Thursday, August 30, 2007


I was standing at a collegue's desk, looking at a spreadsheet with her, when the little Outlook notification box popped up on her screen. You know, the one where it gives you a little preview of the message so that you can decide where on the scale of Comparative Importance that email falls and either open it, ignore it, or delete it right away? Weeeellll, the subject line on the email was "Katze's Shower".

Kristi quickly clicked it off the screen, and I acted all nonchalant, as though I hadn't even noticed the little box RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF HER SCREEN with my name on it.

In the car on the way home from work, I told Ash that I thought I'd spoiled a surprise. He piped up, "Yeah, it's on Friday."

"What?! How do you know about it?"

"Oh, I'm invited."*

So then, today walked into my manager's cube and he had a card right on the middle of his desk. A card with a big white wedding dress on it. He grabbed a file folder and jammed the card inside it, very non-nonchalantly. And he got the most stricken look on his face. Again, I acted like I hadn't actually noticed his strange behavior, asked the question that had brought me to his cube to begin with, and went back to my cube, where I laughed silently until my stomach hurt. It was just too cute and funny, especially because he spoiled the last surprise party that they threw for me-- sort of.

See, the morning after my swearing in ceremony at the Federal Court, I was sitting at my desk, eating a chocolate donut and reading email when he wandered over and started talking to me and my former cube neighbor and at one point in the conversation, he made a joking remark that I just thought I was special because I got a chocolate ca-- donut. CHOCOLATE DONUT. And I just looked at him all bug eyed because it was a very, very strange thing to say, especially because he got all red in the face. But then, Mike is a very awkward person sometimes, one of those people who says things that probably sounded funnier in his head, or tries to get in on a running joke just a few minutes after it loses its hilarity. So I didn't think about it too much. Later that afternoon, Angela came into my cube aisle and asked us to come over to the common area in our department for a quick meeting. I picked up a pad of paper and a pen and wandered the couple of aisles over to the common area where I stood talking to someone for at least a minute before I even noticed the chocolate cake with "Congratulations Katze!" in sparkly white letters.

I was floored. And touched! I certainly wasn't expecting any sort of a party-- though in retrospect, I probably should have, because we celebrate everything in our department. It's a fun-lovin' group. In fact, I think I probably work for the best department in the company, overall. Sure, there are some people I like more than others, but for the most part, the group is fairly supportive and cooperative.**

So anyway, I hadn't actually expected them to throw me a shower. It really just didn't enter my mind. But again, I guess I should have known that they would, because not only do we celebrate everything, we've thrown a couple of baby showers since I started. No one in the department has gotten married since I started, but we've had two babies born so far and a third is on the way about 5 or 6 weeks after my wedding. And now that I know but am pretending not to know, I had a very funny day. I kept overhearing snippets of conversation with my name in it and once I witnessed another little email popup while I was helping someone with a termination clause. I hope I've been a convincing actress because I certainly don't want to spoil their fun by ruining the surprise.

*Have I mentioned that Ash is temping at the company where I work for a few weeks? He's in a different department, but as it turns out, on the same floor. It's kind of cool and kind of weird at the same time. I bet it will feel really strange again when his temp assignment is over or he gets a permanent position.
**It's also overwhelmingly female. We only have five men out of a total of twenty four employees. I wonder if that has anything to do with the positive atmosphere? But then again, large groups of women can be far more competitive and cutthroat, so maybe it's just a lucky fluke.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Devil is in the Details

A recent email conversation with a friend:

"I know that it's your big day...but I have only Star Wars stamps.
If it bothers you, I'll make a special trip to the post office so that I can RSVP with a more, ahem, appropriate postal art?"

"My impulse is to ask if there really are people who would care about that sort of thing... and then I immediately realized that, yes, there are. And that's why everything bridal is so effing expensive. I, however, care only about *getting* the RSVP... in fact, please feel free to RSVP via the website and don't bother with stamps or anything."

"Well, I figured you wouldn't mind, and Ash might actually find it funny. But I thought I'd ask just in case someone else was dealing with the RSVPs--someone who really cares about this sort of thing."

Two days later...

