the deck well once all the cards have been added.
- Assign a scorekeeper and give him or her an extra blank card to keep score on.

Game Play:
- Deal out five cards to each player. Leave the rest of the cards face-down in the middle as a draw pile. The player to the left of the dealer plays first.
- On your turn, you play a card. You may play a card on yourself, on someone else, or in the middle of the table on everybody. Cards may have points, effects, rule variants, or any number of things on them, limited only by the creativity of the players. Once the card's effect is completed, the card is placed face-up in a discard pile beside the draw pile.
- At the end of your turn, you draw a card (or cards) to return the total number of cards in your hand to five. Play continues to the left.

The Anatomy of a Card:
- The basic blank white card consists of three parts: a title, a drawing, and a point value. For example, you might make a card called "Cute Little Puppy," underneath which you might draw a puppy, underneath which you might write, "+300 points." I don't have any scans of this kind of card, because it's boring, but these boring cards are essential to game play moving along at something more than a snail's pace. Of course, your basic cards don't have to be boring. You could draw a "Cute Little Puppy OF DEATH" card, for example. You might want to give him negative points, though.
- You can make cards that assign points creatively, too. Or unfairly, if you choose to make a card like my "Blatant Sexism" card that is worth positive points to females and negative points to males. (I usually play this card in the middle so that all of the males lose points and all of the females gain points.)
- Generally, we tend to make point values in increments of 100, ranging from -500 to +500. But, like most rules of the game, this one gets bent a lot.
- Some cards might alter the game play, like reversing the direction or changing the hand limits. These new rule variants will remain in effect unless another card comes along and changes them.
- Some cards have longer effects and need to remain on the table until they are discarded, either due to an internal limitation, or another card removing them.
- Some cards might tell you to do things that have nothing to do with the game. Do them. If you don't, you're no fun. And why would you want to play this game if you don't want to have fun?
- If there is a question about how to interpret a particular card, the final decision lies with the person who made the card. If necessary, and if everyone agrees, they can add a clarifying phrase to the card when the rule comes into question.

The Blank Cards:
- One third of the cards in your deck are blank. These cards are the great equalizers. There is no rule preventing you from making a card that says, "From now on, every card that gives points gives them to Jule Ann, and every card that takes away points takes them away from Jeremy." You could do that, but don't forget that there are blank cards in the deck. Jeremy could make a card that discards my card and reverses our points. Not to mention that, if I made a card like that, I would annoy a lot of people, and would probably be the target of every negative point card for a good, long while.
- If one of the cards in your hand is blank, you may draw on it at any time to make it into a playable card. The general rule is that you can only be making new cards when it's not your turn, but in actuality, we often end up waiting for someone to finish a card on their turn before they play it. You can decide how strict you want to be about this rule. If we know someone is probably making a card that will undo the effects of a really annoying card, then we might be more forgiving of a few minutes delay while they finish it. Or, if they only have blank cards in their hand, we might also be patient with them while they make one of them into a playable card.
- You can only draw on blank cards. You can't change a card that has already been completed unless the card, or another card, tells you that you can.
- Once there are no cards left in the draw pile, the game pauses for a few minutes while everyone finishes making any blank cards they are still holding in their hands. This prevents people from holding onto a blank card until the very end and making it at the last minute to win them the game. Of course, you can still hold onto a pre-drawn card that will win you the game at the last minute, but you'd be surprised how often that doesn't end up working out.

Game End:
- The game continues until no one can play any more cards. If you are out of cards, or all of the cards that remain in your hand are unplayable (for example, if the card explicitly says, "you may not play this card"), you must pass, and the play will continue until everyone passes.
- The winner is the person with the most points at the end of the game.
- After you are done playing, sort the cards into piles according to who drew them. In order to make this step of the process easier, we ask everyone to put their initials on the cards they made. Everyone takes home their own cards. This serves two useful purposes: First, it allows the game to spread exponentially like that monster dough stuff, because everyone now has their own reserve deck to play with. Second, the next time I play, I understand all of the cards in my deck, because I made them. It's really annoying to have a question about how to interpret a card in an unexpected situation when the original card-maker is not there to clarify his or her intent.
- Keep your cards as a reserve deck for the next time you play. Some people sort through and only keep the best ones, discarding the others, but I keep them all. My reserve deck is huge, and some of the cards are meaningless without the cards they were originally designed to counteract, but that's half the fun of the reserve deck to me. It's like a journal of past games.

