There is an Art to Gifting

>> Friday, July 30, 2010

I've been thinking about the art of giving gifts the past day or so.  No, I don't have any gifts that I need to buy, or anything like that.  Rather, I've been cleaning out closets, curio cabinets, and random boxes tucked in available basement and garage space, and I periodically find, "It," the wrong gift, at the wrong time, that for whatever reason just cannot be thrown away.

A great many of these gift-mishaps have come to me and my family from the best of love, affection, good intentions, and even effort.  For example, at our wedding, we received several "crafty" presents, such as renditions of our wedding invitations mounted, decorated, framed, and returned to us.  I had never heard of doing anything quite like this as a gift before, so I was intrigued, and yes, grateful.  One of these beautiful crafty gifts involved an intricate paper lace cutout and a poem, all mounted and framed.  Obviously, someone took a great deal of time and effort into making this piece for us.  The problem was, it was beige.  Everything about it was beige, from the frame to the paper, from the outside to the inside -- beige. 

I hate beige.

I won't even allow off-white paint into my house.  The first thing I do when I move in is paint all the walls white, and the last thing I do when I sell a place is paint the walls beige again.

The only truly beige thing in my life is my teeth because I've found better things to do with my money than spend it on teeth whiteners.  I once received a beige and brown striped dress for Christmas when I was a teenager and almost cried.  Thankfully, one of my sisters is in love with beige, and we traded.

This framed piece of artwork was indeed lovely, but in my starch-white home, I had no place to put it.  So, it moved from room to room, from shelf to shelf, until finally it ended up in a box in the closet.  I can't get rid of it, but I can't display it. 

On the flip side, around about that same week, we received a gift card to Wal-Mart for our wedding.  Now, before you email the great Wally-World, and I start receiving tons of hate mail, let me make one thing perfectly clear.  I like Wal-Mart.  It has it's place, and it is a great store ... for certain things.  Nothing about the store says, "wedding," to me, though.  While I guarantee you I spent the gift money, I couldn't help but wonder how the gifter's mind was working that they thought Wal-Mart was a wedding gift while I did not?  I understand some people swear by the Wal-Mart standard -- but for wedding china? 


We had a registry at more than one store so that people had options (and because I couldn't find everything I wanted at one place).  The stores even had varieties of prices, and we had a variety of requests ranging from $10 to ... let's just say we were dreaming.  If you wanted a no-thought gift, we had everyone covered through internet-accessible registries.

On the other hand,I understand not wanting to work exclusively from a registry.  Some people get a charge out of venturing out on their own, but breaking new ground with gift cards?  Really?  What was wrong with a gift card from any of the stores where we did have a registry?  Or a generic gift card from a major credit card company?  I just can't help but think that not a lot of love, caring, or thought went into that gift choice.  Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe that Wal-Mart card was the biggest, most special gift that person could think to send.

Nah.  I'm not buying it.

I could go on and on about stories of knick knacks (and clothing) gone wrong.  I have had many a gift given to me with the line, "I thought of you the minute I saw this."  More than once, I've wanted to ask, "What on EARTH about this statue of a gorilla in a tutu that sings 'Some Enchanted Evening' made you think of me?"  I especially have to wonder about the gifts that involve depictions of naked people.  Sure, I went to Egypt and looked at lots of figures of gods with inflated phaluses, but that doesn't mean I want you to bring me one when you next go to Egypt.  Please.

Of course, I suspect that we in this house have been guilty of great gift errors.  Darling Husband used to be rather fixated on the idea of giving away crystal mantlepiece clocks to friends that were getting married. The idea was certainly appropriate -- crystal, not cheap, wedding-ish, not from Wal-Mart.  Years later I had to wonder whether our generosity was ever viewed as such by the recipients.  Were they, perhaps, sitting in their living room saying, "What in the world are we going to do with a mantlepiece clock when we don't even have a fireplace in our apartment?"  Or maybe the bride was saying, "Crystal?  I HATE crystal.  Didn't they see there was no crystal anything on our registry?"  Yes, I'm sure that must have happened at least once.

The stories of bad gifting are universal, and endless.  One Christmas my sisters and I all opened our presents from a one gift giver.  The gifts were unique, unusual, and absolutely non-returnable, as they came from one small, non-franchised store in another state.  After all three were open, we looked around at each other, and each other's gifts, and passed them one to the right.  With a quick rotation, we were all pleased as punch, and we decided that the gifts must have just had the wrong label on them.  Problem solved. 

Not all poor choices could be explained away by a gifting label though.  Some of them I just had to resort to actually exchanging.  For example, I once got  a terry-cloth wrap-around towel from a rather nice lingerie store.  Right.  One trip to said lingerie store to exchange it for a teddy solved that problem. 

Others?  Well, others were so unique, or so carefully thought out, that they sit in my house, far from the craft booth or mom and pop shop where they were born, waiting for the day that I can figure out what to do with it.


