Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Still Grieving

When I look back over the year before my father died, it seems almost as if he knew it was his last. My father was always living life to the fullest, but in that last year, even with the stroke slowing him down, he really pulled out all the stops. Visiting people he hadn't seen in years, going back with me to our favorite family campground, and making a conscious effort to track down his most cherished food memories from his childhood.

He came to visit me in Toronto the month before he died, craving plato tipico. He grew up in Colombia, and apparently had fond memories of this set meal that you would get pretty much anywhere you went for lunch. It took two buses and a streetcar to get there, but we all enjoyed the meal, even if the chicharron was a little hard for my tastes. At Christmas, he decided that he wanted to show us all what a traditional Noche Buena feast was like, so he hired a sweet little Colombian lady to make us tamales and pan de bon and empanadas. That was the Christmas that he had the stroke, and I could be wrong, but I think he had already ordered the food before it happened.

When my dad died, one of the things that almost everyone mentioned to us was his love of life. So, when his birthday rolled around that year, we decided to memorialize his life by going out to dinner as a family on the day of his birth. Sure, we all remember the day he died, but we feel like we can celebrate more on his birthday. So we went out for Salvadoranean food on the day he would have turned 59. And we went out for Chilean food on the day he would have turned 60. Then my sister moved away, and I moved away, and when his birthday rolled around this year, my family was spread far apart, and we couldn't go out for dinner together.

This past Wednesday, my father would have turned 61. I had to work that night. I had to work Thursday morning, too. But I was meeting Jon in the city to connect for our weekend road trip, and surely, there must be a Latin American restaurant in the city. I searched all over the internet, but came up empty handed. I did manage to find one Colombian restaurant, but it was in the far northern end of the city, which was nowhere near where we would be. So we ended up getting take-out. Not even remotely hispanic take-out, either. And then we got on the wrong bus and ended up lost in Camden. And the two days of increasingly early shifts that I had been scheduled in order to have this evening off were starting to catch up to me, and I found myself tired and cold and frustrated.

And sad.

I forgot to bring a book with me, so I picked up a free newspaper to read on the train. It wasn't a very interesting free newspaper, but it did have an extremely long article about morticians that I spent most of the trip reading. Probably not the best reading material for my state of mind, but it kept my brain occupied.

We connected with Phil and Rachel and decided to leave on our road trip in the morning, rather than starting out so late. Which was probably for the best, since I was barely keeping my eyes open by this time. I fell asleep on a couch almost as soon as my head hit the cushion. Usually, I spend about a half hour or so awake in bed before I fall asleep, mulling things over in my mind and stressing about things that I can't possibly do anything about right now. But on this occasion, I fell directly asleep.

And woke up, fully alert and wide awake, at about 4:45 a.m., with two vivid images juxtaposed in my mind. The first was of my mother, kissing my father's body goodbye, and telling us how cold his lips had been. The second was a graphic description of embalming from the article I had read on the train the day before - an image of formaldehyde and deodorant spray and things stitched together and padded and painted and all of that hiding behind my father's glued together lips. And all of those thoughts and worries and stresses took my mind back over for almost an hour before I finally stopped crying and fell back asleep.

I don't like to write about these kinds of things. But when I don't, it's like a wall goes up on my blog, and I feel like I can't write anything else of substance while those thoughts are still sitting there, waiting to be processed. And yes, I suppose I have been a bit pre-occupied with my father lately, but at least two of you like to hear about him, so here it is. I still miss him. It still hurts sometimes. A lot, sometimes. And I pretended it was no big thing, but not being able to get tamales for Christmas Eve this year really upset me. And I suppose I put a lot of weight on being able to go out for his birthday instead, so when that fell through, I took it hard. Add this to the fact that Jeremy is still sick, and my family is far away, and even if I had been able to get Colombian food for my dad's birthday, I wouldn't have been able to share it with the people for whom it would have meant the most.

And now, I am tired, and emotionally spent, so the upbeat account of our road trip weekend will have to await another day.


Whenever I disappear from the blogosphere for a while, it is usually for one of two reasons. Either I am off somewhere, too busy to blog, and accumulating content that will take a while to process into a proper post. Or, I am dealing with an emotionally heavy topic that will take a while to process into a proper post. This absence has been due to both reasons. Expect posts of both sorts in the near future. In the meantime, here are two lighthearted distractions...

1. Jeremy and I were discussing today how much fun it would be to give children really twisted first names with really normal nicknames. For example: Annie (short for Anarchy), Stu (short for Stupid), or Abbie (short for Abyss). In honor of Hallowe'en, I'm having a contest in the comments. Can you think of any other really good, twisted names that shorten to normal nicknames? There will be a prize for the best one! (Disclaimer: Prize may not have any monetary value.)

2. Didn't get around to making a Jack-O-Lantern this year? Carve a pumpkin online! (Hat tip to Sarah for the link.)

P.S. Haven't had enough Hallowe'en? Check out Matazone's extremely disturbing Hallowe'en animation (warning: extremely disturbing and somewhat graphic) or TwilightTreader's Hallowe'en short story (warning: mature language and subject matter).

