Thursday, March 26, 2009


The other day at work we received an angry, angry letter. One of those in all caps with all kinds of poor grammar and errant use of quotation marks. The kind where you know that if the writer could have typed in a font called "manifesto" he totally would have. It was that good.

An email update from my media service soon found the source of the outrage. The director of the environmental non-profit I do some work for / share office space with was quoted in an article about the nuclear industry. In it he said something about how maybe it would be a good idea to try energy conservation first before we go building any nuclear power plants. And apparently it struck a nerve.

In the letter we were called several crafty names - the very best being "GRANT SEEKING LIBERALS" and "PEA BRAINED CULTISTS."

That first one is outstanding. Because, for one, it's 100% accurate. I am indeed a grant-seeking liberal. It's kinda how I avoid living in a box down by the river. And, for two, it makes me feel so much better about myself. Because here I've been working under the assumption that I was supposed to be a "latte-drinking, Prius-driving liberal." And let me tell ya, I was failing miserably at that.

So really, this is good news.

Ah, but if he is right about that one, does this mean I could also be a "pea-brained cultist"? I don't know. Now I'm worried. Let me think...

I guess I can't deny occasional pea-brained-ness on my part. I once misread a recipe for white chicken chili and instead of 1/4 teaspoon of cloves I added 4 teaspoons and nearly asphyxiated in a giant cloud of clove gas that formed over my crock pot. Things like this happen to me on a fairly regular basis. It's probably why I have to depend on grants for my livelihood - no one would actually pay me an hourly wage to be this much of a ding-bat.

So, OK fine - I'll give him that. But cultist? I may have to draw a line there.

But then I read an article yesterday and it hit me. Like a cloud of clove gas. Yes, I am indeed a cultist.

I belong to the cult of Rick Steves.

Yes, Rick Steves, the dorky PBS travel guy. That Rick Steves.

The article was on They did an interview with him and in it he almost achieved Jon Stewartdom. All funny and smart and self-deprecating and connecting-the-dots with spot-on observations and philosophies about everything from terrorists to marijuana. (The difference being that I have too much of a crush on Jon Stewart to worship him in a cult-like fashion whereas Rick Steves wears those glasses and the shirts with the two front pockets much like a David Koresh would, making him much more cult-worthy... )

Anyway... I first became acquainted with Rick Steves when I was planning a trip to Europe - not quite ten years ago. I had planned to go with a friend and do a quasi back-packing style trip through several countries. A month out she decided not to go and in a fit of pig-headed-ness I decided to just go by myself. To aid me on my trip I had a couple of ridiculously large, travel company-produced Guides To Europe that were quickly deemed useless and abandoned at my first hostel.

But I also had Rick Steves' guide to Italy. Small, concise, well-written and actually useful. He espouses the perfect (well, what I consider to be perfect) philosophy on travel abroad. He gives you tangible and realistic advice while showing you, on an adorably hand-drawn map, directions to the perfect cafe on the perfect side street in Rome. Or a great pub crawl to do in Venice where you will be able to dine for next to nothing on delicious food and wine and hang out with locals. Or which alley to turn down in Florence to find the most delightful tiny hotel where over the front desk in the lobby hangs an enormous painting of Tricky, the crazy owner's chihuahua.

And you go to these places and not only is the cafe perfect, and not only do you spend an evening on the pub crawl drinking wine and being quizzed on jazz by a bunch of twenty-something Venetians, and not only do you actually get to meet the real, live Tricky, but you also meet other Americans along the way. Americans who believe in the same idea of travel - that you should be a "visitor" to another country, not a "tourist." Americans who believe that our way isn't always the best way and that you don't learn anything when you travel if you spend all your time speaking extra loudly in English and don't deliberately wander away from the souvenir carts.

Americans who believe - after you have all downed several bottles of vino and a plate or two of gnocchi - that Rick Steves should be declared your personal god as you start sketching on a napkin the temple you're going to erect in his honor out of focaccia bread in the middle of Piazza San Marco.

