Friday, February 29, 2008

The Cold War

Our rented house in the Middle of Nowhere has a kerosene-fueled boiler that's used for heating and hot water. Well, maybe it's more accurate to say that it's used for hot water, which is in turn used in both the radiators and the showers and taps. I've never lived in a place that used heating oil before and was a bit annoyed that we were going to have to pay a whole bunch of money upfront to fill the 1000-liter tank. But needs must and I had the tank filled January last year.

Controlling the boiler has been a bit of a dark art. The house has a thermostat but the boiler also has a timer. I guess the way it is meant to work is that you can set the boiler to shut off at night or when you're not home and then rely on the thermostat to regulate the running of the boiler when it's on. The first few weeks I lived here, the boiler was an absolute mystery. Sometimes I'd have hot water in the morning. Sometimes I wouldn't. It felt like the boiler was a capricious god and I wondered if I was going to have to find a volcano and virgin to get back in its good graces.

During the summer and most of the autumn, the boiler was pretty much a non-issue, since it was only necessary for hot water. But around November, Peter and I became engaged in a war over the thermostat and the timer. He'd turn the thermostat up because it was cold. I'd turn it back down and tell him to put on more clothes. I felt that his timer settings used the boiler too much. He'd remind me that he's home during the day and that he stays up much later than I do.

One morning, I set the timer and left him a note saying something along the lines of "I'm not trying to be sarcastic or take the piss by changing the timer yet again. I tried to set it in a way that would take into account both of our concerns." The compromise settings worked fairly well because we both gave a little.

At the end of December, we seemed to be reaching the bottom of our 1000-liter tank, but I didn't want to pay winter prices for fuel again. So I ordered 500-liters, figuring that would be at least enough to get us through the rest of the winter and the damp, chilly spring. We had some struggles with the thermostat and the boiler, which resulted in replacement of the former and a new water pump for the latter.

Around the beginning of February, Peter decided that using the thermostat and the timer was sort of like using a belt and suspenders. His argument was that the boiler would only run when the thermostat told it to, so the timer was unnecessary. I reluctantly agreed but did complain to him from time to time that the thermostat was set too high and that the boiler was running at ridiculous times, like 2 or 3 am.

Last week, I went to take a shower in the morning and the water was cold. Not even lukewarm. Because of the aforementioned boiler problems, this wasn't unusual. But I was in such a rush, I couldn't take the time to investigate. I was also disgusting and in desperate need of a shower, but damn, it was cold. I ended up having what my mother would call a bird bath and then washing my hair in the kitchen sink, where I could at least minimise the risk of having freezing water splash on me.

My day didn't improve at work and when it started to look like I would need to work late, I went home for lunch. After venting about work, Peter and I had the following conversation:

Peter: Oh, I figured out why there was no hot water this morning.
Me: Yeah?
Peter (in a delightfully sing-song tone that I found amusing): You're not going to like it.
Me (Flipping through possibilities, deciding that dead mouse in boiler was definitely something I wouldn't like): Okay?
Peter: We had no oil.
Me (Giving Peter a look that a Southwest Airlines employee once told me was the best pissed-off face he had ever seen): What do you mean we had no oil? We put 500-liters into that tank at the end of December.
Peter: I know, you told me so. I know. The boiler isn't anywhere near as efficient as I thought it would be. I made a mistake. But I've taken care of it. I've called the oil guy and he's going to make delivery this afternoon. And since this is my fault, I'll pay for half of it.
Me: Two-thirds.
Peter: Okay. I'll pay for two-thirds.
Me: Alright then. Hey, aren't you proud of me for negotiating so well?
Peter (Genuine look of surprise on his face): Yeah, I am. Now if only you could do that in the rest of your life.
Me: Darn it, I should have asked for three-fourths.
Peter: No way I would have given you three-fourths. But I am impressed you asked for more.

So, we're back to the timer. The oil guy told Peter there's some sort of hardware you can get for the oil tank that will show how much oil you have left. The only way we can tell right now is if we scramble up this steep embankment, battle pricker bushes, and pull the top off of the tank. We're definitely going to have to invest in one of those. Because the line ran dry, the oil guy had to run the pump a fair bit and, as a result, the house smelled like an airplane hangar for about four days.

I'm glad that Peter knows me so well and knows how to defuse a fraught situation. That whole whole oil conversation could have resulted in an epic fight, but he handled it very well. And for the record, I did the math and two-thirds is absolutely fair. (Although I still think I should have at least asked for three-fourths. :))

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Blog Share: On Slowing Down

I am hosting the following Blog Share post on behalf of another blogger. You can see the complete list of participants at the end of this post. Also, a shameless promotion: there is still time to enter my County Cork Contest.

I am not a runner. I see Ann is a runner. I am always amazed with runners. They have the ability to move quickly, sprinting, bounding. I have never been built for running. My legs are short, my body is much too heavy and muscular for running. I recall not at all fondly all those years of school being force to run for PE. Four laps around the track, and do it fast! Lord help me, I could never do it. I would take off, best of intentions, and suddenly my body would go into immediate protest and shutdown. My lungs would ache, legs refusing to move. It's a horrible torture, running, for me. I could probably run just enough to get away from someone if my life depended on it (here's hoping) but I really prefer to just.. not run..

So, I see so many people enjoy it. There must be something good about running. It's good for your heart, I am sure, makes you stronger. But I think one thing that running must teach as a lesson is the value of not running. The value of slowing down. Even marathoners talk about that, the value of resting. In yoga (the thing I love the most) we call this Savasana, total rest. For whatever amount of time, you are not running, not working, not trying. Just resting, slowing down.

It's tough, I think to find the value of slowing down. We like speed. In the US (where I live) speed is equal to success. How fast can you accomplish a task? How quickly can you meet a deadline? Everything is about speed. We must be able to communicate instantly, FAST. Our food must be ready quickly, our clothes washed and dried at maximum efficiency. Run the race, do the task, GET IT DONE!!! I often wonder about the cost of all that speed.

I like the idea of taking a day to just slow down. Not work, not email, not write, not exercise. I wonder how different our lives would be if we did this. What would happen? Would our homes fall apart? Would the world grind to a halt? I am sure there are those that would like us to believe those things would happen. But the truth is, it wouldn't. Slowing down is critical for growth. Restoration happens with rest, not effort. Imagine if you never slept. Imagine if all that you did was work and do. Sooner or later, your body would shut down. You may accomplish a great deal, but you would be destroying yourself.

Imagine if we were all well rested. We could love more deeply, give more fully. We would be much more efficient. Perhaps I write this just to teach myself a lesson. Slow down, just for a while. Who knows, you might even be running faster tomorrow because of it.

The Adventures of Shelagh
Alice's Wonderland
And You Know What Else
Bright Yellow World
Daily Tannenbaum
Du Wax Loolu
Everything I Like Causes Cancer
Face Down
Fretting the Small Stuff
Galoot's Hoot Page
Granted Null
Grumpy Frump
Just Below 63
Life After AC
Liz Land
Mamma Ren
Muse On Vacation
Muze News
Nancy Pearl Wannabe
Not What You Think It Is
One New Duck
Rankin Inlet: A Journey Northwards
Red Red Whine
Reflections in the Snow-Covered Hills
The Reluctant Blogger
Sass Attack
Sauntering Soul
Sparkling Cipher
Stefanie Says
Three Carnations
Tracy Out Loud
Way Way Up


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Note About Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I will be participating in Blog Share, a brilliant idea from And You Know What Else.

