Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 in review

Every New Year's Eve since I was maybe eight or nine years old, I've taken some time to pause and reflect on the passing year. Usually, I write in a journal. This year, I decided to put it on my blog. So bear with me. :-)

2008 will go down in my memory as a pivotal year in my life, mostly due to a job change that enabled two lifelong dreams to come true: I finally had the opportunity to live in another country (Austria) and I traveled extensively. I traveled so much that I actually lost count of how many countries I passed through. I think I went to 25 countries. But I'm not sure. I went to every continent except Africa and Antarctica this year. I saw Mount Everest and K2, the barren landscape of Mongolia, and lush coastline of Queensland from the air. I drank kvass in Moscow, frogs egg tea in Taipei, and apfelwein in Frankfurt. I ate bibimbap in Seoul, paella in Barcelona, and all kinds of meats at a churrascaria in Sao Paulo. One day a few weeks ago when I had nothing better to do, I calculated my airline mileage, and concluded that I flew almost 92,000 miles this year (and my first reaction was: "Dang! If only I'd gone to ___, I might have made 100,000 miles.")

All that travel may sound glamorous (OK, it was! Mostly.) but it also has its drawbacks. I was away from home for about seven and a half months this year. In addition to missing family and friends, I missed out on my nephew's high school graduation. And I was too jet-lagged to celebrate my tenth anniversary. Thankfully, my family stayed in good health while I was away - and for the most part, I did, too. Sure, there was the sinus infection from hell when I was in Portugal, and the two instances of barotrauma, and oh-yeah that nasty bug I brought back from India. But overall, it was a healthy year and I didn't break any bones or cut myself with kitchen implements this year.

Thankfully, all of my travels were safe. Despite the aborted landing in Mallorca when my plane had a "Lufthansa moment" due to windshear. Despite the attempted pickpocketing in Buenos Aires. Despite the people shouting "Hello, English! Give money!" and getting all up in my face in Shanghai. And all those late night walks home - alone - in Vienna. I truly believe that I had a band of angels following me around everywhere I went this year, and I'm grateful to them.

A highlight of the year was finding Jaana, my BFF from freshman year in college. Jaana is from Finland and we were as thick as thieves, but we lost touch in 1988 or thereabouts. I found her on Facebook (actually, I found her daughter on Facebook) and while I was living in Europe I went up to visit her and her family in Helsinki. It was as if no time at all had passed!

Sometimes when I think back on this year, I'm not sure it really happened. It seems like a dream. Only the blog I kept while I was away, and the photos I took, and of course, the memories - serve as proof. But I'm home now and it's good to be home. 

The other major thing about 2008 that I will always remember is this year's Presidential election. If you had asked me in January how it would turn out, I'm not sure I could have predicted the outcome. I had been feeling for quite a while now that the country was so divided on everything, and I certainly never realized that both my home state and my current state would ever possibly move from "red" to "blue." But it happened. And now we have 20 more days until our new President takes office. He sure has a big job ahead of him!

None of us know what next year will hold. As for me, I'm feeling optimistic. Welcome, 2009. Happy New Year to All!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter solstice

Today is Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere - the shortest day (and longest night) of the year. As a person who experiences mild seasonal affective disorder, I think this is something to celebrate! 

Winter Solstice is one of the oldest winter celebrations - globally. It may be simply the "first day of Winter" for many people today, but it's been celebrated as Inti Raymi by Incas, Beiwe by the Sami of northern Scandinavia, Saturnalia by the Romans, Goru by the Dogan, Midwinter by the Celts and Druids, and Yule by various Germanic cultures - among others! Most cultures viewed it symbolically as rebirth and/or renewal and celebrated it with festivals and feasts. 

When I was in Ireland a few years ago, we visited Newgrange, an amazing structure built over five thousand years ago.  At dawn on the shortest day of the year, a beam of sunlight pops through and lights everything up in an amazing way. I cannot imagine the planning, the sheer genius, that went into designing and building such a structure, especially without modern tools. But certainly, there was something special about this day for the people who built Newgrange. 

It's a special day for me, too. The sun is out today. It's cold out there. But I'm happy and I want to party! We'll need to hurry, though - because the sun will be going down soon. And when that happens, I'll be ready for bedtime. :-)

Happy Winter Solstice! And since I'm traveling tomorrow and will not have internet access for a while, let me also wish you whatever else may apply: Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas/Frohe Weihnachten/Hyvaa Joulua, Happy Boxing Day, and Happy Kwanzaa to all. May your travels be safe, your days be bright, and your nights be merry!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Vienna Fingers

I was in the grocery store the other day and saw these cookies, so I took a photo for my friends back in Vienna. I thought you might find it amusing that we have cookies over here called Vienna Fingers. They are quite tasty - two vanilla cookies filled with creme. But I have no idea why they are called Vienna Fingers, as opposed to - say - Rome Fingers, or Paris Fingers, or Indianapolis Fingers for that matter. If anyone knows, please tell me!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas ticky tacky

Not to be a Scrooge, but I have a question: Why do so many people go overboard with the holiday decorations? 

