Thursday, December 30, 2010

Scandalous winking emoticon

Every once in a while I think about the inappropriateness that is the winking emoticon. You know, this guy  ; )  Who knew a semi-colon could be so forward? I mean, e-mail this message to a co-worker:
We need to get together sometime. 

and it seems totally legit. Like maybe you need to crunch some numbers or come up with a strategic plan. Or maybe even gossip about the boss.

But send this e-mail:
We need to get together sometime ; )

and I feel the message changes entirely. Like maybe that one-eyed smiley face is checking you out. Or it stole a private moment from you. That's the thing with winks. They're non-consensual. Someone winks at you, and you start to feel all these feelings or start to think new thoughts. Consider hugs or kisses or pats on the knee. You allow all of these with the proximity of your body. But not a wink. Someone can do that from across the room.

Real life winks cause delusions. I once had a person who winked at me frequently, and I came to believe they loved me or something. I was sorely mistaken. Just think of what emoticon winks might cause.  ; ) That face stares at you forever. You start to over analyze it. Because why didn't they just use the smiley face? = ) or : )   Surely that could have conveyed the emotion the author of the e-mail was trying to express. But no. They chose a wink. Which means something entirely different.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wudja get?

I gave my mother a very practical Christmas list. It was a good strategy because I wasn't disappointed at all when I didn't unwrap an iPad or whatever.
I am really excited to X things off of lists, so here goes

The practical list I gave my mom
1) Soft Lips chapstick (preferred flavor: vanilla)
2) Glide dental floss
3) toothbrush
4) toilet paper
5) Zip Lock sandwich bags
6) 2 cent make-up stamps (quantity required: 7)
7) razor blades
8) shaving cream (preferred scent: raspberry) (Thanks Natalie)
9) Warm Vanilla Sugar Bath and Body hand soap
10) Vitamin B
11) Airborne
13) My library fines paid off (my mom gave me an envelope with money in it labeled just for this purpose).
14) an interior passenger side door handle for a '98 Toyota Corolla (I had to pay twenty bucks for this, but it was totally worth it because the car place wanted to charge me 80. Instead, I had my mechanic cousin buy the part and install it for me. So now no one will die in a fiery blaze).
15) Ibuprofen (okay, so I got Advil instead).
16) colored envelopes
17) printer ink (I actually bought this myself from Walgreens for $6.50 two days before Christmas)
18) a baking sheet because Britt still has mine (since August) and I keep forgetting to get it from her
19) AA batteries
20) Scotch tape

So you can see that I need to still buy toilet paper and stamps. Though technically it still costs 44 cents to mail a letter. I won't sweat the razor blades or vitamins because I still have some of each. And okay, I have like one roll of TP left too.

Plus, I was really excited that my mom got me that new Amy Sedaris book from my first Christmas list. Also, my mom bought me this fuzzy brown zip up from Land's End. My mother adores Land's End. When my sister and I were kids, she'd try to make us order all sorts of things from that place, like flannel shirts and overalls. So on Christmas Day I found out that my sister, mom, and I all have matching brown fuzzy zip ups. I put it on and discovered it makes me look like a small bear cub. It's not really anything I'll wear in public, but I've been wearing it around the house for the past three days since it's quite warm.

And in case you were wondering how that whole sleeping on the floor by myself while my sister and Travis snuggle in the spare bed thing worked out, this is what happened: all three of us slept in the living room by the Christmas tree. My sister and I slept on roll out mats, and Travis got the couch. So I didn't spend the night alone. Plus, the ceiling in the living room has a small sky light in it, and I was all "hey, now we can see when the reindeer land." Which we totally did.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Me Gusta

Here are some things I like.

1) Things Organized Neatly. Oh my gosh I adore this Tumblr site. I'm not always the neatest person in the world, but I wish I were. And the photographs on this site are candy for your eyes. The items that appear in the photos are unique too--it's not like it's someone's alphabetically organized spice rack or color coded closet.

2) The Daybook. This blog belongs to a girl named Sydney, and her personal style is awesome. I love looking at the outfits she posts. I put like, nihl effort into my daily clothing choice because, well, I'm a teacher and who is there to impress? A bunch of nine year olds. Plus I do things like kneel on the floor all the time, or get marker all over my hands, or a kid drops their lunch tray on me and I have barbecue sauce all down my pants and smell like a hamburger for the rest of the day. So you can understand why I can't dress as cute as Sydney.

3) Leather boots.
I got these for super cheap at a vintage shop. And they make me at least 5' 3". Horse back riding, anyone?

4) My mom gave me this globe for Christmas. My dad was like "Why is the ocean black? Was there an oil spill?" And I told him it was a BP issued globe.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Disguise-O Mug

I would have shown this to you sooner, but I couldn't risk my dad reading this blog before Christmas Day. So you get to see it now. For part of my dad's Christmas present, I made him this.

It's a mustache mug. I just got a white mug and painted a 'stache on it using paint made especially for ceramics. I had to bake it for 30 minutes afterward. The tag says "Evading the law? Need to spy on someone without having them recognize you? Change your look with this mug and its contents. Hand washing recommended."  I am fairly certain my dad has needed to evade the law a time or two, and he probably likes to spy on people also. That's probably where I get it from.

 Then I went to the Dollar Tree and bought things like hillbilly/thug teeth, a Sheriff badge, sunglasses, and glasses with eyes in them.
On the bottom I signed my love.
Takes the term "mug shot" to a whole new level, doesn't it?

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Contemporary Christmas Story

I wrote this last year but figured I'd share it with you again. Merry Christmas!
"Can you pull over at the next rest stop?" Mary asked her husband in a pleading voice.
         "Sure, honey," Joe replied. He didn't really understand how this whole pregnancy thing happened, but he understood that his new wife had to pee a lot. The couple had been riding in their tan Ford Tempo across the desert for about eleven hours so far. The Arizona roads were bumpy, so they jostled along in the car, praying for a better freeway.
         "Oh hey, there's a gas station," Joe said. He pulled over so that his wife could use the restrooms. Joe checked the gas gauge. Surprisingly, the car didn't need to be re-filled. It was like a camel. Fill it up once before you leave, and it lasted the whole way. While Mary was using the undoubtedly grimy restroom, Joe stocked up on essentials, like Mountain Dew and beef jerky. Also, some bottled water, trail mix, and Ding Dongs.
         "Long trip ahead of you?" the toothy cashier asked.
         "Yeah," Joe responded. "We're headed up to Colorado for Christmas to see my folks. We have like seven  hours left to drive."
         "Well have a good trip. You take care of that wife of yours."
         Joe nodded at the cashier, found Mary, then left the gas station.

         It was 10 o'clock that night when the Ford Tempo gave out, just across the Colorado border. It wasn't the gas though; the back tire blew out. Even though Joe was annoyed (and Mary was even more annoyed), he was thankful that they were 50 feet from a small town. Joe pressed the gas and forced the little car to make it to the town.
         "Welcome to Bethelhill, Colorado. Population 630," Mary read.
It was just their luck, because just inside the tiny town was a Motel 6.
         "Come on sweetie," Joe told Mary. "We'll get a room for tonight and take care of the car in the morning."
         Mary waddled out of the car. She was just shy of nine months pregnant, and looked ready to pop any minute, like an overfilled water balloon in the hands of a ten-year-old. Joe and Mary entered the lobby (if you could call it that), and Joe went up to the receptionist.
         "I'd like to rent a room for the night," he said.
         "Sorry, sir," said the woman. "Didn't you see the sign out front? We've got no vacancy."
         "No vacancy?"
         "Yeah, that means the rooms are filled."
         "All of them?" Joe asked incredulously. He couldn't believe so many people would want to stay in such a small town.
         "Yeah, all of them. That's what no vacancy means."
         "But my wife is very pregnant. She needs a room."
         "I don't doubt that sir. I can see that your wife is very pregnant. But we still ain't got any rooms open."
         Mary could see she needed to take things into her own hands. "Please," she interjected, "anything will do. Just a place for me to lie down for the night is all I need."
         The receptionist eyed Mary up and down. "Oh, all right. I've got one place. But you'll either have to take it or leave it, it's all I got." The receptionist locked up the lobby and took Joe and Mary outside, then upstairs. She took out a key and opened up a dark room. It smelled of soap and dryer lint.  She flipped on the light switch.
         "This here's the laundry room. It ain't the Four Seasons but it's dry, and it's warm. Do you want it or not?"
         Joe quickly scanned the room. The washers and dryers were running, making a loud humming sound. A folded up cot was in a corner, and on a shelf were piles of clean sheets, blankets, and towels.
         "We'll take it," Mary and Joe said in unison. After the receptionist left them, Joe tried to make Mary comfortable. He unfolded the cot and put sheets and a blanket on it for her. He made a little bed for himself on the floor. Mary washed up at the giant utility sink, and then sat down on the bed. She ate some jerky and trail mix, and then the two fell asleep, listening to the drum of the dryer.

