Thursday, December 30, 2010

This year I promise to...

You don't really think I'm going to lay out a whole list of resolutions here do you?

Please.

First of all - I know better than to put them to paper, thus making them 'real.'  And second - putting them down on cyber-paper...well, that just seems like a really bad idea all around.

What if people check up on me? 

Pass.

Besides - I already have a system down for my to-do list.  Oh, and in case you're living with your head in the clouds (which I totally support ~ I live like that 75% of the time), that's really all your New Year's Resolutions are - just one big fat to-do list. 

When I make a to-do list (usually for the weekend in case I find myself developing bed sores from lounging on the couch too long) - I start off easy.  It usually looks like this:

1.  Get up.
2.  Drink coffee.
3.  Eat breakfast (eggs?).
4.  Shower (optional).

See?  Just like that, I can knock four things off the list with nary a sweat being broken.  Not only that, but because I'm able to put little check marks next to each of these agenda items - I promote a feeling of accomplishment within - definitely a bonus for any weekend day.

So, I'm just not sure why I'd up my list overnight on December 31st from something that looks like that to something that looks like this:

1.  Run a marathon.
2.  Learn Spanish.
3.  (okay this is hard - I can't even think of difficult things to do)
4.  Get married (lame, but I was struggling).

This list looks much harder than my normal list.  This one looks like there would be a lot of effort and diligence and perseverance involved.  A lot of swearing and sweating and probably crying.  Many bouts of giving up and throwing my hands in the air and...well, pretty much I'd tear up a list like this within the first two weeks of the year.

I guess one thing I don't get is why people think they need to wait until the year turns to make some changes.  My suspicion is that they don't really want to make these changes - and there is, after all, a bit of a cancellation factor involved in any promises made while filled to one's ears with champagne.

("Oh, man, I can't believe I said I was going to lose 50 pounds...I mean, whatever...I was on my third bottle of bubbly!  I may as well have promised to figure out why deer poop is so tiny!") 

If you want to change something or do something - shouldn't you just go for it when you think of it?  What's this waiting until the New Year to put your plans into action? 

Plus - doesn't the unwritten message with resolutions point to not liking yourself the way you are?  I've worked really hard for the last 29 years (or so) to A) Figure out who I am and B) Learn to like me.  Why am I going to strain my mind by finding ways to change me? 

Pass.

Of course, then there's the added pressure of "What are you doing for New Year's Eve?"  As if not having plans makes you some kind of pariah (Am I only saying that because I don't have plans?  I mean, I don't really know now late I'll be working so it just doesn't make sense to make plans. Really.). 

So now, you not only have to come up with a list of things you want to change about yourself - but make sure you have somewhere to go all fancied up to share this list and somehow keep track of your progress for the next year.

This just seems stupid.

Instead how about I wrap up work with a pizza (or maybe Chinese food. Or would that make it Chinese New Year?), watch some pre-recorded movies (likely to be Eclipse) and then flip over to Ryan/Dick at 11:59pm so I can say I was awake for the New Year. 

How about I just go with that plan straight from the get go?  If anything else happens, I'll just call it a bonus. 

To Do List:
1.  Order Pizza (or Chinese Food)
2.  Open Beer
3.  Curl up on the couch
4.  Move to bed at 12:05am.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell - unless you want to.

Oh, I've been a-strugglin this week with what to write about - urgh. Sometimes it's hard.

I would like to, for instance, spend mucho time bemoaning my work schedule for the next week. But I feel like I might be the only one entertained.

Or I could give you the run down on the presents now safely packed on my sleigh (despite a certain beagle eyeing me up should I decide to let someone open one early).

There's always the weather. The cold, cold arctic weather. But, ironically - here on the second day of winter, it is 50 degrees...our first break of the year. It'll be short-lived - there's a storm brewing for the weekend.

Wanted to keep it kind of light - but I think I may have to go around my elbow to get there.

Because...

I read something today that made me think bad thoughts (not dirty thoughts - I said 'bad' - like vengeful).

Now let me start this by saying, I'm not gay. I'm straight up straight. I have friends who are gay - close friends. I'm sure some of you remember two years ago when I even had the joy of marrying two of my friends in one amazing ceremony.

So, watching the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has been kind of cool. I've never really understood the 'big' deal - but imagined it was much like the old days when only white men were allowed to join the armed forces. In other words...ignorance...

We're going to take a test now. I want to you to look very carefully at this photo:


And before I ask the test question - take a minute to say a big thank-you to each of these soldiers.
They deserve that respect more than anything in the world.
Now, looking at this photo, can you tell which of these coffins holds the body of a gay soldier?
Because all I see is the sacrifice of several people who volunteered to give their life to protect our freedoms.

I live in the bible belt. You can't spit around here without hitting a church and fifty percent of the time it'll be Baptist. The local lack of backlash over this repeal has been refreshing. Or maybe I'm wearing my star-spangled-banner-colored glasses again. Or maybe it's because this is a military-heavy area and people understand the trials and tribulations of living this life.

I also think I have a better personality than a lot of people. I know how that sounded. And I meant it. Because I can't think of an appropriate way to put it.

