Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tough Love

An open letter to graduating seniors from The Real World:
As you will be joining me shortly, I wanted to give you a little friendly advice because things are very different here.
Hang on to your laptops, cameras, cellphones, PDAs, sunglasses, books, pens, jewelry and everything else you value.  If you lose them when you get here, you are unlikely to have them returned.  Forget the nice emails where you ask for them back.  By the time you send those, your belongings will already have been sold to the highest bidder.
Plan to park legally.  I really don’t care what your excuse is.  If you are parked where you aren’t supposed to be, I will ticket you.  And you will be paying the ticket.  Don’t think I care if you are driving someone else’s car or using someone else’s sticker.  I will simply bill them.  And they will need to pay.  And I won’t give up until I get the money.
Late is late.  If you need to meet a deadline, plan on having the door shut in your face if you don’t.  Again, save your excuses, I really don’t care.  There are plenty of people ahead of you in line who cared enough to meet the deadline and those are the ones that are going to get the good stuff. Whatever it happens to be.  Don’t bring a note from home because I don’t care about that either.
Don’t expect me to pick up after you.  If you don’t bring your dishes back to the dining hall, there will be no more and you will do without.  If you don’t pick up your trash, expect to sit in it.  If you don’t do your laundry, you will be wearing dirty clothes.  If you damage your surroundings, you will pay to get them fixed.
Rules are rules.  If you break them, we are not going to sit around and talk about how it makes you feel.  I will fine you, arrest you or penalize you depending on where I happen to sit on the day you cross the line.  And the rules do apply to you.  You are not special.  I don’t care if you overslept, you just need an extra day or your dog ate it.  Chances are you are not going to talk your way out of it.
Things are not going to be decided by committee.  They will be decided by people older and wiser who have more experience than you.  You will need to live by those decisions.  Deal with it.
Unless you are independently wealthy (and maybe even then), you are going to start at the bottom and pay a whole lotta dues.  You aren’t going to play the lead.  I don’t really care how special you were in school.  Things tend to start over here.
Respect everyone around you.  YOU are the newcomer and it will be your job to adjust, not everyone else’s.  You are a speck as far as I’m concerned and while it is important to have an opinion, remember that it is your opinion, not the opinion.  You aren’t right about everything.  You may not even be right about anything.  Trust me on this one.
So plan on growing up over the summer and thinking long and hard about how you will behave when you cross into my territory.  I am going to play hardball.  If you respect me and how I do business, you and I will get along just fine.  However, if you think I owe you something, you are in for a world of hurt.  Decide fast because as I said, I really don’t care what your excuse is.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Houston we have a problem . . .

I recently bought my husband his own laptop.  He uses it mainly for email and web research.  It is a fairly simple, straightforward laptop.  No bells, no whistles, pretty much what Staples had on sale.  I have several computers in my home office but they are geared toward the kind of IT work I do.  My own background is in computer science and my ‘day job’ consists of a lot of programming, systems analysis, report writing and other high-geek stuff that I won’t bore you with.  Suffice it to say that the computers that I work on are not exactly user-friendly.  In fact, I would characterize some of them as positively user-hostile.  Hence the need for a simple laptop to perform straightforward tasks.
My husband had been using an older laptop of mine whose hard drive finally went to the big component roundup in the sky.  I was lucky enough to creep in an electronic back door and salvage all of his email and document history before the thing gave up the ghost.  I set up his new laptop with all of his internet history and his entire email configuration so he did not lose anything.  Given the state of the old laptop, pulling this off was the IT equivalent of skating’s quad jump.  I was justifiably proud of myself.
So why am I telling you all this?  Simply because today, I wanted to look something up quickly so I sat down with my husband’s laptop.  SOMEHOW I pressed just the right – or wrong as it happens – combination of keys which turned the entire display upside down.  Not kidding.  I also apparently got the keypad to work upside down and backwards.  Seriously.  So there I am, sitting in a chair in the family room staring open-mouthed at something I have a.) never seen before and b.) wasn’t even aware you could do.
OK.  So question number one.  How is this ever useful?  I guess if you were weightless in space this might – and I emphasize might – come in handy.  Other than that I have no clue.  And since I have never been nor do I ever intend to work in outer space, any other use this might serve escapes me entirely.  Maybe the manufacturers included this just to prove that they could.  Again, no idea.  It’s a really nice laptop and it was very reasonably priced.  This clearly was not on my ‘must have’ feature list (is it on anyone's?) and is about as meaningful for me as those pens that can write upside down – also, by the way, designed for the apparent hoards of people reporting for work beyond the stratosphere.
So if we remove astronauts from the mix, I’m guessing the number of people salivating for this particular feature is right around, just guessing here – ZERO.  HOWEVER, and judging from the research I did on the Internet, there is a considerably larger number trying to figure out how to DISABLE it.  This I located in pretty short order.
Fixing it required logging back into the computer upside down and left to right.  Up is down, right is left: you get the picture.  Then I simply had to press three keys together and –voila – back to planet earth.
So I spent a half hour learning a valuable lesson about how to fix something that makes no sense in the first place.  Which, come to think of it, pretty neatly sums up my day job in a nutshell.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Deliver us from Weevils