Earlier that day, in a different town.
         Hank, Phil, and Tom were all truck drivers having a bite to eat at a roadside diner.
         "What'll it be?" asked the owner from behind the counter.
         "I'll take the blue plate special," Phil said as he took off his green foam trucker hat.
         "Steak for me," said Hank.
         "Burger and fries, please," said Tom.
         "It'll be out in a few minutes," said the owner. "Coffee while you wait?"
         The truck drivers sipped their coffee and talked about the towns they had driven through, where they were headed, and what cargo they were carrying.
         "You might laugh at me for this," Hank said, "but I've got a whole shipment of fleece Snuggies in the back of my truck."
Phil and Tom did laugh, but then Tom owned up to his cargo.
         "I've got a shipment of coats from Burlington Coat Factory. Wool, camel hair, polyester, you name it."
         The truckers chuckled some more as a pretty little waitress came out. She had dark brown hair and big brown eyes. Her name tag read Gabriella.
         "Now whatchyou boys laughin' about? Huh? I got your hot food right here, honey." She sat the mouth watering dishes down in front of the men. "Now where you all headed?" She asked.
         "Pagosa Springs, Colorado."
         "Colorado you say? Oh, you should stop through Bethelhill if you can. It's right on your way. It's a real nice town. Got something special about it. You really should stop there. I bet you'd make it there sometime late tonight." Gabriella smiled a dazzling smile.
         "We will if we can," Phil said.
         "Oh, I promise I will," said Tom, who was the youngest of them all and was trying to flirt with Gabriella. He tipped big before he left.

         Joe woke up to the sound of the dryer buzzing. Or at least that's what he thought it was. It was really his wife screaming. There was a puddle of water on the floor. This couldn't be good.
         "Joe, Joe, the baby's coming. He's coming NOW!" Mary yelled.
         Joe froze. He didn't know what to do. The car was broken, and he didn't even know if there was a hospital in this small town.
         "Mary! I'll get the receptionist! I'll go get help."
         "NOOOO. Don't leave me here by myself!"
         "But honey, I don't know how to deliver a baby," Joe said, terrified.
         "Well, I don't think you need to know how, because he's about to deliver himself." Mary lied down on the floor, on the sheets that Joe was sleeping on. She screamed some more, like she was trying to prove a point.

         The laundry room was sandwiched in between room 224 and room 225. Next to that of course, was room 226. Sleeping in those rooms were Hank, Phil, and Tom. They had taken Gabriella up on her recommendation of stopping at Bethelhill, and were very grateful for it. They had enjoyed a great dinner at a local restaurant, took a warm shower and now were sleeping in a real bed. If only that noise would quiet down. Tom sat up first. He was in room 224, and he was pretty certain he could hear screaming next door. He put on his black and red plaid flannel shirt and stepped outside. There was light pouring out from underneath a crack in the next door, which wasn't even a motel room. It was the laundry room.
         "Hey," he pounded on the door. "What's going on in there?"
         Some more screams.
         "Sorry!" called a male voice "but I can't get the door right now!"
         Another long scream. Tom tried the door again but it was locked from the inside. Tom went to knock on his friends' doors to get help. He got Hank and Phil to come out of their rooms, and together they went back to the laundry room.
         "I don't know what's happening in there," Tom said. "But I'm worried."
         "What are you talking about?" Phil said. "I don't hear a thing."
         Tom listened again, and realized it was now quiet. He knocked on the door.
         "Hey, is somebody in there?"
         A few moments later the door opened.
         "Sorry," Joe said. He was drying his hands on a towel. "But my wife was having a baby."
         The truckers stared at him in disbelief. Joe stepped to the side and pointed at his wife. Tom, Phil, and Hank peered in. They saw Mary, exhausted on the floor, and then, there it was. The something special that Gabriella had talked about. In the laundry room was a baby, wrapped in towels and lying in a laundry basket. The truckers and Joe all came around the basket to look at the baby. He was cooing quietly, eyes staring up at them.
         "What are you going to name him?" Hank asked.
         "Well, I've always liked Joshua," Joe said. "But I think my wife has another idea."
         "He's already been named," Mary replied. "His name is Jeshua."

And He is the Savior of the world.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Tree Acquisition

Before you read this post, you really should read this one. It will help you understand everything much better.

Part of today’s post is really epic, but we have to get through all the back story first. If you are really impatient and just want to get to the adventure part, then scroll through until you find the heading EPIC STORY.

So last Saturday, December 18th, I found out that my parents still hadn’t gotten a tree. I wasn’t surprised, based on the fact that my dad really dislikes putting the effort in to get a tree to the living room. My sister called me, and we did a whole 4-way conference call and had everybody in the family chatting about the situation. Well, except for Travis. But he doesn’t count since he’s a fake brother. My sister said that maybe on Sunday she and Travis could drop a tree off on their way to a Christmas party. But we talked more and Dad said he’d get one somewhere. You know, considering the neighbors right across from my parents have a field full of Christmas trees.

Then Monday rolls around. My mom calls me and tells me that neither Jess and Travis nor I will be sleeping in the spare bed on Christmas Eve. You’d know what a big deal this is if you had read this post. She also informs me that they still don’t have a Christmas tree, and won’t be getting one either.

I’m kind of like “Okay, what’s happening?”

What happened was my parents spent about five hours at the doctor’s/hospital because my dad dropped a giant sheet of metal on his foot at work. And now his left foot is in a cast up to his knee, and he’s on crutches. Thus, he can’t do any heavy lifting.

The reason nobody can sleep in the spare bed is because all that is in that bedroom is the bed frame, since the mattress is still at our old house. And my dad won’t be going to the old house to lift the mattress into his pick up, on account of how he’s playing Tiny Tim on crutches for Christmas this year. He can’t get a tree either, since he’s all incapacitated.

I sort of had a feeling both of these things might happen. I was gonna have to sleep on the floor anyway, so I’m sort of glad Jess and Travis don’t get the bed now anyway. Equality is better. But the tree thing is sad. How can we have Christmas without a tree? What are we going to put the presents under? A twig? Jess and I have each managed to get trees put up in our respective houses, but to spend Christmas Day in a house without a tree? That’s just pathetic.

So Jess calls me Wednesday at eight in the evening. We talk about how we are going to get a tree. We’re both supposed to be at my parent’s house at four on Thursday, because some of our relatives that we never see are going to be there. Only Jess works till four-thirty. She wants to know if we should get a tree tonight and put it in Travis’ pick-up which she will then drive to work and then to our parents. Or should she drive the pick up to work and then I can help her get a tree at four-thirty when she’s done with work? Only then I’ll have to rudely leave the relatives to help her. We also aren’t sure if our parents are planning on reimbursing us for this tree or what. So we conference call them. We have another four-way conversation. I won’t share all the details but a lot went down, including some whining.

Basically, my dad (who claimed he was drug free and not on Vicodin anymore) said that we had two brains and we needed to figure it out. He’d pay ten bucks for a tree, not a cent more. Me and Jess tell them “it’ll be a mystery tomorrow whether or not we arrive with a tree” and hang up. Then Jess calls just me back and says let’s go look for a tree right now, even though it’s 8:42 and totally dark outside. So I put on my boots and wait by my front door for her to pick me up, because we live only two blocks away from each other.

