Monday, November 29, 2010

Stuff I wonder about

  • If DST is such a good idea, why are we not on it all year round?
  • Gravel trucks around here have signs on the back telling other drivers to stay 100, 200, even 300 feet back. (That's a whole football field!) The signs also say, "Not responsible for damage." If the truck contains a load of gravel and the driver is too lazy to pull the tarp over the gravel, then yes, they ARE responsible for damage.
  • There are approximately 310,000,000 people in the USA. What if some of those billionaires gave each of us a million dollars? What would happen? (Hopefully, plumbers would blow through theirs really quickly.)
  • Instead of giving money away, why don't the billionaires in the world start new businesses and develop new industries and create new JOBS?
  • If they raise the retirement age, won't that make unemployment worse?
  • Every time I lean over the HOT oven door to haul something HOT out of the HOT oven, I wonder why oven doors don't swing to the side like refrigerator doors.
  • At work, we have dual flush toilets, one mode for solids, one mode for liquids.  I'd like a shower head like that, slow flow for rinsing the body, high flow for getting the shampoo and conditioner out of my hair.  And I want to be able to switch back and forth without having to adjust the water temperature.  Or maybe something like this already exists?  Surely I'm not the first to come up with this idea.
  • I'm watching a PBS special featuring the folk music from the 50s and 60s.  Were we really that young once upon a time?  And when did we get old?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The bad old days

Until recently, my granddaughter was a cryer. Not a FEED-ME cryer or a CHANGE-ME cryer, but an I-AM-IN-PAIN-DO-SOMETHING cryer. One minute she would be relatively content, and then the next, she would arch her back and kick her feet and thrash her arms and issue a heartbreaking and angry WAAAAAAAH! Sometimes she could be distracted with a pacifier and/or a windchime and/or NFL football on TV, but mostly she was just miserable.

What happened to change this? Baby N visited the doctor for her four-week checkup. After listening to the above symptoms, he prescribed Zantac. A few hours later, my daughter called me and announced, "No crying!" Turns out the kid has a bit of a problem with acid reflux. Besides feeling relief (because as much as I love that baby, the hopeless crying was getting old, especially for the parents), I also wondered how many pre-Zantac babies simply cried and cried until they "outgrew" the problem, while the parents (usually the mother) were blamed for being high-strung and/or making their child high-strung.

My first-born arrived thirty years ago, back when you had to go to the doctor to have a pregnancy confirmed (no pregnancy tests at the drug store). You might or might not get prenatal vitamins, because the link between micro nutrients and birth defects such as spina bifida had not yet been confirmed. The pregnant body was a thing of shame, so you hid your growing belly beneath ugly smock tops that flattered no one.

The safety of sonagrams had not yet been determined, so the baby's gender was a secret until delivered. Epidurals were not routine, either, although you could opt for "natural" childbirth. In more enlightened parts of the country, things may have been different, but for the birth, I was literally strapped down, flat on my back, feet up in the stirrups. And don't forget the episiotomy, anther routine procedure. At least my husband was allowed to be there.

All babies stayed in the nursery. Breastfeeding was not encouraged, so no lactation consultants. High biliruben counts meant time spent by the baby under the "billy" lights, while the nurses claimed your milk was "too rich".

We paid an extra $10 a day so I could have a private room at the hospital, another couple of dollars to "rent" the TV. The meals were the usual hospital fare, although we did get a celebratory bottle of sparkling grape juice. BUT I was allowed to stay as long as I wanted; none of this kick-them-out-after-two-days business back then.

In the end, I came home with a healthy baby and the realization that, while the birth experience could be improved, it was only the beginning, the gateway to parenthood.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Love the ones you're with

The other night my daughter and I watched "Please Give". It has been a while since we watched a movie together, but since we both liked "Friends with Money" I figured this was a good one to share. Grandbaby N, aka Miss Fussypants, slept in my arms the whole time, only occasionally throwing her arms wide with a start when I laughed out loud.

