Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bug or Butterfly

Thinking myself in a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mood, I decided to stop at the store on my way home from work. There are some days when reality is visible only through a haze or hormones and my perception is either very distorted or perfectly clear – I’m not sure which. But it’s suddenly become evident that many facets of my current existence are not at all as I want them to be. I’ve already started fixing it – and it’s not that big a deal – but I stared at the screen of my computer at work, sighed over news that I won't hear about job decisions until after the upcoming conference and glanced at further comments on my paper from Boss, grabbed the latter and walked to my car.

It’s tricky, I decided on the silent drive to my house. I left the radio off and didn’t even scold the other drivers for improper lane usage or insufficient speed. Life sometimes looks like a butterfly and I'm happy to chase it around. Papers to publish, emails to send, jobs to explore, people to meet. Then something shifts and I realize it’s not a butterfly at all, but a big bug. And the bug is partially crushed and this frothy, yellow goo is oozing from the cracks in its shell. And I recoil and think that I don’t want that at all. Then I’m angry – at myself for being stupid and at the big bug for tricking me.

“Ma’am?” A mere wisp of a Southern girl called as she crossed the lane in the parking lot where I was exiting my car. I raised an eyebrow, leaving the rest of my face the resigned pout I’d long since adopted for the day, and waited. “Do you have a cell phone?” At this I looked suspicious and nodded. “I locked my keys in my car and I need to call my boyfriend.”

I nodded and began to paw my wallet aside, searching my purse for the small, silver lump that could transmit her message. “Here you go,” I said, handing it over and I shrugged when I saw that she was twitchy with nerves. But being sad makes me listless so I glanced around the parking lot through the dark lenses of my sunglasses and waited. I noticed she had a butterfly tattooed on her neck and I wondered at the pain that must have been involved in that. Then I shook my head – butterflies are deceptive bastards, I remembered. Just bugs in disguise.

“He’s not home,” she told me and I sighed.

“I have AAA,” I reluctantly replied. “It will take them awhile to get here though.”

“My baby’s in the car!” she said, looking in the back window again. I frowned as my brain snapped to attention and moved to look for myself as she dithered about her next move. I peered through the back window and saw a tiny foot kick at the edge of a deep rear-facing car seat.

“Call the police,” I said, turning to see that she had dialed another number and was waiting.

“I’m sure he’s home,” she told me and I crossed my arms with impatient irritation. She sighed and blinked at me and asked what she should do next.

“Call the police,” I repeated calmly, finally understanding her distress. “It’s all fine – your daughter is OK. But we need to get to her soon, so you’ll call the police and they’ll come let you in the car.”

“I’ll call my boyfriend once –” I interrupted her statement by holding my hand out for the phone.

“Nine one one,” I ordered firmly, keeping my gaze steady and my voice serious and commanding and nodded when she finally dialed. She spoke – giving her location and name and problem and requested someone hurry in a trembling voice. She looked at me with wide eyes when she finished and held my phone out toward me.

I took it and assured her someone would be here soon. She tapped at the back window again and I almost told her the child wasn’t a flipping goldfish. There was no reason to tap at the glass – she needed to get inside.

“Do you think they’ll hurt the car?” she then asked, smoothing her finger worriedly over the new vehicle. At that point I almost asked her to confirm that just about anybody could have kids, regardless of stupidity or selfishness. But I bit back my words and instead offered to wait with her until the police arrived. After she refused three times, I again told her it would all turn out right in the end and walked in the store.

By the time I’d selected soda (Pepsi products were on sale and I do like Diet Pepsi) and bread and plucked a package of oatmeal raisin cookies off the shelf, I glanced out the large front windows to the parking lot and smiled when I saw her speaking to a police officer. I chatted with the boy who checked me out, grinning back at him without intending to when he congratulated me on the excellent price I found on soda. I wandered out to the parking lot, pushing my cart in front of a second police car who was just arriving in time to see the first man start his paperwork after the damsel in distress flitted off to pick up her older daughter from school.

“You can’t even shop in peace,” A woman said to me as she pushed her cart to the corral.

“Pardon?” I asked as I tugged upward on the trunk and began to move cases of soda from cart to car.

“She was just shopping,” the woman waved her hand toward the police cars that had stopped together to confer, “and they gave her a ticket!”