A Few More Random Things to Know About Me

>> Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Not quite a year ago, I created a post called, "A Few Random Things to Know About Me."  My audience at the time seemed to rather enjoy these little tidbits, so I figured maybe it was time to confess again.  After all, if you haven't figured out by now that I'm a little off-kilter, I think maybe a lot of this blog is going over your head.

1.  I dread putting on swim clothes, but not for any personal body-image reason.

I used to think that women's swim suits were among the most difficult garments to don that mankind ever invented.  (Let's remember here that my bikini days, such as they were, are more than a few years in my past, so I'm not talking about strings and thongs here.)  Those of you that have never tried on a woman's swim suit might think, what's so hard?  The padded part goes in the front, and the seat goes in the rear, step in, and there you go.  The trick is that even if the outside of the suit (or suit top, if you like the two piece ones) is pointed in the right direction, there is absolutely no guarantee that the insides aren't pointing backwards, pointing multiple directions at once, or possibly tied up in knots.  Heaven help you if the "bra" part of your suit is mesh with underwire.  You could be standing in the stall at the pool for days trying to figure out how to unravel it.

In the past few months, though, I have learned that swim trunks, at least those for little boys, can be equally as frustrating.  Imagine for a moment helping a rambunctious Toddler "hop" into a pair of swim trunks (or his, "swim soup" as he calls it), threading each foot through both the netting leg hole and the trunk leg hole.  One thing you can count on in this scenario is that Toddler will be spreading his toes to the maximum to catch any stray netting possible.  More than likely, the netting will be adjusted correctly, but both feet will end up through the same trunk leghole, effectively hog-tying the child.

2.  I am quite possibly the worst sheet-folder ever raised in the western world.  I suspect part of the problem is that I am so short, and my arms aren't long enough to keep everything lined up.  My mother taught me carefully, and she can fold a bottom sheet so that it is square, but after years of practice, I never got the hang of it.  Many, many years ago, I decided to adopt my sister's method of folding bottom sheets instead.  She told me to do it this way:  Match all four of the elastic corners as best as you can, keeping the straight edges reasonably straight, then just sort of bunch it up and throw it into the linen closet and hope no one notices. 

Let's think about this method for a moment.  I mean, the woman has a point.  If your sheets are wrinkly, the only one who will ever know is the person sneaking around in your linen closet, and in my opinion, they get what they ask for.  Once a sheet is on a bed, it's all stretched out enough that there is no such thing as a wrinkle.  If you doubt me, I welcome you to come on over and try to get that last corner on the bottom sheet over the edge of any of the mattresses in the house.  Really.  The door is open.

3.  I really hate drinking plain water, especially if it isn't nearly frozen with ice.  Yes, Egypt did present a small problem in this regard, in case you were wondering.  Even tepid water would have been an improvement in Egypt.

4.  I truly believe in salty corn chips and spicy salsa.  In fact, I would be happy if salsa was named the next great health food.  The appropriate range of spice is right at about, "my lips are burning," but definitely before, "I can't taste anything at all and my eyes are watering." 

5.  I truly love the sport of college football.  Oh, wait.  What was that?  My college football fascination isn't news?  I guess you were paying more attention than I thought.

6.  I have a really bad habit on Twitter of accidentally sending a Direct Message when I just meant to "Reply."  So, if I ever chat with you, and you are wondering what the heck is so secret that I took the discussion private ... well ... sorry.  Woops!

7.  I have a bit of a hoarding problem with books, and I own more books than I can ever reasonably expect to read before I die, and those are just the free ones I downloaded to my Kindle.  I am still planning to go to the bookstore next weekend.

8.  I am predicting a major drop in the stock of carbonated beverages over the next year, because in my post-Gallbladder state, I am finding diet sodas are lacking appeal.  Trust me, with my pre-Gallbladder soda consumption records, the beverage industry is already feeling the loss in their bottom lines.

9.  For those of you who once asked which daughter was "me" in "Shopping, A Retrospective," I am the youngest.  While I'm pointing fingers, the sister that taught me about sheet folding is the one featured in the post, "Shopping, Part II". 

Okay, that's enough about me.  Now you confess something.


Et Tu, Bluetooth?

>> Monday, July 26, 2010

As some of you may recall, I have had a bit of history with my car's built-in bluetooth.  If you don't recall, I highly recommend you check out this rant here, because I'm going to presume you already know.  (I mean, I don't want to bore those of you who have read it by recapping; I'd rather tell those of you that haven't read it to just go and get your act together while the rest of us wait.)

Moving on.  I am presuming we are all up to speed now, so if you aren't, then hop to it.

Since I wrote that prior post, I have upgraded my cell phone (but not my car).  Now my cell phone connects automatically to my car, and I actually have to work a little bit to disconnect it.  I am frequently reminded of this fact every time I climb into my car while talking on the phone, and then start the car, at which time whomever I am talking to startles me by talking through my car's speakers.  You would think I'd remember this is going to happen by now, but no.  I seem to be a slow learner.

