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Well, effluence and nasal discharge aside, the most disgusting thing I’ve had to endure is catching one of my children drinking the “water” from the toilet brush holder. Ugh!

On Thursday, two representatives from Burger King came to meet with us to talk about Episode III. One of them had a red nose and puffy eyes, and just as I entered the room I caught her sneezing into a Kleenex and blowing her nose. Then what did she do? She got up and extended her hand. Within 1/4 second, a hundred thoughts ran through my mind, most having to do with how to gracefully decline her hand — but instead, I shook it. Coupled with Jeff and my boss both being sick, it was too much, and now I have a cold.

Watery, itchy eyes. Runny nose. Sneezing. I look like a zombie and feel like one, too.

Thanks, Burger King. Guess you didn’t let me have it MY way.

Beyond that, we also were forced by our head of marketing to go see “The Phantom of the Opera” on Friday, because I had gotten into a public argument with him about the movie. I think it’s a piece of … well … effluence. He thinks its great, and keeps lobbing at me: “Did I tell you what George thought of it?” Yes, Jim, you did — a dozen times. That does not make me like it anymore.

I wanted to be a good sport, though, so I went on Friday. I think that contributed to my illness. What a nightmarish travesty of a “movie.” As Roger Ebert might say, it’s ukelele picks. No, on second thought, even ukeleles would reject that piece of crap.

I cleaned out the garage today. I mean, I gave it a thorough once-over, consolidating boxes of our lives into fewer boxes, making sure we were using space frugally and intelligently.

It’s always an emotional thing to do, because you run across photos, letters, mementos, souvenirs from what almost seems to be another life.

Jeff called me a “pack rat,” and I am — but an organized one. I have thrown away maybe a dozen letters in my life; everything else, I keep. I have letters from people who aren’t in my life anymore, some from people who aren’t in the world anymore. I found photos I had forgotten about, images of places I can hardly remember visiting, things I didn’t know I had kept. I’m glad I kept them. Seeing them makes the memories more tangible.

OK, sentiment over.

On a completely different subject, I just ran across this scathing indictment of Disney’s lack of creativity — a fascinating read.

Back to the Ranch tomorrow. London was cooler. 😉

OK, now comes my least favorite time of year. No, not Christmas. I pretty much like Christmas.

What I hate is that cloying question, “What do you want?”

These are supposed to be presents, folks … as in surprises. Remember when you were a kid and you thought you had a pretty good idea what was in those boxes and you hoped you were right, but you didn’t know for sure until the morning? And remember how long Christmas Eve felt because you were so excited to find out what Santa brought you … not to mention your aunts and uncles and relatives? You had no idea! If you were bad, like me, sometimes you even opened one or two of the packages carefully and skillfully (or, at least, as carefully and skillfully as a 9-year-old can do) and just quickly, daringly peeked inside!

Now, all I hear from my parents, from my sister, from my not-in-laws is, “What do you want for Christmas?” My mom even gets kind of angry if I don’t have an answer, as if I am making her life difficult. I try to start out every year with the answer, “Whatever you think I might like.” Ultimately, I get beaten down and have to start making lists: a sportcoat, a Dustbuster, a book, a digital camera (hey, it worked last year!), etc.

But in reality, what I’d really love is if no one asked and instead went out shopping with an eye toward what they think I might like. It’s kind of fun to unwrap presents with no clue as to what might be inside, and to find out my sister thought I’d like a fondue set or my father thought I might enjoy the biography of Lawrence Welk. They might be crappy gifts, they might be great gifts — it wouldn’t matter. What would matter is knowing they put some thought into what I might like, that I was on their mind when they saw that particular shirt or that particular book and said, “I bet he’d like that!”

One year, my dad got me a Stephen King book. Just a paperback, nothing expensive. When I unwrapped it, he had a huge grin on his face (and a grin on a father’s face is almost as good as a dog rolling over for a belly scratch) and said, “I know you like Stephen King.”

In fact, I hate Stephen King. I can’t stand his writing and think his books are all too long by about 350 pages. But I read that book, and I tried to like it, and that present meant a lot to me because my dad had picked it out with no “help” from me. It wasn’t on a list, it wasn’t a special request, I didn’t tell him what I wanted after days of badgering. He just bought it because he saw it and thought (even if wrongly), “Oh, I’ve got to get him that.”

That is the best kind of present. One bought and presented with love and care, not on demand.


(Okay, I changed the headline, but the article is real.)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Reuters) — A pod of dolphins circled protectively round a group of New Zealand swimmers to fend off an attack by a great white shark, media reported on Tuesday.

