Thursday, December 31, 2009

You know you're a pessimist when... see those comics with the guy with the sign "The End is Near," and you think: THANK GOD IT'S ALMOST OVER!

I'm sure a lot of people feel this way about 2009 in general. It hasn't been a great year for the economy, and while my occasional inner-optimist thinks that things other than those with monetary value should be the gauge for good versus bad years, the reality is that it does take at least some money to have a good life.

I was totally planning on making my last post of the year a reflection of what I've accomplished, and all of the good things that have happened. And then I made the mistake of looking at my credit card bill (I got paid today! Yay! And I tend to do all of my online-banking-type things at the same time). My bill was about $100 higher than I expected, so I did some investigating. Usually when this sort of thing happens, it's because I've forgotten to include something in my mental tally, or I've bought something for someone else and gave them the receipt. Usually, as soon as I see the charge, I think, oh yeah, I did buy that!

This time, unfortunately, the reaction was more like: what the hell? Followed by: do I really have to deal with this? and: When will this end?

The answers to those questions are as follows:

The hell was a charge for $119.90 from Enterprise. Remember back in November when I had to have a rental because someone rear-ended me on 805? Well, Enterprise thinks I signed up for coverage (when I asked the guy on the phone, coverage of what?, it took me a while to figure out that they had charged me that annoying rental coverage that companies always offer and that you never need because your regular car insurance should cover you). I don't have my paperwork in front of me right now, but I think this is what happened: I think the girl helping me wrote at the top of my form that I declined coverage, but then I had to initial something saying that I was informed of this option. Something probably went wrong with the initialing process. Because I know I didn't want this coverage.

No, I guess I don't really have to deal with this. I could just pay it. But I shouldn't have to. So my options are to deal with Enterprise (I was told the office manager would call me on Monday, but given my disaster with phone-communication with the dentist the other day, I think I'll just go into the office), or dispute it with my credit card company. I'm going to first try to be civil with Enterprise, but if they still won't refund my money, I'll dispute it with my credit card. I've never actually disputed anything before, so I'm not sure if I do, if I still have to pay for it while it's being disputed (my guess is yes), or else be charged the interest on it.

As for the when will this end, it certainly seems like never.

So much for ending the year on an up note.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Changing my Dentist

Here's the problem I'm facing: my husband and I are changing dentists and I'm trying to get his dental records from the old office to the new office.

Yesterday, one of the staff at our new dentist called and left the old dentist a message. The old office never got back to her, so this morning I called the old dentist to see if they would fax me the form for my husband to sign to have his records, specifically his x-rays, sent to the new office. The 12-year-old on the phone told me there was nothing to sign and that they would just fax them to the new place.

I was a bit skeptical of this, as I had to sign something a few weeks ago to have my records sent, but since this was even easier for me, I crossed my fingers...and was foiled again by the stupidity of others.

I emailed the lovely woman, Laurie, at the new dentist's asking her to let me know if she received the fax, and of course by lunchtime she hadn't. So I called the old dentist again, which is when I found out that the 12-year-old, named Priscilla, was, in fact, wrong. And that they couldn't get a hold of me because they didn't have my phone number, which I find inconceivable, since I know I wrote it on the form when I went to see them back in March, but maybe literacy is overrated in their office.

At any rate, I asked Priscilla to send me the form...which she did...sort of. She sent me a form, but not the right form. So I called back again, and spoke with someone else. At this point, I was feeling rather hysterical about all of this...apparently dealing with morons moves me to hysteria at warp speed. So I took on that tone. You know, the one your mom used and you knew if you put one toe out of line things worse than you could possibly imagine would happen to you. Not because I'm any real threat to the dentist's office, but mostly it was as close as I could come to sounding calm about this whole ordeal.

As I'm reading what I'm writing, it sounds an awful lot to me like I'm overreacting. Which is possible. I've had such unprofessional and frustrating experiences with the old dentist in the past that it is really hard for me to remain calm about this.

As I'm writing this, I'm thinking to myself, this situation is making me really not happy. And, I'm thinking of making my third New Year's resolution to actively be happier. I know I'll feel happier when I'm done dealing with the old dentist. Although my anticipation of this future happiness is probably greater than the actual happiness because 1: it always is, and 2: I'll just have other things to deal with.

So, I have the wonderful benefit of working in an office where I'm allowed to use my cell phone, and send faxes, and basically deal with my life as long as I get my work done. Thus I was able to communicate this fiasco to my husband.

I'm sure you'd like to know the resolution of a day spent trying to get people to do their job: hubby walked into the office (in my imagination, with his gun belt on, but it's really possible that it wasn't) and walked out five minutes later with his file.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Goodbye to an Era

Today I used my Sony clie personal entertainment organizer for the last time. My mother bought it for me for Christmas way back in 2001 and I have been using it ever since. That's a pretty good life for an electronic devise that has basically gone the way of the VCR since the advent of smart phones.

Up until my clie, I had been using a paper system to keep organized. You know, one of those gigantic binder-type things that had a calendar, an address book, sections for to-do lists, and even places to hold business cards. It was very heavy. And my clie was comparatively light.

When I purchased my clie, I could sync it to my computer with a usb cord. I didn't do this very often because it was a bit of a hassle. Sometime around 2005 or 2006 my clie started refusing to sync. I figured the software it came with was no longer compatible with my new computer or something along those lines, and I didn't worry about it very much. As I said, I didn't sync it very often, and it hadn't caused me any problems. Probably because I was very good at keeping it charged.

Until, in February 2009, when I took it to Egypt with me. I'm not even sure why I brought it--I didn't turn it on once during the trip. So I was shocked when I arrived back in the US and the battery had died. I guess I had never fully tested the battery life. And presumably that life had been getting shorter and shorter without me noticing it. I got home, plugged it in, and let it charge.

Then I turned it on.

And there was nothing. None of my contacts. None of my upcoming events and activities. And probably, worst of all, NO BOOK LIST. This was when panic set in.

I have a very good memory, but what if I forgot something? Something important? Like my wedding anniversary!

My husband and I were able to recall most, or possible all, of the events we had lined up for the next month or so. We figured we could just call people for addresses, and we even did a pretty good job of recreating my book list (my husband is secretly a super-hero).

I started paying attention to how often I had to charge my clie. I noticed it was about every 2-3 days. I also noticed that it seemed to take a really long time to charge. I went out and bought a standard, book-style address book that we have been dutifully filling. And I decided to go back to a more-or-less paper system of keeping track of activities. I had a very nice spiral notepad/journal and I taped calendar pages to it (yes, this does sound totally lame, but it's actually a system that works very well for me). I can keep all of my lists of random things (from who we're going to send Christmas cards to, to our plan for paying off our non-mortgage debt) in one place.

I had been co-using this system along with my clie...just to see how the transition went (I am thoroughly anal-retentive). So far, so good. Which is why I decided to retire my clie. Now it will sit in a drawer, probably until we decide to move again, at which time I'll figure out the best way to dispose of it and any other miscellaneous electronic flotsam we've acquired (I'm not sure what's in it, but I'm pretty sure that like cell phones, it doesn't belong in the landfill).

However, I've also had my eye on the Blackberry Storm.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Deliberate Life

Are people totally bored with what I have to say? I hope not. One of my most interesting friends once told me that I'm not boring. That doesn't actually mean that I'm fascinating, but it's a start.

Maybe it's that I'm now 30. I feel like I can't really say anymore, oh, I have the rest of my life to do such and such. Based on my genetics (touch wood) I'm likely to live to my 80s or 90s, but by then, I really will be old. I spend a good deal of time stealing a great line from Talking Heads' Once in a Lifetime, Well, how did I get here?

You may recall my post about turning 30. I haven't really come up with any brilliant goals to accomplish before I turn 40, but I have been thinking a lot more about leading a deliberate life. I know I picked up that phrase somewhere, and I found a book called A Life Deliberate, but I know I haven't read it. Maybe I read an article about it once. At any rate, I'm going to attempt to lead my life more deliberately. As I'm sure everyone can attest to, it is very easy to just let your life happen to you. But I don't want to be sitting in some rocking chair in my 80s or 90s with my sexy blue hair and realize that I didn't do much with my life.

So my second resolution for 2010 is to lead a deliberate life. Deliberately joyful. Deliberately full. Deliberately engaged.

This is gonna take practice.

Griping About My Sister

Does one ever get too old to gripe about their siblings? I doubt it.

Last night we had my husband's grandmother's pasta sauce for dinner. It's this nice, chunky sauce with ground beef, bacon, veggies, and I think I forgot the seasonings, but no one seemed to notice. We were going to have it on Monday, but my sister had class (I know, if you've actually been paying attention to the chronology, this doesn't make sense. She graduated from the MBA. She's also getting some sort of not-for-profit certification. That she's not done with). So we scheduled this pasta sauce extravaganza for Tuesday.

Yesterday morning, my sister even brought over her pasta (she has celiac disease, so she can't eat normal pasta). And then she never showed up for dinner. She claims she didn't get the message that dinner was at 6:45-7ish. Which is possible. But she's my sister. It's not like she needs a formal invitation to show up at my house. And it's not like we were eating dinner at a strange time. Isn't 7ish normal dinner time?

My sister is not the most reliable person you'll ever meet. She's fine for work...she always seems to get her job done and her schoolwork turned in on time, but I would guesstimate that about 50% of the time she doesn't show up for other things when she says she will. And that might be a low estimate. Maybe she's better with her friends. I don't know.

When I was in college, she would always say she was so excited when I was coming home (I went to school in Montana, we lived in New Jersey; I didn't come home that often). And then I'd get home and she'd want nothing to do with me. Then I realized: she doesn't really want to hang out with me; she just wants the option of doing so.

