28 December 2009

Closer creeping

December 23....can't remember giving anyone anything.

December 24 (which, incidentally, is my birthday) I gave solid lotions to my relatives on my mom's side of the family. Gave a BIG hug to one of my favorite cousins, who I had not seen in more than a year.

December 25 gave presents to my MIL and FIL. As much as I would like to rant about various things that happened on 12/25, I'm giving you all the gift of not ranting. (Or at least not much. Not today.)

December 26 gave one unlucky soul a copy of The Catholic's Guide to Marriage at a Yankee Swap; much amusement was shared.

December 27 I met up with an old, old friend and bought her a coffee...but more valuable was the time we spent together.

December 28...as noted above, I am gifting teh interweb publics by not ranting and raving about people being more than an hour late to a dinner which they had set the time for and then not apologizing for being late and complaining that the food was not at an optimum temperature ....breathe.....breathe....

I am also finally giving my niece & nephew their Christmas presents, an event much delayed due to further idiocy that I won't be telling y'all stories about any time soon.....

Stay tuned for more entertainment and holiday cheer!

22 December 2009

On not quite getting there...horseshoes & hand grenades.

A-yup. I didn't quite succeed with NaBloPoMo this time around. Dropped the ball 'round about December 17th (6-ish days ago) and didn't pick it back up.

Let's see if I can stretch my memory back that far for the mitzvahs as they happened.

Dec 17; had a hair appointment - gave my hairdresser and my friend who does my nails solid lotions.

Dec 18th; ummm....took the day off. Went shopping. Gave various and sundry merchants money. Does that count? Not exactly. This was a special shopping expedition, not someplace I usually go, but it was a planned one.

Dec 19th; cleaned my house, did laundry. Oooo, here's one; baked cookies for Joe the magic massotherapist, my hairdresser & manicurist friend.

Dec 20th; baked cookies with my niece & nephew. This counts because I know that what I'm giving them by doing this every year is fond memories and good times. (Plus the occasional bellyache...I let them eat as much cookie dough as they want to!)

Dec 21; staff holiday party. Gave the big boss a bottle of Cherry Heering, a delightful and Danish liqueur.

Dec 22; holiday party for a professional networking group I belong to. Something I am not looking forward to, quite honestly. While the group as a whole is not enjoyable, there are members of the group I like quite well, and I'll end up buying a round of drinks.

So indeed, I've managed to mostly keep up the spirit of the mitzvah even whilst not managing to write about it daily. I do like this idea quite a lot, that one ought to give something to someone every day.

16 December 2009

The true test

I don't know which wise sage said it; but it is true nonetheless. "A person who is nice to you, but is not nice to the waiter, is not a nice person."

I'm skirting a boundary that I don't like to cross here, carefully. And while I'm writing about someone I know now, it applies to any past or future acquaintances, folks who make civilized life possible for the rest of us, as Mike Rowe says so cutely.

I got stopped in the hallway the other day, and the person who stopped me asked where I'd gotten the 'lip balm' I gave to someone I encounter every workday. "Which one?" I asked, confused. "The red and white one, or the one that I made?"

"You made that?" my stopper asked me. "Really?"

"Not the red & white one," I said, "but the one with the label that won't stay put, those I made. The red & white ones are on my desk; the ones I made are in the car. Which one do you want?"

They were asking me about either a lip balm I'd been given by a visiting sales rep or the solid lotion I make; to the uninformed, as I've said, the solid lotion looks like lip balm.

This isn't someone I work with, this is someone who works at "menial" tasks in the building where I work. Last year, I made sure that everyone who works on that crew got the same holiday presents as some of my junior staff members. Just because they aren't technically part of my co-workers, that doesn't mean that I should ignore them.

So today I handed over both the stuff the sales rep gave me (that I really didn't want in the first place, and thus, to me, does not qualify as a mitzvah) and some of my own solid lotion to a few folks who didn't expect to get it, and I did it happily, joyfully.

Spreading some fun and usefulness qualifies, yes? Yes. Indeed.

15 December 2009

And one for me

So today's mitzvah isn't one I've given; it is one I've got.

I have some geeky friends (and you know who you are!) and we all enjoy a few BBC programs. DH was exposed to Top Gear last winter, and was as entertained as I've ever seen him by the episode where they try driving across an African desert...

But sadly, our cable system doesn't offer BBC America on its basic tier. I know everyone bitches about their cable system, and I'm not really all that different. Expensive, pain in the rear, "necessity". It could be worse, I know. The cable system at my parent's summertime Ohio res is abysmal, and I'm glad it isn't the cable system I deal with.

