joanna irl

In Defense of Christmas decorations on November 1

I can already hear the oh-so-festive sounds of groans and moans, the snide comments and the weeping for our future.

The Christmas decorations are already in stores.

Truth be told, I saw Christmas trees in Macy’s back in September (which was just weird), but now that it’s November, I’m a lot less bothered. I know a lot of people gripe about this, and will make comments about “forgetting Thanksgiving” (come on, no one really forgets Thanksgiving), but I’m about to offer you a reasonable defense for (seemingly too) early Christmas displays.

First, the so-called “forgotten” Thanksgiving. No one forgets Thanksgiving. The “problem” with Thanksgiving is that it doesn’t have much in the way of marketing, and the origin story most of us learned in school is entirely too simplistic. That’s okay, though, Thanksgiving has turned into a national time to give thanks for what we have, for our blessings and abundance, and to spend time with family. And that’s great! But you know what’s missing?


For Thanksgiving, kids will mostly be relegated to the “Kids’ Table” while the adults swap family stories or watch football or the like. This is really and truly an adult holiday, and therein lies the marketing gap. There aren’t Thanksgiving “treats” to buy, costumes to wear, and decorations are limited to generic autumn things or cornucopias. Plus Thanksgiving is a strictly North American holiday (even though harvest festivals have ancient roots), and in November the only one in the US. There isn’t the appeal of a wide range of cultural backgrounds the way there is with Christmas or even Halloween (which is increasingly celebrated in other countries). It’s a great holiday and an American tradition, but it isn’t a BIG holiday. It’s more on-par with July 4th in the US: celebrated nationally with traditions of its own (including a specific type of meal, be it a cookout or turkey dinner) but really with little buildup and done by the next day.

So setting aside Thanksgiving, isn’t it entirely too much to have Christmas displays nearly two months before the actual holiday?

Not at all.

While I agree that most of it before about November 1 is pushing it (with the exception of craft stores, which I’ll get back to momentarily), by the time we get to November, we’re careening toward one of the largest holidays in the world. Think I’m exaggerating? As of 2011, an estimated 2 billion people are culturally (if not religiously) Christian. That’s 2 billion people celebrating Christmas. Factor into that the size and scope of the marketing in our own country, and you have a behemoth of a religious holiday.

On a smaller scale, besides an important religious holiday, Christmas has become (in our country, and many other western countries), focused on coming together with people and exchanging gifts. This costs a lot of money, be it in travel expenses, purchasing (or making), and possibly shipping. There are a lot of things we “need” for this holiday, and this huge chunk of expenses is easier to take if spread out over two months instead of one. Plane tickets are easier to find (and more affordable) with more lead-time, gift purchasing can be done in small spurts, etc. It makes sense to get people thinking about it early, and it makes sense to have things ready to go for people who need to shop early.

And speaking of shopping early, crafters are a huge category here. One of the growing trends (which makes me very happy, as it’s moving us away from the wholly commercial aspect of this whole business) is handmade gifts and decor. The thing about this is that, in order to make any kind of quantity, a person needs enough time to gather supplies and actually produce the items in question. Even making cards (which I did until a couple of years ago) took time and patience, and I often started looking for my supplies in August or September so I’d have time to find everything I needed and make them all.

Finally on a personal note, there is a tiny minority of us who have loved ones overseas for the holidays, and we all have to make sure their holiday packages arrive in plenty of time. The US Post Office has already said that for military, standard post service deadline is November 12.* That’s next week.

So when you’re out this week and you see Christmas displays and hear Jingle Bells, just take a minute before you make a snide remark, take a minute and get a little perspective. There might be someone shopping for another Christmas spent apart.


*Standard post is the equivalent of “parcel post” and means going by ship somewhere. If you do priority (or air) mail, you have almost another month. But check the chart anyway.

joanna irl


Well, doing it badly, in any case.

I was going to write about our MUCH belated holiday party from this weekend today, but NO.

If you know me well, you know I don’t think much of most ads, especially when I can tell I am the target audience and feel that THEY are pandering to me. This is not one of those cases.

While watching a recorded TV show tonight (I don’t watch live TV other than sports if I can help it, mostly because of the aforementioned ad-induced-irritation), I happened to catch the last ten seconds of an ad at the end of a commercial break.

Of a woman leaning back into a pool.


