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Civic Duty
Published on April 22, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my recent stint as a potential juror.

Here's an excerpt:

"I’ve never wanted to serve on a jury.

For one thing, I never like having my schedule disrupted. But it also seems like an awfully big responsibility, and I tend to shy away from adult responsibilities. But when I received my recent jury summons, I was curiously neutral about the whole thing. The thought of spending the day at the Albany County Courthouse didn’t bother me at all, and by the time Monday morning rolled around, I was sort of looking forward to it. Which might be a sign that I need a vacation, now that I think about it.

Of course, I didn’t expect to end up on a jury.

Bad as I am at math, I understood that I was one of 106 potential jurors and that the odds of not getting picked were in my favor. I also felt fairly confident that nobody in their right mind would want me on a jury, and as I filled out my juror questionnaire my confidence grew. I happily listed my occupation as a reporter, and although I’ve been told that being a reporter doesn’t automatically get you stricken from a jury, I figured it couldn’t hurt.

My friend Hanna agreed. 'When I had jury duty, the first thing they asked me was whether I read the newspaper,' she said. 'You’ll be fine.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.


Breaking Habits
Published on April 15, 2012 by Sara Foss

In my column over at the DG, I write about habits - about how difficult they can be to break, and also to establish.

Here's an excerpt:

"A while back, I wrote about giving up soda for Lent.

My goal was to kick my habit of drinking soda all the time — something I wasn’t sure I could do unless faced with a very specific, time-sensitive challenge. Lent gave me a start date and an end date, as well as a sense of purpose and sacrifice. Unlike my previous attempts to stop drinking soda, something actually seemed to be at stake here, although what exactly that something was it’s tough to say. Perhaps pride. Having made such a public pronouncement of my plan to stop drinking soda, I didn’t want people making fun of me if I failed.

Quitting soda wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, but it did require me to develop new habits. Instead of buying soda on my trips to the vending machine, I bought iced tea. Instead of buying a soda with my launch, I bought seltzer water. Occasionally, I bought coffee. But mostly I drank water. Lots and lots of water.

And I got used to it."

Click here to read more.


Surviving My Sister's Baby Shower
Published on April 1, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my sister's baby shower, and my plan to buy non-pink, non-frilly clothes for my soon-to-be-born niece. 

Here's an excerpt:

"Well, I survived my sister’s baby shower.

As baby showers go, it wasn’t bad.

The people were nice, the food was good and there was a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere, which probably stemmed from the fact that the shower was held in the home of a friend.

Of course, I was required to do certain things at the shower, like let my pregnant sister Rebecca boss me around. What I found strange was that every time I asked her whether she needed something, she burst out laughing. This made me realize that nobody really expected me to fulfill Rebecca’s every command, and that my willingness to do so took everybody by surprise. Really, it wasn’t hard — all I had to do was refill the occasional glass of water."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Not Saying Never
Published on March 25, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about why I try never to say never.

Here's an excerpt:

"At this stage in life, there are certain things I’m fairly confident I’ll never do, like own a motorcycle.

But you never know.

Maybe someday I’ll decide that I really want a motorcycle, and purchase one. That’s what my friend Bruce did. One day he said, 'I saw this cool motorcycle online, and I bought it.' Now he says things like, 'I think it’s time to get out my bike,' and 'I think I’m going to go for a long bike ride tomorrow.'

Will this happen to me? I doubt it. I don’t really care about motorcycles, although there’s a part of me that thinks it would be fun to ride one around.

My friend Kristina was pretty leery of motorcycles — until she married a motorcycle-loving man and bought one for herself. Then they got divorced, and she sold her motorcycle. Kristina’s life has changed so much since then that it’s difficult to remember that she ever went through a phase where she was married, lived and worked in New Hampshire and rode a motorcycle. Now she lives in Guam and runs marathons. What will she do next? I have no idea. But I wouldn’t rule anything out."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Fear of Math
Published on March 19, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my greatest phobia: math.

Here's an excerpt:

"I’ve got a number of phobias, and I’ve mentioned a few of them before: crowds, public speaking, karaoke.

But I’ve rarely discussed my biggest phobia, which is math.

