Friday, June 30, 2006

Learning Something New Every Day

This week's office development was a most welcome change. They finally let all the loud slackers in the other room go. ( Mr. Loafer was not among them as he is in our room now.) Originally, there were twenty people working on this project by day- and another twenty people at night. And now we are four. It's Mr. Loafer, Mr. Africa ( who I have had numerous spiritual discussions with, and loaned Mere Christianity), Miss Quiet, and me. It's much nicer now and we all get along fairly well and work well as a team. The conversation continues to range to the very esoteric, unexpected, and ill-informed, which provides great amusement to Miss Quiet and me.

For instance, the men were talking about Hitler, and how he was possibly in touch with aliens. Ah. Funny, that never came up in any of my classes at Saint A's. And Mr. Loafer maintained that someone named Dubois discovered the Mississippi. I knew that wasn't right, but I couldn't remember the real guy's I text messaged a bunch of friends, and as I sent it, I promptly remembered that it was DeSoto.

We talk about the World Cup, food, cars, politics, world history, genetics, biology, recycling, movies, the difference between the South and other parts of the country, music, crime and punishment, current events, relationships, culture, race, never ends. I'm learning a lot- especially about African history.

Mr. Africa started telling a story about a bush dog. I thought at first that he was referring to a pet belonging to President Bush, but then I realized that he was talking about a rural canine. He proceeded to tell a tale which was a very close facsimile of the country mouse and the city mouse and he said that his mother used to tell him this story. I thought it was fascinating that essentially the same story can be found in different cultures. I told him about the mouse version.

But the crowning anecdote took place yesterday when we were talking about planting flowers, and Mr. Loafer suggested that Mr. Africa should plant some bicentennials. I just about fell on the floor with mirth at the thought of planting flowers that only bloom once every two hundred years.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Happy Birthday, Liane!

This year, Liane has taken on the mantle of the Birthday/Parent's Day/Any Special Day Essayist, and done a marvelous job in writing about people in our family. Well, today is her birthday and I doubt she is going to write an ode to herself, so it's time for me to turn the proverbial tables on her.

Liane has always been present in my life, from my earliest memories. You know that old saying, “ All I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten?” Well, I think in some ways, all I really needed to know, I learned from Liane. She told me about hell and The Great Tribulation. She told me about bad words. She told me about tithing, I think. She told me about Hitler. She told me about Bibleschool, about everyone's relationship in the family tree ( no small feat), about static electricity, Parcheesi, Monopoly, and many, many other things. She told me stories.
( More on that later.) She told me what we were supposed to do and not do. I don't think my parents had to really teach me much about what they expected from me, because Liane had already got to me and transferred her knowledge of our place in the world. She was the single most powerful figure in my life for a time.

I remember when she was sick she would read stories to me until she was hoarse. And not just The Cat in the Hat type stories. She would read whole books like Charlotte's Web and Little Men. And she would tell stories that she made up. In the days when we shared a room, I had an earlier bedtime than she did, but I trained myself to stay awake and wait for her to come in and then I would beg her to tell me stories. She would tell great and hilarious stories of adventure, mostly featuring us, and people we knew.

Liane taught me about a lot of things when I was little, and she continues to teach me as we grow older. I really respected her hard work in college, and her year of field work afterward. During my long courtship, it was a good feeling to know that she knew what a long courtship was like. In so many different instances, she has come up against difficulties, and she tenaciously works through them.

I think one of the things that I admire most in Liane is her ability to just go on. To go on in the midst of fearful circumstances, and blinding grief. You don't understand, you are overwhelmed, everything is dark, changed and unfamiliar, God seems suddenly silent, but you just go on and keep breathing, even when you can't imagine that the darkness will ever leave. I think she is one of the most balanced, healthy mourners I know. She cherishes no easy platitudes or fake optimism. Watching someone you are close to as they go through difficulties, you find out in a new way what they are really like. I always knew, growing up, that Liane was tough; I looked up to her because of this. I could never make any claims to toughness. But now I see how her toughness is interwoven with love and fragility, and it makes her more beautiful and real than ever. (Real in the sense of being her own person, of being genuine, of not pretending to be something she's not.)