If I say I'm more tolerant than others - it implies that there is something to tolerate - and I never feel that way when I'm hanging out with my gay friends.

If I say I'm more accepting than others - no, that's not it either. I don't go around looking for degenerates to 'accept.' I just know I like having friends. And don't really care what they look like, where they come from or who they're sleeping with.

Right, moving on. So, this is what I read today via a Facebook Post linked to an article about the repeal,
"How sad that in this day we give extra protection, rights, & accommodations to what God calls sin. It is not fear, hate, or ignorant to stand up for what God defines as right and wrong."

Well, I about fell out.

I haven't decided yet on the future 'friend' status of this person - proving that my tolerance level is actually quite low.

Let me pick through this though and try to make sense of it.

"How Sad" - nope, not sad. Happy. Proud. Allowing people who want to fight for our country into the military.

"We give extra protections, rights and accommodations..." Um. Huh? Replacing the protections, rights and accommodations that we've taken away is not the same thing as giving extra. Let me break it down. We each have one apple. Some random person takes yours away. Later, I find another apple and give it two you. I haven't given you extra, I've just evened us up. See...you had none. Now you have one. Which is what I have. It's not extra.

And what extra protections are being given? I really do ask that out of pure stupidity. Will the gay military population get special armor? I mean, I'm guessing we aren't offering special shirts to let the enemy know who should get special treatment in case of a suicide drive by.

"...to what God calls sin" I can only assume the same feelings stir up every time a child molester or convicted murderer gets to stroll on back to the streets. Because I have a much bigger problem with repeat offenders than I do with gays in the military. I'm just saying. On one hand, we have a guy/gal who is willing to give their life for our country. On the other, we have a guy/gal who, having gotten bored with a current adulterous relationship, is moving towards your partner. Or what about the perpetual drunk driver who has already served time for involuntary manslaughter, yet is back behind the wheel after a fifth? Guess who I think should get 'special' treatment.

Just to clarify - God and I are very much on speaking terms again. There is no lightning predicted above my head today. You know who is tolerant? God.

"It is not fear, hate, or ignorant to stand up for what God defines as right and wrong." I agree. I also believe it is kosher to stand up for what YOU define as right and wrong - and maybe not hide behind your religion. Admit it's your own intolerance and I might have more respect for you.

(I might have just thrown out my temple vein.)

The bottom line - as I see it - is, it's a small world after all. Can't we all just get along?

There are some pretty big issues floating around the universe right now.
There's that whole global warming issue.
And there's that thing where we are absolutely destroying the planet we live on with each trash heap of K-Cups and retired cell phones.
Then there's that problem where our children aren't getting educated enough to keep up with the rest of the world.
There's that thing where people have gotten so poor they have to turn in their pets to the shelter because they can no longer feed them.

So maybe spend less time worrying about who is out there protecting you. Maybe just nod, smile, say 'thank you' and move onto something bigger.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cubicle Etiquette ~ my thoughts...

My boss sent us this article a few weeks ago - and I thought it was pretty funny.  I want to preface this with a picture of what 99% of the cubes in my office look like.


I guess working in the land of virtuality - cubes have really become more of a rest stop than a home-away-from-home.  So there is less making it feel like your personal space than there was in the past, maybe.

Unless your me. 

I still live by the philosophy that you should be comfortable wherever you are.  Therefore, my cube is a bit different.  You'll see that later.


First, though - the article (perhaps with a few thoughts thrown in...)

It’s your cubicle. You even have a nameplate. So it’s your personal space, right? Not really. It’s more like a seat at the dinner table than a room in the house.  I already see a flaw in this theory - because isn't our seat at the dinner table always the same place?  It's your spot - and God forbid one of your siblings try to slip into it.  Have you ever, for instance, tried to sit where your Dad sits?  I think we know how that ends.

In other words, any sense of privacy is an illusion. Treat your office space with respect if you want to be taken seriously in the workplace. Uh Oh.


You want to keep your job? Avoid doing any of these 15 inexcusable activities at your desk.


Personal grooming
As annoying as that little snag in your fingernail or chip in your polish may be, resist the temptation for an on-the-spot fix. Oh sure, it will just take a moment. But before you know it, you've filed the rest of your nails and touched up your toes, much to the dismay of anyone within range of the grating sounds and noxious fumes.  Also, consider that every snip of the nail clipper will generate a clipping that may descend gently into your trashcan -- or alternately fly into office space with your DNA affixed to it.


Shaving? Tweezing? Dental floss? Eww. If you wouldn't do it in front of your boss, don't do it at your desk
* I've never touched up my toes, shaved or flossed at my desk.  However, for the record, my nail clippers are one of the most popular items in the 'mom' drawer. Just ahead of the static guard.

Assembling sandwiches
Unless you actually work on an assembly line, there's no excuse for assembling sandwiches or other meals at your desk. You make your kids pack their school lunches the night before, right? There's a reason.

No one needs to watch (or smell) you smear mustard on naked bread and then pile on the deli meat just so.
* Again, I disagree.  You only have to look as far as our nasty office break room to know why I have desk assembly.  See, I know what's been on my desk.  I know what's touched it.  It's safer.


