Hellish Construction

I’m just going to come out with a question that has been nagging at me for years. Why do companies and corporate offices insist on team-building exercises? What is the point of this torture? I mean, it’s almost as bad as mandatory group training. Maybe worse. Oh, I understand the intention is to create a stronger bond between employees to increase the quality of work and form relationships that will inspire us to stay on, blah blah blah. But that doesn’t mean those meetings and activities don’t feel like pure hell, especially for us introverts.

Even starting a meeting with detailed introductions is obnoxious and time-consuming. Why do I need to give my biography to these people? I don’t have things going on in my life that they need to care about. There is nothing that should be of interest to them and the work we need to do. Conversely, I don’t need to know about the details of their lives. Oh Cheryl, your daughter just had her 10th child? Congratulations, but what does that have to do with the project overview you were supposed to turn in yesterday? Also, is this an impolite time to mention the wonders of birth control?

I certainly don’t need to muddy the waters by getting to know folks or sharing my life story. I mean, honestly, unless everyone gets real cool about a bunch of stuff really quickly, it’s best I just keep things to myself.

introvert hell

Some of the team-building exercises floating around offices these days could potentially be an HR nightmare. Google corporate team-building exercises and the first option that pops up is Two truths and a Lie. This oddly popular game requires a person to make three statements (two true, one a lie, hence the name, folks), and the rest of the group is supposed to guess the lie. I can see where this would be a hoot with friends while having a drink over pizza. But there are so many things wrong with this game in a corporate setting. You know that saying, you can learn more by what a person doesn’t say than what they do say? I would say that concept applies here. The lie that someone makes up about themselves could say a lot about them. What about the response of the group? I can see trouble there as well. What if a player makes up a wildly outrageous lie, figuring they were safe from any post-game fallout later around the water cooler because surely the team would recognize such an outlandish fabrication… but because their coworkers have such a strange and unflattering opinion of them, they assume it’s one of the two truths? Talk about an awkward situation.

Here are my two truths and a lie:

  1. I hate team-building exercises.
  2. Team building exercises increase my productivity and help me form solid and lasting relationships with my beloved co-workers.
  3. I hate contrived social experiences in the workplace (or anywhere else, for that matter).

Some companies go with a more physical team-building exercise like camping or paintball (pretty sure I saw that in a horror movie once and it did not go well) or ax throwing. Ax throwing. Ax. Throwing. Oh sure, great idea!  Toss a few disgruntled employees with an ax to grind (I know, I know, I’m hilarious, I’m here all week) together in a small chute while flinging sharp objects as hard as they can… what can go wrong? It just might take that feud between IT and the creative team to a whole new level.

I may be a raging introvert with social anxiety, but believe it or not, I’m great with people (don’t roll your eyes at me), but team building exercises and forced introductions complete with a mini-bio (and fun fact, don’t forget the fun fact!) are more than just a chore for me; they are agony. I despise the pop quizzes from hell they throw at us last minute in staff meetings and being forced to depend on the coworker who couldn’t even meet their simple data analysis deadline last week for getting out of that escape room in 10 minutes? Yeah, no thanks.

Now, if you need me, I’ll be in my office, away from everyone else, and doing something productive… which is where I wanted to be in the first place.

A Dilemma Only Jell-O Can Solve

I know I’ve been quiet for the last week or so, but life has once again gotten in the way of my more enjoyable activities, as it often does… too often, if you ask me.  But hey, I’m back!  And I have a very important topic to discuss.  Lucky you!

Yes, I thought it was high time I addressed something increasingly pervasive throughout our culture. Many have turned a blind eye, allowing the behavior to go unchecked and spread like wildfire over cubicles across America. Perhaps you yourself have participated in this questionable behavior.

Office supply theft, an apparently growing threat to offices in the contiguous 48 states (Hey! Don’t question my stats!). What draws people to this life of crime? What inspires once upstanding citizens to don sticky fingers (probably using glue they stole from the paper room) and swipe those pencils and pads of “while you were out” paper? What is so enticing about having one’s own stapler at home that leads a person to shed dignity and morals?

