Re-entry

On the first of three flights that would eventually bring us home yesterday, Studley and i groggily navigated US Customs declaration forms.

“Exposure to Livestock”?  Taking the easy cheap shot, i pointed at him and said “i think i have to declare this, since we’ve been bunkies for the week”.

“Are you transporting any vegetables?”  His turn for the cheap shot, as he started to write my name in the blank.

“Did you purchase anything?”

Scratching my head and other bits, i was momentarily vexed. Could not think of what i’d bought.

daisyfae: Did we buy anything this week?

Studley: Four litres of liquor at the Duty Free shop on our way out of the country… but that doesn’t count, right?

Spending a week on a quasi-tropical island, and between the two of us, we’d not bought a single souvenir. No t-shirts. No gee-gaws or knick-knacks.

daisyfae: Doesn’t that seem weird? We spent money… Rented scooters on the non-dive day… Ate pretty well… The hotel bill included the dive shop costs for Nitrox…

Not that there weren’t ample opportunities to shop, despite the fact that Bonaire is a small enough island that there are no traffic lights.  Some of our fellow dive buddies spent money in the shops.

As we wound our way through three airports on Sunday, it was apparent that others had been busy.  One couple had gone to great lengths to transport a 4′ long wooden carved iguana. They had tucked him into a backpack, with his head poked through.  A strategically placed sock on the head for protection, it looked like a baby in a pappoose.

They also schlepped a large, wooden carved sun thing of some sort. i never saw it, but knew that it was too large to fit in the overhead bin of any plane we rode homeward. They probably spent several hundred dollars on the carvings – and from what i could see of Baby Iguana, it was more kitsch than art.

A few of the gents in our group bought jewelry for wives and daughters. Most folks at least bought a souvenir t-shirt or hat from the dive shop.

Studley: No. i don’t think we’re weird. We just don’t buy shit.

Over the course of my last few adventures, though, i have picked up a strange habit. Trying the local brew wherever i land, i’ve started peeling the labels off beer bottles.  They can be easily flattened and stuck inside my passport.

This has become my souvenir collection method. Whether or not i could locate all of the beer labels i’ve collected through the years is an entirely different matter, however.

Bonaire made this a bit challenging. Part of the Dutch Antilles, this little island (as well as the sister islands of Aruba and Curacao) import virtually everything from the Netherlands. We were stuck with a very limited supply of ‘local’ beer.

Studley:  “What’s your local beer?”

Cute Barmaid:  “Amstel, Amstel Bright, Heineken”

daisyfae:  “No, we want something brewed in the region. Something unique. Something the folks who live here drink.”

Cute Barmaid:  “Yes. Amstel, Amstel Bright, Heineken”

So we bought “Amstel Bright”, which is the Dutch version of Corona – served with a lime wedge. And about as disappointing.  But there were labels to peel…

Not so easily discouraged, we eventually found ONE Venezuelan beer! “Polar”.

Unfortunately, there was no label to peel.  It’s printed directly on the glass.

Whatever… i still didn’t buy any souvenirs.  i took a picture.  Close enough.

Re-tales

Local Market:  Went with my market buddy, Studly McRocklegs, for brunch and adventure.  Wandered the stalls, looking for fresh veggies, oogling luscious lemon cake made by “Mom”, and settled in for a shared savory crepe.  Practiced bad French across the counter with Mme. Grand, who manages the creperie.  We watched people as we bashed a delicious fresh crepe loaded with bleu cheese, black forest ham and spinach. 

We made our way to The Cheese Lady.  She is the purveyor of artisan cheese, and i was hankering for her soft and sharp aged cheese to toss onto my fresh asparagus.  There was a line, which is not unusual on a Saturday morning.  i got my cheese* and we headed to the car – today, skipping The Pasta Lesbians and Chef Ron’s Bakery.  Onward to the next stop…

The Warehouse Club:  My dog weighs 100 pounds.  The cat has grown to be about a quarter that size.  i buy chow in bulk.  Never mind kitty litter and 40 pound bags of salt for the water softener. i dread going on Saturday morning, as they have the Food Product Sample People** causing traffic jams.  There are people who eat an entire meal by wandering slowly from one sample stand to the next…  blocking aisles with their giant asses and carts. 

