Learning how to dine solo

ImageDinners are a family affair for me. Unless it’s an extremely rare occasion where I eat out with friends, I eat dinner with my parents every night, whether we go out or stay in for one of Dad’s delicious, home-cooked meals. But ever since my nephew was born five years ago, my parents have been traveling to Chattanooga once or twice a month to stay with my brother and his family, leaving me to my own devices when it comes to dinner.

Usually I would dig into the fridge for leftovers or pop something in the microwave to eat, as I am too dangerous to be let loose with the stove. Other times I would pick something up from a local restaurant and take it home. But lately, I’ve taken to eating out alone, something I would have been horrified to do just months ago.

The very thought of eating out alone, especially in a sit-down restaurant, used to cause my rotten social anxiety to soar. What would people think if they saw me eating solo? Would they pity me for not having anyone to eat with? Would they think I was some spinster who couldn’t get a date? Well, why that last one may have a ring of truth to it, I decided one night that I really didn’t care what people thought of seeing me alone in a restaurant, so I picked up a magazine and took myself on a date to a local eatery.

Talk about a nerve-racking experience. The first time I ate out alone, I was so nervous, I sat myself in the very back of the restaurant, hoping no one would notice me. I kept my eyes glued to the magazine I had brought, not daring to look up, afraid of people staring at me. Despite the fact that I had told myself I didn’t care what people thought, I lacked the confidence of believing it. I ate as quickly as I could and left as soon as possible.

I didn’t think I would be able to do that again, but the next time my parents went to Chattanooga, I decided to try.

The second time was easier. The hostess just gave me a friendly smile when I told her, “It’s just me tonight.” I went armed with a book again, but found myself so engrossed in my delicious dinner, I barely looked at. This time I raised my eyes and did a little “people watching” of my own. Nobody seemed to notice me all by myself, aside from my waitress who was extremely friendly and charming. Success!

This past weekend, I ventured out by myself for the third time, this time to a fast-food joint. I took my tray to a table, deliberately not choosing one in the back. I had a magazine with me again, but I didn’t touch it. Instead, I just sat by myself, by the window, and watched the world outside while I ate. I was halfway through my meal when I noticed a man sitting two tables away eating by himself. And not long after, another lone woman entered the restaurant, taking her food to the back of the dining area. I had to smile. I was not alone in being alone.

A Google search yielded some helpful hints on dining alone.

1. If you’re in the mood for conversation, ask to be seated at the bar or counter if available. If there’s not one available, go at off-peak times and spark a conversation with your server.

2. If talking to strangers isn’t your thing, bring a book or magazine.

3. Take along your social network. You’re never really alone if your online friends are along for the ride.

4. Ask for the check even if you aren’t finished eating. This will cut down on the time you must sit alone at the table after you are through.

5. Have confidence in yourself. Eating alone should be enjoyable, not something to be afraid of.

While I will probably always have that burst of social jitters before stepping into a restaurant alone, I know now that it is something I can do. And if you happen to see me out and about myself, stop by and say hi. Even if I have a book or magazine with me, I always enjoy a friendly conversation.

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What’s in a name?

ImageA few weeks ago, the new lady at work called me “Beth.” This is not the first time I’ve been called “Beth.” The mother of a friend of mine from high school always insisted on calling me “Beth” and not once in 3 years did she ever learn that my name was Caroline.

I don’t know what it is about me that screams “Beth.” I don’t think I look like a Beth. Beth isn’t even close to Caroline. Usually, people will mispronounce my name as Carolyn. My boss has my name spelled Carolyn on her email list (and I’ve worked here for 10 years, mind.) Sometimes I’ll get Catherine. I remember back in middle school, when giving our names for class pictures, the guy wrote down “Catherine Shelby,” neither of which is correct.

Once I got a Mary. I think it was a bad phone connection that time. Still, Mary from Caroline? Well, it’s closer than Beth.

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Things I’ve learned from ‘Doctor Who’

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With filming for the highly-anticipated 50th anniversary special under way, fans of the BBC television show Doctor Who have taken to social media to scrutinize every little detail of production stills being released. I confess, I’m one of them. A Whovian, as we call ourselves. And I will be waiting in breathless anticipation when the BBC celebrates the golden anniversary of the longest-running science fiction show on television.

