Monday, December 31, 2007

Your Substitute Monday Photo Shoot: What's New?

As you should all know by now, today (Monday, December 31st, 2007) was John Scalzi's last day blogging for AOL on By the Way. A number of people have said they were going to miss John's Monday Photo Shoots, and a few have asked me whether anyone will be picking up the slack, and assigning them in John's stead. MPS addict that I am, I'm willing to give it a shot. How about you?

Here's how this will work: I will post an entry every Monday with that week's subject. (After this week, it will be early Monday AM, not Monday night.) If you want to join in, take your picture, post it to your blog or journal, and leave a link in the comments to the original entry here. On Thursday night, I'll do a follow-up entry just as John did, linking back to everyone who participated. Simple, no? Then let's get started!

Your Substitute Monday Photo Shoot #1: What's New? In honor of the new year, show us something new. It can be a gift you got over the holidays, something you gave yourself, or even something that symbolizes the New Year to you. If it's new, it'll do!

Here's mine:

This is the coolest Christmas present I got this year: the 25th Anniversary Illustrated Collector's Edition of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It's one of my favorite books of all time. It's also one of my favorite tv shows and spoken word records, several of my favorite audio tapes, my very favorite radio show and my second favorite towel. It's not remotely my favorite film, but one can't have everything.

I have the text of the first Hitchhiker's book in several editions as it is, but this one is pretty special. It's full of visual reproductions of annotated scripts, behind the scenes photos from the various productions, merchandise, flyers and fan memorabilia. Love it! (And yes, I realize the above photo isn't terribly good from a technical standpoint. The glare off glossy paper gets me every time!)

Your turn! Take a picture of something new, post it to your blog, and come back here and leave your link. You have until midnight Thursday night, when I will compile the roundup of links. Remember, your participation or lack thereof will determine whether there's still a Monday Photo Shoot in the weeks ahead. And if someone else wants to take it over, please let me know so we can coordinate. Thanks!


Last Day

It's December 31st as I write this, 3:08 AM. As usual I need to get to bed, and in any case I'm not ready to organize my year-end thoughts about what's happened and what's to come. But there is one subject that cannot be put off until tomorrow evening:

Today is John Scalzi's last day under contract to AOL.

As I mentioned previously, Steven, Carly and I have put together a Scalzi tribute journal on AOL, ScalziCelebration. Despite the fact that the old AOL-J community has long since scattered hither and yon, I was hoping for a better turnout of people saying nice things about our Blogfather. Still, some of you have added your thanks, kudos and recollections, and we'll be doing at least one new entry tomorrow with a roundup of these. Meanwhile, Carly has put together a Flat Scalzi entry, and we hope you'll join in the fun there, too. Speaking of which:

Here is Flat Scalzi hanging out in the Park Place Century Theatres lobby with a Pixar robot and a cool drink - Coke Zero of course! He said he felt at home with his science fictional compadre, and hopes to see him again at conventions and book signings.

And here he is enjoying a Safeway sunset with me. Just having him around made the evening more colorful - and a bit surreal!

Many thanks to the real John Scalzi for four-plus years of fun and inspiration. See ya around!


Sunday, December 30, 2007

What I've Learned Today -- Via Internet, of Course

As easy as it is to take the Internet for granted (I figure I've been online for about 15 years now, over half of my married life), there are times when I suddenly realize what a powerful, helpful and entertaining medium it really is. Because of sleeping in, my cold and the cold outside (by Tucson standards, that is), I haven't left the house today -- nor needed to. Sitting in front of my computer for the better part of the last twelve hours, I've learned the following:

  1. Bruce Gordon, a Disney Imagineer who wrote a series of entertaining and controversial Starlog articles about Back to the Future and a guidee to that film's shooting locations, also wrote or co-wrote a number of Disney-related books, at least one of which I own (Disneyland: Then, Now and Forever). I say "at least one" because I think John has a copy somewhere of Disneyland: The Nickel Tour, which is a history of the park told through old postcards. I invoked his name months ago in a Wikipedia article about Back to the Future, only to get his first name wrong. No one caught the error until after someone finally asked yesterday for clarification on who he was. I tracked down the locations article, and belatedly saw that his first name was Bruce, not Bob. D'oh! Researching him further, I discovered that he died in early November 2007. Aww, Bruce, why'd you have to go and die on me at age 56, before I even got your name right? From what I read, he fought hard for quality at the parks, helped to keep the Submarine Voyage from being plowed under forever, was largely responsible for Splash Mountain, and liked to prove Walt Disney's adage that "It's kind of fun to do the impossible."
  2. F-M Facts. It's hard to document aspects of my old high school that don't involve academics or sports, but really, there's a lot online, some of it written by me! Bits of the Fayetteville-Manlius High School article on Wikipedia appear on lots of other websites, including text I wrote. Unfortunately, one of my best sources, a district history and trivia article by my old vice principal Platt Wheeler, is no longer online. Because of that, I am unable to "prove" that the school newspaper has been called The Hornet's Nest, The Sting and the Buzz at different points in its history. It all has to do with documenting the fact that the school (and to a lesser extent the district) latched onto one mildly interesting but rather unimportant fact from fifty years ago and designed its entire iconography around it. See, the old Fayetteville High School on Fayetteville-Manlius Road (at the Manlius St. end of things) had a 200-year-old oak tree, and hornets nested in it. That's it. That old school, just a mile down the road from where I grew up, is where I changed buses in kindergarten when I went to Pebble Hill School. The oak tree is long gone, and the high school is miles away, on the other side of Manlius. But because of that tree, the school colors are green and white, the athletic teams are the Hornets, the yearbook is called Oakleaves (one word), and the alma mater begins with the somewhat nonsensical words, "Guarded by the old oak tree/Symbol of our goal...." What goal is that, exactly? To be a haven for hornets?
  3. Is it a Spoiler if it's in the Sun? The amount of credence given to articles about Doctor Who in the The Sun newspaper in Britain varies based on whether fans like the idea or not, and whether it blatantly contradicts what is already known. Recently they claimed that an actress from AbFab was in talks to play the Doctor, and it was quickly dismissed. But when they claimed that the annual "Doctor lite" episode would be a Doctor-free episode (three companions, no Doctor), fewer fans rejected the notion out of hand. After all, the rag was right about John Simm as the Master, weren't they? Even so, fans are well aware of the paper's many false and somewhat malicious headlines about the show. As for episode 4.11 being Doctorless, that remains to be seen, literally. However, fans lucky enough to witness location shooting have reported seeing former companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and new companion Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) in several scenes together, and no sign of David Tennant as the Doctor. One thing the paper got wrong for sure: it would not be unprecedented to have a Doctorless episode. There was no Doctor in "Mission to the Unknown," the lead-in to The Dalek Masterplan back in 1965. And both William Hartnell as the First Doctor and Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor were occasionally missing from single episodes of serials, having been hit on the head, locked up, separated from the other characters, or dispatched to the TARDIS until they felt better.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Round Robin: History of a Sunset

Time for the last Round Robin Photo Challenge of the year. Appropriately, the topic is "Going, Going, Gone," as suggested by Nancy of Nancyluvspics.

As recently as this morning (Friday morning, that is), I didn't know what I was going to do with this theme - and I'd also left my camera on my desk at home. Some ideas I kicked around were to photograph the countdown clock on the Doctor Who website (counting time remaining until the Christmas episode aired), or the Christmas leftovers as they got used up, or a sinkful of dishes as I washed them, or Christmas debris as I cleaned it up. But the countdown clock wasn't all that interesting, we still have lots of heavy mashed potatoes (along with a little rutabaga and a yam), and I'm only now soaking those dishes. Besides, John probably would not want you all to see bits of the Museum of the Weird at its very messiest.

So what the heck: I went with something very obvious, a photographic subject that I gravitate toward all too often: sunsets. What makes this entry different is that I spent half an hour taking 90 shots of one sunset, from just pre-sunset when the sun is still visible until a few moments before full dusk, as sunset's colors were fading. I could have stayed until full dark, but I have a cold and my hands were getting chilly.

The time coding on the photos here is what the camera tagged for each shot. It seems fairly accurate. Since I'm trying to show the progression of light and color as the sun drops below the horizon, I didn't edit these for tone, brightness or saturation. All I've done is rotate a few that were slightly tilted, reduce the size and sharpen lightly. As it happens, it wasn't a very good sunset. Photo editing trickery would not have helped substantially, because there just wasn't all that much color to work with.

5:21 PM. A bit of the sun is still above the horizon. Above that is a
vaguely pink corona that I don't think was visible to the human eye.

5:29 PM: the rounded blob of yellow sun has become a yellow band.

5:31 PM: things are getting a little pinker, mixed with gray.