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

YouTube and Google and Copyright, Oh My!

All the cool geeks are talking about Google buying YouTube and taking down thousands of copyrighted works and handing over user information to lawyers. And I'm sure I could post a rather lengthy diatribe about digital rights management and the DMCA and all that fun stuff, but I don't know if I have too much to add to the topic that hasn't already been covered, better, by someone with more research. I will however, comment on one somewhat sidebar issue.

The whole point of YouTube, according to their tagline is to "broadcast yourself". And I will admit, I have enjoyed the easy access to television commercials and music videos just as much as the next guy, but really, those kids are just photocopying pages from the encyclopedia and turning them in as their final paper. The best of the best, the videos that really make YouTube special, are the ones that people made themselves. Videos of kids singing the alphabet, or dogs with spaghetti wrapped around their snouts, or lip-synching to romanian pop songs, or putting on little back-yard plays, or hilarious little flash animations making fun of the president. The copyrighted works were bound to go away eventually - agree or disagree with the law, everyone knew that it was illegal. And maybe, once the initial frustration has gone away, the internet will get back to being creative.

Monday, October 23, 2006


When I started my job at the store, I asked my manager for Sunday mornings off so that I could go to church. For a long time, he didn't schedule me on Sundays at all, but then we lost a few partners in the summer-to-fall shuffle, including several people with Sunday availability. So I started working Sunday evenings.

I didn't really mind, since that was the availability I had given my boss, but after a few weeks of working Sunday nights, I began to mourn the loss of an entire day that I always never had to work. It's a really nice concept; kudos to whoever came up with that. (Oh yeah, God.)

So my manager did a bit of shuffling, hired some new people, and now I don't have to work Sundays anymore. What a blessing to work for people who will do stuff like that for you. Yesterday was the first of my new Sabbaths.

So, after an excellent church service (one that left me really thinking for the second time in two weeks - thanks, pastor), I invited a new friend from church, Dan, to come over for homemade chicken soup. Jeremy and I had eaten rotisserie chicken for dinner the night before, which meant that there was a big bowl of tasty, fresh broth waiting in the fridge to be properly soupified. We made soup, and even threw in some of those flamboyantly multicolored pasta bowties that Sarah brought me back from Italy. It was tasty, and fun, and we rounded the afternoon out with some video games.

Dan had to leave, but his place was soon taken by Phil and Rachel and, eventually, Jon. We had planned on watching a movie or two, but we instead became enthralled by watching Jon's white wolf run around painting things with his celestial paintbrush. That ended up occupying most of the evening, except that part where we got hungry and Rachel and I (chaperoned by Phil, who was hungry and wanted to make sure we didn't shop for too long) headed to the brand new Wegmans to buy something for dinner. For those of you who don't live in a Wegmans-serviced area, it's an awesome grocery store that is open 24 hours, and offers everything from customer education to a kosher deli to banking. And they just opened one up not too far from me! :)

We ended up buying thin strips of top round steak, deli-sliced provolone cheese, and fresh sour dough baguettes with which to make the fancy, French restaurant version of Philly cheese steaks. We also wandered a wee bit more than we should, and bought many things that were on sale, and dallied in the bulk section until Phil had to bodily remove us to the checkout line. Then I ripped the back of my knuckles off trying to put something on the conveyer belt and took my bloodied hand to the customer service desk where the slightly-over-helpful clerk insisted on not just giving me a band-aid, but opening and placing it for me as well.

Dinner was tasty, and Rachel and I surreptitiously made brownies while everyone else was distracted by a game of bridge. It was fun to surprise everyone else with an elaborate dessert of brownie sundaes with ice cream and strawberries (and whipped cream and chocolate syrup) a little bit later when all that video-game watching had made us peckish. We also played a game or two of Cranium Whoonu, which was fun but over too fast and probably won't have an overly high replay value, since all the cards are so similar. (Basically, it's like Apples to Apples without the context of the adjective - you just turn in whichever card you think someone else will like best, and they rank them in order of preference. I think it would be more fun if it had bad things in the deck: Which do you like more, nazis or the ebola virus?)

All in all a fun evening, although Jon had to go home before he beat the thief Hayazo, because he'll need to learn an electricity brush stroke of some sort before coming back. If this game is so addictive to watch, it's probably a good thing I don't own it to play myself. You might never see me again, because why blog when there are kimonos to paint?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Short One

In order to make up for being so long-winded lately, here's a short post to lighten your day.
(Be forewarned: lawyers have terrible senses of humor!)

Jule Ann: Why am I so tireded?

Jeremy: Because you just ated.

Jule Ann: Is that why I'm abedded?

Friday, October 20, 2006

I dream of community with the light brown hair...

What does community mean to you? Is it just a general term for the area surrounding where you live? Is it a geographical term? Or is it an interpersonal concept?

