Sunday, June 1, 2014

5 Kitchen Principles My Husband Doesn't Think We Need (but we do)

I used to think the success of a marriage depended heavily on how well you and your partner slept together. I don't mean sex, I mean sleep. Issues such as who snores, who steals the blanket, who bends their leg up in the middle of the night resulting in their partner being kneed in the kidney (sadly in our case, it's both of us) ... you know - that kind of stuff. However, I now think kitchen etiquette may be equally or more important. We rarely fight over sleep issues, but discord in the kitchen can start a war. I confess that I have a lot of rules - ahem I mean suggestions - that facilitate cleanliness, orderliness and happiness, although my husband seems to be under the impression that these are things I brought with me when I beamed down from the mother ship.

1 - Balanced Eggs - Does anyone remember being taught in Driver's Ed to remove and tighten lug nuts opposite each other when changing a tire? I do. And for some reason, that logic and the notion of balance led to my Egg Removal System. I start by taking one of the outer eggs out. The second egg to be removed is the one opposite the now empty spot at the other end of the container. This results in a nicely balanced egg carton.

Beautifully Balanced

My husband on the other hand, seems to thrive on the precariousness of chaos. He takes eggs haphazardly from random locations in the carton. Sometimes, he removes all of the center eggs. This isn't too bad because at least the container remains balanced. However, other times, I have picked up the carton only to have it tilt dangerously under the weight of the remaining eggs all being on one side. If I were a more suspicious person, I might even think his pattern wasn't random at all, but part of some master plan designed to make me crazy, even though he insists that 'this is the way we do it on Earth'.


This is madness!



2 - FIFO vs LIFO - The most important principle in my kitchen. When I first began shouting FIFO at my husband, he accused me of speaking in my alien tongue, and it took me some time to realize that I must have learned the principles of FIFO and LIFO in economics courses I took in college. Apparently, they don't teach that in standard high school educations (a glaring oversight in my humble obsessive compulsive opinion).

FIFO (First in first out) ensures that I will not have to engage in one of those horrid sessions where I end up discarding food items that somehow expired before we even bought our current home. My husband's LIFO (last in first out) system means that he will always be using our freshest ingredients, which might sound like a good thing but actually brings wastefulness to new heights. My obsessive compulsive stocking up plan directly clashes with his LIFO plan. More battles have been fought over FIFO/LIFO than I care to recount.

3 - Manual pre-wash - This brings us to Antoine. Who is Antoine, you ask? He is my dishwasher. No, I don't have a servant, it's the name I gave to the automatic dishwasher (because the perfect man would do dishes, right?) Anyway, Antoine was only named after the TV incident. Let me explain.

A few years ago, we decided it was time to join the 21st Century and buy a digital television. We lugged the old heavy clunker off the TV stand and went to the store. Hubby's eyes glazed over in euphoria as he envisioned himself sitting on the couch watching the latest action flick that starred a marine, a firefighter, and a cop chasing an alien monster through a city in hovercrafts on a screen three times the size of our old clunker. I snapped my fingers to regain his attention and we set about selecting a big screen television. He hugged the box the whole way as we wheeled the big cart through the parking lot to the car, where we realized that the box was too big and clunky to fit in my little Saturn. So we removed the large packaging right there in the parking lot and with a lot of grunting, cursing and 'be carefuls' barely managed to fit the television in the back seat. I drove home while hubby knelt on the floor holding the TV to prevent it from falling into the seats or windows. As I struggled to navigate the mean streets without the benefit of being able to actually see anything in my rearview mirror, I heard him murmuring to the newest member of our household. "What are you doing?" I asked. "I'm telling Gladys that everything will be okay," he replied. (And he thinks I'm the one who's crazy?)

At any rate, since he had Gladys, I named the new dishwasher Antoine. However, though Antoine does dishes, he is not a superhero. He cannot remove stuck on food, and if no pre-wash is performed, he spits plates and utensils back out still carrying remnants of the prior evening's meal. Just last week, my husband asked if I had unloaded and rinsed off the dirty dishes in Antoine because he recalled them having a lot more residue on them. "Aha!" I attempted to use this as an opportunity to reiterate the importance of dish-scraping, but I think the message was lost in his insistence that I am insane for sneaking around behind his back to rinse and reorder the dishwasher.

Because of course there is a set pattern for loading Antoine in the most efficient manner possible. Unfortunately, I have been unable to properly convey these rules to my husband. For the most part, I simply wait for him to leave the room to reconfigure the load pattern. Never, ever disrupt a man when he is loading the dishwasher. This might discourage him and result in an even worse condition ... dishes left in the sink.


4 - Recycling On a serious note, recycling is very important to me. I am afraid that our abuse of the environment is stealing the future from the next generation.

As such, I have tried various techniques to enforce recycling in my home. I set up a composter, which I really liked until I realized that my dogs would always know that the composted material was originally food as evidenced by their tendency to eat the dirt.

I try to limit the number of paper products we use, however convincing my husband that it shouldn't take 15 paper towels to drain the grease and oil from chicken cutlets has proved to be an insurmountable obstacle.

Our town collects a lot of material in its recycling efforts, and I've tried to keep my husband updated on the latest changes, but his memory program must need updating because he keeps reverting back to Recycling version 1.0 in which only minimal amounts of material are collected. This means I actually have to REMOVE items from the garbage in order to redistribute them to the appropriate recycling container. This is not - I repeat NOT - a task that I am fond of.