5:35 PM: no longer yellow, more a sort of pale orange.

5:37 PM: very little color shows behind the mounds of dirt
now desecrating my sunset spot. Construction is on its way.

5:41 PM. There's still color off to the left, though.

5:46 PM: there's more blue and gray now in the clouds of sunset color.

5:52 PM: even now there's some yellow off to the left where the sun was.

5:52 PM: color fades to gray, and I decide to head home.

A few additional points on the above:
  1. Since starting work at Famous Vehicle Dealer, I've generally been leaving work at sunset or later, a function of both the time of year and my need to work a little late sometimes. I therefore haven't had much chance lately to do the Safeway sunset thing. Tonight I deliberately rushed to get to Safeway before the sun was down, and was surprised to see that the sun was setting further south than in other sunsets I've done there. I guess I haven't photographed many December sunsets at Safeway Plaza.
  2. I first noticed the mounds of dirt or gravel perhaps a month ago, in the formerly empty lot across from the Subway in Safeway Plaza. I anticipate that there will soon be houses or condos or something to ruin the view. I tried to photograph a bulldozer the the sunset behind it, but everything but the sky was too dark to really be seen.
  3. I think the lack of spectacularity here is due to the angle of the December sun, the relatively cold, dry air, and the paucity of clouds to reflect the colors. Ah, well.
  4. As I drove to work this morning, I noticed for the first time that sunrise wasn't quite done with its morning show. If I'd had the camera with me, I could have photographed my day at both ends.
Now go see what the other Robins have come up with. And remember, you're also welcome to join in yourself! Please see the Round Robin blog for details.


(-: Your Linking List :-)

Nancy - POSTED!
Nancy Luvs Pix

Steven - POSTED!

Carly - POSTED!

Lisa - POSTED!
Lisa's Chaos

Karen - POSTED!
Outpost Mâvarin

Sandra - POSTED!
Strong Chemistry

Nekked Lizard Adventures

Julie - POSTED!
Julie's Web Journal

Gattina - POSTED!
Keyhole Pictures

Janet - POSTED!

Chrissea - POSTED!
Chris-seas Corner

Suzanne R - POSTED!
Living . . . Suzanne R's Life

Friday, December 28, 2007

Plastic Christmas

This entry isn't about the commercialism of Christmas, the tension between the religious and secular aspects of the holiday or even our keen artificial tree with the color wheel and all. I'm talking gifts here. Specifically, I'm talking about the kind of gifts that I would never have condoned back in high school or college, but now rely on almost exclusively.

I'm talking plastic. And, by extension, digital gifts as well.

Here is the bulk of my Christmas spoils this year. Clockwise from top left:
  1. Cato: a gift card for a store that sells larger sizes in women's clothes. Last year I had it in my car, and it fell on the floor. John picked it up and set it on the dash, where it promptly slipped through a crack and was hopelessly out of reach. This year John opened up a spark plug access hatch and retrieved it to give to me again.
  2. Barnes & Noble: I'm sure this was intended for one of my friends, but when I'd given everything out I had this one left over. Did I buy one too many? I specifically remember presenting to TS and J and M, and sticking one in the envelope for my estranged friend. I even asked someone at work if she got her gift from me. She had, and so had my other two bosses. So how did I end up with this one? Oh, well, it's spendable!
  3. Wal-Mart: A Christmas Story: only worth five bucks as I recall, and it's from a year ago. It never occurs to me to spend it.
  4. Wal-Mart: A Christmas Story: same as #3, but a different scene from the movie.
  5. Starbucks: probably a Secret Santa gift or somesuch from a year ago. I hate coffee, but I could find something to buy, if I remembered at the right moment that I have this.
  6. Barnes & Noble: from my godson's parents, and very welcome it is, too.
  7. Toys R Us: I bought this for an Angel Tree kid, but the Angel Tree at church mysteriously disappeared (no, really), and I was unable to turn this in. Poor kid! It will either go to my godson or be spent by me. Supposedly they've got Doctor Who toys.
  8. a check from my dad: honorary plastic!
  9. Barnes & Noble: this year's Secret Santa gift. Perfect! These I do spend.

