Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Resolutions: 2011

I'm not sure "resolutions" is quite the word I'm looking for, since I'm not sure I'm planning on resolving things as much as just trying to do them. But using the word "goals" seems a little too MBA-y for what I want to accomplish. And sometimes, there are things you just want to be able to do, but not necessarily keep doing. Like a triathlon. Currently, I don't want to do any, but I sort of feel like one might be enough. Sometimes there are resolutions/goals that are just a little embarrassing to admit to, because they serve no real purpose whatsoever. My first resolution/goal fits that description. But then, I think, I'd be unlikely to knock down someone else's goal, unless it was, say, to become a meth head or something, so whatever. If you don't like my goals, go make your own!

1. To do the splits. Yes, this is totally silly, but I once could do this, and I already have a crazy post-run stretching routine, so I figured, let's just add something else to it!

2. Write a novel. Novels have typically, what 300-400 pages. At a page a day, this should be doable. I'm not looking to write a good novel necessarily, just one. I'll work on good later.

3. Read the books on my reading list. This includes the books currently on my goodreads "currently reading" list, as well as these:
  • The Mummy Case
  • Feeling Good
  • The Battle of the Labyrinth
  • Lion in the Valley
  • The Last Olympian
  • The Deeds of the Disturber
  • Loving Edith
  • The Feast of Roses
  • The Last Camel Died at Noon
  • Easy Keeper
  • Shadow Princess
  • The Snake, the Crocodile and the Dog
  • Second Sight
  • The Demigod Files
  • The Hippopotamus Pool
  • After Roy
  • The Time Traveler's Wife
  • The Guns of August
  • The Blind Side
  • The Great Gatsby
  • A Perfect Mess
  • The Complete Chronicles of Narnia (again)
That might seem like a lot, but it works out to something like three books a month, which I think should be totally doable.

4. Pay off my car. This is the easy one. I'll make my last payment in October, so I'm sure this one will get done!

5. Complete my three-part marathon training plan. The first part is to run the Carlsbad half in January. I signed up to run this one for a couple of reasons. First, halfs are fun distances. They're less than half the training of a full marathon, but you still get to eat! Second, I was hoping to prevent any weight gain during the holiday season by running a ton. And third, I needed to remember how to go about actually training for a race.

The second part is to run the Rock'n'Roll half in June (although various parties are trying to convince me to do the Triple Crown or run the RNR full or both). During training for this race, I'm actually going to pay attention to my diet. In general, during training for a race, you'll be unlikely to lose weight (assuming you're reasonably normal to begin with), because you're training, so you'll be hungrier than normal. Or at least hungrier than you are when you aren't training for an endurance event. But, people who do actually manage to eat a healthy diet during training can lose weight. I'm going to try this out. The big problem is that I already have a pretty fast metabolism, so I get raging-lion hungry, and even though I love fruit, there's only so much of it you can eat before you start to feel like, okay, but I need real food now.

The third part is to actually run the Portland Marathon in October. And then I'll be ready to conquer the world! Bwah-ha-ha-ha! (That's supposed to sound like evil maniacal laughter.)

6. This might actually fall under resolution 5, part b, but each month in 2010 I'm going to change/improve my diet. I figure, only having to do something for a month will make it feel less impossible than saying forever, and I'll be able to determine if the change is something I'll be able to handle long term. For example, in January, I'm going to give up eating candy. The one exception I'm going to make to this rule is Twizzlers while watching movies. Because giving that up would just be tragically sad in my world, and I see no reason to change your diet just to make yourself sad.

7. Find a writing job.  It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I don't love accounting, but I do love reading.  Except it's very rare to get hired to read things.  Even proofreaders and editors do more than just read.  I did get my first editing job a little while ago, but the employer and I didn't really see eye to eye as to what was a reasonable wage, or what was a reasonable amount of work for the wage being offered, so needless to say, that's over.  This is also separate from my write a novel goal, since a writing job will pay me and writing a novel will probably not.  At least not the first one.

8. Floss daily.  This is pretty self-explanatory, but suffice it to say, I don't enjoy flossing.  And I don't enjoy sitting in the dentist's chair for hours on end having root canals, even though my dentist is great.  But I do like to check things off a checklist, and this will probably be easier to do than #9, so I'll feel good about accomplishing this.  For the record, I do brush at least twice a day.  Captain America would probably leave me for a toothless cannibal before he'd sleep in the same bed with someone who never brushed. 

9. Tackle a nagging task.  This I actually stole from Gretchen Rubin over at The Happiness Project, mostly because it's a good one.  Sometimes the biggest trouble with a nagging task is just starting it.  And I have a big list of things that need to happen at some point.  Like I need to find an eye doctor. 

10. Blog regularly.  I now have two blogs, this one and 52 Saturday Nights, which you should go check out, and follow!  So I look cool! 

In the spirit of being a super-organizational-freak, I stole the idea of a resolution chart from The Happiness Project. And so I have a lovely checklist for all of the things I'm going to be accomplishing this year.  Or until January 7 when I get bored.  Which reminds me, you should check out this blog:

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Treating your employees like your customer base

It was recently mentioned to me that one of the problems with my company may be that leadership communicates with the corporate employees as if we were their customer base.  This idea has me thinking, because I certainly do not fall into the demographic my company targets. 

The demographic my company targets are people who make less than $50K a year.  I'm not sure if that's on an individual basis, in which case it would probably be $100K per household, or if it's $50K per household, but either way, that's not me. 

I feel like leadership frequently communicates with corporate employees as if we were naughty children, and the only way to get us to behave is to be forceful and demanding, much like saying you WILL sit still at dinner, rather than saying, if you sit still at dinner we'll know you're grown up enough to eat in a nice restaurant.  Not that I'm advocating bribing children to behave well, but the second way makes it the child's choice, offers a semblance of a compliment, and lets the child know that good behavior will not go unnoticed.  And of course, with children, you need to explain what you're looking for, and model the behavior.  It's just dumb to yell at them the first time they don't do what you want if you haven't told them what it is they're expected to do. 

So, this got me to wondering if my company was making a series of assumptions about both their customer base and their employees.  For one thing, a salary of less than $50K in California may indicate that you're less educated, but elsewhere in the country it might be quite normal.  Additionally, if you assume that people who make less than $50K are less educated, but you treat them like naughty children, then you're confusing the issue.  Not being rich does not equal being dumb. 

Sometimes I feel substantially underpaid at my job.  San Diego suffers from this confusion about the cost of living.  In other expensive places in the country, like New York, generally the salary is increased to adjust for the cost of living.  But in San Diego, we pay the "sunshine tax." Our salaries are not increased to compensate for the high cost of living.  If my company knows they're underpaying employees, does that make them think they can walk all over us in other ways, and we won't complain?  It's like taking advantage of someone because you think you can.

And if our corporate leadership treats the employees as if we were the customers, and this is how they treat the employees, does it stand to reason that they're treating the customers poorly, too.  Does the correlation go both ways? 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

(One of) The problems with my job

I'm not sure if you think I complain about my job a lot or not, but I really don't like my job. I'm stuck in what Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project calls drift, when you wish something would happen to change your situation but you're not actively doing anything to help change your situation.

And I have excuses. It's December, so I'm busy with a million holiday-related activities. I can't quit my job because we need the money. I don't have time to look for a new job because I'm too busy working at the job I have. And, I have to regroup: I'm not sure I want to stick with accounting.

Accounting is one of those fields that really isn't all that interesting, ever, but if you're working with a good team at a decent company and have a reasonable boss, it's really quite fine. I know that may sound like an impossible combination, but, really, I've had that job. I just don't now.

And I am totally grateful that I have a job. Lots of people don't, and I'm making a decent salary and have benefits. Really, it's fine.

Except, also, really, it's not fine.

Here's the trouble. I have four bosses, none of whom are particularly good at management--neither managing people, or managing time, or managing projects.

That's not entirely fair. Probably my most skilled boss wanted a lesser job so she'd have a better work/life balance (yeah, right!), so she's totally underutilized, and also frustrated because she'd make better decisions if she was properly utilized, but since she sort of picked to put herself in the position she's in, I'm still holding her accountable.

About my team: I work with fantastic individuals. We all get along really well (we even hang out outside of work). We're all smart and funny, and we appreciate each other's differences. And we work together really well. We help each other if we have a lag in our own responsibilities, or even when we don't have a lag. We trade off jobs to get things done more efficiently. We talk to each other when we find a problem that we think affects more than one of us. We ask each other for help when we're not sure of something, or to talk through problem solving. We're really great. Great enough that my company should be working really hard to keep all of us.

