Thursday, September 30, 2010

Time Well Spent

Dear Readers,

Thanks for all of your comments yesterday!  I agree with Molly that one should take a shower early....the last time I found myself wearing pajamas far too late in the day, I asked around for advice, and the shower early tidbit was one piece of advice I started taking.  Wearing shoes was another idea I remember.  That one makes sense too...but I'll wear shoes if I'm cold or my feet hurt, or something like that.

Anyway, as I sit here in my own funk (the Boy needed a ride to the train station, which meant I got up and put on clothes and drove him.  Got wrapped up in other things when I got home), I'm thinking about madgal72's comment about reading books.  We've got a three-season porch on the back of our apartment, and it's the only room with a couch (the couch--actually a hide-a-bed--is of unknown age and provenance.  It came with the place.  It's frightfully heavy, so it's not moving off the porch).  I've often thought that it would be nice to sit back there and read....except that would mean time away from the computer.  You know, time spent on Facebook and mah-jongg and news sites and blogs....oh, and work too.

It's kind of stupid to think that way though.  I've got tons of books, and reading them would actually help my writing a little bit more--more than time on Facebook does, at least.  Any ideas on how to get over myself and step away from the computer?  Especially while there are still a few nice days left to enjoy the porch?

Your bonehead pal,

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Habitual Work

Dear Readers,

It's the middle of the day, and I'm still sitting in my own funk.  Didn't have time for a shower this morning--had to fit in a workout though (because yesterday it never happened).  I also had to get the recycling out because it's picked up every other week, and frankly, more than two weeks of newspaper piling up in our kitchen would be bad.

After my workout, it was time to go straight to work, because I had a client discussion this morning.  Granted, my office is eight feet away from the fitness studio portion of my gym, so I'm not offending anyone.  It's just that a few hours into work, I realize I really kind of stink. 

Such is the life of a freelancer--in case you ever wondered.  That whole "work in pajamas" concept is nice until it's noon, and you're still in pajamas, and you're starting to feel the grime build up.  For me, I start to get sloppy and acquire bad habits (I'm staring at the jar of peaches I polished off today--eaten straight from the jar, of course), and from there it feels like I'm on a slippery slope to schlubbiness. That's definitely not the polished, witty writer I want to be.

So it's time to shower out.  And it's time to make yet another resolution about showering before noon.  

Do you have any bad work habits you've acquired?

Your pal, 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

No Time to Talk

Dear Oprah,

I watched your show semi-regularly, but I had to stop because then I'd watch "The View," which came right after, and then my whole morning would be shot.

Now that it's your final season, I thought I'd try watching again.  This time, it'd be even better because I could DVR the show and watch it whenever.  And, it comes on at 4:00 in my TV market, so it's kind of an end-of-day indulgence.

I think I've seen 1.5 shows in the two weeks you've been on the air.

Oops.  So much for that plan.

I'm not sure I'll be able to catch up.  I'm kind of sorry about that, but I'm also trying to be cognizant of my own time limitations and priorities.  I figured you'd be OK with that, since you're trying to help us all live our best lives, yet it must kind of stink to know that my best life doesn't necessary have a daily dose of you.

I'll do what I can though, because I do enjoy and learn a lot from your show when I get to see it. Best of luck for a successful last season!

Your pal,

Monday, September 27, 2010

Postcard from White Plains, NY

Ah, it's a dreary, rainy Monday here in White Plains, NY, but I'm still feeling happy.  I've been here since Thursday for the WFTDA Eastern Regional Championship, where I've been serving as a Non-Skating Official.  What's that, you ask?  Well, NSOs pretty much keep the bout together--we track penalties, man the penalty box, keep score, track lineups.  The referees call the game, but we keep track of it all.

I did penalty tracking all weekend--three bouts on Friday and Saturday, two bouts on Sunday.  Penalty tracking is hard--hard on the calves (my short leg massage yesterday has completely worn off), hard on the eyes.  You stand in the center and keep your eyes on the action that's going around you--listen and watch for refs calling penalties on the inside and outside of the track; make sure you write it all down correctly; send skaters to the box when they get four minor penalties; and do this all as quickly as possible.