If you’re still with me, nodding your head emphatically with the warm rush of vindication washing up your cheeks, you’re probably an office manager, owner, or someone in the higher echelon of office politics. You probably have keys to the oft-revered Office Supply Cabinet.

I get it. As a culture, we have decided that stealing is wrong, even if it is just a sharpie for your son’s science fair presentation. Employees will take anything from generic #2 pencils to fancy pink highlighters, staples (for that stapler they already made off with), to paper products like notebooks and steno pads. Employers have struggled to find ways to eradicate this pestilence, this plague of thievery from their buildings.

Many offices have taken to literally locking the supplies away. Close those cabinets. Bar the doors with adamantium. Sleep well at night knowing that the only way the pencils are leaving the safety of those office corridors is stuffed secretly in someone’s bag, one breakable graphite stick at a time. Whatever you do, keep those tape dispensers and sharpies safe!

Some offices have tried giving out pencils one at a time, like little reward nuggets one would give a pet rat. What happens if you’re taking notes in the middle of a very important meeting (assuming you haven’t upgraded to taking notes on your computer, I know a few of you are still out there) and your pencil breaks? Do you then raise your hand to stop the meeting and ask permission to retrieve another pencil from the cabinet?

I once heard of an office where people were required to trade in their old, used items before getting a new one. Workers would have to run that pencil down to the bitter nub, then find the keeper of the office supplies and graciously ask them to accept the offering. What was that moment of silence like just before they received their new item? Was it heavy with the possibility of a refusal? What then?

Some offices like to implement tier distribution, an arbitrary and political division of funds that relates directly to the quality of supplies. (C-suites get the best chairs, mailroom can have the metal stools). Who determines that budget? More important, how do I get on that committee?

These measures can lead to ridiculous situations like trading and bartering between employees (I’ll give you one half-used roll of tape for that box of mini paper clips). Feeling the forced scarcity of resources, other employees tend to hoard things like colored pens (why does everyone want the red pens!) and star-shaped post-it notes. Labels emblazon everything from calculators to staplers to tape dispensers to “the one good pen” as everyone marks their territory lest the item walk, never to be seen again.

Where does that leave us then? Sneaking around each other’s cubicles, trying to catch a glimpse of what someone is hiding behind their daughter’s framed cheerleading picture? Passing private notes back and forth looking for information on who’s got the line on the white-out?

Is office supply theft truly such a scar on the face of our office culture that supplies need to be held hostage and doled out like runny soup to prisoners (all hail Les Mis)? Or are the measures to protect the supplies really just a power game? Are all offices forced to contend with some variation of a misguided, ridiculously informed, over-committed Dwight Schrute? Should office workers, in retaliation of metered supplies, break those cabinet locks and liberate every stapler and tape dispenser, finding them a new home in a mold of Jell-O? I’m not sure it would be as humorous off-screen, but perhaps it’s worth a try. Oh, who am I kidding? It would be hilarious. Now wait a minute, I know I saw a coupon for Jell-O at the local Piggly Wiggly. Gotta go, I feel a nefarious project coming on!

Brownies Your Pet Octopus Will Love!

Recipe Alert! I’ve struggled with the idea of sharing this recipe, feeling territorial with my famous brownie recipe. It’s hard to let go of family secrets. But this recipe is just so delicious, and you’re all such faithful readers. I’ve decided to lighten up and share this recipe with the world. I can’t wait for you all to try it out!

But first, a story…

As a child, whenever I needed a pick-me-up, mom would strap on her apron, pray to the gods of pastry, and weave a trail of magic through the air.

Even now, when the rich smell of brownies permeates the air (that perfect alchemy of chocolate, sugar, and butter that seduces the taste buds), I am blanketed with feelings of warmth and comfort. Tendrils of nostalgia pluck at my skin, and I am reminded, not only of my late pet octopus but the delicious brownies that were as much a part of my childhood as homework tears and rusted bikes. (You’re going to love this recipe when I share it with you!)

If my mother noticed I was feeling low, she would say, “Come on, dear, let’s bake those blues away.” Instantly any sadness I felt would melt away.