Excessive decorating
Yes, you practically live at your desk. But in reality, you don’t. Whose reality?


So skip the over-the-top seasonal decorations like the bobble head pumpkin man with glowing eyes and a menacing cackle, the musical snow globe that plays "The 12 Days of Christmas" any time someone walks by, your motivational "Valentine's Day Suck" poster... They'll work better as home d├ęcor -- or on the bargain table of your next garage sale.


Framed college diploma or professional awards? Yes. Stuffed tiger mascot that roars when you squeeze its big toe? Not so much.
*Fail.  I have no such awards in my current gig.  I do have a stuffed rooster that crows when you sling shot it across the room.  And a pumpkin that eerily laughs.  And a duck quacker.  And a lot of other stuff.  You really never know when you're going to need a break from that reality mentioned earlier...


Undressing the part
If the shoes look good but pinch your toes, too bad. You put them on today. And they're staying there until you get back home ... or at least to your car.


Same with the itchy wool jacket. Yes, you can toss it back on in time for your afternoon meeting. But what if your boss peeks in to introduce a new hire and you're sitting there in a cloud of foot odor and perspiration? Highly unprofessional.
*Wait, I actually agree with most of this.  I can't stand when people walk around barefoot in the office - it skeeves me.  But I also understand a gal's need to keep both a pair of flip-flops and slippers handy - because heels get painful and office temperatures fluctuate like the stock market.

Hitting the marketplace
Buying or selling in the office place is bad form. That means no checking on how your old baseball cards are faring on eBay and no hunting down the best deal on snow tires from your office chair.


If you're a good employee, you're meticulous about details and any "quick check" would certainly turn into a comprehensive search on company time. Or worse, you'd be time crunched to make a hasty regrettable decision (how's that Toothpick of the Month Club working out for ya?).


Better to save the online shopping and eBaying for the middle of the night, where it belongs.
*Wait, are they trying to guilt me into staying away from eBay by insinuating that I'm meticulous? Begging to differ...a good employee actual has a ridiculous multi-tasking ability which allows one to tap around the iPhone while talking on the office phone while running several reports while solving a crossword while responding to email while placing a final bid.

Checking your winks
Yes, the blond snowboarding enthusiast on that online dating site is just your type. Did he respond to that email you sent? Did he notice the dashing new profile photo you posted of you standing next to that random sports car?


Three words: Love is patient. He can wait. You can wait. If there's going to be magic, it will still be waiting on your home computer tonight after work.
*Okay, actually, I agree here too.  But only because there is nothing I want worse than to broadcast my perpetual single status.  And I certainly don't want to witness someone else's online dating success while my attempts live in a town called Fail.

Talking too loud, too soft or in code
The only thing more annoying than hearing co-workers' loud telephone conversations is hearing their whispered conversations. And the only thing worse than the dramatic whisper is Code Talk. You know, those careful conversations that begin with, "I really can't talk about it right now, but..." Stop it. Stop right there. Before the "but."


There will be no word substitution or pointed innuendo. No saying "the situation we talked about" which means "my coworker who wears that really nasty cologne." Do not attempt to describe last night's date without actually using the word "date." Save the play-by-play for later when you can use complete sentences.
*OR instead of avoiding talking in code by not talking about certain situations at work, you could just buck up and share everything with your cube mates.  Consider them your unpaid shrinks.  I'm pretty sure no one minds.  I'm admittedly a loud phone talker.  My nearest cube friend is a low talker.  People like us equally.  So apparently it doesn't really matter.

Moping around
OK, Snowboard Guy was The One. You knew it. Your friends knew it. But he somehow missed out on that whole love vibe. So now your life is basically over, and you have no one with whom to deflect Aunt Margaret's sympathy at the family Christmas dinner.


Psssst. That’s personal. You’re at work. If you feel emotional, it’s better to sniffle in Stall #3 than at your desk. And if you focus on today’s tasks instead of moping over The One, you’re not only modeling professionalism, you will actually heal faster.
*Okay, now I'm starting to think that the person who wrote this works either in Candyland or with Willy Wonka.  At the minimum, we're at work 40 hours per week.  Is it realistic to think that the folks around you won't pick up on tid bits from your life?  And what if you completely f up a project because you're an emotional wreck.  Dang right I'll share the details - sounds a heck of a lot better than, "I'm just a moron."  And what better way to 'heal faster' than to recruit a team of sympathizers in your office?

Sending self portraits
You would never make a personal call at your desk where everyone can overhear you. (Good for you!) But what about sending a quick photo of yourself at the new job with your cell phone camera?
I'm already lost here.  Is it because I've done both?  And probably within the last 48 hours?

Of course you need to get a decent picture first. No, not that one. It makes your nose look big. If you hold your arm out a little further .... Maybe put the phone on the edge of your desk, angle your face toward the computer and snap the shot with your right foot...
*Lucky break, I already know there is no such thing as a decent picture.  The sooner you accept this the more time you'll save with photography.