One of the games that we played as children was called “Booby Trap.” It harked back to ancient times ( I think it belonged to Daddy as a child), and involved removing little wooden circular pegs one at a time from a tray. The problem was, they were all jammed together against a bar which could be moved back and forth on a spring and if you took the wrong one, you risked moving the bar, and losing points. ( Sorry - it's the best I can do to describe it.) It was quite nerve-wracking because any wrong move and the bar could shift suddenly, sending up a frightening geyser of little red and yellow pegs. You might even get your fingers pinched by the bar as it snapped back with alarming speed and ferocity across the tray. ( This game would surely be banned by toymakers today.) The red pegs were bigger, and worth more points; they were also more dangerous to try to remove...but Liane's motto, and ceaseless challenge, was, “ Go for the gold!” ( which was slightly ironic because in this case, the “gold” was really red....The actual little 'gold' ones, she scorned.) I would always wimp out and go for the safe little yellow ones, but Liane would often opt for the riskier red ones...and most of the time, she was uncannily successful. That's Liane's spirit: “Go for the gold!”

Liane is still going for the gold. She is investing in life, even after life has disappointed and wounded her. I respect and love her for that. “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Happy Birthday, Liane!

Go over to her blog and give her your best wishes.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Away with Meaningless Corporate Babble

In the building where I work, there is a company poster up on the wall. It says, " Only one thing is important to us: everything." That just BUGS me to no end every time I see it...(which is pretty much every day). It's cheating to say that! Everything can't be one thing and one thing can't be everything. It's like my old standard answer to that vital and oft asked childhood question, "What would you wish for if a magic genie appeared to you and gave you three wishes?" " I would wish for every wish I made to come true." My juvenile self thought I was so smart to come up with that. But I soon found out that this answer is just plain WRONG. I think it was one of my siblings that pointed out that this answer is not allowed. It's swindling that old genie. Three wishes are all you get. No more, no less. In this same vein, you can only have ONE thing - or a very few things- that is/are really important. Everything CAN'T be important because if it WAS then it wouldn't be important. Do I make sense?

To quote Gilbert and Sullivan, " If everybody's somebody, then noone's anybody!"

Monday, June 19, 2006

Video: Our Red Sox Adventure

We had a huge amount of fun at the Red Sox game last night. Oh- it was a Braves game too. But the Red Sox won- bottom line. I felt a little bad for the Braves - since this was the seventh game in a row that they have lost. But I didn't feel TOO bad. Speaking of too bad- we didn't get on TV...but you will see our signs - and the this lovely video clip.

We were amazed at the amount of Red Sox fans there. The guy in front of us said, " This is Fenway South!" Of course, it helped that we were sitting with some St. A's alumni...but there were many more Sox fans that weren't from my alma mater. It was a great feeling to see all the Red Sox hats, shirts, signs, etc. I imagine that it must be kind of like when travelers overseas meet fellow Americans. Ah, a common bond.

Would you believe we met Ty Law's, Brett Favre's and Jerome Bettis' mothers!!? On our way to a baseball game! And what's more: they are all the same woman! Watch and see...and be swept away by the delusions of grandeur. There was so much more to be seen (she talked literally NON STOP from the Marta station to Turner Field and Brad taped the entire thing) but the kind editor is sparing you. Unbelieeeevable.

On a side note, I had no idea that the Red Sox used to be called the Dirt Dogs- a nickname?- but such is the (wicked) awesome scope of Nate's Amazing Knowledge of Trivia.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Emergence of a new Office Personality: Mr Loafer

So the temp job that was supposedly a two week assignment has stretched into a month, with no end in sight. Well, actually, the end may be in sight but I probably won't know it's here until it smacks me in the face. I feel as if I am living in that old George Beverly Shea hit, " One Day at a Time."