Mom and I would make our way to the kitchen, passing the chocolate river, funny dancing gnomes, and the experimentation lab where novelties like gravy-flavored bubble gum were created. This was back when my mother worked R & D for Willy Wonka … before the factory exploded. A tragedy of epic proportions, and quite the mess for blocks and blocks. I don’t think they ever got the dark baking chocolate completely cleaned up. People will be walking along making a thwack thwack noise as their sneakers stick to the sidewalk and you’ll see them cautiously looking at the bottoms of their shoes to see what they could have stepped in. And us old folks, the only ones who remember, will smile to ourselves with the bittersweet memories. (Bittersweet! Get it?)

Authorities never came out with an official statement, but some blamed it on the Evangelicals. Apparently, they had tried to recruit the Grandfather (on account of his miraculous “golden ticket” recovery after years of illness and an inability to walk or participate in household chores). Unfortunately for the family (and chocolate lovers worldwide), they determined him to be a fraud. The kid was so enraged (whether at the Evangelicals or his Grandfather, I don’t know) he blew up the factory. Thankfully nobody was hurt, and I heard he went to work for a used car dealership up in Ottawa.

After the factory incident, my mother and I met up with a band of traveling entertainers. We quickly learned that I did not know how to play the accordion with a monkey on my head, and Mom just couldn’t get the brownies baked quite right over an open fire. We decided we simply couldn’t live like that anymore. The brownies were just too good to live without. (Seriously, I cannot wait to show you this recipe!)

Eventually, we found an apartment in Muncie catty-corner from a nightclub. Mom got a job working nights doing the hula-hooping/spatula juggling act she had perfected with the traveling entertainers. During the week, I went to the high school just across the highway during the day and babysat the neighbor’s worm farm in the evening. What with all our activities, mom and I didn’t see each other much during the week. But when the weekend came and the Saturday morning opossum races at the Dollar Store parking lot were over, we skipped into the kitchen ready for brownies! (The recipe is so good! You’re going to love it!)

After washing the smell of over-exerted marsupial from our hands, we’d tie on our aprons and gather the ingredients. We kept the windows open so the lovely sounds of the high school band practice could waft through while we baked.

These are my favorite childhood memories; squeezing past each other in the 3×4 foot kitchen, the broken sounds of squeaky tubas and asthmatic trumpets piercing the air, and the comforting anticipation of fresh-baked brownies. Mom measured the ingredients (Wait until you read what they are! You will be amazed!), I poured them into the bowl, then the electric mixer would get to work. Mom always let me lick the beaters when she was done. Sometimes, when she was feeling particularly generous, she would even turn them off first. Ahhh… memories. We’d then pour the batter into the baking dish, pop it in the oven, and wait, counting slowly to sixty twenty-five times. (A secret part of the recipe that you’ll LOVE!)

Oh, the giddiness of the wait. The deepening scent of brownie sweetness. The way the machete sliced cleanly into the crispy top layer of warm deliciousness. We never could wait for the brownies to cool, always ate them fresh out of the oven. The doctor said my burned taste buds will never grow back, but you know what, it was all worth it! I wouldn’t trade those afternoons with my mom for anything, not even a tongue free of scar tissue.

And Mom? She stills does her hula-hooping act, only now it’s with her in-house mime troupe at Our Lady of the Aardvark Retreat Center (now that’s a story for another day!). She can’t bake the brownies like she used to (having lost three fingers from her right hand in a cocktail umbrella fight down in Cancun), so I’ve picked up the torch.

It’s time this legendary recipe was shared with the world! So now, without further ado, I give you the most delicious brownie recipe EVER! Enjoy!

brownie mix1

Lucky Charms or Magically Malicious?

People will try ridiculous things to get rid of their old junk. Craigslist ads are prime examples of this. Some people employ humor to flag down the attention of potential buyers. Others appeal to our psyche’s darker, inquisitive sides and rely on the macabre factor to garnish views. Sometimes, the difference between the two can be blurry and questionable.

