Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Quotes for the Week:

"Lawrence, I know you and I never saw eye to eye, and I know that I was...oh hell, I was selfish and self-centered and confused and difficult and a whole lot of other things when I was younger, and if I were you, I'm not sure I would have liked me either."

"I entertain the possibility--and not for the first time--that maybe, just maybe, I really have been an unbearable cow for most of my adult life."

"To be sure, I'm not perfect wife material: I'm neurotic. I'm compulsive. I speak before I think and can't cook worth a damn. I'm messy and germaphobic all at once, and it's not entirely unheard of for me to get hold of the wrong end of the stick and then hang there like a pit bull."
--Flying Changes, by Sara Gruen

Needless to say, the protagonist, Annemarie, is just a wee bit neurotic and does a phenomenal job of getting in her own way. There's also a teenaged daughter who seems to spend most of her time in a world-class snit of one sort or another, plus an overbearing Austrian mother. Add in a riding stable and the horse show world, a boyfriend, and various animals and it's really quite an entertaining book. My only complaint is that there are only two books with these characters so far.

Next on the reading list: Neal Stephenson's new book, Anathem. It'll take me a little bit longer than two night to read though. It's nearly 1000 pages, hardbound. While I was at the library, I also picked up Comfort by Ann Hood, No Sheep for You by Amy Singer, and Knitting America by Susan Strawn. The library now has a copy of the new Mason-Dixon Knitting book too, but I didn't check it out.

Slacker
I did not get to the gym this morning. I was a complete slug. I suspect my slugness was due to a combination of staying up tooooooo late reading two nights in a row and a continuing tendency to not eat enough. I started logging what I eat on random days. I'm taking in around 1000 calories. It really ought to be 1500-1800. I just don't feel like eating much. I eat plenty at lunchtime, but I don't eat much in the morning, either before or after working out. Dinner is often a PB&J sammich with or without a snack of Cheerios and/or fruit. I may need to work on some more calorically dense snacks and making sure I actually EAT breakfast, even if it means eating it at my desk after I get to work.

Thoughts on the Credit Thing....
Various business persons were being interviewed tonight on the news, saying that it's much harder to get credit now than it was before. As though this is clearly a Bad Thing and should be fixed ASAP. Now, I am not an Economist or any other sort of finance-type person, but wasn't access to easy credit and access to too much credit what got the economy into this problem in the first place? No, you may not be able to live the way you used to live, in terms of consumption and keeping up with the Joneses. No, you may not be able to expand your business as fast as you want to. Yes, you might just have to live within your means and stop carrying ever increasing amounts of debt. Yes, it's not the same as things used to be. Few things ever are. Just how is this a bad thing?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tightening the Belt

Time for some behavioral changes to save a bit more money. For starters I'm going to quit drinking sodas. When my habit cost me $2.50 a week, that was one thing. Now the price of 12 cans has gone up to almost $4. So, I'll be phasing out my soda consumption and bumping up the water intake. Frankly, the soda consumption has been increasing lately and I didn't really like that. The price increase just gives me added incentive to change. I'll have to work on not letting the coffee intake creep up in response to the decreased soda.

(Speaking of coffee, I tried to hang out at Starbucks again this weekend, but the place was jammed full of people. I ended up taking my coffee over to the local bookstore, whereupon I discovered that the local bookstore now has free wi-fi for its rewards club members. I will soon be shifting my Saturday morning hanging out allegiance to the bookstore, which also has a coffee shop and HUGE rice crispy treats, not to mention a plethora of fresh reading materials and comfy chairs with electrical outlet access.)

The grocery shopping will become more limited as well. Time to use up the pantry stores I've been saving for a rainy day. (Frankly, they need to be used and replaced anyway.) The freezer is full of blackberries and veggies. I could probably eat for two weeks with very few new purchases, based on what I've got here now. Time to actually do it, I think. So, this week I'm going to make black bean chili and jalapeno-tomato risotto. Those two items will be supplemented with frozen veggies and canned or fresh fruit at lunchtime.

So, what will this newly saved cash go toward? Nothing in particular at the moment, but I will need to buy tires for my car before too long and there is that birthday trip coming up in January and I still haven't replaced my broken digital camera, plus the upcoming holiday gift shopping and any unexpected surprises along the way. If nothing else, I can toss the extra money into the savings account or retirement fund. I'm mostly changing my behavior to change my behavior toward something more desireable. Saving the cash will be an added bonus.

Decorate Yourself
I am a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl. I always have been. Growing up, I was always grubbing around in the dirt, exploring vacant or wooded lots, hiding in or behind hedges, riding bicycles, hanging from jungle gyms and climbing trees. The knees on my jeans took a beating (and still do). On several occasions, a new pair of jeans would have a blown out knee within just a week or two of purchase due to a spectacular wipeout while running across the playground or falling off my bicycle. The release of reinforced/unrippable knee jeans was fantastic! I distinctly remember having yet another wipeout just a few days after I got my first pair and was immediately worried I'd already wrecked another pair of jeans (my mom was never amused by my clothes-destroying exploits). To my surprise, there was virtually no evidence at all on the jeans that I'd even fallen. I still don't know how the Levi Strauss Company made unrippable-knee jeans. I had thought they just had reinforcement patches inside the leg, but when I looked, I found nothing that distinguished the knee area from the rest of the pant leg inside. Whatever it was they did, it worked splendidly.

