Saturday, April 14, 2007

I Heart My GPS

There is no way around the fact I am a geek. Not an Ubergeek who would know how to put the umlauts (2 little dots) over the “U” in “Uber,” or a geek who can talk someone through a complex computer problem, but I do LOVE technology and toys. The latest gadget I consider to be life-altering and fabulous is our GPS.

We’ve actually had a GPS in the family for around 10 years. It’s a little hand held item I bought my husband for boating. It’s pretty nifty and really just for nautical use. Our exposure to a land type GPS was last May when we took a trip to Atlanta for a friend’s wedding. We rented a car and were tickled to see it had GPS. Since I was the navigator, I was entrusted with getting the device going. Kind of like Sulu in Star Trek, or maybe Mr. Chekhov, a Russian like me. Yes, a geek reference.

Anyway, upon turning on the device we found it to have a female voice so as a nod to our Georgia locale, Arthur dubbed her “Scarlet.” I was able to quickly program in our destination about an hour away, and we left the rental car lot to head on our way. We were also armed with written instructions to our destination. As we drove down the highway, Scarlet was telling us things that did not match up with our printed out directions. Whom to trust. It was a tough call but I think we went written. Passing Scarlet’s recommended route, she would patiently state she was “recalculating.” I explained to Arthur what she was really thinking was “listen you damn Yankee assholes, I told you to take exit 11!” Later on in our trip, Scarlet kept trying to get us to leave our written instructions guiding us to our friend’s lake house, and turn onto Short Bridge Road. One day we figured what the heck, we’ll take Scarlet’s route. Sure enough, in what we interpreted as payback to our arrogant Yankee selves for ignoring her day 1, Short Bridge Road was indeed short; it stopped abruptly and would have landed us in a lake had we not proceeded slowly with caution. “Scarlet tried to kill us” we proclaimed! Overall, we left Atlanta sold on the value of a GPS and intent on getting one. As luck would have it, Arthur’s birthday was coming up, so that was his gift.

I love the damn thing. So much that we even got one for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Around the holiday season last year, it was amazing at getting me to various offices and hospitals I needed to visit for work. One night when both Arthur and myself were headed to different destinations and he claimed the GPS first, I borrowed my parents’ for the night. I see my boss using Mapquest and shake my head sadly. I’ve given him the sales pitch and think he will cave any moment.

The voice our GPS is set to use is English Emily. It’s funny to hear her not able to pronounce the “th” sound we enjoy, and giving a British spin to other words. In an effort to be supportive, Arthur even downloaded the sexy Latin voice of Javier for me, but found it only spoke Spanish. We were both disappointed. If Javier spoke English, I wonder if we could have programmed it to say my first name before he spoke. Maybe there will be a Jean-Claude who has a wonderful accent and says my name. If they did, I might just have to drive cross country for milk, making lots of turns along the way *sigh*

Friday, January 05, 2007

She’s Baaaaack…Well, Maybe Kinda

The other day I got an email from my writer pal Frank that was short and to the point. It said something like, “8 months.” No, he’s not pregnant; he just retains fluid. The month reference was actually pointing out how long it has been since I last blogged. “No way it has been 8 months” I told my computer monitor, but after checking, and this pains me to say….Frank was right. Had someone asked me, I would have said 4 months, tops. But it has been 8.

There are 3 half finished blogs I keep meaning to complete. One was a mean-spirited, snobbish little rant on airline travel (I stand by my observations despite perhaps not being PC), the other on the new trend in line management. Those two have hope. The third covers the very gradual progress of my son Graham’s potty training, but to be honest, the best thing about it was the title I gave it, “Tales From The Little Chair,” a nod to the monster Tears for Fears album from the 80’s. Happily, I can report that Graham is doing yeomans work with the potty thing so the post would be quite dated. Just enjoy the clever title I had.

So here I sit, 3 days before Christmas, with the curtain preparing to close on Hanukkah, pondering something my husband told me a few days ago. Apparently there was a Zogby poll where they found more people were offended by someone wishing them “Happy Holiday” than being specifically wished Merry Christmas. There are lots of reasons why, but I enjoy the “holiday” version best. To me it covers a longer period of time so you are wishing the person a nice holiday SEASON, from Hanukkah which often starts prior to Christmas, right through New Years. Happy Holidays can cover perhaps a whole month if the dates fall right! I love that. You cover a whole 1/12 of the year with one statement.