What would possess anyone to even buy this stuff in the first place?

I can understand a few lights. Maybe some discreet, tasteful fake candles in the windows. Or a classic evergreen wreath on the front door.

But this?

This is one of many such "displays" I've seen this year in Indianapolis. Actually, this one is mild in comparison to others I've seen. 

I don't get it! It doesn't make me "happy" or "joyful" at all. In fact, it makes me rather sad and depressed! Sheesh!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Free food in Mariandy's backyard!

We put out several bird feeders a few weeks ago and have been really amazed with some of the birds we've seen. This Downy Woodpecker is a frequent guest. He swaps places at the suet feeder with his partner (the female does not have the red patch) and so far they're managing to eat a cake of suet every four or five days.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker occasionally reveals himself - briefly - to compete for the suet. As you can see from his photo, he has a red head, not a red belly (there is another bird called the Red-headed Woodpecker that doesn't look like this one at all). Here he is:

We've also seen White-breasted Nuthatches, which are funny to watch because they climb face-first down the trees. A large family of Dark-eyed Juncos forages for seeds that have fallen on the ground. For the past week or so I've spotted a couple of birds with what appear to be red throats and breasts, and although I suspect they're House Finches, I can never get close enough to be sure. They're skittish. Maybe I need to invest in a pair of binoculars.

This past weekend I noticed that we have another species hanging out by the bird feeders - squirrels. There were three of them - one on each feeder. Hmm. Not sure what I think about this. But I guess if we're going to put food out, we can't be too picky about who comes over for dinner.

If you live in the Indy area and are looking for a good place to buy bird feeders, suet, or seeds, check out our friends at Backyard Birds. This is a locally-owned, independent store and the people there are experts on local birds. They're located at 2374 E. 54th Street, just west of Keystone. If you're lucky, you might get to meet Webster or Wrigley. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hair salons I have known

My friend T recently wrote about hair salons in her blog, and it got me to thinking about my salon experiences. I've had some scary ones. Let's face it - I've never been the girliest girl on the planet, and my fine wavy hair has a will of its own. Add that to the fact that for the most part, I hate hair products. Hair spray, for example. Who needs it? Not me.

Just spending time in a hair salon is difficult enough for me. I don't like the smells, and I don't like small talk. I just want to be treated with a little respect, to get a good cut, and to be left alone.

Still, I never really thought about hair or hair salons until I moved to Indianapolis. The first place I ever went for a haircut was so sad, I just can't even write about it except to say that it made me want to cry. It was as if the world had been shaken, and all the down and out hairdressers landed here. They had virtually no business, and when I walked in they all swarmed on me. Like I said, it was sad.

I tried a well-known salon/spa in Greenwood - which was fabulous, but so big that I never saw the same person twice. I tried another nice place on the South side, but just as I was getting to know the stylist, she moved to a salon up in Fishers.

Last Spring, after moving to a new neighborhood, I felt the urge to do something drastic with my hair. I made an appointment at my local "salon and spa." For about $35, I had what could possibly be the best short-short haircut on the planet . . . ever!!! The young woman did such a great job, I had no trauma whatsoever, no regrets, no remorse. I really thought I'd found a stylist I could go to forever. Happily, I made an appointment for six weeks later. On a busy Saturday morning, I arrived 15 minutes early, checked in at the desk, and waited. 15 minutes, then 30 minutes, then 40 minutes passed. People were coming and going, and chatting as if they had known each other since elementary school - but totally ignoring me. Somewhere in between, there was a shift change at the desk. Eventually, I went up to ask the new person how much longer it would be before my stylist would be ready. "Oh," was her disinterested reply. "We didn't know you were here. She's already working on the person who had an appointment after you and she's booked up the rest of the day."

I passed the stylist's booth on the way out the door, and mentioned that I'd been waiting there the whole time and wasn't sure why she didn't come to the front and call me back. She just shrugged, as if to say "Tough luck!" without an apology. I looked around the room and it occurred to me that these people really had all known each other since elementary school, they were probably all related, and I was just the new kid in town who nobody wanted to have lunch with. I knew that as soon as I walked out the door, they'd be talking trash about me.

