Monday, July 29, 2013

Remembering the Good Doctor

A friend of mine from highschool died this week.  Actually, in the spirit of full disclosure, he wasn't just a friend, he was my first boyfriend.  We dated for about 7 months during my junior year/his senior year, went to his prom together, and then didn't so much break up as lose touch and drift apart after he went to college.

He was one of the most intelligent people I've ever met, funny as hell (although not always intentionally), and completely and totally fearless.  He NEVER, even in high school when the rest of us were self-conscious teenagers, gave a single damn about what anyone else thought of him, and the word "geek" never held any meaning or embarrassment for him*.  When faced with choosing between studying something controversial or something "safe," he took the controversial topic and made it his life's work, helping thousands of people along the way.

Even though we'd communicated only sporadically over the last 10-15 years (something which I regret), I'm going to miss him.  I'm going to miss knowing that I might run into him at another wedding or reunion, I'm going to miss hearing funny stories about his latest exploits, but mostly I'm going to miss knowing that somebody like him is out there saying, "&$*#@ Off" to The Establishment and finding ways to help people through their pain.

I'm sure he didn't think of himself as brave, though many of us knew him to be.  He simply saw something that interested him, or that he thought needed to be done, or that simply sounded like it might be fun, and he went and did it.  He didn't stop and think about how other people would react, he just did it because he thought the experience would be worthwhile, regardless of the ultimate results.  And I admire him for that, more than I can express.  Even if I don't always have the flexibility or the freedom to say, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" I'd like to have the hutzpah to do so.  I'd like to have the confidence in myself to know that, even if it wasn't the best decision, everything would be fine eventually.  Instead, I find myself saying no far too often, or even worse, letting opportunities simply pass by because I'm too timid to grab them or I'm not sure how to go after them.

I'd also like to be brave enough to trust in the decisions I have made, and stop second-guessing or feeling guilty about them.  Primarily, I'm not working right now, and that's OK.  It's a decision that The Cajun and I made together, it's good for both of us, and it's nobody's business but ours.  So I need to stop feeling like I ought to be working just for the sake of a paycheck or that I'm not "good enough" because I'm not working; I'm certainly contributing just as much to society with my volunteer work as I was when I was getting paid for my endeavors.  I'm making the lives of my co-workers easier, and helping hundreds of library patrons every week, even if they remain blissfully unaware of the fact.  I'm not willing to tie myself to another long commute or a job I don't enjoy simply for the sake of earning some money, and the freedom I have now to travel with my husband or help my family or see my friends is something I value more than I ever thought I could.  Besides, our current situation is one we've worked for and fought towards for many years; it's ridiculous to not be happy and enjoy it!

So, some resolutions**: to make the choices that need to be made, without worrying incessantly over them (particularly after said choices have been made).  To go and do the important things, if they scare the crap out of me.  To keep in touch, really keep in touch (not just Facebook), with the people who are most important to me, and to let them know that I value them and their friendship.  To enjoy what I have, and be grateful for it.

It's awful that many of us only re-examine these things when faced with tragedy, and I shall try to remain more aware.  So, thank you, Andrew, wherever you may be.  You were a role model and a hero to many of us, in your own incredibly unique way.  Go with God, and may wherever you are be like all the best parts of Burning Man.  But without any corn chips.



* To quote another friend this week, "We were all geeks before it was cool."  These days, being nerdy is generally a good thing, and I'm certainly proud of my geek cred now.  Back when we were 16...  less so.  Actually, I sometimes pity my teenage self for not knowing how much fun it could be to embrace my dorkitude.

** Which may or may not be kept, but getting them out there is the first step to actually doing something.

Friday, June 28, 2013

It's Been a Busy Week in Lake Wobegon, My Hometown...

Or rather, a busy month here at Chez Yankee-Cajun.  First, we took a quick business/pleasure trip up to central Pennsylvania so The Cajun could go to a show (a professional kind, not a fun, singing-and-dancing kind, alas) and we could have fun with our friends, and then we came home and my parents visited for a week, and then we took a trip for our anniversary up to Our Summer Place in the Mountains, and then my in-laws visited for a few days.  They left at the beginning of this week, and now we are both EXHAUSTED*.   And there was a baseball game after that.  Oh, and in the midst of all this, The Cajun had to give his yearly "We're So Wonderful" presentation to the Big Guns at work so that they would continue to give him money.  High stress stuff going on for both of us.

