Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Have a Merry Christmas!


I have no memory of this photo being taken, but I look adorable!  And Santa looks tired and cranky.

Tomorrow early in the morning Greg and I will set off for north Georgia to stay in the guest room at mom's retirement home for three nights and spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with mom.  I probably won't see any other family members while I'm there, which is too bad.  My sister goes every year to spend Christmas in Michigan with her husband's family, and my niece (my brother's daughter) has a big party at her house that basically lasts most of Christmas day, so my brother and sister-in-law will be there.  It's a bit too far away for mom to go, it's just too difficult for her.  So it'll be me and my sweetie and my mom, which is just fine.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How Things I Like Wear Me Down

I've always kind of been drawn to the easy promise of self-help books, as if trading some cash for a pretty book with an empty promise would automatically fix something in my life.  A few years ago I found this book, which, miraculously, did exactly that on a scale so grand it changed the way I look at myself and my place in this world:  The Introvert Advantage. Also, I pretty much stopped reading self-help books, since clearly this one was THE one for me.

I had really never understood that there was a difference between being shy and being introverted (although, horribly, I am both).  Now I know that there is a reason why I love spending so much time alone, why I am exhausted by being around people -- even people I like being around.  Why I have to force myself to leave my nice cozy house to go to the mall, or a party, or an event.  I really had spent my whole life beating myself up for being lazy, or crazy, or just weird.  Since reading this book and understanding that that's just who I am and who I always will be, and I can either fight it (which really had not been working at all) or go with it and learn to take care of myself and plan ahead for things that will be hard.

So, I have been.  I always plan to have time at home to recharge, and I give myself room to be alone.  It has made a giant positive difference in my life.  But yesterday I really underestimated how difficult our company's Christmas celebration would be.

Our little department, which is about a dozen people in a relatively isolated area of the office, is always decorated beyond any amount of reason for holidays.  It's overdone and awesome, and I love it.  We have a couple of people who probably should have been decorators for a living, and they make our area look joyful and fun.  But this year someone from outside our department noticed how pretty it was and asked us to open up our area to the whole company to walk through and enjoy.  Great idea, right?  We all wore red shirts and Santa hats and got candy canes to hand out.

Unfortunately, I had a giant project that I absolutely had to do before leaving at 5:30, and the open house was 3-5.  People kept coming by in groups of 3 or 4 up to a dozen, and a co-worker would give them a tour, stopping at each adorable animated figure and playing the song.  Did I mention that a big part of our decor included an animatronic Frosty singing the whole song, a saxophone-playing Santa wearing sunglasses, and a Christmas tree singing O Christmas Tree, and a snowglobe that played Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, and another half-dozen more dogs and candy canes and reindeer that all sing or play music?

For two hours, while I was making phone calls and rushing to get my project done.  Several times people would be playing with the different toys in different areas, with multiple songs going at once, and it was truly a cacophony.  I was trying so hard to smile and wave at every visitor, my head sweaty under my Santa hat, and say Merry Christmas.  And the truly horrible part is that I really do love Christmas, and I love all our decorations and animated stuff, I really do.

One woman brought her sweet little daughter, she was around 2, who really seemed to take a liking to me.  She was adorable, she had little pigtails and clutched her candy cane, and had ignored everyone else cooing at her.  Clearly she was in tune with my innate awesomeness, but having a whole roomful of people all standing there staring at me and this toddler is exactly the kind of thing that makes me vastly uncomfortable.

The guests were trooping through and staring into our cubicles as though we ourselves were part of the holiday decorations.  Several people leaned in and made comments about things on my desk.  One woman asked about my photo of my Siamese cat, saying she preferred dogs; another complimented my purple hair troll.

Though they were all extremely friendly and nice and everyone was happy and having a great time, I began to feel pecked at, just by their very presence.

I did manage to get my project done, and with huge relief, drove home listening to Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses and Oh Santa by Mariah Carey.  Whew.

Now, I was aware that this day was difficult for me, but all of the useful knowledge from the awesomest self-help book of all fell right out of my head when I got home.  My husband, happy to be home on Friday night and ready to celebrate the beginning of the weekend, wanted to hang out and make dinner together in our tiny kitchen.  I, thinking that my hard day was over and behind me, jumped into signing and addressing Christmas cards (which I was extremely behind on) and making dinner and straightening up.  Before I knew it I was cranky and stressed and getting angry, and my poor husband was making me dinner and trying to cheer me up without knowing what was wrong.

It was just too much, after being massively overstimulated all day.  Like I said, the confusing thing is that I LIKE all this stuff... it was just too much.

Then, I looked at the calendar and realized my period is due in one week, which means yesterday is my single worst day of PMS, which always makes me cranky and impatient.  Gah!  Why hadn't I noticed that before?

I should have come home and been quiet and alone for a few minutes, and I'll remember that next time.  Or at least I'll try to.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Godless Heathen

All right, here it is, just in time for Christmas:  I am an atheist.

Reasons why I ought to be a Christian:
  • I was raised in a Christian household, and though he died when I was small and I never really knew him, my maternal grandfather was a minister
  • I grew up attending a small rural church that perfectly embodied what most people would think of as the churchy ideal -- it was basically a cross between the church on Little House On The Prairie and the one on The Waltons, but with more modern plumbing
  • In that church, I spent a large number of happy hours eating fried chicken and oven-baked macaroni and cheese during potluck lunches in our little Fellowship Hall; wearing a dress made out of a white sheet and a ring of gold tinsel on my head to be a part of the "multitude of heavenly host" in our Christmas pageant (or, when a little older, wearing my father's plaid wool bathrobe to be a "shepherd in the field"); and singing hymns (Love Lifted Me was my favorite)
  • My father, when dictating his obituary to me a few years ago, chose to deliberately leave out his long military career, including serving in the Army during World War II, hoping to highlight his lifetime of devoted service to the church
  • My mother and sister are both dedicated Christians who are happy in their faith (and unaware of my godless heathen status, although they do know that I don't attend church)
Calling myself an atheist is not a thing that I say lightly.  I have tried to believe in God, to have faith.  And part of why I have hesitated to write about this is that I have no easy explanation for why I don't; all I have is my mind, and my heart, telling me that it just isn't true.  It's not right.  And when I was finally able to let go of trying to force myself, all of a sudden everything made sense.  It was such a relief.