No doubt, this is the situation nowadays. Now that we both live in San Diego, she once again has the option of hanging out with me. Which, of course, means she won't really do it too much. My husband and I have actually gotten quite good at not being completely annoyed by this behavior. It's just become, whatever: maybe she'll show up, maybe she won't.

My mother, unfortunately, still gets terribly upset about this. Why didn't your sister call? Why doesn't she answer the phone? She is so rude! Yeah, mom, good luck taming this beast.

What's additionally distressing is that neither my my sister's nor my mother's behavior is likely to change. I kept thinking, but my husband and I are here. Don't worry about my sister. She knows where we are and she knows when dinner is. If she doesn't want to come, that's her problem.
I've always thought the parable of the prodigal son was crappy. I still think it is.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

I've been thinking a lot about New Year's resolutions. Mostly because my jeans aren't fitting quite as well as I'd like, which forces me to face the fact that, as much as I'd like to believe they've shrunk just a little too much in the dryer, I'm probably not exercising as much as I should. Or I'm eating too much. The scale, for the record, has remained steady. Which clearly indicates that I've lost muscle (which is more dense and takes up less space) and gained fat. I would just like to clarify that I am well aware that muscle does not turn into fat. Which isn't making me any happier about my jeans situation.

2009 has just been a crazy, stressful, insane year for me, and I'm looking forward to having it behind me. Don't get me wrong: I've had a great year. Too great, perhaps.

Hubby and I closed 2008 with me getting a job and finishing my MBA program.

Then, in February, we spend two wonderful weeks in Egypt.

Then we spent four months looking for and buying a house. As soon as we signed all our paperwork, and turned over the biggest check we'd ever written, we hopped on a flight to Oregon, for the first of five weddings that we attended over the summer (of the eight to which we were invited). Between weddings, we painted and moved.

Then, in September, my dad came for a week and did a ton of stuff on the house.

Then my mother and her friend came for a week, and did a bunch of other stuff for the house.

Then we had friends come and visit. (We live in San Diego! Our winters are great! Come! Escape yours!)

Then, in November, both of my in-laws came to visit (I've been living in SD for two and a half years and I've been inviting my in-laws this whole time. They both decided to come within two weeks of each other?)

Now, my mother is back for another 10 days, to watch my sister graduate from the IMBA program, and to stay through Christmas.

My first resolution for 2010? To spend more time on my couch!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Happiness Project

I was reading an must have been at the chiropractor's, because it doesn't seem reasonable that it would be in Fortune or Businessweek...about this woman who decided that she was going to spend a year actively making her life happier. You can actually read her blog here. I was intrigued by this because I am not a particularly happy person. I know I have a good life, and I appreciate this fact, but I am not particularly happy about it.

I attended a breakfast meeting last month at which we discussed optimism and pessimism, which do not exactly equal happiness, but certainly seem correlated to it. Happiness seems to be a growing science...okay, science might be too strong of a word, but it seems to be a growing area of interest. I've read a number of articles about happiness, and I own Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman. I've even read it. Clearly, reading a book about happiness has not made me a happier person, but reading does make me happy.

Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project, like me, knew her life was basically good, but she still wanted to be happier about it. The gist of one of her early blogs is that she doesn't want to look back on her life and realize that it just wasn't as much as it could have been.

I want to be able to look back on my life and see a life worth living. My husband thinks this makes me sound semi-suicidal, which is not at all what I mean. Right now, looking at what I've done with my life, I'm not sure that it's worth living, which is not at all to say that it's worth dying. I look back and see that I've done a lot of things that I was supposed to do that I didn't really want to but I either didn't know what, if any, alternatives there were, or I didn't know what else to do.

I think part of my problem is that I am not, by nature, a particularly curious person. (Curiosity has, in fact, been linked to happiness). This is somewhat strange: given how much I LOVE to read, one might think that I'd like to learn new things, or at least be curious about events or places I read about, or maybe even want to know more about the authors I love to read. Not so much. So I've been working on asking Why? or Why not? more.

I'm 30 years old. My husband and I both have jobs with responsibilities. I've been to grad school. I've been rejected from jobs and by sweethearts. I've got really good friend who will give me really good advise when I ask. Hell, some of my friends will just make the decision for me if they see that I'm not getting anywhere. I've got a crazy, but wonderful family,who always manages to be on my team, even if they think I've changed the sport halfway through. I'm pretty sure that I've had enough life experiences to make decisions on my own, even if they go against the norm. And when this fails, I know that I have a group of family and friends who will offer advice, or help me back out of whatever mess I've managed to get myself into.

Why? or Why not? are important questions to ask because it is really, really easy to let other people think for you, which, I'm pretty sure has led to a lot of my unhappiness. I know this sounds like I'm blaming others, which I'm not, or at least I'm not trying to do. I know this also goes exactly against what I said a paragraph ago when I said I had friends who would make a decision for me if I really couldn't. Let me clear up this last bit first. I have friends who are capable of making decisions. Which means if I'm hemming and hawing between two dresses, they'll say, oh just get the blue one. Sometimes they even say something clever, like, it matches your eyes. Or, sometimes they'll make a decision without even asking me first. As in, I found this great Cuban restaurant we can go to on Friday. Perfect! Even if the food sucks, at least I know the company will be good.

On the other hand, people will say things like, now that you own a home, you should start gardening. Why? I don't like being out side. I don't like being dirty. Why would I want to spend my precious free time doing both? Or, and this really annoyed me, although I know that wasn't the intent of the speaker, one of my friends commented that I should really look at getting a new car due to the cash for clunkers thing. Why would I want a new car? I drive a 2007 Corolla. I'd hardly call that a clunker. And I have no intention of trading it in. It's a great car, and I intend to drive it until it commits vehicular suicide on the side of the road. And this is another one of my favorites: you have a yard; you have to get a dog. Nope. I'm pretty sure that no part of having a yard mandates that I also have a canine. Why would I want a dog? They're hairy. They poop a lot. And, oh yeah, they give me hives.

I'm sure I do just as much doling out of random advise as the next person (the big difference is, I'm right). So I guess the first order of business is for me to try not to give so much unsolicited advise. The next step is to figure out what I should and should not listen to. I think this has become harder and harder with the increasing types of media to which we're exposed. And sometimes this is a really good thing. I love that Amazon has reviews on everything. But I'm just as likely to buy a new camera, for example, on the advise of a friend as I am based on 100 reviews on Amazon.

It seems I've gotten off-tangent quite a bit. I apparently do a lot of very circuitous thinking. So here's maybe a good example of why asking why is important. My husband and I are planning a trip to Europe in early 2010. Rome and Zurich in particular. That might seem a bit random, but it's not: we have friends in both of those cities. But people keep telling me to go to Barcelona. Neither my husband nor I have any actual interest in going to Spain in general, or Barcelona in particular. But since people keep suggesting it, it seems like a good time to ask why (although we still may never go to Barcelona).

I think if I started questioning more things I'd be happier because I'd end up doing less stuff that I didn't really want to just because someone else thought it was a good idea. However, I also think that if I spent less time doing stuff I don't want to, in general, I'd be happier too. And I'd probably have more time to do things that I like to do, which in turn would make me even happier. We'll just have to see how this pans out for me in 2010.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I Love the Muppets

If you haven't checked out these videos, you really, really should!

Ode to Joy

Ringing of the Bells

Bohemian Rhapsody

I'm sorry I just have the links...I don't know how to do that fancy thing where the youtube screen is in my blog...if anyone knows, please let me know, and I'll make this fancier!

Thursday, December 10, 2009


A little over a month ago, I posted a rant all about how I was going to become a hippie and single-handedly save the world for all of the little baby ducks and such. Ok, not quite, but...

I did say I was going to try to use less plastic.

I've always thought it was really stupid to use those thin plastic bags for your fruits and veggies. However, I'm a little OCD, and I've also never liked putting my fruits and veggies on those conveyor belts in grocery stores. Additionally, it's supremely inconvenient to get your apples or whatever to sit still on the scale that the checker uses without having them somehow contained. And finally, I was always a little worried that the more fragile fruits and veggies, like peaches, would smack up against something in the bag and just turn into mush. At least if they're in a plastic bag, they'll only be a mushy mess for themselves, whereas if they were loose in my reusable grocery bag, the mess would involve the other groceries and I'd have to have my husband hose out the bag (ok, yes, I could hose out the bag myself, but the deal with buying the house was that I'd get a purple room and he'd deal with the I'm not sure where the hose is).

Back when I lived in Oregon my roommate made me a reusable lunch bag. We had discovered that the Victoria's Secret shopping bags were the best size for lunches. They could fit all of our tupperware and utensils, and they were sturdy enough that they didn't flop over. And then a coworker of mine observed that it looked like I was chilling my panties in the fridge. A la Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch.

What I discovered with my reusable lunch bag was that even if something leaked in the bag, the bag itself was enough to contain the leak. This is important, because it indicates that a cloth bag would be enough to prevent my peaches from making a huge mess if they did get squashed in my grocery bag.

So I logged on to and purchased some produce bags. If you're going to do this, I suggest the large size only. I bought some of the smaller size, and they ended up being a different, slightly heavier material. And I discovered that the pictures of the bags are identical to me, and the descriptions are very similar for both the thinner and heavier weight fabrics, so read carefully!