Of course, this also means that there are pictures and (vaguely) interesting stories to be published so that you don't think I spend all my time sitting on my posterior and eating bon-bons**.  I've been BUSY.

First, the Pennsylvania trip.  Much of it was spent hanging out in our favorite places with some of our favorite people, eating our favorite food and drinking our favorite beverages.  Some of it was also spent meeting some extremely cool new people and learning to play a rather subversively evil new game (Warning: this is only appropriate if you and your friends have what would generally be recognized as sick senses of humor.  If your crowd tends towards the more genteel, please stick with Apples to Apples.  It's a similar and equally fun game, but much, much less offensive.)

There are no pictures of these activities because we were too busy actually DOING them, but I did spend a good amount of time wandering campus and taking some architectural pictures for future stitching design projects.  And as I did that, I wandered down the mall and ran into...

Duckies!

A mommy ducky and her wee duckies, all having lunch.  I think I've posted pictures before of the unnaturally friendly ducks in the pond near the alumni house, and these were part of that band.  The little ones were so teensy that I probably could have fit at least 4 of them on the palm of my hand, and poor mummy duck was trying to herd them all in the same direction (away from the lawn mowers) and not having an easy time of it.

Since I wanted to look at the Alumni Gardens anyway, I headed in that direction and came across...

Slightly larger duckies!

More mommy ducks and their offspring, of various sizes.  These guys were more like teenagers.  As I looked around here, the original mommy duck and her gang came back, and liked the look of the patch of grass I was standing on.

Here they come!

I figured they'd get within 10 feet or so, then get nervous and run away.  They didn't.  They kept coming.

AHHHH!!!  ATTACK DUCKIES!!!

This isn't a particularly good picture, but it does show you how close they got.  I couldn't move for 10 minutes, for fear of frightening mommy duck and/or stepping on the little ones.  I might as well have been a rock or tree for all the notice they took of me.  And the constant little peeping noises?  ADORABLE.

The portico of Old Main.

And when I say I took architectural photos, this is the sort of thing I mean.  Maybe it'll wind up as part of a cross-stitch pattern someday.

I didn't say it was an exciting trip, just a really nice one.


Up next: a weekend in the mountains, and Murphy the Wonder Horse.



* Oh, dear.  That makes it sound like we're exhausted because of his parents.  That came out wrong.  The whole darn month's been tiring.  Collectively.

** Corn-nuts^, but no bon-bons.  What are bon-bons, anyway?

         ^ Yes, corn-nuts.  I'm addicted to the darn things.  Don't judge me.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Romantic Weekend with Alligators, Part II

"But, Anna!  You promised there would be alligators!  And there weren't any!!!"

I know, I know.  And now I shall make it up to you.  Last time, I told you all about a boat ride and a fort*.

The day after the Sumter boat ride, we drove up the Ashley River Road to the Magnolia Plantation.  For reasons.  Two years ago, The Cajun's Best Friend (CBF) married his Amazingly Wonderful Bride (AWB) at Magnolia, but we didn't get to see much of the touristy part of the plantation because we were so busy with wedding preparations**.  So on this visit, we wanted to see what we'd missed. 


The wedding was in/next to that building on the left.
 
Magnolia started off as your typical Lowcountry South Carolina rice plantation, but after the Civil War, it morphed into a Tourist Destination for its garden (one of the first locations like it in the country, actually.  Its history is really cool.  Go there.), and it's been drawing visitors in ever since. 


We were there at azalea time.  Yay!

The house and gardens are really lovely, but the best part of the visit was the Swamp Garden.

"What's a Swamp Garden?"  Well, it's a garden in a swamp, naturally.  Actually, it's not a garden like the artfully arranged flowers and manicured lawns of the main plantation.  The Audubon Swamp Garden (yes, named for that dude who drew the birds) is more about the water and the trees and the things that grow there all by themselves, rather than what's been planted.  And it's amazing.


The beginning of the Swamp Garden trail.