Recently, someone posted a piano for sale, clarifying that it is “Not possessed or haunted in any way.” Well, that’s an eye-catcher. Okay, I’ll bite. What else about this perfectly mundane, non-haunted piano? The lister continues, mentioning that it has only been played by “human” hands roughly six minutes since its last tuning which was 24 months prior. So human hands haven’t overly touched it, but have ghost hands had a go? I assumed this was a joke, playing to people’s love of the mysterious. They end the ad with a simple but slightly enticing plea, “Please take this out of my home.” I couldn’t help but notice some desperation in that request. Whether it was from simply wanting the piano gone for lack of use, aesthetic reasons, or because there really are ghostly hands that dance along the keys in the dark hours of the night, I’ll never know. Sadly, I don’t have room for a piano.

haunted piano main

This ad was not the first Craigslist ad to appeal to the all things creepy-loving side of our desires. Haunted dolls have graced numerous listings. These ads don’t quite have the humor of the “not possessed” piano and seem quite real (at least to the sellers). One lister offered to pay someone to take a doll out of their home, lock it in a chest, and keep it far away. Apparently, the doll talked and laughed and, though they kept trying to throw it away, it always came back. Sounds like a horror movie trope, but I saw the picture. The doll did have some wild demonic-looking eyes. I have enough issues with the “ne-er-do-well” trying to kill me in the dark, I certainly don’t need to give her a like-minded partner in crime.

holly

the ne’er-do-well plotting my demise

Another listing, aptly named “Satan’s Marionette Puppet,” claimed their haunted doll ran around the house while they slept. The doll also winked at people, though apparently no one would believe the receiver of said winks. They tried to add a touch of humor (at least, I hope that was their intention) by claiming it would make an excellent mobile for a baby’s crib. The price they asked for this gem of a nightmare… 10,000 souls.  I barely have one soul, and it’s spoken for already, so I passed on this one too.

So who buys these items off Craigslist? Well, people like my ex-MIL.

I won’t say that she is crazy, but she is unique. She once ordered a brass teapot from Craigslist that supposedly had a fairy trapped in it. The genie motif was strong with this particular haunted object, though it did end up taking a slightly Celtic turn.  I mean, I’ve heard of genies trapped in lanterns. But a fairy in a teapot? I didn’t know that was a thing. My MIL believed it, though, and she bought it.

Now, I’m not going to mock anyone who believes in fairies. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,  Than are dreamt of in your philosophy [science],” as Shakespeare once opined. But let’s just say I’m doubtful that this teapot held a fairy. More likely, the seller thought to use humor to catch the attention of a fellow humorist who appreciated a not-so-creative joke. Perhaps they hadn’t expected to be believed. Or maybe they just lied. You know, to appeal to a certain demographic.

For argument’s sake, let’s say it DID contain a fairy. As I said, my ex-MIL certainly believed it did. Let’s just unpack that for a moment. That means my ex-MIL willfully and with forethought bought a sentient being that was trapped against its will with the sole purpose of keeping it on her mantle. She actually expected this bring to bring her luck. Luck. WTF kind of luck can a kidnapped fairy bring you!? I can’t imagine it would be anything good.

From the mythology I’ve read over the years, fairies are fierce (definitely not of the Tinkerbell variety) and become downright enraged when mistreated. You know, like being trapped in a teapot. Oh yeah, pissing off a strong, supernatural being will bring you luck for sure.

So, say you do believe fairies exist in the world (which my MIL did), wouldn’t that be an awful thing to do? I mean, what does it say about her as a person that she would willfully keep one trapped against its will?  In a teapot. On her mantle. To force it to bless her home with luck.

The fact that she has also purchased “haunted” items should not surprise anyone. Fairies trapped in teapots, Satan’s Marionette Puppet, dolls that keep coming back no matter how often you discard them… there just might be a buyer for anything out there, if you know how to advertise successfully.

Have a Glass of Wine with Your Whine

Motherhood is hard. I don’t think anyone would argue that fact. It is a demanding, multi-faceted, over-worked, and under-appreciated, sometimes soul-crushing job. Of course, I know it also brings with it the most profound joy, connection, and love – blah blah blah – so save your comments. I’ll repeat it for those in the back, motherhood is hard.

This shouldn’t be news to anyone. Apparently, this was an unexpected consequence for one woman who decided to write a post for the blog called “Love What Matters.”  It’s not a long read, so please, hop on over and give it a gander. It will also help the below make a lot more sense.