Pretending you aren't sick
If you're going through enough tissues to dent a small rainforest, go home.


Yesterday when you worked past five with those occasional sniffles, you were dedicated and tough. Today you're just gross. You know that cringing feeling you get when someone is sneezing uncontrollably, hacking like a barking seal or blowing their nose a little too often and a lot too loudly? Uh oh. I might have been that person this week.


Sandy in the next cubicle has moved past cringing and is applying hand sanitizer to her face. And guess who she's going to blame if she gets sick?
Whoops.  Traditionally, I agree with this.  Traditionally.  Unless, like me, you took your last day off for the year and immediately after contracted the plague.  That's just bad luck.  On the other hand, I think my efforts to stay in the game balance out the overuse of alleged sick days taken by others.

Saving it for later
Yum! Half of a big crusty bakery muffin and the remains of that Paprika Maple Latte that you might want to finish later (if you decide you really do like it after all).


Define "later." If later will occur within the next hour, by all means keep the muffin and your red flecked drink to the side on your desk. But put the muffin back in the bag and keep a lid on the latte.

Leftovers are bad enough in the fridge, left on your desk they will colonize. And mold is bad for business.
*Well, shoot, I agree with this one too.  Only because in my office, we often have science projects happening in the fridge.  On the other hand...when I left yesterday, there were four Clementines sitting on my desk that I meant to eat 'later.'

Engaging your imaginary friend
We all talk to ourselves occasionally. "You are parking the car in Row G," "Paper towels, bananas, peanut butter..." It keeps us in the moment and helps us remember song lyrics.


The trick is to keep the conversation private. Between you and you. If you say it out loud, it's between you, Sandy (who's still ticked off about all the sneezing) and whoever happens to walk by.
*I'd like an addendum to this one.  If you live alone, talking to yourself is fine.  Chances are you are so acclimated to self conversations that stopping them would be as easy as stopping breathing.  Plus, as I do have the plague, how am I supposed to tell if I've lost my voice yet if I'm not in a constant dialogue with myself?


Sleeping on the job
Unless Human Resources handed you a pillow along with your ID badge, you should assume that sleeping is not a part of your job. Calling HR right now.  This is a brilliant suggestion.


While midday siestas are acceptable in many European and Asian countries and have even proven to increase productivity, they are still newsworthy in the U.S., meaning that workplace napping is not the norm. OR it means I am ahead of the curve and very forward thinking.


Yes, if you angle your chair just so, chances are no one will notice the occasional head bob when you jerk awake from a quick snooze. But better that you master your TV recorder and watch late night shows when it fits with your natural biological rhythms.
OR encourage others to nap as well.  And learn to wake yourself up by saying the word "Amen" and no one will be the wiser.

Sneaking one little kiss/hug/squeeze
He picked you up for lunch at the office. This is serious. He's met your boss. Could your friends and parents be next? It's not like you'd ever actually make out in your cubicle. But you're in love! Just one little kiss? Risky. Pick the wrong moment (or the wrong guy) and your private moment will go viral.


There will be a strange and sudden hush when you walk into the break room. People will snicker. Just keep in mind that your sofa is in your living room and that your cubicle is on company property and you'll be fine.
*Agreed.  No one wants to see that.  Ever.

Cursing up a storm
From the back of the bus in middle school, a well-timed swear word may have given you an aura of maturity (as long as the bus driver didn't overhear and reassign you the seat directly behind him), but at work or in any professional setting, cursing is viewed as unpolished behavior.


If you can't control your own language, how does your boss know you're capable of steering that marketing project to the next level? Come up with alternate word choices and practice saying them instead. Eventually, they'll become new word habits that will work in your favor, not against you.
*Again, does this writer work at Candyland?  I'll go 50-50 here.  Cursing up an actual storm can be uncomfortable for the people around you.  But is also generally good for a story later.

Listen to your conscience
Not sure if something's a desk do or a desk don't? Use common sense and enlist your conscience. The little voice that said "don't" to uploading your Lady Gaga dance moves to Facebook is your friend.
It wants you to win at work and in life. Listen to it.
*This makes a rather large assumption, no?  Conscience?  Sounds familiar.  Think I've heard of it before.  Somewhere in the dictionary near Common Sense.  I feel like it's way far away from that other theory about asking for forgiveness later...

In general, I'm sure there's some good advice in that article.  But it seems to come from a few strange places - like the Old Days.  Or Disneyland Corporate Headquarters.  The real world?  Not the same.  Work is no longer an impersonal place - people know you and your story - you are battle mates.  Things are out in the open, talked about and laughed about. 

So back to my cube...remember the one up top?  The one that represents most of the cubes in my office?  Yeah...mine's the anti-norm:


But, really - wouldn't you rather sit next to me than the other guy?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

No, I won't shop at your pretend store.

Today's Blog Disclaimer...

I realized as I was writing this that I'd probably hit a few nerves.  Before you think, "OMG, is that about ME?"....the answer is mostly 'no'.  I do support anyone who is motivated enough to run their own business.  But for each of my friends that has offered me their wares, there are about 10 others following suit.  And, I'm a gal with a history of trouble with the words, "No thanks..."


