Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Best of Days. The Worst of Days.

If my e-mail inbox is to be believed, I have a number of deceased relatives. The good news is that they've left me bazillions of dollars. Oh, and I've won about six different lotteries. Although I receive a good bit of mail about my apparently undersized penis on a regular basis, I realized today that I never receive any mail about my boobs. Clearly they must be perfect.

Lunch Kidlets
I went out to lunch at my favorite sandwich shop. It was apparently a popular destination for the 5-7 year old crowd. The kids had the grown-ups outnumbered about 3 to 1. While I was waiting in line to pay for my sammich, I noticed a toddler sitting in a high-chair feeding herself while Dad went to get some condiments for his sammich. The little girl was methodically grabbing a potato chip, dipping it in ketchup and popping it in her mouth. The movement was as steady as a metronome and she didn't miss a beat. Her attention was so completely focused on the potato chip process that she didn't even bother to look up when Dad returned. He asked her if she was having a good hotdog and she just kept going at the chips. Clearly hotdogs are further down the yummy list than chips and ketchup.

I'd never even thought of eating potato chips with ketchup until I saw her. It seems like it ought to taste pretty good, given how yummy fries and ketchup can be. I did not, however, try it with my chips today.

Super Natural Cooking
This is a recent cookbook by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks. I'm a big fan of her website and love her conversational writing style. I thought I'd be as big a fan of her cookbook, but I don't think it's the book for me. Unfortunately, many of the recipes call for ingredients that aren't available within a 90 minute drive of where I live, which isn't her fault, but does rather limit the use of the cookbook. I also thought some of the text was a bit preachy about using only natural ingredients and that anything/everything process or mass-produced is automatically bad, but anything/everything purchased at the coop or bulk foods store is good. The problem with that is that many of the products are actually the same, except for the packaging (or lack thereof). Obviously this isn't true for everything, but then again, neither is the "bulk foods store/coop=non-mass produced" assertion. I did really like that she clearly stated that the term "natural" has no official definition and did spell out how she defines it.

With that said, I did find quite a few recipes that I'm eager to try. I already made a batch of her thin mints from the recipe she'd posted to her website. I was particularly intrigued by the millet fried "rice". I really like the crunchiness of millet, but most recipes using it just put it in bread or other baked goods. I think this recipe would be a great way to showcase the crunch and flavor of this grain. I will probably audition this book from the library a couple of times and make a final decision about whether or not to buy it at a later time.

What to Cook Next
I periodically like to try baking or cooking something that I have never baked or cooked before. As a kid I tried baking popovers with some success, though I quickly learned that they're only truly tasty when they're still hot out of the oven. Reheating does absolutely nothing for their flavor or texture. I still haven't tried making an angelfood cake from scratch or a souffle.

This past week Twitchh was in Austin, TX for the supercomputing conference. Whenever he goes out to eat for dinner, I invariably ask him to pick out a yummy dessert to "share" with me. Some of the choices this week were creme brulee, creme brulee cheesecake, flan and a custard tart with fresh raspberries and blueberries. I think I'd like to try making custard-based desserts some time soon. I'll have to find a creme brulee recipe that only makes a few servings. The last thing I need to do is make enough for six people. If it turned out well, I could probably demolish most of it in one sitting.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Going Full-Fledged Pariah

I'm already halfway to being a pariah at work. For a start, I'm not a local, am not married, have no kids, and I don't gossip/bitch about people as a source of entertainment. After the umpteenth time where the "team" with arranges a group lunch without bothering to invite me and I realize that I frankly don't enjoy sitting and listening to the bitching/gossiping that goes on at lunch anyway, I've decided that I'm going to start eating my lunch with other colleagues in the building who do apparently like me and do talk to me and don't gossip/bitch about everybody they know. I have no doubt this will launch me into the category of full-fledged pariah and possibly no longer a team player. Frankly, if I have to compromise my ethics and participate in gossip in order to be part of the "team", I'd rather not join the team.

So, I figure I'll just be considered a bit more of a pariah. I strongly suspect that the mental benefits from actually interacting socially with co-workers will greatly outweigh the downsides of pariahood. Besides, it's not like I don't end up working with the executives on a regular basis anyway. I look at this as merely strengthening those collaborative links and learning from colleagues. The social aspects are just an added bonus.

Bonus points to Twitchh for asking why I don't just "go for full pariah" and helping me realize that I need to quit stressing out about the mean people.

And for those people who want to know why I don't just invite myself along since I'm really part of the team--the last time I did that, two co-workers ranted the entire time about how rude it is that *some* people just keep inviting themselves along when nobody wants them around and that they ought to hurry up and get the hint that nobody wants to be around them. I may be dumb as a box of rocks about a lot of things, but that seemed pretty obvious to me. I have also tried to ask co-workers to join me out for lunch. On two separate occasions, I was informed by half of the people that they brought their lunches and were going to eat at the office. A short while later, those very people left with the half who were going to eat out and everybody except me had a group lunch out. So that seemed pretty obvious too. I know people who DO like to spend time with me and I'm going to have lunch with them instead. Frankly, they're a lot more fun anyway.

(As an aside, I am keeping my fingers crossed for one of my co-workers whose offspring may end up having surgery this evening. Here's hoping the kidlet does ok, whatever does transpire.)