As an aside; when the bloody hell (to use a proper Brit expression) are the cable companies going to get a clue and offer ala carte cable? Why on earth can you not simply select the channels you want, leave the rest? I'd never have any of the shopping channels, I'd ax a ton of stuff that I never watch; why have 455 channels when you only watch a fraction of them? National Geographic, Discovery, TLC, the Food channel, all of the music channels (naturally), History, History International, BBC, what I consider "the good stuff". What you consider "the good stuff" could be a polar opposite, but wouldn't it be nice just to pick what you would watch?

Anyway, after listening to me kvetch about having to either Netflix or beg someone who does have BBC to be able to watch Top Gear, (among other fun stuff, like, oh, DR. WHO) DH paid a visit to the cable offices and changed our subscriptions. We now have BBC, along with a whole host of other new HD channels. Too cool.

Now, if I could just figure out how to work that remote....

14 December 2009

Knit Knight & new friends

Small mitzvah for 12/14/09:

passed out solid lotion to everyone @ my knitting group. Usually that group is around a dozen; not this time, there were more people there than I've ever seen before.

Unexpected, for the people who don't know me; welcome from those who do.

13 December 2009

Take the weather with you.

I'm all out of cute ideas, happy giving to strangers, finding serendipitous little things along the way. Today was a miserable day, in fact, it was a miserable weekend, complete with an irate "discussion" over the washing machine. Great.

The thing that I hate about Ohio when the temperature is cold is the grey, overcast skies, and the accompanying icy rain, which we had in spades. If it is going to be cold, it might as well snow, right? Freezing rain is the most miserable weather condition on earth, I'm convinced.

So after all that gnälling and grousing, where's today's mitzvah?

Much earlier this year, I got the idea in my head to make Limoncello. This Italian liqueur is intensely lemony, and until recently, it wasn't easy to find commercially made. If you were to raid the freezers of Italian bubbas along the Amalfi coast of Italy, though, you'd find lots of it.

I found recipes for it all over the interwebs, and took the best of all of them to make my own. Problem #1 was that most recipes call for 190 proof grain alcohol, which is not legal in Ohio. But it is legal in other states, and I knew that I'd find it somewhere. I found Everclear in Florida, and broke several federal laws by sending it home to Ohio. (Ooops.)

Limoncello takes a very long time to make. Months. It takes lots of lemons, and lots of liquor. Two bottles of Everclear. Two bottles of vodka. 40 lemons. A simple syrup made of sugar and water.

I zested the lemons back in July, and the lemon zest sat in the Everclear until just a few weeks ago. It looked like heavy, dark urine when I pulled it out of the dark, cool closet where it was hanging out since July. I was worried, because that certainly wasn't what it looked like in all the pictures I'd seen online. The pictures (Wiki has one) look like a neon yellow, something that wouldn't have been out of place on any 80s fashion plate.

So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I started straining out the lemon peels from the Everclear/vodka/lemon zest mixture. Once that was done, I added the cooled simple syrup, and as I stirred that in, the color changed from an unappetizing pee yellow to something that looks like there's a neon light inside of it. Pretty freaking cool.

For about the past 2 weeks, the limoncello has been sitting on my kitchen countertop, waiting for bottling. Inspiration hasn't struck yet for a bottling solution, although not for lack of looking.

I'm trying hard to give holiday gifts that are only hand or homemade this year, continuing a trend I started last year. The only exception to that 'rule' is the toys we have for my niece & nephew. I expect it will be a few years before they understand my intention there; but I'm teaching them. We make cookies together every year during the holiday season, and the memories I'm making with them are more precious than anything I will ever buy them.

Limoncello. Making my friends and family pleasantly intoxicated; that's a mitzvah, right?

12 December 2009

On dealing with holiday stress gracefully.

Oh, have no doubt, my pretties. All of the hassle of the holiday is officially here. The traffic. The lack of parking spaces. The grumbling, grumpy shoppers in my way. I even witnessed a shouting match today, mother vs daughter, mom in a wheelchair. Nice.

So that makes my two small mitzvahs -both car/traffic related - seem inconsequential, but I hope they were helpful. A harried-looking lady in a van was cruising the parking lot at Target, looking for a parking space. I waved at her - party to make her smile and partly so she'd see me heading to my car. She cottoned on quickly, hurried to where my car was, and waved her thanks.

The other one was letting someone in front of me at a busy intersection. Little things, small details in a busy day, but perhaps easing someone else's stress.

11 December 2009

Love it / am irritated by it.

Every year for about the last 8 or so, I've made a solid lotion that I usually give to people in conjunction with the lavender bath salts. I have to explain what it is to them, because I usually give it to people in tubes that look like lip balm tubes, but are much larger. The manufacturer calls them deodorant tubes, which made no sense to me. Think of a tube of Chapstick. Now imagine said tube of Chapstick with a diameter of 1-1/2 inches (3-1/2 cm) instead of the usual 1/4 inch (1-1/2 cm). Imagine it being about 3-1/2 or 4 inches tall (7-10 cm). So it looks like lip balm, but clearly isn't lip balm, and the idea of a solid moisturizer is odd to most people. Consequently, I get a lot of reactions that sound like this: "Cool! What is it?"

