Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Suck It, Sallie Mae


I have paid back my student loans.

Friday, October 26, 2007

What's In a Name? (Or, Jenny McCarthy Wants to Be Me)

I'm not a moron: I don't think that Jenny McCarthy actually wants to be me. My life is not so much about the fame and the rock hard abs and the $20-million-a-picture boyfriend. But we have (I shudder a weensy bit when I write this) similar writing interests. She wrote this and this, and I wrote this and this. My blog title is "Louder than Words," and so is McCarthy's latest book.

Okay, hundreds, nay, thousands of women write about these topics. Jenny and I are two of many, many similarly-aged women going through marriage, childbearing, child rearing, career issues, etc. Makes sense that we'd both write about these experiences.

BUT, I have been thinking about changing the title of this blog recently, and Jenny McCarthy's new book adds fuel to the fire. I mean, what if people start to confuse the two of us? Snarf.

Jenny's book title comes from her experiences with raising a child with autism, and my blog title comes from...well, I'll be honest: I ripped it off. "Louder than Words" is from a line in Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle." Since it's one of a few dozen songs that I love to belt out in the car, I know all the lyrics. And when I started this blog and thought, "a quote from a poem or a song about words would be a cool title," and well, this song came to mind. There's no subtext. I am not a man of great experience, nor am I hard to handle. It just seemed like a good fit for a word-based medium.

So, yeah, the more I think about it, "louder than words" doesn't really make a whole lot of sense for a blog. The actual lyric is "Actions speak louder than words." Which, now that I think about it, is the same sentiment expressed by Extreme in their hit single, "More than Words."

Crap. I know all the words to that song too, which KILLS me because it is rife with bad grammar. Not only that, but I'm convinced the human brain has a limited capacity, like a bucket, and retaining these lyrics is keeping me from learning something truly important, like how to manage a stock portfolio.

What is wrong with me?

Back to the original point of this post. Which was...wait, don't tell me...oh, right: my blog title doesn't make sense.

Written words don't make any noise, unless you read them aloud. Barring that caveat, EVERYTHING is louder than words. Clearly, I've got to brainstorm new titles that (a) make sense, (b) reveal transcendent coolness (or at least semi-hip geekiness), and (c) aren't twee.

That last one isn't really important. I just like the word twee and I don't get to use it often enough.

If I stick with a shout-out to a song, though, here are songs that actually have a random significance from my childhood:

- "Brass in Pocket," Pretenders
- "One Way Or Another," Blondie
- "Back in Black," AC/DC
- "Heartbreaker," Pat Benatar
- "Another One Bites the Dust," Queen
- "Elvira," the Oak Ridge Boys
- "Never Surrender," Cory Hart

I'm going to stop there. My parents and older sibs exposed me to much, much music, and this represents just the teeniest sliver of my childhood soundtrack. You'll note that there's no Raffi or Disney. Just be glad I didn't toss in Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What About Baltimore, Travel & Leisure Magazine?

"Did you know that Philadelphia was voted the ugliest city in the country?"

My co-worker, whom we'll call Former Math Teacher, is a Washington, DC native and has a penchant for non sequiturs. We'd been speaking about the achievement levels of a school district in Pennsylvania. And no, it wasn't Philadelphia.

"Really? I don't see how that's possible. There are some neighborhoods that are scary," I said, remembering the shoes dangling from power lines on Broad Street like ghetto mistletoe. "But I don't think it's fair to say the city is ugly. Haven't they been to Market Street? Or the the museum downtown, or..."

"Not the city. The people."

"Oh. Well, that's just mean. Who's voting on this?" I asked. I've been to Philly a number of times, and there's nothing especially unattractive about the City of Brotherly Love.

"Travel & Leisure Magazine. And they said that Washingtonians are mean and ugly, but not the ugliest." I could hear her flipping the pages of the magazine.

"Wait, doesn't The Hill do that 50 most beautiful Hill staffers article every year?" I asked. "That alone has to refute the ugly thing about DC." As for the 'mean' part...well, I've been elbowed out of the way by commuters clambering onto the Metro too many times to dispute that.

"I just think the whole article is unkind. Anyway, getting back to what we were talking about..."

And we resumed our conversation about achievement levels. But I wanted to dissect the topic further, so you, Gentle Reader, get to hear all about it.

The article in Travel & Leisure is just a slam book disguised as journalism. But, like a slam book, you're compelled to flip to your page to see what people really think. Problem is, the article didn't even include Baltimore. The indignity!

Baltimore is the 21st largest commercial market in the country. So, how about it, Travel & Leisure? Where are we? I wasn't able to find the selection criteria, but I think there are two reasons that Baltimore wasn't included:

1) Despite the renown of the Inner Harbor, most folks think that Baltimore is a super scary place. I won't say this is undeserved. I love the city of my birth, warts and all, but the warts can certainly taint the overall complexion. Why am I using a yucky skin analogy?