Meteor Showers
Both the Taurid and Leonid meteor showers are this week. I happened to catch a glimpse of a meteor just as I pulled into my driveway this evening. I fixed a quick dinner and then headed outside to watch for more of them. I lasted about half an hour before my ears got too cold. Didn't see a thing. Both of these meteor showers actually peaked a few days to a couple weeks ago. Neither of them is as productive as a good Geminid shower either, but it's fun to watch stuff fall into the atmosphere and burn up. Sometimes the rocks break up in chunks or produce cool colors. I caught a bright meteor during the last Geminid Shower that was lime green and shot across the whole sky. Perhaps I'll try again tomorrow with extra warm clothing and a hat.

Weekend Plan
Yes, I know it's dorky to post what I'm doing to the internet. Too darned bad. Go read something else if you don't like my dorkiness. This is my blog and I'll be dorky if I wanna be.

So, I'm starting the weekend out with a long workout at the gym, followed by some serious writing time at my favorite wi-fi hotspot. After a day of writing, I'll finish up the day by doing my weekly housekeeping. Heck, I might actually get the vacuuming done this evening and possibly even start the laundry. How's that for living on the edge?!

Sunday I might do some baking and I'll work on clearing out more cruft. I still haven't decided if I want to go out for breakfast or if I want to save my lunch money for something else. (I think I'm going to buy myself a ball winder for yarn, but I also could use a new pair of running shoes.) I'll probably do a full weight workout at home. Last on the list will be cutting backups of my computers and catching up on some reading.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Yummy Dinner!

I have gotten over my disappointment about yesterday's measurements with a 2.5 mile waddle/run and a partial upper body weight workout. Alas, I missed this evening's 5 minute overflight by the International Space Station/Space Shuttle. poo :-(

This evening, I was in a cooking mood, so I whipped up some caramelized onions and made myself a mostly onion with a bit of cheese quesadilla. The onions really needed another 30 minutes to be truly, completely tasty, but I was hungry and couldn't wait. I also made some Crash Hot Potatoes from the Pioneer Woman website/blog, but I'll eat them another day, probably with some of the onions.

In my sometimes humble opinion, there is little in the world of savory food that doesn't taste better with the addition of caramelized onions. They dress up sandwiches, baked potatoes, veggie dogs, pizza, eggs. Heck, I'll even eat them plain. The hard part for me is not eating half of the batch while they're cooking. The sampling just gets out of hand and I discover that two pounds of onions only yields 1/2 cup of finished product.

Cheese Is No Longer My Downfall
This week I bought a block of cheese for the first time in at least four weeks if not closer to two months. I have discovered that I'm really not all that fond of cheese any more as a main part of a meal. As a tiny accent, such as shavings of Parmesan on the top of a pasta dish? Delicious. But I'm no longer terribly keen on the big grilled cheese sammich or the heavy-on-the-cheese quesadilla. I haven't had a cream cheese and green olive sandwich in months! I have even come to prefer cheeseless pizza (roasted eggplant and tomato sauce FTW!) over the gooey stuff. Who'd have thought that my tastes would change *that* much?!

New Cookie Recipe
I came across this recipe for Shaker Spice Cookies on a horsey blog the other day. I will have to try it out during this year's cookie baking blitz in December. It sounds delightful. Most of the spice cookie recipes I have make crisp, crunchy cookies and I rather prefer the chewy ones with a hint of crispness about the edges. The oil in this recipe (rather than butter) will help keep the cookies soft when after they cool.

RAY BRADBURY NIGHT!!!
Tonight on Turner Classic Movies, the guest programmer is one of my favorite authors, Mr. Ray Bradbury. He just admitted to going to 16 movies a week as a kid. He'd go every day and sit through a double feature, two of them on Saturdays. Gotta love that kind of movie devotion. Right now he's introducing the original Lon Chaney version of Phantom of the Opera from 1929. W00t!! (I have fond memories of seeing the 1980s era remake of this film at the Virginia Theater. The highlight of the evening was that the movie was preceded by a concert on the Theater's Wurlitzer pipe organ, including a very good rendition of Bach's Tocatta and Fugue in D minor. BWAHAHAHAHA!!!)

For all that he has always looked to me like a kindly grandfatherly figure, Mr. Bradbury has the knack of giving me the absolute creeps, even more than Stephen King. Frankly, Mr. Bradbury and H.P. Lovecraft are just about even on the creepy factor. They describe just enough of something to get your imagination started, then leave the final bits up to you. Mr. King does that too, but not as intensely, perhaps with the exception of The Shining. The Stand wasn't creepy so much as just dark and thought-inducing. But Mr. Bradbury's short stories are absolutely creepifying. And The Martian Chronicles were a lovely introduction to space-based science fiction. He writes such a broad range of fiction from semi-educational, yet spooky in The Halloween Tree to reminisces of boyhood summers in Dandelion Wine to cheerful futuristic tales like I Sing the Body Electric. And who can forget Fahrenheit 451--my first introduction to fiction that had a clear social commentary underneath the story.

If you want a good sampling of his short stories, including some of the best creepy ones, find a copy of The Stories of Ray Bradbury. This volume includes the stories about the guy that has his skeleton removed, the guy that builds a self-burying coffin, the nursery room with the mural of the African veldt, and the story of the little creatures that live in the water, to name a few of my "favorites". I first encountered this book at my paternal Grandmother's library. She wasn't entirely certain that an eight year old needed to read it because she knew it had some scary stuff in it, but she relented and I just roared through a large chunk of it during the few days my family was visiting. On subsequent trips, I nearly always checked that book out again to read old favorites and discover new tales.