Although I no longer rip the knees out of my jeans by falling in the playground, I am still fairly hard on them. I'm still a die-hard Levi's wearer and I look forward to the day when I can once again fit into my beloved button-fly 501s. I own three basic classes of jeans (four if you count the aforementioned 501s): jeans for work/public wearing; jeans for garden/yardwork/automotive repair; jeans for patching material/rags. This is a heirarchical classification system. All jeans start out as work/public jeans. As they wear and/or get stained by mishandled pens, random greasemarks and wayward food products, they become yard/garden jeans. In this category, they become increasingly frayed and develop permanent grass stains on the knees, seat and hems. Eventually the fabric in the seat, thigh and/or knee areas becomes thin enough that it starts to disintegrate, leaving holes. At this point, they enter the rag/patch zone. I use old jeans to patch "current" jeans (yard jeans only), if it can be done neatly and the area needing patching does not exceed the area of my palm. Mending that requires a larger patch than that just isn't worth doing and the jeans are retired.

I keep the patch/rag jeans for not only patch material, but also because i have a rag rug project ijnm the back of my head. I have even purchased yellow and pale green Harrisville cotton rug warp for this project. I stockpile the worn out jeans, thinking I will actually get around to cutting the rag strips and weaving the rug, then, about every three years, I throw the pile out only to start the stockpiling again a few months later.

The point of this rambling is to illustrate my approach to personal attired. My priorities are comfort and function over decoration, trendiness and matching whatever is currently deemed stylish by the editors of fashion magazines. I am nearly always neatly dressed, but I am much more likely to be featured as a "fashion don't" than a "fashion do". My clothing choices tend to be somewhat conservative with respect to cut and fit, but occasionally quirky if I like a particular item a lot or feel it suits me. I also tend to wear my clothes until they wear out and only replace them if/when they do wear out, not because there's a new season approaching or a big sale at the mall.

Reading the latest book put out by Mason-Dixon Knitting, the phrase "decorate yourself" was used to describe one woman's approach to clothing. I could, I auppose look at getting dressed as an opportunity to dress myself, but I just don't look at it that way. I'm more a utilitarian dresser, I guess. I don't see the need to have a dozen pairs of shoes to choose among or a different wardrobe for each of the four seasons. This is not to say that it is wrong or bad for someone else to do that if that is what they want or like to do. It just isn't me. I'd rather spend my hard earned cash elsewhere, like on a trip or on books. I saw an interview once with Suze Orman in which she was asked about her personal spending habits now that she has become rich by giving financial/spending advice. She replied that her spending habits had remained pretty much the same as they had been before she added an extra zero to her income. She has one pair of gold earrings that she wears with everything. She replaces clothing as it needs to be replaced. She does not use shopping as a recreational diversion or a competitive event. I like that. That approach reminds me that wealth, success and happiness are not contained in stuff. They are in me.

Hoarding Thoughts
Having taken another carload of paper to the recycling bin, I have been thinking about my packrat tendencies again, attempting to figure out why I collect things. Part of it is that I do not wish to be caught unprepared or to be missing information at a critical time. I store resources against future periods of scarcity. Of course, sufficiently large stockpiles of resources become inefficient or even unusable. If you cannot locate the resource you need in a timely manner (or at all) and apply it to the situation at hand, you might as well not have it at all. It becomes possible to be paralyzed by the overwhelming amount of stuff and unable to use any of it.

For me, the "hoarding" happens with pantry foods, yarn/fiber/fabric/patterns, books/magazines, website bookmarks, recipes and office supplies. I am good at making plans for using these items "some day", so I save them for that day off in the future. It is hard to pass up or get rid of things that might be useful. This is probably due to identifying far too closely wiht eing a useful object that is passed over or discarded. For items I have used, but have either upgraded or gotten a newer version, it seems somehow disloyal to retire an older functional item for the new shiny. Time to remind myself that it's just stuff and continue the regaining of space.

Early Bedtime
It is barely 8:30pm and I'm just about ready to go to bed. Just an hour ago, I told myself I shouldn't be this tired, but then I recounted just what I've managed to do today. For starters, I woke up at 7am and hopped right into the shower, then started laundry while I ate breakfast and cleaned the kitchen. I vacuumed the house, including a knitting project (more on that at Three Fates Fiber), dismantled and cleaned the vacuum, cleaned both bathrooms, folded all the laundry, cleaned/closed the pool, removed the pool steps and put on the pool cover, cleaned out the garden shed, baked bread, talked to my sister on the phone, put clean sheets on the bed, cooked dinner, laid out my clothes for tomorrow and blogged. I can see why I might be tired. And all of that was accomplished WITHOUT making a single list. It all just flowed together and I did what needed to be done the most at the time I finished the preceding job. I predict I'll be in bed shortly after 9pm and turn the lights out by 9:30.

Quote for the Day:
"We have the Bill of Rights. What we need is a Bill of Responsibilities."
--Bill Maher

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I'm a Dork and I'm OK...

Well, I had intended to re-write Monty Python's Lumberjack Song, but my creative neuron is currently distracted by the housefly which is dive bombing my head. (Where's the resident living room spider when you need her?)