It's a tough job, but I love it.  It's exhilarating, and it tests my powers of observation.  When there's a lot of cheering, there's no more exciting place to be than right in the center of the action.

This weekend was pretty much a weekend inside a convention center. Stale air, concession stand food, and by Sunday, really funky-smelling skating gear.  Still, I did get to see a tiny sliver of the suburbia that is White Plains.  Yes, it's typical suburban chain stores, but I did go to a little gem of a Mediterranean grocery store.  My buddy Ken Zawsum noticed it when we were looking for a 7-Eleven, and since I love groceries, we stopped in.  We discovered a ton of great nuts, eggplant canned and jarred every way you could think of, carbonated lemonade, and falafel-flavored salty snacks (which I was tempted to buy, but didn't).  It was a great store that took the "sub" right out of "suburbs" and made my weekend that much better.

Your pal,

Friday, September 24, 2010

Maximum Global Efficiency

Dear United Nations General Assembly,

Do you have problems checking everything off your "To Do" list?

Does it seem like your annual ministerial meetings take forever?

Do you think you have an image problem about getting stuff done?

Then don't let your guest speakers ramble on forever!

How do you kindly put the kabosh on long-winded addressees, much like U.S. President Obama, who yesterday spoke for 32 minutes, when he was only allotted 15?

Play them off!

Take a cue from awards shows---if they didn't set limits on how long it takes to say thank you, we'd still be watching the Academy Awards from this past March.  They allot the winners 30 seconds, and when that time is up, you get the not-so-subtle hint that you're done.  Please take your leave.

While you don't have an orchestra on hand to start playing some soaring music, surely you've got the ability to broadcast some music in the assembly hall.  When the speaker's time is up, start playing the national anthem from the speaker's country.  If you keep turning it up, they'll eventually get the hint.

The President, although he's a fine, intelligent speaker, really should know (or have someone on staff who knows) how long 15 minutes is by this stage in his career.  He shouldn't have gone over twice the allotted time.  A few bars from "The Star-Spangled Banner" at 15:30, when it was obvious that he wasn't going to wrap it up anytime soon, could have kept you on schedule.

Because really, you've got a world to run.  You need to keep at it.  In this case, say, "Diplomacy, shiplomacy," and show them who's in charge.

When you're accomplishing more in a shorter period of time, the world will thank you for it.

Your pal,

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dear Online Marketers,

I have an e-mail address that's just for marketing e-mails....I signed up for a lot of them because I want to be on top of the news, and I keep them separate from my regular e-mail because they seem to be a little overwhelming.

Nonsense!  You might say!  We marketers don't overwhelm!

Well, I didn't check that e-mail address for a good 8-9 days.  In that time I'd racked up about 300 e-mails.  That's not surprising--especially since some of the newsletters I subscribe to come out every weekday, but the numbers from some stores and shopping websites were amazing:

Those numbers seem kind of typical--I'm constantly bombarded by Bluefly and Neiman Marcus, to the point where I don't even open up the e-mails anymore.  99.9% of the time, they're not going to be different or unusual--just another plea to shop, and DO IT NOW BECAUSE FREE SHIPPING ENDS SOON!  I'm on to you--free shipping won't end soon.  You'll do that promotion again and again.

E-mail campaigns aren't exactly cheap.  Sure, they're probably cheaper than direct mail, but I can only guess that sending out a big campaign on an almost daily basis adds up after a while.  Maybe if you stopped bombarding me with useless marketing drivel and creating an interesting, less frequent marketing pitch, I might think your store was more special, and I'd actually read the e-mails you work so hard to craft, and I might actually click through or consider your store more often.  Right now though, you're just an annoying pest, and I might have to swat you away.

Your pal,

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Defining Necessity

Dear Vic DiGravio, Treasurer - Committee Against Repeal of the Alcohol Tax,

I got my Massachusetts Information for Voters pamphlet yesterday, and I saw your position on the statewide ballot question that will be on this November's election ballot here in Massachusetts:  Should there be a law to remove the state sales tax on alcoholic beverages and alcohol, where the sale of such beverages and alcohol or their importation into the state is already subject to a separate excise tax under state law?