Today?  It wasn’t bad.  i still got aggravated, and jumpy, and my dinosaur brain reminded me that i hate shopping because it kinda makes me a little stabby, so we finished up and headed out quickly.  Dropped Studley at his place… and went home to unload the metric ton of crap weighing down my Honda.  From there…

The Mega-Mondo-Garden Center:  Well, technically, i can’t count this as a retail experience.  i drove by it.  Today is the first non-monsoon Saturday of the season – the place was a madhouse.  i decided to try my luck buying annuals at the K-Mart down the street.  They’re just plants that are going to die in a few months.  i don’t think quality matters all that much….

K-Mart:  Petunias, mums and marigolds.  Some cheap potting soil.  A few other punky looking spiked foliage thingies for the containers on my front porch…  The outside garden area was pleasant.  Prices were good.  The hanging baskets looked pretty mangy, though, so i decided to pick one up at the Mondo-Mega-Garden center on the way back.   Inside to the registers to check out…

Zoicks!  There were large lines of large people at the two open registers.  So i waited.  And forgot that i needed to buy a new garden hose.  Waited some more.  And forgot that i needed to buy some long planters for my basil.  And i waited.  Patiently.  The clerks seemed to be moving in slow motion.  Eventually, i escaped the checkout and drove toward home, to see if the Mega-Mondo-Garden Center was less packed…

Mega-Mondo-Garden Center:  Nope.  A zoo.  i’m sure the hanging baskets are lovely.  i’ll probably never see them myself.  i decided to continue on to the teeny little garden center down the street from me, where the prices are generally high, and i have no idea how they stay in business…

The Garden Lady:  There were no other cars in the lot as i pulled in.  The hanging baskets were spectacular, and the owner was wandering around with a hose, wetting them down.  “i am looking for a basket that likes sun, and has red and yellow flowers.  i have these ugly rose bushes amongst my landscaping that force me to stick with the reds…”  She takes me to exactly what i am looking for.  It’s perfect.

We get to yakking about other varieties that might work.  She has suggestions for my containers, too.  We wander inside, talking about my beloved hibiscus, which i have not yet killed.  An older gent walks in as she’s ringing me up, and she asks what he’s looking for.  “Something to kill tent worms”.  She replies “Are you organic?”  He looked a bit confused – so i said “You just wanna kill ’em, don’t you?”  He laughed and nodded his head.  They both laughed when i suggested a flame thrower.

As we were having that conversation, a leather-encrusted biker dude arrived.  He waited for a break in the conversation, then asked “Excuse me, but can you help me find an address?”  We learned that his brother-in-law is getting married, and is really awful at giving directions, and even though he used to live up this way, he moved south about fifteen years ago… and that it all looks different now. 

Between Garden Lady, Older Gent and i, we got him pointed in the right direction.

Heading back to my car, i was surprised to see about a half-dozen cars now in the lot, along with a nice Harley, and a few people wandering around amongst the plants.  As i loaded my plants into the back seat, the Biker brought over his handwritten directions, and i was able to give him specific landmarks so he could navigate to the wedding without trouble.

It’s not that i don’t like shopping.  i’m pretty sure i just don’t like crowds of stupid people.  Pick the little guy whenever you can…  and be sure to fart around while you’re out there. 

both photos found here

* not a euphemism.

** i don’t know what to call the people who hand out free samples of hot food or cold stuff in the little paper cups in the grocery store.  other than annoying…

Why i don’t work on committees

Part A: Committees with Women

A friend of mine, KT,  is a member of an engaged group of women living with* breast cancer.  The group does education, outreach, holistic health, nutrition and lifestyle support.  They have one big fundraiser every year, and it is a themed fashion show.  This year, the theme is “Broadway: The Show Must Go On!”

As KT was working with the planning committee, and they ran into trouble thinking of how they could fill a large space with Broadway-related props and decorations.  She remembered my connection to local community theater, and asked if i could assist the decorating committee.

Since it was KT, a woman who humbles me on a daily basis through her strength, compassion and ability to live well, i had to say “Yes”.  i’d take a bullet for her, so working with theater people again shouldn’t pose too large of a problem, right?

