Sunday, February 25, 2007

Lazy Weekend

Everyone at my new office is sick. Really, really sick, with high fevers and massive weakness. People are somewhat irreverently calling it the plague, and referring to those out sick as "the latest victims." I've been drinking orange juice and popping vitamins, hoping to ward off the illness. No matter how sick you are, or who knows it, calling in sick in your first few weeks is always going to be received poorly.

I woke up yesterday morning with swollen glands and slight malaise. I didn't have any particular symptoms, but felt somewhat unwell. I decided a lazy weekend was in order. Yesterday, I watched the basketball game on TV, caught up on my blogging, and generally just hung out relaxing.

I woke up this morning feeling much refreshed, no swollen glands, no weakness. I took SodaBoy out to lunch to celebrate my first small paycheck (for four days), and returned home. Ordered a birthday present for Little Bro, and did a couple loads of laundry. We got the snowshoes out of the attic and went for a walk up in the woods behind the house, but tragically forgot the cameras. Gorgeous blurry clouds. I made some couscous from a box that will cover a few days worth of lunches, when supplemented with 14 baby carrots, that is.

I think now I will go curl up on the couch with a blanket and do a Sudoku. Hopefully my immune system has been boosted by this lolling, and I can make it through the next week without succumbing to the plague.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Six Weird Things

So I got tagged for this meme a while back by Mary over at No Polar Coordinates, and I'm just getting around to it now. Memes are supposed to be easy posts, sort of filler, mostly content-free, right? But, I struggled with this one. It should not have been difficult; many people consider me to be a little odd. I finally came up with six things. I hope they are weird enough for you.

1. I vastly prefer restaurant-style cola to that from a can or bottle. To soda connoisseurs everywhere, this is enormous blasphemy, because restaurant-style colas tend to be somewhat watery and flat, which might actually be what I like. By restaurant-style, I mean that the soda is on tap, served with ice and a straw, and preferably with rapid-fire free refills. I always handsomely reward wait staff who are mindful of such details.

2. I can only drink carbonated beverages while I am eating. Otherwise the carbonation freaks me out too much. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed much soda due to hyperactive tendencies, and never became accustomed to “the bees.” Bees were our in-family kiddie lingo for carbonation, apparently because Sis and I thought the bubbles stung. Somehow eating neutralizes the stinging action, don’t ask me how. This meme is for weird things, remember. They don’t have to make sense.

3. I think it is rude when people turn around in my driveway, especially when there is unshoveled snow on the ground. We are perhaps 8 houses away from intersections in either direction. Would it really be such an inconvenience to people to drive half a block and turn around in the public roadway? It’s not like they are major intersections with a lot of traffic. Snow that has been driven on is much harder to shovel. Some days we will get three or four cars turning around down there before we get the snow cleaned up. I suspect the neighbors. Grrr.

4. I got my bachelor’s degree before I got my drivers license. I did get a learner’s permit in high school, but I completely lacked the strong desire to drive that most teens have. We didn’t have extra cars or extra money, and I was totally unmotivated. My parents never really pushed the issue, and continued schlepping me around. In college, I could walk or bike anywhere I needed to go. I finally got the license when I got an out-of-state job that required it, and within the month bought my first car and drove off into the sunset. Figuratively, that is. I was really driving off into the sunrise.

5. I have only owned two cars in my life. My first car was a Geo Metro, with 3 cylinders and a manual transmission. I truly loved that little car. It was a hatchback, and I could fold down the back seat and put most everything I owned in there. I could do a u-turn on a dime, and parallel park anywhere. It didn’t have a lot of forward momentum on hills; even the modest Berkshires could reduce me to the truck lane, but what did I care? It got killer mileage. I drove that car for 9+ years, but I live in the Rust Belt, a term that has more than one meaning. It was the rust that did in my beloved Metro.

