Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Let there be light.

We have nothing so crass as streetlights. Instead, there are these lovely lanterns perched atop posts of moderate height before each house on the street.

After moving my loveseat against the opposite wall, I can look out the back door and see a single lamp across the street, lending a gentle glow to its surroundings. Garish holiday lights glitter next door, but my gaze drifts unerringly to that single point of illumination when I glance over to see my pets travel in and out the dog door.

My typical very-end-of-December melancholy is rather gentle this year. There are tugs of dismay when I think of life and goals, progress and, well, lack thereof. I spent the day rather quietly, doing a bit of shopping and cleaning early on and then selecting books from my pretty shelves. Chienne and I lay downstairs, curled on the soft, old couch under a fluffy blanket while I patted her head and turned pages. I moved back upstairs to make a sandwich, tossing bits of turkey to dog and cat while I stood between them, attempting to give Sprout a fighting chance to nibble at his share of the treat.

I’m sipping water rather than champagne, considering a bath rather than a party. But the quiet is nice.

I have a single resolution, for I don’t tend to make them. I will be more faithful this year. While there are any number of action items and tasks to complete that are associated with increased focus on my beliefs, I feel that tonight merits a simple statement of purpose while fixed upon the single point of illumination.

Whether you're spending your evening surrounded by bright lights and loud noises, quietly curled under a lamp with a book or surrounded by candlelight with someone who thinks you're wonderful, I wish you the very best - love, productivity, success, laughter, lasting happiness and health - tonight and always.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's back to work I go.

"Hello!" I greeted the first man from my group that I saw. "Is that a new sweater? It's very pretty." I waved at another, had a long lunch with a third and stopped by a fourth's desk for a hug.

"Do you find you're working for idiots?" Jay asked while we sat on the laundry room floor after Christmas. I immediately shook my head.

"It's different," I said, for I never learned how to do tasks I'm now required to complete, "but there is tremendous talent in Industry. I have a tremendous amount of respect for my boss and his boss and feel challenged by various responsibilities. I do like it."

"You've been in sales too long," Cousin told him when he looked befuddled by my answer. He nodded his agreement.

I settled at my desk, checked my messages and withdrew a couple of desk pretties I got for Christmas. I went to fetch my mail and sent a letter on the way then grabbed my coat and computer to walk across campus for a meeting. I returned to organize email and tackle a couple of the smaller requests. I wrote letters and evaluated several proposals. I pulled data from archives and glanced through it before submitting it to several new reviewers.

It was quiet - I'd say about half of us are working this week. Instead of conversations - there's a typical chatter as people meet and take phone calls - there was only an occasional word or two spoken while people wrote. Catching up on email, getting documentation completed, filing all those piles of papers that accumulated during the year. It's quite lovely.

I returned home and called to see how things were with my parents. The girls went with their maternal grandparents yesterday and Mom has decided she'll likely retire in January. Dad had questions and advice and I listened patiently. I gasped when Mom took the phone again as something occurred to me.

"I forgot to tell Rainbow Dash Matilda that I loved her!" I said, opening my laptop to go to the Webkinz page. "Oh, no! Today and yesterday - no food, no love. Crap."

"I told Little One's pets I loved them," Mom said, quite superior in her virtual pet care.

"I'm still settling in," I defended myself, clicking on several screens to make sure my online dog was doing well. "But I did pay all my bills yesterday. I'm figuring it out."

I will remember to tell all of you that I'm very grateful for the comments. Family stuff can be hard and I was comforted by what you all wrote. Thank you. If you were a Webkinz, I would totally feed you and buy you cool stuff for your room.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bittersweet

"I can't do this anymore," I said, throwing my hands in the air for further emphasis. Dad had complained about Brother's messes throughout the house on Saturday night (he's moving in with my parents) and Brother lost it, slamming the door and squealing his tires on his way down the street to show he was wronged and very angry.

He called to say he was returning for the girls because they were his daughters and he wanted them, leading Mom to say that he couldn't have them. Little One was already asleep and Smallest One was on my lap, having cottage cheese and babbling at me. Instead of sharing my opinion that Brother was drunk and out of control, she decided to yell at Dad for being constantly critical. She brought up the fact that he'd retired no less than four times, knowing he feels awkward and guilty about his lack of income. I scooped Smallest One up, hissed "Inappropriate!" at my mother and proceeded down the hall where we pushed all the buttons we could find to start a happily noisy bubble where family unpleasantness continued to intrude.

"I'm sorry," I whispered to her when she turned to look at me. "Brother needs help and makes terrible decisions. Grandpa has always been eager to point out flaws and Grandma and I are very, very dramatic." She grinned at me and I smiled back, pressing a kiss to the fine hair atop her head. I cuddled her, more to comfort myself than the tiny one in my arms, until she squirmed to get down to play.

Mom stormed down the hall and I went to the living room to kiss Dad on the cheek. He would later call Brother to apologize, making me shake my head that this cycle of 'be a selfish asshole and people will bend over to accommodate you!' will continue indefinitely. I moved down the hall to explain to Mom why she'd been wrong, concluding with the fact that I wanted out. "It's too hard to be here," I told her.

"I know," she said, still looking wounded. But it affects me, I defended myself, unable to sleep later on. The worry and hurt, the anger and yelling. I feel unsettled and afraid and I don't like it. I spent some time in prayer, letting my fingers entwine and eyes close as I recited words and drifted through thoughts until I felt more peaceful.

Mom moved my Jeep in the attached garage and Dad helped me load it yesterday morning. Chienne hopped in to impatiently wait for the journey to begin while the three of us caught a howling Sprout and deposited him inside the car as well. I gave hugs and kisses, feeling overwhelming love for each person there as I felt Dad's beard against my cheek, Mom's arms cling, Little One's leap into my arms and Smallest One lifting her face for more kisses. I also felt this miserable regret - I distance myself for my benefit and while it normally makes sense, in the moments when I'm leaving, I nearly suffocate in the crushing guilt.

I felt like I could breathe again as I pulled in my own garage, opening doors to let the animals run outside and downstairs. I rearranged the living room to make room for my new tables, gasped with delight when I found a gift from Friend on the front porch and adjusted the temperature so it was slightly warmer inside, still remaining far cooler than my parents keep their house. I began to settle in again, sleeping deeply last night in the big bed and making my own coffee this morning. I have errands to run and documents to write but feel oddly stuck here - caught between missing those I left and embracing the gentle quiet I've created here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Recap

  • "Christmas is over," we told Little One as I carefully navigated through heavy fog on the way home last night. I glanced into the backseat and saw she was asleep, her head nestled into the puffy, pink coat she wore.
  • Moon Sand is messy. It could be the most awesome substance ever - nearly irresistable, in fact - but the stuff gets everywhere.
  • I am excellent at making paper chains and training those who have similar interests.
  • When I decide to sit in the cool, quiet laundry room with Cousin's dog while at Aunt's Day-After-Christmas-But-Pretending-It's-Christmas celebration, I will soon have much company. I ended up with Jay and Cousin, Brother and Aunt. The latter suggested we join the rest of the family.
  • Children are capable of very high-pitched, impossibly shrill screams. My cousins both have husbands who took turns being trolls and monsters, chasing the four kids around Aunt's house. While Smallest One fell behind and giggled, the other three (age ~4 years) emitted such sounds as to make me long for the laundry room again.
  • I laughed until it hurt, wiping tears from my eyes and gasping for breath around giggles when making Strawberry Surprise with Mom. The trigger was rather silly - not even worth explaining since it wasn't particularly funny - but we both leaned on the counter as we laughed and laughed. And it was lovely.
  • Dad annoys Little One. A lot. He believes he's teasing. She believes he's an asshole.
  • "You used to fight like that," Dad told me of my childhood with Brother when I remarked on Little and Smallest Ones frequent squabbles. "Yes," I replied with a frown, "but I hated him."
  • "You think of no one but yourself!" I scolded him as we drove to Aunt's. He was 90 minutes late, having "worked" all day while we watched the girls. "I save lives for a living!" he cried. I blinked at him and stared. "You sell apartments for a retirement community!" I finally yelled. "And you're completely delusional!" He smiled and shrugged while I seethed.
  • "Did you get that for Christmas?" I asked Little Cousin of the giant, pink Barbie airplane. "From Santa," Cousin said. "And it's a party plane - six Barbies, all completely nude."
  • Little One got me a Webkinz. She's an American Cocker Spaniel and I've named her Rainbow Dash Matilda. I have also played many Webkinz games so I can - for some reason - buy her stuff for her virtual room. She's currently wearing yoga pants and a red shirt with a matching red bow between her floppy ears. Which reminds me - I need to tell her I love her today and make sure she has enough food. She likes watermelons.
  • I keep cocking my head at Little One. "If you're going to fake-cry," I suggest, "you should work at being better at it."
  • I must go to the toy room to explain computer applications to Dad as often as Little One.
  • I'm growing used to sleeping with Little One. Mom has a daybed in the back bedroom and we pull out the trundle bed as well. Chienne and I share one while Little One takes the other and it's oddly comforting to open my eyes throughout the night to check and make sure she's OK.
  • Smallest One dances - she likes theme songs to television shows and the jingles that come from her toys. Her favorite move is putting one arm straight out behind her and crossing the other one across her chest. Then she bounces. It's fantastic.
  • Dad just gave the garbage men holiday tips. He's very proud.
  • I think I'll stay until Monday and then head home. Christmas, after all, is over.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Quietly Content