Anyway, the movie was lovely and amazing. (That's a Nicole Holofcener joke. Sort of.) "Please Give" is about how we look to the world outside for answers to our internal angst. It is easier (if sometimes embarrassing) to try to help a stranger than throw a little love and kindness in the general direction of our family and neighbors.

There's Kate who is feeling guilty about how she and her husband earn their living, buying the used furniture of recently deceased people (the grown children can't be bothered to dispose of it properly) and then selling it for a tidy profit. Her husband Alex experiences no such guilt, but fears he has "hit the wall" even though his skin is still good. Their 15-year-old daughter Abby is, well, fifteen, hates dishonesty, and is having the usual weight- and acne-centric problems. Then there is the elderly neighbor Andra - Kate and Alex have bought her apartment and are waiting for her to die so they can expand. Andra has two granddaughters; Rebecca is the "good" one and Mary is the "bad" one, both stuck in ruts, as is Andra. The Rebecca is the first to find a new view on life - a new boy friend and his grandmother help. Andra never does.

I have become a fan of Nicole Holofcener, even though I don't always get her. Her movies consist of multiple stories of nearly equal import, and the stories brush up against each other in subtle and catalytic ways. At least, it's subtle to me. And I love the candid dialog, the kind of stuff that civilized folk stifle.

I have seen Catherine Keener in way more movies than I realized, most of them directed and written by Holofcener. Oliver Platt is totally recognizable, of course. Amanda Peet is another familiar face, as is Ann Guilbert (marble rye) and Lois Smith. I did not recognize Sarah Steele, Rebecca Hall, or Thomas Ian Nicholas (gah - he has three first names).

When my SO and I were in NYC one April, the windows were full of spring fashions, all in black and Amish blue. It seemed like almost everyone in this movie wore black with a touch of turquoise. I'm going to assume this is commentary on NYC fashion. You can too.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The long and short of it

I previously posted about my so-called career as a freelance writer, and about how I abandoned the effort in favor of something by which I could support myself. Looking back, it would be easy to say that I made a decision for the short term - I chose a "real" job over my "true" calling - but I could also argue that it was a long term decision - I chose that real job so that at a later time I would be financially secure enough to pursue writing as an vocation. Of course, I'll be really pissed if I die before I have a chance to retire.

My daughter is at a similar turning point. She is a gifted photographer, but making a living at photography requires a lot of work spent not behind a camera but in chasing new business. In the current economic climate, that has become even more difficult, especially when everyone has a brother-in-law with a "good enough" digital camera who can take "good enough" pictures to convince the budget-minded bride that she does not need a professional. So she is contemplating alternatives.

I have no advice on this matter. Sometimes a crappy little job leads to bigger and better things and you discover abilities and interests you didn't know you had. Sometimes you follow your bliss and it emigrates. Most of us find something tolerable that pays well enough to raise a family and lets us live a life of relative comfort. The Oprahs and Marthas of the world try to make us feel bad about not living our "best" - our most perfect - life, but who is to say what is best for us?

If I make a list of the positives and negatives of my life, the first list is long, the second limited to my work, which in recent years has been boring and stressful. When I review decision points in my past, I sometimes regret the paths I've chosen along the way, but I also know why I chose those paths and even now can't fault that logic. There is no guarantee that a different fork would have resulted in a better life, only a different one, and maybe not all that different in the end because I would still have been me all along the way.

If something is important enough, we will find room for it. I may never write the Great American Novel, but I do write. My daughter may not become another Annie Leibovitz or Ansel Adams, but she still takes exquisite photographs. My dog is not Lassie and she doesn't feel bad about it. Maybe we all should be more doglike.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happy anniversary to us

No, not a blog anniversary.  Nor a wedding anniversary.  But a ten year anniversary, none the less.  My SO and I have been dating for ten years.  And he still brings me flowers.

No, we don't live together.  We thought about it, talked about it, and decided we like things just the way they are.  Ditto marriage.  Why ruin a good thing?

We met online, back when some dating sites were still free.  From his emails, I thought he was dark and brooding.  The first telephone call dispelled that myth.  We met for breakfast at the now-defunct Canterbury House.  I ordered the Hoosier Breakfast and cleaned my plate; he barely ate anything.  I had to let that go.