It's simple, I've agreed to write a post, which is then posted on someone else's site. In return, I've agreed to post someone else's post. In this way, I get to be anonymous for one day and you get to read someone else's words. Everybody wins, right?

I think there are enough participants that And You Know What Else will be posting the complete list tomorrow, which I will link to here.

Oh, and there is still time to enter my contest.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fun Monday

Wow, last week zipped by like a boy racer on a straight clear road. I can't believe it's time once again for Fun Monday.

This week's gracious hostess is Mariposa and she has given us a delightful double challenge:
(1) Please share to us how the NAME of your BLOG was made? I can't wait to hear interesting funny stories!

(2) Please share to us (in words or photo, though a combination of both will be a bonus!) your favorite/ most common dish!

(1) The name of my blog
Three years ago, I started this blog because my dad started one. He's a career counselor at a university and part of his job is being down with the latest online job search tools. He chose "CareerGuy" as the name in his blog address and then used the clever tag line "Your Life's Work" in his blog header. (Although he subsequently changed that to "My Life's Work" as the blog became more about him than about work and job searching.)

When I created my blog, I was following my dad's style and thought that you had to have a different name in your header than in your blog address. I had just decided I was going to train for another marathon and so I wanted to be RunnerGirl. But that was taken. I tried several different variations before the phrase "For the Long Run" popped into my head. I liked it because it had a sort of double-meaning to me. As a marathon trainer, you do many, many long runs. But it also reminded me of planning and the future, like "in the long run, you're better off..."

For my header tag line, I chose a remarkably pretentious and long name. I'm nearly embarrassed to tell you what it was. But I will: Of Marathons and Other High Intensity Endeavors. The first part of that is obvious, the second part is just me - I am a bit intense and high energy sometimes. I have a habit of throwing myself whole heartedly into things. I value motion and activity and I'm not at all good at relaxing.

Two years ago, I told Middle Brother, who is a talented graphic designer, that all I wanted for my birthday was a nifty blog header. I don't think we ever specifically discussed jettisoning the pretentious tag line, it just sort of happened. It didn't really match the blog anymore. For the Long Run became the more prominent title and the phrase "Ah sure, it'll be grand" was added.

(2) This is a tough one. How to narrow it down to one? The criteria I'm going to use is my favourite dish that I've made in the last month. That makes it easy. The run-away winner is Risotto with Fresh Mozzarella, Grape Tomatoes, and Basil, from Cooking Light. I love risotto and this one has the perfect mix of tastes. Some people find making risotto tedious because of all the standing around and stirring. I find the stirring relaxing (this is very me - I can only relax by doing something) and a good time to think. I set up all the ingredients beforehand (like a cooking show, I always tell Peter) and just really enjoy the process. If you decide to try out the recipe, just know that you can make it vegetarian by using vegetable broth instead of chicken. You can also use cherry tomatoes instead of grape tomatoes, which can be tricky to find over here out of season.

Before you go running off to make risotto and visit the other participants, I'd like to invite you to enter my blog contest. There are even prizes. Really. There is even a category for Most Humorous, so if you don't feel like looking for the answers, you can just make stuff up.

Thanks and have a fun Monday.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Rebel County Quiz

Inspired by the contest quiz fever that seems to be tearing through my bloglines subscriptions, I've decided to join the fun and create my own quiz on the theme of County Cork.

The challenge:
To answer four questions based on photographs taken from the Peter Cox Photography web site.

The winning categories:
  • First entirely correct entry.
  • The funniest responses (as judged by me because, hey, this is my little domain).
  • All other correct entries will be entered into a random drawing.

  • The rules:
    Answers should be sent to annbscanlan at hotmail dot com.
    Please put Contest or Quiz in the Subject line so if my spam filter eats your mail, it will be easy to find amid all of the requests to enlarge my weapon of love, buy replica rolexes, and imagine that I am healthy.
    Deadline for entering is Saturday, 1 March. Winners will be announced Sunday, 2 March.

    The prize:
    Each winner will receive one unframed print, courtesy of Peter Cox photography. The print selected will be based on what we currently have in stock. I will make every effort to make sure it is a Cork photograph.

    Additional information:
    Each question is listed after its related photograph.
    You can click on any photo to open its page in a new browser window or tab.
    Using Google, Wikipedia, etc. is definitely allowed.

    The questions:

    Bucking the Trend, Gougane Barra
    1. Which 6th Century Saint built a hermitage on the island in the lake of Gougane Barra?

    Evening, Dun Lough Pier
    2. What washed up here on 2 July 2007?

    The Healy Pass, on the Cork-Kerry border
    3. When and why was the road through this pass built?

    Galley Head, Near Clonakilty
    4. Which great Irish leader, nicknamed "the Big Fella" and known for his strategy of fighting the British in "flying columns," was born near Clonakilty?

    Bonus Question: One of County Cork's nicknames is in the title of this post. Name another nickname for the county.

    Thank you for playing.

    Saturday, February 23, 2008

    You Think You Know Somebody....

    Peter and I have been married for nearly twelve years. Even having spent that length of time together, we still sometimes find out surprising information about each other. Yesterday, we had a double dose of this amusing phenomenon.

    Conversation One
    Me: What are you watching?
    Peter: Guess.
    Me (Eyeball a shlumpy looking Sylvester Stallone in a rumpled suit): I dunno, the last Rocky movie?
    Peter: Yep.
    Me: No way! Did you not think I would want to watch that?
    Peter: Honestly, no. It never crossed my mind. It's a boxing movie.
    Me: I LOVE boxing movies.
    Peter: But it's a washed-up boxer movie.
    Me: Those are the best kind.
    Peter: But it's a Rocky movie.
    Me: I LOVE Rocky movies.
    Peter: You don't!
    Me: I do! One of my favourite childhood memories involves going to the movie theatre to see that one where he fought the Russian.
    Here followed profuse apologies. I'm not terribly put out, I just thought it was funny that he would just think my default position was anti-Rocky.

    Conversation Two
    Peter: Why are you creating a Facebook account?
    Me: Oh, because my dad has one.
    Peter: Are you going to add me as a friend?
    Me: You don't have a Facebook account.
    Peter: I do so.
    Me: Are you kidding?
    Peter: No, I really do have a Facebook account.
    Me: You are the last person I'd expect to have a Facebook account.
    Here followed my digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole about my rational behind that thought. I really don't even remember what I said. I just know I didn't express myself very well.

    Tuesday, February 19, 2008

    Surprise Winner

    The summer before I started high school was a weird one. My dad was home, he'd been out of work since February. It was nice having him home during the day, but I was old enough to know that this quality time came at a price.

    My birthday is at the end of July and I wanted a sleek 10-speed bike. I don't know what I was using as a bicycle at that time. It seems hard to believe that I would still be riding the blue bike with banana seat, daisy basket, and chopper-esque handle bars that I purchased with my Communion Money in second grade. Maybe I was using an old bike of my dad's. The point was, I wanted a good bike to call my own.

    Of course, money was tight but my dad had a plan. A local hardware store was giving away a bike for the fourth of July and my dad filled out loads of application slips. There was no one-entry-per-person rule to stop him. I don't know exactly how many he turned in, but in my mind, it seems like it was hundreds.

    I was a little crushed when we didn't win that bike, after he'd filled in so many entry slips. It seemed like it was a Sure Thing, after all.

    The weekend before my birthday was the Parish Picnic at our church. Kids were allowed to each put their name in a drawing to win a 10-speed bicycle. They were giving away two: a girl's bike and a boy's bike. When I entered my name, I asked if I could enter for the boy's bike instead because I don't like girl bikes. The kind women at the entry desk didn't see why not, so into the Boys jar went my name.