OK – as always, I will begin with the back story.  Many years ago, I had a little Meyer Lemon tree.  It grew in a sunny corner of our family room and when it was filled with flowers, the wonderful spicy smell filled the room.  Long story short, it died.  Since then, I have wanted another.  Fast forward to Christmas of 2009 when a tall cardboard box appeared under the Christmas tree.  I was given specific instructions not to touch, move or rattle so the secret of its contents would remain, well, a secret.  So naturally, I deduced immediately that it was a new little Meyer Lemon tree.  We all played the “you’ll never guess what this is” game for about six seconds when I stunned everyone by correctly guessing that they had gotten me another tree.
Meyer Lemons are difficult to grow in New England.  They need just the right combination of light, heat and moisture and will either bear fruit, or not, live or drop dead, based on some cosmic whim at which we mere humans can only speculate.  My husband, who has an unfailingly green thumb, took this problem ‘child’ on as a special project.  I should mention that he is eminently qualified to do so because he has a thriving crop of fig trees and has these Mediterranean natives flourishing and bearing fruit even in our wintry corner of the world.
He experimented with different soil mixes, fertilizers and finally, after many months, my little lemon tree began to leaf out and set flowers that did not drop but instead, grew into lemons.  And here is where our story begins.
Around November of last year, our daughter called to say that upon arriving home from work, she found a notice taped to her door stating that she had been visited by a USDA agent and that she should call as soon as possible.  Imagine her surprise upon learning that their visit to her home in Nebraska concerned the tree she purchased for me in her name back in December of 2009. 
This tree that had been bought from a dealer in Georgia in fact, came from Florida where there is a ban on exporting citrus trees of any kind due to some kind of disease or parasite – I neither know nor care which.  Apparently, the dealer had been travelling across state lines and illicitly bringing back <gasp> Meyer Lemon trees and selling them over the Internet.  The USDA caught up with him and was in the process of tracking down each and every Meyer Lemon tree, rounding them up and destroying them.   My daughter told the USDA that it was a Christmas present and that it was at our house in Massachusetts.   We both promptly forgot all about it.
So let’s stop right here.  The same government that has no handle on how many whackadoodles  are wandering around the U.S. planning to blow us to Kingdom Come tracked down ONE LEMON TREE.  But wait, as the man says, there’s more.
Fast forward again to December of last year and a ring of my doorbell.  A nice young man in uniform presents himself, his USDA credentials and his shiny badge and asks me in his very best NCIS voice if the infamous tree is on the premises and would I lead him to it.  My tree, which, at this point, has about eight nice lemons all about to go completely ripe and is the picture of, if not complete health, at least a tree nicely on its way.
He is very sorry but he is going to have to SEIZE the tree.   Which, after much signing of things in triplicate, he does.  By my estimate, the United States government has now invested a LOT of time and money to this point to track me down, come to my house and separate me from my fruit tree.
And now, gentle reader, you might be tempted to assume our story ends.  BUT NO.  I received a phone call not 2 hours ago from my father who played a message on his answering machine from the USDA regarding a Meyer Lemon Tree and giving a contact name and phone number.
Here is where your author went a little off the rails.  No sooner did I hang up from speaking with my father but I dialed the USDA.  I explained the thoroughness and care with which the USDA brought its not inconsiderable investigative power to bear on the mystery of my MEYER LEMON TREE OF DEATH.  On how they prevented a serious outbreak of Citrus Whatsis in the vast lemon orchards of New England, which, as we all know, is a major player in the citrus industry.  Or not as the case may be.  I explained that they had tracked down my daughter, me AND NOW MY PARENTS all in the cause of finding one tiny tree who never did anything but make me happy and smell nice.
I suggested that the agent round up all of his coworkers and that they report forthwith to the Department of Homeland Security where they should tell everyone at the TSA  (who are now apparently sanctioning the pat-down of six year olds at the airport) to step aside and that they would take over.  I said that if they could track one plant across time and space, their time might be better spent protecting me from TERRORISTS inasmuch as I do not feel especially threatened by PIECES OF FRUIT.
How can the same government manage to locate a single tree and, I might add PUT  A STICKER ON EVERY SINGLE APPLE IN EVERY SINGLE SUPERMARKET and  yet lose track of maniacs riding around with enough explosives in the trunk to take out a city block?  Never mind full-body radar.  Put a couple of these guys at the airport and we’ll see who has a bomb in their underwear.  Now we’re talkin’.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lost and Found

There is a story told about my husband’s aunt and uncle who lived in rural Illinois. After driving around and around getting further and further lost, the aunt spotted a farmer out in a field on his tractor. Believing he could help them find their destination, she immediately insisted that her husband stop the car and get out and ask the farmer if he knew anything. To which the uncle finally agreed. He pulled over and walked to the fence. He motioned the old farmer over. Slowly, the tractor made its way to the edge of the field bordering the road. Slowly, the farmer got out of his tractor and ambled over to where the uncle was standing. The uncle looked him up and down and said, “My wife wants to know if you know anything.” At this the old farmer stopped, looked at the uncle and replied, “Nope. I don’t guess I do.” At which point the farmer went back to his tractor and the uncle, back to the car. His wife immediately demanded, “Well? Did he know anything?” To which the uncle replied, “Nope. I don’t guess he did.” All I can say is that it is a damn good thing she was not privy to the preceding conversation.

If I ever get lost, I have told my husband to grab the nearest female to help him look for me. Otherwise, I swear to god, he will drive by my last known location, roll down the window, slow down, look out the open window and go “Nope. Not here.” and drive on home. I don’t for one minute believe that this is confined to him; I think it goes with the testosterone territory.

Men have a kind of selective homing sense. They can’t find a car in the driveway but that last pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream that you’ve hidden underneath four packages of frozen hamburger meat, 2 boxes of corn and a roll of low cal ice cream sandwiches is just not safe. Trust me on this one.