With the upgraded cell phone and different carrier, I have way fewer dropped calls in the car, and much better call quality.  What hasn't changed, is the ability of my car to understand me when I ask it to "dial a number."  If I say the number, "2-0-2," the car inevitably repeats back, "2-1".   I guess I am not too bothered by this problem, because it has remained unchanged through two phones, and I shouldn't expect much more.

The new phone, however, seems to have been coaxing the car into being somewhat of a comedian, I think.  The car has all the problems in the world hearing which numbers I say from the driver's seat, but it apparently has no issue whatsoever in hearing Toddler in the backseat.  Toddler, in the meantime, has decided that when Mommy or Daddy start talking to the car, he should repeat everything we say.  So, an attempt to dial a call can sound like this:

ME:  Dial by name.
TODDLER:  by name.
CAR:  Dial by name.  Please state the name of the person you wish to dial.
ME:  Aunt Louise.
CAR:  No names match "Aunt Louise Aunt Louise."  Please try again.

or, perhaps, like this:

ME:  Dial by number.
TODDLER:  number!
CAR:  Dial by number.  Please say the number you wish to dial.
ME:  Two, zero, five, six, three
TODDLER:  five, six, three
CAR:  The number you wish to dial is two, six, three, six, three.  Do you wish to add any numbers or go back?
ME:  *sigh* Go back.  Why can you hear him and not me?
CAR:  Pardon?

Somehow, I feel betrayed.


Look For Love in All the Wrong Places (or Maybe All the Right Ones)

>> Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I have been having "motivation" problems here on the blog this week.  I've been looking for humorous inspiration in sinks full of dirty dishes and the never ending cycle of laundry, and nothing new is coming to me.

Lots of funny things are happening, like the random piece of broccoli that showed up in my red pillar candle this morning (No clue. You?) or, the way Toddler refers to closing a zipper bag as "driving a zipper."  None of these little smile-makers are lengthy enough to support an entire blog post.

Then, it hit me.  I should not be surprised that my life has temporarily shrunk down to the size of a tweet.  My most lengthy conversations recently have been with a three year old that ends every discussion with the words, "I need to be a good sport," and tries to end every argument with the phrase, "But I said YES!"  Let's face it -- it may be cute when you aren't the one having the conversation, but it sure gets old rather quickly.  With my conversations and interactions operating at the microcosm level, I find the length of my stories has decreased accordingly.

For example, there is the story about Toddler sleeping every night and every nap in his new "cool room" with bunk beds and everything ... but he doesn't want us to move his stuff over.  I'd tell you more, but that sentence pretty much sums it all up.

Yesterday I found myself unintentionally and quite spontaneously acting out Bill Cosby's role in his timeless skit, "Come Here!" 

Um ... I don't think I have much more to add to that story either.  You probably have a really good mental picture by now.

The other day, Toddler was playing with his toy car, and someone asked him where he was driving.  He said, "I'm going to CVS, then the grocery store, then back to CVS, then to music class, and then home." 

Yep.  That just about describes my Mondays.  Nicely done, boy.

I have also learned that I have a hard time writing blog posts when I have houseguests.  I think I'm just a bit too polite.  I feel terribly like a bad hostess if I bury my head into a computer and type away while someone else is sitting in the room playing with Toddler or flipping channels on my TV.  I should be more entertaining.  On the other hand, I mentioned this to a relative once, and his response was to escort me to my computer and tell me to, "Sit down.  Be funny.  WRITE!"  ('Cause that is the way these things work, you know?  You just "will" the words to come whenever you happen to have a free moment.  I find the technique especially helpful when people are staring at me.)

Ah, well.  This, too, shall pass.


One Big Smelly Mess (Not What You Think)

>> Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I was shopping in the drustore section of my local store recently, and I happened to be looking at razors.  I know ... one of the many forbidden subjects.  No, I don't shave.  My body is just naturally smooth and hair free ... like a cave man.

Then I saw it.  A section of razors that were ... wait for it ... scented.  (I know!)

I have been thinking about writing about scented products for awhile, and this razor thing just sent me over the edge.  Now, I'm not really particular about something being "scented" versus "unscented."  For the most part, I just don't care, although I am not terribly fond of things that smell like cucumber or watermelon.  (And I really don't understand why anyone thought that cucumber flavored underarm deodorant was a good idea at all.)

What gets me is that after being up for less than an hour in the morning, I am fighting a battle of the artificial smells.  My brand of shampoo almost never stocks the same scent as the same brand of conditioner.  So, if my shampoo is the ever-prevalent watermelon, my conditioner is likely to be coconut or something like that.  With that kind of battle going, I feel like I need to retreat to a bar soap or a shower gel that smells innocuously of "soap" or "shampoo" rather than "warm vanilla sugar" or whatever.  Then there is the underarm deodorant scent, the fruity hairspray (that I no longer buy - whew!), and my perfume.  (I never understood the use of body spray.) 