A sidebar here to note that moisturizer in a solid form is freaking brilliant, because unless you left in a hot car in the summer, it will never spill. Ever. Lots less messy to apply, IMO, as well. Unfortunately, it wasn't my original idea, so I'm not sitting on a million dollar next-big-thing enterprise. I have no plans to sell my solid lotion, no desire to deal with the legalities of trying to sell such a product. And I need to note that I bought the tubes someplace else for a less expensive price this year and they are the exact same size as lip balm tubes.

Anyway, most years I buy a kit for the solid lotion, add some stuff of my own (that-there's the technical term, 'stuff') pour the liquid into tubes, allow it to cool - room temperature solid, but melts on contact with your skin - put the caps on it, and away we go. When I couldn't find the kit on the website that I usually get it from, I sent the owner of the company an e-mail to see what was going on. She told me she isn't making the kits right now, but doing it on your own is dead easy, and she sent me the links to recipes. (Here and here.) Fair 'nuff. It isn't rocket science; a wax (such as beeswax) combined with a butter (avocado, mango, shea, cocoa) and oils (olive, apricot kernel, almond, walnut, soy), plus any fragrance and or colorant. She told me I could use any butter, any oils, so the fact that I didn't have mango butter or cocoa butter called for in those two recipes wasn't an issue. No artificial fragrances for me, thanks. I use lavender essential oil, for the aromatherapy benefits as well as liking the scent. Absolutely no colorant. I do put some colorant in the bath salts, but not ever in the lotion.

I have no idea which of those two recipes the kit contained, but I think it was probably the Easy Lotion Bar. I've added shea butter to the kit and the lavender, and that's worked well. Until this year, I've never measured the shea, just added it and tested a tiny bit until I felt it was 'right'. This year, I used the Extra-Rich recipe, using my super-duper kitchen scale to weigh the wax and butter. I measured the oils, added the lavender and when I tested it, it was far too hard and not the silky-yet-slightly-grainy texture I associate with "my" lotion. Hmmm. I'd put some of it into the tubes by then, and was irked that I needed to melt those back down and tinker. Using the smaller tubes seemed like a good idea, but they're difficult to fill. My hands shake quite a lot these days, a nice side-effect of my Wellbutrin. Some days it is bad, some days it is worse, and some days it doesn't happen at all. Filling those little tubes with an eyedropper and shaking hands meant I got that stuff all over the outside of the tubes, making them look like used candles, all over the countertop, and on my scale. Well, not exactly all over the countertop; I had a heavy cutting board out because the beeswax came in one ginormous block and I needed seriously 3 oz of the stuff. So there are dibs and dabs of solid lotion on the (fortunately plastic) cutting board. I think it'll come off in hot water and with a scrubbie.

The shea butter I bought several years ago on eBay. It came in an 'unrefined' state, which meant that there were little twigs and other things in the butter, requiring me to melt it down, and strain it through a cheesecloth. I wanted it that way, refining takes away some of the natural properties of the butter. I had it stored in the freezer in a Tupperware container, and each year I'd pull it out, let it hang out on the countertop a day or so, add it to the kit. Bam! Over, done.

In order to make the extra rich lotion bar recipe seem more like what I've been making all these years, I ended up tripling the amount of butter from 2 oz to 6. That was the very last of the shea butter. Like a complete fool, I had added the lavender before removing a small amount of the mixture for my 10 year-old nephew, who would rather not smell like flowers, thankyouverymuch. Last year or maybe 2 years ago, I made some with sandalwood essential oil specifically for him after spending some time researching less girly scents and an essential oil that wouldn't hurt his skin. He has eczema, and skin that is more sensitive than mine. The shea butter has absolutely amazing properties - like being absorbed easily in to the skin, and it helps with the itching of the eczema - so the solid lotion can be used on his skin with no worries.

I've given a lot of the solid lotion away already this year, and that's today's mitzvah. That and making the special batch for my nephew; something I really love to do, but it has seemed like work instead of fun this year. I'm doing it anyway because I'm mostly boycotting the over-commercialized gift grab that Christmas has become and am doing my best to give NO gifts that are purchased. Hand-and-homemade, all the way.

In a token recognition of the season, I leave you with these wise words:

Fear less, hope more.
Whine less, breathe more.
Talk less, say more.
Hate less, love more.
And all good things are yours. ~Swedish proverb

10 December 2009

Grad Gift

Today's mitzvah is a book that I know I've written about before, but I am feeling too lazy to hunt for the links. Hardball for Women, by Pat Heim, Ph.D. I don't remember the circumstances surrounding the first time I read this book. It was a few years ago, in my 20's. I still worked for Ye Olde Evile Bank, and hmmmm. Searching. I think maybe I was looking to get a promotion and wondering why the powers that be there never thought of me as a leader, so I started reading all these business books. Or maybe it had something to do with the class I took in college where the textbook was The Time Bind by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Aaah, skit samma as we say in Swedish. It doesn't matter when or why I picked it up. What matters is that this book quite literally changed my life.

