Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Summer's End at Last

A fairly quiet Wednesday morning. We had some snow on Halloween night which is almost all melted now. There’s a kind of tradition about Halloween around here; it is invariably really nasty out in one way or another – some years achingly cold, others snowy. This year it rained throughout the standard trick-or-treating hours, so we only had four groups at our door, and then turned to snow after enough rain was on the ground to freeze and make the Monday morning commute a bit challenging for people recovering from a sugar buzz. Of course, I don’t have to do anything during the Monday morning commute these days, because I work from home.

By the way, that may not last much longer. I had two second interviews scheduled during this week, and one of them looks like a fairly sure thing, if I can stand to extend my 2-second commute to as much as 45-minutes each way. Something to make me stop and think, that’s certain. The other prospect isn’t quite as nasty a drive, and it’s the job I want more, but the interview isn’t until tomorrow, so I can’t say for sure if it will work out.

But until I find a new job, I get to do my work in the comfortable armchair with a view of the front lawn. I moved the chair last week, after finding the sun had shifted so far south that it was making my screen impossible to read for nearly the entire day. Now that I face towards the window, instead of away from it, I get to watch the squirrels. I had no idea we had so many of them, and they were very busy at something yesterday. At least part of their business involved eating our decrepit jack-o-lanterns, which the snow prevented us from taking down immediately after Halloween was over. They’re still out there today – if the squirrels can get some benefit from them, I see no reason to deprive them of a big beta-carotene boost on the cusp of winter.

The daughter’s birthday went quite well. Her “friends party” on Friday ended up being a Mexican dinner and trip to the local Six Flags for their haunted house and rides. She did lose her cellphone privileges for a week by not answering our calls when her father and I were trying to tell her that we were tired and wanted them to leave so we could go home to sleep, but that didn’t put too much of a damper on the evening. On Saturday, we had the family over. She and her cousins (all quite a bit younger than she is) went to a Halloween carnival at the local rec center, then we all went out to eat at a local ‘50’s theme diner. Everyone was under an oath of secrecy about the reason for our visit – they make birthday victims do the twist in front of everyone there. All of her girl cousins then spent the night at our house, and she had the fun on the actual birthday of watching her father and I rake leaves all morning, which is normally her job. I’m sure it was good for us, although it didn’t feel like it at the time. Seventeen bags of leaves - we have a lot of trees.

I guess now that we’ve had actual snow in the suburbs, there’s no sense pretending it’s still summer, although I fully expect my husband to make at least a couple of appearances in shorts before he finally gives in for the year. The deluge of Christmas catalogs has begun, and I’m starting to get some ideas for presents for the family. Our dinner menu has definitely shifted focus from meat-on-the-grill to comfort food involving use of the oven or crock pot. I’m even manfully resisting the urge to do a craft project with a Christmas theme. Although “resisting” isn’t an accurate description when I gathered up all of this year’s pinecones from under the Ponderosas in the yard on Saturday, with the idea of making a wreath of them.

So, how many shopping days until Christmas?

Monday, October 25, 2004

One thing off my never-ending list

Monday after a busy weekend.

I don't really want to be back working, but at least I can look back with satisfaction at having actually accomplished something. The shed is painted at last! Winter can come and blast it with snow, and it will withstand the onslaught. Plus, it looks amazing, and every time I pass a window that looks onto the back yard, I stop and enjoy the view.

We didn't originally plan to paint it a different color from our current house color, but I couldn't find the paint chip that matched the house - we had a bit of reconstruction to do on the screen-porch a year ago, and we managed to come pretty close on the paint color then, even though the current housepaint may be 20-some years old (one "benefit" of aluminum siding is that paint lasts far longer than your fondness for its color). Given that it appeared to be lost, I had to choose between trying to re-do the match (possibly ending up with a third paint color that didn't quite match either the original or the reconstructed bit) or using the shed to test out a new color. We decided to do the latter, and I'm quite pleased with the results.

It's absolutely amazing how different a paint color can appear depending on its surroundings. On the paint chip, the color we ended up with looks like a yellowish olive green, and fairly dark. In the can, it's even more yellow and kind of brown - possibly because the can is sitting on the lawn, which is still unseasonably green. If I'd first seen it in the can, and had to make my judgement on that basis alone, there is no way that color would have made it onto a wall anywhere I might have to look at it - it's actually pretty ugly. But put it on a wall, surrounded with white trim and in the sunlight, and it's a lovely dark sage green. Go figure.

I admire like crazy those designers who can pick paint colors based on paint chips. When I do it that way, I end up with results I can't quite stand to live with, so I've given that up. The only way to be sure is to buy the smallest possible quantity of paint in any colors I'm considering, and to slap them up in big patches on the wall(s) to be painted. At one time, our dining room had a rather patchwork effect going, as I was trying to find a good wall color there. And in that case, too, we ended up with a color I would never have considered originally. Weird.

The shed had three different paint colors on it while we were trying to figure things out. The first one was a color I'd seen in an interior room several years ago at a Parade of Homes house, and liked so much I'd done some research to find out what it was. Internally, it reads as a medium sage green (although in the can, it looks like damp concrete). Externally, it was a perfect match for the gray color used as primer on the siding you buy at Home Depot. I had a terrible time figuring out whether or not I had painted all of the section I was testing it on. So that was a non-starter. Our second choice was one shade darker on the same paint chip thingie, and it seemed like it should have been perfect, but it was bland on the wall. At least I could tell if I'd painted something or not.