Now, I have a few issues with what Ashley has shared with us, not least of which is the fact that she wrote this under her own name, using photos of herself and her child, so clearly no anonymity was intended. She’s just putting it all out there for the subject of her diatribe, her “very good friend,” to see. But let’s start with the classic debate between stay-at-home moms and working moms. Why do we still argue over who is more deserving of sainthood? Here’s a hint. It’s none of us.

She insults working mothers by claiming, “My job literally never ends. It is 24/7. No hopping in the car, driving to work, clocking in, doing my 8 hours, clocking out.” Oh yeah, cause that’s the fantasy we’re all chasing. She continues with her vision of a working mom, “…driving home to my kids and being with them for 2 to 3 hours for the night routine and then putting them to bed.” As if bedtime is ever that easy. Please.

Does she think a working mom’s job does end? *insert maniacal laughter here* For those who may be wondering, no. No, it doesn’t. And frankly, it’s disheartening to see a mother using this tripe to belittle other mothers. I’ve been both a stay-at-home mom and a working mom at various times in my life, and they are equally fucking hard. Let’s end that tireless debate and put it to rest. Something we all wish our kids would do at a decent hour every evening.  

Then there is the focus of her essay, her “very good friend” going to a bachelorette party. I mean, how dare she!?  I understand the feelings of jealousy, especially coming off such a tough week.  “…near the end of what seemed to be one of the hardest, most tiring weeks of my life as a mother and wife.”  I also get the feelings of hurt that this friend didn’t make it to the writer’s wedding. Although I feel like we are missing a lot of context with that one.

First off, if you choose to have a destination wedding, you don’t have the right to get mad at anyone for not coming. It’s a big commitment, a big ask. People have to take time off work, use their vacation days, spend untold amounts of money to come to a celebration centered around you. Not everyone has that luxury. Maybe this friend wanted to be at her wedding but couldn’t afford the price tag or the time off work. Perhaps now she is in a better financial position to take time off, and it just happened to be for another friend’s bachelorette party (arguably way more fun than a wedding) that was closer to home.

The writer says her friend deserved this trip. Then be happy for her. Don’t write a blog post complaining about how selfish she is to share her deserved adventure with a good friend. It sounds to me as though her friend thought she’d be interested in the photos and what was going on, not lording it over her. Obviously, the writer did not appreciate it.

Ashley questions her friend’s loyalty and commitment to their friendship, but that sure seems like a stretch. On the other hand, Ashley seems almost hateful when talking about her “very good friend,” telling all and sundry “Don’t be that friend. Don’t be rude, don’t be selfish and only think about you.” The lack of self-awareness is strong here, don’t you think?

I get it. The writer had a rough week with her kids. I get it, I do. Unfortunately, that happens in parenting. A lot.

One of the valuable lessons I have learned in life is that if you need something, you have to ask for it (or demand it in some cases). Few people are going to step in and offer help where they don’t think it is needed. People aren’t mind readers. If you need a break from your kids, don’t wait for a friend to offer. Ask directly, plead your case of needing a night away, offer to order them all pizza, and give up your Netflix password for the night. In that case, you’d probably find a willing friend.

Instead of proudly proclaiming that your kids never stay with Grandma, thereby solidifying your martyrdom, ask Grandma if she’s up for some time with the kids. Assuming Grandma isn’t a freak or otherwise unable to care for children, both kids and Grandma might just have a blast enjoying each other’s company. 

Tell your husband that you are on the verge of committing yourself, and it’s time for him to step up and keep the kids for a night. They’re his kids too, after all.  Grab a box of wine and crash on a friend’s couch.

Hire a babysitter for a two-hour dinner with your husband. Or work out a babysitting swap with a friend so you can get some couple time on a regular basis. As a mother, I can attest to the healing power of something as simple as a meal without young children. Even if the dinner is at Denny’s or someplace designed for a smaller budget, it can do wonders for the soul.