Managed to make a few theatrical connections, and get leads on some items that might be useful, and i contacted the three women on the decoration committee.  We arranged to meet up at the facility where the fashion show would be held, so i could get a better idea of the size and layout of the venue.

They were lovely women, and we wasted minimal time getting down to business.  Yes, the size of the venue was going to be a challenge, but they already had an idea of what they wanted, and we were able to quickly agree on the next steps.

From there?  A slight disagreement among committee members regarding the color of the programs.  You see, the color logo would be clashing with the colors of the chosen table decorations, and since the program would be on the table, it was ALSO doing double duty as a table decoration. 

Oh, and there was more discussion regarding the “party favors” – the take home item from the luncheon.  One of the members was lobbying hard for a monogrammed martini glass, which could be used to serve dessert, and the other two were worried about the cost, and were arguing hard for the logo on a refrigerator magnet.  They tried to draw me into the discussion, but i knew better…

Bottom line:  Committees with women get bogged down in the most minute details.  In the end, these things never really matter, but many hours are wasted in endless back-and-forth discussions that are one freakin’ annoying ‘road to nowhere’.

Part B:  Committees with Men

Going away party at work for the beloved, and departing, Division Chief.  His five subordinate Branch Chiefs stepped up to work logistics, agreeing to foot the bill for the Division going away gift, and each one would pay for some aspect of the party.  A rational way to do things, much better than the ol’ “Let’s pass the envelope around the office to collect for a gift for the boss” routine.

i agreed to work with my boss to handle our Branch going away gift (a gag gift and a nice bottle of single malt scotch).  She had included me on the party planning e-mail thread as a result.  The “committee” then consisted of 6 men and 2 women, all enginerds.

JT (my branch chief, the chick):  I got the quote on the Division gift – should be able to do it for what we estimated.  How are logistics coming?

Branch Chief A:  I’m planning to get two cases of regular beer (bottles).  Some Budweiser / Bud Light.  Also, going to pick up some additional six packs of “specialty” brews.

Branch Chief B:  What sort of “specialty”?  Something more special than Sam Adams, please!

Branch Chief C:  Are you getting soda, too?  Not everyone is going to want beer.

Branch Chief B:  Should I bring some chips or something?

JT:  Hey, B!  You and C signed up to bring food.  You haven’t even thought about it yet?

Branch Chief C:  Got it covered.  Ten bags of Cheetos.  No napkins.

Branch Chief B:  Oh, yeah.  Forgot about that.  Weren’t we supposed to do something about a cake, too?

Branch Chief A:  Blue Moon, Leinenkugel Oktoberfest, Guinness and some sort of IPA – haven’t decided which one yet.

Branch Chief C:  Do you want me to bring some of my homebrew?  It’s not the best I’ve made, but it’s passable.

JT:  B and C, you were supposed to cover food, including a cake.  I’ll bring some wings, a veggie tray and maybe a cheese plate.

Bottom line:  Committees with men get bogged down worrying about the beer.  Nothing else will get done unless there are women on the committee.

* “Living with…” as opposed to “Dying from…”.  They all have advanced cancer, and for most it’s a question of “When” not “If” they will die from it…

Dinner just got served.

Last night, while chatting with my good friend and champion Dawg Boy, Titan of Industry (ToI), he was being pinged for a meet up with another charter member of the Dawg Boy posse, SR.  ToI was in range on business, and SR had been hoping to instigate some Dawg-Boyedness.

Being a responsible Titan, ToI sent him an e-mail, begging off, saying he had far too much work to do, and needed to just grab a bite and get to work…

daisyfae:  You know, he’s totally going to call you out as a pussy…

i heard ToI bust out laughing just a few minutes later…

daisyfae:  What is it?

ToI:  SR just sent me a reply “You’re such a pussy…”.  You called it… 

He then set about crafting the perfect reply…

ToI [via e-mail to SR]:  You are what you eat… Dick.

Tales from a Grecian Taxicab

The airport in Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece resembles a large aquarium with automatic doors.  It consists of a couple gates, a luggage delivery belt, and a few scattered kiosks for food and car rental.  There wasn’t an “information” booth to be found, however. 