I have to say, even though I'm pretty much for eliminating the tax because I'd like my beer, wine, and liquor to be a little cheaper, I don't exactly buy the whole "double tax" argument presented by the Frank Anzalotti from the Committee To Repeal the Alcohol Sales Tax.  See, I'm a recent transplant from Chicago, and even though the locals like to call this state "Taxachusetts," I laugh at them.  Sales tax?!  You don't know what sales tax is until it hits 10.25%!  And then for booze, let's add more on for liquor taxes!  6.25%?! I laugh at how cheap that is!

However, Mr. DiGravio, your argument does less to convince me to vote no:
Alcohol is not a necessity and does not deserve a special tax exemption.  The only goods in Massachusetts exempt from the sales tax are necessities like food, clothing, and prescriptions.  If anything should be taxed, products like cigarettes and alcohol should be.
Let's stop right there.  Not a necessity?  Have you seen the wine brand "Mommy's Time Out"?  The people behind the wine didn't come up with that because moms never need to take the edge off every now and then.  Those of us who aren't moms can vouch--life can be stressful, and a responsible drink every now and then is quite refreshing.  Not all of us are boozehounds.....should we pay the price?

Now let's take a look at what you claim are necessities:

  • food:  Not necessary if you're anorexic!  Or, if you think I'm being too harsh, let's look at the obesity rate.  Maybe if we started taxing food, we wouldn't eat so much.
  • clothing:  Not necessary if you're a nudist!
  • prescriptions:  How many prescriptions are lifestyle drugs?  Or drugs for conditions that could totally be prevented due to poor lifestyle?  I've heard countless stories about people who've lost weight and are shocked and excited to discover that they no longer have to take their blood pressure medication.  That prescription then is a lifestyle choice.  You choose not to lose weight; you take a prescription.  If alcohol is taxed because it's a lifestyle choice, shouldn't these prescriptions be taxed as well?
You claim that revenues from the alcohol tax provide funding for healthcare services for alcohol and drug abuse.  And that Massachusetts has some of the highest rates of alcohol and drug abuse in the country.  And that this tax helps save lives by reducing teen drinking.  Isn't teen drinking a parenting problem?  I'm also against drug use--why does my alcohol tax have to pay for drug abuse treatment and prevention?  Start taxing prescriptions (since I'd bet that a fair amount of drug abuse is prescription abuse)!

Then you end with the old, Everyone else does the sales + excise tax, so we should too.  Massachusetts should dare to be different!  The American Revolution started here, for crying out loud!  Let's revolutionize how tax money is collected and spent!

In addition, you say, we've got a big budget deficit, so if you take away this tax, we'll be in worse shape.  No worse than hurting small business owners by taking my money to New Hampshire to buy liquor and wine (tax-free), I'm sure.

You lost me, Vic.  Question is, did you lose other Massachusetts voters too?

Your pal,

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Do You Know What You're Missing?

Dear Readers,

This entry could be a letter to Jay McInerney in response to his article "It Was Delicious While It Lasted" in October's Vanity Fair.  This article is about the Spanish restaurant El Bulli, which will be closing in 2011.  Although I like food a lot and do write about it, the world of fine dining is, well, still too fine for me.  I knew about Chicago's restaurant scene, but since I don't read much about restaurants (much less pay for the opportunity to eat fancy on a regular basis), I hadn't heard of El Bulli.  Should I admit that?  Probably not.  And probably not to Jay McInerney.

What's the big deal about El Bulli?  Molecular gastronomy.  It's one of those massive-course meal restaurants (McInerney had about 35 courses during his meal), and everything's deconstructed, which means basically, it's too fancy for me.  Yes, I appreciate fine dining once in a while, but I also get tired of fancy food.  Even with small portions, the food can be too much.  Too much that I don't understand, and after a while, it's too much to even care about. Then again, my brain feels exhausted after listening to "Top Chef" contestants describe their dishes for the judges.

So no letter to McInerney.  I'm just not at his level.  You know how else I know?  Here's a sample sentence from the article:

Anne's [McInerney's wife] two favorite foods in the world are bone marrow and oysters, but she never thought that she'd eat them together, out of an oyster shell, or that the combination would be brilliant.
OK, show of hands:  Who else here can say that one of your favorite foods is bone marrow?