When I was a kid, I played with the neighbor kids. They would knock on my door and ask me to come out and play, or I would meet them down by the creek and we would play together in the mud for hours. My block was a community of sorts, albeit one with an ever-revolving population. It doesn't seem like the kids in suburbia even have that any more. They have play dates that are scheduled weeks in advance and they have to be chauffeured 35 minutes away to where their parentally-approved friends live.

Last Saturday, I decided to go for a walk in the park. I drove by my pastor's house on the way, and I noticed his kids playing in the yard. So I stopped in and asked if they would like to join me. My pastor, who grew up in the same small town that housed my college, was thrilled with the impromptu visit, and we all had a lovely time playing at the park together. He told me that people used to stop by all the time in Houghton, but he could count on one hand the number of impromptu visits he's had since he moved here many years ago.

My church is a community. It's one of those small churches where people spend almost as long chatting during the "greet one another" portion of the service as they do singing hymns. And we often go out for lunch together, but really, we keep our community confined to very rigid boundaries. No one from my church has ever showed up at my door unannounced, and maybe once or twice, someone has called to set-up a coffee date.

I have a micro-community at home. My in-laws, brother-in-law, husband and I usually eat meals together, and we often watch TV or play video games with Mark. But five people is really more of a family than a community. So what makes a community?

I don't have a concrete answer, but I have a few ideas. My friend Kate recently blogged about the Campus Center lounge at our shared alma mater. One of the things I loved about, and miss most about, Houghton was the constant availability of someone to talk to, laugh with, or study beside. It has something to do with not being alone in the world, knowing that others are going through the same things you are, and being able to relax and enjoy each other's presence without having to plan something. That's a part of what community is.

When I was in college, I lived in a big Victorian house with 11 other girls. We shared a meal every night, which we took turns cooking and cleaning up after. We had two common "study" lounges that were often the center of heated debates or warm sharing times. We had a job board, and shared the routine household upkeep tasks on a rotating basis. We had occasional house meetings to deal with issues that might arise. We even managed to squeeze a house book discussion group into our busy, college lives. I loved my Walldorf girls (one year their elder and the house coordinator, I was their "Mama Jule"), and I loved the experience of shared meals and lives.

So what makes a community? On the most superficial level, I'd say quite simply the ready availability of social interaction. And in our hustle-bustle lives, perhaps having friends nearby to interact with regularly is of the greatest value of all. But I think it goes deeper than that. Having shared goals and dreams, sharing a stake in the outcome of the same events, sharing love of the same things and people. Our society values independence above all else, and we all work so hard to insulate ourselves from consequences that might stem in any way from circumstances outside of ourselves. Maybe a little bit of co-dependence would be good for us.

And I'm not alone in this belief, either. Bear with me if I butcher the theory, but the way I understand Maslow's hierarchy of needs, a person can't move up the triangle towards self-actualization unless their lower, more basic needs are met. For example, you can't focus on building friendships if you're starving to death. The need for food comes before the need for belonging. However, the need for belonging comes well below self-actualization. That's community; and it's a basic, fundamental, human need. But we try to short-circuit the whole process. We put immense value on the "self-made man/woman", who "made it" without having to depend on anyone else. We cut the tip of the triangle off and pretend that it's all there is. And yet the fact remains, in our proverbs if not in our logic, that "it's lonely at the top".

So am I crazy to dream of living in community with several other families and single people, sharing our meals and yard work and childcare and leisure time? Am I crazy to dream of being interconnected and interdependent in a day and age when "co-dependency" is treated as a mental illness? (Before you jump down my throat - I'm not saying there aren't people who suffer from a genuinely debilitating strain of co-dependency. As with everything else in life, from dieting to cleanliness to independence, interconnectedness taken too far can be a problem. I'm referring rather to the stigmatization of even the word "dependent".)

I'm sure I seem crazy to most of the world, but to those of us who have had a small taste of true community, it's hard not to dream of that life.

P.S. This topic comes up frequently with me, but I think it's the first time I've written about it on this blog. For a taste of another angle I have taken on this subject, here's something I wrote back in February:

Breakfast Reading Material

My father-in-law is not retired. He's not even really of retirement age. But he is a member of the AARP. I guess you can join when you turn 50, and my father-in-law is not one to scoff at free random discounts at places like Barnes and Noble.

His AARP magazine came in the mail the other day, and I found myself reading it over breakfast. It's actually not a bad magazine, even if it does have as many "business reply mail" cards as it does actual content pages. (And now for the Simpsons-esque transition to what the rest of the episode is about that has absolutely nothing to do with the first five minutes.)

I found myself drawn to an article called "Rethinking the Commune". Any of you who has ever spent an evening in conversation with me has probably found the conversation to shift at least once to the topic of community, which is a current pet topic of mine. Honestly, I was expecting to find an article about a retirement village in Florida, but I was pleasantly surprised to find an article about exactly the problems and potential solutions I have been contemplating myself.