Doctor Who premiered Nov. 23, 1963 on the BBC network in Great Britain. It chronicles the adventures of a space- and time-traveling alien, a Time Lord named simply “the Doctor,” and his (usually) human companions. He explores space and time in his sentient, bigger-on-the-inside ship called the TARDIS. With his companions, the Doctor faces a variety of foes while working to help ordinary people, save civilizations and right wrongs.

The show ran continuously from 1963 until the late 80s, with one television film in 1996, with eight different actors playing the Doctor. (Time Lords “regenerate” into new bodies when mortally wounded, a handy plot device used to pass the torch between actors.) In 2005, the show was rebooted and added three new actors playing the title role.

I was a late bloomer to the show. Though it played on PBS here in America in the ’70s and ’80s, I did not get hooked into this fantastical world of the Doctor until 2008, after several of my friends had recommended it to me. It only took two episodes for me to become a devoted fan, gobbling up both “classic” episodes and the newer reincarnation of the series. Along the way I learned some valuable lessons about life, the universe and everything.

1. There’s no point in growing up if you can’t be childish sometimes. Too often, as adults, we let the real world turns us cynical and pessimistic. Sometimes we just need to let the grown up slip away and regain some of that childish innocence we had when we were children. Run through the grass barefoot. Play with dolls. Have a tea party with friends.

2. Everyone is important. This is one I struggle with, especially when it comes to myself. I battle depression every day, and sometimes, when it feels like the world is caving in on me, I have to remind myself I am important, too.

3. Time can be rewritten. Of course, we don’t have a fancy time machine like the Doctor, but we can rewrite the past in other ways. A heartfelt apology for a past wrong can be offered. Forgiveness can be given. A fresh start can be had.

4. Not all victories are about saving the world. Even the smallest victories, such as achieving a personal goal, is every bit as important as the world-saving victories.

5. Nothing is impossible, just highly unlikely. Even then, those highly unlikely things can become likely if you just persevere.

6. Stand up for what is right, no matter the odds. Don’t ever give up on your personal convictions.

7. The bad things in life don’t spoil the good things. Learn from the bad memories and cherish the good ones. When life throws you for a loop, take out a good memory and relive it. Don’t give in to the bad things in life.

8. The most ordinary person can change the world. You could change someone else’s world for the better and never know it. Be a positive force in the lives of those around you.

9. The best weapons in the world are books. The knowledge within books are the best arsenal you could hope to have.

10. Be proud of your beliefs… and your fashion sense. Your beliefs make you who you are, not what kind of clothes you wear. But it’s OK to be proud of both. After all, bow ties are cool.

Of course, there are many other lessons to be learned from Doctor Who, such as angel statues are things to be feared, the adipose diet isn’t a good idea and despite their appearance, Daleks can climb stairs, but it’s the ones you can apply to real life that have stuck with me. And in 50 years of traveling through time and space with the Doctor, I know I’m not the only one whose life has been affected for the better by Doctor Who.

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And the papal winner is….

ImageCardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio Of Buenos Aires, has been elected to be the 266th pope of the Catholic Church, taking the name Pope Francis.

This does not affect me because I am not Catholic — or religious — but I have said before I find the whole conclave process fascinating. Maybe I’ve just read too many Dan Brown books…

So the new pope is Pope Frances I. At first, the name threw me. Pope Francis? Really? I expected something a little more traditional. But when I stopped to think about it, maybe a non-traditional pope is what the Catholic religion needs. I don’t know much about Jorge Bergoglio, but maybe he’ll be a pope more in touch with the 21st century.

Again, not Catholic, but I look forward to finding out more about this guy, and about Jesuits in general, and watching the pomp and ceremony that goes along with the papal installation. Let’s hope he’s not just more of the same.

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At least call them what they are

ImageI don’t normally pay attention to Facebook ads. Usually Facebook has me pegged entirely wrong and advertises services I don’t need… like parenting services or a dating site for gay men. Sometimes Facebook offers clothing and accessories for someone way skinnier than I am. Honestly, Facebook, do you not pay attention to the photos I upload?