You start to wander the boardwalk, thinking to yourself, "Gosh, there's not much here.  And what's all this green slime about?"  And then you realize that the green slime is actually gazillions of eensy green leaves, and then you see something move out of the corner your eye, and say, "Hey, there's a turtle!"  And then you see another one, and another one, and then 5 different types of ducks, and then you see a dozen turtles jostling each other on a log, and then you realize that there's a rather large alligator next to them, and then you round a corner and see...

His nose is behind a branch.  He's about 2 1/2 feet long.  Awww...

This little guy, who was hanging out very quietly by the edge of the water, probably hoping not to get eaten by one of the big guys.  And once we noticed one 'gator, they were EVERYWHERE.


Egret on the right, gator in the lower left.  Moving somewhat quickly towards shore.  We left.

A little farther on, and we looked at some rather barren-looking trees, and said to each other, "Look at all the litter that's been blown in there!  Someone should clean that up!"  Except that, upon further examination (and cleaning of our glasses), the litter turned out to be...


All those white spots?  Birds.  Dozens of them.

A White Egret nesting grounds.  The darker spots higher up are Great Blue Heron nests.  I've never seen so many birds in my life.


They were EVERYWHERE.


After a while, our leisurely walk slowed to crawl, as we scrutinized every inch of swamp and tree for more wildlife, pointing out the good stuff to each other.  And there were 3 or 4 other varieties of heron and egret and ibises and all kinds of birds.  We did not see snakes (fine by me), but I'm sure there were loads of them lurking, too.  The brochure says to allow about an hour for the garden, but if you enjoy critter-spotting, I would allow more like 2 or 3.  We could have spent all day there.


Alligator covered in duckweed, dead center.  See him?

Final critter count:

     Alligators: ~15
     Turtles: too many to count
     White Egrets: 50-60
     Ibises: ~10
     Cute little lizards***: 2
     Great Blue Herons: 20-30
     Little Blue Herons: 5 or 6
     Frogs: Lots
     Ducks (various types): Many


So, Get Ye Hence to Charleston, and to the Magnolia Plantation, and to Fort Sumter.  I have restaurant recommendations, too.  Lots of them.

Seriously.  Go now.


* Well, actually, I showed you pictures and said, "Look!  There it is!"  Same thing, right?

** This is NOT a reflection on the Happy Couple; we were having way too much fun decorating and catching up with old friends to do much touristy stuff.  It was a fair trade.

*** Hey, I don't know exactly what kind they are, but they're about 3 inches long, and they're ADORABLE.  See?


He was showing off for a nearby lady lizard.  Handsome devil, no?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Romantic Weekend with Alligators, Part I

Today (that is, last week, since I write slowly), it is 55° (F) out and absolutely pouring with rain.  It was also like this yesterday, and the forecast says that it will probably continue like this for the next 3-4 days.  Looks as though all of our "April Showers" are coming at once*, and late, at that.  So, since I'm sure as heck won't be receiving any inspiration from my local environment, let me tell you about something cool we did over Easter weekend.

There are a few cities in the U.S. that I absolutely LOVE to spend time in.  LOVE.  New Orleans, Chicago, Washington DC, and... Charleston.  Charleston is beautiful, full of wonderful food, great shopping, fascinating history, hospitable people, and a lovely, walkable downtown.  And the best part?  It's only a 3-hour drive from home.  So, when we found ourselves in need of a break a few weeks ago, we made a beeline down I-26 and soon found ourselves wandering the gracious streets of Charleston.  As it happens, I was having such a great time wandering (and EATING.  Seriously, this town is nearly as good for food as New Orleans is.  Which is saying quite a bit.), that I forgot to take many pictures.  Fortunately, I'm sure there will be many opportunities for Charleston posts over the next years, so I can concentrate on the two neatest things we did.  One of the lovely things about Charleston is that you don't have to have an agenda.  You can, quite easily, spend your entire trip happily wandering the streets beneath the live oaks, peeking into mysterious gardens, admiring the fantastic wrought-iron gates, and window-shopping at all the cool little boutiques on King St.  On the other hand, if you're more of a See-All-the-Things type of vacationer**, there are plenty of things to do and see and learn.


Approaching the fort.  Ahoy!