With all that stuff already in play, I'm glad my favorite laundry detergent is unscented, and we use unscented dryer sheets this week because that is what was cheapest.

When it's all said and done, do I really need to add one more smell to my body in the form of scented razor blades?


I'm sorry.  I just don't think I need that.


Party Hangover

>> Monday, July 19, 2010

Recently, I had a rather sizable back yard barbecue get-together, thinly disguised as a 4th of July/birthday party.

I have no idea how many people were wandering around our back yard.  I just know that there were a loooottttt of kids.  Well, there were really only about five or so, plus one pre teen and one teen, but when all of the littles banded together and started running, it sure felt like a loooooootttttttt of kids.  (Of course, when you consider that of the "littles," the oldest is only five ... no matter how many kids there actually were, it felt like a whoooolllleeeeee looooooooooooottttttt of kids.)

In the aftermath of this party, I find myself in need of making some public service announcements.  Here goes:

To all the parents of all those kids, if you are missing a red capped sippy cup with baby farm animals, or a pink capped sippy cup with that ballerina girl from Little Einsteins, I am holding them for you. 

All of the food anyone left behind, whether intentional or no, has been donated to the food gods in your name.

I'm not sure what to do with the bag of dog treats, as I do not have a dog.  (And, despite Toddler's earnest whining, we will not be getting one.)

I thought I knew who brought all those presents, but I just found a set I don't even remember being opened, so now I am just baffled.  I sincerely apologize, but Thank You cards will be on hold until I can sort this out.  In the meantime, please accept this generic Thank You.  I assure you that all toys have been used, except for two, and I'm waiting for a rainy day where I can pay attention to where Toddler thinks he wants to run with Play-Doh to use those.  (Toddler thanks you very much.  I'm on the fence.)

Never fear, all of that leftover cake has found a home in someone's belly.  That was a biiiiiggggg cake.

While we did survive (perhaps with more luck than grace), I am still questioning the wisdom of inviting every pre-schooler I know.  I can only thank my lucky stars that half of them were busy.

I neglected to give any of the kiddos their "hope this keeps you quiet" bottle of Mickey Mouse bubbles.  If you are remotely interested, and local enough to drive by, I will still give it to you.  The Post Office frowns on mailing liquid, even if it is soap.  It sorta makes them nervous.

To our poor friend whose birthday it actually was, I apologize for not arranging a rendition of "Happy Birthday" for you.  I was never far enough away that you wouldn't be able to punch me.  Happy Birthday anyway.  I promise to keep your age our little secret.

To the runners who went for wine, you have my eternal blessing.  To the family member who forgot to put the last of the boxes into the fridge, I curse you.

The outdoor cats would also like to extend their thanks for the burgers and hot dogs the children dropped on the ground.  The cats made short work of them and are feeling quite spoiled now.  They would also like to know when you are coming back.  To the family with the dog, the cats say, "Hey, this is still my yard and it took me forever to remark everything."

I think that about wraps up my announcements.  Whose turn is it next?


Things I Have Learned In the Middle East, The Final Chapter

>> Friday, July 16, 2010

Here it is:  the final chapter of things that I learned on my most recent vacation. 

1.  A small can of Pringles costs $3 in Egypt, however you can get 5 scarab beetle bracelets for $1 (sometimes 6 beetles).

2.  Don't drink the river water in Egypt.  Seriously, you haven't seen what these people throw in it.  Let's start with the dead donkey....

3.  Cats have bigger ears in Egypt, and bigger egos, too -- if that is even remotely possible.

4.  Some cats in Egypt will graciously allow you to take their picture.  Those living with vendors will demand food first.

5.  Vendors in Egypt are everywhere.  Just ... everywhere.  They come on the sailing skiffs, follow tourists through temples, and even paddle up to cruise ships and tie on.  I was really quite surprised to see none of them hang gliding outside the aircraft when we took off for home.

6.  The most powerful piece of currency in Egypt is the one pound coin.  It is what lets you in the public bathrooms.  Getting in does not guarantee toilet paper, though, no matter what you read.

7.  One pound coins are very hard to come by.  Pleading with bankers while crossing your knees only works sometimes.

8.  Bathroom humor is international.  (It wasn't me this time!)

9.  Street markings in Cairo are -- at best -- suggestions and are more likely to be mere decoration.

10.  The driving in Cairo is the scariest thing I may have ever experienced, but I think I understand Egyptian cab drivers in New York now.

11.  The second scariest thing  ithink I have ever experienced was hearing a member of our tour group say that Egyptian driving made a weird kind of sense to her.

12.  After two weeks of watching soccer on TV, I don't think I understand it any better.  Of course, the Arabic commentary wasn't much help.