5 - An Easy Retrievable Inventory Plan  I have OCD. I admit it. I'm not ashamed (most of the time), but that's only because few people actually see the extent of my madness, which only becomes visible when one opens a cabinet and sees 20 plus cans of tuna. This would be less problematic if I were a Doomsday Prepper, but I'm not.

My madness revealed


Now, in keeping with my FIFO standard, the cans are stacked in order of best by date, but that's still a whole lot of tuna. (On a side note, I have resisted the temptation to further organize them by brand name, unlike my aging CD collection, which is still stored in Genre/Artist/Date of release order.)

And that's just one example. I currently have 31 rolls of paper towels and 42 rolls of toilet paper, yet somehow I managed to run out of tissues at the height of allergy season. And that's because of improper Inventory Storage. My husband believes that if you're able to close the freezer/cabinet door or the shelf doesn't collapse under the weight of its massive supplies then all is well. However, as you can see, not only does this violate my FIFO principle, but it makes it very difficult to tell when you are running low on something. Now, my husband believes this wasn't a problem because we have enough toilet paper to see us through the decade and that can be used in a pinch as a substitute, but TP is a poor substitute for tissues, especially when your trees are dropping enough pollen to make your car seem as though it is glowing with nuclear waste.

The quest for an easy inventory management system continues.

I suppose some people will read this and conclude that I am either insane or an alien as my husband insists, but I believe order in the kitchen to be one of the keys to personal happiness and marital bliss.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Christmas Chronicles - Christmas with Cats

Seven years ago, I welcomed a Siamese mix one-year-old rescue, two Siamese kittens and a new puppy into my home. Though I'd had dogs and cats for years, I had little warning as to the absolute devastation these furry little creatures would wreak upon my home. I was regularly updating a blog for the kittens at the time. I have decided to compile all of the Christmas posts into one this year rather than have to scroll up through an archive to follow it.

The Christmas Chronicles
 

Day 1
Since this Christmas season finds us with four new companions, one dog and three Siamese cats, we will begin the Christmas festivities with some test decorations.

First, we put out the plastic poinsettias (real ones are toxic to cats). There, those look nice.

The day passed uneventfully. I have hope!



Day 2
Wake up and pick up pieces of plastic poinsettias and reassemble plants. Re-place on shelf.

Today's agenda is to progress decoration process with some lights in window. Two battery operated candles held on by suction cups are placed at top of window. Strings of lights are detangled and plugged in to check for outages. All systems are a go. Husband begins attaching lights to window with more suction cups, but Benton starts chewing on light string before it's up. Sight of the cat with entire Christmas light bulb in mouth is alarming, to say the least. Lights are taken down and re-packed.

Agenda modified. Will string plastic bell garland up in bay window instead.

Garland is up.

Cats discover wonderful clinking sound of bell against window.

Hourly restringing of lights necessitated.

Day 3

Wake up. Reassemble and re-place plastic poinsettia.
Restring garland in window.

Notice completely destroyed-by-puppy slat on brand new Futon. Does not bode well for Christmas tree.

Hide chewed sofa with blanket.

Pull out boxes containing Christmas decorations.

Put up artificial tree. Make quick run to pet store to buy bitter apple to spray tree and discourage chewing.

Decorate tree. Before decorations complete, Jack climbs 1/3 way up tree. Remove cat from tree. Remove broken string of beads that cat got stuck on.

Take picture of mostly intact tree (with new living cat ornament).

Day 4

Awaken, re-assemble poinsettia, restring window garland, hide chewed sofa slat with blanket and spray tree with more bitter apple.

Release the kittens from bedroom where they spent the night to keep tree intact.

Slip on piece of broken beaded garland left in hall by cat.

Throw broken pieces away and fix garland strings on tree, leaving bottom branches bare. Moved all ornaments to higher level on tree. Count blessings that only Jack is messing with tree, Benton is content to play with fallen ornaments and tree skirt.

Day 5

Awaken, find plastic poinsettia intact!!
Restring window garland, cover chewed sofa slat with blanket, restring tree beads and rehang ornaments from the floor.

Find puppy chewing on hard-to-find plastic-with-attached-plastic-hook cat-safe ornaments. Plastic hook now missing. Throw out ruined ball. Respray bitter apple on tree.

Find puppy chewing on another ornament after cat knocks it off tree. Throw out second ruined ornament.

Take last picture of tree with all ornaments and Jack. Remove all plastic ball with attached plastic hook ornaments from tree.

Day 6

Awaken and find that tree has come to life.

No, wait, not come to life ... full of squriming cats. Benton has discovered tree and has climbed 3/4 of the way up it. Unlike Jack, who climbs calmly from the bottom, Benton leaps at tree from a distance and starts to climb.

In act of betrayal, the normally demure Stuff Kitty is under tree playing with fallen ornaments.

Find Siamese cat tree ornament on floor missing attached hanging string. Remove all Siamese cat ornaments from tree.

While typing up day's entry, puppy brings what once was a knit Santa ornament made by Mom, but is now merely chewed red and white yarn. Must now go and remove all knitted homemade ornaments from tree.

Day 7

Awoke, restrung window garland, covered chewed sofa slat with blanket, picked up all tree ornaments and re-hung on tree, and picked up stuffing from puppy-chewed throw pillow.