    At the end of Parish Picnic each year, the Pastor would get into the back of a pickup truck and draw the raffle winners. I think the grand prize was something like $5000. But first, the drawing for the bicycles. The Girl's bike was drawn first.

    Then the Pastor had his lovely assistant (he always picked a girl to draw out the winners) reach into the Boy jar and hand him the folded up piece of paper. He opened the paper and opened his mouth to announce the winner, when he stopped and muttered "This can't be right." He leaned over the the side of the truck to confer with someone and then came back and announced that I had won the boy's bicycle. (Much to the chagrin of all the boys in my eighth grade class.)

    That was probably the last time I won anything more than a couple of dollars on the lottery scratch cards my mom puts in our Christmas stockings. Until yesterday, when Carrie informed me I had won a blog header from her new venture, Sweet Faerie Designs.

    I'm thrilled and quite surprised, as I didn't even realise that by commenting on her Valentine's Day post, I would be entering myself in such a contest.

    There's only one catch - I'm quite tied to my existing header for many reasons, not least of which that it was a birthday present from the brilliantly talented Middle Brother. Carrie was quite gracious and understanding and I know she'll have no trouble finding an appreciative home for one of her cool blog headers. Thanks again, Carrie.

    Monday, February 18, 2008

    Fun Monday

    Another week, another Fun Monday. This week's hostess with the mostest (as my parents always say) is Sayre, who has issued the following assignment:

    My drive to work never fails to produce a giggle for me, which inspired this week's Fun Monday Challenge: Take your camera with you as you go about your business and take a picture of the things that make you laugh along the way. I was originally thinking about signs, since that's what usually does it for me, but I left it open to your interpretation.

    I knew exactly what I was going to photograph for this assignment. (Or rather, have Peter photograph for me.) Since my commute is only a mile long and the funniest thing I see is the occasional bovine wandering the road, this sign is a little further afield. It's on the road to Bantry and it always made me smile on those interminable drives down to Skibbereen for my driving lessons.

    After you smile (or giggle) and comment here, be sure to check out all the other participants!

    Sunday, February 17, 2008

    The Dreaded Driving Test: Part Three

    Part One Part Two

    Alone in my car with an hour to go before the test, my first impulse was to pull out The Rules of the Road and do some last minute studying. I've always scoffed at classmates who use the five minutes before a test to cram a few more facts into their addled brains. It seems to me that if you don't know it by then, an extra five minutes is not going to help you. But flipping through the book and brushing up on some of the numbers seemed like a good way to pass the time. Speed limit on a national road? 100kph. When can children stop using booster seats? When they attain a height of 150 cm and 36 kilograms. What are the drink-driving limits? 80 mg/100 ml for blood, 107 mg/100 ml urine and 35 microgrammes/100 ml for breath.

    After about ten minutes of this, my anxiety level was through the roof and my brain was starting to shut down. I remembered that listening to music had helped me on the drive down. I'm especially fond "If I Ever Leave This World Alive" by Flogging Molly.
    You can find the full lyrics here and a YouTube video here.

    The song reminds me of my Nana Anna. She was a huge influence in my life and ever since she died in 2004, I've always felt like she was looking out for me. I don't know what your personal feelings about death and the Afterlife are. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what my thoughts are on the matter. But it's a basic fact of physics that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change forms. Nana Anna was practically a force of nature - I have a hard time believing that all of that love and energy just disappeared when she died.

    When I was driving back to Chicago after her funeral, I saw an eagle soaring above the highway in Indiana. For the rest of the autumn, I found ladybugs landing on me at random times. (Nana used to have us catch ladybugs for her so they could eat any tiny insects on her houseplants.) It made me feel good, like she was close by.

    A similar thing happened after Tom died, except with him, it seemed to be herons. Peter thinks I'm crazy and silly, but for months after Tom died, a heron practically took up residence in the field next to our house. He was there every morning for ages. There were other bizarre heron sightings, but you're probably thinking that I'm losing the plot.

    Back into the story: I put on the song and turned it up really loud so I could sing along. I really didn't care who could see me, so long as no one could actually hear me since I am a dreadful singer. (Really, this is not just false modesty. I couldn't carry a tune of you stapled it to my hand.) When I sang my favourite part, I really felt as though the words were true:

    She says I'm okay; I'm alright,
    Though you have gone from my life
    You said that it would,
    Now everything should be all right

    It was around this time that a bit of motion in the sky caught my eye. It was a heron. I had a little Moment (complete with a few girly tears) because I knew it really was going to be alright. I could relax because I could and would pass the test.

    I listened to the song repeatedly and then went into the test centre. The place where you wait for your test feels like the hallway outside of the principal's office. About ten minutes before my scheduled time, the door swung open and the same tester I had last time called me in.

    We flew the paperwork and then through the Rules of the Road question. (None of the numbers I crammed into my head were needed.) Then he sent me outside to open the bonnet of the car for the technical check. I breezed through that and passed the road worthiness check. Everything was moving right along.

    The examiner got into the car and started to ask me about the controls on the dashboard. I put my hand up (I nearly touched his arm and had to stop myself) and said "I'm sorry, I know you must go through, what 7 or 8 of these tests a day?" He told me the number was actually 10. I said "Wow. Ten tests. So you're used to just rolling through all these instructions, but I'm having a really hard time keeping up with you. Can you please go a bit more slowly."

    "Yes, yes, of course." He took a deep breath and then opened his mouth. Then he looked at me and said "I'm sorry, I've lost my train of thought." I reminded him about the controls and he tested me on those. I could see already an interesting trend - he would start off speaking slowly but then he'd just slip into his ordinary way of speaking, which was at about 200 mph.

    He gave me directions to leave the test centre and then I ventured out onto the longest five miles of my life. I breezed the first roundabout, encountered only light traffic in front of the hotel (which is usually a choke point) and was relieved when he told me to follow the road around and take the first right. (The alternative, taking the right before the road curves around is a pain in the ass.)

    At the turn, a kindly old lady stopped her car and waved me through. I gave her a one-finger country wave and drove up through my favourite part of Skibbereen. It's the path of an old railway and I always feel like I'm driving through a green canyon, so mossy are the steep carved-out walls of stone on either side.

    I knew I was firing on all driving cylinders. I was remembering to check my mirrors before indicating. My gear changing and clutching were as smooth as a lazy summer day. It all felt very good.

    The examiner directed me through the maze of streets, eventually taking me to a deserted street where they seemed to be building a housing estate. The street was completely empty and was a cul-de-sac, so I could be reasonably sure no traffic would be coming at me. It was the sort of place that if Peter was driving somewhere and we ended up here, I'd jokingly ask if this was where he left me for dead. (I resisted the temptation to ask the examiner that.)

    I was directed to turn my car about so that it was facing the opposite direction, taking as many points as necessary. Given my crashing about into the kerb during my cleansing hour, I decided to play it very conservatively. It was in the middle of my second reverse-then-edge-forward maneuver that I realised I couldn't remember if I'd looked left before I started moving. I knew that was a failable offense and my heart sank. Everything had been going so well. Had I really just blown the test by making such a stupid error?

    I reminded myself that this was how I unraveled in the first test, by deciding I had failed and then getting rattled. I started to sing to myself (in my head) the words that I had found so calming before the test. I also focused all my energy on just doing all the simple little things required to pass the test. Check the mirrors. Check my blindspot. Remember to use the indicators properly. Watch the gears.

