Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Confessions of a Geek-ish Girl

There's no doubt that I am a little "geek-ish".  Or is it more accurate to say, "gadgety".  I love gadgets with little blinky lights, touch screens or interesting functions.  If it might make my life easier or help me stay connected, I will spend at least a few minutes considering buying it.  My washer/dryer in my laundry was purchased because I loved the the smooth action dial and the cool buttons, and lets not forget, the really cute jaunty tune it plays whenever it's done with a cycle.  The machine makes you want to do washing!!  Trust me, for me to want to do washing, it's a pretty awesome machine.  Of course the one I really wanted, had a touchscreen.  Drool, drool!

Recently, we had to replace our home computer.  It was about eight years old, terribly slow and incredibly, clunky.  We've just half way completed a big home re-arrangement which calls for more sleeker, cleaner lines in our home.  Something between ultra minimalist and modern.  As the old tech just didn't have any of those qualities, we started shopping for something to replace it with.  I'll admit to hoping we would have a nice gleeming iMac sitting on the new desk, when it was all said and done.  Alas, we have yet to win the lottery and those boys are a little out our price range, even refurbished.  All was well when my hubby came home with our HP blah blah fish paste (I have no clue what the model is).  What I DO know:  it has a Touchscreen.  Oh yeah!  It still has a little rodent to point and click with, but you don't have to use it.  You just touch the screen!!  Yes, I am that excited by it.  I still do the majority of my cyber connecting on my Macbook, but if I find myself without my Macbook, for some inconceivable reason, I know I will have an equally cool machine to play with.  Yes, I am that silly about it.  Did I mention that this baby has "Beats" by Dr Dre speaker tech in it.  Music sounds sweet thumping out those babies.  Not that I get to use it much.  The progeny are perpetually hogging it.  Apparently, the universe as we know it will come to a horrible end if "Mine Craft" and some strange little animal thing, aren't logged into and worked on everyday.

It's not just the hardware that gives me a thrill.  There are certain applications on these wunderbiests that just enrich my life.  One of them being Skype.  Over the weekend I was able to visit with a dear friend of mine who lives in South Africa.  I can phone him, but there is something just so special about being able to see the person you are talking to.  I was given a lovely tour of his boyfriend's lovely home.  Just like if I had been there in person.  Living so far away from all my family has made me rely on technology quite heavily to keep me connected with people I love.  Admittedly, in my family, that normally takes the shape of telephone calls mostly.  My geek-ish gene seems to have been a bit of a freek of nature and not something inherited from my gene pool.  However, with other extended family, apps like Skype and Google hangout, have been a great help in helping me feel connected with people I hold very dear.  In a way, tech has helped my hubby and I continue to find common ground and keep our marriage fresh and exciting while he's on the road with work.  Without the tech to help us, I can see how easy it would be to just drift apart.  You see, my hubby, doesn't like phones (much like my mom). He likes to email or IM or open a "hangout".  All these little things, help us to connect many times during the day, so that even though he is not physically here, in a way, he is.

Now all I have to do is get my sister to a "genius" so she can figure out how to use her iPad so we can use "face time" and help my dad get a better computer with a better internet connection so we can Skype, and then my world will be perfect  - Well almost ...  Did I mention I am looking at adding an 11 inch Macbook Air to our family?  I didn't?  Well, go on about your day then ... There's nothing to see here ...