So there you have it.  Much wisdom, is it not?


Things I Have Learned In the Middle East, Part II

>> Thursday, July 15, 2010

Yesterday I started a new series of "things I have learned" for your reading pleasure.  (I was going to say that "We" started a "discussion," but since no one commented on yesterday's post, I figured I had to edit that first sentence.)

Hopefully, you will find this sequel to surpass the original.

1.  Visitors should always bring their own toilet paper to the Valley of the Kings.

2.  When a tour guide calls the mountain-cut tombs in the valley, "really challenging" to visit, they are being polite.  "Challenging" is a euphimism for heatstroke alert.

3.  In Egyptian tourist areas, the two primary forms of decoration are heiroglyphs and metal detectors.

4.  Eypgtians really can (and do) sleep anywhere -- on top of moving vehicles and inside the luggage compartments of tour busses.

5.  "Mad dogs and [tourist groups] go out in the [Egyptian] sun."  There will be meaningless bonus points awarded to anyone who recognizes the quote I just butchered.

6.  June is the end of the tourist season in Egypt, because after June, it's too hot.  I, however, chose to go to Egypt during a record heat wave worse than August temperatures.  Excellent.

7.  Clothes dry very quickly outside in 120 degrees F and 5% humidity.  Spilled Diet Coke will also evaporate in less than 10 minutes.

8.  Metal keys left on the pool deck (even under a towel) can really hurt on a hot day.

9.  Heat tolerances on camera batteries are for real.

10.  Curry-flavored chips come in bags that look like they should be onion.  (My arabic is nil.)

11.  Curry-flavored chips aren't bad once you get over the shock.

12.  Some bags of otherwise-normal-looking potato chps have pictures of fruit on them.  I was not brave enough to try those.  That is how I ended up with curry.

Believe it or not, there are more, but I'll save them for another day.


Things I Have Learned In the Middle East

>> Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I know, I know.  Calling this post, "Things I Learned in the Middle East" is a bit of an overstatement.  I was only in one middle eastern country -- Egypt -- and I really should call this post, "Things I Learned in Egypt."  I thought this "Middle East" title was a little catchier, though, and it is, technically, true.  I also, technically, could have called this post, "Things I Learned in Africa," but that just didn't feel right.

Now, here is the real problem.  I learned so many things that I really can't justify putting it all into one post.  That would be ... a really long post, and probably torture for some of you.  So, here is the first installment.

1.  One should never "play" with a bidet.

2.  In Egypt, one can hand over relatives for 2,000 chickens or 5,000 camels, if said family members are young and pretty, because in Egypt, men pay the bride's family a "dowry".  (They don't like the term "bride price".)

3.  As the mother of a boy child, I am fortunate to live in the US.  In Egypt, the groom's family is responsible for paying for the wedding, a dowry/bride price, 1/2 the furniture, and a home for the couple to live.  Just as bad, no child leaves home unless they are married, no matter how old they are.  Yikes!

4.  Sometimes, when you pantomime, "cold," wait staff will show you to the toilet.

5.  The biggest adventures threaten to happen during the small window of time that I decide not to wear makeup.  Murphy strikes again.

6.  Just because the right-hand side of the airplane is offered Diet Pepsi doesn't mean you can have one.

7.  Egyptians are in love with air conditioning, and their system has two primary settings:  off, and frostbite.  Sweaters are essential, even in the desert.

8.  Good luck finding a public trash can in Cairo.

9.  Montezuma was a Pharoah.

10.  In Luxor, sidewalks are for large bushes and small trees.  Streets are for cars and people.

Tune in next time for, "More Things I Have Learned in the Middle East."


Murphy is Picking on Me

>> Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Some days I feel like Murphy is picking on me.

For example, only when the town hall-style meeting I attend is at its most crowded am I asked to participate in public displays of walking.  Of course, those are also the days when I am wearing my most clutzy of shoes, and my job is to walk among the rows of people.  (In the very back of the room, I found this job also involves climbing over some people so I can get to the door.)  Right.  I can come here for years and sit anonymously, and on this day I have to help?  Thanks, Murphy.

On the same day, when Darling Husband woke up to a sour stomach, we sit behind someone who smells a little ripe in the heat in that crowded, crowded room.  Poor man (both of them).  Thanks, Murphy, from both of us.

Even earlier on the same day, I make a decision that no one is going to pay any attention to me, so I wear pants that are really jeans, pretending to be pants.  Not only am I asked to participate, but also a random photographer wants to take my picture as I'm walking into the building.  You have to admit, there is no better way to reveal that I really am wearing thinly-disguised jeans than by taking a picture of my backside.  Thanks, Murphy.