    We drove back into Skibbereen for another spin around the narrow streets, including Santa's Grotto of Hell. Mercifully, there wasn't another car in sight when I made the turn onto the dastardly road. Eventually, we ended up near the infamous Lidl roundabout. I completely blanked on what lane I should be in, so I slowed down and asked him to repeat the instruction. In repeating the instructions, he added the words "Baltimore Road" and gestured. Following his gesture, I saw those very words painted in 6-foot tall letters on the pavement, marking the lane I should be in. I deftly switched lanes and breathed a sigh of relief - I knew I'd dodged another bullet.

    In time, I was directed to go out the New Road, a great sweeping, wide road that curved up a big hill. Half-way up the hill is an entrance to a housing estate, which is one of the spots that is used frequently as the reverse corner. I was elated when I realised this would be my reverse corner as it was one of my best ones. I followed all of his instructions for approaching and preparing for the reversal. Then I executed the most text book perfect reversing-around-the-corner moves that I'd ever done.

    After that major triumph, I was directed to take the next left turn and then pull over. Here it was, the dreaded hill start. Before we began, he said to me "I'm sorry, I seem to have forgotten, have we covered hand signals yet?" We hadn't. I had to smile to myself - he seemed more nervous and dazed than I had been before the test. I aced the hand signals and breezed through the hill start.

    Once more into the breech of Skibbereen and this time, I had to approach one of my most difficult intersections. I did okay, but I knew I didn't do it perfectly and I could see his hand twitching out a marking on the clipboard. Oh well, I didn't need to be perfect, I just needed to be good enough.

    Finally, I could see the harbour on the horizon when I was directed to take the third exit off the roundabout and return to the test centre. Only one last hurdle remained: parking in the test centre. In the car park, there were a few cars and a few spaces right in front of the doors to the building. But he didn't direct me to pull in. Instead, he directed me to pull in at an area where there were about six open spaces. I was able to easily zip into a spot with an open space on either side.

    He hopped out of the car and I followed him back into the test centre. Settling down behind his desk, he told me "I'm happy to tell you that you passed the test." I gushed a breathy, relieved thank-you as he wrote out my beautiful Certificate of Competency. I didn't look at my marking sheet until I was back in the car and could compare it to the first one.

    In simplest terms, the test is divided into 17 functional sections (like Observation, Vehicle Controls, Traffic Controls, Progress, Reverse, and Turnabout). Each of the sections is subdivided into testing points. For example, the Right Of Way section consists of Moving Off, Overtaking, Changing Lanes, At Junctions, Roundabouts, Turning Right, Turning Left. You are then assessed mistakes against these various points.

    If you make one major mistake of any sort, you fail the test. (This is defined as "Dangerous/Potentially Dangerous or total disregard of traffic controls.) You can make 8 medium mistakes, so long as you spread them out among the sections and testing points. If you make 4 medium mistakes for the same testing point, you fail. If you make 6 medium mistakes in the same section, you fail. You can also get markings for minor mistakes, which don't count towards failing - they are more of an FYI.

    In my first test, I made a total of 14 medium mistakes. I failed on the gears alone with 4 mistakes, plus one medium mistake for the clutch. (He also gave me a pile of minor mistakes in that section, I suspect because he ran out of spaces for medium mistakes and didn't want to give me a major mistake.)

    In my victorious test, I made four medium mistakes: Pedestrian Crossing (this was near the end of the test at that nightmare intersection), Progress Turning Right (no idea), Progress Turning Left (again, no idea), and Reaction to Hazard (yep, no idea). My sheet was blessedly clean in the Clutch, Gears, Handbrake points.

    Now you know the long, tortured story of how I passed the dreaded driving test. If you've found this post because you have to do a test at Skibbereen, send me an email and I'll give you the names and numbers of my driving instructors. If you're only just signing up for your test, I'd steer clear of Skib.

    In fact, my newest, dearest ambition in life is to never, ever drive in Skibbereen again.

    Saturday, February 16, 2008

    The Dreaded Driving Test: Part Two

    Part One

    On the morning of the dreaded driving test, I woke up at 4.30 am, which was only 30 minutes before my alarm. I planned to leave at 8am. When you hear that my test was scheduled for 11.55, you might think I was beyond compulsive about arriving on time. I'm not quite that bad. I had a lesson scheduled for 10.00 am and it was going to take at least an hour to get there. That gave me an hour to deal with unexpected contingencies. I hate feeling rushed.

    I had a leisurely morning that included reading blogs and writing email. Since it was Valentine's Day, I baked Peter a batch of his favourite cookies and made him a card using my trusty Crayolas. (A few Christmases ago, I splurged on a 120-crayon box and routinely make cards for my nieces, nephews, and Peter.)

    When I was worrying about the driving test back in January, I got a kind email from one of our friends. (I will call him Vader, because it amuses me and he uses a picture of Darth Vader as his IM avatar.) Vader had some level-headed advice about how to look at the test. He passed his first time, despite the fact that he'd only been driving for a few months. He told me to ignore the "bullshit mythology" of it and that he found it an accurate and fair assessment of his driving skills.

    Not only did Vader help me change the way I thought about the test, he made me think about what the difference would have been between him taking the test the first time and me taking the test the first time. Besides the fact that he'd be able to control any jitters better, I also realised there was a fundamental difference between how we present ourselves. Vader always dresses nicely and neatly (I've known him over 12 years and don't think I've ever seen him in blue jeans) and he projects an air of supreme confidence.

    Me....well, in general, not so much. I dress overly casually and my hair is usually sticking out in 8 directions. When I get nervous, I don't project confidence. I barely project confidence when I'm in a familiar situation that I can handle. I realised that what I had to do was treat the whole thing like a job interview. I tend to do very well in job interviews because I know the questions, I've practised my answers in my head, and I know I can do the job well.

    As part of my job-interview approach to the driving test, I dressed up in a nice pair of pin-stripe trousers and a smart tailored blouse. I brushed my hair to within an inch of its life and used multiple rubber bands and a hair clip to put it into the tightest braid ever seen outside of a teacher's training college or a nunnery. I even polished my shoes. Everything about my outfit screamed "Competent driver, coming through!" I knew I would just have to work on the actual driving bit, to make it match my newly borrowed persona.

    I left the house at 8:00 am precisely and arrived in Skibbereen about 9.15. Since I was early, I decided to do a bit of driving around Skib by myself, just to get some extra practise. I took a right over the New Bridge and drove up past a nasty little warren of streets that I don't like. Then I drove down into the town and then back out again. I'd never driven around Skib by myself and I found it a little more enjoyable though no less confusing and nerve-wracking.

    I'd borrowed Emily, Peter's GPS unit, so I had a better sense of where I was going. I navigated as best as I could to my trouble areas, but I avoided the street I like to call Santa's Grotto of Hell. It's a narrow street, not more than a laneway, with a tall cement wall on one side and parked cars on the other side, which then curves around past Santa's Grotto or Winter Wonderland or whatever it's called. (Essentially a place where parents can take their kids and pay an outrageous sum for a picture with Santa.)

    I hadn't had to traverse Santa's Grotto of Hell in my first test and I was terrified I would have to navigate it during my second test. I also was worried about some of the places where two streets merged together, since right-of-way is determined by the status of the road. Major roads, like national roads, take precedence over minor roads, but if you're unfamiliar with a town, it's hard some times to tell which is the major road.

    The biggest problem I saw was a guy on North street who was painting one of the storefronts a cheery colour and had his ladder set up in the road. There were also a couple of big trucks out making deliveries, but I imagined they would be gone well before my test.

