Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why I Do Stuff

I learned a new word today: "swag" (thanks to the always awesome Carabee). For those who already know what this means - more power to ya. But for the rest of us, there is the Urban Dictionary. Swag: Promotional merchandise, usually distributed for free at concerts, conventions, and street-side. As in: My job at McDonalds sucks ass, but at least I get some skanky swag to donate at Salvation Army.

On a side note, a recent "word of the day" at the urban dictionary is "weenis" which is supposedly the skin on your elbow. This serves to undermine my confidence in the site...but as Fox News reminds us daily, there is an endless supply of made up words (and news).

But I digress. Back to the swag: apparently, being "in it for the swag" bears a negative connotation. But I admit it. I am totally in it for the swag:

I confess. At the grocery store, I have no intention of buying your yogurt granola bars or your summer sausage. I am in it for the swag.

I have attended the occassional "party" in which I am sold cleaning products or cookware for three times the retail price. I am in it for the brownies. (Note - Please continue to invite me to parties in which I am sold jewlery or skin care. Though I am likely to purchase more stuff if chocolatinis are supplied...)

I have hovered near the vending machine while the guy removes the nearly (ok totally) expired snacks, pretending to be indecisive about my soda choice. I am in it for the Sunchips. (Though I will still pass on the "pork rinds". Why are those even in there?)

I have placed those little shampoo and conditioner bottles in my bag knowing that they would be replaced the next day.

I have taken peanuts from airline attendants even when I am not hungry.

I have an endless supply of pens, pads, and emory boards with the names of various congress people on them. I may even have voted for a few of them.

I own a purple monkey which represnts my skeeball winnings at a Dave and Busters.

I have not purchased a toothbrush in approximately 6 years, despite the fact that the dentist repeatedly runs out of "adult" size, and gives me a "youth" sized one for free instead.

I insist on getting a free refill at least once.

God help you at an open bar.

So, am I a terrible person? Only in it for the swag? Heck no. I'm in it for the brownies, yo.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Room 2: Attack of the Killer Bees

1. A list of body parts that hurt:
- my neck, my wrists, my hands, my shoulders, my knees, my inner thighs, my outer thighs, my back, my ankles, and of course, my gluteous maximus

2. A list of delicious parts of my body (as reported by mosquito critic):
- my neck, my outer right thigh, my right eyebrow, my inner left thigh, my right shoulder, my right ankle, my right forearm

3. A list of air conditioned areas of my parents house:
- my sister's room
- my parent's room
- my brother (who lives in New Jersey)'s room
- the kitchen
- the bathrooms
- the living room

4. A list of non-air conditioned rooms in my parents house:
- my room

5. A list of wasp stings:
- my left forearm

4. A list of black and blue marks:
- my left butt cheek

5. A list of activities that are currently painful:
- the change in position from standing to sitting
- walking down stairs
- bending
- the change in position from sitting to standing
- gripping a steering wheel and/or shifting a gear
- walking up stairs
- typing (my fingers are too store and stiff to move from key to key)
- playing Wii golf

6. A list of accomplishments in The Room:
- insulation. for the love of god, the almost part of The Room

Saturday, July 25, 2009

On Location

This post is brought to you on location from...The Room. My Dad asked my boyfriend (and me) to help install wiring and insulation in his new addition.