"So I paid attention to this only because you asked this question, and I'm pleased to report to you that, thus far, fully 40% of our RSVPs have been stamped with some Star Wars character. I don't know what that says about our friends... ;-)"

"I had a discussion with some of my colleagues to determine which Star Wars stamp was most appropriate for a wedding RSVP. :)"

My friends are awesome.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Crunch Time, Part 2

Last year at this time, every conversation started like this:

"Katze! Hey, how are you? Did you get your bar results back yet? No? When will they come out?"

Somewhere around June of this year, most of my conversations began to start off like this:

"Katze! Hey, how are you? How are the wedding plans coming? Are you excited?"

The last thing I ever wanted was to become That Bride. I was at a party with Ash last summer and it was one of those parties where the men go off together and the women hang out in the kitchen. I knew only a handful of the people at the party, mostly men, and I didn't even know any of them very well, but I had gotten this big pep talk from Ash about meeting new people, so I was bound and determined not to just hang on Ash's arm all night and be bored and anxious. I joined the ladies in the kitchen with a glass of wine in my hand (ahhhh, social lubricant). The topic of conversation? Weddings. One girl's upcoming wedding, another's recent wedding, another's wedding later that year, guest lists, caterers, flowers, colors, blah blah blah blah blah insignificant details that no one should get so worked up over blah blah menu choices blah blah blah favors blah blah linens blah blah gahhhhhhrrrrrgggggggggeiiiiiiiiiiiiiii, there isn't enough wine in this house to make me want to continue this conversation. *

The thing is, it's very hard not to get sucked into the wedding vortex. It would be very easy to let myself get consumed by the sheer volume of stuff to do, and I don't even care what color the table napkins are. In fact, a week ago, the length of my to-do list, which includes several things, all of which must be done NOW NOW NOW and which are truly important-- necessary, even.

Which meant that everytime I'd end up in a small talk kind of situation-- being in the elevator with a coworker, for example-- I'd find my blood pressure rising involuntarily at the inevitable query. How are the wedding plans going? NOT NEARLY WELL ENOUGH, THANKS FOR ASKING, WOULD YOU LIKE TO HELP ME ADDRESS ENVELOPES, FIND A SEAMSTRESS, PICK AN ENGAGEMENT PHOTO FOR OUR GUESTBOOK, ARRANGE FOR A SOUND SYSTEM, PICK OUT THE DESIGNS FOR THE CAKES, wait! Where are you going?? I was just getting started!

The biggest thing that we hadn't done yet, as of last Monday at any rate, was to get our invitations out. I'd already spent several hours hand addressing the envelopes for the RSVPs and for the invitations themselves, but as of Sunday night when we went to bed, I think I was only 2/3 finished. I hadn't made the final edits to the text, set up the template, or even found the exact right ink for the starry tree (the same one I used for the Save the Date cards). I'd bought a DIY invitation kit from Target-- ivory with an ivory pearl border. My original vision involved using a matching pearlized ink to put the tree at the top of each invitation, with the text centered directly under. The only problem is that no matter how shiny or pearly or opaque an ink claimed to be, it simply could not be seen unless you held the paper just so under a bright light.

Hulio and I discussed this problem at length in the week leading up to our visit to Ash's sister, Elizabeth. Once we got there, Elizabeth got in on the action, and the next thing you know, we were wandering the aisles of a Hobby Lobby** somewhere on the outskirts of the city, pondering whether or not a hair dryer would work in place of the $20 heater for melting embossing powder. Just as we were about to give up, we found an ink different from any of the others I'd seen in my multiple trips to various craft stores: dark blue with a gold underlay. I wasn't exactly sold on the idea-- I figured it would clash with the pearl borders-- but since I wasn't exactly brimming with other, superior inspirations that would make Martha Stewart cry with a mixture of awe and jealousy, I bought the ink and figured we'd give it a whirl.

Monday night, I spent the better part of the evening cruising wedding invitation websites, trying to polish the wording. One site in particular provided us with hours of entertainment over the past several weeks, as we read the cheesiest and most obnoxious examples of rhymed couplets full of puns for various wedding "themes".

They turned out better than I expected.

Ash and I were up waaaay past our bedtimes, but we got the invitations out, hallelujah! Because, see, we have to get the final headcount to the caterer, ummmm... right after Labor Day. I swear to you, I didn't mean to procrastinate and put things off to the last minute, I really didn't. It's just that somewhere along the way, what with recovering from the accident, dealing with the insurance company, dealing with getting the new car, going to physical therapy, and trying to dig out from the enormous pile of gifts that have been arriving ever since Ash's family held a wedding shower for us about a week after the accident, we just got a little behind schedule.