Some Sample Cards:
The other half of the fun of the reserve deck is showing off the cards you've made in the past. It also helps new players to get a feel for what sorts of cards they can make, which is why I have new players choose their X number of cards from my reserve deck before they have to create X of their own cards out of thin air. So, without further ado, here are a few of the cards I have kicking around in my reserve deck:

Basic points card with a bit of a twist

More fun with points

Pointless, silly card

Situation-specific card from law school (and yes, I made the scorekeeper keep track of stress points, sleep points, and brain cells separately on the score card)

A fun one that just keeps coming back around

This one prompted the "Say 'pig' or lose 10,000 points" card

I still don't understand how this card has yet to get folded up

The best card my husband ever made

My personal favourite

A Handful of Adjectives

Valley Forge was beautiful.
The baklava was delicious.
The random kids we played football with were adorable.
The rousing game of blank white cards we played was hilarious.
Not quite as much fun as that Labour Day when we made a mud pit out of the topsoil pile and played like pigs till sunset, but an enjoyable end to the summer nonetheless.

Happy back-to-school, everybody!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Another Busy Day Or Two

We wanted to make baklava.

So, I did what anyone who wants to make baklava does and googled some recipes. (What? You think I would look on my entire shelf of cookbooks? When there is an Internet?) I found a few that seemed decent, then I wandered around the frozen foods section for ten minutes and eventually found phyllo dough, then I drove to Rachel's house in the midst of gale-force winds and blinding rain because I wanted to make baklava that badly.

Did you know that phyllo dough is supposed to thaw in the fridge overnight? I didn't. But, between sitting in my backseat for an hour, then sitting on the kitchen table for another hour while Rachel and I had girly talk, the dough seemed to sense our impatience vibes and thawed itself in record time.

I can't vouch for the results, yet, (did you know that baklava is supposed to sit for 24 hours to a week before serving? I didn't) but the process was less annoying and fiddley than I thought it would be. It probably would have been worse if I was doing it alone, though. We worked out a pretty good system of one person placing a sheet of dough, and the other spreading the butter, and managed to double-team the thing quite well, I think. The recipes we found varied enormously on such facts as cooking times and water content of the syrup, but we fumbled through and settled on a nice middle ground. Tomorrow, we are having a baklava-eating party (I'm pretty sure that's how Labour Day is traditionally celebrated), so I'll let you know then how it turned out.

Then, because we couldn't bear to look at the gooey goodness and not eat it any longer, and because Jon's brother whom I have never met was visiting from New Hampshire, and because what good is a Saturday evening off if you don't use it to play board games, we headed over to Jon's house. We played a brainy word game, and we played a hilariously non-brainy drawing game, and we discovered that somehow, out of eight people, two will independently draw a penny farthing with a motor for "motorcycle" and THREE will draw a capsule with a sad face on it for "pilgrim" (bad pun, don't think about it too much). All in all a fun evening, much laughter was had, and Jon's brother apparently not only exists, but he and his wife are totally People I Would Hang Out With If They Didn't Live So Freaking Far Away. *Sigh* I know far too many such people.

We stayed up too late watching Freaks and Geeks, and I finally ended my day with sleep over 22 hours after I had started it with an opening shift at the store that I somehow forgot to mention in the flurry of baklava excitement when I started this post.

At church this morning, I chatted with a young couple who went to Houghton a few years after me, then I chatted with one half of that couple's younger brother who just finished at Houghton this year and somehow, although I graduated six years before him, we knew a lot of the same people because he was heavily involved in the Shakespeare Players. I hope they come back, because he was really cool. Maybe we can start our own little Shakespeare troupe here in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where there appears to be an uncharted Houghton magnet hidden somewhere in the basement of my church.

After church, because I decided that I haven't been busy enough recently, we had the pastor and his wife and his three small children over for lunch. We had a great time, and a great meal that I barely lifted a finger for, because I kept getting distracted by games of Connect Four, and my in-laws finished everything while I played. It was a great meal, and we had a really nice time visiting, and now I think I might just take a Sunday afternoon nap before I have to work the closing shift tonight at the store. Although I did seriously contemplate going back down into center city with Jon and his brother to get gelato this afternoon. I probably need the nap more, though.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Basketball Shoes That I Would Buy

I was really lucky that the Seattle grunge scene almost perfectly coincided with my entry into high school. I was aware of the pressure around me to wear the newest, most expensive clothing, but I was content to ignore it all and don my flannel shirts. If it was good enough for Kurt, it was good enough for me. Sure, I would have liked to be able to afford a pair of Doc Martens, but my army surplus combat boots were so comfortable, I figured I wasn't missing much. Thanks to grunge and the brief life of deconstruction style, I developed a love for what I could find at thrift stores, and what interesting new things I could make from what I found at thrift stores.

