My New Car – Part II

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A few weeks ago, you may recall I bought a car. After being overwhelmed by new car technology, I realized that the only thing I wanted was the one thing new cars didn’t have—a CD player.

So I picked out a used Subara Impreza with said CD player, and wrote about how much I loved it.

When I tell you what happened next, you’re going to think I made it up. But as the old cliché goes, truth is stranger than fiction.

Immediately after writing and posting the blog, I pulled on my flip shades (Maren Morris has flip shades, right?), gathered up a stack of classic CDs and headed for my new ride. Even though it was freezing out, I planned to ride around the neighborhood with the windows down and the radio blaring in my new ride.

I slipped the CD in and…nothing.

Nothing!

No sound at all.

Here is where I am forced to admit that although I made the presence of a CD player my number one requirement in a car, I did not test to make sure said CD player actually worked!

Oops.

I told myself I could get the CD player fixed. Car Sense would repair it for free under their six month bumper to bumper warranty.

But the Subaru had bad juju, and it had to go.

Fortunately, Car Sense has a five-day no questions asked return policy. So the next morning, I drove the Subaru back to the dealer and told them I wanted to take the red Chevy Cruze for a second test drive.

The salesman was surprised, but he didn’t argue. He brought the Cruze around—it was even more stripped down than the Subaru.

No backup camera—think of the mailboxes! No all-wheel drive—think of the snow!

But when I pulled that CD from my purse and slipped it in, Maren Morris’ voice came through every speaker loud and clear.

And just like, it was love. My new 80s Mercedes is a Chevrolet.

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Escaping My To Do List

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Clearing out the cobwebs as we near the end of a long winter…

 

Like many of you—probably most—I woke up Sunday with a to do list.

On this list: write my weekly blog post, wash several loads of clothes, pay the electric bill, read the Sunday paper.  I also wanted to finish a book I’d been reading, shred some old documents, and write.

That was the plan Saturday night. But come Sunday morning, I didn’t want to do any of it.  I had no ideas for the blog, the pile of clothes was daunting, the paper would be filled with nothing but bad news, and honestly, I’d been slogging through the book to finish it because it was boring and depressing.

I was restless at the thought of another day inside. Even the thought of the Olympics brought me no pleasure.  A quick check of the calendar confirmed the source of my malaise.  It’s the second half of February, which can only mean one thing:  cabin fever.

Maybe you’ve got it as well. That stifling feeling that you’re stuck inside again.  Winter.  We’re over it, right?  It’s no longer fun to snuggle up under blankets with the Hallmark channel.  I’m ready to trade it my slippers for flip flops.  I want to turn off the furnace and open a window.

I want to leave my house without gloves, a coat, and a snow shovel.

Most of all, I don’t want to be stuck inside doing a bunch of boring chores.

I thought about going to the movies. That’s what I usually do when I want to toss away my responsibilities for an afternoon.  But sitting in the dark watching a screen seemed like exactly the kind of thing I was trying to get away from.

Eventually I found the perfect diversion. I tagged along with my parents on a snowy hike through McConnell’s Mill State Park.  They visit a lot of parks, and I rarely tag along, as that’s more their thing than mine.

But it was a warm and sunny day for February, and some fresh air and nature were just what I needed. I spent the day outside without any of my normal distractions—internet, music, even reading.  It was just a girl and the great outdoors.

It was just what the doctor ordered, and proof that sometimes the most important thing to do with your to do list is chuck it for the day.

Let the Games Begin

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Dan Jansen with his daughter, after winning gold in 1994

 

I have to write about the Olympics this week. If you know me at all, you know that.  The Olympics are the granddaddy of all my pop culture obsessions:  bigger than William and Kate, bigger than Nora Roberts, and yes, even bigger than Outlander.

That’s how big we’re talking.

I love the Olympics, the Winter Games in particular. I think it’s a combination of fascination with the ice and snow sports vs. the track and field, but also because the Winter Games take place in February, also known as the worst month ever.  Just like everyone else, I’ve got a lingering cold, and am simultaneously going stir crazy and deeper into hibernation.  Two weeks of riveting television is just what I need to kill the rest of this depressing month.

And for my money, the Olympics is the most riveting television ever made. It’s the perfect combination of sports and story.  It’s basically like you took the Superbowl and Oprah and mixed them in a blender and out came the Olympics.

You’ve got athletes toiling away in relative obscurity for four years while they wait for their chance at fame, redemption, or glory. But of course, those are only the ones that become household names.  Winners in figure skating or alpine skiing.  There are thousands of other athletes whose names we never know or quickly forget who are not there with a shot for a medal.  They are the ones with no fancy sponsorships, no big payday waiting if they can cash in on the biggest stage in the world.