I never have since, and never will again, give another dime of my money to this so-called salon and spa. In fact, I would write their name here, but nobody who lives in my neighborhood reads my blog anyway, so it wouldn't matter.

On my way home, I made a detour and drove east to a cute little salon on the county line, where (amazingly) the owner was able to cut my hair right then and there. She was very nice, and did an OK job on my hair, but on the way out the door she asked me to sign a petition on a highly-charged political issue. In order to remain polite, I told her that I don't sign petitions. But I never went back there again. I mean, she and I had just met, and she just assumed that I would agree with her on this particular issue?!!

Earlier this year, desperately seeking a good stylist, I found one - at a totally cool hair salon overlooking the downtown Circle. She hadn't known me five minutes before she started dropping the f-bomb on me like we'd . . . known each other since elementary school (LOL!) Unfortunately, I dropped $75 for that haircut - actually it was $65 for the haircut and I left a $10 tip. Honestly, I don't mind the f-bomb too much - I've been known to let it fly myself occasionally. I just can't afford to pay $65-75 for a haircut every 6-8 weeks. But this was maybe the second best haircut I've ever had. If I'd been smart, I would have just let it grow out after that. I've always heard that you know you got a great haircut when the hair starts growing out, and it looks good. This truly happened.

By that time, I was living in Vienna. I had my hair cut twice while I was there, both times by stylists who were under the age of twenty and spoke little English. Somehow, things turned out well enough. Those haircuts were 28 euros each (about $45 at the time) but you were also expected to tip a few euros to stylist and maybe one euro to the person who washed your hair - always two different people.

I've had one haircut since I got back from Europe. My last haircut cost $11. No kidding. I didn't go to one of those chain places, either. I drove all the way down to Franklin, Indiana, to a "beauty shop" where a co-worker has been going for twenty-some years. The woman who cut my hair was very nice and she did everything I asked. I really couldn't tell that much difference (OK, there was some difference, but it was minor) between the $11 haircut and the $75 haircut. But I probably won't be driving down to Franklin anymore just to get my hair cut. It's just too far.

I'm now trying to decide what to do with my hair next. I really like the convenience of short hair. It only takes about 2-3 minutes to dry! And there's not much to do except slap some paste on it. Sometimes I don't even bother doing that.

Should I go back to the f-bomb stylist and pay out the wazoo? Or find someone new? Or maybe just do like my Aunt Florrie and cut my own hair? Would anyone even notice? Sometimes I wonder!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

O Christmas tree

For the second year in a row, someone has put up a lighted tree on the far side of the pond behind our house. We're not sure who puts this up exactly, because we've never seen anyone out there that far. Hmm. Maybe we've got elves in suburbia?

This was the view yesterday at around 4:45PM as it was starting to get dark. Not the best photo (my Sony Cybershot has its limitations) but it accurately represents our view. Everytime I look out the window and see this tree, it makes me smile.

It makes me go back in time, and I recall some of my earliest memories. Up until I was four years old, we lived in Wilmington, North Carolina - home of the world's largest living Christmas tree (or so goes the claim).  Several nights a week, my Dad would drive us over to see the tree, and then we'd just ride around town and look at all the other lights and decorations. (Eventually, I'd fall asleep, which is probably the main reason we were out riding around. LOL!)

For the few years after we moved away, we'd still visit Wilmington every December, and we'd always make a point to go see the tree. Over time, our annual visits became every-other-year visits, until finally we stopped going. I can't remember for certain the last time I saw the tree, but I was probably a teenager. (While writing this entry, it occurred to me that I wasn't even sure if the tree is still there, so I Googled it. Sure enough, they just had their 79th Lighting Ceremony this past Thursday night. So maybe I'll get to see it again someday.)

Until then, I'll enjoy the cheerful little tree across the pond.

Friday, December 5, 2008

More dental adventures

Oh, the saga continues.

I had a temporary crown put on Monday, as it takes 10 days or so for the permanent one to be made. My dentist warned me to chew on the other side, which I'd been doing anyway since the root canal. Yesterday I was at an "event" where they served popcorn. I couldn't resist. But have you ever tried chewing popcorn on only one side of your mouth? I think this may be impossible according to the laws of physics. Still, everything was fine until I ate . . . a cookie. Suddenly, there was something in my mouth besides a cookie. I spit into my hand . . . and found half of my temporary crown.

I can only imagine what must have happened to the other half! 