    I arrived at the test centre to meet M, my new driving instructor. G, my regular driving instructor, is always booked up 3 weeks in advance. Since I only had 1 week notice of my test, G had sent me on to M, a no-nonsense sort of woman who reminded me of a amalgam of my favourite teachers from high school. I'd had a lesson with her the previous Sunday and I liked her style. When not giving me a mock test, G's style is to narrate every move I should be making, which never made much sense to me because on the day of the test, I needed to be able to know what to do myself. M's style was more observational, with occasional tips or advice thrown out when needed.

    Since I was early and M was early, we got started right away. The first thing I did was have her check my lights, which were all working properly. Then we went out onto the mean streets of Skibbereen to get ready for my test.

    G calls this sort of lesson right before the test "The Cleansing Hour." He's right, too. It felt good to know that I could work out all my mistakes and problems and then take the test a wiser, calmer driver.

    M first took me to a spot to practise turn-abouts (essentially 3-point turns, but you can take as many points as you need) and reversing around a corner. These are two of the three named maneuvers, the third being my former nemesis the hill start. I was using the Cleansing Hour for all it was worth, since I was repeatedly hitting the kerb, using the wrong gear, and committing all manner of other failable offenses. The area was full of other learners who were also out practising with instructors.

    At one point, one of the other learners nearly backed right into me as she was reversing around the corner. M told me to hold my ground, that she had to stop, but I didn't trust her and moved into the opposite lane. Had it been an actual test, the reversing girl would have failed. I don't know if I would have failed or not. I probably would have gotten at least one fault for freezing up - I should have carried right on around her after I moved into the opposite lane.

    Traffic in Skibbereen can be a nightmare, because of the sheer volume of traffic trying to squeeze through narrow roads made worse by parked cars. (This picture is a fair illustration of the point.) On this morning, the traffic was light enough for M to comment on it. The schools were not in session, which might have had something to do with it.

    Once it was clear that I'd worked out my issues with the reversing and turning, M was fantastic in putting me through the worst parts of Skibbereen and making me work on my trouble areas - namely handling the gear changes involved in going into and out of turns and roundabouts. She also took me through all the tricky merge/yield situations, of which there are many. (This picture is a good example.)

    I was vacillating wildly between calm and nervous. Every time M. told me to relax, I felt more nervous. Odd little things throughout the lesson calmed me down though. Like when we were stopped three cars back at a tricky junction. I noticed the car directly in front of us was missing the back window. Instead, it had black plastic taped up over whole window. I noticed a long, pointy, black and white border collie nose slowly poke out of a gap in the lower-right corner of the window. How can you see that and not smile? And then I learned that it's nearly impossible to stay nervous when you're smiling.

    So I tried to notice all the things that would make me smile - a little kid trudging up a hill behind his mother, a puppy chewing on his leash while his owner tried to walk him, the shop front of Pierce Hickey, which was a reputation for selling winning lottery tickets.

    By the end of the hour, we'd narrowed my problem areas down to three and had worked on them relentlessly - the nightmare junction by the post office box, which was miserable to approach from any angle, Santa's Grotto of Hell, and the roundabout by the Lidl. I love roundabouts, but the one near the Lidl doesn't have the handy exit sign and I was having a horrible time remembering which lane I was supposed to be in for which exit.

    We returned to the test centre and M moved her jeep so I could back into her parking spot, since it was the only one left in the centre that had an open space on one side. The car park was filled to capacity and it gave me another thing to worry about - what if I came back from the test and the spaces were few and far between and I was asked to back into a spot that had a car on either side. Although I've mastered reversing around a corner, my spatial relations are dreadful and I avoid parking between cars whenever I can (and that's when I'm just pulling in straight-on).

    M. gave me a pep talk ("Your observation is excellent. When you concentrate, your reversing and turnabouts are perfect, just mind the car drifting out after you've made it around the corner. Other than that, just relax. And text me afterwards.") Then she left me alone with my thoughts and nearly an hour until my test.

    To Be Continued...

    Friday, February 15, 2008

    The Dreaded Driving Test: Part One

    I've been agonising over how to tell this story, since the 24-hours leading up to and including my test felt like a lifetime. How could I give all the details in one concise post when there seem to be so many details? Then I realised I could take a page from Laurie's book (or would it be a post from her blog?) and go with a three-part story. Maybe I've blown it by already revealing the ending yesterday, or maybe you'll find the journey as compelling as the destination. In any case, I'll start at the beginning...

    The evening before the test, while it was still light out, I took Peter on a hill-start practise run. Since the hill start was the beginning of my unraveling in the last test, I'd worked very hard to make the entire procedure automatic in my mind.

    Look for a place to pull over, check the left mirror, turn on the left indicator, pull over, turn off the indicator, pull the parking brake, and put the car in first gear. Check my blind spot, check the right mirror, turn on the right indicator, check the gear for good luck, gradually release the brake while releasing the clutch, feel for the little kick the clutch gives just before the car slips into gear, ease onto the gas to give the acceleration needed to glide up the hill.

    When I put it like that, it doesn't sound so simple, does it? This is what the entire driving test is like - remembering to do each little part that is required for the whole task. Forgetting to check your mirror before you turn on your indicator won't make you fail the test outright, but forgetting to do several little things throughout the 5-mile course will cause you to walk away in abject defeat. When told to turn left, you can't just throw on your indicator and turn left. You have to check your mirror, turn on your indicator, shift into second gear, and turn left in the proper road position. (And remember to cancel your indicator, if it doesn't turn off automatically.)

    You have to do all this and still react to other cars and pedestrians. Plus, the roads around the Skibbereen test center are narrow and often lined with parked cars. Several roads are barely wide enough for two cars to pass, let alone for two cars to navigate when one side is filled with parked cars.

    But Wednesday evening, in the hills of Ballingeary with Peter pretending to mark down notes while I practised, it was easy. Even fun almost. And I started to feel the first shades of hope that I would be able to finally pass this damn thing.

    It was after dark when I realised I should have Peter review the technical check with me and make sure my lights were all in working order. The technical check portion of the driving test involves opening the bonnet and pointing out where you'd fill the coolant, check the oil, which is the brake fluid, etc. I hadn't reviewed these items in a while and I have tendency to forget where the magic little lever is just under the bonnet to unlatch it from the car.

    The technical check isn't really that difficult, since everything is pretty well-labeled. Getting the bonnet open was my biggest challenge, so I practised it a few times.

    Then we ran through the light checks. I'd just had everything replaced for my NCT in September and my instructor had checked them out a few weeks ago, so I hadn't expected any difficulties. The front lights were fine, so Peter went to the back of the car. Left indicator. Right indicator. Tap on the brakes.

    "Your left brake light isn't working," he said.

    He had to be joking, I thought. But no, he wasn't joking. Just as well we checked. I was a little annoyed with him, since I'd asked him to buy me replacement bulbs this week. After being unable to buy them in Macroom, he'd checked with our local mechanic to verify the bulbs were in stock. His plan would have worked, had I had the foresight to check while the mechanic's garage was still open. So he was a little annoyed with me not thinking about this sooner. (It was okay though, our annoyances canceled each other out and we just got on with things.)

    Peter rang the mechanic and arranged to run up to his place to get the bulb. We ended up buying a complete set of bulbs, just to set my mind at ease.