More on the Organ Thing....
I'm not quite sure why, but I have always liked pipe organs. (Actually, I think it's because they're alive. They have to breathe in order to perform and they all have individual voices/personalities.) I do not have any video or audio of a Virginia Theater Wurlitzer performance, but if you'd like to see/hear a very fine performance of the Toccata and Fugue in D-minor on a much larger pipe organ, go here and watch/listen to Kurt Ison play the organ at the Sydney Town Hall. The little Virginia Theater Wurlitzer has only two manuals (keyboards) and only 8 ranks of pipes. The Sydney Town Hall organ has five manuals, 126 stops and 8,700 pipes. At the time of her installation in 1890, she was the largest organ in the world and she remains the largest tubular-pneumatic action organ to this day.

One of the things I regret never doing in Champaign-Urbana was going on one of the organ crawl tours that Mr. Buzard (pronounced byoo-zard', not buzzard) of Buzard Pipe Organ Builders periodically hosted. As the curator of organs at the University and a builder/restorer of pipe organs, he was able to get permission to take people through the guts of the organ pipe cases and explain to people how the organs differed from each other in tone and construction. I never managed to quite remember when the tours were until after they were over. I also never asked if they gave tours of their factory, which is located in downtown Champaign. The organ works has fairly recently renovated the third and fourth floors of their building and created upscale loft apartments (for $1200+/month). I was amused to see that the third floor apartments are advertised as having exceptionally thick floor soundproofing and carpet to minimize the sound of the pipe organ from the second floor. I rather would prefer to hear the organ music, but then we all know I'm a bit odd.

You Know You Have an Odd Life When...

Your evening can be described through the use of opening lines of novels written by none other than Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Snoopy:
It was a dark and stormy night.
Suddenly, a shot rang out.
A ship suddenly appeared on the horizon.

(It really is rather windy, cloudy and somewhat cold. I did hear a gun fired in the distance when I fed the birds. The ISS/Space Shuttle did fly over *twice* this evening, though I didn't manage to see it either time.)

Three Grateful Things
As a variation on the Three Beautiful Things concept, I'm going to periodically post three things for which I am grateful.
  1. A healthy body with few aches and pains or other dysfunctions
  2. A love of books and reading with which to fill my leisure time and my brain
  3. Having nearly everything I need and quite a lot of what I want

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Well, *that* was anticlimactic

I had my bodyfat measured again today. The Fat Busters "competition" ended today. I weighed 1/2 pound less than I started and lost 0.5% body fat, which I'm pretty sure is well within the margin of error in the measuring device. *sigh*

I don't know exactly what I thought the result would have been, but it might have been nice to lose a couple pounds of bodyfat and a correspondingly larger percentage. At the current rate of bodyfat reduction, it's going to take me almost five years to shed 20 pounds of fat. Now I really want to eat cookie dough for dinner. :-(

Well, at least I didn't *gain* any bodyfat.

And let's not talk about that former stash of Mary Janes. I'm sure that didn't have *anything* to do with my progress or lack thereof.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Optimists' Creed

I promise myself...
To be so strong that nothing can disturb my peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness, and prosperity
to every person I meet.
To make all my friends feel that there is
something worthwhile in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything
and make my optimism come true.
To think only of the best, to work only for the best
and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others
as I am about my own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on
to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful expression at all times
and give a smile to every living creature I meet.
To give so much time to improving myself
that I have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear
and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
To think well of myself and to proclaim this fact to the world,
not in loud words, but in great deeds.
To live in the faith that the whole world is on my side,
so long as I am true to the best that is in me.
By Christian D. Larson
Your Forces and How to Use Them (1921)

Now I just need to memorize this so that I can mutter it under my breath when things aren't going as well as I might like. It's far too long to have tattooed on my hand as a "cheat sheet".

Lately I haven't been doing as good a job as I might like to not let things bother me. Perhaps tomorrow will be better. It's too bad that more people on this planet don't realize that the success of someone doesn't mean that they can't succeed themselves. Being successful is not a zero sum game. Everybody on this planet could be successful. Then again, I believe that the only person I have to be better than is the person I was yesterday and that being better than I was yesterday does not involve tearing yesterday's self down to make it lower/lesser than today's self. This appears to very much be an unusual, rare viewpoint. I think that's sad. What makes it even sadder is that the people who are truly successful cannot be torn down. The attempts just make the "tearers" weaker and more bitter/angry.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How About That?! 500 Posts

I have apparently posted 500 messages to this blog. Who'd a thunk it? I can't say that much of what I've had to say has been particularly profound or important, but then again I'm not exactly expecting to win a Pulitzer Prize here. Mostly I strive for being coherent, avoiding typos, and using grammar that is not appalling.

Here We Go Again
For better or for worse, I seem to be in a phase where I forget to zip my pants. This only seems to happen at work and only if I'm wearing work pants, not jeans. But it happens every time I go to the bathroom. *sigh* I have had this phase before. Fortunately it only lasted two or three days.

I Have a Lumpy!
I have created a new Lumpy for myself. Lumpy is the affectionate name I have for a small pillow made of recycled jeans denim and filled with dry white rice. Throw it in the microwave for a few minutes and *voila!* A small little heating lump. It's actually perfect for preheating my bed now that my electric blanket has died. It's even better for putting underneath my feet when I sit in my comfy chair, or behind my neck.

My previous Lumpy finally fell apart after probably five years of service. The cotton fabric finally disintegrated and let out some odd orange crumbles that used to be long-grain white rice. I immediately wanted a new Lumpy, but didn't need one right away so didn't make one. This past weekend my feet were freezing and I couldn't get them warm. Coincidentally, I also had a pile of jeans that needed to be thrown out/retired. And now I have a new Lumpy.