By the time we'd definitively rejected the first two shades, I'd managed to lose the paint chip. And the company that makes that specific paint is open at hours most inconvenient to a homeowner who works - I think the only time I find them open when I can get there is on a Saturday morning. Fortunately for us, Home Depot can match their colors - as long as I can remember their names. Which I couldn't in this case. That's where having an architect for a brother-in-law is incredibly handy. He has one of those cool wheels that holds every paint chip offered by the company that's never open. So I called him and in the course of about 15 minutes, he was able to give me the name and formula number. Armed with that information, I went and had a quart mixed up, and that one was the winner.

Before snow flies, I think we'll end up painting the whole garage that the shed is attached to, even if it makes us look a bit mismatched for the winter. My husband thought we should keep going, painting an occasional section of the house as the weather permits, but I'd rather stop once we have a single entire building done than have the house look part-finished for months on end. But no matter what we end up doing, the parts of the shed that were raw wood and siding last week are painted today, and the view from the kitchen is quite gratifying.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

A Visit to the Orthodontist, Compounded by Homemaking Magazines

What is it with orthodontists? Don't they realize they're a service industry?

My daughter had an appointment with the orthodontist this morning, at 9:00 am. Note that school starts at 7:35 am. The obvious conclusion is that if she has an orthodontist appointment, she can't be in school. It also means that if she has an orthodontist appointment, someone has to take her there, and that someone cannot be at work during that time. In fact, that someone's current employer thinks that orthodontist appointments should be counted as "vacation" which is rare and precious, as opposed to "sick leave" which never gets fully used. This does not please me. So I guess my overall attitude toward the office there wasn't exactly positive going in.

I spent her "15 minute" appointment (for which we left our house at 8:30 am) reading through Better Homes and Gardens and becoming rapidly discontented with my life. Why can't I live on a well-kept picturesque fruit farm somewhere surrounded by cherubic blonde two year olds dressed in perfect little printed corduroy dresses and willing to help muck the stables in them without getting a single stain? Why don't my thrift store finds look quaint and decorative, instead of just rusted? Why can't I work part time for an investment firm and still be able to afford a charming retro townhouse in San Francisco? Why do I never cook anything that could be described as a coulis? They had a recipe in there for "pecorino shortbread" - some sort of appetizer base thingie made with Romano cheese (or Parmesan, if you must). I can't even envision the lifestyle that includes pecorino shortbread more than once - and that one time, it would have been prepared and served by a professional caterer hired by a distant acquaintance.

So I wasn't really ready to be cooperative when they finally released the kid from the torture chamber and told me that her next appointment (to get the stupid things off at long last) would take 1 hour and had to be in the morning. And that it would be followed closely by a retainer-fitting, lasting 15 minutes, but that they didn't have anything late enough in the afternoon to keep me from having to cut out from work early to get her there.

I didn't break anything, not even the pen I dropped in disgust. I didn't even raise my voice. But I embarrassed my daughter, and disconcerted the lady behind the desk who was making the appointments - enough to make her say "Ma'am" in a shocked and annoyed voice. I bet she only works there part time, and is somehow able to afford to live on a cute and tidy ranch up in the mountains somewhere, surrounded by her charming cherubic blond two-year old twins, who feed the llamas every morning without being asked. Those would be the llamas who set the breakfast table each day and decorate it with sprays of seasonal flowers or berries grown right there on the ranch.

After I dropped the daughter at school and came back home in order to get back to work (never mind that I'm sitting here with all this work opportunity and using it to blog), it was 10:15. Nearly two hours spent for her "15 minute" appointment. She missed 2-1/2 hours of school because I was weak and allowed myself to be persuaded that she didn't have to go in before the appointment. My bad there. On the other hand, if I'd sent her to school first, the entire morning would have been lost in retrieving her beforehand - my lost time would have exceeded the 2-1/2 hour point.

I don't know. Maybe I'm asking too much. But wouldn't it be a really great thing if people whose primary clientele has to be somewhere every weekday during the 8-5 timeframe, accordingly set up their own schedules so as to minimize that overlap? Why can't the orthodontist (substitute your favorite inconvenient professional here) have office hours from 10-6 or noon-8 or on (gasp!) Saturdays, so that their clients don't have to miss school (and the parents of those clients miss work) in order to get their teeth straightened? I mean, I find myself pulling all-nighters for my (expletive deleted) clients more often than I'd care to contemplate, despite the fact that they ordinarily want my services during the daylight hours. Can't the orthodontist make a little effort here?

And they need to dump all of the "our life is way better than yours" magazines from the waiting room. I might have been okay if it hadn't been for that.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Minor Bird Rescue

I don't know if it's just that I'm home and working in the den these days, or if there's something sinister going on, but we've had two or three birds nail the big den window within the last week or so. Maybe it's time to get it cleaned so that it's more reflective - or maybe we should splash mud all over it so that it's more obviously a solid surface. I don't know which would be more likely to deter a bird from trying to join us in the house.

