Saturday, August 28, 2010

"Can" I Help You?

I am not normally a grammatical gestapo agent. I, on occasion, have been known to end my sentences with prepositions. I do not smack people when they mix up their, there, and they're when they're writing to me. I will even let it slide when people mix up "I" and "me" in sentences (but mostly because that one still gets I...or gets me...oh never mind). Having said that, I would like to take today's post to talk about something that is not necessarily a grammatical problem but more along the lines of a usage quirk...and in the process I get to poke fun at people in my family. Win Win.

Actually, one of my deep fears is that one of my elementary school teachers gets hold of my blog, prints it out, and sends me a copy complete with about three pens worth of red ink. (shudder) I once had a teacher tell my parents, in front of me, that my papers look like someone "shot them with special machine guns that could only shoot commas." Is, it, any, wonder, that, I, am, the, way, I, am? Still, not what I wanted to talk about.

Today I would like to talk about going out to eat. This is a nostalgic topic for me since we are trying to save money and going out to eat seems to be the opposite of saving money. Besides, our wonderful daughter is becoming quite the chef and I want to encourage her in every way I can. Apparently having kids in high school and junior high is another way to not save money, but I digress.

I don't want to overstate things at all but THIS POST WILL DRAMATICALLY CHANGE YOUR LIFE, FOREVER!! At this point I feel that I should warn you. Reading further will completely change the way you go out to eat. No seriously, I once read an article by Ray Orrock (our local paper's former humor columnist) where he described getting ice from the freezer. It was so insightful I cannot get ice from our freezer without thinking of him. His question, "Why does one ice cube try to escape the freezer (commit ice cube suicide) every time I grab a handful?"

Believe it or not I am not writing about his observation, I have one of my own. What I have noticed is that when people go out to eat they usually talk. Not earth shattering I know. The point is, eventually, inevitably, someone during the meal will talk about other places to eat. When I go out to eat with friends it is amazing how often the subject of restaurants comes up. Other restaurants that we are not currently eating at. (curse you ending preposition! I think I may tell you my favorite preposition joke at the end of today...get ready, it's PG13)

I have no idea why people, who are currently eating food, feel the need to talk about eating other places! If you didn't want to eat here you could have said so and we would have gone to the place you are talking about. Or is that not it, you need a mouthful of food to make you decide what you want to eat. If that were the case I see a huge need for a new type of restaurant:

Having trouble deciding where to eat? Always take one bite and then wish you
went somewhere else? Do your ice cubes jump out of the freezer whenever you
try to get a few for your drink?

We have the restaurant for you! Come to One Bite Only!

Eat one bite and then go somewhere else!

I don't know about everyone else but that would work for my family. We were just lucky enough to be taken out to dinner last night and I tried to keep track of all other restaurants about which we have talked. (See...ending with a preposition here would have 'sounded' better). Let's see...we talked about Ihop and their funny face pancakes. We discussed a rib restaurant for a second. We breezed through a fast food place. We even discussed how Chinese restaurants operate in Germany. (to be fair we were in a Chinese restaurant and our host had just gotten back from Germany the week before)

I am wondering if this is a universal occurrence or if this is some sort of thing that happens when only my friends and family get together. These are the thoughts that occupy my time.

Another thing that I have noticed, usually when my family goes out to eat, is that people will say, "Can I get the Chicken Alfredo?"

I have nothing against a good chicken alfredo...I have devoted a good portion of my life trying to find the ultimate chicken alfredo...No! I am concerned that the people I am with do not fully grasp the basic premise of a restaurant. You see, I explain to the people in my one specific so as not to embarass (but she always remembers my birthdays and I call her something that rhymes with wom)...that the folded piece of paper they brought us describes what we "can" get so you basically just need to tell them which one you wanted. It would be different if she asked, "Can I still get the special?" or "Do you serve breakfast all day long?" But this peculiar questioning of the waitress happens almost every time. It's almost as if we were looking for some sort of confirmation from the server.

"Can I get the lasagna?"

Sucking in breath and making a sour lemon face. "Oooooh. Sorry. Your doctor just called and he's not too happy about your triglyceride numbers. He suggested you get the small green salad with the balsamic vinegar dressing on the side. Hold the croutons. He did say if you cleaned your plate you could either have a small bowl of Jello, no whipped cream, or an after dinner mint."