“No, no,” I corrected her politely and shook my head for emphasis. “She locked her keys in the car and her baby was inside. The police came when she called so they could open her door.”

“Oh,” she said, visibly surprised, and glanced back at the police. I looked too, returning the gesture when one of the men waved, and realized that sometimes what first looks like a big bug turns out to be a butterfly after all.

“Everything’s fine,” I told her and smiled indulgently when she opened her door and told her companion that the police were actually doing something nice.

Good blog story, I decided. But I baked the cookies anyway.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Good Gossip

I am not always a nice person. I can be sarcastic and range from vaguely annoyed to insanely enraged by people. I snort with laughter over stupid mistakes or idiotic statements. I make fun. And I do it behind people's backs.

"I swear when he interviewed that he had a wife. But now he's here and doesn't mention her and doesn't wear a ring. I guess some men don't wear rings, but I think he would. He's kind of tall and has a hooked nose that looks like a beak, so a ring would say, 'Hell, yes, women find me attractive. I'm married!' So I think he would wear one." I blinked in surprise and choked back a giggle when, after she finished her statement, my lunch companion's eyes went wide and she covered her mouth. "I shouldn't have said that," she breathed. "I'm sorry."

"No, no." I waved my hand and paused between bites of scrambled egg while looking toward the pancakes on my plate with longing. (I couldn't eat them first because then syrup would have contaminated the eggs. And that would be sick and wrong.) "You're fine! I have a friend from grad school and when I met all her new friends - the ones she works with now? I told her they were fantastic and I meant it. But, I said that they're so nice! How can you call people names and roll your eyes at their beliefs and chortle at their misfortune because you secretly think they deserve it? She told me she couldn't and said that's why we were still friends. So I'm awful too! Gossip away!"

She nodded and looked relieved and we continued to swap stories. We'd met earlier at my desk - a collaborator and I - and walked across campus in bright sunshine and cool breezes. I admired her shoes (3 inch heels and she's 5'10". It's a good thing she's delightful or I'd have to hate her for being absurdly gorgeous. It hurt my neck to look up at her while we were standing together and talking.) and she complimented my hair as we moved toward a row of restaurants for our lunch outing. We found a cute place that serves breakfast all day and sipped water while venting.

"So I told Boss he should send her email and tell her to move her things from that desk she hasn't used in six months," I said in a superior tone while Annabelle nodded her support. "I mean, if nobody needed it, that would be one thing. But there's a new student and he's deskless! And she hasn't been there forever! It's selfish," I concluded and nodded decisively.

"He's a great collaborator, but he stores everything on multiple paper copies! I can't even fit in his office and he keeps making me print more work when I can see it sitting on the desk he buried under printer paper! I just want to take a big recycling bin in there and clean!" Annabelle finished by throwing her hands up and I made a sympathetic face.

"I poked him once," I confided when it was my turn again and she nodded eagerly, "and he's built! I was annoyed when I jabbed at him with my finger," I showed her my right index finger for clarity, "but then I was distracted by how hard his arm was." She looked thoughtful for a moment, then said she might have to find a reason to poke him too.

"They're adorable but he drives terribly!" Annabelle giggled. "I had to restrain myself from screaming when I rode in the backseat while he drove and his wife rode up front. And then I was almost sick by the time we got home from all the weaving and abrupt stopping!"

"I send one of my friends 20 emails a day instead of banging my head on the wall," Annabelle said and I nodded.

"I send Friend a lot of email too - people are in the conference room I need, I have to bug Boss every day to get comments on papers back or someone made me sit to wait for 30 minutes for a meeting! I think it's good to get it out."

And, for me, that's true. There are precious few people to whom I can turn and say, "Stop. You're Really Bugging Me." And I don't need to complain directly to the offender about a desk or mess. People have their quirks and while I embrace some of them, I grit my teeth at others. And telling other people about those annoying people is entertaining and funny and somehow helpful. Much of the time, there's nothing to be done about a given situation. It would not be good for me to seethe to a collaborator that if we say 3:00 for a meeting, be ready at 3, you self-important jackass! Instead, I take deep breaths, remind myself that impatience is a flaw of mine and wait. Then afterward, I tell a friend that said collaborator apparently wants to be a swarthy pirate because he really should shave. Or that I heard he can't be last author on papers because of some political power struggle so he's still battling his students for the first author spot. And we nod knowingly or shake our heads sadly at his lack of good taste or departmental structure. Then the next time I meet him, I can think 'What's up, matey?' and be amused rather than annoyed.