Anyway, here's why I'm a dork. I drove a work vehicle today to a meeting in a nearby town. The rule of using the work vehicles is that you have to put fuel in them if the tank gets below 1/2 full. Personally, I like to fill them when they're below 3/4 full, but that's just me. Attached to each vehicle's keys is a fuel service credit card that is accepted at various gas stations. Surprisingly, there is no list of participating gas stations in any of the vehicles, but I have learned that Shell stations happen to accept this car. So I go to the Shell station on the way back into town. I swipe the card. I key in the odometer reading. I key in the PIN number from the little envelope the card lives in. And it doesn't work. I enter the PIN number again. No dice.

At this point, I figure maybe Shell isn't taking the cards for whatever reason and I try a different gas station. Still no joy. Now I decide to drive 10 miles out of the way to try the state garage. There the card reader tells me that I have an invalid PIN number. Okay. Something is goofy here.

Once I return to the office I mention to the lady who keeps track of the vehicles that the PIN number didn't work. She says it worked yesterday and it would be odd if it didn't work today. I pointed at the number on the envelope and said I'd keyed that number in and it didn't work. She says "That's not the PIN number." I say, "Well, that explains why it didn't work."

And then she pulls out of the envelope not only the credit card but also the piece of paper explaining how to use the card which has the PIN number WRITTEN ON IT in the blank labeled PIN Number. DOH! I'm a dork.

Needless to say my subsequent attempt to fill the tank was successful. It's good to know that I'm smarter than a credit card reader. At least some of the time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Moral Dilemma

Last night I heard the loud buzzing of a fly, emanating from the base of the floor lamp next to my comfy chair. I leaned over too look and observed a fly caught in a spider web, with the spider ready to pounce. The dilemma? Do I free the fly (and possibly let the spider starve) or do I let nature take its course? (I do, after all, allow spiders <2 cm in diameter live in my house because "they catch bugs".) While I pondered this question, the spider kept leaping in and then leaping off the fly. I wasn't sure if it was hopping off to prevent being injured since the fly was thrashing around quite a bit. After three or four hops, the spider was able to make the kill and then proceeded to feed on the body. I had expected the spider to wrap the fly and save it for later, but apparently it was hungry.

While pondering the eating of a fly, I began to wonder if there are parts of a fly which might be considered delicacies to the spider palate. Do spider kids fight over who gets the legs at family gatherings? Are there parts spiders try to avoid? Perhaps the legs don't have much goodness in them, just hair and crunchy bits. In any event, the entire fly is now gone, as is the spider. I'll clean up the "web" later this evening. It wasn't really a web anyway, more like a modified dust bunny.

Burst of Creativity

For some unknown reason, I've been spewing out all sorts of creative thoughts in the past few days. I've had half a dozen ideas for knitting patterns (plans for swatching and writing are already begun), plus a couple of book/essay ideas. I don't know what has brought this on, but I'm not complaining. It seems as though just about every time I get my brain quiet and floating in a sea of nothingness, some big idea pops into it. Whatever its origin, I'm going to foster this idea popping trend as much as I can.

In Other News....

Two separate people in the past two weeks have suggested that I move to California. Hmmm.... I can't say I disagree with that. I have even found a couple of jobs to which I will apply in the next few days.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Wheels on the Bus Go....

right over my head, right over my head, right over my head..... During a meeting today, I pointed out a snafu in communication that occurred recently at work. Several of my colleagues had also been caught by this snafu and had stated outside the meeting that it had been confusing and contributed to mis-communication. In the meeting? They looked at me like I had six eyes and two heads, while I was told that *EVERYBODY* knew how things were supposed to work and I was wrong. Then after the meeting three people told me that I was recalling the situation correctly.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that it's way not cool to mention to the boss that the boss might have made a mistake, given that nobody seemed to remember anything about the problem when I mentioned it. I am becoming increasingly insecure about remaining employed and I sure as heck no longer trust anybody at work any farther than I can throw this bus that's parked on me.

The one project I have been working on, for which I thought I was the lead contact person may have changed. The discussions of how things will proceed are taking place between the rest of the players since they're centrally located. I, on the other hand, am out in the boonies and still don't have the "right" degree. I suspect that I'm not actually the lead person any more, but either this is a new development and nobody has told me or I'm supposed to just figure it out when I hear about group discussions and out-of-state partner visits at the last minute or after the fact. It's really hard to get excited about work when the things I think I am involved with evaporate unexpectedly. I wondered why they wanted me involved in the first place since I'm 2+ hours from everybody else.

Now I just need to work on projecting my happy face all the time. What I really want to do is crawl into a hole and hide.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Normal, Average and Inevitable

If the conversations I overhear are any indication, it is now considered normal and expected to have angioplasty around the age of 50. It's considered normal and expected to be put on various medications to control cardiac rhythm, cholesterol and blood pressure. It's normal and expected to have stents and/or bypass surgery by 60. What?! Absolutely nothing is normal about that. What's even more amazing is that nobody is making any attempts to stave off the development of cardiac problems. This process is apparently inevitable, since it's happening to everybody else. They've all resigned themselves to it, when there is a body of research that says that's not true. I guess it's easier to sit back and take a passive role in how your life progresses. Yes, genetics play a role in the development of chronic disease, but the progression of it *is* modifiable.

Mind you, the research isn't as well known because the drug companies can't sell you exercise. They will, however, sell you various medications and supplements which may or may not actually be effective. The "solution" to progression also isn't as simple as a pill. It requires self-discipline and effort and changing behavior. That's usually when the whining and excuses kick in. It's too hard. It's too time consuming. That's fine. Remember that when you go in for your angioplasty and when you can no longer do the things you used to do. Yes, I will eat well, exercise regularly and die anyway. The trick is that I'll probably die later and have a shorter period of disability before death.

