Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A perfect circle of acquaintances and friends.

Today I found out that an online forum I've been a part of since 1998 is shutting down. To be honest, it's not a huge surprise -- activity there has dwindled significantly over the last few years, as people have migrated from places like that over to platforms like Facebook. Heck, I barely remember to stop by more than about once a month anymore, as my own interwebbing habits have changed over time (and I spend more time reading, and less time arguing with other people).

Still, it's bittersweet. I went into college right as e-mail and the internet came into bloom -- when I left for UMD in 1997, we had a computer at home but we didn't have the internet. Access to computers on campus was limited to a dingy room full of Apple IIe equivalents in the basement of my dorm, or slightly more modernized computer labs sprinkled sparingly throughout the busier parts of campus (unless you were lucky enough to be one of the rare people who brought one with you to college, and even then, almost no one had laptops). The people who had computers in their rooms got really sick of everyone always asking if they could come in and type up their papers on them, I'll bet ("I don't waaaaaanna walk all the way to the lab!").

Even by the time I graduated four years later, I still didn't own a computer, nor did most of my friends. We had the option of hooking up the internet in our on-campus apartment the two years I lived in there, but decided it wasn't worth the hassle. The last year, when I lived off-campus in a house, we just kept sucking it up and walking to the computer labs on campus if we needed to do something.

That's not to say I didn't spend a lot of time on the internet, though. I'm pretty sure the only reason I made it through my first year of college was e-mail. I was miserable that year, isolated and incredibly lonely and feeling like a total fish out of water -- I never really felt like I fit in at UMD -- but every day, I knew there'd be an e-mail in my inbox from Emily down at Gustavus Adolphus, and I knew she'd be waiting for me to write her back. And as my younger friends who were still in high school back in Ashland slowly got wired-up, I had more and more people to talk to. The loneliness got more bearable.

And somewhere in the midst of that, I found To make a long story short, I became an R.E.M. fanatic early in my second year of college -- I'd always liked the band, but that's really when I went off the deep end. Murmurs was an online community that talked about the band, their music, their tours...but the people there talked about so much more, too. As time went by, we talked about politics, relationships, families, books, movies, sports, everything. Nothing was off-limits, really. As time passed, you really got to know people -- having that cloak of anonymity (or as much anonymity as you wanted to maintain, anyway) helped people let down their guards and talk about things freely, things that maybe they weren't comfortable talking about in-person with others but which, having time to compose something in writing, they were able to articulate it the way they wanted to. I know that's how it was for me sometimes, anyway.

One of the days I remember most distinctly in relation to Murmurs was 9/11. When I showed up for work at my almost-brand-new VISTA position in Helena, Murmurs was where I found out what was happening in New York and D.C. The news websites in the U.S. were completely overloaded and couldn't keep up with the hits they were getting, pages were crashing left & right -- but Murmurs members from overseas were able to keep funneling us information on the boards, keeping us more up-to-date than our own online media sources could. In the midst of a horrible, unthinkable day, people from thousands of miles away were rallying around us and offering real, tangible comfort and support. When I think of that day and all the awfulness, I remind myself of that kindness and generosity and can convince myself that the world really is a good place.

There were inside jokes and memes, huge HUGE fights and disagreements (and flounces), voices of reason and voices of craziness, newbies and moderators and this huge cacophony of voices. Any time of the day or night, you could log on there and find something worth reading (or arguing about). I can think of at least three marriages that resulted directly from people "meeting" on Murmurs; I can also think of at least one person I became friends with who passed away. We followed along as we graduated from high school or college, got married, had babies, sent kids off to college, got divorced, changed careers...we all got older and we all kept evolving.

A few years ago, as activity on the forums started to die down, most of the people I talked with the most on Murmurs started migrating over to Facebook. And it was like the scene in The Wizard of Oz when it goes from black & white to Technicolor -- suddenly, there we all were, not just words on a messageboard, but people! Full, vibrant, multifaceted people! With pictures of kids and weddings and trips and pets and houses and jobs all splashed out for each other to see in real-time. I remember feeling a little awkward at first -- "will the 'me' they got to know on there seem phony now by comparison?" -- but in the blink of an eye, it was like I'd known these people forever. By sacrificing that anonymity, the last of the guards went down and people really, truly became friends. Now, I talk with some of these people more than I talk to people I know in "real life."