But every Olympian wants the same thing: to perform at their absolute best when everything is on the line.

To watch someone rise to the occasion in this way, whether they come in first or last, is truly inspiring. To watch someone falter, or let it slip through their fingers, is heartbreaking.

And to me that is life in a capsule. Moments of glory, despair, redemption.  One thing I love about good fiction is that it gives us the closure we so often don’t get in life.  In good fiction, the detective always gets his man, the guy always gets the girl, the wronged are vindicated, the evil punished.

But it’s not that way in real life, nor in the Olympics. Think of Michelle Kwan—the most dominate female figure skater in U.S. history with nine U.S. championships and five world titles—she never made it to the top of the Olympic podium.

She never will.

On the other side, you have Dan Jansen. In 1988 he was heavily favored in two speed skating events.  Hours before the first race, he learned his sister had passed away from leukemia.  He fell during the race, and a few days later, he fell again while on world record pace.

Four years later, in Albertville, he was back, and met with more disappointment when he failed to medal or skate his best in his two events. The next year, outside the Olympics, he set a world record in the 500 meter race after placing fourth in the Olympics.

Outside the Olympics, he continued to set records in the 500 meter race, and the stage was set in Lillehammer in 1994. Again heavily favored in the 500 meters, he finished eighth.

A few days later, he took the ice for the 1,000 meter, the last race of his devastatingly disappointing Olympic careers. The 1,000 meter was never his best event, and he wasn’t as young as he used to be, and no one gave him much of a chance to medal.

But Dan Jansen still had his dream in his heart, and not only did he medal in that race, he won gold. And not only did he win gold, he did it with a world-record breaking time.

When he put his toe on the line of his first Olympic race, as one of the best speed skaters in the world, I’m sure Dan Jansen would’ve felt that winning only one Olympic medal in his career would be a disappointment.

But I’m betting he didn’t feel that way six years later on the top of that podium in Lillehammer.

By the time he won his gold medal, I’ll bet it wasn’t about the medal at all.

Super Bowl Sunday

super bowl sundayThere’s something for everyone with the Super Bowl. It begins with two weeks of build-up.  If you love football, this is two weeks of ESPN and talk radio heaven.  You can listen and watch pointless speculation to your heart’s content.  You can usually only get such bold know-nothing predictions from political pundits.  Or Wall Street brokers.

Then there’s the gambling. I’m not talking about who will win the game, or cover the spread.  Fair enough, if that’s your thing.  But I’m here for the prop bets.  This is where you bet on all kinds of bizarre things that have nothing to do with the game on the field.  Betting on the length of the national anthem (the over/under is two minutes) has become so commonplace as to be boring.  But this year, you can also bet on what color Pink’s hair will be when she sings the anthem, and whether or not she will flub a word.  There’s also odds as to whether Pink, a huge Eagles fan, will say “Go Eagles” immediately after her performance.

No, I’m not making any of this up. You can really lay your money down on these.  You can also bet on the color of Bill Belichick’s sweatshirt, how many commercials will feature Peyton Manning, and whether or not Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth will utter the word “dynasty” in reference to you-know-which-team.  You can also bet on whether or not Tom Brady will be wearing a bandage on his right hand, and whether Bill Belichick will announce his retirement after the game.  And his announcement must be shown on the live broadcast to collect.

And because in 2016-2017-2018 everything begins and ends with Trump, you can bet on how many times the President will tweet during the game.

You get all this excitement before the kickoff! After fourteen hours of pregame, we get to the game itself, which if you’re not a fan of the Patriots, is often disappointing.  The stage is so big, many times the teams spend the first quarter, or even the first half, just working out their jitters.

But really, who cares? The game is when you attack the snacks, refill your drinks, and go to the bathroom.

Because you don’t want to miss the commercials! Expect Bud-weis-errr, Clydesdales, trucks, and the Olympics.  Lots and lots of Olympics.  If you don’t know by the end of the Super Bowl that the Olympics are coming to NBC on February 9th, you will be officially certified brain dead.

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JT back at halftime.  What could go wrong?

Of course, this is just getting us warmed up for the Justin Timberlake halftime show. If you recall, JT performed with Janet Jackson at the 2003 Super Bowl.  You can thank him for the term “wardrobe malfunction” entering the common language, and also for the FCC live delay still with us today.

 

I can’t wait to see what he does for an encore.