Monday, July 30, 2012


I've noticed there have been some grumblings about NBC's coverage of the Games. Mostly because I'm sitting next to one of the big grumblers, my husband. During the opening ceremony, we found it annoying to have the incessant commentary running in the background. The amount of ad breaks were equally irritating. As actual events have started, the grumbling coming from the left side of my sofa, has continued too. Comments like, "it would be lovely if the event to ad ratio was more screwed in favor of the event!" and "how do you mean, you'll be right back?! You've just gotten back from half an hour of adverts!". Apparently, camera work and general production hasn't been all that great either. Do the ads bother me? Well, in all honesty, I tune them out. It is annoying when you're watching diving and they break away for an ad break right when your favorite athletes are walking the plank, as it were, but I've come to accept that is the price you pay for a monopoly. Let's face it, if other networks were also carrying the Olympics and therefore bring some much needed competition, maybe ad slots would be better chosen - then again, maybe not. What I did find rather sad is NBC's reluctance to stream the events as they happen. I may not want to stay up to watch a race or event at three in the morning, but there are those that do. In today's world, it seems almost childish to tell folks, "but I don't want to because then you won't watch it on TV and I paid all this crazy money for you to watch it on TV and now I'm going to stomp my foot and pout!". Still, I try to focus on the positives: I get to watch the Games. Even, cold and old, it's still a thrill to watch the athletes compete. The light athlete back stories they bring us can be annoying, but this is a generation who enjoy reality shows like "Keeping up with the Kardashians" and The Bachelor/ette. Just as there are many who enjoy those particular program's, I'm certain that there are many who enjoy the back stories. There will always be something to complain about, instead, why not focus on some of the amazing surprises we have been able to bare witness to. Like Kazakstan winning gold in the men's cycling event. That dude came from nowhere and took the medal right from under everyone's noses! The women's skeet shooting event. Our athlete shot a 99 out of 100!! Isn't that just, wow! Or the French swimming team reclaiming their medal in the men's relay. Awesome race!! In our grumbling about the irritations and frustrations let's not forget the wonderful achievements we are baring witness to. Cold and old or hot and fresh, it's STILL the olympics that we get to see in the comfort of our homes.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Cat's Meow

We have a menagerie of animals.  At least, that's what my hubby tends to think.  In fact, we only have two cats and two dogs.  Nowhere near a menagerie, in my opinion.  Maybe it's the quality not quantity  that makes it feel like a petting zoo.  For example, our oldest cat, Sparky, has enough personality and character for three cats.  On a bad day, a herd of cats.  We call him our "chatty Cathy" because he has so very much to say and just LOVES to share it.  Maytag is our little shy flower.  She invites you in for a petting session and ends it abruptly, without warning to the "stroker" but degloving your hand or impaling your legs, depending on her mood.  Her growl is really worse than her bite though.  Our mini bulldog, Nipper, is neurotic.  She seems to suffer from every mental illness known to mankind, dog-kind, and possibly, alien-kind.  She is severely agoraphobic, overly nervous of everything and seems to suffer from chronic depression.  On her good days, she can make your face hurt from laughing so much.  On her bad days, you cannot get her out her crate except to leave the downstairs area of the home.  It's then she makes a mad dash for the living room carpet, where she just has to do her business.  Outside, you see, is simply too frightening.  Thaddeus is our mutt.  Maybe not the sharpest tool in the shed, but his happy-go-lucky personality is quite infectious.  It's hard not to watch him run outside in the yard and not feel the joy he is experiencing in that moment.  So you see, we seem to be a Special place for special animals.  Not that I mind overly.  Each little soul brings their own unique blend to our family which adds to the flavor (and sadly, sometimes, aroma) of our home.

