Monday, August 27, 2007

The monster in the wings

I said it about Rove, I said it about Al (at least to the people I spoke to today), and apparently I'm not alone in my unfortunate premonition of defeat being snatched from the jaws of victorious personnel change, thanks to TPM. Now let's just hope we're all wrong and the mystery politicians in the wings are open-minded, law-abiding, Constitution-loving citizens.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Yes! It's Big Bang Boom

There's a really fun piece by Brian Clarey in Yes! Weekly about Big Bang Boom, the band of parent-friendly kid music.

College bound

The oldest of the New Kaplans (I like to think of my family like recipes of Coke, where me, my sis and my bro with the same two parents are the Kaplan classics and our younger half-bros are the new recipe) is, at this very moment, on the road to his new collegiate home in Pennsylvania.

My college career was so unconventional, I have no idea what he's going through - I worked for a year so I could afford an apartment and bypass dorm living, and I seem to have done my collegiate partying during high school which ultimately freed me up to spend my college years, gasp, studying. What can I say? I'm weird.

My brother, Max, though, is certainly distinctly himself but I wouldn't use the word weird to describe him. Smart, thoughtful, loving, kind, adventurous, really tall - I'd use all of those, but probably not weird.

So though there are a lot of pieces of Max's experience that I can't necessarily relate to, I hope that there are others in which his experience will be one of growth, as mine was, though perhaps in different ways: I hope he realizes just how unique and vastly capable he is, and how limitless his potential is, and how attractive he is to the co-eds... I hope he spends these next however-many-years being bold and having fun doing so.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Good dog

Today, at the end of two relatively rough days, I came home in time to feed the dogs almost two hours after their usual dinner time. After putting down their food, I came upstairs to change before letting them into the yard. Emmie, my big dog and slow eater, came upstairs almost immediately, licked my nose, then went downstairs to finish her dinner.

You can't tell me dogs don't have some kind of higher functioning...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Putting new spin on my worst day

Today is my Life Celebration Day – thanks for taking a few minutes to celebrate with me!

What, you may ask, is Life Celebration Day? Well, let me tell you a little tale. Three years before we met, and six years before we started dating, Rob and I each nearly died on days that were a mere four months apart. Rob did die, actually; he flat-lined after a heart attack at the decidedly uncomical age of 32. (The doctors never did have any definitive theories about the cause, but they do definitively give Rob a clean bill of health now.) My threat, on the other hand, came from the outside – the wrath of an angry ex.

For the first seven years after these cataclysmic events, Rob and I had “damn-near died anniversaries” which, as you might imagine, were cheerless events causing symptoms such as moodiness, overreacting, purposeless driving and snapping at people for no reason whatsoever. Typically, symptoms would present a solid week before the anniversary itself hit, setting us up for full-tilt grumpiness the day of. Once Rob and I started dating in year six, we added company to the usual routine, which amounted to someone hovering nearby while oozing a completely unrealistic desire to somehow make it okay.

Of course, it’s ever so often the very obvious things that we are the last to see… such as the fact that while we were still wasting time shaking our fists at what amounts to a couple of really bad days (really, really bad), everything else was going great. Really, really great. So, we took a move from Karl Rove’s playbook (may he be forever stuck in a limbo of meaningless speaking engagements) and decided to spruce up our anniversaries with a little redefining and fancy syntax work. We needed a catchy title with a positive slant, hence Life Celebration Day. I’ll admit that the name is a little musical-greeting-card for my taste, but it does the trick. Like a well-named business, it concisely communicates its purpose, which is to spend that day feeling grateful for having lived through our worst moments and arrived here, at our best moments.

Hurrah for happy endings, right? Well… I think even Karl would tell you that syntax will only take you so far. A nice phrase can set the framework for a paradigm shift, but it’s only flowery speech if there isn’t a cognitive reworking, too. I mean, it’s easy to remember how great everything is on an average day, but the bad juju built into our anniversaries didn’t just pack its bags the second we slapped on a fancy name. Maybe it would if events like that were just events but they never are – they’re just the stone dropped into the puddle. In the radiating rings are all of the collateral events and emotions, the self-blame, the people who were there for us and those who disappeared for fear of the uncharted territory Rob and I were on, and the dump truck loads of leftover fear that ultimately center around the question, “What if this was merely a preview of the worst day of my life, and not the worst day itself?”

