Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How (not) to meet your neighbors

I have been getting the Washington Post delivered to my doorstep for the last six months. For the last few weeks, sections have been missing. I will open my door and instead of being met with a neat, fresh paper, I find sections spread apart, usually with one missing. I've noticed and I've been annoyed, but I haven't even been able to determine what section was missing so I couldn't have missed it too much. Today was different. Today - war was declared.

After a very fast-paced morning at work, I sat down in the break room with my newspaper and, as always, reached for the sports section first. But today, there was no sports section. No box scores, no news of what Gilbert Arenas is up to now, no Ovechkin, no John Wall, nothing but me and my sandwich - which my coworkers made fun of. It ruined my whole day.

Taking the sports section out of my Washington Post is a declaration of war. It's time to stop being nice and start getting real. I'm determined to put an end to this thievery for once and for all.

But what the hell do I do?

I can wake up at 5 a.m. every morning to claim my paper before the vagrants get at it, but I shouldn't have to miss sleep just to get the newspaper I pay for every day. A coworker suggested I solve the problem as he did in the past - got up as soon as the paper was delivered and tied a string to it, and pulled said string underneath his door and attached it to a frying pan, or something that would make noise and alert him as soon as the paper had been touched. It worked for him. He caught an old lady red-handed stealing his paper.

This is a good suggestion, but I sleep like a rock. I could probably tie the string to my toe while I was asleep and it still wouldn't wake me up as I was dragged across the floor. Finding a way to alert me in the early morning is not practical, so I handled the problem the way I handle most things - with passive aggressive humor. Tonight before I got ready for bed, I wrote with magic marker on a piece of paper and hung it on my door:

If you would like to read my newspaper, please leave your apartment number and I'll be happy to leave it by your door after I am done with it. If you insist on helping yourself, please leave 75 cents instead of stealing something that is not yours. Thank you so much!!

I taped it up tonight, and proceeded to put on my pajamas and get ready for bed. About fifteen minutes later, I heard someone outside my door. It sounded like tape being ripped, and I immediately expected that it was the newspaper thief, rejecting my passive-aggressive note and tearing it off the door.

Keep in mind, I'm still pissed off about the sports page. It really threw off my whole day. So, when I heard the noise, I ran to the door, swung it open with the fervor and self-righteousness of someone who has been morally wronged and ready to confront her tormentor. I leapt into the hallway like a pajama-clad superhero. I was ready for battle.

The thing is, I didn't really consider what I was going to say to this person. Nor did I consider what I would say if it was not, in fact, my sports page thief but my new neighbor standing outside of my door, tearing open his mail while he read the strange note on the neighbor's door. Which is exactly what happened. Needless to say, I was completely unprepared.

So, when I leapt outside of my doorway like a superhero named Captain Pajamas, I was met awkwardly by my new neighbor (who was wearing a suit, he had just returned from work) and we stared at one another in mutual surprise and silence. He said, "Uh... I was just reading your note." And I giggled and suddenly my superhero turned into her alter ego - an awkward giggly girl trying to explain things in a very stream of consciousness sort of way. "Oh." I said, "haha. Every morning someone takes a section of my newspaper... and... sport pages... really mad... frying pan..." How do you explain to someone why you nearly accosted them in your pj's? I wish I had a video so this incident could become a youtube sensation and Daniel Tosh could give me a web redemption. Unfortunately for all of us, none of this was captured on film. My crime fighting skills need a little work.

On the plus side, the new neighbor and I formally introduced ourselves to one another. One of us in a three-piece suit, the other in silky pajama bottoms, a t-shirt and no bra. He seems very nice and he suggested that I get an exploding blue ink packet like they use to catch bank robbers. He makes good sense. I hope to not run into him again for a while.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Worst case scenario: Barnes, Noble & Crosby

As a participant in the Barnes & Noble 401(k) plan, I have the right to vote in the annual meeting of stockholders on September 28, 2010. These are the notices I receive every year and promptly ignore. This year, they have launched an aggressive campaign that has made the shareholder meeting impossible to ignore. I have received two phone calls, 3 mailings, and a UPS-delivered letter telling me how important it is that I vote this year because someone named Ronald Burkle is trying to take control of the company. I have no idea what this is all about, so I read each of their pleas for my vote, then I decide to look up Mr. Burkle. I need go no further than Mr. Burkle's Wikipedia page where I find some shocking and horrific information that has suddenly made my decision in this matter very, very simple:

He is part owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins National Hockey League team...

Len Riggio, you have my full support in stopping Mr. Burkle. I only wish you had mentioned his unsavory NHL connections earlier so I could start my own campaign to let all NHL fans (outside of Pittsburgh city limits) know that someone involved with the Pittsburgh Penguins is trying to take over my reputable bookstore. It is my duty to try to put a stop to this and if Steve Riggio agrees to throw down the gloves with Ron Burkle, I might be inclined to go vote in person.

I fully expect Mr. Burkle to lose, whine about it and claim he's entitled, and then demand a recount from the referee.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reflection and Perspective

I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't know how to read. If you ask my mother, she will probably tell you that as soon as the umbilical cord was severed, I read the hospital chart to learn my last name. Mothers are prone to exaggeration.

Exaggerations and proud parents aside, one of my earliest memories is before I began Kindergarten. The details of my memory are somewhat unreliable, but I believe it was an assessment before I started school. A young woman sat across from me and said, "When I say a word, I want you to repeat after me, okay?" I consented, eager to please. She began, "Okay, repeat after me. DOG." I quickly responded, "D-O-G." For whatever reason, I spelled the word instead of repeating it. As I remember it, it was an automatic reaction to her ridiculously easy exercise, but memory being unreliable I will not count out that this younger version of me was simply trying to show off. It is entirely possible that my aim was to impress the lady.

Whatever my intentions, the thing I remember next is her getting up immediately after I spelled the word and going over to talk to someone else. I was certain that I was in trouble. I hadn't followed directions. I was paralyzed in fear. I had screwed up and not followed directions and now they weren't going to let me into school. Oh how excited I was to finally begin school and right then I had just ruined it with the word dog. (or was it cat? Perhaps I spelled out a dog-cat-house trifecta and sent this woman off in a flurry.) As it turns out, I was not in trouble at all. I had impressed her with my superior spelling skills and the resulting discussion amongst grown ups was to discuss my accelerated reading skills. I was allowed to go to school after all. Kindergarten was a half day, beginning at noon. I spent the following years unable to understand why I couldn't begin every day at noon and revolting against anything that began before 11 a.m. This is something I still struggle with today.

