The Adventures of Podunk Jo – Adventure 3: Jo rides again!

Back in Nine Rivers, Jo was having just a little bit of trouble adapting to her new living situation.  While she appreciated the company and uses of her new friends, Retardo and Sam, living with both of them was a bit of a struggle.  It wasn’t that she minded getting cozy with new friends, despite their peculiar quirks.  It was more to do with the size of her apartment.  With just her and Tigger, it had been very cozy – with all four of them, a more apt description would be cramped.   Still, Podunk Jo was determined to get planning on the next terms’ lessons, despite inconveniences.  Despite her best attempts however, just a few short days before the start of the term, there was a knock on the door that could not be ignored.

When the tapping started, Jo was prepared to let Tigger or one of the others answer – she was in the groove of planning and not about to stop.  When it continued insistently, however, she wandered out towards the front door to see what was the problem.

Out in the hall was a tableau of worried looks.  Tigger, Retardo, and Sam were all watching the door, half in fear and half in curiosity.   Podunk, confused as to the situation, nevertheless moved to open the door.  Sam silently ran to stop her, shaking her hands and head in quiet irritation.

Retardo tiptoed over to Jo.  ‘Whoever’s knocking is VERY DANGEROUS.  Sam doesn’t want them to know anyone is home.’ She placed a gentle hand on Podunk Jo’s arm, whispering, ‘Let’s just all go back into the living room and wait till they go away.’

‘This is ridiculous,’ said Jo loudly.  ‘I will not be made to cower in my own home.  Especially by buffoonery.’  She strode quickly around Sam, whose head was low to her chest.  Sam did not appreciate being called ridiculous, and went of to mope in solitude in the living room.  Tigger pattered after her thoughtfully.

Jo unlocked the door cautiously, nervously looking over her shoulder at Retardo before doing so.  It could be a criminal, or a proselytizer, or a spy.  There, on the doorstep, was Crest Colgate.

“Would you like to go to Mongolia?” he asked.

****

Over a nice cup of tea inside, the two of them chatted.

“Sorry I so rudely abandoned you in Beijing,” Crest apologized.  “I really did need to leave.  My HR skills were urgently needed, you see.  One of our tour managers was quite ill, and the Alaskans were finding it difficult to hire a replacement. ”

“Of course.  You had an obligation.  Thank you for the note.  Though I am a bit surprised at how you were able to find me here in Nine Rivers.”

‘It wasn’t really that hard.  Very few foreigners have such lush hair, or such a memorable companion.’  Crest smiled down at Tigger, who was shyly hiding behind a biscuit tin at the other end of the coffee table.

“Ah.  And what’s all this about Mongolia?”

‘I need a companion for a new business trip.  I am putting together an educational package on Mongolia to include various skills training – horseback riding, sheep shearing, hatha weaving.  Naturally I thought of the most beautiful teacher in the Middle Kingdom to assist me in my research.’  He flashed her a dazzlingly brilliant smile.

“Well, I appreciate the offer, but unfortunately my teaching obligations begin in just a few short days.  I couldn’t possibly come with you.”

‘Oh no, it’s all been taken care of.  I spoke to your waiban – one of the Chinese teachers can cover your classes for the first few weeks.’  Jo could just barely make out Tigger doing a mini-jig on the thought of riding a horse.

“Still, these students are expecting a foreign teacher.  It’s not fair to pawn them off on someone else.”

Crest patted her hand gently.  “I admire your commitment.  Never mind this week – we’ll just have to put off our trip until the holiday.”

****

Later, both Sam and Retardo came down hard on Jo.

‘You actually agreed to go?  After Sam’s warning and without even checking with us?!?’ Retardo ranted.

“Well, it was my decision, after all…”

‘And I suppose we’re supposed to just sit here and worry about your return?’

“I don’t trust that man,” Sam added quietly.  “You shouldn’t be alone with him.  He’s obviously too charismatic for you.”

Jo remembered his brilliant whites.  ‘He does have a nice smile.  But really, I made the decision on my own.  Also, Tigger wants very badly to go horseback riding.’

Sam sighed and Retardo threw up her hands.  ‘So take him riding, already!  There’s no need to go to Mongolia.’