Part of it ladies, is our fault. They ask where it is. We tell them. They tell us it isn’t there. Then WE jump up to prove – YES – THERE IT IS, RIGHT WHERE I SAID IT WAS. So let’s see what just really happened. They weren’t motivated to look for it in the first place – they knew that. They also KNEW which of our buttons to push. They knew that if they didn’t really look, we would stop whatever we were doing, run over there and just GET THE DAMN THING FOR THEM. I believe that generations of women have actually altered the DNA of men so that they are no longer able to locate things even with directions. In a few short thousand years from now, men will stop even looking for things. This will become known exclusively as the province of females and emerge as a marketable skill. Single men will be able to hire women to find a whole range of items from car keys to girlfriends.

I have a mania about lost things. They unsettle me. If I’ve realized I’ve lost something, I really can’t focus properly until I find it. I once bought one of those clapping devices that help you find lost keys. That worked great until I lost the clappy thing. To be fair, it was pretty small. If it were the size of say, my REFRIGERATOR, it might not have been an issue. Also, I have never, ever, ONCE lost my refrigerator. Or forgotten where it was. If anyone comes up with a refrigerator that can also find lost keys, I will be all over it.

So that’s the word for today. If you will excuse me, I have to go do something. Just can’t remember what it is . . .

My Sew Perfect Day Sew Far

Like a lot of things, this begins with a back story so bear with me.  About 2 months ago, my husband and I bought two La-Z-Boy recliners to replace the two derelict ones we had in our family room. (By the way, never look at your discarded furniture when it is outside in the sunlight waiting to be picked up.  However bad it looked inside, trust me, it looks ten times worse in the light of day.)
But I digress.  The new chairs arrived ahead of schedule but when they did arrive, I noticed that the fabric squares usually provided for the protection of the back and arms of the chair did not arrive.  So I called my friendly showroom only to be told that the reason they didn’t arrive is that they are no longer included.  For a ‘nominal’ fee – and I don’t know what your idea of nominal is but around eighty bucks a chair doesn’t qualify in my book – they could be sent to me.  And I should mention that this princely sum buys three 16”x16” square pieces of fabric.   I asked if I could just buy a yard of the material and was happy to find out that I could and at a fraction of the cost so I ordered a yard.
Fast forward to Saturday when a package arrived containing my fabric.  Here is where, as the British say, things began to go pear-shaped.  I took the fabric to my sewing room and tried to find a matching spool of thread.  It turns out I have thread for almost every other conceivable sewing project.  But not this one.  Not this particular shade of blueish, greyish, greenish.  This is apparently a HIGHLY popular color in La-Z-Boy circles, but not at my house.
Fast forward again to today when I decided to visit my local quilt shop.  I located the thread, bought a couple of spools and got back in my car.  Fortunately, I remembered that I also needed the little screw pins to hold the squares against the back of the chairs (more about those later) so I backed right back into my parking space and went back into the store.
Upon arriving back at home, I unpacked the serger (trims and sews a clean finished edge on fabric), and began to change the thread color.  My mother-in-law whose serger this is taught me a handy trick for changing thread.  Instead of pulling the old color out, just cut the old and tie the new on.  Yah.  Not so much.  Picture one of those corn mazes shrunk down to the size of a slice of bread.  Only without the neat little “I give up” flag you get to raise in the air if you get lost.  Now picture four of them.  Yup, so four strands of thread that weave mysteriously around little color-coded bits of metal.  And the instructions are written for people with more than two hands - a lot of "swing presser foot out while turning wheel while threading . . ." Whoa.  That's three hands right there and they weren't finished yet.  Every time you get one threaded and go onto the next, you manage to yank the first one out of place.  Hooray!  This is FUN!  So 2 hours pass and I’m not going to lie to you – bad words were said.  Out loud.
Now it’s time to take the serged squares fold and sew the edges.  I haven’t used the sewing machine in a while and apparently all of the little holes in the bobbins have shrunk in size by at least 50%.  Or at least that’s what it feels like when I try to thread one of them.  Amazingly, the sewing part was pretty uneventful.  Now time to fasten them to the chairs.
I don’t know if you have ever seen one of these gizmos they call screw pins.  Picture a small plastic button on top of a wickedly sharp corkscrew affair.  Put your square of fabric on top of the chair, affix a screw pin and start twisting.  At least that’s the theory.  While these time-saving devices are quick to screw themselves into anything else, including I might add, body parts like FINGERS, getting them into two layers of upholstery fabric is just not as easy as it looks.   And after I did get five of these suckers in there, turns out they were in the wrong place AND guess what – just as hard to get them out as it is to get them in.
So now it is almost 2 PM.  I have done nothing else today but fool with two squares of fabric.  Two squares, I might add, I could have bought ready-made.  They seemed like a huge rip-off at the time but now?  Not so much.

Friday, March 18, 2011

On Sports

Sports-wise, I have pretty simple needs.  College football on Saturdays – BC and Notre Dame and pros on Sunday – in this order: New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, NY Giants (love me some Manning QBs) and then a selection of teams which vary by year.  The occasional Red Sox game.  Once in a great while, a Bruins game.  But basketball?  The Celtics?  Not likely.  Soccer?  Never.

You have to keep in mind that I come from an area of the country that up until 2001 from the football and baseball perspectives was pretty much a sad story.  Not Cubs-sad, but almost.  We have had some classic disappointments.  If you wanna hear a Bostonian groan, just say the name Billy Buckner.  Not gonna explain.  Still hurts.  Google it.

Then in 2001, a miracle occurred.  Adam Vinatieri kicked a field goal in the last seconds of the game and the Pats went on to win Superbowl 35 or as the Latin scholars of the NFL refer to it, XXXV.  Then, in 2004, lightning struck in the same spot again as the Boston Red Sox grabbed their first World Series title in 86 years.