There is a reason I have been reflecting upon my literary beginnings. I have to give credit (or blame?) to my good friend Paul on this one. Paul is an extremely talented writer and he has always encouraged me to continue to write and complimented my abilities to put words together - whether it be on a blog, in a million letters written back and forth, or (ideally) somewhere that people would actually pay money to read what I have written. The latter being unlikely without a great deal of work, I appreciate Paul's nudges to continue to keep my writing skills sharp in whatever way possible. Recently after reading my blog and learning of my financial shortcomings, he sent me words of encouragement. He reminded me to keep writing, and assured me that one day I would look back and see this period of my life as "character building."

I say this with full confidence that anyone who knows me will agree: If I had any more character, I would need to be described as "A character." I have gotten myself into more "character building" situations than I care to admit. But I can't deny that the difficult times have taught me a lot about myself, and those lessons are invaluable. So, considering Paul's advice and encouragement, I began to reflect upon my favorite books throughout my life.

When I consider the most influential books throughout my life, one theme is constantly repeated. Without question, the most inspiring book of my youth was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. As I read the story of Francie Nolan escaping the realities of her difficult young life through her imagination and love of reading, I escaped my own challenges and awkwardness. I was very young when I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and immediately felt a connection to Jo March as she read to her little sisters and felt a passion for writing. In my adult life, I was moved by Frank McCourt's memoir, Angela's Ashes. Again, I felt an emotional connection to the story about someone who survived unimaginable circumstances and poverty by relying on imagination and his natural storytelling ability. All of these books have such a special place in my heart, and each of them tells the story of someone who survives poverty by relying upon the strength of family, and the power of imagination.

As desperate as my financial situation feels, my life is privileged when compared to my literary heroes. To compare my challenges to theirs (and their respective authors) even in my current situation would be to celebrate my own prosperity. I may whine about my well-being, but I am far from tearing down the ceilings in my apartment to keep the fire going for heat. I face challenges, but I can not describe myself as suffering. For this, I gain strength from the perseverance shown by the characters in these books. And like them, I gain strength from the people around me.

I would never have had the courage to move to Washington, D.C. on my own and pursue a career if I did not have the strength of my friends and family back home. Sometimes the word "friends" is not strong enough, and the people in my life can only be described as family. Now that I am here, it is the new friendships I have made that encourages me to stay and find fulfillment in D.C. Even if it means working seven days a week, trying to climb a ladder that often doesn't appear to have steps, and to do whatever it takes to keep afloat in difficult financial times. It has been difficult, nearly impossible, to live within my means in my current situation. It is difficult when you don't have enough money to make ends meet. But I would not trade the people in my life for all the money in the world. My financial situation is coming together and will eventually be in order. I can live with these months of sacrifices and I can even stay positive if I keep reminding myself to rely on those two important things. The support of the people around me, and the power of the imagination. As long as I have my friends and family, I will never be alone. As long as I have my imagination, I will never be bored. Sometimes I just need to remind myself never to take either of those things for granted. And sometimes I need Paul to remind me. Thanks, Paul. And thanks to all of the people I am incredibly blessed to have in my life: My friends, my family, and my books.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Go ahead. Laugh!

I paid $11.57 for all of this food. In Washington, DC. Coupons are not just for soccer moms anymore, the student-loan-indebted are jumping on the bandwagon! (We prefer the term frugalista.)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

For sale: Pride, Social Life, Socks

No fooling, this summer really is going by fast. Last month I wrote about my coming to terms with my student loan debt and deciding to live within my means. I'm happy to say that I've been consistent with that goal, but sad to say that it's going to be a long, long road. Here's an update as to how it's going:

I have always had a second job on the weekends. (Seriously, always! I can't remember when I ever had only one job.) So, I've taken on more weekend hours to try and make ends meet, but I question if this is a productive use of my time. I make a decent hourly wage, but still - it's an hourly wage at a retail store. It's fun because it's unpredictable. It's just not as much fun as, say, going to that movie I was invited to on Sunday. Or, going away to the beach for Labor Day weekend. (although I don't know how good of an idea that would be anyway. Thanks, Earl!) Or, if I was really doing well, I could even make it to watch two of my good friends get married back in Iowa City next month. Unfortunately, knowing all of my other options makes the shifts at the bookstore a bit depressing. Still, not as depressing as not being able to pay the rent. So there is that.

Also last month I received an eBay offer that will allow me to list up to 100 items between August 22 and September 7th with no listing fees. This is a great deal! Usually if you list something on eBay, even if it doesn't sell you are still stuck paying the listing fee - which can be anywhere from $.10 to I don't know how many dollars, depending on how much you ask for when you start the auction. I decided to take eBay up on this generous offer and I am going to sell 100 items. Well, I'm going to list 100 items. I don't know if they'll sell. I think by the time I get to item number 100 the title may be, "Box of keys that I don't know what they go to." Or, "Five socks I can not find the match to. Makes a great gift!!" So far I've listed over 60 items and I still have 40 left to go. I haven't even started to dig through my clothes yet, so I think I will spend Monday ransacking my apartment looking for things that I don't need. I think it has served me well to create a goal of 100 items. It seems like a lot, but I have so many books and movies that those will take up a good chunk. I also listed some back issues of magazines (and even sold a few!) and I found all kinds of things I don't use any more and they have been sitting around being ignored. Some of the DVDs I sold were hard to part with and I'm sure some of the remaining 40 items will be things I don't necessarily want to get rid of. But if I'm not using it, I may as well sell it. The goal of 100 items has also made me realize how much crap I have. I have a lot of stuff. So far I have $130 in my Paypal account and over $50 due from buyers who have not yet paid. I have a credit card with a revolving balance of $500 and I decided I'm putting every cent of the eBay money toward that one credit card. It would be slick if I could get $500 total for this junk and get rid of one burden in my life. Unfortunately I will be lucky if I get half of that. Still, it's progress. Plus, it will keep me from what could have been a potential career as a hoarder. So there's another side benefit of selling everything. There's always a bright side!

Along with the part-time job and the eBay goal, I have cut an unbelievable amount of spending in my life. I truly appreciate all of the bloggers out there who write about being frugal and spending money. I would list some of them here, but there are too many to list. I've been using an embarrassing amount of coupons for a young hipster, but it's really paid off. There are many blogs out there who are dedicated to matching up weekly grocery ads with coupons available. This makes using coupons so much less time-consuming! It works, too. This week I went to Safeway and came home with a loaf of bread, a bag of salad mix, three bananas, three bags of instant potatoes, two 12-oz. packages of Kraft singles, 8 individually wrapped packages of Lance crackers, 10-oz. Teriyaki sauce, four 8-oz. bags of Teddy Grahams, and a box of frozen pretzels for a total of $11.57. According to the receipt, I saved $25.60 between sale items and coupons. It's kind of amazing to see how much money you can save, but it does take a good amount of effort to plan ahead and it takes an even greater amount of humility to stand with a line of people behind you and having the cashier scan coupon- after coupon- after coupon. It doesn't feel quite as cool as hanging out at a happy hour and socializing with friends, but trust me - it comes at a fraction of the cost. The amount of money I've saved by cutting out drinking in bars and bringing my lunch every day to work is amazing. It's no wonder I ended up in this situation to begin with. I should have been doing this a long time ago. Perhaps I would not have ended up in this situation to begin with. But then, I'd be pretty miserable if I had always been this boring. It's the memories of shenanigans with friends that motivates me to get caught up on bills and enjoy my social life again. Anyway, I've found some great ways to cut corners and I think I may have to share them on this blog over the next few months. Even if I end up increasing my income like I need to, I'll still have to stay frugal through the end of the year. Which means I'm thinking about Christmas presents already and if you're on my Christmas list, you should begin not getting your hopes up immediately.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Where did July go?