I am reluctant to tell people because almost universally people hear atheist and they think amoral. Is the wrath of a higher power and the threat of eternal damnation the only reason to decide not to do bad things?  I am a very moral person, I try hard to be compassionate and honest, and though I have my selfish and impatient moments, I would never deliberately hurt anyone. I don't dislike or think less of people who are religious, and I would never think of trying to talk anyone out of their faith. I know several people whose faith clearly brings them joy, and I am happy for them. Obviously, within any group of people there are kind and awesome individuals, mean and nasty individuals, and everything in between.

You know who I have trouble with, though?  Those people, and this actually may be the majority of people, who don't take the time to really think about it.  In our society, a belief in God is like the default setting, it's just what you are supposed to do.  I am afraid that a lot of people who say they are Christian say it as though they think it equals "good person", and to not believe in God means "bad person", but they don't ever actually go to church, or pray, or read the Bible.  I know multiple people who identify themselves as Christian, are impressed with a person/business/politician who makes their Christianity known, genuinely think of themselves as religious, and yet they never go to church and don't even own a Bible.  Somehow I don't think putting up a false, insincere front will get anyone on the fast track to Heaven.  I am sympathetic, though, because stopping to really think about it, about how the world was created and where we go when we die and what our lives actually mean, is overwhelming.  But what is life if you never stop to think about it?

I don't believe in God, in any God, and I am a good person. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The History of the existence: An Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary to my blog!

Here is my very first blog post, on December 9, 2005:  MY HUSBAND ALMOST DIED TODAY!!.  How's that for a catchy title?  Spoiler:  He didn't, really.

Even though I have imported this entry here onto Blogger, it was originally written on MySpace.  Remember MySpace?  One of the things I liked about it (compared to Facebook) was the option to write and share a blog.  I had seen several friends write occasional blog entries and on that particular day, since something exciting had happened, I decided to do one myself.  It was quick and easy, and unlike setting up an actual blog, you didn't feel any kind of obligation to keep up with it.  A lot of friends posted one single entry and then stopped, a lot posted just two or three times to communicate specific things going on.  MySpace was the casual hookup of the blog world.

Back then I wrote blog entries once or twice a month with personal updates; writing about looking for a house to buy, or turning 40.  Then I started write entries just to be silly or funny.  Then I started sharing my photos.  A lot of my friends would leave me witty and sweet comments, which unfortunately are mostly lost now that people have jumped ship on MySpace.

I started this Blogger blog in early 2007 and imported all my MySpace entries (some of which the formatting went slightly wonky).  My title on MySpace was The Story of e, which I quite liked, but it wasn't available here so I settled for existence of ellen.  For a while I was posting blog entries both here and on MySpace, but as time went on, fewer and fewer people used MySpace, so at some point I bailed on MySpace too and just posted here.

So.  Five freakin' years!  I am simulaneously impressed and appalled with myself.  In the past half decade, blogs have gone from being a fairly unique way to keep a public journal to being practially obligatory.  Corporations use blogs as marketing tools, news organizations use blogs as legitimate sources, blogs are trendy and fashionable.  

Well, MINE is not trendy or fashionable.  A lot of the people who read my blog on MySpace did not make the leap to Blogger with me, and though I do have a few loyal readers, some of whom never leave comments *waves at Jacki* and some of whom leave comments that are sometimes better than my actual blog entry *waves at Angella*, I don't have a whole lot.  I feel like I started on a whim and just kept going, with no real focus.

Five years is a long time, and it makes me think.  Why did I start writing a blog, really?  I missed writing, and I wasn't writing anything.  Writing this blog made me remember how much I love to write, and I think was instrumental in leading me back to a life of writing.  Why do I keep writing it now that I have begun writing fiction?  I do like keeping a web journal, and I do like the friends I've made in the bloggy world, and I do like writing things other than my novel (especially right now, as I am revising and not really writing). 

However, I think I've fallen into a bad habit of only writing about what's easy, and not really being true to myself.  I have been, sometimes unconsciously, afraid to be honest.  I don't want to make anyone feel bad, or piss anyone off, or lose any of the small amount of readers that I do have.

Well, fuck that.  I am almost 45 years old, time is a-wastin', so my new attitude about this blog is NO FEAR.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Down With Slacktivism!

I have a new favorite word: Slacktivist.  Behold the wonder of the awesome word!  A combination of slacker and activist, isn't it lovely?

The definition from Wikipedia: The word is considered a pejorative term that describes "feel-good" measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts also tend to dilute awareness campaigns and require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist.  Examples of activities labeled as "slacktivist" include signing internet petitions, the wearing of awareness ribbons or awareness bracelets with political messages, putting a ribbon magnet on a vehicle, joining a Facebook group, posting issue-oriented YouTube videos, altering one's personal data or avatar on social network services, or taking part in short-term boycotts such as Buy Nothing Day or Earth Hour.


I found this out when I was doing research about the whole deal this past weekend on Facebook where so many were encouraging people to change their profile pic to a cartoon character to, as many of their copy and pasted status updates implored, "raise awareness of child abuse".  Because people are unaware, currently?  Anyway, I thought the cartoon characters were cute.  Then on Sunday evening a new message started appearing on people's status updates warning that it was in fact an insidious plot by those pesky pedophiles, and for authenticity, the copy/pasted messages said that the story had just been on 60 Minutes.  (I had actually watched 60 Minutes, and there was nothing.) 

The idea of what should be a charitable action being not only selfish but actually detrimental is kind of hilarious, though.  And I have to admit this twinges me, too, as I have eagerly signed internet petitions and worn awareness ribbons and posted issue-oriented YouTube videos in the vague hopes of somehow being helpful.  But how, really, does "raising awereness" help anything if it is an issue (like AIDS, or breast cancer, or child abuse, etc) that people are certain to be already aware of?

Dagnabbit, I kind of liked being a slacktivist. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Gators!

We went to Gatorland again a couple of weeks ago, and I just love it there.  We went with great friends, the weather was beautiful, and we all had a great time.

It's actually a bird sanctuary, so I always take a lot of photos of pretty birds.





I always take this exact same picture when I go to Gatorland.  I just love the way the white bird's reflection looks in the muddy water.