It's been a while since I've reaffirmed my devotion to my dorky, public television travel guy. (What with saving all my money for the lattes and my new Prius I just haven't had any money to travel!) But I think after reading this article that should be taken care of. Pea-brained cultist that I apparently am.

And now, I have to go back to work. I have a grant report due tomorrow.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Observations in Madness (Sunday night)

I actually spent a great deal of time this weekend doing things other than watching basketball. I went shopping. I went to the grocery store. I went to an art gallery and then to a sushi bar - where I did occasionally stretch my short self as tall as I could muster to peek up over the top of the booth at the TV in the back of the restaurant - but still, I participated in witty conversations and only managed to get soy sauce on my new shirt once. I went to church and to grown-up Sunday school and to lunch and then did yard work. All the while assuming that I was still clinging to life in 6th place in our pool.

And then I updated our brackets just a couple of hours ago, and dude, I am somehow now in 3rd place. I managed to pick 15 of the Sweet 16. Trust me, I am as stunned as you are. I don't really expect it to last, but it is nice for now. Here's what else:

1. I am a bit self-defeating. The on-going battle I have with myself every March when I fill out my bracket is always head vs. heart. Who do I want to win and who do I think will win. It's often not the same thing. If my bracket involves a couple of innocent dollars, I usually go with my head but then find myself on a Sunday evening yelling for Siena to beat Louisville even though I have Louisville in the Final Four.

So yeah - how 'bout that Siena / Louisville game? What was a heart-breaker! Or. Go Cards! I'm good either way...

2. In other crazy games... Western Kentucky - so close! And Marquette - I'm sorry your game ended so strangely and unfortunately (well kinda - because again - Go Mizzou!) but your coach sorta scares me and he maybe should invest in some Nylabones or something because that one kid chewed on his towel for the last like 15 minutes of your game.

3. Say it ain't so! The Lady Vols will NOT be headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time ever. Ever. I guess it had to happen sometime. Also, the Middle Tennessee State University women's team lost a very close one. The coach of the Lady Blue Raiders is the neighbor of a friend of mine and I am really bummed for him. I probably shouldn't keep up with the women's tournament if my only reason for doing so is to hope that someone beats UConn, but hey, at least I'm honest.

Happy Sweet 16!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Observations in Madness (Friday - very late)

1. Bless their hearts. Fitting comment for East Tennessee State University both because of where they're from and for how they played. We all know a #16 has never beaten a #1 - but it has to happen sooner or later, right? For a brief moment it looked like it might be possible when ETSU played Pittsburgh this afternoon. They played confidently for every minute of the game, never getting rattled or losing steam until the very, very end when Pittsburgh finally pulled ahead by double digits. Two hard-fought losses by the Volunteer State today. Memphis? I hope you were watching and paying attention.

2. What's up, ACC? Clemson, Wake Forest and Florida State are out? Two of you to Big 10 teams? What - do you think it's football season? You're killing me. Well, just my bracket actually, but still...

3. Upset, upset. My mother was the only one who picked Dayton over West Virginia. A couple of us correctly picked Siena over Ohio State (how awesome was that game?!) and a few more picked Arizona, Boston College or Wisconsin. But only one of us picked all four. And it definitely wasn't me. I commented at dinner earlier on the lack of trash talking in our pool, but I have a feeling that's all about to end.

How's your bracket?

Observations in Madness (Friday Two-ish)

1. Oh the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Tennessee lost by two points in the last few seconds of their game today. Fortunately for my bracket I did not pick them to go past the next round, so at least there's that. But still... sadness and woe...

2. Last night saw local favorite Western Kentucky upset Illinois. My mother always takes the opportunity during basketball season to mention how she nearly went into early labor with me in March of 1971 because of Western. They were the "giant killers" that year and every game they somehow kept pulling out win after win. So, your call - my love of March Madness - nature or nurture? I don't have the Hilltoppers picked to go past the next round but, you know, I am having a birthday party on the same day as the Final Four - so how cool would it be if Western made it that far? Yeah, I know...