The latest victim of our attack window was a female (I think) robin. Hearing the thump, I saw her fall into the Jupiter's Beard below the window, and went out to see if she was okay. Apparently she wasn't - at that moment, anyway - since she let me pick her up. My daughter's home from school today (Fall Mini-Break, whatever that is), so I had her grab the dog to keep her from investigating too. I don't think her motives and mine would have been the same, somehow.

We put the bird into a shoebox lined with old towels (apparently, that's a no-no, because birds' toes can get tangled in terrycloth loops; it's amazing what you can learn on the internet. You should use old t-shirts should you ever have a similar need.) and left her outside, where I could check on her through the window. Despite being stunned, she was breathing really hard, and we could tell she didn't really want us around. I called the vet, who gave me a number to an urban wildlife rescue place, whose phone message told me to call a third number if I needed help with an injured bird. The number for injured birds informed me that their season was "over" (someone forgot to tell the birds), so I got on the Web.

What did we ever do for useful information before Google, anyway? I typed in "injured robin", and although I did find a few sites for Robin Hood legends, I found one that dealt specifically with my problem - what to do for a bird that tries and fails to fly through a plate glass window. Apart from the terrycloth towel faux pas, we had apparently done pretty much the right thing. And when I went out to replace the towels with an old t-shirt, the bird stood up and flew off. I'm glad she's okay.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Friday - At Last!

Lord, how I thought this week would never end! Fall is starting to set in with a vengeance, and it's so dark in the mornings that the stars (that's plural - I could still identify constellations easily) were out quite brilliantly when I went out to get the paper today. I'm a morning person, but when 6:00 am looks just like 1:00 am to an unbiased observer, it's too dark to get up. Doesn't Daylight Savings end soon? I just checked my planner, and it's not listed in either October or November. Either the government's decided we should just stick with Daylight Savings Time this year, or the folks at Franklin-Covey don't have a hard time getting up on winter mornings in the dark, so they don't think anyone else does. Certainly hope it's the latter.

We spent a Christmas week in Seattle a few years back, surprising my husband's oldest daughter, who lives up there with her mom. I'd been up that way a couple of times and never really understood why it has a reputation for yucky weather and general outdoor unpleasantness before that trip. I get it now. During December, the sun rises in Seattle (in Standard Time, mind you) after 10:00 am - and is pretty well set by 3:30 pm! How do they get any work done there? We spent the entire vacation sleeping - no mean feat when we shared the room with my mother-in-law, who was on blood thinners, and consequently needed the room's temperature set around 90 the entire trip (one night, I was so hot I spent about an hour in the bathroom with the door shut, just breathing cold air through an open window).

It's been a rough week on fronts other than morning darkness, though. For starters, I spent one morning having fun at the dentist's (see below). My teeth don't hurt much anymore. Then I had a last-minute job interview and am still sweating the results from one I did last week, for a job I really want. Combined with the fact that I really don't want my current job, the whole job hunting thing is very stressful. Based on my anecdotal experience, the economy appears to be picking up around here. In the past two weeks, I've had two interviews, both unsolicited by me, and a call about another. If nothing else, the odds seem to be improving.

It was really sunny this morning, but about noon, the clouds rolled in and now it looks like it's seriously considering snow. Smells a bit like it too. Around here, because of the wind patterns and the location of the stockyards, impending snow smells faintly of cow manure. Well, I'm ready for it - bought a box of firelogs a while back, and we still have some on hand. Brought the impatiens plants in off the screen porch last night. I don't know if they'll survive the winter indoors or not, but it's worth a try - they grew huge out there this summer, thanks to the drip irrigation that we put in. Nothing like three minutes of water daily to help a tropical annual flourish.


Anyway, the weekend beckons, without much in the way of plans to take the place of doing hardly anything. A little puttering, a little housework, a little shopping. One of our nieces is coming to spend the night Saturday, and we might go to a corn maze or something. A "to do" list full of little stuff.

Sounds good to me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Ow!

About the middle of last week, I started to notice that one of my lower molars had become both temperature and pressure sensitive - it sort of ached when I drank cold water or hot tea or ate anything hard and crunchy. Not much, but enough to make me reconsider using that side of my mouth for those things. And I thought it would be a good idea to see the dentist.

My appointment was this morning, and she found a crack running across the top of the tooth, under a filling, that was the likely culprit. I'm not sure I realized when I set up the appointment just what that might mean. It meant a crown. Before I left the dentist's office, some percentage of my tooth had been ground away and I'd had my mouth filled with gooey modeling compound no fewer than 5 times.

The dentist tells me that bottom molars are a little slow to react to anesthesia. We had a lot of time to discuss how slow they are - I think I must have been sitting there for an hour before I couldn't feel her squirting water on the cracked tooth. I lost count of the syringes of Zylocaine (or whatever it was) she emptied into my jaw.

It's starting to wear off now, and I'm wondering if I did the right thing. Because now my tooth hurts just by existing, and the hinge of my jaw aches from being open so long. And I have a sort of feeling that a headache is looming as well.

This is where the whole "working from home" thing starts to lose its glamour, I think. If I decide to bag it for the remainder of the afternoon, I remain at risk of people calling me here with stupid work-related questions that are hard to answer when my mouth works properly, let alone when I can't articulate some words without screaming - which also hurts. Not their fault or anything, since I told them where to find me.