Jess arrives driving Travis’ pick-up. I ask her if she brought a flash light, because how are we going to find a good tree in the dark? She doesn’t have one, and neither do I, so we leave without one.

We’re driving down Lancaster and I’m like “The Church of the Nazarene used to have some trees.” And Jess says she saw a place down State Street. So we head down Lancaster first, and we pull into this practically barren lot. It’s all fenced in and there are two trees sitting there, along with a trailer. The light in the trailer is off and I’m guessing no one is there. We stare at the two trees on the opposite side of the fence. I spy a piece of paper tacked to the post.

“Let’s get out and see if that’s a sign,” I say. We jump out and find that the floppy sign (written on notebook paper with poor penmanship) says Free Trees. Well, it’s perfect, of course. Free is much better than ten bucks. The only problem is that the trees are fenced in. Jess tries to lean over and lift the tree up over the top of the fence, but it’s too heavy.

“We need somebody on the other side,” I say, and stare at her, because I don’t want to be the one who has to do it. “The gate is padlocked but I bet you could just climb over.”

So what does my sister do? She goes to the gate and fits herself through one of the slats. Then she goes to the tree and hoists it by the base and heaves it over the five foot fence. I catch it and drag it over. The truck is still running in the parking lot, it’s completely dark, and right now we’re nabbing a free tree from a fenced in field. I pray that no one thinks were criminals, because the sign fully said free trees. Like someone is going to stand around wasting their time just to sell the last two trees.

I start to drag the tree to the truck, and Jess squeezes herself back through the fence and helps me stuff it into the back of the pick up bed. The whole tree acquisition deal takes about five minutes total. We’re in the truck driving back to my house, and Jess tells me to call Mom and tell her we got a tree. I ask Jess wouldn’t it be better if we just surprised them tomorrow? And then we could tell them in person the whole story of how we nabbed a free tree in the dark from over a fence? So even though we are excited, we decide to wait and share the story the next day.

Jess drops me off at my house but calls me about fifteen minutes later.
“Yes?” I say.
“We could tell Mom and Dad the tree cost us ten bucks.”
I laugh, because she is totally like Dad. Out to make a profit. Our tree was free, but we could each make five bucks if we make Dad pay for it.
“If we do that,” I say “then we couldn’t tell them the true story of how we snagged a free one at night.” We weigh our options and decide that it’s worth five bucks to tell our parents the story about how we saved Christmas and brought them a tree.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Traditions: Waiting for Santa

Your opinion of my grasp on reality may change after reading this story. But I will be honest with you. I believed in Santa Claus until almost age 12. My mother had to break it to me in May of 1998, a good seven months before Christmas. I cried. You see, I’m A Believer. In a sense, I still am. Read about my Santa Claus Theory towards the bottom of the page here.

When I was a kid, I wrote very nice letters to Santa. I would ask about Mrs. Claus and the reindeer, and I would wish them well. I’d ask Saint Nick how his summer had been. I’d write and tell him what kind of cookie I planned on leaving next to the tree. I’d give him three options of gifts I wanted.

Santa wrote me back twice. The postmark said it was mailed from North Pole, Alaska, which is an actual place. I took my letters to Co-op (which is this once a week thing for home school kids so they can learn to be social) to prove to my older sister’s friend that Santa really does exist. She tried to tell me it wasn’t real, but I had proof. That letter in my hand was like the Bible. Written evidence. I bet if I dug around in an old shoe box I have, I could find the letter. Pretty sure I kept it.

So when I was eleven, I sort of started to think maybe there wasn’t a Santa, because my mom would say things like “he exists for those who believe in him.” And I learned early on that all those fake Santas at the mall are actual employees of Kris Kringle who go and listen to the children, because there’s no possible way Santa can be at so many malls in December when he’s got to run things back at his shop.

And okay, maybe I should tell you the whole story. The day of dashed hope was May 12, 1998, because May 12th is my half-birthday. I was exactly 11 and a half years old, and my mom thought this was too old to believe. So she sat me down in this chair and held me and started the whole thing off with “You’re getting older…you’re growing up…blah blah blah….Santa isn’t real.” And then she gave me this tiny green notebook that is attached to a leather cord so you can wear it around your neck. I still have it. It was my consolation prize. Hardly worth it.

Part of the reason I didn’t want to say that I didn’t believe was because then I would stop getting my present from Santa. So you know what my mom did after she burst the news? That year I got my present from my parents and a Santa present. Because I was all “if you hadn’t ruined it for me, I would still believe, and I would still get a present from Santa.” So my mom bought me presents from Santa all the way through college.

But let’s regress back to middle school. That’s when Santa tripped the alarm in our house. My sister and I were snuggled in my bed together. This is back when we each had our own bed at our old house, but as was tradition, we snuggled in together on Christmas Eve. So there we are, sleeping, when we hear this alarm sounding. Of course we both wake up. It’s like 5:36 in the morning. I say “guess Santa’s here.” I’m 13, my sister’s 14, and we creep out of my bed and sneak into the hallway. At our old house, we had a family room and a living room. The dining room separated the two. The tree was always put in the living room because it is the front room of the house, and it has an actual fire place and mantle. My sister and I creep out into the family room, and we peek our heads over the half wall to scan through the dining room and to see what is happening. 

My mom is rushing out of her bedroom in her pajamas, going to punch the alarm code in to make it stop. What happened was, it was a windy night and the power had gone out while we were sleeping, but when it turned back on, this re-set the alarm and made it go off. Since everybody was already awake, we decided to start Christmas morning right then and open presents, though we all took naps around noon.

But me? I’m certain Santa was up our chimney just as mom was punching in that alarm code. He had to leave lickety split because our house wasn’t safe. He does exist.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

He looks like a moron

Karina: All of my boyfriend's Facebook photos make him look like a moron.
Me: Really?
Karina: Yeah, but I swear he's super hot in real life.
Me: Hmmmm.
Karina: In his photos he always has his eyes half closed, or he's wearing some stupid outfit, or his tongue's hanging out.
Me: I don't really know what to say.
Karina: We've been dating for like, 7 months, but three weeks ago he requested to be my boyfriend on Facebook. I ignored it, and I told him I don't like to publicize my relationship status. But really, I just didn't want my friends who don't know him in real life to click on the link and see what a moron he looks like in all his pictures.
Me: But you think he's super hot in person.
Karina: Oh my gosh yes, he's gorgeous. I'm always afraid other girls are out to nab him from me.
Me: Interesting.
Karina: I'm secretly a little bit relieved when girls friend request him on Facebook, because then what they have stuck in their memories are photos of him looking like an idiot. And then I get to keep him all to myself.
Me: I have this feeling you probably shouldn't tell any of this to him.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Traditions: The Meal

One of my fondest Christmas Eve memories is of all the cousins sitting at the card table, choking down the super nasty green pea soup that went cold from sitting in the bowl so long. The green peas were like alien eyeballs, staring up at us from a liquid miasmic mess.

There was one reason and one reason only that we ate that slime: presents. The adults informed us that we could not open gifts until our dinner was eaten. Usually my younger cousins managed to swallow the stuff first, and they would leave me and Jess at the table, begging for more buttered rolls to help with the unpleasantness of the soup.

For about the first 12 years of my life, Christmas Eve was the same. Everybody would come to our house. Aunt Lori, Uncle Jeff, Gracie, and Matthew would drive down from Washington, as would Aunt Brenda, Uncle Ronnie, and cousin Chris. My Papa would come, and my Grandma Terrie. Aunt Bink and Uncle Chris, too. We always had Christmas Eve at my house, and we always had to choke down that disgusting green soup before we could open our presents. After the poison was consumed, we’d get to open up all of our gifts, and Santa would come the next morning bringing our last present.

You’d think with all of the relatives in attendance, my mother would think to make something a little bit more appetizing than pea soup. Like, how about some mashed potatoes and honey ham? Or Shepherd’s pie. Or even pizza. Why couldn’t we eat pizza on Christmas Eve? As a child, I watched as my aunts and uncles relished in consuming their bowl of soup. I didn’t understand it. It was like they were Oliver Twist and they wanted some more. All I knew was that Christmas soup haunted my life, and it stood in between me and American Girl doll clothes.
Here is actual documentation of the torture. Do you see how my cousin Grace looks sort of happy, but I look like a prisoner? Also, do you notice the advent calendar hanging in the background on the closet door? That's the one I wrote about in my last Christmas post.
 After a decade of frosty white Decembers, things changed. More cousins were born, and the location of Christmas Eve and those in attendance changed. Another thing changed as well. My sister and I started to tolerate that soup. We could actually eat it without gagging.