Unlike my fears of crowds, public speaking and karaoke, I’ve always felt a little bit ashamed of my fear of math. I don’t think there’s ever been a subject I’ve worked harder in for less satisfying results. Numbers have always confounded me, and I suspect they always will.

Years ago, I read the book 'Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences' in an effort to get a handle on the problem, but it didn’t help. Instead, it just made me depressed. The author, John Allen Paulos, makes it clear that incompetence with numbers is nothing to be proud of and that there’s real value to understanding concepts such as probability and coincidence and knowing how to work with and interpret statistics."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Things to Do, Things I've Done and Things That Have Happened
Life is a Fragile Thing, Or So They Say
Published on March 14, 2012 by guest author: Steve LeBlanc

Life is a fragile thing. Or so they say. Or at least that’s how it seems to me these days. My body is weaker and more brittle than it used to be, and my care of it has accordingly grown more cautious. But that isn’t how things used to be. Life used to be extraordinarily difficult to extinguish. Let’s admit it - we lived with reckless abandon as youths. We placed ourselves in petrifyingly precarious situations, and played daringly dangerous games to amuse ourselves. Somehow or other most of us are still among the living. Life is fragile these days, and that is a sobering thought. But let’s take a minute to celebrate just how tenacious life was when we were young. We can do so by remembering some of what we have managed to survive:

1. Infanthood is exceptionally dangerous. I’ll tell you why. I’ve always thought that the most dangerous thing you can do is to place your life in the hands of another person. After all, most people are pretty inept. This is one reason I have such a fear of flying. I don’t trust that the pilot is going to be paying sufficient attention while the plane is taking off or touching down. I don’t know anything about flying a plane, but when it comes to landing a plane I’m flying in, I’d like to handle that myself thanks, because I don’t trust you, pilot. The same thing goes for surgery. I’ve never liked the idea of getting unconscious while a relative stranger prepares to cut you open with a knife.

But infanthood is more dangerous than either of these things. It is not simply your livelihood being in the hands of another person for a short period of time. Rather, it is your livelihood being in the hands of one or two extremely sleep-deprived people for 24 hours a day, for about twelve months (I guess that’s how long we’re considered infants). I’m amazed my own son made it to twelve months, and my wife is a great mother, and I at least have made an effort.

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Connecting with Friends
Published on March 11, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about how much easier it is to connect with friends these days, and how much I still enjoy the random, unplanned encounter.

Here's an excerpt:

"Last week, for reasons that are too convoluted to explain, I found myself roaming around the Palace Theatre searching for my seat.

I didn’t have my ticket, but I knew I was seated somewhere in the balcony, with my friends Bruce and Anna. The opening band had just stopped playing, which gave me a small window of time in which to locate my seat, and my friends. Once the headliner, the alternative-rock band Jane’s Addiction, took the stage, it would become much more difficult to hear and see them.

Not being able to find my friends is always a source of anxiety, and although technology has made it much easier to track people down, there are limits to what it can do. Maybe Bruce didn’t have his phone on, or wouldn’t think to check his messages. Maybe he’d turned it off for some reason. Worried that he wouldn’t get my message, I headed up to the balcony to search for him.

I heard someone call my name but it wasn’t Bruce. It was the New England Sports Fan Friend, waving to me from his seat. He was there with his wife, his sister-in-law and another couple, and I ran up to say hello. 'I’d love to stay and chat,' I said, 'but I need to find Bruce and Anna.'

As I turned to leave, I heard someone else call my name. I whirled around and was greeted by an old high school classmate — someone I probably hadn’t seen since the mid- to late 1990s. I was confused. Did the New England Sports Fan Friend know my old high school classmate? And, if so, how? But he seemed as baffled as I was. 'This is the row of people who know Sara Foss,' he cracked.

I exchanged a few words with the high school classmate, then rushed off to continue my search. I ran into my friend Sue and her crew, as well as a former colleague. But not Bruce and Anna."

Click here to read the whole thing.


A 40-Day Challenge
Published on March 4, 2012 by Sara Foss

I've given up drinking soda for Lent.

Since I drink soda all the time, this is a huge challenge.

But it's getting easier.

Over at the DG, I attempt to explain what I'm going through.

Here's an excerpt:

"Since entering the work force, I’ve developed a terrible habit.