Is it just me, or did there used to be a month between June and August? I remember it was called July and it was a fairly long month - one of those with 31 days. What ever happened to July? Did we skip it this year? It seems like it was just a month ago that I was freaking out at work over a huge project due on the first week of June. Now my calendar is telling me that Sunday is August 1st. Am I being punk'd? Did I buy a faulty calendar? Seriously, what happened to July?

I know this happens every summer. We say things like, "Summer went by fast this year" or "I don't remember it being this hot last year" or "Can you please remove your stroller from the top of my foot?" Oh no, wait - that last one is what I said this morning on the Metro train. It's tourist season again in DC!!

I wish I could tell you that the reason I haven't updated my blog much lately is because I'm living a super-exciting life in the fast lane. Well, I guess I could tell you that, but it would be a lie. It's quite the opposite, actually. I recently sat down and went over my budget and realized I've been living above my means. I am grateful to have a reliable source of income during these troubled times, but I recently took a good hard look at the bottom line and had to admit: it's time to come to terms with my student loan debt. It was much easier to defer the loans and ignore the interest statements. But it is a heavy weight on my shoulders and as long as I keep going out and spending money on other things, I'm always going to be carrying around the stress and pressure of debt.

I find myself in the same situation as many college graduates. The burden of student loan debt is incompatible with starting level wages. Add to that the fact that the last thing I want to do when I'm still young is to work hard and deny myself a social life so that I can make a dent in my loans. I think the grace period for student loans should be ten years before you even begin to pay them off. Of course this would kill you with the interest on them, but most college graduates still live like college students for several years after they get out of school. We eat the same ramen noodles, keep the same hand-me-down furniture, and most people I know that are a few years out of school still ask their parents for money. [note: As a general rule I do not ask my parents for money. That said: If my parents are reading this and wondering, I wouldn't turn it down if you offered.]

I am trying hard not to feel resentment toward my student loans and I would love to hear from anyone who has been through this and has stories to share about their experiences. I borrowed the money with full knowledge that I had to pay them back. I watched all the mandatory videos and read all the terms before I signed. I take responsibility and I am grateful for many things in life. I'm grateful for my current job security and I'm grateful that I was able to finish college and earn a degree. I realize that not everyone can say that. Now, I just need to figure out how to put it all in perspective and make a dent in my loans, pay the rest of my bills, and still maintain a social life. I was invited to a DC United game recently and I would have loved to go, but I had to decline the invitation. My standard answer is going to become, "I can't make it this time, but perhaps when I'm fifty..."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Keywords: Sharp, piercing, excruciating ear pain

When I sit down to write in this blog, I generally expect the readers will be my friends and family, or maybe some folks suffering from severe boredom. I'm always delighted to find out that someone new stumbles upon the blog randomly, but when I sit down to write, usually I expect it will be seen by a modest audience of a few regular readers. Well, tonight's blog is a little different. Tonight I'm writing for new people who are searching for the following keywords:
ear pain
sharp, piercing pain in ear
icepick stabbing sensation
excruciating ear pain
worse pain I've ever felt in my life
OMG my ear hurts so bad I want to curl up in a ball and cry
Will someone please tell me what the hell is causing the worst pain I've ever experienced!?!

Some time ago, I was having the absolute worst pain I have ever felt before or since. I had no idea what was causing it, and doctors could find nothing wrong. I spent hours on the internet trying to self-diagnose and found hundreds of things it could have been, but I didn't find any helpful information until I had talked to four different doctors and knew exactly what to type into a google search: TMJ

I went through hell trying to find out what was causing my pain. It would be accurate to describe it as feeling like someone is driving an icepick into my eardrum. Any time I would smile, chew, or move my mouth or ears in any way, spontaneous profanities would erupt from my mouth because the pain was so bad. I was actually worried when it happened at work because the stabbing pains would be so sudden that I couldn't help my outbursts. Imagine if you were to accidentally smash your fingers with a hammer, or slam them in a car door. Those words that would come out of your mouth... those were coming from me every time I smiled, coughed, or turned my head around too quickly. It was hell. And a recurring, unpredictable hell at that.

After a few episodes, I went to my doctor and he couldn't find anything wrong. He gave me some ear drops for the pain and said my ears looked fine. There was no sign of infection or any trace of what was causing the pain. He recommended I come back mid-earache so he could look while I was experiencing the pain. Of course, this always happened on evenings or weekends. He recommended an ear, nose & throat doctor for me to see. I made an appointment and the specialist said the same thing. Nothing looks wrong with my ears, come back when I'm having the problem.

The next time I had an earache was around 7:00 on a weeknight so I went to a Minute Clinic that was open until 8:00. I was about to pass out from the pain, but I walked my swearing self over to the clinic and had her look in my ears. Nothing. There was no sign that anything was wrong. Other than the tears streaming from my eyes and me talking through clenched teeth to try not to aggravate the pain. She prescribed me a different brand of ear drops and told me to go back to the ENT when I was experiencing the pain so they could take a closer look.

The ENT had me get a full CT Scan of my sinuses so they could see if that gave any evidence of what was happening. Again, there appeared to be nothing abnormal in the results. This went on for months. Twice a week I would feel a sudden pain in my ear and would have to lie as still as possible. I would lay down on my right side (it was almost always my left side in pain, but sometimes both.) Eventually I would pass out and fall asleep and the pain would be gone when I woke up. Usually. Sometimes I still felt a dull pain the next day.

Finally I had an earache in the afternoon, abandoned my job and headed for the ENT. I screamed as he looked in my ears because any movement to that ear would cause stabbing, excruciating pain. Even when I stepped off the curb, the motion from hopping down from the curb prompt a stabbing pain. He looked into my ears, I screamed like a banshee, he put down his instruments and told me everything looked fine. He could find nothing that could be causing me any pain at all, let alone the kind of pain that caused a scream that rattled the windows of his office. It was that point when he referred me to an Oral Surgeon because I may have Temporomandibular Joint Disorder: TMJ (or TMD.) He explained that the pain may feel like it's in my ear canal, when really it's in my jaw at the joint. In the neighborhood, but not even close to being the same thing.