We're so great that under normal circumstances we don't need a manager. Left to our own devices, we'll get everything done accurately and on time.

Unfortunately, nothing in my industry is operating under "normal circumstances" right now, and our inept managers feel the need to micro-manage so we're not left to our own devices.

We still all get along and help each other, etc, but none of us actually likes our job anymore.

And, when a team really needs a manager who can manage is when things aren't normal. Just like it's easy to like my sister when she's in a good mood, being nice and generally agreeable, and/or sleeping, you don't need a skilled manager when you've got a good team and things are going well.

But just like it's really hard to like my sister when she's grumpy, a bad manager does nothing useful when things are chaotic.

One of my managers has, so far, done not a thing related to me. She's a "floating manager" (whatever that might mean), and I'm not sure what she's doing with my department, but frankly, since it's not annoying me, as far as I'm concerned, she can keep doing it.

The manager directly above me, who's title is actually manager, who's the consultant, does the reviews of our work. Except her decisions are frequently being overruled by the manager above her, with the title supervisor. And the manager doesn't get a lot of say in what goes on, even though she has the most experience.

The supervisor has a very good knowledge of the industry we're in, our company, and accounting, but has terrible people skills. She doesn't seem to think it's important to tell us what's going on, so, for example, today, we discovered that someone on another team booked $100K to one of my accounts, and that $100K should not be recognized as revenue (go with me here). Recognizing this amount as revenue means we'd overstate revenue, by, you guessed it, $100K. After a long and tedious afternoon of trying to explain to her that I knew what I needed to make happen, but that the trouble was I had no place useful to put this $100K, she came up with some sort of calculation that would overstate revenue by $350K. At this point, I'm feeling a lot of, whatever--anything to move on with this so I can go get something useful done. She's in the point of saving this entry, and I say, is this what you want me to book? She says, Yes, unless you see something wrong with it. (You can see how we're in a financial crisis. What does it matter if I think about my job if I get paid to do something entirely differently?) I pointed out that revenue was being terribly overstated and, thankfully, she agrees, so we're back to the part where I know what needs to happen, but still need to get there.

So, I have a number of suggestions for supervisor boss, and since I actually like her and think that she really is trying to do a good job, she's just not really good at it, I've gone to her boss, or my 4th boss, the director, and explain the situation, saying supervisor knows the accounting, blah, blah, blah, but that she could really benefit from a mentor and some managerial training because here are the things that she's doing that make her really difficult to work for.

And director nods and smiles and says I'm not the only one with these concerns, and yes, she understands that supervisor is new at the role and needs some help, and NOTHING HAPPENS.

So, I have one manager who does nothing relating to me, one who's underutilized, one who can't manage, and one who doesn't do anything helpful.

Can I please be in charge?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

52 Saturday Nights

I've started a second blog.  I never thought I'd be the kind of person with more than one blogs, but alas, I have.  Virginia's Rants is somewhat unfocused (what? you hadn't noticed?), and my second blog, 52 Saturday Nights, is going to be a laser-beam of focus on what Captain America and I do on the weekends.  Or something like that.  I think.  You can actually follow that link and read all about it.  Or at least three paragraphs about it. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

We R drilling doing steamed want from bond

Translation: We are still running errands, and do you want anything from Vons?

Amazingly, my sister responded: No thx, Im good, and dont let mom do the texting.

Even more interestingly, is that my mother managed to type all of that as a picture message, and then it didn't actually go through to my sister. Maybe Sister just has a universal response to all texts that make absolutely no sense!

I wonder if I can apply that idea to IMs from my boss that make no sense?

I send email

No thanks, I'm good

Did you talk to K about the sku change. I think it's not immaterial so we'll need extra reporting. I didn't see email. Can you resend and check?

No thanks, I'm good

-Check with K because his arpu is different and includes the y codes. you need to include the y codes.
-the y codes are automatically included
-but you need to back them out of the f codes
-but the f codes are BB
-but they're being included in the disconnect flux

No thanks, I'm good.

And I give up!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sizzling Sixteen

Sizzling Sixteen (Stephanie Plum, #16)Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich writes very formulaic, ridiculous books. If you find her style amusing, they are immensely amusing; if you find her style sophomoric, these books are annoying. Her last couple of Stephanie Plum books were closer to the sophomoric, immature side of the scale for me, so Sizzling was a nice return to all that made Stephanie Plum enjoyable bubblegum reading. However, all of the characters are still one dimensional, so I don't think this series has much more life to it.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday reading update...The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

I'm still working on everything I was working on the last time I posted about what I was reading. I feel like this is a recurring theme. Mostly I've been reading The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson.

There are a couple of problems with Larsson's writing, which is unfortunate because he tells captivating tales.

First, his books are really, really long. This alone isn't a problem, but there's all sorts of stuff that seems very pointless, and it feels like he does a lot of name-dropping, so to speak, as if that builds credibility. For example, Lisbeth has a sister. The only plot-moving-forward thing this sister has contributed, as far as I can tell, is to get in a fight with Lisbeth when they are 17, which causes Lisbeth to get arrested or institutionalized again, and even that doesn't really matter. As I understand it, this was supposed to be a series of 10 books, but of course Larsson dropped dead, and now we're left hanging on this sister thing with three, maybe four books.

As for the name dropping, this book mentions a bunch of people that I'm sure I'd know something about if I lived in Sweden, which I don't, but that's not actually what I'm talking about, since the book provides brief biographical info on these people at the back. Larsson talks a lot about different computers and their capabilities, as well as a lot about the roads. I'm pretty sure he could have just said Lisbeth found working on a hand-held devise frustrating, compared with her full sized iBook, or whatever, and we all would have understood. And instead of saying, Blomkvist took Hantverkargatan to Slussen to Katarina to Mosebacke to Fiskargatan, he could have just said, Blomkvist took a circuitous route back to his apartment to avoid being followed.

It seems to me that all of these problems would have been solved if they had hired me as their editor, although I would have had to check on the punctuation convention of including an IM conversation as dialogue.

The second problem is that the story is told from a number of different perspectives, but the pacing is a little awkward, and sometimes it can get confusing, since everyone has similar names. For example, at the Millennium, there's a Malim and a Malm. I think one's a first name and one's a last name, but that just gets even more confusing because sometimes the one that's the first name is referred to by their last name. I'm pretty good at tuning all of this out, since these aren't the main characters, but they do pop up enough for this to be annoying.

Along these lines, books that flow smoothly have far fewer characters than the main ones would have known in real life, and conversations are far less confusing. Unlike in real life at Thanksgiving, where there are several conversations going on at once, in books there's only one. Or, probably more accurately, there's only one worth telling in the story. Also, a number of authors make their characters only children, unless having siblings is in some way useful, because otherwise they just clutter up the writing.

I think Larsson's books have far too many characters with similar names and jobs for it to be reasonable to keep track of. This obviously isn't preventing me from reading his work, but it would be even more enjoyable if he cleaned it up a bit.

A couple of other things that would improve the writing, although are secondary to the above:
  • The characters are all really one-dimensional. And unemotional. All of them. That's a little unbelievable.

  • The language is not particularly attractive. I don't mean the swearing, either. Larsson hardly paints a picture with his words as much as fires them at the reader. In his defense, these aren't the sort of books one reads for the beautiful imagery, but nonetheless, his word choices are very stark.

  • The titles of the other two made sense, but neither the title nor the cover art of this one works for me. So far there has been no hornet's nest (I understand there is a figurative hornet's nest, but considering the other two titles literally worked and Larsson doesn't use a lot of figurative speech, this is random). And the cover of this book reminds me of the winter/Christmas, which works for the movie which is set in the winter, but the book is set in the summer.
All in all, I'm having a fine time reading this book, but part of the reason it's taken me so long is that I had to take breaks in the middle where the plot was just not moving as well as it could have been if I were in charge!

Monday, December 6, 2010


One of the tenants of being environmentally friendly is the "reuse, reduce, recycle" mantra that we've all known since grade school. I am really good at the recycle bit, and not so much at the other parts. I don't like to have stuff around that doesn't have a purpose (I know, I know, my house is full of stuff), so generally, if I decide something is no longer useful, I throw it away or donate it (depending on what it is, it's condition, etc). I don't normally store it to reuse it.

And "reduce" is just really hard to measure. I mean, I really like all of those adorable mugs that you can find in nearly every coffee shop everywhere. There's something really cheery about drinking a nice hot beverage out of a cute cup. But I don't buy them. Because my mug cabinet is already full. Is this reducing? I am reducing my random consumerism. But I never used to buy them, so I haven't actually changed anything.