A few more years passed and something more amazing than a miracle on 34th Street happened: we started to love Christmas Soup. We wanted seconds. We wanted leftovers on Christmas Day. My sister and I realized that it wasn’t just pea soup. It had broccoli in it, and chicken, and it was down right scrumptious. Paired with a warm roll, it was heavenly. I ate Christmas Soup until I was 17, because then I became a vegetarian. My mother didn’t bother to make the soup without the chicken, and so I wouldn’t eat it. My first Christmas as an herbivore, I looked longingly at that soup. I remembered it and how much I had both loathed and loved it. I even tried to pull the chicken chunks out so I could eat it. Alas, it was ruined. I can’t bear both to eat it and not to eat it. It’s become an internal moral struggle.

The best part of Christmas Eve dinner is not what I eat, or the presents I get to open up after, it’s the family members I share it with. I am very blessed to have such wonderful aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. I’d eat a cold bowl of green alien eyes just to spend the evening with them.

Check back Wednesday for an exciting post about how Santa set off the alarm one year.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Book Thief

Right now I'm reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I've had it checked out for a while, and I must finish reading it by December 22nd if I don't want to add to my library fines. It's one of those books you have to read slowly because there are so many good sentences on each page to savor. What else can I tell you about it? Well, it was a 2007 Michael Printz honor book, it's narrated by death, and it's set in Nazi Germany. My favorite quote so far is this:

The book thief was without words. 

Trust me though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Traditions: Counting Down

When I was a child, there was only one thing that would motivate me to get out of bed and leave my warm flannel sheets on a cold, frosty December morning: a four inch cloth bear.

If you read my post about the nativity set, which describes how my sister and I would race to find baby Jesus, then it probably won’t come as a surprise to you that we would race to do other Christmas related activities.

When my sister and I were both infantile, my mother sewed up this large hang-over-the door cloth advent calendar. It features a three story house (plus attic) and shows the inside of all the rooms. This house belongs to a family of bears. The title of this advent calendar is “A Beary Merry Christmas.” Beneath the large bear house is a grid of days, which is labeled “Decembear.” On each day, it lists where the bear looked for Christmas. For example, on day one, he might look inside the mailbox. On day two, he looked in the bed room, on day three, he checked behind the clock, etc. The very best part of this calendar is that you get to move one of the bears around and make him look in all these places for Christmas. This is what motivated my sister Jess and me to get our butts out of bed. We would wake up at the crack of dawn so we could race to the living room and move the little bear.

As you may imagine, this created some fights. We shared a bedroom and thus we were highly aware of when the other person woke up. We’d do things like body slam each other, or lock each other in, or slide across the wooden floors in order to get there faster. All in the name of Christmas, of course. What might happen is Jess would get there first and move the little bear to check in the attic or whatever, and then put it on day seven. Then right in front of her eyes, I would rip the bear off and make him check the attic again (just to be sure), and replace him on day seven.

When my mother discovered our antics, she suggested we take turns. Jess would do things like try to trick me into thinking my day was yesterday, and her day was today, even though she had fully moved the bear the day before. She did this because I was littler and quite impressionable. I wised up though, over the years. I remember when I was about nine; Jess and I were deciding who would go first. I nicely told her she could start on day one. This of course meant I had all the even days. The calendar ends on Christmas Eve, which of course is the 24th, and an even number. I had cleverly calculated it out so that I would get to make the little bear find Christmas. My victory was sweet that day, when she realized what had happened. With much satisfaction I moved the bear to the remaining spot. To this day, I am more of a planner than my sister.

Even through high school, we were dedicated to moving that bear along and making him search the house for Christmas. We might have forgotten to do it every day, and he’d have to search four places in a row, but he still did it. When I moved away to college, my mom put up the bear calendar, but of course she forgot to move it. When I got home on Christmas break, it was still stuck on day five. 

Last year the advent calendar moved into my possession. Again, it was one of those things that both my sister and I wanted, so we agreed on joint custody, but Jess said I could have it first. This is my second year with it, and Jess has not yet been over to my house to notice. It’s hanging up on the coat closet door in my living room, and I move the little bear every day.

Today is day 15, and the bear looked in a trunk in the attic.  

Check back Sunday evening for another tradition which involves cousins and torture.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Practical Gift Giving Ideas

In her book I Like You: hospitality under the influence, author and comedian Amy Sedaris devotes a chapter to gift giving. She makes suggestions for what would be best for different types of people.

Like, for a single man, Amy recommends an identification bracelet or socks. For a divorced man who works in an office: The Holy Bible, a paint chip wheel, or frozen chicken thighs. For preteen girls: diary, a book about horses, or colored cotton balls. For a nun: cheese, soap, shower caps, or raisins.

People hate to be saddled with gifts that they can't use. I love to get stuff I actually need. You know, all those essentials that you must have to function but are annoying to buy, since they add up?

So here is the revised practical list I will probably give my family, no joke
1) Soft Lips chapstick (preferred flavor: vanilla)
2) Glide dental floss
3) toothbrush
4) toilet paper
5) Zip Lock sandwich bags
6) 2 cent make-up stamps (quantity required: 7)
7) razor blades
8) shaving cream (preferred scent: raspberry)
9) Warm Vanilla Sugar Bath and Body hand soap
10) Vitamin B
11) Airborne
13) My library fines paid off
14) an interior passenger side door handle for a '98 Toyota Corolla
15) Ibuprofen
16) colored envelopes
17) printer ink
18) a baking sheet because Britt still has mine (since August) and I keep forgetting to get it from her
19) AA batteries
20) Scotch tape

NO CALENDARS! I already have a hot men of Hawaii calendar, compliments of my sister's last vacation-- you know, the one she took with out me.

This is an Amy Sedaris recommended easy craft. You take glue saturated toothpicks, roll them in glitter, and then stab them into a marshmallow. Then you have beautiful winter stars to share with the whole family!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Traditions: The Nativity

Once a year my sister and I would race to find our Lord and Savior. Many people spend their entire lives searching for God, but I always knew where to find him: wrapped in newspaper and nestled in a cardboard two-gallon evaporated milk box.

The nativity set that my family has is very special because it was hand crafted by my great-grandparents. My great-grandpa sawed out and stained the barn, and my great-grandma cast the figurines that are all white, which also sort of have that rainbow oil color over them. There are three camels and wise men, two shepherds, sheep, cows, Mary, Joseph, and of course baby Jesus in his manger. These fragile pieces are wrapped tightly up in newspaper and tissue paper and stored in a cardboard box.

The day that my sister and I got to set up the nativity set was also the day the Lord chose one of us to be his favorite for the year. See, we would race to be the one who got to unwrap baby Jesus. For some reason, we felt really special discovering him all nestled up in that ancient newsprint. We always knew to look for the tiniest bundle. The other figurines about his size were the sheep. Unwrapping the sheep was also a favorite, because they were so cute. My sister and I could care less about finding the shepherds or the cows. Baby Jesus and the sheep were typically tucked into the bottom of the box, so we had to unwrap everything else first.

In December, my mom would take the old cardboard box down from the shelf in the pantry, and she would assemble the three piece barn for us. She would tell us to be very careful with the figurines because she didn’t want them broken. You’d think in our yearly races to find Christ, we would have dropped a camel or a shepherd on its head or something, but my sister and I were both speedy and careful. No piece has ever been injured.

After the initial set up of the set, (which took much discussion as we had to determine the best possible placement), my sister and I would secretly move the pieces around about every other day. I really liked it when there was a sheep on each side of the manger (symmetry, hello). My sister liked it when the two of them were nestled together. I might move the camels so that they were all in a row walking towards the barn, but Jess liked it when the wise men were standing next to their steed. I think my mother had her own opinion and would move them as well.