6. I seem to be predisposed towards the enjoyment of minorly compulsive behaviors and rituals. For example, I bought a bag of baby carrots to take in my lunches. Out of simple curiosity, I read all the label information, and discovered that a serving size is exactly 14 carrots. I wanted to know what 14 baby carrots looked like, so I counted them out, and have continued to do so every day since. It is absurd: I am not on diet, and a few extra carrots would be utterly harmless even if I was. Why am I still counting carrots? It amuses me every time.

The rules of the meme dictate that I am supposed to tag six people, but I am much too shy for that. Although I would love to read six weird things about all of you who haven't already completed this meme. So please, if you read this, consider yourself tagged.

Yes, YOU.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

New Avatar

As I've mentioned before, I have bouts of paranoia about the whole anonymous blogging thing, especially now that I am working again. I am easily creeped out. The thought of someone from work reads my pathetic tales of woe is enough to get me. I am trying to present a semi-professional image, after all.

Despite these somewhat irrational fears, I am tempted at times to delve into more details. I have yet to find a good balance. Right now I am so new to my job that colleagues don't know me well enough to recognize me were they to end up here. At least I hope not. But, just in case, I am going to change my profile image.

Maybe then I will work up the guts to share more of myself.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Falling off the Radar

I'm sorry for pulling this little vanishing act. I assure you this was not my intention: I do plan to return to blogging. As soon as I can get my shit together. I had every delusion that I would be able to keep on blogging somewhat regularly once I started working again. However, it is a sad but true fact that I had been unemployed throughout the entire existence of this blog until last week, and still only managed to post three or four times a week. You bloggers with a job, and kids, too? I am truly in awe. You must not sleep.

My job is not of the variety that enables blogging at work, and I am not of a temperament where skipping a lot of sleep is advisable. I am still hopeful that I will settle into more of a routine, thereby freeing up more time to blog and generally just have a life. But I'm not quite there yet. Give me some more time. I am having a hard time adjusting to be being owned again.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dispatch from the Working World

I had thought my timing in getting this new job was pretty good. I got offered the position during my second interview, after months of sending out resumes, stressing out, and losing sleep. The job offer came just one day after I claimed my very last week's worth of unemployment benefits. I was a day or two away from temping. [Sometime I will write about some of my past temping experiences to better explain my dread of it.]

Then this nor’easter hit, and I started to think my timing was pretty lousy. Yesterday was just my second day of work. I did not feel like I had the option to call in. When I left for work in the morning, the plow had not yet visited my neighborhood. The snow in the street was deeper than my car’s clearance. Luckily SodaBoy was around to help. For two blocks, we alternated shoveling and pushing, building up momentum, and getting stuck again. The main roads weren’t much better. I slid into a snow bank turning onto the highway onramp. Out came the shovel again.

The office was pretty empty yesterday. Many sensible people stayed home. My return commute was almost as bad as the drive in. I was terrified that I would not be able to get home. My street itself is flat, but this entire part of the city is on a hill, and we live near the top. I made it home by running a red light and two stop signs. Stopping would have been too dangerous, and luckily there was no traffic. It stopped snowing last night around 9 o’clock and I was optimistic about my odds for clear roads today.

When I got up, though, I could see that no plows had returned since their single pass down our street at noon yesterday. SodaBoy was working today, so I was on my own. If I got stuck, no one would be here to push me out. There was a car stuck in the snow with hazards flashing in front of the house next door. As my departure time approached, I felt a horrible cramping in my stomach. I have never been afraid of driving in the snow before. I didn’t like it. I tried to comfort myself by taking deep breaths, and telling myself the main streets would be clear. They were not.

At the intersection of two emergency snow routes, a city bus was stuck in the snow, and traffic was backed up in all directions. Finally a university police officer arrived to direct traffic and I drove on. I made it to the office with no real problems, and made it safely home again, too, although I had trouble getting both into and out of the office parking lots. I was practically overjoyed with relief at the improved conditions by the time I drove home tonight. The highway was actually clear and even my street had been plowed. Rejoice!