Monday, December 1, 2008

I'd rather have a root canal

The following are true life stories. Warning: what you're about to read is not for the fainthearted or the innocent. Not that anyone in those categories would actually read my blog. But still, I felt a need to add that disclaimer.

I went to the dentist the first time when I was three or four years old. It was a very traumatic experience, made worse by the sounds of the drills coming from the back rooms. "Don't put that squeaky thing on me!" I cried, and had what my mother called a pure-tee fit. Although I don't remember the rest, most likely I had my tail torn up (to coin another of Mama's oft-used phrases) in front of the whole dental clinic staff and all the patients in the waiting room. No doubt this experience set the tone for all future visits to dentists.

Not long after this, I got really sick and went through several rounds of antibiotics. I'm a "tetracycline baby" - like a lot of kids who took tetracycline in the 1960s, I developed a strange discoloration on my teeth. This has caused me a great deal of personal stress over the years. Fortunately, I've been able to clear it up a little with a couple of very expensive whitening treatments. But the discoloration will never completely go away.

When I was around six or seven years old, routine dental x-rays revealed that I had supernumerary teeth. In other words, I had three sets of teeth. And you suspected all along that I was a freak of nature. Now you know! This weird phenomenon happens in less than 2% of the population.

My "permanent" permanent teeth - that is, the third set - was coming in crooked behind the so-called permanent teeth (my second set.) So when I was around eight years old, the fun really began. For the next two years I would go to the dentist quite often and have various second-set teeth removed, in order to make room for the third set. And of course, when they grew in, I had to get braces.

I forgot to mention that my childhood dentist had Parkinson's disease, so his hands shook often. Once while he was drilling, his hand started shaking and he accidentally gave me a frenectomy. That is, the drill flew up and sliced my frenulum (that stringlike piece of skin that connects your lip to your gum.) Blood went everywhere. It was like a horror movie.

But back to the braces. The town closest to where we lived was so small, it had no orthodontist, so every three weeks or so my Dad would pick me up early from school, and we'd drive thirty miles to Fayetteville for me to see Dr. X. (I don't know why I want to call him Dr. X, because he's dead now so it really doesn't matter. But I'll call him Dr. X anyway.) Dr. X was an alcoholic. He often reeked of liquor and was either very happy or very, very mean. I had several consultations with him before the braces went on. Since my appointment was usually late in the day, it became our habit for Dad and I to stop and get a snack on the way to the orthodontist's office. 

One day, we passed by Krispy Kreme Donuts and the HOT DONUTS NOW! sign was on, so we stopped in. I had a couple of hot glazed donuts, and probably a soft drink of some type. Then we went to the orthodontist. Wouldn't you know that would be the day for him to put my braces on? I asked him if I could brush my teeth first since I'd just eaten donuts, but he said no, that we had to get the braces on right then and he didn't have time for me to mess around.

When the braces came off three years later, I had a cavity behind one of my front teeth, and several dark spots on my back teeth that remain to this day. I'm convinced that if he would have let me brush my teeth first, these things would not have happened. What a jerk he was!!! You can't even really tell that I ever had braces now. Grr!!!

My next adventure came along when I was eighteen or nineteen and two of my wisdom teeth decided to grow in sideways. Again, I'm not kidding - the roots were aiming towards the roof of my mouth, and they were pressing on a nerve. At the time I was doing some really wacky things, and it turned out, my behavior was actually out of my control. The endodontist I went to told my parents that it was really amazing that I was still functioning. 

I share all these things because over the years, I've developed a serious case of odontophobia or dental phobia. I practically have to be drugged before I can go to a dentist. Through trial and error, I've learned some tactics to get by. But nothing, baby, nothing is like nitrous oxide. A couple weeks ago, I had my second root canal ever, and it was AWESOME!!! My endodontist's assistant hooked me up to this tank and . . . WOO-HOO! PARTY TIME!!! I could hear the roto rooter going on in my tooth, I could even feel the jabbing and stabbing and swooshing. I could even smell the funky odor of burning teeth - MY burning teeth. But I DIDN'T CARE!!!

Today, I went to my regular dentist so she could fit me for the crown which will eventually go on this same tooth. She started drilling down my tooth, and I thought I was going to go insane. But nothing happened. There was no pain at all. She kind of laughed at me and said: "Well, you shouldn't have any pain, since you had a root canal on that tooth." (My dentist laughs at me all the time so I'm used to it.)

So for the first time ever - well, maybe just a for a few minutes - I actually relaxed in my dentist's chair without the use of drugs. It's a miracle! But about that nitrous oxide - it sure would be nice to have a little of that just before I go into my year-end performance review meeting!!!