The white birds -- what kind of bird is that, anyway? -- ride around on the back of the gators like they are huge, scaly surfboards.


I don't know what this is, but it's rusty and interesting.





Our friend's two year old daughter was having a "sad" day, and despite the beautiful scenery and the petting zoo and the train ride, she was positively melancholy.  Attempts to cheer her up were such a burden to her!  :)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What Should I Do?

Several times this year I have mentioned finding old friends on Facebook, and how there is one particular friend, Casey, to whom I was especially close in high school and college, that I can't find.  She was such an interesting person back then, so smart and funny.  She was tall, with slender legs and arms, and my short little self was so envious of her effortless elegance.  She rooted for underdogs, liked to cook, was too shy to speak to any guy she thought was cute, and despised her curly hair (she wanted to have a sheet of silky hair, like a Veela, but her hair defied her).

To recap:  we kept in touch after I moved from Virginia to Florida for the first few years, then our long-distance phone calls and hand-written letters became farther and farther apart.  Communicating was so much harder in the dark days before the internet!  I haven't heard from her in more than 15 years, at this point.

I've asked other friends, and the same thing happened with them.  Casey moved away from our small town, and lost touch with all our old friends.  When people found me on Facebook, they'd message me asking about Casey, assuming I'd be most likely to still be in touch. 

Then I found, just by random searching on Facebook, Casey's sister Donna.  They were close to the same age, and we'd all been friends.  Thrilled, I friended her and sent her a message.  She accepted my friend request silently.  I messaged her again, and heard nothing.  I sent her an email to the address she listed, and heard more nothing.  I sent friend suggestions to people from high school we'd known.  Nothing came of that, none of them are friends with Donna - in fact, despite a fairly large number of our classmates on Facebook, I am the only one from back in the day that Donna is friends with. 

The one day out of the blue she posted a comment on one of my photos, saying she had some old photos she would post soon.  I was encouraged, and posted several old photos of her and Casey and I, tagged her to be sure she'd see them, and posted this on her wall:   Just uploaded some pics from college, several of you and several of Casey. Send me a message or an email, I'd like to catch up! :)

That was on April 11.  Since then, there's been no activity at all.  No response, no wall posts or status updates or anything.

So. I did a Google search for Donna's name and the city I see she now lives in, and found a phone number. I'm practically a stalker.

What should I do now?  Should I call her?  Should I take the Facebook silence as a big hint, and go away?  At this point I feel that the news about Casey might well be bad, and that bothers me tremendously.  Knowing what happened, even if it's bad news, would at least bring an end to my wondering.  But is that selfish, expecting Donna to relive whatever emotion is tied to thinking and talking about her sister?

Also, she didn't give me her phone number.  Would it be invasive to call her?  I found it because it is listed in the public phone directory, though, so anyone with access to a phone book can find it. 

Not ever finding out what happened to my old friend would be so sad.  And there is at least a TINY chance that Donna would be glad to hear from me. Maybe she just couldn't get the hang of Facebook so she stopped using it.  Maybe Casey is fine, and Donna would give me her phone number, and we'd renew our friendship, and everyone would be happy.

I could use some guidance, as I am completely conflicted about what to do.  Should I call Donna and ask about Casey, or should I let it go?  Please leave a comment and give me a little advice.  :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

No, Seriously, I Really Am Thankful

For... 
  • The internet.  I love reconnecting with old friends and staying connected with new friends on Facebook, I love the ease and convenience of this blog and the friends I've made though it.  I love watching tv shows on Hulu and movies on Netflix and videos of kittens on YouTube.  I love wasting time playing stupid games, and shopping for things I'll never buy, and doing research, and reading comics, and, obviously, looking at photos of naked people.
  • My pumpkin pie recipe.  I found it years ago in a magazine ad for a graham cracker pie crust.  Not being any kind of a cook, I had no idea at the time that it was atypical, but apparently making a pumpkin pie using only a can of pumpkin, a can of sweetened condensed milk, some spices and a graham cracker crust is kind of different.  It is extremely easy and yummy, though, and it's what I'll be taking to two different family households tomorrow to celebrate Thanksgiving (both of which specifically requested "my" pumpkin pie).
  • Florida, which is so nice and sunny and toasty warm (even this week, it is still in the low 80's), and I'm only an hour or two away from both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.  I love the humidity, I love the heat, I love the flat landscape that feels wide open, I love the plam trees, I love the little lizards running around everywhere and occasionally wiggling their tiny way into the space between our screens and our windows, then getting trapped and dying there. Okay, I do not love the tiny lizard carcass that has made one of our windows into its own personal graveyard.  Possibly I should take it out...  Ew, though.
  • The library, without which I would not be able to read, well, basically any of the books that I go through. I only buy books when I really want to keep a book to read over and over (or reference repeatedly), and I still spend more money than I should.  I am additionally thankful for their delivery system, so I can just go on their website and request a book and have it brought right to my front door.  Sa-weet!
  • My mother, who is one of the sweetest and kindest people I've ever known.  I talk to her every day at 8pm, after Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune are over, she calls me "honey" and every single night she's careful to ask me how Greg is doing.  She watches out for the other people in her retirement home, shares her daily newspaper with the man across the hall, and calls all our relatives on their birthdays.  She loves me and inspires me, and I love her right back.
  • My sweetie-pants, who tells me he loves me every day, cuddles with me in the middle of the night if I have a nightmare, occasionally sends me sweet texts during my work day telling me how pretty I am or how much he's looking forward to seeing me after work, and not only supports me in my creative endeavors but is genuinely excited and enthusiastic (he even read my novel as I was writing it).  He makes my day to day life very comfortable and happy.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

I Am Thankful, Dammit!

Since I've been working in my current department, holidays are always a challenge.  There are only five of us (well, five and a half, really) to cover all of our operating hours: 8am-9pm Monday through Friday, and 9am-5pm on Saturday and Sunday. We need to have a minimum of three people working each day during the week, and one each weekend day.

During Thanksgiving and Christmas a lot of us want to be off, and though our boss is extremely sympathetic and does her best to make everyone happy, it still pretty much sucks.  Two people (two and a half, really) will be off this week, so we will be short handed, to some degree, every day.  I will be working long busy days Tuesday and Wednesday, I'll be off on Thursday, then back to work for more long busy days on Friday and Saturday.