On the other hand, that photographer may have wanted to take my picture because I was walking into a meeting holding my cell phone and my Kindle reader.  Is this a sign that I don't really plan on paying attention?  Well, maybe no.  I intend to pay attention, so long as no one goes over their alloted speaking time.  Of course, during some rare quiet moments, both of these devices go clattering to the floor and everyone turns and looks at me.  (Hey, don't bother.  The photographer took a picture on the way in.  You can see all you want and a lot I don't want right there.)  Thanks, Murphy

We planned a play date for Toddler with a cousin, for the wading pool in the front yard, and it will rain.  I'm going to keep this one short today because ... well ... it's been that kind of day. Once again, thanks, Murphy.


A New Look at Air Travel

>> Thursday, July 8, 2010

Recently, I took a plane flight to Cairo, Egypt from JFK airport in New York.  At first blush, the only part of that previous sentence that might sound even slightly exotic is the destination.  After all, I have flown overseas before.  In fact, I have flown further, longer, and any other "er" that might apply ... except "colder."  I do not believe I have ever been on a flight that was colder.

We were flying on a foreign carrier, which led to a lot of interesting observations on my part.  Early on, I noted that several members of the crew spoke only the most halting of English when they provided the English translation of whatever-it-was they just said in Arabic.  Quite apparently, the chief flight attendant and the pilot each had a sheet of words they were reading, with the most entertaining of pauses and long gaps while they apparently struggled to figure out how to pronounce something.  William Shatner has nothing on that pilot.

(As a side note, I also noted that the little cartoon man on the TV screen demonstrating the safety features of the aircraft had a unibrow.  I was not aware that a unibrow was a trendy or desirable facial feature in any culture, but I must be mistaken.  No one "goofs" and inserts a unibrow into a cartoon man.  That brow had to be intentional.)

Of course, while we were proceeding to taxi from JFK down the Jersey turnpike to Trenton for takeoff, I had the misfortune to recall some documentary channel expose' about the number of foreign pilots maneuvering large aircraft at major US airports without sufficient English to understand the air traffic controllers.  While we made a series of seemingly infinite turns, I fervently hoped that our pilot was not one of these.  After all, we were delayed pulling away from the gate because one of the passengers chickened out.  We had to wait while she and her party deplaned and while the baggage handlers identified and offloaded their luggage.  I couldn't help but wonder what she knew that I didn't.

As it turns out, she may have taken a look at the large number of children under 5 on the flight and determined that one or several of them were bound to cry the entire way across the Atlantic Ocean.  She would have been fairly accurate.  My only question was whether she also realized that the young baby in the front, right hand side of the airplane would sound an awful lot like a cat when it cried. 

Still, there were more differences.  I knew I was on a "foreign" airline because the food was good -- really good.  I don't know when I've ever had good food on an airplane before that day.  Drinks, on the other hand, were a little on the skimpy side.  The flight attendants were serving beverages out of big plastic containers that looked to be somewhere between a one-liter and a two-liter bottle.  Nobody got their own cans, and the little cups we were provided looked to be about the size of the Dixie cups in my mother's guest bathroom.  All four of us were sitting across the center, so Darling Husband and I were serviced from the cart on one side while Niece and Mother were served from the other.  We had the choice of all kinds of exotic juices, including hibiscus juice.  (Interesting.)  We also seemed to have a very wide selection of sodas from which to choose.  I figured I'd play it safe.  I asked for a Diet Pepsi (they seemed to be serving Pepsi products.) 

Oops, sorry.  No Diet Pepsi.  I can have regular, though.

Okay.  Regular is fine.  Maybe where we are going diet sodas will be hard to come by.  I can live with that.  I think I see a diet 7-up or something on the cart, but I'll go with regular Pepsi. 

Along comes the cart down the other side, and people on Mother/Niece's side of the aircraft are getting Diet  Pepsi!  Hey!  What's up with that?  No shouting across the aisle and passing drinks like on U___ Airlines back home? 

At that moment, I realized I was experiencing something new.  Good food, small drinks, and I take what they have on hand.  I could make an obnoxious fuss and give Americans a bad name, or I could just drink my Pepsi and move on with it.  I moved on and quickly began taking notes for my blog.  Obviously, I was going to learn/observe an awful lot on this trip, and I might be diet soda deprived before too long, so I'd better get started before the withdrawal symptoms set it.

PS -- after flying subsequent domestic flights on the same airline, out over the desert, I have decided that the purpose of the small drink cups is to deliberately dehydrate the passengers so that they spend  less time in the restrooms.  I think they want to make sure the passengers save up their bathroom tips for the ground where there are people to hand over toilet paper for one Egyptian Pound tip.  (If that sentence didn't make any sense to you, you need to read this post from two days ago; and keep up, will ya?)  This bathroom conspiracy may even be part of an economic stimulus package.  Also, on overseas flights, it saves on massive amounts of cleaning of the restrooms.  Airline passengers are pretty sloppy.

