Sunday, December 15, 2013

Monday, July 15, 2013

What Has Social Media Done for You Lately?

Sometimes I get the urge to rip out every plug from every wall, every device, and go be a bum on the beach. Sadly, I live nowhere near the beach. That makes being a beach bum kinda hard. 

I don't think I own the right outfit for beach bumming.

Unfortunately, I don't own a tutu and I live in the mountains. Mountain bum doesn’t have near the same ring to it. It actually sounds kinda creepy. 

I don’t think I’m online too much or too connected, even though a lot of people would surely disagree. I think I’m just too casually connected with people I flat-out don’t like. How come in the real world nobody expects us to give even a nod to people who drive us crazy, but many of us find ourselves smack in the middle of online discussions with people we can’t stand?

We’re still allowed to not like certain people, right? Or did I miss a memo...

Facebook has this magical, sparkly, happy-kitten, wondrous ability to bring people together. Especially people who would be much better off not knowing that the other existed. That’s like tossing a bee hive into a hornet’s nest just to see what happens. 

Let’s all be friends! 

Lions eat gazelles, you know. They eat elephants, too. Didn’t Animal Planet teach us anything? 

I don’t like the way excuses for bad manners are made as if a person’s hometown makes it all ok. Rude is rude, regardless of where it hails from. New York, Knoxville or Los Angeles, surely we all have some idea about what’s rude and what isn’t.

I got not time for rude. And I don’t want to grow a thicker, elephant skin. My skin is aging fast enough as it is, thankyouverymuch. And I don’t want to be eaten by a lion. 

So with this questionable experiment called Social Media, we’re shoved together all in the name of friendship. But some people were never meant to be friends. I stand a much better chance of keeping my karma in good condition if its not tested every damned day. 

Lennon said that instant karma’s gonna get you. I always wondered what “instant karma” meant, but maybe this is it. We do live in a world of instant everything, after all. Instant gratification on all fronts, including communication. 

One theory about instant karma is instant accountability for your actions. Holy crap, what a concept! The Internet takes away a great deal of accountability. A keyboard and the anonymity of not saying things to a person’s face makes us 10 feet tall and bulletproof. 


Sure I would, since I don't actually know you. 

The sensation of no accountability online is pretty dang ironic considering that we’ve all heard the warning: What you send out into the  interwebs is there forever and forever and forever. 

And forever.

My darling Mr. Vagabond avoids all social media as if its lava. I’ve teased him about that, but I think he might be onto something. 

Being the loudest, the most forceful, the one with all of the “real” answers, and the one with the quickest wit--what does that actually mean? 

Does it mean anything at all? Or is it just a facade that lets the bully feel important for a minute?

You!  No, YOU!  

It is bullying, you know. That’s pretty much a given, and we’re supposed to shun bullies nowadays. That’s the right thing to do, correct?  Or is that only true if you’re five and on a playground?

Of course anyone would tell you that all social media lets its users decide who they want to see and interact with. But wasn’t this supposed to be fun, and not another job?

Myspace was fun.

If we don’t treat it like a job, staying on top of all of the changes that happen on pretty much a daily basis, it's our fault for being at risk of whatever. 

That’s actually another thing that pushy people love to remind everyone else about. “Well, you know that you can (insert remedy for whatever is pissing off someone else).” And then the educator feels all super-smart and good about himself or herself, and the one who is already having a shitty day feels worse. 

Let’s all be friends! Remember: Animal Planet. 

No, I don’t think social media brings friends together, or at least that’s not its primary function anymore. If you don’t believe me, scroll through your friends list and see just how many people you actually interact with, and how many of those you would consider friends out in the “real world.” 

No, dear. There's no arsenic in the tea.

In my case, the percentage of real friends versus acquaintances online is about the same as the percentage of those among people I know in the flesh-and-blood real world. 

So are we really making lots and lots of awesome friends? Or are we just broadening connections that don’t enrich our lives? I’m “friends” with a few rather famous people. Some of those people have interacted with me personally on Facebook and Twitter. Some of them, I have even shared space, time and cocktails with out in the real world. I do not, however, expect to get an invitation to their next BBQ or birthday party. 

If we’re only broadening connections, how long until we’re spread so thin that there’s not a whole lot of our real selves left to devote to the people who actually matter to us? 

