Like an Old Friend…

You know how they say your body goes through significant changes every 7 years?  Well, I think I went through the mental/emotional equivalent over the last couple of years.  Personally and professionally I’ve taken huge steps, made changes, expanded my horizons.  

Has it really been two years?  So much has happened, so much wasn’t written about.  I fell of the blogging wagon and Life kept right on marching along.  I’m going to start writing again, but the focus will probably be different.  My creative energies are being consumed by and channeled into different projects, different outcomes… different priorities.  



Where is Mr. Plow When You Need Him?

We were let out of work 2 hours early yesterday and encouraged to leave earlier if needed to reach home safely because of the storm hanging over us.  I didn’t wrap up and get all of my team out the door of our downtown Washington, DC building until 3:45pm.  Things didn’t seem too bad at that point, honestly.  The sidewalks and roads had a thin layer of slush, but everyone was moving.

I drive each day, parking in a garage downtown beneath a hotel and several restaurants.  It took me 20 minutes to get out of the garage–not because of the snow, the exit gate was malfunctioning.  It was a hint from the Fates that I ignored.

Most days I travel just after HOV on Route 66 has opened up.  Route 66 is the most direct route from our cozy apartment in Fairfax into the heart of the city.  It took me an hour to get out of downtown (a distance of about 1.2 miles, but a with lot of stoplights and a lot of tourist spots).  That’s not unheard of when traffic gets nasty for an evening commute though.  I hit a pivotal point on Theodore Roosevelt Bridge where I could take 66 and risk an HOV violation (an almost certainty) or take Route 50–a guaranteed slower path, but one without a hefty fine involved.  I opted for Route 50, and got in a steadily moving line of cars that were starting to skid here or there on the thickening layers of slush.

I began my drive home with just slightly over a quarter of a tank of gas.  This would usually last me 2.5 days of driving back and forth the 26 miles to work.  My car isn’t a hybrid, but it’s pretty darned efficient even when dealing with DC stop-and-go commuting.

As is my habit, I had dialed home just before leaving the garage (once the possessed gate decided to release us from its clutches) to talk to Jer & check on The Boy.  I always use a headset or go hands-free, and he and I chat about our workdays for as long as my commute lasts.  It’s our adult conversation time, our time to vent and laugh and talk out the stresses or successes of the day.  It’s the time during the hectic week when he has my mostly undivided attention (no blackberry, email, other phone calls, or Boy to compete with), and it’s just us talking and listening to each other.

Things started to really slow down just inside Arlington, VA.  Jer began to pull up traffic reports and Google maps of the roads that lay ahead of me and injected bits of what he was seeing into our conversation.  Somewhere after Washington Blvd, I realized we weren’t moving at all anymore.  The slush was getting deeper, visibility lower.

Jer pulled up traffic cams along 50, telling me which points along the way he saw were clear and which points looked like they might be the source of the bottleneck.  We knew it was clear  (no traffic) at Carlin Springs about a mile from where I was by Jer’s estimation.  I amused him with observations about the other drivers, the worsening conditions, and the periodic updates on the number of plows, salt & sand crews I had seen working on the roads so far.

Road Conditions around 8pm on Rte 50.

Hours on road: 3 Plows seen working: 0

An hour later my count was up to zero and I had moved .3 miles (that’s right, 0.3 miles).  The camera at Carlin Springs still showed it clear of cars.   I was starting to get cranky, thirsty, and hungry.  I regretted neglecting lunch and lamented leaving my half-full water bottle on my desk.

Another hour passed.  Visibility was horrible.  Streetlights were going out and coming back on randomly along the cross streets, casting eerie shadows on the intersections.  More cars were struggling to move after each stop, sometimes dipping into the deeper snow on the shoulder before finding purchase.

My gas light came on.

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Under the Influence (or How My Life Works in Themes)

Driving along, enjoying the sunshine, and The Boy points out a billboard ad for the local gourmet grocery store chain.  The billboard sports a middle-aged chef (he had a hat!) with rather intense eyes holding out a plate of meat.

“He looks kind of scary,” The Boy commented.

“Yeah… he’s threatening us with that plate of meat, I think.”

“Maybe that’s why people become vegetarians,” The Boy says, his head nodding sagely in my rearview mirror.

“Um… actually people are vegetarian for a variety of reasons.  Some believe it is wrong to kill animals to use them as food.  It is a moral belief, an ethical choice for them,” I try to explain.

“Yeah!  But those are just the hippies,” he dismisses.

I feel That Look settle into place on my face–you know, the one that your mother gave you when you accidentally swore in front of her–and I give That Look to Jer as I come to a stop at the next light.