Not every kid is like me, though. Not everyone subconsciously takes their family's financial state into account when choosing their personal style. Most kids feel a lot of pressure to wear the nicest, newest clothes, and they don't necessarily have grunge to fall back on. Who are the biggest role models to inner city kids? Most likely, they are the rappers and basketball players. Rappers who display proudly their life of luxury and "bling" and basketball players with their $50 jerseys and $150 sneakers. As if living in poverty is not difficult enough on kids, they have the added pressure of feeling inadequate unless they dress infinitely beyond their family's means.

Part of what's infuriating about this whole idea is that a lot of the rappers and basketball players who are lending their names to these expensive products came from poverty themselves. They should remember what it's like to be a poor kid looking up to rich celebrities, and they should know the unfair pressure they are putting on the youth that admire them by agreeing to do a television commercial for $150 sneakers.

This is why Stephon Marbury is my newest hero. If you're like me, and don't follow basketball, he is a basketball player with the NY Knicks, and has the fifth-highest salary in the league. But he grew up in a low income, Coney Island household, and he remembers what it's like to drool over the expensive basketball sneakers that his heroes were wearing. Now that he is on the other side of the drool, he decided to do something about the inequity. He's making a $15 basketball shoe.

Leading athletic gear design firm Rocketfish, perhaps best known for providing high performance basketball sneaker concepts to Nike, Reebok and Converse, worked closely with Marbury to create the Starbury One and ensure it delivers all the comfort and stability required for professional basketball players and recreational ballers alike.

So not only is he making an affordable basketball shoe, but it's going to be a good quality affordable basketball shoe. And not only is he going to sell it to the kids that look up to him, but he's going to wear it himself on the basketball court.

I can't help but wonder, though, if the kids might be turned off by the low price tag. All of their other heroes are still preaching the gospel of money, so they might refuse to believe that this is a desirable product, simply based on the price. But maybe Marbury has created something bigger than just a new basketball shoe. Maybe tomorrow, we will start to see affordable bling! Okay, okay, but a girl can dream, right?

(Hat tip to the Good News Network, which is one of my new favourite news sources, since it only ever has, well, good news.)

Much Ado About Stuff

It's been another one of those weeks. The kind where I don't blog because there are so many things running around in my head that I have no idea where to start, or if I have some idea about that, then I have no idea where to go from there. But, a friend recently expressed regret that I don't blog enough, so I will attempt to make some sense of all my rambling thoughts. I just got back from a midnight run to Wendy's for protein and iron in a squareish, greasy shape, so I just might have the energy for it. Plus, I still have to finish my "large" drink, which is approximately six gallons.

Sunday, I found myself simultaneously closer to and further from an answer to my question about calling. I think a part of the answer is to seek humility. I think my yearning for a "Calling" is rooted at least in part in pride - a desire to be Something Special in the kingdom. Gotta shake that. Or, maybe just the opposite. Maybe I need to fight with God more. Jacob wrestled with God until he blessed him, Lot begged the angels to let him stay in the Little city, and somehow, for all his sins and whinyness, he still wound up with eulogized as "a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men" (2 Peter 2:7). Or maybe that goes back to pride, too. If I had lived in Bible times, I expect I wouldn't have been a main character. Perhaps a "servant who was standing near the edge of the crowd" and that's about it. I should be okay with that. The main characters often get the short end of the stick in their lives, even if they DO end up with good eulogies.

From there, my week got better and worse. Monday, I found out that I am going to be an aunt. Which is great news, and I am very happy. But I am also a little sad, because a part of me has been craving that particular blessing for so long that it's hard to see someone else, well, beat me to it. When we moved down here eight months ago, we did it because we wanted to start a family. I never imagined that I would still be waiting, this far down the road, for the time to be right. And, I suppose, pride comes in here, too. Because Jer and I were both the first in our families to get married, and I always imagined we would be the first to have kids, too. But being an aunt should be pretty cool, too.

Tuesday, I had coffee with a friend from church, which was a really nice time, although it took an unexpected turn. A few minutes into our conversation, a woman came up to us and told us she had a favour to ask. My inner skeptical-city-girl braced herself for a sob story and plea for charity. I was surprised to find, however, that I completely believed her, and that she wasn't asking me for anything that I couldn't afford to give. She had just flown in from California to check her father out of the nursing home and bring him home with her. But the nursing home wouldn't let her check him out without filing power of attorney forms, and they needed two witnesses, and they couldn't be family members, and no, none of their staff could act as witnesses, either. I saw the helplessness on her face - the system had really left her with her hands tied, and she had to hope to find kindness in strangers. Without hesitation, my friend and I agreed, and went with her to the nursing home. It was a really special moment to be a part of, and it gave me hope to see such love in the children's and father's eyes for one another, and such gratitude to us, the charitable strangers. It was almost surreal.