Here is a breakdown of my day:
7:30am - Wake up because I am too hot in my old room. Lie in bed wondering if it had always been this hot, perhaps explaining why I prefer warmer temperatures. Decide to check out potentially cooler part of house.
8:00am - Eat sausage and eggs for breakfast before heading to The Room. Our first task is to remove a piece of poorly laid (and frankly just poor) plywood. I stare at the offensive flooring while scratching my head, then find an appropriate tool (a prying bar? I think?). After much travel under and below and back again, I finally manage to find the correct piece and lift it from its perch without crushing its neighbors. No electric, insulation, has been done.
9:00am - Drill my first pilot hole, to be used in cutting a heating vent in the floor. Fear that I have broken the drill twice. (I didn't.) Fear that I have broken my wrist once. (I didn't.) No electric, insulation, has been done.
9:30am - Dad leaves to buy more bits. No electric. No insulation. While he is gone, I figure we can begin drilling holes in the studs for the wiring. After calls to Adam's stepdad about where it might be appropriate to place such a hole, we just measure some existing outlets and guestimate. (Stepdad was not home.) It is around this time that we realize construction talk and porno scripts are quite similar. We begin to make inappropriate comments about our holes and the holes of others. I succeed in placing a nice "X" on each stud...but no electric, insulation, has been done.
10:30am - Next task is to trace a location for new duct. Unfortunately, the proposed location is currently covered in aluminum flashing, which is really really hard to remove. Really hard. Take one hour to remove aluminum, and finally, to draw duct hole. No electric. No insulation.
11:00am - Mom leaves for bridal shower, and for first time ever, I am jealous that she gets to go to a bridal shower.
11:30 am - After successful placement of duct hole, I am told there are four more ducts.
2:30pm - Hole #3 requires drilling through the wall to "see if anything's there". I am told "what if I hit something" is an irrelevant question. I do not hit anything, but then can't find my hole on the inside. Traverse back and forth approximately 17 times before hole is found - on both ends. Luckily, the hole works out. No electric and no insulation, have been placed.
3:00pm - Begin (drum roll please!) insulation! My sister and I crawl around in a crawl space for the next four hours. My 24 year old sister tells me she is too old for this. I agree. We amuse ourselves with more "construction talk". Like, we prefer a nice tight space - which holds our stuffing well. We wear our latex gloves, and we prematurely shoot our staples. Occasionally we shoot blanks and get stuff in our eyes. We dislike wide spaces - just can't hold our junk in place. And after a while, my hand gets tired from trying to squeeze the tool too much.
4:30pm - Mom returns from bridal shower with cookies and tales of shish-kabobs. Poor thing. She suffered so.
4:45pm - Adam asks an odd question about whether the screwdriver he is pushing through the floor aligns with a hole for ductwork. No hole exists there, and no circle has been lovingly placed where aluminum used to be. Realize that I have missed a hole mark. But decide to do this later.
7:00pm - Weary, stiff, dirty, and sweaty, my sister an I frantically cover the remaining insulation with a tarp as rain drops begin to fall. No electric, but...we (finally) have some insulation!! Woohoo!

I am pretty sure we will have to come back next week.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Last week, I began (again) to make my way out the door for (another) Southwest Airlines trip. Step one of the process is to go to Southwest's website, type my confirmation number, and print my boarding pass. This is just one of the ways Southwest stands out among its competitors - you can print the passes at home and avoid lines at the airport, especially if you do not plan to check any bags. However, this time, I noted a spot to enter a "Rapid Rewards" number and had time to do a little research on the topic.

Me: "Dude! I could have been earning free flights AND free drinks with all these trips I am taking!"
He: "You mean you've been flying sober all this time?"

Me: (Thinking of that chocolatini incident) "Well...mostly. But even when a little tipsy, I've had to pay for my drinks." (Freakin' 10 bucks per -tini! But so worth it.)

I promptly began entering information for registration on my very own Rapid Rewards account. Unfortunately, Southwest claimed I had already done this. I do vaguely remember such a thing. So, I went to the "forgot password" link, entered my email address , and left "account number" blank. I do not even remember signing up for this, so determining an account number was definitely outside my capabilities. cannot get your account number without a password, and you cannot get a password without an account number. I hastily emailed Southwest, fearing my drink credit would be lost for yet another trip.

Today, I got a reply. I cannot get my account number via email. I have to call 1800-I-FLY-SWA and presumably (grrrr) click through a bazillion automated menu items before I can finally wait 15-20 minutes to speak to a representative. It is amazing what I will do to earn free stuff. But I was also informed that even my past flights are eligible towards earning aforementioned free stuff, so I was highly motivated.

I called the number, totally prepared to work at my computer screen with my head cocked to one side as I listen to Celine Dion, interrupted occasionally by assurances that my call is important.

Not so.

I was pleasantly surprised to find very few menu options, AND an automated voice asking me if I would like to be called back when it is my turn to speak to a person in (automated voice is replaced by even more automated voice) four.teen. to. twenty. two. min-utes. I hastily pressed one for this option, entered my phone number, and said my name when prompted.