I think we need to reconsider what is normal and inevitable. Just because everybody else does it doesn't make it normal, acceptable or inevitable. It's the same old argument you had with your parents when you were growing up. Just because all your friends are doing it doesn't mean you should do it. Would you jump off a bridge if all of them did?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

We, as a nation, behave like sulky, self-centered teenagers

I have come to the conclusion that we, as a nation, are a bunch of self-centered, poorly mannered teenagers. We hate being told what to do by authority figures and often ignore said advice to do whatever we want, yet we whine and complain unmercilessly when we experience negative consequences from ignoring that advice. We are, of course, orders of magnitude more intelligent and better informed than experts who have spent years studying the subject and who may have access to additional, better quality information upon which to base those discussions. Somehow, we have still convinced ourselves that we are smarter than those persons and we just know better. I realize that there is a general disdain of pronouncements from government agencies/spokespeople telling us what to do. We, the citizens, are, of course, immensely more intelligent than any bureaucracy or bureaucrat. They cannot possibly be correct about much, right? You know, occasionally the "officials" are right. Just as our parents were occasionally right when we were teenagers. The difference is that on some of the occasions when we choose to ignore the officials, the consequences can be deadly.

I've been listening to stories of folks who did or did not evacuate in advance of Hurricane Ike. People who decided "This is my first hurricane and I don't want to miss it." For lack of a better description, these people are morons. There are currently over 1400 emergency 911 calls outstanding in the Galveston area. Calls from people who did not evacuate and are now in trouble. People who now need rescue or other assistance. And they'll be waiting for hours or days for that assistance. For many of them, that will be too late. No doubt there will be complaints about how that will be handed because the governments should have been prepared to save the idiots who failed to follow the directions provided well in advance. Yes, I have no sympathy for you. You were warned. You chose to ignore that warning. You will have consequences.

We know this. Hurricanes strike the US every year. We just forget that Mother Nature can be more powerful than anything humans can build. She is inexorable and indomitable and she cares not a whit for our survival as a species. But as the time since the last local devastation grows, people's memories of the severity of an incident fade. It's called "time discounting". The further something is in the past or the future, the less important it is. With disaster preparations, this will bite you in the behind. We're already seeing this affect emergency preparedness planning and funding at a federal and state level. You see, it's been seven years since the US experienced a major terrorist act within its borders. It's been three years since there was a major natural disaster involving multiple states and weeks of active rescue and repair work. With budget crunches at the state and federal levels, bioterrorism and emergency preparedness monies are being cut. I predict within a few more years, we will be back where we were prior to September 2001 with regard to our ability to handle an unexpected national emergency. The staff will be cut. The funding will be cut. It just won't be a priority any more. We will forget. Until the next surprise.

Back to the teenager issue.... People complain bitterly about our nation approaching being a nanny state where we are told how to do everything and when to do it. People complain that Big Brother is watching. Well, if you behave like an idiot and demonstrate that you are incapable of making intelligent decisions about protecting yourself, your family and your property, it is easier and cheaper to take those decisions out of your hands. You cannot have it both ways. You will either have to think for yourself ("Ow! That's hard!") or you will have to be treated like an idiot who cannot think for yourself. There is no good or easy way to balance those two states of being.

So why do we have to receive warnings that say "Get out or die"? Because we watch television and nothing bad happens to the idjit broadcasters standing outside in 100 mph winds. What desperately needs to happen is for a chunk of plywood or other debris to come flying past and decapitate said broadcaster so as to demonstrate CLEARLY that this is stupid behavior. There need to be NO interviews of people seeking their 15 minutes of fame by jet skiing through downtown Galveston. Do not give attention to the behaviors you do NOT want to promote. Put up a webcam and show people the weather. Don't give the idiot public the idea that if Anderson Cooper can stand outside in a Cat 3 hurricane that it's ok and safe for me to do so. They American public is dumb enough to mimic that, videotape it and post it on YouTube. Then again, perhaps that will be the fastest and most effective way of cleaning our gene pool.

Boogerhead
I have decided that there is something more annoying in the morning than finding my regular NPR broadcasts have been replaced by pleas for money during the spring and fall pledge drives. That something is when my regular NPR broadcasts have been replaced by nitpicking and repetitious "he said, she said" coverage of political contests. Perhaps it isn't truly more asinine and juvenile this year. Perhaps I've just ignored it better in the past. It's really annoying now. The questions directed at the candidates seem to be largely on the level of "Candidate X said you were a boogerhead and that you aren't smart enough to put your underpants on right side out. What do you think of that?" or "President Bush has done Y during his administration. What do you think of that?" If I wanted criticisms of the current administration, I could listen to various political pundits and I can criticize the current set up myself. There is a world of difference between criticizing the current system and creating your OWN policies, agendas and programs. That's the stuff I want to know, but there are few questions about what Candidate X or Candidate Y's policy statements are about various subjects. That's the stuff I will base my voting decision upon, not whether or not a candidate can make a coherent statement about the boogerhead status of his or her opponent. I can figure out for myself who the boogerheads are. Hint: if you are seeking elected office and are a professional politician, you might be a boogerhead.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fall Has Arrived!