3. Speaking of my mother - she's leading our basketball pool. There are eight of us in the pool and the only game she didn't pick from yesterday was the Clemson/Michigan game. And that's not her fault in the least (or five other people in the pool) is it, Clemson?!?!? No, no it's not.

As for me, I'm hanging in at 5th place.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Observations in Madness (Thursday Noon)

Good Gravy it's been a long and busy week. Soooo behind on my photo project it's not even funny. St. Patrick's Day was fun. Work has not been. But it's Thursday and it's the first round of basketball, so things are looking up! Most exciting is that I finally got some willing participants for a basketball pool this year (last year was a bit of a challenge). Are you in a pool? Paying attention? Couldn't care less? Here's what I've seen so far:

1. God Bless the Internet. Have I said that lately? I am glad CBS finally got with the program and figured out how to stream all of their games over the internet. If they hadn't, I would be saying God Bless our government for pushing back the switch to digital so that I could drag my little TV set in and watch the first two days of the tournament in my office...

2. Seriously, Cal State Northridge?!? Worst jersey font EVER.

3. I picked Memphis to go all the way. Did I pick them because I am such a die-hard Tennessean? No. Most of west Tennessee annoys me. I picked them, in part, because I do think they're a good team and are ripe to maybe, finally win it all. And in part because I'm tired of their coach talking about how overlooked, underestimed, underappreciated and disrespected his team is and it would be nice for him to have to find something else to whine about for a while. But right now?!? Right now 2 Memphis is having a fairly hard time against 15 Cal State Northridge. If they don't get their act together my entire bracket could be seriously compromised before the first three games of the tournament are over. Note to Memphis: if that happens, I will lead the pack in petitioning to have your third of the state given to Arkansas.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pardon Me Boys

Here's a link to a nice slide show of the "green" parts of the economic stimulus plan.

I know that opinions vary when it comes to this. Am I sure that it will work or is the best thing to do? No. But my knowledge of economic matters is not good so even if I was opinionated on the matter, I have no knowledge or experience with which to back it up.

And as we know, that only qualifies me to be a hate-filled radio talk show monkey. But I digress...

What I will say is that it's nice to see a president who connects the dots. Who gets that a healthy, sustainable environment helps to create a healthy, sustainable economy and vice versa. Because what I do know is that you can't have one without the other. Our formerly robust economy turned out to be, well, not so much robust as it was a big fat house of cards. And the quality of - and our collective attitude toward - our environment has definitely reflected that.

So, I would very much like to give this plan the benefit of the doubt and be supportive.

I only have one problem so far: the proposed high-speed rail lines.

What's my problem, you ask. Well, let's take a look:

See there... in the lower right section of our country. Anything look odd or amiss? Like, I don't know... the fact there's only one state in that whole area without any rail lines. At all. Yeah. That would be my state.

Did I miss something? I thought I learned in the 7th grade that the word "Tennessee" was derived from the Cherokee word for "meeting place" as in "Wouldn't Tennessee be a great meeting place for all of these high speed rail lines?"

But no. Apparently Tennessee is actually derived from the Cherokee word for "No thanks, I'd rather drive."

And apparently no one from the Department of Transportation has ever had to drive from Memphis to Nashville. If they had, it would have been the first line drawn. Because that drive? It totally sucks. It's worse even than the drive from Cincinnati to Columbus.

Except if you look at the map - Cincinnati to Columbus is totally slated for a rail line.

But don't worry. I'm still here. Being supportive. And not at all disgruntled. In the great Volunteer State. Stuck in my car.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Camera Phone Fun: Two Photos and One Long Anecdote.

I keep forgetting that my fancy new cell phone has a camera. It's such a great way to capture completely pointless / sometimes mildly amusing things that I would never otherwise take the time to photograph. Such as:

1. The car in front of me this morning (the light was red when I started taking the picture, I promise).

You can't tell from the photo, but the person driving the Chevy truck is a young, blond woman with her curly hair clipped up on top of her head. If you look closely, there are two stickers in her back window. Bottom left: an 03 Dale Earnhardt memorial / tribute. Top right: Free Tibet. Because that's how we roll in East Nashville.