I'd just like to spend some time complaining about that.

Here's the thing, though.  I will be able to take off almost a week at Christmas, and Greg and I will be able to go visit Mom in her retirement home in north Georgia.  So, I can't complain, really.  It's a trade-off.

I'd still like to complain, though.  Every time I see people updating their Facebook status to celebrate their "short week" and their "long weekend" it irks me.

But, oddly enough, being irked is not the appropriate mindset for this week.  I am trying to focus on how nice it'll be when I can see Mom next month, and be thankful instead.

Pumpkin pie will probably help, too.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Hate Everybody

Does that sound negative?  Gosh, I hope not.  As a little girl growing up in the south, the very most important thing was to be A Sweet Girl.  For all of my almost 45 years I have been unable to exorcise the directive from my brain, so I do still find myself unconsciously striving to be A Sweet Girl, even now.
 
I just get so impatient and frustrated with people who misuse language.  Words are so important, and mean so much to me.  I take it personally and get offended when people misuse/mispronounce words.
 
And the worst part is, when a word is consistently misused/mispronounced for enough years, the official definition/pronunciation will change.  This is terrible!  Don't give me that stuff about language evolving, that is devolving!
 
As a shy and introverted but bookwormy and occasionally snotty teen, I learned the word "forte", which meant an area at which one excels, and was pronounced "fort".  It didn't look like "fort", though, it looked like "for-tay", which is how everyone pronounced it.  Now that is an official accepted pronunciation.  Fail!
 
Also the word "apropos".  It used to mean relating to, but everyone thought it was just a fancy way to say appropriate, so now that is an actual accepted definition. 
 
What does this mean?  The English language is being altered to accomodate people who are too stupid or ignorant to look up the correct usage of the very words that are coming out of their mouths.  Our entire society is collapsing! 
 
I am making a prediction:  the next thing to be changed because of virtually universal misusage will be acronym.  Everyone, seriously, everyone thinks that an acronym is just letters that stand for words, ie, WTF, LOL, etc.  That is not right.  An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters in a phrase, like SCUBA, or WASP.  WTF and such are actually initialisms. 
 
No one knows this, right?  This misunderstanding is basically unanimous.  Look around on the internet and you'll find several helpful sites to figure out what frequently-used "acronyms" stand for, and none at all for initialisms.  So, you know what that means.  The only question is how long it will take.
 
I'm going to go even further on my next prediction: at some point in our terrible demise as humans, in our slow mindless plodding towards a world where the lowest common denominator rules not only occasionally but exclusively, where the beauty, nay, the very meaning of language itself is not valued one bit -- "a whole nother" will be acceptable.
 
Yes, yes.  It's already happening, it's already moved from conversational usage to actual print media.  Why people can't say "another whole" I honestly do not understand.  Why do people want to say, in essence, "a whole another"? 
 
Because people are stupid and wrong and I hate everybody.
 
Uh oh, my Sweet Girl mask is slipping again.
 
One last note:  The day "simular" becomes okay will be the day that I will kill myself.  FYI.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Inadvertent Bully

Lately, a lot of people have been talking about bullying, in particular about the gay high school/college kids who have committed suicide.  I, being an indescribably passionate fan of the intelligent, hilarious, fearless and occasionally slightly vulgar Dan Savage, was excited by his It Gets Better project from the day he first announced it on his podcast (called Savage Love, his super awesome weekly love/sex advice podcast, check it out).  It started out as a channel on YouTube, he and his spotlight-shy boyfriend recorded the first video aimed at young people in crisis with the message that It Gets Better.  He invited anyone to contribute their own videos, with the goal of communicating to gay kids that, regardless of how oppressive things get if surrounded by narrow-minded jerks during school, as adults they can choose their own friends, their own partners, and have a happy successful life.

The It Gets Better project took off quickly, with thousands of people posting videos, including celebrities and politicians (even President Obama).  Some are sweet, some are kind of cute, and some poignant - like the one from Tim Gunn, who shared that he attempted suicide when he was bullied as a teenager.

A lot of people on tv have been talking about bullying, as well.  I saw Madonna on Ellen's show, discussing the problem.  It is obviously a good thing when people talk about how to make things better for suffering young people, and how to prevent suicides.  However, listening to them go around and around with vague platitudes about raising awareness and stopping bullying, I couldn't help but feel like they were missing the point.

Now, I am not a parent, I am not a teenager; but I used to be a teenager, I saw bullying, and I try to be a thoughtful and empathetic human being.  Something Dan Savage said recently on a podcast rang true to me, and I feel like it's at least part of the point people are missing, so I wanted to share it.

A caller accused Dan of being negative about Christians, of assuming Christians are, in some way or another, behind the bullying.  With his typical brilliant bluntness, Dan said that a parent who speaks about homosexuality in any way other than with respect and acceptance is contributing.  (I am recalling this to the best of my ability, I'm certainly not quoting here.)  He said that when a child hears their parents talk about how gay people shouldn't adopt, shouldn't get married, shouldn't have the exact same rights that everyone else has, they get the message that there is something wrong with gay people.  Any parent who says that God teaches that homosexuality is wrong is telling their children that gay people are wrong.

It's hard to be a teenager. Virtually everyone is bullied or is a bully, to some degree, during school years.  I think judging people, looking for weaknesses, and stereotyping is an inevitable part of figuring out who you are, and finding your place in society.  I know I was a total dumbass a lot of the time, and even though I was too quiet and shy to be much of a bully to anyone, I do remember thinking less of people because of absolutely insignificant differences.

So what happens when kids, struggling with issues and insecurities of their own, hear their parents say that gay people shouldn't have equal rights?  In at least some cases, they go to school and target the gay kids.

Sure, there are probably some parents who are actual raging homophobes who actively encourage their kids to go be violent and cruel to classmates, but honestly, that has to be a small minority, right?  Probably the vast majority are parents who think of themselves as fair, open-minded people, who are fine with gay people in theory, but not in actual fact.