Books of the Week:
This week's library treasures include Robert Asprin's new book Dragons Wild, The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry, The Smart One and the Pretty One by Claire LaZebnik and 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. The Lace Reader is a novel about a woman who can read the future in patterns of lace. The Smart One and the Pretty One is about two sisters. Dragons Wild just looks fun, as most Asprin books do.

Last library trip, I picked up 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die, which I thoroughly enjoyed. 1001 Paintings reminded me how lucky I have been in the past to live within a few hours' drive of the Art Institute in Chicago and its glorious permanent and visiting collections. I have had the luxury of seeing the Vatican Collection, the largest group of Monets in a single location and a lovely Renoir exhibit. There was also an exhibit about Seurat and the making of La Grande Jatte. The book 1001 Paintings... features full color images of the paintings in question along with a brief commentary on the work and/or the artist, to help put the painting into a historical context. Information is also given about where the painting can be found. Most of the works in question are located in museums, but a few remain in private collections. This book would make a fine guidebook to direct you to the finest art museums in the world.

This week I was delighted to see 1001 Books You Must Read. At a glance, I see that the book is not limited to only European and American writings. I just flipped past the entry for Kokoro by Natsume Soseki. As with 1001 Paintings..., 1001 Books... is in chronological order by publication year. Approximately 2/3 of 1001 Books... is 20th Century books and there is a small section for 21st Century works. The entries feature a brief list of author and book information (lifespan, date of first publication, original or full title and the original language. Where applicable, the given name of the author is also provided. Most entries feature a photo of the author or a photo of a book cover or other illustration. I'd like to say that I'll make a project out of reading all 1001 books, but I know I won't get that done. I do think it'll be a good source of inspiration for things to read on those days when I think I'm bored or have nothing to read.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Getting in a Rut

I fell back into my weekend rut this week. I failed to leave the house all weekend long, at least I haven't left it by now. I woke up this morning with a headache, so I have something of an excuse for not going anywhere today. Yesterday, I did get the weekly house chores done and even folded my laundry. I debated going to the bookstore for coffee and wireless time, but wasn't sure I really wanted to do that either.

There are plenty of things I could be doing today, but I have spent the majority of it surfing the internet and eating Mary Janes. I'm not a big fan of candy or of taffy, but I just can't stop eating these things. I am incredibly grateful that I can only find them in October. Until this year, I was very good about only eating one bag of 67 pieces. I would have continued this trend, but Twitchh mailed me a second bag when he sent me a care package the last week of October. The good news is that I'm nearly finished with the second bag. I'm very grateful that I don't have any fillings in my molars because I'd have probably pulled at least one of them out by now. I will haul my behind out of my comfy chair and get in a solid weight workout.

Recipe Repertoire
One of the items perpetually found on my "To Do" list that never gets done is to build a recipe repertoire. The idea is that with a core of a dozen or so recipes it will be much simpler to figure out what to cook when I'm out of ideas but need to eat something. I don't like subsisting on PB&J or small snacks as meals. I want to eat better than that and I think I'd feel better if I ate more "real" meals at home. I just can't seem to be able to pull together a simple list of things to eat, however. Most of my meal planning seems to involve cooking things to pack for lunches.

I'm not sure what the barrier is. I'm able to come up with general categories of food, like Soup or Casserole, but not what kind of soup. Thinking about it, it seems to be mostly main dishes that are holding me up. The veggies are easy because I nearly always default to cooking frozen veggies and serving them plain or else I just throw a bunch of leaf lettuce in a bowl and call it a salad. Pasta with marinara sauce is on the list, but I rarely make or eat pasta at home. I think I may still be burned out on it from my undergraduate college days.

Perhaps I need to pick a cookbook for a week or a month and just use the recipes from it. That would certainly help me focus at bit. Right now if I want to start looking for a recipe, I haul out half a dozen books out and then an hour goes by before I have even picked a recipe (if I find one at all) and I usually resort to eating a sammich anyway. This week I think I'll try How to Cook Without a Book. In fact, I believe I will make myself a little big fat omelet with caramelized onions and roasted red peppers for a late lunch/early dinner and serve it with some sort of green veggie. I think I've got spinach and green beans in the freezer.

Three Beautiful Things
  • The tiny crackling sound that freshly roasted pepitas make when you pull them out of the oven.
  • A warm, leak-free house on a cold, windy, rainy day.
  • The beauty of fall leaves against a dark, cloudy sky when the sun peeks through.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Highlight of My Day

Watching tonight's shuttle launch via live video stream from NASA.gov. I really like watching night launches. Tonight, the nearly full moon is hanging right over the launch pad.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Coffee Mug is NOT Suicidal!

Just because it tried to throw itself off the car again this morning doesn't mean a thing!! It's not sad or depressed, unless it greatly dislikes being filled with hot, tasty, life-sustaining coffee 6 mornings a week.

The bottom of my coffee mug, however, is quite smooth. The surface of a freshly washed and waxed car is quite slick. If you put this smooth, metal coffee travel mug on the roof of said freshly washed and waxed car, it will slide to the edge of the roof and come to rest against the edge of the door. Then, when the unsuspecting vehicle owner opens the door, the mug launches itself at them. I'm sure this was intended to be a friendly gesture of affection, but I wasn't expecting it and failed to catch the mug before it hit the floor. Fortunately today I noticed the mug was sliding when I set it down on the roof, so I was able to protect myself from the self-launching mug and protect the coffee as well.