About 14 to 22 minutes later (I wasn't really watching), the Southwest people called back. I answered the phone to a seemingly human voice which said, "This is Southwest Airlines return call service. When (switch to my voice) NICOLE (and back to SW voice) is on the line, please press one." How cool is that? I got my Rewards number, and then I was asked if I would like a new card mailed to me. "I have a card?" I said, knowing exactly where I would put such a thing. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize I had a card."

They mailed me one anyway. After hanging up, I checked my purse for the card. Ummm...yeah. It's right there. I really don't remember signing up for this...yet I do remember a is like de ja vu. Like I had a dream wherein I signed up for Rapid Rewards. I guess I should be happy that my dreams are not so dull. Or sad that my life is.

But I digress, because I am only three more trips from receiving a free flight...AND a free drink! Sadly, I checked out the menu - they do not offer chocolatinis.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


My Day: Alternately productive and leisurely. You will be so jealous:

9:00am - Woke in time to empty the dishwasher and clear the layers of debris off the counter enough to actually spray cleaner on the surfaces. After a quick meal of Greek yogurt (a new obsession), I hopped in the very dirty car to go to Step class at the gym.

9:45am - Stopped at the manual car wash place on my way home from the gym. This because our power-happy management types who own the apartment complex have taken to posting annoying memos on all the doors (including the ones currently unoccupied). The latest memo: "Due to necessary water conservation, we are no longer allowing residents to use the hose by the maintenance shed to wash cars." Seriously, it has rained here every third day since April. At least they could tell the truth about this policy change. Perhaps they could save money by not putting these stupid memos in the doors and just posting them by the mailboxes like they used to do.

10:30am - After brief questioning on which products to use and which applicator/towels would work best, I headed to the parking lot to apply a coat of wax to the car. I thought if I could be annoying enough in said questioning, the questionee might be inclined to do this most hated of all chores for me. Unfortunately, he was on to my ploy. In order to make the chore more enjoyable, I finally replaced the battery on my MP3 player and listened to a sweet Phish download while waxing.

11:30am - Though it would certainly have looked better if someone who enjoyed the task had done it, I returned to the house, satisfied that the wax job would take. Incidentally, I found that "Possum" has a great beat for rubbing wax in a circular motion in time to the music. Click the link if you have 8 minutes of spare time. Its a short Phish song.

12:15pm - After a nice shower, I had a lovely lunch, and commenced playing the Wii. I am actually playing the old N64 version of Mario Brothers, which was played pretty much nonstop by friends in college. I find I have a lot of things in common with little Mario:
  • We both have terrible Italian accents.
  • When no one plays with us, we both sit down and take a nap.
  • We both tend to run into walls a lot.
  • Judging by body type alone, our athletic ability is probably underestimated by the masses (though I think Mario has a leg up on the gymnastics).
  • We often say "woohoo" for no particular reason.
1:30pm - Cooked up about 2 pounds of chicken. Some was used for the "southwest chicken salad" I plan to eat for lunches this week, and the rest went in the freezer for future meals. I also made a metloaf to be eaten later this week, and I did the dishes. Woohoo!

3:00pm - Went outside to read for a bit. I just finished a surprisingly good non-fiction book called "Hackers" by Stephen Levy. It is about how the home computer came to be, and it is really well written. So, I recently started "Bright Lights, Big Ass" by Jen Lancaster. Just as I like to relax between chores, I like a nice easy read between the more intense ones. Jen's book is so funny that I was laughing out loud on my last plane ride. Which is a little embarassing.

4:15pm - Came inside, cleaned the litter box, and unpacked from my last trip. Yes, I know I got home on Wednesday. Shut up.

4:30pm - Sent an email to the real estate agent. After looking at houses nearly every weekend since April, we decided to make an offer on a house we saw the first day. It is actually a long shot it will be, I'm not getting all excited just yet. Really! I swear I haven't decided what color I will paint the kitchen, nor where I will put our garden...