As soon as he told me what may be causing the pain (and taught me how to spell it) I knew that's what was happening. The first painful episodes began after I had some extensive dental work, and I could connect the worst episodes to other activities that could cause a strain on the jaw muscles. Doctors had been poking, prodding and violating my ears, but could never see the problem because it was below the surface. That also explained why smiling or laughing would make things worse. Any time the joint moved, the pain would flare up again. It suddenly all made sense.

I was referred to an Oral Surgeon who asked some basic questions and took some x-rays. He said there could be treatment for the joint, but it was a last-resort measure. He put me on a diet of only soft foods for one month. Really soft. Ridiculously soft. I lived on mashed potatoes and applesauce for 30 days, suppressed my yawns, and basically did everything I could to keep my joints relaxed so they could recover. I kept my mouth shut for thirty days, and I am happy to say - it worked!

It's been a year and now that I know the source of the pain, I take extra caution not to put a strain on my jaw. I have gone to the Dentist three times since then and each time I reminded them of the TMJ and they let me rest my jaw so it's not open at full hinge the whole time. I don't chew gum, I don't eat anything that involves excessive masticating, and if I start to feel some pain coming on in that area, I immediately grab the ibuprofen to try and keep the pain at bay. In the last year I have had a bit of pain in the joint, but nothing like what I had been experiencing. Thank heaven for that because that kind of pain is intolerable, especially when it's as unpredictable as it was.

Other than the ibuprofen, it didn't take any surgery or drugs, but only a change in behavior to keep the worst pain imaginable from coming back. That is the reason I am writing this blog. I am not exaggerating when I say that I scoured hundreds of web pages, desperately trying to learn what could possibly be causing my intense pain. I found a few medical message boards, some of them were four years old, but most of the people writing about the symptoms were folks like me who were looking for a diagnosis - and then responses by people offering dozens of possible causes. I apologize to the regular readers if you've made it through this entire entry and feel like you're in a nursing home listening to people ramble on and on about their ailments. I know it's not interesting, but it's important to me. I needed to put my experience out on the web, just for the possibility that someone with the same symptoms may read this during a desperate google search like I performed so many times. Self diagnosis is not always recommended, but in this case all it took for me was to eat soft foods and relax my jaw to stop the most excruciating pain of my life. If you stumbled upon this blog because you were experiencing the same symptoms I was, reach for the mashed potatoes and applesauce for a while. Give your joint a rest for 30 days and if you see a remarkable improvement, you may have just learned something it took several months, numerous doctors, and too many incorrect diagnoses to discover.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

DC Hawkeye on Ice

I love hockey. There are few things I love more than hockey, but I should clarify: There are few things I love more than watching hockey. I have never played hockey. Despite my predisposition toward anything involving humiliation and/or physical injury, I've never even strapped on a pair of skates. It's something I've wanted to do for years and have talked to friends about going out and doing, but it just never got done. Until today.

This time I didn't even try to sucker anyone into going with me, I decided to go to Kettler after work and find out what I'm made of.

The timing wasn't random, it was actually inspired by this article in yesterday's Washington Post Express about a hockey "skills & drills" class. The part that captured my interest was how they describe that the class "...takes anyone who can skate and teaches them how to hustle a puck." That sentence alone got me into a pair of rented ice skates 24 hours after reading. Having "learn how to skate" on my to-do list is one thing, but considering that to be the only thing standing between me and learning some mad puck-handling skills is another thing altogether. Learning to skate is no longer the goal, it's the annoying precursor to the awesomeness of me actually playing hockey someday. Heck, I play in a skeeball league, hockey is the next logical step, right?

So, a few hours after I read the article I began looking online for places that have beginners lessons on how to skate. There are a few places in the area, but it looks like my best bet if I want to start learning ASAP is in Rockville. They have a six-week class that began on May 15th, but I can still sign up having missed the first class. I was ready to do it, but I thought it would be best to head out to Kettler and find out exactly what I'm dealing with here. I mean, if I break my ankle during my first class, then I've wasted a lot of money! I want to know I'll be able to make it five weeks. Naturally, I headed out to Kettler so I could break my ankle tonight with less financial burden.

I didn't break the ankle after all, though I expect it will be a bit swollen tomorrow from all the wobbling.

This was a very difficult thing to do by myself. I knew that I could have found someone to go with me sometime this week, but I was on a mission. I had to do it today while I was making up my mind about the classes in Rockville. I arrived at the adult public skate as the Zamboni was resurfacing the ice. Then I watched a line of adults skate out onto the rink. Some were off to the side working on various skills, but most of them were skating laps around the ice. It was very much like the roller skating rink. Everyone skates in a circle at various speeds. I asked the girl at the skate rental counter, "I have never skated before. Would it be a horrible idea to go out there right now, never having any lessons, not knowing what I'm doing?" She thought it was a great idea. "You're never going to learn anything until you get out there." Damn her and her skating wisdom! I half wanted her to talk me out of it. She did the opposite of talking me out of it. She encouraged me.

Not only did the girl at the rental counter encourage me, but she was extremely helpful. She gave me some tips - told me to try figure skates first, rather than hockey skates. She showed me the different blades and explained how you have to balance your center of gravity differently on hockey skates and it's harder to do if you're skating for the first time. She told me not to try and use the toepick to stop, and then (bless her heart) when I told her my shoe size, she examined all of the skates to find a good, sharp blade. She told me where the lockers were and sent me on my way.

I was surprised at how well I stayed balanced on the skates, but that didn't stop me from clinging to the boards for dear life. I recognized one of the guys as a Kettler employee and asked him for pointers. He was so unimpressed with me. "I can't, I've got to watch the skate." I explain, "Oh no, I'm not asking you to 'show' me anything, I just don't know how to get started. How long of a stride I should take, how to lean, that sort of stuff. You don't have to show me, just tell me how to push off." He was unflinching: "Ehhhhh, I'm not an instructor." I was obnoxious: "But you know how to skate!" The best I could get out of him was that the instructors say to stride about the same as walking, and to hang onto the sides all the way around the rink if I have to. Thanks! I hope no shenanigans went on during the public skate while you took the time to talk to me!

I kid the skate supervisor, but I did heed his advice about hanging onto the sides. I stayed within an arm's length of the boards at all times. It was like training wheels. I'd get going for a while and then I would wobble and catch myself. I think the ice along the sides may have been harder to skate on because there were so many grooves already in the ice that I could feel myself skating in and out of divots, which made it harder to maintain my balance. In the endzones there were a lot of people working on various skills, so it was considerably more embarrassing to make my way around the corners because people had to get out of my way. It was pretty clear that I was going to keep my grip and was not going to go around them. (For their own safety, really. If they're standing between me and the ledge, I'm still gonna grab the closest thing to me when I lose my balance. Better to be the boards than them!)