Arriving from Athens at 0730, we claimed our luggage and assessed the best way to get to the long-distance bus station.  Our plan – if you could really call it that – was to hop the mid-day bus from Mytilene to Skala Eressos.  About 3 hours, according to our friends at The Lonely Planet.
 
Standing outside the airport, we found a bus stop.  No schedule.  Just a sign.  Fellow travelers from our flight had already headed out, and there weren’t many people around – so i asked a police officer about the bus to Skala Eressos.  She said “That is the only bus”, pointing at the sign.
 
We decided it might be wise to take a taxi to the bus station in town, so we dragged our luggage to the taxi stand.  En route, our driver asked about our destination.  He also asked what the bus fare would be.  We were so prepared that not one of us knew the answer, but we guessed about 18-20 Euro each.  Yeah.  Something like that….
 
Our driver offered to take us there for 100 Euro – explaining that the bus didn’t leave til afternoon, and he could get us there in an hour and a half, for only a little more per person.  Sold!  We were on our way, and it wasn’t even 0800!
 
Our driver, Manolis, asked about where we were from – Australia, South Africa and The States.  He mentioned that he’d lived in Boston for a long time, working near the docks.  “My favorite seafood place is on the docks in Boston!”, i said.  Turns out, he worked there – with some connection to the family who owns the restaurant! 
 
Manolis did a nice job of explaining the history of the island, describing the terrain, and discussing some of the local points of interest – without being an over-zealous pain in the ass.  He also did a damn fine job navigating some village street passages that were so tight i wanted to smoke a cigarette and change the sheets when we successfully emerged on the other side! 
 
Delivering us to our destination, he gave me his card – and said he’d be happy to pick us up for the return trip.  Our hosts assured us that 100 Euro was a good price for the journey, compared to what many other drivers quoted, so i saved his card. 
 
A week later, we had abandoned the plan to rent a car and do some sightseeing on the island on our way back to Mytilene.  That was too much like work.  We decided to give Manolis a call on Sunday and arrange for him to pick us up Monday at noon.  When i called, he said he couldn’t make it, but would send a driver for us.
 
Arranging the car for noon gave us plenty of time to regroup and devise an alternate plan should the driver not show up.  We were quite surprised when the taxi arrived at 1100 – while we were still packing!  Dolce was the best prepared, and hauled her luggage outside.  The driver told her that he wasn’t sure exactly where he’d been headed, so he left extra time.  She reported this back to us, and said that he had a pretty strong U.S. accent.
 
Nursemyra and i finished packing, and brought our bags out for loading.  The young driver, sporting a fine bit of designer facial hair and “faux-hawk”, did indeed speak with a thick accent – BOSTON!  He said he’d lived there until he was 10 years old.  George was the son of Manolis.
 
Far less talkative than his father, George entertained us with a ridiculous 1980’s techno-dance mix CD – providing moments of “holy shit, I haven’t heard that for years” interspersed with group sing-alongs as we made our way along the rugged road back to Mytilene.  Never mind that he had the driving skills of a Formula One racer!  He was quite helpful in getting us to our hotel, and offered to pick us up the following morning at 0620 to get us to the airport for our return flight to Athens on Tuesday.
 
It was during the ride to the airport on Tuesday that George asked me “So, how are things in The States?  I’m planning to move back there with my wife and son.”  In just fifteen minutes in the taxi that morning, he relayed a family tale as old as time.  His father wants him to stay and work with him in the family business, but the son wants to make his own fortune in the new world…   
 
He also shared that his parents were separated, his mother still extremely pissed off about it, and that he was constantly stuck in the middle of the arguments between them.  He’d had enough of it, so he was planning to bring Mom with him on his “fresh start”.  The plan?  Pack up his family – his wife and son had never left Greece – stay with cousins in Boston, find work until he could get his own business going.
 
i was touched by his optimism and bravery.  Also noted that despite all the crap that happens in the ol’ U.S. of A., that it still holds the promise of opportunity for a young man.  

But mostly?  i was touched by the tale he wove of family.  Defying cultures and continents.  Eternal tension.  Father and Son. 

How can I try to explain?  When I do he turns away again!  It’s always been the same, same old story. From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen, now there’s a way and I know I have to go away.