I wandered down the hall to join my parents in the living room. It was just before 8:00 and by far the latest I've ever slept on Christmas morning. I'm usually up long before dawn, eager to see what's under the tree and in my stocking.

"Smallest One would have pulled them over on herself," Mom explained when I asked where the embroidered pieces of fabric weren't hanging in their normal spot. Remembering the awful splat her chubby cheek made when it hit the doorway as she fell, I nodded my agreement. She's darling, but a bit accident-prone of late.

"Merry Christmas," I smiled at my parents as I walked to the kitchen to fetch coffee. I unwrapped the small box Dad handed me and smiled before the item was revealed. My penchant for growing disoriented makes Garmin a good gift. I tucked the box neatly in my suitcase, making a mental note to put it in the car for the drive home in a couple days. "Thank you," I said when Dad proudly handed me a package of hangers he'd found tangled in the lights.

"What is this?" he asked as he poked at the boxes wrapped in a large bag decorated with snowmen. "You told Mom to order it," he offered as he drug it to the living room.

"Oh!" I recalled, crossing my fingers. "I hope it's side tables! I need side tables!" He used his knife to open the box, withdrawing pieces of wood before handing me a paper. "It's a side table!" I giggled and tossed presents to Chienne to open while Dad constructed my gifts.

"I like this," Mom offered as Dad worked industriously and glared at the tables he was piecing together. I lounged on the couch, tugging at one end of a new rope while my dog growled and pulled at the opposite end. Mom was curled on the loveseat while we savored the relative quiet, mounds of wrapped gifts remaining under the brightly-lit tree. "It's exhausting when the girls are here."

I nodded - it is. Acknowledging that parenting must be hard as an abstract concept is nothing compared to chasing toddlers and answering questions, reading books, singing songs, answering demands for thirst and hunger and bathroom company. It's constant. So we puttered today - sipped coffee and ate casseroles for breakfast (if it can't be made with those biscuits from the rolls, it is not worth eating), nibbled at leftovers throughout the day and I can hear my parents discussing recipes as they put in ham and cheesy potatoes for a quiet dinner.

"This is for you," Dad said, handing me a Santa bag with a fuzzy, white top. I withdrew a sheet of red tissue paper to smile at the twin boxes inside.

"Aqua globes," I offered, turning the bag to show Brother who had arrived and was sitting next to me on the couch. "I've always wondered who would buy these," I offered absently, reading the directions that come with the plant-watering devices. I nodded when Mom said they were pretty and functional and promised her I'd stick them in some plants when I got home.

It was neither particularly joyous or fabulously merry. The day was rather quiet and sleepy, but we were together and comfortable. I very much hope you and yours had a wonderful day, whatever celebrations it contained.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Unhappy Pre-Christmas

It is not unusual for Dad and I to head off alone on Christmas Eve. I always sigh as we drive toward the mall to dutifully buy a gift for Mom. Why can’t he handle this on his own? Is it really necessary for me to tag along? Provide moral support?

“We’ll go,” I said softly, arm around Brother as his shoulders shook with sobs. “You stay here with Mom and the girls. Dad and I will be back soon.”

“Where is she?” Dad asked as we carefully moved up the icy steps to the front door of Brother’s split level house.

“Upstairs,” I replied quietly. “He said she was by the couch.” We greeted the orange cat and I followed my father up the steps, blinking back tears when I saw her stretched out, motionless on the floor.

Like most dogs, she loved visitors, emitting this happy mixture of bark and cry that indicated her utter pleasure that you’d come to see her. She had a long, black snout that I’d kissed on Monday before she’d gone home. Chienne had tolerated her presence well, trotting outside with the taller, thinner canine while they explored the yard.

“Is she really dead?” Dad asked and I looked away from the german shepherd mix on the floor to blink at him. I nodded and thought he looked rather young in that moment, asking for someone to deny the obvious.

“I can help,” I told him after we covered the body with blankets and garbage bags, fighting back sickness when we discovered she was already stiff. He refused, lifting the bundle and letting me follow him down the stairs. It was quiet when we left, the gray light of a stormy morning creeping sullenly through the windows. It would be terrible for Brother to come home, I thought. Nobody to yip and leap and prance in joyous welcome.

“She was a good girl,” I told Dad as we drove toward home. “So sweet and gentle.”

“Loved to chase her ball,” he offered. “Never ran away. This is awful – now I have a headache.” I nodded my agreement, feeling quite ill as well.

Returning from our grim errand, we took Advil from the bottle Brother had left on the table after he’d arrived. I curled up on the couch, no longer wanting to work, and blinked at the presents that awaited her under the tree. We don’t know what happened, but it appeared that she simply failed to wake up from a long winter’s nap.

"Thanks for going with me," Dad said when he sat down in his chair. I nodded and wished that we'd been to the mall instead.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Written Words - Post 1,000

Upon opening a box of crayons, there is a distinct sense of possibility. Whether pristine points marching in clean rows or leftovers tossed haphazardly in a shiny tin, there is a gently waxy smell while various hues beckon tiny hands to find a space to create. I’ve framed some of Little One’s work, her explorations into imagination seeming impossibly lovely somehow.

It smelled of crayons in a tiny storefront just off the town square. I was 13 the first time I visited, walking tentatively to the old brick building and climbing the two steps up to the glass door that announced the name of the small weekly newspaper. Moving through the entryway, I smelled melted wax and thought of my potential as a writer.

I enjoyed that small room in the front, overlooking brick streets that were as quaint as they come. A large window allowed sunlight to sparkle on the polished counter that held neat stacks of published newspapers and copied forms – birth and death announcements, blank sheets for classified ads with neatly identified pricing structures. At first, I waited until I was invited behind the chest-high counter, moving slowly across creaky floors to the chaos defining the more open space in the back.

Much as I liked the organization that visitors saw, I adored the clutter that defined the production of a newspaper. Stacks of letters awaited reading, scrawled notes bore names and dates, quotes and reminders were strewn about on all surfaces. Minimal organization flowed from front to back – there were two desks on the front wall for the editor and reporter. A single computer used for typesetting rested on a long counter against the side wall and the center island contained tools to cut and paste on the master boards where layout was determined. It was there the wax lay melted and waiting for words to be written and revised.

I never worked at that space, allowing more expert eyes and hands to paste stories in proper places, straighten edges and fit bits of text on the large pages we delivered to the printers every Tuesday. Once those sheets were taken out the back door, we could start on next week’s edition, returning to the desks at the front of the room to read letters, take notes and begin to accumulate words to fill the next set of blank pages.

I was invited to contribute monthly columns before I finished grade school, continuing to write pieces that were not unlike blogs posts until I started college. My initial infatuation turned to lasting fondness for the process as I grew more comfortable there, trading my trembling terror that every word might be wrong for an easier comfort with telling a story under a deadline.

I visited Kathy’s Kozy Kraft Korner for my first “news” piece. She’d recently opened the shop and I recall asking her why she’d changed all the initial letters to k when most should have been c.

“It’s cute,” she replied after staring at me for a moment. I looked around at the piles of items – wrinkling my nose at balls of yarn tumbling from baskets as needles and hooks battled for position in bins.

“Would you like me to spell ‘cute’ with a k?” I finally asked, thinking myself terribly witty. “Or may I use a c?”