So over-dramatic, I know. But it is Truth. This book changed the way I thought about:

*interacting with men at work
*group projects at work
*working with other women.

Quite literally, it changed how I approached any job. It taught me how the boys think, something that had been a mystery up to that point. Not as in boys to date (I was, after all, not married at that time) but as in the boys you work with who spend 20 minutes talking about "last night's game," and you, as the casual eavesdropper, aren't even sure what sport they're talking about or why anyone would care.

After I read the book myself, I bought a case of the books from a very bemused Bookseller at Barnes & Noble. I handed that book out to almost every female friend who was a member of the workforce. I've recommended it to probably hundreds of people over the years.

Graduating from college is exhilarating, but also terrifying. You're going to have to get a job, J-O-B, real-world stuff. No matter what your degree might be, you're going to find a job (eventually, heh) and you're going to have to work with actual, real human beings, even if it is a minimum wage here-till-I-find-something-real job.

Someone close to me is about to get her degree, and I gave her a copy of the book as a grad present today. An excellent grad gift, if I do say so myself.

09 December 2009

Yarnie Goodness/Goofiness

I went to lunch with a friend; our waitress was someone I've known for a long time, ex-roommate of one of my sisters. My friend and I were happily discussing yarn and looking at color cards, fondling the new yarn that had just been delivered. The waitress, a yarn fanatic herself, eagerly jumped in to the conversation. I had no idea that she knew how to knit; this urge to pick up sticks might have developed after my sister moved away.

So we told her all about Ravelry. I've scribbled about Rav so much that I don't think I need to write much more here. We told her allllll about Ravelry, and I could see the gleam of yarn fanaticism in her eyes. The math that Rav does for you; the organizational stuff for needles, yarn, and books you own; the way you can find a pattern and look at how everyone else interpreted colors or changes to the design. In other words, we completely geeked out about Ravelry.

We told her about some other websites like knittinghelp.com, and she wrote a bunch of things down on her notepad. Love that, love finding someone who shares a passion. I thought she was really cool when my sister lived with her; hypothesis confirmed!

So today's mitzvah is all about spreading the yarn love, and it is also a joint mitzvah, because if I hadn't gone out to lunch with my friend, I probably wouldn't have ever talked knitting with the waitress. Happy knitters!

08 December 2009


Recently, my local paper ran an article about gift books (aka coffee table books) for the car enthusiast. One caught my attention that my dad might like.

Of course, I threw the paper away without writing down trivial little details like the name of the author or the book's title. Genius!!

I went to the paper's website and ran searches on "car" "book" "Corvette" and every combination of those words, getting increasingly frustrated at results that weren't what I was looking for. So I called the newspaper's administrative offices, and some patient soul searched through the paper of the day in question. Eventually, she found it, to my delight. The Corvette Factories.

A few days later, I got a very similar call (but I am not going to tell you the who, the what or the why, because I was @ work. Deal.). The person on my call apologized for "wasting" my time profusely, until I told her the story above with the local paper. "Ah!" she said, "one good turn deserves another!" And so it does. So it does.

07 December 2009

Sharing da cookies

I made cookies over the weekend for a cookie exchange I'd been invited to. You were supposed to bring 8 dozen; either all 8 of one kind, or 4 dozen each of 2 kinds.

I can't count. So I ended up with more than 4 dozen of each cookie. Instead of taking them and messing up the number of dozens at the exchange - it should all balance out in the end - I left the extras at home.

But that means that there are about 10 dozen cookies in my house! Too, too many! So my mitzvah today is both giving and self-serving; I distributed the surplus to my office-mates. No excess of cookies in my house, and happy co-workers on a sugar buzz. Win!

06 December 2009

Like a good neighbor...

...and now you'll have that jingle running through your head. Sorry.

DH and I do a lot of things for our neighbors. DH is the mechanical mind of the neighborhood, and thus he gets called upon to fix all sorts of things. Lately, it is our neighbor's garage door opener. She needs to replace it, but doesn't want to. So he keeps fixing it, without complaint, without exasperation. He's nice that way.

We also share our interweb signal with two neighbors, free of charge. That was his idea; personally, I think there ought to be a small charge - we pay for it, after all - but his logic, which I agree with, is that if they paid for it, he'd be called upon to fix connections endlessly. This way, if it doesn't work, he can just tell them that they either deal with it themselves or find another way to get online. But that does save them some money, and is something we're happy to do.