Lastly, why the hell is this in a blog called “Love What Matters”? This post is not about love. It is about resentment and blaming others for one’s own lot in life. It is a complaint about the life choices this writer made. She is transferring her frustration and contempt for these choices onto her friend, who was probably just trying to share the joy of her own life. I’d be willing to bet the writer has sent numerous happy pictures of her family to this friend. Hopefully, the friend received those photos with more grace than hers were met with.

 

Hack This

Life hacks. Those simple tricks and strategies that help us move through life just a little bit easier and more efficiently. It’s hard to avoid the sea of life hacks as we wade through Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube videos.

Don’t get me wrong, some of these life hacks are pretty impressive and simple, and if neither of those, at least entertaining. I’ve learned that one can use a dustpan to help fill a bucket too big for the sink (although I don’t know about the state of your dustpan) or put pancake mix in a cleaned-out ketchup bottle to make for easier dispensing. There’s the “hack” of determining the doneness of spaghetti by throwing it against the ceiling. If it sticks, it’s done. Although, to be fair, that one’s been around for quite some time now. I’d love to know the life hack for getting stuck spaghetti off your walls, but there’s been no follow up on that to date.

There’s the classic “hack” of fixing a split flipflop with a bread tag (I learned that one on a beach years ago), using ice to remove gum (would’ve been useful info back in junior high), adding lime in boiling egg water to make shells easier to remove, or a hair tie to expand the waistline of your jeans. I’m telling you, the hacks are endless.

Did you all know that Doritos make good kindling? That one is decidedly disturbing, especially considering how many Doritos are ingested by us as a country.  Coca Cola is great for cleaning mucked up showers. WTF? Oh, hey! Maybe it will work on spaghetti walls. Did you know that ramen makes a great DIY filler for most projects? Who needs wood paste or spackle when you have a handy dandy packet of ramen lying around.

It seems everyone has a life hack for something. But do they?  Do they really?  Sometimes I think what people call a life hack is more like “that’s just how it’s done.”  Since when is folding clothes a life hack? In a long list of these tips, I saw one that explained how to more easily mulch a garden. The hack was simply using a bucket to transfer the mulch from the wheelbarrow to the plants. Seriously?

One video explained the “hack” of measuring for a bra. It’s labeled as a new and improved trick for finding the perfect fit when the person just describes how you’re supposed to measure for a bra.

It’s easy to find the humor in these videos, and sometimes I do find it funny that things are called a hack when they’re not really a hack. But when I really think about it, it’s also sad that whole generations don’t know it isn’t a hack. We’ve taken away life skills from our young people and then accuse them of laziness and ignorance. For so many years now, we’ve put so much emphasis on becoming specialized professionals that we’ve forgotten to teach the simple skills that can help everyone be more successful in life, not just a career.

So, when someone sees it done for the first time or they figure it out on their own, they think they’ve discovered something new.  Oh, I’m not criticizing these young people. It’s not their fault. We can’t blame them for not knowing something they don’t know. No one is teaching them these things to begin with. They’re left to figure it out on their own.

At one time, we had home economics in school. All kids had to take it, and it taught things like sewing a button, cooking a meal, washing laundry, and balancing a checkbook. Life skills, not life hacks.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go back to the good old days. They weren’t all that good for a whole bunch of people. But maybe we should go back to offering life skills classes in school. Something.

In the meantime, YouTube and TikTok are a veritable feast of how-to’s, and I’m glad that young people can Google to figure things out, because the adults of the world certainly aren’t helping them out.

The Comment Section [insert eye roll here]

If the Trump era taught us anything about social media, it’s that people feel free to say whatever they damn well please so long as they can say it with their fingers from behind the protection of a screen. For a while, Facebook felt like an ongoing skirmish at the Mason-Dixon Line. Family members and old friends jabbed at each other across the line before retreating back to their sides unscathed. Shame the same can’t be said about the relationship, though. The space seems to have mellowed a bit (or maybe I’ve just unfriended and unfollowed enough people that I now have a curated page with little political chicanery). Unfortunately, this does not filter out ignorant, annoying, self-righteous commenters responding to benign posts and memes.