From the article: "People are simultaneously more mobile and more isolated. If you ask the average adult today if he or she has as much interaction with their neighbors as they did when they were growing up, nine out of ten would say no."

I was even pleasantly surprised to find a name for the community model I have been considering. It's called "cohousing", and there are already more than 80 cohousing communities in existence in the United States. For those of you who don't care enough to click on the above link, cohousing is basically an intentional community, where each family has an independent dwelling and private financial affairs, but the whole community shares certain community resources, such as a communal house for shared meals and pedestrian paths or parks. In my model, each family would also contribute in some way to the general life of the community, by preparing meals or offering childcare or gardening or helping other members write wills or being on-call for first-aid emergencies or whatever else people can come up with to best make use of their personal gifts and skills.

I was not surprised to discover that only about a third of cohousing initiatives actually make it to the construction stage. There are a lot of logistics to work out and a lot of hurdles to overcome in building something like this. However, I was pleasantly surprised to read that, "of the dozens of cohousing communities in the United States and the world that have survived to construction, not a single one has failed." While I am not convinced of the thoroughness of the scientific method applied in making this assertion, it still seems like a heartening commentary on the viability of this idea.

Community is the reason I moved down to the Philadelphia area. Jeremy's extended family celebrates birthdays and holidays together, to the tune of 20 or more people often being in attendance at any one celebration. They watch each others' kids and help each other renovate. I moved down here so I would always have someone to watch the baby when I have an appointment or pick the kids up from school when I'm running late. Why not take that a step further? On a purely financial level, why should four different families have to buy a big enough house to entertain 20-30 people when they could all just have a house big enough for their own family and share one big gathering house?

Of course, I'm nowhere near to this pipe dream of mine actually becoming a concrete plan. But I can dream, and when I come across articles like this, it makes my dreams feel a little bit less impossible.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

And I didn't eat a single apple, big or otherwise...

Someone recently asked me about the places I ate when I was in New York City back in May. I thought I had blogged about it, but I only barely mentioned it here. I guess I was overwhelmed with experience from that trip, and just didn't know where to start. But, I did keep a list of our activities on that trip, including meals, and I think I can track down the restaurants on the interweb. So here goes...

May 17
Lunch: Soup dumplings and some noodle dish at Joe's Shanghai in Chinatown (blogged about here)
Snack: Fruit popsicles from a vendor near Strawberry Fields in Central Park
Pre-dinner drinks: (well, coffee for me) Saints & Sinners Pub in Queen's
Dinner: A plethora of tasty Thai dishes from Sripraphai in Queen's

May 18
Breakfast: Breakfast sandwiches and coffee from some deli/bakery in Chelsea - didn't write down the name, but it was tasty
Pre-lunch dessert: Cupcakes! from Magnolia Bakery in the West Village
Lunch: Sandwiches from another deli I forgot to write down the name of. Bad me. (We ate them on the Staten Island Ferry, which offers free views of the Statue of Liberty!)
Afternoon coffee: Starbucks in Trump Tower
Late Dinner: Prosciutto and manicotti in Little Italy (our restaurant selection was done by walking slowly down the street and eating at the restaurant with the most persuasive little Italian woman telling us all about her wonderful food) - the restaurant we chose was called Benito 2, and the sales pitch was dead on.
Dessert: Fantastic cannolis and capuccino at a place that I wrote down as "Cannoli King" but the internet seems to think was actually Caffé Palermo. Either way, it was tasty.

May 19
Breakfast: I don't remember the name for what I got, but it was unique and had a weird name and involved eggs and a flatbread of some sort. I also didn't write down the name of the restaurant, but it was in the East Village. Man, I really should have blogged about this sooner...

Geeky Ramblings

First off, if you don't have Gmail, you should. With over 2 gigs of storage space and growing, you never need to delete another email message. It keeps conversations together in your inbox, which is handy and fun. And the search functions are so easy to use and fast that you don't need to bother sorting email into folders anymore. Also, anyone who has Gmail also automatically has Google Talk, a handy little instant messenger protocol that you can access right from your Gmail page (it's also powered by Jabber, so it can be accessed through multi-platform programs like Gaim). And when you search for anything in your emails, it also returns search results from your chats, which it automatically logs for you. If you still need an invite to sign up for Gmail, I have 99 invites remaining at the moment, and I would be glad to send you one. Just email me at my gmail.com address, juleannwakeman at.

But what I really came here to rant about today is Google Calendar. I love this feature. One the surface, it's just another event tracker, but it's also so much more. There are several different views - ranging from one day at a time to one month at a time, all of which I use at different points in time. The daily view is very visual - blocking out the sections of the day that are scheduled and making is easy to see what's ahead at a glance. It lets you set up multiple calendars, which comes in handy for keeping track of things like work schedules or class schedules that might take over your personal calendar. I have two calendars right now - one for work and one for everything else - but I can imagine circumstances under which I might start a third or even fourth calendar.