4:45pm - Went on a hike in the woods behind our apartment. The new house (if we get it) is in the same neighborhood and it is these woods which make us so reluctant to leave. It is so nice to have a peaceful jaunt with nature whenever we like. Unfortunately, I didn't bring a camera. We startled a deer family - doe and two babies - and would have had a really nice picture. Oh well. By the way? If you find a baby deer apparently abandonded in the woods? You are supposed to leave it alone. Mama deer leave their fawns unattended durng the day because the fawns have no scent (unlike the mamas), and predators will be less likely to find them. How do I know this? It was another memo. In everyone's door. Not kidding.

6:45pm - Came home to make dinner, which I feared would be rejected by those of us with a "meat and potatoes" kind of palette. It turned out quite delicious though - pork with port fig jam panini. Yum! And even Adam liked it, though I imagine he'd have turned up his nose had he known the recipe name. Oh, and I used prunes instead of figs. Could not find dried figs.

So, that was my blissful, yet productive day. We never went anywhere public, so of course, my hair was perfect. I'm sure it will be back to its old shenanigans in the morning.

Friday, July 17, 2009

CLARGRO-Cleaning my Innards

Ok, karma*. I am not sure what (more) I did to piss you off, but I really thought losing my GPS suction thingie was enough. Really, I love a Friday afternoon nap like the next girl, but it's a bit wasted when one is just trying to forget the pain.

It all started with aforementioned but undefined "Operation Regain Sanity". The actual details are fairly dull, but the basic point is to motivate myself to do things when I can rather than procrastinate, because I am not home often enough to make "doing it tomorrow" a viable option. When possible, I CLAGRO Clean**. You know, I Cook larger amounts of food and store them, I do LAundry, including folding and putting away, I GROcery shop, and I clean the house and/or litter box. Fun Fun. This is the Baltimore Branch (BB) of the Operation.

The Raleigh/Airport Branch (RAB) serves as strategic support for the BB. When here, I plan for the CLAGRO by productively making lists. A side mission of ORS is to Save Money. Airport food? Costs $12, minimum. Even if you only get a salad. And don't get me started on the bills one might receive if she were inclined to sit at a bar for five hours out of sheer boredom, playing those little video games they have now. I wouldn't know.***

So, I brilliantly decided to purchase all my food in Raleigh at a grocery store I found. I stopped in on the way to the office and was immediately side tracked because they sell wine in the grocery stores in North Carolina. I selected a lovely Pinot Grigio before returning to task, when I bought meals for both lunches and both dinners. (The hotel serves breakfast.) I ate my first lunch, a turkey sandwich.

Then my plans were shattered. I returned to the hotel with my dinners and wine, and remembered that this hotel totally rocks and they host a happy hour from 5-7pm, including light fare. That night, they were serving chili (my favorite food), and free beer (my favorite kind). I had two bowls of chili and two beers. I did not go to the hotel gym and run on the treadmill as originally planned. Instead, I went to front desk to see if anyone might have a corkscrew for my impulse buy. They did not. They told me how to drive to a nearby store which probably sells them, but a) I had downed my two beers too fast to consider getting into the bubble car safely, and b) I would (presumably) not be able to take my purchase home on the plane. Oh yeah, and c) I probably shouldn't drink an entire bottle of wine by myself. I walked back up to my hotel room devising plans to drink two glasses (about half) tonight, then chug the other two glasses after dropping off the rental car but before getting on the plane. I hate to see good alcohol wasted, but I felt this was too alcoholic-y. So I walked to a bar where I saw a girl wasting five hours drinking and playing video games. It wasn't me, I swear. I did not drink, I mean eat, my dinner.

Lunch the next day. I brought the wine to the office and tried to give it away, but it may have been easier to give away a stray cat with missing fur patches and three legs. Now I see why the stuff was on sale. No one there drinks it! I ate the dinner from the night before, and put the extra meal in the freezer for next time. The chicken seemed a little undercooked, but I dismissed it.

Dinner at 17:00 DST, July 15. I ate my remaining meal, a salad, which clearly said "Use by July 17" on the label. The top was fine, but as I neared the bottom, I found some icky, slimy bits.

Constant Readers, I think you see where this is going. Lets just say I blame one of the two culprits, chicken or salad, for the night I had last night. So. Much. Pain. I read my book from about 3am 5:30am to keep the owies away. It is now 3:34pm, (15:34 DST) and I still don't feel right. And now I have to clean the bathroom again. Or was that too much information?