The first one did not involve alligators, but did involve a boat, which is nearly as good.  We visited Fort Sumter (where the American Civil War began***), which, being strategically located in the middle of the harbor, means that you have to take a ferry to get there.  Fine with me; I love boats.  We spent a happy hour speeding through the harbor, being chased by seagulls and dolphins, a happy hour exploring the fort and its little museum, and another hour speeding back home again.


Looking back at the New Cooper River Bridge, with gulls in hot pursuit

Fort Sumter isn't a big place, but it's of HUGE importance in the evolution of the war, and, as a Yankee who received a decidedly one-sided education when it comes to this particular conflict, it was really neat to get a better feel for what was actually going on.  It was also something of a shock to see how close together everything is; guns and cannons didn't shoot very far back in those days.



A big gun.

There is a LOT of history packed into this area of the harbor, so I'm not going offer much commentary, other than to say that it's really interesting and completely worth the trip, and I recommend it.  Also, boat ride!


Inside the fort.  Looks rather small, doesn't it?

... and outside the fort.  And there's our boat.


* The Cajun was in London last week, and the weather was substantially nicer there.  How sad is that?

**  I tend towards this more than I'd like.  It's taken me a long time to realize that vacations should be relaxing and that I should not need another vacation to recover from the original vacation when I get home.

***  I specify American Civil War because I have some English readers, and their Civil War is different, and much longer ago.  And involved Oliver Cromwell, who was a particularly nasty individual with no sense of humor.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Giant Snakes, Cement Mixers, and the Eiffel Tower

Sounds like a dream I had one night after eating way too much pizza.


I believe I mentioned in an earlier entry, in the episode in which I spent the afternoon hiding from the weather, that I had had a wee vacation to help me calm down.  Obviously, it wasn't planned that way, but it was rather fortuitous.


No idea how this compares to the real thing, but it's pretty.

And what could be a more calming location than Vegas?  For the 2nd year in a row, The Cajun had a conference in January in Las Vegas, and, for the 2nd year in a row, I stamped my little feet and demanded to be taken along.  This time, however, I knew what to expect, so it wasn't quite such a shock to see a flock of flamingos in a hotel lobby*, or a flock of Transformers on the sidewalk, having their pictures taken.  We stayed in Paris this year, which I highly recommend, not just because it's a nicely central location and it's pretty, but because it's relatively easy to find your way in and out of the building.  Some of these casinos force you to run an obstacle course around their slot machines before they'll let you leave.  Oh, and Paris has a crepe stand where I saw Elvis buying his lunch one day.









I am, however, fairly certain that the original Arc de Triomphe does not have Gordon Ramsay's picture on it.

This trip, we spent less time doing touristy stuff and more time with several groups of old friends, and had a truly splendid and decadent brunch at the Palms**, but the truly eye-opening experience was the conference we were there for***.  I'm used to conferences.  I've been to countless library conferences - the American Library Association, the Association for Research and College Libraries, the Charleston Conference - and any number of American Chemistry Society meetings (both for my benefit and The Cajun's), and even hung out at the American Historical Association one year.  But these are academic conferences, full of men in tweed jackets and women in sensible shoes****, all frequently discussing e-book licensing or the latest findings at Jamestown or what-have-you.


This is not ALA.

The World of Concrete is different.  At ALA, we have one or two good-sized exhibit halls, full of furniture and microfilm readers and, of course, miles and miles and miles of books†.  World of Concrete has THREE HUGE exhibit halls full of paving equipment and concrete mixers with flames painted on them, plus a very large parking lot where people are racing cement-finishing equipment and doing tricks with front-end loaders.  This makes our Parade of Bookmobiles look a little shabby††.




It has flames on it.  And it's suspended 6 feet in the air.  Awesome.


These people are racing on cement finishing equipment.  Earlier, they were doing slalom courses.

It was, as expected, a trifle overwhelming, but, since I didn't have any responsibilities other than wander around and stare at things, it was fun.  And I learned a tremendous amount about what you can and can't do with concrete, which I'm sure will be useful someday.

The other neat thing about our trip was that, like last year, we were there right around the Chinese New Year, which meant that the entire city was decked out in fabulous, Year-of-the-Snake-y glory.  Some of the fancier hotels like the Bellagio and the Venetian really go all out, and the displays are spectacular.  I shall leave you to them.  Enjoy!


In the atrium of the Bellagio.