I certainly can't.  And it makes me wonder, how much bone marrow do you have to eat to declare it your favorite food?  Do you ever go to a bar for a quick bite and wish they had a bone marrow-infused burger on the menu because you could really go for some marrow right about now?  When you're PMS-y, do you wish you could have a carton of marrow?  [which then devolves into admitting that I don't know just how marrow is packaged.  Do you have to scrape it out of the bone yourself?  Does it come in a container that you spoon out, much like ice cream?]

Sentences like these make me realize that I'm not one of them--and that no matter how hard I try to be posh and sophisticated, finding a place that serves a good French fry is more important to me than snagging a reservation to the deconstruction taking place at El Bulli.

So don't look for me begging for a reservation to have the El Bulli experience.  I'll be just as happy at home.

Your pal,

Monday, September 20, 2010

Woodsy Woman

Dear Readers,

The Boy and I had a pretty outdoorsy weekend.  On Saturday we did a summer biathlon.  Yesterday we went orienteering.  Since we've moved to Massachusetts, it feels like we're spending more time outside--or at least more time in a wooded area.  We certainly made great use of Lincoln Park in Chicago, but that's a city park--I couldn't really get lost in there for days and not find my way to some form of civilization that would've gotten me home (Chicago residents might argue that the Chicago Transit Authority is not civilization, but it'll do).

Here we seem a little closer to nature.  Yes, we're literally closer to nature--and we have a car that can easily get us to the woods--but I feel like I'm exploring nature a little bit more than I used to.  Going for a hike--even a short hike--has always seemed like a big deal.  A HIKE is something different, something that involves equipment and planning....oh, I realize that's not exactly the case, but hiking has always sounded like a bigger deal than just walking through the woods.

Now that the woods can be a short stop on the way home from bringing the Boy to work, I'm more apt to stop for a quick 20 minute hike and enjoy being surrounded by trees.  I've learned that it doesn't take a lot--maybe some paying attention to my surroundings and which trails I was talking.  I can get in and out without getting lost for hours. Yeah, if I wanted to be out for a few hours or days, I'd have to plan accordingly and have the proper equipment, but a quick walk helps me build up to something that's a little bigger.  Even if I do end up doing some serious HIKING, it won't be so daunting to me.  It's just nice to know that being outdoors and in the woods doesn't have to be a big deal.  For a girl whose family wasn't all that much into the outdoors, it's a nice skill set to acquire.

Hope you're enjoying the fall weather!
Your pal,

Friday, September 17, 2010

More Culture Shock

Dear Readers (especially those in the Boston area),

Can anyone tell me why there are so many landscaping companies around here?  Just about every day, another truck (or two) is on my block to mow somebody's yard.  I'm constantly navigating around them when I'm out and about.

Normally I'd think that people are just contracting out a job they don't want to take care of.  I get that--a yard can take a lot of time and effort to maintain.  You might want to let a professional take charge of a big job.

But here most of the yards are the size of postage stamps.  Seriously.  Landscapers just mowed the yard next door, and if it took them five minutes to take the mower out of the truck, mow the yard, and pack up the truck again, that was a long stop.

Is that really worth the cost and effort for either party?   How much does a landscaper charge to do a teeny patch of yard?  How many teeny yards does a landscaper have to do in order to be profitable?

From the homeowner's perspective, I can imagine that maybe you don't want to buy and store a gas-powered mower.  Are you saving that much money and time?  It wouldn't take much longer if you had a push mower (our yard isn't much bigger, and the Boy's done with it--and some trimming--in less than a half-hour).  OK, maybe you're older and can't do the heavy work anymore, but I haven't seen that many senior citizens on my block--these customers can't all be older people

Maybe I'm just used to a DIY mentality, but I really just don't understand this phenomenon.  If someone could explain it to me, I'd appreciate it.

Your pal,

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Waiting Room

Dear Readers,

I'm really not looking forward to the rest of the morning.  I have to bring in our car for its 6-month service appointment....well, it's not really an appointment; it's more like I'm slotted for some time today, but it's first-come, first-served.  The shop opened at 7:30 AM.  I won't be there until probably 10 AM.  I can only imagine how long the line will be by then.  I'll be stuck in the waiting room for a while with who knows what other people.  I won't have internet access, and even though I'll probably bring a book, it'll seem like eternity.