    Back at home, I backed the car into the garage so Peter could replace the bulbs. (We don't really ever use the garage except for storage purposes - I'm not sure why, the thing is like a small aircraft hangar.) Peter was fantastic, spending close to an hour working on getting the bulbs to work. It turned out that the bulbs were fine, the connectors were just a bit loose and corroded. So he filed away the corrosion and made sure the bulbs were snug and connected properly.

    He discovered that the right-rear reverse light was a bit flaky, so I rang my driving instructor to make sure that wouldn't disqualify me from taking the test. "The examiner will only check for your brake lights and indicators. There's no way he's going to stand behind the car while you put it in reverse." Which, of course, made perfect sense.

    I went to bed Wednesday evening secure in the knowledge that my car was in nearly perfect working order. Sure, the rear lights had the possibility of slipping or malfunctioning, but I had a complete set of bulbs in the boot and would have ample time to take the car to a petrol station and beg some kind mechanic to help me. I had a Plan B and that was enough to help me get to sleep.

    To Be Continued....

    Thursday, February 14, 2008


    What I have there, in my hot little hands, is not a list of known Communists. No, it's a Certificate of Competency, which is what you are given after you pass your driving test.

    I'll be posting about it in detail later, but I'm just so excited, I'm telling everyone. (At least you all don't have to get subjected to a phone call in which I don't even say 'hello', I just shout "I passed! I passed! I PAAAASSED!")

    Wednesday, February 13, 2008

    Books Meme

    Babaloo has tagged me.

    Here are the rules:

    * Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)
    * Find Page 123.
    * Find the first 5 sentences.
    * Post the next 3 sentences.
    * Tag 5 people

    My book is Lonely Planet's guide to Ireland, because I'm planning for my family's trip here in May.

    Page 123 occurs in the Dublin lodging section of the guide.

    This is a real beauty, a converted Victorian schoolhouse that is now a suburb boutique hotel with 31 exsquisite rooms, each named after an Irish writer, and stocked with luxury toiletries and all sorts of modern amenities. A place ahead of its - ahem - class.

    Herbert Park Hotel(Map p.80...more contact info.)

    I don't know if you'd call it serendipity or kismet or what, but the first two sentences describing the boutique hotel - that's the Schoolhouse Hotel, which is where we had our big fancy wedding in 2004. And I used to work right next to the Herbert Park Hotel.

    I think everyone I would have tagged has done this already. If you haven't, isn't it about time you did?

    Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    Lessons Learned While Streaking

    Yesterday, I completed my running streak, and I don't mean that I sprinted nekkid through the village.

    On Monday, 12 Feb 2007, I decided to try to qualify for membership in the US Running Streak Association. To join the club, you must run at least one continuous mile every day for one calendar year. I've now achieved that goal and have been wondering what I've learned that I can apply to other parts of my life. I particularly interested in figuring out how I can start a similar writing streak, with the eventual goal of producing a sale-able novel.

    Making the commitment is the first step. I was able to make the commitment because the goal was ordinary and reasonable. It takes me 9 or 10 minutes to run a mile. I figured if I ran at least 12 minutes, I would cover a mile and a bit. Being serious about the commitment and making it a priority is one of the secrets to success. It was that commitment, that sense of responsibility, that carried me through the days when I was tired or sick or just plain unmotivated.

    Creating a reasonable schedule also helped me. I tended to run in the morning, so I had a feeling of accomplishing something on my never-ending To Do list. Once something is done, I don't have to worry about it. With writing, I think this will be even more important as I'm at my freshest mentally then. (And after spending 8 hours in front of a computer screen is a handy excuse for not wanting to spend any more time using a computer.)

    Having a schedule is all well and good, but a schedule is more effective as a guide than as a mandate. Flexibility was important to figuring out ways and times to get my run done. When it was too dark and spooky to run in the road, I did laps around the outside of the house. (A quirk that delights one of our administrators at work.) In December and January, when it was a cold, rainy mess outside, I quite happily jogged around inside the house. Deciding to go by a timed mile rather than a measured mile allowed me to adapt my game plan to the conditions.

    My only disappointment is that I stored the last 64 days of running data in my ordinarily trustworthy Timex Ironman. When I went to retrieve the data to enter into my running blog, I found it was corrupted. There's no way I ran 6 hours on 43-71, unless I was kidnapped by aliens and taken to Neptune.

    I'm going to spend the next few days thinking about what sort of iron-clad commitment to my writing will help me achieve my goal in the next year. Lately, I've felt like I've been spinning my wheels (or maybe running laps around the kitchen table) with regards to my writing. That's going to have to change and when I've decided how to change it, I'm sure you'll hear all about it.

    Monday, February 11, 2008

    Fun Monday

    It's that time again. This week's gracious hostess, the Crown Princess from Ooh, a Shiny Pen, has posed a musical challenge.

    "I want to hear the ONE song that is you. The song that whenever it is heard, you smile. I am not looking for the soundtrack of your life, just that one song. Your friends hear it and think of you."

    My first thought was that this was going to be a tough one. Out of all the thousands of songs, picking just one that represents the very essence of me. About four years ago, I decided that my theme song would be Modest Mouse's "Float On." But as much as I'd like to be, I'm not that laid-back or easy going.

    My single most transcendent running moment occurred with U2's "Beautiful Day" as the soundtrack. That song definitely makes me smile and it also transports me to West Division Street in Chicago. But no one else would think of me when they hear the song.

    One of my all-time favourite songs is Simon and Grafunkel's "The Boxer." Peter thinks it's depressing and can't understand how I can listen to it on continual repeat. The last verse is the best summary of my personal aspirations that I've ever found. But it's just that:an aspiration. I aim for it but don't always get there.

    Inspiration struck while I was waiting for something to download at work last week. Around about the time that I was dropping out of law school and moving to Ireland to live with a guy my parents had never met, my dad was taking sign language classes. His final assignment for a class was to perform a song in sign language. My dad picked "Wild One" by Faith Hill, because it reminded him of me. I might be just another Daddy's Girl, but I think he's right about it.

    You can check out the lyrics here (edited to avoid repetition of the chorus) or, if you have some time and like country music, scroll down for a YouTube video. And if you doubt my dad's assessment of me, you might want to read my adventures in a blizzard.

    Faith Hill - Wild One
    They said change your clothes
    She said no I won't
    They said comb your hair
    She said some kids don't
    And her parents dreams went up in smoke

    They said you can't leave
    She said yes I will
    They said don't see him
    She said his name is Bill
    She's on a roll and it's all uphill

    She loves Rock 'n' Roll
    They said it's Satan's tongue
    She thinks they're too old
    They think she's too young
    And the battle lines are clearly drawn

    She has future plans and dreams at night
    When they tell her life is hard she says that's alright

    She's a wild one
    With an angel's face
    She's a woman-child
    In a state of grace
    When she was 3 years old on her daddy's knee
    He said you can be anything you want to be
    She's a wild one
    Runnin' free

    Note: I've removed the video in the hopes that people will be able to see the link to comment. I think the video was pushing off the alignment or something.

    Sunday, February 10, 2008

    Talking Politics with Mom

    Yesterday, my mom told me that she was sending out my request for an absentee ballot. The Ohio primary is the first Tuesday in March and it seems like it's actually going to mean something this year. I'm having a tough time making a decision and thought I'd ask my mom for her opinion.

    Mom: I don't know. I'm torn. I like Barack, he talks great, but he has no experience in foreign affairs.

    Me: Yeah, that bothers me too.

    Mom: Hillary....she's smart and experienced and I think she'd do a great job, but she's got that damn alabaster of a husband hanging around her neck. Oh...I've got the wrong word, don't I? It's some alba word isn't it?"