Another thing we had to do about every year was re-glitter the star, which typically hung rather crookedly over the barn. We tried to keep it gold, but then we ran out of gold glitter and made the star red and green instead. I’m pretty sure it’s been stuck like that for the past 11 years.

During Christmas break my freshman year of college, I set up the nativity alone. It was kind of sad to do without my sister there to race me. Yes, I found Jesus, but it wasn’t quite the same. When Jess and I stopped in mid-December the next year, we were both appalled to discover that my mother had set up the nativity herself. She told us that we had waited too long to visit, and that she wanted to enjoy the set during the whole month. We told her that setting up the nativity was our job, and didn’t she understand the childhood nostalgia we indulged in every year when we unpacked it?
This may look unimportant to you, but it means everything to me.
I have my own nativity scene now, but it is not the same. It’s made out of corn husks and it was given to my mom by her aunt. When my mom was offering it to my sister and I after we moved out, Jess and I both wanted it. We agreed that we would share it joint custody, and we’d take turns every other year. I’ve had it for the past three years, because she’s never remembered to ask for it. Plus, I don’t think she ever will, on account of how she and her husband received a really neat nativity set crafted out of newspapers that someone bought for them at Ten Thousand Villages. The disappointing part about my corn husk nativity is that all the pieces are affixed to the floor of the barn, so you can’t have the joy of rearranging them. Plus, no camels. 

Did you already read Christmas Traditions: The Tree ? Because it was a little bit funny and mostly like "Wow. Your family is cool."

Check back Wednesday for the next family tradition that I will share.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

My Christmas List

In case you have a lot of extra cash lying around and you really like me, here are the things that I wish I had but don't.

1) Amy Sedaris' new book, Simple Times
It's a book of crafts for poor people. If you don't know Amy Sedaris, you should get to know her. She's adorable and funny in a crack-pot sort of way. I have her first book, I Like You: hospitality under the influence, on my bookshelf. I haven't gotten my hands on Simple Times yet, but this is the table of contents:
1. Coconuts
2. Fake Candle Making
3. The Joy of Poverty
4. Handicraftable
5. Safety Meetin’
6. Crafting for the Dead, and Other Celebrations
7.  Confectioneries
8. Sick Room
9. Crafting for Jesus
10. Hay Burners
11. Making Love
12. Sausages
13. Teenager Crafts, or Teenagers Have a lot of Pain
14. Unreturnable Homemade Gift Giving
15. Knowing Your Knack for Knick-Knacks

2) This phone. Oh my goodness how I adore it. It's listed under Vintage phones on right now.

3) These mustaches. They're from Fred Flare. I could really use them in my disguise box, which I keep in my car at all times.

4) This library kit, also from Fred Flare. I really miss how librarians used to stamp the due date in the back of your book.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Another Good Detective Story

          “Good detective work is of the utmost importance,” I say to my receptionist as she is typing away at her desk. “The most important thing is to be aware of all the clues around you. Like eggs hidden for an Easter egg hunt, they are waiting to be gathered. You’ve just got to look in the right spot.”
            “But how do you know where to look?” Ginger asks me.
            “First off, you have to be aware of what normal looks like. Like, does Mr. Smith always leave work at 5:10pm? When you are driving to school in the morning, do you always pass the armored truck driving south on Hwy 22? Is young Alexanders’s profile picture typically of him wearing a mustache?”
            Alex, or young Alexander as I referred to him, is Ginger’s crush.
            “You must be aware of what is routine, what is normal, what is regular, and then you must notice when it changes. Only when you figure out that something is different can you start to determine the cause. Most of the time, it’s very logical.”
            Ginger nods at me.
            “But darling, we must get to work. That’s how any detective improves. By doing. Any new e-mails today?”

But first, before the e-mails, a profile on Ginger:
            A college freshman, she works for me part-time three days a week. I was reluctant to hire her on account of how her name makes it sound like she’s a stripper, but I figured if that were at all true, I should save her from a future of poles and nightly one-dollar bills, and I ought take her under my wing. Besides, Ginger is completely unlike her name. For one, she has black hair. Ginger is secretly in love with Alex McCall, who also attends the nearby university. I often catch Ginger reading his Facebook profile instead of doing the internet research I ask. Even still, she is a pretty adept receptionist. 
Ginger likes to read these books for inspiration.
            Ginger scans through the in-box and pulls up an envelope of interest. “Here is one. A woman named Amanda Harper is concerned that her husband might be cheating on her. He’s been staying at work late and taking a lot of business trips.”
            I sigh. That’s the problem with having a woman-run detective agency. Other women are always coming to you, asking for advice like you are host Joey Greco from the cable show Cheaters. I rarely get work like robbery or missing persons.
            “Anything else?” I ask.
            “Yes. A message from Mr. Elijah Storm of Storm Enterprises. It’s rather insulting, but a request just the same.”
            “Well, what does it say?”
            “Miss Rossen, I have been informed that your detective agency is small and inefficient, and that…” Ginger pauses and I watch her face turn an angry shade of radish red.
“And that what, Ginger? Just say it.”
“and that your receptionist used to give lap dances to high school teachers, but you have the only detective agency in town so I guess you’ll have to do. I’m afraid that someone in my company may be leaking information to foreign companies, and I need to find out who the culprit is and what kind of damage they’ve caused. I don’t want anyone to know that I am investigating, so don’t call me. I’ll call you. Don’t e-mail me at work, either.

Mr. Elijah Storm

            Ginger looks at me like she’s about to cry. She’s a straight A student, and I know lap dances have nothing to do with it.
            “The nerve of that asshole!” I say. “To insult me and my receptionist, and to expect me to do detective work for him? I have half a mind to e-mail everyone in his company and to tell them to watch out, because he’s about to spy on them.”
            “So what’s our first order of business, Miss Rossen?” Ginger is always trying to get the ball rolling.
            “E-mail Mrs. Harper back. Make an appointment for her to come in tomorrow for an interview, so we can start the preliminary work for her concerns. Then do some research on this Elijah Storm fellow. I want a full profile on him before he calls. Ginger, I’m talking everything. I want college news articles, names and ages of relatives, property records. I want to know how many bathrooms this pretentious fool has in his house. Everything.”
            I’m already starting to pull costumes out of the disguise closet.
            “And what are you going to do?” Ginger asks, confused.
            “Me? I’m going to pay a secret little visit to Storm Enterprises. Mr. Storm doesn’t want to see me there, and he won’t.”
            “Wait. You are going to spy on the client? What good will that do?”
            “Ginger, in order to get an accurate picture, you’ve got to observe everything. Even the things that don’t seem important.”
            What I do next is pull on my favorite short blond wig, the one I call “The Soccer Player’s Wife.” Then I change my make up and clothes. I grab my notebook and video camera and I’m nearly out the door.
“And Ginger?”
“No checking Alex’s Facebook page while I’m gone.”
“Yes, Ma’am.”