Everyone I have encountered with my new reusable produce bags loved them! I took my mother-in-law to the farmers' market, and she said she wanted to get some herself. The vendors at the farmers' market asked me where I got them, if I thought they worked well, if they were machine washable. The bag-boy at Vons was visibly excited about my produce bags (when you close the draw strings, they even have handles). This prompted him to comment, gleefully, "your vegetables are already bagged! I don't have to do anything!" Of course, this wasn't exactly what I wanted. I wanted my bags of veggies to be put in my shopping bag so I would just have to carry one thing to the house and not have to root around my trunk checking that I didn't forget about the bag of onions.

I have not yet braved using my bags at the bulk bins even though the tag on the bag said they were perfect for nuts and grains...but I'm sure I'll get there. Nonetheless, I'm going to declare my reusable produce bags a whopping success...especially since I haven't had one squashed fruit since I've been using them!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Free Energy & Water Saving Kit!

SDG&E is giving away free energy and water saving kits.

Just go to this link, and follow the instructions. It's really easy. I just hope the aerators come with directions!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Good Thing About Being at Work Really, Really Late

I'm still at work. I've been here for nearly 12 hours, so I feel no guilt about taking 10 minutes to make a post.

As I've mentioned in a previous post, I work in a green building. One of the green aspects is that at around 7pm all of the lights automatically go off. Inevitably, if we're working late someone screams in surprise and I run around my cube and turn on the lights (I sit closest to the lightswitch for my team).

So what could possibly be good about being at work so late they turn the lights out on you? Nothing. You have to hang around for another hour for it to get really good.

Why? Because at around 8, the cleaning crew shows up.

Our copier is located in our breakroom. And the breakroom lights go out at 7pm like the rest of the building. There are four lightswitches in the breakroom. I have no idea what they do, but none of them turn on the lights. Aha! The cleaning lady must know where the lights are!

Tonight, luck was on my side, and while I was blindly stumbling around the coffee/copy room (that's the clever name someone came up with to explain the room with the copier, fridge, vending machines, and coffee pots), lo and behold! The lights came on! And then the cleaning lady entered the coffee/copy, and I said "How'd you do that!?" She showed me that they keep the lightswitch for the coffee/copy outside the room, down the hall, and around a hidden corner. Perfect! The only room on my entire floor where you could possibly do yourself any harm, and the lightswitch is outside, down the hall and around a hidden corner! Brilliant!

I'm just glad the cleaning lady is more clever than I am!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Free Christmas Tree!

My husband and I received a free Christmas tree. "Received" isn't quite the correct word. We don't actually have it. We have to go get it. Tomorrow. During the Ducks' Civil War game. And for ironic fun, we won't actually be keeping it. You see, I'm allergic. As in break out in hives, stop breathing, wheeze in a pitch only dogs can hear allergic.

We have a fake tree. Much to my husband's dismay. I grew up with a "real" tree. Somehow I survived. Although, at the time, I lived in New Jersey. My immune system was probably too busy dealing with the traceable amounts of lead in the water to be too worried about some pine needles. Then, in 2001, I moved to Oregon where I was solidly sick for seven months before a series of allergy tests proved that I'm allergic to...EVERYTHING! So in 2002, I bought a fake tree at Target for $50. And Oregon has no sales tax. So, on average, over the past 7, nearly 8 years, I've spent less than $10 a year on Christmas trees.

However, if you recall, I wrote that I'm working to reduce my use of plastic. I have no idea what my fake tree is made of, which leads me to believe it's plastic. And if you believe everything you read (my uncle insists that I read too much. His emphasis on both the "too" and the "much" strongly implied "to the point of insanity") any rate, if you believe everything you read, my plastic tree is doing a tremendous amount of off-gassing. Great. So while I'm not purchasing a formerly perfectly good living tree, I'm still creating a huge amount of environmental harm. On the Virginia scale (aahhh, we all love the Virginia scale), the fake tree has neither given me hives, caused an asthma attack, nor attracted every stray dog in a five mile radius. Thus, my conclusion that it is the better choice. For me.

Additionally, when you figure out that my tree only had to be made and shipped (probably from China) once, compared to what would become the annual shipping of a pine tree to San Diego, I'm possibly coming out ahead, environmentally speaking.

I will admit that it's entirely possible that someday, the accumulated exposure to my off-gassing plastic Christmas tree will give me cancer or Alzheimer's or something; it's, in my opinion, just as likely to have come from drinking all of that New Jersey water I was just talking about. So I'll take my chances, thank you.

A long time ago, I dated a very nice boy who didn't believe in what he called "organized religion." He was otherwise clean-cut, and with parents of very different faiths, this was probably as close to teenage rebellion as he came. He said when we grew up, we couldn't have a Christmas tree...because of what it represented. I argued that we could. I have no idea how a pine tree became associated with a Christian holiday, and if I really gave a hoot, I'm sure Mr. Google could tell me. But I don't care. Not because I'm lazy (I am anything BUT lazy) or indifferent, but because I like Christmas trees. I like the presents beneath them (I like giving gifts). I like the trains around them (although every year I have to call my dad to figure out how to get mine to work. Electrical engineer I am not). I like the goodwill-toward-men-be-nice-to-your-neighbor-drink-eggnog-with-the-family bits of Christmas, even if I'm not a particularly religious person.

So, back to the Free Christmas Tree mentioned in the title and beginning of this post. My mother-in-law came to visit over Thanksgiving. We had a fabulous time. Blah blah blah. She generously offered to get us a matching love seat to our sofa, as she knew we were having a party this coming weekend and she didn't think we had enough places for people to sit. Not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, my husband and I took her up on it.

Thus ensued the trip to Ikea. I like Ikea. My husband does not particularly. He doesn't like large crowds in big stores and too many options. Needless to say, we try to arrange our lives so that I do the grocery shopping in general, and the Costco shopping in particular. Apparently I have the right blend of long attention span combined with a bit of ADD-type behavior (really, that's not an's situation-dependent) and a fearlessness towards crowds (as I mentioned, I grew up in New Jersey. Hubby in Oregon and Colorado).

So the day we were in Ikea, they had this promotion where if you spent a certain amount of money (I think $250) you could come back on December 3 for a free tree. You took your receipt over to the promo table and the lady there stapled a green tag to your receipt and told you to bring the whole thing back on Thursday for your 5'-7' tree.

And herein lies the problem in Virginia-Land. Normally, this sounds like a job for my husband. He's taller and stronger than I am, and is better at driving his pick-up truck. However, he's also an Oregon Duck, and their Civil War football game is tomorrow night. Which means if he's going to leave the house, it had better be because it's on fire. Yes, of course, I can go get this tree. The problem I have is that it's month-end. And it's not going well (not monetarily, just functionally). So I'll be at work late tomorrow. And I have to get the tree by 8pm.

We are giving the tree to my sister, who's a grad student with a crazy schedule, and her roommate, who works from home the few days a month she's not traveling for her job. So we're working on a way to coordinate our schedules enough that my sister can come get the stupid receipt from me so that she and her roommate can go get the tree when the stars align tomorrow. I know this is saving them a boatload of cash, but for a freebie, this sure is becoming a lot of work!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Maintaining a Sense of Humor at Work

I was having an IM conversation with my former boss (at what point will I just start to say "coworker"?) about some fun testing I'm doing at work. Let me just clarify: I am not being tested. Every time I tell my husband I'm doing testing at work he says "Don't you know how to do your job all ready?"

When we figure out a better or smarter way of doing something, or when we figure out how to automate something, we have to write what is called an LCR, or Lifecycle Request. I do not come up with these names. Blah blah blah, it gets approved, IT does their magic, and then we have to test it to make sure what we actually want to happen happens.

I'm going to try to describe what I'm testing in very vague terms because I'm really not sure what is proprietary (if anything) and what is not. We've all taken advantage of buy-one-get-one deals, or spend $100, get $25 off or whatever. If you stop and think about it (which I don't recommend--it WILL make you insane), you know the company isn't really giving away something for free, and if you've ever thought about accounting or bookkeeping, you'll know that they have to explain what they're doing somehow. Because you know that that free or discounted item does actually cost the company something, and you know that they mark up their stuff, you must know that they have to figure out what it really cost, and if they really made a profit, and the like.

In service industries, it becomes even more fun because it's stretched over a time frame. That free month of HBO deal actually costs Comcast something the entire time you're using it, but if you've signed up in the middle of the month, some of the freeness happens in the next month. And maybe it's a free three months if you sign up today, so some of the freeness is also in the next month and the one after that. And now you can begin to imagine the good times accountants have trying to figure out how to accurately and legally account for this sort of thing (it's a good thing marketing comes up with this stuff--left to their own devices, accountants probably come up with deals such as "if you sign up today, we'll send you a bill." Yup. That's gonna attract a lot of customers.)

So in a nutshell, that's what I'm testing. If we offer something to someone for free, it's only free to them, so what in the world should my company do with that amount? I'm going to call this product SWAG, as in Stuff We All Get. Technically, we don't all get it, but many of our customers do, so it's close enough. I was going to call it WTHDWGSAFF, as in Why The Hell Do We Give Stuff Away For Free, but that's really quite a mouthful. (Although Miss Piggy once threatened to SYFFITF to Kermy, as in Stomp Your Froggy Face Into The Floor, and I'm pretty sure he never forgot that acronym. I didn't anyway, although no one else ever knows what I'm talking about).