Well, I was delivered from the Queen of Talk, but nature abhors a vacuum, so I have been stuck with another of nature's anomalies. Let us call him Mr. Loafer. ( He could also be dubbed: Mr. Chatterbox. ) Actually, now that I mention him, I remember that I have written about him before- how he thought Czechoslovakia was in Turkey. Shortly thereafter, he moved into our office to stay. It's a mixed blessing if there ever was one, because he freely shares his interesting perspective on a lot of different things and thus provides entertainment but he's an absolute slacker and it drives me UP THE WALL. The other day I kept track of him by checking my watch occasionally, and for literally a whole hour, he sat in a chair and did nothing. Sometimes he wasn't even talking. I was amazed at his gall. He was looking out the window and pulling a hangnail. He wasn't even doing passive work- like looking at a computer. He was faced in the opposite direction of the computer, doing his little space cadet routine. Wow. These scathing, sarcastic remarks kept boiling up in my mind and it really shocked me to see how mean I could be if I gave voice to my inner annoyance. I don't know who I was more shocked at - him or me.

When I got into work today, I found we had a limited amount of work and that as soon as we were done, we could leave, even if we hadn't put in eight hours. So I was thinking, Okay, let's just push this thing through and get outta here! But everyone else wanted to sit around and go slow and get in their eight hours. I kept finishing assignments and going back to my supervisor and she kept giving me more. Which was fine. But I had this vision of me doing the whole project by myself, going faster and faster so I could leave early, while everyone else lingered over work that they should have been done with hours ago. Mr. Loafer sat there, listening to The Rev. Al Sharpton's radio talk show- another mixed blessing. It's so un-Rush Limbaugh. It's so bizarre that it's almost funny but also a little toxic to hear this off the wall stuff. A whole new kind of education. People actually THINK like this? Yes, they really do.

So I asked Mr. Loafer if he would do me a favor. He said, Sure. I asked him to go get another assignment so that it would be one less thing I had to do. I said something like, " You don't actually have to work on it. You could just have it sitting in front of you. I would just like to get out of here, and I don't want to leave until all the assignments are taken care of/given out..." It worked, sort of. I think he was kind of baffled about the whole idea of me wanting to make sure all the work got done. I didn't leave that much earlier than I normally do, was a small victory.

Along the way, more World Cup talk surfaced. Poland came up in the conversation. I almost chuckled when they immediately consulted me about where Poland was located. "Poland's next to Germany....Right, Claire?" "Yes!" Another terrible geographic catastrophe- averted!

Martin Luther- the original, not MLK Jr- came up. Mr. Loafer thought he was from England. I set him straight.

John the Baptist came up. ( The topic- not the actual person in the flesh.) Yes, this Mr. Loafer is quite the eclectic fellow. He covers anything and everything in the course of his daily conversations. He maintains that J the B was black and had dredlocks. I kept on working and kept my mouth shut.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


It's weird what makes you homesick.

The other day, Brad was watching "This Old House Hour" on the local Public TV station...and lo, Norm Abram went on one of his little side trips to visit some artisan tile manufacturers. Both of us practically gasped when Norm got out of his truck on Main Street of Keene, N.H. to go into the showroom. Hey, I thought! I've been there! I mean, I'd actually been in that tile place before, not just on Main Street. But it filled us both with a huge wave of nostalgia and longing to be back in New Hampshire...And of course, listening to the strong, unmistakable New England accents was almost like being home again. Sigh. I could have listened to those guys talk about building houses all day.

My good friend Ruth wrote me last month and mentioned that the lilacs were blooming in Keene and seriously, I almost wept when I read that. Sure, I was probably just tired, but there was a definite pull at my heart. At that moment, I think I would have given anything to be strolling along in Keene and smelling the lilacs. Keene! Of all things! A city upon which I used to heap scorn!

On a completely different, and yet somehow related, note...Today I was standing next to a male co-worker, and I suddenly missed my maternal grandmother very much. I know that sounds totally bizarre and nonsensical, but let me explain. I knew right away what had made me think of her; my co-worker had just come in from a smoking break, and he smelled very much like a version of how I remember Grandma Sawtelle smelling. Now, usually, the smell of stale, second-hand tobacco on someone's clothes is rather revolting to me, but this smell was not like that. It was precious.( Plus it was faint enough so I wasn't overpowered.)