Startled short time later by vigorous ornament clanging from living room. Make way to room to see Benton hanging out mid-way up the tree shaking it. Not sure of mechanical ability that allows 7 pound cat to shake 50 pound tree, but attempt to gently remove kitty from tree. Benton unhappy with removal attempts. Knocks all ornaments around him off and watches as silly human tries to catch them. Catching process a miserable failure. Retrieve broken ornaments from floor and place on TBG (To Be Glued) pile. Scare kitty out of tree through cunning use of piercing shriek of frustration.

Remove all breakable ornaments from tree. Wooden soldiers and plastic candy canes remain. Restring broken beads. Make note in calendar book to go to after Christmas sale to purchase new decorations for next year.

Startled again by sound of Christmas tree branches moving. Run in to see Benton defy the laws of physics and scale outer edges of tree branches vertically. Attempt to stop bead garlands from breaking and falling as Jack dives into tree from window sill. Evil Cat Fred accompanies the merriment by running up and down piano keys. Dogs find chewed throw pillow again and play tug of war with it.

Have realized there is no alcohol in house. Must rectify this situation pronto!
Day 8

Sad day here.

Christmas Tree has been beheaded. Attempts at reconnecting head of said tree succeeded but with considerable disfigurements.

Defeated, collection of remaining ornaments, plastic candy canes and wooden soldiers undertaken. Of wooden soldiers, five remain intact, one has lost both arms and six are AWOL. Although desire to retreat from attack of giant paws is understandable, desertion is never acceptable. Remaining soldiers will be awarded Medal of Honor in recognition of attempts to hold the Christmas Tree and stave off attacking feline army and double arm amputee will receive Purple Heart. AWOL soldiers will be shot (if ever located) and dishonorably discharged from Christmas army as punishment for desertion.



Day 9

Awakened in middle of night by marauding kittens. Since nothing left to knock off tree, instead removed (previously thought to be) permanently affixed door stopper from bathroom door. Spent hours knocking it around floor. Dogs fought in doorway, slamming stopperless-door into tile. Not broken yet - phew! Must rectify situation post-haste.

Took picture of post-reconstruction-after-unfortunate-decapitation-incident tree. Additional procedures appear necessary.

AWOL soldiers not yet located.


Day 10

Have lost all hope. Ornaments ... gone. Beaded garland ... broken. Tree ... destroyed. BAH HUMBUG!!



The tree sits pathetically dark in the corner of the room. Fear of possible chewing damage and/or decapitation breakage prevents test lighting of happy Christmas light strings. Its branches hang shamefully bare as if the tree lacks the strength to offer any safe haven for festive holiday decorations. The beaded garland strings are broken and hanging down, in mournful depiction of tree's holiday shame. Its skirt has long since been removed by vicious, spiteful beings who hide their vindictive nature behind soft fur, long tails and misleadingly sweet purrs. Their daily attacks remain relentless, though there is almost nothing left for them to destroy.

This I vow to my tree: I will return you to your glory ... as soon as I get new decorations and some energy back!


Days 11 through 14
Kittens continue to climb tree. Badly twisted beads have been removed from tree.

Bare tree caused marauding kittens to pull down window garland and drag through house. Battery operated candle also removed by kitten. Batteries found but remain alarmed at failure to locate bulb. All window decorations removed.

Two AWOL soldiers have been located and are awaiting trial.

New unbreakable ornaments await placement on tree scheduled for Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve
‘Twas the morning ‘fore Christmas
I awoke and I stared
At the little furry faces
That thought that I cared
That they were quite hungry
So I got out of bed
Went into the backroom
So they could be fed
As I entered the room
Shuffling my feet
I saw the cat smile
His joy was complete

He’d found the bag
in which I hid some toys
some mousies and teasers
for my cat girls and boys

He stood atop a chair
So that he could reach
The bookshelf I’d used
To hide the toys out of reach

As I reached for the dishes
There arose such a clatter
He grabbed the bag and ran
Like a freaking mad hatter

Through the hall and each room
He pulled his bag
With Jack close behind
Chasing the toys Benton dragged

The others soon heard
And the chase was begun
Cats running to and fro
With the dogs looking on

The tree shook and shivered
As the cats ran around
Wrapping the toy strings
‘round the tree base on the ground

Quick as could be
I tried to pull the bag free
But that my dear friends
Just wasn’t to be

The bag was all twisted
And tied in a knot
So I crawled ‘neath the tree
And I cursed quite a lot

Now listen my kitties
You listen to me
Stay the **** away
From my poor Christmas tree!!!



Friday, September 13, 2013

October Movies

Well, October is fast approaching, so my husband and I selected our October movies. You see, once a week throughout October, we watch a horror flick to celebrate Halloween. Now, the movie I want to watch most every Halloween is an old Melissa Sue Anderson movie called Midnight Offerings. This would be absolutely awesome to watch on Halloween. I confess that the first time I saw the movie, I was baby-sitting for the church curate's baby (Episcopalian) in a nineteenth century home's attic, surrounded by old spinning wheels and other artifacts. It was a suitably spooky environment in which to watch a horror movie. Oh yeah, and I had just received a scary prank call so I was primed. I don't remember much about the movie, except that Melissa Sue Anderson (Vivian) was a bad witch and another girl from school named Robin (played by Mary Beth McDonough) didn't know that she was a witch (I think it was passed from the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter or something like that). But Vivian did. And she didn't like Robin. Ah well, it's a moot point because the movie doesn't seem to be available anymore.