Hockey Stanley Cups and basketball championships have been ours in recent memory.  But the point is, I don’t care.  Especially basketball.  I’m Short Attention Span Suzy; when the score creeps up above hundred, I lose interest.  Plus I’m used to being able to follow along and catch on.  Basketball?  Not so much.  And the rules seem, well they just seem made up.  You can’t walk without bouncing the ball, you have to throw the ball at the net in a certain amount of seconds.  That free throw thing where you try to shoot while the other kids are making fun of you?  Uhuh.  Call me crazy but the last time I encountered rules that whacky, I was on a playground.  Still can’t believe professional basketball has no rule about not stepping on a crack.

We are big celebrators here.  If you want evidence, just show up for the St. Paddy’s day parade in Southie.  We party hearty (picture it with the accent) and if you want to know how our teams did, don’t ask us – just look us in the eye on the day after.  We experienced collective elation after our first Superbowl win and the entire area took the day off to watch the Red Sox take their victory parade lap through the streets of Boston in 2004.  When we tanked in this season’s football playoffs, we suffered a kind of communal depression.  People didn’t show up for work.  OK – to be fair – people don’t show up for work after a win but that is for different reasons, mostly to do with grain alcohol.

There are now a whole generation of kids that have no idea what it is like to lose year after year after unrelenting year.  These are kids who come from the home of the superstar Pats and Tom “Ponytail” Brady, from the mighty World Series Red Sox and Schilling’s Bloody Sock.  They just have no idea what sports suffering is.  Does it make us oldtimers better people?  I like to think so.

Extraterrestrial Abductions Day

March 20th is apparently Extraterrestrial Abductions Day.  Really?  Do these nut jobs need yet another platform from which to advertise their already tenuous grip on reality?  Personally, if I was sticking by my story that I been taken up to the mother ship, I probably wouldn’t be going public with it.  I can’t imagine this ever ends well.  In fact, I rather suspect that a lot of these people go on to be the subject of nightly news segments featuring 500 cats and a copy of every newspaper since the Eisenhower administration. 
Then again, who am I to question?  If the memories, real or otherwise, of being abducted by aliens make people happy, far be it from me to disillusion them.  A better question is why a civilization technologically advanced enough to visit us from billions of light years away is so inordinately focused on extracting strategic information from the wrong end.  It’s just that no one really talks about the kind of alien abduction where the abductee is interviewed by a panel of dignitaries, given light refreshments and sent on their merry way.  Nope, all of these encounters pretty much run along the same rather distressing lines.
And now they have their own day.  I just don’t imagine there will be too many cards.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I stand corrected . . .

Tony, the head of Bee School, was kind enough to correct some factual errors from my posting.  To paraphrase:
1.   "A package of bees contain 13,000 bees, not 30,000"

First, I need to clarify.  New bees arrive in two methods:  one is a Nucleus Colony or ‘nuc’ and the other is a ‘package’.  Up to now, I have thought of packages pretty much in terms of neat stuff delivered by UPS or brightly wrapped boxes filled with happy surprises.  Really hadn’t occurred to me to think in terms of a little wire cage containing three pounds of bees.  Three pounds.  Think about THAT when you are tearing into your next birthday present . . .

Wish I could respond to the knowledge that I was 17 thousand bees too high on my bee estimate by saying , “Oh, well in THAT case.”  But I can’t.  Let’s face it.  Until someone comes up with a way to run a fully functioning hive with, say, two or three really laid back bees, I will continue to need smoke.  I mean the bees will.  Oh hell, who am I kidding. . .

2.   "The drones of the hive DO NOT mate with the queen of the hive.  The drones go to a congregation area in nature, about 300 feet up in the air and virgin queens go for their mating. They mate with 10-20 drones, each one dies, the queen returns to the hive with the last drone's male apparatus with her, then discards it and goes about resting till she is completely mature."

Now THAT’S commitment.   What more can I say?

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Birds and the Bees

Actually, I lied.  I just said Birds and Bees to get your attention.  This post has nothing to do with birds.  My husband and I are attending Bee School.  It has always been a vision of mine to raise bees.  Actually, that’s not strictly true.  It’s always been a dream to have my own honey.  The fact that bees make it and one has to keep bees in order to make that happen has always been something of a show stopper.

Bees and I are not typically on speaking terms.  Given that they are all ‘packing heat’ as it were, I tend to keep my distance.  But knowing that I had to get past dealing with the manufacturer to get my hands on the product, I decided that this was the year.

This is a very informative class.  We are learning a lot about these fascinating creatures, myths and facts.  We have a diverse class – there is at least one urban farmer, a representative of a hotel who plans to keep hives in the hotel’s rooftop garden as well as a host of experienced beekeepers, some of them at it for forty plus years.

Here then are some of the more fascinating bee facts and myths:

The Bee Dance

Bees forage for nectar and pollen.  In nice weather, they fly out mid-morning and return mid-afternoon laden with the stuff.  Here is the amazing thing.  Once inside the hive, where, mind you it is PITCH DARK, they do a series of dances to communicate the specific location of the flowers from where they have just returned.  In this way, other bees who have not been there are able to return to the same location the very next day.

You will not be shocked to hear that all of the foraging bees are female.  This is probably because the bees learned early on that while the returning bees were in GPS dance mode, all of the male bees were looking over their shoulders at BSPN or whatever was on at the time.  As a result, none of the male bees had the remotest CLUE the next day as to where it was they were supposed to be going.  Naturally, and since they were too proud to admit this, they just took off with the rest, made a wrong turn and spent the rest of the day not asking for directions.  Eventually there was a gigantic all-male hive full of empty honey cans and a bunch of confused bees wandering around scratching themselves at which point the females just put their collective feet down and told them to just go back to the hive and they “would take care of it”.

