Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Doggie Adventures (part 1)

The dogs (my Jasper, and my parents' two dogs Mitzi and Abby) have been having an adventure-filled summer so far. I promise to post pictures and videos of them as soon as I find the USB cord for my camera (everything seems to get lost whenever I pack to move). Here's just a few of the fun things the doggies have been up to:

1. A few weeks ago, I decided that my car was in dire need of a bath (half of it looked like a graveyard for insects, and the other half resembled a seagull relief station). Since Jasper loves water, I let him out to "help" me. He thought this was terrific! For about half an hour, Jasper amused himself by chasing and "attacking" the water as it came out of the hose. He also managed to capture and carry away a bucket (with a little bit of water in it). That boy has some strong jaws!

2. Last week, Mom saw a vole digging near the deck, so I got the hose and washed him out of his little hidey-hole. Mom suggested letting the dogs out to see what they would do to the vole (he was still alive, albeit very wet and tired). Mitzi, Abby, and Jasper soon proved to be excellent "huntin' dawgs." They chased the vole around the yard, caught him, barked at him, and finally decided to play tug-o-war with him. I'm guessing the vole probably died of a massive stroke!

3. After a sleepless night the other night, I gave up on resting and got up early. I thought the dogs might enjoy getting up early as well, so I took them down to the basement with me (to keep them from waking up my father). In an effort to distract the dogs from investigating some of my teaching supplies, I gave them each a marshmallow to play with. Abby decided that her marshmallow was Public Enemy #1, and started growling ferociously at it and batting it around the room with her paws. Jasper investigated his carefully, decided it was edible, and promptly ate it in a single gulp. Mitzi also reached the conclusion that marshmallows are edible, but had a little trouble in consuming hers. Somehow she got it stuck to the side of her face, and started running in circles trying to "catch" it!

4. Dad bought a large ball for Jasper, after I caught him playing with my volleyball the other day. Jasper promptly taught himself how to play soccer! He pushes the ball all over the yard while running and barking merrily. It's quite a sight! I don't think I've ever known a shih tzu to be quite as athletic as my Jasper is. His other recent favorite game is frisbee.

5. While I had the dogs out earlier today, Mitzi tracked down a wounded baby rabbit (I believe it's the one that my brother-in-law shot with a BB gun yesterday). Before I could stop her, she shook the life out of it, and then had a rambunctious round of bunny-tug-o-war with Abby. Furry woodland creatures are no longer safe at this house!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Spelling Lesson

The spelling and grammar here on the web is deplorable, making me shudder so much that I'm probably about to develop a muscle condition. Doesn't anyone take English in school anymore? Have English teachers given up on teaching? Or do people just glory in looking stupid? Here are a few of my biggest pet peeves:

"ur" - Apparently, this cringe-worthy invention is supposed to be "your." If pronounced phonetically, "ur" would be pronounced rather like a growl. Since "your" is such an easy word to spell, I am unable to comprehend why anyone would deliberately spell it in this new fashion. Is it just a pitiful attempt to join the mindless masses of illiterates that pollute our nation? Certain new "internet generation words" serve the purpose of saving time in a typed conversation (such as "lol" instead of "laughing out loud"). Does shaving off the first two letters of the word "your" save a considerable amount of time? I guess it might, if your typing speed is two wpm ("words per minute" - see, another abbreviation that actually makes sense and saves time)!

"definately" - This is how most of America likes to spell the word "definitely." Not only is it wrong, but once again, if you pronounce this misspelled word the way it is spelled, you have something different from the intended word. "Definitely," when properly spelled, has the word "finite" in it. "Finite" means "having bounds or limits" - remarkably similar to the definition of "definitely."

"rediculous" and "rediculously" - These are supposed to be "ridiculous" and "ridiculously." Once again, the misspelling leads to the mispronunciation of the words. "Ridiculous" is an adjective which comes from the verb "ridicule." When in doubt as to how to spell something, try to think of another form of the word and see if that helps (i.e. If the word you want to spell is an adjective, see if it has a verb form that you know how to spell).

"random" - This word is spelled perfectly, but the overuse of it is starting to become reminiscent of that old favorite, "like," which filled in half the words of most teenage girls' conversations during the 1990s (and, sadly, even since then). Everything today is "random." I have seen so many "random" photo albums posted on Facebook that I am starting to randomly foam at my random mouth every time I randomly see one. Here, for the benefit of all, are some other words you might like to try: designless, aimless, slapdash, purposeless, desultory, haphazard, chance, indiscriminate. More often than not, when people use "random," they really mean "miscellaneous." In that case, why not try these words: assorted, diverse, heterogenous, jumbled, sundry. Stop sounding exactly like everyone else and be your own person! Enrich your vocabulary and rise above the huddled masses of blubbering imbeciles!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

This Is the Last Time I Move!!