So yes, I will spend today thinking of the players on that crazy day 11 years ago, and I will think about forgiveness and fear and loss. But hopefully, I’ll spend more of the day with my sweet husband, basking in our sweet life, thinking about life’s evolution from worst to best.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Illustrated blog

I stumbled across this great blog today, Shari Davies Illustration - a graphic designer by day, graphic novelist and memoir illustrator by night, it seems. This is part of "A Lumpy Family Album" and is posted with the caption:
The degradation of being annually hurled into 100 metres of chlorinated piss by a some sadistic prick of a PE teacher was more than I could bare.

Hurrah for friends

I worked at Lede today, a cozy, slightly sloping space where Tamara, Diane (we simply must get her a blog) and I work. Harvey, a technology consultant for Jones CAN, often works in an adjacent space with the quasi-privacy of a wood screen. A cozy space for a cozy crew of people who were friends before we were officemates. (Diane and I were actually briefly officemates first, just long enough to meet...) Often, it's work where tasks become annoying and we get stressed out and all of that fun stuff. But I'm also very often aware of what a charmed situation it is - a work environment filled with support and fun and tons of productivity (I have serious needs in the productivity department.)

I was leaving the office, en route to my charmed home, surrounded by friends - the kind of people who inspire me toward the best version of myself - and it seems strange that I would still feel a little sick to my stomach about an anniversary of an historic event. That, however, just is what it is.

What has struck me even more this anniversary season (if only it were really a one-day event) is that I'm often torn between doing just this (spilling my guts) and being politely demur on the topic. Miss Manners would have us never discuss such things, except perhaps with one's rabbi.

Okay, there is something a little wicked about telling a person about a traumatic piece of history. They don't know how they're supposed to react and that's uncomfortable - I get it. But if we talked about it honestly, maybe we'd feel less alone, less defective... couldn't hurt to try.

But: hurrah for friends! At the end of this cozy workday, Tamara and Diane each found a quiet moment to acknowledge my anniversary and offer an ear should I want it. The friendship of truly good people is an amazing and healing thing.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Another glorious Asheville weekend

I woke up this morning wondering where my bag of beverage was... that's right, another Monday morning let-down after a weekend at the incomparable 1900 Inn on Montford, where each morning starts at 8 am with coffee in a travel mug, hanging from a quilted bag on the doorknob. I offered up Rob's laundry skills as barter for letting us move in... The owners and innkeeper seemed interested but perhaps we'll have to further sweeten the deal with dish washing or foot rubs...

On this, our second trip to Asheville this summer, we have confirmed that yes, it's a town we really dig with surrounding areas we dig even more, and yes, it seems nearly impossible to find a bad meal there, and yes, really cool people are drawn there, as was evidenced by locals we talked to and a groovy couple from Charlotte we met at the Inn... and yes, their drivers make Greensboro drivers seem really calm and vigilant.

Being the food-centric travelers that Rob and I are, I have to report on what we ate (perhaps a little preview for an adventurous Super Taster?):
  • Vigne - this new spot (open only a month) is located roughly behind the Orange Peel and is owned by a hair stylist turned restaurateur (we actually met him - he seemed pretty surprised by his own career turn) and a Swedish chef. We ordered the Chef's selection menu and were treated to seven small, spectacular dishes - seafood that was cooked perfectly, served with interesting, well- matched sauces, unbelievable plating, and the staff was amazingly together for just a month in.
  • Salsa's - was everything we heard it would be: packed with flavor and piled on the plate. One dish is easily enough for two people and the mojitos were perfect - refreshing and not too sweet.
  • Tupelo Honey - even on an off-hour (lunch at 2ish), we had a little wait before being seated. The food was honest, with simple twists on traditional dishes like cornbread with ginger and whipped peach butter on the side, baked beans made with fresh limas and vegetarian greens with seasonings that compliment the natural bitterness, rather than attempting to mask it.
  • Jerusalem Garden - had great lamb and was solidly good otherwise. We were hoping for a Moroccan experience like at the Imperial Fez in Atlanta. There was belly dancing but we knew it wasn't quite what we were hoping for when there was flatware on the table. Still, good eats.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Photo retouching, celebrity edition