The best part of Google Calendar, though, is the sharing. I can share my calendar with any other friends who also have Google Calendars, so that they know before asking whether I am free Friday night to go to a movie or not. This is especially handy with friends like Rachel, who also work irregular shifts, because I can see, at a glance, whether our schedules overlap so that we can drive up to Kutztown and pick apples. You can check or uncheck which calendars you want to see at any given time so that if I'm trying to get three particular people together for a lunch date, I can look at just their calendars. Which are color-coded. Very nice. (Share your calendar with me by clicking the drop-down arrow beside your calendar and choosing "share this calendar", then add my Gmail address to your list and save!)

Some things I am only just starting to discover about Google Calendar:

1. Holidays. At first, I was taken aback that there were no holidays marked on the calendar by default. Do I have to add them all in by hand? That's a bit of a pain. But, it turns out that the reason there are no holidays on the calendar is so that you can choose which set of holidays you want on your calendar. Would you rather view Vietnamese holidays or Jewish Holidays? Calendar Settings -> Calendars -> Add calendar -> Browse calendars -> Add whichever ones you want.

2. Public Calendars. I don't have my calendar shared publicly, because I can imagine people using my work schedule for stalking or house-robbing purposes. However, there are a lot of interesting public calendars out there, from local dance groups to sports team schedules to video game release dates. I haven't done a whole lot of investigating here yet, but it could be a valuable resource if you are part of a club or group that meets semi-regularly. Calendar Settings -> Calendars -> Add calendar -> Search public calendars.

3. Weather. At first, I had added a public calendar that gave me the weather reports, but this became extremely cumbersome once Google added a weather feature to their basic features. So, for early adopters like me, you can add weather by going to the general settings page and choosing "Show weather based on my location".

4. Reminders. I don't use this much, but I should. You can have your calendar email you a week, a day, an hour (or other times, too) in advance of events, depending on how much notice you need. I use this for birthdays right now, but there is so much more I could be using it for. You can also have it send reminders to your cell phone, but I don't have a cell phone, so I don't utilize this feature.

Some things I would like to see coming soon to a Google Calendar near me:

1. Easier inputting of several events at one sitting. When I go to put in my work schedule for the next two weeks, it's a pain to have to go back to the main calendar after every one. It would be nice to have a "Save and input another event" or "Save and go to next day" option.

2. Links on the holiday calendars to pages about that holiday. That would be nifty.

3. A to-do list feature with deadlines. So far, I can only figure out how to put deadlines in as all-day events, which is kindof silly.

4. More modifiable printing. The pdf file it brings up when I click the printer icon is not at all what I want to print, but I can't figure out how to change it.

Monday, October 16, 2006

New Year's Resolutions

Okay, so I'm a little bit late for Rosh Hashanah resolutions (if such a thing even exists), and still too early for December 31 resolutions, but I'm feeling tiny bit motivated, so here goes.

1. De-lurk in any blog that I keep reading for more than a couple of weeks. My guess would be that there are at least half a dozen bloggers on my blogroll that don't even know that I read them. And if it were me, I would want to know that I was reading.

2. Comment more on the blogs that I read regularly. Comments are like compliments to a blogger - they make us feel loved and read, even when the comments are not explicitly complimentary. I appreciate having people comment on my blog, so I ought to assume that others will equally appreciate being commented upon. It makes blogging feel more like a conversation, and less like shouting into the void over the sound of the crashing waves.

3. Read my Bible more. Probably almost every resolution list I have ever written has included some variation on this theme, but there it is again. A passage read from Revelation 2 yesterday really caught my attention, basically, if I may paraphrase and personalize, saying "Yeah, yeah, you're a good person and you hate evil yadda yadda yadda. But where's the love? We used to talk, and snuggle, and you never bring me flowers anymore." So I bought a new Bible, hoping it would inspire me. But instead, I watched four episodes of Star Trek on DVD then went to sleep. So we're off to a good start.

4. Actually do those things on my "To Do" list rather than just stressing about them. They're usually not so bad once I actually get to them, and then I get the satisfaction of actually crossing them off.

There are several other things I would like to add, but I am going to stop there, before this list deteriorates into a session of useless self-deprecation. I was taught in my Starbucks leadership training that goals should be specific, measurable, something that starts with 'A', realistic, and time-something-or-other. (I'm sure I wrote it down somewhere.) So, goals like "take a shower before work tonight" are good, because you can tell when you've achieved them, but goals like "be a better person" are too vague to really be useful. And none of the resolutions I just made are "S.M.A.R.T." goals, so perhaps I should quit while I am behind.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Another Day, Another Adventure

My dad loved to show up unannounced. When we were traveling, we would often take long detours to visit people who didn't know we were coming. His idea of "in the neighbourhood" was something along the lines of "Well, we're closer to you here than we would have been if we were still at home, so what's another three hours out of our way to pop in on an old college friend?" Sometimes, I thought it was a waste of time and energy, to drive all that way out of our way, when it was already going to be late by the time we got to our intended destination, usually to visit people that I had never met before, and often to knock on the door of an empty house because the people we were trying to visit didn't know we were coming and had gone out for groceries or dinner or away for the weekend. We always left a note, and I somehow got the feeling that a hand-delivered note on the door, scrawled on the back of an envelope or whatever paper we could track down, was somehow almost as special as a proper visit. And in this day of instant messaging and next-day delivery, perhaps this is more true than ever. We didn't call in advance, because the possibility of being able to completely and utterly surprise an old friend was worth the risk of them not being there. Still, I always swore that when I grew up, I would at least call from down the street first, to make sure they were there, and dressed, and to give them five minutes' warning to shut the doors of their messiest rooms.