Yeah, I know--it's my own fault for not getting up earlier, so quit my griping and get it over with.  I just keep putting it off though.

That's been my problem for the last couple of days.....I keep putting off different tasks, and I've gotten wrapped up in hours of nothingness, mostly web surfing and social media.  I'm probably going to need to take a social media break soon--there's nothing really worse than reading hype about how fantastic social media is and how I (especially I as a writer) need to be tuned in 24/7 and keep putting out "stuff" no matter whether it's useful or insipid because I supposedly constantly need to be on someone's radar.

Honestly, trying to come up with witty comments or observations for my Twitter and Facebook feeds and reading everyone else's tweets and posts can be mind gets so worked up in trying to keep up and put something out there, that I don't allow myself the time to breathe and be creative in a way that could have more substance and longevity.

Perhaps I just need to put myself in my own waiting room with no internet access for a little bit of time every day.  Allow myself to observe and be and write without the distraction of social media.  Yes, that's probably a better idea---and just a little bit of "waiting time" would probably get me a little further along the path I want to travel.

Time to hit the road!

Your pal,

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Is HFCS by Any Other Name Just as Sweet?

Dear Readers,

You're getting this letter today--I'm pretty sure the Corn Refiners Association doesn't want to hear from me.  Nor do I feel like getting into it with them.  I'm not going to change their minds, but I can use this space to make you a little more aware.

Did you hear the news today that the Corn Refiners Association wants to change the name of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to corn sugar?  You know, to make you feel better about it being in the food you eat?

Part of me thinks, "Good for them!"  They're trying to make their product more sellable (and sometimes you've gotta do what you gotta do).  The other part of me thinks, "I'm on to you, buddy!" and I hope you are too.

I don't really know what to think about HFCS.  Is it sweeter than sugar, as mentioned in the news four years ago (and if so, will your body crave more sweet--i.e.--bad/highly caloric--food)?  Is it the same as sugar?  Is it good for you?  Bad for you?  OK in moderation?  What is it?

I think moderation is the key, but the problem I have with HFCS is that it's in almost anything.  I'm sorry that I don't make my own English muffins or bread (yes, I'd like to get back to baking bread, but I haven't made the time yet).  I don't make my own ketchup.  I'm really not looking for some basic foods to get sweeter, and I think that's a problem with the traditional American diet--just add sweetener, and it'll taste good.  Even when you try to moderate, you can't, if everything's loaded with sweeteners like HFCS.

As a consumer, it's a frustrating process.  I'd sure like to buy some convenience foods to cut down on time in the kitchen, but if I do, they're loaded with stuff that's not good for me.  HFCS is an easy target for hatred because it's cheap and in pretty much everything.  Maybe we shouldn't be mad at the corn refiners--they're just trying to save their business.  Maybe there's a better solution though--maybe one that doesn't rely on corn.  Perhaps a difficult change is necessary, and by not putting up with "corn sugar," we can help shift a culture.

What do you think?

Your pal,

p.s.--I'd like to give a quick kudos to Heinz for their new "Simply Heinz" ketchup.  I saw it in the store and wondered what it was, since the front label didn't give any clues.  It turned out to be ketchup with basic ingredients--sugar, yes.  HFCS and corn syrup, no.  I don't know whether I'm more thrilled that they put a basic ketchup back on the market, or that it doesn't blast "no HFCS!" across the label.  A classy move, and a good product!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Learning the Election Game

Dear Readers,

Today I can vote in the Massachusetts primary elections.  Normally, I love to vote.  As Americans, we have the privilege of being allowed to vote, and it's our duty to elect the best possible people to run our government.  I don't understand why more people don't vote (though the fewer that do, the more powerful my vote becomes).  It doesn't take that long, and if you're like me, you feel an overwhelming sense of patriotic pride when you cast your ballot--yea, America!