    Me (after recovering from laughing): Albatross is the word you're looking for. I regret to inform you, but this conversation is going on my blog.

    Mom: John! She's going to put me on her blog. Now everyone's going to think I'm stupid.

    For the record, I don't think my mom is stupid. She's brilliant in her own idiosyncratic way. She managed, whether she realises it or not, to summarise the key problem underlying this choice: perceived electability.

    Barack is great, but he's light in the experience department. John McCain will hammer him into a small cube and eat him for lunch. Hillary is great, but she's heavy in the baggage department. John McCain will be able to put his feet up and await his coronation while the 527s machine gun her from a flotilla of swift boats.

    But I think electability is a trap. Electability gave us John Kerry. The problem is that the two candidates are tied in my head as surely as they are pretty much tied in the delegate count. So what to use as the tie-breaker? I wish I knew.

    Thursday, February 07, 2008

    Ticked Off

    Moving to the Middle of Nowhere has provided me with a practical education in the realities of rural life. Topics covered in the course have included the difference between a cow and a bullock, the fact that moonlight casts shadows, and the bizarre calculus necessary to determine optimal driving routes.

    I've also, unfortunately, learned more about ticks than anyone would want to know. Toby has picked up a fair few ticks, even though that Revolution stuff is supposed to keep him free of the freeloaders. De-ticking Toby has been my job, as I am the Dispatcher of Insects in our house. It's a job I don't usually mind doing, but ticks have an extra ick-factor that make even an iron-stomached bug crusher like me a little squeamish.

    It's actually easier to get a tick out if the little fecker is already engorged. I always wondered what purpose ticks served - it seemed to me that their only purpose was to eat until they burst. But then I asked the Internet, who told me that an engorged tick will drop off, waddle or roll into some secret hiding place (like a crack in the baseboards), and lay a lot of eggs. The hard variety of tick can lay 10,000 eggs, while the soft variety lays a modest 50. The thought of 10,000 tick larvae is enough to give me serious nightmares. Never ask the Internet a question if you're not prepared to hear the answer.

    I've been lucky in the tick department in that they'd all been on Toby and only one had been tough to get off. Sunday night, I was sitting at the kitchen table, working on my Fun Monday post, when I scratched the back of my knee. Something didn't feel quite right, so I pulled up my pajama bottoms and touched the mysterious growth. I knew from the way it sort of flinched that it was a tick. I also knew that even though it was probably physically possible for me to see it, there was no way I was going to have a look.

    Usually, I have a strong stomach for gross medical things, even when they're happening to me. I've witnessed my own Upper GI test, seen stitches go into my skin, and watched a doctor take a scalpel to my infected toe. But the thought of seeing little black legs waving in the air while the head of a blood sucker disappeared under my skin, that's a medical bridge too far for me, I'm afraid.

    I had to ask Peter for a diagnosis. His verdict: "Hmmm...looks like a nasty skin tag...but, oh, no, it has legs. Wow. That's really disgusting. It's really buried in there. At least it hasn't been there for long. It's not engorged at all."

    Neither one of us was exactly sure what to do. I knew it was no longer recommended to burn it off, but I also knew from experience how difficult it would be to pull off a non-engorged tick. Google to the rescue!

    Most of the US-based sites were focused on just getting the tick out as quickly as possible, so that it didn't have a chance to pass along any nasty bacteria or parasites. (Like ticks aren't gross enough on their own, they have to give you a value-add by potentially passing on disease-causing wee beasties.) Ireland is fortunate in the tick-borne illness department as we've neither Lyme disease nor Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to worry about.

    Using the instructions from the CDC, Peter prepared to remove the tick. We had a couple of false starts because the tick was small and we didn't have a proper tweezers. He eventually ended up using a Leatherman utility tool. The removal didn't go as smoothly as I'd hoped and the tick was both crushed and decapitated. (Or maybe it was de-body-ated, as it as more a case of the body being removed from the head than vice versa.)

    As I washed with soap and warm water, then smeared the back of my leg with an alcohol-based hand gel, Peter searched for more information. I called Nurse Mom, who suggested trying to squeeze the leftover bit out. Peter found information from the VHI that recommended a removal process similar to splinter removal. I hate splinter removal and have lived with splinters for months rather than let someone poke around at them with a needle. (I have a strong stomach but a low threshold for pain.)

    In the end, either the squeezing worked or my white blood cells had a little extra work to do Sunday night. I'm pleased to report that I'm alive and well, although I'm far too well-educated in ticks.

    Wednesday, February 06, 2008

    Memes: The Lazy Blogger's Lifeline

    You should all thank Cynthia, because without her tagging me, I don't think there would be a post today. (Or maybe you should scold Cynthia for it. I don't know - it's up to you.) Memes are, of course, the lazy blogger's lifeline.

    4 Jobs I've Had:
    1. Third-shift hostess at Dennys. Worst job ever - had to deal with all the drunk creeps and didn't even get any tips.
    2. Animal caretaker at a summer camp - responsible for the care of captive owls, foxes, rabbits, snakes, a duck, and a really crabby skunk.
    3. General kitchen worker at a Jesuit retreat centre - not a bad gig, except when it was AA retreats and I'd have to spend all my time brewing and serving coffee and sucking in second-hand smoke. Recovering alcoholics guzzle coffee and smoke cigarettes like nobody's business.
    4. Business manager for the debate team at Ohio University.

    4 Movies I've watched over and over:
    1. Broadcast News
    2. Real Genius
    3. Proof of Life
    4. LA Story

    4 Places I Have Lived:
    1. Athens, Ohio
    2. Albany, New York
    3. Camden, New Jersey
    4. Parma, Ohio

    4 Shows I Watch (Thanks to the wonder of the Internet):
    1. "Mad Men"
    2. "The Shield"
    3. "Hereos"
    4. "The Office"

    4 Places I've Been:
    1. London
    2. Venice
    3. Slovenia
    4. Berlin

    4 People Who E-mail Me Regularly:
    1. My dad
    2. My barn friends
    3. My high school friends (as in friends from high school - I'm not running with a young crowd)
    4. Middle Brother

    4 Favorite Things to Eat:
    1. Bread
    2. Chocolate
    3. Pizza
    4. Raw Vegetables (gotta do something to make up for items 1-3)

    4 Places I'd Rather Be:
    This is a tough one...I am quite happy with where I am. But sure, if pressed...
    1. On vacation in Australia and New Zealand
    2. Climbing Mt, Kilamanjaro
    3. Researching my latest novel in a historical library in New York City
    4. Taking and passing my driving test (I just want to get it over with!)

    4 Things I Look Forward To This Year:
    1. My parents, two aunts, and an uncle are visiting for two weeks in May
    2. One of my best friends from high school is getting married in July, in Cleveland
    3. On the trip for the wedding, I'm also going to get to see MB, The Kid, and go with them to Cedar Point to ride the big swinging boat
    4. My birthday, of course!

    Tagging....I'm going to leave this open-ended. Any other lazy blogger out there that needs a topic for a post, you can take this meme and blame me for it.

    Tuesday, February 05, 2008

    Awards Show

    Recently, Sweet Irene and Laurie bestowed me with the Excellent Blog award. Laurie also reminded me that she has indeed been very kind with the award largess, even though I've been not so kind with the acknowledgment.

    Lately, I've been trying to live by the Tough Guy Army Rules - don't explain, don't complain. These are hard rules for me to keep and I'm going to skate on the edge by confessing that I am both lazy and not great at accepting compliments. A deadly combination, in this case.