Head held low. "okaaaay...I gueeeesss. I never get to have any fun."

So pay attention to the next time you go out to eat. I am willing to bet that someone will talk about another place to eat and another person will ask permission to order straight from the menu. Let me know if I'm wrong!

...and now for the PG13 preposition joke...

A Texan walks onto the campus of Harvard Law School and comes up to the first person he sees to ask a question in his southern drawl.

"Excuse me. Can you tell me where the administration building is at?"

The pretentious snit answers back in his best impersonation of Thurston Howell III, "Sirrrr, This is Haaarvaaard Laaaw Schooool. Weeee dooo not end our sentences with prepositions."

The Texan answers back, "Oh I see. 'scuse me. Can you tell me where the administration building is at, asshole?"

I crack myself up! Have a great day!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Where Is A Matchbook When You Need One?

Today, I am talking to some of the youngin's out there. Everyone is welcome, but I felt the need to deliver a lesson early this school year. Enjoy!

Let me begin today by explaining to all the younger readers that, back in the day, (that's "when I was your age" for this generation) they used to have these marvelous little contraptions that would play music...just for you...and they were only slightly bigger than a shopping cart! Well the really cool ones were that sized anyway. I, of course, had none. Too expensive, and I didn't really have music that I was interested in investing the energy to carry around.

Back then the primary way to listen to portable music was on something called a cassette. It was a roll of magnetic tape that, with the proper machine and electrical charges, could record sound. By today's standard the cassette is much like the giant cone scratching sound vibrations onto a ceramic cylinder. This method was sort of like the record of my youth. Which, of course, you have never seen or perhaps even heard about unless you have studied ancient history (or watched a movie where they had a sock hop). You see a sock hop is...oh never mind.

Cassettes weren't even the best at what they did. There was a better way to listen to music. The advantage was the size difference. Cassettes were smaller. The 8-track was clearer and could hold more of a musical range but convenience won out and the 8 track tape went the way of the dinosaur. It was one example of the public choosing between two devices and then casting a foul shadow upon the loser. It was sort of like the Beta Max versus the VHS. Whoops. It was like the Ipod taking over personal music and leaving all others in the dust. And of course size had a huge part in this as well. I mean I have had coat buttons larger than some of the Ipods of today. I hope music devices don't get any smaller...I already needed to get the laser surgery so I could read the newspaper without looking through Coke bottles. (You see the newspaper is what we had before the interne...holy cow this is turning into a depressing posting.)

Anyway, I am old enough to have had one of the most ancient of these portable players. I had an 8 track player. My family used to listen to the 8 tracks whenever we went on long road trips in the camper. We had comedy albums by Lily Tomlin, we had a collection of older music that my dad bought in a set at a garage sale, and my sister bought a few Waylon and Willie tapes. (That's right sis, I'm calling you out...I'm not being called old-ish alone!) In my sister's defense, she never had an 8 track in her car. I did. Until my friends teased me for having something that was so "five minutes ago." (that is your generation's version of "old" and "outdated")

When I gave in to the teasing and installed a cassette player (and didn't need a trailer to haul around the exceptionally large 8 track tapes) I was able to play music that my friends brought over. It was great. Well, it was pretty good. You see, every once in a while the music would sound like it was being played through the soggy end of a beach towel. It wasn't a huge problem though. All you had to do was...say it with me, you know you wanna...squeeze a matchbook under the bottom of the cassette. Voila! The cassette tape aligned with the musical reading doodads and the towel was gone. Music again!

Well I was thinking back to those magical days when all you needed to fix technology was an extremely low tech solution. I have been wrestling with my computer for months and it has finally reached the point where I am crying out to the tens of readers for help. (And by the way...Thank you Beth for becoming the 23rd follower of the blog but as we all know 23 is an odd number but add to that the fact that 23 is a PRIME number...well you know how I am. Let's get some more people, people. OK, I'm better now.)