Lifesavers Rob Howes, his 15-year-old daughter Niccy, Karina Cooper and Helen Slade were swimming 100 metres (300 feet) off Ocean Beach near Whangarei on New Zealand’s North Island when the dolphins herded them — apparently to protect them from a shark.

“They started to herd us up, they pushed all four of us together by doing tight circles around us,” Howes told the New Zealand Press Association (NZPA).

Howes tried to drift away from the group, but two of the bigger dolphins herded him back just as he spotted a three-meter (nine feet) great white shark swimming towards the group.

“I just recoiled. It was only about 2 meters (6 feet) away from me, the water was crystal clear and it was as clear as the nose on my face,” Howes said.

“They had corralled us up to protect us,” he said.

The lifesavers spent the next 40 minutes surrounded by the dolphins before they could safely swim back to shore.

The incident happened on October 30, but the lifesavers kept the story to themselves until now.

Environment group Orca Research said dolphins attacked sharks to protect themselves and their young, so their actions in protecting the lifesavers was understandable.

“They could have sensed the danger to the swimmers and taken action to protect them,” Orca’s Ingrid Visser told NZPA.

We had a friend of Jeff’s over for dinner tonight, a guy in his late 40s who incited some fascinating and inconclusive conversation. So, I pose to you, the readers of the illustrious and world-renowned Wren Forum, the same questions we pondered while dining on ham, sweet potatoes and homemade (yes, homemade — in this home by these hands) apple pie.

We started by talking about Disney, not surprisingly, and Jim (Jeff’s friend) asked what I thought about the state of the company. (As an aside, it’s amazing to me that for a company that is doing well financially, even people who don’t follow it closely sense there’s something still wrong there.) I said that I thought the company had lost its way and that when Walt Disney died, it was on the brink of becoming, in many ways, the first “new-technology” company. Disney invested all of the profits from movies, TV shows and theme parks into things like the PeopleMover and the Monorail and Imagineering, and was always looking for third-party companies whose technology showed promise for the future. He was fascinated by “the future.”

That got us talking about how in the 1950s, ’60s and even through the ’70s and ’80s, Americans still had a sense of awe and excitement. Whether it was the Iran hostages or the wonders of space flight or the Challenger’s accident or “Who Shot J.R.?” or the mysteries of the “atomic age,” we had a “collective conscious” that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

We seem to have lost the ability to be fascinated by things, to be excited about the future, to celebrate ourselves (think of the 1984 Olympics). Maybe, we said, that is a positive sign — it means we’re not engaging in “group think” and that we are individuals who just happen to be together rather than a collective society that just happens to be made up of individuals. After all, the argument went, there was perhaps too much homogeneity when everyone watched the same TV shows, bought the same cars and relied on the same companies.

On the other hand … there’s something lost when our society no longer has a collective goal — whether it’s getting man on the moon or freeing the Iranian hostages or getting ourselves out of an energy crisis or all going to Disneyland. For all we talk about movies being “blockbusters,” for instance, “Titanic” proved that a $600 million gross is only the low end of what could be possible if a film seized the popular consciousness.

We began wondering if our society is better or worse off for not having the ability to be awed by concepts. Remember World’s Fairs, for instance? They were held to showcase all of the marvelous things and people that we had yet to discover and explore. (The 1970s concept of EPCOT Center was, you’ll recall, a “permanent world’s fair” — and perhaps the reason Epcot today suffers as a theme park is that we’re not able to get the masses properly excited about our place in the world and the prospects of the future.)

I began wondering if the election was a sign of exactly this problem (if it actually is a problem) — we’re so fractionalized, so marginalized, so divided, that there is no commonality anymore. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is something we weren’t able to conclude …

I sent an e-mail tonight to a recruiter from Visa telling her to take my name out of contention for a director-level job with the company in San Francisco.

It’s funny how easy it is to get fixated on something — for me, it’s that I’m not at the level or at the salary I think I should be. But after thinking about it a long time, I realized that I should be really grateful to have the job that I’m in — it’s one I love, despite the headaches it may cause, and one that I was thrilled to get. I should see it through to the end. And, really, there’s not much better than working on “Star Wars” and getting the chance to travel as much as I do. I’d love to have a bigger salary and a better title, but I suppose it’s the trade-off I make!

Sigh. Why can’t anything be easy?

I hate being sick. I felt myself coming down with a cold on Wednesday afternoon, and started popping vitamin C, hoping for the best — but it didn’t work.