Actually, the males do leave the hive once when the queen makes her one ‘mating flight.’  This is when the new queen leaves the hive and tens of thousands of male bees follow her to impregnate her.  Surprising, not a single male bee gets lost on the way there.  I can’t vouch for what happens on the way back to the hive.

Bees and Color

When working with bees, wear white or other light colors.  Do not for example,  go out to the bees in full Goth rig.  Apparently black clothing gets on their last nerve.  When I heard this, my mind mentally rewound to the prospect of the hives in that rooftop hotel garden.  Where they hold weddings.  What could possibly go wrong with THAT scenario?  Let’s see, the bride, all in white.  . . 

  “Installing” the Bees

When I saw this on the syllabus I could not even begin to imagine what this meant but here’s what happens.  New hives need new bees.  So you order them.  About THIRTY THOUSAND of them per hive.  Then they arrive and here’s where the ‘fun’ starts.  (Actually, the head of the Bee School used the word ‘fun’, not me.)  You have to pick them up.  THEN you get to drive home with a box full of THIRTY THOUSAND bees in your car.  If THAT doesn’t sound like the beginning of your very own horror movie starring YOU, I don’t know what does.  So you get them home safely without making the 5 o’clock news and you have to put them in the hive or ‘install’ them.  And by ‘install’, I don’t mean to imply that this is something as benign as say, installing a fridge or a new dishwasher.  Unless of course your new dishwasher has THIRTY THOUSAND angry little parts bent on exacting revenge for boxing them up, sticking them in your car and driving them around like a crazy person for an hour and a half. 

This process involves you suiting up in full bee regalia – you’ve seen the hats, you get the picture – and I’m not making this up – opening a little cage-full of a gazillion bees, banging it on the ground and dumping it into an open hive.  Hey – that would piss ME off.  It was at this juncture that reality set in like a cold Gatorade bucket over the head.  Up to this point in my life, I can honestly say that I have never, and I repeat NEVER made any plans which involved me and THIRTY THOUSAND bees. 

So that we can have a leg up on the installation process, the bee school teachers have arranged for us to practice with little pieces of Styrofoam.  This is EXCELLENT because as it turns out, I have NO FEAR WHATEVER of little pieces of Styrofoam.  In fact, if it wasn’t for their somewhat dubious ability to produce honey, I probably would have a hive full of THEM.

The Business End

Most of the teachers talk about working with the bees and sprinkle their lectures liberally with the phrase “when you get stung.”  So let’s stop right there.  I have bought every possible piece of bee clothing from the beekeepers catalog.  I have a hat, a veil, a complete suit and long gloves.  I am shooting for zero exposed flesh here.  My target number of bee stings is, well, ZERO.  I am generally not averse to “taking one for the team” but I like at least to know I won’t be outnumbered several zillion to one.

When bees sting, they leave their stinger inside the sting-ee.  Along with some major organs, without which apparently, bee life is just not worth living and so after stinging, the bees die.  I can’t help thinking that this is a design flaw.  Picture what would happen if every time you slammed the car door, the handle fell off and the car was totaled.  Just sayin.

Smoking the Bees

In order to facilitate working with the hive – read: not getting stung like a zillion times – you employ a smoker which wafts smoke into the hive.  I am told that you don’t always have to smoke the hive and that bees are pretty docile.  Here is where I’m pretty sure the Bee School teachers are just playing us.  It must be some bizarre rite of bee-passage.  I have at my disposal a simple, harmless mechanism for getting all of the bees to go grab their most precious belongings before the hive burns down instead of going after me and I’m not going to use it?  Trust me.  I will be smoking the bees every time I work with the bees.  Possibly even when I am thinking of working the bees.  Maybe the smoke will calm me down.  Possibly.  Guess it depends what you’re burning.  It’s a thought.

So that’s where we are so far.  I will keep you updated on our progress.  According to National Geographic, bees have been around as many as 15 million years.  Hopefully, and despite my momentary interference, they will go another 15 million more.

Not Working for Apple

I have an iPhone. I also have an iPad. Hey - I'm an IT geek - it comes with the territory. What all of you iPeople out there probably also know is that the default signature for email sent from your iPhone is "Sent from my iPhone." Really? What don't they just say what they mean: "Sent from my technologically superior phone to yours. Which isn't." or to another iPhone: "Sent from one iPhone user to another. We just know better."

Does my iPhone really feel the need to lord it over what it considers inferior phones? Do iPhones get together while we sleep and gang up on what they consider to be lesser phones? "Ugh - no touch screen. LET'S GET HIM."

My husband has owned a Motorola RAZR pretty much since the day they released them. It has been replaced once but to be fair, it's because it went overboard on a fishing expedition, not due to any fault with the phone. It has steadily and reliably done all of the phone-y things that you hope a phone would do. Like make CALLS for instance. Something I was unable to do with my iPhone 4 just a few short months ago.

But Apple wants me to forget all about that and send out a little electronic advertisement with every email I send. Presumably, the very AWESOMENESS of the emails I send "from my iPhone" will convince LEGIONS of people to run right out and buy iPhones too. Did Apple think I wouldn't notice? Well actually, I didn't at first. Then a bunch of email replies trickled back, all starting with "well, excuuuuse me . . ."

So I have gone in and changed my default signature. It now humbly reads, "Sent from my mobile phone." I'm may even change it to: "Sent from my Motorola RAZR". Take that Apple. I dont' work for you.

