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I like Santa.

I have to apologize to my many fans for not updating my blog in so long -- I know you're all sad. Of course, by "fans" I mean my dad and a couple other people who check my web site once in awhile when they're extraordinarily bored.

Sometimes I really, really like my job. A couple days ago, I got to interview the Chief of Santa Tracking Operations at NORAD, and I spent about a half hour talking to a Major about Santa's weight and his travel itinerary throughout the year.

I've never before spoken with someone who can say with a straight face, "Of course, the last month of the year is very busy for Santa. That's when he has to hand the reins to the elves so he can visit the various shopping malls."

He says that NORAD has learned a few things about Santa, but they still don't know how he manages to travel so fast. They do have some theories about his cookie consumption, though, one being that he doesn't actually eat all of them. That's based on their observations that, as Santa delivers presents, the speed of his sleigh never changes. Therefore, as he drops gifts off at houses, he must also be taking some cargo on board. So they think he takes a lot of the cookies back to the North Pole to Mrs. Claus and the elves.

During his time off, they've spotted Santa vacationing in the Caribbean, and they think he and his reindeer spend some time in Reindeer Lake, Saskatchewan, because Donner and Blitzen have relatives there.

I also recently got to interview a Russian guy who teaches ballet at a local dance school, and he's apparently a close, personal friend to Mikhail Baryshnikov. He also used to teach at the Royal Ballet School in London, where he taught the guy who played the grownup version of Billy Elliot in the movie "Billy Elliot." So that's only two degrees of separation between me and Mikhail Baryshnikov and the guy from Billy Elliot and Santa Claus, which means I'm practically famous. I should totally have more fans.

I like carnies.

I went to Denver this weekend to hang out with my friends Amber and Casey -- the two people who shared the most idiotic parts of my early twenties with me, and will therefore forever hold a special place in my heart. While I was talking to Casey, I was reminded of the weird story of Rob's proposal to me, and I thought that warranted a blog entry. Rather than tell the story again, I'm just going to copy and paste an e-mail I sent at the time. So, here's the e-mail I sent to Casey to tell her we were engaged:

Date: Sat, 13 Apr 2002 23:17:36
From: Heather
Subject: life lessons and psychic carnies
To: Casey

Dearest whore,

Ok, well, I learned two things today. Number one: Never
never never never piss off a carnie. A traveling carnival
is set up at the Citadel this weekend and Rob and I went
there to ride a few rides today. We only rode four rides
while we were there, and in the process we interacted with
three different carnie folk. (One guy ran two of the rides
we went on.) On the second ride we rode, one girl did not
follow the carnie's instructions not to pull down on her
shoulder bars. So, he stopped everything to go over and
give her a lecture, then he undid everyone's shoulder
harnesses so he could make her get off the ride. The next
ride we went on is called the zipper, and you sit two
people to a cage which is on its own axis, so it spins
separately of every other cage. The two girls in front of
us in line were making fun of the guy running the ride, and
after he shut them in their cage, he spun it around and
around while they were screaming in terror for him to stop.
So we were very very nice to him when our turn came. I'll
tell you lesson number two in a minute, but first I have to
say something else before lesson number two makes sense.

Hmmm...a good way to say're going to be a
friend-in-law. Rob asked me to marry him today and I said
yes. So yes, you do get to get drunk at my wedding. We
came home from the carnival and we were sitting in our
room, and Rob got all emotional telling me how much he
loves me. Then he left the room for a minute, and when he
came back, I was sitting on the edge of the bed. He got
down on his knees and held my hand and kept talking about
how he knew we were going to be together forever, and then
he just asked.

Which leads me to lesson number two: Carnies are psychic.
The last ride we went on today required the ride operator
to come to each group of riders and let them out one group
at a time. When he got to Rob and me, he undid our
restraints and we both stood up. Then the carnie looked at
us and said, "You two are going to get married, aren't
you?" I just kind of laughed and looked embarrassed and
walked away. In retrospect, considering the tempers of the
carnies we'd seen thus far, maybe that was a mistake.
Fortunately for me, that particular carnie was not feeling
violent at the time. What I didn't know was that, a few
minutes before that, Rob had pretty much decided that today
was the day he was going to ask me.

