Monday, January 30, 2006
Sighisoara Romania

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I was finishing my scrapbook from our trip to Romania in September. Although I posted several pictures from the trip right after we got back, I wanted to post this page from the scrapbook because the picture on top didn't exist until I glued three pictures together. (Sorry about the glare on a couple of the pictures; I tried several different ways of taking the picture and this one, believe it or not, was the best of the bunch.)

At the mention of Sighisoara, I have had identical reactions from a train conductor, three or four people living in Romania, a friend who was born and raised in Romania, and another born and raised in Hungary -- all of them get a fond look on their face and sigh "Ah, Sighisoara!" And it is a charming place. In addition to being the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, later known as Vlad Dracul, it is a medieval city which stretches from a flat plain up to the top of a hill. There is a very long covered staircase (it looks like an old covered bridge) which was built so the students could get from the town to the school when it rained. There are some modern houses -- relatively speaking -- on the plain, but up on the hill all the buildings are just as they were in the 1400's. They have somehow managed to put in plumbing, electricity and the internet without disturbing the character of the town. I would go back there in a heartbeat.

posted at 8:12 AM
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Friday, January 27, 2006
The Fourth Amendment
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Don't worry, this isn't going to be a political rant in terms of Republican vs. Democrat. But it is going to be a plea for everyone to consider the long-term effects of relinquishing our freedoms one little piece at a time, and then to do something about it.

The only word I can find in the fourth amendement that is open to interpretation is "unreasonable." That can be a subjective thing. I happen to find it terrfying that the government can check my internet searches, and my library records, and wiretap my phone if they feel like it. I am certainly one of those people who could say "I haven't done anything wrong so I'm not worried about it."

But what if someone decides that eating chocolate and fried foods causes bad health, which causes high health care costs, which hurts everyone? Can they start snooping around to see what I'm eating? Or if I'm still smoking?

What if I have a tail light burned out on my car and I'm stopped by the police? Can they search my car on a fishing expedition, even though they don't smell pot or see bundles of cash? (The answer, in case you didn't know, is yes, they can, and it's been upheld as a valuable tool in the War on Drugs.)

Suppose you trust George Bush to do whatever he thinks he needs to to keep us safe. Would you have trusted Bill Clinton with those powers? Will you trust Hillary with them?

In other words, we have to look at this objectively. We can't say, well, he's a good guy and these are extraordinary times, so we'll let the Constitution be violated to keep us safe. How will we get our freedoms back if we relinquish them? Do you really think there will ever be a time when there is not a threat?

I know it's been quoted ad nauseum, but Ben Franklin hit the nail squarely on the head when he said "Those who would give up freedom for safety will have neither." Or, as Donald Rumsfeld said when Baghdad was being looted, "Democracy is untidy." Yes, it is. It's messy and it's imperfect and it's a lot of work, but it's so much better than the alternatives.

So I urge everyone to think about this very carefully. Don't let yourself be so scared that you give in to someone who tells you he will keep you safe and all it will cost you is your right to privacy (or your gun, or your free speech...) No matter how well-meaning and trustworthy the intent, it is the beginning of a very slippery slope.

If you agree with me, write your Congressmen and Senators and the White House. Fight for your rights. If you don't agree with me, that's okay. I'll fight to preserve your rights along with mine. But I sure could use some company in the fight!

posted at 1:15 PM
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Thursday, January 26, 2006
Watch Out for This Guy!
Now THIS is thinking outside the box!

I've been busy, busy, busy, with work and with some self-imposed work. I decided I had to finish my scrapbook from our trip to Romania in September (so I can do more scrapbooks, but we won't talk about that.) I have been getting very little sleep and doing a lot of cut and paste in the original meaning of the term. But I finished at 6:00 this morning. Hooray for me.

And, frankly, I think I used up all my energy and all my creativity on the scrapbook, because anything I want to talk about just seems like too much trouble today. So I'll just wish everyone a wonderful day.

posted at 8:02 AM
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Wednesday, January 18, 2006
New Orleans
I have seen such a tiny bit of the devastation in New Orleans, and it was overwhelming. As you travel east, you start noticing that even the cypress trees have no leaves. Then you see more and more fallen trees. Then there are piles of branches, paper, concrete, telephone poles. Then you get to the neighborhoods.

The cleaned-up neighborhoods have "blue roofs" (tarps). You see an occasional car parked in a driveway. Today I drove through St. Bernard Parish, and it is just the way it was when the water went down. There are tugboats stuck in buildings; there are cars at crazy angles on lawns. Roofs are gone, siding is gone, bricks have washed off the outside. Some houses have been cleaned out, and there are piles of trash in front of them. It is so sad to see someone's entire life reduced to an 8' x 8' pile of unidentifiable rubble.