So while my first week at the new job has been extraordinarily stressful, the anxiety was all weather induced. The job itself has been going really well. It is always hard to tell how a job will end up from first impressions: what is initially new and exciting could always become dull later. But so far I am very happy with the situation. My supervisors have assigned me to tasks that I can work on independently, where I am immediately contributing, and also getting to learn a lot of background information about several big projects which I will be working on more in depth later.

And tomorrow is Friday, so I can wear jeans. This might just work out after all.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Basic Banana Bread

In case anyone doesn't have an easy recipe for banana bread, I thought I would share mine here. Unfortunately I don't know where I got it from. This version is scribbled in red ink on a page torn from a notebook in my handwriting. Judging by the other notes scribbled on the paper, it looks like someone gave it to me over the phone when I was working out of state.

1/3  cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup mashed bananas
Two large bananas will generally produce 1 cup of banana mush. This is an area of the recipe that seems flexible. When I doubled the recipe yesterday, I used five bananas, because I had five that were too far gone to eat. It was more than two cups, and it came out fine. Last time I made the recipe, the two bananas I had one hand were small and it mashed up to less than 1 cup. Tastes good either way.

In a large bowl, cream the sugar and shortening, then add the eggs.

Stir remaining dry ingredients together in a separate bowl.

Grease pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Alternatively add dry ingredients, then bananas, to sugar/egg mixture.

Bake for 45 minutes.

I actually cooked it for closer to an hour yesterday, but I have long suspected this oven of running low. Usually I just boost the temp a little higher, but I forgot yesterday. Basically it's done when the batter is set and the bread is golden brown. My favorite way to eat this banana bread is warm, with butter. Apply thin pats of butter and microwave for 30 seconds. So good... it's almost like a dessert, banana cake maybe.

Today we went grocery shopping. When we got home, I made macaroni and cheese to pack for my lunches for the rest of the week. When I was doing field work and needed packable lunches, I got in the habit of making a big batch of something like pasta salad or tabouli on the weekends, and then eating the same thing for lunch all week. Mac & cheese is definitely not field food, as it's best hot, but with this cold weather and the stress of my first week, I'm going for comfort food.

Speaking of work, I have to go fill out a stack of paperwork that came along with the official job offer. It's just basic standard new hire stuff, the I-9, W-4s, and health insurance enrollment forms. I'm not thrilled to be doing this on my time, but I figure they wouldn't have mailed it to me if they didn't want me to do it ahead of time. Sigh. Nothing like waiting until the last minute.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Busy Weekend

Since I start my new job on Tuesday, this was officially my last weekend as an unemployed person. I had thought I might just hang out, stocking up some laziness, but that’s not how things worked out. We received a few phone calls Friday night, and my lazy weekend turned into a busy one.

First my friend T called, and convinced me to tag along Saturday to a girls-night-out kind of thing she does with women she works with. They rotate hosting duties amongst the group of women, with one casual dinner a month. For various reasons, there were a few people who couldn’t come this month, so I got to round out the group. T was hosting at her mother-in-law L’s apartment, so she wouldn’t have to kick her husband and young boys out of the house, and requested that SodaBoy come and hang out with D and the boys, for a boys-night-in.

For me, this is the sort of social gathering that can induce a lot of anxiety. I don’t get out much in general. Plus, I know T and L, but the rest of the group would be complete strangers. However, I decided it would be good practice for going back into the work world, when I will have to interact with the humans regularly. So I agreed to attend.

I enjoyed myself the most early in the evening, when it was just T, L, and S. It was the first time I had met S, but I can handle one stranger in a group of familiars, and she was very nice. All of the women actually seemed very nice. But what tends to happen when a bunch of people who work together meet up outside work?

Yeah... they talk about work. So once the whole group arrived, the conversation became more heavily skewed in that direction. Which is fine… L & I aren’t part of their regular group, so there was no reason to cater exclusively to us. And overall I had a really good time. It just made me wish I had more local friends of my own.