So I will concentrate on movies that I can see. The envelope please ...

The Seventh Sign

I'm really psyched to see this one again. I haven't seen it more than twenty years. From memory it's about a pregnant woman who finds out that the birth of her child will start the Apocalypse. I remember her working with a Jewish scholar and consulting other religious officials to see if she was reading the signs properly. This led to one of my most favorite movie lines ever. She asks a priest how he can be sure that his beliefs are correct. I don't recall most of his answer, but I do remember him giving her a look of mock horror and saying, "What if only the Hari Krishnas have it right?" For some reason, that line just cracks me up.

Practical Magic

Okay, what's sad is that the thing I remember the most is that when the previews were on television, they played a clip that wasn't in the movie. I mean the scene was, but the way Sandra Bullock delivered the line in the screen version was different from the way it had been on the commercials. I know, it means nothing, I just find it odd that I noticed and that it stuck in my mind all the years. Unless I'm wrong. But I don't think so. Anyway, it's a good classic Halloween movie: witches, horror, dead things ... perfect!

Innocent Blood

Well, this is hubby's choice. I've never seen it. But hey, at least it's vampires. I was afraid he'd pick Dawn of the Dead, The Blob or C.H.U.D, that's Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers in case you don't know. Sadly, I have seen C.H.U.D.- in the theater no less, but we will speak of that no more. Right, back to vampires. I like 'em. Okay, not them per se as I'd definitely stake one if it was in front of me, but as a movie subject, they're pretty good. I'll state right off the bat that I've never seen or read any of the Twilight series - it just didn't strike my fancy, but I love Buffy and Angel and absolutely ADORE the lore that Ann Rice set up for her vampires. In fact, devouring the words of Lestat and Queen of the Damned are among my more cherished reading memories. Anyway, I'm looking forward to it.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Actually, we just watched this movie last year, but it's so good that we've picked it for a second year. Hillbillies, college students, horror, LOTS of humor and ... Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine. Very cool. I wrote a review for it last year so I won't repeat it, but I just looked at it to put the link in and realized that I had wanted to watch Repo: The Genetic Opera, Salem's Lot and Shaun of the Dead this year. Now I feel like Jimmy Kimmel with Matt Damon - sorry, we ran out of time!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thanking The Rescuers and Rehabilitators

Life is hard and Nature can be cruel, but there are people - complete strangers who do their best to help us when we find ourselves in tough situations. I'm talking about the stray dog or cat that shows up on your property looking so pathetic that your heart nearly splits in two at the sight. And then there are the wild animals. Who hasn't gone into the backyard and found an injured or stunned bird? I believe that what you do in those circumstances really defines you as a person.

I used to volunteer with a cat rescue group. I'm not looking for a pat on the back. My contribution was limited to cleaning cages, feeding and helping out at adopt-a-thons. Not nearly as much as others do, but at the same time, probably more than most. At any rate, one day a broken little calico showed up on my backdoor step. She was a runt - filthy, covered in fleas, and had a necrotic eye that bulged and attracted flies. She wasn't going to win any kitty beauty contests, that was for sure, but she broke my heart. I started feeding her and looked forward to finding her waiting in the bushes outside my kitchen when I got home from work each night, even though she wouldn't let me near her. I talked to the rescue group I worked with and the lady in charge seemed hesitant to take on a feral kitty like this. I was disheartened, but determined to keep leaving food out so my little girl didn't starve to death.

When the neighbors found out I was feeding her, the wife told me, "Oh good. My children were asking what we could do for her so I can tell them you're taking care of her." Yeah, I thought. You're welcome. These people wouldn't lift a finger to help a stray, but didn't want to look bad in front of their kids. Whatever. Then about two months later, the husband knocked on my door and told me that they were tired of the cat being in their yard and were going to put poison down if I didn't stop feeding her.

I became desperate to get her in my house before they could harm her. She was letting me get a little closer each day and after another few days, I was able to grab her. I put her in the garage and eventually, got her to the vet. Since the rescue group was reticent, she joined my household shortly after that. As with many grateful rescues, she turned out to be one of the sweetest kitties I ever had. She sleeps next to me every night and sits on my lap while I write. (Eventually, I had to stop working with the group as my personal cat count was increasing at an alarming rate.) Part of me wanted to tell the neighbors' children what their parents were really about, but I never did. Things like that never work out well. I figure the kids will either figure it out eventually or end up just like their parents, in which case they wouldn't care anyway.

Once the vet got her problems sorted out, her inner beauty really shone through.

The point of that story is not to gain kudos for myself. As I said, others do far more than I ever have or will. The point was to show that there are people in the world who will help when you find yourself in one of those situations. And beyond the cat/dog rescue are the wildlife rehabilitators. I think it's far easier for many people to turn their back on a bird or an opossum or other wildlife that's in need by saying, "Well, that's Nature." But not everyone can. A few weeks ago, my husband came home from work and found a baby bird in the gutter. The bird was so young that we couldn't tell what it was, but we knew we had to do something. The poor thing was nowhere near old enough to fly. It just sat there looking terrified, the remains of its destroyed nest laying next to it by the curb.