For a moment, I felt child-like again, and I almost looked around to find the Chips Ahoy or the dry, crumbly Vienna Lady Finger cookies that are inseparable from Grandma's persona. Strange how, with a smell, it seemed like I was in her presence again, with that same warm glow of unconditional love and feeling of importance that Grandma's pride always bestowed upon her grandchildren. She thought we were the best, the smartest, most beautiful, most talented children in the world and she told us this often- and we believed her! It's sad that, for most of us, by the time we're old enough to realize that our grandparents are people in their own right, people with interesting lives and histories, not just old people attached to your family who buy you presents and are happy whenever they see you, they are gone. I stood there in the office, smiling, and it made me homesick for her.

I think you can be homesick for people, not just places. It's not enough, in some cases, to say that you miss them. The word "miss" doesn't go far enough. "Homesick" does it just a little bit better.

I have been realizing in the last couple years that every time I see or hear something beautiful, it makes me ache in a homesick kind of way. I think it's a future kind of homesick. I think it's a homesickness for heaven.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

SOS really means SOS

So, my phone bit the dust today. Or so I thought.

Penny called me this morning and as I was talking to her, my cell phone cut out. I thought that was weird b/c the battery was charged a-plenty. Then I saw a strange, hitherto unseen message on the little screen: Insert Sim. Now, fortunately, I knew what a sim was- the little memory chip thingy. But it made no sense to me. The sim was already there; I hadn't done a thing to it. My supervisor was in the office and asked what kind of phone I had, and when I told her, she said that she had the same kind of phone and that the sim card had fried and she had to get a new phone or something...Wah. Oh well, I thought.

I figured life has been too good lately...and I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Seriously. I have been having a lot of happiness recently - kind of these strange flashes of joy at having been selected by God to be born into this beautiful, terrible world and live my life...and I figured, if my sim card frying itself spontaneously is the worst thing that is happening to me right now, I guess I can handle that.

Then I saw another little cryptic message on the phone's screen: "Call SOS?" How thoughtful of Cingular, I thought. They are letting me have one free phone call to a tech support line or something like that, just like if I was arrested, I would get one free phone call to a lawyer...Even with its dying breath, my phone is reaching out to serve me, one last time. Maybe if I call this number, someone will help me figure out what to do to fix this thing. So I pushed "Yes." And the call went through and a very nice man answered on the other end and said, " 911. What is your emergency?" And I just about fell on the floor, I felt so stupid. At least it provided some amusement for the rest of the office, as I quickly explained my mistake so I could get off the line to make way for someone with a real emergency...

I got off the phone and let out a little mini-scream- for the second time today. ( The first time was when I saw a centipede scurrying across the floor of the office. I kept screaming until someone killed it. I do not suffer vermin to coexist with me, as those of you who have seen past video posts will remember.) The third time I screamed- sort of- was at the drive-thru ordering box at McDonalds. The woman could not hear me and so I had to SHOUT my order for all the parking lot to hear. Sigh. Yes, this is "Claire is a Buffoon Day." But that's okay. I'm STILL glad that I am alive.

After I got home, I figured out, with the heroic tech support of an amazing sister-in-law named Penny, that the back of my phone was loosened - probably by the way I was holding it between my head and shoulder while I was talking to her earlier- and that caused the sim card to lose its connection or something.

Anyway- it's nice to know that my phone is still capable of calling 911 even if it's not feeling totally up to snuff, if I ever get into a bind.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Billy Collins: " Flock"

I listened to a radio program on NPR this evening as I prepared dinner. Garrison Keillor hosted a little lecture/interview/discussion with two poets, Kay Ryan and Billy Collins. The latter, a U.S. poet laureate, read a poem that made me smile and so I went online, looked it up, and thought I would share it with you.

He said it was inspired by reading an article about the history of printing. This line from the article got him thinking:

“It has been calculated that each copy of the Gutenburg Bible required the skins of three hundred sheep.”

The poem is entitled, simply, "Flock."

I can see them, squeezed into the holding pen, behind the stone building where the printing press is housed

All of them squirming around to find a little room

And looking so much alike it would be nearly impossible to count them

And there is no telling which one of them will carry the news

That the Lord is a Shepherd

One of the few things they already know

Friday, June 09, 2006

No Adult Left Behind

As I drove into Atlanta this morning, I reflected on the last seven days and the many good things that have happened in them, for which I am very grateful.