I guess I'm willing to reduce where it's easy. I've stopped taking two showers a day, but a lot of that is how time-consuming it is to wash my hair twice a day, combined with how expensive water is in California. I contemplate reducing my consumption of meat, but since I never measured it in the past, I really have no barometer. But I'm really not willing to reduce where the reduction would make my life less enjoyable to me. What's the point of saving the planet when you're not enjoying yourself? Especially when you can't really measure what your impact is.

This week, I managed a "reuse" that I'm quite proud of. I have been searching for a photo box. You know, one of those sturdy cardboard boxes with the little metal frame for the label, that are usually covered in some sort of floral design, that are used to store photos and other mementos? Well, I can't find one. And I'm tired of looking. I used to see them all the time when I wasn't looking for one.

So, I came home and thought, what else can I use? And then I remembered that I once collected postcards. Over the years, I've decided it's silly to hold onto a collection of things that I'm not doing anything with, and that's just being stored in a drawer (see the first paragraph above), but postcards are about the perfect size for making lists. So I've actually been using them.

I stored my postcards in empty card boxes. I still buy cards, so I'm not sure why I'm not acquiring more card boxes, but whatever. I figured that perhaps some of these card boxes weren't quite full and I could consolidate them. Voila! Photo box! Mission accomplished! And bonus environmental gold star for Virginia!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Household emergencies

Did I blog about the time the shower broke in my hand and I ran around the yard in my robe while my father-in-law instructed me not to stick my hands in dark empty holes that may or may not contain black widow spiders?

I feel like the answer is no, but I honestly can't remember.

I looked through my blog archives, and it seems I did not.

So let me back up a little.

A while ago, I was about to step into the shower, when I turned it on and heard the plastic handle crack and then I couldn't turn the water off. Believe it or not, I'm not a total idiot when it comes to household stuff, but like I've said repeatedly before, I don't like to get my hands dirty.

Unfortunately, Captain America wasn't due home from work for about an hour, and I had a faucet that wouldn't turn off, and water is really expensive in California, not to mention the fact that this was really wasteful.

So I did what any resourceful girl would do and called my dad. Who didn't answer the phone. Then I called Uncle Chef, who also didn't answer the phone. Then I called my father-in-law. The reason I held off so long on my father-in-law is that I'm pretty sure he considers me completely useless around the house, and I really didn't want to further that image. But he's also a really nice, patient man, who is surely aware of my other, more redeeming qualities, although I can't think of any examples right now.

[As an aside, "father-in-law" is a lot to type out, but I really hate the abbreviation FIL, and "Captain America's Dad" is even longer, so I'm just going to refer to my father-in-law as Dad for the rest of this post, since my own dad won't come up again in this story.]

So I called up Dad, and explained the situation, telling him that I knew there was a water shut off valve somewhere, but I didn't have any idea what I was looking for.

He patiently explained to me all of the possible locations for such a thing, including the spot out by the street that is covered by a small cement block. He remembered to tell me to get gloves because I'd be reaching my hand into a dark hole that most likely housed a family of black widow spiders. And then, gloves on, nerves steeled for the task, I heaved the cement block out of the way, squatted down to reach into the abyss, only to find that there wasn't actually anything to turn in the hole. There were lots of spots that looked like they should have a handle, or whatever, but none actually had handles.

I thanked Dad, telling him I was now going to call the water company (I figured that since the water company is so busy telling us ways to conserve water, they might be willing to help me stop such a blatant waste of it), and that I'd call him back later if I still needed his help, or to let him know that the crisis had been resolved.

I spoke to a very pleasant lady named Molly, and she contacted a workman or something to come to my house. The caveat was, they shut off all of the water, because their responsibility ends at my house. That was fine, I said, thinking, well, we can shower at the gym, and I'll just go fill up some water bottles and pots so we can brush our teeth, etc, and it'll just be inconvenient until we can get a plumber here. See how reasonable I can be?

In the meantime, Molly walked me through basically the same thing that Dad had, suggesting various location where the water shut off valve at my house might be (as opposed to the one in the scary whole with the spiders that her workman was going to use), and finally, I decided, screw it, I'm going to turn this valve labeled gas at the front of the house, that seems like it should be connected to our water, but is clearly labeled gas. Generally, I don't mess around with our gas, or anything electrical, but I figured, what's the worst that could happen? I could blow up the house, but no one's in it right now, since I'm still running around the yard in my robe, so that would suck. But probably no one would die, or even lose an eye.

So I turned the valve, and the water shut off. Who was the genius who labeled the water valve gas?

I thanked Molly, she cancelled the workman, I called Dad, told him that some idiot labeled the valve gas, but at least I knew where it was, and then Captain America came home, unscrewed the shower thing, took his pliers, turned off the faucet. We turned the water back on, showered in the other bathroom and lived happily ever after.

Until earlier this week when I blew a fuse by having the heater, the space heater, and the Christmas lights all on at one time. This time, I happened to be in the shower, and my first thought was that the entire neighborhood had lost power, but then I looked out of my shower and saw the lights on in the kitchen, and I realized it was just the fuse. I finished my shower, since the water heater was still working, and I don't actually ever see my hair when I'm washing it anyway, and then I went to deal with this.

Captain America finds it mildly amusing that all of my household emergencies originate in the shower. Although to be fair, our shower can't possibly be blamed for this one, since it is decidedly not electrically powered.

So I towel off, put on my pajamas, and walk outside to the fuse box. I flip the fuse. Nothing happens. I unplug the space heater and the Christmas lights and flip the fuse. Nothing happens. I flip all of the fuses. Nothing happens. I call Captain America to give him the heads up. He instructs me to flip the fuses. And unplug stuff.

Remembering back to this water issue and friendly Molly, I decide to call SDG&E. Maybe there's something more that needs to be done, since fuse-flipping clearly isn't working.

I don't know who I spoke with because the person at SDG&E didn't seem to speak English. She had to ask me three times for my address before I worked out that that's what she was asking me. I explained the problem, telling her I had flipped all of the fuses and nothing happened.

"But you have lights on in other parts of your house?" she clarified.

Yes, I explained, but not in the bedroom, and the furnace wasn't working anymore.

(I know, I know, normally no furnace isn't a big deal in San Diego, but earlier this week it was actually in the 30s at night, which, as far as I'm concerned, is cold.)

"Well," mystery-woman-who-doesn't-speak-English said, "SDG&E is only responsible up to your fuse box. You'll have to call and electrician."

That was it. But I persisted, because I have this strange notion that the people who are supposed to be able to help you probably can, and if they're not willing to help you, it's just because they don't want to, or are too lazy, and they don't know who they're dealing with. I can totally outlast your stubbornness with my own stubbornness and impeccable logic and reasoning, since I've already figured out why you're the person who can solve my problem.

"There's nothing you can do for me?" I asked. No, I was told. "Do you have any suggestions for what I should do until the electrician shows up?" No, again. "Do you have a recommended electrician I can call?" No. Great, I thought, anther completely worthless person. Don't we have enough of those?

Captain America came home to me holding my head in my hands, with a lone candle lit on the coffee table as a heat source, tromped around the house a little, accused me of using the microwave, too, which doesn't make any sense, since that's on a different fuse, turned off all of the lights, flipped all of the fuses again, and poof! We had electricity again, and lived happily ever after, until I took anther shower.

So, the score is, the people at the water company: 3, for being friendly, and helpful, and nice, SDG&E: 0, for being totally useless.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Frost, again

So my plan was to update you all on my exciting world of reading every Monday. So here's this week's update: I finished reading Justine, which I didn't really enjoy, and I've been busy reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Enjoy probably isn't the right word to describe this reading experience, but I ran five miles this morning before work, so my brain isn't managing to think up a more appropriate word. However, for your benefit, I'll clarify. The story is engaging, it's keeping me entertained, and I really think Lisbeth rocks. I mean, she got shot in the head and lived. So, I'm enjoying myself.

But, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, I'm not going to focus on my reading this Monday, but instead on the fact that for the second time in three days, there was frost on my car! (It may have been there all three days and I just didn't get up early enough on Sunday to notice it.)

So, for the first time since I've lived in San Diego, I've had to warm up my car in the morning. Not only was it 39 degrees outside, but I'm not sure where any of our ice scrapers are. I know we own about six dozen of them, but none of those are in my car. They're probably up to no good with all of the umbrellas that we own that have been hiding from us since we moved to California.

