Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Couple of Things...

First, some astonishing and wonderful news!

The house next door to my mom's house has been sold!!!

Those of you who are savvy to the Waynesboro scene may know that our erstwhile next-door neighbors abandoned the property fifteen years ago or so. They just packed up their clothes and took off, leaving everything else behind (including, according to the new owner, a refrigerator and a big freezer full of food...ewwww). The house has been falling to ruin ever since then--a neighborhood eyesore and, as you might imagine, an attractive nuisance for less-than-law-abiding youths. Once, in fact, a group of kids broke into the house and lit a fire in the living room; fortunately, the daughter of the owners was driving by, saw that someone was in the house, and called the police.

The city has been cutting the grass in the front yard at the beginning and end of every summer. They would get around to clearing the jungle that took root in the back yard only every other year or so. Saplings were growing out of the gutters. Windows were rotting. Trees and shrubs were obscuring most of the property. There was a mound of dirt on the porch near the front door that was growing weeds and such; the new owner said that most of it was old newspapers that had piled up, somehow gotten covered in dirt (squirrels? pesky kids?), and sprouted foliage.

Now, you may picture my mom's neighborhood as some run-down shanty town, but you would be wrong. It's not an overly affluent street, certainly, but it's solidly middle class. Large lawns, mostly four-bedroom homes, near the local park. Only this house, once a modest but cute Cape Cod, could claim the moniker of "shanty."

And the neighborhood folks, well, they tried to get the city to seize and condemn the property. However the city claimed that the owners were paying their taxes and all the fees and fines associated with cutting the grass, clearing the backyard, etc., so their hands were tied. Go figure. The owners remained (and remain) in the area, staying in motels here and renting apartments or other houses there. There were lots of rumors as to why they left the way they did and why they didn't just sell the place, but until they reveal the truth (and I don't think they ever will), speculation is all anyone has to go on.

Anyway, according to my mom, who heard this from the new owner, the wife of the couple is now in a nursing home, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Apparently they sold the house to help defray the cost of her treatment. Now, no matter how bad these folks were as neighbors, no one deserves the suffering they are no doubt going through. I hope the monies from the sale help make her comfortable and keep her well cared for.

I would be lying, though, if I didn't admit to being overjoyed that this house, so long neglected, is going to be brought back to livability. Sometimes, indeed, good things come to those who wait. And wait. And wait.

Second, it's nearly that month again: National Novel Writing Month. Some of you may recall that, although I did not sign up to write a novel last year, I did my OWN personal version of NaNoWriMo to try to FINISH the novel I've been writing on and off for lo, these many, many, many, many years.

My goal was to write 30,000 words in November: 1,000 words a day. And I succeeded. But I was still about, well, 15,000-20,000 words or so short of having that first draft. I figured I could do that by the end of the year. But no. I skived off of it yet AGAIN, only picking at it a little here, a little there... until here we are a year later, and I still have those last few thousand words to go.

And to add insult to injury, in the time between then and now, Jeff not only finished one novel, he's closing in on the last few chapters of a second novel and outlining a third.

So I really need to get on the stick.

Here's my pledge: I will write 20,000 words on the novel this month, or as many as it takes to finish a first draft.

That's only about 666 words a day. Hmmm. Maybe I should change that to 700 words a day! Heh!

Here's the counter:

Let the writing begin!

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Waynesboro Y, or Why the Hell Did I Think I Was Fat?

One of the events my mom had planned for us to attend during my recent visit to the old homestead was a reception and fundraising kick-off for the local family YMCA. My dad was a big supporter of the Y back in the day. He was an avid swimmer (having taught himself to swim as a lad in what I'm sure were the o, so healthful and safe waters of the Mohawk River in upstate New York), and he made certain that my brother and I were enrolled in swimming lessons as early as allowed. Which, back in the day, was around 4 years old, or when you were tall enough to stand in the shallow end of the municipal pool (3 feet deep) with your head above water. None of this infant swim program stuff back then! The municipal pool was fine in the summertime, but once Labor Day rolled around and school started, the Y was the only option.

Except, they didn't have a pool. Or a gym. Or a weight room. Or a facility at all. They did have a swim team which, after I had worked my way through lessons from "Minnow" through "Fish" through "Flying Fish" and, finally, through "Shark," I joined.