So, onward.

I walked into my office building recently only to find myself almost immediately cornered by a lady selling jewelry.  Out of Ziplocs.  Of course, this was after I'd walked by a handful of strategically placed Mary Kay catalogs and past a sign advertising the upcoming Book Mobile. 

Never too early to get into the Christmas spirit.

It's not that I don't appreciate someone trying to make a few extra bucks.  It's just that the trend is growing yet again (thanks economy) ~ people with pretend stores.

See if any of these ring a bell:
Pampered Chef
Avon
Mary Kay
Silpada
Tupperware
Stella & Dot
Zamzuu
Arbonne
Partylite

I've bought items from at least half these imaginary stores - always with a twinge of guilt that grew from either letting down a friend or from letting down my wallet. 

It's  all 100% guaranteed.  You can return anything, anytime.  It's made from the best stuff ever created on God's green earth.  All your friends are doing it.  It'll make you feel good.  We'll talk about you after you've left if you don't buy something.

And the impact of the electronic age on the pseudo-stores?  Every time I turn around, I've got another post, tweet or email suggesting I buy this or that - before it runs out.  Which will be soon, apparently.  Because this or that is the most popular item ever.

Here's a news flash:

For years, I've been buying food storage containers at The Dollar Store.  Did Mr. Tupperware just roll in his grave? 

I own a pizza stone - bought from Walmart - which I generally forget to use.  Yet I'm still able to destroy the roof of my mouth on the first three bites.  Take that Pampered Chef. 

I don't even know where my candles are from.  But they smell awful nice.

The place it drives me most crazy (this minute) is in the actual office.  Here I'm faced with supporting the local school districts.  When I was a kid, our schools weren't running fundraisers every marking period.  At least I don't think they were.  Or maybe my parents were just shielding me from a life of pre-teen selling. 

In today's world, it's wrapping paper one week, popcorn the next week, coupon books the week after - and if I buy from one, I pretty much have to buy from all.  And if I don't - I fear I'll be held accountable should the kids not get to play with a real globe this school year.

In all honesty, I'd like a waiver card that I can whip out indicating that, as I have no children, I am excused from supporting the fundraising efforts of the local schools, boy scouts, swim teams, etc..

Or would it be easier if I just gave the kids a jarful of cash?  Oh wait, I did that on Halloween.

Believe me - I get it.  I would love to have a second income as much as the next guy.  (I would also like that second income to be in the form of an actual guy.) 

What I don't love is the string of invites promising that I can 'just come eat and drink' and 'won't have to buy anything...'.  Until I walk through the door only to find a delicious cocktail in my hand clouding the judgement I promised to control. 

Before I know it I'm full of mini-quiches, martinis and scribbling through an order form as quickly as possible so I don't miss the chance to spend fifty bucks on something I could buy at the mall for ten.

And am I really going to turn around and return these overpriced-overhyped items?  Have you ever tried that?  You may as well call your party host ugly. 

The guarantee, of course, is that you won't like the item as much as you did when you ordered it (see:  Martini) and upon it's arrival will wonder what the heck you were thinking.  

That's if you haven't already noticed the gully that's formed in your checkbook.  Do they never have sales?

I have learned this, though ~ whenever anyone asks such questions as, "Do you like silver jewelry?" or "What are you doing Sunday afternoon" or "Do you use candles?" or "Are you busy Tuesday night" the answers are always this:

Sometimes
I'm not sure
Sometimes
I'm not sure

No matter how well you know the person asking - and especially if you don't know them well at all.  For part of the pseudo store training is capturing vulnerable women when they aren't paying attention - thus tricking them into attendance.

Stand firm.  Or enjoy your thirty dollar plastic measuring spoon.  I'm sure the martinis make it worth it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

London, Part II: Thank You Cheesus!

It's so hard to narrow down what parts of London I should write about - I really just want to tell more and more...and that's not to discount any of our other trip stops.  It's just that, I really loved London.

One of my pre-trip obsessions has been the Tudors...you know...whacky King Henry who went through wives like most of us go through ice cubes?  And thanks to the just finished series on Showtime, I was completely up to speed on his reign. 

So, on my list of things to do (you remember it, don't you?) was to visit the Tower of London.  This was a prison of sorts (I mean, I don't really consider two story townhouses to be prison cells, but I guess if you've come from castle/palace living, it could be a downer) and now houses the Crown Jewels. 

Guests of the Tower included such folks as William Wallace, Sir Walter Raleigh and just about anyone who hung out with King Henry.

To get the full visit, you've got to go twice - once during the day and once at night.  At 9.30 at night to be exact - as that is when the Ceremony of the Keys takes place, locking the Tower for the night.

This ceremony has been going on daily since the 14th century. It's now open to the public - as long as you write a letter in advance (handwritten - imagine that!) for tickets, arrive early and behave.


We were hooked up with a Yeoman (an officer who would be 'in charge' of us) and led through the tower to observe the ceremony. 

Somewhere in the middle, I found out that there are 30 or so Yeoman that live on the grounds.  Which means that since I've been back I've been scouring the internet to find an available Yeoman to marry so I can live there, too. 