We made several calls and found the Volunteers for Wildlife at the Bailey Arboretum in New York. What a wonderful group of people! They took the baby (it was a mourning dove) and gave us a case number. We left a donation - I can't believe anyone wouldn't - and were able to email them a few days later for an update. It's been a little more than a month, and we've received several answers to our emails indicating that the bird is now eating on its own and currently being acclimated to the outdoors. When it is, they will release it into the wild.

Check out this picture they took of it when it was still a baby.

So, now I say thank you to all of you rescuers and rehabilitators. A pale sentiment in the face of all you do, but how can I ever thank you enough for taking the time to care? Whether it's wildlife or a dog or cat in need, it's not just the animals you are helping. Every lost soul like my husband and me who see injured or orphaned wildlife and simply cannot turn away are beholden to you for the care you provide. This thank you is to all of the rescue groups and wildlife rehabilitators out there. We must say thank you because the animals you care for cannot.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Going Viral in the pre-digital age!

Wow, try to find the answer to the question "when did the digital age officially begin" and you'll get all sorts of answers. The best I found was this one on Ask.com:

When Did the Information Age Begin?
Answer: Though there is no exact starting date for the Information Age, the term has been used extensively since the late 1980's and has continued on into the 21st century. The Information Age is also sometimes called the Computer Age.

Having lived through those years and studied computer science waaaaay back when, I can tell you that the only expression I'd heard back in the 80s was the Information Age. And when I recall studying IBM 370 mainframe Assembler using keypunch cards, I have a real hard time thinking of back then as being in the same era with today. I personally tend to think of the digital age as not beginning until the late 90s - when most everyone finally owned or had access to cell phones/PCs, etc. Anyway, the reason I'm thinking about that now is that I've been thinking about things that "go viral" and Andy Warhol's prediction that "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes." Nostradamus could only dream of making a prediction that was so accurate. Post a YouTube video of a spectacular fall or a cute child singing a song or tweet something incredibly insightful or humorous and you have your fifteen minutes. Hell, I saw a tweet that consisted entirely of the word meow hit double digits in retweets. Inevitably, I came around to wondering if something of mine would ever go viral. And all of that reminded me of something that happened in the mid to late-80s.

Life back then must seem pretty primitive to young people today. I had no cell phone, some of our televisions did not have remote controls, and I'd just gotten my first ATM card. I was young, strapped for cash, and lived in an "apartment" with only a toaster oven for cooking and a bathroom sink to do dishes in. In my youthful naivete, I loved it. Then again, we were easily impressed back then. I mean I thought it was great that people no longer had rotary phones, especially after I learned that in some places, the emergency help number was 999! That just seemed cruel to me. I could imagine being hacked apart by a serial killer while waiting for the dial to return so I could dial the second and third nines. Do you have any idea how long it took to dial 999 on an actual dial?

Anyway, my first apartment may have been a bit crude, but I did have cable (although MTV was about the only thing I watched because they actually aired only videos at the time), Nintendo, lots of albums (gasp), CDs and a VCR.

Now, when I was very young, my parents would watch The Rockford Files, and I always thought the fact that he had an answering machine was so cool. Nobody I knew had one - not that I got out much at that age, but it seemed like something out of a science fiction story (give me a break, I was young). Naturally, now that I had my own place, I needed an answering machine. Initially, my boyfriend and I made the typical boring messages, but I soon craved more creativity so I combined two things I liked: music (Black Sabbath) and comedy (Monty Python and the Holy Grail) to make a message that was more my style. I recorded part of the Bridge of Death scene (keep in mind, with the primitive tools available, that meant sitting at a non-distorting distance from the small television speaker with a tape recorder). I only wanted the questions, so I had to play with it quite a bit until I was able to string the dialogue together in a somewhat continuous flow (What is your name? What is your quest? and What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?). I then added my own message using what I hoped was a creepy voice to say "Please leave your name and number at the tone" while the storm at the beginning to the Black Sabbath album played in the background.

Pretty amateurish given what can be done today, but we liked it. And apparently so did other people. Within a few weeks, the machine started receiving hangups. In fact, eventually we would come home to find the machine full almost every day, though we had no idea why. One day, I answered the phone and the surprised person on the other end of the line said, "Oh, sorry, I didn't want to talk to you. I was told to call this number and listen to the message!" At least I finally knew why the machine was filling up. Don't forget that back then, phone service was more expensive. You only had unlimited calling within your area code. I lived in a border town between counties, meaning I had to pay long distance to call friends a few blocks away, so it's actually pretty impressive that we got so many calls. I can't help but wonder if it had been a video on YouTube that got that popular how many views it would have garnered? And like viral videos, I got some hate messages, as well. One caller had mistakenly dialed the number while trying to reach a business and left a scathing "that's no way to talk to customers and do business" message!

So, now that I think about it, things aren't that much different today. The means we use to accomplish tasks has changed, but the overall way in which people seek entertainment hasn't really changed that much. But if Andy Warhol was right, I guess I already had my "fifteen minutes."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Slipcover Incident

I am writing this blog entry with the blurry vision of a slightly concussed person, so bear with me. I will start by revealing that this is my first ever experience with a slipcover.