I bought my first car in the summer of 2000. It was a used, teal-colored Toyota Corolla. A good friend of mine named it Millie. It was the middle of some sort of heat wave/drought, which seems to hit New Jersey every summer, and I walked into the auto parts store and asked to buy an ice scraper. I'm pretty sure the guy thought the heat had gone to my head, but then, responding to the strange look he gave me, I informed him that I was moving to Montana in a week, and the first snow was likely to occur on September 15 (I think it was actually the 23rd that year).

Somehow, over the next several years, I acquired more ice scrapers. Maybe they make good stocking stuffers? I don't know, but what I do know is that this morning, I could have used one. Fortunately, I bought my most recent Toyota Corolla (blue, and still un-named), in Oregon, where, I was informed, they install larger-than-standard heater/fan/vent systems (I'm totally on top of all of the technical auto-mechanical lingo), to help with the constant wetness that goes on in the Pacific Northwest. So, the good news is, that it took all of about 17 seconds to melt all of this wimpy California frost!

Take that, mother nature!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Having some work done on our house

In case you didn't get it from the title of the post, we're having some work done on our house.

Captain America finally warmed up to the idea of hiring other people to do stuff. I've been a big fan of this policy all along, because I don' t like to get my hands dirty and because it's my American duty to improve the economy (which is why I also have a personal trainer, a massage therapist, a chiropractor, an esthetician, and a cleaning lady; you're welcome, Mr. President).

Mark, the handyman hired to do this round of house-related stuff, is a little odd. His work seems competent enough, which is the point. Captain America is of the opinion that it's moving slower than he anticipated, but I think it's fair to say that the first rule of home-ownership is that everything takes longer than anticipated. It took longer to find the house, for crying out loud!

However, it would probably take us even longer if we were doing this stuff ourselves, and we would probably average, oh, I don't know, about one argument every hour or so. So, we're not only improving the economy and our house, but we're saving our marriage. That alone sounds like money well spent.

On Sunday, Mark's odd behavior included informing me of when he took his lunch. I suppose this is appropriate, as we're paying him by the hour (okay I realize that may sound strange, but he gave us an estimate of what the total cost for our project will be, and how long it would take, and the end result is that we agreed to pay him every morning for the work he did the previous day). Mark doesn't seem to know me very well, which is probably a good thing, but what he doesn't get is that it doesn't really matter to me when he takes his lunch or for how long.

Mark also informed me that I reminded him of some TV-preacher's wife, whose name is Victoria. I'm not sure if he knows what my name is, or if maybe we're the only two people who's name starts with a "V" that he's ever heard of, or maybe he's just happy with the simple things in life.

On Monday, Mark had a moment of panic, packed up his stuff and left randomly. He was supposed to go work for the salvation army, but he felt bad that he hadn't finished our bathroom, so he came over to do that instead. We told him it was no big deal if he went to his other job, because really, he's a handyman...if stuff at our house takes longer than he estimates, then of course it's going to mess up whatever's scheduled with his other clients.

Here's the conversation between Mark and Captain America regarding Monday's mini-meltdown, as far as I can recreate it:

Captain America, upon seeing Mark pack up his things: Mark, what's going on?

Mark: I've gotta go. These people are pulling me in too many directions.

Captain America: Did you get a call from the Salvation Army? Do they need you? Is that why you're leaving?

Mark: I think you know what's going on.

Captain America: No, I don't know what's going on.

Silence from Mark.

Captain America: Is there something you need to tell me?

Mark: No.

So. I'm hoping that Mark was feeling a little stressed because our project was taking longer than anticipated, which was preventing him from doing other things, and that the "these people" weren't voices in his head. Or that if he really does have some sort of mental illness, that he's got a plan to manage it.

Mark wasn't supposed to come over yesterday, but for whatever reason, he called to say he could.

My sister wanted to come over to make a lasagna.

I tell Mark this, to give him a head's up, because Sister was going to show up before I got home from work/the gym/etc, which prompts another randomish conversation with Mark:

Me: Hey Mark, my sister is going to come over later today, probably between 5 and 6 to make lasagna. If you're not here, no worries--she has a key, but I just wanted to let you know in case you're still here. She's taller than I am.

(In retrospect, I realized that probably wasn't much of a description, and I was going to say, she's the other girl, who sort of looks like me, in all of the photos all over the place, but I really didn't want him to think he should be staring at my photos to figure out what my sister looks like).

Mark: Okay. Why is she coming here to make lasagna?

Me: She says her oven's broken or something.

Mark: Why is her oven broken?

Me: thinking: what do you care? says: I don't know...maybe it's not heating evenly.

Mark: She should get it fixed.

Me: thinking: Duh. says: She's probably told her landlord.

Mark: She rents? Her apartment complex should fix it.

Me: thinking: Good grief! I have to go to work. It was just supposed to be an FYI. says: I'm sure she's told them.

Mark, unsure: Well, okay.

I'll be very interested to hear what sorts of conversations Captain America had with Mark, and even more interested to hear if Sister gots to meet him. I already warned her, he's missing a tooth.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Happiness Project

Today I finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It's actually a pretty quick read; the reason it took me so long to finish is that I started it on this sort of strange ebook system the library has, but which isn't compatible with my Kindle, so I was reading on a computer, which I don't really enjoy doing, and so I didn't finish, and the waiting list for the actual book at the library was really, really long.

A couple of reasons I really liked this book are that Rubin doesn't assume her way is the right way; she simply talks about what worked and didn't work for her, and makes suggestions that are easy to transfer to other people. For example, she has a one-sentence gratitude journal. One sentence a day isn't a whole lot to write. And the journal doesn't have to be gratitude. The level of flexibility she presents is refreshing, as opposed to other self-help books that make specific instructions as to what you should do.

Another reason I liked this book is because it's more realistic than, say, Eat, Pray, Love. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure I could solve/come to terms with most of my problems if I could take a year off to travel. Rubin isn't perfect, which she constantly points out. This is good, because it allows the reader to forgive herself as well.

I made extensive notes as I read this book because there are a number of ideas I'd like to try incorporating into my own life, but I find myself completing this sentence with, when I have time. Then I think, I should make time. Of course, this should-thinking is one thing that doesn't fit into a happiness project: it is at exact odds with being yourself, which is paramount for figuring out how to be happier.

One thing Rubin points out about herself is that she's an excessive note-taker when she reads, even if there seems to be no point. I'm an excessive list maker. Once, a girlfriend of mine who is also an excessive list maker and I were discussing this tendency. Her husband is a doer. While we were talking, we watched him just decide to polish their silver. We commented that we would have thought, I need to polish the silver, then we would have put it on a list with a date to get it done. Which is not to say that we're not productive; we just go about it a different way.

I think the biggest takeaway from The Happiness Project, is to figure out who you are, what works for you, and how to make that your happiness. I don't really like science. It's not that I find it boring, per se, but I just can't get excited about it. I have another friend who has devoted her life to science. I love when she teaches me something new: she makes it at my level, she only tells me what I need to know, she provides good examples, and she's really really enthusiastic. She's my Hermione Granger. She gets that her passion isn't my passion, but that I can appreciate that passion within her. I no longer feel like I should love science when I'm with her, or that I'm less intelligent than her because I don't, but that this passion is one of the many things I LOVE about her. I think this works out better for everyone involved.

I'm not actively trying to start my own happiness project, but with the new year looming, I am thinking about what I want to accomplish, what I want to make a priority for the year. I guess this is, in a way, a sort of happiness project: isn't happiness sort of the point of any attempts at becoming a better person?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sometimes my life is just strange

I'm what I call a "stuff out" sort of in, I leave stuff out until I'm finished with it and then I put it away. I'm really not messy, but if it's not in front of me, I'll forget to do it. Which is why, for example, my Filofax is always on my desk at work...otherwise I'd forget to check it before I leave and I wouldn't know if I had to do something later or not. This clearly saves valuable brain space, as I'm not bothering to waste time remembering every little thing I need to do. Which means I can use more of that brain space at work actually working. Or something.

Anyway, as you can imagine, there is a lot of stuff on my desk. Because my job is, in a nutshell, to put out fires, I rarely actually get anything done, and only occasionally do accounting-type things, like journal entries. I also tend to bring a lot of "snack" type foods for lunch...fruit, oatmeal, smoothies, peanut butter crackers, get the idea. So frequently I'm struck with the idea that the fastest way to clean off my desk is to eat everything on it. But once I say that thought in my head, it strikes me as being very, very funny.