But Jo had given her word, and she stood firm in that.   Just a couple months after term start, she and Tigger started packing up for their trip.  Sam and Retardo kept up loud protestations of the wrongness of the trip, to no avail.  Truly, their last protests were more of a half-hearted act.  They had already come to terms with the situation, and were preparing to take more drastic action.

Next Chapter: Stowaways.

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The Magic mini

I am not, by nature, a highly material person.  I do find a certain attraction at certain times to objects however, either for their beauty or coolness.  Take the new Teva hiking/wading shoes I bought.  shoe.jpgThey have drains through the material of the sides, which allows water to go out but keeps out grit.  They have super sticky soles for added traction.  They have vents to let air out and in.  They have a super-braced frame to withstand outside impacts and adjust as you walk.  They are super-fitted to your feet and held in place both with elastic and regular laces.  They are a beautiful bright red so hunters don’t shoot at your feet and maim you as you go running through the woods.  They are AWESOME and when the weather turns nice enough for me to wear them, they will be even more so.   This is a rare purchase of something both cool AND beautiful.

So, despite my lack of enthusiasm for most things material, I felt the need to pass along to you a special *deal* going on right now.  It’s for a 2G super-mini portable USB storage thingjiggy.   Mike brought it to my attention and we have now purchased two.

The coolness of this little gismo comes  from its usability (how big are YOUR files?) and smallness.  dangly.jpgIn fact, about the only possibly bad thing about it is that you might lose it because it’s so tiny – about the size of a cell phone dangly.  I would recommend putting it, therefore, either on your phone or keychain.  Then you always have it with you for transferring files or ‘borrowing’ other people’s media.   And since it’s small, you don’t need to lug the big purse to carry it with you everywhere.

So, buy yourself one here.  Go ahead.  Do it NOW, while supplies last.  Seriously.  You won’t regret it.

Angry Rain God

Today I woke up feeling ornery.  Maybe it was because my bed was warm and my room was cold.  Maybe it was because I’d been cheated out of a really deep sleep and a nice dream about cranberry fluff.  Maybe it was because in the conscious world, I don’t even know what cranberry fluff is.  But I woke up angry, cold, and not looking forward to another day at work.  Plus, I couldn’t lounge in bed as I had my one semi-important meeting of the week at 8:45.

I got in to work on time and managed to avoid the rain, even though the bleak day was depressing.   Further depression resulted when I learned we were not  having our meeting, and I could’ve slept in and had a leisurely Dunkin Donuts breakfast.  I felt draggy, annoyed, and downright cantankerous.  I was ready to do a little rain dance and completely bring down the sky.  I would make everyone feel like I did.

But then the people I work with lifted my spirits again.  We eventually did have our meeting, if an hour late.  There was talk of 60 degree weather tomorrow and bright sunshine.  I don’t think my thermometer has crawled above 45 in weeks, so that was big-time news.  People are laughing, smiling, and dreaming away the hours until capris and sandals can be slipped into again.  Sunglasses are being shopped for online.   Girls are picking out toenail colors in their minds, as am I.  Nail polish was the one girlish pastime I took a part in as a child.  The world is happy again.  And I’m in it – not as an ornery grandmother with her cane, but at my biological, sometimes joyful age.

Is it fair? Is it write?

Recently in my mini side-trek into the world of freelance stuff, I stumbled across the site called oboulo. Evidently it was originally a French site that is now taking off in the English languages. Basically, they pay you $10-$15 for exclusive online  rights to your papers, articles, and what have you.  In addition, they will pay you for referring others and give you a small increase in the rate for each paper if you are referred.  They make their money by charging about $4 for the download of each paper.

Now, while this could seem appealing at first glance, there are obvious associated worries.  First is the potential ‘scam’ nature of the website itself, and second is the question of where revenue comes from.  Both of these have been answered to my satisfaction.  The website looks well-organized and thoughtful, and there has been pretty widespread support and positive feedback online.  Mind you, everyone who’s commented about the resource could be lying, but they were pretty excited to get paid for old papers they had just laying around.  In addition, from the site itself, there was some revenue explanation.  Most of these papers are not normally published works – they are research papers, but most are at the collegiate or lower level.  Therefore, they are unlikely to be resources that would be found at a library.  They would still potentially have some value for new ideas or simply for their bibliographies in a certain area.  In addition, each submitted work is not necessarily accepted – it is screened for its worth, and then paid for or rejected.  This at least gives the idea that the website is invested in what they are publishing, committed to a quality online product that others couldn’t necessarily supply.