I have dogs. And cats. Lots of cats. So my sofa count should come as no surprise - I'm on either my sixth or my seventh, but like my vision, it's all a blur. It was finally time for the old couch to give up the ghost. The dogs had eaten most of the stuffing which left the material loose and hanging in tatters. The back and sides of the sofa looked like they were fringed, thanks to the cats completely shredding them while 'doing their nails', which are now nice and sharp. Trust me. I know from firsthand experience. Anyway, as I looked at the sorry state of my home furnishings, I decided that the best way to achieve harmony with my furbabies (given that I'm hopelessly outnumbered) is to try to stop problems, annoyances and damage before they happen. Hey, it sounded like a good plan when I came up with it...

Hence, the slipcover. Now, the specs for said item insisted it would fit sofas from 74 to 96 inches. Mine is 83, so I thought 'cool, that'll work.' I covered the new couch with blankets and sheets while I eagerly awaited the arrival of the cover that would protect my new furniture from my marauding housemates.

Finally, the box showed up on my doorstep. A choir of angels burst into song and I even think I saw an aura of golden light surrounding it. I pulled it inside and ripped it open, desperate to get at my new sofa's savior. Once freed of its packaging, I flipped the cover around several times before I saw the little stickers that read front, back, etc. I followed the labels and soon had my beautiful new furniture covered up. Except that there was this weird puckered section I had to sit on. Out came the instructions from the box - I'm terrible about reading instructions, guides, etc. before I make an attempt to use/install/apply anything new. Plus, who'd have thought you'd need instructions to put a slipcover on? Anyway, according to the instructions, I'm supposed to tuck the elastic strip behind the couch's cushions. Now, the slip cover seemed to fit fine until I attempted to do this. Actually, it still fit, but two broken fingernails and one aching back later, I'd only barely managed to tuck the strip under the top lip of the cushions. No way in hell was I going to be able to get it all the way under them so I left it as it was.

It lasted one day. Not only was it pulled off the back by the dogs' frantic attempts to get out through the window to kill ... I mean lick the mailman, but one had taken her bone onto the couch and drooled everywhere. Good thing I left those little back/front labels on! I put it in the washing machine, more than a little sad at having to wash it after only one day. When it came out of the dryer, it smelled like mountain rain, at least that's what the label on my fabric softener says - frankly, I've been to the mountains and don't remember them smelling like that especially when wet, but I digress. I laid it out and looked for the labels. You know what happens to things that are applied with an adhesive backing in the wash? They move. Now I'm no expert, but though the labels were still on, I'm fairly certain that they no longer accurately marked the back and front of the cover. After a great battle, I had the slipcover in place - more or less. Once again, I tried to tuck the strip behind the cushions. And once again, I failed.

New plan, put the sheet and blanket back on over the slipcover. Sure I had to wash the sheet or blanket or both several times a week, but it beat struggling with the damned slipcover. That worked until the dogs went off in another of their nobody's-allowed-to-walk-on-my-street frenzies. They pulled the sheet and blanket off, leaving my precious cover exposed and vulnerable. They then got muddy paw prints all over everything.

With a heavy heart, I removed the slipcover for washing again. Once clean, I realized that I no longer care to even try to tuck it down. I got it remotely close to appearing to be lined up and covered it with the sheet and blanket again. It may not look great, but it took a whole lot less time than fighting to tuck it. Then I looked down and saw that I had to retie the strips that hold the sides and front and back down. Personally, I no longer cared if it looked nice and neat, but a hanging strip of cloth like that is an invitation for a cat or dog to go to town on it, so I bent over and knotted the strips. And as I stood, I banged my head on the window ledge. Hard. Thus the blurry vision and budding headache.

Remind me again what those furry little monsters do for me? Oh yeah. The news says having pets can lower your blood pressure. Really? because I'm thinking I could have pinned the meter a few minutes ago when I realized that I spent a ton of money on what is now nothing more than a blanket rack. I closed my eyes and repeated my centering mantra: it's a good thing I love them, it's a good thing I love them, it's a good thing I love them ...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My 20 year Love/Hate relationship with Video Games

I am a gamer. Have been for many years. So is my current husband. I am convinced that gamers need to marry other gamers in order to have successful relationships. I am also certain that our Golden Years will find us side-by-side playing the latest games. (I remain convinced that by that time, some Gen X-er will have invented a prosthetic device that will allow us to continue to feed our gaming addiction despite the fact that our hands will have been rendered all but useless from the RSIs we've been collecting through the years from using keyboards, phones, etc.) I role-played in a friend's basement for the better part of fifteen years, and naturally, I play video games at home. I love them. I also hate them. I recall great triumphs as well as absolute misery in my gaming. I've been reflecting on some of those games the past few days.

In the beginning ...

Well, I don't want to date myself, but computers in the home were pretty uncommon when I first started gaming. I recall when I was very young that a Pong game somehow made it into our home. How exciting it was to hit a ball back and forth at a speed that rivaled growing grass. No wait ... I think the grass grew faster than this game played. If I recall correctly, it would speed up with time, but how we ever thought that was challenging and/or entertaining remains a mystery.

Now, we had open campus in high school. That meant we could go to the local stores when we had a free period. That in turn meant pumping quarters into Centipede, Pacman and Galaga machines. If I could have all those quarters back and have invested them in an IRA or something, I'd be a happy (and prepared for retirement) woman. Oh well.