Murmurs taught me a lot. It taught me to be a better writer, and to choose my words carefully when I'm trying to make a point. It taught me to be more patient, and to "assume goodwill" when a disagreement sprouts up (something that the average Facebook user could use a lesson in). It taught me to be confident in what I had to say, and to not take myself so seriously sometimes, too. Most of all, it taught me to broaden my horizons -- to try new music, new movies, new books, new food, new places, and perhaps most importantly, new people. It's a great big world out there, but people are people, and we all just want the same thing -- a connection.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

More cousins than you can shake a stick at.

Another July, another Treba family reunion. Every three years, the tent goes up, the volleyball
net gets staked into the ground, the bingo boards get dusted off, a port-a-potty gets parked next to the garage, and a roaster full of pig-in-a-blankets (not the sausage-wrapped-in-pancakes kind, those are heresy around here - we're talking pork wrapped in layers of cabbage, just like they made back in the Old Country) ensures that said port-a-potty sees plenty of action.

Grandma Rosie & her posse.
(Apparently, we were all supposed to wear red shirts. Some of us obviously didn't get the memo.)


It was a good time, as always. All of my grandma's surviving brothers and sisters were there -- ten in all, plus tons of first cousins, second cousins, third cousins...I gave up trying to keep track of all those a long time ago and just refer to everyone as my cousin at this point. Why split hairs? It would just distract me from the bingo.

Bingo continues.

Great success!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Timber! (Revisited.)

I know I mentioned this before, but here's some more pictures to show what a mess me & my mom came back to.

Some before & afters...

Driveway looking toward the road, early July. Same spot, post-logging.

Bottom of the driveway, early July. Same area, post-logging.

Over by the garden, early July. Same spot, post-logging.

Of course, this all had to happen during the hottest week of the summer. Naturally.

Of course, this all had to happen during the hottest week of the summer.

Mom wields a chainsaw.

And these pictures show what it looks like behind the house. Fortunately, this part's just beyond the edge of the slope behind our house, so we don't have to look at it.

And this is what it looks like behind the house.


We'll be picking up wood until, oh, July of next year? Something like that.

Beware of attack flamingo(es).

The attack flamingos are getting antsy and want to get back out on the driveway, ASAP.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Making stuff.

I've been on a crocheting kick again lately -- potholders, more monkeys, cat toys. I'm trying to live up to my New Year's resolution to burn through more of my ridiculously-gigantic yarn stash this year...making little putzy stuff like this doesn't consume vast quantities of said stash, but eh, at least it picks away at it a little.

Potholders for Vicki.

Monkeys for Malcolm & Esme.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape.

My mother doesn't buy a lot of furniture, but when she gets a vision, watch out. "What we need is a microwave cart. That would free up the counter and solve all of our problems." "If I had a desk in my room, I could put all that stuff in there and it would solve all of my problems." "If we had wheels on the coffee table, we could move it out of the way and that would solve all our problems." (Let me tell you -- wheels on the coffee table was a stroke of genius. And making my hope chest -- or, as I like to refer to it, my hopeless chest -- into a mobile hope chest/coffee table hybrid was
super genius. I can't believe we beat IKEA to the punch on that one.)

I don't remember what it was exactly that my mother was hunting for last fall when we went to the furniture store, but rest assured it was something we couldn't possibly go another day without. (Except we didn't buy anything that day, so I guess we could.) It was a slow day at the store, so the minute we walked in, the owner was on us like flies on honey.

At first, it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Furniture Store Guy tried to sell us furniture -- pretty par for the course. My mom perused her options, but was ultimately uninspired by their offerings and unswayed by Furniture Store Guy's sales pitch.

Sensing that we were ready to leave made him desperate. "Let me tell you about the remodeling work we've done in here," he started, not really giving us the opportunity to "let" him do anything. Ten minutes later, when we saw an opening, we made a break for the stairs and got back down to the main showroom...only to be cornered a second time before we could make it to the door. "Hey, let me tell you about what's under the suspended ceiling in here..."