Let this sink in for just a moment.

Are you with me yet?



I had to go back and watch it again (twice) to make sure.

PRO TIP: If you’re going to ADVERTISE something like STOOL SOFTENER, maybe using a POOL isn’t the best IMAGE.

Just a thought.

Want to see for yourself? I couldn’t find the ad on a video streaming site to embed it here, but you can see it at the company’s website. Click the tab marked “Video” and watch. You’re welcome.

joanna irl

Toiletgeddon 2012, or I Got My Parents a New Bathroom for Christmas. (The exploding toilet saga.)

So here we are. It is December 5 and I finally have a story for you. I’ve already told it partly on twitter, but feel that it should be EXPLAINED. Here it is, as I wrote it, commentary added as needed.


3:28pm: Twitter I just got attacked by a TOILET.
3:40pm: Seriously, there is an INCH of water on the floor. I had to grab the rug and RUN.
3:42pm: And THEN I had to barricade the door with towels to save the hall carpet and THEN I had to run for rubber boots and wade back in.
3:42pm: Because SOMEONE had to shut off the water.
3:42pm: I deserve a metal. Seriously.

And here is where we take our first commentary break. Seriously, after I flushed it, the toilet started filling (it’s old, so this wasn’t entirely surprising) and then… then it DIDN’T STOP. It just kept on going. Water pouring out onto the floor, racing toward the door. I really did RUN. And then I called my dad who reminded me how to turn off the water, which in my panic I, of course, had forgotten. Sigh. Back to the action.

3:48pm: And NOW, Twitter, it’s leaking through the downstairs ceiling. AWESOME.

Notice the six minute gap? Yeah, I’d collapsed (feeling relieved) on the couch in the upstairs den to wait for my dad to arrive with cleaning supplies. I realized I was thirsty and went downstairs… Only to find the water POURING out of a spot in the ceiling AND out of the (purchased just three months ago) overhead light fixture. Do you get this? OUT OF THE LIGHT. It was dripping off of the five globes of that light like a weird sprinkler. I grabbed my mom’s plastic containers (sitting on the counter to dry… sorry about that, mom) and shoved them under the drips. The light, however, was DIRECTLY over the antique kitchen table… Luckily (if you can call it that) there was a tray on the table that caught and collected most of the water. The tray didn’t make it, but the table seems to be okay, after being sterilized. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here is the dripping:


So my dad got home and we unearthed the wet vac and (equipped with gloves and rubber boots) cleaned the bathroom. He even bleached it. And then my mom got home. The cleanish bathroom:


By then the ceiling (which, if you haven’t figured it out, is in the kitchen breakfast nook) was leaking in NEW places. See?


She called her homeowner’s insurance… And they arrived about, oh, an hour later. That’s when I learned what MITIGATION means.

7:29pm: Update on the TOILET SITUATION: the emergency plumbers are here. I am hiding in my room with the cats. #notkidding
7:30pm: Also I ate Chinese food (which is my go-to comfort food) and have a glass of wine in my immediate future.
7:31pm: The good news is we get a new bathroom AND a new ceiling downstairs. The weird news is they’re starting tonight.
7:53pm: There is a THING happening downstairs called MITIGATION. I think that’s an improvement, but I can’t be certain.
7:54pm: In other news, my cats still think I’m awesome, which is always comforting.

No joke, people came and started tearing out the bathroom floor, and part of the hall carpet which I hadn’t entirely saved. I saved MOST of it, though, which is apparently quite an accomplishment. Here is the halfway torn up bathroom floor:


They used a sterilizer on everything, including the table and the floors. And then they put a big fan in there to start drying it before the deconstruction crew arrived in the morning. I thought this made an annoying sound. I was wrong.

11:11pm: This is the THING that is cleaning the air after the TOILET ESCAPADES tonight.



9:38am: Well, Twitter, this morning the GUTTING OF THE BATHROOM commences.
9:39am: Things will be REMOVED. And the little space I had claimed as my writing room is now full of ALL OF THE THINGS.
9:41am: Oh. OH. And we might have to go out the front door, down the porch, and back in through the garage to get to the refrigerator.
9:44am: Sounds like the next week will be an ADVENTURE.

So the people came and started ripping out everything and we learned that the whole thing has to be redone (except, apparently, the tub) and so the bathroom is getting remodeled.