We did come back the next day to see the Tower innards - including the Crown Jewels and some great footage of the Queen's inauguration, showing just how young and nervous she was. 

I'd imagine taking the throne is a really sad event since the only way to get the promotion is to lose a parent.  And for her, it was sudden and unexpected.

We also hit the 'usual' spots in London - St. Paul's Cathedral (meaning I've now see three out of four of the largest domes in the world) and Westminster Abbey (which is really just a very large crypt). 

And we hit the unusual spots.  Well one, anyway.  One of my goal items was to have a Toasted Cheese Sandwich in Borough Market.  I pretty much had written that one off as our tour day was with a guide - and really what were the chances that he'd let us break off for a glorified grilled cheese.

So you can imagine my reaction when he blurted out in his cute little English accent that he wanted to give us an hour for lunch at his favorite spot...Borough Market.  Pinch Me!

My friends...what you see here is some sort of heaven on earth.  It's the sandwich of my dreams.  It's what I think about when I lie in bed at night unable to sleep.  If a food can change your life, then let this one be the Gandhi of deliciousness.

If you are ever in London, and you don't pick up one of these miracles....we are no longer friends.

PS - The booth you'll be looking for is called Kappa Cassein. 

I wanted to show you the final shot of another trip phenomenom....

Did I mention my dad's uncanny ability to show up in my lens just as I was snapping pictures?  Here's his best photo bomb.

This was while we were learning about the Tower Bridge and why there was a bale of hay hanging off the middle (it signals that work is being done on the bridge). 

And Dad was kind enough to point it out.  At just the right time.

Our last stop of the big day was to Buckingham Palace - as the Queen was up in Scotland, it was open to visitors.  The thing about Buckingham is that it sits right in the middle of this immensely busy city - and yet when you are on the grounds, you feel like you are way out in the country somewhere. 

It really would be too much house for me - I can only imagine the hours it would take just to get the vacuuming done.  It's all yours, stupid Kate.

So, that was it - our last day of the adventure.  Once again, a trip we'd been planning for a year had come to an end.  Once again, I learned how great I've become at travelling (truth be told...I used to be a bit of a wimp with new experiences).  Once again, I'm already jonesing for the next one. 

Who's with me?

Yeoman? 
 



Monday, November 22, 2010

Yes, I'll take a pat down.

Okay, I know - I was supposed to write another round of London today.  And I will get back to it - I promise...but I'm just getting too worked up over all these folks bitching and moaning about airport security to ignore it.

I also met an actual airport security guy (let's call him Stew) at a get together on Saturday night - and after chatting with Stew for quite a long time (yes, we all grilled him), I gotta say - people are just stupid. 

(Newsflash?  Not really).

As usual, the media is honing in on the minuscule percent of the population that isn't supportive of the changes in procedure.  As usual, the media is replaying over and over one guy's strange desire to have his pat down recorded.  (I can't say for sure...but I'm guessing he has a mirror over his bed, too).

The first thing that keeps coming to my mind?  Do we not remember 9/11?  I realize it's been nearly a decade - but can you not remember how you felt as the planes went down one after another? 

Or really, just remember the second plane - because that was the one that told the story.  We were under attack.  Before that one hit, it was just a horrible plane crash.  After it hit, it was terrorism. 

Here's what I remember - feeling scared out of my mind and completely vulnerable.  Feeling trapped (I was in Michigan and actually scheduled to fly that day) and wanting someone to tell me how or when it was going to all shake out.  And I remember how the pit in my stomach kept growing - as the third plane went and then the fourth and then the first tower and then the second.  And how that pit stayed in my stomach for weeks - slowly shrinking, yes, but still there. 

And while reality says there are no completely fool proof check points - is it not smarter to set up something pretty strict now instead of after someone hops on a plane with an explosive strapped to their leg?  Why does it make more sense to people to put these procedures in place after the fact?

There's no 'junk-touching' or 'nipple twisting.' There's a reason you stand on a mat with your feet placed in the marked spots.  There's a reason gloves are worn.  There are reasons why the image scanners are located away from the image readers and why you can request a same sex pat down or not - depending on your mood.

Today I heard someone say that there should be an age limit - where maybe someone under three years old wouldn't have to get scanned or patted.  Why?  Because if a terrorist has no problem killing hundreds of people, would they really have a problem using a toddler as their carrier?  Especially if such a limit tells them pretty clearly to  hide any prohibited objects under an infant.

And I really do doubt that there is a mad dash of 'perverts' signing up for jobs at TSA.  I think the more likely scenario is that the new guidelines came out and a lot of currently employed TSA folks went "Ugh, this is going to suck...."

Back to my new friend, Stew.  Stew doesn't wake up wondering who he'll get to touch that day.  He gets up and prays that he doesn't make a mistake. He's very much aware that if he does and sends someone on a plane that is then tossed out of the sky - it's on him. Stew's not patting down passengers down to make them uncomfortable or embarrassed.

He's doing it to make them live.



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

London, Part I: Really, William? Really??