How, you may well ask, did they give year-round swimming lessons and field a swim team without a pool? Well, mostly they used the pool at the local girls' boarding school, Fairfax Hall. And sometimes they used the pool at the local boys' military academy, Fishburne. (I think that school was named for the same family who owned the famous local pharmacy.) In 1967, the final year I swam on the team (at the ripe old age of 12), the Y moved into a brand spanking new facility, thanks to donations from my dad and others who felt the town needed such a place.

In honor of those who donated a certain amount or more, the Y put up a wall of tiles with donors' signatures on them, but apparently, over years of renovations, expansions, etc., the wall of donors was removed. Someone had the forethought to save the tiles, though, and, as the facility prepares for yet another expansion and renovation (dag! it is now 40 years old!!), the tiles were discovered. The management of the Y called the families of as many donors as they could track down to invite them to the reception and thank them personally. My mom got the call (my dad passed away nearly 10 years ago), and she wanted to go--mainly, I think, to see the tiles that were going to be on display.

That's my dad's distinctive signature, all right! It made me happy to see it, but wistful as well. I sure do miss him, and will to the day I shuffle off this mortal coil.

There were other items on display as well. Here is the one that caught my eye:

That is the YMCA swim team--the first team to practice in the brand new YMCA pool. And there I am! Can you pick me out? Let's pull in a bit closer...

NOW can you see me?

Here, I'll make it really easy.

I'm the one in the middle of this picture, the gal with the lovely headband.

And here's the thing: I thought I was fat. In fact, the surety that I was fat drove me to start yo-yo dieting from the time I was probably seven or eight years old, which has, in turn, led to a lifetime of weight issues (a situation I'm trying to turn around now, in middle age, for good).

But DAMN! I look at this picture and I see a kind of chubby face (the stupid headband really doesn't help, does it?) that hasn't yet lost its baby fat, and a fairly fit young woman's body. My big issue has always been my belly (although it took me many years to realize that, whether fat or thin, I can guarantee that my legs will remain shapely), but I'm hard pressed to find a gut on the little girl/young woman in that picture.

One thing I kind of regret (kind of) is that I did quit the team after this year. There were several reasons. I was a strong swimmer but not a fast swimmer. I could swim for hours, literally, but I wasn't going to break any speed records. As with running now, I had great form (still do, when I get a chance to swim), even on the butterfly--a stroke I hated. HATED! But, because I could do it properly (and so many of the kids on the team couldn't), I was stuck swimming the butterfly leg on a lot of mixed medley relays. When we got into the new pool, I was determined to work on my times for breast and backstroke so that they would stop making me swim butterfly. It never occurred to me that I could refuse to swim it... but then, that would have pegged me as less than a team player, huh?

The thing was, junior high was harder than elementary school, and, what with the new pool and all, our team practices were four or five nights a week instead of one. I was having a hard time juggling team practice and homework and that all-important TV-viewing time. Then I came down with the flu. When I returned to practice, we were getting ready for the regional Jr. Olympics swim meet, and I really wanted to qualify for breaststroke. So... my first day back, I found myself racing timed laps of breast against someone swimming freestyle--the idea was that I would push myself to a better--maybe even a qualifying--time. But instead, I exhausted myself and passed out in the middle of the pool. For the only time in my life, I had to be "rescued." Literally, they used a hook.

I decided that I'd never be free of the butterfly, and I'd always be a second or third stringer, swimming relays and nothing else... so I quit. But now I look back and wonder if I had stuck it out, would I have made that breakthrough? Would I have gotten to swim breaststroke or backstroke or ANY stroke at the Jr. Olympics?

Oh well...some lessons you learn a bit too late to take optimum advantage of, huh?

Well, I guess I'll just have to be kinder in my assessment and treatment of the aging chassis now!

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Temperance Physiology for Schools

Or, as I dubbed it when I uploaded the picture I took of this old educational aid, "Crazy Drunkard Chart."

As you know if you read the previous entry, my old school chum Lee and I kicked around the Fall Foliage Festival Art Show in beautiful downtown Waynesboro, VA in mid-October. The big W is our hometown, so it only made sense that, when the blazing October sun got a little too incendiary, we decided to duck into the Waynesboro Heritage Museum for an air-conditioned break. Now, I don't actually know if the WHM is air-conditioned or not, but as it is housed in the imposing stone pile that once was one of Waynesboro's premier banks, it has the cool aura only granite and marble can enclose.