I've also decided that the shirt I'm wearing today is
lucky. It's one Rob got for me a while ago that says
"Can't sleep, clowns will eat me..." over and over on it.
I was wearing it the day I sent my resume in to the [my newspaper]
and I was wearing it when Rob proposed. What a weird lucky

Oh yeah, I also wanted to tell you that I REALLY like the
poems you sent me. They're SO good. Seriously. I think
you should put them both in the magazine. And also,
congratulations on finding a crappy job. At least it's
only six weeks. But then again, six weeks is plenty of
time to acquire life-long scars from hot grease. Wear long
sleeves, ok? I can't wait till you get here. And just
tell Sam, "Nice stuff is EXPENSIVE. We don't really need
furniture. Cardboard boxes are multifunctional." Yeah,
I'm sure that'll convince her.

Ok, well I guess I'll go now. I hope you're having a happy
weekend. I love you!!


(By the way, "whore" is a pet name Casey and I have for each other. It really wasn't just me being mean.) And here's Casey's response:

Date: Sun, 14 Apr 2002 12:59:59
From: Casey
To: Heather

Heather!! Oh my God!!!!!!!!!!!! That is awesome. I'm
going to cry like a little baby. I guess it's a little
early to ask this, but when are you getting married?
I promise I won't get *that* drunk, at least not until
well into the reception. :)
Also, only you could have a story that involves both
carnies and a marriage proposal.
I don't have anything else to write about, but
congratulations!!!!! I love you!!!! Casey

I wrote similar e-mails to other people around the same time, but I wanted to specifically include Casey's because she and her sister Sam gave us the first season of "Friends" as a wedding present. And we all know that started our addiction to "Friends" DVDs, which have become such a big, important part of our lives. So, thank you Casey, from the bottom of our hearts.

Visiting the Mack Daddy

As many of you know, part of my job at the local paper is writing car reviews. This sounds like a pretty cool job because it gives me the opportunity to test drive such cars as Corvettes, Audis, Cadillacs and other pretty things. Usually it's a lot of fun, until I actually get around to writing the article and I suddenly realize I don't know anything about cars and I have no business writing about them. But I always get over that and just throw in a bunch of the car's features and move on with life. I've yet to have anyone tell me one of my car reviews sucks, so I've stopped worrying about that.

Well, today was Monday and I had to go to a nearby Toyota dealership first thing this morning to do a test drive. I really wasn't in the mood to be doing anything work related at all, and all I wanted to do was sit around playing more "Animal Crossing." Alas, that wouldn't keep my puppies fed, so I went to the car dealership this morning despite that nagging feeling I get every Monday morning that tells me I should just go back to bed.

Usually when I walk in the door of one of these dealerships, the salesman blabbers on for a while about how wonderful my test car is and goes out of his way to make sure everything's just perfect for the test drive. When I got there today, the guy handed me the dealer license plate and a key and said, "Have fun." I had to ask him which car I was supposed to be driving.

"The yellow one."

Ok. So I started for the door and on my way, he said something about how this was the Mack Daddy of the Toyota Matrix. Now, anyone who has ever seen a Toyota Matrix knows that you can pretty much never use the words "Mack Daddy" in describing it without sounding sarcastic, no matter how many sporty features this car has. It's a station wagon, plain and simple.

Somewhere in there, he also used the words "six-speed." I nodded and kept walking. Between the building and the car, it occurred to me that by "six-speed," he meant manual transmission.


I'm 25 years old. In the nine years I've been driving, I've logged hundreds of hours of driving time. Of those hundreds of hours, probably one and a half of them were on a stick shift. And that hour and a half happened like three years ago. And it was in a parking lot. And I stalled out every minute or so.


I've done several test drives for my newspaper in the past few months, and you'd think this particular problem would have come up before. But given the fact that so many cars either come with an automatic transmission standard, or have an automatic transmission with the option of shifting to a manual mode, I've actually never had to worry about the fact that I'm not coordinated enough to drive a standard.