The final worry is the most nebulous one – the threat of plagiarism.  Though oboulo considers itself to be a ‘knowledge database’, I would guess that at least some and possibly many of the people who pay to download articles will be using them as their own work.  While its true that a large amount of the material available is of a nature that it would be difficult to plagiarize – historical timelines, reviews of theater performances, and sample resumes and cover letters to name a few examples – the referral process remains questionable.  Oboulo claims it uses referrals to expand their resources – by paying more both for those who make referrals and for those who get referred, they are expanding the web of potential writers they can reach.  It seems to me that if you trusted the value of your product, you would be able to rely on word of mouth without additional incentives.  However, ING online does the same kind of program, and it is one of the reasons I chose them over other online savings account companies.

Still, is it morally reprehensible to submit your own hard work to a place where you are sure, or at least strongly suspect, it will be used by others for plagiarism?  When I talked to Mike about my inner conflicts in this area, he basically gave me the idea of putting a dollar value on my morals.  Basically, is it worth it for the $15?  Probably not.  But also, I’m not legally obligated.  Honest people could be downloading what I’ve written for the value of reading it.  Or, even if not through the honest appeal of my writing, for the research contained within it.  Knowledge-wise, the facts I’ve extracted from other sources could be valuable for others in their own research or paper writing.  And in particular for some of the material I’ve written over my lifetime, the value is probably no more than $15.

At the end of the day, though I have yet to submit my work on oboulo, I have signed up.  I am officially a ‘sponsor’.  I am going to try at least one paper submission tonight.  So, if you’d like to try it out, my ambassador number is e376ee.  Enter it and you get a little extra money on everything you would want to turn in.  However, if you feel like your work is worth more than $15 per paper, or that if most of the stuff you are currently working on you need to keep the rights to for publication later, don’t worry about it.  You can also always did out the book report you did in fifth grade and see if that gets accepted.

A Smarter Facebook

I am, by nature, only a somewhat lazy person.  I say ‘somewhat lazy’ because there are a few key laziness signs that I do exhibit, though I am on the whole a fairly motivated and active person.  I don’t pick up or clean my apartment as often as I should, though I do occasionally do a full cleaning when the grime gets too thick.  I haven’t yet taken the time to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life, though I do try to broaden my skill set with outside classes and my current job.  I haven’t gotten a book published yet, but I have at least finished one (crappy, mostly unedited) novel.  So I’m not a complete bum.

However, one of the things I don’t do is constantly check whether or not my old acquaintances and friends are on facebook.  Fortunately for the half-lazies like me, there are new programs that take care of this.  Somehow, that wonderful sphere of technology has broadened yet again.  Some lovely algorithm is out there every day, comparing my friends to each other.  When some of my friends (I’m not sure how many) are also friends with the same person, it pops up this little ‘People You May Know’ box tot he right of the main page.  How wonderful!  Now I can friend all those semi-acquaintances I’d almost been able to put out of my head!  Pretty soon, that random guy you saw in the train last Tuesday will automatically pop up for stalking on facebook since you did (if accidentally) make eye contact.  That totally counts as a friend-worthy experience.

My First Gruit

For those of you that know what a gruit is….well, you’re probably snobby beer connoisseurs or other types of freaks. For the rest of you, I have a bit of an explanation. It’s a type of beer that mostly isn’t made anymore, and ale seasoned with an herb mixture. Typically the gruit mix takes the place of hops, though some gruits used to use hops in small quantities.

I’m not a big fan of lots of hops. Call me crazy, but the bitter flavor just isn’t really my thing. I do tend to like the darker porters and stouts, but that’s probably for the sweetness of their malts. So when I was at dinner at the Cambridge Brewing Company last night trying to pick a beer, the description with ‘no hops’ was attractive to me. Plus from the description, it looked…really good. Flavorings like licorice and wild rosemary are personal favorites of mine in food – how could they not be good in beer?