So yesterday, when Rachel and I made plans to go apple picking, and I had picked a place that was sortof kindof on the way to the area where my cousin lives, I threw my address book in the car, just in case we decided to drive up there and say "hi". I figured I'd play it by ear, and give her a call if it was looking like we had the time for a short visit.

We were planning on going to the Rodale Institute, near Kutztown, PA, which is the birthplace of organic farming. We figured we could get some healthy apples, and learn a thing or two while we were there.

Apple growers in the Northeast use more pesticides per acre than most any other farmers. Our apple orchard was begun as a research project to try and develop alternatives to battle the more than 40 insect pests and 10 diseases that threaten the apple crop each year. A side effect of our research: lots of apples. We sell them to grocery stores, make them into cider and apple butter, and open our orchard up to the public as a pick-your-own farm each fall.

Unfortunately, the Rodale Institute only grows early apple crops, so we missed their apple picking by a good three weeks. Fortunately, the Kutztown area is so beautiful that it would totally have been worth the drive, even if we had just turned around and driven home right then and there. But we didn't. We browsed the bookstore a bit, bought some licorice, and asked the friendly woman at the front desk where she would go if she wanted to pick some apples in mid-October. She recommended a nice little family-run place a few miles north of there, wrote some directions down for us, and even printed out some information from their website for us. We thanked her, and started driving deeper into the countryside. And honestly, you could not have asked for a nicer fall day - crisp, cool, and sunny - for a drive in the countryside.

We found the little fruit stand, and pulled off the road, much to the relief of the car behind us who seemed to be less in awe of the beauty around us, and wanting to go slightly less below the speed limit. The stand was occupied by a young man in a beard, and his wife and daughter, who were eating sandwiches and playing with dolls. He gave us some baskets and showed us which trees would be best for picking at this time of year, and we filled our baskets with lovely Suncrisps and Idareds. We also bought some jams and cider, to round the trip out and further justify the expenditure of gas.

Since our last request for a local recommendation had proven so successful, we decided to ask the farmer's wife where she would recommend that we go for lunch. She gave us directions to a nice little family diner, a few miles north of where we were, which was, you may recall, a few miles north of where we started. After a tasty lunch, I consulted the map in my brain, and with all of those norths stacked on top of each other, it looked like we were relatively close to the town where my cousin lives. But the map in my brain is inherently unreliable, so I asked the waitress, and she confirmed that Walnutport was really close and really easy to get to. She gave us directions, and we were on our way.

Now you might be wondering why I didn't call my cousin first, to make sure she was home and dressed and all that. Well, the easy answer to that is that I looked in my address book and discovered that it only contained her address, and not her phone number. And I could have called directory assistance but there didn't seem to be a payphone in the diner, and I didn't want Rachel to have to pay the 411 fee on her cell phone. (So much better to pay for a wild goose chase in gas, right?) But really, I think I was becoming enamoured with the idea of just showing up unannounced, ever a romantic like my dad. So we set out driving for our third mystery destination of the day, with directions to the town, and only a vague memory of going to her house once before, several years ago.

We stopped at a gas station for directions, and I peeked at an area map while we were there to get my bearings. We started out towards where we had been told to go, but never passed the cross-street I was looking for, and soon ended up at an intersection we remembered having been at before we stopped for directions. So, we turned back towards the gas station, and this time, I told Rachel to go past the place the helpful strangers had told us to go, and continue to the next intersection, because I had noticed a sign for their church, and I felt like we could get to their house that way, although I really had no idea. And actually, it worked. It took us right to their house. And I don't know who was more surprised that it had worked: Rachel or myself.

But of course, my cousin wasn't home. So I left a note on her door, scrawled on the bottom half of the computer print-out of the directions to the Rodale Institute. Then we headed back the way we had come, wondering if we would be able to retrace our steps.

We had noticed several signs for a corn maze near the intersection that would have taken us to my cousin's church, so when we passed that corner again, we decided to follow the corn maze signs. Corn mazes are fun, and Rachel had never been to one before. What a great way to further justify the trip! We followed the signs, and they actually took us right to my cousin's church. As we turned into the parking lot, we noticed the hours for the corn maze, and we were at least two hours too early for it. We parked anyhow and decided to talk to the lady who was putting up the signs.