I could go back and look, but if memory serves, there have been no shortage of posts about VIMD (very important MD). She's a Really Big Deal and she knows it. Since my role was basically to make her life easier and reduce the time spent on this clinical trial to the bare minimum, I had to waste a lot of my time and take some hits to the ego to be effective. It took a long time for her to decide I wasn't a feeble-minded grad student (and was instead a reasonably-intelligent post-doc), but I realized we've worked together for well over a year now. And complaining to friends (hello, blog friends!) kept me sane while saying OK to needless requests or calling to check on that report yet again or putting in more time waiting for her to show up where she said she'd be. Yet that patience and attitude paid off. She likes me. We talk and laugh and she trusts that when I say something is right or done, I am correct.

"So you can have these," she said after we met briefly yesterday afternoon. I tugged at my shirt again - it was clingy and the bra I wore (one of the few I own that isn't white) did not work to reduce attention to that fact (Hey! Another example of things you tell friends and not colleagues!) - and took the papers though I'd already made my own notes. "And do you know anything about these?" she asked and my eyes widened with dismay. "They were on my desk when I got back from my trip," she explained, "and I don't know what they're for."

"I did it," I confessed, holding my hand out to take the stack of papers. "I'm sorry! I was going through files in here while you were away and I took out redundant copies of paperwork. I meant to shred them. I must have forgotten and left them in here instead. That's not good."

Perhaps seeing I was sincerely upset about this instead of being secretly pleased that I'd inconvenienced her, she smiled and shook her head. "It's fine," she said. "I put them aside for you anyway since you deal with all of this. I just didn't know if something more had come in."

"No," I sighed and shook my head. "I just came in and made a mess while you were gone. I really am sorry." She waved her hand and told me to forget it and I smiled sheepishly in return. On my way to toss them in a confidential trash bin, I realized I really do like her. I'm glad I got through this particular project and credit the willingness of people to listen while I whine and complain and huff out sighs of frustration with being able to do it.

"Don't tell Jason," A friend of a Friend said after she'd poured out her awful story about a miserable colleague. When Friend said she wouldn't tell anyone but me, I realized that gossip serves its purpose (or what I see as its purpose) only if it remains a harmless bit of private conversation. If anyone associated my full name with this blog in a public way, I'd take it down. It would hurt me to do so, but the cost of people reading about how stupid I thought they were one Tuesday or how that minor slight made me majorly angry last June would be far too high.

It's not my intention to hurt feelings or create conflict. I never want Penguin to know that I call him that or that I thought it was positively hysterical when he lost his voice that time. It finally hurt him as much to interrupt as it did me to be interrupted! It's a secret that I could have stabbed Dawn with a fork because she's so outrageously opinionated about everything at last year's retreat. I don't even want Brother's Wife to know I think she's painfully stupid. The point is to vent and move on. When one is as passionately dramatic as I am, irritation peaks and something has to shift for me to let it go. That shift is encouraged by gossip. And perhaps that's immature, but I can't help thinking it would be more so to gather a group of friends and talk about someone in full view of said person. Then feelings might get hurt, conflict is created because the attacked gets friends and battles back. Which just seems silly to me. Are there not more important things to do? Pancakes to eat? So I could lists blogs that make me roll my eyes and name ones I simply avoid reading because I think it gets ridiculous. But I won't.

I'll just snicker about them quietly with my friends.

Gowns, Glitter and Grime

"I am grimy from petting you," I told the puppies (!!) who are, I think, big enough to be called dogs. It rained here yesterday and so the mud (and the smell) should not have been appealing on the creatures. I had just pulled myself off the kitchen floor where we'd been cuddling and looked at my formerly-blue-but-now-brown shirt and shook my head while wiping puppy slobber off my chin. But Gray and Golden looked at me, both resting on their backs with tummies exposed for pets and I smiled and bent to sit on the floor again.

"You're just so pretty," I told them as they both scrambled to their feet and battled for the ideal place on my lap to kiss my chin while I looked at the ceiling again. I giggled before looking down at them and nudging the hair away from Gray's eyes and kissing Golden's muzzle. "I love you. Yes, I do. Because you're such good girls!" I continued to coo and pet and accept more kisses than I ducked as Cousin made dinner and Little Cousin played dress up.