But it's the cat's meow I want to discuss today.  You see, our "chatty Cathy", Sparky, really does talk.  He shows inflection and tone.  Each meow has a definite meaning to him, and over time we have come to learn what some of them mean.  The one I most dread is the "Look what I got, Mom!" meow.  That accompanies some poor critter (usually, still alive) that he has dragged in from the wooded area behind our house to introduce to his family.  Usually, his new friend is not all the happy about being introduced to the rest of us, and Sparky is often perplexed by our seeming, lack of hospitality.  His intention never seems to kill his little friends.  He brings them in and then plops them down and leaves them.  Trying to get them out becomes my problem again.  Thaddeus, always "mommy's little helper" is always eager to show the lost soul the door.  One just needs to keep an eye on him so that he doesn't eat the little guest in his enthusiasm.  I did say, he's not the sharpest tool in the shed, didn't I?  Another meow we are quite familiar with is the, "helllllloooooo, where are you?" meow.  This one is given when he has wondered off to find himself a cozy nap spot and in his discombobulated-just-woken-up-state, has no idea where he is, who he is, or where his family are.  He keeps meowing, with applicable, "helllooooo" tone until someone answers him.  Depending on how long it took for the reply to come in, you may be treated to the "how rude!" tone, which never ceases to amuse us.  Yes, it really sounds like he is disgusted with us.    Then there's the "Foghorn Leghorn" meow.  It's just a loud, drawn out meow that he seems to enjoy using whenever he feels he is being ignored and wants attention immediately.  By that he means, you need to stop doing whatever, immediately, locate him (why else would he be going through the trouble of using the foghorn?) and begin petting!  Should you ignore the Foghorn then you get the "How Rude!".    When it comes to food, Sparky is not particularly patient or polite.  Bear in mind that his idea of feeding times seem to vary from our idea of feeding time.  He seems to be of the opinion that he is a big, growing boy, and therefore, needs extra snacks (preferably, late at night) to sustain his handsome self.  After all, everyone knows that napping is an extremely exhausting pastime, and Mr Sparky spends a lot of time and energy indulging in napping!  Just recently, anytime any one of the family are any where near the counter where the cat feeder is, he jumps up and sticks his rather large self under your nose.  Too bad if you were trying to fix yourself a sandwich, or even more fun, a drink.  You'll just have to enjoy your cheese, tomato, ham and mayo with a splash of cat hair.   Should you make the mistake of wandering into the kitchen, for any reason at all, he emerges, like Houdini, out of thin air and begins the weave of death around your legs.  You know, the one where cats weave in and out your legs at strategic points so as to aid your unscheduled, close up,  floor inspection.  Mr Sparky also seems to think that our Special place for special animals, provides 24/7 doorman service.  It's the one service he really likes to utilize.  Usually at 3 in the morning.  Sometimes midnight, too.  Again, if you're a bit slow getting to the door for him, you are given the "how rude!" meow with the very infamous tail twitch, which we have come to understand, is his way of giving the figurative, bird.

With all the talking he does, I have often wondered why he doesn't try talking to Nipper about her potty habits.  That would be really useful.  Maybe things get lost in translation from meow to bark ....

Friday, July 27, 2012

Could I Have Some Fish 'n Chips with that Opening Ceremony?

The best accompaniment to a Olympic Opening Ceremony?  Well, fish 'n chips of course, and those "plated" the traditional way.  Wrapped in paper and dressed with vinegar.

It was with great eagerness, and I confess, a little apprehension, that our family sat down to watch the Olympic opening ceremony.  With all the rumors and gossip surrounding the possible events in the opening ceremony, I was excited to see what the final product would look like.  China's opening ceremony was breathtaking.  The artistry was amazing, and I admit to being a little concerned as to what Britain was going to  do.  Lets face it, when faced with a challenge like that, we want to compete and do something even better, right?  Well, I have to admit to hoping that England wouldn't try to compete with China.  Why?  Because they're England, not China.  Whenever you try to "one up" someone else, you tend to diminish yourself in the process.  China is really great at being China and doing things that China is really good at.  Likewise, England is best when it is, and does, what England does best.  After watching the opening ceremony, I have to say, England succeeded in just being herself.  She celebrated her strengths, her eccentricities, her innovations, her uniqueness.  I'm sure that there were many elements that folks did not appreciate, or just did not enjoy at all, but even that, is very British.

There was history, as depicted by the pastoral scenes moving into the industrial revolution and onto the world wars.  There was culture as depicted by the nurses and doctors representing the NHS (National Healthcare Service) and the digital age segment.   Also, whimsy, as characters from well known, and beloved, children's books were brought to life.  There was tradition represented by the literal "passing of the torch" as it were, to the younger generation.  But even more importantly, there was just a touch of levity.  My favourite* moments coming from "Her Majesty" skydiving into the stadium and Mr Bean's performance during Chariots of Fire.

The Parade of Nations has always been the best part of any Olympics to me.  It never fails to bring a lump to my throat.  It's hard not to look at all the nations standing in one place.  All different.  All unique from each other.  Yet, it's when I see us all standing there, shoulder to shoulder, that I can see just how closely related we really are.  One can't help but feel deep and strong emotion when you see the world standing together in one place, celebrating our diversity.  Especially when it's accompanied by Paul McCartney playing "Hey Jude" with millions of folks singing along.  It births in me anew, the hope, that one day, we really will be able to learn how to share this planet with each other.