Please sir, may I have some more . . .

Delta emailed me recently to let me know that they took it upon themselves to change our reservations to Nebraska this spring and now we have a FOUR HOUR layover in Minneapolis. Really people? Really? When you can DRIVE to your destination in the same time it takes you to wait the layover and fly, there is an issue. I will be speaking to "the next available representative" tomorrow. That should go well. I plan to ask when it would be CONVENIENT for them to take a PANTLOAD of our money, squoosh us in like sardines and then make us either run like hell to the next gate or put in a half day's work while we wait for our connection.

Their website should be revised to read as follows:

From: Just how long ARE you willing to drive to the airport?
To: We'll do our best. Please provide your preferred city, or better yet, a state nearby, keeping in mind that on the day of travel, that may not work for us.

When would you like to travel: Please don't enter anything here. We'll let you know when we can swing it.

Number of checked bags:
Number of bags you expect to see upon your arrival: Please enter a number less that what you entered above.

New security rules: Absolutely no liquids will be allowed on the plane. This now includes body fluids so please remember to "go before you leave."

Number of children flying with you: [whoever enters this gets must be linked with MY flight itinerary because they usually sit all of those kids behind me and they collectively break the Guiness World Record for number of consecutive hours kicking the seat in front of them]

Be sure and put this flight on your frequent flier account. (It won't do you a damn bit of good because the minute you get enough miles for a free flight we're gonna raise the limit anyway but we like to give you the illusion that you're getting something for nothing.)

We realize you have a choice for air travel. Given the way we treat you, we are thrilled (and frankly amazed) that you still fly with us. . .

I'm just cranky. You can ignore me. I'm going to.

Bad Line Karma

Don't stand behind me in the supermarket line. Come to think of it, don't stand behind me in any line. My nickname is "Price Check on Register Three". I have an unfailing ability to pick out the ONE can from among hundreds that is not marked and not in the system. Yes, I am that lady that makes you shuffle your feet and roll your eyes because for some reason, my card doesn't scan, the sale stuff rings up at regular price and the coupons don't work.

Here is a case in point. Let me set the stage: Fact 1: You can NOT, repeat NOT buy tobacco products at any drugstore in my town. Fact 2: When I get Nicorette coupons from CVS, they say right on the bottom that the coupon can NOT, repeat NOT be used on a tobacco product. I therefore infer that since I CAN buy Nicorette in my town and since I can clearly USE the Nicorette coupon on Nicorette, that it is NOT a tobacco product. Any right-thinking logical mind would come to this conclusion. It's just like that math problem: An ant is an insect. A spider is not an insect. Therefore, Helena must be the capitol of Montana. No wait. That's something else . . .

BUT NOT SO FAST MR. OR MRS. AMERICA. When I go to CVS with my 25% Good Customer Coupon (translation: Good GOD girl you buy a LOT of stuff from us . . .) they tell me - wait for it - that it can't be used on Nicorette because IT IS A TOBACCO PRODUCT. Here is where my head starts spinning around and I try in vain NOT to smack the living daylights out of the drone at the register who keeps repeating to me like I am an IDIOT, that Nicorette is a TOBACCO product. Please understand that I respect all workers everywhere doing whatever job they do as long as their hearts and minds are in it. It's just that when the Starbucks iced coffee straw is hanging out of the corner of your mouth WHILE you are texting your boyfriend, picking at your nail polish, chewing gum and looking at the clock to see if it's quitting time yet, I have a hard time feeling your Commitment to Customer Service . . .

And why does the cash register get to MY pair of sneakers and go "NO SALE PRICE FOR YOU." Now we have to go through a little painful exercise I like to call "Ringing for the Manager". First of all, every time they ring for the manager, he or she is apparently driving here from another part of the country because by the time they get to the register, everyone in the long line that was behind me has left the store and there are little kids pointing at me on the way out. Then the manager has to get The Key. This is apparently some kind of magic device that only store managers have but NEVER BRING WITH THEM to the register in the first place. More time elapses. Governments rise and fall, the dinosaurs die out and FINALLY the manager emerges with the little pink plastic slinky and The Key. By this time I am contemplating checking myself into a cloistered convent or a jail cell, whichever is quicker.

I often wonder if the store employees are gathered behind a two-way mirror snickering at me. "Look! She falls for that EVERY TIME." They probably take bets on how long I will stand there waiting. But don't think this behavior is limited to stores. Oh no. ATMs suddenly forget who I am, the library computer wants to charge me eight thousand dollars in unpaid fines, the dry cleaning is not QUITE ready could I wait just a few more minutes and don't even get me STARTED on the DMV.

Smartish Phones

Being a huge technogeek, I am typically on the bleeding - sorry - LEADING edge of things technological. So yes, I have an iPhone 4 which I find indispensible for things like the timer and the calendar. Now that I actually wear the timer on my belt clip, I have never forgotten something on the stove or in the oven. I'm almost 100% on appointments too. Now if I could just restrain myself from entering appointments that read "Tuesday, 10:00 AM" (where I should have written "Haircut" for instance) in the Tuesday 10:00 AM slot I would be perfect. As it is, 30 minutes before Tuesday at 10:00 AM, my phone lets me know that I am supposed to be doing something in 30 minutes but it is not sure what it is. I have 30 minutes in which to panic and call around to various places - dentist - work - car place - like a demented person asking if they are expecting to see me any time soon.

But, as the man says, I digress. I also have the local news station on my phone and have activated alerts so that every time bad news happens, my phone basically goes "Are you sitting down?". Actually it goes -beep- but you get the picture. I can't remember a time when my phone beeped to let me know, for instance, that the trains were all on time, pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training in Florida (how we know Spring is, in fact, coming to New England) or that today, nothing horrible happened.