I had already told you all about my outboard motor powered computer. The noise was terrible. Now, I have changed the power supply to get the defective fan out and it is much quieter but it is still doing the thing that has vexed me (see that literary agents..."vexed" ...awesome vocab don't ya think? And I'm pretty sure I used it correctly!) What was I talking about? Oh yeah, the problem that just won't go away is that the computer will just turn itself off for no reason at all. I have already adjusted the power save options to waste energy but save material. I have changed the CMOS battery and taken out the RAM and put it back thirty seconds later. I took it out to my compressor and, making sure there was absolutely no water in the lines, blew all of the dust out of the tower. I have updated the virus protection and restored to a previously saved version. I have even replaced the power supply myself (because I didn't want to pay 90 dollars to have someone work on what is essentially an electronic Lego set). Individually all of these things are working, collectively they are ticking me off!

The latest thing I tried was last night. I had gotten it to stay on while I was working (it used to turn off in the middle of anything) so I changed the screen saver thinking that the computer didn't like to show pictures of the family. As soon as the saver turned on...the computer turned off. When I changed it to screen saver "none" I notice that I can walk away for a minute and it will still be on. Hope! This seems like an idiosyncrasy that I can work around! (Idiosyncrasy! SIX syllables! Are you serious!? WHY am I not being paid for this!?) It is a pain that it is not working like new fresh out of the box but I am willing to work with this if the computer is. Wish me luck...or give me ideas.

I feel I need to warn you that NONE of these ideas were mine. I would hate to have this blog evolve into a sort of tech support on accident. Besides, the only practical suggestion I have concerning computers would not be too helpful....I'd just tell you to slide a matchbook under that cool automatic cup holder that keeps popping out of the front!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Of Mice and Men...and Blogs

The best laid plans of mice and men (and blogs) oft go askew. What do I mean by that? The thing is, during the summer break, I was planning on writing almost every day, getting discovered by a newspaper publisher who was looking for an upbeat commentator, (not to be confused with the Idaho spud...which is a common tater), and then extending my summer break to include fall, winter, spring and perhaps summer again. This break would include traveling around the U.S. in our brand new 35 foot Newmar motor home of course. But things seemed to go askew. Want to hear about it? Here we go.

I am sitting on my living room couch. I know what you are thinking, "Big-heaping-helping-of-Foster-Farms-turkey. Get on with it." You see, I am sitting on my living room couch that has been moved to the front room in front of the corner windows. It is morning. The family is asleep. And I am beginning to write. The reason the couch is here is reorganization. We are moving things around in a big way. It all started with the garage sale and I would love to say that it ended with me sitting here, but it isn't quite complete and we are running out of days before I scoot myself back to work. That is one of the main reasons that I haven't been able to write as much as I would have liked. We are so busy.

I did want to talk a bit about the actual garage sale, which was an experience, and I suppose now is as good a time as ever. Ours was the garage of legend, where cardboard boxes go to die and baseballs are never seen again. We had been approached by archaeologists from 13 major universities to perform a "dig." I feel so badly about the families from those teams...but they knew the risk. At it's worst we tried to time when cars would go by so we could open and shut the doors before anyone could see in. To get from one side to another involved scooting, stepping, moving, and shuffling. It was also a two person job because we had to displace objects out of our way to move into its space and it was always easiest to hand things to another person. I joked that I was going to officially name the garage "Away" because whenever I told the kids to put something away, they would walk to the furthest point in and drop. Enough about the dark past, let's get on with the bright future.

Sylvia and I began going through the garage a few weeks ago with a definite date in mind for the garage sale. We have learned that the date is key. Without an actual date your garage sale items are really just a pile of junk that will meld into things that the kids will drag out to play with "one more time" and then put "away." It became very clear that we were serious and we dedicated a place for the sale. It started with a few boxes toward the front. Then we started going through boxes from Sylvia's 5th grade classroom, her 2nd grade classroom, my special ed. classroom, and her kindergarten classroom...all of which are no longer taught by us. We had four classrooms worth of materials in our garage waiting to be gone through. More boxes in the sale pile.

Then there was the pile of stuff from my bachelor a box for fifteen years? More boxes into the pile. The kids got the fever...more boxes added. Our book shelves...more boxes. The kids' toy cabinet...check. On and on and on... All told we ended up with more boxes than I am even willing to admit and I certainly didn't count them (which would have been my nature but I was too depressed by the sheer mass). We even had a few friends who, when they found out we were having a sale, added a little to the boxes.