Today, however, I saw a product that I really couldn’t wrap my brain around. “Above the Knuckle Rings.” These are small rings that you wear around the first knuckle of your finger. Or as they should be called, “Rings That Are Too Small For You To Wear.”

Tell me, what is the purpose of these rings? To show off your manicure? If you have a good manicure, shouldn’t that speak for itself? And I don’t know about many of you, but I would spend the whole day trying to push those damn little rings down my fingers for fear they’d fall off.

Are we running out of body parts to dress up? Do our knuckles really need bedazzling? Do people actually buy this stuff?

Maybe I’m just out of touch with today’s fashion trends.

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Talking to strangers

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Oreo LOVES his hay!

The other day, my dad and I stopped by Tractor Supply to pick up some aspen shavings and chew toys for my chinchilla, Oreo. Many small pets use cedar shavings for their bedding, but cedar contains resins which can be toxic or irritating to chinchilla physiology. So aspen shavings are the best option when going with a hardwood bedding material.

They were having a sale on the size bag of aspen shavings I buy, so we picked up two. On our way to the cashier, this older man called our attention and wanted to know if we were buying the shavings for bedding. We said yes, and he said that what we really needed were cedar shavings.

Of course, we tried to explain that we had a chinchilla (which he’d never heard of, of course), and that chinchillas were allergic to cedar. They had to use aspen. But he kept insisting that cedar was the only way to go. That he whittled cedar as a hobby and had tons of cedar shavings he could “sell us.”

Ahhh. One of those.

I get annoyed when random strangers talk to me in the store. Most of the time it’s just a pithy comment about something, which is fine, but when they want to have a conversation… no. Just let me go about my business, please. I probably don’t even want to be in the store anyway, so I try to avoid eye contact and just smile and nod when someone says something to me. But to start a full conversation? Especially trying to sell me something? Oh hell, no.

I’m glad my dad was with me, because he shot the guy down really quick and we got out of there with the aspen shavings. If I’d been on my own I would have felt trapped, unable to think of anything to say to get out of the conversation quickly.

Sometimes I feel like I still have a lot of growing up to do.

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Being sick sucks. Duh.

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Tried to find a photo of the ‘raging sinus infection’ plush. Apparently, there isn’t one. But the common cold plush was really cute.

I’m sure you have all heard the phrase, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Well, that accurately describes the week I’ve been having.

It started last week, with a mild fever, sore throat, headaches and stiff neck. That should have been my first clue, but I just thought it was another cold, so I sucked it up and went to work anyway. The fever and sore throat were gone by the weekend, but the headaches and sinus pressure/drainage lingered. Again, I thought it was just the remnants of the cold.

Then came Monday.

I went to work, even though I felt lousy, because we are woefully understaffed, especially this week. But I did not feel well. At all. My head felt like it was full of cotton, I was dizzy, coughing and I was freezing. I didn’t think anything of the freezing part, because it’s always cold in our end of the building. But when I came home and took my temperature, BAM. 103.4.

No wonder I could barely function and didn’t eat anything that day.

Sometimes I still need my parents to tell me what to do. Mom told me I could not go to work Tuesday. I already had a doctor’s appointment for noon, so it made sense. Plus I extremely weak. So I called in, went to the doctor, who pronounced me sick with a raging sinus infection — her words — and sent me home with steroids, antibiotics and orders to stay home Wednesday too.

The good news is, I am feeling better. I had a fever this morning, but it broke and hasn’t returned yet. The bad news is, this was probably the worst possible week for me to be out. I feel so, so guilty for leaving my coworkers with more work to do while I recovered. 😦

The worst new is the antibiotics are effin’ nasty. They smell bad, they’re huge and I can taste them long after I’ve choked them down. A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, told me after a long night of drinking, it doesn’t matter how much you shower, the air of alcohol permeates the skin. That’s how it is with these horse pills. So I apologize to my coworkers in advance when I start smelling… medicinal.

Oh, and I’ll be back to work tomorrow.

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