However, today I feel a little bit odd because I don't know much about my new local political scene.  Heck, I just figured out where I can vote (not that my town had the information--I had to find the aptly named "Where Do I Vote MA" website).  Granted, this is not a big election year with many offices to vote for, but we do have a gubernatorial race.  With the exception of our current governor, Deval Patrick, whom I keep calling "Patrick Deval," I have no idea who's running.

I'm honestly feeling a little sheepish about this.  I should know who my elected officials are.  The Boy and I have talked about going to Town Council meetings.  We just haven't done anything about it yet.  Part of our disinterest is because we're still assimilating to the area; part of it is because I've taken to ignoring everything about political races.  I'm so tired of the way it's become a big competition--who has more money, who's in what party, and what the polls say this second.  It's almost bad enough to turn me off of voting.  I won't--but I now understand a little better why people don't care about politics anymore.  It'd be nice if the system could change, but I don't think it will anytime soon.  Sad, isn't it?

Anyway, I need to run and bone up on who's running for office.  If I'm electing someone, I might as well learn what I can before I vote.

Your pal,

Monday, September 13, 2010

How Do You Avoid the Drama?

Dear Readers,

I could use some advice.  I'm part of a group, and as you know, when you get a group of people together working for a similar cause, there can be drama.  While this group does work well together and has fun, we still deal with human behavior:  feelings get hurt, buttons get pushed, power is involved.

I'm making a conscious effort not to be involved in the drama.  That means I have to try really hard not to give knee-jerk reactions.  I try not to speculate.  I try not to have an opinion.  I try to keep it fun.

But I've gotta admit, that's really hard to do.  I'm human too, and it's really easy to get swept up in any drama that comes along--especially if work's been a little frustrating, or I'm not feeling like I'm achieving in other areas of my life.

Do you have any tips for keeping the drama out?  I'll take any advice--particularly advice on how I can orient my thinking and actions.  I can't change anyone else, but I can change me.  Unfortunately, it's going to take a lot of practice to make sure I behave the way I'd like to.

Thanks in advance!
Your pal,

Friday, September 10, 2010

Feeling the Burn

Dear Gilad,

Even though my butt is still sore from Wednesday's workout, I'm getting ready to work out with you again.  I'm kind of hooked on your "Total Body Sculpt" show.  True, my body needs some massive sculpting, and even though I'm not sure a <30 min. workout does a whole lot, it's definitely better than nothing.  I also like the fact that it's relatively stationary and I don't have to try to fit some wacky choreography or scads of equipment in my tiny living room.  Plus, I like the fact that you have an upbeat attitude.  I chuckle when I see the commercial that mentions the Wall Street Journal calling you an "Israeli studmuffin."

I could go on, but I don't think you'd approve. You'd tell me to put down the laptop and pick up my hand weights.  Yes, sir!  I'm on it!

See you in a couple.

Your pal,

Thursday, September 9, 2010

You Didn't Have To!

Dear Mayor Daley,

I'm still stunned about your recent decision not to run for re-election as Mayor of Chicago.  I mean, you're a force, you make Chicago work (If you rearrange the letters in "Chicago: The City That Works," I'm pretty sure you can spell "Mayor Daley."  And if you can't, look again.....or I can have my pal help you take a see it now, right?).  What will the city be without you?

Although you may think you've accomplished enough, that you maybe don't want to die in office, that maybe you want to do other things with your life, I can tell that you just haven't gotten over my leaving the city yet.  It's OK.  I still love Chicago, and I'm glad I was able to spend 15 years there.  It's just that there were no jobs for the Boy.  We had to go.  I appreciate your grieving the loss of us, but really, isn't this too drastic a measure to take?  You don't have to give up your position just to prove a point.  I mean, it's nice that you think the Boy could come back and get elected as Mayor, but you know, we've just got to do this New England thing for a while (there's a certain Kennedy to emulate, you know).

Chicago's still Chicago even though we're not there.  Give it time, and you'll understand.  Once you do, maybe you'll regain the fire to run again.  And if not, you and Maggie are always welcome to have an extended stay in our guest room.

Your pal,

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Do Jokes Ever Get Old?

Dear Signe Wilkinson,

Thanks to my subscription to the Boston Globe, I've become acquainted with your comic strip "Family Tree." So far I'm enjoying the adventures of the green-loving Tree family, but your Sunday strip had me a little confused.