I say this every time that I move, but I mean it more this time: "This is the last time that I am ever moving!"

First of all, I think that my books must enjoy very active sex-lives, since they are obviously reproducing at an alarming rate. I keep finding titles that I had no idea existed, much less belonged in my library. Where did all these volumes come from? I've found books on subjects ranging from shipping history, to men's psychology (an attempt on my part to save a doomed relationship some time ago), to Victorian etiquette, to nutrition. There are British murder mysteries from the thirties, Mark Twain first editions, Bible commentaries, a bookcase-worth of autobiographies from classic film stars, and several poetry anthologies. If I ever want a new deck on the townhouse, I could build it out of my books!

My clothes hangers have the opposite problem of the books - apparently there is a Clothes Hanger Mafia in the closet that keeps killing off weaklings, putting them in cement bathing suits, and dropping them into Lake Michigan while I sleep at night. I think the Clothes Hanger Mafia might also be responsible for the recent CD case shortage. And don't get me started on the washer's voracious appetite for half of each pair of socks! Doesn't that beast ever get full?

The moving boxes are rapidly filling, and slowly taking over my bedroom (technically the guest room) and my parents' storeroom. I guess you never really know how much stuff you have until you try to shove it all into boxes and move it several hundred miles away. I think the kitchen alone has about fifteen boxes now! Maybe I should just let the stuff have the townhouse, and find a small apartment for me. I can drive out and visit my belongings on weekends, and occasionally let some of it come to my place for a sleepover.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Sudden and Welcome Windfall

I had a gloriously unexpected letter from the bank yesterday: apparently, they have suddenly "discovered" over $300 which belong to me, and are giving me ten days in which to decide if I would like to claim the money. After giving the matter careful consideration, I decided that I would like to claim my money. Honestly, isn't that just like a bank to give you ten days to decide if you want something that is rightfully yours?

The money, in case anyone was wondering, is not an annuity from a deceased distant relative or a payout from a wealthy family about whom I uncovered a scandalous secret in the course of my undergraduate research. No, nothing that exciting. Two years ago I was briefly employed by a bank call center, and after three weeks of training, I opted to resign, since I realized that banks are too unethical and that I could not work for one and still be able to sleep well at night. Plus, working at a call center seemed slightly less appealing than dedicating my life to the study of foot fungus. After I resigned, the bank neglected to pay me for the training (it was supposed to be time that I was compensated for), and I was too caught up in preparing to go to Korea to notice the absence of a happy little paycheck.

The money comes at a perfect time, since all of the money that I have saved is still in won, waiting for a better exchange rate before being changed into dollars. Three hundred and forty dollars may not seem like much, but at the present moment, it feels like a fortune. I still need a few additions to my "teacher" wardrobe, and I have a dear little car that just loves to have a full tank of gas, so the money will certainly be put to good use.

In other news, there is still no word from the bank in Virginia about the house, but I'm not terribly concerned (yet). Banks tend to drag their feet on short sales, which honestly makes no sense to me. I mean, it costs a bank at least $60,000 to foreclose on a house, plus they are then saddled with a property that they need to sell in a housing market that is less than ideal. If I were a bank, I would be leaping for joy at the thought of a successful short sale, and bending over backwards to help the sale go through. I guess banks must secretly enjoy losing money and operating inefficiently.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sarah Visits (aka The Great Michigan Mini-Road Trip)

My former college roommate Sarah came up from Pensacola, FL to visit me last week, and it was the highlight of my summer! We had both worried that the close connection we had once had as friends and roomies had been severed by years apart and loss of contact (mostly since I was across the world for a year). However, five minutes showed us that we were just the same together as we had been before. Isn't it great to have friends like that? After the fantastic week we had, we agreed that this is one friendship that needs to last, and that both of us need to communicate more and travel together more. In the spirit of this decision, we are now formulating plans for me to drive down to Florida next year during my spring break (it is good to be a teacher). Here are some highlights from our week:

On Sunday, I took Sarah on a walking tour (with me as guide) of downtown Kalamazoo. Sadly, my favorite places, like Sarkozy's Bakery, were all closed. There was the additional sadness of seeing how the current recession/depression (depending on which economist you listen to) has begun to slowly kill off the once vibrant city. Once-bustling shops are now vacant, and streets that used to teem with people on weekends are now abandoned and forgotten. Even the park lacked the usual throng of children playing on the statues (although we did see a few homeless people napping on benches). Either I just picked the wrong weekend, or downtown Kalamazoo is headed for the grave (I'm hoping it's just hibernating). Despite the alarming change in a once-charming location, we still had a pleasant walk, and were able to admire the murals and architecture that harken back to more prosperous days.