Well, not officially, but I am closing my pool tomorrow, which rather indicates an end to summer and the leaves are falling off the trees, which rather indicates a beginning to fall. To top it off, I'm making a pot of Moroccan Lentil Stew. Yummy veggie goodness!

I really ought to rip up the rest of the nasty weeds in the garden and till it under. Well, the parts that aren't still churning out tomatoes, that is. I do have some yard work that I ought to do before Hurricane Ike's edges arrive with the wind and the rain. I also desperately need to de-thatch the lawn, but that will require obtaining two cinder blocks. Which I didn't manage to get today while I ran errands. *sigh*

So, I will now go knit and watch a movie while drinking a steaming mug of decaf coffee and thinking hard about the error of my ways....

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why is it....

that people who are persistently positive and upbeat, even in the face of adversity, are considered either insane or on really good drugs? Why are they spoken of derisively? Why are they not praised or held up as a positive role model to be emulated? I truly do not understand why they are not.

Is it really that much fun to complain about everything? Does complaining actually get you what you want? Will complaining make you grow back the legs which were amputated? Will complaining bring back your sight or your hearing? Will complaining undo an injustice done to you in the past? Will complaining bring you happiness or joy? Will complaining bring others happiness or joy? Does complaining make you feel better? If the answers to these questions is "no", why persist in doing it?

Is it really that hard to comprehend why or how someone who has suffered adversity might remain positive? Why shouldn't they continue to look on the bright side? There is still beauty and joy in the world. Why shouldn't they seek to enjoy that? Should they instead be forced to see only the pain and hardship? Do you truly believe that wallowing in the muck is a good way to get clean? Are the positive things only the domain of the "perfect" with the right bodies, the right income, the right house, the right friends/family and the right stuff? Are you so threatened by positivity in the face of adversity, thus are negative about it because you aren't happy with all your "right stuff"? Are you angry because those who have less than you or are somehow inferior to you might, somehow, still be wiser and more gifted? Perhaps the harsh light of criticism should be directed inward.

I used to scoff at people who did things that were outrageous or "not normal". Adults who competed in sports were nuts. People who tipped the cabby $50 just because or who paid for the meal of the car behind them at the drive-thru window were insane. The person around Chicago who for years would leave gold Krugerrand coins in the Salvation Army donation kettles each Christmas season. (This activity has since spread across the US.) People who did kind things. People who did silly things. People who just did whatever struck them as good or fun or right. These were bad people. These were stupid people who were an embarrassment and shouldn't have been allowed out of the asylum.

Do you know why I didn't like them? Because I wanted to be like them and I didn't think I could do it. And because I didn't think I could do it, I was right. I had been told for years by others and myself that I couldn't or wouldn't belong or that I wouldn't fit in. That I should just sit down and be quiet. To not draw attention to myself. I had been yelled at by others and myself for "making a fool of myself" or for embarrassing other people and making them look bad by being myself or by expressing happiness or joy. I learned that having fun meant getting in trouble or not being taken seriously or being made to feel bad. So I learned to scorn the fun ones and the crazy ones and the silly ones. I learned to despise those people who live.

One of the things I pride myself on is my ability to learn. Learning is absolutely my favoritest thing in the whole wide world. I will do almost anything in the world if I have an opportunity to learn while doing it. And as long as I'm learning something, I'll keep on doing it. (Fortunately, I was not born a rat in a psychology experiment.) Elsewhere in my top ten favorite things is watching people. I started watching these stupid, delusional people so that I could identify what stupid things they were doing so that I could be absolutely certain that I would avoid being anything like them. That's when I noticed that they were having fun and I was having crabbiness, bitterness and almost no fun at all. I noticed that they were being creative and achieving goals and accomplishing things. I, on the other hand, was merely reaching new heights of bitterness and criticism. At one point I even found myself working to stay angry and upset. *That* struck me as being patently absurd.

So I took my ability to learn and redirected it. If I could learn to be rigidly judgmental, decidedly negative and generally hostile toward the positive, might I also be able to learn to be optimistic? Might I learn not to worry about what other people think? Might I learn to be silly regardless of who notices? Might I learn to laugh in public when I do something "wrong"? Might I do what I think is best regardless of whether it is popular? Might I smile and laugh, even if I shut my jacket in the car door and rip it? Might I not have fun, even if I get caught in the rain without an umbrella? Might I not still see the bright side, even if I have adversity? Might I not set positive goals and strive to reach them? Might I not encourage others to be the best they can be? Might I not spread sunshine and cheer, even if it's a long, hard day?