I took a couple of laps and each time I was interrupting the same people who were camped out along the endzones. They were not hanging on for safety as I was, they were working with other people on specific skills. Two girls looked like they were doing some kind of ballet moves and using the ledge as a barre. They did not much care for my intrusions. In fact, many of the people looked annoyed as I made my laps. I came around the corners very apologetically and poking fun at myself while letting them know it was my first time. Everyone was accommodating and usually nice about it. It still didn't stop some people from scowling at me. I began to wish I had worn an eye patch, or something that would immediately make them feel sympathetic toward me or think that something was wrong with me so they would be more patient. If I had some deformity, or was wearing a head brace or neck brace or something, I think I would have gotten a warmer response from other skaters. I didn't have anything to outwardly evoke sympathy. I could never fake something like that and my actual physical shortcomings wouldn't have warmed anyone up to my strugles. For example, if I had skated by shouting, "Asthmatic, coming through" or, "Pardon me, I have irritable bowels" as I plowed through the arena. Nope, I'm just a regular person with regular problems, who just happens to not have a clue how to skate.

I took three good laps and it started to get easier until the Kettler employee who is not an instructor blew the horn and everyone began to skate the opposite direction. This was a game-changer. Up until then I felt like I was making progress with my right hand out to steady myself, grabbing the boards when I slipped up (which became less and less frequent.) When we switched directions, I had to use my left hand to catch myself, and that was much harder to keep steady. After one more lap I knew it was time to quit. If I sign up for lessons in Rockville, my first class will be this Saturday and I didn't want to push myself harder and put more strain on my poor ankles before then. Plus, the exasperated looks of the other skaters was beginning to make me feel self conscious. My Midwestern sensibilities recognized these two rules of thumb: Don't beat yourself up before you even begin, and don't wear out your welcome. It was definitely time to go.

I returned to the skate rental counter and my friend from earlier was at another counter talking to coworkers. I called her over and she asked if I was trading the skates for another size, I said, "No, I'm done. I'm turning them in." She said, "Oh. You can just leave them on the counter." I was hoping she would ask how it went and talk to me some more about how to get used to skating. Instead, she pretty much told me that I had called her over there for no reason. She was so over me. It was time to go.

I'm going to keep at it and eventually it will get easier and the wobbling will stop. After that, I'll move on to the new challenges of trying to learn how to handle a puck. It's times like this when I wish I could be a kid again. Trying new things is so much easier before we learn the concept of humiliation.

Sign in time: 8:02 p.m.

Sign out time: 8:25 p.m. That includes the time it took to rent the skates, get some pointers, and get a locker. I must have been on the ice only 15 minutes but it felt so much longer!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Photos from the 6th Annual Hockey Disabled Festival

I heard the Stanley Cup is leaving Laurel on Friday, so I made a last-minute trip to see it Thursday night. That was a fantastic decision. There were only a couple of games on Thursday, so it was nice to learn my way around The Gardens IceHouse before it's overtaken by crowds on Saturday. (P.S. As a hockey fanatic, I kind of loved it there and never wanted to leave.) Here are a few fun photos from the night.

I'm not sure what's going on here. It would appear that the NOVA Cool Cats mascot may also be the goalie coach. Is there anything that Catze can't do?

It was really cool to see the mascots walking around throughout the evening.

This is the Baltimore Saints mascot celebrating a goal.

Something I thought was really cool about the Gardens IceHouse. Upstairs they have a few seats that were taken from old arenas throughout the country and throughout the decades. According to the Certificate of Authenticity you see here, some were from the Detroit Olympia, the Home of the Detroit Red Wings from 1912 to 1970. They also had seats from Boston Gardens, Camden Yards, and former arenas to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.

Hockey changes lives

On Wednesday this week, I was pleasantly surprised to see one of my blog posts linked here, to the blog for the USA Hockey Disabled Festival. The blog is written by Mark Miller, the Communications Director for the American Special Hockey Association, and I would not even know about the Festival were it not for his diligent work in getting the word out about the Festival. I think that every blogger loves those little moments of validation where we have actual, solid proof that someone is reading what we write and we are not just spewing words randomly into the blogosphere for nothing. Getting any props from a humble blog like mine is a pretty great feeling, but the mention in the HockeyFest blog was more than just a general shout-out. For one brief moment, I felt like I was a part of something.

I have been looking forward to the 6th Annual Hockey Disabled Festival ever since I learned of its existence (admittedly, not terribly long ago!) I wrote about how much I enjoyed watching the U.S. Paralympic Games this year, and I have been telling everyone about the Festival in Laurel this weekend. The Paralympics, like the hockey games this weekend, are something that I feel not enough people are exposed to and (generally speaking) it falls under the radar of most of us as we go about our everyday life. This is something that frustrates me because I am so enthusiastic about sports, and feel so strongly about supporting disabled athletes. Professional athletes generally make a lot of money and they are always referred to as "role models" but I don't buy into that so much. I honestly don't know of any professional athlete who is more of a role model than someone like Joe Bowser, who lost his leg from an injury in Iraq, and will play for the USA Standing Amputee Team this weekend in Laurel. As he says in the interview in USA Hockey Magazine,

...you have to play with the cards they deal you. You have to adapt and overcome any kind of injury or disability you have and make the best of it.

and watching some of the players this weekend, you will see people who have not only learned to adapt and overcome, but persevere. Unfortunately, it really is something you have to see with your own eyes to understand how inspiring it is to watch these athletes at work. I have told so many people about the Festival and have had some people ask a few questions about it, but most people have no knowledge whatsoever of the Paralympics, or disabled sports... they have no idea what to expect. So, oftentimes when I tell someone about the Festival and invite them to go with me, they just don't seem to think it's going to be any fun. Many times, the response I receive is something to the effect of, "Aww, that's so nice that you're doing that!" When I hear that, I know that they don't get it. They just don't understand.

Many of the folks I've invited to the Festival seem to think it's something to do as a way to volunteer time and support, more so than a fun and exciting way to spend their weekend. This is the hardest thing to get through to people who haven't been exposed to this kind of sporting event before. While I'm sure that any athlete appreciates support and loves to hear a crowd cheering, providing applause is not the reason to go to Laurel this weekend; go to Laurel and catch a game this weekend because it is FUN! When I see the folks who play sled hockey, or watch the Paralympians compete, I feel strength. I feel hope. Life is full of challenges for everyone, and it's easy to let things build up and get you down. But when I see someone like Joe Bowser play... I know that everything is going to be alright. It helps me to meet my own challenges, and it puts things into perspective. I often get stuck in a rut. I go to work, I go home, I'm exhausted, I go to my second job on the weekends just to make ends meet... It's easy to feel like life is repetitive and exhausting, and we don't take the time to consider our sense of purpose. It's easy to get depressed. But like Joe Bowser says, you have to adapt and overcome. And when I consider how he has overcome obstacles that are unimaginable to me, and is such a role model for serving his country, hanging on to the sport that he loves, and working to improve the lives of others... it's a much-needed reminder that we all need to turn a bad situation into an opportunity and make it work. Watching people who have overcome obstacles greater than my own, and seeing them compete as more of an athlete than I will ever be... that is a truly moving, empowering experience.