Wednesday, I had made Jer an appointment with a chiropractor. As we were getting ready to go, I told Jer to grab his wallet because we would need his insurance card, and we spent the next five minutes looking everywhere for his wallet. Then he remembered that his mom had it at the last doctor's appointment, so we tried to call his mom at school. We couldn't get ahold of her, though, so Jer's dad drove off in one direction to the school to get the wallet, and we drove off in the other to the chiropractor's office. Or rather, to the address that the name of the office returned when we googled it, which was apparently not where the chiropractor's office actually was. Frustrated and running very late, we raced home to call Jer's dad on his cell phone before he got to the address we had given him and disturbed the poor, confused young woman who lived at not-the-chiropractor's-address for a second time in the same afternoon. We caught him just in time, and he brought the wallet to us while I phoned the chiropractor's office and found out where it was actually located, and asked if it was okay that we would be a little bit late.

We arrived at the chiropractor's office about 30 minutes after our appointment was scheduled to start, an appointment that we were supposed to be about 30 minutes early for in order to fill out paperwork. But everyone was very nice, and they waited for us as we filled out paperwork, and then we met with the chiropractor. And for the first time since the start of this whole illness, I felt like a medical professional was actually listening to everything we had to say, and putting it all together into a coherent picture, and coming up with logical next steps for us to take other than the "maybe it's this, let's run these tests and see" answers we have been getting from everyone else. (And, since I've already admitted twice in this post to being a prideful beast, I'll confess that it helped my opinion of him even more when he made at least three separate observations that I have been saying all along but that every other doctor has not thought worth considering.)

The drawback of having an amazing, attentive, thorough chiropractor is that the first visit went way longer than I had anticipated. So, when we pulled out of the chiropractor's office, it was after six, and I had planned on being downtown to meet some friends for dinner by 5:45. And I still had to drive Jer home (15 minutes) drive to the train station (10 minutes) and take the train downtown (45 minutes). Fortunately, I have very understanding (and also somewhat running-lateing) friends.

I met my friends, and we took the subway together to West Philly, because that's where you have to go if you want good Ethiopian food. And boy was it good. It looked like there was no way we would ever consume all that food when she brought us out our platter, but we not only managed to finish, but we also managed to polish off a fair amount of the plate-lining injera as well. Oh. So. Good. If you're ever in Philly, I highly recommend Abyssinia.

After dinner, Jon and I somehow decided that we had room for gelato, although I don't know how we came to that conclusion. We headed back into center city, and wandered around for a while looking for gelato places, Jon asking random strangers where to find gelato and me trying to look like I had no idea who this weirdo who talks to strangers might be. At one corner, we saw a pizza place, and I brightened up and said hey, pizza and gelato come from the same country, we must be in the right neighbourhood! To which Jon responded by going into the pizza restaurant and asking the staff where we should go to get gelato. I followed him inside, since standing on the sidewalk by myself seemed equally awkward, but the trip proved entirely worth it, because it turns out that hey, Italians DO know where the best gelato places in the city are to be found!

So, we had gelato at Capogiro, which was easily the best gelato I have ever had (sorry, Piccolo Grande!). It was expensive, but dinner had been so cheap that it totally made up for it. It was a late night, but I didn't have to work in the morning. I was a little worried that I might miss the last train home, but fortunately, I had parked at the train station that has three trains instead of just one, so I was still able to catch one of them.

Today, we got Jer's lab results from the bloodwork that the last specialist had ordered. It looked like pretty much everything was negative, but there was a little scrap of prescription paper in there with two almost illegible words scrawled on it. We're pretty sure it said, "unspecified hepatitis". We have absolutely no idea what this means, but apparently he's not dying very quickly, because the next appointment they offered him was over a month away. So, of course I googled "unspecified hepatitis" and didn't really find out anything useful, but Wikipedia suggested to me that dandruff shampoo and Advil can cause hepatitis. So, now I'm trying not to be worried, because apparently the doctors aren't worried, and I am looking forward more than anything to next Friday, when we will be following up with the chiropractor, who seems to have a better idea about what's going on than all of the other doctors combined, and see what he thinks of the lab results.

See? This is what you get when you ask me to blog more. Six pages later, you start to wish you had never mentioned anything. But, as a special treat for those of you who made it all the way to the end of this post, here is a special prize: Number one search result for Vellernatians!