I went back and forth a bit today about whether or not I'd do my planned blog about our last trip stop - London.  See, I absolutely 185% LOVED London.  Until a little over 24 hours ago, when from London came some rather shocking news. 

Not even from the horse's mouth - but via a newscast.

Public breakups are never appropriate, Prince William.  I mean, yes, I suspected Kate was leading the race to the altar.  But in my heart, my mangled heart, I still held out hope.  So good luck.

Dear Harry,
Hi....


Well, as Eminem would say...Snap back to reality.

As warned, we were kicked of our cruise ship in Dover, England.  Now, on departure day, you are given a specific time to depart - this keeps the groups going to the same places together.  There's the airport buses, the hotel buses, the people who are actually getting back on the ship buses, etc.

My family waited until the allotted time and went to the appropriate bus.  Where we faced a cluster...

Turns out everyone else on this hotel bus dashed out early.  And half of them thought it was appropriate to bring their three weeks of luggage on board instead of stowing it underneath.  Turns out the same half also preferred not to sit with their husband/wife/significant. 

In summary, there was no where for us to sit.  And no one willing to adjust.  Did I mention just how cranky people get at the end of a three week vacation?  Multiply it by a big number.

We finally ended up in the very back row - the one that goes five across - where the middle seat is barely a seat and faces directly up the aisle.  Yes, I'm nearing 40...and I still had to sit on the hump.

The bus ride turned into four hours of hell.  Flanking me were my dad and a guy from Colorado.  Within minutes, both were sound asleep.  When grown men fall asleep, gravity forces them towards the middle.  Where I sat. 

The whole point of this ride is to keep you busy until it's time to check into your hotels.  We did actual circles around London.  Many, many, many circles - but no actual stopping.

Until a bathroom riot.  Never deny 40 cranky people a potty break.

Yes, eventually the hell ended and we were deposited at our hotel.  Who didn't seem to be expecting us so early.  Which gave us a much needed hour to drink a beer, eat fish and chips and re-live the morning.

Now, on my London List, I had three things:
1.  The Tower of London
2.  A Toasted Cheese Sandwich in Borough Market
3.  Harrods

Harrods could only fit in on this first day in London - and had to take place between hotel check-in and our appointment to ride the London Eye.  The window was small and shrinking.  Surely we wouldn't start off this stop with a total strike out?

In a SHOCKER, Mom and I were not only granted our Harrods wish AND Dad would be joining us.  (Yes, I should have sense something strange...).

And, after a quick taxi ride...
We did it!  Now, for those of you who may be thinking, "Oh yippee, a department store..."  No, no...you're so wrong.  This is some sort of mecca with floor after floor and department after department. 

I seriously believe I could spend a full week in this store and still not see everything.

Ah, but the rub. 

Upon entering through these doors to heaven on earth....Dad looked at his watch and said, "Okay, ladies...you have one hour." 

Come again?

We zipped through that store buying whatever we could reach.  I bought Oven Roasting Mitts.  I don't even have a roasting pan.  I couldn't even guess when the last time my oven was on.  But they are so cute!

We snatched up stuff on our right, stuff on our left - a total pay now, figure out what you bought mentality.  And I've never seen such a display of Burberry or Louis V..  Endless.

They even had an enormous pet section - where you could buy actual puppies.  If you had a spare couple grand.  Couldn't be done in our allotted hour.

In fairness to Father Time...our scheduled London Eye ride was at 5pm and after that, a 9.30pm stop at the Tower of London - so I guess the stopwatch was necessary.

Still...Harrods...I'm coming back to you.  Don't you worry.

Consider yourself on notice.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

AmsterDAM that's a cool city.

Going from Oslo to Amsterdam was actually a bit of a downer.  Because to get there, we had a day at sea - which meant a day of, "What should we do today?"  Which turned into, "Oh shoot, this cruise almost over, we should start packing while we're killing time in the North Sea."  Yeah, total bummer.

And the ship doesn't even pretend they want you to say because you start getting mail at your door that includes exit tags for your luggage, invoices reminding you of what you bought while on board and details on how they'd like you to leave the ship (8am, promptly after swiping your ship card for the last time) in two days.  Rude...I thought we were friends.  Don't they have any sympathy for our mental state?

The quickest way to Amsterdam is through a lock system (basically this is a stopping point to change water levels - enabling the ship to take a short cut - obviously they were really in a hurry to end our tour).

Never having been through a lock system, I opted to get up at the crack of dawn to watch the process.  My folks had done the whole Panama Canal, so this was old hat for them. 

Here's how I remember it - early, cold, dark and misty.  I also remember the minute I found out that I could have just waited for the reverse show scheduled at 5pm the same day.  Doodies...I hate when I give up a perfectly good sleep-in unnecessarily.

After the museum punishment of Oslo, I made sure to read up on the Amsterdam tour.  It started with the words "Tour of the Reclaimed Land."  Oh boy.  Snoozer Potential.

Wrong.

The whole tour was about how Holland opted to use a windmill system to lower the water level in order to inhabit the lands.  Without the windmills, the land would be under water.  With it, the land is total utopia for plant life. 