It is especially disconcerting to find one of these notifications on my phone when I wake up. I feel as though my phone is reproaching me - "here's something that happened last night and if you had been AWAKE, maybe you could have avoided it." No matter that I have absolutely no influence on the political situation in Farawayistan, I still feel that I should have been at the helm at the very least, monitoring. I would shut it off but I'm sure the iPhone, being, as they say a 'smart' piece of technology would probably feed me this message: "Good Morning. Bad stuff happened in the world last night but you told me not to tell you so I'm not gonna. " (Phones can be a little snarky . . .)

Then there is the little matter of the phantom audible tone - a little snippet of a song that my phone plays for no other reason than it has something to tell me. But I can't for the life of me figure out what it is. This is the electronic equivalent of the kid who repeatedly rings your doorbell and runs away. I'm almost convinced that there is some little electronic gremlin sitting inside the phone who whispers "made you look" every time this happens. Or maybe it sends a message to AT&T - "Call this woman. She is such an IDIOT that she spends 5 minutes looking through the phone even though there is nothing to see. You could probably sell her the Brooklyn Bridge. Or a new phone contract - whichever is cheaper."

I could go to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store but having to admit to Wally, the Beave and Eddie Haskell that I have no idea why my phone is making random noises goes against the grain. I have used cellphones older than them. Enough said.

Men vs. Women

I once heard that the real difference between men and women is this:  Men can never remember.  Women can never forget.  “Much wisdom”, Yoda would tell us, “there is in that.”  But the differences are much more far-reaching.
When I walk through the door, I hit the ground running.  I don’t need a moment to myself because I have “just walked in”.  Furthermore, it doesn’t take me so much energy to sit down that if someone needs something, I have to respond:  “I just sat down.”  What up with that?  Is there some inner male process that needs to be ‘reset’ before they are able to get back up?  Children know this about their parents.  I always said that if I were hanging from my feet from the ceiling wrapped in duct tape with arrows sticking out of me (never happened by the way – just sayin’) and my husband was sitting on the couch, leaning forward expectantly towards them with his hand cupped over his ear, my kids would shout up at me “Mommmmm, can you help me with my homework?”   A child’s ability to not perceive is nothing short of miraculous.
I remember a time when I had gone to bed a little early.  The bedroom door was shut and the room was completely dark. The rest of the household (including, I might add, Dad) was wide awake and about their business.  Suddenly I was awakened by the door opening and light seeping in from the hallway.  A little voice whispered, “Mom?”  And again, softly, “Mom?”  To which I responded “Who exactly are you trying not to wake up?”
My neighbor tells a story of rushing out to work with a load of laundry half done.  She called her teenaged son at home to ask him to put the wet wash in the dryer.  His response:  “Which one is the dryer?”  As a thinking adult I might have suggested he try the machine WITHOUT the wet stuff in it.  But there I go, applying logic where it clearly does not belong.
This same neighbor received a call from her husband while she was at work wanting to know if they had milk in the house.  Thinking he had perhaps stopped by a grocery store, she abruptly stopped when she heard what sounded like a television in the background.  “Where are you?” she asked.  Apparently he had called her AT WORK from THEIR FAMILY ROOM.  I believe he was promptly treated to the sound of a phone call ending.
I have been asked where the ice is.  To which I respond, “Try the stove.  Or the toaster oven.”  (For the uninitiated, “Where is the ice?” is code for “Please get me some ice”.)
Gender differences assert themselves in various ways.  When I am sick, I want to shut all of the shades, close the bedroom door and sleep it off.  With pauses of course to crawl into the kitchen, empty the sink of dirty dishes and make sure no one has set the house on fire.  Most men that I hear about prefer to lie on a couch in a public area of the house being waited on hand and foot while pontificating about their head cold being possibly one of the WORST in recorded history.  Most women I talk to say they are also treated to a liberal dose of moaning.
I have never seen a sick man get off the couch to make the non-sick members of the household something to eat.  At my house, the infrequent episodes where I really have to stay in bed are the exact moments when my husband chooses to inform me about the state of – wait for it – the FREEZER.  I know.  It seems unbelievable but there it is.  Invariably, he comes in to let me know in my influenza-induced fog, that the freezer is packed full of what apparently are ALL items belonging to ME and that no one can find ANYTHING in it.  This in turn leads to fever dreams where I am being attacked by a package of frozen chicken thighs.  I have come to a startling revelation.  Men know best how to cope with women at extremes of the spectrum.  Those being: completely and totally healthy or dead.  The in-between states, not so much. 
A lot of men deserve an Olympic medal in conclusion jumping when it comes to dealing with their own illnesses.  I have known perfectly rational men who suddenly turn into raving lunatics with the onset of simple symptoms.  One wife told me that her husband asked if she thought he had head cancer.  Really?  I wasn’t aware that there was such a thing.  And if there is, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t come on like, say, a HEADACHE.  I do not know a single woman who faints at the sight of blood.  Yet, among my friends I number a 100% red-blooded American cowboy who faints when he gets a whiff of hospital antiseptic.   This is a man who, to put it politely, has been known to turn little bulls into little steers.  With his bare hands.  But fill his nostrils full of the smell of rubbing alcohol and be prepared to catch him on the way down.
So those are the Stone Chips for today.  If you will excuse me, I have to get back to work.  In a minute though because I just got in and just sat down.