11:43am: Merry Christmas, mom. I got you a new bathroom and kitchen. Hope you like it!
11:45am: Twitter! Look at what’s happening to the CEILING.


11:53am: NOW look at the ceiling!


See how there’s only an eight minute gap there? They took that ceiling down so fast, I almost missed the whole thing. And then it looked like this…


This is the wide shot. You can see falling insulation in the back.


The deconstruction crew left not only another of those noisy fan things, they left a giant HEATER that, when you’re downstairs, makes the house sound like you’re standing on a RUNWAY surrounded by PLANES. See?



2:26pm: I have just had a shower for the first time in over 48 hours. #toiletgeddon2012


So that’s what happened. We’re still waiting on everything to dry before they start rebuilding it, and so everything is very VERY displaced, but at least the kitchen and bathroom get some TLC. And while the ceiling and bathroom were getting torn apart, I finally managed to get our Christmas tree decorated. Silver linings.


And now you know about Toiletgeddon 2012. You’re welcome.

joanna irl

Wednesday Tea Fail

Today I had Tea Fail.

I’ve been making loose-leaf tea for breakfast lately because I can tweak it a little more to my tastes. This morning I came downstairs and put the kettle on to boil, then went to check my email. When it started to whistle, I got up and flipped the lid to make it stop whistling, but left the stove top on because I realized I’d forgotten to clean my little tea strainer yesterday. The other two strainers were in the wash, so I went to dump the leftover pips… only to discover they were still damp (it’s been humid lately) so I had to rinse the tea strainer.

The water in the kettle was still boiling.

So then my strainer was wet, and I usually use it to scoop out the tea I want but didn’t want to put it into the packet of tea while wet. I reached for a spoon, only to discover they were all in the wash, too, except one of my really big soup spoons. I have really big soup spoons, too. I scooped out some tea and the spoon was so big that it snagged on the paper edge of the packet and pips went everywhere. Pipsplosion. So then it looked like there were little, well, DROPPINGS all over my kitchen AND my (also damp) hands were getting stained brown.

And the kettle was still boiling.

I finally managed to get enough into the strainer and got it situated in the pot and poured what was left of the boiling water into the pot as well. I set the timer for 5 minutes (I like strong tea in the morning) and walked off to sit down and check my email.

And didn’t hear the timer because I was distracted.

I remembered my tea 25 minutes later.

When it was almost as dark as coffee.

At that point I was so DONE with making tea, I drank it anyway. With twice as much milk and sugar as usual.

And I was WIRED for a solid TWO HOURS.

Tea Fail.

joanna irl


So, remember a couple of days ago I posted about how either the cats were DVRing things for me or that the DVR itself might have become sentient?

Well, if you recall, one of the shows I’d set it to record was Psych. After discovering that it hadn’t recorded any of those episodes for the last two months, I checked the settings, made sure it was going to record the season finale, and then found the episodes online and On Demand (for several recent ones) and got all caught up on the show before the finale.

Well. I turned on my DVR earlier and saw “Psych” at the top of the list (having been most recently recorded) and went to hit play… and watched (slightly confused) through five minutes of an unusually serious set-up for Psych. I didn’t follow any of the action, didn’t recognize any of the characters… and yet sometimes Psych is a little peculiar and plays with its own genre and such, so I stuck with it….

Until I got to the theme song/intro where I was (finally) let in on the fact that I was watching Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Not. Kidding.

I know Law & Order (all of them) are popular shows. I know this. But I have never made it through a single, solid episode (except for the time I tried to watch the British version where they wear wigs. I saw three of those and then gave up on that, too.) much less set my DVR to record it.

AND the listing (and the “info” when you push the button) still had PSYCH on it.

What in the world??

So I’ve run the cable box through its reset program, and hopefully the problem will be resolved. You see, I can’t quite take the box back yet because it’s got some shows on it that I’m saving for J and he hasn’t had a chance to watch them… so I have to wait on him to get a new box.

In the mean time…

Does anyone know what to do with a crazy, possibly-sentient DVR? Or how to train the cats to scoop their own box?