I took pictures of our state’s candidate for Miss America when she visited the high school, getting some inane quote about hopes and dreams. I covered a dance recital and car show, happily taking the fluff pieces that didn’t interest the middle-aged woman who edited the paper.

I remember her tucking a lock of bright red hair behind her ear when I asked her to supervise the school paper for my senior year. Unimpressed with the stapled pages that had been produced, I craved newsprint and advertisers during my year as Editor-in-Chief. She hesitantly agreed and I pounced on the opportunity, guiding a staff of 8 to that storefront after hours every other Wednesday so that Mandy could typeset ads from local businesses, Chris could hand in his witty editorials while I admired his eyes (and shoulders and personality), and the underclassmen would stare into the vat of wax in the middle of the room while I carefully edited stories.

“How do you spell that?” Little One asked as we sat at my parents' table this afternoon, canister of crayons beside the lined notebook paper. She was nestled on my lap while I watched over her shoulder, as pleased with her as I'd been with myself when seeing something I'd written appear in print.

Letters, painstakingly written, appeared on the paper in black crayon while we frowned with concentration. Distracted by her small sister and Christmas shows on television, she abandoned me at the table with a final cuddle. I smiled, being a bit overly nostalgic, and breathed in the smell of crayon once more before fitting the lid on the container. There is something impossibly powerful about writing something down, something incredibly wonderful about having someone read and understand and care.

It always has been, and continues to be, full of possibilities.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Injuries, cont.

I called her name, drawing out the first syllable and frowning when my faithful canine did not appear. I shrugged and arranged the covers anyway, deciding to be grateful for the extra room in bed.

I woke at midnight, confused that there wasn't a warm lump behind my knees and wondering what brought me out of a deep sleep. I hurried toward the stairs when I heard the whimpers, calling Chienne's name and looking around frantically as I descended.

"What happened?" I asked her, already smoothing my hands up and down her sides and legs as I checked for obvious injuries. "Sore muscle," I guessed when she seemed to walk just fine but was clearly unable to tolerate climbing steps. It happens sometimes and I always fuss over her, but this is the first problem we've had in the house of many stairs.

I dutifully unfolded the loveseat and removed the mattress from the bed inside. I tossed it on the floor and went back upstairs to fetch blankets and pillows. I settled down with a quiet grumble - I don't like sleeping on the floor! - and huffed a heavy sigh when the dog picked a spot far across the room to rest.

"Fine," I told her haughtily. "I'm going back up."

It was 2AM - not too long after I'd left her alone - when she cried again. Once again, I hurried downstairs and was greeted by sad eyes and a slowly wagging tail. Resigning myself to a night on the floor, I told her she'd feel better soon, gave her an Advil, worried about giving her an Advil and put my top half on the mattress since she'd already claimed the bottom.

Growing queasy from the lack of sleep, I was miserably uncomfortable as well. I crawled over to start a fire, immediately cheered by the flickering flames and gentle warmth. I arranged spare pillows for my legs and deemed the pallet suitable for sleeping. I crawled back, stopping to pat the dog reassuringly and tucking her under a soft blanket. I continued my journey across the floor until I could settle my head on a pillow and flipped through channels since I was awake and uncomfortable.

I wrinkled my nose over juicers, frowned darkly at cooking devices that worked from the top and bottom and paused with some interest for the airbrush make-up device. I'm content with Bare Minerals though so I continued to move through channels. One of the home shopping channels had some ridiculous dessert - chocolate-chip-cheesecake-bread-pudding concoction that I would have totally eaten had I had one.

I don't remember falling asleep, but Chienne was gone when I woke. I made the loop around the first floor, unable to find the hound. I called and called, hearing her yip repeatedly as she made her way up the stairs from the basement. I moved to help her, but my attempts to lift her sturdy body made her yelp. So I winced and coaxed her up the last two steps and closed the door to prevent future errors in judgement.

We slept for a few more hours before Mom called, inquiring over our arrival time. I told her of her granddog's ouchie and decided she'd be more comfortable in my parents' single level home. I promised we'd make the trip today - I just have clean clothes to place in my suitcase - and patted the floor for my glasses.

"No good deed," I began and sighed when I picked up exactly half of the glasses - I had an earpiece and single lens, cracked cleanly where it should have connected to its partner in vision assistance. I walked up to put in contacts, Chienne crying pitifully all the while, and came back down to pet her until she relaxed into sleep again.

I've finished my coffee. I'm moderately awake. So it's time to pack up and head south - injuries in one animal, what is certain to be a foul disposition in the other (Mr. Sprout Does Not Like the car.) and a bit of Christmas spirit in tow.

(Post 1,000 comes tomorrow! Is there anything you want to know but don't? I'm thinking of doing a brief history of Katie, perhaps with photos, but remain undecided.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Forecast Fulfilled

I sputtered and squinted while my mighty snowblower chugged valiantly though the foot-plus of white fluff piled on what I thought might be my sidewalk. I swore when I realized I was on the grass, estimated an adjustment and grinned triumphantly when I saw pavement appear beneath the mounds of snow.

My pajamas were coated with snow up to my hips and I kept stopping to wipe at my glasses so I could try to orient myself in a world coated with white. Flakes continued to fall. Yet I smiled at the tiny girl down the street covered completely in pink winter-wear as she scampered toward the snow bank, tossing herself into it with a squeal I could hear even over the roar of my red snowblower.

Time does alter perspective. I scampered to the window while brushing my teeth, watching the snow continue to drift from the sky in tiny puffs. Then I tugged on my own winter-wear - a beige coat and black boots, gray gloves and hat. I failed to emit sounds of delight while I cleared sidewalk and driveway and I may have huffed a sigh or two when my glasses prohibited me seeing stuff. But it remained nearly magical - nary a car passed and more children emerged from houses as brightly-colored bundles of energy. The last day of school before Christmas break was canceled and joy ran rampant. What was anticipated had come - the news reports and online listings had allowed them to remain home.


“Do you really want to know if you’re going to get hit by a bus beforehand?” I overheard a woman ask as a group congregated in the hallway yesterday at work. “I,” she continued, “would just as soon have it take me by surprise. Someone walking up and saying, ‘So. On Tuesday at 2:12 in the afternoon, you’re going to get hit by a city bus carrying 12 people heading to the mall to do Christmas shopping. There’s no way to avoid it and I’m truly sorry it’s going to happen, but, yeah. Tuesday.’ I’d rather just walk along and get slammed. Why worry about it?”

For just as the snow was deep and kept falling, the economy is bad and continues to worsen. Reorganization and restrictions come in announcements and meetings. The expectation is that we'll all return from the holidays and learn more of what this means for 2009.

But I looked down the street, seeing reds and pinks, blues and purples move in and around the mounds of white. I had a pastor say she was rarely optimistic but always hopeful. So I'm trying to have faith that the forecast will improve.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Away Right Now

Hello. This is Katie. I'm away from my blog right now because I'm feeling rather blah and have little I want to say. Have a list that many others have already completed.

1. Started my own blog

2. Slept under the stars (I hate camping. Don't understand the appeal.)
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii (I'm hoping to make another trip in the spring. I love it there.)
5. Watched a meteor shower (In college. It was anti-climatic.)
6. Given more than I can afford to charity (When I started my post-doc, I went a bit crazy with the 'I make money! Have some!' idea.)
7. Been to Disneyland/world (World - multiple times.)
8. Climbed a mountain (The hill was bad enough.)
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sung a solo (Would you like to swing on a star? 7th grade. I won 1st place.)
11. Bungee jumped (Feel sick just thinking about it.)
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch (I took a class in grade school. I can draw a cube. That is all.)
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning (I still can't eat tenderloins.)
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown my own vegetables (Well, Friend planted the tomato. And watered the tomato. So this is actually a lie.)
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked (I did pick one up once. By accident!)
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb (I grew up in a relatively rural community. The lamb came to the classroom!)
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse (Maybe - I can't recall.)
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset

31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language (Japanese. If by "language," I can mean "three sentences.")
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person (In the spring. Hopefully.)
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling (Snorkeling in O'ahu.)
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies (Long live the Thin Mint!)
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check (Once - just after I moved. I was humiliated.)
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy (Lots and lots.)
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book (Chapters! And I've written two books! But I still can't bold.)
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper (I used to write a column.)
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox (In junior high - that was positively hideous.)
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one

94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person ("Is that it?" I said.)
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Ridden an elephant

Monday, December 15, 2008

Road Trip

“Blog post! Blog post!” I chirped – happily but quietly – to myself once ordered inside the car by the two men filling the flat tire. I had emerged under the guise of contributing, lasting for approximately 3 seconds in the -20° wind chill before I shivered – delicately but obviously – so they would offer me the protection of our broken chariot.