Note:  The video is dated, and pretty cheesy.  But that’s part of the point…  Recorded in 1970, the song holds the original power.  i was also reminded what an incredibly beautiful man Yusuf Islam is…  More recent version of “Father and Son”, recorded for the BBC One series, found here

Weight for it

At least six times a week, i drag my cellulite-encrusted thighs to the fitness facility at work.  It is not cushy.  No fancy classrooms, state-of-the-art fat eradication gizmos.  It used to be a warehouse, that was re-fitted to encourage a larded workforce to stop filing so many health insurance claims get fit.

It’s most important feature, however, is that it’s free.  Second most important?  i can go on my lunch hour.  Third?  It’s free.

Patrons of this facility cut a wide swath through the employed masses.  From the doughy, middle-aged folks* fighting fat so they can have just one more breakfast muffin at the next meeting, to the aggressive and disgustingly hard-bodied youth who throw weights around like they’re quarters, we have it all.

i do not like being there.  It is necessary.  i do not like making the machines move repeatedly.  Three sets of twelve reps here, six sets of ten reps there.  It simply blows.  But i need to do it, it’s an hour of my day, and did i mention?  It’s free.

My mind wanders as i count.  i look at the other patrons.  They look back, usually with the same glassy-eyed resignation.  We have gotten to know each other on sight.  “That’s the guy who grunts.”  “She’s the one who waits a full two minutes between sets and ties up the machine”.  “She sweats a lot.”* 

Today, as i worked the machine that is the mechanical equivalent of “We Must, We Must, We Must Increase Our Bust”**, something caught my attention.  Resting between sets, i looked at the “Dip Rack”***, and there was a guy doing tricep dips – with about a 20 pound weight hanging off a weight belt.

Definite spit-take, as i had to look twice to see the belt.

workout buddy (sitting on the next machine):  Did you see that?

daisyfae:  Ummm…. yeah.  Whoa.  That’s badass.  Bet it gives him penile extension.

workout buddy:  Unbelievable!

daisyfae:  Would probably give him more penile extension if he were hanging that weight from somewhere else…

Which is exactly where it seemed to be swinging from when i first looked… 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* C’est moi.

** Grade school chant.  “We must, we must, we must increase our bust.  The bigger the better the tighter the sweater, the boys will look at us.”  Seriously.  No wonder girls grow up with body image issues…

*** No, not like that.  You climb up, hold the cross bars – which are parallel at the level of your hips – then do triceps dips with your knees bent.

A billion tinkerbelles

There are three “bioluminescence bays” in Puerto Rico – unique in that the glittery plankton are visible year round.  Last night, the nerd herd at this workshop made the trek to Fajardo, on the northeast end of the island.

Since the workshop is focused on bio-inspired and bio-derived electronics and optics, naturally the final speaker of the morning session was an international expert on natural bioluminescence in water critters.

Gathering in the hotel lobby around 4pm, wearing water sandals and swim gear, clutching boxed dinners to be eaten on the transport vans, we looked like a troupe of over-grown school children headed out on a field trip.  About an hour in the shuttle from San Juan to Fajardo, further east.

We suited up in life jackets, and got a 15 minute kayaking instruction session from Miguel, our guide.  Interesting that the kayak lesson was one third of the time we devoted to the lecture from the marine biologist.  We’re geeks, not athletes. 

Heading out at dusk, we crossed the marina in double kayaks, and entered a narrow channel encrusted with mangroves.  Being dorks, we naturally did a bit of horsing around en route.  Cries of “ramming speed”, bad pirate impersonations and the occasional “But Captain, I’m giving her all I’ve got…” floated down the column of nerd-kayakers.

We reached La Laguna Grande, just at sunset.  We pulled our kayaks close (into a floating mycellium…. Did i mention?  We’re nerds!) while Miguel explained the phenomena of the bay.  Billions of dinoflagellates (plankton) live in the waters, and are fed by B12 from the tannin released by the mangroves.  When you poke them?  They glow.

Darkness arrived, and Miguel instructed us to reach deeply into the water.  Yowza!  It was as though we had super powers!  A trail of glowing neon-blue water around our hands.  Digging the paddles down deep, making swirls and twirls, we scattered across the lagoon to play with the tinker-creatures.