In a world where there are so many television shows, the Monday after the Super Bowl is one of the few times when everyone standing around the water cooler is talking about the same thing.

And come Monday, the talk will be one of two things:

  1. How the fix was in for the Patriots and they only won because of that blown call. Also Tom Brady isn’t really all that good because he cheats, and his wife isn’t that beautiful considering she’s a supermodel, and his kids aren’t perfect, and he will age eventually even if none of us see signs of it yet. Also he’s not very handsome. That chin dimple is not sexy. Not sexy at all. OR:
  2. Philadelphia burned to the ground

It’s an American spectacle, and I love every minute. Enjoy the show, and I’ll talk to you Monday morning.

See the USA in Your…Subaru?

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Maren Morris, in her 80s Mercedes

After nine good years, it was time to say goodbye to my trusty Chevy Impala. After 123,000 miles and a blown transmission, we’ve reached the end of the road.

It was biggest car I’ve ever driven, and just like Dinah Shore I saw the USA in my Chevrolet. I wanted another boat—a Chrysler 200 maybe, or Buick Lacrosse.  Just like Jack Reacher, I wanted to keep on stretching out my legs in a big American sedan.

But let’s get serious. I needed a smaller car.  As loyal readers know, I ripped the side mirror off that Chevy three times.  Twice pulling out of the garage, and once I hit a recycle bin.  If someone hit your mailbox, it was probably me.  I ripped the trim off when I drove too close to a fence.  I backed into a huge decorative rock and had to replace the bumper.  She’s all scratched to hell on the driver’s side from the bush next to my driveway.

I was a lot harder on that Chevy than she was on me.

So after nearly a decade out of the car buying game, I re-entered the arena, and found out they don’t make cars anymore.

They make computers with wheels.

I test drove a brand new Honda Fit. The thing scolds you more than a Catholic school nun.  When I backed up too close to something, it beeped.  When I tried to tailgate the car in front of me, it braked without my permission.  It got all bent out of shape when I cut in front of a car in my blind spot.  It has something called “adaptive cruise control” which basically tells you to get the hell out of the way and let the car do the driving.

All this while a bright TV in the dashboard alternately told me where to turn, criticized my driving, played the music on my phone, and read my text messages aloud.

The thing might as well show movies. It’s not like the car needs me to drive it.

This was not going to work. Especially when I realized there was no CD player in the car.

“You’ll get used to it,” the salesman told me.

But I didn’t want to get used to it. I wanted to drive my car without comment from the electronic peanut gallery, and I wanted to play my CDs.

I mean, do you think Maren Morris has Adaptive Cruise Control and Blue Tooth in her 80s Mercedes? She’s cool as all get-out and her car has a tape deck.

So new cars were out. I needed something used, and no newer than 2015, before the tech insanity kicked into high gear.

So I decided to try CarSense. For those of you not familiar, CarSense sells low mileage used cars of all stripes.  They have strictly no-haggle pricing.  They’ve got all the details on their website.  You research the car you want, then you test drive and buy.

I wasn’t sure how this would go—I mean, isn’t haggling a natural part of buying cars?

But I’m a terrible negotiator. The problem is once I decide I want something, I want it.  It’s all over my face.  The ability for me to walk away is zero, and everybody knows it, especially a car salesman.

Short answer—I loved CarSense. I could research everything beforehand and know if I was getting a good price.  Their prices are fair—you’re going to pay what the car is worth.  You’re never going to get some spectacular rock bottom deal, but they’re never going to take you to the cleaners either.

I can live with that.

In the end, I settled on a 2015 Subaru Impreza, with no navigation, sensing features, blind spot detectors, blah, blah, blah.

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My new wheels!

And it has a CD player, on which I played Ms. Morris the whole drive home.

I did however, relent to progress and get a backup camera.

It’s the least I can do for my neighbors.

After all, their mailboxes have suffered enough.

Fever Dreams

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Roberto Clemente Bridge, in front of the Pirates PNC Park, Covered in dynamite.

 

As readers of last week’s blog know, I came down with a nasty case of the winter cold. I regret to inform the reader that after last week’s post, my symptoms did not improve.  Quite the opposite.  I spent Monday, most of Tuesday, and Wednesday home from work, sneezing, shivering, and coughing.

But the worst of it were the dreams. They were confusing and horrifying.  Mostly they terrified while making no sense.  I can only assume they were brought about by the fever.

I had the first dream on Sunday. In a daze of sweat and confusion, I slept fitfully on the couch with the television on.  In the dream, the Steelers scored six touchdowns and lost a playoff game in which they were heavily favored.  Can you imagine?  The insanity of watching Big Ben toss five bombs into the end zone, and Le’Veon Bell run for another and then losing the game.