One of the things we like about the neighborhood is that it is quiet. Our street is private, and we like the privacy. For all that we're called upon to fix, help, advise, we don't see our neighbors very often. The houses are laid out in such a manner that if we're sitting on our porch, we can't see the neighbor's porch. Intelligent design. OTOH, this means that often we don't see them for weeks at a time, which can be worrisome. So we check on them. That is today's mitzvah - caring for those around us.

05 December 2009

Who knew?

That the mitzvah challenge would be so much fun? Today's happened in seconds, but provided me with a lot of amusement.

I was baking cookies ('tis the season, after all) and I ran out of powdered sugar. Also known as icing sugar. Trying to substitute granulated sugar for powdered sugar in icing recipes results in crunchy icing - never a desirable result. So I needed powdered sugar, but I didn't want to do a grocery store expedition; usually, trips to the grocery store are to a store across town from me, and I'm doing major grocery shopping. It takes a few hours - worse when I'm messing about with coupons.

One grocery chain holds a pretty tight monopoly in this region. Stores that aren't SuperAnnyoing MegaMart tend to be small, and lacking a lot of the hoity-toity fussy ingredients I'm usually looking for. As much as I dislike patronizing the super annoying mega mart, trips to the smaller stores usually result in frustration. But there is one of those smaller stores really close to my house, and I know that they're going to have powdered sugar, so off I went.

Another reason I don't usually go to the smaller stores is that I end up spending too much time hiking up and down the aisles searching for something. I know the layout of the mega mart. Happily, though, I found a bunch of things that mega-mart doesn't carry and ended up spending about $50 rather than the $2.69 I'd expected.

While searching for a soup flavor I know the mega-mart never has, I heard a man and a little girl in the next aisle over having a conversation about why they were in the grocery store. The child sounded like she was perhaps 2. She was having a great time. Daddy, on the other hand, was frustrated. He had been sent to fetch egg noodles. He couldn't find egg noodles. He wasn't sure where to even look for egg noodles. Did he say all that? Not exactly, but you could tell.

I happened to be standing in front of a display of all kinds of pasta. I found egg noodles - by this time they were in the same aisle as me - and I handed them over to him with a smile. He thanked me, laughing, and asked if he just looked that lost. No, I told him, I'd heard him, but he did look like a deer in headlights! We had a shared chuckle over his daughter's comment --"Daddy, that's it? That's all we needed?" -- he thanked me again for saving him the hassle of hunting through the entire store, and we went our separate ways.

Fun, funny, and helpful to someone. Mitzvah? Check!

04 December 2009


My mitzvah of the day is a present to a co-worker who is moving on, a going-away present. I floundered and procrastinated on this, unable to make up my mind what to get until I'd managed to fritter away so much time that all of a sudden, her last day was speeding up to me, and I didn't have a present for her.

Odd, isn't it, that we'd consider it 'bad form' to NOT give a going-away present. Hmmm. Must remember to look in to this.

So the day is staring me in the face, and all the things I'd been pondering - oh, a nice pen would be fun, but is she as much of a nice pen junkie as me? Maybe matching pen and business card case? Yeah, cool, but where am I going to get one of those 'round here? I'm out of time for shipping. Something for her kitchen? I don't think she likes to cook/bake. Something for her house? Framed print, perhaps? I have no idea what the decor there is like - is she into colonial, contemporary? No clue. Knit something, cute scarf, fun dishcloth? Um, again, out of time.

I put the question to the girls on Rav. They gave me some good suggestions, and a few that made me giggle. One of the giggle-worthy which is that I teach Madame Leaving Colleague how to knit...yeah, but NO TIME. Plus although she's had nice things to say about things I've made that she's seen, I don't get the vibe that she's keen on the knitting.

I found myself in a gift shop the night before with 20 minutes to FIND SOMETHING. You know the type; fun stuff, cute stationery, some fun decor items, very overpriced, girly stuff. In the end, I decided on a business card holder that reflects a little of her personal style; I know she's a big Beatles fan, and she's very girly....the card holder has a peace sign laid out in sparklies. I also added some jewelry from Anna Banana's, wrote a nice bit of prose on the card, and put it all in a gift bag. (The gift drawer has a few Anna Banana pieces, very cute. Note to self, need to replenish soon.)

I took her to lunch and gave her the gift, and she was surprised, and delighted. I love being able to give someone the squee-worthy gift.

I get it, NaBloPoMo, I do. Mitzvah-ing gives you a great feeling. Thanks for that.

03 December 2009

Ack! Day 3 and....uh, I got nothin.

Well, that's not entirely true. I have 2, but I can't tell you, interweb, much about either one of them. I don't write on teh intertubes about what I do for a living. Yes, I tell work stories sometimes, but those have always been and will continue to be stories about places where I do not work any more. (See the tag old jobs if you're interested)

The first mitzvah of the day is a real present that I'm giving to someone, a nice and elegant prezzie, albeit not wrapped. That's OK, the recipient isn't going to care, and it isn't a holiday gift, it is a thank-you. Ooooh, pretty, shiny new prezzie!