Sunday's comic had Mrs. Twig bringing dessert to the table for her teenagers and husband. Mr. Twig's way too full and tries to beg off, but Mrs. Twig protests. The son--the teenage son--delivers the punch line, "If the pants won't fit, you must quit!"

An O.J. joke?  In 2010?

At first I thought, well, it's Labor Day, so maybe this is one from the vault.  But the strip started in 2008.  Now I'm just really disturbed that a joke from the O.J. Simpson trial--and a lame one that was overused back in the day--is still the punch line in a comic strip. The trial happened 15 years ago--the comic strip son may have not even been alive when it happened.  Granted, one needn't have lived through the event to use a famous quote from it, but it kind of saddens me that a comic strip--a form of media that keeps pretty current with the times--plays it safe and goes for an easy gag. Or worse, another argument for print media not being relevant anymore.

I hope this was just some cabin fever/end of summer crank out.  From what I've read about you, you have a really impressive career (Pulitzer!), so I'm looking forward to getting to know your strip a little better.  But if you keep beating the old horses to death, it may become one strip I have no problem skipping.

Your pal,

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What's This Country Run On?

Dear Dunkin' Donuts,

Since I moved to the Boston area, I think I've been to Dunkin Donuts more often in the last six months than I have in the last 15 years.  No wonder you think the country runs on Dunkin'--Boston certainly does.

I've been really intrigued by Dunkin' Donuts since we moved here. There are so many of them--I'm within walking distance of at least two.  What also boggles my mind is that many stores seem pretty busy.  I don't get it--sure, breakfast, I can understand a rush.  I also understand people who need their coffee (I'm not one of those--the rumor I heard that the coffee tastes better the closer you get to Boston intrigues me, but not enough to test it out myself).  And if you're a franchise with a Baskin-Robbins, I can understand the evening customers.  But so busy all the time?  Really?

I'm no stranger to Dunkin's doughnuts, but as I started grabbing the occasional doughnut from one of your outlets, I find I want them more than I ever have before.  Did you put something in the water here to make me crave them so?  

Just curious.

Your pal, 

P.S. --If you're putting something in the water, could you put something in the Coolattas to make them taste better?  The strawberry one is so digustingly sweet.  It sounds refreshing on a hot day, but it's just....blech!  I've been burned twice now--no more Coolattas for me!

P.P.S.--Could you start supplying Congress with doughnuts?  While the country may run on Dunkin', Congress can't seem to get much of anything done.  A good chocolate stick might jump start them, don't you think?

Friday, September 3, 2010

How Do You Celebrate This?

Dear Readers,

Happy Hurricane Earl Day!  Today's the day Hurricane Earl is supposed to come up the East Coast and affect Massachusetts.  Should I be excited about this?

Today I had to drive the Boy to work, so we put on NPR for something to listen to.  Bob Oakes, our local NPR "Morning Edition" host, spent a fair amount of time talking about Hurricane Earl, and he started off one interview by saying, "It's Hurricane Earl Day."  Doesn't that sound like a holiday to you?

Even though I don't think we'll be much affected by the hurricane--we might get some rain and a bit of wind--but overall, Earl's not expected to do much damage.  Plus, it's expected to hit really early tomorrow morning, so if we sleep soundly, we may not even notice anything.

Still, it's our first hurricane experience, and that's kind of cool.  Coming from the Midwest, I don't understand too much about ocean living--true, Lake Michigan is a big lake, but the ocean is a totally different story.  It's fun to slowly acquire all this knowledge about how a different area of the country lives, and once again I'm amazed at how vast and varied our country can be.

It kind of makes me want to celebrate, but I'm not sure quite how.  A Hurricane cocktail is the obvious choice, though I'm not sure I really want to get that hammered today.  The only other thing that comes to mind is making a big hurricane-shaped plate of mashed potatoes.....maybe with a bit of gravy or butter as the eye of the storm.  What other kinds of hurricane fun could we have today?

Looking forward to your suggestions!
Your pal,

Thursday, September 2, 2010

For the Geographically Challenged

Dear Readers,

Today's story was supposed to be one of triumph.  Instead, I got yet another smackdown from my new home.