The seamstress was turning out to be a sticky little problem, too. Back in My Hometown, I know of a couple of people who could either do the alterations for me or would know someone who could. Here, I hit several dead ends with the handful of recommendations I was able to garner from the few people I know who have gotten married here-- lots of retired seamstresses, and I mean, really now, how could someone pass up the golden opportunity to come out of retirement and hem my wedding gown? I just don't understand people at all.

Finally, I lucked into a conversation with someone who had ended up with a hideously missized David's Bridal bridesmaids gown that required extensive renovation, and lo and behold, she used a woman who she described as nothing less than a miracle worker, and an affordable one, to boot.

I am ALL ABOUT affordable miracles.

The great thing about this woman is that she came to my house. In the evening. At my convenience. She brought her little box and a stepping block, I climbed into the dress, she started pinning and measuring, and 20 minutes later, she sailed out the door with my dress, leaving me with a bill to be paid upon delivery of the dress the first week of September. For hemming the dress, reshaping the bodice, shortening the straps, fixing the broken fastener and adding a bustle, she is charging me only $90. I was very recently charged almost that much to have four pairs of dress pants hemmed at a local dry cleaner***

And the funny thing is, now that I got those two big things off my to do list, everything seems managable again. But the to do list is still three pages long...

* So I guess I'm a dirty hypocrite for writing this blog entry, but then, if you don't want to read this, hitting "Next Blog" is a lot less socially awkward than extricating myself from that little hen party was.

**The aisles and aisles of Sunday School supplies probably shouldn't have surprised me, since apparently, much like Chik-fil-et, they are closed on Sundays to allow their employees to worship and spend time with their families. Still, I was a little mystified at first as to why so many items seemed to have religious overtones in a craft store.

*** I'm pretty sure I got ripped off. Last time I choose convenience above all else.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bienvenido a Chicago

Hulio pulled up to the pumps and got out of the car. I stayed in my seat, enjoying the exhilaration of being *away*, even if only for a day and a half. The door to the gas station convenience store opened and out walked a man in full mariachi regalia. He carried a brown paper bag of... something in his hand, and once he had gone three, four steps away from the door, he took a long, quick swig, then another, and another. Then he walked a few steps further, opened the freezer case holding those big bags of ice for sale, and stashed the brown paper bag and its contents deep down inside. He shut the doors to the freezer, ran his hands through his hair, spat on the ground, and --- apparently fortified-- strolled across the street to the Mexican restaurant.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dilbert Principle In Action

The sign on the refrigerator door reads "Ice machine broken". One of our department heads walks up to the refrigerator, reads the sign, thinks about it for a second and puts her cup under the dispenser, pressing the lever, which produces nothing more than a weary grinding noise. She stops... then tries again... and again... and again...


Monday, August 13, 2007

Crunch Time, Part 1

Last Friday morning, Ash and I took the morning off work and appeared before the clerk in the Marriage License Bureau. We signed some papers, paid a fee, raised our right hands and swore that we appeared of our own free will and desired to be married.
We celebrated with hot dogs and Limonata from the cleverly named restaurant in the Cathedral downtown. Then we walked a few blocks and visited the jeweler who made my engagement ring. He remembered us, which surprised me, but at the same time, didn't. He patiently paged through catalogs and their own design files until I found just the right pattern for my ring, then he tweaked the design to fit my tiny fingers and cast several different wax molds in variations on the design so that I could try each of them until it was exactly right. My band will be about 4.8 mm wide, with a delicate design of vines and leaves. Ash's turned out to be a lot easier. It was really only a question of which width he wanted, since he'd already decided on a plain platinum band in the half round design. The rings will be made for us and we'll go for a fitting in a few weeks.
For the first time in months, it really seems *real*. We're getting married! No kidding! And it's not that I thought we were only pretending, it's just that it seemed like one of those things that's going to happen *eventually*, *someday*. And now I'm so excited that I can barely stand it. I can't wait!
And yet, I wish I had more time before the wedding, because I feel so overwhelmed with all the things that are left to do. I've been replaying the advice that I got from Catherine way back when we first got engaged, reminding myself that no matter what goes wrong that day, we'll still end up married, and that's what matters. It's helped me keep perspective over the past several months. Nonetheless, I still think I've crossed into the black pit of wedding obsession. I am quickly losing my ability to think about anything at all other than things I've got to do for the wedding. This is a bad thing, because I'm working two jobs right now and neither of them is the sort of job where you can perform your duties while your mind is wandering around out there somewhere.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