The second prize is fulfilling a wish/fantasy for a friend. When I called and told her what I was going to do for her, she screeched loudly enough that DH, 3 rooms away, heard her. I know that when she hung up the phone she was doing the Snoopy Dance, and I'm so happy that I was able to make it happen.

And that's it for the day. Scant on the details, but *shrug* there's not anything else about either of these things that I feel comfortable with sharing online.

02 December 2009

Mitzvah, x2.

I'm counting this as a mitzvah, because, well, you'll see.

I've always been mildly interested in genealogy, and can rattle off the nationalities of my great-grandparents with ease. Beyond knowing that small fact, though, I've never put much research in to it. I did have an interesting conversation with my sole surviving grandparent - my paternal grandmother - a few years ago about her parents, but never really delved in to the tracing history part.

My most recent trip to Sweden, though, sparked some interest. Everywhere my team went, and I do mean everywhere, our hosts/tour guides/drivers/escorts asked us if anyone on the team had any Scandinavian ancestry. I know by the time we left, even the team members who don't speak Swedish knew exactly what I was saying when I was rattling off my pedigree.

And why, really, haven't I done the research? I can read the records in Swedish, and quite a lot of it is available on teh intertubes, it really ought not be so difficult for me to see where in Sweden and Denmark my great-greats grew up. I don't know why I've never been interested before; but I am now, and that's where this story really starts.

I got suckered in to Ancestry.com by those silly, sappy commercials they're spamming the airwaves with right now. When I had entered the information that I knew, it pulled up the actual pages in the register from Ellis Island that show my Danish great-grandfather and Swedish great-grandmother entering the country. They didn't come at the same time, but I think I've figured out how they met thanks to Ancestry.com. An early 1900s census report shows them boarding at the same house. That website turned up all of that information from me entering just minimal details. It is fascinating, and kind of exciting.

But, if you want real paper, and you want to see some facts that are not sitting in scanned pages on the web, the real work of genealogy research is done by paging through musty old ledgers of birth and death records. Fortunately (or...not so fortunately, considering I don't love Ohio) I still live in the same town where all of my grandparents were born, and where all of my great-grandparents died. So looking this information up doesn't involve anything more onerous than dealing with the county courthouse and vital records divisions.

When I worked for Ye Olde Evile Bank, doing estate work, I did a lot of running to fetch death certificates in more than one Ohio county. Now I know I'm getting older, and I know that the nuts-and-bolts details of what I did every day at the bank are no longer sitting in my memory, but I don't remember it being this much of a hassle. Ever.

On Monday this week, I went to the Vital Statistics office. It is currently located in a big building that housed a hospital, once upon a time. It still smells like a hospital. My Grandpa H died there; unpleasant memories assault me every time I go in there. I got through the rabbit-warren of county offices that now call the decommissioned hospital home, and found them with ease. I filled out the form, stepped up to the window...and saw the signs that they don't take personal checks as payment for death certificates. Nor do they take credit cards. Debit cards are likewise verboten. And Uncle State of Ohio has raised the fees; birth and death certificates now cost $23. Highway robbery!!

Cash. Period. That is the only form of payment they accept from walk-ins. I KNOW Ye Olde Evile didn't give me cash. The Estates & Trusts department didn't handle cash. We didn't have petty cash, we didn't accept cash deposits. So how did I pay for those death certs? (Which used to cost $7, BTW.) I don't remember how I did it; maybe I put it on my expense reports?

Anyway, I was massively irked. I came to this place that I don't like, excited about getting some new info (I was hoping for the names of my great-grandparent's parents on their death certificates, y'know, the Swedish and Danish ones) and I had to leave with nothing, because I didn't have $46 in cash on me. Grr.

I try really hard, really I do, to not be frustrated with clerks in retail stores or government offices, even when I'm at my boiling point, because it is never the "fault" of the person in front of you that you can't do what you want to; it is policy, and my own ignorance for not making myself aware of said policy that caused my irritation. I never want to be the customer that they talk about at the dinner table, or the customer that drove them to drink.

That said, I was pissed at the Vital Statistics office. And confused; the way the woman told me that they don't take checks or credit cards didn't make logical sense to me. She said, "We don't take checks or credit cards at the window." And I couldn't figure out what she meant. They only accepted cash? Really? Did I miss something and the world of ubiquitous debit cards vanished? Later, I understood what she meant; you can use a check or a credit card if you request your death certificates via mail or via their automatic telephone requisition. Duuuh. But standing there, in front of her, at that moment, I was mad and confused. I wasn't nasty; but it was clear that I was annoyed. I huffed all the way back to the car.