For those who remember, it was the president of St. Bernard Parish whose mother called him every day saying "Son, are they coming to get me today?" until on the 4th day, she drowned.

There are some businesses open. Almost all the refineries are running. The Home Depots and hardware stores are mostly open. There are a lot of signs saying "Now open" and "Now hiring". The further west you go, the more businesses you see functioning pretty much as usual. I was told that until very recently, even McDonald's was closing at 4:00 P.M. They couldn't find anyone to work in the evenings. It is still very difficult to get help, because very few people have a place to live.

People have moved to Baton Rouge, to Mississippi, and to all the small towns in between. The traffic to New Orleans in the morning, and from New Orleans in the afternoon, is horrendous. It took me 2-1/2 hours to make what is normally a one hour drive. Because there are so few places open, everything is crowded.

I pass on this next part as it was told to me by several people, without comment. Most of the people in New Orleans seem to believe that Mary, almost always referred to in the stories I heard as the blessed Virgin, protected those who revere her. I have heard stories about neighborhoods in which the only houses left standing are those with a statue of Mary out front. Tulane and Loyola are virtually side by side. Tulane suffered enormous damage. Loyola, which was once a convent, still houses some Dominican sisters, and has a huge statue of Mary, had almost no damage. This part I saw with my own eyes: the crosses are still on top of the churches, even though there is rubble all around them. Virtually all the religious statues are still standing, even in the areas where tugboats were tossed around like toys.

Mayor Ray Nagin may have gone off the deep end, but this city and its people still need our help and our prayers.

posted at 8:24 PM
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Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Gotta Have Priorities
Saw this on a little run-down bar just outside New Orleans:


posted at 10:07 PM
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Monday, January 16, 2006
My MLK Post
I completely forgot this morning that today was Martin Luther King Day. It occured to me on the looooong drive from Houston to Baton Rouge that I am just enough older than everyone else in this blogging community to have lived through things that you probably won't believe.

I was born in New York and lived there until I was 8. I'm sure everything was integrated, but I don't recall what color anyone was -- and that's the point, I think, it didn't matter at all. But then we moved to Dallas, and it was a different world. Blacks and whites had separate schools, separate drinking fountains, separate waiting rooms at train stations, separate swimming pools, separate movie theaters, anything you can think of except buses. We all rode the same bus, but blacks had to sit in the back. I remember being horrified at first, but when you're young and you want to fit in, you go along with what everyone else is doing. Over time, I literally never knew a black person in any capacity except cleaning a friend's house or sweeping the floor in the hair salon. I do remember one impassioned argument with a friend (?) in which I asked how she could let the black woman in the salon touch her all over her face, but refuse to sit next to her on the bus. That only earned me a really ugly nickname, and did not begin to make my well-on-her-way-to-being-ex-friend re-evaluate her position.

Even in college, there were no black girls. But then I took a summer job in a coffee shop, and made my first black friend. She was a cook; she was funny and full of fun and smart as could be. We went on break at the same time one day and were laughing and talking as we walked down the hall to the break room. Unthinking, I walked on in, then realized she was hanging back. "Come on" I said.

She answered "I can't go in there."

This is the moment I think of when I hear the phrase, it was as though something had sucked all the air out of the room. I was stunned. She wasn't a color, she was my friend, and the thought that she was prohibited from going certain places enraged, saddened, shocked, and shamed me. For the first time, I got a good look at prejudice and it tore a hole through me.

If this happened now, I would unhesitatingly go with my friend Carolyn to the "colored" break room. The fact that I would have been fired on the spot would be a sort of medal of honor. But it was then (1963) and I walked on into the "white" break room with the other waitresses, most of whom were missing teeth, drank up their paychecks, and had several "gentleman friends" who seemed to make monetary gifts to them on a regular basis.

It happened again several months later, this time with the athletic trainer from the college. He would recruit the kids from the south to drive home and share the gas money. We stopped outside a honkey tonk in the Texas panhandle, and he asked one of the boys to go in and get him a coke. He said "I can't go in there." This was the kindest, most generous man you would ever hope to meet, and the whole car erupted in fury at the idea that he would be discriminated against. And Rosie, God love him, told us not to be angry: "They just don't know any better."

