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.