Once I’m in the car, I punch Storm Enterprises into my GPS. During stop lights, I Google the company so that I know what sort of cover I should have when I arrive. The business is located on the West side of town, and since I have to cross the bridge, it takes me a while to get there. Plus, I’ve got to stop at the cake shop on my way.
I pull into the parking lot and park on the far side of the building. I tie on the apron I bought at the cake shop, apply some lip gloss, and stack the four white boxes of cupcakes in my arms. Storm Enterprises specializes in nanotechnology, and today they are having a launch party for one of their new designs. It’s catered. Or at least, I hope it is.
I walk straight into the front entrance, and I see a receptionist. I figured they wouldn’t let just anybody walk wherever they wanted.
“Hello, I’m with the rest of the caterers. For the launch party? Can you tell me which room to set up in?” I smile and all of the expensive orthodontic work my parents paid for shows.
The receptionist is female, dressed in a plaid shirt, and looks really annoyed, like maybe I’m interrupting her Facebook Farmville time.
“Room 207. That’s on the second floor.”
And here I thought it might be in the basement.
“Thank you,” I say, and hurry towards the elevator. But what I do when the receptionist isn’t looking is I ditch the elevator and take the stairs. I fully plan on exploring. The annoying part is I have to carry all these cupcakes around with me in case I get caught.
During my self-guided tour, I mostly take note of whose office is whose, and what sort of things are on the walls, and what people are wearing. When I get to room 215 I find what I’ve been looking for: Elijah Storm’s personal office. There’s a tiny side panel window so I casually walk by and peek to see if anyone’s inside. The light is off. What I do is try the door handle but of course it’s locked. So then I scan down the hallway to see if anybody is coming. I set down the boxes of pastries and sort of squish my face up against the glass so I can see as much of his office as I can.
As you might expect from a man named Storm, most of his office is gray. Gray leather chairs, gray marble desk, gray carpet. I hear a bit of talking, so I quickly pick up the boxes and turn in the other direction.
Two young men spot me. “Hey, are those for the party?” the one in the brown suit asks, clearly interested in butter cream frosting.
“Yes,” I reply.
“You can bring them down here. Room 207.” 
Sometimes cupcakes can actually make a really good cover.
I follow the men into a spacious conference room. I see there is a table of food already set up. I take my cupcakes to one of the corners. A tall man in a gray suit is bent over, filling his plate with capers. As I set down the cupcakes, I accidentally brush his arm. He turns and looks at me, eyes a sparkly shade of gray-blue. I try not to stare at his beauty.
He smiles and says…

But first, before the dialogue, a profile on Elijah Storm:
            Six-foot-two, blond hair. You already know about the eyes. 29 years old. Started his own business at age 19. Mother: Charisse T. Storm, age 56. Father: Jackson E. Storm, age 58. Sister: Elisa M. Knottage, age 31. Hometown: Irmo, South Carolina. Attended Syracuse University 2000-2004. Ran track. Property records indicate a 2 story house on East Marius Street. 4 bedrooms, 3 baths. No wife.

All of this was in the text message Ginger had sent me shortly before I entered the Storm Enterprises office building.

Mr. Elijah Storm smiles at me and says, “You’re a bit late, aren’t you?”
“I encountered a bit of a delay. My apologies.”
“Ah, don’t worry about it. If you had been early, I’m afraid I wouldn’t have met you. I’m Elijah.” He sticks out his hand and expects me to touch it.
“Emily,” I improvise. Then I smile awkwardly as I shake his hand. It’s warm and strong and distracting. I pull out of his grip.
            “So which one of these is best?” Mr. Storm asks as he scans the cupcakes.
            “I always fall for the almond frosting myself.”
            “Almond it is then.” He places a cupcake on his plate. “Are you sticking around for the presentation?”
            I’ve got a feeling he doesn’t ask most caterers this question.
            “I’m afraid I’ve got other deliveries to make.”
            “That’s a shame.” He winks at me. “Maybe next time.”
            Even though it’s just a wink, I can’t help but feel something’s been stolen from me. Like a piece of dignity. Also, I’m feeling rather confused. Elijah Storm sends me an e-mail with a rude introduction, but then he is quite congenial about the fact that his cupcakes arrived late? And okay, he didn’t actually order any cupcakes, and he didn’t realize that his cupcake deliverer is also his detective, but still.
            “Have a great party,” I say, and I make a dash for the exit. But I don’t exactly leave yet. I spy on Elijah Storm through one of the tiny windows for a while.

            “Did you get my text?” Ginger asks when I get back to the office, which is actually just the spare bedroom of my house.
            “Yes, thank you, Ginger.”
            “I’ve got more information. I’ve printed it all up and put it in a file.” She hands me a manila folder with E. Storm labeled on the tab.
            I browse through it quickly, with intentions of looking at it more thoroughly this evening.
            “Did you find anything interesting?”
            “Nothing conclusive, but it was worthwhile. Oh, and I brought you back a cupcake.” I drop a little box on her desk. “You’ve just got fifteen minutes left on the clock. Why don’t you go home early. Maybe Facebook chat with that boy you like so much.”
            “Thanks, Miss Rossen.”
            “And Ginger?”
            “Yes, you can call me Joelle, really. I’m not a teacher anymore.”
            “Yes ma’am…er, Joelle. See ya tomorrow.”
            What I do after Ginger leaves is I get on the computer and search Facebook myself, for one Elijah Storm.
            “Damn!” I say to myself, after my search yields nothing but an African-American man named Elijah Storm who went to Bible college, lives in California, and works for EMI Music Publishing. I log off, tilt my chair back, and begin to read through the file Ginger composed for me.