"The wand makes noise," Cousin told her daughter when they opened the present I brought soon after we hurried through the rain to their front door. Waving it around (it went with the skirt and wings and tiara included with the 'how to be a fairy' kit!), it did emit a noise. Golden hid herself under my arm, ears perked with curiosity even as she huddled close, and Gray found a spot on my lap and buried her face under the hair at my neck.

"I think it scares the puppies," I told Little Cousin and smiled when she looked at them with big, blue eyes as she sat on Cousin's lap.

"It does have magical powers," Friend noted from her seat at the table, still looking rather zombie-like. I don't think she truly woke up all day. Little Cousin soon abandoned the fairy costume for a too-big-but-still-lovely pink gown. She would tug at the sleeves when they slipped off her shoulders and I glanced at Cousin to confide that her daughter was ridiculously pretty. She smiled and nodded. I grinned back at her and told her that glitter was still on her cheek from when she opened the fairy costume. Otherwise clad in holey jeans and an old t-shirt, I still thought Cousin lovely but was cheered at the sparkle of light that sometimes appeared on her left cheek.

"Every time I see it glitter, I think, 'Cousin's fancy!'" I told her and she laughed.

"I'll leave it alone then," she said, moving her hand away from where it had been rubbing her cheek. "To give you that moment of joy." I smiled and thanked her.

We all had dinner, talking afterward about how we felt pretty salty. The reubens, with their pats of butter and corned beef, sauerkraut and two slices of swiss were fantastic. But salty. After eating too much, Cousin and her husband began to clean up while I stood from my seat at the far end of the table. Jay glanced over and shook his head at my appearance.

"We're pretty eco-friendly here," he said and I nodded. "So we decided on a new floor for the kitchen. It's made of dirt. And we're well on our way!" I laughed at him and looked down at my clothes then at the puppies who were wet again from going outside in the rain. "Some people call it packed earth, but we're just going for dirt," he concluded and I nodded.

"Just wait a couple more days," I advised, "then wait for the magazines to document your brilliance."

We had pudding (with chocolate chips!) a bit later and watched Little Cousin don still one more different dress. After one more cuddle session with the puppies (!!), they abandoned me for Jay as he doled out food for the dogs and cats. So Friend and I gave hugs and wandered to the car to make our way back to my house.

"I think I'll take Benadryl earlier tonight," she decided.

"Good plan," I agreed. "You were mostly out of it all day."

"There were moments of consciousness," she said mildly. "But I was really tired." I nodded.

"I'm going to shower when we get home," I noted. "My hair is even icky from when I'd duck my head to stop the kisses to my face. And I feel grimy. So I'll shower - and wash my hair - again today, I think."

"Good plan," she said, still uncharacteristically docile. "You smell."

I paused when I realized I couldn't even tell, so used to the wet dog and oddly farm-like odor that it was just fading into the background for me. But I pushed back a lock of gnawed-on hair and wiped at my chin with the back of one dirty hand and decided it had been a wonderful day. And though I was removing my clothes before even getting to the master bathroom and hopped in the shower to ease a good deal of dirt off my body and down the drain, the easy contentment lingered even after I was nice and clean and not-smelly.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Upgrade

Nothing particularly bad has happened - my uncharacteristic absence was more the result of not having much to discuss.

"We are fascinating," Friend said yesterday and I laughed very hard in response. We were seated side by side on her couch, both our laptops open with our respective boxes of Leopard (software, not the cat. I don't think you can buy leopards, honestly.) lying about. I had decided to check the DVD before performing the erase and install while Friend has skipped the consistency process.

"But it didn't work before," I protested of the free DVD she obtained from campus. "What if something goes wrong again?"

"Seeing as the free DVD already erased my hard drive," she explained, "what more could happen?" I nodded thoughtfully and we sat, both of us watching little bars on laptop screens slowly fill with blue as progress was made.

"I think something cool will happen when it's finished," I noted smugly of my willingness to wait for the quality check.

"I think that little bar will go away and the bigger bar at the bottom will start to slowly turn blue," she predicted. When I looked at her moments later, crestfallen, she nodded and smiled, looking a bit smug herself. I shrugged and began to watch the bigger bar turn blue as my hard drive was erased and the new operating system was installed.