It turns out that the corn maze is part of a huge outreach thing the church is doing, called Maizefest. The woman I talked to said she knew my cousin well, and that they had actually stopped by about an hour earlier on their way out of town for the weekend. So, we had just missed them. Oh well. Then I remembered that one of my childhood friends from church camp in Canada (the "Danny" who pushed me in the lake in this post, in fact) is now a youth pastor at this very same church. I asked about him, but the maze lady told me that he was actually out of town, too. She offered to give me directions to his house, where I could visit with his wife, who also went to the same church camp in Canada as a child, but I didn't really know her all that well, and I declined. (My dad would have gone ahead and visited Kim, I'm pretty sure.) Kim's older brother is the music pastor at this church, but I didn't bother trying to track him down, either, he was a few years older than me at church camp, so I didn't know him very well either. But just in case you don't believe in conspiracies, let me tell you that there must be something up when that many people from the same Canadian church camp all end up at the same church in the middle of northeastern Pennsylvania farm country. I think we might try to go back for Maizefest next weekend, though. Anyone interested in coming along?

Rachel and I eventually found our way home, although we did get lost again on the way. We knew that we could take Mountain Road back to 309, and we were planning on taking 309 all the way back to my place, but we messed that up somehow and ended up on 248. At one point, we noticed that we were running parallel to the Turnpike, so we found ourselves another gas station full of helpful people who gave us directions and drew us maps and one who even volunteered to let us follow him to the Turnpike, since he was heading that way anyhow. Rachel bought a Pennsylvania road atlas while we were there, too, which essentially buffered us against having to need a map anymore, and we got home without further incident, waving goodbye to the helpful man who let us follow him when our paths diverged.

We didn't really have much energy left for making apple pie anymore when we got home, however, so we divided up the spoils of our apple picking adventure and played a game of Phase 10 instead. I guess I should start making apple sauce at some point today, since I have the day off, but it's a beautiful day outside, and the sun is shining, and the wind is blowing and it's calling out to me to have another adventure. Or at least to take a walk.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Politics... Bleh...

There is an election coming up. I know this because I dive for the mute button that much more quickly whenever television commercials come on. I'm considering going to the polls and voting for whatever names on the ballot I don't recognize, because if they don't have a television commercial about them, there is a small chance that they don't suck. A very small one.

Maybe it's because I'm a little more educated than the general public, but these mud-slinging ads just make me angry. Maybe it's because I took courses in rhetorical strategy, but the rhetoric just seems so transparent to me. It all seems to come down to one thing: "This man is a REPUBLICAN and YOU HATE REPUBLICANS" and/or "This man is a DEMOCRAT and YOU HATE DEMOCRATS". I miss my multi-party home country.

We got a flyer in the mail the other day for a republican candidate. Or rather, against the democratic candidate. (I guess the people who make these anti-campaign ads have forgotten one of the first rules of advertising: brand recognition trumps content. Sure, Puffs could make an ad all about how Kleenex is a terrible product, but when you're in the store, you'll forget the content of the ad and buy the product that is most familiar to you, because you've seen Kleenex on the television.) The flyer was basically about how this guy is EVIL and we shouldn't vote for him because he wants to make illegal aliens rich. And once I finished going on a linguistic rampage about how the flyer's use of the word "illegal" was completely wrong, because it was referring to the money that people would be making after they had obtained legal status, thus making them no longer illegal, I sat down and actually thought about what the flyer was saying.

Basically, it sounds to me like this guy wants to pass a law requiring people who are currently working in this country illegally to obtain legal status in the form of a guest worker permit so that they can work legally. That sounds pretty good to me - a decent compromise between the one side of the argument which says our economy depends on illegal workers, and the other side of the argument that says we shouldn't encourage law-breaking, and that by rewarding illegal immigrants, we are actually punishing legal immigrants. But here is where the rest of the flyer got a but fuzzy. It claimed that illegal construction workers (and here I cringe at the incorrect use of the word "illegal") could make $30 an hour while American construction workers would only make $20 an hour. No explanation of how, other than somehow this EVIL person on the flyer would make it happen if I vote for him.

I suppose I could do a bit of research and figure out what bill this guy has signed or voted for or proposed regarding guest worker permits. But the flyer is in the trash, and I am lazy. So I will make assumptions. I'm going to assume that the guest worker permit also comes with its own minimum wage of some sort, requiring employers to pay guest workers at some rate that is higher than the union-negotiated industry minimum.

Well, of course that seems unfair at face value. Why should people who came to the country illegally make more than people who were born here, and who pay fifty cents out of every paycheck to get a union to fight on their behalf? But then I thought about it a bit more. What is the number one complaint about illegal immigrants? That they work for peanuts, right? And how can we compete with someone who's willing to take next to nothing for the same job, when we have student loans and a mortgage and cell phone bills to pay? Forcing the illegal immigrants to get legal status, pay taxes (I assume), and work for more money? This hurts them more than it hurts us! They were happy working for peanuts, and employers were happy to pay them peanuts. Now, greedy Americans can actually compete with them, because they aren't so cheap anymore!

