Monday, January 31, 2011

Financial Happiness

MSN had a good article:  5 Financial Habits That Will Make You Happy.

The article opens with a statistic that I heard no long ago:

"happiness rises as household income does up to about $75,000 ..but beyond that more money won't make you happier"

I still don't know how I feel about that one.  Anyway.  None of the five habits ticked me off - in fact I actually find them all to be true.  My favorite is #1:

"Get Pretty Organized."

Personally, I can't manage to get really organized.  I am too lazy to make a budget and too spoiled to stick to it. Example:

One trick my sister-in-law, Becky, uses is to grocery shop only every two weeks.  To do that, she has to plan meals for two weeks together.  I saw the list and was totally bewildered:

"But what if you don't want that for dinner tonight?"

"Too bad," was her answer.  I have nothing like that kind of discipline.

I can, however, manage to stick receipts in a file folder.  Archive e-mails.  My taxes are always in order.  I can tell you that I spent $1,500 on gasoline in 2010.  American Express says so.  I feel better now.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bloody Crimes, by James Swanson

Book 4

Bloody Crimes, by James Swanson, is an example of a book that I would not have gotten to any time soon if I hadn't been trying the audio thing.  I really liked Manhunt, Swanson's history of President Lincoln's assassination and the subsequent hunt for John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators.  But I have so much history on my TBR list right now, that this new one would have taken a serious back seat.  BN had it for 50% off in the audio section.

The production part was pretty good.  iTunes didn't have the tracks labelled with text the way the Coehlo did, but the transitions were better.  Richard Thomas was the narrator and he was very good.  Although I rather wish he had taken a shot at some Southern accents.  Dude was quoting Jefferson Davis quite a bit.

So.  The book opens by doing some compare and contrast in the lives of Lincoln and Davis.  That was cool.  It follows Davis as he "strategically retreats" from Richmond, and Lincoln as he camps out at the front.  Dispatches from Lee, discussions with Grant and Sherman..all good stuff.

Then we get to surrender and assassination and who got which message and when.  Suddenly, Life Before Internet seems very isolated.  And frightening.

Then funeral arrangements and the "death pageant" at the same time that the army is trying to track down Davis.  Sometimes, the detail was a bit much - like the list of invoices sent to the White House for the funeral. But some of that was probably in list form in the printed version.  Such that I would have glanced right over it on the page.

There were 11 discs for this book and I rather think that is one more than was necessary to tell the story.  But it is a really good story.

Science, Schmience

Weekend Assignment # 355: Science!

In this year's State of the Union address, the President spoke of the need for better education, particularly in math and science, and the desirability of celebrating winners of science fairs - in other words, science geeks. How good were you in science in school?

Extra Credit: Whether or not you were actually good at it in school, how much of a science geek are you now?

By high school, I didn't do particularly well in science.  I didn't particularly enjoy science.  In history and in English, it didn't matter who the teacher was - I was interested.  In science and math, only the best teachers could engage me.  And even then, I was more interested in impressing the teacher than embracing the material.  Here is a story about my last science class (I don't count the lecture hall Biology for Business Majors at AU).

Junior Year - Chemistry - Preston Hayes, Teacher

I believe it was the beginning of second semester.  I had been getting by through paying attention in class, letting my partner do most of the labs and not doing homework.  I think I ended on the low side of the Bs.

On this day, Mr. Hayes was scribbling equations on the board to explain nuclear reactions.  I had no idea what he was talking about and this was a very bad thing because, you know, I didn't like to do homework. If I was going to pick it up, it had to be in the classroom.

With a few minutes left to go, he asked if there were any questions.  I looked around, totally bewildered.  But no one else was speaking up.

Screw it.  I raised my hand and Mr. Hayes pointed to me.

"I I thought you said..."

I pointed to the whiteboard, all frustrated.  

"You have different letters at the end of the equation.  You said we have to have the same number of the same letters at the beginning and at the end of every equation.  This doesn't make any sense."

This was all I really understood about chemical reactions, after a semester of work.  The letters represented chemical elements and the math had to add up.  That was just algebra.  Algebra I could do.

Mr. Hayes lit up like a Christmas Tree.  He clapped his hands together.  He came over to my desk, knelt down and kissed my hand.  He said he would be telling his family about me at the dinner table that night.

(Teachers, man.  It makes them so happy when you pay attention for a few minutes.)

"OK...thanks.  But.  The letters.  And the numbers!"

He went back to the front of the classroom and said that I had hit on the difference between chemical and nuclear reactions.  A nuclear reaction could change the very nature of the elements.  Or something.  My head exploded.  

That was just changing the rules of the game.  I don't think I maintained my B that semester.  And hell if I was going to put myself through Physics.  The next semester, I took a civics class and Russian History.  Game Over.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Blanket Two

I just finished the second blanket for Project Linus.  For my "records":

Caron Soft Yarn - Lt. Country Blue, Country Blue, Dk Country Blue

(My mother says it reminded her of the Dallas Cowboys.)  Project Linus makes a point that they always need blankets for older kids, so this was pretty large.  They also ask for neutral colors, which I decided just means No Pink.  Oh, darn.

I decided to work in strips, so that each piece would be portable until I put it together at the end.  I used a much smaller hook than I normally do, and while it worked fine for the yarn, it took forever and snagged more often than made me happy.  I don't think I will do that again.

Twelve strips crocheted together, and then I did two finishing rows around each end.  Being all careful not to make rounded corners, because my mother doesn't like that (rolls eyes).

This took me from just before Christmas until right now.  That's too long, I think.

The big, painful thing that I learned is that it doesn't matter what the label says, the skeins are not the same.  I ended up having to add rows to each piece (meaning all but one) at the end to make them come out even.

However, I also learned that I can make stuff up and it turns out ok.  Even when I only know how to do one stitch.  And I am nearly through my second audio book, too.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Using the Library

So I was just saying that as much as I support my local library, I don't use it effectively.  (Read as: I really have to buy my books.)  However, I checked out some stuff today that reminded me there are several reasons why I appreciate it:

  1. Research.  And not just the Reference Library kind.  The "check out 10 books on the subject" kind - for work and school.
  2. Travel books.  There is no reason under God to spend $22.99 on Frommer's Hawaii 2011.  Unless you are moving there.  Maybe.
  3. Children's section.  I can't tell you what a kick Alex gets out of having his own library card and borrowing his own books.  And kids outgrow books as quickly as everything else.  I know because I just bought him two Scooby Doo books at two different reading levels because I don't know where he is.  I think I will tell him, "One for Daddy to read to you and one for you to read to Ainslie!"
  4. Audio books.  Because listening to books is awesome, but they are way too expensive for my habits.  You can't find Books on CD for a dollar.  And the library has so, so many.  I stopped at two.
Of course, now I have to lug this bag back to my car.

BTT: Heavy

This week's Booking Through Thursday Question was:

What’s the largest, thickest, heaviest book you ever read? Was it because you had to? For pleasure? For school?

It seems like it is the one I am currently using to study for an exam: The Complete Guide to Executive Compensation.  That is a mother of a book.  And not even really interesting.  But it is still a text book, and I am not sure that should count.

I have read War and Peace, which seems to be the Gold Standard of Big Long Novels.  And The Winds of War, which I have lately seen sold in two volumes.  For crying out loud.  And The Thorn Birds was a big, fat epic.  And The Brothers Karamazov last year (OMG).  Oh!  And The Cancer Ward was quite the tome.  That was Solzhenitsyn.  Those I read for fun.

I've said that I like to read a good epic every summer.  But I think I may be avoiding the Russians this year.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Audio Books

It occurred to me that since I started getting serious about contributing to Project Linus, I haven't been reading enough.  (Yeah, yeah.  Define "enough".)  I watched a season of Mad Men.  I am a good way through that French History course on Academic Earth.  But the reading has been slow.

Then I was watching Diggnation and Kevin Rose said that he had signed up for, a company that sells audio books that you can download.  There is a monthly fee - $14.99, I think - and you can download one book per month.  Well, you know I don't pay $15.00 for my books these days.  But a seed was planted in my little head.

So I was in Half Price Books and decided to check out the audio book section.  OMG, are they expensive.  $20.00 for a used copy.  Expensive, and I am kinda squeamish about putting strange disks into my computer.  Then I was in Barnes and Noble.  I forget what I touched first, but it was $60.00.

$60.00 for a set of CDs of someone reading to you!  $14.99 a month sounds rather less crazy.

I remembered that I had gift cards left from Christmas, so I found two on sale at BN and The Zahir was a new-in-plastic copy at Half Price Books.  So that is the experiment.

The Zahir, by Paolo Coelho

Book 3

I was home sick today, so it was a good thing I had just bought an audio book.  More on that later.

Paolo Coelho is the author of The Alchemist, a book that has been on my shelf for over a year.  The Zahir was a six hour audio commitment, which seemed good for a trial run.  The summary made it out to be a mystery - guy's wife disappears one day.  He is held by the police for the crime (for a few hours).  Two years go by and she meets her presumed-lover at a book-signing.  What happens next.

But it is really a spiritual/philosophical tale.  What is the nature of love and what does it mean to be alive and what makes us happy or unhappy.  There were several interesting points and theories, which is not to say that I bought them all.  For example:

All unhappiness is created when the people we love don't love us back (or enough, or in the right way).

Well, right now I am unhappy because I am sick.  And there are people far more sick than I am in this world.  Which reminds me that other people are starving and living in war zones and blahblahblah.

I have obviously missed the larger spiritual point.

There was a moment when the narrator remembers his wife saying that the words, "Let's talk about it tomorrow," are killing her.  Apparently he said that regularly when they got into it over something.  That struck a nerve.

According to Wikipedia, Zahir means, "the obvious", but the narrator describes it more as a Presence.  That which filled his life in a thousand ways, but was a sort of elephant in the room once she was gone.

Coehlo likes his symbolism, and you knida just have to follow him.  And there was less of a climax and more of a fading out toward the end.  But that might have just been me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Book 2

My colleague, Dave, introduced this book to our department last month and my boss thought we should all read it.  That might make you groan, but I am just the sort of nerd that would appreciate the idea. Switch is a change management book for people that don't have a lot of budget or authority.  The theme, borrowed from The Happiness Hypothesis, is the image of a Rider and an Elephant.  The Elephant is the emotional side, that can power your forward, or positively refuse.  The Rider is the rational side.  Think, analyze, direct, etc.  If there is a conflict, the Elephant wins.  You get the idea.

Heath and Heath write in anecdotes, which is a good thing, because I don't care how good your analogy theme is - the subject has been done.  They have put together stories, similar to Freakonomics or Blink, that illustrate their points about engaging both our rational and emotional sides and then managing our environments.

My favorite point was early in the book - Find the Bright Spots.  The idea is that when people analyze situations, we tend to focus on what the problems are.  Instead, we might try focusing on what is right and try to replicate it.  The story was about a guy who had no funds and six months to attack malnutrition in Vietnam. He looked at families in one village, found the most nourished kids, and figured out what their parents were doing differently.  They were all simple things that most families could do themselves.

Another chapter was on concise instructions.  The idea was that people are more likely to do what you want if you tell them, in detail, what that is.

Of course, I like a good story.  But there are also enough studies and statistics here to make the numbers people happy.  All in all, pretty good for an Office Pick.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Weekend Assignment # 354: Tour Guide

Do friends or relatives from out of town ever visit you? If so, do you take them sightseeing? Where?

Extra Credit: What is the most interesting place you ever went sightseeing while visiting someone else?

Well, you can't really call this "sightseeing", but it tells you something about my family:

A a couple of summers ago, my Aunt Jacquelyn and Uncle Mike got in their RV with their youngest son, Matthew, and drove across the country. This was my aunt and uncle's third trip, but Matthew hadn't done it before. They chose their routes and destinations by a book based on the Food Network show, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives

Aunt Jacquelyn called us one day, out of the clear blue sky, to say that a restaurant in Glenview, Hackney'swas on the list. They wanted to try the famous blue cheese burger.

Hackney's is an institution in Glenview. And the burgers are great. But to come to Chicago just to eat at that restaurant in Glenview? And anyway, I'm not sure I appreciate it being referred to as a "Diner" or a "Dive". But there it was.

So at the appointed hour, they parked their RV at the forest preserve across the street and we had Hackneyburgers. Some involving blue cheese. And the famous onion rings. We caught up for a bit, and then they got back in the RV and headed north to some other landmark eatery.  And the Jelly Belly Factory.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Putt's Pet Portraits

My mom's friend Miss Gayle is a semi-professional artist specializing in pets.  She just launched a website

so I thought I would give her a Shout Out.  This is the piece she did several years ago of my Late Great Dog Dallas:

It is particularly precious to me because Dallas died far too young and I don't have many pictures of her at all.  It is painted on a wooden plaque from a digital picture that my mother, Kay, took and e-mailed to her.

Side Note:  Kay wants you to know that you will not find this work featured on the web site because it was Miss Gayle's First Commissioned Portrait.  Christmas of 2004, I believe it was.  As though I should put it in a vault to sell when she hits the Big Time.

As if I would ever sell a portrait of my dog!

I think the better point there is that if you think this is good, you know that six years later her work is even better.  Now if only Kiwi the Grey would sit still for five seconds...

BTT: Periodically

The Booking through Thursday question was:

"What magazines/journals do you read?"

Once upon a time, I read so many magazines that I couldn't count them. Pet magazines, cooking magazines (as if I ever really cooked), People. I would grab one every single time I was at the grocery store. Then I started reading about "The Starbucks Factor". That thing you spend a few bucks on all the time, such that if you gave it up, you might actually save money. 

So I asked myself which were my favorites and subscribed. Then I never bought another magazine at the grocery store. Once in awhile at the airport, but never at the grocery store.

These days, I get my dose of celebrity gossip rags at the allergist's office. I subscribe only to Vanity Fair, and it has been three years since I didn't have a back pile of issues to read. There are at least four right now. I imagine it is because I spend so much time online. 

I read the Chicago Tribune and USA Today online, as well as Glenview Patch, a new online local periodical. And I always see the headlines on MSN and iGoogle.

Wow. That was more stuff than I thought.

For Anyone Griping about Recruiters

This is the pile of applications I received for a recent job post.   No wait - this was only the "No" pile:

You might think I am evil, because I will size up a résumé in ten seconds or less.  You may think I am short-sighted, or insensitive or generally stupid.  But I am telling you, it is an HR survival skill.  In this pile, I was amazed by those that:

  1. Did not come close to fulfilling the minimum requirements.
  2. Did not follow the application instructions.
  3. Did not include a cover letter.
People in the first two groups have wasted my time.  Those in the third are ok, but they missed an opportunity to grab me.  I don't have the magic bullet for getting the perfect job.  Or even a good job.  But please, please.  Take the time to read the posting and customize your response.  Blasting out copies isn't going to work anymore.

I read an article the other day in MSN Careers called "Job Advice that Was True 20 Years Ago -- but Not Today".  My favorite part was that we have gone from the lovely (expensive) printed parchment paper to all digital:

"Résumés used to be printed on heavy card stock that stood out from standard bulk copy paper. Today, in most industries, an overly formal résumé presentation appears outdated. Be sure to have copies of your résumé on hand when you go for an interview, just in case the interviewer forgets his or hers. And make sure it looks good printed on paper. But most applications are online these days, so make sure the formatting looks good on your computer screen. Before hitting  the "send" button, check hyperlinks, turn off the spell checker so that proper nouns don't have red squiggles underlining them, and pick a font that's easy to read."

True, true and true.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011


So you all know what a pain it is to medicate animals.  My mother has to find new ways to hide pills from Shadow every day.  Canned food.  Peanut butter sandwiches.  Cheese.  Luckily, she remembers the technique from back in the 80's when everyone just shoved the pill down the dog's throat.  Kiwi the Grey and Spooky the Cat have to be force fed with the syringe.

There is a holistic serum-like thing the Refuge has been using on feather-picking birds.  We've been pretty pleased with the results, and thinking it might be worth trying on Sigmund the Foster Grey.  The problem is there isn't a food that is conducive to holding the liquid that we can trust him to eat consistently.

On a lark, I bought some mini-pancakes last weekend.  I saw them in the freezer section and remembered one volunteer saying that is how she gets her bird to take meds.  I nuked one last night and gave him a piece.

Chowed.  Right. Down.

So I picked up the meds tonight, used a syringe to infuse the pancake and gave him a piece.  Chowed down again.  This is only night two, but I am very encouraged.

Kiwi, of course, won't have anything to do with them.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Decline and Fall of Higher Education in the U.S.

The Trib wrote about a topic that has been bothering me for a long time - the fact that higher education has become less and less effective every year.  Standards are lowering and Google has replaced thinking.

Here is the news:

"The research of more than 2,300 undergraduates found 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years."

The article goes on to interview a college student that claims to have learned very little her freshman year.  It was all material she covered in high school.  The way I remember it, high school was a recurring refrain of, "If you don't learn this now, you will never make it through college."  So I guess I believe her.

And what is not news:

"Lindsay McCluskey, president of the United States Student Association, said the findings speak to a larger problem in U.S. higher education: universities being run more like corporations than educational institutions, with students viewed as consumers who come for a degree and move on."

Having gone through the online education experience, I am happy to say that schools are continually looking for ways to reach students and provide different programs to meet different needs.  However.  That should not be at the expense of teaching.  Of holding students accountable for understanding the material and applying it properly. Grades should not be bought.  Or begged, cajoled or bullied.  I don't care how much "good money" was paid for a course, it doesn't buy an A, or even a passing grade.

Someone, please.  Put our standards back where they belong.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Suburbs

I've been watching lectures from a course on Academic Earth called France Since 1871.  I am interested because almost everything I have known about French history has been in the context of American or, perhaps, English history.  More on that later.

In a lecture on the urban rebuilding of Paris (mid-19th century), Professor Merriman notes that in the United States, the suburbs are the place that people go to escape the Big Bad City.  Whereas in Europe, the suburbs are the place to which the riffraff is (are?) exiled.  Fascinating.

Isn't that a huge part of the American character?  That we want land.  We want space.  But the work is to be found in the cities, so the best we can do is commute from the suburbs.

I could live in a college town, or a small town.  I could even go rural, assuming that there was Internet and a near-enough airport.  And UPS.  But I don't think I could go urban for real.  Even when I went to college - AU is pretty much in the suburbs.

My friend Rich loves the city.  He loves it so much that when he figured out that he couldn't afford a place he really liked in Chicago, he moved to Milwaukee.  Just to live in an urban environment.  For me, the city is an event, not an everyday way of life.

I need space.  I need green.  And I love my car.  I am ok with being the riffraff.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It is So On

My office had a Bears Day - wear your team gear to the office - on Friday.  Well, you don't have to tell me twice.  I wore my lucky Brian Urlacher jersey.  And because one can't clomp around in the office wearing one's snow boots (and the heels I keep under my desk would look silly), I ran around on Friday wearing my slippers.

Toward the end of the day, a colleague laughed at my jersey, asking from whom I had borrowed it.  I was clearly a couple of sizes too big.  I hadn't borrowed it from anyone.  But I've lost some weight since I bought it.  It seemed like time to get a new one.

As any sports fan knows, jerseys can get really expensive really quickly.  The best quality, with the names and numbers sewn on can run $250.00.

Not in the budget.  But Kohl's had some replicas on sale and I picked one up on Saturday.  Matt Forte.  Now to the dilemma:

This is not your average Sunday.  This is the playoffs.  Would wearing the new Matt Forte jersey upset the delicate balance of mojo?  Should I just do my laundry and wear No. 54?

Ultimately, I decided that if the Bears couldn't manage that minor shift in my ritual, I didn't want them playing the Pack next week, anyway.

And I was too lazy to do laundry last night.  Obviously, it turned out just fine.  And now hear this:

Everyone.  No more talking until next Sunday.  Not one more word.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mad Men, Season Two

Much like Season One, I spent the first few episodes of Mad Men, Season Two wondering what I was doing watching these horrible people and their mean little lives.

Then I got sucked in again.

I don't think it is too much of a generalization to say that in any good Season Two, there is some serious character development.  For me, the way the women flesh out is the more important.

I am interested in the way that Peggy is growing up - she is a trailblazer and this is a Boys' Club.  Watching her try to take Joan's advice, "Stop trying to be a man," and "Stop dressing like a little girl,"  was worth my time.  We really need to move past the Catholic Conflict, though.  That story has been told many times before.

And poor Joan.  She plays the game by the rules and lands her doctor and he is just as big an ass as the Boys Club and she isn't happy.  She grows professionally and isn't recognized for it.  And OMG with Roger's little twinkie.  I am looking forward to seeing what Joan does next, and how she gets even.

Betty.  I spent most of the season disgusted with her.  The hand she was dealt wasn't all bad, but she played it so poorly and is so very spiteful about it.  Then we get to the last ep.  I don't want to throw out any spoilers here, but I started to sympathize.

And finally, while I don't expect to see much of her again, Cooper's sister was a riot.  I want to be her when I grow up.  Example:

Cooper, the senior partner, is a germaphobe who makes everyone take off their shoes before entering his office.  Alice strolls right in and when Cooper starts to protest, she says something like, "Bertram, my stockings are worth more than your carpet."

I hope Season Three dives right in.

Friday, January 14, 2011

BTT: First Book

The Question was: Do you remember the first book you bought for yourself? Or the first book you checked out of the library? What was it and why did you choose it?

I was extremely lucky in that my parents bought me lots of books when I was a kid.  They fed my habit until I finished college.  Since going to the bookstore was no big deal at all, I really don't remember the first purchase I made.

Similarly, my elementary school made time each week for each class to visit the library and check out books.  I don't remember the first, but I do remember one that was special:

Miss Nelson is Missing hit mainstream Willowbrook when I was in the second grade.  The tale, of how a teacher gives her class a lesson on taking the nice ones for granted, was so popular that it had a waiting list.  A waiting list!  

Over the summer, I took my two year old niece, Ainslie, to the library several times.  One day, I saw Miss Nelson on the shelf and borrowed it for five year old Alex.  He wasn't quite so impressed.

Kids.  They don't know what's cool.

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Weekend Assignment # 353: My Fifteen Minutes

Andy Warhol famously said that in the future, everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. Have you had yours? For purposes of this assignment, "fame" includes public speaking, amateur plays, any tv or radio appearance, being a face in the crowd as a movie extra, being mentioned in someone's autobiography, etc.

Extra Credit: Given the opportunity, would you want to be famous for more than fifteen minutes? 

I haven’t told this story in awhile and it is bound to make Kris smile, so:

When I was a kid, my mother was friends with an aspiring director named Sue. The summer I was nine, Sue landed a job directing a short film on school bus safety. To help her out, my mother rounded up kids in my neighborhood to be extras. We spent a few hours on it and were paid 75 bucks. It was fun.

One piece of the film was the little girl that drops a book in front of the bus as she crosses in front of it – then runs back to pick it up. The lesson, of course, was Don’t Do That (followed by If You Can See the Driver, the Driver Can Probably See You).

I, of course, played this little girl. And my school district purchased the film.

I had to watch my 9-year old self in this thing every. single. year. Even into high school. And because there were other kids that we knew, my classmates knew all about it and spent the time shouting “There’s Anne! There’s Justin!” and not remotely paying attention to the message. I slid further and further down into my chair every year.

This was my once a year reminder that I don’t really want to be famous. Rich, yes. But not famous.

Side Note:  My father showed up in a National Geographic special that was also played in my school. He was fishing in Alaska with his brothers when NG was filming a documentary on grizzly bears. The teachers would kindly pause the screen and make me point out my dad and my Uncle Jeff and my Uncle Mike and my Uncle Fred. That was way funnier than the bus safety movie.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


As much as I support my local library, I often have trouble using it for its primary purpose - the borrowing of books.  Example:

My book club is reading Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.  This is not a title that was on my TBR list (read as: I do not own a copy).  So I checked it out from the library and got several chapters into it before leaving for Atlanta.  For whatever reason, I am extra paranoid about taking books that do not belong to me out of town.  So I stalled out.

A few days ago, I received an e-mail from the library, saying that the book was due.  I logged on to renew it and found that I could not because someone had it on hold.

Lucky for me, the title is in the Clearance Section at Barnes and Noble.  Five bucks.  I ordered a copy and returned the original one to the library today.

For God's sake.

Volunteer from Home

Glenview Patch, my new favorite online publication, had an article highlighting some ways that people can volunteer for various causes on their own time, without leaving home.  Right now, I have Project Linus to fill that need, but I was particularly interested to see this:

Put your knowledge to use
Whether you have a background or interest in education, government, culture, gender issues or the environment, has an available opportunity for you. Simply by using your computer, you can make a difference in regions across the world. Register here to begin making a global impact without stepping foot from your home.
It seems that, run by the United Nations Development Program, has an entire database of volunteer opportunities that are based on the Internet.
My dance card is pretty full right now, but I will be hanging on to this one for future reference.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On a Day Where I Needed for Nothing to Go Wrong

Dear United Airlines:

I don't know how you knew, 24 hours ago, that I was having a rough week in Atlanta.  But when I checked on my flight, (to be sure O'Hare wasn't going paralyzed with the rest of the continent) I found a complimentary upgrade.

I woke up at 6:50 this morning, knowing that I had to take the subway to the airport and not knowing whether those trains would run on schedule.  So I was up, dressed, packed and out the door at 7:15 for an 11a.m. flight.

There was no line to check my bag, which made me nervous even though I knew my flight was still on time.  I printed my boarding pass, dropped my luggage and looked at the boards.  On three other airlines, flights were cancelled right and left.  Not United.  Everything was running on schedule.  Even the 9:38 to Dulles.  (OK, it helped that there was only one East Coast flight and the rest of us were going West.)

The gentleman running the gate wasn't just polite.  He wore a smile.  Even though he had lived through the same three-day Atlanta nightmare as the rest of the city.  I suppose it is possible that he had taken a three-day nap and had missed the drama entirely, but I don't think that was it.

I fell asleep as soon as I hit my seat.  Everything ran on schedule, including baggage claim.  Thank you for giving me the day where everything went right.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Winter Work

Weekend Assignment # 352: Winter Work

Now that the new year has begun, most of us are back at work, with only a few holidays to look forward to over the next several months. Most of us in the Northern Hemisphere wake now to cold, dark mornings, and may see little or no daylight on our morning and evening commutes. What is this time of year like for you? Are you more productive in the bleak midwinter, less so, or neither? What is the weather like where you are, and do you enjoy it?

Extra Credit: Are you still working on unfinished business from last year? 

I live outside of Chicago and I have, historically, had a problem with mid-to-late winter. In school, third quarter always netted my worst grades of the year. I get cabin fever pretty easily and February always feels like the longest month of the year.

I cope.

I used to have some winter milestones - Christmas being the first. Then in early January, I have Big Work Meeting. A couple of weeks later is the Super Bowl. Then there is nothing to look forward to until Spring, which I marked by a certain conference in April. I don't attend it any more, so I will need a new "OK, We are Done Now" marker.

Last year, for the first time, I took a real Winter Vacation. I will be doing it again next month and hopefully, that will get me through to the Spring.

Like many people, a lot of my work is cyclical. By the calendar. So there aren't many things i categorize as "unfinished" for the New Year. I am sure I have some, though.

The Witches of Eastwick, by John Updike

Book One

When John Updike published the sequel, I was reminded that I've been meaning to read The Witches of Eastwick for years.  Loved the movie, though it has been years since I've seen it.  Like Updike.  I had heard the novel was really different, but had not heard a consensus of opinion on whether "different" meant "better".

And I still couldn't tell you.  It really is different.

The film version, as I remember it, had these three women with some exceptional talents have something absolutely magical happen.  Which leads to a few more magical things.  The magical things go very, scary bad and how do our heroines fix it?

In the novel, our heroines are not really heroines.  They are not even particularly likable.  And they are true witches - actively practicing magic for their convenience or their spite.

What the novel has is a really interesting portrayal of witchcraft.  Part of it was explained so quickly, I almost missed it - that any woman that had left or been left by her man had this power.  Whether she developed it was up for debate.

Also interesting was the rather careless way the magic is tossed about until toward the end when a clear line is crossed.  The last section is even titled "Guilt".  That feeling gave the book a bit more heart than the film.  But the film was more fun.  So take your pick.

Peachtree Street, 24 Hours After the Snow Fell

Thursday, January 6, 2011

OMG with the Peach Cobbler

Last night, I just ate in the hotel restaurant. Fabulous shrimp and corn chowder.  Lame grilled cheese.  Good peach cobbler.  For lunch today, all of my colleagues wanted Chick-Fil-A.  I don't get it, but they do have Diet Dr. Pepper from the fountain.

Tonight, I was with a group at Mary Macs Tea Room.  All Southern cooking served family style.  The peanut butter pie blew Baker's Square so far out of the water I don't even want to talk about it.  And again with the peach cobbler.

I tried to take a picture outside, but the neon sign turned out terribly so I am not putting it up here.

I wondered if I could keep this up all week - try the peach cobbler in a different restaurant every night.  But I am pretty sure the reservations are for Italian tomorrow.

I shan't push my luck.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

For the 1,000th Post on This Stupid Blog

I have absolutely nothing to say.  I know some people that do an "Ask me any question and I will answer it" when they get to such milestones.  But my mother reads this thing.

Another January, another annual meeting.

I felt very busy while I was on vacation, and now that I am back on the road I am thinking of all these things that I didn't get done:

  1. Allergy shot
  2. Take car for oil change
  3. Pack up CDs for storage (I am nearly all-digital!)
  4. Eyebrow wax (Sorry.  Different mirrors in different lighting make these things more important.)
  5. Leave instructions for the Care & Feeding of my pets
  6. Take magazines to Library
You get the idea.

Sometimes, stuff that I don't do while on Christmas vacation doesn't get done until Spring.  Or later.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I Don't Mean to Get Political on You

But MSN had an interesting article:

"The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that police can search the cell phone of a person who's been arrested -- including text messages -- without obtaining a warrant, and use that data as evidence." 

Apparently, the Court thinks that because the phone is an item of property on the person at the time of an arrest, the phone's data history is fair game to search without a warrant. A former Justice Department employee was interviewed about it:

""The door is open for police to search the entire contents of iPhones or other smart phones that people routinely carry, he said.

"In fact, I would be shocked if police weren't getting instructions right now to do just that," he said.

By applying the "personal property on the defendant's person" standard, Rasch said, the ruling could logically extend to tablets or even laptop computers, he said."

The advice offered was to password protect your phone, as the case does not compel anyone to divulge a password. I would add that we might delete e-mail and text history. 

Does anyone else find it funny that this happened in California?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Blogging Communities

I like Blogging Communities, because that's where you know..people that like the same stuff that you do.  Since Thirty Something Bloggers seems to have gone inactive and Chicago Bloggers seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth, I started looking around.  I have an account with Blogher, but that community is a bit..intimidating.

Miss Busy pointed me to Book Bloggers.  I can't really call myself a "Book Blogger", since I write about lots of other goofy stuff.  But several of the people on Booking Through Thursday participate, so I signed up.  Badge to the right.

Sigmund and Cobalt

I don't remember if I mentioned that in addition to Sigmund, I brought home Cobalt, a darling lovebird from the Refuge, to foster for the holidays.  Boarding pet birds is a major source of revenue for the Refuge, and it gets very crowded.  At my house, Cobalt was sure to have more time outside of the cage and it is one less bird for the volunteers to care for when we are already really busy.

Cobalt spent four or five weeks at my house.  She is extremely flighted and really fearless.  She flew from room to room and perch to perch to see what all the other birds and people were doing.  It made Kiwi crazy.  Sigmund got used to her:

Excuse the terrible camera-phone picture.  Cobalt was foraging in Sigmund's dish.  He put up with her on the perch.  He did not put up with her landing on his cage.  She does not like to be handled, and did not step up for me once, but after a few weeks, she understood when it was bedtime and I didn't have to chase her around too much to get her to fly back to her cage all by herself.

I am returning Cobalt to the Refuge tomorrow, as I leave for Atlanta on Wednesday.  I am sad to see her go and hopeful that she will find a "forever home" soon.  Cobalt is up for adoption and you can find her profile here.

Note:  I just realized that the profile refers to Cobalt as "him".  So I could be wrong about the gender.  Charming bird, either way.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Year End Whatever

I waited too long to do a proper reflection on 2010.  My head is already back at work.  I have two days in the office before I leave for our Annual Meeting.  After that I have four weeks in the office before my official Winter Vacation, which has been booked since August.

There is a lot that I want to accomplish this year.  I have goals up to my ears at work.  Here is some of the rest:

  • At the Refuge, we have all agreed that we need to start organized fundraising efforts.  I spent a few hours researching grants that might be available.  Of course, I'll have to learn how to write them.

  • At the Library, we have talked a lot about how to keep all of the volunteers better informed.  It is really hard to keep everyone on the same page when we are all working one-at-a-time.  I owe our director an e-mail on the instructions regarding onsite sales of Amazon listed books.

  • I mentioned that I am beginning to contribute blankets to Project Linus.  I am not sure how active I can be in the local chapter, but I think I am halfway through my second contribution.

  • I was disappointed that I only made it to 50 Books read in 2010.  However, it seems to be a reachable goal, so I'd better stick with it.  I will commit to reading every book that my Book Club selects, even if I am not able to attend the meetings.

  • I am not going to commit to visiting any place new in 2011. The winter vacation is a repeat, and unless I have a much better idea, I think I want to go back to New Orleans this year.
That's all I got.  Have a great week.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Holiday Reading Challenge Wrap Up

It seems I forgot to do a wrap up for my Holiday Reading Challenge.  The five books I read were all in my TBR; I  did not make any special purchases.  The only re-reads were in the short story collections.  The conclusion that I came to from this small sample is that in a holiday mystery, the holiday generally has very little to do with the story.  The links are to my thoughts upon completion of the books.

  1. A Christmas Memory, et al, by Truman Capote
  2. Hercule Poirot's Christmas: A Holiday Mystery, by Agatha Christie
  3. Benjamin Franklin and a Case of Christmas Murder, by Robert Lee Hall
  4. A Different Kind of Christmas, by Alex Haley
  5. Christmas Classics from The Modern Library
Thanks again to Nely for hosting this online event.  I had a great time!