It did occur to me, however, that it's a good thing I am unlikely to be having sex on the hood of my car any time soon, because one or both of us would go flying.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I Nearly Asked for a Do-Over This Morning....

The overall "score" for the day was a very positive one, though there were a few hiccups along the way. It started out well with the comment on yesterday's post from my buddy kwt. *squee!* Then I discovered that the belt I bought on Monday evening is almost too big for my waist. It's always good to discover that you are a size smaller than you think you are. This belt will, however, still fit lower on my hips when I get to wear my 501s, so it's still quite useful.

The hiccup in the morning was when I somehow flipped my coffee-filled travel mug off the roof of the car and onto the garage floor. Fortunately, it was the stainless steel mug (so it didn't break) and when the top popped off of it, the mouth of the mug was pointed away from me (so it didn't splash all over me). Also fortunately, the car door was mostly closed so that the mug neither hit the car nor splashed coffee into the interior of the car. Lastly, it was cold enough today that the garage didn't smell like curdled coffee with milk when I got home from work. Of course, this mess happened just as I really needed to be leaving for work, so I ended up being a bit late and didn't do a very thorough cleaning job before I had to leave. Surprisingly, given that it was also raining, there weren't any local car accidents despite there being plenty of drivers driving as though the road was completely dry. Apparently by noon there had been a LOT of accidents, however, and co-workers who went out for lunch said it was a nightmare trying to drive.

In the afternoon I was asked if I wanted to write a paper about a recent disease investigation I helped with. *squee!* That query came out of the blue and was quite a nice surprise. The afternoon hiccup was merely that I kept yawning while trying to work and developed complete temporary amnesia with regard to where the letters on the keyboard are when touch typing. At least I think it was that my brain didn't remember. I'm pretty sure my fingers were not trying to sabotage the data entry procedure. The end of the day seemed to drag out forever too. A co-worker commented that she thought the day seemed so long because of the weather. I replied that I thought the day seemed so long because the clock had stopped. I didn't think it was that funny but she thought it was hilarious.

Several months ago I would have gotten all kinds of angry about the coffee cup incident and held onto that anger at least until I arrived at the office if not throughout the day. Today, my first reaction, besides jumping backwards to avoid any splashing, was to be glad that the coffee didn't get inside the car and then to be sad that I'd just wasted a large quantity of freshly brewed coffee without even getting sip of it. I wasn't mad about it. I wasn't even mad about it making me a few minutes late for work. I wasn't particularly happy about being late, but it was just a few minutes and I can count the number of times I've been late for work at this job on one hand. I was reasonably certain this wasn't going to be a firing offense. In any event, the coffee incident and the lateness didn't carry over into the rest of the day. I didn't beat myself up about either incident at all, just kept going and let the moments pass by. Even better? I didn't even have to think consciously about doing that. It just happened. *SQUEE!*

Cookie Shipping
I have heard rumors that cookies have arrived at SC in Austin. Supposedly by the middle of the day the show floors will be turned over to the crew from The Freeman Company to start getting the exhibit floor set up. With any luck that went off without a hitch. Here's hoping the stress level for all involved starts to taper off now.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jokes

Yesterday on a message board I frequent, someone posted a link to a computer keyboard designed for blondes. As you might imagine, it's Barbie pink in color and has re-labelled keys so that the dumb blondes can figure out how to make it work. The person who posted the link challenged the other board members to buy this product for their spouses. This got me thinking....

I posted a message asking why it is acceptable to tell blonde jokes when it's generally considered unacceptable to post/tell jokes that denigrate racial groups, for example. Of course, I was informed that I just need to get a sense of humor and to remove the chip off my shoulder. I imagine that was probably what black people were told when "nigger" jokes were the thing to tell. I realize these jokes and all other jokes which denigrate or debase "others" are considered very funny by the people telling them. I must, however, disagree with the message board member who said that when these jokes are told in the proper spirit, they actually build harmony and cooperation between groups. I would imagine that board member has never been a member of the race, religion, gender, etc. being denigrated by the group. If he had, he might have experienced the destruction of harmony and inclusion and the feeling of alienation that comes with being the butt of a joke.

The primary argument about why blonde jokes and other jokes about women are acceptable is because jokes are told that bash men and that I can't have it both ways. I replied that I don't, in fact, think that any bashing jokes are acceptable. I don't care if you're male, female, black, Asian, lesbian, Jewish, Catholic or Norwegian. I don't think humor is dependent upon reinforcing stereotypes and putting "others" down. There are plenty of good jokes available that don't do either of those things, just as there are plenty of good words for eloquently expressing how you feel about a situation without resorting to swear words. Having to rely on bashing jokes and swear words is an indicator to me that a person simply hasn't got a particularly large vocabulary (or else is mad enough that the only words that come to mind are swear words).

The comment that irked me the most was the one that "everybody tells bashing jokes". Just because a practice is common doesn't make it right. Segregation was once a common practice. So was slavery and wife beating.

I don't care if "everybody" is doing it, if I think it's wrong, I'm going to say something. I am done with sitting in the corner and silently letting things I think are wrong go by. I believe that most of the crap like this (the bashing and denigrating of others) is done mindlessly. People are just parroting what they heard from others without thinking about what they're saying. I believe this is why several of my co-workers bash our clients and, by extension, themselves when they say "well everybody around here is stupid and can't learn". It's what they heard other people say and they don't think about what it actually sounds like or about what they are actually saying. This becomes particularly bad when kids hear the mindless negative speech and begin to copy it. The kids don't think about what they're saying, they just repeat it and it gets reinforced in their heads. Kids learn that blondes are cute but stupid, that Jews are tight-fisted money freaks and that blacks are lazy. Of course these are misleading and false stereotypes, but they're reinforced by the stupid bashing jokes.