Maybe it’s easy for me as I am not attached to a particular faith, but at the end of the day, I don’t think it really matters. I try to just enjoy the fact that someone, and (maybe even a stranger) at least tried to be courteous and sent me a nice thought or two. Unless I’m pre-menstrual in which case people should just shut the hell up because they don’t know me or my belief system so don’t make assumptions about how I celebrate the over-commercialized season by shoving YOUR religion down my throat. I get enough of that from elected officials.

Anyway, Happy Whatever. In my undefined and non-non-tax exempt faith, that means be safe, healthy, and happy. The rest is gravy.

PS - Yes, I know I posted this after the formal holiday season,No, you may not have a full refund.Consider it a head start on next year. Always best to plan ahead.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Storm Before The Calm

Tomorrow at 4am, I am leaving my house to get to the airport so I can fly to Colorado for a little holiday. I made this same trek about 2 years ago and it was wonderful. I’ll be in Durango, visiting my sister and her family. Her kids are grown which means I won’t be put to work changing diapers.

Once I set foot on my first flight tomorrow (there will be a total of 3), I suspect I will get a minor headache. That’s what happens when I can decompress after a period of great stress. It’s nice to know what to expect form ones own body, but sucks to know it won’t be a good thing.

During my 5 day absence, my husband will be in charge of the homestead and that mean The Kids. While I cannot claim to be a great organizer or master planner, I have a good grip on what needs to be done around the house and for the boys. Among the things not on my list: cleaning, dusting, vacuuming. The things on my list: playing, getting them fed, keeping them healthy, following something of a routine. With my husband in charge that is the unnerving part – making sure he does certain small things that need doing. He’ll get them fed, but I worry about the “little things.” Little Things include making sure Harry has stuff for a snack, patching Graham’s eye for 2 hours a day. The RIGHT one. Not left. Right. Dropping off and picking up from school. Being ready by exactly 11:40 to greet the bus. Yes, it’s the little things that make up a day.

As part of my trip preparation, I have been doing laundry. As a testament to my determination to have things go well in my absence thereby assuring I am permitted to take more trips alone in the future, I have even removed the clean clothes from the dryer, folder them, and get this, put them in the proper room. Yes, I am going all out. Today after work I did the grocery shopping based on the list I had my husband provide. I put together a detailed daily schedule for the family to follow. Now, as I type I am preparing dinner. Well, I am preheating the oven. But it counts.

Still to be done: packing, locating a suitable backpack for carrying my books, toothbrush and various sundries on the plane. Weather this time of year can be anything from hot and sunny to major snowstorm, so that presents something of a packing challenge. Must still gather up all my paperwork. And cell phone charger. And too many other things to list here and still have time to actually DO them.

I have my etickets printed out. It still bugs me not to have a good old, fashioned plane ticket in my hand, the kind with multiple slips inside and you never know which one you need.

Perhaps the biggest stress inducer is the fact I must leave my house at about 4am to get to the airport with ample time for my flight. I am a freak and am not happy unless I am at the airport very early. My flight leaves at 7. Ideally, I’d be there at 5. But instead it should be more like 5:30-5:45. At that time of the day it should be fine. So, what time should I go to bed? Now way I’m getting in my 8 hours. And with the stress of knowing I need to get up at 3:30, I won’t be able to fall asleep. Hello medicine cabinet.

By taking the time to blog, I am wasting valuable prep time, so hopefully it’s worth it. I’m really doing it because my public demanded I post something. That means one person mentioned it.

Ok, I need to hit the blog button and get moving on some projects around here. Once I get to Colorado, there will be time to sleep but for now, I gotta keep moving.

Au revoir my public. Kiss Kiss. See you on the other side of my holiday.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Will Dolly Parton Write A Song About Me?

It happened. After 8 years of full-time momhood, I have returned to The Work Force. It’s only been 2 weeks, a minimum of 10 hours a week (I've done 17.5 and 24 so far) but I do have a few things to report.