I think I need a margarita on the beach, my toes in the sand and some time to think this through. Or some moonshine and dirt, since I am unfortunately a mountain bum. 


Sunday, July 14, 2013

How to Be a Real Writer -or- Where's My Membership Card?

Years ago, I had a romantic view of real writers. Alas, my life as a writer is nothing like the one I imagined. I meet deadlines to buy groceries. That’s pretty much the long and short of it. So, where is the mysterious life of the real writer I fancied so much? A little birdie told me it exists somewhere, and I’m determined to find it.

Real writers travel to far-off countries, nod knowingly toward fellow intellectuals and sample exotic cuisine. They sit in faded leather chairs beside roaring fireplaces. They puff on pipes while sipping cognac and discuss conceptual topics while practicing foreign languages.

That, friends and neighbors, is the life. Well, maybe not the pipes, but you get the idea.

I have never tasted cognac. I have never been outside the United States. Spending a week at America’s Best Value Inn of Farmington, NM doesn’t qualify me as well-traveled, even if they did offer a continental breakfast. My leather chair is pink. Pink! And it reclines in three different positions (sometimes). 

There is definitely something amiss. 

Did I miss Real Writer Orientation? Did I leave a bad mailing address? Maybe my welcome packet went to the wrong house. I spied the mailman delivering a Rosetta Stone package across the street a few days ago, and I am not amused. My neighbor thought he was slick, but I saw him stuff that pipe into his pocket. I know what he’s up to.

We’ve all seen the classic image. A black turtleneck with a pair of odd-looking spectacles is the epitome of Writer. A glass of red wine and an overflowing ashtray on the table don’t hurt, and neither does listening to obscure music that only a few can appreciate. And there’s always a quiet, stealthy cat.

My "look" consists of a flannel nightgown or a pair of sweat pants and a T-shirt. Maybe that’s part of the problem; I don’t have the official uniform. Legend says ensembles are issued at the annual Secret Society of Real Writers meetings. Invitations are sent by carrier ravens, each one reciting Poe as it disappears into the night after depositing the engraved paper on a lucky recipient’s windowsill. I have yet to receive one. The only deposits on my windowsills are from pigeons. 

Dirty birds.

Maybe changing out of my nightgown would help my chances. Sadly, the tortured, brilliant writer regalia is not available on clearance at Walmart (and their alcoholic beverage selection peaks at Boone’s Farm Tickle-Pink). The fact that I even have a best sweatshirt pretty much wrecks my chance of finding a gilded invitation on my windowsill for the next meeting of the highbrow elite.

In my quest for that elusive Secret Society membership card, I am earning battle scars. I’m not sure how much weight those carry toward acceptance, but maybe they will help pad my resume. At least they show dedication to the cause. Damages include dark circles, eye strain, coffee stains on my best flannel nightgown (I have one of those too), and a calloused pinkie from hitting the delete key repeatedly. 

My eye doctor explained that I need reading glasses. He took three paces backward before saying, “It’s happening younger and younger these days.” I didn’t believe him, but it was a nice effort to preserve my pride and his shin bones. Maybe I’ll get a pair of impressive glasses out of the deal, so it’s not all bad. I wonder if great spectacles make a yellow sweatshirt look introspective and brilliant like those elusive, would-be contemporaries. 

Probably I ought to apply for a passport just in case.

Writing at a computer has not only taken my eyesight; it has abolished my ability to write with a pen. Failed motor skills: Another battle scar, and one I can prove by signing the RSVP if / when my invitation comes. Incidentally, I am the only person I know who rarely needs spellcheck and makes up for it in serial "typos" with a pen and paper. I recently depleted an entire book of checks just to make the car payment. At least I remembered how to write the word VOID by the time I was finished. 

I wonder how VOID sounds in Italian. Impressive, I’ll bet. Even more impressive if I happened to be holding a snifter of cognac.

Try as I may, I can’t seem to get the whole package together. My glasses are ordinary and my fireplace is a kerosene heater. I listen to Metallica and my dogs would eat any feline critter unfortunate enough to live here. 

I’m certain there are guidelines and bylaws to follow for becoming a real writer. Since I remain convinced that my neighbor pilfered my orientation materials, I’ll have to wing it. If you see me peering in his window, please don’t call the police. I’m only trying to peek at the manual. There’s always hope for next year.