If you are unable to make it to the Festival this weekend in Laurel, then please try and make it to your television set on Saturday afternoon. NBC will broadcast a 90-minute highlights show from the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. If you can't make it to Laurel to meet the members of the gold medal winning sled hockey team, please take the time to watch them on television and see for yourself why this is such an uplifting, exciting thing to watch. It's more fun than you might think, but you'll never know until you try.

Tonight, I was able to convince a friend to go to Laurel for the first night of the Festival. The Stanley Cup was there, and he is a Capitals season ticket holder, so it wasn't so hard to convince him to make the trip. Although, I could see his shoulders slump a little bit when I told him that after getting our pictures taken with the Cup, I wanted to watch a couple games. He is a good friend and he indulged me as we went into one of the hockey rinks inside Gardens IceHouse. We showed up in the middle of a special hockey game and looked through the program to get a better idea of who we were watching and where they were from. After a while, he was getting into it, too. We had a great time! We were going to leave around 9:15 and I asked if he wanted to leave but he said, "It's over at 9:40? Why don't we just stay and watch the end of the game?" And I'm glad he did because the game got so much more exciting as it went on! There were kids of all ages on the ice and we saw some impressive saves by the goalie, some breakaway shots, and I'm pretty sure one player had a hat trick. (We did not throw our hats on the ice, that may not have gone over so well.) On the ride home, he was grateful for having learned about the Festival and was suddenly asking questions about the events for the remainder of the weekend. He is now very excited to attend the USA Warrior events on Saturday and during the ride home he was making a mental list of military friends he wants to invite. It was fun to see his reaction, which was much like my own, in questioning, "Why don't more people know about this? This is awesome! We should tell people!" Indeed we should. We will encourage everyone to come out and catch a game or an event or two in Laurel. And if they listen, they will thank us. Just as he thanked me, and I thanked Mark Miller. And when we're done, we will all thank the athletes and the family members who support them. For showing us the strength and fortitude of the human spirit.

Monday, March 22, 2010

USA hockey gold medal

The 2010 Paralympic Games have ended with a much sweeter outcome for USA hockey than we saw last month. Sled hockey, that is. Team USA didn't just win the gold medal at the Paralympic Games, they dominated every team. The games are set up tournament style, much like the Olympic Games. The U.S. beat Korea 5-0, Czech Republic 3-0, Japan 6-0, Norway 3-0 and Japan again 2-0 for the gold medal. (Japan beat Canada, which helped them advance to the gold medal game while team Canada played Norway for the bronze. Norway won, Canada did not medal in sled hockey.)

Team USA played five games and did not allow a single goal in the entire tournament. That is amazing. But that's just one of numerous amazing things I witnessed in the Paralympic coverage.

Every night last week at 11:00 p.m., I deprived myself of sleep to watch the Paralympic highlights. During this time, I watched amputees play hockey, I watched blind people ski down the hills in Whisler - slalom style. My jaw hung open, thoroughly impressed, as I watched a man with no arms cross-country ski. To my amazement, the event I was watching was not just cross-country skiing, it was Biathlon. He then proceeded to the shooting range, then got back up and finished his 12.5k cross-country ski. This was Josef Giesen from Germany, who went on to win the bronze medal.

Watching these athletes affected me very, very deeply. I enjoy watching sporting events and competitions, but the perseverance I saw in these athletes was awe-inspiring. Watching these people overcome the odds and achieve this level of competition is indescribable. You simply have to see it for yourself.

Therein lies the problem. NBC owns the rights to the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics, but they made the decision to show only the two hours of highlights on Universal Sports - a channel that most people don't have, or may not even know if they have it. Unless you go out of your way to seek out the Paralympic coverage, it is very easy to let the events just slip by you. I'm glad I did not let that happen, but I can't help but question who is making decisions for NBC. They decided not to show these games, but they had plenty of airtime for the Marriage Ref and other sub-par reality television.

It really perplexes me that there was so little broadcast coverage for the Paralympics. I understand that there is not an audience for them like there is for the Olympics, but there never will be if the public never has any exposure to them. It makes no sense. All of the tragic backstories of the athletes were dragged out and mentioned endlessly throughout the Olympic Games. The whole world wanted Joannie Rochette to win a medal for figure skating after her mother passed away. The suspense of whether or not Lindsay Vonn could compete with her shin injury was built up to a climactic and triumphant finish when she won the gold medal.

I don't wish to diminish the challenges the athletes faced, but I do wish to point out that perseverance and overcoming tragedy is a big theme every year in the Olympics. Yet the Paralympics, where every athlete who competes has already overcome odds, is not even mentioned in the mainstream. Du Haitao of China lost both of his arms playing with high-voltage electricity wires when he was four years old. Two of the four U.S. gold medals were won by Alana Nichols, the first woman to win gold medals at both the winter and summer Paralympic Games. I could go on and on, but I will spare you any additional rambling. I would simply like to argue that a double amputee does not compare with an injured shin on the tragedy scale.

Everyone in life feels discouraged at some point, and most of us have felt sorry for ourselves, feeling like the odds are against us at any given time. There is nowhere better than the Paralympics to truly witness the strength of the human spirit. If you ever find yourself feeling powerless and feeling sorry for yourself, watch a visually impaired person ski slalom down a hill. Or someone with no arms ski cross-country without poles. It will put things into perspective real quick. I hope the 2012 Summer Paralympics find a bigger audience. I also hope that the fact that Russia won more Paralympic medals than any other country helps ease the sting they felt at the Olympics. It's good to know that some Russian jobs are safe this time around.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

If only I had become Mrs. Corey Feldman...

We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture. Magazines like US Weekly, Star, and OK! line the shelves with enticing photographs of famous and beautiful people, with hints that their lives may be even more miserable and complicated than our own. Perez Hilton and the hard-working folks at TMZ work tirelessly to keep us up to date on how truly screwed up the lives of celebrities are. Many people eat this stuff up and escape their own mundane day-to-day lives by immersing themselves in the glamorous and tragic lives of celebrities. I am not one of those people.

Most popular culture celebrity references go right over my head. Unless it's Kanye West on an awards show during a slow news week, I'm pretty oblivious to what's going on in the lives in the rich and famous. The reason I feel it is necessary to explain how removed I am from celebrities is because I'm inclined to do something that feels very out of character. It is one simple gesture, but maybe it could turn into a slippery slope toward obsessive fandom.