Went to L.A. on Wednesday night (I’ve gotta stop doing that — it’s like seeing an ex and falling in love all over again when you do, which is just too difficult — but I don’t have a choice here), and stayed in the ultra-crappy Holiday Inn on the 405. You know, the round one right on the freeway. And I do mean RIGHT ON THE FREEWAY. Got about two hours’ worth of sleep.

Spent the day at the Fox Studios, and by the time we met up at LAX for dinner (Encounter — way overpriced and not all that delicious), I was hurting. Woke up this morning, which is the day of a big offsite meeting that’s been planned for weeks, barely able to move. I feel lousy.

I really, really hate being sick. The dogs are laying on the sofa bored out of their minds, and Jeff is working and I’m home doing nothing at all. So, I just thought I’d rant.

I have to admit something rather horrible. I don’t usually do things like this. But I did. And now I have to come clean.

I got very, very angry yesterday at someone I work with. Extremely angry. No hitting, slapping, punching or other physicality was involved (or ever would be) and I used no profanity (and very rarely do). I just said some not nice things.

I apologized soon after, but this person had already decided to take the issue to a superior. (Of course, we had agreed between us that we would settle it like adults and accept apologies and work well together — I meant it, but “this person” didn’t … clearly.) So, today, unsurprisingly, I was asked about it. I did completely admit what I had done and expressed remorse. But then I went one step further and did my best to engender sympathy. I said things were difficult in my non-work life, that there were problems I didn’t want to discuss (but I made some broad allusions to things that are sort of true, but also pretty much not). Yes, I lied.

I lied to save face. I lied to get people not to be angry at me.

I can justify it by saying my lie made the situation better, which it did. I can justify it by saying the lie completely eradicated any ill will and put us both on a level playing field. Yes, I could, those things would be true.

I can even say the lie wasn’t really a lie, because much of it is based in truth. Is there such a thing as a half-lie? A quarter-lie? This was part way between a little white lie and a “real” lie, leaning toward the former.

Should I feel badly about this? If a lie ends up improving a situation, is it bad? Do I come clean and face the music? Do I just quit while I’m ahead?

You see, I rarely lie. Almost never. I’m no good at it (but I surprised myself today) and I feel badly about it after the fact — but, somehow, today I don’t. I believe in honesty, and that’s the truth. But I discovered something today — bending the truth, telling a lie, whatever you want to call it, can actually have a positive effect.

If no one is harmed, if the lie causes no further problems, is it bad?

And why do I feel like Carrie Bradshaw, writing boring rhetorical questions?

Monday evenings are my alone time with the dogs. Jeff is out at chorus practice, and I’m here to do laundry (yes, it’s mostly my job — yuck) and try to relax.

The last few days I’ve really, really been missing L.A. Somethin’ fierce. Life up here is so vastly different, and even though this weekend was filled with going out with friends and being social and active, I had a major bout of homesickness. Peter Cetera was right, and if you know what I mean by that, I’ll be mightily impressed (not to mention surprised at your age).

You’re lucky to be there. I’ve got tons of reasons to be lucky to be here — love my job, have a nice house, have a boyfriend who loves me, all that good stuff. In January, I’ll have been gone for two years but I can’t help but think it feels like just yesterday. Whenever you have one of those “I hate L.A.” days — and I think I had one of those years, making me open to the idea of moving away — remember what you’ve got: perfect weather (even when it’s pouring rain, that’s somehow perfect in L.A.), no lack of anything to do, amazing movie theaters and restaurants, and the option to do it all without screaming little kids everywhere you go. Plus, you get to do it all in Los Angeles, which, despite all that makes you want to hate it, is a place you just end up loving.

Heavy sigh. Back to laundry and maybe a trip to Safeway.

Give and take. Ebb and flow. Come and go. Little o’ this, little o’ that. It’s the way life works, I guess.

Looking back, I find that many of the “executives” at Disney are among the worst-behaved, least-appreciative, most-demanding people in the industry, a hard-to-swallow fact that’s compounded by the fact that their company seems to be imploding on them and that they are precariously poised at the precipice (alliterative, no?) of obsolescence. Which is not to say Lucas may not cease to matter in a few years — sure, that’s possible. But viewed in the continuum of Hollywood, the Disney needle certainly seems to be moving back to the left, and no one there is willing to admit the mess they’re in. Which only makes their juvenile behavior, especially to those who work “for” them, even less tolerable. You can tell I have quite a high regard for the Mouse House these days. Now watch — I’ll go back. Heh.