We started a conversation over that breakfast ten years ago, and haven't stopped talking since.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

We say Eegore, they say Eager

A while back, I watched "Coco before Chanel". The movie was okay, but my general impression of Gabrielle Chanel was that of a self-centered and calculating bitch. I found it difficult to drum up any sympathy for her. "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky" did nothing to dispel this impression. I found the "love" story to be rather boring - he was her excuse to end her mourning for "Boy", she his for abandoning his tubercular wife and passel of children. I'm sorry, but being creative does not excuse one from treating others well.

* * * * *

I work with some Latvians, one of whom is named Igor. Most of us - and by "us" I mean myself and my non-Slavic co-workers, so this is not just a dumb American quirk - call him Eegore, whereas his compatriots pronounce his name more like Eager. I listened carefully during "Coco and Igor" (most of which was in French and Russian) and yes, the latter seems to be the correct pronunciation.

Most of my co-workers are not native English speakers. We make a genuine effort to pronounce each others' names correctly, and we are forgiving of each others' efforts. For example, I think Vidya's name consists of two syllables, but most of us slip an extra one in there, so instead of vid-ya, we say vid-ee-ya. I wonder if that is comparable to referring to "Carl" as "Carol". My name is not mispronounced often; instead, I am sometimes called by another co-worker's name, although since the two of us are no longer on the same team, this happens less frequently.

Some of my Chinese co-workers resolve this problem by taking English first names, going by Susan or Sheila or Tony instead of their real names, most of which start with the letter X. The Indians, on the other hand, tend to shorten their impossibly multiple-syllabic names or adopt nicknames. Thanks, Raj.

I seem to be particularly challenged when it comes to names of any origin. I even confuse my co-workers Dan and Mike, not because their names are similar (obviously NOT) or because they look or sound alike, but because their last names start with the letter R. I know - hopeless.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Itch that scratch

My son writes really well, and I'm not saying that just because I am his mother. His college professors have also commented on his writing ability. I have urged him to write, to chronicle the small town he grew up in or to write a sports blog.

"But I hate writing," he responds.

"So, you don't have that itch to write, huh?" I asked. "I have the itch but apparently, I have nothing to say."


When I was a child, the classified ads were divided into employment for men, employment for women, and sales. I grew up thinking I could be a nurse or a teacher or a secretary, but not much else. I'm not sure why I thought I would have a job of any kind - my mother was a stay-at-home mom just like most of my friends' moms - but I guess I read enough Sue Barton to at least contemplate what I might do to earn a living as an adult.

Now that I think about it, because of my love of animals, I did try out the idea of becoming a veterinarian, but my dad said, "Over my dead body" - I think he thought only lesbians became animal doctors. Ditto my idea about being an Olympic miler. My brother killed my interest in being a vet by pointing out that part of my job would be to euthanize animals. Thanks a lot.

Somehow I knew being a secretary would not suit me. So that left teacher or nurse. Having been a student and seeing first hand what teachers have to put up with, even in our white collar middleclass town where we were all relatively well-behaved students, I did not think that teaching was my calling (although I would still like to have my summers free). That left nursing, and if I was to be a nurse, I'd better pay attention in science class. And I tried, but snore. My dad was a chemist and my mother later became a nurse herself, but again, I was not called.

Then it occurred to me that I could be a writer! Even as young as seven, I had received complements from teachers on my writing abilities. And there was certainly a plethora of role models, as I spent an inordinate amount of time reading. This was back in the dark ages - no home computers, no cable, no video games, and daytime TV consisted of game shows, soap operas, and talk shows, intellectual and otherwise. Reading was all there was.

And I did a lot of writing as a kid, mostly imitating the Hardy Boys series. At that time, it did not occur to me to write non-fiction. In high school, my writing tended to be a means of expressing wishful thinking, as the main character took the form of an idealized me. Oh, and I wrote a lot of bad poetry. Again, teachers praised my writing, but the craft of storytelling somehow eluded me.