Inside the Venetian.  His eyes open and close, and his tongue moves.  Lovely.



* Okay, so they're just outside the lobby.  Still.  Flamingos!

** Which was notable not just because I had the opportunity to eat my own weight in both Eggs Benedict and sushi, but also because there were Beautiful People hanging out in the pool outside the windows, trying desperately to be noticed.  How do I know they were trying desperately?  Because when it's 55 degrees out, and you're still lounging around in a bikini and big sunglasses and CONSTANTLY looking over your shoulder into the restaurant to see who's noticing you?  That smacks of desperation, dearie.

*** Or "the conference for which we were there."  My apologies to the editors in my life.  And, yes, there are enough of them that that apology needed to be made.

**** Lest you think I am making fun of sensible shoes, let me hasten to inform you that I am one of these women in sensible shoes.  My Dansko clogs have frequently been the only thing between 10 acres of exhibit space and agony.

† And also a talking robot selling automation systems, and an Elvis impersonator selling security systems.  I'm not saying it's not a creepy place.

†† Though we still have the Bookcart Drill Team Competition, which is as fabulous as you can get, cement mixers or no cement mixers.



And, finally, Lake Mead, as I left to fly home.  Glorious.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Post for All Seasons

Remember last year, when I discussed how it was more difficult to appreciate Spring when you didn't have a proper Winter beforehand?  Well, that was less of a problem this year.  No, we didn't get the 1,004,385 feet of snow that my parents had in Connecticut (some of which fell while I was visiting last month.  Thanks, weather gods.  Really.), but it was cold*, and it's still cold**, and... We Had Snow!  Twice!


Yes, that's our chimney starter.  I keep forgetting to bring it in.


OK, so the second time doesn't count; flakes were falling through the air, but they vanished before they made contact with the ground.  But the first time did count, especially to the kids in my neighborhood.


No, it never did stick to the road or pavement.

No, it doesn't look like much (in actual fact, the grass was completely covered by the time it stopped), but the neighbor kids managed to scrape up enough snow to build some very credible snowmen (4+ feet high, no less), and used the remaining snow (i.e., the stuff in my yard) to have an epic snowball fight in our cul-de-sac.  It was wonderful to behold, and the fact that it was a Saturday meant that all the dads were home and could (and did, gleefully) participate.

Of course, all the white stuff was gone 36 hours later, leaving nothing but decaying snowmen listing sadly on their lawns by the time The Cajun got home from northern British Columbia (where, ironically, there was no snow at all).  He was sad about that.

Actually, we nearly had three snowfalls; there was a Friday in January when the forecast was grim enough that the schools closed at 11:00, The Cajun's workplace closed at 12:00, and the public libraries all closed at 1:00, and guess what?  You're right, not a single flake fell.  Not.  One.  Which is probably why the grocery store was so quiet that morning***.  My friend B says that South Carolinians tend not to panic about snow forecasts because there's no reason to believe it's going to happen until it actually does.  Then you can panic.

So I finally have my proof that The Upstate does, in fact, have four seasons, for which I am profoundly grateful.  Bring on Spring!  Bring on the flowers!  Bring on... the pollen.  Dang.




* And by cold, I do actually mean that it went and stayed below freezing for more than 24 hours at a time.  I still didn't get out my real winter coats or boots, but I wore scarves and hats and gloves FAR more than I did last year.

** Last year at this time, I'd already run the air conditioning several times.  And discovered that it didn't work, and had a repairman come in to inform me that we, quite literally, had a bug in the system.  A moth got stuck in the compressor outdoors and fried his little fuzzy self.  Fortunately, an easy fix.

*** If this had been Boston, the TV news would have issued French Toast Warnings, and the grocery stores would have been full of rioting customers trying to get their hands on the last containers of milk, eggs, bread, and toilet paper.  No, that is not hyperbole.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

When *I* Was a Girl...

Or, Hey You Kids Get Off of My Lawn.


The Girl Scouts were out in front of Lowe's this weekend.  All over the country, you've seen them, waving baked goods with cheery expressions on their faces, holding up their homemade signs, and blithely chanting that devilish phrase:

"Would you like to buy some cookies?"