Or maybe this is just the first sign that I'm progressing down a slope of mental decline that can only culminate (or I guess, anti-culminate) in becoming a drooling, incoherent, puddle of a person.

**As an update, I tried to find a picture or clip art of some sort of disembodied head eating office supplies, which is what is going on in my imagination. All sorts of random pictures come up if you google that. I actually DON'T recommend it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Weekly book update

Wow! I'm behind on this!

A few weeks ago, I read Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich. If you like Janet Evanovich, you'll probably like this book. It's pretty silly, but all of her books are fairly formulaic, and the characters aren't particularly complex. This is unfortunate because many of her characters are unique enough that if there was just a little more depth to them, it would boost her writing up a level. As it stands, her writing is of the poolside/airplane reading variety.

I've also done a bunch more reading in The Science of Harry Potter by Roger Highfield. I am not a total science type, so parts of the book are much more interesting to me than others, which is how I always found science class to be. The following are some parts of the book that I found particularly interesting.

On page 121, in the "Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans" chapter, I have learned why people tend to "sympathy vomit." As an aside, while I definitely do NOT like the odor of vomit, it does not cause me to wretch with sympathy, so let me know if you need me to hold your hair. Anyway, here's what the book says:

Vomiting is designed to make us expel toxic substances that have been eaten. Because people lived in small communities for most of human history, it is likely that if a toxin affected one person in a group,others would be struck down, too. If someone started being sick nearby, it was a good thing that his tribemates also emptied their stomachs,for they had probably shared the same meal.

While this is not a particularly appealing notion, it does make sense. Mystery: solved!

The foreword of Part II discusses the many short comings of the Muggle mind, and this line made me crack up: Alas, dear reader, when it comes to mental ability, Muggles are quite a few twigs short of a broomstick.

In the chapter titled "Stars, Mystic Chickens and Superstitious Pigeons," there is a two page section on what is labeled The Magic of Chance and Stone Age Sorcery. Basically it talks about how humans tend to find patterns where there really aren't any and that we're easily swayed by what is, in fact, simply statistical probability. The example in the book is that if 10 million people are watching a psychic on TV, and the psychic predicts that viewers' watches will stop at a certain time, statistically, some of those watches will stop, but because the owners of those watches will be surprised that it happened to them it will be considered "proof" of the psychic's ability.

But, the section goes on to explain, the reason we're so prone to think something is a coincidence when it really isn't is that our brains are basically hardwired the same way they were when we still lived in caves. That is to say, haven't we all answered the phone at some point and said, I was just thinking of you? Of course we have, because we all know a lot of people. Statistics indicated that at some point when our phone rings it's going to be a person we were thinking about who is calling us. But our selective memories edit out all the times when we were thinking of someone and no one called.

But, when we were far less cool, and didn't own phones, and only knew the 15 other people in our tribe, it would be much more of a coincidence if we happened to be thinking of someone and they came over to our cafe for morning coffee and danish. So, "our brains became calibrated to detect patterns, and gasp with astonishment at a level of coincidence which would actually be quite modest if our catchment area of friends and acquaintances had been large." Apparently, this calibration hasn't been adjusted for modern life.

Additionally, as far as I've read, there's no explanation as to why this calibration exists, just simply that it does, and because of it people think they experience coincidences that are simply statistically probable situations.

And, honestly, that's all I've got. I'm trying to do more reading, and I'm currently back with The Happiness Project, but I seem to have a lot of other things going on in my life at the moment, and it's sure to get busier what with the holidays coming up and everything. Although I'm scheduled to have the whole week off at Christmas! Woohoo!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Strange World of Flying

We just returned from San Francisco, where Captain America and I spent a wonderful six days with family and friends. We had absolutely no issues getting through security at the airport, our flight left on time, we flew Virgin America, which generally rocks, although we're totally not hip enough for it, and then we watched our plane circle over San Diego on the screen on our monitor.

And then they flew us back to LA.

And then they put us on a shuttle.

Which drove past our house to the San Diego airport.

Where we took a cab back to our house.

Successfully tripling the time it takes to get from San Francisco to San Diego.

We were stoked. One less thing on the bucket list. You know what would have been even better? If we flew to Chicago first and got stuck in a snowstorm.

Alas, it was foggy in San Diego. I thought planes can land in the fog, but our pilot explained that they need a mile of visibility for instrument landing, and they only had a quarter of a mile. So I guess I'm glad they took us to LA, as the San Diego airport is apparently not the easiest to land in, even in the best of conditions, what with the buildings and the bay and all.

So, you can imagine the (slight) ironic humor I felt after having boarded said shuttle and proceeding to spend the next 30 minutes driving out of LAX, when I read in Justine:

So I made a sort of inner surrender to the situation, lit a cigarette, and watched the long dissolving strip of the Corniche flow past us.

If only we had a water pipe. Inshallah.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

So here's something I find interesting...

I'm sitting here reading The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, which is actually quite good once you get past the first 80 pages or so. The book is divided into four parts, and each part has a series of chapters. I'm in part 2, chapter 6. I'm referencing all of this in case you bother to look up what I'm talking about and you have a different version of the book than I do. 'Cause I realize that's a likely scenario.

Anyway, General Cummings is talking with his aid, or whatever, Hearn (clearly I've never been in the army) about "what makes a nation fight well." (As a completely random aside, what are the quoting rules when part of what you're quoting is completely normal...for instance, I was going to paraphrase and say, what makes a country fight well, but since I haven't finished reading the chapter, I'm not sure if the distinction between "country" and "nation" is important. Furthermore, that's not much of a paraphrasing, so then I was going to start the quotes on the word "nation" because, while I suppose I could think up other ways to say "what makes" it seems unnecessary. So I'm at a loss as to where I was supposed to start my quotes, so I thought I'd err on the side of conservativeness and risk quoting too much.)

Okay, back to what I actually find interesting.

Hearn suggests that "what makes a nation fight well" is likely to be how the people in the country identify with that country.

The General says that that's only a small part of it, and that the big determining factors for how well a country fights in a war are directly proportional to the number of men and the amount of resources it has. And the other piece is that an individual soldier is more effective the poorer his standard of living was in the past.

It's this last piece that I find rather interesting, especially in light of the war going on in Afghanistan.

I imagine I'd make a pretty terrible soldier, for a number of reasons. One of these reasons is that I grew up in an environment that fostered thinking. I would just like to clarify: I'm not saying poorer people are dumber; what I'm suggesting is that families with means are not struggling to meet daily requirements like food and heat, and thus can put some of their child-raising energies into other things, like encouraging their children to ask questions, to develop healthy interests in things, and to think for themselves. The stresses my parents faced in raising my sister and me were not of the can-we-afford-new-shoes variety, but more of the what-activities-can-we-sign-them-up-for-so-they-develop-normal-skills-AND-sleep-through-the-night kind.

But I wonder if Americans as a whole are so much better off than many other places, such as Afghanistan, that we fight from a different place mentally. Maybe the Afghans are so desperately poor that, even if they don't necessarily understand what they're fighting about, maybe it's something new, interesting, exciting, or simply something they can rally behind that diverts their attention from their poverty.

Way back when I read Three Cups of Tea, I was astonished to learn that it was something like a 5th grade education for women that separated the women who would give birth to terrorists and the women who would, both by example and by force, send their children to school to become educated, thoughtful, productive members of society.

A 5th grade education. I know there are Americans who don't get that far, but I don't know any. I remember 5th grade. It wasn't that complicated. But I can understand how it would be to a person who didn't have what I had growing up, a person who didn't own a small library before they actually learned to read, who developed language skills singing songs about Thumbkin, who attended puppet shows and reading groups at the public library, and most importantly, who was never denied an opportunity based on her gender.

I'm not trying to knock the American military, but considering this war has been going on for nine years now, I am sort of wondering if we're going about fighting it the wrong way. I'm not a military strategist, so I don't actually have any suggestions of my own, but it seems to me that people who do know about this sort of thing, like our military leaders, might try to come up with some new ideas, since the old ones aren't working too well. In my own life, I don't continue to do things that didn't work out well the first or second time around. This isn't a deep philosophy or anything, this is simply learning what does and does not work for me. And what works for me, or what works for me in one situation, may not work for everyone, or in every situation. It's all a learning process, but the point is to learn from what doesn't work, not to keep doing it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

On losing weight

So a while ago, I blogged about how hard of a time I was having losing the few pounds I put on during my last semester in grad school, way back in 2008. Well, I still haven't lost the weight through exercise, so I thought I'd try the eat less thing.