So thank God for Martin Luther King, who solidified a movement that removed those stupid and evil laws and barriers. Thank God all of you were not prevented from knowing people of other races, so you could judge a person by the content of his character, and not the color of his skin. It is not a perfect world today, but compared to what it was in my youth, it is a different, and much better one.

I hope my friend Carolyn's world is much better now, too.

posted at 8:34 PM
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Giving Thanks
I will be leaving in a little while for Baton Rouge LA. I scored a hotel room for the first time since hurricane Katrina. I have a busy week planned, since I've not been able to see any of those customers for months.

While I was setting up appointments, I talked to someone at a paper mill who couldn't place me at all. (I had only met him once before.) I mentioned a new product we had discussed; he had a vague memory, but I could tell he still wasn't connecting me with anything. So I said "I'm short, I have red hair, I bring brownies..." and he said excitedly "Oh, I remember YOU". You just have to put things in perspective!

We had a huge job which absolutely went down the toilet the day after Thanksgiving. It was supposed to ship 12/19; suddenly the ship date was out to 3/24. The customer was facing penalty charges; it was a nighmare. Somehow the factory got the steel in, arranged for a special inspection required for this job, and shipped it on 12/30. When I was in the factory last week, I met the machinist who gave up his entire Christmas vacation (since we are normally shut down from Christmas to New Year's) to machine the steel into our product. I heard this morning that he is bragging to everyone in the shop that the salesman came out there to meet him and thank him personally. Wonder how he'll feel tomorrow when he receives the batch of brownies I just sent him. It never ceases to amaze me how little effort it takes to make people feel good. A simple thank you can make someone's day.

So to all of you who come here and read what I write -- thank you. Pass it on.

posted at 10:12 AM
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Thursday, January 12, 2006
The Trouble With Taxis
Last August, I went to visit my college roommate in San Francisco. She told me I could get a limo at the airport that would deliver me to her door, and it would only cost $15. Before I got into the limo, I asked if they went out to the Presidio, and was told yes, but it would be the last stop. A few more people got in, and off we went.

The driver delivered people to several hotels in downtown S.F. While he was unloading some suitcases, he got a call to pick up a party at a nearby hotel. He didn't hear the radio, but as we set off for the Presidio, his phone rang, obviously with the same message. I noticed his discomfort as he agreed. We were getting into a pretty seedy part of town -- strip clubs, a few winos, some tough-looking people hanging out on the sidewalks. Suddenly he announced "This is Presidio Park; this is where you get out." Now I don't know San Francisco well, but I do know what the Presidio looks like, and this was definitely not it. We argued a bit, but he was adamant: I was getting out of the limo. As he opened the door he said "I won't charge you anything" and I replied "It's a damn good thing, because I won't pay you anything." I may -- just possibly -- have added a few unladylike words.

So here I was, on the sidewalk with a suitcase in a not very nice part of town. Talk about a magnet for muggers! I spotted a run-down hotel and was heading for it, figuring I would call a cab and wait for it in the lobby, when I heard "Miss?" I turned around to see a tiny, elderly Chinese man. He was shorter than I am (and I am only 5') and about as big around as my arm. He flashed what I suspect was his driver's license, and told me he was a licensed taxi driver. I got no bad vibes from him, and frankly, I figured if necessary, I could whip him, so I got in his car. No meter, obviously not a taxi, but he agreed to take me to the Presidio for $15, and he did. He saw an opportunity to make some money, and I got where I was going, so it all worked out.

On Tuesday of this week, I flew to Baltimore for a meeting at our factory. I had been told that I could go check in at the hotel and they would give me a ride to the factory when I was ready. Well, the hotel informed me that they absolutely would not give me a ride (although I found out later that they had done it for another salesman the previous day -- guess he was a lot cuter) and they called me a cab. As the cab driver pulled out of the parking lot, I told him he was going the wrong way, but he assured me that he knew the way. Our factory is at most a 10 minute drive from the hotel. It took us 45 minutes . The driver finally admited to being totally lost, and it took the dispatcher and my rudimentary knowledge of the area to guide him there. The meter read $36; I gave him $10, and think I was probably a sucker for doing that.

You think maybe I should stay out of taxis from now on?

posted at 4:26 PM
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Monday, January 09, 2006
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
Why, I don't know, but I feel compelled to post about haircuts. A good haircut is the single most important thing to my appearance, and, over the years, has been the single hardest thing to find. I have been cursed with limp, baby-fine hair with a very strong wave, a tendency to frizz, and a cowlick at the neckline. Good stylists have run for the door, screaming, after trying to deal with my hair. My own hair styling skills are roughly equivalent to my sense of direction, which is to say, all but non-existent. So if I don't start out with a good haircut, I will in short order resemble one or more of the three stooges.