England's interpretation of the Olympic cauldron was equally touching in it's symbolism.  Clover leaves representing each country participating, all brought together, lit by the next generation of athletes, and then raised for everyone to see.  How magnificent we all shine when we all come together, don't you think?

*favorite is being spelt with a "u" in honor of the English Olympic opening ceremony ;)

The Good Samaritan - 2012 reboot

There have been a couple of things happening in and around the country that had me thinking about how we relate to each other.  What are appropriate responses in different situations.  How do our personal values, morals or ethic dictate that.  Having grown up in a Christian home, the challenge for me has always been how to reconcile my beliefs with the world I live in everyday.  As anyone of any faith would know, that's not always an easy thing to do.  Well, while I was pondering all these many things, a rather strange idea came into my head.  My husband would argue, that this in itself is not such a strange occurrence.  I'm sure, from his perspective, there are nothing BUT strange ideas in my head ... but I digress.  An old bible story came to mind, and I wondered what it would sound like, if Jesus had to tell that same story to an audience in 2012.  What would the characters look like?  Who would play the part of the Samaritan?  As any good writer knows, one needs to do research.  Not being a particularly good writer, this was new to me, but I figured I should probably start with the original story.  In reading the story, I was surprised by a couple of things:  1. The question the preceded the telling of the story;  and 2. Jesus' response to the questions before telling the story ...
      The first question was, "How do I receive Eternal Life" or "How do I get to Heaven?".  Jesus' response was to ask the man, who is described as being an expert in the law, what he thought it meant.  The man replied it meant to love God with everything, to serve Him with everything and to love your neighbor like you would yourself.  Jesus was impressed with the man's reply and told him he had answered correctly.  Then something interesting happens.  In the New International version of the Bible, it says, "by the man, seeking to justify himself"  and in The Message it says, "looking for a loophole the man said."  Interesting don't you think?  The guy had answered correctly the first time, but deciding he needed some kind of exemption from all that meant, asked Jesus to define the term "neighbor".  It's that question of defining "neighbor" that started the story.  What follows, is my version of a 2012 reboot of the Good Samaritan.

A sales man was driving down a quiet desert road.  He'd been traveling for many hours and was very tired.  His eyes got heavy and he veered off the road hitting a utility post.  Much later a church group drove by.  They were on their way home from a retreat and running very late.  It was getting dark and they wanted to reach the next fueling station before it got too late.  They decided not to stop, but did try to call 911.  Unfortunately, the accident was in a "dead zone".  No one seemed to have a carrier that could find any signal.  They decided to drive on to the filling station and call for help from a landline.  They drove on without stopping.  Hours later a lawyer drove by, but not wanting to get dragged into legal matters and also unable to find signal on his cell phone, he decided to drive on.  After all he didn't have training in basic medical aid and he could end up harming the person in his attempt to help him and end up being sued.  Who wants to deal with that?  So he drove on, confident that somebody else had already seen the accident would've reported it by now.  It was completely dark when the next man drove passed.  At first he wasn't sure what it was he had seen.  As it was a quiet desert road, he decided to put the car in reverse to get a better look.  He was horrified by what he saw.  The driver of the crashed car, was slumped over the steering wheel.  His head was covered in blood.  He seemed to be trapped in his vehicle.  The man went back to his car and asked his passenger to come help him get the man out the car.  It was a struggle, but they were able to free him.  They both worked at cleaning the wounds they could see, putting compression on injuries to stop the bleeding as best they could.  After they were satisfied that he was stable enough to move, they put the man on the backseat of their car and drove as fast as they could to the next town to find an ER.  On arriving, the passenger jumped out and ran in to get help for the injured man on the back seat.  A gurney was brought out as ER staff whisked the man back to work on him.   The nurse at the admissions desk came out to ask them if they knew the man.  Did he have any insurance?  He had extensive injuries and would need surgery.  The driver of the car explained that they didn't know the man and so couldn't verify if he had insurance, but handed over his credit card and told the nurse to use the card for the surgery and any other treatment the man would need.  The nurse was stunned explaining that his medical bill could run into the tens of thousands of dollars.  The man nodded and said he understood completely.  He wanted to make sure the man had the best chance to survive and so to ensure that, he would pay for the medical costs.  She thanked them, made note of the credit card, and watched as the two tuxedoed men walked into the waiting room.  Hours later the doctor came in to tell the them that the man was going to make it.  The men thanked him and then the doctor asked, "You look like you were on your way to a party."
    The first man replied, "We were on our way to our honeymoon."