I watched, tugging my coat closer to me, and made my ‘Icky! Icky!’ face as I watched a drop of clear liquid drip from the tip of One’s nose. That happens, I decided, when it’s very, very, very cold. But still. Ew.

“Katie?” Other said, opening the door and earning a frown with the inquisitive look I offered. “Do you have quarters?”

“Of course,” I replied, reaching into my bag for my wallet and withdrawing three coins before placing them in his gloved hand.

We’d been driving for about two hours, meeting before dawn. “It’s just cold,” I guessed when he asked why the tire indicator light was on in the rental car. “It’s also flat,” I concluded later as someone waved us down and informed us our rear tire had little life left. We filled it up. We drove slowly to the next town and traded our broken car for a more functional one.

After moving suit jackets, laptop bags, gadgets and assorted winter paraphernalia to the giant pickup – it was all they had left – we set off to drive another 3 hours to our destination.

“Nice to see you again,” I said multiple times. I made my pitch, answered some questions and smiled at the people in the audience once more before heading off to new meetings. I took notes and offered ideas and grinned widely at one doctor I enjoy tremendously. I beamed when he winked at me and waved when he was called away. Trotting back to join One and Other, we took two more meetings before braving the cold once again.

When it dips below 0, the contrast between the cozy warmth inside and bitter cold out can make me breathless. “Goodness,” I murmured as I braced myself.

“Awesome!” Other said loudly before offering me his gloves. I shook my head, but offered my thanks as my heels clicked across the pavement, quickly carrying me toward the safety of the truck.

I sat in the backseat, leaning forward to ask questions and share thoughts. I quivered with eagerness over some ideas and bit my lip with worry over others.

“I talked to a friend last week,” I told them before they dropped me off. “And as stressed as I get – which is weird because I’ve done things much more technically difficult than this – she said I sounded really happy. I think this is important. I very much want to be good at it. So I am happy.”

“Good,” Other smiled as he nodded.

“Very good,” One agreed before bidding me good night. They watched as I got in my car, started it and waved. I stifled a yawn and headed toward home. Once here, I greeted a happy dog and hungry cat, took a shower and snuggled into pajamas. My suit is crumpled on the bathroom floor, my laptop bag still in the car as it waits for my 8AM meeting tomorrow morning. As for me, I’m off to bed – I’ve grown sleepy.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Before the Storm

November 30, 2008
Today we walked, moving briskly through the chilly morning in the hours where it was gray and calm before it turned blustery and snowy.

As my muscles warmed, my head cleared of the insistent ache and I breathed in air that was just the right side of sharply cold. I've always meant to reach the path that parallels the highway, never able to peer far enough from my car to tell where it leads. So I tugged Chienne away from trees and hydrants as we moved up and down hills and around curves toward the elusive path.

Somewhere between the time I left the house and the point where I got lost in a field of weeds, I began to consider science and beauty, blogs and significance as I enjoyed the way the wheat-colored weeds rustled in an otherwise quiet morning.

To provide perspective, I have always worked in clinical research. I met patients and their families. I prayed over their struggles and wept when they died, that red mark denoting their final day on Earth ill-equipped to provide insight into their struggle against disease. I'd go so far as to say that what I do can be ugly - dictated by profit margins and sales forecasts, requiring people to offer their bodies and time for us test our hypothesis. When hope becomes fleeting and I reach to support trembling limbs as people wracked by disease attempt to offer what they can to advance knowledge? This job is repulsive. Utterly hideous.

There were many reasons I stepped back, decided I simply didn't want to make a career actively performing studies. But when I look at clinical research, I find it stunningly important - we know how a drug works in the human body, we understand how to detect disease earlier with this one technique, we can help that group of people.

"You convinced them it was significant," Boss often said of grant applications and journal submissions. For that was always clear to me - here's why this is important. But as to how it can be done well and structured properly? I got lost in asking a sick patient to return for two more visits when I thought once might be enough. I wanted to examine data I had rather than getting more. I worried about problems and suffering we might cause. I simply wasn't good at what I did.

December 12, 2008
I'm not sure I'm better now, frankly. The landscape I admired on my walk weeks ago - around the time this post was started but left unfinished - has been crushed or buried under persistent falls of snow. I glanced at the sign that warned of thin ice the other day, nodding at the wisdom of those who posted it. What had clearly been a small pond now appeared to be a field of snow - differentiating between water and land was all but impossible until, I assumed, one ended up very cold and wet.

I read today that unhappiness, once endured for long periods of time, can be disguised as contentment. I pondered it for a moment, recalling times I categorized as content and nodded my agreement. The realization that I'll be doing two jobs for the foreseeable future has me concerned. Blanketing life under an endless stream of tasks that are Vitally Important isn't useful for personal growth and happiness. I predict I'll become my work, knowing little other than what Industry wants and needs.

"When money is available again," I told Mom, "they won't hire anyone to help me because I will have done it all along." She agreed and I fretted for a moment before remembering to feel grateful for job security.

I remember when I took my post-doctoral position that I wanted a few things. A house with a dog door and a king-sized bed are the two I remember and I got them both. On the most recent job search? I wanted to be closer to home. To be busy and feel productive. And to make money.

"Huh," I said to my dog when we ended up under a road on that path I wanted to follow. She turned to look at me, pausing when I asked her to wait while I took a photo. "I guess this is where we were going," I said quietly, glancing around to see if anyone would witness my comment. "I thought it would be different."

With a last look over my shoulder at the rocks beside the river under the bridge, I tugged Chienne back toward home. "Not exactly what I expected," I told her as she pranced beside me, happy to be outside and seeing someplace new. I smiled down at her, and tried to take a shortcut - ended up lost in a giant field, getting scratches from trying to cut through a forest and cursed my inability to orient myself.

"At least," I huffed when we finally made it home, "we know what's there now."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Arrival of the Snow Blower

"Hello?" I murmured, having rolled out of my snuggly nest of sheets and comforters and multiple pillows to answer the phone. It was around 6:30 and darkness still cloaked the world outside. I wondered if Dad was calling to say he was leaving the house, but smiled when he informed me that he was down the road, had obtained coffee for us and would be here shortly.

I walked downstairs in my pajamas, opening the door to the garage to flip the switches, illuminating my bulbs outside. Shivering when I closed the door, I turned on the television, found The Weather Channel (Dad likes The Weather Channel) and told Chienne her grandpa was on his way. Her eyes widened and ears perked before her tail began to wag with frantic anticipation. I sat on the loveseat, feeling similarly eager. I'm feeling better - still slow and shaky, but regaining my color and ability to function.

"Hi!" I greeted Dad when he opened the door but was firmly pushed aside by an ecstatic and overly large canine. When Chienne finally calmed a tiny bit, he handed me a lidded cup and we sat down to talk. His white beard has grown longer and I realized the happy anticipation we felt before his arrival was rather seasonal. He looks a bit like Santa.

"Are you staying overnight?" I asked, wondering if he'd left his bag in the car.

"No," he answered. "I just brought the snow blower for you. We'll get it put together and running and then I'll drive back home."

"But it's so far," I noted with a frown. I nodded when he said he liked to drive - he could listen to the radio real loud and slam on the brakes when someone followed too close and wasn't at home to hear Mom complain at him. I smiled and tugged on my jacket to follow him out in the garage, watching as he moved the giant box out of Mom's Jeep and ripped one side open to reveal the shiny machine.

We tightened some knobs to raise and secure the handle. We filled the oil and gas tanks. He taught me how to start it - turn choke to the left, move lever halfway between turtle and bunny, plug in, press button. Then when it starts to go 'blub, blub, blub' I am to turn the choke back to the right, unplug and push on the handles to start the snow-picker-upper blades and the self-propelled action. Then I jump, startled, and begin to chase the shiny machine as it moves along, merrily flinging snow.