You always hear about how people cut out all of the fried food and red meat and crap that they ate and start eating whole grains and fruits and veggies and they lost a ton of weight and have a bunch of energy.

I don't eat a lot of fried food, red meat, or crap in general. Although I suppose it depends on how you define "crap." I also exercise a bunch (I love when people tell me they started walking to lose weight. I suppose that works for some people, but I suspect if I tried walking instead of what I'm already doing at the gym, I'd gain weight).

So here's what happens to me when I try to cut out the crap that I do eat and go with whole grains, fruits, and veggies: I'm hungry, crabby, and tired all of the time. Yup, sounds like a real winner of a solution to me.

I signed up to run the Carlsbad half marathon on January 23. A bunch of my girlfriends have signed up, too, so it should be a good time. I'm hoping to use this race to avoid gaining weight over the holidays (I make a mean apple pie, although my mother called me from the Culinary Institute of America to tell me theirs was better...y'think?), and I want to run the Portland marathon next October, so I thought this would be good practice for me to get into the mindset of seriously training.

My girlfriends and I were having lunch the other day and I mentioned how I wanted to lose a little weight, especially in light of this race because 1) less weight=less stress on your knees, and 2) lighter runners tend to run faster, which means I'll have to spend less time both running the race and training for it. I don't mean less miles, but if you can run a 7:30 mile, you do eight in an hour. If you run a 10:00 mile, it'll take you an hour and twenty minutes (I know, I know: I'm a math genius).

One of my girlfriends has the same goal, which led into a discussion on how hard it is to lose weight when you're already a reasonably-sized person who does a reasonable amount of exercise and doesn't live on big macs. And how whenever we had success with the weight loss bit, we were tired and crabby because we had no energy. So I was glad to hear that it wasn't just me.

I'd be totally happy with my weight if I was about two inches taller, but somehow I suspect a growth spurt isn't in my future. (Incidentally, I read my horoscope every day, mostly because it's in the business section of the San Diego Union Tribune, and I find that fact hysterical, but it has not yet mentioned anything about a growth spurt.)

So I asked my trainer what I should do to lose weight but still have energy. He said, well, you don't want to eat less. That was good news. Then he suggested I eat all my carbs in the morning. He actually said I could eat as many carbs as I wanted, but none after lunch. I clarified that by "carbs" he meant things like bread, pasta, and rice, and was not including things like bananas.

I suppose this will work just as well as anything else I've tried, which is to say, I may not lose weight, but I'll probably not gain it either, and it might just work a little better, since I won't think I'm starving myself, but I also won't mindlessly eat snacky things when I'm bored or whatever.

And as far as I'm concerned, a cookie is a perfectly acceptable breakfast item.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Man from St. Petersburg

So here's my one complaint about The Man from St. Petersburg by Ken Follett: how often to you read about some upper class woman falling madly, wildly, and passionately in love with some plebeian, only to get knocked up, and then married off to a duke or whatever within weeks, and he raises the kid as his own. And then something happens in the plot and it becomes necessary to turn this child's world upside down by revealing the truth? And then, in the end, everything works out and everyone still loves everyone else?

It's just a little cliche.

Otherwise, the book was great. In fact, even with the above-mentioned cliche, the book was great. It's a bit of a coming of age story, a bit of a spy mystery, and full of interesting characters. I suppose, technically, it's a historical fiction.

The story takes place in pre-WWI England, and paints a portrait of political intrigue, complete with a young Winston Churchill. The basic plot of the story is the negotiation of an alliance between England and Russia, but there's a subplot of the suffragette movement.

One thing I can't relate to is the amount of blind passion experienced by Lydia. Perhaps I'm not that passionate of a person. Or perhaps I have a whole lot more freedoms than women once had, and my passion can be redirected. Also, I'm not bored. What I mean is, it's not my job to sit around in fancy clothes and discuss dinner seating charts with the servants. That sounds nice for about two weeks, like a vacation, but I think I'd scream if I had to spend my life being demure. But I suppose if my life was mind-numbingly boring, a sordid romance would seem a reasonable distraction.

On the other hand, Follett did a very good job showing how Feliks descended into madness, and then what ultimately brought him out of it. In the end, even the antagonists weren't all bad.

Somehow, I really enjoyed reading the book, but I don't have a whole lot to say about it. It was just an interesting, fast-paced novel.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday reading update

What have I been up to in the reading world? Well, I finished Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and it was fantastic! I also read The Hunting of the Snark: an Agony in Eight Fits by Lewis Carroll. Lewis Carroll is one of my favorite authors because he is so weird. I'm sure there were about a million sub-layers to Snark that I simply missed (and I apparently missed the Biblical story of Jacobs in Elephants, and I even went back and read the Bible story, and I still didn't really see it, so that tells you how intellectual I am). Anyway, Snark is a poem about these nine guys and a beaver (who makes lace!) who go off hunting a snark.

Lewis Carroll was apparently known for writing nonsense (how do I get that job?), and he does not disappoint. The part that describes the hunting actually reminded me of Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester, although technically, Snark was published first. Of the hunting technique of this motley group, the book says:

They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;
They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.

I thought this was wonderful whimsy; after all, I can be charmed with smiles and soap!

I have also been doing some reading in The Science of Harry Potter by Roger Highfield. It's actually an interesting book that explains how some of the magical elements in the world of Harry Potter could actually exist. There was a bit on game theory, which I enjoyed, and the book also discusses genetic engineering and how it, theoretically, would be possible to create Fluffy, the three-headed dog.

Personally, I have no problem with the suspension of disbelief required to thoroughly enjoy the world of Harry Potter. (My mother, on the other hand, has some issues with this...for example, she didn't want to watch Pirates of the Caribbean because she thought it looked smelly. My aunt told her that it wasn't smell-o-vision, and I told her that Johnny Depp wore special sunglass contacts so he wasn't squinting all of the time. It wasn't the fantasy part of the story that bothered my mother, but how could someone be in the Caribbean without sunglasses and not squint?)

So, for me, reading Science isn't increasing my enjoyment of Harry Potter, which is not to say that it isn't interesting.

Finally, I am just about to start Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich, and I am so excited! She's written a ridiculous series of books about a character, Stephanie Plum, who is a bounty hunter in Trenton, NJ. I agree with many of the other comments on Amazon that this series has gotten a bit tired, with the same formulaic misadventures, and as least one other reviewer noted, how has Stephanie managed to string along two guys for this long? Wicked Appetite is the first of a new series featuring one of the occasional characters from the Stephanie Plum series, Diesel. I've always really liked Diesel, so I'm very excited to start this book. And stay tuned, because I'll probably have it finished by the next update!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fair is not equal

I've grown very fond of a blog, woulda coulda shoulda, in which a mother recounts her usually amusing experiences raising a tweenage daughter and a younger son, who has aspergers. She made a comment that she tries to be a fair parent, but that she also aims to educate her children that fair does not mean the same thing as equal. I think she specifically said it in regards to the fact that her son has some sort of aid in the classroom while her daughter does not. But she's also mentioned it in more humorous ways, namely lying. Apparently, lying is a normal childhood development that is delayed or non-existent in aspergers. So when her son starts to tell (ludicrous) lies, she's actually secretly pleased, not of the lying per se, but that he's gaining a skill set that is particularly hard for him.

Growing up, whenever I complained that something wasn't fair, my mother would inform me: life's not fair. Yeah, I noticed. But what really irked me was when it would be so simple to make it fair, and yet it still wasn't.

I went to high school with twin boys. One was completely normal, at least as far as I knew, and the other was confined to a wheelchair with some sort of neuromuscular condition. When the "normal" boy turned 17 (when you get your driver's licence in New Jersey), his parents bought him a sweet black sports car. Their logic was that they had spent tens of thousands of dollars on their other son's wheelchairs, and that it would be fair to get something for their "normal" son. Obviously, it was very fortunate for both boys that the parents had such means.

But was it fair or equal?

It certainly wasn't fair to the one in the wheelchair that his parents bought him wheelchairs, which were a necessity to him, and a sports car, which was a luxury for his brother. At the same time, it wouldn't have been fair to get nothing for the normal boy simply because he was normal. But perhaps the treatment was equalizing.

As a child, one of my best friend's brother was also confined to a wheelchair. And also coming from a family of means, she was given many lavish gifts. At times, I was actually jealous of the many things she had. But at the same time, her life would have been very different had her brother not been handicapped.