The return trip was fabulous!  Going against a gentle current, it was enough of a paddle to work up a little sweat.  Pitch black in spots, we’d stop to let an incoming kayak troupe pass, grabbing mangrove branches.  The only thing you can really see is the glow in the water as your paddle moves the critters, and the tiny red glow stick on the kayak in front of you…

Poking the roots with a hand or a paddle yielded individual sparkles.  Grabbing a handful of the water in the pitch black night, you could see flashes and pops as the annoyed and disrupted micro-organisms did their glowing best to defend themselves against big, goofy invaders!

Mesmerizing…. i was in geek heaven!  And yet again, on the sleepy return to the hotel, i found myself thinking “damn.  i have a really good job…”

image found here – and was the closest to what i saw last night.  It’s very difficult to photograph the blue glow – and many photos online seem to be enhanced.  My guess is this one was done with a slow shutter speed…

Stuck in the middle

Two day roadtrip.  Met up with an old friend, who is currently in a job that could be my dream job… which i plan to pursue in a few years.  He shared with me some of the joys and frustrations of his new position.  Summed up with the following words of wisdom:

When you work for clowns?  Sometimes you’re gonna get a little seltzer in your pants.

Bring on the seltzer… i’m bored…

Surviving “Slug Week”: A Primer

That week between Christmas and New Year – purgatory on the calendar.  We are recovering from an overdose of sugar, sweets and exposure to extended family.  With the start of a new year literally just around the corner, we know we’re going to try to get ourselves right with our bodies.  But not just yet… We need transition.  Gentle movement away from mindless gluttony and sloth –  toward our newfound resolve of sacrifice, or at least moderation.
 
“Slug Week”
 
i  always work the week between the holidays, for a wide variety of reasons.  i  prefer to take my vacation when the sun is shining, not when faced with 18 hours of darkness and massive frigidity.  It’s also generally very quiet at work.  Most folks are gone, and those that are working are either in “fuck off” mode, or sleeping politely at their desks.  In either case, no one is sending me work, and i’m just fine with that.  No one notices if i show up late, then leave early to make up for it.
 
Despite all these wonderful things, a few tips are in order.  A list of suggestions for Slug Week.  Making the transition from “reckless self-abuse and gluttony” to “positive outlook for becoming the best person i can be” must be somewhat gradual.  Holiday recovery is not for pussies. 
 
DO bring all of your leftover junk food into the office.  Pack up the rum balls, shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate and even the partially emptied tubs of frosting leftover in the fridge.  By New Year’s Day, there should be nothing decadent left in your house.
 
DON’T sit at the Admin Desk and eat the shit you just brought in to work.  It was for THEM, dumbass.
 
DO continue with your exercise regimen during Slug Week.  It will help you kick-start your January fitness routine.
 
DON’T leave your sweaty gym clothes in your car overnight, when it’s going to be ball-numbingly cold.  Putting on a frozen running bra can stop your heart, or as a minimum, wake you up.  We can’t have that.  Transitions must be gradual…
 
DO start watching your calories.  Slimfast, or other meal replacements, can come in handy.  Bonus tip:  i keep a can in my car, so it is convenient – even when i’m on the run.  And this time of year? It’s always chilled!
 
DON’T mix a Slimfast with Bailey’s Irish Cream for lunch.  Drink the Bailey’s straight to cut calories. 
 
DO use the quiet time in the office to knock out a few things that have languished on your “To Do” list for months.  Take advantage of the abandoned workplace to do your most creative thinking…
 
DON’T bother even pretending to try the item above.  i  tell myself that i’m going to write that tech report, or knock out the big bad spreadsheet, or generate a new process description, or some such bullshit every year.  Invariably, i end up reading newspapers online, yakking with my equally sluggardly colleagues, or simply fighting to stay awake for six hours.  Skip the guilt.  Instead, go here and play games.  These are unlikely to be blocked by your IT department.  It’s NORAD!  What’s more important than National Defense?

Happy Slug Week!  Get out there in those sweat pants and baggy shirts and start thinking about preparing for getting ready to kinda start getting shit done next week…