My dinner companions of that evening would not agree with me, but I found it really enjoyable.  it was almost like a beer/herb tea combination.  I know the very idea might make some of you feel yacky,  but at the end of the meal it really cleansed the palate.  I thought to myself, “If I can ever find it again, I’m going to try it again”.

After further research, this might not be such a good idea.  I went home and fell asleep quicking with a pretty bad headache.  According to wikipedia, the herbs in a traditional (mine from last night included)  gruit contain substances that are mildly or moderately narcotic.  While I may or may not have been suffering from those effects, at least one of the ingredients probably caused my need to hit the sack.  Wild rosemary, or Marsh Labrador Tea, is not really rosemary at all – in fact, the plant has toxic compounds called turpenes.  It’s like the stuff in turpentine, and it makes you aggressive even in small quantities.  There are even worse symptoms if you ingest more than a little.  According to wikipedia, “The mere smell of the plant may cause headache to some people.”  Hm.  Information I could’ve used before drinking the beer.

The Snoopy Sno Cone Machine

I recently read the new biography of Charles Schultz (aka ‘Sparky’) by David Michaelis called Schultz and Peanuts. It’s an interesting enough read, full of little details you didn’t know about this troubled man. It has also made me realize that I’m a complete hypochondriac. Or whatever the psychological equivalent is when you take on the characteristics and possible mental twinges of the person’s biography you are reading.

Let me explain further. Schultz felt completely alienated from all his peers at high school. That’s so me. He felt awkward and alone in normal social situations and covered it by acting dumb. Yep, that’s me, if dumb = goofy. He was completely unable to approach girls. That’s me, if you replace girls with boys. He didn’t get along with his family, preferring to draw by himself. Oh yeah, that’s me, if drawing is writing or anything else that requires my undivided attention. He got bad grades to prove his dumbness. That’s not really me, but it could be? He turned his funny little strip (actually, it really wasn’t funny – it was mostly sad and mean, but for some reason people still liked it.) into a commercial empire. I sold out to the big-business world of educational endowments, which is practically the same thing, right? He was distant and not affectionate towards his kids. I don’t even HAVE any. He cheated on both his wives A LOT and was a generally needy only-child brat. Ok, I may be needy, but I hope I’m not that bad.

I guess what the book did was really opened my eyes further to the commercialism and fantasy around me. I was never really a big fan of Peanuts (do you italicize a comic strip?). snoopymachine.jpgI didn’t watch the specials, I didn’t really enjoy that particular comic in the Sunday paper, and I didn’t even see A Charlie Brown Christmas until my high school soccer team got me the video. I always felt sorry for poor Charlie, and mad at Lucy, and though Snoopy was fun, it was generally an unfortunate strip. I do, however, remember the Snoopy Sno Cone Machine. It was coveted, though offhand I can’t really remember why, or even where I saw the first one. I just knew I wanted it without knowing why, or thinking about the reasons behind it.

I guess that’s what I got from this biography most of all. It wasn’t a bad book. It really sought to portray the truth behind an adored man who was secretive about his personal life. It showed his flaws honestly, and some of the rougher spots of his personality that abraded those closest to him. But it also showed the kindnesses he bestowed, the way he brought joys to other’s lives, the talent he strived to use, and the nature of his personal drive. He was a great man, if not a good one, who changed the world through something he was good at. And that’s nothing to scoff at, despite my tendency to scoff.

At the same time, a part of those changes went in directions I’m completely disrespectful of. For what good reason could I want a Sno Cone Machine? It would probably be a rare treat for my parents to let me use it. Was it the respect of my peers I was after? Or some commercial ideal of greatness? Or something more elusive, some unfulfilled wish that I think the Machine will fill? Is my longing just the same as Sparky’s quest for love, and am I just as foolishly confident I will never find it?

Short-term memory loss.

 I have always been a ‘naturally’ forgetful person.  In fact, I always really sympathized with Forgetful Jones on Sesame Street and felt like other characters were unduly mean to him.  It wasn’t his fault he was forgetful!  He was just a poor, little, lost muppet puppet, and he had been made that way.  In my own case, the forgetfulness was probably not so innocent.  I do still have trouble keeping track of things I do not find important – why clutter up your mind with random, pointless knowledge like where your car is parked or your best friend’s birthday?  Until today,  I always attributed as an unwillingness to focus on my part, rather than a really medical condition.  However, this article proved me wrong.  The real cause of my forgetfulness?  Lack of blueberries.