Please understand, I myself am a lifelong Girl Scout, and so is my mother.  I have been a junior, a cadette, a senior, and an adult scout; I have been to two national Wider Opportunity camps, participated in the convention for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, and have spent an entire summer employed as a Girl Scout Camp Counselor*.  And I, too, spent at least 4 years combing the nearby neighborhoods of my hometown, ringing doorbells and thwacking doorknockers to sell a garage full of cookies**.  Back then, my parents would never bring my sign-up sheet into work to ask their co-workers to buy cookies, and we never did "booth sales," like the girls you see out in front of Home Depot or the grocery.  I had to get every single one of those orders by myself, and deliver them, too.  On the one hand, I envy today's girls - it certainly seems easier to do it the way they're doing.  On the other hand, it was nice to live in a world where it was safe for me to wander the streets on my own, ringing the doorbells of friends and strangers alike, and frequently go into their houses while they decided what kind of cookies they wanted.  That may have been only (gulp) 25 years ago, but if I had a daughter, I'm not sure I'd let her do that today.

But back to those young ladies at Lowe's.  As we walked towards the door, I saw the signs by the stacks of cookies and inadvertently yelped, "$3.50?!?  Really?  When I was..."  At which point, The Cajun grabbed me by the elbow, smiled apologetically at the girls, and steered me firmly into the store and towards the window coverings section.

There is a Story here: when I was selling cookies, I would frequently start my efforts at the home of my next-door neighbors, The Baileys***, because a.) they were next door and b.) I knew they'd buy a whole bunch of boxes.  However, in order to earn my sale from Mrs. Bailey, I would have to go through the same ritual every year.  First, I would have to explain to her all the new offerings (if any) and which cookies weren't being offered this year (if any).  Then, I would have to listen to her tell me all about how she sold cookies when she was a girl, and that they were only 25 cents a box!  Can you imagine!  And how appalled everyone was when they went up to 50 cents!  And then she would tell me the story of how she had appeared on the cover of the official Girl Scout magazine when she was a girl, and that Mr. Bailey had seen her picture on his sister's copy, and said, "I don't know who that girl is, but I'm going to marry her someday," and that several years later, they did meet, and he did marry her****.  And every year, she would order a huge number of boxes, and give me a hug, and say, "I just can't believe how expensive they've gotten," and shake her head.

The Cajun has heard me tell this story any number of times, which is why he made that grab for my elbow.  Because otherwise, he knew perfectly well that I was about to channel Mrs. Bailey and tell those girls all about how boxes were only $1.50 when I started selling, and that it was almost a relief when the price finally went up to $2.00 because it was harder to do the arithmetic in your head when they were $1.75.  And that I'm pretty sure those boxes had more cookies in them back then, too.  Of course, then I would have bought a whole bunch of boxes to make up for it, which would have been great for the girls, but not so good for my waistline.  I have pretty good willpower around a lot of things, but I can and will polish off an entire box of Samoas by myself in one sitting, and woe betide the individual who tries to pry it out of my hands.  Tagalongs are nearly as bad.

So, please, if you see a group of cheerful, polite Girl Scouts hawking their wares at your local shopping establishment, do what I couldn't, and patronize them without patronizing them, if you catch my meaning.  Sure, the cookies are on the expensive side, but it's not really about the cookies (although they are incredibly good): the money from those sales may be sending those girls to camp, or helping the troop pay for an outing or a service project, and it's certainly helping support scouting nationwide.  What could be better?†




* Which, incidentally, is where a fair amount of my grey hair came from.

** I know it was a garage full because when all my orders came in, they filled our garage.  Let's hear it for my patient mother, who drove me around to both get the orders, and, several months later, deliver them.  It was not a task for the timid.  Particularly since, I don't mind telling you, I was the top seller in town for 3 years.  When I stopped selling, Mom went through such withdrawal that she volunteered to be the town cookie coordinator the next year.  And then she did such a great job that they asked her to keep doing it.  The dangers of competency...

*** Not their real name, of course, but they did have a beautiful Golden Retriever named Bailey, who never, ever barked.  Ever.  Even when our beagle, who loathed all Golden Retrievers on general principles (no idea why) threw his regular hissy fits at him.  He was a great dog.

**** Which is a completely true story, by the way, and I loved hearing it every year.

† Except, perhaps, having a freezer full of Thin Mints.  Alas.