Today, I went back, sheepishly, with cash in hand and a request for just one death certificate; I only really want the one of my Swedish great-grandmother, especially at $23 bucks a pop. I had called their voice mail system, and the message says that they open their archives to the public - by appointment - and you can look at the records without giving them a cent. I'd like to have a look at all of them, the death certificates of my grandparents, my great aunts and uncles, even possibly the birth certificates of that generation who were born here in town. There's all sorts of tiny bits of info in that official paperwork, clues, like names and possibly birthplace names.

I know the woman at the vital statistics counter remembered me. I'm embarrassed that I was so irritated with her the other day. She took my $23, got me a copy of my great-grandmother's death certificate (with the names of my great-great-grandparents listed, woot!) and was really nice. Nicer than she needed to be. When she brought me the paper, she apologized for taking so long, because she couldn't get the first few copies to be clear, and she wanted to make sure it was legible for my research. Wow. Now I really feel like a heel.

So to make up for my idiocy the other day, I thanked her profusely. She asked a bunch of questions about my search, and I enthusiastically shared what I've found and what I'm still looking for. I told her some family story that made her laugh, and she thanked me for sharing. That's my mitzvah of the day. Making the vital statistics lady's day a little brighter, and maybe being the customer that she tells a happy story about at the dinner table, instead of the "OMG, you're never going to believe this idiot that I had today" story.

01 December 2009

December - dedicated to the memory of C.

C was my hairdresser for more than ten years, and if you're a regular reader here, then you know he passed away this year and the loss still stabs at me at unexpected times. All the traditional cliches - he was larger than life, he was one of a kind, blah, blah - don't help me much in describing him to you. He was certainly one of a kind! And he was far more to me than just some dude who cut my hair. He was part of my family.

He joked each year as the holiday season rolled around that he was nice to people only in December; the rest of the year he felt free to be a bastard, but he made an effort to be nice during December. (It was a joke, people, "bastard" was never a word I'd use to describe him.) He'd trot out that line when he didn't charge me for trimming my hair, or when offering a beer (yep, there was beer in his salon's fridge - most of the year, but always in December!) or offering to share the "confectionery crack" his mother sent up every Christmas, her own home-made divinity. (Indeed, confectionery crack was an accurate description.) I always brought cookies, which sometimes stayed at the salon and sometimes went home with him. His wife sent me a very sweet thank-you card in January of this year for the cookies of last year; I don't know if I kept it, but it said something along the lines of We didn't have much to be cheerful about this year, (as he was very ill over the holidays, although his death happened in March or April) but your cookies were a bright spot and we really enjoyed them.

I've written before (extensively) about why an Atheist bakes Christmas cookies, and there's no need to re-hash that here. (again!) But I will say that the cookies I bring to various people in holiday-decorated tins certainly fit into the definition of a Mitzvah.

Scrapping the religious part (620 rules were handed down from on high, and humanity should follow these rules. All good deeds come from these commandments.) leaves me with a very secular definition of the word; an act of human kindness.

The challenge from NaBloPoMo is to be "giving" for a month, and to write about those acts of giving. As I choose to define it, this can mean anything from actually giving someone a wrapped present to giving someone the gift of a smile on a difficult day, to doing something unexpected for someone - making a second pot of coffee on a cold day in my office (and there are many) might fall in to this definition too.

So for the first one, even though the task is not 100% complete yet, I'm going to write about a project/social experiment I joined on Ravelry.

Rav is more than a site with patterns and descriptions of yarn and nutcase knitters & spinners. There is a community there; I've tried explaining the site as "facebook for knitters" but from the blank looks I get when I use that description, it ain't gettin' through. Ravelry is part organizational tool, part social networking site, part online community like any fandom, part advertising opportunity, and part forum. I spend a lot of my online time on Ravelry. I belong to 19 groups (which function just like the FB groups, although the boards of those groups are much more active than any board of any FB group I've ever seen). They're pretty diverse groups, among them are; an Agnostic/Atheist group, a group of people who don't have and are not planning to have children, an NPR fangroup, a fangroup for the BBC TV show Top Gear, a Swedish group, a Supernatural group, a group that discusses yarnie culture in the wider world (oh, we're SUCH geeks), a group of naughty girls, and finally, a group called P.S., I knit. PSIK is a group of people who wanted grown-up pen pals, to exchange real snail-mail letters. This is incredible fun, much better than the mail I usually get; junk mail and bills!

The board for PSIK had a little announcement right before Halloween that the moderators were interested in setting up a Christmas Swap. Swaps are a big part of the Ravelry culture. Hilariously, one of the mottoes or guiding principals of Ravelry is "Be excellent to each other," which any child of the 80s will tell you is a line from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Swaps tie in to that 'be excellent' idea because they're essentially gifts, although there isn't always a monetary value involved. Most swaps on Rav involve yarn; I have something you want, you have something I want, they're of roughly equal value, and so with the help of FedEx, we trade. Swaps can be 'de-stashing,' which help a knitter to decrease her surplus stockpile of yarn; they can be Random Acts of Kindness, they can be around a theme of color or television show or day of the week or type of fiber. Anything, really. A day when you receive a swap package is like a little joyous ray of sunshine.