2. My brother and I made a quick trip to Oak Ridge, TN over the weekend to visit our grandmother who is ill. We debated about whether to just go up for the day on Sunday or leave late Saturday evening. Both options would result in the same amount of visiting time so the final deciding factor was that if we went up Saturday evening we could get Big Ed's Pizza.

In our world of big box stores and mass produced chain restaurant food, I dig a good family-owned / local hangout. The more out-dated and dingy the better. Oak Ridge's best is Big Ed's Pizza. My aunt worked there when I was little and I think most anyone who grew up in the town has had a job there at some point. The wood floors are old and worn. The walls are covered in pictures (as you can see through the window). The Budweiser lamps and decor around the bar are straight from the 70's. The kitchen is only separated from the rest of the restaurant by a low wall and plexiglas divider. Scores of teenage employees scurry about like elves in Santa's workshop clad in their uniform of jeans and a white Big Ed's t-shirts. They toss dough in the air as the little kids line up (just like I once did) along the dividing wall with their faces pressed to the plexiglas to watch the pizzas being made - and if you're lucky - be handed some mozzarella. To-go pizza's sit on a cardboard round and are then slid into a brown paper bag. No pizza boxes here. And no credit cards accepted. And if it's a busy night you can expect to stand in line on the sidewalk for quite a while.

When I went away to college it was a good distance away in Ohio. I missed a lot of things from home, but for the most part I was not really ever very homesick. Mid-way through my first semester, however, I was having a particularly horrible day during a particularly horrible week. (None of actually horrible, I'm sure, but at the time it was...) Among other things, I had been stuck in the library working on a paper and missed eating dinner with my friends. I didn't see anyone in the dining hall I knew - a fate worse than death for a freshman. Finally I saw a couple of guys from my dorm and asked if they minded if I sat with them. They shrugged, seemed generally indifferent and immediately went back to their conversation like I wasn't there.

My 18 year-old brain - already prone to massive neuroses and boatloads of melodrama - began to rehash the current and previous events of the week and immediately began to spiral downward. As I stared down at my soup and sandwich, trying to be invisible, I started to question why I had ever thought I could hack it at this school socially or academically and then began to calculate the amount of time it would take me to pack my stuff and the amount of money to get it all home. Just as I was starting to make a list of things I would need to do before the end of the week (drop classes, buy packing tape, etc.) a guy shows up at the chair across from me and says "Hey - can I sit here!?" He really wasn't asking since he threw his tray and books down on the table before I could even answer, but then he took off his jacket and sat down. And was wearing a Big Ed's T-shirt. I nearly choked on my grilled cheese.

Turned out he was a freshman, was from Oak Ridge and had played football for Oak Ridge High School. Turned out he was also kind of a jackass, even more unhappy with college than I was at that moment, and was planning to transfer to play football for Ohio Wesleyan instead (perhaps he didn't believe them when they said we play football without a quarterback...) But I didn't care. It didn't matter. It was just the tiny sign I needed to get me to pull out of my death spin of self pity and woe.

I was in the same state of mind last week with family, money and job worries that I was not handling very gracefully. But a little visit by Big Ed late on a Saturday night once again helped to pull me out of it.

Some critics would argue that the quality of a Big Ed's pizza is not worth the amount of time and money you have to spend actually obtaining a Big Ed's pizza. Maybe. But that's really not the point.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Not a Top Five - Just a Random List of Crap Because this Week is Finally Over

Financial Blue Moon
All of those non-regular, medium-sized purchases that crop up every couple of months somehow have all happened to crop up this month - heart worm and flea meds (for the dogs), haircut (for me), oil change (for the car) etc. It's been a week of "Hmmm... what do I want to do for lunch today? Oh, that's right, drive across town and give someone $60." Admittedly, I could forgo the haircut until next month, but the thought spending a birthday with this much grey hair is not pleasant. And I have had a kind of shitty week so I feel that for the sake of my own mental health, a visit to my friend with the scissors and magic conditioner is warranted. And much cheaper than a therapist.