"I'm pleased that the Mac people thought you were cool," I told her and she nodded. I'd been on her couch most of the day, exhibiting rather tireless insanity as I coaxed Nick (my laptop) to check the free DVD 3 times. She worked at the table across the room, removing the cover of her MacBook, exclaiming over all the cat hair inside, and installing a new DVD drive. Apart from a couple of exclamations ("It's taped together!" she cried at one point, horrified. "Look at all this tape! Everything's sort of placed in the correct place, then they put some sticky stuff on it and hope for the best?!" I walked over to look - there's lots of yellow tape. She's right about that.) ("Oh, great," she said a couple of times. "Use plastic for that. Fine.") she finished fairly quickly. The new drive works quite well and she even took her keyboard off, showed me how flexible it was, and blew canned air and plucked cat hair between the keys to see if it would work better.

"I probably could work there," she mused of the owner's offer after he took our credit cards for the software. "I mean, I might break stuff sometimes, but my guesses are usually good and I can fix a lot of stuff." I nodded.

I beamed when Nick made it through the install. I'm not convinced there isn't a hardware issue, but the erase may have helped him out. I'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I've started to fix the appearance and download software and organize everything that had become hopelessly messy before. It's great fun!

"I can't stand it," I finally said to Friend, giving up on whatever I was looking for online and glaring at the fox picture in my dock. "Firefox is supposed to be a sheep! Where are my barnyard icons? And I need to get Office installed so Word, PowerPoint and Excel can be Elephant, Tiger, Dinosaur again!"

"You realize your icons have nothing to do with the actual application," Friend noted. "It seems that would decrease productivity."

"I know what they mean," I replied. And I do. Is a sheep not friendlier than a fox? And elephant, tiger, dinosaur are the right colors so I always remember which Office application they open. I use a mailbox for Mail (which is already set up, but I keep my lists and notes on iGoogle. So those upgrades don't impress me.). It all works out. (And you can see in the screen capture I included that the icons are all friendly and cute again.)

I do like that there's a downloads folder. I'm trying to adjust to the stacks feature - I don't know if I can get on board. I love Cover Flow in Finder. I didn't expect to fall so completely and quickly in love, but I did. And when I woke this morning, I smiled at the thought of playing more with the computer (who has 33GB of free space rather than the 1 I gave it only a few weeks ago) and am now coughing (yes, still.) and clicking in the living room. Matlab copied over beautifully, sparing me the installation pain of the past. I have other software to compile. I was going to just skip it and use programs at work but Friend looked at me with shock that I wasn't going to at least try. I'm currently installing the developer tools so I can compile things myself. I hope she's prepared for some serious muttering and whining later today.

"You know," I said to Friend yesterday after another long silence (we did a lot of waiting for files to copy and install or computers to restart), "it's telling of how much I like your company that this has been a rather pleasant day." Because it doesn't sound fun - the scowling and beaming in turn when things fail or succeed. Waiting and recreating a system that used to be mostly functional before I messed it all up. But it was a very nice day overall.

I glanced at her to see her nod in response. Pleased, I then tried to decide how my folders should look, and which dinosaurs should be assigned to work folders. I went with orange and green.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Defeat

I was sitting in the corner of my loveseat the night before last, reading and writing with Nick perched on a pillow on my lap. I was a bit sleepy and pretty relaxed when body tensed and heart raced at the commotion at the front of my house. I immediately closed the laptop and blinked frantically to hurry the process of adjusting my vision to the darkened room and shrank back into my seat away from the large window and nearby door.

Someone was trying to break in, I thought, and my fingers tingled, so extreme was the sudden terror. There was pounding on some surface and the heightened emotions didn't allow me to discern whether the intruder was attacking through the door or window. Did I lock the door? Where could I run and hide? Why wasn't Friend here to do something useful while I cowered in a corner? Was the dog not coming to protect me at all?!

My eyes finally adjusted and I moved the laptop aside to prepare for my immediate flight from the room. The intruder was already inside! The closed blinds were moving over the front window! Why don't I lock my windows? I don't really have items worth stealing, I thought miserably and paused as I clumsily struggled off the loveseat.

Then I saw a stripey tail twitching below the windowsill where it emerged from behind the blinds.