On John's side of the couch are the remains of two gift cards I got him, one from Best Buy, the other from B&N. I meant to buy one from Home Depot, but somehow I didn't. Good thing, too, because I had to do some creative packaging to get down to the "five" gifts we agreed on.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing, this reliance on plastic cards instead of creative gifting? It's both, I suspect. I try, I really do, but most of the time I have no idea what's likely to go over well with someone. And last year I think it cost me as much to send my godson's stuff as to buy it, which strikes me as a waste, and horribly inefficient. If I give the gift or Amazon or B&N, the shipping isn't an issue, at least not for me; and I'm in effect giving books and media. That seems like a much worthier gift than a cheese basket or toiletries. And nearly everyone I know is a reader; that's part of why they're my friends in the first place!


Thursday, December 27, 2007

See You Around, John Scalzi!

Your Final Photo Shoot: Wave goodbye! Because all good things must come to an end, but I think we can leave on a high note.

At this sad moment, I am somewhat comforted by the fact that many of the variations on "goodbye" contain in their meaning the expectation of "hello." Aloha! Au revoir! See ya! Auf wiedersehen! Hasta la vista....

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu!
Adieu! Adieu! To yieu and yieu and yieu!

Happy trails to you, 'til we meet again!

I'll see you again, JS, on tour, at a con, at the very least on Whatever. Meanwhile, be well and happy and productive!

Your long-winded pal in AZ,


P.S. Don't forget, folks: ScalziCelebration is open for your tributes. Expect some updates this weekend!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

And the Only Disaster Was on TV

It's horrendously late, so I'm going to try to dash this off in five minutes. It seems unlikely, but that's the goal.

As John pointed out several times, it was a brown Christmas here - brown as in the color of the boxes from Dad & Ruth pretty much saved Christmas for us with their generous selection from our wishlists. The ones shown here were on John's side of the tree. He did really well considering he claimed not to want anything. The only disappointment was that the iPod dock/clock radio I bought him wasn't compatible with his elderly version 3 iPod.

My side had only two brown boxes. I gather there's at least one more on backorder. It's not a huge hall so far, but I don't care, and what I did get was mostly all good stuff.

I went to church again, mostly because I was asked to serve at Mass. It gave me a change to reshoot the decorations by day. Some of the photos still aren't good, and I'm not sure why.

Tuffy wants to know what's in it for her. Pupperoni, perhaps?

Well, yes, but she has to submit to another photo op first.

We saw Enchanted, which was good, and Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned through the usual mysterious means. It wasn't my favorite story ever (think Poseidon Adventure on the spaceship Titanic), but it has its moments. Dinner, which I cooked, came out well. No tears, no traumas, no complaints.

19 minutes. Phooey. Good night!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Slouching Toward Midnight Mass

Time is rushing forward, and I can't keep up. But I have gotten a few things done:

I bought the rest of my offline gifts for people not named John. They were all flat pieces of plastic with the words Barnes and Noble on them.

I finally wrote my letter to the friend who dumped me by mail two weeks ago. Be proud of me: I kept it under a page. Be ashamed of me: I stuck it inside a Christmas card with one of those B&N cards, taped it to his door and walked away without so much as ringing the doorbell.

John and I bought the rest of what we needed for Christmas dinner. It took two stores to finish the job.

I emailed my godson's mother, asking whether she received my shower gift from Amazon a month ago, and advising her to check her spam filter for it. I also explained that his birthday present (above) hasn't been mailed yet. Then I did an Amazon e-card and gift for his Christmas.

I made this Christmas graphic, which is probably as close as you're going to get to a Christmas card from me.

I got out the vintage aluminum Christmas tree and its ornaments, but I won't be putting the tree up tonight as planned. It's far too late, and I work in the morning.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

So This Is Christmas - And What Have You Done?

Well, I finally did some shopping. I got to the Store With the Traffic and the Store I Like Better, and made purchases at both. I also got to the Store That's Always Full of Bottlenecks, and the Store for the Other Blocher, and bought stuff at both of those as well. See? Along the way I bought a few things for John, and remembered some stuff he actually asked for previously, one of which I'm definitely not going to be able to get. Still, I've made progress! And I got the Angel Tree gift, and something for Tuffy. I almost bought a telescope and microscope set for my godson, but when I consulted John he advised me to go with my previous plan of Amazon plus sending along late the gift I purchased months ago. So that's what I'll do. Got to listen to his advice once in a while!

We still haven't done any decorating, though, or even decided for sure what tree to put up and where. I'm kind of hoping for the white one in the front room and the silver one in the den. Meanwhile, the tres moderne cone above, which John bought a month ago, is the only decoration we have up.