"Remember to turn this handle," Dad advised as he moved the black plastic that controlled the snow that the snow-picker-upper blades picked up, "and pay attention to the wind. If you blow the wrong way, you'll get a bunch of snow in your face." Then, when I was at the end of the sidewalk, sputtering as bits of snow and ice bombarded my face, he walked over and turned the handle for me. I offered a grateful smile and continued on my way.

I bought him breakfast and listened to his stories while picking at toast with jelly. Then he drove me back to the house, departing after hugs and kisses and final snow removal instructions. I waved and acknowledged that I didn't realize how much I'd missed my parents until I'd seen Daddy walk through the door.

"I'll see you next weekend," I told him as we hugged goodbye. And, for the first time in my house with sparse decorations and few presents purchased, I began to grow happy about Christmas. My present is drying off in the garage.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Slow

Today I had toast and Jello.

"Dry toast is not tasty," I wrote to Friend.

"Put jelly on it," she said after commenting about her head hurting from rolling her eyes at me.

"I did not have jelly," I defended my choice.

"Use Jello," she replied after a moment.

"Oh," I said, thinking very hard. "Would that even work? I don't think that would work."

"Jelly = fruit + gelatin," she explained. "Jello = fake fruit + gelatin."

"Oh," I said and conceded she might have a point.

Though I was even slower than normal today, I did manage to do some work. I answered email. I took two phone calls, both of which required me to present a good deal of data to an audience I was meant to impress. The first call went stunningly well, but left me shaking with the need for additional Tylenol by the end of the 90 minute conversation.

Prior to the second meeting, Adam called. We discussed my health and I graciously accepted his offers of sympathy and well wishes. He covered a few points I've missed during my days of misery and I stopped him when he reached the one of interest/worry.

"Do you know something? What do you know?" I demanded. He laughed at me before outlining the situation.

"So," I said after thinking for a moment, "this means that I get to keep working for you. But I still have to do A+B rather than just B."

"Now would I ever fire someone so smart?" he teased. "That's pretty much it - you're doing great. I'm very pleased with you. But you are unlikely to get help with the role," he noted.

"I can do it," I offered after a moment and smiled when he noted I already was. I replaced the phone in the cradle, thinking that had things worked out differently, I'd be somewhere other than in my darkened basement, preparing to present material to an Ivy League institution. Had I not pushed so hard for an offer, I would have ended up lost in the hiring freeze. Had Adam hired someone for A in addition to me for B, I'd currently be in a much more precarious position.

"Safe, but stressed," I summarized and Chienne huffed grumpily when my voice disturbed her nap. I turned to smooth Sprout's coat when he came closer and looked for understanding from the unhappy, stripey creature.

"Like getting to go outside whenever you want, but never catching anything," I explained, pulling my hand away when he twisted to bite me. The lack of good hunting has him ready to attack - I have wounds to prove it.

I do like my job. I'm also fond of my house and car. So I'm relieved. Happy. Just a little slow.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

RIF

It was predictable, I told myself after reading the flurry of mass emails from powerful men. Hiring has been frozen for two months. New job postings are nonexistent. We've taken a 'wait and see' position, but - as people like to do - hoped that all would right itself and those people we'd like to have around could be brought on board.

Meetings have been ongoing to determine resources for next year. Industry has a number (so many I'm not sure of the exact quantity) of businesses and allocates money to each of us - like an allowance - so we can produce the things we sell. We may scale back, people warned, and I winced at the thought. I'm here! Have ideas! So let's do cool projects and release kick-ass packages!

"So you'll come to London in January?" a collaborator said on the phone before dawn today. A delightful man I badly want to meet, he complimented my proposals, noted I have a lot to offer and said they'd welcome my visit to their lab. I blinked rapidly and tried to focus, forcing myself to listen and think despite shuddering through fever and pain.

"I'd love to," I replied sincerely, for I love London very much. "I'll see what I can manage," I concluded and winced at the pain in my head and memory of how many excellent research sites I've deflected when they invited me to come. I'm desperate to meet people, examine projects, evaluate ideas. I have a call tomorrow to define a shared vision on a different topic - one I feel passionately is important and deserving of attention.

A Reduction in Force means my particular business could be asked to lay people off. Though logically I feel reasonably safe - I work in a team that should be staffed by 7 and has only 4 - I remain afraid. For even if I keep my job, I'm helpless to manage projects that can't be funded. Ideas matter little if they can't be integrated.

I've had Jello to eat over the last 2 days. And I'm growing despondent about the future.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Sick (and Snowy)

My right leg is comfortable, I decided as I curled on the floor. Determined to find some reason to live, I tried to focus on how the muscles were relaxed in my thigh and calf, ankle and foot. Nestled on a pallet of freshly-laundered linens, I made small adjustments to my nest on the floor of the bathroom in the basement. I swallowed against a wave of nausea and my right leg cramped when I pulled myself into a ball of shuddering misery.

I hate to throw up so I breathed shallowly, trying to cling to control over the shards of pain poking at me. I focused on the sounds of the washing machine, moaning pitifully when I rolled so I could see the t-shirts as they sloshed through the wash cycle in my front loading washing machine. I tucked an arm under my head, wondering if I was feverish. My stomach clenched warningly and I curled my toes in irritation. I was tired of being sick.

But, as was my plan, the sound and smell of washing clothes lulled me into a fitful nap. I woke, unsure of how much time had passed, when the machine beeped at me. I blinked at it stupidly, finally realizing the clothes were ready to dry. I stood slowly, gripping the counter for balance, and shivered when I realized I was freezing. I tugged a sheet around my shoulders and shuffled toward the washer, breathing in the clean and tossing wet shirts in the dryer. I set the dial and depressed the gray button to begin the tumbling anew.

I trudged upstairs, sheet dragging behind me, and flopped on the loveseat before squirming with discomfort. I continued upward and flopped on my bed, feeling restless and miserable. I finally settled, prone and propped on various pillows across the foot of the bed. I watched as fluff continued to settle on my upstairs deck, feeling vaguely guilty that I hadn’t shoveled a new path for the puppy off the back deck. Another inch drifted from the sky, swirling playfully in the brisk winds, and soothed by the gentle fall of snow I paid someone to shovel, I went to sleep again.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Fail

"But I don't want to pay $1,000," I said sadly to the fifth salesman at the fifth store. Apparently when it continues to dump snow upon my location, snow blowers sell out. Which makes me sad. But I hired a guy down the street to deal with the current mess and will use him again to deal with the additional foot that's supposed to arrive soon.

Living up north may not have been the best of plans.

*****

"Two of these," I murmured, examining bibs and onsies and tossing them in the bright red cart. "Two of those," I decided, selecting bottles in pretty colors. "They can share books," I declared, selecting five.

"Sunday," I sighed when I realized that Carrie's new twins will not receive gifts from "Aunt" Katie as soon as I planned. The post office wouldn't accept my large box stuffed with toys and clothes and blankets and books today and I won't have time to stop by until Saturday. This week is going to be another busy one.

*****

"So she said yes?" I asked the people on the phone when we talked an hour ago. I thanked them for taking time to talk on a Sunday and scowled with all my pouting power when they confirmed that WWE had committed to doing this project I think is a fucking terrible idea.

"I'm done talking about it," I told Adam last week, unconcerned when he frowned at me. "If you people won't listen to what I say - even when I'm clearly right! - then screw it. Do what you want."

"We'll meet about it on Monday," he decided and when I muttered that I didn't know why, he raised his eyebrow at me.

"We'll meet about it Monday," I repeated dutifully and narrowed my eyes when he winked at me.

I never get to win.

*****

"I don't know how much longer I can do this, Katie," Beaker said when I told him he didn't look good. I made my sympathetic and thoughtful face at him and considered the situation for a moment.

"I work all the time, too," I finally offered. "I don't know how to manage it, kiddo. It's just constant pressure and projects and timelines. I honestly can't imagine having a family and trying to do this job. It's just hard."

He nodded. I nodded. Then we went back to work.

*****

"I don't want to go!" I told Adam in a different conversation. "I want to stay for the meeting here!" I continued, realizing with some dismay that I was whining.

"Book it," he said firmly and I barely restrained myself from stomping my feet. I turned to my computer to buy tickets and alter my travel plans for next week, not at all pleased about the situation.

"It's going to be over $1K," I emailed him, hoping this provided evidence that it was a terrible idea to not let me come home on schedule. But then I remembered people out east make use of trains to ferry themselves up and down the coast. So I booked a ticket on Amtrak and rearranged some flights so I can eventually get back.