So, from here on out, I'm going to work on positive ways of excusing myself from the bashing and pointing out that the bashing is inappropriate at work. I don't know how well this will work, given the prevalence and frequency of negative comments, but I'll give it a try. I expect plenty of resistance, since changing behavior would mean the co-workers would have to admit to themselves that they might be wrong and they might have to stretch their minds a bit. I'll keep at it anyway until I find some place else to work.

Caffeine is Still Evil

And I'm just finishing off a pot of coffee at Denny's as I type this. You'd think that a fairly intelligent, college edumacated person such as myself would know better than to stand at the top of that slippery slope while wearing roller skates. Alas, I apparently do not. I'll cut back tomorrow, I promise. I can quit at any time. I don't have a problem.

Words of Advice....
When going to the gym, it is generally advisable to bring pants.

Normally, I go to the gym before I go to work and take my work clothes with me. In order to keep from crumpling up my pants, I take them to the gym on a hangar. Today, however, I didn't have to go to work because today is Veteran's Day. So I didn't put my pants on a hangar and I didn't put pants in my gym bag because pants don't go in the gym bag. This could have made getting dressed after my workout and shower interesting. Fortunately something in the back of my head pointed out that I might be missing half my clothes and I added a pair of jeans to my bag before I left the house. It wouldn't have been completely disastrous as I could have always just put my warm-up pants back on afterward. (I work out in shorts and only wear the pants to keep warm between the car and the gym, so they're actually clean.)

Today's workout was an extra long walk and weight circuit. I got a later start than usual so didn't see any of the usual crew, except for the voting day guy I talked with. He was just finishing up his 4 mile walk and chattering away. I will have to compliment him some day soon for his cheerfulness and big smile. As he left, he joked that the treadmill said his four mile walk had burned about 350 calories. The man on the other side of him said "Hey, now you can have a sausage biscuit!" which drew laughs from all of us.

Veterans' Day
Today is the day the US has chosen to honor its military veterans. I always take the opportunity to call or e-mail the veterans I know and say thank you. Several years ago, I sent an e-mail to Professor Erwin Small, DVM thanking him for his military service and telling him Happy Birthday for the US Marine Corps. I was inspired to do this after I saw a military service badge on his car commemorating Iwo Jima. I was pretty certain that Dr. Small might have been at Iwo Jima and I was right. A few days after I sent the e-mail, Dr. Small came down the hallway to find me and thank me. He sat and chatted with me for a little while. When he left, he informed me that if I ever needed anything, I should absolutely let him know. Every time we passed each other in the hallway, we'd wave at each other and say hello.

To me, Dr. Small resembled a bit of a fireplug, which seems to be common among older, retired Marines. He was a bit gruff sounding, but very personable, which is probably why he did so well in public affairs and outreach at the College of Veterinary Medicine. On numerous occasions I was asked if I knew "Irv" Small when I was traveling across the state. Everybody who met him had great things to say about him. Oddly enough, a number of faculty and students in the College thought he was unpleasant and grumpy. I never got that impression, but I think it scared my advisor when Dr. Small told him that I was a good egg and to take care of me.

So, on this Veterans' Day, consider contacting the veterans you know, be they old or young, and thank them for their service.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Caffeine is Evil!

I have *got* to get a handle on my weekday caffeine intake. I don't keep regular coffee in the house, so on weekends my only caffeine intake is through diet Pepsi. In the past couple of weeks, my soda intake on weekends hasn't kept up with the caffeine intake during the week, so I have get a headache that starts on Saturday afternoon and ends about 9am on Monday morning. Needless to say that isn't very much fun. This week I'll work at cutting back the coffee at work to a single cup of the real stuff and maybe 1-2 more cups of decaf. Maybe by next weekend I won't have a headache from caffeine withdrawal.

Tuesday Holiday
I don't have to work on Tuesday. I haven't decided yet what I'll do with myself. I wonder if the gym will be open. I'd like to get up and workout as usual, then head over to the bookstore or library. I might do a bit of clothes shopping too. I could use some more plain tees. I've got a couple letters to write as well, plus that 15,000 words I'm still behind on my book. *sigh* Here's hoping my subconscious comes up with some serious plot action while I sleep....

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Well, now what?

Apparently my co-worker didn't care that the motorcycle wasn't running! He'd already made up his mind that he was gonna buy it. He wants to have a project bike to fix up and get running. This particular model is rather favored at the moment for restoring. He indicated he wasn't going to restore it, per se, but would get it running and enjoy fixing it up. He worked in a motorcycle shop as a younger person and was looking forward to getting his hands dirty again. I'm pleased that the bike is going to a good home and I'm very pleased that it's ok it wasn't running today. I was worried last night that the deal might have been off with the lack of battery power. I'll use my newly made cash to buy tires for my car. It's about due for a new set of feet.

Wow. I really hadn't expected that. It took me a while to figure out what to do next.

Since the departed bike made for a big open spot in the garage, I took the liberty of cleaning up a few other things. I cleaned up my shovels and rakes--scrubbing the business ends with oily sand to remove the rust and then sanding the wooden handles and wiping them with liquid wax. I put away my cleaned hand tools in the cleaned up toolboxes, removed the bicycle tools to a separate box and collected the myriad miscellaneous screws, nuts, nails and hooks into a small tin. Finally I swept out the garage and closed the door.