As I walked out to the car, I chewed on this problem. I found a place to put the dealer plate (which I was a little annoyed with, since I have no idea where dealer plates are supposed to go, because most dealers put that on the car for me). I took the big obnoxious balloon off the windshield wiper and crammed it in the footwell of the front passenger seat.

And I sat there. I thought about going back in and fessing up -- telling the mean guy inside that I couldn't drive this car after all, even though I'd acted like it was no big deal. (He wasn't really mean, but by then I'd convinced myself that he was the cruelest, most heartless person I'd ever met. Ever.) Before long, I had myself believing that if I had to go back inside and admit that I couldn't handle a manual, I'd actually melt from embarrassment.

So I did the only thing I could think to do. I called Rob for a pep talk. While he did point out that I probably should have told the salesman in the first place that I didn't want to drive a standard (grrr -- that wasn't quite the sympathy I was going for, even though I knew he was right), he also talked me down from my hysteria. He told me how driving a standard really isn't that hard, and I've done it before and new cars have easy-to-handle transmissions. Really the only problem was getting the car going in first gear.

By the time I got off the phone with him, I believed my feet to be suddenly and miraculously coordinated. They'd know when to let off the clutch and push the gas pedal -- that's just knowledge feet are born with. Sure, they'd had a little trouble with it in the past, but there's no way they'd fail me when it came down to either driving a car or melting into a dealership floor. I fully expected my feet to rise to the occasion. So I hung up my cell phone and sat for a moment, breathing deeply and talking to my feet.

"You can do it guys. I know you can. You've driven smoothly a few times. Think hard, remember those moments, and use those memories now. My life depends on it."

I think my feet knew my life didn't really depend on it. They knew that my fear of melting was baseless and that I was being melodramatic, so they decided to make me suffer for lying to them.

Fortunately, I didn't have to back the bright yellow monstrosity out of its parking space, because it had been backed into the spot. So after a few practice shifts to decide exactly where the gears were located, I decided that it was now or never. I had to put my feet to the test.

My miraculously coordinated feet failed me over and over and over again in trying to get that Matrix from the parking spot to the stop sign 50 feet away. Every single time I thought I had the car in motion, it jerked and sputtered to a stop.

Let's not forget that I was driving a car coated with the brightest yellow paint Toyota could come up with. If I ever had any hope of remaining inconspicuous in my lurching Mack Daddy of a station wagon, that hope was foiled by that damned yellow paint.

After 15 or 20 attempts, I'd managed to move the car about 25 feet from its parking spot. At that point, it was quite obviously in the way of any car trying to enter or exit the Toyota dealership's parking lot, and every time I tried again to get the car to for crying out loud go, my left foot was shaking so badly from panic that I'm surprised it didn't just fall off.

So I stopped the car. And I sat there. I brought my left foot under control, silently informing it that I intended to chop it off just as soon as I could safely do it without getting blood on someone else's upholstery. Surely a bloody stump would be able to handle a clutch better than my shaky left foot any day.

I composed myself and practiced what I'd say to the dealership guy.

"Elves. There were elves that ... ... No, wait! There were gremlins, and they somehow managed to make it impossible for"

"Uh, I forgot to mention that I broke my left foot yesterday, and it's just too darned painful to push in the clutch?"

In the end, I just went in and told him I was uncomfortable driving a standard, and could I please have an automatic to drive? Oh, and while he was up, would he mind moving the big, ugly yellow car back into its parking spot?

They didn't happen to have an automatic Matrix, so he gave me the keys to a Solara instead. He said he probably should've chosen a Solara for the test drive anyway, since it has a new body style for 2004. I think that was his way of trying to help me to feel less retarded. It didn't work.

So, I took the keys to the Solara and hauled ass out of there. When I started the car, I realized pretty quickly that this car was almost out of gas. Now I had another choice to make. I could either drive to the nearest gas station and pay for $5 of gas myself, or I could go interrupt the guy who was currently occupied moving the Mack Daddy from the place I'd abandoned it and ask him to put gas in this car for me. I chose the first option, backing out and driving off as quickly as humanly possible -- and clipping the curb as I did so. Fortunately, the salesman was too busy cleaning up my other mess to notice.