But sadly, it would never work. The employers who are used to paying illegal aliens $6 an hour will never pay guest workers $30 an hour for the same job. They won't pay an American $20 an hour either. They will pay illegal guest workers $6 an hour. And it will continue to be that way as long as we live in a country that is so entirely built on easy living that we need someone else to do our dirty work for us.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Happy Canucky Turkey Day!

Yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving. One of the cool things about being a dual citizen is that I can justify celebrating both harvest holidays. But then again, I don't usually need much of an excuse to want stuffing. Mmmm... stuffing...

The first year of my marriage, we were living in Fillmore, NY on Canadian Thanksgiving. I decided to make cornish game hens, for which I procured a tasty sounding recipe from my boss at the Genesee Falls Inn. They were delicious. (Ha, you thought you were going to get a crazy, disaster, first year of marriage cooking attempt story. Fooled you. The only "disaster" was that we decided to make the hens at around dinner time, which meant that we didn't actually eat them until about 1:00 a.m. But frankly, for us, that is more normal than eating on time.)

I never actually wrote the recipe down, but I have made cornish game hens with sausage corn bread stuffing at least once a year since then. It has somehow become the unofficial meal of celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving in the USA for us, as well as the unofficial meal of having just had turkey a few weeks ago, and also month before that, so let's have something else for Christmas dinner this year in Canada. But yesterday, I was scheduled to work an unprecedented, normal person, 9-5:30 shift at the store, which meant that I would not be at home during those afternoon hours when I would have to do the meal preparations. Sure, Jer and I don't mind eating dinner at 1:00 a.m., but his parents are schoolteachers, and they don't share our flexible eating schedule. It would have been silly to make a Thanksgiving dinner for ourselves and not the whole family, so I decided not to bother.

We finished our project at the store a little bit early, so I came home at 4:30 p.m. instead of 5:45. Jeremy greeted me at the door.

"You're home early!"

"Yeah. But unfortunately, not early enough to make a turkey dinner."

"You don't have to. How do cornish hens sound?"

Jeremy had not only remembered that it was Canadian Thanksgiving yesterday (although the fact that I put it on the family calendar probably helped with that), and he not only remembered that I like to make cornish game hens when in the USA on that particular holiday, but he also managed to almost perfectly replicate my stuffing recipe from memory!

It was a wonderful meal. It tasted like being loved.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Back Online!

Right after, I posted my last entry, our internet broke.

So, in the past few days, I have:

Read a book.

Made bread pudding out of leftover pumpkin donuts.

Worked an extra shift at the store.

Played old-school arcade games on an emulator on my computer.

Made bread pudding two more times (there were a lot of pumpkin donuts).

Made root vegetable stew.

Had some friends over in real life for stew and board games.

Had several proper, adult conversations.

Fretted over how I'm ever going to catch up on all my blogs when I get the internet back.

Voice chatted with people on the "telephone".

Tried to remember how people ever solved arguments without Google.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Pictureful Post

I got two rolls of film developed this weekend, and I picked up the results today. Since I decided that it was worth the extra few dollars to spare myself the effort of scanning and purchased the pictures on CD, and since I never even come close to my upload limits on Flickr, here is a barrage of recentish photographs:

coaster line
Waiting in line for a coaster at Knoebels Amusement Park, Yarr Camping trip.
(Phil, Rachel, Tim, Sara, Dan.)

knoebels postcard
Fran said this picture reminded her of an old timey postcard, so I gimped it into one.

Mark's new camera
Jeremy's brother, Mark, and his girlfriend, Allie, check out his new camera.

Jule Ann and Sarah at the ocean
Jule Ann and Sarah with their feet in the ocean, just South of Asbury Park, NJ.

Central Park pond
A peaceful pond in Central Park, NYC.

Sarah and Elsa enjoy some cupcakes from Magnolia bakery, NYC.

Manhattan skyline
View of New York from the Staten Island Ferry.

Statue of Liberty
Obligatory New York shot (from the Staten Island Ferry).

Erin and Brian
Erin and Brian at a rest stop outside Scranton.

chocolate fountain
Chocolate fountain at Ben and Michelle's wedding.

Michelle and Ben
Michelle and Ben greet guests.

Michelle's dress
Michelle checks her bustle.

Ayron at the playground
Ayron Vandermark

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


I'm going to start my own airline. With my own airports. And people will be allowed to see their family members off at the gate, and you will only have to go through one set of metal detectors, which will be looking solely for guns. And you will be allowed to bring your own bottled water and hand cream. And kiss your boyfriend. And speak in your native language. And we can't guarantee there will be no terrorists, but we'll at least build our planes so that the cockpit unlocks from the pilot's side only. And really, for the tiny chance that someone will build a bomb out of hair gel, I bet a lot of people would rather fly with their freedoms intact.