When I’m on the job, I drink soda constantly.

Specifically, Diet Coke.

I’ve always understood that this isn’t exactly healthy, but for the most part haven’t really worried about it. My theory is that it’s hard to get through life without developing one or two bad habits, and that as bad habits go, consuming copious amounts of Diet Coke is fairly innocuous. I’d never been a smoker, and I rarely drank coffee. Nor do I gamble or abuse drugs. Overall, I’ve always considered myself pretty vice-free.

A spate of recent articles about the pernicious effects of diet soda has caused me to re-evaluate this opinion.
A new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that drinking diet soda every day is linked with a higher risk of stroke and heart attack, and a study presented last year at the American Diabetes Association last year showed that drinking diet soda is linked with having a wider waistline. I found this last bit of information particularly galling, because of course I was under the impression that drinking diet soda would help me avoid having a wider waistline."

Click here to read more.


New Friends
Published on February 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

In my weekly column over at the DG, I write about the challenges and joys of making new friends. This is something I have to keep doing, because my friends keep moving away. In fact, I've finally concluded that I'm attracted to the sort of people who are more likely to move.

Anyway, here's an excerpt:

"My biggest complaint about the Capital Region is that people seem to come and go so quickly.

After I moved here, I worked hard to make friends. And when you’re an introvert, making friends poses a bit of a challenge.

But I’m actually pretty decent at it, having gone to camp as a child, moved once as a child, attended college in Ohio and spent the fi rst three years of my professional life working in Alabama. At all of these stops, I made friends quickly and easily, and often with people I didn’t expect. In fact, I would say that’s been one of life’s biggest lessons: to keep an open mind about the Friend Potential (FP) of the people I encounter.

For instance, I wasn’t sure how I felt about my college roommate when I met her. She was a gregarious extrovert from South Dakota, while I was a reserved New Englander. I assumed we would learn to coexist, but doubted we would ever be close — we were too different. But I soon learned that having an extroverted roommate was useful, because extroverts attract people. And we had more in common than I initially thought: similar values, tastes in music, senses of humor, etc.

But if there was a lesson to be learned, I didn’t learn it."

Click here to read more.


Why Do We Scapegoat?
Published on February 13, 2012 by Sara Foss

Last week was kind of lousy. The Patriots lost the Super Bowl, and then I came down with a horrible plague. Both events caused me to look for scapegoats. Which isn't unusual: When bad things happen, people often look for scapegoats. The question is: Why?

Over in my weekly column at the DG, I ponder this question. 

Here's an excerpt:

"I came down with a nasty little plague this week, and I immediately went looking for someone to blame.

Who was responsible for my sickness? Where had it come from? How did I get it?

As usual, Facebook offered some clues.

When I glanced at the site on Monday evening, I noticed that my cousin was complaining about having a stomach bug. I had seen her two days earlier at a family gathering. But I didn’t blame my cousin. I blamed her 1-year-old daughter. Little kids are germ magnets, and it seemed highly probable that the lone child at Saturday’s party was the culprit.

Being sick makes me sad, and throughout the week I was often struck by pangs of sorrow. But when I wasn’t feeling sorrowful, I felt angry. And in my angrier moments, I wished there was someone I could lash out at. A 1-year-old child was not a suitable target.

Then my dad informed me that my entire family had gotten sick after Saturday’s get-together, except for my youngest sister, Lesley, who had been sick prior to the event. 'So this is Lesley’s fault?' I asked. For some reason, I found it strangely satisfying to blame Lesley for the plague.

Is it normal to look for a scapegoat when you’re sick?"

Click here to read more.


Things You Can Do
Published on February 9, 2012 by Sara Foss

Most people think it takes 7-10 days t replace a lost vehicle title through the DMV. 

DON'T BELIEVE THEM.

If you need to replace a lost title, you can actually do it very quickly.

Like, in two days.

I learned this when I traded in my 1997 Subaru Legacy. When I drove my car up to the dealership, the guys handling my transaction asked whether I had my title, and I shook my head. I hadn't given the title a moment's thought, and had no idea where it was. I ran home, and searched my filing cabinet. I found all kinds of documents in there - the title to my 1995 Ford, which died seven years ago, records of magazine subscriptions I purchased a decade ago, veterinary records from Birmingham, Ala. But I could not find the document I needed.