I did download a new Christmas Doctor Who story Friday night by Paul Cornell (who wrote Human Nature). I pasted it into a file to print out without the ads and read away from the computer. Good little story, but perhaps not his best stuff. And tonight I see I've gotten sauce on the paper from tonight's egg foo young. Drat. Good news is that I finally retrieved this salt and pepper set that John bought weeks ago. It was loose and upside down in the trunk of my car.

Tomorrow I may or may not be getting together with a friend in the afternoon. I also plan to get my Amazon stuff done, and email my godson's mom, and write my long-delayed latter to my friend who dumped me. But first I must sleep. Good night!


Saturday, December 22, 2007

We Need a Little Christmas

Emphasis on little.

Coming down to the wire here, and I've bought gifts only for co-workers. I've shopped for John, but haven't bought. Somewhere near my feet is a robotic gift to my godson, whose birthday was today or tomorrow or Sunday; I forget. Between work, the dog and frankly, the mild depression that's gripped me since Tuffy was diagnosed, I haven't managed to get it sent out. I'm going to have to do Amazon, and tell his parents that the other gift will be about a week late.

See, I wasn't kidding that my entire shopping list this year involves Amazon.

Except for the co-workers and John, that is. I had plans to replace John's old iPod, which has had glitches and compatibility issues for years. But when I got to Target, half the models were sold out, and I couldn't quite remember which kind he had mentioned possibly buying next year. Was it the almost-iPhone with touchscreen and video but not much storage, or the Classic with ten times as much storage? If the latter, then 40 GB or 80 GB? Only one of the two was in stock anyway, and only in white. So I put off buying it.

Then tonight I had the following conversation, more or less:

Me: I have to go back out shopping tonight.

John: No you don't.

Me: Yes, I do. I haven't bought your main present yet.

John: Then don't buy it. I can make do with the old one.

Since he obviously knew what present I was talking about, I asked him which one it was he'd liked. He wouldn't even tell me. He sincerely doesn't want us spending the money on that right now. He's gearing up to work on redoing the plaster and the tile on both bathrooms, and a roof over a section of patio, and would much rather spend the money on that.

But he's still one up on me, even considering our five gift limit. He's gotten me "a few little things." I've gotten him nothing. There is one item he's mentioned wanting a couple of times, but beyond that I have no clue.

What he really wants is the house fixed up, cleaned and cleared out, repaired and decent looking. I'm going to do a bunch of dishes in a few minutes, and tomorrow I'll finish cleaning up the kitchen and start on my office and do the bedroom. John's got most of the rest of 2007 off from work, and intends to spend most of it working on the renovations and repairs. And we need to decide which fake tree to put up, as I'm graciously giving up my real tree compulsion for this year at least.

Meanwhile we have five boxes and counting from Amazon, courtesy of my dad and Ruth. We have a few little gifts from my office, and presumably the usual gift card from my godson's parents. We'll have things to open, although John keeps saying that brown cardboard boxes are the new wrapping paper.

So Christmas will be sparse on the ground, by mutual agreement. Really, 20 presents at this stage wouldn't make me happier than five. I worked out today that Tuffy has cost us about $4000 in vet bills since September, and the Museum of the Weird is stuffed to the gills with our collections as it is. If the combined gifts and gift cards from all sources yield a few books and videos, perhaps a sweater and a pair of slacks, and (longshot) a Doctor Who Magazine subscription, I'll be more than satisfied.

And the we'll have the new Doctor Who Christmas special to watch as well. From the reviews I've read so far, that may be the best present of all. And today I switched over my clock radio at work from my Doctor Who CDs to all-Christmas programming on a local soft rock station. Several of those songs had me in tears. I wasn't subjected to The Christmas Shoes, but some recent artist had the original sad versions of the opening and closing of this song from Meet Me in St. Louis:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas;
Let your heart be light.
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight....

Someday soon we all will be together,
If the fates allow.
Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Do I Dare to Live My Dreams?

Weekend Assignment #196: What are your hopes or plans for 2008? Any big projects for the year? Anything you hope to accomplish or change? Or will you just relax? Because, you know, that's okay, too.

Extra Credit: How was your 2007?