We placed the ad into the free paper here and on Craigs List. We made signs, obnoxious neon orange signs that could probably have been seen from space, and put them out the night before. We were set. And at 6 in the morning when the alarm went off we dragged ourselves out of bed to drag our stuff out to the driveway. On borrowed tables and moving blankets we laid out all of our treasures to show the world that we, in the past, had been incapable of letting things go. Not anymore.

My mom and dad came over to help. Bless their hearts. And by 7 we had a respectable showing of items out with still more in the garage. We also had customers. You see, when you advertise 8 O'clock the professional garage salers read 7 O'clock. Some of them will even "help" you go through boxes as you are putting them out. It was unbelievable. It was also a mob scene. From 7 to about 12:30 we were swamped with constant comings and goings and a few honks from the traffic jams around our house. Not to make you feel bad if you've ever had a lackluster turnout at your sale...we have an ideal location for this type of thing. When it died down a bit I thought, "Whew! We are going to get a lunch break after all." And then it turned 12:40 and we were off again! It continued like this until 4, the advertised closing time, and then it slowed as we put things away. We had strangers on our lawn until about 5.

Strangers implies that we didn't know these people. I don't want to give the impression that they were stra...well let me think a minute. Maybe... There were people looking for bargains, check. There were people looking for gifts, check. There were people looking for teacher supplies, quadruple check. And then there were the people who seemed to buy anything.

"Does this work?"
"I'll take it."

"Are these real?"
"Not even close."
"Set me up."

"How many bowling pins are in this set?"
"Add it to my pile."
"Ok, see you on Hoarders."
"Nothing...50 cents."

I even had a woman who claimed to live in a tent that wanted to buy an old can of oil. I didn't sell it to her. I do have a conscience.

And then we had these guys...

"How much for this antique watch?"
"It was my grandmother's. It's solid gold and has always kept perfect time. That nick on the face is from when she fainted while meeting the Queen. There is a certificate of authenticity in the velvet lined case...we are asking for a hundred and twenty dollars."
"Will you take a dime?"
"Umm. No....(it's really hard to 'say' puzzled expression mixed with contempt)..."

(Honestly, the watch didn't exist but you get the idea.)

So in the smoldering aftermath we have now a few dollars in our pockets, a lot less stuff, and a van that fits into the garage. I'd say it was a success. It is also nice to not have all of these things to deal with. It's free-ing! It's nice. It really, really is. It is also a way for us to see that we could move the couch over here, and the piano over there, and if we put a bookshelf here that would make room for a desk there...good thing I can get to my tools.

We're not going to overdo it though. We are taking time for ourselves. This weekend we are going to go visit garage sales...kidding!

Monday, August 2, 2010

I'm Baa-ack!

It feels like I have been away from this computer for a month. In reality it has only been 8 days. Sorry to disappoint all of you...but I decided to start writing again. (See what I did thought I was going to talk about being gone and then I turned it around...I crack myself up). But seriously, we have had a bit of excitement here at Casa de Siete Rosas (it means house of seven roses. I just thought it sounded better than The Loony Bin...and both names are appropriate.) We have decided to have a garage sale.

I suppose this is where I should take advantage of this forum to advertise where and when it is but I would hate to be fined by the city for causing a traffic jam. You know, S.I.T.C.O.M. memorabilia collectors, Paparazzi, police in riot gear, the neighbors complaining because the line to get autographs is keeping them from being able to move their cars out of the driveway one way, the line of people hoping that I will change my mind and start signing body parts blocking driveways the other way, dogs and cats living together...mass hysteria! (snuck in a line from a movie...guesses?)

Actually, I thought about putting in the address for a millisecond then thought that "Moron Puts Home Address Into His Blog" might not be the best headline and certainly no way to sell our junk, I mean valuable merchandise. Al Bundy had an explanation for garage sales as he talked to his daughter Kelly.
"See honey, lawn sales are based on the bigger idiot theory. You know, you sell
things so dumb that some bigger idiot would buy it. But the flaw on that theory
is eventually, you will get to the head idiot. And you call her mom."
Now his mistreatment of his wife aside, I would like to think that we have a slightly better perception of our sale. We have toys and games that the kids have outgrown, we have furniture that no longer suits our needs, we have appliances that came to us "to try" that "we tried but didn't like"...we do not have a moose head with only one antler. We are fresh out of neon beer signs that have burping sound effects. And we are keeping the sixty five pound plaster-of-Paris angel with the cracked wing...just kidding, the wing is fine. We seriously have good intentions about the things we are bringing to the driveway. The motivation for the sale is where the rubber hits the road.