Rob found a Web site for a professional photo retouching studio, iWanex Studio. Now, I want you to go get anyone you know who thinks they should look like the people in the magazines - everyone who thinks they should be a size 2 or have flawless skin. Then show them the portfolio on the Web site. Click on a picture then roll back and forth over it to see the changes they made. Some, like Halle Berry, are hardly noticeable. But others...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The nicest rejection ever

Any how-to-be-a-writer self-help book will tell you that a writer hasn't earned her chops until she has a pile of rejection slips. It's actually a practical thing: once the stack is tall enough, the writer can strike a deal with the devil - he gets to use the slips to torture all the ego-driven former high school quarterbacks and the writer gets some minuscule break, like the opportunity to write for $0.43 an hour just to get that byline fix. After all, not even Satan himself can create a J.K. Rowling-type success.

What we never expect are rejection letters like the one I received yesterday from Creators Syndicate. (Why not? Syndicate rejection letters are no more distressing than plain ole submission rejection letters.) The second sentence reads:
Your columns are excellent: well written, interesting and thoughtful.

Hurrah, right? They love me - they're just tied down with all of these relationships with columnists they thought were great before. But just as soon as the kids leave for college, I'm... oh, wrong story... Anyway, they go on to suggest I submit more work in the future and maybe I'll hit that magic spot where my brilliance isn't hampered by previous commitments.

Nice, huh? A rejection, sure, but they see my inner beauty, right?

Now, let's take a look at their Web site:
Volume also makes it impossible to respond to every submission individually. We are therefore compelled to use rejection slips. They are, we understand, impersonal -- and the last thing you want to get in the mail -- but necessary to expedite the review process.

I was brilliant, if only for a moment...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Supporting through opposition

Funny how sometimes outsiders have to point out the obvious. Take, for example, this report from the UK paper, The Observer, in regards to our troops and war:
Only a third of the regular army's brigades now qualify as combat-ready...
the US army has a shortfall of 3,000 commissioned officers - and the problem is expected to worsen...
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to the destruction, or wearing out, of 40 per cent of the US army's equipment, totalling at a recent count $212bn...
soldiers serving multiple Iraq deployments, now amounting to several years, are 50 per cent more likely than those with one tour to suffer from acute combat stress.
And, finally, the words of an enlisted chaplain's assistant, "Why don't you tell the truth? Why don't you journalists write that this army is exhausted?"

Yellow ribbon bumper stickers don't support the troops. Listening to them... then bringing them home when their lives are not worth losing to a misguided, unachievable mission, is supporting the troops.

Don't let the door hit'cha, Rove

The only down-side to the spectacular news that we are mere weeks away from shedding the 200 pounds of governmental fat known as Karl Rove is the prospect of whoever might be waiting in the wings to fill his sinister shoes...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

PostSecret video

PostSecret is one of those magical nooks of the internet, one of the few places where I believe people really, truly bare their souls.

Contemplating forgiveness

While most people save their depressive periods for holidays or the spring, circumstances have made August the toughest month of the year for me, and the hardest time to live in Greensboro. Living in one city for the entire span of my life to date has given me a certain kind of perspective and certain kinds of opportunities, but it also means that streets are paved with memories... after a while, even the good ones can be haunting.

This August, as I realize in a typically jarring manner that my life celebration day is a mere 10 days away, I've been thinking about forgiveness and the strange ways it plays out in so many of our lives. I've forgiven the ex who cheated on me, but not the friend who provided a rendezvous point for the trysts. More relevant to my August revelries, I've forgiven the ex who attacked me, but not the people who chose to let the crisis pass silently, rather than risk the uncomfortable and uncharted territory of addressing domestic abuse.