In two weeks, I'll be getting the permanent crown, as well as a night guard to keep me from gritting my teeth in that area. I'm 100% sure that's what caused the problem in the first place, so I hope it will help.

It's all stress-related. I also hope to make an appointment with my daughter's acupuncturist (she's subject to migraines, and acupuncture is supposed to be one of the ways to make them go away permanently), because it's supposed to be good for stress-related things. Like insomnia. Insomnia is how I know that I grit my teeth, because I wake up at 3:00 am daily and find that they're tightly clenched together.

Something better start working quickly, because I don't want to do this again anytime soon.


Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Satanic Queen of the Freshmen

So the daughter has been participating in the school play for the past month as a member of the stage crew. I'm cool with that; it's the first extracurricular activity she's really been enthusiastic about, and it's something I did in high school and adored. She's been staying after school for ever-longer periods as the date of the play approaches, requiring a parent to fetch her - and the school is not exactly in our neighborhood. More like a half-hour drive on the freeways. But it's cool, like I said, because she's getting involved, and it gives us some leverage to exert if her grades start slipping.

Well, yesterday in the car, she's telling me all about the events of the day, and she tells me that she and fellow stage crew members are going to make their own crew t-shirts. Black with long sleeves and brown lettering so that they can wear them while shifting scenery, and complete with nicknames for everyone. Her nickname?

"Satanic Queen of the Freshmen"

Great.

I mean, it's not like I was praying that she'd go through her adult life as "Muffy" or anything like that, but this really is taking things to the opposite extreme. She swears to me that the "Satanic" part only refers to the fact that her birthday is on Halloween (I'll expand on that below), and that the "Queen of the Freshmen" alludes to her take-charge nature and lack of proper awe for upperclassmen. It's a euphemism for "bossy". She takes after her father, I swear.

The best part of a nickname like that is that, being as long as it is, it probably won't last more than a couple of weeks. And that's when swimming starts, so she'll be able to exchange it for something more...aquatic. Or something.

So, about the whole Halloween birthday thing, as promised. First, it really is her birthday - I was there and I remember. Anyway, a while back, my husband was out in our garage doing something, and he was suddenly besieged by a bunch of little boys who live a couple of houses down the cul-de-sac from us (I told you this was suburbia). What with one thing and another, the talk turned to holidays, and he let slip that our daughter's favorite holiday was Halloween, because it was also her birthday.

"That's the Devil's Day," said one of the boys. "She must be bad, if her birthday's on the Devil's Day."

Yeah. Gimme that prime-time religion.

These kids' parents are home-schooling them so that they can have a say in whom they associate with. I would think that turning them loose saying things like that would do most of their work for them.

It follows as a matter of course that we're turning the front of our yard into a vision of Hell this year - as much as I can stand to drive by, anyway (I don't like scary movies). Just to make sure I don't have to listen to that stuff very often.

Did I mention that the stage crew T-shirts are going to have cockroach pictures on them, because that's how the play's director refers to the crew?

How feminine.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Homework (the joys of telecommuting)

About a week ago, it suddenly dawned on me that my client in New York would not be particularly discommoded if I were sitting in a comfortable armchair with my feet up during the workday, keeping the dog company, rather than sitting bolt upright in a desk chair in an office, keeping nobody but myself company. No dress code (shoot, if I wanted, I could work in jammies - aren't all bloggers clad in jammies?), and I can get odds and ends of house-related stuff done in the times I used to spend standing dumbstruck before the office candy machine. Suddenly, Saturday doesn't have to mean "Laundry Day"! I might even manage to get dinner made in the little snippets of time not spent driving to or from work. This is pretty damn cool!

There are days that I'm not the world's biggest fan of modern technology (perhaps I know too much about how it's held together with chewing gum behind all the smoke and mirrors, or perhaps my work with it has been an instrument of torture for too long), but this isn't one of them. I have a broadband Internet connection and a portable phone that comes equipped with both a speakerphone option and a mute button, and apart from the phone number used to talk to me directly (which, frankly, doesn't happen all that often), nobody can tell that I'm not in an office building. They can't hear the fire crackling in the background, or even the washing machine running. A couple of days ago, though, they did hear the dog. She tends to get a bit excited by people wandering through our front yard, and she often mistakes the neighbors' yard, where they are building a mother-in-law suite and have construction people about, for our yard.

Another advantage to working from home is that the office, quite frankly, is pretty depressing these days. I'm an old-timer with my employer, and have lived through about 3 years of layoffs and dwindling contracts. Another of my friends is leaving this Thursday - the client opted not to renew him for another 6 months and there's nothing else to do that doesn't involve extensive travel, so he is being "separated" (I guess that sounds kinder and gentler than "severed", especially given the times we live in) and sent on his way with a generous severance package. Being at home, I don't see all the empty offices where my friends used to sit (for that matter, I don't see my own office, which used to belong to a very close friend and mentor before she was found to be redundant and expensive last spring). At home, I'm surrounded by my stuff and a bunch of friendly furry animals, and no ghosts at all. Much pleasanter.

Lunch is a better thing when working at home, too - it's way too much trouble to cook myself a double cheeseburger or quarter-pounder with anything at all, but that was the no-effort option when I worked at the office. I can make myself a sandwich or some soup and not worry about where to throw away the knife to avoid food smells or who used the microwave last and what that green stuff on the ceiling of it is. At home, I know what the green stuff is. I put it there myself.