Impossible. What an imagination my subconscious has!

From there, it only got crazier. I dreamed the Pirates traded their ace pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Astros for Bryan Reynolds and Kyle Crick.  I wonder how my brain came up with those names, as no one who watches baseball has ever heard of them.  Must’ve seen them on a mailbox on my way home.  No one would trade a former number one overall draft pick for a couple of nobodies, right?

And here’s where it gets really outrageous. My crazy addled brain then dreamed that forty-hours after trading Cole, the Pirates traded Andrew McCutchen.  Yes, that’s right, the 2013 league MVP was traded for two minor league prospects, a seven-win pitcher, and a third baseman with thirty-four total major league at bats.

Where does my brain get this stuff? I can only surmise that I am still traumatized from when the last true Pirates superstar, Barry Bonds, was traded to the very same San Francisco Giants.  Cutch in a Giants uniform?  It would be terrifying if it wasn’t so ridiculous.

To top things off, I had one final dream about the Penguins. There’s plenty of season left, but in my dream the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions were a bad game away from losing their current playoff position to their arch rivals the Philadelphia Flyers.

Fortunately, my fever broke in time to write this blog. I’ve got a few minutes before the Steelers take on Brady and Belichick in the rematch for the AFC Championship that Mike Tomlin promised me.

Before the game starts, I think I’ll scan the sports blogs and catch up on any Pirates and Pens news I may have missed….

You Make Me Sick!

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I did everything right.

You know I did—I told you about it last week. I avoided as much human contact as possible:  on-line shopping, conference calls.  I all but wore a mask if anyone so much as thought about breathing on me.

I didn’t go outside without a coat. I got my flu shot, ineffective though it may be.  I stayed dry.  I stayed warm.  (Especially my feet—my new slippers are all I dreamed they’d be.)

And yet, still, it happened.

I got sick.

It began last night. Around 8 pm, I was tired.  Really tired.  But I didn’t think much of it—I’d gotten up early, had a productive day shoveling snow and writing.

Then the sniffles came. Allergies, I told myself.  January allergies.  Probably from the snow.  Just a runny nose from the cold when I went outside to get the mail…five hours ago.

The sore throat I woke up with put an end to my denial. There’s only one reason for this kind of scratchy, painful throbbing, and that’s being sick.  Add to that the continued sniffles and achy legs, and you have the trifecta of winter cold symptoms.

If I have to be sick, today is a good day for it. It’s too cold to go outside, I don’t have to work, and I’ll have the Steelers game to (hopefully) entertain me.  We had a snow storm on Saturday and I’m one of those crazies who buys bread, eggs, and milk the night before.  I live in the suburbs and have never been trapped in my house due to weather for more than 24 hours, and I have approximately fifteen years’ worth of canned goods in the pantry, but it never hurts to be prepared.

So I’ve got plenty of food. Now all I need is an appetite.

Until it comes back I’ve got hot tea and Sandra Brown.

And now, dear reader, I’m worn out.

Time for a nap.

 

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

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A rare moment where I am not wearing my warm and awesome Outlander sweatshirt…

 

First off, I know I don’t have any right to complain. I didn’t get hit with the snow bomb.  I have a garage at home.  I work indoors.  I park less than twenty yards from the front door of my office (this wasn’t always the case, and on days like these it’s the biggest perk of my current job).  Therefore, I can choose to spend less than ten minutes outside each day.

Even so, I just have to say…yikes, it is cold.

Plus, everyone is sick.

Christmas is over, ladies and gentleman. Welcome to January, home of low temperatures, high fevers, and aneurism-inducing credit card bills from all that holiday shopping.

Thus far, I’ve managed to avoid the sickness part by interacting with my co-workers only though instant messenger and phone, even if they sit right next to me.

Outside of work, I’ve become a hermit. If people’s germs can’t reach me, they can’t infect me.  On-line shopping and canned goods can sustain me for the duration.  I’m not letting another person breathe on me until February, if not March.

The good news is I have a pair of thick socks, sweatpants, and my new Outlander sweatshirt to wear when I’m home. The bad news is I’ve worn them all week.  The good news is I live alone so there’s no one to comment on the odor.  Sorry, Blinker.  Kitties don’t count on this one.

Yesterday I was forced to interact with others at work. I sat at the table with freezing feet, and while the group discussed our new product launch, I became fascinated by the man sitting next to me.

Well, not fascinated by him, exactly. By his shoes.