Also, I learned shortly after arriving in Egypt that our flight was the coldest on record for a reason.  All air conditioners all across the country are continuously turned to "extra-super-duper-high."  I'm not even sure the air conditioners in my own home town in Virginia even GO that high.  Egyptians sure love their air conditioning.  Whew!

For more on this dramatic flight, you should check out the thoughts of Niece, who also has a flair for the comic:


I Have Belly Button Issues

>> Wednesday, July 7, 2010

This post is a bit of a confession for me.  I have a little secret that I have cringed from sharing with anyone until recently.  I thought I was all alone in the world with this little secret, but, gradually, I have learned that I am not the only one.  We are rare, perhaps, but not alone.  So, on behalf of my fellow sufferers, I am speaking out in the hopes of shedding some light on this dark little secret and bringing a little more understanding into this world.

I have ...

Belly Button Issues.  (Don't laugh;  this is serious stuff here.)

I share this trait with a sister and a sister-in-law and countless other women, but sadly, we are misunderstood, degraded, and tortured, especially by our own spouses, all because of this rotten affliction.

What are "belly button issues" you might be thinking?  If you have them, you know.  You need no further explanation.  If you don't have them, I'm not sure I can really do the condition justice with words, but I will try.  In a nutshell, I can't stand to have anything touch my belly button.  Now, I don't mean something like a shirt brushing up against the general area.  I mean something actually touching the actual belly button -- the inside part.  Oompf.  Just thinking about it gives me the shivers, and not in a good way.  I can think of nothing more disturbing to watch (or think about) than someone actually using a Q-tip in their belly button.  I am physically incapable of it and I don't know how anyone can actually do that.

Please understand, this is a real phenomenon, and I am not alone.  I don't know if a lifetime of anti-aversion therapy might get me over it, but I don't intend to try.  Even typing about it is plenty bad enough.

On the other hand, Darling Husband and several other male friends and relatives over the years have found this affliction amusing.  They have had the brilliant idea that maybe a wet willy in my belly button might solve all my problems.  Oh, good Lord, I'm hyperventilating even thinking about it.  I'm not kidding -- this is serious stuff.

Of course, I just had laproscopic surgery to remove my gall bladder.  Like any good person suffering from belly-button issues, I had to check where all the new incisions were when I woke up enough to move.  Thankfully, my so-called "belly button incision" was just above my belly button.  (Whew.)  I can handle that.  It's a little incision, not anywhere near the inside of my belly button, so I figured I was good.

As my mobility came back over the next few days, and as all the bandages came out, I noticed something a little bit alarming.  At first, I thought I was imagining it, but soon enough, I realized the terrible truth.

Part of my belly button had been stitched closed.  I had not one, but two "belly button incisions," and one of them was actually inside my belly button.  As if that wasn't bad enough, there were stitches in my belly button.

Oh, no. 

Now what.

How can I, a girl with a rare but profound case of "belly button issues" possibly handle the thought that my belly button has been stitched partially shut?

Now it's like the spot where a tooth fell out.  I feel compelled to look at it from time to time, when I'm brave enough, only to find myself totally grossed out by the idea that I have stitches in my belly button.  Of course, they are dissolvable.  Well, at least, no one has talked about taking any of them out, so I'm presuming they are supposed to dissolve.  Maybe they already have, and this is just the way my belly button is going to look from now on?  Either way, if those stitches are still there, I am not going to let anyone remove them -- ever.  No one is sticking any sharp, pointy objects near my belly button, nosiree.

I know that my post of groaning and cringing distress will fall on deaf ears with most of you.  You don't understand.  I know.  But maybe, just maybe, the next time you meet someone with belly button issues, you won't think it so funny to try to tickle their belly button.  Have pity.  Really.


This Is a Thinly Disguised Post About Potties in Foreign Lands

>> Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The question everyone keeps asking me is, "How was Egypt?" 

If that is the burning question on your mind, and you really want an answer, check here.  Yes, I actually wrote a serious piece for a change.  (*gasp!*)  Hey, it happens.  If you comment a lot over there, or actually decide to follow, I might do it again some day.  You never know.

On the other hand, plenty of funny things happened in Egypt. 

We sailed on the river in a feluka boat, while my niece insisted on splashing me with Nile water.  It was hot, and the crocodiles are now all south of the Aswan dams, so I didn't mind.  In fact, I splashed back.  My mother, sitting between us, was not as amused.

On that self same boat, I learned that feluka boat sailors may not know a lot of English, but they know some mighty odd verses to, "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain."  Either it's a tourist joke to sing them, or they have less of a taboo on singing about recreational drugs.  I'm thinking it's both.  Either that or drugs, like bathroom humor, are international lines of communication.  I'm not really sure about that.