Anyway, editors likely don't want to feature a city that's closing in on 300 murders for the calendar year in a magazine that's ostensibly about travelling in pursuit of a good time. Not only that, but Baltimore's reputation in pop culture hovers somewhere between Detroit and Deadwood. In television shows like Homicide, The Wire, The Corner, and even Roc, drugs and crime exist as characters, not just story lines.

Compare that to, say, New York, which has enjoyed much love from Woody Allen, Friends, Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother, Will and Grace, All in the Family, Futurama, Spin City, Felicity, NewsRadio, Sex in the City, 30 Rock...well, you get the picture. Even if you tot up all of the crime dramas, they are only a fraction of the New York representation on television. Most of the rest are of the "look how fun and exciting it is to live in New York" ilk.

2) It's possible that the magazine thought they were including Baltimore since they ranked Washington, DC. Many, many, many (too many) people see Baltimore as a suburb of Washington. The most recent example I've come across was in this past Sunday's Washington Post, in the section called the Sunday Source. Every week, they take picture of someone in or around the District who's workin' a personal style that the newspaper digs. This week's fashion plate was found in BALTIMORE.

Grrr. This is just a subtle way of saying that Baltimore is part of the Washington Metro area, and not it's own independent city.
Ah well. In the end it's probably better not to have been ranked. I just needed to say my peace about it.*

*Sidebar: Is it "peace" or "piece"? I've seen both in print. Obviously, I fall into the "peace" camp, but I like to know if I'm coming off like a dummy.

Friday, October 19, 2007

What Is It about Girl Scout Cookies?

Strange things were afoot when I pulled into my parking lot this morning. My office building leases spots from the local American Legion post. The normally nightowlish veterans don't have much use for the lot during the day. Which is why the eight pallets blocking part of the main lane of the parking lot made me think, "Huh?" When I drove around them, I took a closer at what was sitting on those pallets...

Girl Scout Cookies.

Oh yes. Thin Mints, Tagalongs, Samosas, and whatever else those uniformed sugar pushers bring to our doorsteps. Here's what's weird: I immediately flirted with the idea of boosting a few boxes. Now, I don't have a thieving bone in my body, and Samosas are the only cookie in their arsenal that I like. And even those I can take or leave. But seeing those pallets being guarded by three or four men who can best be described as "spry," well, it inspired me.

Which is why I've decided that Girl Scout cookies are either the devil's handiwork and/or they are laced with crack.

Monday, October 15, 2007

25 Things Every Man Should Know (according to Popular Mechanics)

I heard about this article on the radio a few weeks ago, and I've been meaning to look it up. You can see the original article here. I highly recommend looking at it, because there's a hilarious feminist argument raging in the comments. Admittedly, when I first heard about the article, I was all, "Why can't you call it what every person should know how to do?" But that's taking the list far too seriously. Wouldn't the real abilities be things like, "Can grow crops," or "Read pharmaceutical directions correctly"? P'raps someday I will craft a list of what every woman, nay, every PERSON should know how to do. 'Til then, enjoy the list from the mag (below). For fun, I've noted which skills are in my repertoire:
  1. Patch a radiator hose
    If the answer is "duct tape," then I'm savvy. Otherwise, I'm calling my mechanic brother.
  2. Protect your computer
    Yup -- both from thieves AND viruses.
  3. Rescue a boater who has capsized
    Never had the pleasure, but I'm pretty sure you toss them a life raft. Or you call the Coast Guard. Is there an in-between?
  4. Frame a wall
    I'm assuming this is not in any way a decorative term. Nope.
  5. Retouch digital photos
    Yup! Otherwise, my family would look like demon seed, what with all the red-eye.
  6. Back up a trailer
    Yes on this as well, crazy as that sounds.
  7. Build a campfire
    Yes again. They don't say if lighters or matches are allowed. If not, I'm a wee out of luck. Me and the flint are not so friendly.
  8. Fix a dead outlet
    Nay. I have a policy against trying to repair something that could potentially kill me.
  9. Navigate with a map and compass
    Yes. My father-in-law would be proud. In case Super Ninja doubts me: immediate ability to distinguish right from left is NOT an indicator of one's ability to read maps.
  10. Use a torque wrench
    Nope. Where would I lay hands on a torque wrench?
  11. Sharpen a knife
    Ooh! I just read an article on this. I'm in the know!
  12. Perform CPR
    No. Let's all take a moment to reflect on the fact that I know how to retouch digital photos, but not perform CPR. I must hie myself to one of those classes soon.
  13. Fillet a fish
  14. Maneuver a car out of a skid
  15. Get a car unstuck
    I have had more opportunity to perform this feat than I'd care to admit. On one occasion, it was a Maryland state trooper's fault. The only thing that saved me was having a random piece of plywood in my trunk (thank you, set of "Raphael Without Hands"!)
  16. Back up data
  17. Paint a room
    Most assuredly, yes.
  18. Mix concrete
    With a truck? No. In a bucket? Yes.
  19. Clean a bolt-action rifle
  20. Change oil and filter
    No, but I know how to take my car to Jiffy Lube.
  21. Hook up an HDTV
  22. Bleed brakes
    What have brakes ever done to me?
  23. Paddle a canoe
    Shockingly, yes. Hooray for white water rafting adventures as an office team building experience!
  24. Fix a bike flat
  25. Extend your wireless network
    Yes, though I've perhaps extended it further than it should go.