I’ve spent most of my own day in a bit of a funk. I take a medication (no “THX 1138” comments, please) on a daily basis and have long done just fine on half of the recommended daily dose. Last night, for no reason whatsoever, I decided to take the full pill. I have regretted it all day, and been in a lazy, somewhat hazy mood, which I hate. The weather up here doesn’t help much, as it only turned sunny at about 3 p.m. We’ve had no summer. Jeff is at work, I’m doing all of our laundry so we can get through the week without worrying about it, and the dogs are bored silly.

I’m leaving this afternoon to go to San Diego. Tomorrow is my 20th high school reunion. I’ve never felt more uncertain about anything in my life. Twenty years? Well, at least I’ll get my fill of Berlin, Laura Branigan, Lionel Richie and INXS.

PS: I went to college with a Wren. Wren Mifflin. She was a bitch from Mufreesboro, Tenn. I loved her!! Go Wrens!

It’s now official. This is the longest that Jeff and I have been apart in more than three years (even when we were dating, we never went more than a few days without seeing each other). No, I take that back, *I* have been gone longer on business trips, but this is the longest that *he* has been gone.

Although I do find myself missing him an awful lot, I also am astonished at how productive solitude can be! This weekend, I have managed to get done almost my entire “to-do” list, with the exception of cleaning the dang bathrooms. Aargh. But I am proud of the fact that, with the exception of what I am wearing and he has with him, every single piece of clothing we own is clean! I also re-arranged the guest room, the master bedroom closet AND the living room. How boring a life do I lead? I won’t even tell you about the work I did on the lawn. But it was enough to exhaust me. Ready for bed!

Before Jeff decided to move down the real-estate route, we had planned to go to Florida for our almost-annual WDW trip. Even though we’ve canceled that trip, a DVD of Walt Disney World highlights came in the mail yesterday and I put it on while I did my chores. It makes me want to go again. Even though there are many places in the world that I’ve never been (and want to see), a Florida/Disney World vacation is my favorite. Yes, I’m a freak.

If you want to read about our last trip there, click on the homepage. It should put you to sleep.

Man, it sure is quiet with Jeff gone. Except for that damn squeaky toy Lucy obsessively plays with.

I’m usually the one that leaves — trips to different parts of the world, jaunts to L.A. The experience of being the one left behind is not what I anticipated. When do you go to bed? What time do you wake up? Who forces you to get going? Who is there to talk (or not talk) to? No, Steve, these are RHETORICAL questions, so there will be no answer following them … so don’t freak out about that horrible, trendy sentence structure. 😉

The guy is coming tomorrow to clean the carpets. It’s about time. I’ll go on an extra-long walk with the dogs while he does his work. And then I’ll come home to a quiet house again. Even watching movies isn’t quite as fun when you’re alone, is it? Damn, now I *really* feel isolated up here!

Things could be worse. I could be Martha.

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And going by one letter is even BETTER than “McG.”

Coincidences abound in life. Some say there are no coincidences, only friends you haven’t met. I don’t don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology, but when a man loves a woman they whistle while they work.

And that, dear reader, is my own homemade rant. Or rave. Take your pick. Personally, I prefer Suave to Rave.

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On Tuesday, I was enjoying yoga and dinner (not simultaneously) with my friend David and his new boyfriend Sean. I had never met Sean, and he was very nice. He’s never seen Brazil, but he wants to, so he’s good in my book.

Sean works for GLAAD. Fearing a coincidence was about to happen, I took a breath and asked if he knew Matt L., a good friend of my ex, Matt C. Well, not only did Sean know Matt L., he used to be his boss! And he had also spoken once on the phone with Matt C. about some singer they both really like (Amy Grant).

Of course, there’s more: Matt L. and Sean work with a guy named Jens. Jens is married to Emily. Emily went to high school with David in West Hartford, Connecticut.

This calls for a smiley: 8(

And did I mention I’m only two degrees separated from Kevin Bacon? It’s true.

Why is it that you can carry your camera around all day and not really get anything interesting — then when something truly noteworthy happens, you don’t have it on you? I met up with a friend today for “a drink,” which ended up being four hours of walking around London — and not once did I use my camera.

Went back to the hotel, dropped stuff off, decided to go see a show … and figured, what the heck, I won’t need my camera for a show. I walk down to Piccadilly and notice that there are hoardes of people lining the streets; not the regular teeming masses of London, but something different. Ten minutes later, I ask someone what’s going on, and they tell me the Olympic torch is making its way through London. And that it will be here ANY MINUTE.

Not enough time to go back to the hotel, too much time to just sit there and wait. So I walk on a few minutes further until I hit the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus (not literally hitting it, of course) and two minutes later … there it is. The torch. I got to glimpse it for 10 seconds or so as a creepy-looking strawberry blond British guy ran with it, and that was it. It lives only in my memory.