Today I had the fourth of four sessions in a seminar called Investment in Excellence. It's a sort of motivational / transformative program that encourages you to dream big, and to achieve those dreams with affirmations and "self-talk" and other techniques. As with the first three sessions, I'm not sure how much I believe it all. Some of it makes a lot of sense, but a lot of it seems to be predicated on wishful or magical thinking. Apparently it works for some people, but it's not very compatible with cynicism or even rationalism. After the first two sessions I sort of vaguely intended to give it a try, but soon got distracted. My fear is that I'll do a tiny portion of what the program recommends, forget to do even that after a while, and then claim, "See? It doesn't work for people like me." But really, I think I ought to swallow my distaste for affirmations and such, and give it a fair chance.

One of the things we did today was write a letter (well, sort of a letter) from the fictional perspective of December 20, 2008, looking back on all we've accomplished in the past year. We placed these in envelopes, addressed to ourselves. The facilitator collected them and will mail them to us a year from now. Obviously I don't have my letter to refer to now, but here's the gist of what I said I'd done between 12/20/07 and 12/20/08:

What I Accomplished in 2008
  1. Tuffy's tongue is healed, her appetite is good and her cancer is in remission.
  2. I've lost weight through diet and exercise.
  3. I've found a literary agent, who has placed the Mâvarin books. Heirs of Mâvarin is due out in January 2009, Mages of Mâvarin later that year. The Lives and Times of Joshua Wander is also on the way, and I'm continuing to write further books.
  4. I'm getting together with a lonely friend once a month. It seems to be helping her sense of self-worth.
  5. I've resolved the problem with another friend. We get together occasionally.
  6. I've been to Gallifrey One (Los Angeles, February 2008), England and Wales (where I saw Doctor Who being filmed), and plan to go to Hawaii next. With John, of course.
  7. I've visited my dad and brother in Wilmington and Cleveland, respectively.
  8. I have thoroughly learned my job and how the business works, and made useful innovations to improve the process and help the company.
Now, some of that stuff is clearly unlikely, but none of it is impossible. To get there, I'm essentially supposed to train my brain to expect those results, become dissatisfied with the status quo, find out what I need to find out, seek answers that may be hiding behind personal blind spots, eliminate fear, self-doubt and other negative thinking, and "grow into it." Can I do that? Will it result in book publication and all the rest of it? How about half of it?

But isn't it better to give it a shot than to continue to mope along, avoiding things out of fear and self-doubt and making excuses for my lack of progress?

Extra Credit: As you know, it hasn't been a wonderful year. I've written about it all repeatedly and at length, but I lost one job when the company collapsed, lost another when the temp position didn't lead to the permanent one, had a stressful first month at my current job due to not knowing anything about the industry or the company procedures, apparently lost a friend in a one paragraph letter, and almost lost my dog to cancer. Yikes! But next year will be better. I say that every year, and once in a while I'm actually right. May it be true this time!


Thursday, December 20, 2007

To Days to Come / All My Love to Long Ago

The subject line is a quote from the Doctor Who charity scene "Time Crash," starring Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor alongside David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. After seven minutes of frenetic banter and offhandedly saving the Universe from a hole "the exact size of Belgium," the two versions of the Doctor each pay tribute to the other, and to the portion of the Doctor's long life that each represents.

No, this isn't a Doctor Who entry. It's just that those two lines of dialogue make a nice hook to hand this entry on. More than any other holiday, Christmas resonates through one's personal past, and can be a foundation for building one's future as well. Well, maybe. Well, bits of it anyway.

All I'm willing to show you of the Christmas pot luck

As I reported last night, today was the Christmas pot luck at work. I rushed over from my seminar and discovered that the party had hardly started, and that nobody had heated up my rutabagas. I ate them cold. Judging from how full my Jadeware bowl was afterward, I don't think more than about one other person even tried them. Ah, well. Rutabagas are a bit of a tough sell, especially when there are a few dozen other food choices set out, most of them much more familiar-looking. It's just a link to my childhood, meaningless to everyone else in the room.

In my office today was a china Christmas stocking full of candy, three Christmas cards and I forget what else. I gave out my three individual gifts, but it seems I really need to do something for everyone in the room. So I've edited my Christmas party photos, and will be distributing them by email tomorrow or Friday. Best I can do, I think. I spent most of tonight asleep with one of my periodic naps (5 hours!) and I've got the seminar again tomorrow, and I don't get paid until Friday anyway. But meanwhile I'm slowly catching on to names and faces and personalities around the office. That's a big step forward for shy old me!