And here is the IM conversation about this (I've changed the names to protect the innocent):

5:47 PM Virginia
can I pick your brain for a sec?
5:48 PM A
5:48 PM Virginia
do you remember what causes someone to show up on the R2 report?
SWAG prorated
5:48 PM A
they were not able to match the adjustment code date with the purchase date
5:49 PM Virginia
5:49 PM A
that's it?
5:49 PM Virginia
yes...I'm testing SWAG credit
and I thought it was that we didn't know the equip price,
but we do, sometimes, so that didn't work
and D [the really handy IT man] taught me that in fun-report-logic-language NVL means that if there's no value for that criteria, use 0. so now I'm qualified to do his job...if only I could figure out SWAG!
5:51 PM A
you should start a company blog
5:52 PM Virginia
i actually have a blog.
i think i have all of two followers, including my mother
5:52 PM A
do you write about work?
send it to me
i wanna read it

Ok, so maybe it's not that funny if you don't actually know what we're talking about, or who D is (in case you missed the heavy amounts of sarcasm, I am in NO WAY qualified to do his job. I don't even know what his job is. All I know is that whenever I have a problem, there he is, Super-D, able to solve it! I'm pretty sure he doesn't get to sleep EVER) (however, I do see it as an open invitation to blog about work) but more to the point is that it never hurts, and frequently helps, to find humor in the most aggravating of circumstances.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Things I didn't know about Car Insurance in California

Way back at the end of October I was in a very minor car accident on my way to tutor my learner. The irony is that when I called my learner to tell her I'd be late due to said accident, she suggested that we just reschedule. If I hadn't been driving to meet her, I wouldn't have been on that road at all. Curses! Gods of Irony!

Shortly after the accident I was discussing (read: complaining) about the whole situation with a friend of mine, who commented that I had a rant all set up and ready to go. But I was waiting to write about it until everything was taken care of and I had my car fixed and back. And now I'm too worn out to rant about it. Because I was driving a POS rental while my car was in the shop for 10 days. (Although that's not nearly as bad as another friend of mine who recently posted this on his facebook page: If your car has ever been hit while parked, by a drunk driver, then stayed in the shop for 31 days, only to be returned one day after your rental car coverage expires, on a friday night, before the weekend, when the rental car agency isn't open for you to return the car anyway, then been charged for four extra days as a result, I totally feel you.) I have never been so happy to drive a corolla before in my entire life. And I am so glad to be DONE calling people making sure they're doing their jobs because their client hit me. Really? I have to do all of the work? I was the one who was rear-ended!

Because I am unbelievably anal-retentive about this sort of thing (namely when someone else tries to beat up something of mine), I have a log of all of the phone calls regarding this situation.

10/29/09--I was rear-ended on I-805 South, somewhere south of I-8 and north of National City (I wasn't really paying attention, but when I tried to explain this vague location to my claims adjuster the following day, he pointed out to me that I couldn't have been going south on I-8, and that I-8 isn't in National City. No shit! This is me: I was going SOUTH. On 805. I KNOW I was SOUTH of the 8 interchange. My adjuster, who's name is Paul: I-8 runs east and west. Me: Yes, I know, I was SOUTH of it. On 805. Paul: So you weren't on the 8 at all. Me: No, I had already driven OVER the 8, ON 805, going SOUTH. Paul: So you were in National City? Me: NO. I was on 805 SOUTH. I hadn't gotten to National City yet. Paul: So you were going to National City? (OK. What the F does it matter where I was going? I'm allowed to drive my car. On the interstate) Me: NO. I was going to BONITA. But I was on 805 SOUTH somewhere between the 8 and National City.)

Ok, so clearly I'm not worn out enough not to rant. And back to what happened on Thursday, October 29. I called my insurance, AAA, and spoke to a very nice woman named Teresa who wasn't mad at all that I hadn't called the police, or gotten the driver's licence from the girl who hit me (because she didn't have it with her). And thus far, I learned:

1. The police are not likely to come to an accident at rush hour on a major free way and block traffic further unless someone was hurt or the vehicles weren't drivable.

2. The most they would have done is given the girl a citation and let her drive away (much to my husbands annoyance, who wanted to ship her to TJ from where she probably came anyway)

3. The most important piece of information you can get is the licence plate number, which I did.

10/30/09--Paul, my adjuster for AAA called me, and we had the brilliant conversation I outlined above. Just imagine me speaking very s l o w l y, as if to someone very dumb, because clearly I had had a lobotomy instead of just being rear-ended. While I was on the phone with Paul, we called Wawanesa (the other party's insurance, which I thought was strange protocol--that I was on the phone while we were doing this, but no one else thought this was weird.) We spoke with Tina who gave us a claim number and then transferred us to Darin who told us that an adjuster had not yet been assigned on Wawanesa's side. Here's where I learned what I didn't know about car insurance in California:

4. You are only required to cover liability of $5,000. So if you hit someone and do more than $5k worth of damage, well, it's just their problem. Umm? How is this fair, or even reasonable? This sounds like an open invitation to lower your liability to $5k, drive a beater, and then just ram right in to the drivers who are pissing you off because they didn't seem to think about where they were trying to go when they pulled out into traffic...or whatever their problem is. Oh right. Then my insurance rates would go up. Because you're not supposed to hit other people's cars when they piss you off; in fact you're not supposed to hit other people's cars at all, which is why you have to have liability in the first place, which gets me back to the whole bit about, really? You only have to have $5k worth of coverage? And back to Curses! Gods of Irony!

5. Here's some more fun. If you're like me, and don't have renters coverage on your insurance (because I have no plans to hit a car, and I was operating under this misconception that if I were hit, the other insurance would sort of have to cover me), and the damage on the car is more than $5k, the other party's insurance won't cover a rental. They will only cover up to $5k, and you can dice it any way you want between the repairs and the rental). Again, I owned a working car. Your client rendered in un-working. And now it's up to me to get myself a car while mine is being fixed? Yup. That makes perfect sense.

11/2/09--I take my car into this place called Balboa Autobody to have them do an estimate for the damage, which comes out to $1,001. Great! I can get my car fixed and drive a rental! Just what I always wanted! Looks like Christmas came early!

11/2/09--I hear from Cord, my adjuster on Wawanesa's side, who tells me that we may have a limit issue, if they find additional damage when they take the bumper off. Yes. I did that math myself. This is also when I found out that I don't just get to give my claims number to the doctor's office (I had some mild back pain that I wanted to get looked at). (I was rear-ended once in Oregon, and as best as I can remember it, I just told the chiropractor I was in a car accident, gave them the claims number and was adjusted. I'm sure there was some paperwork involved, but there was no out of pocket on my part). So here are my California options: to pay all of the medical bills myself and then wait for Wawanesa to decide if the claims are valid, and then wait for them to reimburse me, or to sign a release of medical liability and get $1,000. I took the cash. At this point, I had had enough of the stupid California rules.

Here's something else that's fun: when I got the release, because I'm married, my husband had to sign it, too, and we needed a witness! That ended up being no big deal because hubby had to pick some friends up at the airport that night, and they were more than willing to bear witness, but if that hadn't been the case, my plan was just to sign for my sister and tell her about it. My family has a mildly open policy about signing our in, for example, if we're in a restaurant and my mother pays the bill, but can't find her glasses to read the bill, Sis or I will read and sign for her.

11/3/09--I spoke with Cord again and he said that Balboa Autobody said worst case: $1,500-$2,000 of damage, so I could get a rental car! Yipee!

11/5/09--After doing some Yelping on the repair places AAA suggested to me, I called All American Paint and Body because they had the best hours and the best Yelp reviews. As this was Thursday (I'm an accountant. I was very busy. You know, doing things like, oh, making sure my company had REVENUE in October. So yes, it took me a while to carve out the 30 minutes I needed to look at repair shops. Again: why am I doing all of the work?) I was saying, as this was Thursday, and even though All American is open on Saturdays, it seemed like the likelihood of them getting much done on my car in those few days was pretty low, so I waited until Monday to drop off my car, figuring they'd have all week to fix it and I'd have it back by the weekend. Apparently I operate under the misconception that everyone is as efficient as I am. Or maybe it's just that my life is more of a priority for me than for other people. What is the world coming to? However, I did also get my Enterprise reservation all set up.

11/9/09--I took my car to All American, who were very nice. The Enterprise people were very nice, too. The car was a POS because I only wanted what the insurance would cover. And honestly, the worst part of the car, for me, was that the dome light and the zapper didn't work. Apparently those things are very important to me.

11/11/09--I called All American to find out when my car would be ready and they told me someone (presumably the guy actually doing the work) would call me back. But they didn't.

11/12/09--I called All American again and they told me that they found additional damages once they took off the bumper (which was to be expected) and that they were having someone from Wawanesa come out and look at the vehicle in order to approve the additional amount. And they told me that the car would probably be ready the following Wednesday. In my head I was pitching a royal fit, but the guy laid out the timeline, and between my repair guy getting a weekend, and needing to repaint the bumper, well, next Wednesday it was. I guess repairmen deserve days off, and it's not All American's fault that they have to wait for Wawanesa's approval to do the work, and Wawanesa is in no hurry to get this done because they don't give a rat's ass about me or the fact that none of this is my fault! And it's making me sound like a whiny teenager. But mom! It's not my fault the teacher hates me! Ok. I'm pretty sure I've never uttered those last two sentences in my entire life, but I'm also pretty sure that my mother would have found it totally amusing if I had.

11/13/09--Good news! Cord called again and told me that he received my release of medical liability and he was sending me $1,000. The check arrived 11/18, and I wasted no time depositing it.

11/17/09--I call All American again, hoping that the car repair gods will smile upon me and have my car done a day early because Wednesday was already looking like a very busy day, but alas, they did not. All American said they'd call me when my car was ready.