All in all, this seems to be a good deal. Guess I ought to consider rescuing my desk plant one of these days.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Food Confusion

Could someone please tell me what I should eat?

The low-fat diet, with all its green-labeled food products, surfaced about the time my daughter was born, and I got on board enthusiastically. What could be a better way to lose that "baby" fat than by eating SnackWells fat-free fudge marshmallow cookies? The food industry was amazing - fat-free cookies, fat-free popcorn, reduced-fat crackers, reduced fat cheese (which was really nasty - rubbery and tasteless), reduced fat hot dogs, reduced fat salad dressing (another disgusting product) - with all these "substitute foods," we'd soon have to start eating butter by the spoonful to keep from wasting away, right?

Never mind that I didn't manage to lose the baby fat. Never mind that I gained an additional 20 pounds over the next 7 years by choosing low fat alternatives to products I normally bought. "The fat you eat is the fat you wear", said the experts, and I believed it.

At that 20-pound point, I signed up to racewalk in the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, and through training for the race and assiduously recording the calories and fat grams of every bite I ate for 5 months, I lost every one of those 20 pounds. And I kept them off (within about a 5 pound window) for over 3 years. I also finished the race - I've got the shirt to prove it.

But they're back. They started creeping on with the advent of the new millenium, as I watched my friends and co-workers get layoff notices, and as I continued to convince myself that I was lucky to remain employed. I'm a stress eater, and all the massage therapy and exercise and meditation on earth couldn't dispell the stress I was under.

About that same time, people around me began to eat "low carb". Suddenly, we were bombarded by messages like "bacon good, potatoes bad". I really didn't buy into the basis of the low carb craze at all - vegetables, which are all carbs, are good for you. It is a bad idea to eat in such a way that vegetables are banned. But as if in a backlash against the low-fat era, "comfort food" became trendy at the same time. Meat loaf and mashed potatoes showed up on the menu at upscale restaurants - and they were wonderful.

My husband and I did try the South Beach diet for a while - we stuck to the very restrictive Phase 1 for about a week before we couldn't stand it anymore. Eating nothing but protein and a restricted list of vegetables at every meal and snack was kind of nauseating. Two days in, I never wanted to eat another egg again. But I did manage to lose 6 pounds, and I think my husband lost even more than that. Once we added the fruits and veggies permitted in Phase 2, the weight loss stopped dead. So we didn't stick with it for long, and eventually, the 6 pounds returned.

So, how about this idea? I think we'll just stay away from restaurants for a while. We'll do a revolutionary thing and eat at home each night (it's a working mother thing - when I get home after a hard day with the client and my husband asks what's for dinner, the only way I keep from killing him is to suggest that we go somewhere that sells food). Yeah, it'll take a little planning and maybe some extra work, but I'm betting that if we switch from the portions that restaurants offer to the ones that recipes give, we'll lose weight, even through the upcoming holiday seasons and all the requisite candy and cookies. I'm not going to get worked up about carbs or protein or fat or "net" anything; I'm just going to cook things that sound good. We will even eat food that starts out in a box with the word "Helper" on the outside (although in our house, it will be "Bison Helper").


I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

And if you don't like the weather...

Wait 5 minutes - or wait a day or so, in this case. 90 last week, mid-40's yesterday, with snow in the mountains and rain in town. Dry this morning but cloudy (long enough for the roofers to finish shingling the shed!!!) and about 20 minutes ago it started thundering. It's absolutely pouring now (for here anyway - this ain't the Deep South, where a rainstorm closely resembles the inside of a quality car wash) and hailing a bit - first hail we've had here at the house all year, I think.

I have to leave to pick up the daughter from her school stage crew work pretty soon. I hope the hail stops by then.

On the other hand, if it stops the tomatoes, or at least slows them down, I'm all for it - we've been picking upwards of 10 per day recently. Good thing the dog is fond of tomatoes.


Friday, September 17, 2004

Other thoughts on weather - hurricanes, particularly

Now that we've hit Mid-September, it's in the 90's - go figure. I don't know how long it will last, but it's somewhat nice to have some summer weather, even belatedly. Besides, we have a shed to finish building before snow flies in our back yard.

You can probably guess that I don't live anywhere near Florida - and thank God for that! Frankly, watching coverage of hurricanes Bonnie, Charlie, Florence, and Ivan over the past few weeks has caused some flashbacks for me. My husband and I were living in Charleston when Hugo hit in September of 1989, and it was no fun at all.

I was 8 months pregnant at the time, and my husband was in the Navy. His duty during a hurricane warning was to go to work. Mine was to avoid giving birth during the storm in the next-door neighbor's bathtub. So, when I woke up on the morning of the 22nd (I think that's the day it hit) and heard that a school just down the road was to be our neighborhood's evacuation center, it occurred to me that it might make some sense to pack up the family pets and get out of Dodge. My husband thought so too - he preferred not to be distracted in the midst of dealing with all that weather by wondering if I were in labor somewhere.

The dog and cat and I took off for my brother-in-law's house just outside of Atlanta. Despite their lack of general amity, and despite the drive taking something like 7 hours, they sat side-by-side on the back seat of the car without making a sound the entire way. I suspect that they were extremely relieved to be leaving the area.