            The next day I meet Mrs. Harper in the office at one o’clock, and she tells me all of the information I ask for. I have Ginger sit in with me so she can watch and learn. Really, I want her to start taking over all the infidelity cases I get, because I find them all so boring. Just when Mrs. Harper is inviting me over to search her house for clues among her husband’s things, the phone rings.
            Ginger answers it. A moment later she says, “Um, Miss Rossen? I think maybe you ought to take this? Mr. Storm calling.”
            I try to hide my sour face from Mrs. Harper. “Excuse me, just a minute, will you? Ginger will continue with your concerns.”
            I leave the office (okay, spare bedroom), and pick up the line in the kitchen while Ginger dialogues with Mrs. Harper about her husband’s routine trips to the racquetball club.
            “Hello, this is Detective Rossen speaking,” I say in my most businesslike voice.
            “Ah, Miss Rossen. Elijah Storm here. I hope you were expecting my call.”
            “Indeed I was, sir.”
            “So what sort of preliminary steps need to be taken? Shall I come in?”
            “Actually, Mr. Storm, I assure you some preliminary steps have already been taken.” I sort of laugh to myself a bit at the joke only I understand. “Mr. Storm, I have a question for you though.”
            “What’s that?”
            Why are you such an asshole? But what I say is “Why does someone who runs a nanotechnology company need my help solving this case? Surely you have some sort of minuscule camera or tracking system you could slip into the drinking water of all your employees or something.”
            Elijah Storm feigns a laugh. “Fair enough question, detective. Of course I’ve taken preventative measures…Do you want to take the job or not?”
            “To be honest with you, your initial e-mail contained both insults and poor punctuation. I’m not entirely sure that you are a man I would like to assist.”
            “Whatever your going rate is, I’ll triple it,” Mr. Storm says. This sentence sounds a bit illicit, but I understand his meaning. Money has a way of apologizing. And I do need to pay for this year’s Christmas presents.
            “Fine then, Mr. Storm. Can you come to my office today?”
            “No, I’m busy. But you may come to Storm Enterprises today. 3:15.”
            I know, right? He’s the one who was just pushing to get into my office. “I normally charge extra for meeting clients outside of my office. And besides, I thought you didn’t want anyone in your company to know that you were in the process of investigating?”
            “Damn. You’re right. Well listen, is $100 enough to make an outside visit? And do you speak Swedish at all?”
            “Um. Yes to the money, no to the language.”
            “I’ve got a massage scheduled for later in the afternoon. Just tell the receptionist that you’re there to assist Ingrid. Dress like a masseuse.”
            I’m about to protest, but I realize the line’s gone dead. On one hand, Elijah Storm is turning more and more into an elephant sized ass, on the other hand, this is probably the most interesting case I’ll get in a long time. If I don’t go to Storm Enterprises today, I’ll have to be the one to spy on Mr. Harper at the racquetball club. If I go see Mr. Storm, then I can delegate the Cheaters episode to Ginger, and she can get some quality practice in reconnaissance.
            I go back to the office where Ginger is just finishing up the details with Mrs. Harper. I assure Mrs. Harper that we will have accurate results on her case in a matter of days, and to try to relax in the meantime. After she leaves, I say to Ginger, “I’ve got to go meet our jerk client. I need you to go to Mr. Harper’s work and follow him to the racquetball club, if indeed that is where he goes. Watch everything. Who he nods to, who he talks to, who his playing partner is. Pull on something athletic from the disguise closet. No 80s sweat bands or off-the-shoulder sweatshirts. This isn’t Flashdance.”
            “Yes, Ma’am.”
            “And Ginger? No stopping by the coffee house to visit Alex during his shift.”
            “Of course.”
            I check the clock and see that I have a bit of time before I need to leave for Storm Enterprises. So what I do is a bit of thumbing through the file on E. Storm. I get on-line and look up some local elementary schools, check a few names, and make a call.
            “Hello, this is Angela at Storm Enterprises, how may I direct your call?”
            “Hello,” I lie, “this is Mrs. Pearson from Wayside Elementary calling for Tiffany Roberts.”
            “I’m afraid that Mrs. Roberts is with our company’s president at the moment. Could I take a message?”
            “Yes. Tell her that Jackie needs to be picked up from school right away. This message is really of the utmost urgency.”
            After I hang up, I go to the disguise closet and dress in a black pencil skirt and black top. I put on a pair of stilettos and find the smartest pair of glasses I have.
           I arrive at Storm Enterprises at 3:11, walk up to the receptionist (Angela) and say, “I’m here to assist Mr. Storm. He called me in as his regular personal assistant had to leave early.”
            Angela eyes me up and down. She clearly doesn’t remember me as the blond cupcake caterer from yesterday. “What’s your name?”
            “Joelle Rossen. He’s expecting me.”
            I watch as Angela lifts the receiver and dials Mr. Storms’ office. “I have a Joelle Rossen here to see you, sir. Uh huh. Yes. Okay.”
            “His office is room 215. That’s on—”
            “Yes, the second floor, I know. Thank you.”
I actually take the elevator this time and head straight to Elijah Storms’ office. When I get there I see through the side window that the lights are dimmed. I tap on the door.
            “Come in,” yells a muffled voice.
            Once I enter, I am utterly horrified.
            Towards the back of the office is a wheelie bed, like the kind the doctors on Grey’s Anatomy use to push ER patients around on. There is a blond woman dressed in white, and she is hammering on the back of a mostly naked man. I mean, he hasn’t got his shirt on. And okay, there is a towel over his bum, but still. Mr. Storm’s face is sunken into one of those face cradle things. Ocean beach sounds are playing softly in the background, and I can smell the scent of lavender oil.
            “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
            “Miss Rossen, is that you?” Mr. Storm asks, on account of how he can’t see anything but the floor.
            “Yes. But I thought you said you were free at 3:15.”
            “My apologies. Ingrid arrived early today. But I can multi-task. Have a seat there, and we can chat while I’m getting my knots worked out.”
            “Ummm,” I say uncertainly. “Are you sure these matters should be discussed right now? With your masseuse present?”
            “Ah, don’t worry about it. Ingrid only knows Swedish. And my sister Elisa lived with her during her study abroad trip to Sweden. Ingrid’s practically another sister.”
            I’m still really hesitant about the whole thing, but I decide to stay. I mean, I am getting paid extra for this horrific experience. As a security test I say, “So, Ingrid. Do you buy all your furniture at Ikea?”
            The blond woman looks at me, shakes her head, and says, “Jag förstår inte engelska.”
            “So Mr. Storm, where shall we start?” I say to the back of his head.
            “Before we even start, maybe you could help me with one other thing. My PA seems to have gone missing. I haven’t seen her since two o’clock. And I’ve got a lot of work for her to do.”
            “Mr. Storm, your personal assistant, Tiffany, had to go pick up her daughter at school, due to a suspected lice outbreak. I told your receptionist that I’m here as your PA for the rest of the day.”
            “I thought I told you to come as an assistant to my masseuse?”
            “Yeah, well, my blond wig was dirty. And frankly, sir, I’ve thought this through more than you. In order to solve this case, I’m going to need to be here daily, so I can watch everything. I’m going to need access to everything. That’s why you’ve hired me as your second personal assistant. No one will be suspicious.”
            “What? You can’t be my PA. You won’t be any good. I need Tiffany back.”
            “It’s a guise, sir. Tiffany will be back tomorrow.” Plus, I would make an excellent personal assistant. But I don’t say that.
            “Oh. Alright then. As long as I don’t have to pay you for being both a detective and a personal assistant.”
            “I wouldn’t dream of it.” I take my notebook out and settle into the chair I’m sitting in, which is opposite my client’s massage table. “So, Mr. Storm, tell me about any suspects you have, any odd things that have happened lately.”
            I listen to him give me the scoop on the inside doings. But let’s just be honest, if this were ice cream, this scoop would make a child sized cone. The man seems oblivious to everything. As Elijah Storm continues to talk, I get distracted because Ingrid’s just poured a huge glob of oil onto his back, and she’s working it all around his muscles, which are quite toned. His body glistens, and I start to laugh to myself about what would happen if he got put into a giant frying pan right now.
            At 4:10, Ingrid, who’s actually been touching the guy the whole time, says “Gjort.” I take this to mean she’s finished. Mr. Storm lifts himself off of the table and I see his face for the first time. Second time, actually. His face has this really great U-shaped indent on it, thanks to the cradle. He’s also got some extra wrinkles formed that weren’t there yesterday. But you think that’s distracting? Try looking at his abs. I try to shield my virgin eyes, but what I notice are all the masculine muscles he’s got stored there. In fact, I think he’s trying to flex right now. Pretentious fool.
            Mr. Storm makes sure the towel or sheet or whatever is wrapped securely around his waist before standing up. Then he turns to Ingrid, shakes her hand, and says “Tack. Skicka mig en räkning som vanligt.”
            Ingrid’s wheeling her massage bed out the door, but then she turns to me and says “Kommer,” with a motioning hand.
            “Oh, yeah, right. Sorry.” I follow her out and wait in the hallway.

But first, before the masseuse leaves, a profile on Ingrid:
            Blond, as you know. Tan, of course. Very Swedish. After a messy divorce with her husband, she moved to America eight months ago at the suggestion of Elisa Storm. She is struggling financially but is very intelligent, as she was a chemical engineer in Sweden. The language barrier is preventing her from finding a good paying job. This is surprising considering 89% of Swedes know English. What’s her excuse? Ingrid comes weekly to Mr. Storm’s office, and she attends ESL classes through the YWCA.

After about seven minutes Mr. Storm opens his office door, this time fully clothed.
            “Elijah Storm. Nice to finally meet you.”
            I stick my hand out and shake his. He’s still got the horseshoe indents on his forehead.