On Monday, Sarah and I enjoyed a beach BBQ at Tiscornia Park (lovely beach in St. Joseph, MI) with two other friends of mine. Although it was only in the sixties temperature-wise, I made the bold decision to dive right into the freezing waters of Lake Michigan for a swim. I wound up being the only swimmer on the entire beach! No one else was brave/stupid enough to want to enjoy the hypothermia-inducing lake.

Wednesday morning was the beginning of the mini-road trip. We left my parents' house at 6:00 in the morning and headed up the highway towards the top of the state. Just before 11:00, we reached Mackinaw City, where we checked into our adorable and affordable hotel (the Budget Host American Boutique Inn gets high marks from me). After dropping off our belongings, we drove down to Shepler's and took the ferry to Mackinac Island, one of my favorite spots in Michigan. Sarah had never been, so I was hoping for sunshine, but instead Michigan treated us to cold weather and rain for the entire day. We bought hooded sweatshirts for a surprisingly reasonable price, yanked them over the sweaters we were already wearing, and set off to sample some yummy Mackinac fudge. Mmmm! After that, we walked off our excess calories with a nine+ mile hike (we went all the way around the island, which is eight miles, and also hiked around the middle a bit). Despite the weather, we had a splendid time!

On Thursday I took Sarah across the bridge to the Upper Peninsula (known to us Michiganders as simply "the UP"). We drove up to Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced "Soo Saint Marie") and watched a freighter and a tugboat enter and leave the Soo Locks. We meandered through the well-done visitors center and read all the exhibits, shared a sympathetic giggle as we watched two teachers corralling their over-excited students, and then headed on to Paradise.

Paradise, MI is near the tip of the UP and is a delightful town with a very welcoming feel to it. We ate a mouth-watering lunch of pasties (pronounced "pass-tees" - old-fashioned Michigan pies filled with meat, potatoes, and such, which were popular with the fur traders and lumberjacks who first settled in this state) at an adorable restaurant called the Berry Patch. The owner had to have been one of the sweetest and friendliest women I have ever seen. Anyone who claims that mid-westerners aren't friendly just isn't hitting the right spots!

After lunch, we went a little further up to Whitefish Point, which is also known as the graveyard of ships, owing to the large number of shipwrecks there. Lake Superior was in a rather dreary, foggy mood, so we got to watch a thousand-foot freighter being guided by the light and foghorn from the lighthouse there. Also in Whitefish Point is the Shipwreck Museum, which I have wanted to visit for several years. It was well worth the price of admission and the long drive. We got to see exhibits on about twenty shipwrecks, including the Edmund Fitzgerald. In addition, there is a lighthouse with re-created keepers' quarters from both the 1880's and the 1920's. The people working there were further evidence of the extremely amusing and kind people that one can find in Michigan (if you know where to look).

On the way back to Mackinaw City we stopped off at Tahquamenon Falls, where a battle squadron of mosquitos chased us off after only a few moments. We ran back to the car and decided that we would rather enjoy a scenic drive through Hiawatha National Forest than be consumed. The elusive sun had finally fought its way victoriously through the clouds and rain, so the drive was ripe with fetching views of trees, water, and blue skies. It was the perfect end to a marvelous day.....until the cop pulled me over and gave me a ticket (I never noticed that the speed limit had changed...).

Friday was a cloudy day again at first. When I walked out to start loading my little yellow Aveo5, I discovered that the First Reformed Church of Mosquitoes was having their revival service on the passenger side of my car, apparently with the intention of making whoever opened it their dinner for the event. I backed the car out of the parking lot and made a few circles to shake off the critters, then had Sarah make a fast leap inside. With no further mishaps, we headed for home.

Rather than take the main highway, which is faster, I decided to take a more pleasant scenic route home. So, I took 31, which goes around the coast of Michigan and goes through such gorgeous locations as Bay Harbor, Traverse City, Charlevoix, Luddington, Grand Haven, Holland, and South Haven. Along the way, I stopped off at any places that looked particularly lovely (the sun had fought its way out again) or interesting, and Sarah and I were able to walk around in sheer delight, snapping pictures as fast as we could. I think the award for cutest location probably goes to Bay Harbor, although their mosquitoes were a little too overwhelming of a welcoming committee for our tastes. Grand Haven was, as always, a cute-as-a-button delight.

We made it safely home and collapsed, completely exhausted, in front of an enthralling episode of NCIS. With three dogs in my lap and a very dear friend at my side, I felt about as content as any person ever has the chance to be. The world may seem like it's falling down around me, but at least there are still moments like these to treasure. I guess things just aren't so bad after all, once you start to stack up and number your blessings! I hope my readers will take the time this summer to reach and experience the same conclusion for themselves.
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"