When I was in southern France back in the late 90's (oh dear; was it really that long ago?), I found bathrooms to be a challenge.  Guys may not have an objection to turkish style, but girls can only manage it if they can take off their shorts, underwear, shoes, and socks, and then only if they can find a clean place to put them and can manage to squat without touching anything.  A single solitary daypack on the shoulders can disrupt this delicate balance.  (As an aside, the most welcome potties I ever found were those beneath the Eiffel Tower.  Sure, you paid for the pleasure of using them, but they were sparkling clean and no squatting was required.  Whew!)  On the other hand, in Egypt, I saw no sign of a Turkish potty-room.  I saw some pretty scary ones I was afraid to walk into (and didn't -- we had an emergency potty on the bus for those days), but no turkish style.  Egyptian women are much too insistent on equal potty-access, I think, to allow such a disaster.  Either that or the tourist board has figured out that a successful tourist industry requires at least basic facilities.  Regardless, my options always included a flush toilet and generally a bidet.  Toilet paper, on the other hand, must very often be purchased at the door, from the attendant, at roughly the price of 5-6 squares for one Egyptian Pound.  The trick is that the Egyptian Pound is a rather rare denomination in the currency, and those little suckers are hard to come by.  Of course, since you aren't really paying for the toilet paper, but instead are paying a "tip" for the person to hand it to you, there is no such thing as change.  If all you have with you is a five pound note, you'd better bring four friends to the potty.  (Side note:  if for some reason the bathroom is already equipped with toilet paper, then your tip is for the privilege of having the bathroom attendant provide you with three sheets of toilet paper with which you may dry your hands.  Let me just say that toilet paper works about as well for hand drying as you might imagine it does.)

Of course, such a system gives rise to two of the fundamental pillars of the tourist society in Egypt.  One, if you have the toilet paper, the tissues, or the difficult-to-obtain pound coins in your pocket, you are the most popular person on your bus.  Two, among all foreigners in line for the bathroom, whether part of your tour group or not, or even whether speaking your language or not, a well-placed coin or pack of tissues can buy you a friend for life. 

The third fundamental pillar of travelling in Egypt is related, but is not caused by the bathroom system.  The third fundamental pillar of travelling in Egypt is this:  Those with hand sanitzer in the pocket have many, many friends, especially immediately outside the bathrooms.  Here is a free tip, though.  You may, wish to leave the alcohol-based sanitizer in the hotel room when travelling in the summer, and stick with the lotion ones instead.  An entire pocket bottle of sanitizer can evaporate in the Valley of the Kings in a day during a heat wave.

Now, there I go again.  I've been trying to avoid being the "potty mouthed blogger," forever regaling her audience with stories of boys and their inability to aim.  Instead, I've apparently begun a training manual for bathroom breaks in developing countries (and France).  I can't help it.  If you have spent any significant amount of time "going native" in any foreign country, I think you will agree that the most humorous, potentially aggravating, and potentially trip-ruining parts of any vacation are the ability to access the bathing and evacuation facilities without major upheaval.  If you think I'm making this up, or if you think this phenomenon is limited to Americans, let me tell you a quick story. 

Almost every time I have been to England, someone along the way asks me two questions.  One, "Why do Americans ask to go to the 'bathroom' or 'restroom' instead of the 'toilet?'  You don't bathe in there, and you certainly aren't resting."  My response is generally something like, "Why do English want to call it a water closet?  You aren't drinking water."  Two, "Is it true that in America, the hot water and the cold water taps are always in the same order on the sink?"  Yes, yes it is true.  Hot is on the left, and cold is on the right here.  I have burned my fingers and frozen my hands enough times to confirm that this system is not in place all around the world.

Once, a long, long time ago, a couple of friends and I thought the world might need a book called, "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Bathroom."  We were, strangely enough, a little bit obsessed with the book of similar title by Douglas Adams, "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."  I am certain I do not remember all that we were going to put in the book, but I am certain I recall that there would be a chapter on what to do if the toilet you encounter had a pull chain dangling from the ceiling.  Most of our chapter ideas arose from a trip "down under" to a couple of countries that had a civilized system that nonetheless could prove confusing to the novice tourist.  After this latest trip, I think I might suggest to my younger self and her friends that a chapter on how to tell a bidet-lever from a toilet-flusher might be a useful addition.  I also would say, all these years later, that the concept of this book is still a good one, and, if properly written, would probably become a back packer's staple like multi-purpose soap and the sleep sheet.  (If you write it, and make a million, at least make mention of this blog in your preface, okay?)

Well, for those of you that cannot stand the bathroom humor, I think I've tortured you sufficiently for now.  Oddly enough, I share your ooginess.  Bathroom humor is like taking a loud redneck to the White House Christmas party.  Everyone knows it's there, but no one wants to talk about it, and the person that brought it wants to cringe in shame.  But, as I said after this 4th of July weekend when I had four people sleeping in a tent in my back yard, and another four sleeping in a camper in the side yard, "You can take the girl out of redneck country, but you just can't take the redneck out of the girl."

Yee haw, y'all.


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