It was nicely and neatly done, with well-edited exhibits and the promise (from the docent) that they were turning one of the two vaults into a replica of the late, lamented town landmark, Fishburne Drug Store. Fishburne's used to sit kitty-corner across Main and Wayne from the bank that is now the museum. It was an old-fashioned pharmacy, complete with dark wood cabinets and shelves lining the wall, the pharmacy lab in the back, and a marble and chrome soda fountain down one side. The city's philosophers, known to some (including most of my pals) as "old timers," used to congregate on the chairs outside the building and jaw and watch the passing small town scene. It was torn down in the '80s (or was it the late '70s?) to make way for another bank and a parking lot (please cue Joni Mitchell...). At any rate, apparently quite a bit of the interior was saved and stored, and now it will be on display again. Not quite the same as the real thing, but...

Anyway, the crazy drunkard chart was among the artifacts from some of Waynesboro's long lost school buildings, although upon even the most cursory of glances, one can see that it takes extensive liberties to drive home its temperance message.

Let's take a closer look:

First, we have images of the temperate man and the moderate drinker. Notice how pleasant, calm, and comely the teetotalling gentleman is. Aside from a well-groomed moustache, he is clean-shaven, neatly turned-out, firm of jaw. And he's carrying a history book! The moderate drinker is also well-groomed, but sports a tad too jaunty goatee and a mildly tousled hair style, and he gestures just a bit too wildly with his cigar-wielding hand as he lifts his glass with the other. Actually, they both look rather like panty-waists (to use the parlance of the times), don't they? Not that there's anything wrong with that... but it seems a strange tactic to use such lads as examples to lure young men away from the evils of drink, doesn't it?

Ah, but now we get to the horror story, the lurid depictions of those who drink to excess. Those would be the hard drinker and the hard drinker experiencing the DTs. What a brute the hard drinker is! Look at that scruffy beard! Look at that bulbous nose (although I warn you, kind reader: you have not seen anything yet...). But one would not in any way mistake HIM for a panty-waist. And man, when he gets the DTs, he can't even keep hold of his bottle--but he appears to be a tad better shaven, even if his attire is more slovenly. What's up with that? The eyes are a nice touch, though, don't you think?

But wait! There's more!

As you can see from the image of the entire poster, there are diagrams of various organs that are adversely affected by heavy drink and smoking. As such internal problems usually don't even register with teenagers (whom I presume were the target of these lessons--you don't think they'd trot this thing out to show little kiddies now, do you?), they subtly work in cosmetic abnormalities caused by excessive drinking and smoking as well:

Check out the true grossiosity (is that a word?) of "Smoker's Cancer." Jeez. The threat of lung cancer (and my dad's constant hacking) kept me from taking up the tobacco habit. I must say, this is much more dramatic. I would think that this hideous lip was not so much due to smoking as it was to failing to get the lesion seen to by a doctor before it took over. Sheesh.

Then there is "The Rum Blossom." Ew. Just, ew. At least this guy's eyes aren't crossed.

But really... don't you think there's just a teensy, eensy, weensy bit of exaggeration going on?

Don't get me wrong--there are plenty of reasons to avoid drinking and smoking to excess or at all...why not be straight with kids?

Case in point:

Now I ask you: how dim does one have to be to fall for these "pulses"? My guess is that kids then, as now, didn't take kindly to being hornswoggled.

Well, it provided us with several minutes of amusement, neverthless...

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Fall Foliage Festival Art Show, 2007

Well, there it is: the Main Street portion of the Fall Foliage Festival Art Show in lovely downtown Waynesboro, VA! This is one of the big events of the year for the big W, what with lots of local and regional talent displaying and selling their wares. There was everything from hot air balloon windchimes...

to stained glass panels...

to sporty verdigris frog statuary...

to the ubiquitous and much-loved funnel cakes.

Barb and Charlie? We have funnel cakes! Heh.