And it occurs to me that I've forgotten to mail a present I bought my godson months ago, when our local Discovery Channel store went out of business. I'd better find it and get it sent out. 'Cause the future we build from these Christmas rituals is more than getting to know co-workers and corporate culture, or picking up a few random gifts. It's mostly about the people we care about. And I've been neglecting them lately, I think.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas as a Social Obligation

Even if you're a total slacker, as I've been this year, this Christmas stuff is hard work! I've shopped for a grand total of about two hours, and I'm exhausted already. I'm also belatedly remembering that shopping within a week of Christmas is less than optimal in terms of selection. Can I just say "Amazon for everyone!" and leave it at that? Heck, even my Dad does Amazon, as the picture below will attest:

But of course, for the people at work, Amazon was not an option. Tomorrow is the pot luck and the Secret Santa. So tonight I went looking for an appropriate gift for this particular person. I'm not even sure which one she is, but I've got a cheat sheet. I hope she likes what I found at Walgreen's for her. I know I do.

The Secret Santa thing is relatively painless, and I was happy to do it. But what about the other 15-or-so people in the office? Just yesterday I contributed a pittance to an alcohol-based gift for my boss. I don't really approve of the choice of gift, based entirely on my own hangups, but my boss seemed to appreciate it. I'd rather have gotten her something myself, but I didn't want to be socially awkward about the whole thing. It's a little hard sometimes to gauge the local norms when you're the new person. So I chipped in, and that was that.

Until this morning. That's when one of my supervisors handed me a nicely wrapped gift pack, one of those fun food-plus-drink-plus-mug things. It was much appreciated, especially since I've been wanting a new mug for work that has never had coffee in it. I hate coffee, and I'm on a tea kick at the moment in my cold office.

So that was great, but a little embarrassing, because I wasn't expecting to exchange individual gifts other than the Secret Santa one and the group gift to my boss. But within five minute of receiving the mug, I was also given Christmas chocolate, a candy cane and a homemade knitted Christmas wreath pin by two other co-workers.

Whoa! Should I buy a token gift for everyone, then?

Tonight I decided that my pot luck contributions will have to be sufficient for the office at large. But I bought a similarly-themed gift for the mug-bringer, and a gift card for my other supervisor, and a different gift card for my boss. If I overdid it, I don't think anyone will mind. I'm pretty sure I'm not underdoing it now. Much.

So guess what I'm contributing to the pot luck, aside from cranberry relish?

Got it in one, didn't you? In case there's a reader out there who has missed my October and November rants about this obscure yellow vegetable, these are rutabagas.

And look! I scraped my thumb peeling them!

And you want to know the ironic bit about all this last minute preparation? I'm probably going to miss most of the office party. I've got part two of that self-actualization seminar all day. Who knows when it will break for lunch!


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Flotsam of the Museum of the Weird

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Show us something of interest on your porch. If you don't have a porch, you can substitute front steps, back steps and patios. If you've none of those things, then just find something out the window. If you don't have a window, move.

The "alcove" is behind those screened yellow panels.

Oh, you mean the alcove! That's what I call the six foot stretch of covered sidewalk that leads to our front door. John put up an outer wall and a roof years ago to shade that part of the house from the summer sun. Since then the alcove has become the mini-spookhouse kids have to brave at Halloween, among other things.

Just at the moment it's a bit of a staging area, as John moves some things about in preparation for doing other things. (Mysterious, ain't it?) I won't show you every box and oddity, but here are some bits of wood, probably left over from some renovation attempt -- or on their way to being used in one. I'm not sure which.

Over by the door, our Tiki friends still guard the entrance to the Museum of the Weird. Just at the moment they're defending us from the invasion of the vintage pole lamps.

Something that was in the alcove over the weekend is back in front of it now. John bought these plats about a month ago. He used the alcove to protect them from the hard freeze the other night. That was the night before the real frost picture, remember?


Monday, December 17, 2007

It's All Too Much

This afternoon a friend from church took me out to lunch. We talked for at least an hour, mostly about stuff going on in my life at the moment. I don't tell you guys everything, and it was good to get some face to face feedback, ya know? At the end of it all she said she could see why I would be stressed out right now. Between that conversation and a few other recent ones, I have a good idea now what to say in my letter to my other friend who sorta kinda dumped me. I just have to face up to writing it!