Then came Nintendo. *smiles wistfully* I spent hours helping Mario save a princess, guiding Link through Hyrule, and jumping over barrels in Donkey Kong. Fun.

I believe the next game system we had was Sega. I thought the game that came with it was called Sewer Rat, but I can only find it referenced as Sewer Shark. It looks like the same game because I do recall being called dogmeat. That was an awesome game. I remember getting home and immediately firing up the Sega (and to this day, I can't think of the word without hearing the creepy "Sega" soundbyte that accompanied the warmup). With the next generation of Sega came my Sonic the Hedgehog obsession. It was so bad that I bought a handheld game that played it for my first husband when he was in the hospital. Looking back, that was silly because he only ever played car games like Twisted Metal. What can I say? I was young, stupid and obsessed!

Then I got my first PC. While most of my time on the PC was spent writing programs for school, I was (not surprisingly) immediately drawn to PC gaming. I believe the first game I got was a Laura Bow mystery - The Dagger of Amon Ra to be specific. This was a DOS-based game that loaded from 3.5 inch floppies. Looking at the graphics and play offered by current games, it may seem difficult to understand how anyone found those enjoyable, but I had a lot of fun playing that one.

My next obsession was Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail. I was a huge Monty Python fan so clearly, I had to play this game. Somewhere mid-game, I found the Tetris-like mini game. At that point, I believe I stopped playing the main game and stuck to spending hours piling up falling plague victims trying to make complete lines. The game itself was fun, but the falling victims kept crying out "I'm not dead yet" in such an annoying manner that my first husband (and a couple of the neighbors in our apartment building) alternated between pleading, begging, and threats to get me to shut the game off. I have to admit that they were correct about the sound effects. Even I would get annoyed and at least turn the volume off.

About this time, Spycraft: The Great Game came out. At that time, the only novels I was reading were Cold War spy thrillers, so this game was a no-brainer. However, mid-way through the game, I found the Mahjong mini-game. As with the great Monty Python Tetris incident, I became obsessed with this one. In fact, to this day, I keep a simple Mahjong game on my PC and play at least one game daily although I have no idea how the actual real-life tile game is played.

Phantasmagoria. I can't remember at what point I started playing it, but it was the only game I played until I had finished it. Now that I remember playing it, though, I recall feeling isolated and alone in that world, especially when compared with how it feels to play the MMORPGs of today. Of course, some of the desolation I feel when I think about it might be related to the dark nature of the game. Despite that, I still played the second game, A Puzzle of Flesh, even though it evoked the same dark feelings. The older, more wise version of me can't figure out why. My life was dark enough - although maybe that's what attracted me to it.

At some point during my PC gaming, I had discovered Castle and I loved it. You had to build castles, manage resources and engage in diplomacy with other leaders. I recommended it to a friend whose husband became so obsessed with the game that I took to calling him Napolean (hey, he was short and had obsessive world domination aspirations - I thought it fit, although my friend was less than pleased with the name).

Then there was the great Ripper disappointment. This only slightly rivaled the Great Wooly Mammoth disappointment. I can't recall the channel (probably Discovery), but they spammed every cable channel with advertisements in the late '90s (I think) about unearthing a wooly mammoth. All my friends and I waited for the special with bated breath. It ended up being so bad (and again, I can't recall why, but everyone felt the same way) that we have referred to it as the Great Wooly Mammoth Disappointment ever since. But I digress. Back to Ripper. I received the game as a gift and was enjoying playing it, but one of the play discs had a problem, and I was never able to finish it (very frustrating for someone with OCD). I put the game down in frustration. I did try to purchase another at some point, but I couldn't find a copy back then.

An insurmountable addiction and my descent into madness: Civilization II, III, IV ...

And then came Civilization. This is my longest running addiction, even topping smoking (which I thankfully quit eleven years ago). I had never played the first Civ version, but I was given the second by a 'friend' who was convinced I would enjoy it. Enjoy? I became completely obsessed. Wait, did I say friend? I believe I meant 'addiction enabler.' I've played Civ II, Civ III and am currently still playing Civ IV. I bought Civ V, but I did not find it nearly as enjoyable as Civ IV, which I immediately went back to. I have notebooks detailing my city names, plans for each city, and so on.

Civilization is also a game for which some of the funniest videos have been made. This video makes me laugh because my husband hates going for a cultural victory. He's something of a warmonger when it comes to Civ. Also, anyone who has ever played and had a WTF moment regarding a combat loss will appreciate it: Hitler Plays Civilization IV. The CivAnon videos are very funny, and even though I didn't like Civ V, I can appreciate Edna's enthusiasm. I usually name my leader 'Somebody' so the game will announce 'Somebody has joined the Game' and 'Somebody built the Pyramids.' It's the poor man's cure for low self-esteem.

As much as I loved Civ, though, certain aspects of the game can be maddening. For instance, early in a game when I only had ships that could travel along the coast, I was minding my own business working on my culture because my island nation was too far from other land for my ships to reach. Suddenly, along comes another of the same type of limited travel ship from one of the computer player's civilization. This led to me crying foul (words) at my monitor. I also tend to engage in shouting matches with my PC when a lowly group of archers and spearmen mysteriously defeat my army of marines and infantry. But none of that has ever stopped me from playing, although I confess to having gone back a few turns via my saved games in order to properly decimate the offending nation.