There have been moments in my life where someone else has shared encouragement or a smile, just because. Perhaps they thought I needed it. Perhaps it was just a spontaneous gesture on their part. Perhaps it wasn't directed at me at all, but I happened to notice. These moments are treasures in my mind and I review them when I don't feel so cheerful or positive. There was the time I was at my favorite bookstore cafe, struggling with little success and great frustration, to write part of my dissertation and a random three year old wandered up to me, gently patted me on my knee, smiled, and then wandered away. There was the time a famous microbiologist reminded me that "there is time" for me to accomplish everything I want to accomplish and I needn't try to do it all simultaneously. When I turned 21, two friends at the time insisted that we go to a local bar so that I could order a beer and proudly show off the ID proclaiming I was now of legal drinking age. They later serenaded me with an incredibly out of tune rendition of happy birthday while we returned to the library for more studying. The random greeting cards of encouragement from various friends over the years, including one sent to my now abandoned MS thesis by my now-deceased MS thesis advisor. The crazy drunk-dial phone messages left for me in the middle of the night. The one incident that probably sticks in my mind the most happened during the 2004 Chicago Marathon. The course is pretty heavily lined with crazy Chicagoans cheering anybody and everybody on. They'll call out whatever your shirt says or its color and cheer you on specifically. One lady even brought out a tray of bagels and donuts from her house. The one thing that struck me the most was a sign that was hung from an apartment window. It wasn't a fancy sign or a big sign. Just magic marker on a piece of cardboard. It read "To me, you are all Kenyans." No matter how slow I was (7 hrs, 46 minutes slow. 33,055th place slow), this person thought I ran like the wind, like the Kenyans who finished 26.2 miles in 2:06. This person, who did not know me from a hole in the wall, *admired* me. They didn't admire me for my speed or my fitness. They admired me for getting out there and *doing* it anyway. And they told me so.

There is enough negativity in the world already. I do not feel the need to add to that stockpile. Complaining will not help me reach my goals, but shutting up and using that time/energy by getting to work just might. Seeking out the positive and sharing the positive has no downside that I can find. Spread the sunshine and the smiles. And perhaps some day, I can buoy someone else up and help them reach their goal. And maybe, there will be another troll who will see me and perhaps learn to enjoy life and come out from under the bridge.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

It must be Fall....The crickets are back!

I haven't seen the crickets yet this year, but there has been one quietly chirping behind my TV for the past few evenings. This is the first time that one of them has ever chirped! I really like the sound of crickets though, so that's perfectly ok with me. The birds have been emptying the bird feeder almost daily as well. We're definitely leaving the Land of Summer....

Soon it will be bread baking and soup making time again! I will probably close the pool this weekend. It's becoming too much of a nuisance trying to keep the falling leaves out of the water and I'm unlikely to swim again this year. I may just go ahead and make soup this weekend too. I have some garden produce to use up before it goes bad and takes the toaster hostage.

A Plethora of Time
Working extra hours last week has yielded me a rather large amount of comp time. Over a week's worth of comp time. I can't actually take it all at once due to various obligations at work and a desire to not get yet one more week behind with what I'm doing. I have, however, started wondering just how I will spend said time. At first I was thinking that I would just take a half-day off each week until it was used up. Now I'm thinking that I might take off one whole day per week. This time could be used for knitting or catching up on home maintenance work or even writing!!!

I'm starting to get the itchy writing brain again with respect to a particular book project I outlined a year ago. Perhaps I'll use the first full day off to catch up on the fall maintenance stuff and then the subsequent days off for writing. That seems like a good balance to me! I'll have to switch computers between the two desks though. I've decided that the gaming box will become a second string machine. I thought I had fixed the instability issue by clearing up some bad software and removing a couple of Trojan files. Alas, I still get the Blue Screen of Death, which may be indicating the issue is hardware-based. So I'll move the important stuff over to the "new" Mac and move the Mac to the desk by the window so I can type and look outside.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Let's Make a Deal!

That was pretty much the theme of my day. To get myself out of bed and off to the gym, I told myself that I could have an extra can of diet Pepsi today (it ended up being a large diet Coke at lunch, but that's close enough). To finish getting some data updated at work, I told myself I could have a snack if I finished the update first (my tummy was growling and I had six mini Tootsie Rolls). To get the lawn mowed, I told myself I could have the last beer in the fridge and spend the evening knitting. I think I drank almost half of the beer while knitting and watching a very amusing Peter Sellers film. Mr. Sellers played an Episcopalian priest with some rather unorthodox views, at least according to his parishioners. The character rather reminded me of Chauncy Gardener from Being There.

A Few Minor Rants.....

1. I do not own a dog. A large part of the reason why I do not own a dog is that I don't like cleaning up dog poo. The one thing I like even less than cleaning up my dog's poo is cleaning up someone else's dog's poo in my yard. Fortunately I smelled it before I stepped in it or I'd have definitely exercised my "adult word vocabulary". As it was, I merely growled and grumbled.
I realize that I am in the vast minority, but I find it irresponsible to let a dog run loose, particularly when said dog(s) have intact reproductive tracts. I have absolutely no sympathy for the owners of said dogs when they turn up dead by the side of the road. (I do have immense sympathy for the dog, because the dog is just being a dog. People ought to know better.) If I could find my wrist rocket, I'd make a point of instructing the local dogs about the perils of running through my yard. They've already learned to get the hell out of my yard when I step out on the porch. Apparently I bristle well, for a human.

2. I wish I was fiscally irresponsible. I wish I'd tried to buy a house I had no chance of affording. I wish I was a large corporation which had made questionable business decisions. That way I could be completely taken over by the feds and all my past errors could be fixed for me. It aggravates me that people who make sensible decisions and attempt to live within their means get to pay for the bailouts of the businesses and individuals who made untenable financial decisions. And the persons who ran Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are apparently going to be receiving severance packages worth several million dollars apiece. What a lovely reward for creating a situation where the feds will spend billions of dollars to fix your mistakes. What happened to not rewarding poor results? I guess the feds will just print more money and keep on spending. In the meantime, the budgets at the federal and state level get completely screwed up, so little people like me no longer get pay raises while the cost of living creeps up ever higher. What do you bet that the Congress critters still get their annual pay raises? I'd bet their last dollar that *that* item in the budget is never considered optional when they try to balance things.... Perhaps some day someone will deliver a reality check to Congress. In the meantime, the rich and the powers that be will continue to get richer and more powerful, while standing on the tops of the rest of us. I am *so* tempted to bite someone in the foot.