“I’m sorry, did he say ‘those are just hippies?'” I ask Jer.

He grins but doesn’t answer.

“I’m going to have to pay closer attention to the amount of time you two spend together,” I say and I swear I hear him chuckle as the light turns green.

“No thanks…I’m a vegetarian”

Today I took a walk around the rainy Capitol area at lunch.  The wind was brisk, the sky was gray, but the streets were still lined with vendors selling hotdogs and tourists buying quick lunches between museum visits.

I stopped and grabbed a sandwich from the deli down the street, eating half of it as I walked and people-watched, basically trying to decompress from a a rough Monday morning.

Everything was wet.  The streets were one long puddle; the trees hung low, heavy with raindrops.  I could feel my hair curling up in the humidity.

On the corner of the mall, wrapped in a leaf-covered blanket a small old woman held a sign asking for food.  I had half my sandwich in a bag and I offered it to her along with my bag of unopened chips.

She peeked in the bag, inhaling deeply, and said “Is it turkey?”

“Yes,” I said, smiling.

“No thanks,” she said, pushing it away.  “I’m a vegetarian.”

If Jer Was an Angry School Marm

As part of his drama camp, The Boy studied different art movements–cubism, expressionism, mannerism, etc.  They used these different styles as inspiration for their sets & costumes and spent part of their days devoted to painting and sculpting (and bedazzling fabric!).

Here are two pieces my son painted:

Rock-n-Roll Rooster

Rock-n-Roll Rooster

Angry Nerd

Angry Nerd

The second is my favorite.  I keep telling Jer that it looks nothing like him, but he disagrees.

Sure, he has dark hair parted on that side… and thick eyebrows like that… and a largish nose… and black glasses–but he never wears ruffled turtlenecks or red lipstick!

I framed them today and hung them in the den.  Angry Nerd makes me giggle every time I pass it.


The Boy spends his summers going to a wide variety of camps and activities.  This year was no exception.  He spent the majority of weeks at Karate camp–taking lessons, visiting museums, swimming twice a week, hitting the beach, and making new friends.

Before that he went to Lacrosse camp, confirming his love for the sport and discovering a previously hidden well of competitiveness beneath his artsy/goofy outer coating.

Each summer he has also tried something new and different–something he typically shies away from.  I enforce this “rule” to keep him from settling into ruts and to try and keep him well-rounded.  This year he tried two new things: Tennis and Acting.

The first tennis lesson was eye-opening… for me.  He was the only boy in the group, and one of two with any coordination whatsoever.  It was painful watching the rest of the students trip, hit each other with the ball, accidentally throw their racquets, and generally miss every ball that came their way.  My boy wasn’t graceful or natural at the sport, but he could swing and hit the ball 90% of the time, which is why he was paired with the only other semi-good player in the class when the class broke up into separate matches so they could practice the basics they had learned.

The girl he was paired with was an adorable little blonde about the same age.  She was a picture-perfect tennis star from head to toe–complete with her bobbing blonde ponytail and her little pink tennis skirt.  She had a wicked forehand, and a lot of speed.

My boy took position across the net from her, proceeded to twirl his racquet loosely in his hand like the veteran pros I’ve watched on TV, his weight shifting back & forth in his ready stance.  He stared her down over the net, waiting for her to serve.

“You’re gonna DIE!” my dear, sweet, never-wants-conflict little boy hollered at her.  Thank you, lacrosse!

My mouth fell open and I slowly turned toward the little tennis-angel’s mom, cringing inside and preparing to apologize.

Before I could say anything, her mother laughed with genuine amusement and said “Boys!  You gotta love ’em!”

He and I had a nice talk on the way home about good sportsmanship & how to trash-talk without threatening bodily harm.

“Come play with the zombies,” they said.

“We can play zombies for hours, Girlfriend!” they said.

“You’ve got to get Call of Duty: World at War so we can play zombies,” they said.

“Hey, Girlfriend, you got World at War yet?  It’s soooo much better than Horde,” they said.

So, I got it.

…And let me tell you, those Nazi zombies have got NOTHING on Gears of War II’s Horde Mode.

There’s a regular group of people I play with on xbox live.  I met them through the online multiplayer matches of Gears of War II, and we’ve since tackled a wide variety of other games–including competitive UNO.  They’re all guys, naturally, and a lively bunch at that.  One of them dubbed me “Girlfriend” the first time we played, earning a spot on my friends list by shouting “RUUUUN, girl, RUN!” in his crackling, gravelly voice when I was the last one alive out of our 5-person team and up to my hips in blood-thirsty Horde with no prayer of making it out alive.