*****

I'm OK - I feel stable and not at all near despair. But this is hard. And, seriously, I never get to win.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tales from the Trip

If you've guessed what I do, then you know where I was. For anyone who is anything (or sells anything) congregated at a single location to show how very pretty we all are. Clad in suits - seas of black, interspersed with a few gentle waves of gray, brown or navy - we talked and listened, answered and asked, drank and, well, drank some more. I am exhausted and have many blog posts I'd like to view in my handy readers, so I'll post a few thoughts to jog my memory should I need to recall this particular experience.

I found myself excessively proud of my company at several points during the time I was away. From the people we employ to the products we produce, I think there is great focus toward quality and creativity. As I embraced people I know and met new colleagues, I felt part of something truly important and impressive.

Conversely, my heart ached with longing for my research past.

"Smarter!" I beamed while reaching for a member of my graduate research group. "How are you?" I breathed as I clung to him for a moment, feeling his scruffy beard against my temple and thinking him rather dashing.

"I stopped by earlier but you were busy," he noted and I found myself flattered. Smarter is not only quite attractive but also brilliant. I find myself mildly infatuated each time I encounter the man and enjoy the thrill while it lasts. So we chatted about work and new developments - how I liked Industry, how he'd already been promoted to Associate Professor (at 34. The man is ridiculous.), when we should get together for lunch or drinks. Few people could have distracted me from Smarter, frankly, but I caught sight of one of them and broke off mid-sentence to blink back tears as I hugged Boss tightly.

I introduced Smarter to my post-doctoral mentor, keeping my hand tucked through the latter's arm and feeling overwhelming affection mixed with nostalgia. The three of us talked and while I remained proud of my current affiliation, I thought of Smarter and Boss - their research and goals, teaching and service, and - just for a moment - wanted to chase after them after they'd hugged me good-bye and walked away, begging them to take me back with them.

"Sixteen meats," a man noted at the restaurant and I grinned up at him. I'd made some comment about how it was a bit overwhelming to have waiters swarm around the table with their Brazilian steakhouse offerings. A group of us nibbled at vegetables and delicacies from the salad bar then turned our little cards from red to green, prompting the display of more cooked animal flesh than I could handle. It was delicious - the beef and chicken and pork and lamb and more beef and more pork and still more beef - but I kept being distracted by the baskets on the table.

"What's in them?" BestWorkBuddy asked from her spot across the table. When someone replied that it was bread, I gave him a look of disbelief.

"Puffs of goodness," I replied firmly, breaking open the light, golden bit of some bread/pastry mixture. "It's like a cream puff without the cream."

"Hand me a puff of goodness," a different colleague - one of my favorites - ordered. He nodded his agreement of my assessment after tasting it and I pulled the basket protectively close to my plate. Luckily, the meat-givers were generous with the puffs of goodness as well. It was the multiple rum/lime/sugar drinks that may have come a bit too often, leaving me feeling a bit sick and headachey this morning.

It was good to go. It's better to be home.

(And we shall now return to our regularly scheduled posts and a count-down to post 1,000! For which I have nothing special planned, but I have a little over a week to think of something.)

Monday, December 01, 2008

Limited Utility

"Do you want some help?" a man called from his car. I tossed the hair out of my eyes and opened my mouth to politely refuse. Then I looked at the mounds of snow before me - I wasn't even able to tell where the sidewalk was, frankly, despite two shoveling trips overnight - and returned my gaze to the man.

"Yes, please," I answered softly, lip edging out in a pitiful pout. He climbed out of his car, tugged the snowblower out of his trunk and began to make short work of my impossible project.

"You can go inside," he offered, head covered by a hat with furry flaps over the ears. Staring at his yards compared to my inches, I nodded and trudged slowly toward the house. Once warm, I started to feel better about being mostly useless and tipped him generously before he took his leave.

*****

"Not dead!" I yipped, prancing out of my closet and through the bathroom as quickly as I could move on my tiptoes. "Not dead, not dead!" Sprout glared at me, for I'd chased him away from his evening treat before he'd finished killing it.

"Well, how long does it take to murder a mouse?" I asked, broom in hand - hand on hip, as I scolded him. "If you're going to do something, I wish you'd just do it!"

So I stayed up late, wincing at every pounce I heard upstairs. And, this morning, I picked the creature up off the stairs and disposed of the body.

*****

Back in the closet, not quite 24 hours after I'd seen the mouse, I was smoothing skirts and tugging at sleeves as I examined my body, clad in business clothes. I have shirts that go under sweaters, not jackets. I have soft, casual pants, not sharply tailored trousers. So I huffed with displeasure and glared into the mirror.

It's not that I don't own suits. I have a lovely navy with scalloped hems, rich brown that falls in sharp creases, deep gray wool-blend that's nearly fuzzy, a black nubby fabric and another that's more sleek. Each of them was slipped around my shoulders or over my hips while I turned and made faces at my reflection.

"I only need three," I stomped my foot after whining. I had one outfit packed - my favorite gray pants, a new black jacket and a pale purple blouse. "Could do this on the travel day," I mused, looking at a different pair of gray bottoms, a darker shade top and a cream and gray stripey jacket. Then I stared at the lavender dress and ruffled black jacket. It rested next to olive pants, taupe top and brown blazer. I had a pretty black skirt that flutters around my knees and could pair it with a shell in white and jacket in pale gray. I shrugged and threw them all in the suitcase. If I'm checking a bag, I may as well make it worthwhile.

*****

I'm off on another trip for a few days. And, as is typical when I fly, Nick (the PowerBook) stays home. Stay hopeful for me if it's not too much trouble - I'd like this particular exchange to go rather well.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Δ - Brindle, Snow and Energy Levels

I'll confess to a rather cynical view of one's ability to change. It's not that I don't believe in our inherent capability or even our desire to be better or happier, more faithful or less wasteful. But having spent years watching people gain the weight back, revert to bad habits and struggle against ingrained impulses, when someone mentions they have a plan in mind for a serious switch, my eyebrow quirks.

It was with joyful surprise that I praised Chienne this afternoon when she appeared at the opposite door to the bathroom. I'd gone in and closed one door as she moved toward it. Without hesitation, I heard her trot toward the stairs, move over the landing and, tags jingling and tail wagging, she came through the opposite, open door. "How smart are you?!" I cried, applauding heartily before bending to give kisses and pets. We celebrated for a moment before trying again and though I'm reasonably sure I heard her sigh as the door closed, she obediently trotted around again. I giggled and clapped and told her she was positively brilliant. So it's not that I lack belief in or appreciation for a creature's ability to learn and understand a novel concept. But given an open door nearest to her, Chienne is coming through it. It's only when that opening is closed and options are lacking that she'll go the long way, despite knowing how ridiculously happy it makes me.

I think of us a bit like electrons orbiting our given nucleus. We're very busy, of course, and quite good at our jobs. (Well, you all are obviously awesome. So let's say I'm OK and you cover for me sometimes.) Given appropriate motivation, I'll hop up an energy level and feel all special for doing so. Perhaps I will preen in my longer trip around the nucleus. I might look back at my former cohort and snort with disdain. But, sooner or later, I'm getting tired. And if the system isn't continually perturbed - if something isn't putting more and more energy into keeping me up there - I'm falling back down, settling into my natural spot with a sigh of relief (and an emission of radiation!). And if the other electrons look at me with smug satisfaction? Well, screw them, I'll think, waving my electron arms and kicking my electron feet with futile irritation. "You would have fallen back too," I'd mutter with a glare. "It's hard to stay up there! And those electrons in the outer shells? I think they'd come down here if we weren't taking all the good spots." Laziness justified and disappointment in myself hidden, I'd orbit as I always had, for that's what I know how to do.

There are obvious changes - I found time to snap pictures early in a snow storm and again after a few hours. It's lovely - the glistening, white fluff. I'll go scrape the sidewalks with my new shovel before bed. My argument is the sustainability of such changes. Snow melts when the temperature sneaks above a certain point, I'll think as I shiver and shovel. It gets muddy as tires and boots travel over it and will drift as the wind blows. Regardless of a flake's desire to buck a trend, it's pretty powerless against laws of nature.