I originally wrote this post for the humor blog, An Army of Ermas, in November of 2010. A cat has since joined our family, and I am happy to report that he hasn't been eaten by the dogs. The DOGS, however, have learned to watch their backs. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Now Boarding

In my perfect world, airports would arrange all gates for each airline in a central area. I’ve never known why I exit Delta and then have to pass United, Delta (again), three fledgling airlines and American to finally reach my Delta connection. I’ve determined that the distance between my gates is directly influenced by a few factors:

  • Is it earlier than 5 a.m.?
  • Have I had any coffee?
  • Am I using the same carry-on that’s had a broken wheel for three years?
  • Is the escalator or people mover I need broken? 
  • Am I connecting at LAX or Charlotte?

If it's earlier than 5 a.m., I am sleepwalking through the airport with a scary case of bed-head to begin with. No flight should ever leave before 5 a.m. The very idea that I would be tracking down a connection that early means my Priceline Negotiator is working for the other team. 

If I haven’t had any coffee, every Starbuck’s and burnt coffee pot at Airport Burgers R Us is a distraction, slowing me down. Deliberately walking past coffee retailers when my blood-caffeine level is sitting at zero is as vexing as walking through Disney World with my socks bunched up inside my shoes. 

If my carry-on is broken, the Gods of the Friendly Skies are clearly up there sipping Mocha Lattes and placing bets on how many times the little rolley case will flip over as I drag it through concourse after concourse. 

They’re also laughing at my bed-head.

If accessing the next gate requires the use of a broken escalator or people mover, its time for a good cry. But not yet. There is coffee to be had on the next flight. Well, it looks like coffee. Kinda. 

If all of this is happening at LAX or Charlotte, I’m approaching meltdown. I am not, however, getting any closer to my gate in the next half hour. I may also require therapy later. Might as well throw in a blister on my left heel just to make it a good time. 

Flying used to be fun. I’d show up early to watch other flights arrive and depart. Flight attendants would hand out whole cans of Coke to passengers and smile while they did it! 

These days, I arrive at the airport early in order to set aside enough time for my free TSA physical. If I want a full drink, I’ll be handing over $4 to a vendor for an undersize bottle of Pepsi, but only if I have time between flights. 

I don’t know what happened to the fun days of flying. Maybe post 9-11 really is the culprit. Or maybe I am just old and grumpy. 

I think airlines should be more like AAA. With each boarding pass, travelers should receive a map of the next airport with their concourse route and all coffee retailers along the way highlighted in yellow. Until that becomes a reality, I’ll keep trying to book flights at reasonable hours, I’ll have coffee on the way to the airport and I will not ever connect through LAX or Charlotte again if I can help it. 

I should also buy a new carry-on, but that’s shooting kinda high.


I originally wrote this post for the humor blog, An Army of Ermas, in April of 2012. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Make a Simple Fleece Hat

How I Spent My Flu Vacation!

Oooh, Ahhh, Warm!

Look what I made! I’ve been knitting and crocheting hats of all shapes and styles for so long that it never occurred to me to sew one. That was until Mr. Vagabond came home for Christmas with a super cool and very warm fleece hat. He didn't want to share, so I knew what must be done.

Quick-like, I bought some baby blue fleece, the cheap stuff, and set out to make myself a hat as warm as his. Because this was a trial run, I didn’t want to spend a lot on fabric.

I call this hat my Big-Ol’-Head hat. Because I have a ton of hair and a big ol’ head. For a kid’s hat or one for a person with a much smaller head, you’ll need to scale it back a bit.

What You’ll Need

  • Flexible tailor's measuring tape
  • 1/4 yard fleece fabric
  • Chalk, pencil or marker
  • Scissors 
  • Needle
  • Matching thread
  • Sewing machine
  • Ball point sewing machine needle (for knits) 

First, tug the fleece to determine which direction it stretches. That's your horizontal orientation for the fabric. Spread out the fleece on your work table with the stretchy direction running left to right. 

Measure around your head to determine how wide the fabric needs to be. Take the measurement at the level where the bottom of the hat will fit, such as just below your ears. Now add 1/2 to 1 inch to the measurement for a seam allowance.  