As you can see, it was a lovely day--more summery than fall-like, though. What with temperatures that just wouldn't dip below the 70-degree mark, this portion of the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah Valley had yet to sport much fall color, even in the midst of October. Lee and I walked from my mom's house in the lesser tree streets the mile or so to the festival, and we soon had to doff our jackets, the sun was so warm and unrelenting. And then, when we got to the festival, we were met with THIS odd sight, smack dab in the middle of downtown--not fall foliage but TROPICAL foliage!

That huge-ass palm-looking thing (look at me, ma! I'm a botanist!) would have never been able to even grow that big over a Waynesboro summer twenty years ago, much less still be thriving in the middle of October.

Ah well... it was warm enough that Lee and I enjoyed al fresco dining in the food concession area (he had a kind of Chicken Satay thingy, although it was being touted as "Chicken on a Stick," and I had an Andouille sausage), followed by yummy, hand-cranked ice cream at the SNACK concession area. Believe me, the pumpkin pie ice cream was to die for!

The wonderful Ed Brownlee was there yet again this year, he of the colorful and amusing ceramics...

Here are some more of his wares:

I love the little box bedecked with eyeballs! Stay tuned to see what I bought from him...

We ran into pals Beth and Barb (and Cortney and Charlie), PLUS Beth's daughter Erin and son-in-law Ben were there with their daughter Anya and their teeny new son Adonis... um, I mean, tow. Here's a picture of three generations, plus a doting auntie (L-R: Erin, Anya, Barb, and peeking over, just visible, is Beth):

Speaking of generations, Barb and Beth's mom, Patsy, was also exhibiting. If you look back over last year's account of the art show, you'll know that I bought an original watercolor from her. This year, another original caught my eye, but, alas! This one was just too dear. Still, here it is... there's some glare on the glass that obscures the depth of color, but trust me. This is lovely:

On Sunday, I took my mom to the art show, mostly so she could socialize. She made a beeline to Patsy's booth...

(That's Mom on the right, Patsy on the left)

Which gave me a chance to run over to Ed's booth and purchase a couple of cool things: a pitcher with the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities on it for Jeff (who is a Dickens fan) and pot decorated with a cactus-shaped alien, a sock, and so forth (it looks great on the new table in the sunroom):

I also bought a print of Patsy's called Along the Skyline Drive. This picture doesn't do it justice, but you get the general idea.

So, it was a lovely art show--and one I hope to attend for many years to come.

Next up? A look at a very weird display at the Waynesboro Heritage Museum, where Lee and I took refuge from the sun for a moment or two...

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Saturday, October 20, 2007


I know that I have promised a post about my trip to the big W, but alas! There seems to be some kind of problem with blogger--trying to upload a photo only results in an error message. After visiting the help board, I am heartened on the one hand to find out that I am not the only blogger poster experiencing this problem, and, on the other hand, extremely frustrated to realize that the problem has been going on for about ten days now.

Anyway, just letting you know that I DO plan on posting several entries on the trip, replete with lovely photos--once I can upload them! They are waiting patiently in photobucket...


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Proposition: Stop Flying

Well, not entirely. I mean, I'm not afraid of flying. But given that the last three times I have flown from Chicago to Charlottesville have been unmitigated founts of sheer frustration, I really am considering alternative travel options for the next mom visit. It doesn't matter what airline you fly. It doesn't matter how much time you allot to make your connection. Either you will miss your connection or face customer "service" incompetence and/or lack of concern so egregious that it defies human comprehension. Or all of the above.

That was the perfect storm that awaited as I left work about one or so last Thursday afternoon to visit my mom and take in Waynesboro's famed Fall Foliage Festival (this year, sans much fall foliage... but more on that in the next post).

I arrived at O'Hare to find that my flight to Charlotte, where I was connecting to Charlottesville, was delayed more that two hours. Which made it certain that I would miss the connection. So... I trundled off to the United customer service counter to see what could be done. At least United HAS a customer service counter at O'Hare, with real live breathing (but perhaps not adequately cogitating) humans working there... unlike American and their disconnected phones. (See trip to the Bahamas, back in June.)