Because they weren’t shoes. They were slippers.  Brown suede slippers stuffed with wool.  They had rubber bottoms tough enough to wear outside.

Or to work, apparently. Thank you casual Friday!

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St. Peter, if you’re listening…size 9 please!

If it’s a cold day when I go to heaven, St. Peter will be standing at the gate with a pair of these slippers in my size.

 

I asked the man about the slippers, and he said they were UGG moccasins for men. I guess moccasins is a more manly word than slipper.  I had no idea UGG made slippers.  Excuse me, manly moccasins.

As soon as the meeting was over, I raced back to my desk and pulled up the UGG website. Sure enough, they had women’s wool-lined slippers rugged enough for outdoor use.  The price was outrageous.  And anyway, I’d made a New Year’s Resolution not to buy anything I didn’t need.

So I clicked off the site and went back to work. I don’t have to tell you how this story ends, do I?

The slippers will be here Tuesday.

Now I just have to figure out how to get them into the house without opening the front door and letting all that cold air in.

New Year’s Eve

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I’ve always liked New Year’s Eve. It’s a day you can spend how you like—either ringing in the New Year at a party with family and friends, or spending a quiet night at home reflecting on the year ending and the new year beginning.

On New Year’s Eve, I always think of that old saying when a king dies…the king is dead, long live the king.  As one year ends, another one begins.

Of course, the passing of one year to the next is an artificial marker of time, but I like the idea of a fresh start. I like New Year’s Resolutions, even if I rarely keep them.  I like looking back over the previous year and noting the good and the bad.

But the timing is terrible. Who decided that we should all get a fresh start after a late night of drinking in winter, when the days are short and cold?  By all rights, the New Year should start in the spring.  But we go with what we’ve got.

I’ve got hopes and dreams for 2018, as we all do. I also know that most of my plans with fall through, and I’ll disappoint myself on some of my goals.  But some of those broken plans will lead to good things I can’t yet imagine, and I’ll keep some of my goals and better myself in certain areas.

Most of all I hope for health and happiness, for myself, and for all of my readers. I’ve blogged every Sunday in 2017, and the continued response and engagement from all of you has been one of those pleasant surprises.

Thank you to all of you who kept reading in 2017, and let’s see where we go from here!

All I Want For Christmas Is You

 

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Introducing Blinker, the one-eyed bandit

I don’t want much at Christmas. I have all the candles, sweaters, and socks that I need.  But this Christmas, there was something on my list.

I wanted a cat in the house.

After Jasmine’s death last month, I thought I wouldn’t want another cat for months or more. But the truth is, the house was so empty with only me in it.  I was lonely in a way I had never been.  But maybe I should wait, I told myself.  Give it more time.  Wait until after the holidays.

But then I went down to the local animal shelter to take a look.

Take a look. Ha.  The animal lover’s ultimate self-delusion:  taking a look at the animal shelter.

I sat down on the floor in a room full of cats. Some eyed me warily, some ignored me completely, and some looked interested.  But one came up from behind me, crawled into my lap, and started to purr.

I looked down at her and gave her a scratch. “You’re sweet,” I said.  “But I can’t take you home.  You look exactly like my Jasmine.”

That was my one stipulation, you see. I didn’t care about age, or sex, or even color, as long as it wasn’t a black cat.  I didn’t want a reminder of my girl.

But this little black cat looked up at me, and for the first time I saw that she had only one eye.

We’ll see about that, she seemed to say.

I stayed strong and left her there.

But I was back two days later. And two days after that.

Each time she ran across the room when she saw me and climbed into my lap. Gently but firmly, she head butted the other cats away from us. Get your own human, she seemed to say. This one’s mine.

On the third time, I looked down at her and said, “Okay. You win.”

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Could you say no to this look?

It’s best, I think, not to pick a cat. Just let them pick you.

And so I brought home my ten-month old little girl and named her Blinker.

We’re getting to know one another, but she’s a lover, not a fighter. She goes on the prowl in the middle of the night and knocks books off shelves and pictures frames off tables.  She eats like someone’s going to beat her to the bowl.  And she purrs and purrs and purrs whenever she sees me.

She’s not my Jasmine; she doesn’t even look like her to me anymore. She’s got her own personality and her own attitude.  I love them both in different ways.

I woke up this Christmas Eve morning with Blinker sleeping on my chest. I thought of Jasmine, and how much I missed her, and then of how happy I was to have a new kitty with me.

I pet Blinker on the head and thought, all I want for Christmas is you.

Then, mistaking my toe for a mouse under the blanket, she attacked.