There’s always a person who responds to celebrity posts, whether positive or negative, with “who?” As if a person can survive in the present-day First World with social media and screens flooding our eyeballs everywhere we go, and not know who these people are. They act like they’ve never heard of Michelle Obama or Sandra Bullock, Oprah Winfrey or George Clooney. As if we’re going to believe them.  Of course they KNOW who they are. They just want to appear nonchalant and uncaring because they think it somehow belittles the celebrity and adds an attractive aloofness to their personality. The reality is that it makes them look like an ass. No offense to donkeys. I like donkeys.

Then there are the grammar police. Policing other people’s grammar is classist and ableist, and just plain rude. I hate the grammar police. But they do offer up humor once in a while. Using “I would of” instead of “I would have” when correcting someone else’s grammar is one of the more ridiculous examples of someone not quite grasping the irony of their behavior.

What about the people who respond solely with emojis? Modern day hieroglyphics. I haven’t quite decided how I feel about them yet. The advantage is that one leaves out the possibility of a grammar infraction by answering with an image. Perhaps that is the motivation.

I’ve seen them less these days, but there are still occasionally the “pompous agitators.” These are the people who respond to political or social justice posts with long lists of random statistics and references to their training and experiences (whether credentialed or imaginary is anyone’s guess) as facts for their viewpoint. These people may sometimes get the last word. Still, it’s typically not because they’ve used logic to claim the victory. It’s usually just a lack of interest from the others involved or exhaustion from trying to refute absurdity.

Of all the social media commenters, I relish most the distant family members and old friends who comment like you all share heart-to-hearts every week and go on vacations together every year. In reality, you may not have seen or spoken to this person in the last twenty years. The weaving of devotion and depth of intimacy into their comments may be fake or an exaggeration of an old connection, but in this day in age, when there is so much meanness on the internet, a little phony love is better than real hate, I guess.

Where Nature and Technology Collide

I woke up this morning and, in real-time, watched an elephant drink from a waterhole. A giraffe, haloed by the sun, captivated my attention. I didn’t even have to leave my home or change out of my oh-so-comfy pajamas to see any of this. The free website, africam.com, offers people all over the world the opportunity to witness the many intriguing and unique animals on their reserve. I am fascinated (and slightly obsessed)!

Sure, I could Google or search for videos of these animals on YouTube, but there is something magical about seeing these animals live and unedited. These magnificent creatures are doing their animal thing in the present moment, without humans around, and anyone with a screen and decent wifi connection can watch. It’s almost as cool as actually being there. Almost.

On this website (which accepts donations and does offer paid experiences), there are so many cool features. There are 8 live cameras set up around conservation reserves, and you can switch between them as you like. They even update the video snapshot every 30 seconds for the videos you aren’t watching. That way, if something comes onto the screen, you can switch over.

How cool is it to watch, in real-time, something living on the other side of the world? I once saw two lions that were covered in blood as they had just finished eating. I didn’t see what they had eaten (thank god), but I like to imagine it was poachers. I’ve watched baboons perch in a tree over a crocodile-infested river (though infested sounds harsh, doesn’t it?) to protect themselves from predators at night. Of course, I’m always afraid that one would get startled and fall out into the river. That’s a side of the animal world I don’t want to see! I watch them through my fingers as though Freddy Krueger might pop out at any moment.

Do you know what pure joy is?  Gazelle youngsters, that’s what. Gazelle youngsters are such a pleasure to watch as they leap around and play, not a care in the world. You can tell they are enjoying themselves and driving their herd crazy while they’re at it. It’s just a joyful thing to witness. No lions allowed, thank you very much.

The sounds of the birds and insects are very soothing as well. Usually. At times, it’s a raucous cacophony. Sometimes a mammal can be heard before it is seen. The camera pans around to find where the sound is coming from, sometimes finding it, sometimes not. The search, whether successful or not, is exciting.

africam photos slide

Once I heard a loud rumbling and expected to see a Jumanji style stampede burst into view. It turned out to be a safari-type jeep, tourists in tow, off on an adventure. Lucky them! I’ll admit, I’m just a little jealous. Okay, a lot jealous.