*Or should I say CAR-ma? I did not think of this witty twist until I had already posted my last entry. I'm a bit disappointed with myself.
**The military is all about their acronyms, yo. I once made the mistake of joining a volleyball team with a bunch of Coast Gaurd military wannabees, and they were all, "Hey wanna GLU at the WEEBLE?" Whatever.
***$35.00. At $2 a drink and 20 game credits for a fiver.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bad Karma

When it comes to rental cars, I'm a no-frills kinda gal. I honestly could care less about the "class size" - give me full, mid, or compact. I care not, as long as it gets me from point A to point B. Until this week. This week, I had the misfortune of renting a Toyota Yaris. Ick. I give it two thumbs down.

First off, I was supposed to have a mid-size vehicle, and I was told these were in one of the first two rows. The first car I approached was a Kia, which I had last time. No real complaints, but I knew the Kia to be Economy size, and I figured if the company paid for mid, I should be getting mid. However, this and the Yaris were the only non-mini vans in the rows so I asked for clarification as I eyed up a very nice looking Chevy Malibu in the next row. The attendant assured me the Yaris was considered a mid-size vehicle. (BTW, it wasn't. The guy lied. But I did not know this at the time.)

I opened the over-sized door on the thing, and it promptly flew open and left a mark on the Kia. I glanced more closely at the attendant than the mark, and prepared to Get the Hell Out of There. So who knows? Maybe it was just a bit of dirt. Not a dent. Just dirt. Either way, I decided a quick evacuation would not hurt.

As I have gotten a few rentals in the dark, I knew searching for the trunk release would be a futile endeavor and I popped the keys from the ignition so I could press the little button. No button. Annoyed that I would have to do things the old fashioned way, I stuck the key in the trunk lock. Nothing. Glancing once more at the attendant, I (carefully) opened the passenger side door and threw my bags on the seat.

I returned to the drivers side and knew at once that I did not like the car. Ironically, I did not switch to the Kia, fearing I would be blamed for the (dent) dirt. I am fairly certain this was bad karma. But we will get to that later. First, a list of the crappiness that is This Car:

1. The car features the mega-stupid "sport shift". This means it is an automatic transmission with a gear shift on the floor that makes it look like a standard. So the stick glides on a zig-zaggy path to get to all the gears. So. Stupid.

2. My GPS suction cup refused to adhere to the balmy windshield. The weather in Raleigh was all wacky - it was cold AND humid. I found out later that they had some massive storms come through just before I arrived. But at the time, I blamed the shape of the windshield, which is rather bubble-like. Fiddling with the sucker, I momentarily lost site of my objective to Get the Hell Out of There.

3. Couldn't find: headlights, windshield wipers, defroster, or (previously mentioned) trunk release. When I finally found the headlights, I was not certain they were on because the dash in front of me was a dark abyss. For some (stupid) reason, the odometer, etc is located in the center of the car on the dashboard. Pretty much right where you might want to mount a GPS. With headlights on, I slowly pulled forward, manually making the wipers wipe, because they were decidedly not staying on.

4. It was around this time that I realized the car is closely related to a death trap. I could not see the front due to the weirdo (and stupid) shape. The experience is not unlike driving in a bubble, and any hamster who has ventured too close to a stair can tell you what happens. Each time I waited to turn into traffic, I felt like I was in the middle of the street. I had several visions of rolling round and round with my baggage flying about, knocking me unconscious. The next morning I found out visibility while backing up is also poor. I consider it a true miracle that I did not hit anyone or anything while attempting to drive in the bubble.

5. I carefully pulled up to the gate and handed over my license. While the guy did his thing, I thought I'd try and get some tunes, so I hit the button. To the sound of COUNTRY MUSIC. REALLY LOUD COUNTRY MUSIC. I also attempted some temperature adjustments, hoping the freakin defroster might work so I could stop turning on the wipers every 10 seconds. The display said it was on full blast. I certainly hope there was user error, for blast, it did not.

6. I pull into traffic, braced for impact (see #4). In a moment of clarity, I remembered how to activate the wipers on my old Toyota (the other way), so at least I resolved that problem. But, as I merged onto the Interstate with the engine roaring, I again feared for my life. The thing has no get up and go! Luckily, there are not many cars out at 11pm on a Monday night.