Surely if they can program a DVR they can clean their own box.

joanna irl

Bookshelf Shopping: Take 1

Actual Conversation I just had with Furniture Store Employee:

I went into a few furniture stores today to look at bookshelves. I’ve reached the point where I can no longer squeeze all of my books onto the shelves that survived the move– two broke, and I gave away enough books at the time to be okay with that, but now I’ve acquired enough books that I really do need another shelf. So today I went around to start pricing them, just to get an idea what type of investment it might be; I don’t want to buy something else that will break easily. 

After pricing bookshelves at a few places, I decided that I needed to find out what a “real” furniture store charges for them so I’d have some basis of comparison. I really prefer to buy “real” things (i.e. real wood) and only need something small to medium-sized.

Walking through the store demonstrated that “leather” sofas just aren’t the quality they once were, and that most furniture all looks the same. When I finally reached the back, they only had two bookshelves for sale, both of them $400 and both of them pressed board with laminant on them.

Do people not read anymore? I guess not. I’ve had a hard time finding shelves everywhere, but no trouble finding TV stands. Le sigh.

As I was running my hand over the shelf (checking quality, which was, as I said, poor), an employee walked up to me and asked if I was finding everything okay. (Why is this the phrase people use? Why not, “Can I help you with anything?”)

Me: Well, I’m looking for bookshelves, but these are laminant and $400. That seems like a lot.
Employee: That’s because those are real wood veneer.
Me: Veneer? So still basically a laminant. And for $400, way overpriced.

She got extremely huffy and walked away without saying another word. No one else asked me how I was finding things the rest of the time I was in the store.

Real wood veneer. *sigh*

joanna irl

Cleanest toaster oven EVER: revisited

So, if you’ve been reading my blog a while, you probably remember the Lizard Sandwich episode.

If not, well… Here. Go read.

So tonight I reheated some leftovers, went into the den to watch “Once Upon a Time,” and then when the show was over I came back into the kitchen with my plate… to find a GIANT COCKROACH sitting INSIDE the leftovers container.


Now, I’m not a huge fan of things dying, but cockroaches in my house are NOT OKAY. I yelled, and it ran…

Straight into the toaster oven.

Seriously, what is with things going into my toaster oven??

SO I got out the flyswatter and poked it and the thing SKITTERED (made the noise… I’m still shuddering just THINKING of it) and I chased it (using the flyswatter) around the toaster oven until it RAN OUT and then FLEW down onto the floor and headed STRAIGHT FOR ME.

At this point, I screamed like a little girl.

I’m not even exaggerating.

I shrieked so loud that I kind of scared myself. My neighbor is probably listening next door for banging sounds or something before he comes running, but I’m sure he heard me. I was LOUD.

And then I got the roach and flushed him down the toilet and dumped STRAIGHT VINEGAR on the floor where he’d been.

And now the toaster oven is ALSO getting covered in vinegar.

The wildlife here is the reason I have the CLEANEST TOASTER OVEN EVER.

Being the animal/nature geek I am, I actually looked up the species. Turns out this is an “American cockroach” (or Periplaneta americana) and that it measures (get this) an average of FOUR INCHES. That’s FOUR INCHES OF skittering little COCKROACH in my KITCHEN.

You’re welcome for THAT visual.

[update 1/30/12]
This morning I got up and am in the process of re-cleaning the toaster oven (for my own sanity, mostly). I also scrubbed and sterilized my teapots and (two hours after rising) am finally sitting down drinking my first cup of tea. A few minutes ago, Caspian came up to me and made his “Look, mom!” noise… the Gray Wonder just brought me ANOTHER ONE.

Guess what I’ll be spending the ENTIRE DAY DOING? (If you guessed clean the ENTIRE HOUSE then you are CORRECT!)

conservation ftw

Learn a new animal day: African wild dog edition!

Hello again, and welcome (finally) to Learn-a-new-animal-day! I promise this post will be far less ranty than my previous edition

Take a look at this animal for a moment:

This is obviously a member of the canine family, no? How can you mistake it? It’s got the face, the feet, the tail… And yet one of the most common things I hear when people observe this animal is this: “Look at the hyena!” This is absolutely not a hyena, and I think it speaks to some confusion about hyenas themselves. So let’s talk for a moment about hyenas, shall we?

This animal is a spotted hyena.