By my count, I legitimately know how to do fourteen of these things, making me a little more than half a man. THAT explains why I'm so short.

We Picked Up the Raw Material for Our Jack O'Lantern Yesterday, and It's HUGE

Okay, so it wasn't as big as the one depicted above. But it did take all of the weak-limbed, sculpted-by-a-sedentary-lifestyle strength that Super Ninja and I could muster to load it into the Family Truckster. Did we go pumpkin patching for the entertainment of the kiddies? Nope. They were asleep in the car. We were on our way back from a baptism in Pennsylvania, and we saw dozens of gigantic pumpkins lolling on a roadside hill.

Not normally an exciting thing, I know, but Super Ninja hasn't seen pumpkins this size in the patches near our homestead. We stopped so that we could satisfy his iddish feelings about Halloween and its trappings. The bonus is that the strapping two-feet-in-diameter gourd he picked out was pretty cheap, as those things go. The only downside is that I have a tough time tossing out anything useful, so I'm going to be eating pumpkin seeds, soup, and all manner of pumpkiny-ness for about a year.

Time to dust off those pumpkin recipes...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

It's Not Really Such a Small World

Apparently there's an online magazine called Mental Floss. It's tagline is, "Feel Smarter." Well, nice try, Mental Floss, but I feel dumber after having taken your geography quiz. Now, I know geography isn't my strong suit. It ranked second to Sports & Leisure in my ranking of categories to avoid in the Genus edition of Trivial Pursuit.

But back to how dumb I am: the only one I got right was Spain. SPAIN? That's it? I got close a couple of times. When presented with the randomly selected countries, I always went to the correct continent or ocean. But I picked the Bahamas when I was looking for Dominica. And I have apparently decided that Niger will do for every country in Africa. Missing Tunisia was especially embarrassing since that's where Star Wars was filmed. I'm not such a super-fan of the series, but Super Ninja is, so you would think that I would have learned it by osmosis.

But back to the shame. Oh, the shame. And the osmosis that should have happened. It goes beyond Star Wars. Super Ninja actually had to take a whole class like this in college called Map of the Modern World. He spent the entire semester studying the global map and characteristics about each country. The final exam was a blank map and a pen and the instruction to "Go nuts."

Time to invest in some of those map placemats for "the Boy," and actually sit them at my own seat.

I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Okay, Braun's Express truck, you forfeit the right to the word "express" when you're doing 40 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. zone.

Welcome back to work after the pseudo-holiday weekend, Baltimore.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Good, Bad, or Indifferent Parenting?

Is it bad that I will hork my 11-month-old daughter's snacks? And this doesn't happen in a, "Oh, look, the Girl didn't finish her snacks, no sense letting those go to waste and pitching them in the trash" kind of way. I eat them in a "Well, I'm a little hungry and the can is RIGHT THERE" kind of way. I haven't gobbled up all of them. She still has some left. Like, five crunchies, which is totally enough to take the edge off of her hunger at lunch time.

See. THIS is why I shouldn't ever be a stay-at-home Mom.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round Starbucks' Breakfast Blend

After my wisdom teeth follow-up appointment (clean bill of teeth, by the by), I dropped into the local Starbucks to grab a bagel and coffee to break my fast. As I swirled some skim into my Yukon Gold, I spotted a basket next to the coffee fixin's bar. Not unusual in a Starbucks. But affixed to the tippy top of this particular basket was a handmade sign: "Donate a Pound of Coffee to the Troops." Nestled within the wicker confines were four bags of varying blends.

Something about this arrangement bothered me, and I'm trying to pinpoint the source of my bother-ment. Here are a couple of contenders:

1) Why have only 4 people coughed up a $9 bag of coffee? (Full disclosure: I am not one of those 4 people).