            The next day is the day Ginger has off, so I go through the file on Mr. Harper to see what she’s found. I pop by the Harper’s house in the early morning (Mr. Harper is gone of course) to poke my nose around for some clues. Then I get to Storm Enterprises by nine o’clock, dressed as a personal assistant, wearing my disguise glasses.
            The morning is pretty much a bore as I follow both Elijah Storm and Tiffany around to meetings. But the good thing is, is that during the all-staff meeting, I get to take detailed notes on everybody in the room, even though they all think I’m taking minutes. I see this really hot guy who works in Graphics, but I try not to get distracted. You know, even though he’s the only one in the room wearing jeans and a black utility jacket, with a band tee underneath. I guess if you work in the art department you can get away with those kinds of things.
            I go to Storm Enterprises every day for the next few days, which brings us to Thursday. While I don’t have a glaring list of suspects, I do have an accurate picture of the information leak. I’ve collected data on which foreign companies have stolen nanotechnology designs from Storm Enterprises, and I have the suspected time span of the leaks. The problem is, no one in the company has so much as Googled any of the companies who stole information. No one took business trips or vacations to the area of interest, and I’ve tapped everyone’s phone calls.
            To be honest, I’m sort of suspecting Ingrid. I know she went through a bad divorce and moved continents, but she has the perfect opportunity. I mean, she comes into Elijah’s office weekly. They talk in Swedish to each other for an hour. I bet he tells her all sorts of things about the company. I went to get a massage once, and the masseuse practically wanted me to share my entire life story with her. Besides, if Elijah was so willing to discuss the investigation in front of Ingrid, how many other times has she been privy to secret meetings? I bet she hears everything. And that whole no speaking English thing is probably a ruse. I don’t have any conclusive evidence on her, but she is definitely a person of interest. 
 Later, when I’m at home cooking dinner, Ginger calls.
“Miss Rossen, I have an update for you.”
“What’s that?”
“I’m at the gym right now, tailing Mr. Harper, you know?”
“Yeah, okay.”
“And he plays with this guy named Sam Porras on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and with a man named to Tyler White on Mondays and Saturdays.”
“I know all of this, Ginger. You wrote it up and put it in Mr. Harper’s file.”
“But today is Thursday, and Mr. Harper is not playing with Sam Porras.”
I understand that Ginger is excited that she knew the normal, regular, routine, and that she noticed a change, but really? Unless Mr. Harper started playing tennis with Anna Kournikova, does it really matter?
“So who is Mr. Harper playing instead today? Is it someone you’ve seen before?”
“You’ll never believe this. He’s playing racquetball right now with Elijah Storm.”
I about choke to death on my own spit.
“What do you mean Mr. Harper’s racquetball partner is Elijah Storm?”
“What I mean is right now they are at the gym, wearing protective eyewear and Nike spandex. It’s Elijah Storm. I’m 100% sure.”
            I think to myself, what does this mean? Because what are the chances that the two people I am doing cases for are connected somehow? Unless a mutual friend recommended me to both of them? Elijah never mentioned to me Mr. Harper as his friend or acquaintance. And Mrs. Harper hadn’t said anything about Elijah Storm.
            “Video tape them,” I tell Ginger, because I’m going to want to watch their interaction later if I don’t get there in time. I mean, are they friends or what? “I’m on my way.” My plan is to get there in time so that when the two men are done playing racquetball, Ginger can follow Mr. Harper and I can follow Elijah Storm to wherever he goes next. The plan seems a bit stalker-esque, I know, because most of the time I don’t spy on my own clients. It’s just such a strange coincidence that they know each other.
            When I get to the gym, I find Ginger video taping from the second floor balcony, which sort of looks down on the racquetball courts. Mr. Storm and Mr. Harper both have no idea they’re being watched.
            “Anything interesting?” I ask when I arrive.
            “Mr. Storm is leading by seven points.”
            We watch the two men for a bit, and it’s honestly kind of an eye sore, what with all that spandex. It doesn’t really matter that Elijah is super-fit, nobody wants to see all of that. Once the men head to the locker room, Ginger and I make our exit out of the gym ahead of time and get in our cars, ready to tail them. My receptionist and I are both connected with our Blue Tooths (er, Blue Teeth?) so that we can communicate what we see each man doing.
            After we narrate to each other the twists and turns of our respective trails, Ginger informs me that Mr. Harper has arrived at his residence, and she can see him through the kitchen window, where he is greeting his wife (in a pool of sweat, no doubt). Ginger tells me she has an Anthropology final exam to study for, and can she please go home? I tell her good work, good luck, and see you tomorrow after your test. I continue to follow Mr. Storm, and after his stop at the dry cleaners, he goes home as well. I watch as he pulls his Lincoln into his three car garage and shuts the door. I wait about twelve minutes, then get out of my car, walk up to his doorbell, and push the button. I’m a tiny shred nervous, as I have never revealed to anyone that I have followed them home.
            I hear foot steps padding down the hall, the door opens, and there is Mr. Elijah Storm, hair wet and wearing nothing but a towel around his waist. And here I thought he showered in the locker room. “Detective Rossen,” he says, a bit too pleasantly. I force my way into the foyer.
            “Mr. Storm, we need to talk,” I demand. I eye his glistening water dotted chest and add “after you put on your jammies.” 
            Once he has returned wearing a white Hanes t-shirt and grey sweatpants, I start to grill him like a George Foreman.
            “Tell me the nature of your relationship with Mr. Lucas Harper.”
            Mr. Storm looks at me really surprised, more surprised than having your private detective show up on your doorstep at 8pm when you are wearing nothing but terry cloth. He’s surprised like maybe I’m expecting that he tell me he is actually gay, and that Lucas Harper is his secret lover.
            “How do you know about Luke?” he asks.
            “I know everything, Mr. Storm. Over the past few days I have learned everything about your company, and in turn, everything about you. Now, please tell me about Luke Harper.”
            “He’s a buddy of mine. We play racquetball together sometimes, have drinks at the bar occasionally…”
            “How long have you known him?”
            “About a year.”
            “Where did you meet?”
            “On an airplane. He was sitting next to me. We were both flying back from a business trip in Japan. I found out he worked in the same city as me. In computer engineering.”
            “Has Mr. Harper ever been to the office building of Storm Enterprises?”
            “Oh yeah, all the time. We talk about work a lot. Usually I invite him to our launch parties. He’s a good person to bounce ideas off of, and he has good connections.”
            I ask the next question just to make him uncomfortable, even though I know the answer.
            “Are you and Mr. Harper romantically involved?”
            “What? No, or course not. I like women…I slept with one last week.”
            He didn’t really need to mention the last part. First of all, I already knew. Her name is Claudia and she sent him a really sappy e-mail that I deleted the day I was his personal assistant. I didn’t think he needed that kind of emotional wreck in his life. I mean, if it weren’t an e-mail, I’m sure she would have dotted her “i”s with hearts. More importantly, she was only 19. I checked.
            “Joelle, why are you asking me all of these questions about Luke Harper?”
            “Because, Mr. Storm, you are a moron.”
            “Excuse me?” An angry look starts to form across all of his beautiful, undeserved features.
            “I don’t normally tell clients about work I’m doing with other clients, but I have been investigating Mr. Harper for another matter. In the past two months, he has made many business trips to both Tokyo and London. He works in computer engineering. You’ve had him to your office many times and he’s chummy with you. Think about it, Mr. Storm. He’s probably the one leaking all of your new developments.” I pull out the two files I had grabbed from the office earlier, the ones marked L. Harper and E. Storm. “All of the details you gave me coincide with the information I’ve gathered on Mr. Harper. You said that on September 18th, a company in Tokyo came out with a new technological design exactly like yours. Only they beat your deadline so everyone thinks they are the developers. Three weeks before that, Mr. Harper took a business trip to Tokyo.” I scan through the file. “He met with that exact same Japanese business.”
            Somehow, I was able to piece all of this together during the 12 minutes I sat outside in the driveway of Mr. Storm’s house. In fact, I’m surprised I hadn’t made the connections earlier. Mr. Harper had covered his tracks well. I had no idea about the many visits he had made to Storm Enterprises, or about his close relationship with its president.
            “Are you completely sure?” Mr. Storm asks me.
            “I can do more verifying tomorrow, sir, but you can see here that all the dates line up. Same company in Tokyo, same company in London. He’s probably making a pretty penny off of the deal he has going.”
            Elijah Storm’s face starts to turn blue. “The nerve of that asshole! I trusted that bastard! I considered him a friend, and here, all that time when we were bouncing ideas off of each other, he was just stealing mine. I’m gonna sue that effing prick for all he’s worth. I’m gonna have him arrested for this!”
            For the very first time, I actually start to feel bad for Elijah Storm, despite his potty mouth. I mean, this whole time I’ve basically thought him a handsome moronic jerk, but it hurts my heart a tiny bit that he has such a double-crossing friend. And okay, Elijah shouldn’t have been such a moron in the first place, but still.
            “I’m sorry, Elijah. But sometimes friends are really just out to make a buck off of you.”

            The next morning I don’t dress up as a PA or go into the Storm Enterprises office building. Instead, what I do is write up a detailed invoice stating all of the charges this case is costing and fax it to Elijah. But on the bottom of the invoice I write in cursive “Cheer up, pal, at least you can take him to court with this evidence.”
            Then I call Mrs. Harper and ask her to come in to my office. After that I text Ginger, who is at the university taking her Anthropology final.
     How would you like to go from receptionist to assistant detective? You’ve earned it.
            She responds immediately.
            Wow! Like I can be Watson now?
            I send my reply then do a bit of housework until Mrs. Harper arrives. When she shows up at the door, I have a cup of tea and a cupcake waiting for her, even though it’s only ten-thirty a.m. We settle into my office so I can give her the news.
            “Mrs. Harper, I’m pleased to inform you that I’ve finished working on your case.”
            She looks a bit nervous, but inches forward on the edge of her chair.
            “Yes? What of Lucas? Is he two-timing me with that girl from his office?”
“No, Mrs. Harper, I’ve got good news for you. Your husband is not cheating on you. But he may be doing some jail time soon.”

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