Where no phone has gone before

The story last week about a woman escorted off a train in Oregon after she reportedly spent 16 hours talking on her cell phone in the “quiet car” raised a few eyebrows, not so much at her boorish behavior as at her endurance. A 16-hour yakathon might not get one in the Guinness Book of World Records, but that’s some impressive lung power at work, not to mention the increase in greenhouse gases.

Sadly, I doubt anyone was really surprised at the fact that she did it in the first place. Who hasn’t found themselves behind some windbag in line at the grocery store or coffee shop, who can’t be bothered to stop flapping their gums long enough to give their attention to what’s in front of them – or give a toss about the seething people stacked up in line behind them while they finish sharing all the details of their latest dental exam? It’s such a common sight that a coffee shop near me has a sign by the counter informing customers they’ll be passed over if they’re on their phones while waiting to order. I’ve never seen the rule enforced so I don’t know if it’s caused any angry walkouts, but I’ve never seen anyone break the rule, either.

Rude cell phone users in theaters (movie and live-action) are another common problem. In my experience, most of them have enough sense to finish their calls soon after the movie starts, but the texters are not so quick on the uptake. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been irritated to the brink of homicidal thoughts by screens blinking on and off like fireflies on meth and the tap-tap-tap-*ping* of messages being sent and received. No doubt the fate of the entire world depends on these vital exchanges.

Lately, or so it seems to me, a new frontier has been opened to the cell phone-dependent: public restrooms. Three times in the past month I’ve gone into the ladies’ (twice at Panera, so maybe there’s something about them that attracts this type of person) and found myself the unwitting audience to a one-sided conversation, frequently conducted at normal speaking volume.

I wonder what’s going through these people’s minds when they sit down (or squat, if they’re a hoverer) and dial in. Do they believe the stall’s flimsy metal walls afford them any sort of privacy? Do they think I’ll be so weirded out by the discovery of someone talking on the phone I’ll beat a hasty retreat? (Fat chance: when I gotta go, I gotta go.) Do they just not care?

And what of the person on the other end? What must they be thinking when they hear the toilet flush in the background, or the tell-tale echo of voices inside those cement-block walls? I usually like to do my business as quickly and as quietly as possible, but times likes these have me seriously tempted to produce all sorts of loud and disgusting sounds. I think I’d be rather offended and grossed out if someone called me from a public toilet.

Honestly, cell phone addicts, were you raised in a barn?

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Die, you bastards, die!

Meet the brown marmorated stink bug or, as I like to call them, “Bastard.”

Chances are if you live in the eastern US – though I hear they’re moving westward – you’ve encountered these aromatic pests. Probably not just one, either. I’ve got dozens, perhaps hundreds, of them buzzing around my apartment, clustered around the south-facing windows like little heat-seeking missiles.

Experts say the best way to deal with them is to seal all cracks and crevices in your living space they might use to sneak inside and hibernate during the winter. When you live in a place built nearly 200 years ago and not originally meant for human habitation, however, making the place air-tight is an impossible achievement. Fortunately I’m not really affected by their notorious odor – I do get a whiff every now and again, but it’s not overpowering or noxious.

What I hate most about them is the way they buzz around dive-bombing my computer monitor and desk lamp. Sometimes they miss and end up in my hair, or on my shoulder. My poor fly swatter is in tatters from all the squashing it’s been called on to do this spring, and the warm weather’s only just begun. I think I’ll have to invest in something with a little more oomph.

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The Running Man

Yesterday my son participated in the National College Blue Ridge (Half) Marathon in Roanoke, VA. It was the 2nd year for both (he did the half-marathon because he’s under 18; next year he’ll be old enough to do the whole thing), a race that’s being widely touted as the toughest in the country because of all the elevation changes. He came in 155th with a time of 2:13:19 – not as good as last year, but considering the weather conditions he had to contend with (things went from bad to worse, though fortunately no tornadoes) I’m bursting with maternal pride for him.

Because of the weather I didn’t take my camera, so here’s one from last year’s marathon:

Nearing the finish line in the 2010 Blue Ridge Half Marathon

[n.b. – Images linked above courtesy of the Roanoke Times]

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I’ve been negligent about Post-a-Week 2011 for several weeks now, for a variety of reasons, though mostly because I was busy and fell out of the habit, and have since had trouble getting back in the saddle. With April mere hours away, however, I have set myself two specific goals, and hope to use this blog to help me reach them – and, in turn, get back into a weekly blogging routine.

First, I intend to write at least 30,000 words on my present work-in-progress (a novel set in medieval France). I presently have just under 21,000 words, so if I successfully meet my goal I’ll have 51K total. It’s like NaNoWriMo, except not.