They’re good players–some REALLY good, some fantastically good–but most of all, they are zany and fun and we work together well as a team… and die quite epically/comically just as often as we succeed.

When the crew bought Call of Duty 4, I had to wait several months before I could splurge and buy it for myself. I spent months trudging through rounds of its buggy and incredibly imbalanced multiplayer matches–players who have had the game longer and played more rounds get an automatic aiming & damage bonus, thus eliminating actual skill from mattering in the match-ups–all so I could play with “my boys” and keep up with their achievement hunting.  One shot from a “veteran” player would kill me–regardless of how accurate or inaccurately their aim–where it would take me 2-3 shots (even if I hit them in the head!) to slow them down.

Eventually I leveled up enough that my shots started to count, but it was a long slow process involving a lot of swearing and grumbling on my part.

So when they all got Call of Duty: World at War, I couldn’t possibly justify spending nearly $50 on a game that was a rehash of the same game that had frustrated me so deeply–even if it did come with a zombie mode that was supposed to rival GoW2’s Horde mode.  I listened to them whine for months about how I needed to get it and how much fun they were having playing Nazi Zombies together and how I was missing out and how each new map pack made it more fun than before.

I admit it bothered me at first, but then I realized I could continue to lure them back to Gears of War 2 and Halo if I alternated pouting or remarked that I’d found some new xbox live friends to play with.  (Girls are a rare thing on xbox live, and I’m not above working that advantage whenever necessary to get what I want.)

…But then Gamestop had to go and run a sale on used copies of the game and I was looking for something different to play… so I snagged a copy.

Ugh. The game is riddled with sloppy coding–rocks you can’t jump over right next to larger rocks you CAN jump over, branches and twigs that keep you from advancing with your team, AI team members that stand there and watch while you’re alternately gutted and shot point-blank by the swarm of Japanese soldiers they ignored when they ran past, etc. I can’t count how many times I’ve tried to throw an enemy grenade back (like the prompts on the screen tell me to!) only to have the klutzy programming throw one of my own grenades instead and KABOOM! I’m down.

Another gripe is the priority order for what the action key does.  For instance: my teammate goes down (probably from a grenade he couldn’t throw back), and I run to him to revive him.  I hit the x-button to start the revival process, but instead of reviving him like the indicators on the screen said it would, the x-button promptly exchanges my assault rifle for the pistol that was laying on the ground near my downed teammate.  I hit x again to try and get my gun back OR revive the teammate, but instead it swaps for the flame-thrower that was laying on his other side.  Now not only is my teammate yelling at me that they’re “about to expire, please hurry” (read: “DAMMIT!  I’m gonna DIE, Girlfriend!  Stop f’ing around with your guns!”), but the few seconds in which neither of us was shooting at the enemy has allowed them to run past our fellow computer-driven soldiers (see my comment above about the horrific AI) and bayonet me.  So, there we lay together… waiting for the next teammate to come exchange guns/accidentally reload/possibly revive us.

And I haven’t even gotten to the zombies yet…

Fine, I thought, the co-op and solo campaign have issues–the zombie levels will be worth it!  Yeah, right.  I haven’t found them worthwhile yet.

My first experience with them was boring as hell.  I stood and rebuilt a window (which you get points for!) by facing it and holding in that beloved x-button.  The zombies come to the window and tear the boards off, but because I’m standing there holding the x-button in, every board they tear off magically flies back up and reattaches itself to the window again.  You can stand there and do that forever.

I know because I stood there and held my x button for at least 20 minutes while my 3 other teammates alternately revived/downed each other with grenades so they could exploit a glitch that would allow them to get a third gun. …not that you’d need a third gun through the first 20 “waves” of mindless zombies when you can just hold x at the window and shoot them through the boards while rebuilding the window barricades at the same time.  It was a real yawner.

I’ve played a couple more times, and we ran a bit more after we got past wave 20, but it gets so monotonous.  Run to some spot in the map, shoot-shoot-shoot, teleport to the other side of the map.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Overall, the game sucks, but I will push through the solo missions and rack up my achievements there–mostly because it’s the least glitchy mode (no gun-swapping-instead-of-reviving fiascos to end my missions prematurely) and will give me some gamer points.

If I want to play something with intense shoot-outs, increasingly challenging waves of bad guys, and fun team work, I’m  putting in Gears of War II or Left for Dead (especially with it’s new survival mode!).

CoD: WaW just doesn’t even come close to measuring up to either of those and certainly isn’t worth the $40+ price tag.