I read that Corey Haim's mother is seeking donations to help pay for his funeral expenses. I am usually pretty unaffected by celebrity deaths, but when Corey Haim passed away last week, I felt like a dark cloud was hovering over my childhood. My crush was actually on Corey Feldman, but the two Coreys came as a packaged set back in the 80s and early 90s. Posters of both Coreys lined my walls and I was determined to marry Corey Feldman and one of my classmates was going to marry Corey Haim and we were going to live happily ever after, right next door to one another. We had no doubts that as soon as the Coreys met us, they would realize that all of the beautiful celebrities they dated paled in comparison to the devotion of two Midwestern girls. Unfortunately, we had to find a way to meet them first. That was the biggest hurdle, I think. It never worked out.

It feels really silly, but I may have to make a donation to Corey Haim's memorial fund. It feels silly for a couple of reasons - one of which is that the amount of cash I could afford to donate would not buy much more than a floral arrangement. Also, I have no personal relationship with this person and the idea of giving money to a celebrity just feels... backward.

The request for donations went out on Friday, and since then I have read that they have had some support from the city of Toronto (where the funeral will be held) and a celebrity auction site is rumored to have offered a sizable donation to help pay funeral expenses. Still, something pulls at me to contribute a modest donation to this fund.

I watched the A&E reality TV show The Two Coreys in 2008 (the one reality TV show I actually watched) and I do believe the reports that Haim probably was broke when he died. I hardly recognized him as the fresh-faced kid from The Lost Boys whose photos lined my pre-teen bedroom walls. The show centered on the fractured relationship between Haim and Feldman. They both had conflicting chips on their respective shoulders. Feldman seemed to have his act together a bit better than Haim, although he should never ever ever write and perform another love song for his wife. Under no circumstances should another performance take place like the one I witnessed on that show. It was bad even by reality television standards.

Even still, knowing that my small donation will make little difference, knowing that it may not be as badly needed as originally thought, and knowing that there are many other charitable ways I could part with my money, I think I'm going to make a donation. I never knew him personally, and he never got to marry my friend, but watching his films and obsessing over the Coreys as a kid is a happy memory for me. The subsequent path he took through life toward self-indulgence and self-destruction is sad, and his untimely death is tragic, but my memory of his work and my absurd childhood obsession is a pleasant one. I'm not sure if it's rational, but it makes me feel a little bit better to be one of the many people who let his family and loved ones know that he made a positive impact in our life. Plus, maybe I also feel a little bit of regret. If my friend and I had just tried a little bit harder and been a little more proactive in our plan to marry the Coreys, his life would have been very different. If only he had married a younger, awkward, obsessed, Midwestern fan.

[update: 3/17/10. In case you're wondering, I ended up donating $25 to the Memorial Fund. It's not much, but it's at least one dollar for every Corey poster to ever hang on my walls.]

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Au revoir, Winter Olympics!

For the last sixteen days I've been glued to my television set and watching the Winter Olympics. I hate to see them go, but when I saw William Shatner talking about having sex in a canoe, I knew it was really over.

Closing ceremonies aside, there has been plenty of entertainment during this year's Olympics. Every day since they began, I have come home from work, turned on the TV, finished up some work on the computer, and had the Olympics on for the rest of the evening. It's been wonderful! Some events I watched with great excitement (hockey) some I just watched passively (figure skating) and some I watched reluctantly (curling.) But the Olympics and I have been together throughout and I'm really going to miss having a constant competition to watch.

I don't know when I became such a sports fan. I think it was when I moved to Washington, DC. When I lived in Iowa, I was a C-Span junkie and constantly watched that network or the news. I have always been a hockey fanatic, but I think that when I moved to DC and surrounded by C-Span all day at work and living inside the beltway, my attention turned to sports to escape the total immersion in the political climate. I was ready to cancel my cable television until I found out I could add a sports package for $5 a month. I wanted to reach into the phone and hug the representative from the cable company when she signed me up.

Now I have traded watching C-Span in Iowa for watching ESPN, VS and the NHL Network in Washington. I actually blame it on the fact that there is not much entertainment on television anymore. Whatever the reason for my attention toward sporting events, I have really enjoyed the Olympics this year and I am really hoping that I will be able to watch some of the Winter Paralympic Games. The opening ceremonies will begin on March 12th in Vancouver at 9:00 p.m. I have never paid much attention to the Paralympic games, but after watching Murderball a few months ago and currently reading Mark Zupan's biography, I have a new-found interest in the competition. If I can go from being half asleep to jumping out of my bed in excitement at watching Latvia tie up a game against the Czech Republic, I can surely cheer enthusiastically for Team USA in Sledge Hockey.

It's all the spirit of competition, and that's what makes the Olympic games great. The athletes compete so hard and so passionately, and it's inspiring to watch someone compete when it clearly means so much to them. The Paralympic games will be no different. I actually anticipate they will be even more so. It is unfortunate that I've had to go to such great lengths to find out if the events will be televised. It is also unfortunate that when I mention the Paralympics to others, they often get them confused with the Special Olympics. It is a very different type of competition. If you are reading this and you do not know the difference, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the Paralympics do not get much media coverage. Televising the events would do a lot to show the perseverance of people with physical disabilities. One paralympic athlete was named to the Canadian Olympic team although in the end he did not have a chance to compete.

In my quest to find out if I will be able to watch the Paralympics after all, I did find a petition online to protest the decision not to work out a deal with NBC for the Paralympic games. I urge you to learn more about the games, and watch online as I will be doing and cheering once again for Team USA: www.petitiononline.com/USOCTV/petition.html

Saturday, January 30, 2010

It's hard out here for a blogger

I've used blogger for a couple of years and I sometimes still feel like a senior citizen with their first computer. ("How do you turn this on? Where is the 'any' key?") I often feel like the equivalent of my dear grandmother when I watched her try to figure out which end of a cellphone she should talk into and which one is for listening. I posted something earlier tonight and I learned that if you save a draft repeatedly before posting, the post date will go back to the date that you started to write it. (Although this is quite easy to change.) I didn't bother to change it because I was quite surprised to learn that I started working on this on january 4th.

If you are wondering why a blog that took three weeks did not end up better constructed or more entertaining, this recent post may give some indication. So, in case you're interested (and I'm not sure that you are) here is what happened...

I started to write and kept running out of time so I pieced it together carefully and added links whenever I had the time. I finally decided to forget about polishing and editing and just post the damn thing on January 16th. It was late at night, I was tired, when I noticed that the spacing between paragraphs was screwy, I intended to copy, paste and edit, I did something that can be better described as cut, cut and cut. The next thing I knew the blog entry was gone and when I tried to retrieve it, all I had left was the title. So, I saved the title, created a new blog whining about how much it sucked that I deleted everything, and went to bed - several hours later than I should have.