Greeting Card Smack-down
It is hard to find a good birthday/get well/sympathy/whatever card these days. To add to the task of finding a good card, there is the new added joy of sharing the aisle with someone who feels compelled to fully open ALL of the cards that play music and listen to each song ALL the way through. It's like being in a movie theater with a bunch of cell phones going off. I know. I'm just being petty and bitchy. But seriously. The collective nerves of humanity are a bit frayed right now so if you're one of these people pushing your luck by opening the "Who Let the Dogs Out" card over and over again, you are really just asking to be slapped. With one of those sympathy cards that has glitter on it. So that it will be both ironic and scratchy.

Gert vs. Couch Update
Well, after said shitty week, this match-up did not happen as the game was on ESPN and I was in serious need of an adult beverage and the idea of drinking alone while listening to the game on the radio was really not a level of pathetic that I was prepared to stoop to. The evening was instead turned into Gert vs. Pint of Beer (or more) in the Dive She Normally Reserves for Fridays. But more importantly...

Whose team flailed about all season and still ended up number one in the SEC East?
That's right:

Tennessee 86
South Carolina 70

I would have made up some humorous title for the photo like I did for the others, but when the team is the Gamecocks there's only so much you can do without getting tacky. Go Vols!

Lenten Update
The no-plastic pledge is going fairly well. It's really hard though. I say drinking Starbucks from a cup with a plastic lid. If nothing else, someone in a third world country will be getting a nice box of change from the ladies of two certain environmental non-profit organizations in the Nashville area.

The photo part is coming along slowly but I hope to have some to share soon.

God Bless YouTube
It's even cheaper therapy than my hair stylist. For a happy end to crappy week, I give you a fabulous video of music and highlights from The Office.

Happy Friday.

Monday, March 2, 2009

So Much and Yet Not Enough

The question I answered in my Interview Me challenge about my ultimate vacation - along with my Lenten challenge of scanning in all of my old photos - has started me thinking about travel. And how much I love it. And how I haven't done much of it in a long time. And of all the places I'd still like to go. And of all the places I've been that I miss.

Then one of the blogs where I lurk randomly posted a link to these aerial pictures of Venice today. And it - combined with a whole other pile of general unhappiness - made the longing only worse.

I don't know that Venice is my most favorite place I've been, but it wins for being the first place where I really felt like I was truly in another country and culture. Granted, I've never been anywhere in Asia and I've never been to a developing country so my perspective is skewed. And yeah, trying to cross the Champs Elysees with motor scooters flying past and people screaming at you in French is indeed culture shock, but you still know that within any few blocks you're going to bump into a McDonald's or have access to subway or city bus.

But Venice. Ah Venice. It's like you really did jump into Burt's sidewalk chalk drawing in Mary Poppins. The pictures in the link are amazing and depict some of the overwelming bizarre-ness of the city, but at the same time it doesn't begin to capture it.

So while my mood and the view out my office window of the sky, parking lot and interstate, is all grey today, I will be happy that I am employed and have my health and will try to stop my whining and just suck it up. But to help that along, however unproductive it may be, I'll also be picturing this in my head.

Disturbance in the Force

So. I read that Calista Flockhart has never seen Star Wars.

Never. Ever.

I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt at first, Calista. When I glanced at the headline I thought "eh, well... maybe you're a few years older than I am... and in 1977 maybe you were of the age where some girls would not have enjoyed Star Wars. I don't see how, but I suppose it's plausible...."

Oh wait. No, no it's not. Because why?


That's why. And I'm sorry. But that's just all kinds of wrong.