The second call came from my stepmother, who wanted to know if she and Dad could stop by today before Hometown University’s basketball game. They wanted me to take some portraits of my Dad for a non-bloggable reason. I agreed, albeit somewhat reluctantly. I do like taking photographs, obviously. Usually I am taking them for myself, though, just for the fun of it. Not for an official use. The pictures didn’t come out as well as I would like. I don’t generally take very many pictures of people, at least not very many good ones. Portraits are tough.

I had forgotten about the bball game, and once reminded, had to watch that on tv. And once I realized I was going to be pretty busy anyway, I decided I should crank out some chores, too. Things that I won’t feel like doing in the evenings after working all day. So I cleaned the bathroom, and did several loads of laundry, and made two loaves of banana bread. I doubled the recipe, because I want to have the banana bread for breakfasts before work, and SodaBoy likes it, too. This way they’ll be enough to go around.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Another Snowy Day

If you were to get in a car and drive an hour north from my house, the going would get pretty tough. Lake effect snow has dumped 7-10 feet on those communities this week. For the most part, the lake effect bands have skipped over us here. Today was somewhat of an exception, with fluffy flakes the size of quarters falling from the sky for hours on end.

I tend to be sluggish in cold weather, and have difficulty motivating to go outside. Shoveling the driveway is a necessary chore with this much snow, though, so I ventured out this afternoon. Our driveway is wide enough to park two cars side by side, and long enough to fit two or three cars, depending on the size of the cars in question. There was a lot of snow.

Shoveling the driveway took me over an hour. It hard to tell in the photo, but the banks along my drieway are mid-thigh in height. Down by the curb, they reach my waist. Several involuntary tennis-player-like grunts escaped my lips as I heaved the plow cheese up over those banks. Luckily no one was around to witness my graceless emissions.

After I finished the driveway, I shoveled a path around the side of the house for the cat. Elijah loves going outside and seems to get seasonal affective disorder when the snow gets so deep he could drown in it. Now at least he can go from the back porch to the front porch if he wants to. I didn't shovel all the way down to the ground, because there is a slate path there overgrown with ivy, and I didn't want to damage the plants.

The last photo of the porch steps shows how much it snowed just in that hour I was out shoveling. I didn't start with the porch: the first spot I shoveled was a space in the driveway for SodaBoy to park his car upon his return. Then I shoveled the porch, and then the rest of the driveway. It might seem futile to shovel in a squall like that, as it is impossible to keep up, but I had to do it sometime. And I am such a dork that I enjoyed myself. Who enjoys shoveling?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Letter Is Here!

Last week, I had a second interview with Future Employer. After going through some standard interview questions, I was told that I got the job, and that a letter would be sent to my house to formalize the offer. Of course, one of the questions I was asked in both interviews was about salary requirements. I hate that question. Not answering seems like a cop out: you have to say something. Not having a job didn’t put me in the best negotiating position, so I gave them a figure lower than I would ideally like.

I watched the mailbox like a hawk all week, excited to receive the official paperwork. Nothing arrived, not even by Saturday, so I resigned myself to a weekend in the dark. When the mail arrived yesterday, and contained no letter, I started to get a little despondent. I asked SodaBoy to check the mail again to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. He couldn’t believe I was serious. We decided if nothing came in today’s mail, I would contact Future Employer for a status check.

Today, the mail delivery contained a huge rust-colored envelope. I could not possibly have missed it; it barely fit in the mailbox. The envelope concealed a matching rust-colored portfolio style folder, embossed with the company logo. Inside the folder was my official job offer, my job description, and benefit information. The whole package is beautiful, and seeing it all together make me very proud and excited. It’s real!

And as an added bonus, the salary is significantly higher than what I had requested. I had been expecting the offer to match my disclosed minimum, so this recognition of my value is a nice little ego boost.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Winter Walk

Today is blustery, with high winds and bitter cold. Every school district is closed. Further north, lake effect snow has shut down entire cities. The howling wind has reduced visibility to zero and drifted snow across streets like walls. I am glad not to have to venture out into the brutality. I am treasuring these last few days of sleeping late, wrapping myself in layers, and sipping hot tea around the house.