11/18/09--All American called and told me to come get it after 4. Yay! I have my car back, and $1,000, but guess what? Wawanesa only approved my rental through 11/15, so there's still a possibility that I'll have to argue with them about the extra days. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that Cord is reasonable enough to know that I wouldn't keep a rental longer than I needed to--not if I had the option of driving my own car!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Christmas Wrapping Paper

When I thought up this rant, I was just going to discuss Christmas wrapping paper, but as I'm listening to the dialogue in my head, I realize I have a lot more to say. So the Twitter-length rant is: I'm not buying any more wrapping paper. So all of you readers with the attention span of a gnat can just stop right here. That's all you need to know.

For everyone else still paying attention, I have long debated with myself about buying Christmas wrapping paper. I think wrapping paper is a huge waste of paper, and ink, and plastic wrapping, and well, just a huge waste of resources. And this is from someone who actually appreciates wrapping paper (ask my sister! She actually wrote an essay on the agony of watching me slowly and carefully unwrap my Christmas presents. If someone's going to take the time to cut the paper and tie on ribbons, I'm going to appreciate it, dammit!). And thus the internal tug of war: I don't want to waste a huge amount of resources, and I don't want people to think I didn't care enough about them to use fancy gift wrap.

Additionally, I try really, really hard to do a thoughtful job of gift shopping. Would (fill in name here) like this? Would they use/read/play with this? Am I buying them this because I think they would like it or because I feel obligated to get them something? Don't get me wrong. There are many times when I draw a huge blank on what to get people. I try to do my Christmas shopping when I see something I think someone will like, no matter what time of year it is. Unfortunately, I've had a totally uninspired year this year. So right now, Dad, you're the only one with a gift. It is only November, though. And Sis, yes, I found something I think you'll like. It's environmentally friendly, is packaged WITHOUT plastic, and is nearly, but not quite, as boring as dirt. But you'll probably use it weekly and it will make you feel good about your choices, so you're getting it. Even though there is no way you could even fake enthusiasm about it.

I do own some wrapping paper. Mostly because I buy it at Costco, so I could probably wallpaper my house with it. Also, I've been saving the Sunday comics, because, well I love getting gifts wrapped in the funnies. It's like a bonus: a present and the comics! I even re-use "lightly-worn" gift wrap from prior years. Finally, my environmental bents really aren't aimed at driving my hubby batty (although he might argue otherwise!), so it's entirely possible (albeit unlikely) that hubby will go out and buy you wrapping paper and try his hand at the whole ribbon-tying thing.

So if you're getting a gift, I've thought about you. If' you're getting a card, I've thought about you. If you don't get a card or a gift, either you're off the list, or I don't have your address. And that's all there is to it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Room With a View

It is official: Cabrillo National Monument has the Best Public Bathroom with a View.

This past weekend, my in-laws were in town. Ambitiously, my father-in-law and his partner wanted to see as much of San Diego as possible in two days. My husband and I obliged (I am nothing, if not ambitious, in my efforts as tour guide). Thus, we found ourselves watching the sunset from Cabrillo on Point Loma.

Point Loma is, well, a point. At the far southern end there is a lighthouse. West of the lighthouse, on the cliff, is the restroom. West of the restroom is the Pacific Ocean. This conveniently means that the westernmost stall can have a window. Overlooking the ocean. Yes, the view is better from the top of the hill, but if you're having a bathroom emergency, or have just been dancing in place like a 10-year-old for the last hour because the other bathroom was closed, well, you could do much worse than the western stall.

And gents, my father-in-law confirmed that the western most urinal had a lovely view as well. I would just be a tad concerned with the whole aiming-in-one-direction-while-looking-in-another thing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Arts and Crafts in Virginia's House

I confess: for a female, I'm a terrible multi-tasker. I've somehow managed to hide this fact behind my amazing ability to plan. As in, no, I can't get several things done at one time, but yes, I can tell you how long it will take me to get several things done, usually to within five minutes. For example, one time, during my MBA program, at 7:47 am, I looked at my clock and knew I'd be five minutes late for a group meeting. I actually thought about calling my groupmates at that exact moment to tell them, but then I realized that our meeting was scheduled for 3:30 pm, and in the off-chance that they were up, they would just be furthered in their belief that I'm a bit out of my mind. Then I was uninspired at the gym, cut 10 minutes from my work-out, and showed up, you guessed it, 5 minutes early.

What does this have to do with arts and crafts?

Well, people who know me know that at any given time, I'll have a number of projects going on at one time. Right now, there are currently three projects sitting on the dining room table (I grew up in a house where the dining room was frequently the quilting room, the library, the study, the diorama planning get the picture). I also have a project hiding in the office (don't tell my husband), and a number that are still just on the to-do list.

Back to the three projects sitting on the dining room table (by the way, did I mention that my father-in-law is coming to visit this weekend, so we'll probably need to use the dining room table for dining. This the actual problem with the projects, and the tie in to my planning. None of the projects will be done before he arrives. I could time-line for my husband exactly when to expect each to be finished, but he would just think that was silly, since I'd have to spend my time making a time-line rather than just completing the projects. And no, I have not lost sight of the fact that instead of completing the projects, I'm blogging about them). The first project is an apron that is waiting my mother's arrival in December to finish. Normally, to clear the table, I would just put the apron on the guest bed (my mother can always find her to-do list on the guest bed--this way she doesn't get bored *haha like that could ever happen** and I don't forget anything that I'd like her to do). However, I can't put the apron on the guest bed, because my father-in-law will be using it (the bed, not the apron), and I'm pretty sure he's not planning on breaking out the sewing machine while he's here.

The second project on the dining room table is really just a pre-project for when my mother arrives. I had blue curtains in the office of my apartment in Oregon, which were then put in the bedroom of my apartment in California; now that I own a house, and the curtains don't really have a viable place to hang. However, all in all, the fabric is still in pretty good condition (somehow the California sun hasn't faded them as much as it's been fading my hair...ugh), so I thought I'd turn them into napkins (which goes back to my random attempts to save the world and become a hippie). The project really needs to wait for my mother's arrival because I don't actually know how to use my sewing machine. My mother taught me once, but as anyone who teaches knows, once is usually not enough, especially when combined with that wonderful mother-daughter factor in which at some point we either digress, or risk digressing, into some traumatic childhood woe that would have been completely avoided if only I had a pony, or a fabulous white communion dress (we're not Catholic, a fact that completely did not explain why I couldn't have a beautiful white dress when I was seven. However, I did have a beautiful dress at my wedding so I guess we're nearly even. Nearly.) Nevertheless, back in the land of making napkins out of curtains, I figure that I can at least cut the fabric into squares before my mother arrives. Which may actually be a risky assumption because cutting fabric in straight lines is actually harder than it seems. But I think I am well equipped! I have one of those nice green cutting mats, a big solid ruler, and one of those round cutters that resemble pizza cutters. And just in case this all goes horribly wrong, I plan on doing the actual cutting on the kitchen table, which is already scratched, and which is on tile and not carpet, in case of accidental amputation.

Wow! I just realized I'm about 7,000 words into this post before I even got to the project that prompted this rant. All through my childhood, my mother didn't have a Christmas stocking. I always thought that was very sad, but I never went and bought her one because everyone else had a handmade stocking, and I always thought that this was the way Christmas stockings were meant to be (I still think this is true). Then, when I was, ooh, 23 or 24, I went to a Christmas ball. Yes, I've actually been to a ball. Yes, it was very glamorous. And I wore a fabulous red velvet dress. Normally I don't like velvet, because the cheaper qualities don't brush well in both directions, which I just think is horrible. But this dress brushed very well. And then I never wore it again. And it was the perfect shade of red for making a Christmas stocking. It's not a true red, it's more like a maroon/wine colored red. So I made my mother a Christmas stocking. I even lined it. I hand sewed it (because, like I said, I don't actually know how to use my sewing machine).

The stocking actually turned out very well, until I tried to decorate it. Apparently my fabric-based imagination is more grand than my actual skill set. My aim was to use beads to make it appear to be snowing on the stocking. Instead, I just made a mess. My mother, good-humouredly, went along with it (I also happen to be pretty good at filling stockings, which probably helped...and my mother knows that I put a lot of effort into it...she's very good at being appreciative like that...she's always appreciative when I make dinner, although I'm only marginally better at cooking than sewing). So, a few weeks ago, while my husband was watching a football game, I sat on the living room floor and diligently cut off all of the silly beads. Now I am left with a blank slate of a stocking, and I have found that my imagination still far exceeds my skills. However, I feel like this time the results will be better, as I have at least learned that I should practice on something other than the stocking before sewing there. And I brought home some nice grid-lined paper from work, so I should at least be able to sew "Mom" in a straight line this time. And, as a back up plan, I'll be sure to fill whatever I come up with with Snickers and Oreos, and I'll probably be forgiven.

In the mean time, I need to figure out where to put it while my father-in-law is visiting.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My Thoughts, Exactly!

The dear friend of mine who suggested that I start a blog recently posted an entry on her own blog called On Glancing Backward. Basically it's an excerpt from Edith Wharton's memoir, A Backward Glance. I actually had to google Edith Wharton, and now I have a whole bunch of new books to add to my never-ending reading list. Thanks, Voracious T!

However, the excerpt eloquently says what I have long thought. I am SO glad to hear that someone else finally said what I have been trying to for so long, but have been unable to articulate well. (I especially like "though the years are sad, the days have a way of being jubilant") I have always thought that life, if not really sucky most of the time, was a lot of aggravation and hard work with very little reward. There are definite rays of sunshine and moments of brilliance, but I am not convinced that these jubilant days actually balance out the sad years. Which I consider unfortunate. However, I feel slightly better, after reading a few sentences of Wharton's, knowing that at least I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On Becoming a Hippie

My husband is slightly startled by the fact that I've become more and more of a hippie since I moved to California. I know that many consider California to be this liberal, granola-inspired land of sunshine, but I haven't moved to San Francisco. I've moved to San Diego. And I moved from Oregon. Prior to living in Oregon, I lived in Montana. And now that I live in SoCal, I've started making my own cleaning products. Go figure!