Well, we got a little rain out of Hugo in Atlanta, but not much else. I stayed up to watch what coverage I could find on TV, but it pretty much stopped when the power went out. From then until my husband found a working phone (late the next morning), I had no information at all. I heard later about the winds that basically broke the Charleston Port Services anemometer, and about the building being moved off its foundation by the wind (that was the event that caused my husband to grab a support pole so tightly that he bent his wedding ring into a 'D' shape), and all the other fun and games. I couldn't even go home for about 3 days, because I-26 was impassable.

A few pointers for those living in hurricane territory:
  • Install your roof shingles with nails, not staples. Staples create a lovely line of weakened spots on the shingle, and act like the perforations in paper towels when the wind blows hard enough.
  • Avoid ridge vents on your roof. They tear out in one single piece, leaving a rather large opening for the rain to come in.
  • Blown-in insulation in the attic is infinitely more of a pain to clean up once it crashes through the ceiling of a bedroom than the kind in a roll would have been. We lost two bedroom ceilings after the rain came through the ridge vent opening and soaked the blown-in insulation.
  • Sugar-sap pine trees have long tap roots, and in enough wind, just bend right over without being uprooted. This is of no use to a homeowner, because they can still poke holes in the roof without uprooting.
  • You can cook nearly anything on a propane grill. As we emptied out the neighborhood freezers in the week and a half we were without power, we ate really well. Venison, red beans and rice, spaghetti, shrimp, all sorts of great stuff.
  • A generator is not really intended to power anything that produces electric heat. Hair dryers and irons brought it to its knees every time.
  • Cash comes in extremely handy in the first days after the storm. It's amazing how much is available for sale, but if there's no power or phones, they can't get approval for your credit card purchases, and the ATMs don't work.

To this day, our pantry is generally over-full of canned and dry goods. We just can't seem to shake that hurricane mentality.

For what it's worth, our daughter wasn't born for another month and a half - which allowed us to get the house back into livable condition just in time. The day we left for the hospital, I spent several hours taping and mudding one of those bedroom ceilings. It's amazing what you can do when you have to.


Friday, August 27, 2004

Winter in August (darn near)

About 1:00 am today, it started raining - loud enough to wake me up. Although I imagine I was a bit attuned to the sound last night, having left my car outside (usually it lives in the garage, but my husband has started work on a shed he is building as a garage annex, and I thought it might be uninhabitable) and not wanting to have it hailed on. It's still raining, 12 hours later. Probably a fairly normal occurrence in many parts of the country; almost unheard of here. I'm not sure I like it much.

On August 27th, at 1:30 pm local time, it is 50 degrees out according to the handy Desktop Weather thingie from weather.com. I had the heat on in my car at lunch. I saw people at work today wearing coats. In August! Something has gone sadly awry. It's supposed to snow at the Continental Divide this afternoon/evening. In August!

The whole summer here has been cooler and wetter than usual - good for ending our drought, but unsettling. I bought some Halloween-themed decorations at the local Ross-Dress-For-Less this past week, and was a little startled to realize that we really couldn't use them for another 2 months. I've begun planning for the autumn and winter holidays already - what to eat on Thanksgiving, Christmas present lists, stuff like that. Normally, I'm not moved to do any of that planning until it really is Fall (which doesn't occur for another month, almost - not that you could tell...). I keep thinking that I've forgotten to stock up on fake fire logs (the ones made out of sawdust and paraffin) - until I look at the calendar.

I am still wearing sandals to work, sans socks. Part of the reason behind that is that I have large feet (10-1/2, which is not officially a size that women's shoes come in), and my lovely Birkenstocks are much more comfortable than anything else I own, and part of it is because my employer has instituted a new dress code requiring that we abstain from denim except on Fridays and Birkenstocks are my way of subtly protesting. But I may have to abandon my protest sooner than I planned, if it continues to be this cold.

Good sleeping weather, though. We swapped the quilt for the duvet about a week ago. That had a little to do with one of the cats (I won't go into details), but it's been cold enough that the duvet's down filling feels mighty good at night.

The only thing that is really worrying me is, what's it going to be like when Winter really does come? Maybe I'd better get those logs now after all...

Thursday, August 05, 2004

School

Wow - I just realized that school starts in 12 days. How did that happen? Didn't the summer really just get started? Last time I looked, I was still reveling in having the sun rise before I do, and all of a sudden, we're out buying school supplies and school clothes.

The latter of which is finally getting a bit easier, thank heaven. For the past few years, since my daughter stopped accepting the wardrobe I chose for her at face value, buying clothes has been an occasion to be dreaded. My desire to dress her decently conflicted violently with her desire to fit in with how all her friends dressed (which, in my perhaps too often and too forcibly stated opinion, was like miniature prostitutes). Worse yet, it was very hard to find anything I considered "decent" in the stores. Our compromise has been the standard jeans-and-logo-t-shirt uniform. Not optimum, since it involves paying to advertise something, but better than all that exposed skin.

This year, the weekly fashion section has been running articles praising the return of the preppy look - interviews with Lily Pulitzer, and pictures of teenagers in polo shirts with the collars up. My joy was unrestrained - looking like her friends will now involve looking somewhat like she's in transit between the golf course and the tennis courts, and I can deal with that. Never mind that her polo shirts button to the navel and require a coordinated camisole under them in order to preserve decency. Both her father and I were able to shop for clothes with her this summer, without a single shouting match - how cool is that? Freaked her out no end, too, as we were going through the racks with enthusiasm, offering to buy her various garments.