My mother had her hair cut by the same woman for over 30 years. I have never managed to hang on to a sylist for more than 3 years. Either they move too far away, or they suddenly cannot give a decent haircut.

I won't quit using a stylist after one bad haircut. Anyone can have a bad day, and I'm pretty sure my hair is very different from one time to the next. But if I get 3 or 4 bad haircuts in a row, it's time for a new stylist. For all I know, the bad haircuts are deliberate, and intended to make me go away. But since I tip pretty well and am not very demanding, that does seem like a stretch.

There was one sylist, a former prison guard, who massaged the back of my neck for several minutes after each shampoo. After reducing me to a contented little puddle, he would ask how I wanted my hair and I would purr "Any way you want to cut it." He gave me some of the best haircuts I have ever had. But then one fateful day I told him I was ready to wear it a little longer, and would he just trim it. A chimpanzee could have given me a better cut than he did. I realized that he was an artist who could not be told what to create. As long as my desires and his artistic vision meshed, everything was great. He closed up his shop and disappeared before I could give him more chances, so I will never know if we could have worked it out.

My other really memorable haircut was given by a Columbian artiste. I had just decorated his shop, and felt obliged to give him some business. I walked in with shoulder-length hair, and asked him to cut it a little shorter. He started cutting, then excused himself to go check on a dye job. When he came back, he was very upset. "Oh, my God, her hair is turning green!" Snip, snip, snip. "She is going to sue me!" Snip, snip, snip. When I was finally able to make him stop cutting my hair, I looked like I had just gotten my first haircut for boot camp. Oh well, it saved me lots of money, as I didn't need another haircut for months.

I guess the reason this is so on my mind is because a few months ago I found a wonderful stylist who paid attention to the shape of my face, the way my hair grows, and my styling skills, or lack thereof. I have been Bad Hair Day-free since I found him. But last week he seemed a little distracted, and the hair cut, while not bad, isn't as good as they have been. I am hoping that it is only because I told him I was happy with the cut, and please just clean it up a little, and in so doing, interfered with that artistic vision thing. I have resolved to never, ever again, get between a good stylist and his artistry.

I'm curious if I'm the only one with this problem, or is it pretty common? Can you walk in anywhere and get a good haircut, or do you have to search for a good stylist? And if you find one, does he (or she) stay at the same place for a long time, or do you have to start all over again every few years?

posted at 8:32 AM
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Sunday, January 08, 2006
Doing the Four Things Meme
I was all set to post about how hard it is to find a good hair stylist and how they tend to move away just when you're really comfortable with them, but then I saw this meme on PresentStorm's blog, and decided to do it, instead.

Four jobs you have had in your life:

1. Proofreader for the Minneapolis phone book
2. Interior decorator
3. Cashier at Eckerd's
4. Industrial sales

Four movies you would watch over and over:

1. Animal House
2. Fried Green Tomatoes
3. Hunt for Red October
4. An Officer and a Gentleman

Four places you have lived:

1. Dallas Texas
2. Colorado Springs Colorado
3. Cheyenne Wyoming
4. McCook Nebraska

Four TV Shows You Love to Watch:

1. Grey's Anatomy
2. Extreme Makeover, Home Edition
3. Meet the Press
4. I don't know what else to say -- my favorite shows were Joan of Arcadia, Judging Amy and Everyone Loves Raymond, and they're all gone! I tend to get absorbed in a book while whatever the Professor is watching becomes background.

Four places you have been on vacation:

1. Hawaii
2. Peru
3. Romania
4. France

Four websites you visit daily:

1. My company's
2. All my blogger friends
3. Pogo games
4. ???

Four of your favorite foods:

1. Beef stew
2. Broccoli casserole (known as "green rice" in this household)
3. Chocolate mousse
4. Veal piccata (okay, okay, Guppy, and peanut butter & crackers, too)

Four places you would rather be right now:

1. In Hawaii
2. In a clean, organized house with ALL the Christmas decorations put away
3. Playing with the Little Angel
4. Actually, I'm pretty content where I am right now (if it would just magically organize itself)

Four bloggers you are tagging:

So many people have done this already that I don't know who to tag at this point. If you want to do it, please do. Leave me a comment so I can read about you.

Have a great day, everyone.

posted at 1:15 PM
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Friday, January 06, 2006
More Pictures from Switzerland

Due to a groundswell of demand (that's three requests), here are some more pictures from Switzerland.