The PSIK swap had some rules; almost every swap does have at least guidelines. But since PSIK is all about the letter writing, they set out some rules related specifically to that. You must include a letter in the box you send. Something handmade. Something holiday-related. Stationery. An item from your country/geographical region. Something yarn-related. Any other goodies you'd like to add in. Not to exceed a dollar value of $25 (pre-shipping). Everyone who signed up answered a short questionnaire about allergies and likes/dislikes, so you did have a little bit of a clue to start for your person. (Do I need to explain that no one in this group has actually met in real life? I think it goes without saying, but it might have been a wee bit unclear until now.)

Of course, this wasn't the simplest task. I can not claim to have followed the value rule, but I went over, and IMNSHO, that's far more desirable than under. I biffed it with the handmade item. I knitted a scarf from a skein of handspun I got from a fiber club. I don't remember how much the monthly dues are for the fiber club...25? 35? Something like that. The first month, the spinner shipped everything late, and she felt bad about it, so she gave everyone an extra skein of handspun. (Believe me, that more than makes up for the tardy package!) That means that I got 2 skeins for the price of one, and cheaper than her retail off-the-rack rate, but the price on the skein wrapper says $26. I'm over at that point without even casting on a stitch. So I decided that the dollar value of the yarn was exempt from the dollar amount limit of the package. It was, after all, just sitting in my stash. Admittedly, sitting in my stash does not equal free, but....yeah, well, I justified it in my own mind. :p

For the 'from your region' item, I choose something from a local company that makes pewter and brass decorative items; they run the gamut from coasters for drinks to serving trays to light switch covers. I choose a bookmark in an art-deco pattern that I'd really like to keep. (>_<)

I found a Christmas-y mug at the grocery store for a dollar, and some lemon-flavored hard candies from the same grocery store run will add little sunny spots in the package. My swap partner's questionnaire mentioned liking lemon-flavored stuff.

Then there's the scarf from the fiber club yarn, and some stitch markers from Hide & Sheep for the yarn-related and hand-made items. (They make the cutest little stitch markers, and they come packaged in these adorable little tins. Plus, the company name is Hide & Sheep. How can you not love that??)

I found the stationery at Pier One on clearance, and so now all that remains is to write the letter, wrap the scarf, bookmark, stitch markers, coffee mug and writing paper, box the whole shebang, and mail it off to my swap partner. Oh, plus I plan to add in some vanilla sandalwood hand-made soap that is sitting in my "gift drawer". {The gift drawer is a small drawer full of little but tasteful things that can be whipped out at a moment's notice and wrapped for a forgotten birthday present. Right now the gift drawer has a lot of hand made soap, but there's also a few delicate silvery book marks, some jewelry I got on Etsy, something my handbag designer friend sent me along with a piece I commissioned from her (a little extra that I've chosen not to keep for myself), and a Swiss Army knife bought as a gift for a guy friend a few years ago that has dropped off the face of the planet. (The friend, not the knife.)}

So that's Mitzvah #1. It's taken me a few weeks to gather all the bits and bobs and knit the scarf, and the deadline to get the box sent away is December 10; I want to have it in the mail by Saturday of this week and am excited to hear what my swap partner has to say about what I've chosen. It isn't a one-to-one exchange, it is a round-robin style, so the person I am sending a gift to is not the same person I will receive a gift from. But the point of the swap is not to get presents; it is about the thrill of the hunt and the fun of knowing you're making someone's day.

This was my first swap, but it won't be my last. I've enjoyed trying to find things that fit into each category. I wanted, desperately, to send Buckeyes as a symbol of Ohio, but alas! My partner is allergic to nuts. So that knocked both buckeyes and most chocolate that is processed in a factory right out of the water. Go ahead, you find chocolate that doesn't have a little disclaimer on the wrapper that says something like "processed on machinery that also processes nuts". Good luck with that one!

I've spent a little bit of time post-stalking my partner, reading her forum posts and checking out her projects and 'about me' on Rav to get a sense of the person. I got a message from the person who has me as a partner asking for my address, and thus far, I haven't looked her up (other than her 'about me' page, which is very limited on the deets) because I want to be surprised by her letter and package; I don't want to know anything about her until I get the box.

The mailbox for our house is down the street a bit from the house, and is a pain to get to, but I'll be checking it daily until that box gets here! I'm also waiting for a letter from my pen-pal person (a totally separate person) and that makes the trek to the mailbox a bit more fun.