I am glad winter finally arrived. I have shoveled the driveway almost every day these last few weeks, with a few more inches of snow arriving almost daily. I love seasonality, precisely for the very changes it brings to the landscape. If asked to narrow it down, I would say that spring is my favorite season: the transformations are most dramatic then. Without the harshness of cold winters, I would treasure the sweetness of spring less.

However, even to a fan of winter such as myself, this biting frigidity is too much. Outdoor recreation would be a torturous, miserable pursuit on such a day. Over at In Blue Ink, Nadine has been posting photos from warmer days to cheer herself through these cold spells. Jo(e) has also been comforting herself with summertime photos. Maybe if I get too cold, I will look for some warmth radiating photos as well.

In the meantime, I offer these pictures hastily snapped on a walk in our woods Friday afternoon. [Although the falling snow doesn’t show up well in the photos, it was really coming down at the time, and I was worried about the camera getting too wet.] Obviously, my photos will provide little comfort to the diehard winter-haters lurking amongst us. But I find consolation in them, if only for the reminder that winter is not always this cruel. Some days it is a delight.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

What Does "BerryBird" Mean?

Now that I’ve debuted my new name, I thought maybe I should explain where it came from. In my earlier post explaining the origin of the name Lake Loop, I mentioned a camp I attended as a kid at Second Home Nature Center. Outdoor Youth Adventure was a week long day camp, with a sleep-over on Thursday night. I might have had social difficulties in school, but not at camp. In my mind, it was heaven, paradise on earth. I loved that camp, and it was where I earned the moniker BerryBird.

We did all the normal nature camp stuff: learned to identify trees, caught insects with nets, went fishing and seining, played games, went hiking and canoeing, did crafts, got up close with raptors and snakes and turtles. We had private Seton spots, where each kid would be left alone in the woods at the same designated spot every day to reflect, and to draw or write about our observations. We went on swamp treks, which were exactly like they sound, wading chest deep through stagnant water.

On Thursday afternoons, we would canoe or hike over to the far side of the lake, where we “camped out.” There were several lean-tos we would sleep in, and a big campfire near a small pavilion used as a kitchen. We might cook up fish we’d caught for dinner, bony sunfish and prickly bullheads, or cook up a big vat of stew or goulash.

S’mores were a given. I love the process of roasting marshmallows: choosing the stick, sharpening a nice point, spearing the marshmallow, jostling for a good position around the coals, watching the magical transformation. I never liked eating them much, though, which was never a big problem at camp. There was always someone nearby, happy to eat my extraneous marshmellows for me.

Around the campfire at night, there was the requisite singing and ghost stories. One year, in a very special ceremony, the counselors bestowed “Indian names” on all us campers. I cringe a little now typing it, as it doesn’t sound especially politically correct, but this was the 1980s and no one thought anything of it at the time. I still like the idea, because each kid received a unique name they had earned through their escapades of the week. We all felt special. A more modern approach might be to call them “camp names.”

For example, my friend R was obsessed with great blue herons, and would keep a daily tally of his spottings. He was also very athletic, winning the Mighty Oak award in the Outdoor Olympics. He earned the name GreatBlue. Another friend S had a good eye for birds, and she was called ScarletFeather after the tanager feather she found. During the swamp trek, C had a frog leap onto his face and grab hold of his glasses; he became GreenFrog.

Anyone care to guess how I earned the name BerryBird? Many kids grow up learning to avoid wild edibles, out of fear of poisoning, I suppose. I was not one of those kids. Second Home Nature Center was a place I knew like the back of my hand: I knew every twist and turn on every trail; I knew the location of every thicket of blackberries, raspberries, and black raspberries (my favorite); I knew the phenological differentials between sun and shade; I knew when to run ahead and when to lag behind.

I became BerryBird because of my gluttony. And I never grew out of that: I still love fresh berries.