20952 / 51000 (41.08%)

My second goal is to walk the dog – properly walk her, not just take her out to the back field and let her off her leash – every afternoon. I am horribly out of shape and spend far too much time seated at the computer, so I’m hoping to get into a routine of daily exercise that will also get me outside to enjoy spring in the Virginia mountains. Perhaps once I can work myself up to walking more than half a mile without getting out of breath, we’ll explore many of the Forest Service trails around here.

So that’s two goals for each day in the month of April: writing 1,000-1,200 words, and going for a walk. I’ll blog about my progress as it… progresses. Wish me luck!

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Can you hear me now?

I was dismayed earlier this week to read about the slap in the face the LA Times delivered to Jennifer Egan in their announcement of the winners of the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Awards (full list of winners and finalists here). Rather than grant Egan the spotlight she earned for winning the fiction award for A Visit From the Goon Squad, Continue reading

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Experimental baking

Last summer I found an easy and tasty recipe for Amish white bread online that was a big hit with the teenager in my house. He’s a runner and a swimmer and so has a big appetite, but I have a tight budget so it’s sometimes challenging to find healthy ways to satisfy his appetite that aren’t too expensive.  This one fit the bill perfectly:

Continue reading

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While I’m at it, I’d also like a pony

The Daily Post asks, what would you do with $1 million, tax-free?

  1. Set 1/4 to 1/3 of it aside for my son.
  2. Pay off my credit card, then cancel the card and get a new one that has a much more reasonable interest rate.
  3. Buy a new car. Nothing extravagant – I prefer small cars, so a Mazda2 or a Honda Fit would do nicely.
  4. Help my mother pay off her debts.
  5. Take half of what’s left and invest it so I’ll have something to live on for the rest of my life. Use some of it to travel to Europe and then go on a nice long vacation someplace tropical, with white sands, blue seas, and plenty of palm trees for shade (I burn easily). Donate generously to local and international charitable organizations.
  6. Use the other half to endow college scholarships for single mothers and young women studying medieval history.
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The eagle has flown

Yesterday afternoon, representatives from Game and Inland Fisheries and the Wildlife Center of Virginia released a golden eagle at Harvey’s Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Before its release, the eagle was fitted with a transmitter to allow scientists to track its migratory habits, in an effort to better understand golden eagles’ increasing presence in the eastern US.

I cannot think of anything to say that will adequately describe my feelings at having been there to see this beautiful, majestic predator restored to health and freedom, so I will conclude with a link to the Wildlife Center’s official statement, which in turn has more information about the eagle’s rehabilitation and golden eagle research in western Virginia.

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VDOT should totally hire me

I was pleased and amused to find out this morning that I’d won a “caption this” contest hosted by Roanoke Times columnist Dan Casey. He posted a photo of a highway electronic message board with a misspelled word on it (not the one pictured, obviously), and invited readers to submit their own ideas for what the message should be, within the limits imposed by the board. The unspoken invitation, of course, was to poke fun at the current Virginia administration and/or the dreadful state of our transportation infrastructure. I submitted 3 captions, and the winning one was:


“Baliles,” as Dan explained in his follow-up column, refers to Gerald L. Baliles, governor of Virginia 1986-1990, known as the “transportation governor” for the way he was able to fund highway projects during his tenure. He also happens to be the father of one of my old schoolmates.

I get to pick out a book for my submission, so it’s win-win all around. 🙂

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There’s a far over thar

Earlier today we drove out to the ruins of Catawba Furnace to take pictures for a friend with an interest in old foundries, and also because I’ve wanted to explore the site ever since I realized it was there. It’s a lovely sunny day today, although a bit chilly, but after tramping around the woods I warmed up enough to take off my jacket. We’re due for another shot of wintry weather later this week, but the local weather guru says there could be a real warm-up after Valentine’s Day (and Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring this year, yay!).

Catawba Furnace photo by Drew

While exploring the furnace site we walked down to look at Catawba Creek, where I spotted what I initially thought was a bird but realized was a bat flitting around. Given that it was broad daylight and a bit on the chilly side, I hope the little critter isn’t sick – I may not like bats when they show up in my bedroom at 3 a.m., but they’re a valuable part of the ecosystem and I hate to think of anything bad happening to one. (I just finished reading Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, so I’m feeling a little pro-predator at the moment. However, it’s likely the bat has or will become a meal for a larger predator if it doesn’t return to its batcave, so I guess it’s quid pro quo.)

We had another spot of excitement on our return trip, when we saw smoke rising up from a ridgeline that ran parallel to the road we were on. We debated pulling over and calling 911, or going straight to the fire station in the nearest town, but soon I saw a camera crew from one of the local TV news stations and he said fire crews were already on the scene. That ridge is in the national forest and it’s been very dry around here lately, so a forest fire could get very bad, very fast. Hopefully they can get the fire under control quickly.

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