3. Note to the crabby people (yes, that includes me too): Other people may not be perfect, but neither are you. On top of that, the universe (and all of its residents) are not out to screw you. Quite frankly, the universe doesn't give a rat's ass about you and probably doesn't even notice you. Approaching every interaction with a pre-emptive strike to screw over/yell at the other person is not a particularly productive way to do business. I really don't know how people manage to perceive only the negative in the world.

4. This makes no sense whatsoever: "I never thought about driving in to film 'fly out' until I bought a Subaru Forester. Now I can get closer." It's a stinking car and not a particularly fuel efficient one at that. It's not even a hybrid. It is NOT some spectacularly environmentally friendly anything, not does it have "stealth mode". Any other vehicle with a decent exhaust system would get you into the 'fly out' area to watch the birds launch.

5. Love Poem With Toast
By Miller Williams

Some of what we do, we do
to make things happen,
the alarm to wake us up, the coffee to perc,
the car to start.

The rest of what we do, we do
trying to keep something from doing something,
the skin from aging, the hoe from rusting,
the truth from getting out.

With yes and no like the poles of a battery
powering our passage through the days,
we move, as we call it, forward,
wanting to be wanted,
wanting not to lose the rain forest,
wanting the water to boil,
wanting not to have cancer,
wanting to be home by dark,
wanting not to run out of gas,

as each of us wants the other
watching at the end,
as both want not to leave the other alone,
as wanting to love beyond this meat and bone,
we gaze across breakfast and pretend.

from Some Jazz a While: Collected Poems, 1999
University of Illinois Press. Copyright 1999 Miller Williams.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hmm.....

I was quite productive, but not in any of the ways I planned. I did get some of the clothes ironed and put away, but not quite half of them. (I don't know why I hate folding t-shirts, but I do.) I didn't get any of the lawn mowed, but I did weed the entire front flower bed and prune all the overgrown rose bushes, which took about three hours. I didn't get the website updates done, but I did make a big dent made in moving the blog ring (only 250 sites left to notify!). I didn't bake any pies, but I did clean the kitchen. In addition to that, I called my dad to say happy birthday, wrote a letter to Mr. E from New Orleans, laid out my clothes for tomorrow and packed my lunch. Now I just need to haul my silly self off to bed and read for a while. (Book of the moment: Silas Marner)

Tomorrow evening, I really will mow the lawn and I'll actually bake that pie, though I probably won't be able to eat any for dinner since it'll be too hot. Perhaps I'll grill some more mushrooms up for sammiches instead. Yum!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Rest and Relax or Rev up and Rock?

I had every intention of sitting around and taking it easy this weekend. I went to bed just before midnight and didn't get out of bed until 9am, which is about 3 hours later than I usually get up. For some reason I wrote up a *HUGE* list of things to do: weed the front and side flower beds, move some shrubs, prune some shrubs, mow the lawn, finish steam cleaning all the carpets, etc. You can see where this is going. Waaaaaay too much to do and not enough time, which just leads to stress and a feeling that you'll never catch up.

So, I think I'll pick about two things to do today, one of which must be to fold and put away at least half of my clothes, and two things to do tomorrow, one of which must be to mow the lawn. At some point, I will need to figure out what to do with the excess produce in my kitchen. (Somewhere in the pile of tomatoes in my big colander, something is leaking.) That leaves one more task to pick.

Ok, I have it. I'll update the website. That's been on the back burner for about two weeks now and >100 information updates are pending. Ooops. But first, I need to put something in my tummy.

This was last night's dinner: Grilled portabello mushrooms with tomatoes, pickles and spicy mustard on ciabatta rolls.


Tonight I think I'll have pie again. Possibly just apple pie, but perhaps I'll make a pear-apple pie. (If you're curious, the gray speckles on the fruit are actually dirt stuck in the insecticidal soap residue. So the rather unattractive fruit on the tree or table cleans up really well!)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Demobilization

The last bus left our shelter just before 6pm CDT, headed for the train station (and a looooong trip south). I didn't end up on site today, but rather was in the command post instead. I really wanted a chance to say good-bye to Mr. E and his traveling companions, plus the other neato folks I met during the past five days.

I must confess that curmudgeonly me did a good deed this week. One of the more quirky residents (who told me on the first day that I was mighty friendly for being a Yankee), lost his reading glasses about halfway through his stay. On the very first day he said he was content to be wherever he was because he had a couple of books to read. He was nearly heartbroken two days later because he'd lost his glasses and could not read at all without them. I mentioned to him yesterday that I might be able to fix him up with glasses. You should have seen his face light up. I told him I couldn't make any promises, but I'd do my best. Well, this morning I left for work an extra bit early so I could stop at Wal-Mart and pick up a pair of reading glasses for Mr. N. I wrapped the shopping bag up in a piece of paper with his name on it and asked one of our "couriers" if they could take them to the shelter for me. At the end of the day she hadn't seen him pick the glasses up but that the clinic staff was going to make sure he got them. I hope he did. I know I'd go bonkers if I was stuck somewhere with a couple of books, way too much time on my hands and no ability to read.