The garage is also the home to about eight miscellaneous boxes of stuff I never quite unpacked. I think it is mostly kitchen stuff and if I haven't used it in the past two years, it's a safe bet I could probably do away with it and not miss it much. I decided last week that I wanted to switch out my current set of plates (Pfaltzgraff Midnight Sun) and start using my Grandma's old plates (Franciscan Apple). I just sent an e-mail to a local charity that I believe distributes gently used household items to needy families, asking if they could use a set of dishes and flatware with four place settings. I might have most of a set of glasses as well. That ought to clear up some more room and do some people some good as a bonus. w00t!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Misbehaving Motorcycle

Well, I had intended to sell my beat up old Yamaha XS-650 tomorrow. A guy from work is interested in it. I picked up a new battery for the bike and that's about the time things started to go downhill....

I have the correct battery for the bike, but the poles on the new battery are reversed from the old battery. Of course, this means that the positive battery cable is now far too short to actually reach the proper terminal. Grrrrrr.

In the past two years, while the bike has been stored in my garage, the brake fluid in the upper reservoir has oozed out and evaporated, leaving lovely crystals all over. The brake fluid, being somewhat caustic, has also eaten the starter button (and probably the switch), so that the starter button fell off when I lightly bumped it.

*sigh*

So, now I have a motorcycle which won't start and has no brakes. Granted, I told my co-worker that the bike needed some serious work and that if I were buying it, I'd take it straight to a good shop for a tune-up, but I suspect he's mostly interested in buying a *running* motorcycle, not a long-term project. Hopefully he'll call tomorrow morning before driving over and maybe I can save him a wasted trip. If he decides against buying the bike, I'll have to decide if I want to put it up on eBay for someone who wants to restore an old XS-650 or if I want to just donate it to the local PBS station.

Cookie Express!
The first box of SCinet cookies ships out tomorrow morning, shortly after the post office opens at 7:30. The second box will go out on Monday. I really wanted the second box to ship tomorrow too, but it just won't happen mostly because I won't have enough cookies baked to fill a second box yet. I'll finish up the baking tomorrow and Sunday. I'll probably bake the third box of cookies on Tuesday since that's a holiday. With any luck the first box o' cookies will arrive in Austin on Monday and be devoured by the end of Tuesday.

Writing Progress....Not
Well, it was a good idea, but I really haven't had the time this week to write on a daily basis, much less write 1500 words a day. I'm nearly 15,000 words behind schedule now. I don' t know how many words I'll be able to write this weekend, but I suspect it won't be nearly 15,000 words. I'm not sure I even have that much story hiding in my head right now, actually. Come on creative neuron! I need you to suddenly become hyperactive!

Must. Unclutter.
The mountain of GoodWill stuff is driving me crazy this week. I've caught bits and pieces of What Not To Wear and Clean House in the past few weeks while channel surfing on the phone. I'm slowly getting closer and closer to just dumping a whole bunch of stuff and creating a lot more space. I used to not want to get rid of stuff unless I could find another home for it, but I'm starting to see that may not be terribly practical or effective as a strategy. I will try to FreeCycle the dozens of three ring binders I have, but other than that, I think a lot of stuff just needs to go away and I need to stop worrying about "wasting" things.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Lucy and Ethel

I was half listening to the television this evening and heard a woman say "It was like Lucy and Ethel learn to snorkel". Of course, the mental image this brings is something like the Candy Factory assembly line fiasco, but underwater. Something hilarious to watch, but probably not as productive or ideal in execution as one might hope. Which got me thinking....

Is it really a bad thing to do something like Lucy and Ethel? The outcome is rarely a stellar success, but is usually an eventual success. The few times it doesn't completely succeed, it is at least a learning experience. Through it all, Lucy and Ethel are absolutely dedicated to whatever they are doing and are wholeheartedly convinced that whatever they are doing will work out splendidly. These two women are definite proponents of the concept "Go big or go home."

Lucy, in particular, lives her life in the moment, not worrying about what might happen if it goes wrong. Ethel, on the other hand, sometimes worries about what might happen if Ricky or Fred might find out, but generally follows Lucy's lead with a bit of prompting. Even though the end result might not be optimal, I propose that Lucy and Ethel are fine role models to follow. They're perpetual optimists who live in the moment and have boundless energy. They also fail to take themselves too seriously and laugh at their mistakes. Their setbacks rarely slow them down more than ten to fifteen minutes of show time, if that. By the end of an episode, they're back to their usual sunny selves. Lucy often says she knows that she should know better than to try another hair-brained stunt or scheme, but she rarely remembers that after the next commercial break.

The world would be a much more positive, fun place if we were all a bit more like Lucy and Ethel. For that matter, I think the world would be well-served by promoting role models who are, like Lucy and Ethel, overtly imperfect. What fun is there in being flawless in every way? One would end up going through life unable to take risks for fear of making a mistake. Not only that, but the flawless are scrutinized mercilessly and any hint of flaw is trumpeted. I'd rather be regularly flawed so that the impact of each individual flaw on the overall picture is minimized. That's not to say that I wouldn't mind moments of perfection, but sustained perfection is far too much stress and strain for the amount of benefit it brings. That is not to say that one shouldn't strive to do/be the best one can do/be, but that there is something to be said for enjoying the experience as well. Furthermore, the end result should not be the only metric by which an action or endeavor is judged. There is something to be said for enthusiasm and intention, even if the end result isn't quite what one had hoped. At a minimum, points should be awarded for having fun and living life to the fullest, even if it doesn't turn out entirely according to plan or cultural expectations.