New Wheels

The saga of the insurance settlement continues. In the days immediately following my last post on the topic, I rejected the original valuation with a detailed list of what was wrong with it, along with a copy of my own research on the topic, and demanded that the valuation be re-done on a fair basis of comparison. Oh sure, they told me, no problem. That was on a Thursday.

Friday came and went with no word. I called both adjusters assigned to my case twice in the afternoon. The weekend came and went with no word-- unsurprising, I suppose, since Erie Insurance "doesn't work on the weekends", as the nasty receptionist informed me. Monday morning, I started calling every hour on the hour, beginning at 8 a.m. At 9 a.m., I reached one of the adjusters, who said that he was at another appointment, but would be back in the office within the hour, could he call me back then? 10 a.m. came and went, no call. I left another message. 11:00, 12:00. 1:00... I may or may not have let the words "insurance commission" slip during the 1:00 message. At 1:30, I was filling out a form on the insurance commission website and picked up the phone again to call-- this time from a different phone. The adjuster answered-- how very "mysterious" that he would suddenly be in the office for a number that he didn't recognize on the caller i.d. "Oh. Katze. Um, I just got back in the office and I need to boot my computer up and pull your records. Let me call you back in 10 minutes." Suuuuuure. But OK, if that's the game, I'll play. At 1:45, I called back and left a message that began, "Kevin, this is just getting silly now, don't you think?"

By 2:00, I had the complaint form filled out and decided to wait until close of business to click send, just to give Kevin a fair chance to return the call. At 3:00, I called again from yet another phone and, when Kevin answered, the first thing out of my mouth was, "I have no intention of waiting for a return call that will never come, so let's get this taken care of, shall we?"

Seems that when Kevin ran the numbers using cars that are actually comparable to mine the numbers came up quite differently. "Those Toyotas sure hold their value" was his remark to this. NO DUH. Do you think that's why I might have been utterly insulted by your original offer? The new, revised offer came to $7500-- not exactly a small difference, and much more in line with what I would consider a fair settlement. Ash and I decided that the $400 or so in difference between our average and theirs was not worth fighting over and accepted.

So three days later, we used the settlement as a down payment on a new Toyota Matrix. It was not the car I thought I'd buy, to be honest. When Ash and I first set out, I intended to buy another Corolla. I've had two so far and loved them both. Why mess with a good thing, right? But at the first dealership we visited, the salesman stopped at the Matrix, which was parked right next to the door. Ash was already pretty infatuated with it before the salesman opened his mouth, and after a tour of the safety features and what I call the "cool features" (no idea what the proper automotive industry term for that would be), Ash was in love with the car, and I was developing my own crush.

However, I was starting to hate the salesman.

See, I am not an idiot. I do lots of research before making a major purchase of any kind, and especially before the sort of purchase that you're going to spend what amounts to 2/3 of a year's law school tuition on, and intend to live with for the next decade or so of your life. The second question the salesman asked me* was what kind of car I had previously, and I'd told him that it was a 1999 Corolla CE. So you know, it probably wasn't the wisest idea for him to start his spiel on the safety features of the Matrix by telling me that one advantage of the Matrix over the Corolla is that the Matrix can be ordered with anti-lock brakes, but that you can't get anti-lock brakes on a Corolla. Gee, that's funny-- I could have sworn that I just spent the past 9 years driving around in a Corolla with anti-lock brakes. Trust factor reading at negative 200, Captain!

It's like when I was shopping for my last car. Hulio and I set out together to test drive the two models that I had narrowed it down to after my research: a Civic and a Corolla. At the Honda dealership-- and I swear this is true, even though it sounds like something out of a bad sitcom-- the salesman opened (OPENED!) his sales pitch by flipping down the visor and showing me the lighted vanity mirror. Who does this?? It might have been different had he started with things like safety features and gas mileage, then segued into a tour of the interior that happened to include a quick mention of the lighted vanity mirrors**, but he totally acted like he thought I would whip out my checkbook right then and there.