I have long suspected, for instance, that my shower does not need to be bleached. Yes, my husband gets very dirty at work, but it's dirt. We're not surgeons. We're not eating off the shower floor, and even if we were, I'm pretty crazy about being clean, so it's probably not any dirtier than the kitchen table...assuming you're eating off the floor sometime in between my most recent cleaning and the time my dirty hubby rinses off. But now I'm totally digressing! Many people live under that huge misconception that bleach cleans things. All it does, really, is bleach stuff (if you've ever tried to bleach the deodorant stains in the armpits of white shirts, you'll find that this doesn't work. Why? Bleach doesn't get out the deodorant, which is causing your shirt's armpits to turn yellow when it mixes with your sweat...if you're trying to get oil, of any kind, out of fabric, a good first bet is regular shampoo. Why? Shampoo is designed to get oil out of your hair). Ok, so bleach doesn't clean things. It also doesn't remove soap scum or mildew from the shower walls or hair from the drain. It does kill mold, but so does elbow grease. So all bleaching my shower (or using a product containing bleach) did was harm my lungs. Brilliant!

I'm trying to walk the line between becoming A TOTALLY INSANE HIPPIE NUTJOB and A COMPLETELY NARCISSISTIC AMERICAN CONSUMER. I'm hoping to end up in the range of environmentally concerned person who's paying attention! Conveniently, I have a coworker who's reasonably normal (she's smart, she's funny, she bathes, but she was also appalled at the idea of high fructose corn syrup in her baby food, so she started making her own baby food, which can't be that hard, right? Directions: mash banana! and she just went from there).

So here's a short list of the environmentally friendly changes I'm trying to impose on my life (and therefore the life of my husband, who, so far, has been a good sport about all of this...probably because we have beer and sports center):
  1. Use reusable grocery bags (although I have to remember to bring them other places, like Target).
  2. Use natural cleaning products (which is sort of what prompted this particular rant, although hubby really likes Windex, which contains ammonia).
  3. Buy more produce from the farmers market...the downside of this is that it's expensive, and while organic foods frequently tastes a lot better, they don't last as long.
  4. Eat less meat...meat sits high on the food chain, so it uses a lot of energy to be fact, I'm thinking about becoming a part-time vegetarian, but this will take some work, namely because hubby burns through about 5000 calories a day (by my estimate), and, well, meat is tasty. However, I've read about "faceless Friday" in which on Friday, you don't eat anything that had a face. That might be a good place to start.
  5. Using less plastic, because, well, if you haven't read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, you need to go google it right now.

I'm pretty sure that this short list will keep me busy for a while. But if not, I can already think of about a dozen things I can add to it!

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Really Sucky Immigration Situation

October 12's issue of Businessweek includes an article entitled "America's High-Tech Sweatshops." America has a number of immigration problems that are fairly well-know; however, this one was new to me. Evidently I'm just not that deviant of a person.

The basic situation is that someone outside of the US, in, say, India, accepts a job with a US tech firm. That person from India will pay the tech firm various fees to secure their visa, which the tech firm then holds. This person is then farmed out to work as a consultant. The company hiring the consultant in all likelihood has no idea about this person's visa status. Many times this consultant doesn't end up getting the job for which they had originally applied. So a bunch of people pay a bunch of fees to come to the US and then don't end up with the jobs they thought they had, and often have to go find work on their own. This income is then channeled back through the tech firm, which takes additional fees, so that it looks like the immigrant is actually working for the company holding their visa. And finally, when some of these immigrants decide to press charges or otherwise seek out their rights, they find out that they're not even here legally.

I'm not sure if the bit about having the immigrant pay the visa fees is legal or not, and quite frankly I don't feel like researching a bunch of immigration laws and policies to find out, but it is definitely not legal to channel someone's income back through a company they don't work for, and then have that company take a cut of that pay as "processing fees" or any other kind of fee.

My company hires a number of tech consultants (as well as other temporary employees). It's a good way to manage costs. I've temped before, and it's really not a bad gig, if you know what you're getting yourself into. However, when you don't know that you're going to be a temp, that's a big problem. And the end companies (like mine) frequently don't know what's going on, even when the temp agency signs a form saying that all of their temps can legally work in the US. If we hire TechInc to supply our tech consultants, and they get their consultants from various sources, who may or may not be fabricating documentation, etc, how would we verify this?

Additionally, as these consultants are coming from other countries, they are in all likelihood unfamiliar with US labor laws. They may not know they have the right to assert their rights, let alone how to go about doing so. And if they're new here, they may not have a network of friends and family to help them sort though these problems.

After reading this article, I was half-tempted to ask our IT consultants how they got here and who was paying their salary. Then I realized that there was no way for me to show them that I was concerned about this situation without also appearing a bit psychotic. I certainly don't want to scare off the IT staff...I depend on them too much.

I'm not really sure how to remedy this situation. The US definitely needs these educated, intelligent tech employees, but we also need a better system of monitoring our visa holders. I'm not currently in a position in which I do any hiring, so I can't directly prevent this from happening, but I can bring this issue up in conversations and make people aware that this sort of thing happens. Hey, if you've read this blog, you're already listening.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Some Thoughts on Turning 30

Since I was about 28 1/2, I had been DREADING! turning 30. I mean absolutely dreading it. Sometime during my undergrad years, when career counselors started prepping us for interviews with questions such as "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I had created a mental list of Things to Do by 30 that would, in my mind, establish that I was an accomplished and capable individual. Where do I even come up with these ideas? Needless to say, that by the time I reached 30, I had only accomplished 1 of my 3 goals (yes, I actually only had 3 goals). Shortly after turning 30, my husband and I purchased a house, thereby knocking #2 off the list, and single-handedly decreasing my pathetic-ness status.

Right. So now I have turned to pondering the value of these goals. I once read about a man who sat down when he was about 18 and made a list of 100 or so things he wanted to do before he died, including climb the highest mountain on each continent, swim in all of the oceans, blah, blah, blah. In about his 30s or 40s he went back to revisit the list and crossed off "starring in a Tarzan movie," having decided that that was really just a silly boyhood dream.

At what point should one dismiss a goal as no longer attainable, or unrealistic, or just plain silly? This is a big problem for me, as I am that sort of person who, when making a to do list, will follow through with that list even if the item on the list is no longer reasonable or applicable. I just hate not having accomplished something for no good reason.

Apparently, either because I'm trying to stubbornly avoid getting old (by having too many things to do to have time to age?) or because I'm annoyed that I am actually getting older, I've been thinking a lot about the goals I made for myself in my 20s. Because, interestingly enough, I hadn't given one iota of thought at to what I would do after 30. That's because I thought that would be the age when I would start having babies and basically my life would no longer belong to me. And then I realized that I don't actually have to have babies. Whew! And now my life still belongs to me. What am I going to do with it?

Looking back (which is always dangerous, given the 20/20 nature of hindsight), in many ways, my life felt a lot more organized in my mid-twenties than it does now. When I was about 25, I was single (little did I know I was about to meet my future sweetie!), I had a great roommate (fabulous, phantasmagorical, actually), and a pretty good job. Oh, yes, and I was 25, so I could still eat pretty much whatever I wanted. I miss that.

Now, at 30, I have a wonderful husband, a pretty good job, a nice little house (with a big mortgage), and a bunch of student loan debt from my MBA (which is actually just annoying and not really cause for alarm). If I wanted to be practical, the goals for 40 would include paying off my student loans, and decreasing the amount we owe on our house. I guess I better say something self-reflective-ish, such as: and continue to work on being a decent person so hubby #1 stays hubby #1.

Other goals to reach before I turn 40? I'd like to become an author, and I'd really like to visit the Antarctic before it all melts away. So check back with me in five or 10 years to see if I've actually accomplished anything!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Blue Corn Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've apparently missed my calling. I LOVE to bake. Fortunately, I'm also pretty fond of exercise, otherwise I'd be about 700 pounds by now. Tonight I made Blue Corn Chocolate Chip Cookies. They are very easy, except for the finding the blue corn bit. I found mine at Henry's. The blue cornmeal adds this sort of gritty crunch to the cookies--the same texture you find in real cornbread. I don't taste any corn flavor in the cookies, but that's probably due to the vanilla, butter, and chocolate chips; however, my mother, who hates corn, probably would not enjoy these cookies. She prefers Oreos anyway.

Ok, so now I'm going to provide you with the recipe, which I got off a website that credited Bob's Redmill. They actually probably sell blue cornmeal, but I didn't check.

1 egg
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup blue cornmeal
1/2 cup white flour
2/3 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnut halves

A couple of things on recipes:
  • why do some recipes list the ingredients in an order other than the one in which they're used?
  • why do recipes always say brown sugar, packed? ALWAYS pack brown sugar!
  • don't bother measuring the chocolate chips--just dump a bunch in!
  • if you're chopping the walnuts, whether they're halves, whole, or pieces shouldn't matter...I omitted this--I don't know why people put nuts into things

Anyway, back to the recipe...

Preheat the oven to 350

Cream the butter and sugar, then add the vanilla and egg. Next, add the blue cornmeal and flour. Mix all of this well, and fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts.

Drop cookies in round tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.

This recipe makes a dozen cookies, and they're a pretty good size. Start to finish, it took me about 30 minutes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lies Our Parents Tell Us

I just finished reading an article entitled "The Truth is that Parents Lie: Fibs are used as tool to manipulate children."