I've lived in the Boston area for five months now.  In that time I've learned that if I have to go anywhere new, I have to study the map for an insane amount of time, print out directions, and then pray I follow them correctly.  Plus, I have to budget a good 15 minutes for getting lost, which I manage to do pretty much every time I go to a new destination.  If Google Maps says it'll take 14 minutes, it'll really take me 45.  Traffic, construction, crappy winding roads, lack of road's a far cry from the grid of Chicago that I lived with for 15 years.  The grid is fabulous--streets are straight, they're labelled, and addresses are on coordinates, so you know pretty much where you have to go based on the address number.  I don't know if it's budget cuts or stupidity, but here in the Boston area, if you're on a street, it's often not marked--the cross streets are, but what you're driving on right now--the one you took the wrong turn down--isn't.  It's an absolute pain in the neck.  Now you're lost, and you don't know where you got lost.  Plus, #17 on one street isn't parallel to #17 on the next street--that is, if you can find two parallel streets to begin with.

I'm not bitter.

Anyway, yesterday I went to Cherry Bomb Bakery in Brighton to redeem a cupcake voucher.  Google Maps said the bakery was nine minutes from my house, and as I looked on the map, I realized it was on the same street (albeit a fair hike) as a Trader Joe's, where I also needed to go.  I decided to go to Trader Joe's first, then all I had to do was drive down Washington Street until I got to the bakery.  No map required!

That sounded fine and dandy until I got to the section where Washington was one-way going the opposite direction.  I didn't see this quickly enough and was forced onto the Mass Turnpike ($1.25 toll).  Go figure.  Where would I end up?

I got off the turnpike at the Brighton exit, and was spit out onto Cambridge Street, I believe.  Of course, it took many blocks to figure this out, since the street wasn't marked.  Thankfully traffic was also slow-going, since it was Moving Day, and I, like an idiot, decided to go into college campus territory where there were nothing but moving vans, loaded pick-up trucks, and other assorted vehicles-stuffed-with-furniture on the road.

I eventually drove into an area that I recognized, and from my extensive map study, I was soon able to find where I needed to go.  I was happy to have found the bakery, but it really would've been nice to not have to go way out of my way (and pay a toll) to get there.

Oh, I know what you're saying:  Jill, just get a GPS!  To which I say:  Struggling writer.  Many days I feel that a GPS would be nice to have, but honestly, the little money I do make is slotted for other purposes, and a GPS is far down on my wish list.  I love reading maps, and I enjoy navigating, and the GPS would take that job away from me.  Besides, a GPS isn't perfect either.  It's good, but it's not the end all be all.

Hopefully I'll learn the geography of this area soon.  It's probably time to take more drives, get lost, and figure out how to get home.  Any of you have helpful hints?

Your directionally-challenged pal,

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fall into Blogging

Dear Readers,

Oh, good grief!  It's been over a month since I've posted anything.  Perhaps I took a nice summer vacation, you think?  Not really.  I did go to Long Island for a weekend of learning about WFTDA roller derby officiating, but a weekend in a roller hockey rink does not necessarily equal a true vacation.  I did have a really good bagel though, so that's something.  [Incidentally, Long Island reminded me a lot of Northwest Indiana--just with bagels and different accents.  It was a little disconcerting.]

Anyway, I have missed blogging, and I've been thinking about how to get back into it.  I obviously am having difficulty coming up with regular ideas for letters to others.  I'm no Charlie Pierce, who's been writing--at least for the 2 weeks I've subscribed to the Boston Globe--open letters to people.  That's for sure.

Instead, I think I'll go for a hybrid Charlie Pierce/Suzanne Beecher route.  Suzanne runs an e-mail book club, which I've belonged to for several years.  I don't always read the books, but I do read her columns at the beginning.  She's a delight to read, and I love the way her column is organized--just a simple note to us readers with some observation about life.

If I combine these two approaches, I hope that I'll be able to get back into the 5 days/week blogging routine.  I think the rest of my writing is suffering a little, since I don't make use of this space that's designed to help me practice my craft.  I'll try to make it as interesting as possible, and I hope you keep on reading (and maybe tell your friends).

Thanks for your patience!
Your pal,