And to be completely honest, I am most irritated by the people attempting to hide in the middle of the gray area, not willing to take a firm stance either way.  People who believe that God literally spoke out against gay people in the Bible, who believe that gays are doomed to hell (and therefore, it would follow, evil) are, in my opinion, sadly hateful; but at least they are sincere in their belief.  The people who really piss me off are those who say they have no agenda against gays but consistently vote against equal rights.  The people who say they are not homophobic, they even know a gay person or two; but they don't think gay people should marry or adopt.  The people who say they are fine with gay people doing whatever they want, but behind closed doors. And I bet it's those people who are indirectly and inadvertently encouraging their children to bully gay teens.

Whether or not it was deliberate on the part of the parents doesn't matter at all to a tormented gay teen who is considering suicide.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I Am Sick And Can't Think Of A Title

You know what's NOT a Halloween tradition?  Me getting the flu.

At least I hope it's not, we'll see what happens next year, I guess.

I did watch The Exorcist with my husband, and I have to admit, I had forgotten what a truly brilliant movie it is.  Which, of course, is why it's so terrifying.  It's haunting, days later snippets would pop back up in my head at random times.

I had forgotten the poignant, heartbreaking moments with elderly people, which is a sore point on my heart.  Just a little moment like when Father Karras' mother strokes his face, so clearly happy to see him, breaks my heart a bit.  And then when he has to leave her in the terrifying nursing home, it's weepingly tragic.

Anyway, despite the movie haunting me, I was able to sleep.  For a couple of nights, until I got sick.

I'm still sick, actually.  I'm sitting here right now, staring at the screen, trying to think of something to write, then my mind wanders away and I start to blink reeeeeally sloooowly.

Back to bed.  But no nightmares, just lotiony tissues.  No demons, just Mucinex and Nyquil.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Tradition

My husband, who likes horror and horrifying movies (see his website here, and it is occasionally NSFW), and I started our own little Halloween tradition a few years ago; on Halloween night we watch a horror movie.

The year before last we watched the original Halloween, which was very good, and very scary, and though I closed my eyes during a few extra scary parts, it didn't bother me too much.  Last year we saw Paranormal Activity in the movie theatre, and I am not exaggerating when I tell you that every time I get up in the middle of the night to go pee I am afraid I might run into a demon.

And I get up every night to go pee.

And I don't even believe in demons!

This year my husband is really super excited about the new remastered blu-ray of The Exorcist.

Well, you can see where this is going, right?

Okay, when I was a teen I read the book, and it made me so nauseous and upset in certain parts that I actually had to put the book down until I could be sure I wasn't going to puke.  A couple of years later, I did see the movie -- on network television, edited for tv.  And it still scared the crap out of me.

Honestly though, it is a brilliant movie, and quite possibly the scariest movie ever made.  A classic!  And it's Halloween.  Our Halloween TRADITION.

What do you think?  Should I watch it?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Leaving

My mother had three brothers, two older and one younger.  They grew up in Southwestern Virginia.

Her oldest brother joined the military, returned to SWVA, stayed with his family, never married, was very active in his church, and died two years ago.

Her other older brother George went to college and majored in German.  He spent a couple of years living in Germany, and during WWII he worked with the military as a translator.  He never married, and became a German professor at a university in California, where he lived until his death.

Yesterday.  In his retirement home, at the age of 95.

My mother's younger brother went to Virginia Tech (like my father, although not at the same time).  He married and moved to New England, where his wife's family was from, and they still live there together.

He was diagnosed two years ago with Alzheimer's.  He seems perfectly fine some days, and some days talking to him on the phone is hard for mom.

My mom assures me that she's sad but okay, and I don't need to drive up there to be with her.  With the death of my father almost three years ago, I know she must feel like everyone is leaving her.  Or leaving without her.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Marigold Project: Phase Two

Well, like I told you here, I started my marigold project with love and hope, and unfortunately it didn't turn out as well as it might have.  By which I mean, nothing happened.

Time for a new beginning!  Meet my tiny baby marigold plants:




Aren't they cute?  Hopefully they will fare better than my poor too-old seeds planted out of season.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Did It

I finished my novel!

I started thinking about it seriously last May (2009), making notes and character sketches and a vague plot outline.  I intended to start writing right away, but couldn't find the internal fortitude to take that intimidating first step.  Then I decided Nanowrimo would provide the butt-kicking that I required, and I started actually writing on November 1.  By November 30, I was 50,000 words in.

And apparently overwhelmed and burned out, because I basically couldn't write anything for months afterward, despite obsessing about the novel.  In June I finally got back to work, and now here I am, at just over 70,000 words, at THE END.

I am simultaneously really proud of myself, and excited to get going with editing/revising, and also extremely sad.  It's surprised me, but I've walked around for the past couple of days feeling positively bereft, and a little weepy.  These characters have been walking around in my head for over a year, and I miss them!

I've decided to skip Nanowrimo this year, even though I was looking forward to it and had already started planning a new novel, because I just can't stand the thought of pushing my current work in progress aside, even for a month.  I'm going to print out the whole thing -- first sentence to last sentence -- and start revising.

But, I did it!  I feel like I can now officially call myself a writer.  I'm a novelist.  Yay, me!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WWoHP Part Three: In Which I Go On A Bit Longer

The thing that really got me about the WWoHP was the lack of characters.  I mean, you expect to see characters in a theme park, right?  Either actual people wearing suits and walking around like Mickey and Minne Mouse do at Disney, or at the very least lots of merchandise with the character's images.

There is nothing like that at the WWoHP, which might be why it's called the Wizarding World, instead of Harry Potter World.  It's clearly meant to make you feel like you are walking around in a world that really exists, not that you are walking around in a world dedicated to the characters.

There are plenty of souvenirs for sale.  I did see a few t-shirts with characters on them, but shockingly few. One stuffed white owl puppet that could have been Hedwig, but then again she probably wasn't the only white owl, right?  Pretty much everything jived exactly with what you'd expect to see if you really did go to Hogsmeade/Hogwarts.  They sold a lot of t-shirts and hoodies with each of the four houses on them, and notebooks with the Hogwarts crest, and candy items in Honeyduke's and jokey items and toys in Wonko's. There is absolutely no reference to Voldemort himself, or any of the specific teachers, and only minor references to Harry, Hermione and Ron.

And that, above everything else, was what really got to me.