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Things to Do, Things I've Done and Things That Have Happened
The Girl at the Pool
Published on February 7, 2012 by guest author: Steve LeBlanc

It was about ten years ago. I must have been twenty five.

I entered the indoor pool area from the men’s locker room. It was a weekday night in the middle of winter, the end of a long day. My line of work at the time was financial analysis. The constraints this line placed on my vision and movement tended to undermine my sense of possessing a physical presence in the world. That particular day I had barely strayed from the lonely cubicle, and had not exchanged words with anyone or listened to public radio. It had been nothing but computer and fluorescent brightness for sight, keyboard tapping and self-breathing for sound. My existence had dwindled over the course of the day, so that I endured merely as cinematic sight that night - a filmic reality in which dialogue played no part.

I had gone to the pool to break the spell and to get a bit of exercise. A few winters before I had been in tremendous shape, running and lifting and swimming my way quite vibrantly through the entire season. But recently I had fallen off, and it had been several months since I had enjoyed a calming cardiovascular swim through indoor pool water.

The change to swimsuit and the shower had chilled me awake. Not having been swimming recently, and given my winter wardrobe, I wasn’t used to so much of my skin being exposed to non-apartment air. The shower was warm, but stepping out from under it was stepping wet through a cold draft. I awoke for the first time that day. My body and vision found the locker room shivery bright white. I quickly crossed the shower and grasped the slippery metal handle of the door to the pool. I opened the door and entered the indoor pool area.


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Same Make, New Model
Published on February 5, 2012 by Sara Foss

I got a new car!

Click here to read all about it.


Complaining About My Favorite Things
Published on January 29, 2012 by Sara Foss

In my weekly column at the DG, I ponder why we complain so much about the things that we love.

Here's an excerpt: 

"Every year I look forward to the Oscar nominations, and this year was no exception.

By 8:45 a.m., I had reviewed the list of nominees and made a list of films to see before the ceremony. And by 10 a.m., I was complaining — moaning and groaning about the number of films on my list (too many, in my opinion), as well as the overall quality of the nominees. There are usually one or two fi lms I don’t want to see but end up watching anyway because they’re up for awards in major categories. This year there are at least five fi lms that fit this description, which really annoys me.

I emailed my friend Hanna, who is also an Oscar junkie, and grumbled about how much I don’t want to see 'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close' or 'The Iron Lady.' In response, she sent me an email lamenting the fact that she now has to watch 'The Help' and 'My Week With Marilyn.'

We continued on in this vein for a bit, ripping the list of nominees to shreds and whining about snubs — the movies, films and actors we believed were unjustly overlooked. At some point it occurred to me that, considering how much Hanna and I both profess to love the Oscars, we were sure doing a lot of complaining. In fact, one could have been forgiven for thinking that we hated the Oscars with a passion, and would like nothing better than to see the Academy Awards disappear forever from the nation’s collective consciousness."

Click here to read the whole thing.


And Another Thing!
Saints and Poets
Published on January 23, 2012 by guest author: Barry Wenig

On New Year’s Eve, I was happy to say goodbye to 2011. The previous winter was awful in the Northeast, and there had been lots of tragedy in the world. We had a death in our immediate family in July, which hit all of us hard.

Enter 2012, and the realization that I may have spoken too fast.

Each morning, as I pull out of my driveway on my way to work, I pray for people who need relief from illness or distress. Despite the fact that we are still in January, I have officially lost count of how many people I am praying for. I have a number of friends and relatives of friends who have dealing with cancer and other illnesses.

I think I'm a pretty good person; besides praying, I contact friends who are struggling to see what I can do for them. Usually, what they want is just to have someone to talk to, and to listen, which is something I am capable of.

But in the bigger picture, there is a lesson I know that I am not learning.

Back in 1975, my late mother, Frances, had a part in the play "Our Town" (she was "Mrs. Webb") with a community theater in Rockaway, New York. If you're familiar with "Our Town," you may remember that it is a sneaky little play. Unlike some other works, there is really no great action. You view two families, and you watch as two young people from these families fall in love. While you wait for something of magnitude to occur, you slowly realize that what is happening is just life itself: the living, the loving, and the parting.

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