See the body shape? It’s barrel-chested. The muzzle is rectangular and the ears are set on the side of the head. And while the shape is somewhat canine, it is also distinctly not canine. Look at how it moves its legs:

It’s not quite the same. Add to this that they are not even in the Canidae family and really that idea’s done. Hyenas are in fact in their own family (Hyaenidae), within which there are several types of hyenas. Hyenas and wild dogs are in the same order: carnivora. Carnivores encompass so many types of mammals from wolves to tigers to mustelids (think weasels and otters) to bears to skunks (which are in their own family, too). So African wild dogs are no more closely related to hyenas than they are to bears. Really. In fact, hyenas are thought to be more closely related to felines and mustelids than canines.

Now let’s go back to the wild dogs themselves.

African wild dogs are also known as African painted dogs or African hunting dogs. They have large ears and distinct mottled patterns on their coats which are unique to each animal. In fact, they are endangered in large part due to poaching for their fur. Because of this they are part of the Species Survival Plan, which is a conservation program to maintain a geneticly diverse population in captivity, with the goal of one day reintroducing species to their native habitats. One interesting difference between these dogs and other dogs (including domestic dogs) is that they only have four toes on their front feet opposed to five.

Another thing I overhear a lot is that they look just like “regular” dogs. While their faces might look like your average German shepherd, they retain all of their wild instincts, are not domesticated and have razor sharp teeth. All this equates to not playing fetch with the zookeepers. I promise.

That being said, they are beautiful and intelligent and amazing. And I hope you’ll know what they are the next time you see them in a zoo. ^_^

If you want to see hyenas and wild dogs at once, to really see the difference, check out this video from National Geographic.


joanna irl

Deployment Curse

I have it. Big time.

Other people do, too. It’s an actual military superstition. Well, among military spouses anyway. See this. And this. And this.

It’s like Murphy’s Law, except it only goes into effect when your active duty (or reservist) spouse deploys. And it can start in the week before they leave, but usually happens in the week or so after they leave.

In the last two weeks, I’ve had the following:

  • The a/c flooded the garage. Again.
  • The a/c also needs to be cleaned because we discovered (when checking to fix the flooding thing) that it’s covered in salt and corrosion.
  • The front porch lights went out. And needed whole new fixtures.
  • The tub drain backed up and had to be dismantled.
  • The cats had their vet appointments and have had to go on prescription things.
  • The computer has started being wonky. It’s four years old, which is about the lifespan, but still.
  • My cell phone has started being wonky, too.
  • I’ve been sick.
  • I’ve lost several important items, such as the pet fur attachment for my vacuum… my stairs are sort of awful right now.
  • And probably some other stuff, too, that I’ve already blocked from my memory.

Today it is in the form of a flat tire that I discovered at 5:30pm, so half an hour after repair shops close, and as I’m supposed to leave for my Wednesday night commitment. I haven’t been anywhere today, spending most of the day cleaning the house (which is an ongoing project this week since I finally have the time), and I was in a hurry to leave (so I could arrive on time), but as I pulled out of the driveway, I heard a scraping sound and noticed as I neared the mailbox (end of the block) that my car was pulling hard to the left…. so I got out and sure enough, the front left tire was on-the-ground-flat. I pumped it back up to turn around and pull back into the driveway, but now I’m worried… because I first noticed a slight pull to the left yesterday on the way home from the zoo… but it wasn’t bad so I was going to get an alignment on Friday… but if my tire was low yesterday (and clearly I didn’t notice, so what’s wrong with me that I’m that distracted?) then have I hurt my axle? I sure hope not. And I think this is one of my new tires, but I can’t find the receipt for it so I’m a little concerned… because if it’s new, then I could get it fixed for free.

At least I get free towing while J is deployed. Sigh.

joanna irl

Tetanus shots: the way I REALLY feel

So, I really hate getting tetanus shots.  In fact, getting the b0osters makes me downright mad.

Y’know why?

Because if you are ever in any kind of accident or experience any trauma, they make you get another one.

WHY do I need to get a new one every 5 years if you’re going to make me get another one as soon as I cut myself??

There was a period when I got a tetanus shot about once a year because I’m just an accident-prone person. I have now reached 6 years since the last time I know for sure that I got one, and I really wasn’t planning on getting another one, but now I find out that to leave the country I have to have one. SO I need to go back to my doctor and get one.

This irritates me in so many ways.

Y’know why?

Because if I cut myself while in a foreign country, do you know the first thing I’ll get?

A tetanus shot.