Other games I enjoyed during that time were Getaway, Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid and Loaded. Loaded was probably my favorite of these. I just loved mindlessly blowing away everyone and everything in my path (oops, score one for those who think video games desensitize people to violence). In fact, hubby and I have gone on Bonnie and Clyde style two-person rampages in this one. Fun for the whole family!

The Modern Era of my Gaming Addiction

When my second husband came along, he brought with him his love for RPG PC games. Despite all of my role-playing, it was the first time I'd played the D&D games. He introduced me to Baldur's Gate, Throne of Bhaal, Tales of the Sword Coast, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights, etc., and they became my new obsession. (It's okay because I got him back by introducing him to Civ!) Two of my worst gaming moments came during this period of time. The first was when I played hookey from my programming job to play Icewind Dale. It's the only time I ever missed an obligation to instead play a game, and it remains one of my greatest sources of shame. The second came when my husband arrived home from work and asked what was wrong - I may have been throwing things and providing some other visual clues as to my displeasure. "Kobolds," I told him. "The &%*# kobolds keep killing my party and I can't get out of the mine," (or something to that effect). At any rate, my husband/hero logged in to my game and rescued my party from the mine. I should note that this was the last time I had to ask for his help. Unlike him, I finished them all (thank you OCD). I soon surpassed his abilities in playing the RPGs, and I'll never forget the joy during one (I think it was Shadows of Amn) when I was having difficulty defeating a dragon until my Wand of Wonder (better not write about that out of context!) randomly petrified the dragon, and my group was able to saunter past at a leisurely pace. Unfortunately, I never liked Neverwinter Nights II and stopped playing them at that point. I have since bought a compilation that plays on Vista, but it appears that sadly, those games' time is past. It wasn't as much fun as I remember, probably due to my playing more modern MMORPGs.

Occasionally, in my gaming life, I've experienced what I'll call 'disruptions' to my behavior. This was particularly true during this period in my life when the majority of my communication with my husband was accomplished via dialogue from the game. Anyone who had played these games will recognize them: "I'm getting a bit sleepy", "Don't touch me, I'm super important" (not really one you want to use with your partner), "So I kicked him in the head till he was dead" (that one is very difficult to fit into normal conversation), "If none are better", etc.

Then I was introduced to World of Warcraft by 'friends'. "Here," they said like the man with the creepy van offering candy to a child, "Try this." And like a drug-pusher handing out 'samples' of crack, Blizzard provided a 10-day free trial. (I have got to find new friends!) Sadly, as with my prior gaming addictions, I spent far too much time playing this game. However, after a time, I became disenchanted with the overall attitude of the community. As with the Internet as a whole, players find it far too easy to be rude, mean and even cruel to the other faceless (faceless other than that all important avatar, that is) players they meet. Everyone seems to forget that there is another living person sitting at the other end. The limitations on my ignore list size prevented me from enjoying the game and the later expansions seemed to take away from the Azeroth experience for me. The game seemed to be little more than a daily grind, and eventually I just stopped playing. One thing that did always make me laugh as a programmer was the fact that all the kids playing thought the game had been created for them. Little did they know that there is an entire generation of now middle-aged people who were raised on gaming and like to use their skills to create entertainment for themselves and their peers. In fact, I met plenty of players who were quite a bit older than I was. You could usually tell because they were kinder and more helpful than the others. I went back to it once but quickly remembered why I had quit.

Now that I was done with that phase, I again looked for more PC games and found Virtual Villagers. It may seem like a silly and simplistic game compared with others I've played, but I found them quite enjoyable. The worst thing about that game is the incredibly annoying sound bytes you hear when you pick up the characters, especially the children, whose least annoying sound is a laugh that's nearly impossible to recreate (I've tried) and whose worst is the annoying, high-pitched way they say 'hey' when you try to put them to a task. Once I realized I couldn't make them work (somewhat annoying early in the game), I tried to deposit them in shark-infested waters thinking that would provide at least some entertainment. To my disappointment, the adults were able to out-swim the sharks and the children just ended up back on dry land. However, by far the best part was that I could tab back and forth between the game and Word. When I hit a snag in the writing of my books, I checked on my villagers. There was one sad occurrence where I forgot to pause the game (it continues running if you don't) and forgot about the game for a few months. When I logged back on, all that was left of my villagers were a bunch of skeletons and an elderly couple that was nearly dead of starvation. I felt like some kind of mass murderer and stopped playing it for a while, although I've just downloaded another one and started playing it again (unfortunately the graphics get screwed up in Windows 8 if I tab away, which is limiting my play time), as well as the word games I've always loved: Scrabble, Text Twist and Super Letter Linker.

Then I found Plants vs. Zombies. Fun! I love this little game, especially the bowling and whack-a-zombie puzzles. I've just realized that I have yet to install that on my new PC (here's hoping it will work in Windows 8) and will have to start all over again. Darn. :P The best part was that I experienced few life-interrupting effects from this one apart from walking around the house saying, "Brains."

Oh and I can't post this without mentioning Drench, a simple flash game that I just love to play.

I did start playing Guild Wars II, but by that time, I was too involved in writing my own books to spend much time with it. Any time I did logon, I always felt I should be writing instead, which I am ... with the exception of the fact that I am still in the middle of two different Civ IV campaigns. I told you it's my longest running addiction. I just can't seem to stop. Maybe I should go to a CivAnon meeting ...