First of all, the job I got is working for a local company that makes prosthetics and orthotics. (Still working on proper latin for orthotic vs. orthosis vs. orthoses. So for now, I’ll go with the commonly used but apparently incorrect term “orthotic.") I got to know the good folks there while writing the content for their website. A few months I got an email wondering if I knew of anyone who might be interested in a marketing position at their company. Sitting at my desk reading the email, I practically stood up and did the Horseshack “Oh Oh Oh, pick me.” It took some time to bring it all together, but happily we did. I am employed.

I was at my last office type job for 2 years when I quit to find a job working for a print publisher in New York City. About 2 weeks after meeting headhunter in NYC, I found out I was pregnant. It didn’t make sense to purse a job that would involve a 3 hour a day commute at that point, so instead I became a full time nester. When Harry turned 1, I got a job in a local chain mega-bookstore 2 nights a week, and 9-5 Saturdays. That was great for 2 years but when I became pregnant with Graham, I was so sick I had to stop working. When Graham turned 1, I started working Saturday nights at a group home for teenage girls in crisis. I left after a year for various reasons, one of which was I simply could not keep up with the social habits of 15 year old girls who wanted to go see movies that started at like, 10:00. AT NIGHT!

So, unemployed, it got me started once again tinkering with writing. That led me to find out friend/neighbor Amy was a web designer, and I ended up doing some work with her, and I met the prosthetics people who are now my employers.

So, what do I want to report about my new job?

First, and most importantly, I am really tired. One day last week I actually worked 9 - 5:30. For someone who has grown accustomed to working in 15 minute spurts over the past few years, it was enormously draining but also very exhilarating. I have literally been ready to fall asleep with my head in my dinner plate. This is after working 24 hours in one week. I still get up early and do all the kid and house stuff I need to do, and then head off to work.

Second, I am very nervous. Never a great organizer, I find myself sitting at my work desk and trying to figure out where to put everything. And how should I track my projects? At my last office job 8 years ago, there was no access to high technology. We had those old one piece Macs with interoffice email. No internet. No fancy software. So, I have never worked in a “modern office.” Right now I am trying to organize myself via computer. Time will tell but so far so good.

Third, I am trying to do a bit too much. My mantra is “it’s a marathon not a sprint” but I am just so darn excited! I know that will fade a bit, but for now I am enjoying the experience. It feels great to be out among nice professionals, working in a truly fascinating field (I held a $50,000 computerized leg), and making some money.

So how I am celebrating my return to work? By taking time off in 3 weeks to go visit family in Colorado for 5 days. Some things are hard to give up.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

It Must Have Been The Glare

Last Thursday was a truly spectacular evening and one that’s hard to stop thinking about. At around 7:00pm, two close friends and I went to a local tavern to celebrate St. Baldrick’s Day. I mentioned this event a few blogs posts back, but just to refresh hazy minds, St. Baldrick’s is a charity where every year around Saint Patrick’s Day, folks hold events and get their heads shaved to raise money to help fight pediatric cancer.

The team I pull for is Team Brent. Team leader Brent, is a 3 year who has cancer. Anyway, last years’ event was great fun, and in just 2 weeks, Team Brent and the 30 or so shavees raised $87,000. That made them the #1 team in the nation. A local elementary school boy Stephen who heard about the event started his own team and raised around 20k! This year, the take is at $178, 000 and RISING. Checks are still coming in, and there should be nice corporate matching dollars showing up over the summer.

This year's St. Baldrick’s event came together with more planning than the American invasion of Iraq. It looked like there would be around 60 shavees, including one woman. I happen to know the woman who shaved, and she was tremendously excited to be a part of Team Brent. She had extra motivation because her teen age daughter has cancer. Her daughter was supposed to have the honor of shaving her mom, but debilitating headaches caused by her treatments kept her home. A very sad irony, because part of what the research being funded by St. Baldrick’s is working on is to develop effective treatments free from the current intrusive and long term side effects.