Ya think?

The article sites a study done by psychologists from the University of California San Diego, and discusses two types of "white lies"--lies that aren't intended to hurt.

The first type is the Santa Claus-variety, which I never had a problem with...I don't remember a time when I was too young to think about the impossibility of one man flying around the world in one night, even after you eliminate all non-Christians. I also grew up in a house with a chimney. I knew I'd have a hard time fitting inside, so it was always out of the question that a fat man could. Besides, we'd be more than willing to let him in the front door. Fortunately for me, I was never exposed to the trauma of "finding out" Santa didn't exist.

Additionally, in my house, we would perpetuate other Santa-related tales. Once, when I was in high school, a young neighbor came over and saw that we already had presents under our tree. He immediately thought that maybe he and his brothers and sisters had been bad that year and Santa had already skipped over them. My mother kindly told the boy that Santa called her up and asked if he could stop by early because he was so busy on Christmas Eve, and he knew that my sister and I were well enough behaved to leave the presents alone for a few days. The young boy felt better and even conceded that his family would just tear into the gifts if they came early. If this boy even remembers this event, I doubt he looks back and thinks my mother lied to him, as much as she found a nice way to reassure him that he was loved and would get some gifts on Christmas morning.

Finally, I should disclose that Harry Potter probably falls somewhere under the Santa Claus-variety lie. I insist that he's real, and my husband insists that he's a brilliant work of fiction. I insist that he saved us all from Voldemort. At this point, my husband will just laugh and pat me on the head. It's a good thing I married a man with a sense of humor!

The second type of lie discussed by the article is the common get-your-kids-to-behave-lie. We were told that if we ate our vegetables, our hair would grow in curly (apparently "big and strong" isn't a good reason to eat veggies if you're a girl). I know some kids who were told things like if they weren't in bed on time the bed bugs would come out and nibble on their toes. I remember some kid at school telling me that the sandman came by every night and put a grain of sand in our eye, and in the morning that's why we had those eye-bugger things. THIS horrified me. I had spent enough time at the beach as a kid to know that I did NOT want sand in my eye. My mother told me it was just a song, and then said, "How would he get in, anyway?" Apparently this was enough to appease me.

Kids, in my experience (and for the record, I don't have any of my own), have pretty creative imaginations. There's always two ways you can explain something to someone: the way that makes sense to you, or the way that makes sense to them. Parents who come up with creative stories to get their kids to behave have simply come up with something that makes sense to kids. I don't think there's much harm in that.

The harm, in my opinion, comes from the other lies our parents tell us. The ones that the article, conveniently, I might add, didn't address. You know exactly what I'm talking about: the if-you-work-hard-and-do-well-in-school-you-will-be-happy type. A number of my friends and I have discussed how much this type of lie has hurt us. And how guilty it's made us feel. And how bad about ourselves we've felt. And what we've done to handle it/get over it/move on with our lives.

I remember Amy Tan once saying something along the lines that she really started writing because therapy wasn't working for her. (If you read "The Opposite of Fate," you'll learn that she had some pretty traumatic experiences in her life). I also remember listening to an NPR interview with another female author, who's name escapes me at the moment, who, when asked what her family felt about her writing about them in such detail said that if her family didn't want her to write about them, then they shouldn't have treated her the way they did. The comments of both of these women resonated with me.

I am all for, 100% behind finishing high school, going to college, or getting some other sort of training. I cannot figure out what people who, say, work in video stores, live on. How do they manage? At the same time, I guarantee that being smart, hard-working, and college-educated is not a recipe for happiness. It is, however, a good recipe for being employable, which, at least for me, is a step towards happiness. And I LOVE working. Not all the time, and not every day, but on the whole, I would drive myself batty if I didn't work.

A good friend from college said once told me that if she went too long without doing something creative/artsy, that she stopped feeling like herself and started being miserable. Even if everything else in her live was going reasonably well. This, too, makes sense to me.

What makes me happy? Baking cookies...baking pies...baking in general, laughing with friends, and watching goofy movies, to name a few. But nothing makes me feel more like myself that spending some time with a good book. I hope that everyone who's ever been miserable trying to figure out why they weren't happy with their "good" job and "nice" things, or whatever their lie is, is able to work through their pain and figure out what makes them happy. Life really is much better this way.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Better Vision through Dental?

I'm not sure if everyone's heard of this tooth-in-eye procedure, or if it only caught my attention because of it's freaky-weird nature. Sharron Thornton, who was blind for nearly a decade, now has 20/70 vision because of this procedure, called osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis, which has actually been around for decades.

I tried to do some research on this procedure, which involves a lot of steps, including building a tooth-lens combination, and having it implanted in the shoulder for it to heal, before it can be put in the eye.

I also tried to do some research on Benedetto Strampelli, the Italian doctor who came up with the procedure in the 1960s, but I couldn't even find a wikipedia article on him.

I am not a doctor; I am not even a scientist, but what I really want to know is, why use a tooth? I mean, then don't they have to replace the tooth (ok, I realize the technology to do this has been around forever), but why can't part of your hip bone, for instance, be used?

Don't get me wrong! I'm very glad this tooth-in-eye process has been successful for Ms. Thornton. I've been wearing bifocals since I was 22, so while I would never say that my situation is as extreme as hers was, I completely understand how detrimental losing one's vision can be. I'm all in favor of all procedures that improve vision. I just don't understand the tooth bit. How does one go about thinking up that? If anyone knows, or has any ideas about it, please let me know!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

It's the Economy, Stupid!

Here's something fun I discovered while I was trying to get organized about this posting: magazines don't publish the articles they've recently published in their actual, physical, magazines on their website. Or, if they do, they hide them too well for me to find. I receive an actual subscription to Fortune magazine (full disclosure: it's a free subscription that I received when I joined the business school honor society, Beta Gamma Sigma...I am a total dork). I'm a little behind on my magazine readings (in case you hadn't noticed, I've been a little busy buying a house and attending a bagillion weddings this summer). In any case, I just finished reading the May 25, 2009 Fortune magazine. Stanley Bing wrote an article called "Lessons We'll Forget: The economy has made us sadder, for sure. But wiser?" Basically, it's an article that pokes fun at some of our current economic problems, because hello?, we've seen them all before, but we all apparently get too high off the economy when it's doing really, really well to remember how much the hangover at the other end of the cycle sucks.

I generally consider myself a realist more than a pessimist or an optimist. I totally believe in capitalism, not because it's a perfect economic state, but because it's the best we've come up with so far. I also think that Newton was on to something with his whole apple scenario, and that ultimately, we're all moving towards entropy (and that the increasingly obese American is probably moving there faster than the rest of the world, but that probably deserves its own rant). So what does this have to do with the economy and Stanley Bing? Everything!

Here are the main points of Mr. Bing's article:
  1. Economics is a bunch of bushwa.
  2. Wherever there's money around, there will be crooks.
  3. The law is a ass.
  4. In God we trust. All others pay cash.
  5. The rich are not like other people, i.e., you.
  6. The press is the running dog of the ruling class.
  7. Nothing lasts forever.
  8. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
  9. We just forgot all this stuff.

I'm not sure I agree with point 1; however, it is true that economists are behind the curve. The ones I've known actually admit it. They can't declare it a recession until something like three consecutive periods of negative growth, or some such formula. There are actually rules for declaring a recession, and it's not just as simple as my company just went under, or my home suddenly lost a lot of value. Maybe you're an idiot and you've been making VCRs while everyone else on the planet has moved into the 21st century, and maybe you bought a ridiculously overpriced dump of a house. Economics is a science, and sciences aren't perfect. I mean, most people get a vaccine and then don't get sick, but maybe you're that oddity who gets the shot and gets sick. It sucks, but it happens. Economists also make forecasts, presumably based on a whole bunch of data and trends and formulas, but forecasts, by their very nature, can't be 100% accurate.

Of course, where's there's money, there's crooks. And of course, a lot of times they are very intelligent people. Otherwise they'd just be pickpockets.

For the record, the "a" in point 3 is Mr. Bing's, not mine. Here's the deal: nobody wants to regulate the economy while it's growing. That's like making it to the championship and then not playing for fear of getting injured. And with the economy, generally, a rising tide lifts all boats. So nobody's losing on an upswing.

Mr. Bing follows up point 4 by saying "Every panic in history has been precipitated by the same stupid series of events." This actually suggests that the economists in point 1 should have been able to predict this recession, and they probably secretly did, but who wants to go around being all gloomy saying, yeah, yeah things are really good now, but watch out, we're gonna fall. Hard. And fast. Banks lend money. It's how they make money. Sooner or later they're going to lend some money that doesn't pay up. It's a gamble. Investing always is.

Here's the deal with point 5. It's a helluva lot easier to stay rich than to get rich. Earlier I said that I'm a fan of capitalism. Capitalism doesn't say that everyone will become rich. In fact, it doesn't say that anyone will become rich. Capitalism says that people will find the fairest price. Not the lowest price, but the fairest. I like Warren Buffett. I think he's a smart man who's made a lot of money in a thoughtful way (as in, I think he was thinking). Buffett's investment strategy is pretty simple, when you get down to it. He says find a company you like (here's a hint, if you can't figure out how they're making money, it's a bad one). Figure out what you think a fair price is for their stock. If it's currently selling for less than that, buy. If not, wait. It's that simple. So here's where my capitalism, Newton's law, and entropy all tie together. Eventually, I think, in capitalism, the price of a stock will be fair. Unfortunately, I think the time span may be longer than we want to wait. What goes up will come down, as in the case of overinflated housing prices. And eventually, everything will even out.