We have decided that since we aren't going on a big camping trip this year we should get a handle on the clutter in the house. I know there are some of you who have no concept of what clutter is like. "But Jeff, whatever do you mean? If it has no purpose I get rid of it straight away. I thought all people thought like me." I get it. A book we have on getting organized called people like you "cleanies" and you just don't get it. We may need that, so we are going to hang onto it for a while. Then it comes time to straighten and places get homes. "Oh that space on the shelf in the garage is where the single shot cappuccino maker that your brother gave us, goes." Before you judge, we have never been approached by the creators of the show Hoarders to do a week long special and I have personal knowledge of someone who has a drawer in their kitchen dedicated to bread that has been toasted but never back off. (you have to imagine a little texting smiley face there to show that I am not really angry or even getting snippy...this expressing yourself with words thing is tricky) On the other end of the spectrum I know someone who got a sweater as a present, he went over to his closet, took out the old sweater, replaced it with the new one, and put the old one in the donate box. What on earth would I need two sweaters for, happily running through his brain. That will never be me.

We are happily in the middle ground. It's just that every once in a while we are a little lax in the deciding of what we actually will need, and we are both a little on the sentimental side. Nothing wrong with keeping things that have special meaning but if something has a really special meaning then it shouldn't be living in a box in the garage for months, years, or even decades at a time. And this time of going through the garage I have not been able to figure out why, in the name of all that is holy, I would keep a college textbook on environmental law that merely reminded me of the only "C+" I got in college. (To clarify and put an end to the endless harassment I am sure my smart aleck readers are building up before it begins...the C+ was the worst grade I got. Not the best.)

We, as a family, are doing a great job. We are working in the morning until we get burned out and then we collectively take a break for the rest of the day. We have gone to the swim park, gone to the amusement park, and even smaller things like rent a movie and watch it together. We have taken our bags of cans and bottles to the recyclers to cash them in. We have cleared out the areas that have gathered items for a garage sale all over the house in the nebulous future and put them into the garage for a specific date. And we have gone through and shredded about three acres worth of trees of old bills, receipts, and records that are no longer applicable. It's very freeing! We are still trying to figure out how to determine which things need to stay and which need to go...and trying to put an end to the piles. Sylvia and I are both "pilers" when it comes to paperwork. Again, some of you No Idea, and some of you feel my pain. I think the problem is that we both have really good memories so I can go to a certain place and pull out the paper that I need. Oh sure, I could put everything away in an alphabetical system of drawers but where is the challenge in that!?

Big deal! You can do Sudoku. Can you find the utility bill for last year May without making a paper avalanche? I thought not!

Good thing our garbage and recycling trucks are now automated and have arms that pick up and dump the heavy monstrosities without human help. If you live on our block you may even see us sneaking to other peoples' cans to unload a little extra after you have put them out for the pickup night. Kidding...sort of. (I once got rid of a giant tree that blocked ALL the light into two windows in one weekend by this method...and I never had to load the truck to the dumps once!)

So one more benefit of going through old paperwork is finding some of my old writing. I have discovered that I have been writing a blog for years and never knew it! My creative writing teacher in college (this is where the smart alecks say, "Get your money back.") had us write a journal of sorts. I found some of these, on continuous feed paper, with dot matrix printing. I glanced at some of them and the notes from the teacher on these writings and she said, "You should write these out and keep going so your family has a record of your life." Enter the blog. I think I may copy some of these things out for future entries complete with the teacher's comments for effect. We'll see.

Until then, I need to get going on the finishing touches for the sale. If anyone has the need for a Sign from the Hotel Coral Essex where only a few of the letters have fallen off drop me a line, I will send you directions to the house...bonus points if you can tell me what movie that is from.