Now, some of you may be saying “I don’t eat a lot of blueberries, and my memory is fine”.  Some of you may be speaking in a language I don’t understand, saying , “I’ve never even seen a blueberry.”  Well, for those I can’t understand, you probably get your short-term memory drugs from some other arcane source such as the go-go fruit.  But the rest of you will understand me when I say that there’s a difference between ‘a lot’ of blueberries and ‘none’.

I hate blueberries.  I personally feel they are the most disgusting fruit on the planet, with the questionable exception of unripe persimmons or quince.  I’ve never had unripe quince myself, but I understand they’re gross.  I don’t know – something about their texture or substance gives them the taste of grainy mud.  It’s like rotting in my mouth.  I apologize to all of you out there who are blueberry lovers, and assure you that  i am not disparaging your love.  I merely seek to accurately represent my own personal loathing for the fruit.

With this loathing, comes extreme avoidance.  Just thinking about a blueberry makes my mouth pucker.   So I haven’t been eating them.  And since I can’t get the go-go fruit at my local market or mystic items purveyor, I’ve been neglecting the full nutrition of my short-term memory for years.  I am determined now to find a substitute and to get my mind back up to par.  I will find the elusive go-go, and make use, if it’s the last thing I do.  Unfortunately, as Wonka says, “They all turn into blueberries.”

Combustible spacecraft.

I like origami.  It’s simple, has clean lines, and builds on the idea that something can come out of nothing – voila, here’s a third dimension.  Also, it probably appeals to my OCD side.  The concept of something being folded and creased EXACTLY in half is somehow soothing.  Plus the paper itself is usually pretty, delicate, and colorful, and therefore attractive to the eye.  And there is a sort of science to it – the idea of space manipulation and the arrangement of the folds are very structured and mathematical.

However, the idea of origami masters teaming up with scientists and professors in Japan to launch a paper airplane from space for re-entry into the atmosphere seems a bit weird to me.  True, the Japanese are scientific enough to conduct a variety of heat and wind tests on their model paper plane, and due to the lightness of the paper plane, do not expect them to build up enough friction to burn up upon re-entry.  However, I still have some trouble as to how this concept will be helpful with other re-entry vehicles.   Will designs be more paper-airplane-shaped?  Will they do additional launches in which paper will play a role in bringing goods back down to the surface?

My recommendation – send a hot dog down inside the paper airplane.  I’m sure the resulting scorchy dog will be very scientific and revolutionize  the way we think about re-entry and the upper atmosphere.

Itchy feet.

Tired of the same humdrum neighborhood or weather?  Getting fed up with your current work/life situation?  Feeling the call of somewhere, anywhere else?  I’ve got the answer – move.

CNN Money recently put out this article and study about the top hundred places in the US for a mix of ‘business advantages and lifestyle appeal’.  While the article was a nice little summary of places I might like to go, someday, what caught me more about its content was the general theme of the piece.  It’s an extreme and large case of ‘the grass is greener on the other side’.   With worries running high about the financial markets and investment, CNN Money is giving us this big hint that the solution is to move.

It’s not hard to understand this call for movement.  Historically, the US has been a country of expansion, new frontiers, and an every-broadening dissatisfaction with what’s at hand.  I often wistfully think about going someplace new and exotic – it’s a part of the call that got me to take off two years for gallivanting in China.  And there is something to be said for new experience, new adventure, and learning different customs and places.

But that advantage comes with a price.  In my generation of frequent international travel and the world wide web, I don’t consider it extraordinary to go to Europe.   Places like Africa and Asia are the ones that still hold drama, even as that drama lessens with each passing year.  Instead, there is a restlessness, a lack of rooting, an idea that somewhere or something else might be better that I struggle with every day.  Knowing that I might change my career path 4 or 5 times in my life does not make me particularly interested in investing time in any one career or location.  Consequently, I’ve become a dabbler.

It’s not that I don’t value variety, or a broad, liberal-arts scope to education.  it’s not that I don’t see the value of developing skills in a variety of areas and professions. It’s just that I fear that I – that all of those of my generation – will end up leading lives of all spice and no substance.  That doesn’t make for a very filling life.

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