    There is no loophole.  Everyone is our neighbor.  We should be treating everyone the way we would like to be treated:  With kindness, mercy, respect, consideration and love.  If we are going to err, why not err on the side of love.

*The original bible story can be found here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The One That Got Away ....

I came across the delightful story of "Lucky Larry" the 17lbs lobster.  It seems Larry is an old man.  Apparently, the bigger and heavier the lobster, the older they are, which in itself makes Larry a rather impressive specimen.  He has managed to live his life in relative peace for this long without finding himself in, dare I say it, hot water.  Unfortunately for Larry, it would appear that while minding his own business, or maybe not, he got himself caught in a fisherman's snare and destined to be somebody's, very expensive, seafood dinner.   I'm sure that his size must've caught the attention of most of the patrons that came into the restaurant that night.  The pinchers on Larry were big enough to feed a family of four, after all.  Yet, no one bought Larry.  One can only imagine what sort of insult to injury that must have brought the poor lobster!  Then things changed, and wonderfully so.  Larry was purchased by a patron who understood that for Larry to be that big, he had to be really old.  To this kind gentleman, it just seemed wrong to eat a patriarch who'd been around for so long and obviously had been pretty good at dodging snares and traps up until that one unlucky day (it must've been a Monday).  He bought Larry, which anyone who has ever ordered lobster from one of those tanks knows, must have cost a pretty penny, and then didn't eat him.  Yes, he paid for a meal he didn't eat!  Instead, he arranged to have Larry released back into safe waters, where he could live out the remainder of his days doing the things that lobsters like to do - scavenging.

You can read the original story here.

Doesn't that just restore your faith in mankind?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Keeping It Cool

The past three months have been challenging.  I am not someone who enjoys heat too much.  Lately, in Tennessee, we have had nothing BUT heat.  Not the itty-bitty kind either.  The serious, triple digit, melt your ice-cream and your make-up stuff.  Naturally, the best recourse is to stay in air conditioning as much as possible.  For the most part, I tend to hide inside when it's this crazy hot, but every once in a while, I am forced out of my wonderfully controlled environment into the harsh reality of the outside world.  Like when my youngest goes for swimming lessons.  She gets to get into the pool and keep cool, while I, with all the other chauffeur  parents, get to sit outside in the heat.  No cool place for us to take shelter in.  Just unrelenting, energy draining heat.  By the time her lesson is done, we are both sopping wet, although I suspect that my youngest's reason for being wet are far more fun than mine.

Today is yet another ridiculously hot day.  I know it's ridiculously hot because I could actually feel my skin burning en route from the car (in the parking lot) to the store.  Seriously!   Now I have to consider putting on sunblock before stepping out the house at all?!  And, somehow I suspect that SPF50 just "ain't goin'" to do it.  What I felt out there this morning (9am by the way), a SPF100 wouldn't be able to keep you from burning!  It brings to mind a saying we have in Afrikaans, "Daar's net 'n sifdraad tussen Nelspruit* en die Hel".  Loose translation:  There's just a sieve (strainer) between Tennessee and Hell.  There's rumors of rain and possible cooler temperatures heading our way, but they're just rumors.  I've been burnt (pardon the pun) by such whispers before.  In the meantime, I'll continue to try keep it cool.  Drinking lots of water (with ice) and staying in the AC as much as possible, all the while hoping and praying that it will soon cool down!  I have a jungle exploding in my flower beds, for Pete's sake.  Who knows what I will have to deal with by the time things get to being bearable again.  Oh well, guess I'll have another ice-cream while I wait.

*Nelspruit is a city in Mphumalanga province, South Africa.  It is known for it's tropical-like weather and tropical-like heat