I think I missed out on the school supply shopping trip this year, and that might be all for the best. I'm fairly sure that I inherited the "school supply" gene from both parents, and the sight of tidy stacks of notebooks and boxes of unsharpened pencils and the like starts my heart beating a bit faster. When I was in school, I'd buy my supplies the moment they showed up in the stores, and reorganize them on my desk each day until I actually had to use them. My husband has the school supply gene too, but he isn't quite as susceptible as I am, so it's generally slightly cheaper if he participates in that sort of shopping. In me, the gene leads to spending like a drunken sailor on not only school supplies, but office supplies of any sort, hardware, kitchen gadgets, craft stuff, and sewing notions. You should see my collection of multicolored 4x6 index cards, and the tiny pens that are worn on the second finger rather like a ring (The idea is that you can keep them on your finger when typing, and that they'll be right there handy should you need to write something down on paper. They don't really work, but they're pretty cool, nonetheless.)

In case it isn't obvious, I really loved school. I've been out of college 21 years (yeouch! has it really been THAT long?), and I still miss it. At the beginning of each school year, I would plunge into my homework with enthusiasm, although I regret to say the enthusiasm didn't always make it through the year. I wish I could spend large parts of my days now just absorbing knowledge. That might account for my willingness to watch The History Channel at nearly any hour (which my daughter deplores, I might add). Occasionally, I'll run across the scent of dying weeds on an early fall morning and it transports me directly to the middle of the walk to school, and I could nearly weep. It probably doesn't help that my current office is only about 500 yards from my old elementary school, and within walking distance of two childhood homes and two other schools I attended; the drive to work each morning is a parade of nostalgia.

Well, gosh - time flies (my daughter could say "tempus fugit", since she's been taking Latin, which is the "cool" foreign language at her school, but she probably wouldn't). Wish I'd been having more fun this summer.

Does anyone else get all misty-eyed remembering the smell of freshly-produced, still-damp dittos?

Friday, July 30, 2004

Garden Redux

So we're starting to get the zucchini invasion under control, primarily through strict discipline in visiting it regularly and nipping the new fruits in the bud (literally). But the tomatoes are threatening to open a second front any second, and with our wet weather this summer, they have the resources for it.

We planted only 6 tomato plants this year, and we pushed the last frost date boundary a bit when we planted them, without using wall-o-waters, too. By rights, we should have been punished with stunted plants struggling just to stay alive, not to speak of producing fruit. Instead, our tomato plants resemble an impenetrable equatorial jungle. They're as tall as I am (and I'm NOT short), and have grown so much horizontally that they're intertwined. They'd make a great hedge.

Now, if I remember correctly, the productive gardener is supposed to pinch off bits of tomato plants to force them to flower and set fruit. Fail to pinch, and you only get a few tomatoes, or so I've read. We haven't touched these plants, except to move them out of the way while we were picking zucchini. So, of course, they're overburdened with fruit - go figure. The individual tomatoes are packed so tightly that picking one ripe one has dislodged some of the green ones. They look like grapes in there.

My daughter dealt with the sudden abundance of sugar snap peas for us - over the course of about two weeks, she ate all of them as snacks. I'm counting on her to do her part when the cherry tomatoes start ripening. The rest of them we can peel, pulverize in the blender, and freeze for use in spaghetti sauce and soup this winter, so at least they won't go to waste. And tomatoes are far more popular than zucchini - we can probably offer them to neighbors openly, instead of leaving them on the front step in the dark of night.

As for the zucchini, we dealt with some of the larger ones by shredding and freezing them in two-cup batches, so we can have zucchini bread during the winter. Well, maybe - I don't know how well zucchini freezes. I'll post an update after we thaw some out the first time.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Zucchini

We were very sensible with the garden this year.  I swear, we only planted ONE zucchini plant!  And up until last Tuesday, I'd been visiting it daily, picking zucchini when they were a manageable size.  I even managed to find a few willing zucchini recipients, and offloaded about 4 of them.  I thought I had everything under control, although I have to admit, the "manageable" zucchini were starting to pile up in the vegetable drawer of the fridge. 
 
Well, it got away from me - I should have known better.  I went out on Saturday morning after a busy workweek to see what had grown enough to pick, and found not one, but THREE two-foot long green baseball bats in the zucchini plant.  They're now on the kitchen counter, since they're too big for the vegetable drawer, looking for all the world like giant speckled green slugs.
 
What is with that plant, anyway?  Either you get nothing (this can happen, if your summer lands in a really bad drought), or the thing propagates like the cockroach of the vegetable world. 
 
And what does one do with the stuff?  Loaves 3 and 4 of zucchini bread are in the kitchen, and I don't know how much more we can consume.  We sliced one zucchini up and grilled it in a bit of olive oil, and that was quite good, but my family is fairly easily bored with food, so it's not something we could have for dinner every night.  We put it in salads - but at the rate of about 1/4 zucchini per salad.  We don't like it steamed/boiled, so those methods are not an option, and since freezing renders it fit only for steaming or boiling, we can't freeze it.  And the neighbors' plants are starting to produce on their own, so I can't give it away, either.  Pity it's not a closer relative of the loofah, or we'd be fixed for bathing accessories.
 