Was it fair to her that her parents had to give so much attention to her brother, who obviously needed their help more? Was it fair to him that much of the attention he got wasn't because of who he was, but because of the limitations he was faced with? Honestly, it doesn't seem fair to anyone. But maybe her parents were trying to say, we love you both, but your brother needs us more, so instead we're going to make sure you have nice clothes and go to a quality college, because in many other ways we can't be fair or equal to both of you.

She went to Dartmouth, and while we've lost touch, last I heard she was happily married and beginning med school. Clearly she didn't get the short end of any stick, but how much longer would that stick had been had her brother been healthy?

From a practical, non-emotional perspective, it is easy to see how and why parents would focus more of their energies on their less healthy, not "normal" children. And it's not fair to these children that life is simply going to be hard for them because of these limitations which they had no choice in. But it's also not fair to the normal, healthy kids that their parents have to pay more attention to their siblings. And while I can definitely see how each child might argue, life's not fair! it's certainly more unfair for the kids with the limitations.

So let's look at the other side of the coin. I knew an adult woman who was still suffering from feeling neglected by her family because she was simply normal while her sister was a highly gifted the point that the family moved so that her sister could receive better training.

If you had a child who showed extraordinary talents in some area, be it music, arts, sports, whatever, would it be fair to that child to not cultivate those gifts? At the same time, it wouldn't be fair to your normal children to not give them their share of attention and opportunities.

What is a parent to do? I haven't got any idea, which is one of the many reasons I'm skipping the whole parenting debacle. I suppose a goal would be to be fair to each child, not between them, to treat them equally, but not necessarily the same way, to do your best to pay equal attention to each child, even if it mean occupational therapy for one and art lessons for the other. Because your children aren't likely to remember how much money you spent on them versus their siblings, or how hard you worked to be a good parent to each of them, but they will take with them the perception of feeling loved. They will remember whether or not they felt like they were loved as much as their siblings.

Good luck with all of that.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thursday reading update

Again, I'm late with this post. (How is it Thursday already? Oh, right, because I've been swimming around in the cesspool that is quarter end reconciliations.) Maybe trying to post on Monday isn't a good idea. Or maybe I'll keep trying and sooner or later I'll get it right...after all, I only have the rest of my life in which to accomplish this.

You may notice that my reading list is one book shorter! I finished The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan. Like I said last Monday, or Thursday as it were, it was a YA adult, and therefore not overly complicated, but I found it entertaining.

Still on the list is...everything else.

The following books still haven't been started: The Man from St. Petersburg by Ken Follett, The Hunting of the Snark: an Agony in Eight Fits by Lewis Carroll, The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling.

I haven't made any progress on these books: World Changing: A User's Guide by Alex Steffen, The Science of Harry Potter by Roger Highfield, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, although I did move up the waiting list on this last one!

Like I said last week, I have to return All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren and Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. I've been trying to finish the chapter I've been reading in King's Men, but the chapters are about 90 pages each, so it's sort of a commitment to even read one.

Jack Burden is the character telling the story in King's Men, and I don't know what to make of him. The book jacket states that the book "traces the rise and fall of Willie Stark, who resembles the real-life Huey "Kingfish" Long of Louisiana." I don't know who Huey "Kingfish" Long of Louisiana is, and I don't really care. I think Jack Burden is a journalist (although I'm not really sure), who sort of becomes the go-to man for the governor, Willie Stark. The book doesn't really explain how this happens, though, it just says something to the effect of, I first met Stark in the back of so-and-so's. It's an interesting education of how to write something so you get the general picture of what's going on without explaining the details. What was everyone doing in the back of so-and-so's? Why did the governor think this was the place to go? (of course, he wasn't the governor at the time).

Also, Jack Burden is an eloquent character through which to view the novel, so you get the impression that there's a lot more to the man than you see, but nothing actually indicates that we'll get to know him any deeper. So while I'm enjoying the language of the writing, I'm not sure yet that I can actually recommend this book as I haven't really figured out where it's going, or if I care about the story.

I've only managed to read one chapter further in Breakfast of Champions, and I honestly don't know if I like Vonnegut's writing. I feel like I'm reading the work of a conspiracy theorist or something. It's that crazy. Not Lewis Carrol crazy, where you think, I want what he's taking, but more like you might find Kurt Vonnegut sitting on the streets talking to the mailbox. On the other hand, I'm still completely normal by comparison. So it's got that going for it.

Two nights ago I did a significant amount of reading in Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants.

The story is told by Jacob Jankowski. He's either 90 or 93, he can't remember which, and he's telling the story of his younger life through flashbacks.

The first thing I want to discuss is women writing men. Many times, when men write women, I feel like I can't relate to the characters at all. I was first introduced to Wally Lamb over 10 years ago when a roommate of a friend said of his She's Come Undone: I've never read a man write a woman so well. Until then I hadn't thought about what made some books in which men write women just a little off. But I think she hit the nail on the head. The trouble is, as a woman, I can't tell if Gruen is actually doing a good job writing a man, or if I just really like the man she's created.

Yes, I will confess, I totally develop crushes on male characters that I think are particularly well written, and who I'd like to know in actual life. I'm pretty sure Captain America is aware that I develop these literary crushes. He seems to think that it indicates that I'm a caring, empathetic sort of person, and not crazy. I think it will start to worry him, though, if I start to say things like, I wish you were more like Rhett Butler! But of course, I don't want him to be like Rhett Butler...otherwise the crush wouldn't be nearly as much fun. And I do have at least other bibliophile girlfriend who does this too, which leads me to believe it's completely normal.

Okay, back to Elephants.

**Spoiler Alert**

Two nights ago, after said copious reading, Captain America came home to find his wife in tears because I had just finished the chapter where Jacob is sitting in his wheelchair waiting for his family to come and get him and take him to the circus. He woke up so proud of himself because he remembered what day it was and everything. And...his family forgets him. He's got five kids and they take turns visiting, and the one who was supposed to get him forgot and made other plans and then remembered but it was too late to cancel the other plans (which sounds like a really lame thing, in my opinion), but I suppose it happens. So Jacob is all disappointed because he's missing the circus, and he was so looking forward to it.

Okay, I did not do the scene justice here, but you should really read the book for yourself.

Also, I was saddened by this because my grandma had dementia, and she kept talking about wanting to wear a red dress and no one would let her. I don't know if my mom had any idea what this dress was about, but I certainly didn't. But I still felt bad that my wonderful grandma was upset about not being able to wear this red dress. It was to the point where I felt like, maybe I should take her shopping, but that just wasn't feasible, on so many levels (which is maybe what happened with Jacob's son).

In case you're missing the comparison that happened in my mind, it's that both were good, loving people, who would have been made happy in their old age by something unbelievably simple, but it didn't happen for either of them. Both Jacob and my grandmother were in good care, and all in all were very fortunate in how they lived out their last years, but it's still sad to me.

Of course, I haven't finished Water for Elephants, so I don't know what happens to Jacob in the end, and I'm not sure, even if we let my grandma wear her red dress, if she'd remember that she had worn it the next day, or if we would have to get her numerous red dresses so she could wear one every day, or if she had a very particular dress in mind, from her youth, that we neither had nor would fit her, and certainly wouldn't look the way it does in her memory (which is sort of how I feel about communion dresses. I'm not Catholic, so I never had a communion dress, but I remember being in Sears with my mother and grandmother and seeing all of the dresses with the ribbons and lace, and tulle petticoats, and trying to convince my mother I could wear one for Easter or something. I'm apparently still not over how pretty those dresses were.)

While I would never say that I am a particularly religious person, part of me would like to believe that my grandma is in heaven happily wearing her red dress, and that when Jacob dies, he'll get to see the circus and that it is better than he remembers. Maybe that's not how reality works, but I think it makes for a nice ending to a story.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

LL Cool J

Last night, I went to The Melting Pot for happy hour with some girlfriends. While we were drinking our martinis and eating our cheese (mmmm...cheese!), we noticed this dashingly dressed man, complete with a Justin Timberlake hat, making the rounds to the various bars located on the square.

He was clearly looking for something specific. We noticed him walk in and out of a couple of different bars before settling on The Melting Pot. He sat down at a table with a group of six women and began chatting with them. I had originally assumed that he was looking for these women in particular, like he was supposed to meet them, but couldn't remember which bar they were going to patronize.

However, it soon because clear that he had decided that these women represented his best opportunity for the evening. One of the women I was dining with decided that this was akin to having our very own dating reality-TV show, and that she wanted to be the host. She then began providing us with background commentary on this man's antics. At some point in the evening, when this table of six had dwindled to three, our entertainment, LL Cool J, decided that it was time for him to move on.