So Ash and I looked at the Matrix, at the Yaris, at the Scion and at the Corolla. The Yaris and the Scion were rejected as too small-- poor Ash couldn't comfortably sit in either of them. The salesman brought out a Matrix and we took it out for a spin. That's when I started to fall in love a little bit. The interior is very well laid out and surprisingly roomy, given that the Matrix is built on a Corolla chassis. It accelerates well and handles nicely, and it has lots of nice little extras that make a car more pleasant to drive.

We had planned to take a Corolla out after that, but by the time we got back to the dealership, my back was screaming and I was ready for a nap. We made our excuses and started inching toward the door, but the salesman just kept talking, bringing us more brochures, asking us more questions. It took forever to get out the door. Back in the rental car, my first words to Ash were "If we do buy a Matrix, it won't be from that guy."

A few days later, we'd gone to a Pontiac dealership to take a look at the Vibe, which is the same car as the Matrix-- they're even produced in the same plant***-- and Ash's grandfather worked at GM for 45 years, which means that Ash is eligible for GM employee pricing. We liked the Vibe about as well as the Matrix, which I suppose isn't shocking, since the only difference between the two cars is the styling. The quote was at the high end of what we'd decided we could afford to spend, and we decided to visit a different Toyota dealership and see if we could leverage the Pontiac quote to get a better price on the Matrix.

The experience at the second Toyota dealership we visited was much different. Perhaps this was because we came in knowing exactly what we wanted and didn't need to go through all the preliminary stuff. Perhaps, though, there's just a different set of core values at that dealership. I had taken the Corolla there for oil changes once or twice because they're much closer to my office than my regular mechanic, and I was quite impressed with the way the service manager treated me. At any rate, our salesman didn't dish out the crap the same way the first guy did. We told him what we wanted-- a Matrix with anti-lock brakes**** that isn't white, black, or silver, and doesn't have a sunroof (because Ash's head hits the ceiling in the sunroof version-- the salesman at the first Toyota told him he could just lean his seat back further back)-- and then we told him what the quote from Pontiac was and asked him what he could do for us. He searched the local inventory, found a car at a dealership about 100 miles away, and came back with a quote that put the price of a Matrix toward the low end of what we had decided we were able to afford.

I've had it for about a week now, and it's great. I took it home to my wedding shower this past weekend and I was able to fit all the shower gifts, plus 133 candles and holders and 17 glass cake stands, plus a huge basket of laundry, plus a bag full of stuff to make invitations. One of the little things that I really like about it, and it's a silly thing, is that it has a power outlet in the dashboard, a normal power outlet just like the ones in your home. It sits a little higher than my Corolla did, which took some getting used to. It's very easy to drive. It promises to get gas mileage similar to my old Corolla, but it's too soon to really know how that will play out in real life. I've gone through 2 1/2 tanks of gas in about 900 miles of mixed driving, so it seems like it will be pretty comparable-- I was getting about 30 or 31 miles to the gallon in mixed driving and about 34 or 35 miles to the gallon for highway driving.

Next up: dealing with titling the cars, and arguing over medical bills and pain and suffering damages. Hooray!

*The first question was "What brings you here today?", which made me want to answer "We're hungry, could you whomp us up a little chow?".

** Which, STILL! Who buys a car based on the lighted vanity mirror? Especially on the driver's side-- shouldn't you be paying attention to something other than your makeup while you're driving, especially if it's dark enough to need a lighted mirror to see it?

*** I was surprised to learn that Toyota and Pontiac had entered into that kind of joint venture. I guess it's working out well for them because now that I've got one, it seems like I see Matrixes (or, as Ash insists on saying, Matrices) and Vibes everywhere I go.

****Which, apparently, the local dealerships have decided price the cars out of the range at which they can get people in this area to buy. The first time a dealer told us that, I thought it was a load of hooey, but each subsequent dealer told us the same thing, and the stock on lot bore it out. For example, at the Pontiac dealership, they had 20 Vibes in stock, but only 4 had anti-lock brakes. Why on earth would you want to buy a car WITHOUT anti-lock brakes? I think they're one of the best safety innovations since the seat belt! Those anti-locks saved my goose more than once when I lived in Buffalo.