Even while acknowledging disappointment in my failure to rise above hated habits, I retain some tiny glimmer of hope for others. So if you happen to be an electron above your energy level - or are eyeing that longer orbit with plans to make a leap - picture me sending you enough energy to keep you up there a bit longer, with many good wishes for the future. And, if you have a good story about sustainable change? Please advise. I'll just be napping over here in my ground state.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Search Terms

I've been thinking of writing another 100 Things post. But they're so much work, honestly. Looking through links, thinking of facts, making sure all the old stories aren't too revealing. Instead, since my relationship with SiteMeter rests somewhere between overly-friendly and nearly-obsessive, I decided to link to posts that are read most frequently by strangers. After all, on a holiday weekend, perhaps someone would like to click back and read something I've written before! No? Just me? Fair enough.

"Question Game"
My most popular search term goes to a post (for I'm #2 on Google) that's not particularly great. I'm not sure which question game people are referring to, but, for me, this is it. And I've played exactly twice.

The confession here is that I'm pretty good at flirting online. It's easy for me to find something attractive about various men who read and write blogs so I'm genuinely interested in what they think. I type quite quickly so exchange of innuendo is satisfyingly paced. I'm reasonably funny and nearly adorable at times and I've finally reached the point where I don't expect much more than mild entertainment from these fellows. (Does that make me sound cyber-slutty? Over the course of 3+years, there have been 6 men. So it's not like I'm breaking records here.) Anyway. While the question game is a boring post, it occupied a rather delightful evening with someone who is a rather big deal in the blogging world. I remember sitting on my couch early in my post-doc, feeling utterly enamored of the fact that I was spending time with someone I thought was sharply talented. So I giggled and fluttered and enjoyed the exchange of random facts and flattering comments. Good times.

"Transitional Relationships"
I top the Google list here, sadly, and it never fails to make my tummy hurt and my heart ache a bit when someone new arrives to read my thoughts on this abomination of human behavior.

You see, there was a time before my enlightenment on entertainment versus attachment when it comes to men online. In my experience, men tend toward email friendships when they're figuring something out - a need for space combines with a craving for contact and that's where chatting comes in. Then a decision is made, life circumstances shift and I'm left without an email buddy. It's always a bit sad, but - if put in perspective - it's not the end of the world.

Worst case scenario is seriously falling for someone. There's this odd combination of being entirely infatuated with who he appears to be and imaging that everything you don't know aligns to your expectations perfectly. So, early on, I fell in love with someone and, um, it didn't end well. A number of factors played in, but I fixated on the fact that someone was getting over a serious relationship. Hence my seething hatred for the concept of hurting someone new to get over someone old and my utter contempt for those who aren't apporpriately regretful about their part in such a horrible act.

"What does D&D mean?"
Oh, this is a better one! For every time I see that search term, I think, "Dungeons and Dragons, my dear" and grin. I did some blind dating in grad school.

"To Whom it May Concern"
This is another one I like people to read. I think it's light and funny and rather darling. Cover letters can be fun.

"Red velvet cake" + "moist" or "dry"
I'm very sorry, bakers. I don't know anything about how the cake is made - a fact utterly obvious if you read the post. I was trying to be clever with an analogy! About how nothing is ever perfect and expectations to that end will lead in disappointment. Which, interestingly enough, leads you to disappointment if you're looking for baking tips. Again, my apologies.

And then there are the minor ones -
Gnats - Look for sources of water. And spray stuff on your plants. Oh, and I'm so deeply sorry for you - gnats are evil and must be destroyed.
Lip twitching - Happens to me when I grow enraged or extremely nervous. It'll go away.
Puppy paws and stings - I have no training in animal emergencies so the official answer is get thee to a vet. But, were it me, I'd try to pluck out the stinger, give an antihistimine and apply antibiotic/anti-pain ointment. But I just write a blog, so, really, see a vet.
Minor Revisions - Then there are the people who look for me, which never fails to make me curious. Did you used to read and are checking in to see how I am? Pretty much the same - different place, a new job, similar problems to the past. But there's something lovely about how posts continue to accumulate in the hope that someone finds something useful here. Or, at the very least, sends me a moderately flirtatious email.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks! But, no.

"Do you want to talk to your mom?" Dad asked when I called this morning. I'd snuggled and slept until I no longer felt tired this morning, deciding as I drifted toward consciousness that I'd skip today and go home tomorrow.

Longtime readers may remember my distaste for this particular holiday. For me, it's the kind of minor family gathering that begs for a buddy. And I've never so much as invited a man to attend the annual feast. Which is OK - it doesn't send me into some deep crisis mode as it once did - but I still feel bitter toward a holiday meant to make us feel grateful for pointing out what I want but don't have. Mom was disappointed, obviously, but not crushed. And I embraced the concept of catching up on some work and napping without guilt.

Still, I think Thanksgiving is a good concept. And though I've nary a turkey in sight, I can still indulge in counting blessings. I have decided - in honor of the unconventional celebration I have going - to include only minor and random bits of goodness.

  • Gas fireplaces that flicker and warm without any effort in preparation.
  • Colleagues who forgive my faults and apologize for their own.
  • Lip gloss that makes me feel prettier.
  • Sprout leaving the end of a dead mouse in his food dish for easier disposal.
  • Friend applying for a job! (I grew worried and was getting scolded for my 'helpful' inquiries.)
  • A soft, big bed with upwards of 10 snuggly pillows.
  • Candles scented of laundry detergent.
  • Well-meaning comments and friendly discussions.
  • A cup of chili with sour cream and cheese for dinner.
  • Eating said dinner while watching the SpongeBob movie in an otherwise quiet house.
  • Diet Pepsi. It's very good.
  • Finding time to polish presentations and complete documentation for projects I adore but others see as low priority.
  • White wine. It might be better than Diet Pepsi.
  • A family phone call that assures all is well at home. And they're eager for my arrival tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Facts About Me

One: On particularly bad days, I get chips and guacamole on the way home.

I walk into Qdoba, for it’s on the way from office to home, and my heels click sadly across the tile floor. I pass the burrito-making workers, wandering past the majority of delicious items as I inform someone of my simple order. Then I stare through the glass as a small plastic cup is filled. They use a small paddle-like device. It’s white and with it, they scoop up the green glop and smoosh it into the translucent container.

After scooping some chips into a paper bag, they toss the guacamole – and salsa if I ask for it – on top, fold over the edge and exchange it for a couple of dollars. Because it’s always been a bad day when I do this, I force my lips to curve when I say thank you. Then I walk toward my car, climb inside, unfold the top of the bag and turn the key. I pry the little lid off the plastic container and tuck it in my left palm, fingers wrapped around the steering wheel. Then I slowly nibble on chips that have scooped up avocado-based goodness while I make my way home.

Two: I prone to giggles. When upset, however, I grow disturbingly quiet.

“So,” Beaker said after I put the guacamole in a cup holder and answered my phone, “you seemed frustrated at the meeting today and I thought we could talk things out.”

“I was frustrated,” I confirmed, though it had been blatantly obvious. We’d had a conference call since Beaker and BunsenBurner left early for the holiday and Adam had called my name a couple of times to make sure I was still on the phone. That’s not typically necessary. I did not laugh at jokes. I didn’t make cute comments. I asked no questions and the statements I made were sarcastic and sharp.

“It’s not,” I explained, for I actually like Beaker a lot, “that I have a problem with purple. But we had talked and talked about this. I thought we communicated very well – that we were cool with keeping each other up to date. But I’d been telling Adam tan and you said purple and I was obviously shocked.”

“I made you look bad in front of your boss,” Beaker said softly, sounding terribly guilty.

Three: I take it personally.

“Well, yes,” I agreed. “But more than that, you’re not letting me do my job! And I look bad sometimes – that’s OK. But we need a process that makes sense so this doesn’t happen again. I’m supposed to know what’s going on so I can plan around it and try to assist. But I can’t do that if you guys are strategizing against me. And I thought we were friends!”

“Katie,” Beaker said, beginning to explain.

“No,” I interrupted, full of hurt feelings and blinking back tears. “That was unprofessional – I’m sorry. I just think we need a mechanism that’s more effective.”

“Katie,” he began again, “I’m very sorry you were hurt. I understand completely and feel terrible about that. Really. It’s just that I’m shitty at my job lately and I didn’t want to do beige and tan became uglier the more I understood about it. So we all did strategize and decided purple made more sense. I didn’t even think – which makes me terrible – about how it would reflect on you.”