Point 6 is a little confusing, but it basically says the same thing Gladiator said: the heart of Rome is the mob. People like simple things. The economy is anything but simple. People also like drama. This is why there are so many "reality" TV shows. In this age of virtually limitless media, people hear/see/read one simple, dramatic thing about the economy and believe it for the 3.7 seconds it sits in their brain (am I being generous?) until the next media sound byte hits. And since reporters are losing their jobs, too, the amount of quality data, if there ever was any, is shrinking. Which means, we're all obligated to think harder, because the people who might actually understand what's going on and be able to explain it in layman's terms don't have that opportunity anymore.

Points 7 and 8 are more or less universal truths that I'm not going to go into.

And as far as point 9 goes, once we get through something, it's a whole lot easier to look at it through rose colored glasses and forget how bad it was at the time.

I'm not going to try to predict the end of the recession (I'm not an economist, for one). But things will get better. In the mean time, I do have a bit of financial/investment advise. First, I'm going to paraphrase Mr. Weasley, of Harry Potter fame. He told his kids to never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see its brain (all in all, pretty sound advise, if you ask me). The same thing applies to investments. If you can't figure out how a company is going to make money, what they're selling, or who will want to buy it, don't invest! This isn't rocket science. For example, Coca-Cola makes...what?...drinks. Who buys drinks? Thirsty people, or basically everybody. Poof! We've just established that Coca-Cola is a company that could be considered for your investment portfolio (I'm not saying go out and buy it...I have no idea if it's fairly priced right now...I'm just saying, when it comes down to it, we can figure out their plan--this is a good step 1).

Second, and everyone says this, and no one seems to listen, but if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

And finally, if your gut is telling you not to buy something, listen to it! When all else fails, your stomach will tell you if things are ok or not.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

How to make a Banana Cream Pie

Last week, I made a banana cream pie for my boss's birthday. I really like to bake, but my husband and I would never fit into our pants if we were the only ones eating the goodies.

While I am not an expert, I have a few tips on how to make a good banana cream pie. First, you have to make it, as in bake the crust and make the cream--vanilla jello pudding will not suffice. And second, you have to stir. A LOT.

I use a Virginia-modified Joy of Cooking recipe. I love that cookbook. It has everything you could possibly ever need to cook in it. What it does not have are lists of ingredients at the beginning of the recipe or estimates on how long it will actually take to make the recipe. And I have no idea how long it takes me to make banana cream pie, so I can't help you out there.

When you make a banana cream pie, you bake the pie crust empty. The Joy of Cooking will tell you to prick the crust with a fork a bunch so that it doesn't puff up in the cooking. Mine usually puffs a bit anyway, but I suppose it would puff a lot more if I didn't prick, and besides, pricking is fun. That's all I'm going to say about that. Assuming you've baked your crust, here's what you need to do to make a good banana cream pie:

First, dump 2/3 a cup sugar, 1/4 a cup cornstarch, 1/4 a teaspoon salt, and 2 1/2 cups milk into a pot. You will read recipes that call for cream, or half-and-half, or whole milk. I usually buy the smallest container of cream or half-and-half that I can find and then just dump in whatever else we have in the house that's milky. The only think I wouldn't do is use 2 1/2 cups skim milk because that just doesn't have enough fat to make cream.

Heat this concoction over medium heat and whisk in 5 egg yolks. Make sure you whisk a lot--you want the egg yolks fully blended. Keep cooking this until it starts to thicken (Joy says simmer, but it's really too thick to simmer). What'll happen is, you'll stir and stir and stir and then all of a sudden it'll start to be thick and sort of lumpy, and it'll look an awful lot like vanilla pudding. At this point, take it off the heat, and stir the crap out of it.

This is the part of the recipe that gets silly, but I'd hate to ruin a cream pie by eliminating the next step, so I do it. If you're a more adventurous cook than I, feel free to skip this, because the next thing you do (after cooking it and then taking it off the heat and stirring the life out of it until it's nice and smooth) is put it back on the heat for one minute and continue to stir. Why? I don't know.

Then you take it back off the heat and dump in 2 tablespoons butter (I know this sounds gross, and like I said, I'm not adventurous, so I haven't tried eliminating this...let me know what happens if you do!) and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla (does anyone else find it weird that you're not supposed to cook vanilla on the stove, but it's totally ok to bake it in the oven?). Stir the butter and vanilla and then cover the bottom of the pie crust with this cream (if you taste it first and then eat the entire pot, well, I don't blame you. It is sooo gooood). Layer in some sliced bananas. Cover the bananas with more cream and then wrap the whole thing tightly in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. Ta da! You're done!

Suggested Serving: Three Cups

I recently finished reading "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. The difficult thing about this book, for me, is that I really don't think it was as well written as it could have been. Usually this alone would be reason enough for me to not recommend a book. However, I think the topic and content of the book are significant enough to stand on their own.

For those out there who aren't familiar with the story, the very short version is that it's about this American who tries to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Obviously, it isn't as simple as that, but you really should read the book to find out more.

I have spent the better part of two years reading the blog of a dear friend who was living in Egypt. Many of the topics of her blog were similar to many of the challenges Mortenson faced in Pakistan. I therefore felt that I could vicariously relate to Mortenson's predicaments. However, the big difference was in the telling of the events. My friend was able to find humor is her situations, while Mortenson's story feels more like drudgery. For example, at one point, Mortenson is on a flight to Afghanistan. Seven of the eight Afghan commercial planes were bombed in the aftermath of 9/11, so on Mortenson's flight, the eight pilots took turns of about 15 minute increments so they could all log flying time. In my head, I'm imagining some sort of relay-race-cum-musical-chairs for turns in the pilot seat. It could really be quite amusing, especially with the appropriate music and a lot of gesticulating. However, the book basically says exactly what I said two sentences ago. I realize the book isn't supposed to be a comedy, but there were a number of situations that really could have been quite comedic and instead they were dully written. I'm not sure if that is a lack of skill on the part of the author, or if Mortenson really didn't find the same things funny as I did, and so they were not portrayed humorously in his retelling.

The next thing that bugged me about the book is that I am always surprised by the gall some people have! At the start of Mortenson's decision to build schools, he plans on building just one, and he figures he can do it for about $12,000. That's really not a lot of money to raise, and he writes 580 letters to various people, including senators, news anchors, and anyone else he can think of who might be interested in this project. He gets one response with a check for $100. While I admire that this doesn't deter him, I was a bit annoyed by how he treated this enormous rejection, as if everyone else were wrong and he was the only one who was right. On the one hand, I'm pretty sure that all successful nonprofits are driven by people who are absolutely convinced that their cause is the most important cause. This is part of the reason I've had so much trouble picking a cause to support: I haven't decided which one is the most important to me. On the other hand, it really pisses me off when organizations get mad that I don't want to donate to their issue. I actually had a phone call from some cancer organization where the woman said to me "Don't you care about helping children?" She actually said it as I was guilty of murdering babies by not giving to this organization. So, of course, I said, "no, I don't care," and hung up. It's not that I don't care, but I wasn't interested in being treated poorly by an organization asking for my money. Hello? It's my money and I worked hard for it. I'll do with it what I damn well please. For the record, I volunteer to tutor adults, I participated in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, I made a donation to help rebuild a local family's home, and I'm volunteering with my company to help relandscape a community organization in October. So it's not exactly like I'm a stingy miser.

On the positive side, I am mature enough to understand that my personal complaints really aren't a good reason to not read this book and pass on it's message.

Mortenson did finally get funding for his first school (and many subsequent schools), and he created an organization called the Central Asia Institute (CAI). This is the organization that handles the funds that enables Mortenson to continue to build schools in impoverished central Asia. Mortenson insists that his schools allow girls, as he believes educating girls is the secret to a peaceful society.

I took a class called "Peace through Commerce" as part of my MBA program, and one of the topics covered was microfinance. Without going into a lot of detail, microfinance is exactly what it sounds like--really small loans to people. For example, if you give a $15 loan to a cheese maker in a third world country, they can buy a special kind of thermometer and make better cheeses, which they can then sell at higher prices, and make more money, and improve the standard of living for their families. Microfinance organizations have found making loans to women, rather than men, to be more successful. Successful in two senses: women are more likely to pay back the loan, and women are more likely to use the extra income they earned as a result of whatever they did with the loan money to better the lives of their family, specifically their children, usually by sending them to school.

Additionally, it has been discovered that educating girls, specifically, to the fifth-grade level does all sorts of wonderful things for a society, including decreasing infant mortality, decreasing domestic abuse, decreasing violence, and creating a more productive society. Between what I know about microfinance and what I've learned about the importance of educating girls, I am really beginning to think that Mortenson might be on to something!

Here's where my personal irony comes in to play: after fifth grade, I HATED going to school. I COULD NOT think of a worse fate than having to go to school for the rest of my life (I realize that sounds rather melodramatic, but you're about 10 in fifth grade, and if you consider that you're about 22 when you graduate from college, those 12 years really do seem like the rest of your life when you're looking at it from the perspective of a 10-year-old). At the same time, I realized that I was way better off being a girl in America than I would have been in many other places in the world. And I did go to college, although I really, really didn't want to. It was easier for me to go to college and hate it for four years than to not go and have to spend the rest of my life explaining to people why I didn't go.

Those are two luxuries I think all girls should have: the luxury of having the option to HATE school, and the luxury of going to school being an easier choice than not going.

So while I won't say that Mortenson's cause is the most important one, or that "Three Cups of Tea" is the best book I've ever read, I will say that his cause is worth pondering and that his book is worth reading. All in all, I think that's fair praise.