Knowing nothing at all about the planning process, I'm going to go ahead and just assume that I can give JK Rowling all of the credit.  I mean, you know that Universal must have wanted to sell stuffed Voldemort dolls and have employees dressed up as house elves, right?  I'm just going to imagine a big conference room in London where JK yelled at them and told them how it would be!  And I'm also going to assume that she did it just for her readers, so they'd have a place to go and experience the books, not the commercialization.

In other words, I think she made it just for me.  And it is perfect.

After the little intro movie, if you click on Hogsmeade, you can see just what it looks like HERE (this is even the same Hogwarts Express engineer guy we saw) and/or click on Hogwarts.

And... now I'm finished.  :)

See also:
WWoHP Part One: In Which We Park The Car And Walk For Miles
WWoHP Part Two: In Which We Actually Get There

Sunday, October 10, 2010

WWoHP Part Two: In Which We Actually Get There

Halfway across the bridge, I can see the gates of Islands of Adventure in front of me, and I am thrilled!  From that moment on, I completely forget to worry about the car.  Being me, I had done the research and looked at the maps on Universal's website, and had plotted the quickest way to get to WWoHP, so we turned right, walked through the Dr. Suess area, and as we walked through the Lost Continent I saw it suddenly, in the distance; the rooftops of Hosgmeade.  OOOoooooooo!

The terrible weather had not yet arrived, but it was cloudy, so the very first view we had was against a cloudy gray sky, and it looked exactly like a dreary, snowy English day.  SWEET.

The entrance is a big stone archway with a black metal sign saying: Hogsmeade  -  Please respect the spell limits.




The first thing you see is the big red Hogwart's Express, which spews smoke every few seconds and looks utterly real.  It manages to look clean and yet used at the same time, and it comes equipped with an engineer guy, who will happily pose for photos, speak to you completely in character with his British accent, and when not being bothered by tourists he appears to perform mainentance on the engine. 





And the street stretches away before you, with cobblestones and street lamps and shops right out of Hogsmeade/Diagon Alley.



Okay, full disclosure here.  It was at this point where I started crying a little.  It's just so perfect.

There's an Owlery, with real fake owls flapping high in the ceiling rafters, and real fake owl poop underneath them.



The Hog's Head pub is right next to the Three Broomsticks restaurant.



Visitors can buy a butterbeer or pumpkin juice from the stand.  I tasted both, and pumpkin juice is sweet with a spicy, pumpkin pie flavor.  You can buy one of the pretty pumpkin-topped bottles to take home.  Butterbeer is only sold in the WWoHP, and it's a two part drink: the carbonated butterbeer part and the foamy top part that they actually add separately.  It tastes a little like cream soda, maybe with a hint of butterscotch, and I thought it was delicious.



There's an owl post, selling quills, sneakoscopes, and Hogwarts stationery.  It was a tiny shop and extremely crowded, that's someone's back pressed up against the door.


There's a Gringott's ATM!



Several of the shops are fake, but look so real, and have wonderful details.  In the picture below, the shop on the left sells quiddich supplies, and has a set of bludgers in the window, rattling around and struggling to get free of the chains.  The shop on the right is a bookstore with a display of Gilderoy Lockhart books in the window.



One of the real shops is Zonko's, where you can buy pygmy puffs and extendable ears.  This is a view of the fun, colorful ceiling at Zonkos.


Another real shop is Honeyduke's, which is attached to Zonko's.  You can buy chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans here. 



At the end of the street, visitors walk around a little curve, and then there it is.  Hogwarts!


Oh, it's just breathtaking.  The actual Forbidden Journey ride is in a structure right below Hogwarts, which appears to be on a mountain above you.  Visitors don't get to walk around inside the castle seen above, but just to stand below and look at it is genuinely amazing.

The idea of the Forbidden Journey ride is that you are a Muggle, on a tour of Hogwarts.  The tour starts outside in the greenhouse, and then goes into the Portrait Gallery, which is purely amazing.  We stood for quite a while looking at the paintings, which do look exactly like a painting until suddenly it begins to move, and talk to you.  The effect is flawless. (The big one at the bottom that appears black was actually moving when I took the pic.)



The next part of the tour is Dumbledore's office, where you see the pensieve, and then Dumbledore appears and gives a little talk welcoming the guests.  Then into the Defense Against Dark Arts classroom, where Harry, Hermione and Ron suddenly appear and, instead of letting you suffer through the boring talk about the history of Hogwarts (which is actually really interesting, Hermione protests) they are going to sneak you out to take you on a ride.

The ride itself is a lot more intense than I expected, and I got a tiny bit motion-sick, but overall it was exciting, and really well-done.  There are giant spiders (ack!), dragons, dementors, and the Whomping Willow.  

The ride, of course, exits into a gift shop, Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods, and this is the only place in the whole of the Wizarding World that I saw items for sale with specific characters on them.  There are a couple of t-shirts with Harry, one with Bellatrix (THAT BITCH!), and you can also buy a Marauder's Map and quiddich supplies.

Outside Hogwart's is a small performance area, and we were lucky enough to be right there at just the perfect time.  There is a Tri-Wizard performance, with Durmstrang students performing a choreographed martial-arts type demonstration:




And Beaxbatons students doing a pretty, twirly dance.  She might be a Veela, don't you think?



We heard barking coming from Hagrid's house.  Fang must be home!



We headed back to the Three Broomsticks for lunch.  Visitors are not allowed into the restaurant unless they are having a meal, so you really can't get a good look at the awesomeness unless you're going to eat there.  But why wouldn't you want to?


Again, I did the research beforehand and all reviews said that the shepherd's pie, while delicious looking, is dry and tasteless, so I ordered the fish and chips.  My fish and chips were actually very good, and Greg confirmed that the shepherd's pie is not the way to go.  The butterbeer was great, and I kind of regret not shelling out the cash for the souvenir mug, which, although plastic and fairly small, was very cute.  Here's my butterbeer in the generic cup:


Attached to the Three Broomsticks restaurant is the Hog's Head Pub, which sells their own specialty Hog's Head Brew beer.  I didn't try the beer, but did enjoy the actual head of the hog, behind the bar.  He periodically moves around and snorts.


There are two other rides in the WWoHP, one is a small, fairly gentle rollercoaster called the Flight of the Hippogriff, and also the Dragon's Challenge, which is basically just a re-theming of the already existing Dueling Dragons coaster.  While I do like coasters, there was kind of a long wait, and we'd ridden Dueling Dragons, so we skipped it. 