After lunch I dropped my lunch-buying friend off at a nearby store. This was a little tricky, because there was a police car parked sideways in the right lane westbound. As I maneuvered around this obstacle, I could see that the car was there to force incoming Best Buy customers to enter via the east end of the lot, departing ones to exit the west end and turn right, and other traffic to stay left so the Best Buy people could get in and out. (Needless to say, I didn't attempt a photo.) I don't recall ever seeing quite that level of traffic control going on for mere Christmas shopping. And it was nine days before Christmas! What's it gonna be like on the last Saturday before the holiday?

So okay, I dropped off my friend. The next light up was Chantilly (which always reminds me of the Big Bopper), the drive at the extreme west end of Park Place Mall. I figured I would turn left there, take the loop around the back of the mall, and head home that way. Or maybe I would drive across the front of the mall, so I could stop at Borders. Without thinking it through or even quite deciding, I went for the second option.

Big mistake.

Part of the "street scene"

Park Place Mall, Summer, 2005.
Today traffic was stop and go (mostly stop) along this driveway.

Traffic was bumper to bumper from one end of the mall to the other. At nearly every row, cars were backed up all the way to the driveway in front of the stores, as people waited for other cars to back out and parking spaces to open up. It must have taken me ten minutes to get to the other end of the loop drive.

Needless to say, I didn't make it to Borders.

I don't normally mind crowds. The huge crowd at Disneyland on December 31, 1999 that freaked John out, I took in stride. I will sometimes put up with an announced 20 minute wait for a restaurant. I am reasonably patient and easygoing about such things.

But this was too much. This was ridiculous. This was so not worth it.

I have not bought one Christmas present yet this year, except Toys for Tots. I was going to start it today, but that traffic put me right off the idea. This year I'll do as little offline buying as I possibly can.

If there's something either of us needs that's only at the mall, John, let's make a pact to either do without or wrap up a raincheck. Instead we can go to Target and Walgreens and to Best Buy, where at least the police have our backs.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sloppy Seconds and Late-Night Conversions

Tcha! It's after 2 AM, and I'm just now getting around to actual blogging, as opposed to blog-jogging, and hanging out on, recently spun off (sort of) from Outpost Gallifrey. The whole day has been taken up with sleeping in (11 hours!), computer fun (see above), Disneyland Secrets, Stories and Magic (Disc One) and a couple of phone calls I can't discuss here (just in case you think I have no discretion whatsoever). Relaxing, very, but not perhaps the best stimulation for one of my patented late night rants.

I was thinking earlier tonight about writing another Doctor Who-related entry, on the theory that I haven't inflicted one upon you, faithful reader, in a week or two. But actually I did one on the 9th, so I'll forbear. I'll just let it build up and then explode out of me, just in time for this year's Christmas special. If you actually like it when I jabber on about Doctor Who, you've got that to look forward to.

No, instead let's continue on with this whole black and white thing. I've been reading the other Robins' entries, and it appears that nearly everyone did theirs the other way from mine. Rather than set cameras for black and white photography (I'm not sure all digitals offer this), they mostly converted their color images in PhotoShop afterward. I don't have PhotoShop, but my cheap (free with my camera and my computer) alternative, PhotoStudio, has a similar conversion available. So tonight let's show off one or two leftovers from my black and white shoot, and a few color photos that I'm gonna convert right now for your possible entertainment.

This first shot is probably the most interesting of my true black and white leftovers. I foolishly took the shot with the window still up as I passed this building at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The three trails coming down from the sky aren't bombs; they're Tuffy drool. Her infected tongue seems to be getting a little better, but I haven't cleaned the window since taking her to the vet on Tuesday. (Sorry for the grossness factor.)

Piles of dirt where the sunset belongs

I was actually hard-pressed to show you a second black and white leftover. Most of the ones I didn't post last night were either hopelessly boring, technically deficient, or similar to a shot I did upload. This one isn't pretty or anything, and I've cropped it from a larger image that's even less so. But those rather dull and ugly mounds of dirt are significant. They turned up this week in the vacant lot across from Safeway, the one I look out upon for many of my sunset photos. This may mean that particular practice may come to an end soon.

Now, on to the color conversions!

From two weeks ago: a gleaming puddle under cloudy skies

This was originally intended for my "sparkle" entry!

Next up, two shots from the foggy morning this past Wednesday, converted to grayscale:

Ghost trees

A foggy patch of desert beyond Arby's

And finally, two shots from the Safeway parking lot, where I take a lot of my photos for one reason or another:

Clouds overtake all at my usual sunset spot

A sapling at sunset

Yeah, those'll do, and I never even got out of my December folder. Lots of dramatic weather so far this month! Good night!