I’d like to blame the glare from all the bald heads for making me teary, but in truth I started getting emotional before the first hair hit the ground. First, was the amazing energy of the crowd, but the kicker was the speech given by Mike, Brent’s dad to kick off the event. Mike spoke from his heart and it was brutal in the best way possible. In a difficult and classy moment, Mike paid tribute to a little girl who lost her battle a few months back and vowed to keep fundraising, and creating awareness as long as kids are still dying of cancer. According to Dana, when Mike finished his speech, an additional 30 or so guys, and 2 women marched over to get shaved bringing the number to over 100!

Some other elements of the evening: Dr. Joe, pediatric oncologist extraordinaire was there and spoke, and 2 of Brent’s oncology nurses from Boston attended. I already felt I knew Nurse Jen a little because she has her own wonderful blog. I follow closely.

What best summed up the evening for me was a scene I spied from my perch overlooking the main floor. Right after a big, imposing fellow had finished getting his scalp shaved, he got up, went over to Mike, kissed him right on top of his shiny bald head, nodded, and walked away.

In my universe, next years’ event celebrates the end of St. Baldrick’s Day because no more children have cancer. Actually, I'm pretty sure that would be the wish in anyone's universe. But the only way to make it happen is fundraising and dedicated, talented researchers nurses, and doctors.

Here’s to Brent!!!! The toughest guy I know.

Damn, the glare is getting to me again….

Monday, March 06, 2006

Wolfgang In the Park

In yesterday’s regional paper, a headline caught my eye. It read “Classical Music may drive away park vagrants.”

Here’s the gist of the story:

A neighborhood in the state capital of Hartford wants to drive drug dealers and prostitutes from a local park by piping classical music through speakers placed in the park. Activists proposed the plan “in hopes of annoying petty criminals so much that they’ll leave. As an added bonus, the music will make the park more pleasant for people who want to walk or eat lunch there.” Apparently, the idea was hatched after they tried the same thing in West Palm Beach, Florida and a 40% decrease in crime was reported.

Naturally some classical music lovers are incensed. The conductor of the Hartford Symphony declared the “idea vulgarizes classical music that is meant to be enlightening.” Musicologist Robert Fink says “it looks like a desperate plan. Beethoven is not going to save you,” then he went on to talk about great composers being viewed as “some kind of bug spray or disinfectant.”

So, “petty” criminals don’t like classical music. What about white collar criminals? I wonder if Kenneth not-yet-convicted-but-hopefully-he-will-be-soon Lay of Enron fame knows who Bach is? Michael Miliken the junk bond king? Is he a Snoop Dogg kinda guy? The whole music plan just strikes me as a very bizarre social experiment that implies people on the fringe or who aren’t well to do, are somehow offended by classical music. I wonder if it's racist? Should they just reclassify the category name from “Classical” to “Music for the Middle Class and Upper classes”?

While I have no empirical data to back me up, I happen to know of instances where classical music can actually incite violence and criminal acts. And it can happen among otherwise law abiding, middle class suburban dwellers. Look at me for example. I happen to love classical music and have a small but decent classical CD collection. But come holiday season, the mere threat of having to listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons can cause me to develop an eye tick and hightened affect. My usually low blood pressure may soar after the 47th time it comes on in during a shopping trip. My husband, also a classical music fan, spent part of his youth working retail and had to listen to it so many times, even now, twenty years later he cannot hear it without getting upset. Same with the usually lovely Canon in D, by Pachelbel. Such a beautiful song, but repeated listening can have me poking around the bookstore looking for books about weaponry. Yes, the misuse and abuse of classical music can ruin both high end retailers at holidays time and hangouts for drug dealers and prostitutes.

Here is a little conspiracy theory for you. Maybe, just maybe, it’s internet vendors plying brick and mortar retailers with holiday classic music mixes. Ingenius really. If the horrific overapplication of classical music keeps people from going into stores, they may instead shop online, thereby driving up sales. Brilliant!

I’d like to see a study of what music notorious criminals listen to. Perhaps most famously, Charles Manson stole lyrics from The Beatle’s Helter Skelter during a murderous rampage. I seem to recall serial killer Ted Bundy was a fan as well. Not sure about some of the other big names. But the article I read was about petty criminals, not the big leaguers. Makes me wonder what Dick Cheney has on his IPOD.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

No, I'm Not A Doctor!