We spent some time just hanging out, and looking around.  There are an amazing number of tiny, perfect details that make it so real.  The sun came out, despite the dire warnings from the doomy weatherpeople, and the snow and icecicles sparkled.


Finally, we had seen everything at least twice and we were tired, so we headed off on the long journey back to the car.  When we got there, it was locked, of course.




Part One: In Which We Park The Car and Walk For Miles


Part Three:  In Which I Go On A Bit Longer



Saturday, October 9, 2010

WWoHP Part One: In Which We Park the Car and Walk for Miles

It's no secret that I LOVE the Harry Potter books (and the movies, too, but mostly the books).  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter officially opened mid-July, and I have been dying to go, and have been waiting impatiently since then.  Living in Orlando, it's relatively easy for me, since Universal Studios/IOA is only about a half-hour from my house.  A 1-day 1-park pass is $82 per adult, but as a benefit my company provides two free two tickets a year, and though my husband and I often go in the spring to see their Mardi Gras parades, obviously this year I have been waiting.
 
Here's how the Universal Resort area in Orlando is set up:  There are two theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure (where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located).  There are also several hotels onsite, and an entertainment complex called Citywalk, full of restaurants, shops, clubs and a giant movie theatre (that's where I go to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show).

I have a few Facebook friends who work at Universal, so I knew from their status updates that the crowds at WWoHP were just terrible.  For a good long while after opening, the staff at Islands of Adventure were having to control the number of people who could enter the WWoHP, there were lines of people waiting to even go in the area.  Given how bad they will let it get before restricting access, things must have been extremely crowded.  Plus, this year we had one of the hottest summers ever.  98 degrees + humidity + crushing crowds of sweaty tourists = WAIT.  
 
Greg and I always try to take at least a couple of vacation days to celebrate our anniversary on October 1, so that seemed like a good time.  Fall weather + tourist offseason + going on a weekday when kids are in school = WIN.  A month beforehand I put in my request at work to go on Wednesday, September 30, got it back approved, and then all I had to do was try to contain my excitement.  Which I didn't do successfully, and ended up gushing about it to Greg pretty much every single day.
 
After spending the morning agonizing over whether or not to believe the weather people who all promised a day full of flooding rain and wind due to Tropical Storm Nicole, we decided to go for it and arrived at the main parking gate at around 10:30am.  We drove through the gate and paid the parking lot attendant, then we spent the next few minutes bitterly cursing a $15 parking charge.  (It really does seem like a lot, doesn't it?  Geez. I feel bad for the people who have to pay a buttload to get in the park, and then pay the huge parking fee on top of it.)  I made the difficult decisions about what was absolutely vital to carry around with me (small camera, extra batteries, debit card, cell phone), left my big purse in the car, and we headed off excitedly.
 
After parking in the huge multi-level garage, visitors then walk to an escalator and up (or down) to the main level, then walk to the walkway (which is a moving sidewalk, like in a lot of airports) that's around 47 miles long, give or take a hundred miles.  Then, those people who can't read any of the several languages that the many signs are posted in or figure out what the word "walkway" means stand stubbornly in the way of those of us who do not wish to use the walkway as a standway.  Then the walkway/standway ends in a big covered circular area housing the first (or last, depending on your direction) opportunity to buy stuffed Spiderman dolls, Simpsons water bottles and Rock-n-rollercoaster t-shirts.  There are also wheelchair/stroller rentals, restrooms, and an M&M vending machine.  WTF?  This is the only place I have ever seen an M&M vending machine, and it always strikes me as odd.
 
Then the next walkway/standway, for another few hundred miles, then we are finally in Citywalk.  We walk past the movie theatre and the stage area for live bands and the restaurants and the shops, and then we are at the bridge that will lead to Islands of Adventure.
 
It is at this point that my husband stops walking suddenly, looks at me, and says, "I don't think I locked the car.  Do you remember hearing the car beep?"
 
I love my husband so much!  A lot of the time, anyway.  Did I mention that I left my big purse in the car?
 
After a brief but urgent conversation, we decided he was being weird and neurotic, and that he probably did lock the car.  Solemnly shouldering the burden of worrying about the car all day, we walk across the bridge.





Part Two:  In Which We Actually Get There

Part Three:  In Which I Go On A Bit Longer

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Marigold Project: End of Phase One

I will not burden you with yet another visual of my dirt-filled planter, but the latest update is that the teensy little green thing that may or may not have been a weed has disappeared.  I have definitely given Mr. Marigold plenty of time to show up, but he has apparently missed the bus; new arrangements must be made.

One day soon I'll go to the store and buy a few baby marigold plants, and I'll post some actual pretty photos of flowers.

I wonder if now is a bad time to plant marigolds in Florida?  The weather here is gorgeous, 80 degrees during the day and 65 at night.  I guess I'll give it a shot and see how Mr. Marigold Jr does.

Also, Greg and I took a few vacation days last week in celebration of our 7th wedding anniversary on October 1.  One day we spent at Islands of Adventure in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so stay tuned for an upcoming blog entry with lots of gushing and lots of photos!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Golden Years

I took a few days off work last week to drive to north Georgia to visit my Mom.

Mom lives almost at the very end of a long hallway, and next door to her is an empty apartment.  A few years ago, The Barefoot Lady lived there, infamous in our family for using the retirement home's laundry room barefoot (we all agreed that was a little gross).  She was a larger lady, she was boisterous and friendly, and she had a big family that were always coming to visit her.  When her sons figured out that Dad was a cigar smoker, they brought him some actual illegal Cuban cigars.  Or so they said, anyway.  Dad loved sitting on his balcony, overlooking the woods, and smoking them while reading large print western novels (or, after his eyesight faded, listening to western audio books); genuine Cuban or not, they were good cigars, he said.  They were all very kind to Mom after Dad passed away.  Late last year The Barefoot Lady went into the hospital, and never came back.  The apartment has been empty since then.