About 20 minutes later, we noticed our friend, in a different shirt, but still with the Justin Timberlake hat, enter a different bar on the square. As we were already paying the check, we felt compelled to follow him in and have another drink.

We watched him place himself at the end of the bar and lean back casually. There were two empty seats between him and a woman. He seemed relaxed and chatted cheerfully with the bartenders. Then he made his first move: he asked the woman a question and moved a seat closer, so he could lean in and better hear her answer. Then, somehow, dessert materialized in front of them, and he moved a seat closer to the woman. Now there was no empty seat between them.

Our commentator continued her narration as the events continued to unfold: our LL Cool J spoon feeding this apparently contented woman.

Unfortunately, we became distracted as our waitress plied us with raffle tickets with the proceeds going to the Susan G Komen fund, and when we had finished purchasing said raffle tickets, the dessert was still at the bar, half eaten, with two long-handled spoons in the dish, but LL Cool J and his lucky woman were gone.

Congratulations, LL Cool J, and your suave flirtations. We tip our JT hats to you and thank you for providing us with bar style amusement the likes of which we rarely get to witness.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Monday reading update

If you've been paying any attention to my book list, clearly I have not been reading. Okay, well that's not true at all. I've been reading a lot. I just haven't been finishing anything. So I thought I'd start a Monday reading update, that may or may not be published on Monday, y'know, depending on whether or not I get to it. Like this week. How did it become Thursday already?

Captain America thinks my reading list is a bit out of control. I think, go big or go home. Can you even use that expression in regards to reading? Whatever.

So here's what's been going on in my book world:

I've been preoccupied with reading Fortune magazine. Magazines are hard to keep up with. They really are. So that's that.

I started The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett a while ago. I generally like Ken Follett, but Pillars is told from a variety of perspectives, and while I like some of them, others I'm finding tedious. So I've put that book on hold for a when I have more time to digest it...or when the sun goes out...whichever comes first.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin has also sort of been put on hold, but not because it's tedious. My library has this thing where you can check out electronic books, but only to certain devices, like your computer or the Nook. Maybe it's not the Nook, but at any rate, you can't check them out to your Kindle. Or, I can't figure out how to get it from my computer to my Kindle. And it's not like you get a copy; you have to return it. So at any rate, I tried this process, but I didn't actually finish the book before it was due, so I had to check it back in, and then I put a "real" copy on hold, but apparently everyone and their mother wants to read this book, so it's been on hold for a while. I think I'm something like 29th out of 99, so we'll see when I get it.

So, I suppose you might want to know something about the book. It's not bad. Like any self-help book, you really should take the pieces you need, or that work for you and skip the rest. Which is actually what Gretchen Rubin tells you, so kudos to her for that. Some of the stuff in it is just reassuring. She has this "secret of adulthood" that states, what is fun for you may not be fun for others and vice versa. That makes me feel so much better about how much I hate volunteering. Studies show that people who volunteer are happier...presumably than people who don't volunteer, but maybe it's happier than people who are dead, or are lepers, or haven't been exiled. I don't know, but I do know that volunteering does not make me happy. Except last Friday. My company gives everyone a paid day off a year to volunteer. If I got paid to volunteer instead of go to work, I'd like it. Really. I helped create a water conservation garden. I don't even garden at home. But, if I could get paid revenue accounting wages to garden, I'd be all over it.

I'm actually really enjoying Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. It's sort of a love story, sort of the story of the adventure of one man's life. It's poignant and believable, although very different from my life. I highly recommend reading it. I would be done with it already, but I borrowed my copy from a friend, and I have six books out from the library.

A word about the San Diego City Library system: they only let you renew books once. I think that's a crappy system. I'd like to be able to renew my books at least twice. The county library system allows you to do it three times.

Anyway, so I have two books out from the library that I've already renewed once. And I've realized I'm not going to finish either before they're due back next week. Rather than discussing the silly system with the librarian who already warned me once that they don't like to do a second renewal because they're supposed to have the books on the shelves a day before checking them out again. (Whatever!) I have enough other things going on in my life over which to get worked up than this, I'm going to take the passive-aggressive stance and return them, then put them back on hold, so someone can check them in, look at their little system, see that someone wants to check them out, and put them back on hold. Because that's an excellent use of time for an already underfunded library program.

I think a viable solution would be to have the patron bring in the books for the second renewal. That way the library knows that the books aren't lost or anything. Clearly, this is yet another system that I'm not in charge of.

Kurt Vonnegut is a weirdo. He makes me feel much better about my own strangeness. All the King's Men is actually pretty good. It just happens to be over 200 pages longer than goodreads seems to think it is.

I've actually been reading The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan, and by the time I actually get around to posting this post, I'll probably be done with it. It is Young Adult, but I think that YA is probably the most difficult genre to write. Kids that age are smart enough to have more than one layer to a story, and like characters they can relate to, but it seems hard to me to write from the perspective of a teenager, or a tween, since I haven't been one in over a decade. Whenever I think about writing teenagers, I always want to write the kind I wish I was back then, you know, cool, self confident, good skin, smart in that less-academic-more-real-world sort of way. And then, while kids have increasing exposure to adult situations, I'm not a member of the camp that believes that because they can, they should. So it seems hard to keep it PG without being too Velveeta.

Needless to say, this is not the best YA book I've ever read, but it's fast paced, fairly amusing, deals with ancient Greek, which I love, because I'm still super-cool like that. And it's keeping me entertained without entirely engaging my brain as I battle the mother of all head colds. I rarely get sick (Captain America can't remember the last time I was this sick, which means it was over 5 1/2 years ago or he has a very bad memory), but when I do get sick, I get really sick and turn into a snotty pile of patheticness, and you're all very welcome for that visual.

Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century by Alex Steffen is really that. It's a user's guide, apparently based on his website or something. I don't know. I haven't really checked it out. My sister got it for me because of my environmental bent. Except I'm a really terrible environmentalist. I wish I liked doing earth friendly things more. I wish I liked growing my own food, or showering every other day. I don't mind things like public transportation, but unfortunately where I live, it doesn't take me where I want to go in any sort of framework that resembles convenience. Maybe I'll revisit all of this in the new year, but in the mean time, I'm taking a break from my attempts to be green. Which is not the same as saying we in my household have stopped recycling or have started warming up our cars, or try to be blatantly anti-green. And I must say I've made huge progress in the steps towards vegetarianism, but that's more due to Captain America's new work schedule and the fact that I'm not going to bother cooking for one than any actual dietary change going on.

Captain America bought me The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works by Roger Highfield. I haven't read this book in so long that I don't remember what I thought about it. When I read Harry Potter and Philosophy, the big thing I took out of it was that they made a couple of mistakes, like Bernie Botts Every Flavor Beans, instead of Bertie Botts. I don't recall anything like that in Science. What happened was, this was sitting on my desk at work, but then I became all distracted by the magazines I've been trying to keep up with and the library books that I just sort of overlooked this one. And it's kind of an easy one to overlook because each chapter stands alone, so it's not like I'm forgetting major plot points. Needless to say, I do intend to finish it, and it is currently housing my fabulous fair-trade Egyptian bookmark, so I'm still considering it a book I'm actively reading.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling I haven't actually started, but I have big plans for this. BIG PLANS. You see, I have the luxury edition, or the collectors edition, or whatever, and it comes with all of these amazing prints that I intend to frame and hang in my purple room. And did you hear, she might just write another Harry Potter book or three! At least that's what she told Oprah. I'm not going to hold my breath, but my soul is doing a little dance of joy (my body is not, due to said mother of all head colds).

I really like Ken Follett, as I've said before, so I'm really hoping that I find The Man from St. Petersburg to be more engaging than The Pillars of the Earth. Alas, I haven't started this yet either, but I'm really looking forward to it.

Okay, just a note on how much I love books: sometimes I look forward to starting a book more than I actually enjoy reading it. I'm like a kid on Christmas morning. Before you open the presents, the possibilities are endless. After you open the presents, you've got a lot of great gifts, but the anticipation was half the fun.

Speaking of anticipation, I cannot wait to start The Hunting of the Snark: an Agony in Eight Fits by Lewis Carroll. I dream of the day when I am clever enough to think up a subtitle, or even a phrase as descriptive as "an agony in eight fits." And Lewis Carroll is also a little crazy, which is always great fun, and Agony has pictures! Could I be a happier bibliophile?

And finally, I have The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer. This has been on my reading list for so long that I can't remember why I put it on there. Yup, I'm smart like that, and the dayquil only makes it better.