Driving the cows down out of the high mountains for the winter.

The valley below Murren. The cable car starts there.

Not sure what peak this is, but it's somewhere between the Jungfrau and Schilthorn. BTW, we did have lunch in the restaurant on top of the Schilthorn, but it was a foggy day so I have no pictures. I understand that I didn't see some really beautiful scenery!

Every day there was more snow on the trees.

Little cabin in the woods...

[HA! Now you'll all go around waving your arms and saying "Help me, help me!" all day.]

I've seen these public watering troughs in small towns all through Europe. The water is still flowing, but the ice is catching up!

Main Street in Murren, heading toward the train station. The cable car and the stores are in the opposite direction.

There is a baby in that sleigh, dressed in so many layers of clothes that it can't move its arms. Then there is a sheepskin blanket wrapped completely around all that. I saw so many babies like this, and every one of them seemed perfectly content to be so immobilized.

This is the other kind of sleigh, which, as you can see, is used for moving bigger stuff. But I still can't figure out how they move couches and refrigerators!

posted at 9:25 AM
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Thursday, January 05, 2006
Our Wonderful Swiss Ski Trip

We went skiing in the neatest place! It's called Murren -- there should be two little dots over the "u" but I don't know how to get to the German alphabet -- anyway, it's in Switzerland, smack dab in the middle of the Alps. On a clear day, you see the Jungfrau; on a foggy day, you may see across the street. We had half clear and half foggy days, and each had its charm. Murren is on a cliff, and the only way there is via cable car. To ski, you can take a train, a cog railroad, a cable car, or a chair lift. We did all of those, plus our 1st encounter with a rope tow, which neither the Professor nor I ever wants to see again! (Can you say, humiliation???) The snow was so incredible; it was like skiing on velvet.

We arrived on New Year's Eve. Our hotel had a dinner consisting of Swiss specialties. This pineapple was one of the specialties -- who knew! Then we had the Big Name Entertainment.

There were about a dozen people with these huge cow bells, which they rang for several minutes. This chases away any bad sprits lingering from the old year, and keeps new ones from coming in. They did this at every hotel in town, followed by free shots, yet they still managed to ring the bells in synch.

The bell-ringing was followed by a rock concert, consisting of an accordion and a concertina, with piano accompaniment. The piano had to provide the oom-pah-pah, since there was no tuba. The highlight was the wooden spoon solo. The yodeling wasn't bad, either. As the only Americans in the place, the Professor and I set a very bad example by tearing the paper decorations off the chandeliers and draping them on ourselves. In no time at all, the Swiss & Brits had followed suit. Just after midnight, they played what I suspect was the Swiss National Anthem on an alpenhorn -- I couldn't get far enough back to get the whole thing in a picture.

This is a lot harder than it looks! You hit the end of the broom on top, the middle of the broom underneath, and then over your head to hit by the straw. You do it fast, and in time with the oom-pah-pah.

So now you know what the Swiss do to entertain themselves through those long winters. I'm being a little sarcastic here, but I actually enjoyed the evening enormously. Guess it helps to be half Swiss, huh!

I am convinced that Heidi's grandfather had his cabin just up the mountain from Murren. This is a typical house. There are no cars in town, except for a snowplow and a truck to haul out the snow. They use wooden sleighs to carry groceries, and babies, and suitcases. They do send freight up on the cable car, but I still haven't figured out how you get a new couch or refrigerator.

This was the view from our hotel. The road was just to the left, and we could ski to the train station, the cog railroad, or the cable car with only minimal poling. Our room was on the 3rd floor -- which was actually the 4th floor, as they don't count the ground floor in Europe -- and there was no elevator, so between climbing the stairs and getting to the ski lifts, we definitely got our exercise.

Someone was feeling playful and painted this fire hydrant to look like a nutcracker. I also liked the collection point for stale bread, which gets fed to the wild animals. I was surprised to see a lot of birds, and we spotted quite a few tracks from the chair lifts: certainly rabbit, probably mink or ermine, and some large predator -- wolf?

Anyway, it was a terrific place and we had a wonderful time. Hope everyone's New Year was great. Now it's back to the grind.....

posted at 4:56 AM
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Mitey Mite

Texas, United States

I am older than dirt, but I still feel pretty young & some call me the Energizer Bunny. I share a house with the Professor & 3 cats. Between us we have 5 grown children, all of whom are productive members of society (!), and 10 grandchildren. I have a job I love, a little money for the 1st time in my life, and so many more things I want to do than I will ever have time for.

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