Truth in Labeling

In the supermarket recently, I noticed a can of tomato puree that was helpfully labeled “Gluten Free”.  This is just a rash of products similarly marketed which bear so little relation to any of what the label says they exclude that I am baffled that any PR person in his right mind would think this is suddenly going to change the buying habits of America.  Water – now fat free! 
Has the American shopper really been bypassing these products every day fearing that they contain trace amounts of insidious, unwanted ingredients?  Do the marketing geniuses behind this campaign really expect the screeching of supermarket cart wheels as a potential buyers stare in amazement – “Gee.  I never bought this grape jelly because I was afraid it contained Meat and/or Meat By-products.  But now that I know better, think I’ll stock up on a dozen jars . . .”
I supposed the whole truth in labeling thing could allude to the fact that the product was made on equipment that did not also process whatever it isn’t supposed to contain.  But what would that be?  I am trying to imagine what grain product I would be feeding through a tomato squeezer.  Are there really any dual tomato puree/bread making operations out there?  I’m thinking not.
This is not the first time a label has had to do double duty.  This dates back to the first time someone thought that mixing lawyers and litigious consumers sounded like a good idea.  (P.S.  For those who are interested, it wasn’t.)  “Joe’s House of Joe Hot Coffee.  Warning, this Coffee is Hot.”  Yes.  I know it’s hot.  That’s why I bought it.  I for one would be better served by a label that let me know that the coffee wasn’t hot.  “Joe’s House of Joe Hot Coffee.  Warning, this coffee may not be so hot.  Joe lost a packet in Vegas last week and hasn’t been able to afford to fix the coffee machine. “  For my money, a much more helpful message.
Then there is the Lather-Rinse-Repeat school of labeling.  Instructions so incredibly and painfully obvious that you have to wonder about the original lawsuit that led to their being required in the first place.  Who sued the shampoo makers?  Was it really that hard to figure out?  “Gosh, Your Honor, the bottle really didn’t say.  I just kind of poured the whole thing over my head and trotted along to work.” 
Don’t even get me started on product warnings.  I got a computer monitor covered in a plastic bag, emblazoned with what I can only assume was the international symbol for “don’t put this over your head”.  If I have just bought a high-resolution graphics monitor, chances are I’ve mastered the whole ‘plastic bags are dangerous’ thing.
And who sits in an office all day and comes up with this stuff?   “Hey Ed.  Packaging just called.  They need a drawing of someone not sticking a lawn mower up their nose.  And make it International.”
Well that’s it from here.  If you will excuse me, I have rummage through my cupboards for something for dinner that is Ostrich-Free.  You just never know.

Bank Follies

TD Bank North advertises a lot in Boston. TD Bank North's motto is "America's Most Convenient Bank.” While Canada, Mexico and the United States all form part of "North America", when I read “America's Most Convenient Bank” sitting at my desk in the heart of New England, I'm thinking United States. Call me crazy, but I think that's what I'm supposed to think. Imagine my surprise upon learning that the TD of TD Bank North stands, in fact, for Toronto Dominion. Unless I am very much mistaken or unless there were diplomatic negotiations last night of which I am not aware (it could happen), Toronto is still somewhat north of the U.S. border. This could be a ploy on the part of TD Bank North to step in and slap us around a little fiscally, which given the hash we have made of our own banking situation, may not be such a bad idea. However, I would have preferred to know who was doing the slapping.

I personally bank with a different bank. A truly huge bank which, to avoid any potential lawsuits, I will simply call MegaBank whose motto I'm pretty sure is: "Please Hold for the Next Available Representative." They have recently installed time-saving ATMs and by time-saving, I mean for them. We were sold on the new ATM deposit system with the glittering promise of  "No More Envelopes!" Has that been a major issue up until now? I was not aware that using a deposit envelope accounted for a large part for the national angst. But then again, I don't have my finger on the pulse of Envelope Haters of America. While I'm sure the elimination of envelopes saves MegaBank gazillions of dollars - sorry - is good for the environment, I am not totally sold on its replacement.

Here's how it goes. You grab your stack of checks and when prompted, feed them neatly into the correct slot which has conveniently just opened for you. Sounds simple, right? Well it isn't. For one thing, there is a right way and a wrong way of feeding checks in. Too far to the right or left and they don't read. And I should mention that the ATM is beeping this whole time so NO PRESSURE - JUST HURRY UP AND FEED THE DAMN THINGS IN. At this point, there is a line building up behind you which is comprised entirely of impatient people all on their cellphones telling their friends that they wouldn't believe the IDIOT at the ATM now so just hold their double-mocha Frappuccino, they will be there SOON provided the MORON currently using the machine CAN GET WITH THE PROGRAM.

Once you have convinced the little electronic psychopath that the little pieces of paper you have been shoving at it for the last ten minutes represent actual money, you have to decide whether or not you want a printed receipt.  Given that the whole point of going 'envelope free' (which, now that I see it in print sounds a little like running around naked) is to save paper, you would think I would feel guilty about printing this out. Not so. I don't trust that ATM any farther than I could throw it which, believe me, isn't far. I'll take the evidence.

All in all, this process takes about three times the time it took on the old machines, where, if you could conquer your fear of envelopes, you could be done in about a minute. MegaBank's claim is that 'the money hits your account sooner'. Sooner than what? Not sooner than they can take it out when you do an automatic transfer. I'm not entirely convinced they didn't deduct those amounts from my account even before I walked into the lobby. The minute you hit that "Transfer" button, you can almost hear cackling from behind the keypad. "I'll get you My Pretty, and your little bank balance too."

Far be it from me to stand in the way of progress. If things 'progress' in this vein any further, I might 'progress' right back to the money under the mattress. I think the interest rates are a pretty much a toss-up.