As I was driving away from the dealership, I remembered that I'd left the dealer license plate in the Matrix. So, technically it was now illegal for me to keep driving this car. I could've gone back to the Toyota place and gotten the plate, but I decided to take my chances with the law. At least if I ended up in jail I could spend the rest of my life far, far away from manual transmissions.

I drove to a nearby park and stayed there for a while, sulking. I called Rob again and informed him that I wasn't going to buy gas after all -- that the two-minute drive to the park had given me quite a good impression of the Solara's entire driving experience, and that I'd just hang out at the park for a while, playing with all of the car's buttons and pretending I was out on a test drive.

"Won't they notice that you didn't put any miles on the car in the hour and a half you were gone?" he asked.

He had a point.

I spent a half hour or so writing down all the information on the window sticker, investigating the interior of the car, and getting over myself. Then I drove to the nearest 7-11 and put $5 of gas in the car. I drove around for 45 minutes or so, and actually had a pretty pleasant test drive, deciding that if I ever had the money, I wouldn't mind owning a Solara.

When I returned the car to the dealership, the salesman was pretty nice to me. When the morning began, I'd intended to spend a few minutes with him after the test drive, getting some quotes for the article and chatting about the test drive. Instead, I told him I'd call him with some questions some time in the next couple of days. And then I left as quickly as I could, barely managing to avoid breaking into an all-out run

Because I'm trying to figure out how to be a grown-up, I've decided to look for a lesson in today's events. So, what was the lesson? To admit it when you're in over your head? To not let your pride make you believe you have magical feet? That even the most embarrassing moment in your life won't actually kill you? That I need to learn how to drive a standard?


Here's my lesson: Never, never, ever buy a Toyota Matrix. It is an ugly car and it will probably humiliate you.

Very important matters

Rob and I have hardly seen each other for the past several days. Not because we haven't been in the same room together, but because we've been so completely distracted that we haven't really turned our heads much to pay attention to each other.

Trouble in Newlywedland? No, we're still happy. We just have a new video game. We bought "Animal Crossing" for the Gamecube on Wednesday, and we've been completely unable to tear ourselves away from it for more than a few minutes at a time -- except for when we go to work, but even then we tend to think and/or talk about the game a lot.

"Animal Crossing" is a game that moves in real time. If I start playing it an 6 p.m. tomorrow, it'll be 6 p.m. on September 15th in the game, too. So, if you go several months without playing the game, your townspeople will all yell at you for being gone so long when you pick it up and start playing again.

The premise of the game is very simple and silly. You spend the majority of your time gathering fruit, catching bugs, fishing or running errands for your neighbors -- getting your frog friend's camera from the hen across town and returning it to him, for example. You have to pay off a mortgage and keep your town free of weeds, all the time watching out for furniture sales or the traveling carpet salesman.

It all sounds silly and boring, but it's tremendously addictive. In fact, I'm pretty worried right now because I think I might not get home from work in time tomorrow for Crazy Redd's furniture sale at 6 p.m. I've been really busy at work lately, and I may have to work late tomorrow to get everything done -- which means my "Animal Crossing" house might remain badly furnished and I'll never get my house rating up. And that would be a tragedy.

Don't worry, though. Even though Rob and I haven't been turning our heads to look at each other lately, we've been talking a lot. Of course, all the conversations have been about "Animal Crossing."

Ok, this blog entry is getting too long. I have to get back to my game. Later.

Leftover presents and mice that eat children

Rob and I decided to take advantage of Labor Day weekend and take a quick trip to Fort Collins to join in the celebration of Ken's birthday (observed). We left here Saturday afternoon, after making arrangements with my brother for walking the doggies, and got to the fort in the early evening.

When we got to Tom and Marisa's apartment, we had two major issues to take care of. No. 1: We had to buy alcohol, and a lot of it. No. 2: We had to take a trip to the toy store so Tom and Marisa could buy some birthday presents for Ken.