Don’t get too excited about seeing a rhino on live camera, though. When rhinos appear, the camera immediately cuts out or gets turned away (a sad but needed strategy to avoid alerting poachers to their whereabouts). I apparently turned on my screen at a time when the camera operator was taking a bathroom break or chatting with a co-worker. I watched the rhino for a few minutes before the camera was suddenly jerked away. I was left staring at a pole (an overcompensation, I imagine, before the operator caught their breath and shifted the camera again to a rhino-free grassy section of the view). I bet they didn’t leave their post again for a while.

If waiting around for an animal to appear on screen is not in your schedule, they also have video highlights. These play in a more digestible time frame for our present-day hustle and bustle culture. These are exciting as well, though they aren’t quite as suspenseful as the live cameras.

Still, the videos are a pleasure to watch; a hyena licking the camera (swear to god, you could see down his throat!), baboons and impalas sharing a waterhole inhabited by frogs, beautiful birds building nests, bull elephants trying to impress the ladies, and even a dung beetle pushing a ball of poop up a hill and comically tumbling back down with it.

You can take snapshots of anything you see, save them to your gallery, and share them with the Africam community. Or you can watch ranger videos to learn more about the animals. I also learned about the Black Mambas, the first all-female anti-poaching group. I know, right!?  Awesome!

With its roaming animals and soothing nature sounds, this site brings such pleasure to quiet moments. It helps remind me there is a whole, magical existence out there that I have yet to see. Someday I hope to (so long as I’m in a covered vehicle because, you know, lions…).

A Croc of Something

Picture this: It’s a warm summer evening, and you have a very attractive man coming to pick you up at your door to take you out for a nice dinner (who says chivalry is dead). You’ve got on your little black dress (every girl needs one, right ladies – insert eye roll), but you just can’t decide on what shoes to wear. You want sexy but comfortable, breathable but classy. Okay, forget classy; you won’t get that with these shoes. But comfort, a nice breeze on your feet, and a few inches to make those calf muscles pop… you got it! What you need is a stiletto croc designed by Balenciaga (whoever that is). For a mere $850, you too can have these fetching rubber disasters.

crocs with heels

Seriously, have you tried walking in crocs with wet feet? Say you step in a puddle, a light rain begins, or you start sweating profusely from nerves because while out on this date, you realize that not everyone accepts crocs as legitimate footwear. And who knew that particular shade of green would glow in the dark? All eyes are on you. Or, at least, your feet. What if he takes you to one of those fancy restaurants where men have to wear blazers, and they don’t let you in because your choice of shoes is more reminiscent of a day at the beach or a last-minute trip to Walmart? Now there you are, wet feet slipping and sliding around in your rubber shoes, and there is a 4-inch gap between your soles and the pavement.

I know I’m not up to speed on what’s considered fashion these days, but seriously? Is this really what fashion has come to? Yeah, no thanks.

Have you seen the see-through plastic jeans? Isn’t the point of wearing pants to cover up what you don’t want others to see? Where does one wear transparent, plastic pants? I would think you’d have to stay inside or reserve them for a cloudy day. Clear plastic makes for great greenhouse material, which doesn’t bode well for pale skin prone to sunburn. 

clear jeans

Of course, you could always go for the more conservative look… jeans with plastic knees. Just $95 at Nordstrom. Presumably they’re still available, though honestly, I have no idea. As I may have mentioned, fashion and I aren’t exactly friends.

plastic knee jeans

If plastic “jeans” aren’t your thing, there are always detachable jeans in the running for the most ridiculous fashion statement. These provide a denim coverage of the essentials (basically, shorts). The denim legs are attached to the shorts with garter belt-type straps, or in some cases, zippers. Why, people? Why?

garter belt jeans

Cowboy boot sandals, distressed tights (tights that look like they’ve barely survived a rough night of drunk dancing), grass-stained denim from Gucci, sweaters with the abdomen removed, and even jeans that come out of the factory with holes already there, the list sadly goes on.

What’s up with cutting holes in perfectly fine clothing? Why can’t clothes just be functional and not ridiculous? I want to shout from the rooftops, “Keep the clothes whole!” Just add pockets for God’s sake.

And crocs with stiletto heels? Thankfully they aren’t available yet. When they are, I’ll be the first in line to not buy them.