Today I got a very nice thank you card from a friend whose bridal shower I attended last week. The first thing that struck me when I held the unopened envelope in my hand was the handwriting. It struck me as very grown-up. Inside the card was a lovely note scribed in that same hand. My handwriting isn’t like that.

My mom saves different things I have written since I was little, and since back then the only folks with computers were NASA and the government, it’s all handwritten. I spent a lot of time fighting with teachers and on occasion crying when teachers tried to change my pencil grip. The “acceptable” way hurt my fingers and gave me no control over the pencil. For a while, I had to put a colored rubber triangle about an inch and a half long on my pencils to help my finger placement. I cried. This went on for years. In addition to a bad grip, I could not for the life of me write in anything close to a straight line on a blank page. My sentences would all go from point A, to a downward angle of about 40 45 ish degrees by the time I reached the end of a sentence. Capitals letters were randomly thrown in the middle of sentences. Cursive and regular letters ran together. Content wasn’t bad but execution was horrible. At 41, not a whole lot has changed. I don’t do the random capitals anymore, and I tend to print so I stand a chance at reading what I wrote, but my handwriting is still not so great. In fact, it still resembles my 4th grade examples.

When my older boy Harry was in kindergarten, I did the standard very dignified parent’s night thing where you sit in your child’s wee little seat. I saw a cup filled with pencils and on one of the pencils I saw one of those evil rubber grip thingys that caused me such anguish as a child. I reached for the victimized pencil and what did I behold on the rubber grip: my son’s initials. My heart sank and I sat holding the pencil until the formal part of the evening had ended. When the other parents had left the room I approached Harry’s teacher with whom I am friends. I walked towards her holding up the pencil with the colorful rubber grip. “OHHH no” I said. “I was TORTURED with these as a kid and don’t want him to use this.” I then proceeded to show her the improper grip I have used (successfully) since childhood. She assured me it was a little experiment, and she wasn’t terribly concerned, but they had these things around and a few other boys were using them as well. She knew where I stood, so feeling re-assured she would not be making a fuss and forcing him to use the GRIP, I retreated.

Harry is now in 2nd grade and enjoys a very nice, classic textbook grip. When I look at his penmanship and comment how it’s better than mine he grins and occasionally taunts me. At the start of the school year, his teacher sent home an alphabet chart with each letter mapped out in arrows to show the “proper” way to form the letter. I enjoy watching him put care into how he forms the letters, and frankly, when he doesn’t use the approved method, I don’t much care. He’s trying hard and it looks better than my efforts so I leave him alone. He really does have a nice handwriting. And since my husband’s handwriting isn’t great, we know it’s not inherited.

Anyway, seeing my friend’s nice handwriting earlier today made me long for grown-up handwriting. It must be nice to see your words across a page and be able to easily go back and read it. If I try really hard, I can write a note Harry can read, but it’s not an effort I can sustain very long. And if I do, it’s exhausting. Using the computer is a godsend as far as handwriting goes, but I now find on those occasions I do need to write, my hand and fingers lack the stamina to write much. At this stage I probably shouldn’t care, but when I see a nice, legible handwriting I feel envy. I’d like to write like a grown-up too.

Someone once told me poor handwriting is a sign of vanity. Their theory held that self-important people scribble to make others work harder to read their brilliant words or some tripe like that. True, I have seen folks scratch out a word with no intention of coming close to making it legible and I’m ok with that. I do it when I sign my name. It’s a long one, and folks just need to see a signature, not read the letters. And as long as it matches how you do it every other time, it’s fine. Doctors are notorious for their poor handwriting, often caused by high volume and not enough time for effort. But I’m not a doctor and I can’t claim any good excuse for my poor handwriting. It’s just how it is.

I still struggle to read my own writing and utilize my improper grip but I wouldn’t trade it for a classic, school board approved grip even if I could. After all my tears, there is no way I could now admit my early teachers had a point. But at this stage of my life, I’d like to think that the words I am putting on paper have improved, even if my handwriting has not. It’s the content not the package that counts.