Measure across the fleece to the measurement around your head plus 1/2 or 1 inch and mark it, then cut the fabric straight across at the mark. Cut out an identical piece for the second layer. 

Now you’re ready to trace the design onto the fleece.

Ignore the text on this image about adding 1/4 to 1/2 inch. It should be 1/2 to 1 inch (which gives you 1/4 to 1/2 inch on the left and the right).

This pattern is more of a guide than a real pattern. I’ve never made a pattern to print out before, so I have no idea how it will come out if you print it. So I added the dimensions that you’ll need to get started. From the bottom edge of the fabric to the part where the peak begins to curve up is about 5 1/2 inches. From the bottom edge to the highest point of the peak is about 9 inches. Again, this is for the Big Ol’ Head version. 

The single peak image is just one section of the whole hat. The larger image with a row of peaks shows how the fleece should look once you trace the whole design. Place the single peak pattern on the fleece with only half the width of the peak on the left edge of the fabric and trace around it (or draw it freehand). Continue the design by moving the pattern over or tracing a full peak and another and another and so on until the outline looks like the second image. Cut out both layers of fleece.

It should look kind of like a goofy crown. 

Now to start sewing it together. 

If you have a serger, awesome on you! That’s the best way to go because it allows for stretch. For mere mortals like me, you’ll need to do it the old-fashioned way with a sewing machine set for a wide zigzag stitch. 

Pin and the baste one layer of the hat together. Basting is important with an imprecise pattern. It lets you make adjustments before sewing it together permanently. Basting is just sewing a straight stitch by hand, and a bit loosely. 

It should look like this:

Baste the left and right ends together, which makes the back seam, then baste the edges of the peaks together. 
Now turn it right side out and try on the hat. I worked and worked to make a design that didn’t resemble a cone or an elf’s hat. That’s the opposite of ideal. If it fits the way you want and doesn’t resemble a cone, you’re all set. If not, repin the hat, baste it again and make adjustments with stitch placement until it looks the way that you want it to. Getting rid of a point at the top of the hat means shortening the peaks. Narrower and taller peaks makes a pointy hat, while wider and shorter peaks help it fit flatter against your head. 

Time to sew!

Sew along the basted stitches with a sewing machine set on a wide zigzag stitch, or if you’re lucky, use a serger. Trim off the excess fabric as close to the stitches as possible (fleece doesn’t ravel), then sew up the second layer of the hat. 

Now it’s time to put the hat together. 

Leave one layer of the hat wrong side out and turn the other layer right side out. Slip the right-side-out layer up inside the wrong-side-out layer. The idea here is that the right sides of both layers should be touching. You’ll likely need to wiggle them around to make the seams in both layers align. I’ll wait here until you get that sorted out.

Right-side-out section goes inside, wrong-side-out section goes outside. 

Like so.
Pin the two layers together around the bottom edge of the hat like so, leaving a few inches unpinned:

Now sew around the bottom edge, leaving an opening where you didn’t pin the hat, and remove all of the pins as you go. You need the opening to turn the hat right side out. Trim off the excess fleece. 

A zigzag stitch lets the bottom edge stretch.
Now the fun part. This is where your hat turns into a hat. 

Reach into the opening... 

...and pull the hat through. Pull, tug and wrangle the material until it looks like this:

Both right sides should be on the outside now.

Now push one of the layers up inside the other like so:

Now it's time to sew up the opening. Because the hat is right side out now, you'll need to sew it with an invisible stitch. That's secret code for sewing it together by hand on the inside of the seam. It's not really a secret. 

Pick up some fleece inside the hem with the needle...

And pick up more fleece from the opposite side of the hem. 

Sew back and forth like that all the way across the hem opening. Your stitches should look sorta like this.

Then pull the thread to close the seam.
And now you have a very simple, very warm fleece hat!

Top view.

Plain and simple, super-warm hat!

The groovy thing about this hat is the customization possibilities. It’s ultra basic, and it's neither a girl hat nor a boy hat, so you can do a number of things with it. 

You could use two different colors of fleece for the two layers, since the hat is naturally reversible. You could make the peaks 13 or 14 inches tall instead of 9 inches tall to make a hat with a cuff that you can turn up around the bottom edge. Make cute little flowers to sew or pin onto the side, make a pompom for the top or even sew a ruffle around the bottom edge. 

And there you have it. Have fun!