Since my connecting flight was on US Airways, the rep could not just shift my reservation to the only other flight into C'ville that evening: a 10:00 departure. But she did make a big show of putting me on the standby list. At this point, I'm thinking that I might have to stay overnight in Charlotte and just fly out first thing in the morning... But then, after I've been sitting and reading the Beatles bio for an hour or so, it occurs to me that there might be another flight that will get me within striking distance of Waynesboro: Shenandoah Valley, maybe? So I trundle back to the customer service desk, and end up talking to a different rep. Who lets me know that no... there is no record of my being put on the standby list. But she'll do it for me. And no, she can't put me on a flight to any other destination than C'ville because I checked a bag through to there. Hmm.

The flight to Charlotte finally takes off two-and-a-half hours late. At least it is uneventful, although we were on approach to the airport for half the time of the flight, I swear. Sigh.

Upon arrival, I head to the US Airways customer service desk to check on my standby status, only to be told that the 10:00 flight to C'ville (which has now been delayed to 10:30, making the chances of the rental car counters being open upon arrival in Mr. Jefferson's own city iffy, to say the least...) has almost checked in full. Ah well. I'll just book a hotel room, and the agent can shift me to the first flight out in the morning.

"Oh, no," says the Sally Jesse Raphael look-alike who is "helping" me. "I don't think there are any hotel rooms available. It's NASCAR week here in Charlotte, you know."

No. I did not know.

"Well, there might be something." She hands me a slip of paper with a hotel clearinghouse number on it. I trundle off to call it. My first mistake. I should have at least had HER call it. But as you already have sussed, there were no rooms to be had in Charlotte. NASCAR-obsessed bastards.

I head back to customer service, where this time I am "served" by some Drew Carey wannabe with a shaved head. He's no help either. While I am trying to figure out what to do (rent a car in Charlotte and drive five hours or more to Waynesboro?), I overhear Sally Jesse giving the person SHE is "serving" a hotel voucher and explaining to him how to catch the shuttle thereto.

"Wait just a minute," I say. "You told me there were no hotel rooms."

"He gave up his seat on an overbooked flight."

"So, you DO have some hotel rooms reserved."

"Yes, but only for those who give up their seats."

"What about for those who lose their seats to missed connections?"

"That was United's flight. It has nothing to do with us." (And yes, I had gone down this avenue in Chicago: United claimed that the delay was caused by air-traffic control, and so was not *their* fault.)

"Look, I'm not asking you to pay for my room. I'll pay for my room. If you could just arrange for me to HAVE a room for the night?"

"Nope. Sorry."

"I'm sure you are. So... does the airport have some kind of accommodations for stranded travelers?"

"Nope. Sorry."

"So, you're telling me that I have to sleep on the floor or sitting up in a chair..."

"Yep. Sorry."

Oh, yeah. And in the midst of all this, he suggests that I can get my bags so that I will at least have a change of clothes.

I'm game.

Then, after he has called to arrange for my bag to be sent to Charlotte baggage claim... and ONLY THEN... does he tell me that it will take about 45 minutes. I blew a gasket--because if I was going to rent a car there, I wanted to make sure I could get on the road fast (by this time, it's about 9:30... and if by some miracle someone has a mishap on their way to the precious flight, I just MIGHT get on board...I'm way past thinking straight...). I make chrome dome call and have my bag restored to the flight to C'ville... but now I'm not all that sure where it may end up.

I head back to the gate, hoping against hope that maybe, just maybe, there might be some chance. But no... everyone has checked in and anyway, I'm third on the list. As I'm talking to the gate agent, making sure that if I walk away from this connection and drive to Waynesboro, my return flights will still be valid, a confirmed passenger steps forward. Have I considered flying into Lynchburg or Roanoke? The gate agent looks: There are seven seats still available on the Lynchburg flight, which is boarding.... NOW!

The gate agent gets me a boarding pass, I run to the gate and out to the plane... at least Lynchburg is only an hour and a half from Waynesboro, and I'm pretty sure that even if their Avis counter is closed for the night, there will be a hotel room available.

But the Avis counter is open! And I rent a car for only a small amount more than I would have in C'ville (the drop-off charge for returning it to C'ville rather than Lynchburg).

And I am on the road.

I arrive at my mom's doorstep a little after 1:00 am... 11 hours after my adventure began.

It takes all of 14 hours to drive from my door in Chicago to her door in Waynesboro.

And the next day, I drive to C'ville and retrieve my bag--which, miracle of miracles, is THERE!