I'm not looking for suggestions here - I merely post this as a warning to others.  

Friday, July 16, 2004

Shopping for Clothes

When my husband shops for clothes, he generally is able to do it in well-ordered surroundings.  All the pants are in one general area, grouped by size and style, and maybe even by color.  Shirts are ranged in tidy racks, easily visible for quick and efficient selection.  Suits – the same thing.  Socks, ties, sweaters; it’s just incredibly easy to find out if what one is looking for is available in any given Men’s department.

Why do they torment us women?

I had a job interview recently, and since it had been a while since I had to wear anything as formal as socks to work, I thought it would be a good idea to buy something businesslike to wear to the interview.  My quest – that’s what it ended up being, anyway – led me through both floors of every major department store in the local mall before finding something in the “Jones New York” department of one of them.

You see, women’s clothing is not organized by garment or anything useful.  In most chain department stores, it’s organized by manufacturer (designer, if you will; it amounts to the same thing).  Sometimes, they have a couple of layers of organization – instead of the “Jones New York” department, you might find yourself in the “Jones New York Casual”, or worse yet, the “Jones New York Casual Petite” department.  They have really nice looking stuff in the “Jones New York Casual Petite” department – nice looking stuff that is not replicated in a normal size in the “Jones New York Casual” department, either.  But that’s an entirely different rant (where I will also discuss the utter non-existence of size 10-1/2 shoes).  Some stores are worse yet, and name their departments with words that offer no clue whatever to the goods on offer – I mean, what exactly is for sale in the “Outlook” department?

Now, I’ve heard a theory about why stores are arranged in this horrible fashion (no pun intended).  Men, traditionally being the “hunters” referred to in the term “hunter-gatherer”, and women being the “gatherers”, the theory posits that men are only happy and willing to spend money when they can make a beeline to the item for which they are hunting, while women like to wander aimlessly, gathering the odd garment that strikes their eye.

Well, maybe that held true when women were homemakers with the entire schoolday to fill with shopping for clothes.  But I have a full-time (and more) job, compounded by responsibilities to my family, and I don’t find it fun at all to spend an entire day trying to find one lousy dress.  And I know I’m not the only woman in the same situation.  Wouldn’t you expect that the stores would change to make our lives easier?

George Zimmer, if you’re listening – I want a Women’s Warehouse!


Thursday, July 15, 2004

“Beauty” Salons and Me

I’m about to go get another haircut; it’s something I feel compelled to do every so often, despite the results.  You think I’d learn…

I have fine, slightly wavy hair, and I have learned, over the course of my life with this hair, that I need to tell it what to do; left to its own devices, it tends to leave me looking lumpy and nerdly and utterly peculiar. So a blow-dryer and one of those round metal hairbrushes figure largely in my mornings, and in general, I can persuade my hair to lie smooth and look like it’s full.

But if I go to a beauty salon for a “cut and blow dry”, I leave looking unbelievably awful.
Frumpy.
Matronly.
Middle-Aged.
Definitely not “beautiful”.

It galls me to think that total strangers who see me in such a state might think that I planned to look like that. And they do see me – beauty salons are in public places, after all.

We were out of town last spring for a family wedding, and with time to kill one morning, my husband and I went to get our hair cut. I told the stylist that I wanted a blunt cut about one inch shorter than the hair I went in with. I’m still not sure what happened between my uttering the words “blunt cut” and her hearing the words “just like Morticia Adams”, but obviously something went wrong with the great cosmic consciousness that morning. After cutting and drying my hair, she attacked it with a straightening iron, making sure that every hair on my head was dead straight.  As in plastered to my skull.  Not really a good look for me.

All right, I can hear you saying it. Why didn’t I stop her? And I think that’s an excellent question. It’s like I’m hypnotized or something. All I can do is stare in horror as I am turned into the spitting image of Cher or an Irish Setter or something, watching my face in the mirror trying very hard to look as if that was my life’s ambition. Under normal circumstances, I look at the finished product front and back (with that hand-mirror they give you), and tell the stylist, “Yes. Much better, thanks” in a faint, wispy sort of voice. I maintain the stiffening fa├žade of delight long enough to pay my bill and add a tip (!) and make an escape. Whenever possible, I then drive straight home, soak the whole mess, and re-dry it so that I look normal again. It’s a grueling experience, if you ask me.

And I’m about due again…

Howdy!

By way of introduction, I live in Suburbia, with a husband, a daughter, a dog, two cats, and a fishtank. I'm an IT consultant who has so far survived the extraordinary downturn in my industry; I'm sure it's a matter of pure luck, considering the incredible people I saw go through the "fun" of layoffs. Although I suppose it's possible that they laid off all the superstars, and the reason I'm still here, ... no, it can't be that!

I've always liked to write; I kept a journal from the time I was 13 until I was 28, usually writing at the end of a day, blank book propped on my knees in bed. Even now, I find myself polishing and revising e-mails to my friends before sending them, so a blog seems like the natural extension of that urge. It's just that now, my "e-mails" are addressed to anyone who cares to read them.

As I said in my blog description, I don't really know what subjects I'm likely to write about. If you want to come along for the ride, welcome!