On the other side of Mom's apartment, at the very end of the hallway by the big window that lets in the afternoon sun, is The Whistler.  He and his wife had been married for many decades when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and they moved into the retirement home soon after.  She began to get confused, and would wander away.  Sometimes he'd have trouble getting her to follow him to the dining room for meals, and sometime's she'd get lost.  He discovered that she responded to his whistling, she liked to hear him whistle little tunes, so he started whistling all the time.  He'd whistle down the hall, and she'd stay right with him, and he'd whistle when searching for her if she was missing, and she'd come looking for the whistle and he'd find her.  After a couple of years her condition worsened, and she moved into a nursing home.  The Whistler stayed in his apartment at the retirement home, and he still whistles when he walks down the hallway.  Mom says she doesn't know if he is starting to get a bit senile himself, or if possibly he just got so used to doing it he doesn't even notice it anymore.

This retirement home does not have any medical facilities, so technically the people who live there are expected to be able to take care of themselves (although some have home health nurses come in to assist them, especially during an illness).  However, with the economic decline there are more and more empty apartments, and more and more new people moving in with serious problems.

My sweet little mother is just exactly the type that people to go when they are looking for help; she's friendly but soft-spoken, observant and sympathetic, and watches out for her fellow residents to see if anyone does need help.  Several times she's had to put her foot down, when people ask her to help them physically do something they can't do, because she can't do it either - she's 89, walks with a walker, and can't hear too well.

Last year a lady positively attached herself to Mom, and there was nothing, short of being genuinely rude, that Mom could do about it.  This lady waited outside Mom's apartment for every meal, so they could walk to the dining room together and sit together.  She was physically fairly okay, she could hear and see and walk, but she had some sort of dementia.  When the time came to order her meal, she'd pull out a little piece of paper she'd written her reminder on: "Peanut butter and jelly sandwich".  And she'd have that for every meal.  Sometimes she'd forget to look at her paper, and Mom would be there to gently remind her.  She was very nice and very cheerful, and smiled a lot, and seemed happy.  Mom said that honestly, in some ways she was quite pleasant to be around.  A lot of the old people who live there are pretty cranky, Mom says.

The lady remembered Mom, and she seemed to remember me, a little bit.  She remembered her whole family, and could recite their names and where they all lived (and she had a big family, many of whom came to visit her quite frequently).  She had played piano in church her whole life, and could no longer remember how to read music, but if someone reminded her of the title of a hymn, she could play it perfectly.  She was utterly mystified by Christmas, though, asking Mom, slightly alarmed, why the big man coming through the dining room was dressed in that strange way, with a big red suit, and why was he giving presents to everyone?

Earlier this year she developed some sort of illness -- Mom spoke to her daughter, but never did really get an answer on what was happening -- and she moved out of the retirement home to live with family.

Some of the people who live there are so active and healthy, you have to wonder why they are there.  They drive cars, and participate in all the activities, and don't seem to need any help with anything.  One such woman is the nice lady who came and sat with Mom, in her apartment, during the morning of Dad's funeral.  Mom showed her pictures of Dad, and told her about when they got married and what their life had been like, and the woman stayed with Mom all morning listening and keeping mom company.

I know it sounds weird to say that I enjoy staying in the guest room there, and having meals in the dining room with Mom's friends, and hanging out with everyone, but I really do.  Obviously I love seeing my mother and being able to spend time with her, but I kind of enjoy the retirement home, too.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Novel Approacheth

The good news:  I am almost finished with the first draft of my novel!  I'm not there quite yet, but the end is is in sight.

The bad news:  The further along I get the more I realize I'll need to change when I revise.  Draft number two will look pretty different than draft number one, I think.

The good news:  I love the thought of revising and editing and proofreading and cleaning up and making better!  I have so many ideas of what to change, and I can't wait to get started.

The bad news:  It'll have to wait, because...

The good news:  Yay, I'm going to do NaNoWriMo again!  Woot.  A whole month of feverish writing, and not much else!

The bad news:  Oh  no, I'm going to do NaNoWriMo... again.  A whole month of feverish writing, and not much else...

Honestly, I'm having such a great time writing. Last year I did so well with the deadlines that NaNoWriMo imposed, I want to give it another shot, but this year, I am planning to write a Young Adult novel.  They are typically a bit shorter, so if I can hit 50,000 words in November I will basically have a completed novel (assuming I can get to the end of my story in 50,000 words, anyway).  So my goal for November is to write the entire first draft.

I have an idea that's been lurking in the back of my head for a few months now, about a gay teenager who lives in a very small rural town.  Her family and her community are homophobic, so she keeps her gayness a secret, and feels bad having to lie to everyone about who she is.  She quietly works at a crappy job while secretly saving up money so she can move to a city and finally come out.  I'm still working out the details, and I don't even really have an outline yet, but I'm excited about it.

I can't express how much of a difference writing has made in my life since I started last November.  I remember a year ago, already thinking about it, and wanting so much to get going, but so fearful that I couldn't do it. 

Whew.  :)

Monday, August 23, 2010

How I Know That I'm OLD

* I am getting new glasses soon, and I think I'm going to need bifocals
First I can't wear contacts anymore, then my eyes are too messed up to get Lasik surgery, now this.  Just shoot me :(

* I own pants with an elastic waist
I remember going shopping when I was 20 years old and wore a size 3, and if I took a pair of pants off the rack and saw an elastic waistband, I'd quickly put them back in disgust.  Eww, elastic waistband old lady pants!

*Those kids wearing droopy pants make me mad
Extra old-person credit on this one, since that has been in style for a more than a decade now.

*TV shows were way better back in the 70's
I mean, sure, there are some good shows on now, but they are mostly are on cable.  Back in the olden days a network would give a series some time to find its stride; a lot of great shows like MASH started off with poor ratings, but the network hung in there.  It seems like now that just never happens, and when a good show does come along (Like Freaks and Geeks, for example, or Undeclared, or My So-Called Life) and it doesn't get great ratings immediately it gets canceled, without being given a chance to find its audience.  These impatient young tv whipper-snappers today all need a good spanking, dammit.

* My purse contains more practical items than my entire first apartment did
I have in my purse, right at this moment: an umbrella, ibuprofen, tums, nail file, packet of tissues, excedrin, eye drops, lip balm, hairbrush, mirror, gum, cough drops, iPod, phone, little notebook and pen, ear plugs, bandaid, toothpick, pantiliner, nail clippers, safety pin, lip gloss, wallet. My first apartment contained: lawn furniture, a tv, wine coolers.