I never thought the words "Hydrangea Envy" would cross my lips.  But I did take several pictures to bring back to my own garden - my Hydrangea has not responded to these motivational posters.

We did tour an old windmill - and, yes, they are still maintained by real live Millers (in case there is ever an emergency, they'd crank these up to help out).  More importantly - they really do wear wooden shoes!  Who knew?? 

 Evidently they are really good in the saturated ground for keeping feet dry. 

Especially when you are heading out to the outhouse.  I'm not seeing very much privacy in this area...

The thought did cross my mind to buy a pair (of wooden shoes, not prehistoric outhouses that leave last night's dinner in your canal). 

Then I remembered where I live.  Probably not very useful in the drought land.

And the most popular response I get to anyone who hears I was in Amsterdam?  "Did you smoke any pot?"  Um, no, I did not.  I did however make note of the Cannabis Cafes - especially while walking past them.  And you can actually buy the seeds in the flower market.  No wonder the people were so chill.

After a day our touring in the mist, we were forced back to the ship - to once again face the fact that we were now just one day away from our departure.  

As we were beginning our trek back to the lock...a rainbow popped up behind one of those new-fangled windmills.  

Those were either storm clouds or the exhaust from the Cannabis Cafes...   

And after an hour or so we were back at the lock that stirred me to get up so early - except this time I could see it.  This just doesn't seem like a great idea...but I'm no engineer.  It seemed even more sketchy as we sailed in - noting that we had what seemed like a yard of space on either side.  And the tiniest string tossed out to some potentially homeless and or high dudes to 'guide' our ship through.  Right, just aim us at the little white dot up there. 

We made it through with no drama, other than folks fighting for the best seat in the observation lounge.  People get testy when they know their next job is to pack up their dirty clothes!

Oh, yes - back to the shoes - this was the pair I loved the most.  Not quite my size, but definitely a fashion statement, no?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Oslo, Norway. OR, holy crap how many museums are there here?

When you are super lucky like me and you save your pennies for a year or so and you get yourself signed up for an amazing cruise - you are sent a list of excursions from the ship essentially asking you how you would like to spend your days.

Are you one of those folks who prefer a slow vacation - where you don't really do anything scheduled, but instead bum around on your own?  Or are you on of those folks who want to dive into as much as you can in an attempt to fill up every minute of your stop? 

I'm mostly the latter - although there are days when I'd prefer the former. 

With my parents - this usually works out perfectly.  Much of what they want to see is also what I want to see, so we do our excursions together.  (I do have the 'go-ahead' to do something on my own ~ and actually signed up for Sea Kayaking in Tallin, Estonia on this trip (I'm not 100% sure my mom was on board with that one).  Of course, Tallin was the stop where we didn't stop because the sea was not behaving.)

Oslo, Norway is at the end of a long, long fjord.  Right, so a fjord is a narrow inlet with steep cliffs on both sides and water that is generally deeper than the actual see.  In other words - it's not ugly at all.  All the way into Oslo we passed beautiful marinas and homes.   

Because it takes so long to get from the sea to Oslo, we had another shortened day - arriving at about 10am, touring from 1pm to 5pm and then back on the ship to head back down the fjord to our next stop.

Being the crazy go-getters that we are - we decided to hop on a Hop-On/Hop-Off bus parked at the port and take a pre-tour of Oslo before our scheduled excursion.

I can't really explain how glad I am to have done that. 

Because, evidently when I was picking out excursions with my mom and dad I failed to notice the part of our tour that said, "Spend day at three separate boat museums where you will quickly tire of history and begin a staggering quest to maintain a pulse."

Sometimes I just get museum-ed out.  Or it might be that I don't need much time in a museum to get the picture.  Or maybe I'm not a fan of items stowed behind glass where I can't touch them.  Or maybe we were just so deep into the trip that my brain was fried.

We did three museums...The Viking Ship Museum, the Kon Tiki Museum and the Fram Museum.  And yes, I can tell you what each of these museums hold and what part of nautical history they represent. 

But I'm not going to.

I did vow to read the Kon Tiki book at some point in my life. 

Now, our Hop-On/Hop-Off tour - that was cool.  Although too quick.  (PS - if you're ever abroad, these tours are a really easy way to learn the city quickly - and you have the freedom of hopping on and off to explore where and when you want to). 

Oslo is one of those super-progressive cities - they seem to have a total handle on thinking ahead and being proactive.  Currently they are finishing off a tunnel that will take all the city traffic under ground to alleviate congestion. 

And, of course, there's that national health care thing - they have it, it works.  Oh, did you have a baby? Take a year off.  And make sure your husband joins you for the first six weeks.  Okay, I'm sure it's not REALLY all rainbows and unicorns, but the guide did a pretty sweet sell job.

So while the excursion wasn't my favorite of the tour - I really did like the city.  We got to see the Royal Yacht coming in from a vacation trip...and the Royal Horse Farm (another place I'd like to live).  There were some decent old castles that could use an exploration or two next time.

Plus it was another stop where we came back from our touring, dropped dad off at the ship and then did a u-turn to go shopping.  Which is always a win.