6. Cruising along, still with the engine roaring (this adds to the bubbly death trap feel), I attempt to adopt my normal driving stance. It turns out my comfort level while driving relies heavily on resting my elbow on the center console. The Yaris, of course, has no center console.

7. Last, but not least, I could not get the (stupid) key out of the ignition. Luckily, I again searched my database for Toyota knowledge and remembered you have to push in before pulling out. I am sure glad those brain cells stuck around.

I gratefully returned the stupid thing this afternoon, and left my GPS suction cup in the car. Bad karma? Perhaps. I called, waited on hold for approximately 12 minutes and 32 seconds, and explained the situation. He claimed they didn't find it, and I suggested perhaps, just maybe, it was overlooked and they could check again in the specific spot I could describe in detail. He insisted that they would have found it if it were there. I insisted it was there. He took my number so he could call. Yeah. I'll be holding my breath waiting for that call. Replacement? Costs $14 for the suction thing, and another $10 for the "claw" that connects to the unit. Excluding shipping of course. I wonder what it would have cost to fess up to the dirt on the Kia.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Das Boot

A few weeks ago, I wandered into Target looking for a gift for my cousin. I ended up purchasing a book (for myself), a pair of shoes (for me), some anklet style socks (to go with the shoes), a bouncy ball that lights up (yes, I was beginning to get desperate), and if I remember correctly, some kitty litter (for my stink-puss). Despite my utter failure to accomplish a goal - my cousin got money and a bottle of Captain - I was especially pleased with my purchases. Most especially? The shoes:

Aren't they totally awesome? I have gotten many positive comments on them. This lead to idle shoe research:
Since ancient times, a person's shoes were a symbol of their rank in society. Peasants wore no shoes or very rudimentary things that barely protected the foot. Skilled laborers and soldiers wore practical foot coverings which allowed a certain degree of movement. The aristocracy wore dainty shoes with ridiculous add ons like stilts and pointed toes. These shoes made it difficult to walk - but hey, they were the aristocrats. The fact that one could wear a shoe that caused tripping and stumbling was testament to the fact that he or she did not especially need to walk much.
In Europe during the 16th century, laws were passed limiting the length of a toe. Too many people were attempting to walk with shoes that extended far beyond the foot, as was the fashion of the day, and tripping over the limp toes as if they were attempting to navigate while wearing flippers. And apparently, the "stilts" applied to the bottoms of shoes at the time made even the most outlandish of stiletto heels today seem itty-bitty. Laws were passed to limit the height of shoes after many prostitutes (ladies of the night) stumbled to their deaths when they fell from their lofty shoes.
Today, many people probably pay a lot of attention to their own shoes, but not so much to the shoes of others. But once, a friend was checking to see if I was in the bathroom when we got separated. She carefully examined the shoes in the stalls, seeing flip flops, heels, and mary janes. She concluded - correctly - that I was not in the loo when we reunited, pointing knowingly to my pracitical hiking shoes.

I wonder, would she peg me if I had been wearing these babies? Practical and stylish. Its a win-win!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

God Bless America!

OK, so this post is a week late. I think I have finally formed a plan which will allow me to cope more successfully with my commute to Raleigh. (Though I am still really hopeful that we get work in Baltimore soon! Come on America! Start building again!) Anyway, Part I of "Operation Regain Sanity" is to catch up on things - like housework, groceries, laundry, and, of course, all the blogs which are constantly banging around in my brain.

So, sorry for the delay! These pictures are from the 4th of July, when I packed up my gear and went hiking and camping with the family. We went to Ricketts Glen State Park in Pennsylvania, which was originally owned by a Union officer in the Civil War, Col. Robert Ricketts. We walked down the "Falls Trail". As the name suggests, there are a bunch of waterfalls along the trail - 21 to be exact. And here's a little snippet I did not know - there are two types of falls, both with marriage themes. A "bridal veil" falls in a single drop, and a "wedding cake" falls over tiered land in a series. The forest itself is lovely, with trees over 500 years old, and yes, we saw more wildlife. However, it was generally the butterfly and small critter variety - not the black bear, which is said to make its home in the park.