My rational self understands it to an extent. There was a reason I loved those exes in the first place and some vague memory of the reason has allowed me to eventually look past what they did. (Naturally, cheating was a much shorter process to reconcile than near-fatal violence.) And though I loved, and in some cases still do love, many of the people who I felt abandoned me... I don't know how to end that sentence... perhaps the conclusion lies somewhere in the difference between romantic love and platonic/familial love?

I'll mull it over for a couple more weeks until my life celebration day has come and gone. It'll cross my mind a time or two over the course of the year until next August, when the whole thing kicks me in the stomach again. What I've learned and how amazing my life is now truly and honestly make it all worthwhile but I hope that someday, August will come and go and all I will notice is the heat.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Behold, the spider

For a while, our back door was a home for itinerant spiders. Each night, a different spider built a web and each morning, it was gone without a trace. But for the last week or so, we've had the same spider every night, just in time for Rob to figure out how to photograph through the glass and into the darkness:

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sarah, the GeoCaching Expert, part II

So I was complaining a few posts ago that my blog had been quoted without any sort of consent, or even knowledge, on my part. Rob even found a blog that talks about copyrights on the internet but I haven't found the relevant posts yet... Still, I wrote the reporter and asked why I hadn't been informed and, more importantly to me, why they hadn't even included my blog's URL. Today, he wrote and agreed that a URL would have been appropriate. Despite my occasional reputation for being a hard-ass, that was enough for me... sometimes, a little acknowledgement is enough to smooth the path...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The joys of damp noses and furry feet

This column was originally published in the News & Record on August 8, 2007

Friends of mine once paid to board a stray dog because they couldn’t bear to leave it on the side of the road. Their house, you see, was already filled with five dogs of their own and the rescue shelters were similarly packed to the gills. That’s true animal lovers for you.

Me, I’m an animal parent, which is slightly different. Though I will make a U-turn to help a turtle across the street, most of my animal efforts go to the two dogs and two cats in my home. Despite the heartstring pulling of unavoidable adoption fairs and shelter ads, four is the maximum capacity of our pet population. Not coincidentally, four is also the minimum capacity.

We learned our lesson when we first introduced our pets, at that point my husband’s cats and my one dog, Emmie. While the cats were staging peaceful protests against the canine monstrosity invading their space, Emmie was desperately trying to befriend them. Just a week after we returned from our honeymoon, we took Emmie to an adoption fair and let her choose a new playmate. Curled in a corner, warding off the chaos through detachment, was a little tan mixed-breed. Emmie gave a long, approving sniff, so we took him home and named him Cosmo after the flaky but sweet character on the kids’ show, The Fairly Oddparents.

Emmie and Cosmo now have a strange but working relationship that seems to be a hodgepodge of mother/child, sister/brother and best friends. Emmie has even taken a move from the cats’ playbook and licks Cosmos’ face and ears clean daily.

It has been three and a half years since we brought Cosmo home, and the cats have nearly acclimated to their interspecies family. The four have certainly defined some parameters for cohabiting. For example, our adorably fat cat, Nikita, always gets the right of way, even when it comes to Emmie, who is easily five times her size. Our eternally kitten-like cat, Scully, has trained the dogs to chase her, though I suspect they would find themselves meeting the business end of her claws should the chase become capture.

Increasingly, though, we find all combinations of dogs and cats lounging in close proximity or even sharing a friendly sniff. It is those moments, and the times that Emmie’s big eyes or Scully’s “meep” of a meow instantly relieve my workday stress, that it seems obvious that research would find that simply caring for pets can improve the overall health, even increase the life span, of their owners. Not even clawed furniture or dog-ravaged yards skew the results of those experiments.