Tonight I decided to write and post the blog I had originally intended, and it was nowhere near as well developed as the one I deleted at 4:00 in the morning. I had no idea it had been that long, but my intention was to post it on January 4th and make a snarky comment about how infrequently I have been posting lately. I would love to post every 7 to 10 days, and there's certainly enough randomness in my daily life to be able to come up with subject matter. It's just so hard to find the time to post, work six days a week, spend hours on the phone throwing myself on the mercy of my student loan lenders, worry about paying bills, stay sexy, pay taxes and still find time to eat and sleep. Usually when I blog I have to cut into the "sleep" category. As much as I would love to do more, my goal is to post at least once a month to keep up appearances. The last few months there haven't been many comments and I wonder if the folks who usually read the blog have given up b/c I haven't been writing. Or perhaps they think I've given up on them. It's hard to keep that once a month minimum when you're not even sure if anyone is reading anymore. I do have to give due credit to two people who have commented recently. Thanks to M. Brady for the support on my last comment. Rich K. has also sent me email responses to blog posts. Thanks to both of you for the feedback.

It's approaching that 4:00 a.m. hour again so I should publish this before I go and do something stupid with it. I just wanted to add this entry to let everyone know there is a new entry as of today, but it is dated January 4th. If you've visited the site since January 4th, you didn't miss it. While I technically posted it today, I'm leaving the 1/4 post date because it was the original intended date; and also because - holy cow where did this month go already?!?

In the future I'm going to try and keep up my once a month standard to let everyone know I'm still alive and kicking. And who knows, if I get more feedback that other people are reading, I may throw up a random episode now and then just to keep things interesting.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The saddest thing

is when you don't have time to write the blog you want to write, so you start it four days ago and then finally spend a couple hours finishing it and adding links. Then, after having saved the draft so many times, you finally post it but you forget that blogger always triple spaces the paragraphs when you save drafts. So then you decide to copy & paste to edit and create a new entry but it did not copy. Nor did it paste. So now days and hours of work is gone and another half hour of trying to recover it has also passed. And you have to admit that the sum of your experiences that goes into a blog may not amount to much more than a trivial episode, and maybe even no one would've read it. But taking the time to write it all down and then losing it really really sucks.

Monday, January 4, 2010

December 28, 2009

On December 28, 2009 - one day before Ariana Huffington urged everyone to move their money to a local bank - I was (for the first time ever) appreciating the convenience of my own evil, bailed-out bank.

Prior to this enlightening experience on the 28th, I probably would have looked past the awful George Bailey references and agreed with the advice from Huffington & Co. When I moved to DC in 2008, I reluctantly opened an account with one of the big banks. I would have preferred to keep my money in a local bank (as I did for several years in Iowa) but the big bank was two blocks from my apartment and had branches and ATMs back in Illinois in Iowa. I hate paying those $2.00+ transaction fees, and this way I would have a better chance of avoiding them when I went home to visit family. I support local businesses, but only on a very passive and convenient level. There's a local grocery store near my apartment and I would much rather give them my money than one of the national chains, but it's not practical to spend a couple dollars more for a gallon of milk that's going to expire in two days. I can't afford to put my money where my principles are. But the Huffington Post article is right. If enough people with enough money made a point of changing their habits and moving their money to a local level, it would make a difference. Businesses go bankrupt because of people like me who are just trying to save $2.00 at a time.

It may have been easy a month ago to jump on board with the HuffPo article, but the day it was published, I was still deep in thought and beginning to accept the benefits of our global, technological society. Here's what happened.

At 3:30 p.m. on December 28th, my dad was driving me to Chicago to catch a flight back to DC. We left a little earlier than normal, just in case the underwear bomber succeeded in beefing up airport security to level: overkill. It was about two hours before takeoff, we were twenty minutes from the airport and I received a call from a friend who was in Italy for the holidays. She had gone to visit friends and was flying by herself. I was not expecting to hear from her before we were back in DC. I answered the call and chaos and drama poured out of the receiver. She was frantic. She had left Italy and was stuck in Munich. She couldn't get in touch with her family or her friends in Italy. She was being told she had to leave the airport and stay at a hostel, but she had no credit card other than her debit card connected to her checking account. She was not expecting to pay for a hostel two days before payday so she didn't have enough, but had nowhere to go and no money for the next 13 hours before her flight left. She was stuck in a country where she didn't understand the language and she didn't even seem to know why she was calling me, she was just making her way through her contacts list because she didn't know what else to do.

As the panic spewed from my cell phone, I looked at the clock and then looked over my dad's GPS. I knew that she and I had the same bank, so I picked up the GPS and typed in the name of the bank. There was a branch 7 miles out of the way, but we could still make it there and make the flight. I interrupted her desperation.

Frantic Friend: "I don't even know what to do and there's like one person in this whole airport I can talk to about it and they're telling me I have to leave and I don't know what to do and I hate this place and I'm never going to travel again and this is the worst day of my life and I..."
Me: "Listen. We're a few miles from a bank. Can you send me a text message with your checking account number and my dad and I will go there and put some cash in for you?"
FF: "Huh? [sudden cheerful, hopeful tone] Uhhh, I think I can send a text from here!! I can try!!!"
Me: "Okay, send me the text. We're going to head toward the bank and try to get you some cash right away. Stand by and I'll call you back when we get there."

We hung up, she sent the text with the account number and I ran into a Bank of America branch in a town that I would otherwise never have known existed. It ended up being the easiest bank transaction I have ever made. I filled out a deposit slip and explained the situation to the teller. I asked her when she would be able to access the money with her debit card. The teller said that since it was cash, she would be able to use her card right away. I handed over some cash I had gotten for Christmas that I really wasn't happy carrying around anyway. The teller verified the name on the account, made the deposit, handed me the receipt, and we were out of there within five minutes. I called my friend back.

Me: "Okay, it's done. You should have enough to pay for the hostel and get you home."
FF: "Ohmigodthankyousomuch. Bye!"

So, Dad and I get back on track to Midway airport and I arrive with plenty of time to spare. The rest of the afternoon in the car and in the airport, I could not stop thinking about how simple it all was and how difficult and painful it would have been even just a few years ago. Before cell phones, before GPS, before greedy national banks... who knows how long she would have been stranded or where she would've turned for help. What would have been a huge ordeal a few years ago, can be fixed in this day in about twenty minutes if you have a cell phone and a resourceful friend. It really is quite impressive.

When I finally made it back to DC, I logged onto my friend's facebook to see if she had made any updates about her trip or to see if I could find any information about how things worked out after I had talked to her. She had only posted one update in the previous three days. On December 28th, half an hour after she called me to tell me about how horrible her life was and how her holidays had been ruined, she posted this facebook status update:

I love Munich! The airport is awesome, have a overnight flight, finding a hostel to stay in. :)

There was no mention of the dilemma that had consumed her just minutes before. In fact, there has been no mention of it between us, nor do I think she told anyone what happened to her on that fearful day in Munich. As far as the rest of the world knows, there was nothing but smiley-face emoticons the entire trip.

What a difference $180.00 makes!