So, here's to the dorky, goofy, optimistic silly people like Lucy and Ethel! You go Girl!

(You know, someone ought to write a book celebrating the imperfect female heroes like Lucy, Ethel, Aunt Bea, Peppermint Patty and Ellen DeGeneres. I think these women/characters have much more to teach us than "perfect" ones such as Jackie Kennedy and Harriet Nelson.)

More Food for Thought....
The One-A-Day Vitamin people are now making gender-specific vitamins for teenagers, designed to "address the top health concerns of moms". (Apparently dads don't have health concerns for their kids.) The teen boys' vitamins have magnesium in them to support healthy muscle function while the girls' vitamins support healthy skin. Yep. That's the message I want my teenager to get from their vitamins. Boys are supposed to be strong and muscular. Girls are supposed to have good skin. Uh-huh. How about strong muscular girls? How about a product to support that? I can't think of any teenaged boys who wouldn't like clear, blemish-free skin. Surely any self-respecting mom might also want her daughter to have reasonable muscle development or her son to have healthy skin. Here's a thought....how about putting the same darned vitamin mix in both the boy and girl vitamins. I'd love to see the research that indicates that boys and girls have significantly different nutrient requirements. I suspect this is mostly just a marketing ploy by the manufacturer to separate the impressionable consumer from their money. On a similar note, Extra-Strength Excedrin and Excedrin Migraine are the exact same product with different labels and different prices.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Energy Conundrum

Why is it that I have plenty of energy whenever I have very little to do, but I have very little energy when I have plenty to do? I really need to be on a cookie baking blitz this week because SCinet set-up starts on Monday. I need to get two boxes of cookies in the mail to Austin, TX on Friday afternoon.

I baked one batch of cookies this evening, from dough I made yesterday. And I burned the first pan. I had intended to bake a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies, but I totally ran out of steam. *sigh*

Monday, November 03, 2008

Writing is....

I don't know what I expected. I spent a good part of yesterday writing and thinking up story line details. It wasn't quite as difficult as I thought it might be. There was quite a bit of resistance from the lazy part of my brain to avoid the work, but I made myself sit down and do it. Of course, once I got started it was easier to keep going. Now I'll have to work on having some brain left at the end of the work day so I still have some brain left to write. I do have some serious catching up to do. In order to finish a 50,000 word novel by the end of November, I need to write an average of just over 1600 words per day. I'm not quite to 500 words total. Oops.

I wish there was a way to write while I drive. Heck, I wish there was a way to get the movie in my head to write itself in the computer. Alas, that is just another sci-fi novel waiting to happen.

Monday Blahs
Well, my non-stressed attitude about the missing work laptop started to fade over the weekend. Of course, the laptop is still missing. I got called into the director's office today and was half expecting to hear about the laptop. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that was not the case and, instead, was able to answer various general questions about infectious disease transmission. I still had a vague sense of dis-ease and stress. I did get good news from the privacy officer though it didn't really help relieve the stress.

Then I managed to incompletely read an e-mail inquiry so answered a question which wasn't even asked about a disease the patient in question didn't even have. I would be really interested to know how e-mail messages can "hide" complete sentences when you read them the first time and reply, but then reveal the missing sentences later when you re-read them. *sigh*

At lunchtime, I thought I had a container of homemade chili that I had pulled from the freezer last night. After I thawed it and re-heated it at work, I found that what I really had was a batch of plain adzuki beans. Not exactly appetizing for a meal. I ended up heating a can of soup instead. I'll actually make some chili or something with the adzuki beans later this week. And endeavor to label the stuff hiding in the freezer so I don't do this to myself again next time.

I did get quite a bit of work done today, but it seems like I should have gotten a lot more done and I felt unfocused for the greater part of the day. Perhaps tomorrow will be better.

Three Beautiful Things
And now, to end the day on a positive note, here are my Three Beautiful Things for the day:
1. Seeing the golden early morning light accentuate the reds, golds and browns of the autumn leaves.
2. Waking up before the alarm clock and having an extra ten minutes to laze about under a pile of snuggly warm blankets, but still be wide awake and ready to go when the alarm does go off.
3. Sipping a cup of hot tea from a mug my sister gave me, with a poem about sisters on it.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

NaNoWriMo Strikes Again!

Ok, so last year I signed up for National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, where the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.  I decided I was going to work on a non-fiction book idea rather than a novel, but figured that was really a minor detail in the grand scheme of things.  And then I apparently expected myself to automagically churn out the writing without actually making any plans, arrangements or really any effort at all to get the work done.  Hmmm....  To paraphrase Dr. Phil, "How'd that work out for ya?"  If you expect that it worked out pretty much not at all, in terms of actually getting anything done, you'd be correct.  This year I've realized that if I want to actually accomplish goals, I have to do more than just write them down and expect the Universe to deliver them to me.

So.....I'm writing.  I've had a novel idea bouncing in my pointy little head for a while now.  Mostly it's in bits and pieces.  Today a big piece developed itself while I was in the shower. (Why do these things only ever happen when there is NO paper and pencil handy? Note to self: Buy bath crayons and use the shower doors for something besides cultivating soap scum.)  I don't know how far I'll get with this, but I'm apparently on my way.  I don't expect it to be perfect or even readable by anybody but me, but it'll be better than letting the idea wither away in my head.  Besides, if I get this idea out, another one might pop up to take its place.

It's amazing how much work I am getting done in a quiet house with no music, no TV, no running washing machine and no other distractions.  This is even better than hanging out at Espresso Royale in Urbana and people watching my way into stories of strangers. w00t!