Even in college, professors were after me to major in English. I toyed with the idea, but wasn't sure I could slog through Shakespeare and the classics. And what would I do with an English major besides teach? Garrison Keillor had not yet broadcast his first episode of "A Prairie Home Companion".

In my twenties, I tried to get serious about writing. My husband showed his support by buying me an electric typewriter (oooh). I wrote short stories and sent them to magazines like Redbook. I subscribed to Writer's Digest. I even took a correspondence course on creative writing. During that time, I think I sold a couple of one-paragraph items to Organic Gardening, and that was about it.

A few years and two babies later, I managed to land a writing job of sorts, reporting "social news" for a free advertiser that needed some filler. (I was so professional at my interview that I brought my infant daughter along, who cried. The secretary had to hold her while the editor talked to me.) My "column" took the form of "The gathered on at and was attended by ." Apparently, everyone likes to see their name in the paper, even if all they did was attend a baby shower. For my efforts, I was paid something like fifteen cents a column inch. I asked if I could supply the paper (which was called The Paper but not ironically) with a feature, and they said sure. I was pretty proud of that piece, but the resulting payment did not seem to match the amount of effort put forth.

But then the editor of our local newspaper asked me to write a weekly article. These articles were about local individuals who had done something noteworthy, like win a contest or work somewhere unusual or develop a hobby. The base pay was more like $25 per article PLUS $.75 a column inch. Astronomical! Since I considered myself a freelancer, I agreed, but when my first article came out, I was promptly fired by The Paper.

I saved the clippings of the articles I wrote over the next couple of years, but I'm not brave enough to reread them. I'm sure they weren't very good - I didn't understand the concept of hooking the reader with a great opening line (by the looks of this post, I still don't). All I did was try to fit all my notes into the article to increase its size. I took a photography course, so I was able to supply equally bad photos to go with my articles. And I died a little each time an article was published. It was a small town and appearing on the front page once a week felt like I was parading down Main Street stark naked.

That editor gave me some good advice: Never give your work away. And he made it clear I was free to write for other publications. And so I did. During that time, I became master of the query letter. I managed to publish an article in Soybean Digest and one in Organic Gardening. I also worked for The Farmer's Exchange as a stringer. The most exciting thing, however, was when the editor of Acres, USA called. Wow, an editor had contacted me about doing a story! I felt I was on my way.

Life being what it is - full of surprises - my circumstances changed around then. Faced with the prospect of having to support myself all by myself, I returned to school so I could get a "real" job. My writing ability still served me well, as it helped me get my foot in the door with several employers who valued the contribution I could make toward their technical writing needs.

And so it went for many years. Always, in the back of my mind was the idea that someday I would write again, maybe after I retired. Meanwhile, once the kids were out of the house, I returned to a hobby I had enjoyed in a previous life, knitting. And eventually, knitting led me to knitting blogs. And knitting blogs led me to blogging about my own knitting. And about gardening/home improvement. And eventually, a little bit about me.

Initially, blogging made me feel really nervous, naked and exposed, hence my screen identity of "Abby". And I struggle to find my voice. There are several "cursing mommy" blogs I enjoy, but that is not my style. There are funny and witty blogs, but I'm not all that entertaining. I started and abandoned several blogs along the way, trying this or that, to see if I could ignite a spark. The knitting blog survives, primarily as a record of what I knit, although Ravelry serves the same purpose. The home and garden blog also survives, again as a diary of sorts. But this personal blog mostly languishes.

It doesn't help that blogging has revealed that my writing ability is not so special. A lot of people write, many better than I do, and some even manage to get paid for blogging and/or have published books as a result of their blogging. In fact, everyone and their brother is writing a novel this month. I can't compete.

(Actually, I do have an idea for a novel, but whenever I write fiction, I feel that naked-on-Main-Street thing again, only worse.)

Over the past several years, my dad has been slowly cleaning out his basement. As a result, I have a ton of family letters (mostly from me - again, not brave enough to read those). Many, however, are from relatives I have never met, some even in Danish. It used to be that the mail was the only means of communication that was affordable. Now we have long distance calling plans, texting, tweeting, FBing, all kinds of communication methods that leave nary a trace. But blogs seem to last "forever". Even the ones I've abandoned are still out there, silently awaiting my unlikely return.