2) Why doesn't Starbucks, with all of their crazy margin, kick in a few tons of coffee, rather than stick a donation basket in this little franchise to collect a few pounds? [Further investigation reveals Starbucks' corporate policy is that they will only donate to organizations officially classed as charities (which the U.S. Armed Forces are not), but have set up a program wherein their employees can take some of their paycheck in the form of coffee donated to soldiers. I still think the corporation could make a donation to an organization like this, though, and give soldiers some good brew without controverting their policies.]

3) Who's the fool who donated whole bean coffee?

4) How, exactly, will this coffee be distributed? Do a few lucky soldiers have individual coffee pots next to their bunks in the barracks? Or will the mess hall brew up a mega pot for everyone to enjoy during one of their meals?

I guess it's just weird because I hear all of these stories about WWII, and how people on the homefront rationed food and steel and such so that it could go to the soldiers on the battlefield. And my generation is setting up collection baskets in places where people routinely pay four dollars for a cuppa joe.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Happy Anniversary to Me!

It's been five years since I left my first real full-time job. I was with that company for five years, so this month marks a fulcrum in my curriculum vitae. From this point forward, my post-first-job experience will be the tubby, low-hanging side of the see-saw. This week, though, there's a balance. And when there's a balance, it's a good time to reflect, no?

This little anniversary is a bigger deal to me than the ten year college graduation. Why? 'Cause my professional self was forged in the pits of that thar first job, and I do mean pits. Don't get me wrong: I learned loads there. But it was mostly about what not to do in a professional environment. I won't go into details, 'cause I don't want to be held liable for anything.

Suffice it to say, this guy was the Big Boss of my company, and I find his Facebook profile immensely satisfying:

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Again with the Lackluster Signs?

First Prince George's County declared itself a livable community, and now Laurel has declared itself "An Inclusive Community*." Oh my sweet Lord in heaven, why can't the folks who pay for these signs come up with something snappier? Laurel is inclusive, to be sure, but if we want to market ourselves to people shopping around for new homestead, I don't know that inclusivity is their number one priority. In fact, I'm pretty sure that most developers bandy the term "exclusivity" about.

*I'm going to try and shutterbug a pic for ya when I drive by it tomorrow. The sign's at the intersection of Route 216 and Main Street.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Note to Self

Lay off the pain meds before meeting with the Operations Team, which comprises the senior staff of your company. Sure, you won't feel the throbbing pain as your jaw repairs itself in the aftermath of your recent dental surgery. But keeping your focus becomes exponentially more difficult.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Exercise Your Chompers, Really Chew Chew Chew!

(My Google fu has the flu (ha!), so I sadly have no linkage to the title of this post. It is a reference to one of those Saturday morning educational mini-cartoons about a Fonze-ish dude, named Chompers, who advocated eating loads of crunchy, good-for-you foods. If you find lyrics or pictures relating to this classic bit of '80's nostalgia, drop me a line.)

This past weekend was ALL about the teeth chez moi. How so, you ask? Well, my remaining two wisdom teeth were given the heave ho. My dental surgeon put me under, which was freakin' AWESOME. I forgot how cool it is to drift into oblivion. I'm not advocating nodding out or any of that illegal silliness. It's just fun once in a while to give yourself over to something like that. Some folks aren't put under for the procedure. Apparently, though, my roots were as swirly as a gift bow, so they thought they'd save me the horror of experiencing a portly fella digging elbows deep into my mandible. I applaud their thought process.

Coincidentally, the Girl sprouted her first incisor the very day of my extraction. It's the lower left one, and she really works it with her tongue. You can tell she's weirded out by the sensation. But, the confusion lurks on her visage for all of three seconds before she's moved onto something else, like extirpating the pots and pans from their cubby under the microwave.

Last, but most certainly, most assuredly not least, is that we have FINALLY broken the Boy of his pacifier addiction. Our ploy was to use the birth of my most recent nephew (the tenth grandchild in my clan overall) to meet our own ends. We told the Boy that babies need pacifiers, and his new cousin was a have not in this particular arena, and since the Boy is in fact a Big Boy these days, p'raps it was time to pass the pacifier on to his new cousin. So, when these two little men met for the first time on Sunday last, and hence, t'was time for the handoff. And the Boy did it, without so much as a blink.


I expected tears, and fists, and rending of garments. This pacifier is the one thing, the one lovey, that my Boy has cleaved unto since his days in the cradle. It started to affect the way his teeth are positioned, so divesting him of it was long overdue. But still, I expected much more drama. I was pretty sure he didn't grasp the enormity of the situation.

And, like all good Mommies, I was right on the money.

Later that night he asked for the pacifier. And upon being informed that he wouldn't be on the receiving end of his addiction, well, that's when he unleashed a monsoon of tears. Know what, though? Fifteen minutes later, he was okay with it. There were more grumpies tonight, of course, but only about ten minutes worth. I figure in a week, we'll have kicked the pacifier addiction.