Lessons Learned
Our regional staff learned a LOT about incident command and getting organized to run an operation. We'll have a debriefing in a week or so to discuss what worked well, what worked not-so-well and what failed miserably. Overall, I think we did a great job, but there is certainly room for improvement. We got off to a very disorganized, non-communicative start, but we learned quickly from our mistakes and recovered well, which is very important. That shows we're able to adapt and overcome, regardless. I think the whole event also brought our command staff closer together. None of us took the tensions and raised voices personally. At the end of today we were laughing our heads off and generally being silly, mostly out of exhaustion. Finally, we all know we'll do better next time and I'm absolutely certain that is true. It was a good experience, triumphs, hiccups and all.

And now I must retire to my comfy chair for some therapeutic knitting and drooling on myself!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A New Friend

I chatted with a very interesting evacuee today while he waited for the doctor to come back from lunch. Mr. E is originally from New Orleans, but has lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and a few other places. He was, at one point, a Catholic seminarian, but decided that path wasn't for him. He's worked in a printing plant, an engineering firm and for the city of L.A. Now he's back in New Orleans after experiencing some medical issues. Until the past few years, he was a volunteer with Traveler's Aid and was meeting people from all over the world. Apparently he still corresponds with several of them from around the world. We chatted about current events and politics, observations about our society, the joys and difficulties of traveling, and the educational system.

He thanked me very much for sitting and chatting with him. I told him it was my pleasure and that I really enjoyed it. Remembering that he said he enjoyed corresponding with people, I asked if I might have his address so I could write to him. He was quite pleased to provide it to me. Yay! Yes, I'm excited to have a "pen pal".

Moving On
Rumor has it the evacuees will be headed back toward home within the next 48 hours. I've really enjoyed working with the folks at Lavinia--both my coworkers and the evacuees. 98% of the evacuees are marvelous folks who are very kind and helpful to each other. The other two percent are upset and don't know how to vent their upset/frustration/anger other than to snarl at each other. There were two fights today that had to be broken up and at least one of them resulted in arrests. I guess tempers have just worn thin after three days in a strange place with 500 other people. I can understand that.

It was interesting to look at the different dorm buildings and see how some of them were very neat and tidy--all the beds neatly made and personal belongings stored in the lockers, bathroom cleaned and mopped. Other dorms had unmade beds with belongings strewn about. One lady was serving as the "dorm mom" in a building where several elderly folks needed help. She was probably in her 60s-70s herself, but had recently obtained her nursing assistant's license and was bound and determined to help those around her. She even organized several other ladies and their husbands to assist with those she couldn't help with herself. I told her she was an angel. She smiled, beamed and said she always tried to do her best and that she believed that if you did good that good would come back to you. I told her I thought she was right.

There's a lesson to be learned here. Many of these folks lost everything during the flooding from Katrina. Many of these folks were evacuated then and again now. Some of them have been at "my" shelter twice now. The overarching attitude is a positive one, full of hope and belief that everything will work out just fine. Several stated that they just didn't believe in being negative and they didn't believe in not helping their fellow humans when need arose. It gives you a boost to work with and talk with them. I'm very glad I had a chance to meet them. I hope to have some more good chats tomorrow. It certainly helps buoy the spirits during a long day and reminds you to stay positive yourself.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Loooong Days

I can't complain too much. Things have gone relatively smoothly. Mostly. Sort of.

We've had a couple of hiccups. For starters, we didn't have a landline for communications and the shelter site has virtually no cell service. As a result, communication with our command post was about nil. Add to that the failure to schedule any people to work at the shelter besides a couple of nurses and a couple of doctors and I didn't have time to do any communicating anyway. I spent most of my (12 hour) shifts running around getting information to/from the other agencies at the shelter and trying to keep the clinic running smoothly. By the end of the 2nd day of shelter operations, we figured out that we needed a couple of clerks and yesterday we finally got a land line installed. Today we added a person dedicated to the phone/computer communication.

At the Regional Ops Center, we did start making a HUGE list of things to do differently next time. I'm trying to figure out a way to communicate critical information to everybody, even if someone's out of the room at hte time. Writing things down doesn't really work well. A twiki might do the trick, but would require people to be on/have access to a computer. Anyway, our operations are a work in progress. We're learning, but we're not doing too bad. I think the biggest lesson learned was to remember it's not just about the nurses and the docs. The 2nd biggest lesson was how critical regular communication is and to activate the entire Ops Center. I don't think it was even fully mobilized until the 2nd day of clinic operations. I thought the "RHOC Person" was myself or my counter parts on the other two shifts, since we'd been labelled that during the pre-planning sessions. Ooops.

Anyway, things aren't going quite as badly as I thought they might. The evacuees aren't really happy to have been evacuated, but have been remarkably polite, gracious and patient with their surroundings and the shelter operations. It could have been much worse.

It will be interesting to see the after action reports of all the agencies, though I suspect they won't be shared. The various agencies at our shelter sure don't seem to get along very well and sure as heck weren't/aren't working together as a TEAM to get the shelter running smoothly. At least one agency's lead person seems to think his biggest duty is to expound upon the failings of all the other agencies and heap derision on all others. Oddly enough, he has blamed other agencies for failing to do things that his agency is tasked with, according to the statewide plan. He's also pretty thoroughly convinced that the current residents of our shelter should have been left in New Orleans. No sympathy for them at all, just scorn and negative expectations.