Of course, like most pet owners, we were not thinking about longevity or the average span of a common cold when we pulled into the parking lot of the shelter. Instead, it is the simple pleasures of pet ownership that spur us on: The sound of Scully’s claws on the carpet as she races around during her 11 p.m. energy burst; the unabashed joy Cosmo and Emmie display after a weekend apart from us; the way Nikita sometimes shows displeasure by following us from room to room so that she can sit with her back to us.

So though I may take some teasing from those who find it ludicrous that I speak to my pets as though they understand not only English, but also complex concepts like polite behavior, I can no longer imagine a home that lacks the sound of 16 padded feet and the occasional thud of Nikita’s grace-challenged leaps.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I might be a catnapper

A few columns ago, I wrote about my job stream, including the occasional downside of converging deadlines. I had no idea what I was talking about until the last couple of weeks when some serious deadlines seriously converged. I've been buried under a pile of stress but saw a ray of sunlight yesterday... but the joy of the moment must have made me a little loopy because I then did what may well have been catnapping.

Yesterday evening, as I was leaving a friend's house, I saw a tabby cat that I see fairly often there - really friendly, sweet cat. But yesterday it was limping. My friend thought it might be a neighborhood cat without a particular owner, which was about all the invitation I needed to scoop it up and take it to the vet.

Over the course of the evening, the folks at Carolina Veterinary Specialists (they're a specialty vet by day, emergency vet by night) determined it was a relatively new, but still old enough to be healing, wound. The poor cat ended its terrifying evening with Rob and me dropping it back into the neighborhood where we found it.

We left the scene of our well-meant pet abduction with an image stuck in my head: the cat's owners, relieved to find their cat after an unusual several-hour disappearance and the cat desperately wanting to tell them about her strange abduction to a place with sterile walls, where they poked and prodded before dumping her out at the exact spot from which it was taken...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Sarah, the GeoCaching Expert

The owners of 1900 Inn on Montford sent us a link to an article in which my blog post about GeoCaching in Asheville is quoted... You know, some women like jewelry, and some like fancy hiking equipment, but me, I like to see myself in print... a challenging task for Rob at gift-giving times, to be sure.

But the reason the owners had to send me an article that ran in the Asheville Citizen-Times more than two weeks ago is because the journalist, Dale Neal, didn't ask to quote me... or warn me that he did... or list my blog's URL as some sort of secret thank you.

I don't know the legalities of this - despite being a regular in a newspaper, I have never, and would never, claim to be a journalist. But c'mon. Not even an email?

The Oreo Cartoon

I may have linked to this before, but it's worth doing again. Ben of Ben & Jerry's is featured in this cartoon which shows oh so plainly this administration's budgetary priorities. Be afraid. For real.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The joy of listening

The #1 most important thing I learned from owning my first business, Dining with Ease, is that relationships really matter. So often, though, the kind of relationship building that happens in business situations is superficial, with participants listening less to the words of others and more for the gap in conversation in which to insert their elevator pitch.

In the past month or two, as I have been developing relationships with those who are involved in running, and those who contribute to, Shalom Greensboro, I've been reminded of what relationship building can be, which is a window into all that is fascinating about any given person.

The thing is that most people don't think they're fascinating. I sat across from a man, whose family name is plastered all over this town, who claimed to have no answer to the question of what makes him interesting. Forget about his charm, the path that led him away from and back to Greensboro and the quirky things he does to show his employees he values them.

But even people like him generally just need a few directive questions: What were you doing before your current employment? What have you read recently that you liked? What are your hobbies? How did you meet your spouse?

People need an invitation, not the third degree, to open up a little. Of course, the business benefits are plentiful, starting with an increased likelihood that the person will want to do business with you and/or refer you to others. But the part that people are missing while listening for their chance to pitch is that most people truly are fascinating.

As I reacquaint myself with the Jewish community and those that support it, I have heard stories of mob bosses (literally) in NYC, extraordinary kids, wild career paths and amazing expertise in areas as wide flung as blocking fur coats and improving the world through charitable kindness.

Ultimately, most people love to talk about themselves, making listening all the more fun.