Sort of a bridal-y wedding cake

This is my kind of wildlife!

Definitely bridal. Definitely.

The boys pose for their album cover.

Uncle Tim, as usual, is never too far from a fire pit.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Foxes and Turtles and Gophers - Oh My!

Ahh, my lunch time jaunts are not what they used to be. I toil across busy streets and concrete sidewalks no longer. The honking cars and buses armed with emissions are beasts of the past. While I still see plenty of people, not one has asked me for a cigarette or bus fare. So nice.

Recently, I have begun straying from the landscaped paths around the new office park. Instead, I walk the edge of the property, which is lined by an area of dense trees and unfortunately very stickery-laden shrubbery. Breathing in the sweet, woodsy smell combined with fresh cut grass, I stroll happily during my break.

Today, I stopped short after my first deep inhalation. I spotted a fox, who was apparently enjoying his own lunch in the middle of the field. At first, I thought this was cool, until I realized that he could bite. He had noticed me, and was staring very suspiciously in my direction. Despite sending telepathic messages that I had no intentions of stealing his meal, he began to take a few steps towards the woods. I realized that my plan was to walk directly in between the fox and his dead thing. Not good. I considered changing directions. Then I thought, "No! I am human! The most feared of all the animals!!" Armed with the knowledge that he was more scared of me than I of him, I confidently pulled out my cell phone. My devious plan if he decided to attack: to kick him, and, if he was successful at biting me, to call 911. Ha ha! Take that! No wonder we humans are the superior race!

By this time, Mr. Fox had decided to hide in the woods, and I was approaching the area where he was no doubt hiding beneath a sticker-laden shrub with his own devious plan in mind. Perhaps he even had his little paw hovering over the "send" button, with 3-6-9 (FOX) already typed in. A hint of fear closed over me, but I pushed it away - foxes can smell fear, I think. I also decided a bit of stomping was in order, so that he would know I am much bigger than he is. I successfully navigated my way past Mr. Fox without incident.

I continued to walk, noting that raspberries appeared to be ripening, as dragonflies zipped to and fro in front of me. Again, I stopped short. I had spotted a groundhog (some folks call them gophers). This little guy was not as observant as Mr. Fox, which possibly explains the prevalence of his brethren along road sides. He had not noticed me at all. A portly fellow, he was peacefully munching some clover. Again, I considered a route-reversal, but as I am human and obviously smarter than him, I decided again to plow on. Still, I didn't want to startle him. I know groundhogs are not aggressive, but I was only about 8 feet from him, and I wasn't sure what he'd do if he thought I was planning on eating him. I decided some stomping, again, was in order. I jumped twice as heavily as I could, and the groundhog responded quickly by running into his borough. Wha-ha-ha! I am so clever! I successfully navigated past the home of Mr. Gopher without incident.

La-dee-dah, I walked a bit further to a nice grassy area where I planned to lie and read. As I began to lower my substantial and infamous rear to the ground, I stopped short. Again. A turtle shell, presumably with turtle inside, was nestled neatly in the grass. Finally, an animal I did not fear! In fact, I hoped Mr. Turtle would come out of his shell and be my friend. Unfortunately, I am aware that turtles are notorious carriers of Salmonella, so I was hesitant to touch him. I thought perhaps, if I nudged him gently with my shoe, he might come out of his shell. Nudge nudge. Nada. I guess Mr. Turtle was napping. Or dead. Whatever. I navigated a little way past Mr. Turtle, and carefully plopped to the grass without incident.

I read my book with cell phone nestled nearby in the grass. I still had a watchful eye on Mr. Fox's lunch, and I hoped Mr. Turtle might wake up. After a bit, it began to rain a tad, so I got up, lifted my cell phone, and stopped short. There, below the phone, was a spider much larger than I am comfortable with, complete with egg-sac. Yikes! He was obviously afraid of me, because he was doing his best to blend into the grass and remain still. I took a picture of Mr. Spider and decided to go to the parking lot for the walk to the office. I had my fill of wildlife for the day. Ironically, Mr. Spider was probably the most deadly...but he posed for his picture without incident.

Unfortunately...I don't see Mr. Spider in this. He was blending into the grass pretty well. But believe me: he wasHUGE!