My family attracts these people. You know the type. The type that
can't stop talking. And they don't want to talk with you, they want to talk at you. Wherever we go, the talkers find us. Grocery stores, bus stations, public restrooms. I don't know what it is that draws them to us -- do we look especially friendly? gullible? lonely? -- but once they pounce on us, they talk us into submission and we're too meek and polite to just walk away. We nod, smile, respond with variations on "that's interesting," and wait for it to be over.

So that's the tactic we took with Furniture Store Guy. Just let him spout off about the original light fixtures and the water damage from that rainstorm a few months ago until he's spent, then dash out the door. We knew the drill. It would all be over soon.

But then, my mother made a critical error.
Furniture Store Guy: "Hey, want to see my apartment in the back?"

Mom: "Oh, sure, that sounds interesting."
Apparently the hundreds of hours she's clocked watching Dateline: NBC and 48 Hours over the years have taught my mother nothing about the folly of following weirdos back to their apartments.

Grimacing all the way, I followed my mother as she followed Furniture Store Guy back into the bowels of the building, winding past the water cooler, the break room, and the teensy-weensy model rooms crammed with too many ottomans and davenports. Finally we came to a couple of rooms that had pretty clearly just been built in the last few months -- the place still smelled like drywall and fresh paint. "Yeah, me & my ol' lady are splitting up, so I'm spending some time here now," Furniture Store Guy told us as he led us around. The place was the very picture of a depressing, forty-something-guy-in-the-process-of-divorcing man cave: nothing on the walls but a Sports Illustrated poster of a chick in a bikini, an unmade king-sized bed in one corner, a drum set in another, a hastily-erected bar with empty pizza boxes on top and a mini fridge with a half-empty carton of beer cans next to it filling up the center of the main room.

It wasn't giving off a serial-killer vibe -- it was more like the loneliest dorm room ever.

Then things got weird.

"So, what do you do for fun?" Furniture Store Guy asked me. I knew he was asking me, and not my mom, because he was staring at me like Toivo the Wonder Cat stares at his food dish.

"Uh...not much," I responded, half out of not wanting to give away my general whereabouts, and half because my definition of "fun" probably didn't mesh up with his. "Hang out with friends, make stuff, nothing too exciting."

"What about the nightlife? Which bars are the best?"

"I honestly have no idea -- I don't really go out."

"Come on, a young thing like you -- you must go out!"

By this point, my skin was crawling and I was having a hard time suppressing a bad case of the giggles. I looked over at my still-somewhat-oblivious mom and made a big deal out of gesturing at my watch -- "Yeah, well, we should probably get going..."

"Well, if you're ever looking for something to do, I'm up late -- just knock on the front doors and hey, bring your friends by, we can hang out. I can play my drums for you!"

"Okay, I'll keep that in mind." I headed for the door and my mom followed, still chattering away. We wove our way back out to the main showroom and had almost made it to the door before he got us again.

By this point, I just wanted out of there. He kept talking, and my mother kept letting him go on -- I kept inching toward the door. I looked down at my watch and we'd been trapped for an hour. An hour! This had gone on long enough.

And then: he put his hands on my shoulders.


I don't think he had ill intent -- I would hope he was just attempting to be friendly and not a perv, though the way he came at me, I think he was going for a faux-neck rub maneuver -- but holy shit, nobody touches me. Especially not random strangers in the furniture store. Anyone who's known me for a long time knows I'm not at all comfortable with that -- my personal bubble is the size of Montana and if I'm cool with you getting inside of it, I'll let you know. But there came Furniture Store Guy, barging in with his creepy hands and his creepy goatee. Not cool.

Finally, my mother caught on to what was happening and why I'd been acting so uncomfortable. "The expression on your face was priceless. PRICELESS!" she said after-the-fact. "I wish I'd had my camera along."

I wiggled out of his clutches and grabbed the door handle. "Oh, you're leaving? Well, if you need anything else, come back anytime!" he called after us.

Needless to say, I haven't needed anything else, and haven't gone back. Like I said in the beginning -- the furniture store is supposed to be a place where we solve problems, not a place where we acquire new ones.