-- A "Connects" party at the Adams ( I don't know if that is the right spelling...) on Saturday. Video was taken, but we have a big ol' backlog of video to edit and post so it may not be aired for a while...It was a great contest between three teams: Brad and Stephen, Mr. A and David, and Nate and Daniel. They constructed vehicles out of Connects; Penny, Mrs. A., Sarah and I were judges.

-- Daddy's words of encouragement from God: " Be strong and of good courage," which translated into palpable strength...and courage and a widening of vision. Oh, God can really answer prayers!

--Jeff and Fritha stopped by to stay with us--and are here as I write! We're having a grand old time.

--sorting through wedding pictures with Brad til the wee hours

-- a really fun Youth group on Sunday afternoon. There was a great group of people and we had an enjoyable time playing basketball, ultimate football and I introduced a game I used to play at the Shelter with the girls ("Big Bunny") and it was a big hit.

-- a really great time of getting our hearts together with Nate and Penny. I am so thankful for them and I'm glad we're such a team. They are long suffering, beautiful, kind GEMS of people.

--I used my birthday money to buy an under-the-counter radio/CD to reduce the clutter in my kitchen. I'm very happy with it.

--Daddy, Mama, and Sarah A. coming over to help me move some of the leftover PRC yardsale stuff out of my basement. THANKYOU! That was huge.

--getting off work EARLY today! They let me go at 11:00! I'm supposed to report in on Monday morning...and I'm not sure of the rest of the week. ( Okay, so I didn't reflect on that this morning as I drove in, b/c I didn't know it was going to happen.)

--and speaking of today...I'm just going to go off this little bulleted list thing here...It was the perfect day to get off early. I had about five hours of sleep last night and so I came home and went back to bed for a few more. I know five hours may not sound so bad to some people- like Liane- but for someone who has been used to eight hours a night for the last seven or eight months, it's been pretty rough recently. It's been impossible to get to bed at a decent hour in the last week or so.

This morning, there was a festive atmosphere in the office. It felt like the last day of school.
( Speaking of which... congratulations, Andrea!) A guy from the next room down the hall came into our office and proceeded to just HANG AROUND for literally an hour...doing nothing but talking. I am not exaggerating. He just stood there and let his mouth wag. I was like, WHAT are you DOING? I stifled the urge to tell him to get back to work, the slacker. But it was kind of entertaining. He and the guy in my office talked about everything from soccer to rappers. As they talked about the World Cup, they mentioned that Czechoslovakia was playing the U.S. Somebody asked where Czechoslovakia was, and the loafer replied that it was in Sweden. Oh, is it now? I stifled the urge to screech with laughter. And I was like, "Um...No..." and the loafer jumped in with certainty in his voice, " Oh yeah, it's part of Turkey." Ah. The truth emerges. Go back to the fourth grade, you clown! I mean, I know things change in the world and countries get re-named ( like it's actually the Czech Republic and Slovakia or something like that) doesn't change. Not that much anyway. Not unless there's a really bad earthquake. Only then would there be a chance that part of the Czech Republic would end up as part of Turkey.

It was a weird mixture of tickling my funny bone and rousing my eye-rolling scorn. "I don't know what education on this island is coming to, Phillips."

Monday, June 05, 2006

Long Live the Queen...somewhere else

It is Monday, O my readers. And I told you last Friday that I would be reporting on royalty today- specifically The Queen of Talk. I'm sure you have ALL been waiting with baited breath, so I will hasten to tell you the tale. Here goes.

Well, I sat in my little room ( the office is divided up into several small rooms) all alone half the day because the other folks in my room were assigned to another project for most of the morning. That was nice- I got to sing, which I don't usually allow myself to do. ( It's amazing how much self control it takes not to sing all the time. Breaking out into spontaneous song is such a key part of me.) ANYWAY- I had my ears and eyes on alert for the Queen...and lo, midmorning, she popped her head in the door and said, "Helloooooo....!! Where is everybody?" and I told her where they were, and asked her how she was, and she said, "Fine..." and she swooped off to find her friends. Phew. But I knew I would not be safe for long. I knew that this assignment of the rest of my coworkers would not last forever, and that they would be back sometime soon, and that as soon as they came back...she would descend, to continue her reign of blather. I knew I could not take comfort in the fact that there were no chairs at the two computers next to me. That could easily be remedied.

