Tuesday, December 30, 2008

50 Book Challenge

This was my third year doing the 50 Book Challenge. A community on Live Journal is dedicated to reading at least 50 books each year. In 2006, I just made it. In 2007, I read 72 books. In 2008, I have just finished 50. And completed four courses toward my Masters Degree, not that I am making excuses.

Next year, I plan to post each of my individual reads here, but for now I thought I would put down the complete list from 2008:

Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World
Bill Clinton

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed
Alan Alda

The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Kim Edwards

The Tales of Beedle the Bard
J.K. Rowling


The Thorn Birds
Colleen McCullough

Portnoy's Complaint
Philip Roth

Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol
Tom Mula

Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope
Jenna Bush

Inside Mrs. B's Classroom
Leslie Baldacci

Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Me
Patti Boyd

Dispatches From the Edge
Anderson Cooper

Alex and Me
Irene Pepperberg

The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader
Ryder Windham

Marley and Me
John Grogan

My Dark Places
James Ellroy

Tropic of Cancer
Henry Miller

Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
Julia Alvarez

Nine Parts of Desire
Geraldine Brooks

X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep the World from Sucking
Jeff Gordinier

An Unfinished Season
Ward Just

A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole

The Big Sleep
Raymond Chandler

Meg Greenfield

Emma: The Many Facets of Emma Thompson
Chris Nickson

Darcy's Story
Janet Aylmer

A Gentleman in Charleston and the Manner of His Death
William Baldwin

Nathaniel Philbrick

Ian McEwan

The Winds of War
Herman Wouk

Crazy Horse: Hoka Hay!
Vinson Brown

Letters from Yellowstone
Diane Smith

The Children's Blizzard
David Laskin

The Master Butcher's Singing Club
Louise Erdrich

Measure of a Man
Sidney Poitier

Bodily Harm
Margaret Atwood

The Diana Chronicles
Tina Brown

The Dumas Club
Arturo Perez-Reverte

Who Killed the Robins Family
Bill Adler

Joan Didion

Rosemary's Baby
Ira Levin

V: The Second Generation
Kenneth Johnson

I Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans
Jason Berry

Streetwise Marketing
Don Debelak

Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message
Jackie Huba and Bill McConnell

One Dead in Attic
Chris Rose

Turn of the Screw
Henry James

Bob Greene

Geraldine Brooks

Rhett Butler's People
Donald McCaig

I have just learned that Blogger does not take Excel spreadsheets.

Shoes Again

I have been on a mission from God for a pair of decent boots. I have cute leather ankle boots, but last year’s attempt at something warm and relatively waterproof that did not involve the word Ugg failed miserably. I looked online and found some stuff, but I really have to try shoes on before I buy them.

Famous Footwear: Nothing in my size.

DSW: Nothing in my size.

Carsons: I called my mother. I was one of the horrible people on her cell phone in the shoe department.

Me: I could spend $70 on a warmish pair of Naturalizers or go to Dick’s Sporting Goods and spend $100 on some rock-solid-not-a-flake-of-snow will get through them boots.

Her: Or you could spend $170 and get both.

Not helpful. I went to Dick’s. Nothing. In. My. Size.

Finally, I get to Sports Authority. Their boots do not come in half sizes, which was terribly inconvenient. Know what is even more inconvenient? The pair that I bought was not on the website, so you have to settle for my picture:

You probably can’t read that tag, but it says “-25° F”. Meaning that my feet will not get cold until it is 25 degrees below zero. $55 after taxes and my cool coupon. But once I traipse through the winter slush in them, I can hardly wear them around the office. So I went back to Famous Footwear for these:

And because they are still running BOGO ½ OFF, I picked up a gift for Alex. His fourth birthday is next month. He loves basketball and I am pretty sure his next Rite of Passage is the Tying of the Shoes. I'm being encouraging and stuff:

Seriously, how cute is that?

The three combined still cost less than $100, thank you very much. Why am I telling you another shopping story? Because it took me over a week to find a pair of boots!

No Way.

Eloise, the African Grey I am fostering (pictured for reference), can whistle "Bridge on the River Kwai".

Just now, when she was doing it, I heard a second whistle: Kiwi the Grey chiming in. Maybe I am going all anthropomorphic, but I think Kiwi is trying to learn it.

The Great American Popcorn Company

Galena, Illinois is a little town in the northwest corner of Illinois, right on the Mississippi River. Galena is famous for two things: the home of General U.S. Grant and the most historic homes per capita in the United States. These homes are all Bed and Breakfasts now, so Galena is also a very serious weekend getaway spot for Chicagoans.

My sister-in-law, Becky, grew up the next town over from Galena. So every year, someone brings us a bottle of the local sparling wine, Merry Merry Cranberry. And this year, Becky's mom sent us some popcorn from my favorite place, The Great American Popcorn Company. They makes tons of flavors of popcorn, so if you are a fan, you must check it out.

My favorites are French Vanilla, which is a caramel corn with vanilla flavoring, and Zesty Ranch, which is a cheese popcorn with Ranch seasoning. My friend, Rich, swears by the Rootbeer Float. It has root beer flavored caramel and is covered in white chocolate. I find it tasty, but a bit too much to eat for real.

I have used the online ordering and been pleased with the speed of processing and shipment. But seriously, if you are anywhere near Galena, you should visit!

Late Sort of Christmas Present

Over the holidays, my Chief IT Guy e-mailed to ask me to come into the office while I was on vacation. He was going to be in town from Washington and wanted to set up my shiny new Blackberry.

I didn't really need a new Blackberry. But apparently they want to upgrade us all at the same time. Want to see what my new Blackberry can do?

Yeah. It's a crappy picture, but that's because of the lighting. I have a Blackberry that takes pictures!

I love my job.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Scruples Salon and Spa

On that same trip to Hallmark, I walked by the Scruples Salon and Spa in Glenview. There was a big sign on the door that said they were running a special this month - 60 minute facial or massage for $39.95. That is called, "Worth the experiment". I walked in to see if they could get me in any time before the end of the month. Lady in front said that she just that minute had a guy call to cancel and she could take me right then. Fate or total scam? You be the judge.

The truth is that I had been there before, but for my hair, not for the spa. The stylist did an ok job, but I wasn't thrilled with the color and there is nothing at all to cutting my hair so I never bothered to go back.

The aesthetician, as I think they are called, showed me the room and waited for me to change. When she came back, she asked all of the right questions and made a couple of good observations. Namely that I don't wear enough SPF and it is starting to show in real, grown up damage to my skin. (Sigh.)

The table was squeaky, which was distracting. She also had to move it, with me already lying down, more than once because the room was so small and not everything was in her reach. But the most distracting thing? She wore plastic gloves the entire time. So if the "relaxing" is important to you, this is not the place to go.

On the plus side, it seemed a very functional facial (although the jury is out for a good week until I know nothing caused another break out), and no one tried to sell me anything. In fact, the aesthetician actually said that if I don't want to pay for a fancy exfoliator, I should use sugar and olive oil.

The regular price of the treatment I had is $65, which is pretty standard for a no-frills, clear-your-skin facial. I wouldn't recommend it for "spa day". But for $39.95? Get in there before the end of the month!

Where I Draw the Line

Among the 10,000 Christmas ornaments in my house are several pieces from Star Wars. Millenium Falcons and X-Wing fighters and even a couple of Darth Vaders. I got into a scuffle with my sister-in-law, whose only allowable ornaments are hand-crafted by someone she knows personally. She said:

"Darth Vader has nothing to do with Christmas!" I shouted back:

"Christmas is about being with the people you love!"

I walked into a Hallmark store, on a (failed) mission from my mother. I saw this:

I couldn't do it. Not even for 40% off. The Emperor does not belong on the Christmas tree.

I must be going soft or something.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Writers' Theatre - The Maids

I just got back from seeing The Maids, the current production at Writers' Theatre. I am sorry to say I was not impressed with this one. At first I thought the actors were over-acting, but really it was the story.

Two maids, sisters, have a game of mocking the mistress and each other while she is away. The fantasy goes so far as acting out how they might kill her. It is difficult to see where the fantasy ends and where they are just plain crazy, which may be part of the point. But I wasn't all that interested in figuring it out. None of the three characters were sympathetic. I was just waiting around to see if someone actually died.

If this had been an adapted novel, I might pick it up to see where/if the adaptation went wrong. But it seems to have been an original, if translated, piece.

This is a good example of the down side to Writers' Theatre. The upside is that they do cool things that you would never see anywhere else. The downside is that sometimes there is a reason you wouldn't see them anywhere else.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

As I am Getting the New iPod Loaded

You may have a gratuitous picture of the dog. This is Shadow, after his Christmas bone, in his favorite spot in the family room.

No, this was not her real Christmas Gift.

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is what I made my mother for Christmas. Decorative felt thingy that goes over a chair.

Why did my mother get this disgustingly cutesy thingy? Because I actually managed to put it together without any assistance from her. First time ever.

And she was surprised.

Friday, December 26, 2008


I brought home Eloise, an African Grey parrot from the Refuge to foster for a couple of weeks. She has been ill with a fungal infection and requires medication twice a day. She started picking at her feathers again in the last week so I want to keep an eye on her.

She doesn't seem to have any vocabulary, but is starting to chirp a bit. She takes her meds pretty easily and steps up well. Very nice bird.

Except. When Greys are upset, they have a very distinct vocalization that starts out like a small dog growling and escalates into something resembling the screams of a tortured alien being. Eloise whips out the growl pretty easily.

The bad news is she is not interested in making friends with my Grey, Kiwi. But the good news is that she is not bothered by the dog.
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Race. Or Schools and Money.

The Tribune ran a really interesting article about how and why Chicago remains an incredibly racially segregated city.

Part of the theory, which I buy, is that “new” cities, like Charlotte and Austin are having an easier time of it. “Old” cities like Chicago have certain behaviors ingrained that are really difficult to “undo”.

My parents moved to the area in the mid-1970’s. My dad grew up in New York, my mother in Cincinnati. They didn’t really know Chicago. I asked my dad not long ago how he chose our north suburban town as a place to raise his children. He said that he looked in a book for the optimum of two factors: the quality of the schools against the tax rates.

Schools and money.

(Please note, however, that my house was also about a 20 minute drive from where he worked.)

My street was about 1/3 white Protestant, 1/3 white Jewish and 1/3 Asian. My elementary school had plenty of kids from different countries and religions. But there were only two African American families. And I can’t remember any Hispanic kids until high school.

I went to a seriously multi-cultural university. It was crammed down our throats, actually. A professor in my freshman that cleared it up for me: we may all be different colors, but were very similar in one way: our parents were white collar professionals with college degrees.

Schools and money.

Now. Would I consider living on the South Side of Chicago?

No. I wouldn’t.

From the article:

“One theory posits that whites associate black neighborhoods with high crime and poor-quality schools. A recent study conducted in the Chicago and Detroit areas by the University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Michigan found that whites consistently rate a neighborhood higher when its residents are white regardless of the physical quality of the neighborhood.”

It’s not the skin color of the neighbors. It is the fact that Chicago just hit the 500 mark in the number of murders. I associate that with gangs and guns on the South Side. I am not saying that is right, or rational, but that is how it works in my brain.

Another point made in that article is that we move where there are people we know. My grandfather lives in Lincoln Park. Why would I move all the way to the South Side when my grandfather lives in Lincoln Park? For some people it is finding a neighborhood with the right church – which I seem to remember reading tend to be rather segregated as well. In fact, I am pretty sure I once read that the workplace is the only place that is integrating well.

Schools and money. That is my theory.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

And He's Off!

I love NORAD's Santa Tracker. Above is a video from their Santa website. It is 8:21 a.m. Central Time and Santa is currently in Palau. He seems to have already hit Australia and a bunch of Pacific islands.

I could watch this all day, but I am supposed to be at the Refuge and have a couple of errands to run today. The weather is not cooperating, as usual.

WGN News has been at O'Hare this whole time. Among those interviewed are two guys from California that flew here for the Bears/Packers game. on Monday night. Tuesday, flights were cancelled right and left. The last I heard, last night, they wouldn't be able to catch a flight home until Christmas morning. 48 hours in the airport over Christmas.

Dude, I'd be turning into Culkin's mother in Home Alone right about then. Anyway. Here's hoping you are where you want to be for the holidays. And if you aren't..start planning to make it happen for next year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

How to Get Alex to Agree to Anything

First, promise him Macaroni and Cheese. Then, produce a computer game.

I took him to the Marriott Lincolnshire yesterday afternoon. The plan was to have dinner and stay at the hotel, then see Aladdin at the children's theatre in the morning.

It was already dark and freaking cold when we arrived. We get to the room and I say:

"We can order room service and watch football right here. Or we can go downstairs to the bar."

He wanted to go to the bar. Nice.

We watched the Vikings go down. And the Eagles. Then we went up to the room and I loaded the game. Dora the Explorer and the Backpack Adventure. I am still amazed by the way this child - not yet four - totally gets the computer. What this picture does not show is the Giants/Panthers game on the television. He insisted on both.

Then we had some Charlie Brown Christmas and he went to bed with little fuss.

Aladdin was not so successful. He freaked out and we had to leave. Back at his house, I asked what the problem was. The loud? The dark? The people?

The people. He doesn't like actors.
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Christmas Shopping

I am very done Christmas shopping.

I do not buy gifts for that many people, so it isn't a terribly big feat. I did a lot online. In fact, I am wondering if it is time to sign up for the rewards program at toysrus.com. I am not physically setting foot into that store again.

Ben Stein was talking on CBS Sunday Morning, about something that I have been pondering. I have been half serious about saving money. Fiscal responsibility beginning at home and whatever. Stein, who always preaches conservative finances, was saying that those of us that can afford it ought to spend some money and support the economy. And he went even further to make a plea for charitable giving, which is clearly suffering this year.

Did I mention that my building's Toys for Tots collection was barely half of what we pulled together last year?

So first, let me say one more time that I am extremely grateful for my job. My company is fabulous and my boss is wonderful and we are as stable as anyone could hope right now.

Second, I just realized that I haven't yet made my annual contribution to Best Friends Animal Society. I shall go do that now. You can sponsor an animal at the sanctuary for $25 a year!

The Carbon Footprint of Digital Books

Could I have a more pretentious title for a post?

"Ask Umbra", which seems to be a MSN column on all things green, did a piece on paper vs. digital books. Which is greener?

The answer seems to be that if you keep your Kindle for any reasonable length of time and actually use it, you will be doing the Earth some good.

I don't care. I like books.

What prompted me to write about it was this:

"A MS candidate named Greg Kozak pitted textbooks against e-book devices [PDF] in 2003. He found that paper production, electricity of printing operations, and personal transportation were the main factors affecting the book footprint, while electricity was the main issue for e-readers; and that books were responsible for four times the greenhouse emissions as e-readers."

Generally, my courses at BU are offering electronic versions of textbooks. I am not sure if the practice is as high a priority for the on-campus students, or we online students are the primary beneficiaries. But I am not going for them. I like having the book in my hands. I like that I don't always have to be on the computer to do my homework.

I generally read newpapers online (although I do get the Sunday Tribune. Coupons and bird cage liner. Sorry.) and I pay my bills online and I use e-mail far, far more than I write letters.

But I am not giving up books any time soon. You can read the the entire article here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The End of the Semester

The final exam seemed easy, but was full of trick questions. Like when there is a fill in the blank that has four blanks, suggesting that four words will go there. I look at the answers. They all pretty much make sense, but no magic words are jumping out. But. Three of the answers are three words long. The fourth answer has four words. To go in four blanks. So I pick it.


I was pretty ticked at myself for falling for the trick questions. But my classmates are ticked at the professor. Apparently they think that writing trick questions tests our knowledge of the English language instead of our knowledge of the material. I think that I was being intellectually lazy on a couple of questions and deserved the grade I received. There was, after all, a curve.

I have been know to argue a grade, but this time I am taking my B+ and running.

I have ordered my books for the next class - Accounting - and am now settling down for a long winter's nap.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How Evil is HR?

Patrick Erwin at Careerbuilder.com wrote a short article on 5 Job Blogs You Should be Reading.


But wait. What is this? Punk Rock HR?!

So I look at her stuff. The writer, Laurie Ruettimann, worked in HR for a good stretch and is now writing about it. And consulting, it seems. I agree with much of what she says. And then.

I see her blogroll. And I click on EvilHRLady. I say this stuff all the time! I could be writing this! Except that I. Don’t. Dare.

“Not being friends with the boss is not a protected class. This, in my way of thinking, means that you don't have any claim of discrimination if the boss pays his BFF more than he is paying you, or rather the other entry level workers. You may see it as stupid, he may see it as being generous to an old friend.”

Declaring things that are “not a protected class” is something I do regularly. Another one is, “It’s not discrimination if he is a jerk to everyone.”

EvilHRLady gave sound advice after making that point, but she made the point, which I appreciate. Employees regularly instruct me on “their labor rights” and what is “illegal”. Generally, they don’t know what they are talking about.

Anyway. EvilHRLady is also an active HR practitioner at a Fortune 500 company. It doesn’t look like she is blogging about her employer or co-workers in particular, but she is giving advice. Again, I wouldn’t dare. The lawyers got to me when I was really young.

But now that I know that there are HR people like me..and they are writing…I might never get off the Internet.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stupid Hard Drive

After spending all day at Scott's house, my hard drive was re-installed. I went home and re-installed MS Office. It was very easy. You know what was a pain? Waiting for 12 months of updates to reinstall. I was up until midnight.

Then today, I realized that I had to reinstall iTunes.

I had backed up my Library on a flash drive. All but five songs that I had purchased more recently. It is hard to remember the "transfers" from the "import" and whatever else. How can it be so easy to get my pictures back from Picasa and such a pain to get my music back in the same place? It was all on my iPod.

I must say Google wins.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Save the Rainforest for Christmas

The last couple of years, my grandfather and I having been doing donation gifts for each other at Christmas time. One year I gave him a donation to The Elephant Santuary, along with a print of a painting one of the elephants did. Seriously, with a paintbrush she held in her trunk. I daresay it was the best gift ever.

This year, he started early and I received an e-mail with this certificate. Since The Natural Resources Defense Council made it all Blog friendly, I thought I should give them a plug. You can read more about saving the Costa Rican rainforests here.

Because I Had to Reinstall Picasa 3

A crappy picture of where Kiwi the Grey has been hanging out lately.
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My brother looked at my laptop and all of its stuff. He makes some calls. He figures out that the problem with my hard drive is covered under my one-year warranty. I bought it on December 16, 2007.

While on the phone with the manufacturer, Toshiba, he is told that the warranty expired yesterday. Their records show the purchase as having been made on December 12, 2007.

I get online to my Best Buy account. I made the purchase December 16. I called Toshiba back. They said they have conflicting information, so I should call their Warranty Department on Monday morning. I have two choices:

1. Make the call on Monday. If Toshiba behaves properly, they will make a correction and give me the name of a local authorized repair person. Monday after work would be the earliest that I could drop it off. If Toshiba stonewalls, I am waiting 7-10 days to receive the bill copy I requested from Best Buy and taking Toshiba to Round 2.

2. Drive the 10 minutes to Best Buy, spend $85 for a new hard drive and fix it right now.

My sister-in-law, Becky, tells me that $85 is worth fighting for, with the underlying implication being that these companies get away with behaving badly because people won't fight for what they are due.

Yeah. I know. And what do you think I did?

I spent the money.

As my nice brother is downloading or configuring or something, I called my mother and gave her the two options. Here's what I got:


Thank you, Ma'am, for the validation.

Friday, December 12, 2008

End of the Semester

I have taken the final exam and now have 4 ½ weeks off from school. I have three more working days until I am done for the holidays (although really, I must get better about using my vacation time earlier in the year).

I am mostly done with my Christmas shopping. Just one co-worker and some stocking stuffers. I am satisfied that I have successfully supported the economy without spending more than I can afford.

I have eight books to read in order to complete the 50 Book Challenge. I expect to finish two by the end of the weekend.

However. My laptop has been giving me the, “Dude, seriously. Your hard drive is about to crash,” message every 10 minutes. I am taking it to my brother the quasi-techie tomorrow.

Tonight, I plan to do absolutely nothing.

After I stop at the Refuge for an hour to close up.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The News Today

I first saw the headline on MSN:

Feds: Governor tried to 'auction' Obama's seat
Blagojevich arrested, accused of 'corruption crime spree' over appointment

I had been in meetings all morning and was hours behind the news. My jaw dropped to the floor. My co-worker, Augie, thinks that I am dumb. Even knowing in my gut that Governor Blagojevich is corrupt, I was stunned that he could sink so low. There is an old saying in my family:

He should be sent to jail for being stupid.

Yes. I understand that we are Innocent Until Proven Guilty. And I still believed the story immediately.

The Chicago Tribune, which is actually a part of the drama (as opposed to just reporting it), has tons of links to different angles of the story. But here is what I want you to know:

We knew that he was doing bad things. We knew he was being investigated. We knew it would all catch up with him sooner or later. And now...

We don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rather Out of Commission

I came back to town. The baby niece arrived. Much Christmas shopping was done.

Now, I am cramming for my final exam on Friday. While my laptop is threatening to crash. I am exhausted.

Give me a week and I promise to find things to say.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What I Saw Today

Out the back of our parking lot is an abandoned Smokey Bones restaurant. We cross this parking lot often on our way to other places at lunchtime.

Today, on my way out, I saw a minivan. Doing donuts* in the snow.

I went to Taco Bell, had lunch, read my book. On my way back, the minivan was still there. He was joined by a little black Honda. They were both doing donuts in the snow in the abandoned parking lot.

The Honda got so close it kicked the snow up at me. Displeased.

* Anne has determined that "donuts" are the circles in the snow, while "doughnuts" are the pastry.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ainslie Elizabeth

I am not much for newborns. They pretty much all look the same to me. If not for the outfit (which you can rest assured that I did not purchase for her), I would never be able to tell her apart from the newborn pictures of her brother, Alex.

But here she is, my niece Ainslie:

P.S. I've been buying her clothes. On Thursday night, when I went over to my brother's house to stay with Alex, I brought an outfit with a black top and white patterned pants. My sister-in-law, Becky, had already purchased the exact same outfit..for Boxing Day at my house.

Plug for a Guy I Used to Know

So. We have all heard of Digg, right? Community of people that surface and vote on cool stuff on the Internet. I am not a member, but I appreciate the idea and if I thought my life could stand five more minutes of hanging out of the Internet, I would hang out there.

Digg has a weekly podcast called Diggnation where the founder, Kevin Rose, talks about the pieces that were popular that week. His co-host, to my shock, is a guy named Alex Albrecht who was my friend and next door neighbor for two years in college.

Alex and I have not been in touch for years. The last time I saw him was at Louie’s wedding and that was..what, eight years ago? At the time he was in L.A. starting up an Improv Company. He was a techie whose heart was in entertainment and he seems to have found his niche. I am proud of him so I thought I should give him a plug. This is a recent clip:

I cannot seem to make the screen get centered here, but this is exactly the way I remember him. I would come home from class and go to Louie and Dean’s room to hang out before dinner and he would be there playing Mortal Combat III and mouthing off about stuff.

Alex also does The Totally Rad Show and I spent over an hour watching the Halloween Episode last night.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Dinner Review

Because we weren't sure when the niece would arrive (the answer is yesterday), I wasn't sure whether there would be four or seven for dinner. Also because we weren't sure when the niece would arrive, we didn't know if dinner would be at my house or packed up and taken to my brother. The plan:

Fresh Market set up the pre-cooked carry out menu. You pre-order and then pick up on Wednesday. Reheat on Thursday - then send you home with an instruction sheet. I chose this one:

Traditional Holiday Dinner (Serves 6-8) - $79.99

10-12 lb Fully Cooked Turkey (regular or smoked)
3 pounds of Traditional Herb Stuffing
3 pounds of Yukon Gold Whipped Potatoes
30 ounces of Home-Style Turkey Gravy
1½ pounds of Cranberry Relish
1 dozen Soft Yeast Rolls

The store had trouble with my order in that they couldn't find it and had to pack it up while I was waiting and trying not to get killed by last minute grocery shoppers. That was a bit disappointing in that I hadn't just pre-ordered onsite - I had pre-paid onsite.

The food was really good. The turkey had to cook for a couple of hours, so a complete amateur might have had a bit of trouble. My mother followed the "time" of cooking, rather than using a thermometer, so she had trouble carving it..("The meat is just falling off the bone!") but it wasn't dried out or anything.

I heated up the potatoes in the conventional oven, but because I was required to make green bean casserole I ended up putting the stuffing in the microwave. It turned out just fine.

My grandfather was all.."Your cooking is better", but we were perfectly happy and the work was minimal.

There were other vegetables that we could have added on, and of course there were desserts. The basic meal was plenty for us. Good showing by Fresh Market.

I Thought I Had Seen Everything

Just how far gone are we?

I have purchased doggie ice cream. Doggie birthday cake. Fresh made doggie cookies of many varieties. I have generally determined that unless it it is a matter of health or other special needs, there is no reason to spend serious money on dog treats. I have never seen a dog that wasn't perfectly happy with that which can be purchased at PetsMart.

I have drawn the line. I thought I saw a 100 calorie treat pack while standing in line at the store. I was not about to get out of line to satisfy my shocked curiousity. Because that is what the Internet is for..and here it is.

I am as lazy as they come, but this is ridiculous.

Friday, November 28, 2008


The Lord of the Rings is running on TNT over the holiday weekend. Again. Star Wars is on Spike. I am sure Harry Potter is somewhere.

I was thinking that I like Fellowship the best of the Hobbit films. I am not sure if it is because it is less dark, or because I appreciate the character development.

Then I thought of the first Harry Potter film. Again, I like it the best, so far. It is less dark. But it wasn't just introducing characters. It was introducing a whole new universe on screen. To a John Williams soundtrack.

Someone please tell me that the kiddie vampire movies are not all that's left.

Rather Ashamed of Myself

The state of Illinois has a rather tragic budget situation right now, which is probably not unique. The budget is being cut right and left. One of the more alarming things was in Health and Human Services - which makes me wonder how many abused children will be lost in the system over the next few years.

Sadly, a whole bunch of our state landmarks are closing - including Carl Sandberg's birthplace and one of the Frank Lloyd Wright houses downstate. I am ashamed of myself for two reasons:

First, the article in the Travel section of USA Today was the first I have heard of these closings. And second, I do not recall having ever visited a single one of those historic sites. Although the Lincoln Log cabin might have been part of our 7th grade capitol trip.

This is the List, and the towns that will lose the tourist traffic:


_Castle Rock State Park, Oregon
_Lowden State Park, Oregon
_Illini State Park, Marseilles
_Hidden Springs State Forrest, Strasburg
_Moraine View State Park, Leroy
_Weldon Springs State Park, Clinton
_Wolf Creek State Park, Windsor


_Dana-Thomas House, Springfield
_Lincoln log cabin near Charleston
_Fort de Chartres, Randolph County
_Vandalia statehouse
_State center at Bishop Hill, Henry County
_Carl Sandburg birthplace, Galesburg
_Cahokia courthouse
_Hauberg Indian Museum, Rock Island County, but the adjacent natural area will stay open.
_Jubilee College, near Peoria
_Apple River Fort, Elizabeth
_Fort Kaskaskia, Randolph County
_Pierre Menard home, Randolph County

You can read the full text of the article here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More about Security

Monday to Raleigh. Tuesday home from Raleigh. Wednesday to Fargo. I hadn't really unpacked.

I am in line at security at O'Hare. Security gives me a "Is this your bag?"

Me: "Yes."

Him: "Do you have any sharp objects in this bag?"

Me: (Holy crap!) I don't think so.

Him: (Pulls something out of the bag) "What is this?"

Me: (Melting into a puddle on the floor) ...staple remover...please go ahead and throw them out...

Him: Are there any more?

Me: I think there are a total of four.

He pulls out all four and hands them to another guy who takes them somewhere. They are brought back and put into my bag. I am dismissed.

I told Dwight that would happen when he gave me those things in Raleigh. He said it wouldn't be a problem. Well, not at his airport, I guess.

When I arrived in Fargo, I told the story to Kim, who picked me up at the airport. She said:

"If you took those through security in Fargo, they would have been confiscated and you would have been strip searched. We will mail them back to you."

Called into the Principal's Office

I hadn't unpacked my bag yet, so my camera was with me at work. Our building had put up the Holiday decorations while I was gone, so I went to go take a picture of the tree for our employee newsletter. And maybe one of the stuffed white tigers staring at the stuffed baby penguins to complain about on the Internet, but nevermind.

Security guard walks up to me:

"I'm sorry about this, but we are on camera, so I have to tell you. All photography must be cleared by the Building in advance."

I asked who I should speak with in the office and he gave me a name. I walked over to the office. Assistant manager lady came out and I introduced myself. I explained that I had taken three pictures for our employee newsletter and understood from Security that was a problem.

She said, "We need to know in advance. You could be anybody taking pictures for any reason."

I understood "any reason" to mean "so that you can blow up the place".

"OK," I said. "So it is a security issue, as opposed to a copyright issue."

"It could also be a copyright issue," she replied. "What are you going to use them for?"

Apparently, using them for an employee newsletter is fine as long as the newsletter is only for "use in our space". So sending it to our employees outside of Chicago, "would have to go through corporate first".

"It isn't worth it. I will delete them right now."

I was going to say something nice about our Landlord to all of our employees and all of our retirees. Now they are all going to hear it on the Grapevine. Because I stood and shouted about it in our lobby.

The other thing I learned today is how our receptionist knows everything.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nephew Story

I am back in town, but exhausted and cranky. So you get a story from my brother, Scott:

So I decided yesterday to put the tree up since I wasn’t going to want to do it in a week and Alex is with me.

He says, “Daddy, your job is to put the tree up.” (He’s all excited about having jobs and stuff since going to preschool.)

I said, “Okay, what’s your job?”

“I’m going to eat this cookie….. and watch.”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Oh. I Don't Think So.

The link reads:

McDonald's sued after nude pics lost in phone go online.

Yeah. The AP is running the story of a guy that left his phone at a McD's. Apparently, he called and the employees said they would "secure" it for him. The naked photos of his wife show up online. Because they were on the phone.

So he is suing McDonald's for $3 million dollars because they had to move away.

I was in college when the famous McDonald's coffee case was decided:

Woman was driving with a McDonald's coffee cup between her legs. Coffee spilled and she was burned, admittedly pretty badly, then sued McDonald's for not telling her the coffee could due that. She won the case.

I wanted her arrested for driving that way. And being stupid. And cashing in on being stupid.

Anyway, if the guy wanted to sue the jerk who put the naked pictures online, it would be one thing. But unless the store manager put the pictures up on McDonald's corporate web site, I think this is utterly ridiculous. Awarding him a dime is just encouraging the madness.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Leave It

I had been looking at the link for about a week..about the Obama family and the dog they will be bringing home soon. But I hadn't read it. As part of the Movement or whatever (I should copyright that), I very much hope that the Obamas adopt, rather than buy a dog from a breeder or store.


Even I am tired of the people lecturing him on statistics of pure-bred dogs in shelters and how many hypo-allergenic dogs can be found on Petfinder.com.

We are talking about two little girls that were promised a puppy. They just want a puppy! You want to make this a teaching moment?

What I hope the President-Elect teaches his daughters is how to take care of them. To take the responsibility seriously. To understand that any family pet will be dependent on them for its physical and emotional needs. That a dog must be properly trained and supervised so that it is never a threat to other people or pets. So that it will not run off into the street and get lost or hurt. That a pet is part of the family for the rest of its life.

This is the article that started my rant. And this is the picture it printed of the President-Elect and the rescued dog being used in the campaign to shut down the puppy mills.
I think we can count on him to do the right thing. Now everyone, please be quiet. You'll ruin it for the girls.

What I Did on My Saturday

Each Holiday Season my mother, like many people, goes on a frenzied cleaning spree. Such that I don't want to be in the house. And then she gets angry because I'm not helping and I want to be in the house even less.

This afternoon she wanted to put up the Christmas tree. I wanted to start the cleaning and avoid the madness. But nothing sounded good to me because if we do hard core cleaning now - the kind that involves moving furniture and electric scrub brushes and steam cleaners - it will just have to be done again before Christmas. At the same time, if we do the vacuuming and dusting now, she will just want to do it again Thursday morning.

Here is what I came up with:

That, ladies and gentlemen, is my pantry. It is cleaned out for real about every five years. I know this because the oldest expiration date I found on a can of soup was 2003. And the clean out time before that was when Geoffrey was still living in the house, so it was either 1998 or 1999.

Someday, I will remember to do a "Before" pic. But not today. And now I am tired.

Reprinting the Love

Chicago has been getting a lot of attention lately, thanks to our friendly neighborhood President-Elect. But John Scalzi wrote something the other day that I find worth repeating:

"This is a good a place as any for me to trot out my reason why I think Chicago is so special: It’s the largest city in the US that is truly an American city. New York and Los Angeles are great, don’t get me wrong — you all know I’m from the LA area — but I think of them as international cities, with New York looking toward Europe and Africa, and Los Angeles looking toward Asia and Latin America. Chicago, on the other hand, looks out toward the rest of the U.S.; it’s got a unique sensibility that’s both cosmopolitan and heartland. I would go so far as to say it’s the Great American City. You can argue with me about that, if you like, but you’re not going to get too far."

We know the Eastern Establishment and the West Coast..however you label them...look down on us. "Flyover" territory. I remember a radio DJ on a rant a couple of years ago. Saying something like, "There are too many people here, anyway. We don't need you jokers." Of course, that guy wouldn't count me in the club, seeing as how I live outside city limits.

Anyway. Scalzi's comment - particularly about the Midwestern Sensibility - is probably why I can't seem to bring myself to leave.

That and I am 20 minutes from a direct flight to anywhere. But this is what I really want to tell everyone on the Internet:

The Obama family did not make Chicago cool. They just swung the spotlight over for a minute.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Nicest City in the USA

Fargo, North Dakota.

I am not kidding. I am there about once a year and if it weren’t for the cold…the kind of cold that makes you unable to breathe…I would want to live there.

Every person you meet is nice.

Last year when I checked into the hotel, the lady at the desk told me that the restaurant was on the second floor. I said, “Thanks, but I’m just going to order a pizza.” She handed me a menu, saying that Domino’s would deliver to the hotel, but this place was better.

Someone from the office always picks me up at the airport and shuttles me around for the entire time I am there. They take me out to eat. I should be taking them out to eat, because I am working the expense account anyway. But they won’t let me. Something about being a guest.

Last year, I was there early Thanksgiving week. I was invited to go to the tree lighting ceremony. Tree lighting. Like in Chicago but without 9,000,000 people.

I do not remember ever seeing a Starbucks or a Lexus in Fargo.

A couple of years ago, there was a scuffle over who would take me to the airport and buy me lunch. Because the airport restaurant has the best beer cheese soup. This year, when I noted that if I flew out early, I would miss the beer cheese soup, my colleague said that they sell it by the quart and someone would pick some up for me.

At 9:30 this morning, I went flying into the Fargo airport, in my urban uniform of black, black and black trying to hop on standby on the 10:37 flight to O’Hare. I was the person that I hate. Guy at the counter told me to breathe - there were seven seats left and I would have time to spare. He was right. He knows he was right because he was also the guy that printed my ticket at the gate. And then the guy that boarded us.

Every single person in the security line was in a good mood. There was laughter. In the security line. TSA guy hands me my bag and says, “Wow. It is really busy today.” Which is when I thought I wanted to live there.

Then I looked at the board and remembered that Fargo has direct flights to exactly three cities. I couldn’t really live there. But it is a very nice place to visit.

Barnes and Noble Bestsellers

Barnes and Noble sent me some member coupons via e-mail. One was 50% off the list price of a bestseller, so I went to the web site to look at the bestsellers. Team of Rivals, the fabulous history that Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote about President Lincoln's cabinet was #14 (in paperback) and #54 (hard cover).

This book was originally published in 2005 and it won the Pulitzer. So color me happy that the aftermath of the election seems to have re-ignited an interest.

Because seriously, everything else on that list was involving those kiddie-Vampire books.

Who is the Jerk in this Scenario?

Guy in front of me in the security line at the Raleigh airport shows his i.d. to the...what is the title? I.D. checker?

She notes that the name on the ticket is not the same as the name on his i.d. Apparently he is called by his middle name. She asks for a different i.d. He kinda rolls his eyes and takes out another i.d. card. This one confirms the initials, but not the full name. She asks for another piece of i.d.

I can see his ticket from where I am standing. He is a 1K flyer. I may have mentioned that my friend the retired meeting planner is only at 830,000-some lifetime miles. 1K flyers do not do things that they remotely think will get the held up in security. I think this chick is being unreasonable.

On the other hand, people that go by their middle name should be used to this problem and make accomodations.

Then I hear her say, "No, sir, I am not kidding."

Holy crap, dude. Did you just say, "Are you kidding? " to the TSA? Are you an idiot? Now I am on her side.

He was pulled out of line until they could talk to a supervisor and I moved on. The guy was on my flight back to Chicago, so it must not have been a tragedy, but still.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Check Your Assumptions at the Door

There is a …I’ll go ahead and call him Senior…Asian gentleman that I have seen at the Library a couple of times in the last month or so. He reminded me of the grandfather of my childhood friend Augie.

I had never heard him speak, (which makes sense, because we were in the Library) so I wasn’t sure whether he spoke English. But tonight, he came over to look at the used books and started a small pile on the desk.

He asked if we were doing a holiday sale. His English was accented, but clear. Like he was raised in another country, but had been here for 20 or 30 years. I gave him the dates, December 6 and 7. I said that if I were him, I’d go on Saturday because the really good books would likely be gone by Sunday. He said, “Yes, but don’t you do a clear-out on Sunday?” No. No “$2 to fill a bag” deals here.

“Well, then I will take your advice.” He weeded out a couple of books from his pile and wanted to buy the remaining three. I checked the prices. He said, “Oh, they are only the $1 books. I check because I am cheap.” We laughed.

I took his money, gave him change and put his books in a bag. I noticed his clothes – very modern American, brightly colored. Why had I wondered whether he spoke English? Was it because of Augie’s grandfather (who didn’t)?

Why am I telling you this? Check out what he bought:

  1. A modern mystery/thriller. I forget the author’s name, but it was of the Kellerman variety
  2. A memoir by Bob Zmuda (not 100% sure I have that name right) about his friendship with Andy Kaufman
  3. A history of the New York Yankees

I suppose that the books could be gifts..but I rather think that I simply misjudged this person.

Last Night at the Shoe Store

I went to Famous Footwear to buy new gym shoes last night. Again, they had the Buy One Get One Half Off sale, so I went to find some new gym shoes for my nephew. This is how I deal with my urge to not pass up a sale and still avoid spending way more money than I should. What size was he again? I called my brother’s phone:

Me: Tell me again what size shoe Alex wears.
Him: …7?
Me: Hm. There is a cool pair of size 8. Oh! And that 7 ½ is even cooler.
Him: Maybe the 8 is better.
Me: Are you sure?
Him: No! Why are you calling me! Call Becky!

So I call the house and talk with my sister-in-law. She validated everything he said. He was growing out of his shoes and the 8 would be better. Fine. Black and blue with Velcro. (When should we be teaching him to tie his shoes?)

At the counter, the guy asks me if I want to donate $3 to the March of Dimes. Famous Footwear will triple my points or something. Very quickly, I do this in my head:

  1. March of Dimes really isn’t my charity
  2. I never use those rewards certificates in time, anyway
  3. $3 is more than the usual “rounding up” or “extra dollar” donation
  4. I am already spending a bunch
  5. If they are putting their money where their mouth is, I should, too
  6. ‘Tis the season or something

So I told the guy to go right ahead and add the extra $3.00. Ringing it up, he said:

“You know, I have worked retail for a lot of years. Stores try to collect for charity all of the time and I never saw it working. Until I came to Glenview.”

Yeah. This is often a stupid town. But it’s my stupid town and it was nice to hear we are getting one thing right.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I go to Costco about once a month. Contact lenses and supplies are my primary driver. Also paper products and some of their fresh foods. As I threw the gigantic package of toilet paper into my cart, I wondered if it was really a good deal. Better that on sale at the grocery store? I have never done the math. MSN did it for me in this article.

The answer is no. Paper products are not a good deal.

Milk is good. Meat (as long as you are going to eat it) is good. Frozen foods are ok, but only if you have the storage space (and for my mini pizza bagels, I make room). Their ready to bake pizza is good, but I literally cannot fit it into my oven.

Electronics at Costco are a good deal. I normally pass it up for 12 months/no interest at Best Buy, but perhaps those TVs are worth another look.

The best deal at Costco, which is no surprise to me, is good booze:

"Warehouse clubs sell more Bordeaux than fine-wine shops," says Natalie MacLean, the editor of NatDecants.com, a wine education site. Costco recently offered a magnum of Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes 1997 for $500 -- $300 cheaper than the price on WineAccess.com.

You can read the entire article here.

At the Refuge - Adventures with Zachary

After work, I stopped by the Refuge to close up. Check on the birds, give the evening meds, cover up the cages and turn off lights and music.

While doing a look through, I saw there was blood on Zachary’s feathers. Zachary is a female Goffin’s cockatoo and a feather picker. I took her upstairs to the bathroom with a towel and some supplies to look more closely.

When a bird breaks a blood feather, it is important to remove the entire feather shaft. They can be painful, cause more damage to the skin and even get infected if they aren’t removed. The blood on Zachary’s feathers wasn’t dripping, but it was fresh. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Some on one wing, some on the other and some on her butt. I called our director, Rich. He is a cop and was on duty at the time. He suggested that I bring her to him at the police station. With a towel. And the fancy surgical tweezers (hemostat?).

Zachary went into the carrier like it was all a big adventure. She was dancing in the car. Dancing. This bird clearly has no fear.

There were five broken feathers so small that I couldn’t even see them. Rich removed them all, with kisses and cuddles for the bird the entire time. How does he do that?

I’m not good at this part.

Anyway. Zachary must have bumped her butt on the way back because she started bleeding again. I stuck around to make sure it was clotted before putting her to bed and going home. You can read more about Zachary

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cover Letters

MSN had an article discussing whether or not a cover letter is important for job applicants. You can read it here. Do HR people really read them?

My best answer is that most of us will..sort of. But if you don’t submit one, we will definitely think less of you. Here is my take:

Will I read a cover letter all the way through before looking at a résumé? Probably not. But I will read it if something on the résumé strikes me as odd. Like if you had a break in employment – a cover letter is a great tool to explain where you’re coming from. Like:

“For the last three years, I have been out of the country with my family while my wife was working an overseas assignment. While unemployed, I spent the time by….and kept up with the industry by…” Can you find a way to make that experience sell you as a better employee?

Or if you are changing fields and are willing to consider a “lower level” position in order to begin a new career. Use the cover letter to explain.

My favorite point from the article:

“The more personal the letter is to our business, the better. You wouldn't believe how many times we've seen letters that are glaringly obvious canned messages," Renzi muses. "Sometimes candidates even leave in other companies' names or positions." “

Or the title of the position is incorrect. Or the source of the referral is incorrect. Spend the time on each cover letter.

Recently, I read a cover letter where the applicant listed all of the requirements I placed in the posting, in bulleted form, and wrote a sentence on how she met the requirements. I had never seen that before and it won points with me.

So how important is it to win points with HR? Depends on the company, depends on the HR professional. In my company, it depends on whether the hiring manager cares what I think. Some really want my guidance and some want to handle it all themselves. In some companies, if HR doesn’t like it, the résumé goes no further. And yes, there are HR people that will not let one pass if a word is misspelled.

It doesn’t require very much time to take the process seriously. So take it seriously. And no phone calls, please.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Now it is Winter

I have tons and tons of blankets, quilts and comforters in my house. King sized things are really easy to find on sale, but hard to get washed and dried effectively. The dog actually has a bed in the back of my SUV because I never managed to bring my black comforter to a laundromat. My point is that I don't have "Summer" or "Winter" stuff for my bed. I have three or four sets of "Summer" and "Winter" stuff for my bed. More if I mix and match with my mother, which explains why I am using a blood red quilt.

It is time for the flannel sheets. Topped with the comforter covered by a flannel duvet. Topped by the aforementioned red quilt. The purpose of the quilt is to have something light weight and easily washable at the surface to soak up all of the cat fur.

Winter is also when Spooky the Cat goes from wanting a fresh towel on his Pillow Bed (every three days) to wanting a fresh blanket on his bed (every three days):

I flashed a camera in his face and he didn't even blink. Seriously - do cats hibernate?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Rites of Passage

I was sitting at Noodles, reading a book and minding my own business when a lady and a little girl sat at the next table. There had to be ten other tables available, but I tried not to roll my eyes at them.

Girl was whining, lady was ignoring her and looking at her phone. I think they had just come from one of those Building a Teddy Bear stores.

Suddenly, the girls says, "It came out!!"

I look at her. She is holding a bloody napkin. She had just lost a tooth.

There was a time when I would have been really grossed out. But then she is saying that she has lost "four on top and four on the bottom". And I am trying to gauge how old she is, and how long before my nephew starts losing teeth. And what is the Tooth Fairy's going rate these days?

Then she says, "It feels very awkward in my mouth." And I wonder how old I was when I started using words like "awkward" - because I am pretty sure it was high school.

My brother and sister in law are expecting their daughter in a few weeks and I think I have a pretty good handle on the aunt thing. I'm still not sure I can bring myself to build teddy bears.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Public Service Announcement - Doctors

A genetic resistance to Novocain and a couple of dismissive dentists made me one of those crazy fearful people. I knew it was irrational, I knew my teeth would only get worse. But those of us that have been there know there are few things more horrible than sitting helplessly in that chair while ones teeth are being drilled and it hurts and the dentist thinks you are just an “anxious patient”.

I was in my early 20’s when, in a moment of brilliance, my father said this:

“You are an adult. You are the client. The dentist cannot touch you without your consent. If you are uncomfortable with your treatment, you get up out of the chair and walk out the door.”

Is that allowed? I thought.

Of course it is allowed. Easier said than done, though. In the end, I found a dentist about my own age (so as to avoid any subconscious subservience to the patriarchy) who was very patient in explaining exactly what we were doing, how long it would take and never starting work until I was absolutely ready. He specifically said that a second shot of Novocain was a perfectly reasonable request. Sometimes I need it and sometimes I don’t.

Yesterday, I was talking with a co-worker – say in her mid-20s. She has bronchitis and was literally coughing up blood before she went to the doctor. She said that she has asthma and hadn’t been taking the preventative treatment her doctor prescribed because it made her feel worse. Then she said that she told her doctor she was taking it.

“Dude.” I said, using my stern HR voice. “Lying to your doctor is not cool.”

She hesitated for a minute. I think it was my tone of voice which wasn’t my most pleasant. She said that she knew it, but the doctor didn’t listen when she told him she didn’t like the drug. He and the nurse both said she had to give it more time. Maybe they were right, but it didn’t feel right to her.

After the call, I decided that I had just made it worse. Poor girl is feeling sick, and I understand asthma to be a pretty damn scary disease anyway. My point hadn’t been about the treatment, it had been about lying to the doctor. So I called her back and gave her my dad’s speech. Then I said, “And if you still feel uncomfortable, you call me back and I will help you find a new doctor.”

I hope she felt better. I hope she feels empowered to take control of her own health. Because seriously, people. It is an important, and expensive service that doctors provide. Don’t stay with one that doesn’t listen to you, doesn’t hear you, and doesn’t include you in making decisions about your health. And for the love of all that’s Holy, do not stay with one that makes you feel worse.

You are the client. And there are plenty of doctors out there (assuming you have the insurance, but that is a different rant).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

During the Bears Game

Before the Game started, I made myself a sandwich and steamed some frozen vegetables for Daisy. Kiwi never eats her vegetables. So what happened? Daisy took a chunk of my sandwich and flew away. Kiwi went to check out the vegetables. Shadow just didn't know what to do:

Then. Kiwi decided she likes carrots. And green beans.

And Daisy took a bath in her water dish:

And because I was having a hard time looking at the screen and not having a heart attack, I finished these:

And then the Bears won.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pleasant Surprise

I live with a dog, a cat, an African Grey parrot, and lately am fostering a Goffin's Cockatoo. No, I will not be able to get them all in one picture. I buy most of my pet supplies online from Drs. Foster and Smith. Their prices are generally competitive, their selection is good and they are located in Wisconsin. Which means no sales tax, but delivery is still overnight to me in Illinois.

Upromise, the company that makes contributions to your college savings for shopping with preferred vendors, has Foster and Smith on its list. These vendors sometimes have special deals for Upromise customers. The one I used the other day was $10 off a $100 order. It makes me happy because there is no free shipping from this place. I am a total sucker for free shipping. The order went through and the promotion code was reflected in my confirmation.

When I received the box today, the invoice had a note saying that because I had previously used that promotion code, it was not applied to this order. I was pretty ticked.

I hit reply on the order confirmation and wrote a very civilized letter "respectfully requesting a credit of $10" to my credit card.

Two hours later, at 7pm on a Friday night, I received a reply. They gave me the $10 (a "one-time exception") and an apology that the promotion was not more clear.

I will take that.

Dixon, Illinois

I took a short road trip for work that involved spending a night in Dixon, Illinois. Famous for being "the boyhood home of President Ronald Reagan". This is one of those places too far away to randomly visit, but close enough that I am embarrased to have never been there before.

Anyway. I remembered to throw the camera in my suitcase. Here is the view from my hotel room window. I think I will call it "48 Hours Before the Harvest or Something". I took the same picture again at dawn, but it didn't turn out.

I did not, however, remember to bring the camera to President Reagan's Boyhood Home. So this is the best you will get:

The Spirit of the Season

My friend, utter_scoundrel, is a great nerd and got into the spirit of the season by watching all of the Friday the 13th films. (I just had to pause and ask myself if the word “film” is the appropriate word to describe them.) Personally, I am a Nightmare on Elm Street girl, but I appreciate the effort.

He wrote a funny series of blog posts about them, carefully recording the body count. And at the end, he charted it. Check this out (I stole this from his page, but whatever, he didn't copyright it.):

I have not checked his math. If he has messed up something, please contact him directly. I am sure he would appreciate it.

You can read the entire series here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Checking Out the Competition

This past weekend, two area libraries were doing Book Sales. I love Book Sales anyway, and I had the Research excuse. Forgive me, but I am using my blog for recording my check of the “competition”:

On Saturday, the Glencoe Library sale started at 9am and I arrived at 9:27. There was a sign pointing around the side of the building, down a staircase. I never saw the inside of this library.

There was a line of people going up the staircase. Did I have the time wrong? No. Fire code. There were only letting one person in at a time, and only as people left. This was really annoying because:

a. It was cold
b. I was standing behind a family of five

Then there was the inevitable jerk a few people back that said, “I only need to go in for a minute, can I please go in front of you?!”


Once I was finally inside, I saw the need for the wait. The aisles were tiny and the books were on shelves. Kneeling down to see the bottom shelves was a problem. I couldn’t even get to the end of the hardcover fiction section because it was backed up against the children’s book space. This was no place for children.

The prices were the same as our Used Book Store’s regular prices. The volunteers were all very pleasant, but I was rather miffed that there were so many of them standing around drinking coffee when there was a line of people outside in the cold because of the Fire Code.

The take: I bought four books for $4.00.

The sale in Arlington Heights is famous. They have four sales each year and I once read that they net $80,000 a year running them. I arrived a few minutes after they opened – at noon on Sunday.

This library is huge, and they were set up inside a large room on the second floor. The books were on tables, with the overflow lined up neatly on the floor, the way we do it.

The tables were neatly labeled, but I couldn’t find the Fiction. I saw Science Fiction going in and I realized that Romance and Mystery novels were on the other side, near the other door. Fiction was scattered on the shelves outside the main room. That was tough.

The volunteers were hard at work, many carrying boxes of paperbacks to try to jam them onto the tables as space cleared throughout the day. There were a ton of CDs and books on tape, but I didn’t really look at the selection.

Like Glencoe, the prices resembled our store’s regular prices. After my first walkthrough I only had two books in my hands, so I did a second lap. I didn’t see any of what one might call “Literature”. The classics section was puny and I didn’t see any Philip Roth or Ian McEwan or Margaret Atwood-like titles.

Then I remembered that it was Sunday and the serious people would have been there the day before. I also just remembered the Scavengers – the people with little scanner guns that buy up stuff to sell it online. I saw them in Glencoe the day before. Although, now that I think about it, Arlington Heights may have banned them. I should go look that up.

At Glenview’s Used Book Store, we say the primary goal is to raise funds, but we are also there to provide a public service. The question of selling to the Scavengers has come up more than once. Anyone is welcome to buy, but do we welcome them to scan each of our books to find what we have undervalued for their benefit? Eh, maybe.

Anyway, Arlington Heights runs a fine operation even if my take was only two books for $2.00. Six dollars on the weekend. I will have to be sure to at least double that in our own shop this December.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Daisy the Foster Goffin's

After two weeks, I took Kiwi the Green back to the Refuge. I wrote a short report on things I learned about him and sent it to our director. The idea is to start to get a handle on the purpose of fostering. Then I brought home Daisy:

I forgot how loud a cockatoo can sound in my house.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Online Community Fatigue

The other day, my mother sent me an e-mail asking if I was a member of Shelfari. I'd never heard of it. Apparently, it is another place to log in and share your library. I told her I am on Librarything. And if I wasn't there, I'd be on goodreads, because that is where the cool kids are. I'm just too lazy to log it all in again.

I just received an e-mail from Barnes and Noble. They have launched a community and since I am such a good customer, they want me to join. So I went in and looked - I already have an account. Picked my "pen name". Grabbed an avatar.

They want me to build my library - including CDs and DVDs.

I had to create an account on typepad the other day just to comment on someone's blog. I am really tired of creating profiles. Has anyone coined a term for that yet?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Retired or Something

This is Spooky the Cat. The only cat that has ever been allowed to live in my house. He came with a roommate that moved out seven or eight years ago. Spooky is now seventeen.

Spooky once amused himself by hunting. His favorite prey was my late great dog, Dallas. Because she would freak out. Check it out:

Before the cancer got her, Dallas was sixty pounds of jump-the-fence muscle and this 12 pound cat would stalk, strike and watch her go insane. Shadow still looks around the corner before he heads down a hallway - that's how dangerous this cat was.

This morning Spooky was sitting in the kitchen as I was walking out the door. I saw him staring at something on the floor. It was one of those bugs that my friend Carol (who used to kill them for me at the office) called "thousand leggers". Several inches long.

I don't do well with bugs.

I waited to see if he was going to take care of it for me. He sat watching for a minute. Waiting to pounce? I grabbed a big magazine, just in case. The bug was gone. Did Spooky eat it? I followed his eyes. No, there it is. Wait - Spooky is moving in. He batted it with his paw. It ran. He batted it again.

Dude. Are you just playing? You are going to lose it. I slammed the magazine down. Spooky vanished. He doesn't appreciate loud noises.

What are we paying him for, anyway?

The Starbucks Recession Indicator

I read this article yesterday and wasn’t going to comment because I know I will be snarky. But it is interesting and then the comment thread was more interesting. I will try to control myself.

MSN Money – one of my favorite places on the Internet, has an article called, “The Starbucks Recession Indicator”. It goes like this:

“… I propose the Starbucks theory of international economics. The higher the concentration of expensive, nautically themed, faux-Italian-branded Frappuccino joints in a country's financial capital, the more likely the country is to have suffered catastrophic financial losses.”

The idea in the local sense is that Starbucks followed all of the new communities growing and sprawling across the map. So when the real estate markets crash, they rather take Starbucks with it. The other area would be the financial districts – 200+ stores in Manhattan, for example. This is the international angle. The supporting evidence is the statistical “How many Starbucks are in this area?” to “How much trouble is that area in?” London and Madrid have plenty of Starbucks, Italy has none, etc.

You can read the full text here.

Anyway, the comment thread was “What recession indicators do you see in your area?” And a lot of people said, “There aren’t any.” The wait at Olive Garden was half an hour at 8pm on a Thursday. The casino was packed - stuff like that. One person said that homes aren’t selling – and this is a big deal in my neighborhood. Another person noted that car dealers are having a very hard time of it.

My family has been with the same Chevy dealer for 25 years – same sales guy even. We just learned through the grapevine that they are closing in January. The last time I bought a car – April, 2003, Chevy didn’t have a small SUV. I had to go to Saturn, and felt guilty about it until the next year when my mother bought her Malibu. I am feeling just a bit guilty again. As if my purchase 5 ½ years ago would somehow have made a difference.

No, I am not thinking of running over and buying a car. But I am considering the concept of balance:

Where is the line between personal fiscal responsibility and one’s duty as an employed person to support the economy?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thanksgiving Travel

I heard on the radio yesterday morning that there will be 3,000 fewer flights available over the 2008 Thanksgiving Holiday as compared to 2007. Which means that tickets will be more expensive and planes will be jammed.

This will be made even worse due to the new fees to check a bag. I have spent enough time pontificating on that problem.

MSN has an article called “Tips to Speed through Security”. The only shocker was that in Terminal 3 at O’Hare you might stand in Security for an extra eight minutes if you pick the wrong line. I generally fly out of Terminal 1, so I don’t know which is the bad line in Terminal 3!

Anyway, here was the point of the article:

“More experienced travelers have other tricks that are second nature. For example, don’t wait until you reach the front of the line to start emptying your pockets. Take a minute to stash your watch, keys and loose change in your carry-on. Even if you’re using one of the new “checkpoint friendly” laptop bags, tie and neatly stow the additional wires so it won’t look like a bomb when it's X-rayed. And because “everyone has to take off their shoes,” according to Payne, wear easily removable footwear such as flip-flops or slip-ons. Choose pants that don’t require a belt, and opt for an easily removed sweater or jacket, which TSA officials may make you send through the X-ray machine separately.”

Yes. You should be stripping in line.

Another interesting thought – and this is not the first place I have heard it – is that it might be better to ship our luggage that to check it. With the idea that UPS is more reliable that the airlines and it won’t be that much more expensive if you plan it well.

I do not vacation around Thanksgiving, but I do have to visit my other offices right around that time. If I am extremely lucky, I will be able to run it all earlier this year, but I don’t even have tickets yet. Also, I have already decided that I am driving to Ohio instead of flying.

You can read the full article here. But if you want my “expert” travel advice? Don’t travel for Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Professional Validation

I don’t normally read WSJ, but a colleague – who was not on my side on this issue – brought me this article this morning called “Get Rid of the Performance Review!”

Two years ago, I had a pretty big temper tantrum, threw our system out the window and started over. My boss is an indulgent guy. As Culbert points out in the article, our salary increases were/are more a matter of budget and market than performance.

Our employment attorney told me that annual reviews hurt a case at least as often as they helped. After “interviewing” a whole bunch of manager-types, I came up with something rather similar to what this writer, Samuel Culbert discusses:

“The Solution: Performance previews instead of reviews. In contrast to one-side-accountable reviews, performance previews are reciprocally accountable discussions about how boss and employee are going to work together even more effectively than they did in the past. Previews weld fates together. The boss's skin is now in the game.”

Our top managers bought it. I can’t say “embraced”, because it is still viewed as an annual pain in the neck. But most of them still prefer it to rating people on a scale of 1 to 10.

We had less of the “make the supervisor accountable for the employee’s performance” and more of the “empower the employee to talk about his personal and professional needs”. But we completely shifted our focus from a discussion of the past year to a discussion of the next year.

This time around, we had a relatively new employee say that she loves her job today but is working toward a degree in Accounting and her long term goal is to transfer to our Accounting department. Good thing to know. Even when the news isn’t what you want to hear, we should still be honest and respectful of each other. That way, when we come to the end of the line, we can feel good about the fact that is no-fault. We can still be in a good place. Keeping a good employee happy for two years and then having to replace her is way better than having a cranky underperformer for a decade.

One place where I diverged from Culbert is the question of when there is a performance problem. He says, in part:

“It's the boss's responsibility to find a way to work well with an imperfect individual, not to convince the individual there are critical flaws that need immediate correcting, which is all but guaranteed to lead to unproductive game playing and politically inspired back-stabbing.”

True enough. But sometimes there really is no alternative. My answer is that this is a different conversation, different documentation, different process completely. And the managers are charged with staying on top of that. Because while I am not a traditional HR enforcer, and we do not have strict policies for “Disciplinary Action”, I will recommend against an employment termination when I am not satisfied that the employee had knowledge of the expectations, was provided the tools to succeed and was aware of the consequences of failure. Generally, that means documentation in the file.

Corporate cultures are all different. What works for one company doesn’t necessarily work for the next. But I was very pleased to have this validation.

Again, if you would like to read the article in its entirety, you can find it here. I only read a handful of the comments, but they looked pretty charged to me.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Twisted Peppermint

Last year, I was taking a look at my spending habits. I buy far too many books, but they are mostly from the Library Used Book Store or the Clearance section of Half Price Books. So think a dollar apiece. I wasn't about to give up books. What else? I eat out a lot, but generally at lunch time. Rarely do I go out to eat for dinner. I am not a clothes horse. I kinda have a lot of shoes, but don't think I have an actual problem there. However.

I didn't like the random way I was spending at two stores in particular: Yankee Candle and Bath and Body Works. So just for the sake of argument, I put a moratorium on all purchases from those stores for the entire spring - until the June clearance sale. It was not as hard as I thought.

I could never pull it off in the Fall and here is why:

The first year Twisted Peppermint came out, I thought it smelled good, but who wants to walk around smelling like food? I only used the soap. Last year, I was looking forward to having it back and it wasn't released until closer to Christmas. I saw it in the store window on Friday. I don't care if I smell like food. I don't care that I spent $30 on the gift pack plus hand soap. It's Twisted Peppermint!

All the preaching I do on saving your money, and I fall vitcim to the classic - seasonal limited editions.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Worst Thing Ever Invented by Educators

The Open Book Essay Exam.

I am pleased to say that I never fell for the Open Book trick - I was never all excited by the prospect or allowed myself to be less prepared because "you have all the answers in front of you!" These exams are always harder. Always.

I took my proctored final this morning. Totally choked, but managed an 86. Then I went to work. Then I came home to do the Take Home Open Book Essay Portion.

I started at 4 or so. Stopped for an hour to eat dinner and let the birds out to play. Finished at 10:00. That is like a full week's written assignments. Not cool.

Because I knew I would be done today, I volunteered to do a library event tomorrow morning. Right after my allergy shot. And we are meeting my grandfather for dinner. My next class starts in a week and I still have to take the pre req math tutorial.

I am going to take a shower and go to sleep. I promise to be in a better mood in the morning.