“We talked for thirty minutes before Adam came in,” I said, still hurt. “And you didn’t tell me.”

“I know,” he said. “I’m really sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“We’re learning,” I replied, trying to be OK again. “And it’s fine – you’re not at all shitty at your job. That’s just silly.”

“No,” he protested and gave me a list of reasons he felt justified in his evaluation. I returned with my own list – we’re all under pressure and feeling badly about not delivering everything despite a lack of time and money with which to accomplish anything.

Four: I'm probably not going to just let it go.

I did scold Microscope, replying to his email and addressing his message calmly. I then added, “Just as a note, I’m perfectly capable of understanding words that are not written in all capital letters. I find fully capitalized communication to be unacceptably condescending.” He apologized for his tone. I apologized for being overly sensitive.

Five: I'm good at making people feel sorry for me.

“It’s fine to deliver bad news,” Adam said after pulling me in his office. “You made the right call on [unrelated matter]. But you should have done it by phone. I used to use email for that stuff too, but the telephone helps them get their frustration expressed, you can listen and apologize over and over and then you hope for the best.”

I nodded in agreement but didn’t speak. “I’m not being hard on you,” he said, looking concerned. “I’ve done the same thing. It’s not a big deal – just a learning experience for next time.”

I nodded again and he frowned at me, rolling his chair closer and patting the hands I’d folded in my lap. “You’re right,” I finally said. “I screwed up.” He looked worried and assured me it wasn't a big deal. Then he patted my shoulder and told me I was doing a wonderful job. This was a lie.

Six: I'm better at feeling sorry for myself.

And so – thinking of tense phone calls and irritable email exchanges, requests I must refuse and moments when I’m lost and frustrated and exhausted – I reached for a Kleenex rather than guacamole.

I cried and cried, noisy and messy sobs that made me shudder and sniffle. I mopped my face when I was done, moving ever closer to my house, and swallowed hard. As I waited for the garage door to slowly rumble open, I placed the lid back on the plastic container and replaced it atop the bag of chips before folding over the edge. I extinguished the headlights and turned the key before opening the door and exiting the vehicle. My heels clicked sadly as I moved across the floor and up the two shallow steps.

Seven: Blog posts, oddly enough, serve to soothe and settle.

While my head aches from the crying, I am feeling better now. I can do this. It will all be fine.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Don’t Do That

“I know we’ve had this discussion multiple times,” I apologized to the three men in the room. “And I appreciate you setting up this meeting so we can wrap this up. So. We’re deciding between tan and beige, yes? Adam really likes beige, though I realize you all feel strongly about tan.”

Adam arrived a bit late and we sat at the table, discussing shades of brown. I knew Beaker was growing frustrated, though Flask and BunsenBurner kept their cools.

“Purple,” Beaker finally said. “I want purple!”

I blinked at him, mouth falling open a tiny bit in shock. Adam looked at me since it’s my job to understand these scientific resources and I shook my head and shrugged.

“Wait,” I offered gently, trying to recover. “We were talking about beige and tan. So even if we lean toward tan - which is what you wanted when we started here, you’re saying you like purple?”

“Yes. Purple,” Beaker insisted and I opened my mouth again, realized I had no idea what to say, and closed it before nervously nibbling my lip. Someone needed our room so we dispersed with an agreement to regroup tomorrow, Adam expressing shock at this development.

“Fuck me,” he sighed on our walk back to our building on campus.

“I know!” I agreed, having recovered sufficiently to throw a fit. “Purple! Where the hell did purple come from?! I’ve talked about this many, many times and I’ve heard nary a word about purple. I didn’t know,” I told him. “I feel stupid, but I was honestly shocked.”

“I could tell,” he said, mouth quirking into a grin. “Your mouth fell open – it would have been funny had I not been pissed.” I shook my head in response and he nudged me with his shoulder. “You,” he instructed, “talk to Beaker. It’s your job to predict outcomes and your people should not surprise you like that.”

“I know,” I nodded and met his gaze. “I’m sorry.”

He shrugged and waved his hand at me. “Talk to Beaker.”

“Beaker,” I said to his voice mail as I walked to my car later this evening. “This is Katie. So. Purple,” I paused to gather my thoughts. “Please give me a call – I need to understand what happened because that was... Well, we need to talk.” Realizing I’d let irritation slip into my voice near the end of my message, I clicked the phone closed and glared at it.

*****

I needed a favor from Microscope. I’d talked to his boss, Telescope, and his immediate superior, um, MagnifyingGlass. Telescope had indicated this was a reasonable request so I was asking more because I’m polite than because I needed permission.

MagnifyingGlass indicated that Microscope was far too busy to handle the favor. It simply couldn’t be helped. So I shrugged – I understand being overwhelmed – and said it seemed as though the project could be accomplished if Mirror would support locally, we avoided any unnecessary cost, burned a CD and informed the customer two was between one and three.

My frown turned into a glare which morphed into clenched teeth and fists as I read Microscope’s reply.

The cost IS NOT unnecessary. While there isn’t a process defined, you can’t break the rules that we’re going to establish someday. We’re not set up to burn CDs to distribute information. We can ONLY help if there is someone local to assist. There is NO WAY two isn't between one and three.

My reply?

Unless you mean to be ridiculously condescending or have the language skills of a particularly moronic cockroach, writing words in capital letters is unnecessary, inappropriate and outrageously annoying. I am able to read and am much more likely to appreciate your message if you don’t yell at me while you’re delivering it, you fucking jackass.

Having said that, perhaps the lack of capitalized text in my email left you confused, dumbass. Let me try to help, though I’m not sure you’re worth the effort.

I assumed, silly me, that you weren’t yet able to distribute complicated manuals via mental telepathy and instead had to store the information on some device – like a CD! Which you should like since both its letters are capitalized! – to transport it. Please accept my apologies for not understanding you exclusively recited information from memory. Do you scream during the most important parts as well?

I also clearly noted the order was one, two, three. You’re clearly incapable of understanding even the simplest of concepts, you microscopic excuse for a teeny-tiny man.

I did not have a good afternoon.

The First Fall

My hands were itchy, I think, and the discomfort of rubbing at my knuckles urged me awake around 4:00 this morning. I mumbled something to myself about a humidifier and smoothed on lotion. Pleased with the silky smoothness of my skin, I considered curling up to sleep a bit more. I got as far as tossing the lotion aside and wrapping myself around a fluffy pillow, but soon blinked a few times and decided I was up for the day.

I like mornings. There’s the promise of hours stretching ahead of me, filled with all categories of things to do and see and experience. Best of all, if I wake early enough, I can sometimes sneak in a nap! (I like to experience sleep.) Feeling a bit superior – I was awake, the neighbors were asleep. I’m so winning – I gasped with utter delight when I glanced out the window.

“Snow,” I uttered simply, stopping to stare. My lips curved and I blinked back a few tears. “I’ve missed you,” I whispered, feeling inordinately sentimental, and hurried to send email to a friend so someone would know of my great fortune. For this wasn’t the “Look at me! I’m a flurry! Oh, well, now you missed it.” type of winter weather. Instead, there was “Get some coffee, brush your teeth - I'm big and fluffy and jolly in my robustness. I'll be around.” snow. A substantial amount – two inches, I’d guess, if I had any talent of estimating such amounts – blanketed the ground in a glistening glow that brought to mind Christmas songs.

“Should have bought a shovel,” I noted, heading downstairs with coat, hat, gloves, shoes and socks. I started coffee and stood at the glass door, smiling eagerly at the flakes that drifted happily toward the ground. Sprout emerged from the dog door, looking up at me and offering an informative meow.

“I see the snow,” I told him, reaching to smooth stray flakes from his stripey coat. He purred, wandering to his empty bowl and offering another informative sound. I obediently offered kibble and considered the efficacy of a push broom against the snow on my sidewalk after I'd returned to my spot at the door.

“I am awesome,” I soon declared into the quiet morning, bundled up and armed with my broom. Shoving the wet, heavy masses of white toward the curb, I worked happily. I’ve wanted snow for years, feeling powerfully envious each time someone’s blog would boast snowy pictures or stories of winter inconveniences. I’m sure I’ll have my own – I’m good at pouting complaints – but for now, there’s snow. And it’s impossibly lovely.

(The photos, by the way, are taken from my bedroom deck and driveway, respectively. How blessed am I?!)