So I continued on my plodding way, resigned to my doom, and around lunchtime, another co-worker came in and said, " They let the Queen of Talk go." ( Of course, he did not actually SAY, " The Q o' T"- I have never uttered that title aloud in the office to anyone.) I was UTTERLY flabbergasted. Apparently, she worked for two hours and then the temp agency called and now she's gone again. So, she didn't end up in my office/room. I have NEVER been so happy to be proven wrong. I revel in my false prophetess status. My wildest dreams came true! I have been delivered from Total Obnoxiousness! My joy knows no bounds.

I have no idea WHY this happened. Perhaps the theory of my friend, Mr. Redsoxwinthisyear, is correct- that she made up the fib of her mother's death so she could get this temp job back because she was fired from her other job...I don't know. I really wouldn't put it past her. In any case, blessings on her head and all that...and I know that God loves her EVERY BIT as much as He loves me...I'm just glad that I can now love her from afar.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Woe is me

Earth: shatter. Skies: fall. I am about to tell you a great and terrible thing: The Queen of Talk Returneth.

First of all, for those of you who didn't know- the Queen of Talk left a week and a half ago- for a permanent job. And great was my- inward- rejoicing. But cruel fate was mocking me.

Our "boss" from the temp agency came by the job site yesterday and told us that the Queen of Talk had suffered a personal tragedy. Her mother was hit by a car and died this week. We were all quite shocked and sorry. Then she told us that the Q o' T's new job ( not obtained through the temp agency) had a problem with giving her time off to attend to all the arrangements.
( What kind of barbaric institution won't give you time off to mourn and arrange the funeral of a family member? Remind me never to apply for a job there- where ever it is...) I don't know the details so I don't know if she was fired or just quit.

In any case, the Queen requested this job back- her old temp job, I mean. Everyone seems to be glad she is coming back...and I try to pretend that I am too...although I hopped up on a soapbox and asserted that it was unfair of her new job to be so mean, and that she should go straight to the top and fight, fight, FIGHT for her job. People seemed to agree, but as the Queen herself was not there, I'm afraid my well intentioned advice will not do a shred of good. Nice try, Claire.

So, as far as I know, come Monday, she will be back in the building and I shudder in my inmost being- and in my outermost too- because we now have three- count them: one, two,THREE- empty computers in our part of the office. And I just KNOW that, like a moth to the flame, she is going to move in RIGHT NEXT TO ME. Just wait. I am certain, without a SHADOW of a doubt, that I will report to you on Monday evening that, yes, indeed, I prophesied correctly. And if there is anything worse than the Queen of Talk, it is the bereaved Queen of Talk, who I should feel very sorry for, and indeed PRAY for, and be kind to...when all I want to do is get AS FAR AWAY from her as I can. Not just because she is obnoxious, and has a personality/background/style I cannot hope to ever understand, but also because, honestly, I don't know how to deal with the tragedy of those who do not have eternal hope. It is just too beyond me. I am mute and cold in its awful presence.

For me, it is almost too much to deal with the tragedies of those who DO have the hope of heaven, never mind the sadness of those who are ignorant of the spiritual world. I know that may seem cold and callous. After all, people who have gone through the unexpected loss of a loved one should be able to empathize in a unique way with others who find themselves in the same sad circumstance, right? But sometimes, to be quite honest, I feel that I have had my fill of certain kinds of sadness for now, and I am incapable of taking in anybody else's. It's like I'm a sponge that is just starting to dry out after being waterlogged for a very long time, so when I spy some water, I just want to RUN like crazy. I'd like to cancel my unwanted membership in the Suffering Club and get as far away from it as possible.

So my soul is hoping for a very lengthy seeming weekend and a nourishing Sabbath. And I'm also thinking I should probably borrow Nate's noise cancellation headphones for the upcoming week. I could have used those today, by the way, because the latest fad in the office is to tune the radio to The Reverend Al Sharpton's radio show. No comment except for: Deliver me.