Really... air travel is beyond frustrating. Amtrak, as it turns out, takes a bit more than 18 hours... And I know from experience that it gets delayed too. But there's something very attractive about moving forward most of the time. And if you get a sleeper, at least you have a bed.


Next up, fun in the big W.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Rummaging, Visiting Greg, and Various Other Musings

So, here's what's been happening in my life:

On Thursday, my pal Laurie and I made one of our semi-annual rummage sale pilgrimages, this time to the big fall sale at Christ Church in Winnetka. As usual, it was quite crowded. I'm not really sure how much I spent, but not an inordinate amount. I don't think... The most expensive purchase was two yards of really fine upholstery material with fall leaves on it. I hope there is enough to recover the seats of my dining room chairs. We will see. If not, I can always just make a pile of pillows out of it. I also got a pair of Italian leather loafers, a dress with tiny houndstooth checks, a crocheted sweater, a couple of books, a pile of LPs (for the amusing cover art), a huge ceramic platter in a funky 50s shape and painted with stylized pine cones, a couple of heavy vaseline glass candy dishes, a souvenir cup and saucer from Catskill Game Farm (a place my family used to visit on our way up to visit my dad's sister's family, who lived in Scotia, New York), and what I thought was the grand prize--a huge black soft vinyl (quite leather-like) messenger bag from the Gap... for five bucks!

I've been looking for an outsized black leather bag--hobo-style, messenger-style, big-ass-tote-style--to replace my beloved old leather bookbag satchel that has seen better days. I was really chuffed about finding this bag, until I got it home and discovered it smelled as if it had been languishing in someone's basement--someone's very DAMP basement--for a decade or so. Which is probably exactly where it had been. So, after soliciting advice from a message board I frequent, I turned it inside out, sprayed it liberally with Lysol, and set it out on the balcony where it could bake in the unseasonably warm and bright sun predicted for the weekend.

Then Jeff and I started what we expected to be a two-and-a-half hour drive down to Normal to visit Greg.

A little more than FOUR HOURS later, we pulled into the parking lot of the Bloomington-Normal Holiday Inn Express.

It took us two-and-a-half hours just to travel the 60 miles or so from our door to Joliet, where we stopped for gas and some coffee. The rest of the trip was pretty much a breeze, but damn! There was some construction, but not so much that it should have made the Stevenson Expressway a parking lot at 2:30 in the afternoon. We thought we would avoid the rush hour... but I think the rush hour got moved up a bit due to the alleged three-day weekend (alleged, because we sure as hell never get Columbus Day off--but apparently others do). Sheesh!

Once we got to Normal, we had a lovely time. Greg gave us a tour of his frat house, brought us up to date on how his classes are going and his plans for summer school and/or interships, showed us how to play Guitar Hero (which, by the way, is really not much like playing an actual guitar)... we took him out to eat several times, shopped, and generally relaxed. I actually read more than a hundred pages in the Beatles biography, and I'm now up to the beginning of Beatlemania. Maybe I WILL finish it by the end of the year! Greg was a great host; we had a good time hanging out in the unseasonably nice (well, HOT) weather.

Other musings: Now that I'm reading about the Beatles (and this book is thorough--good grief, is it thorough!), I'm really jonesin' to hear some of the songs and tracks that are discussed. I put my Anthology 1 CDs in the listening queue in the car... and the cuts are very cool. But I also want to SEE the Beatles Anthology documentary as well. I hope it is on DVD... (although we tried to start Volver tonight, and for some reason the DVD player isn't talking to the TV. Merde.) AND I can't wait until Help! is finally available on DVD. I know it's kind of corny, but I have a soft spot for it: "Go to the window!" and "I wouldn't touch you with a plastic one" are old catch-phrases of mine.

Also, the black messenger bag seems much less musty now that it has basked in the Rogers Park sun for a while. It still doesn't smell like roses, but at least it is better. There is hope. Or maybe I should just bite the bullet and find a leathersmith who can copy it in nice, durable leather. 'Cause the beatings I give my carry-ons are truly ruthless.

Back to work in the morning--no Columbus Day, observed or otherwise, for us. Which is probably just as well. No offense to my Italian friends, but that guy wasn't a very nice man, all told. Still. If my employer offered me the day off with pay, I would not say no. So much for the strength of my convictions.

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