    But it's raining, I have the day off, and my dearly departed paternal grandmother will probably haunt me if I don't take proper responsibility to acknowledge and distribute these gracious awards. First, we'll dispense with the three accountants in suits and their methodology. There are no accountants. This is my blog and that maniacal laughter you hear is also mine. I've already mentioned that I'm lazy, so I'm not going to check to see if your award shelf is already stacked to bursting. For the one award where I know the rules, I'll play by the rules. The rest, I'm awarding to three people each and I'm going to avoid double-awarding. Clearly, I could give every award to every blog in my bloglines, but I'm trying not to be lazy.

    In no particular order, we'll start with Excellent Blog Awards, which does exactly what it says on the tin and recognises excellence in blogging. Thanks to both Laurie and Irene for passing this on to me. According to The Rules, this goes out to ten lucky bloggers:

    Sautering Soul
    3 Little Monkeys
    Carrie Sue
    Sandy at Myanderings
    Rose at La Vie en Rose
    Ped Crossing

    The rest of the awards are all courtesy of Laurie and I am embarrassed to admit that they were amassed in the last eight months. (In fact, I think the first one was even awarded on my birthday last July.)

    I acknowledge the Creative Blogger award and would like to pass it on to
    Irene for the beautiful images on her blog
    Rotten Correspondent for her great stories and for illustrating them creatively
    Gingerpixel for her fantastic photographs, especially the portrait project

    Next up is the Roar for Powerful Words award, which is intended to recognise good writing. I'd send this right back to Laurie, but I'm trying to stick to one award per blogger. Her stories about her dogs and her entry into journalism have made me wish that I could tell a story like that. Anyone can string words together, I'm drawn to story-tellers, so the nice lion award goes out to
    Amy for her honest and well-written posts about her life
    Primal Sneeze for his funny stories about Irish life
    Conortje for his wry observations

    Last but not least is the Best Blogging Buddies, for those special pals who are always around to comment and offer support.
    I'm sending this out to
    fellow ex-pat Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
    Kaycie, who is both lost and now incognito in the bible belt
    the patient and cheerful Laurie

    Sunday, February 03, 2008

    Fun Monday

    Tiggerlane, this week's gracious hostess for Fun Monday, has posed an interesting topic. She wants us to make a "bucket list", which is an itemization of at least five things you want to do before you die. I could reel off one of these lists easily, by just naming places I want to see before I die. That list is ridiculously long. I love travel, which is weird because I don't like change and I find comfort in my routines, but I love exploring new places.

    But it seems like cheating to just go for the easy list. So my challenge to myself is to come up with a list that has no travel items.

    1. Attempt stand-up comedy.

    I can't really explain this one. Des Bishop had a show where he went into disadvantaged communities in Ireland, selected a few participants, and taught them how to do stand-up. Then, at the end of the training period, they had a show. Something about it appealed to me, even though I'm shy, don't like talking in front of people, and am not particularly funny.

    2. Perfect the art of baking bread.

    I love baking and I like to think I can bake just about anything, especially now that I have a trusted Kitchen Aid. But bread often eludes me. Yeast is a living thing and I haven't quite figured out how to use it properly. To ensure my bread rises, I've taken to doubling the yeast, which does pretty much guarantee a nice puffy dough, but it also results in a very yeasty tasting bread.

    3. Grow a ginormous pumpkin.

    Given where I've chosen to live, this might be a tough one to fulfill. I don't know that it ever really gets hot enough here to create one of those giant, 200+ pound pumpkins. But I'd like to try.

    4. Qualify for and run the Boston Marathon.

    The Boston Marathon is the Holy Grail for serious non-elite runners. Pretty much anyone who's run more than one marathon harbours a desire to qualify for Boston. The qualifying times are tough targets. My personal best is 5.47. I'm going to need to get a bit faster, and then hope I'm still running at 80 to qualify.

    5. Send a postcard to Post Secret.

    Post Secret is one of the best things on the Internet. I love the creativity and emotions that are collected there every week and would really like to participate. I've been carrying a few secrets around in my head, so it's just a matter of sitting down and doing it.

    6. Participate in some crazy, big-time endurance race.

    I'm obsessed with the idea of pushing myself to the edge of my limits. Endurances races fascinate me and I like the idea of doing something outrageous and difficult.

    7. Go camping alone. Well, alone with a dog or two.

    Given the fact that I'm a big baby and afraid of lots of things (though mostly afraid of baddies), this is probably the most difficult item on my list. But I like the idea of pushing past my limits and I also crave solitude. The idea of camping alone, ideally somewhere extremely remote and isolated, is quite appealing, even though it scares the pants off me as well.

    So, that's my list. Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check out all the other Fun Monday participants.

    Walking in a Willful Wonderland

    Last weekend, my dad's weekly email was recollections about the Blizzard of '78. My friend Amy also wrote about it on her blog. Not living in Cleveland anymore, the anniversary would have passed me by, had Dad and Amy not reminded me of it.

    Some of my earliest, most complete memories are from the winter of '78, when I was five and a half years old and in kindegarten. I have earlier memories, but they are more like snapshots. My film-reel memories start around the time that my youngest brother was born, in January 1978.

    YB was only two weeks old and our lives and routines had already been disrupted by this red, squalling, little lump that my mother assured me was a boy even though I had desperately wanted a sister. The blizzard provided further excitement and disruption. The winds were so severe and the temperatures so cold that my parents devised a sort of fox's den for us to shelter in. My dad hung blankets up to trap the heat in the back of our apartment and we filled an interior hallway with blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals.

    My mom plied us with snacks and drinks and we whiled away the time. I remember wearing layers upon layers of clothes and, at one point the electricity and heat must have gone out because I remember sitting in the kitchen in my snowsuit.

    After dinner one night, I decided it was time to get outside and play in the snow. We'd been trapped in the house for months (or so it seemed to my little young brain) and it was time to finally get to build snowmen and make snow forts. My mom was at work (I know - two weeks after having a baby - madness) and my dad was left to deny my repeated requests. But I was a stubborn and persistent child and would not take no for an answer.

    In desperation, my dad called my mom at work, in the hopes that she could talk some sense into me. Even today, that's a fool's errand. Imagine how much more difficult it was to talk sense to five-year-old me. Finally, my mother sighed and told my father "If she wants to go outside, let her go outside. Just don't lose her." The idea was that once I got outside and realised how inhospitable the conditions were, I would turn tail and run back to the warmth of the fox den.

    I got bundled up in every piece of winter gear I owned and MB followed suit. (He wasn't going to be left out of the fun.) My dad tied a rope around each of our waists and told us that we weren't going to get to stay out very long. MB got to the end of the house, which was about 20 feet, before deciding he'd had enough. The wind was so strong you could barely walk and the snow was both falling and blowing. When it hit the half-inch of exposed flesh near my eyes, it was like getting blasted by frozen sand.

    But I was a girl on a mission. It was dark and quiet but for the wind. I felt like the last person on earth and I found that I liked that feeling. I made it all the way back to the garage, where a giant snowdrift was waiting. I was thrilled and started tunneling out my snow fort. I ignored the tugs on the rope and went about with my excavation. It was pretty comfy in the snow.

    My dad, realising after a few minutes that I wasn't going to come to my senses, hauled me back into the house. All told, I was outside for probably less than five minutes. Left to my own devices, I would have stayed out way too long. My dad was right to pull me back in. I think he was right, too, to send me out in controlled circumstances. After all, had I been a normal, sane child, I would have turned back when MB did. But I've always been willful and more driven by what I want to do than by what I should rationally do.