One thing Fort Collins has that we haven't found yet in Colorado Springs is a Supermarket Liquor store. Maybe because Fort Collins is primarily a college town and college students are big lushes -- I don't know. For those of you who have not experienced the wonder of a Supermarket Liquor, let me explain. Imagine a grocery store, with aisles upon aisles stretching off into the distance, fully stocked with life-sustaining foodstuffs. Now imagine all those shelves filled with bottles of alcohol instead. If you ever wanted to build up an alcohol addiction, Supermarket Liquor is the place to begin.

So this, of course, is where we chose to accomplish goal number one, and accomplish it we did. Without quite realizing how overboard we were going, Tom and Marisa spent more than $40 on liquor, and Rob and I spent almost $60. Suffice it to say, we were ready for Ken's party.

For goal number two, we chose the bargain aisle of Toys 'R Us. A list of Ken's presents from Tom and Marisa: one Marky Mark doll from "Planet of the Apes," complete with weird disco pose; one Eggbot -- I don't know what the hell those are for; a set of action figures from Disney's "Atlantis"; TWO Drew Barrymore dolls that say "I love E.T." We also picked up a gift for Dan and Thea to give to Ken, which was an Amidala costume from "Star Wars" Episodes one and two. That one was for his girlfriend to wear for him...

Back at Tom and Marisa's apartment, we decided to wrap the presents. Without wrapping paper, we had no choice but to use aluminum foil, making all his presents look like leftovers. I wrapped the present from Rob and me (an "A-Team" t-shirt) and labeled it "meat." A secret: When I was crossing the "t" on the word "meat," the Sharpie I was using stabbed through the aluminum foil and wrote on Ken's shirt. He didn't notice the mark when he opened the gift, so don't tell him.

For dinner, we all went out to Chuck E. Cheese, where we fit in perfectly. On one side of us, a family was celebrating four-year-old Chase's birthday, and on the other side they'd just cleaned up from six-year-old Megan's party. We sat directly in front of the stage, where those strange animatronic animals that perform for the kids could stare at us all throughout the meal. Chuck E. Cheese had freakishly long arms, and it was a big challenge for me not to yell, "Run away, little girl! Chuck E.'s going to eat you!" every time some little kid got too close the stage. At one point, some sad Chuck E. Cheese employee in a Chuck E. outfit came by to give out high fives and hugs, and I almost had to hide under the table. I don't like that mouse.

Ken accepted his gifts most graciously, and immediately assembled his Eggbot and made him do battle with Marky Mark. After a few false starts, the Eggbot beat Marky Mark every time. And poor Drew Barrymore never stood a chance against the marauding Eggbot.

After those festivities, we all wandered around playing games in the arcade, with some limited success. Many of the games cheated me out of tickets, and for that I'm still a little bitter. I spent most of my time with Marisa, and we had fun except for the part where I gave her a puncture wound with my fingernail during a "Whack the alligators" game. Sorry, Marisa. Rob was glowing by the end of the evening, because he and some of the other boys finally managed to accomplish their years-long goal of defeating the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" game.

I think we were the last people to leave Chuck E. Cheese ... I'm not sure whether to be proud of that or not. Rob and I cashed in our tickets for Play-Doh and a rubber spider. I call that a successful dining experience.

We all went back to Tom and Marisa's apartment for video games and drinking after that. We played Soul Caliber 2 for a while, which made Rob happy, even though he lost pretty much every match he played in. After a few other multi-player games, the boys settled on "Worms" and played it for hours. (In "Worms," each player has a group of worms and an arsenal of explosives with which to attack other players' worms. The goal is to annihilate all of the other teams' worms and be the last worm standing. It sounds a little lame, but actually is very entertaining.) About three hours into the gaming, my allergies kicked into overdrive and I decided to go to bed. But from what I understand, the boys stayed up playing "Worms" until 5:30 in the morning -- even forcing some poor soul to deliver calzones to them at 3 a.m.

So yeah, we had a really good time in Fort Collins, so much so that we didn't really want to come home. We might have stayed later if we weren't worried about our cute little puppies destroying our apartment while we were gone.

It's a good thing it was a three-day weekend. We got home around 5 p.m. on Sunday, and if we hadn't had another day to recover, I'm pretty sure Rob would have died. (Ok, that was an exaggeration. But I was trying to make the end of my story interesting.)