Did you not realize that's who he was? Did you have him confused with Richard Dreyfus? I mean, they're both in American Graffiti.... they both did science fiction movies in the 70's... it's not completely out of the realm of possibility. Because that's the only reason I could think of for a person who was planning to actually marry Han Solo to have never seen Star Wars.

I'm really trying to be understanding because, I have to say, I'm a little worried.

If you haven't seen Star Wars, what else haven't you seen?

I mean, you do realize that on TV you're married to Sodapop Curtis / Billy Hicks, right?

And remember? You were in The Birdcage. So you know, right? That guy playing one of your future fathers-in-law?

That was Mork. From Ork.

Just want to make sure...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Keeping Score

Sunday was a big day. My unpredictable Volunteers - both men's and women's basketball teams - were finally and literally on the ball. It was rather exciting.

'Dores Floored

Gators Chomped

Final Score:

Tennessee Lady Vols 75
Vanderbilt 66

Tennessee Men 79
Florida 75

But onto other sports...


I need to find a dress or skirt/top combo that fulfills the following:

1. Suitable to be worn to any or all of the following: non-profit auction/fundraiser, Easter, church wine tasting/fundraiser, and maybe my high school reunion.
2. Won't make me want to crawl in a hole and die when I put it on.

First Half: I started at the behemoth amusement-park-turned-parking-lot-and-mall. Now, I appreciate good customer service. I really do. And I understand that times are tough and I understand that retail businesses are desperate to sell their stuff. I really do. But following me around Ann Taylor and perkily chirping at me every 90 seconds with unhelpful information is neither good customer service nor a way to get me to buy anything. All it does is get me to walk over to Brooks Brothers where I can safely rely on being completely ignored.

And while we're at it...

If you are genuinely interested in getting me to buy something, the way to get me to do that is to make it at least seem like you're actually interested in finding something for me to wear - i.e. you've actually looked at me and made some sort of assessment about what I would like instead of just shoving some sparkly, ruffly thing at me that you would wear and saying "Isn't this gorgeous?! And if you sign up to be a preferred shopper you'll save an extra $10!"

Because it's rather apparent after looking at me for oh... five or six seconds... that I neither sparkle nor ruffle.

Well... ok, maybe if it were something vintage or vintage-y looking and not overly-girlie I might on occasion ruffle. But I assure you that not since a poly-blend, off-white sweater with purple and metallic gold horizontal stripes worn in my sixth (?) grade class picture, have I sparkled.

Or worn horizontal stripes for that matter... but that's not the issue here...

Just be nice is all I'm saying. And not annoying. And I'll probably be so happy that I'll buy something even if I don't really need it.

For example...

Second Half: After being stalked by the staff at Ann Taylor and subsequently ignored at Brooks Brothers. And The Banana too, for that matter. I drove over to a different shopping center and walked into J. Jill where I was greeted genuinely and asked if I needed assistance. I told her what I was looking for. She asked me some questions about what I had in mind, what it was for, etc. Then she showed me a couple of things they had and made some other very helpful and sincere suggestions.

Here's what I bought:

"Hey, that's not a dress!" you say. And you would be correct. Nothing they had dress-wise really quite worked. But, you know what? I still had a good time not finding one. And you know what else? Instead of me leaving all annoyed after not finding a dress, like I had at seven other stores earlier that day, I actually felt like hanging around and seeing what else they had back in the clearance section. And, seeing as how the two hoodies I currently wear all the damn time have shrunk in length and stretched in width (sooo not attractive on a person who is short and wide to begin with) and desperately need to be replaced. I thought it a sound purchase.

Final Score:

J. Jill 1
Ann Taylor 0

Comfy Gert 1
Fancy Gert 0

You win some, you lose some.

Next up:
Tennessee Lady Vols vs. Alabama in the first round of the SEC Tournament - Thursday, March 5th
Tennessee Men vs. South Carolina - Thursday, March 5th
Comfy Gert vs. Couch - Thursday, March 5th
Fancy Gert vs. Macy's - Saturday, March 7th

Stay Tuned.

Thanks to for the photos. Of the games. Not the sweater. That was from