And so I keep slogging away at this blog, leaving my own slimy trail in the ether, in case some future descendant wonders about the nuts on their family tree. Blogging satisfies that itch to write, but I can keep my clothes on, figuratively speaking. Lucky you.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

New purpose in life

My mother passed away when I was 20. Consequently, it was very important to me that my children grow up to be independent, just in case I was not around. And they did. And while I am very proud of the young adults they have become, I could not help but be a little sad when I felt that they did not need me anymore. After decades of dance recitals and ball games, after ushering them from kindergarten through college graduation, there was not much left for me to do besides provide holiday repasts and force xmas gifts upon them.

But now, I have a brand new baby granddaughter. While I have been looking forward to becoming a grandma, I was not prepared for the depth of my reaction to her appearance less than three weeks ago. Day 1, I could not sleep because all I saw in my mind's eye was her sweet face. Day 2, I worked from home so I could spend my lunch hour holding her. Day 3, I took the afternoon off so I could again hold her and not feel rushed to leave. Day 4, I did not think I would see her, but her parents stopped by, oh joy! I saw her every day the first week of her life. Too much Baby N is never enough.

Not only that, but I have this overwhelming urge to stock up on picture books and puzzles and little stuffed animals and teething rings. My imagination is running wild in anticipation of first smile, first step, first t-ball game. I never had the patience to let my kids help me with the garden or the baking or even the laundry, but now my middle name will be Patience because I will be utterly transformed from Harried Parent to Doting Grandma.

I hope she likes me.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Six of one

We have been in our new "green" office building for a couple of weeks, and it is starting to feel like home.  The staff keeps tweaking what they can, but there are some major design flaws that may be expensive to correct.  We'll see how it pans out in the long run. 

Where I sit, on the third floor
The current progress report: 

  • It is still too cold in here, but the clamminess seems to be gone. 
  • I have rearranged things in my pod so it feels less claustrophobic.  With three monitors, it feels like command central. 
This is "before"; I don't have an "after".
  • I tend to sit forward in my chair, as though it were one of those ball chairs, which has proven good for my back. 
  • They gave me (and everyone?) a new keyboard. 
  • Still no headset for the phone.  However, I can forward my calls to my home phone.  Since I work at home one or two days a week, I now don't have to keep checking my office voice mail for missed calls. 
  • I've grown use to the printer noises, but there is also overt pressure to reduce printing in general.  The door to the stairway, on the other hand, bangs. 
  • Trays for paper were delivered, which helped clear my desk top. 
  • The "new office" smell seems to have dissipated, so no more daily headaches. 
  • The post next to my pod blocks my view to the left, but since I am on an aisle, also blocks my view of people walking by. 
View to my left
  • The toilets have two flush modes, one for "liquids" and one for "solids".   Apparently, toilet paper is a solid.
  • The minimal number of "sit down" facilities for the men has proven not to be a problem.  Or so they say.
  • For some reason, the third floor bathrooms are not handicap accessible.  Was this on purpose? 
  • The single-cup coffee makers in the pantries produce coffee that is no worse than what was available in the cafeteria and vending machines. 
  • The ice/water machines now have ice. 
  • "They" tried actively discouraging people from eating at their desks, using all kinds of made-up excuses (companionship? really?), but I think the real reason is they don't want us slobbing up the new pods.  BTW, their efforts are coming to naught. 
  • The vending machines and microwaves are in the cafeteria.  The cafeteria is the only space large enough for large meetings.  We are not supposed to use the vending machines or microwaves while a meeting is in progress.  This has produced complaints. 
  • There is no barrier between the serving area of the cafeteria and the sitting area, which means some meetings have to put up with the sounds of food preparation.  This has produced complaints. 
  • People in some parts of the building are discovering that there can be too much natural light.  Mine is not one of them. 
View to my right

  • The acoustic ceiling seems to be doing its job dampening sound.  Or maybe it is the "white noise" of the PA system.
Stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight!