Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Interesting but Flawed

Over at Repressed Librarian's, I saw a request asking for readers like myself to help a grad student with his research by linking to this post. Apparently, Scott Eric Kaufman is studying memes, and the speed at which they propagate. The "meme" here is that each person who reads about the study then posts the link and asks their readers to do the same. Many people have already left comments on his blog, pointing out the various flaws in his methodology, some of which he acknowledges right from the start. A major issue I see is that as a meme, this one doesn't offer much to participants: no self-reflection, no self-indulgence, no opportunity to share or write. People don't have the normal incentive to participate in memes (FUN). So don't do it because you want to: link to this cat purely for the advancement of knowledge.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sink Patrol

If such a thing is possible, my posting may be even lighter than normal for the next few days. Mary from No Polar Coordinates will be arriving shortly to stay with us for a few days. As I write this she is barreling down the Thruway, hopefully clear of the fog that obscured the highway earlier in her journey.

I have violated the universal code of hospitality. Basic etiquette dictates cleaning the house when expecting company, and I did engage in this ritual. My breach of propriety is due to procrastination. I cleaned the upstairs bathroom today, this afternoon in fact. For shame. A guest should never be able to detect that cleaning has just occurred. The idea is to make things appear that they are always clean. I cannot smell any chemicals myself, but I was immersed in them for over an hour this afternoon, so my sense of smell is completely unreliable at this point.

Why yes, I did say over an hour. Why yes, that does seem excessive. I am beginning to think I am extremely inefficient at this whole bathroom cleaning business. My bathroom is average size, with ordinary fixtures. Except that damn sink! I’m growing to loathe the thing, more and more each time I try to clean it. So I will dispense with some unsolicited advice: never ever ever buy a pedestal sink. Mine looks much like this:

I did not select the sink; it was already here when we bought the house. It is attractive, and clearly relatively new. The whole bathroom appears to have been remodeled sometime in the last five years. Aesthetics are not the problem. But, it sucks to clean like nobody’s business. All those exposed surfaces, ceramic ridges, water lines. Ugh. If you simply must have one, do yourself a huge favor and consider one with a simpler design, at the very least one without ridges on the stem.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Another Backyard Adventure

Today was very mild, sunny and warm. It must have been 65 degrees, highly unusual for late November in this area. We wanted to take advantage of the niceness by spending time outdoors, and decided to make some further explorations in our big backyard. It can be tricky departing on foot from the house: our cat Elijah loves walks and always tries to come along. We managed to sneak off successfully, whispering as we speed-walked down the street, only slowing down and returning to normal speaking voices once out of range.

We took a new route, and ended up scaling a steep wooded hillside on a deer path, which eventually joined up with a narrow footpath. The woods are riddled with trails, made by people and animals both, and especially near the quarry, by mountain bikers. It is our mission to learn each and every one, so excitement ensues every time we follow a new one to its logical end. The footpath we merged with in the steep oak woods eventually connected back with the old tower trail, an intersection we’d noted with curiosity in the past. One mystery solved; happily many remain.

This area is owned by the university, but is not maintained or used for anything currently. The old tower has long been abandoned, along with the associated building, a tiny cinder block structure with no windows. There was a new development today; someone had broken a padlock on the building, and the door stood slightly ajar. We couldn’t resist peeking inside. It was dank and musty, with an unpleasant and unidentifiable smell. Rusting electronica, empty paint cans, rotted cushions, the usual assortment of crap found in urban ruins.

Just standing at the base of the tower, it feels like the highest point in the city, and the scenery isn’t too shabby either. But there are always foreground distractions, trees and weeds and such. Someday we’ll go back and climb that tower, right up to the top. Then we’ll talk about the views.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Photos for Ginny

As I've mentioned before, I have a big project underway involving scanning old photos of my Mom’s that she unearthed during her move. Phase II is the current stage; phase I was completed almost a year and a half ago now. I had photos printed in triplicate, and gave one set to my sister and another set to my father. I took the ones for Dad and put them in a little album for a Father’s Day gift, which was a huge success.

They made enough of an impression, anyway, to have been a topic of conversation when Dad and D stayed with my Uncle and Aunt last month on their great pumpkin pilgrimage. D told me that Aunt had requested copies of the pictures with her kids, my cousins. I am more than happy to get extra prints made; this is the sort of dorky thing I get geeked up on.

However, I am a little worried the hype will overshadow the delivery, because when I went back to the original files on the computer, I only found two pictures with C in them. As they do now, this branch of the family lived far away throughout my entire childhood, so it’s not all that surprising that we don’t have billions of photos of us kids cuting it up together. Nevertheless, I don’t want to disappoint G. They are two great pictures, mind you, but still: it’s just not very impressive a stack.

I was given Thanksgiving as a suggested deadline, since Aunt and Uncle will be staying with Dad and D for the holiday. I uploaded the pictures earlier today and will pick them up this evening. Knowing me, I’ll be scrounging around tomorrow looking for more photos. But at least I can finally take the little sticky note off my monitor that says, “Photos for Ginny.”

Sis, A, C, Me

Monday, November 20, 2006

Spoilt from the Git

As I’ve mentioned before, I am not working now, and am busy furiously looking for a job. If it wasn’t for this pesky business about paying bills, I could be quite happy whiling away my hours, but that’s neither here nor there.

[You know, I’ve never really liked paying bills…] Pipe down, Peter, we all know you get that construction job in the end.

I don’t seem to have any particularly sought after skills, at least not for this area. I’ve had former colleagues alert me to opportunities far away in distant lands, but for now at least, I’m committed to finding work HERE. And unfortunately, there don’t seem to be too many local employers looking for someone with my education and skills. I might have to branch out a little.

While browsing want ads, I can’t help but reflect on the various jobs I’ve had over the years, reviewing positives and negatives, things to look for and things to avoid. I’ve had some real doozies, although frankly my worst can’t compare to some of SodaBoy’s stories (ask him to tell you about the shingle sample factory sometime). I’ve actually seen a number of advertisements for vacancies in the field I worked in the for the last 3.5 years, but I know the minutiae of that particular hell, and I am not eager to return there.

Part of my problem is my frame of mind: I have this naive idea that people ought to be able to find rewarding work. I don’t actually believe that, any more than I believe in Santa Claus, but it was how I was raised, a prejudice I must constantly fight to overcome. It might be a kind of sickness to expect to find a good job, one that is enjoyable; that sort of expectation just sets a person up for disappointment. It is called “work” for a reason, right? Nobody calls it “fun.”

Another part of the problem is that I have worked some really fantastic, fun jobs. My first job ever, as a matter of fact, was fabulous. I think it ruined me. I guess technically it wasn’t my first job, as I’d been babysitting various neighborhood kids for several years by then. But it was my first payroll job, the first time I paid income taxes. It was the summer of 1988; minimum wage was $3.35/hour. I turned fourteen a week before the cut-off date for eligibility: applications for positions on the State Conservation Corps were restricted to teens aged 14-18.

The SCC was modeled after the Youth Conservation Corps programs of the 1970s (which were in turn modeled after Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps). We punched in at the central services office for the parks department, and rode to the work sites in a monstrous 15-passenger van. We worked in several local parks, doing trail improvement projects at Second Home Nature Center and Upland Woods Park, constructing gabion nets along the creek banks at the local fish hatchery. There was an educational component, too, five hours a week dedicated to first aid, tree ID, canoe safety. The work was physically demanding, but it was a diverse group of kids, and we were outdoors all day having fun.

I returned to the SCC in 1989, and got a 20 cent/hour raise, but the program was discontinued after that, to my great sorrow. I doubt I will ever again find a job where the absolute worst thing about it is wearing my hard hat. Of course, I can’t pay the mortgage on minimum wage, either.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Juggling Germs

My grandmother M is in a nursing home. Several years ago, she had a brain tumor the size of a lemon removed, and she never really recovered. The tumor caused memory problems, and impaired her cognitive abilities on many different levels. She’d been physically weak before that, with crippling arthritis preventing her from getting adequate exercise. Grammy was a stubborn one, too, refusing to even consider the knee replacement we all nagged her about.

Now she is in a wheelchair, too weak to stand, even with assistance. She gets day and night confused, and has no memory of the deaths of her parents or her grandparents or her husband. She has no idea she is 83 years old. Some days she thinks I am her mother; other days her daughter; on occasion, she knows exactly who I am. To me this matters little, as she always knows I am someone she likes, someone she is happy to see.

Her three children live faraway: in Colorado, Maine, and Michigan. Sis and I are the only grandchildren in the area, the only local family of any kind. So she doesn’t get as many visitors as anyone would like.

When she was first hospitalized, I was the one to meet her ambulance at the emergency room and haggle with the doctors about keeping her overnight, about getting her into rehab. I was at the hospital, and then the rehab facility virtually every single day. Rehab didn’t work out: Grammy refused to do her exercises, and couldn’t remember basic safety issues like setting the brake on the wheelchair. She was transferred to the long-term care division of the nursing home.

Once she got settled, I had to pull back a little bit. Visits there can be quite draining, physically and emotionally. I was working a terribly demanding job at the time, and between work and the nursing home, I was feeling stretched too thin. I decided I would try to visit once a week. It seemed like a reasonable frequency. There are a lot of variables, though, and I’m not always able to keep the schedule. And then I feel terrible. This week, for example: I haven’t visited.

I spent all of Monday night, then much of Tuesday afternoon at the hospital with T and R. Due to the nature of R’s condition, the hospital had them quarantined. They couldn’t leave their private room, and all attending nurses and physicians added extra papery disposable robes over their uniforms before entering. They were obviously considered to be highly contagious, and it was exactly the sort of sickness that is most dangerous for the very young and the very old. I didn’t want to carry those microbes up to the nursing home and risk infecting Grammy and her elderly compatriots, so I stayed away.

Now, several days later, it seems unlikely that I am still a contagion for that particular intestinal illness, which I luckily never developed (knock on wood). I have developed a slight cold, however. It's nothing major: runny nose, coughing, difficulty breathing, general weakness. I probably picked it up in that interminable hospital waiting room. And once again, I don’t want to share my germs with Grammy. The unfortunate result is a week with no visits.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What Does "Lake Loop" Mean?

Although no one has specifically asked, I thought perhaps the time has come to explain the origination of the name Lake Loop. Quite simply, I have found that I get some of my best thinking done while walking alone in the woods. It brings me to a state of mind that is completely unattainable for me through any other means, something I struggle even to describe.

To be clear, I am not a total recluse; I do enjoy walking with close friends or family members. Hiking with others brings it’s own set of pleasures: the intimacy of matched paces, the delight of shared experiences. However, when walking with a friendly associate, the tendency is to lapse towards conversation. This is wonderful for purposes of companionship, of course, but does not lend itself so frequently to peaceful reflection.

I find loop trails to be particularly satisfying, not just for solo jaunts of introspection, but for hikes of all variety. Something about ending up back where I started without retracing my steps makes me feel like I’ve made efficient use of my time, gotten the most bang for my buck. The loop need not circle a body of water, but that is an added bonus.

Exploring new areas is exciting, but the contemplative nature of the walk is especially powerful on a familiar trail. There are several parks in my area featuring trails that wind all the way around a small lake. At both Second Home Nature Center and Pretty Colour Lakes, the loop trails are approximately three miles in length.

As it’s name suggests, Second Home Nature Center is a place I have spent a lot of time over the years. Right from birth, I pretty much grew up there. My ties to the land go back far beyond me, though. Before her death at 99 years of age, my great-grandmother’s house had been in the family since it was built in 1822; her land abutted that of Second Home Nature Center. Generations of my kin have roamed these same woods. I went to the day camps there as a school kid, and volunteered there summers in high school. I could go on and on. My connections to this place are infinite, but for the sake of brevity and privacy, I won’t detail them all here.

In the summer of 1998, I was in graduate school, working on campus. SodaBoy had recently finished his B.A., and had just started his crummy McJob. He didn’t have a car yet, and was working a strange shift, noon to 9 pm. He’d take the bus to work in the mornings, which was a bit of an ordeal. He had to get a transfer downtown, and would arrive early, often getting a cup of coffee in a nearby hotel lobby before clocking in. He had to leave two hours in advance, even though it was only a 20 minute drive to the office. To spare him the indignity of spending four hours a day on transport, I would pick him up at night (plus the bus lines didn’t run both routes he needed that late).

Almost every evening that entire summer, before driving over to the cube farm to fetch SodaBoy, I’d head out to Second Home Nature Center, and walk the Lake Loop Trail. I got a lot of thinking done during those laps. So many memories there, so much of my own personal history evoked by the simple, repetitive motion, around and around. If I ever write a memoir, I decided that summer, I would call it Lake Loop. So here I am, all these years later. This blog is not a memoir per se, and I haven’t written much about Second Home Nature Center before, but there you have it. That’s where the name came from.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Pediatric Ward

I slept late this morning, raindrops drumming on the roof. These days that are so cold and wet and gloomy, practically dark at midday: my inner caveman doesn’t like them. Deep in my reptilian brain, the voice says, go back to sleep, can’t you see, today is a lousy day for hunting and gathering, go back to sleep. Good day for it or not, I must go foraging later, with a run to the supermarket, but the inner caveman’s not listening.

I do have a good reason to be so exhausted. Last night I spent 8.5 hours in the pediatric emergency ward with my friend T and her baby R. Apparently, shortly after we left their house on Saturday, R became violently ill: vomiting, diarrhea, high fever. He had refused all food and drink since then, and the family pediatrician said if he wasn’t drinking again by 5 pm, he’d need to go to the hospital for rehydration.

After checking in with reception, and then meeting with the pediatric triage nurse, we settled in for a long wait. The emergency room was packed. After several hours in the waiting room, we were finally shown to a room, only to wait some more. The place was so full that several families were stationed on beds in the hallways. The nurse told us that Monday nights are the absolute busiest time on the pediatric emergency ward, but the trend is different for adult patients, who come in Fridays and Saturdays.

Even after several hours of intravenous drip, R was still dehydrated enough so as to be admitted to the hospital. It was 1:30 am before the room was ready for him. See why I’m tired now?

Update: D just called, and R hasn’t been discharged yet. D was up at the hospital this morning, but cannot stay because their older son A is also sick, and the doctors don’t want him there. So I’m on my way back up now to keep T company and help her out with whatever I can. My guess is she was too worried about R pulling out the IV to sleep for even a minute last night, so I’ll stop whining about being tired now.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Stupid and Lazy

There is a very real danger that this blog could just become a repository of bitching, a pet peeve central, if you will. Because there are lot of things out there that piss me off, and here is this blank slate just waiting to be filled up.

See, we went to the mall this afternoon. Already, you are thinking, “boy, for someone who allegedly hates the mall so much, you sure go there a lot.” Just pipe down for a minute, and hear me out. The nose pads on SodaBoy’s glasses were busted, cutting into his nose in a most uncomfortable manner. And we have a kiddie birthday party to attend tomorrow and didn’t want to show up sans gift. So we trundled off, foolishly thinking that since it was a weekday afternoon, it wouldn’t be super crowded; always with the misplaced optimism. Today must be the school holiday for Veteran’s Day because the place was a zoo, but that’s not what upset me. I remember being a kid: school holidays were the best.

Anyway, the incident that got my goat happened right at the mall entrance, and it’s something I see all the time, not just at the mall. The couple entering in front of us pushed the button that opens the door mechanically, at both sets of doors. I have no problem with the existence of these doors. My grandmother is in a wheelchair, and it is very convenient when taking her for walks to have those push button doors available. I can also see that motorized doors would be helpful to parents with young children in strollers, or even ordinary shoppers laden with heavy bags.

But when otherwise fit people use them out of sheer laziness, it really burns me up. All that wasted energy for naught. It’s not like an escalator, which runs all day anyway, using the same energy if you climb the stairs or take the lazy route. It is considered not just illegal, but immoral, to take a designated handicap parking space if you don’t need it. Why would people think it was OK to use the handicap door services? There is a little sing-song voice in my head, busily chanting stupid and lazy, stupid and lazy.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I am the Lamest

Today has been pretty meh. I vomited this morning, which is never an auspicious start, although things often improve after that, because really, they can’t get much worse. For the record, I am not sick; I am not pregnant; and it wasn’t something I ate.

I had just showered, and the water was backing up a bit in the tub. After I toweled off, I decided to actually solve the problem, so as to avoid a repeat performance with tomorrow’s shower. I really hate standing in shower water, and just forget about baths. I will never be a bath-taker. I don’t dig hot tubs, either. I might be crazy, but at least I’m consistent.

Since I could actually see something partially blocking the drain, I pulled out the drain stopper, and the attached six inches of hair and soap scum. Ugh. I know, this is a fairly normal occurrence, and not cause for alarm. But I have an overactive gag reflex, so this sort of thing can be a challenge for me. I set the whole mess down in the tub, and retrieved a plastic grocery sack. Placing the entire drain stop inside the bag, I managed to tug loose the slimy monstrosity.

Problem solved, right? Yes, that would be the case were I a normal human. No such luck. At the moment of separation, just when the mucilaginous hairball broke free from the drain stop, the bile rose in my throat. Luckily I hadn’t eaten yet, so things weren’t as unpleasant as they could have been, but I had already drank both my morning Earl Grey and a glass of orange juice. And orange juice burns on the way back up. [Is that self-pity coming through loud and clear?]

Anyway, now my pipes are clear, and the water is draining nicely. But you know what? I don’t care how evil the stuff is: next time I’m just using Draino.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Freedom from Religion?

We walked over to our new polling station this afternoon and voted. I was delighted to find the old-style voting machines still present; apparently my county missed some deadline and the new electronic machines aren’t available yet. I’ve always loved the privacy enforced by the circling curtain, the feeling of power welling up as each lever is pulled, the satisfying mechanical noises generated by cranking the big handle.

I was less thrilled about was the location itself: a church basement. I think it was a Catholic church, but the denomination is unimportant. I would have been equally uncomfortable in a mosque, or a synagogue, or a temple, or a chapel. Whatever happened to voting in public spaces? My two previous polling places were a fire station and a public library. This is what I am accustomed to, this is what I expect.

There is an elementary school two blocks away from the church. Why couldn’t we have voted there? My high school, middle school, and elementary school were all official polling stations growing up. I remember the election days of my childhood as exciting. And it wasn’t a distraction from academic lessons, but rather educational in its own right, a real live civics lesson. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to finally vote myself. Are kids today being denied that peripheral involvement? For what possible reason?

Our polling station is not unique either; it turns out many churches serve as polling places, and I have just been fortunate thus far to be able to vote in neutral spaces. There were three separate wards voting in the church basement today, and a volunteer told me this is the first year they’ve all been combined there like that. Then my mother told me she got a card in the mail saying her polling station had been changed from the fire station where she’s voted for the last 20 years to, yep, you guessed it: a church. Coincidence?

It makes no sense to me. I would even go one step further. I think it’s wrong, through and through, just plain wrong. We all have a right to vote, regardless of our religious affiliation or lack thereof. None of us should be forced to go into a house of worship to exercise that civic right. And if you think I’m being overly sensitive, go ahead and read this. It's not about me.

It turns out that where you vote, the physical location of the polling station, actually influences the outcome of elections. For example, voters casting ballots in churches, like I did today, are less likely to support stem cell research than voters casting ballots in public spaces. My two points of anecdata suggests to a trend of more and more official polling places being moved to churches. And this frightens me, badly.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Height of Rudeness

Saturday night we went to the movies too see Borat, which was hilarious, as expected. I know, I know… it’s politically incorrect and horribly disrespectful to a whole assortment of different folks. But Sacha Baron Cohen has an amazing ability to draw out unsuspecting people and make them comfortable, exposing their prejudices for all the world to see. Many of the things people say to him are profoundly disturbing.

We don’t go the theater often, watching most films at home via Netflix. I think the last movie we saw in the theater was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Saturday night reminded me why I prefer to wait and enjoy most movies in the comfort of my living room. First of all, the mall was sickeningly crowded (and, yes, SodaBoy checked; it was the only theater in town showing Borat). The movie sold out, and luckily the clerk warned us it would be, telling us to arrive early to get decent seats.

So after getting a quick bite, we entered the theater super early and settled in for a long and tedious wait. The theater was already more than half full, 25 minutes before the scheduled show time. I’d scrounged around looking for reading material, but sadly found only an apartment rental guide. Not terrifically exciting stuff.

Then the evil witch came in. OK, maybe I exaggerate, maybe she was perfectly nice. But the woman who sat next to me was emanating stink lines the way Pig Pen radiates dirt lines. She must have gone swimming in her dagnasty “perfume.” See, I told you: she isn’t really a nice person. Nice people do not subject everyone in a 20 foot radius to their favorite chemical stench. It’s just not cool. So throughout the entire course of the film, my eyes burned, my nose ran, and I had a headache. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

Of course I was too chicken to tell her off, and by then it was too late to get other seats with a decent viewshed. But, I really don’t get it. Why do people think such behavior is acceptable? Do they think it makes them more attractive? Because in my book, such smug arrogance with the complete and total disregard for all others, combined with just plain smelling bad, is hugely UNattractive. That evil witch.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Celebrating the Tiniest of Accomplishments

We moved into our house in May, and had never run the furnace at all until the other night. We lasted to our cut-off date of November 1st, our traditional green light day for turning on the heat for the first time each winter. We were pleased with ourselves, buoyant, even: it didn't seem that cold, maybe we wouldn't even need it right away. But SodaBoy decided that we should perhaps test it out to make sure everything was working correctly.

Hard to argue with that logic, so the evening of November 2nd, we fired that baby up to a toasty 62 degrees. The familiar smell of burnt dust let us know all was in order: the furnace works. The thing was cranking along, though, completely ignoring my 62 degree setpoint. Up, up, up the temperature went. At 65, I got a little panicky, pressing random buttons in a herky-jerk manner.

Neither of had ever used a digital programmable thermostat before. There didn't seem to be enough buttons. No matter what I selected, the damn thing was determined to reach 70. Someone had programmed the lousy thing to maintain 70 degrees 24 hours a day. By 67 degrees, sweaty and frustrated, we decided the stupid thing was broken, and shut the heat back off.

Obviously, turning the thermostat on and off whenever we got cold is not a sustainable way of life in this climate. SodaBoy checked the website and pronounced it useless. I was determined to learn how to use the damn thing, so I played around with it more yesterday. I got into the set schedule menu, and programmed it to maintain 62 degrees during waking hours and 56 degrees at night. And by jove, it worked!

It is completely and utterly ridiculous how proud of myself I am, but I can't help it. I rock!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Why November?

I am a bitty baby blogger, new to the game. See the Archives? They are quite desolate. The page setup? Cookie cutter template, no fancy embellishments. [Oh, but I’ve got plans.] I just did my first meme last month. I am not even a very reliable writer, averaging only maybe three or four posts a week. My all time record is three days in a row. So I understand why I wasn’t consulted: no one knows about me. Plus, if they did… well, let’s just say, they are probably not too impressed.

But, why November?

I am referring, of course, to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, which officially started yesterday. Basically how it works is you agree to post for the entire month of November. Bloggers who already post daily might think it’s absurd; I can’t help but think it’s a little silly myself. We need a whole speshul month?

But I also think I understand the idea: it’s a challenge, at least for bloggers like me. The lazy ones. It’s not that I’m completely immune to the charms of challenging myself, either. Signing up would almost certainly result in me posting more, if just to avoid the shame of failure. And that would be a good thing, right? If I’m not going to post, why even have this foolish blog? So why, you ask, why didn’t I sign up for NaBloPoMo?

I hope you’re ready to hear the lamest excuse ever…

Yeah. See, November’s not really the best time for me. What with the holidays and all. Most years we travel out of state for several days to a family home that, while luxurious, would not be conducive to blogging. We’re not the only ones who travel this time of year, you know. Lots of people do it.

So what I’m saying is, why not choose a month without a major travel-inducing holiday? How about February? I honestly don’t know too many people inconvenienced by Groundhog Day.