"Sprout?" I called, unsure and still scared. The noise stopped for a moment and as the terror eased, I realized I could hear him growling and hissing from his perch on the windowsill. I didn't realize he could push aside the wide blinds that covered the window and sneak behind them. They continued to clatter as he pounced against the glass. His paws thudded forcefully - he's gained some weight and is a pretty hefty guy right now. The white blinds shifted as he moved and he continued to hiss. "Sprout?" I called again, a bit concerned and wilting as the fear receded.

I walked carefully across the room, saying his name repeatedly so he wouldn't attack me when I went to help him out of his predicament, and slowly pulled the left edge of the blinds away from the window. My action earned me an annoyed glance rather than a grateful escape from my stripey cat and I pounced on the outlet for my overwrought emotions.

"Out, out, out!" I ordered him, standing aside so he could obediently move through the opening I created. He turned to look out the window again instead and I became enraged. "Sprout George LastName!" I shouted. "You will do what you're told! You scared me - which was sick and wrong - and you Can Not stay back there to do it again! Get out! Now!"

He finally stood and stretched before leaping down on the carpet. Then he stared at me again, obviously unimpressed by my display of extreme annoyance. I took a breath and began to politely explain why it would be better to use another window with blinds pulled up for his convenience while I settled the covering back in place over the front window.

"You broke it!" I gasped and glared at him. "I've lived here three years and I'm getting ready to move and you broke one of my blinds! What is wrong with you?" I stomped my foot three times, so upset was I by this development and he was finally startled enough to scamper down the hall. I muttered to myself and stomped back to the loveseat to tell Friend.

me: Sprout just broke a blind in the front window and had me convinced someone was trying to break in. Now I'm Pissed.
He just went back there again and I had to yell at him again!
Friend: Ah
10:08 PM me: I was scared!
Friend: He was back there last night too.
me: No more. Well, at least while I'm watching.
Friend: Yes.
Maybe.
me: He was growling and hissing and throwing himself at the window!
Then he wouldn't move when I lifted the blinds - just stared out the window.
Dammit!
Friend: It would probably be easier to just open them a few inches
10:09 PM me: And let him win?!
Friend: Yes.
He will in the end anyway.

He continued to move back to his new favorite spot throughout the evening and I would sternly scold him each time. I even had a tennis ball ready to lob at him if he started to ignore me. But Sprout is nocturnal and I am not, so I eventually went - muttering all the while - and raised the blinds a bit so he wouldn't break more of them.

I woke this morning after sleeping long and hard last night. I went to bed early - before 9 - and woke around 6 feeling achy and slow. So I wandered down the hall, stopping to scrub at my teeth, and poured coffee. I flopped on the loveseat and smiled when I saw a pale yellow dog trotting at the side of his running person. That's nice, I thought and sipped my coffee before wondering what was different.

My eyes widened when I realized that my schefflera plant - which is absolutely huge now - was lying on its side on the carpet. I had scooted it closer to the window in a last ditch effort to discourage Sprout from hanging out there. Instead, it took him only 2 nights to knock the impressive greenery and large pot over. It was obviously in his way.

I walked over and settled the pot back on its base and nudged it back from the window to avoid future toppling. I went to the hall to fetch the vacuum - to get the black soil off my cream carpet - and was faced with a curious cat who was coming toward the living room.

"You." I said accusingly and something in my tone - or the fact that I was standing up - must have warned him because he stopped. I yanked open the closet door and pulled out the vacuum. "It's obviously too much to ask that you leave the front window alone. No - you have to break stuff and knock plants over just because it pleases you to do so. You are an ass. And I don't like you very much right now."

He peeked around the corner while I scooped dirt into the pot by hand and carefully vacuumed the area. I watered on Saturday so things were dry enough that the carpet cleaned fully and quickly. I wanted to win, I realized after I finished. But I was demoralized and soundly defeated and sighed with that knowledge.

I felt much the same yesterday while looking at Boss's comments on my paper. He was leaving them on my desk when I arrived Tuesday and we talked about some concepts before he left me with pages heavy with black notes and highlighted sections. I read them three times while I waited to get my hair cut and had some lunch and again when I was waiting at my laser appointment the day before yesterday.

He's right, I realized, feeling both grateful and sad. I focused on a very subtle finding that was what I was originally after. But in the process, I found a huge difference which seemed very obvious to me. So I glossed over it - it merited a short mention in the results while I was on my way to my main point. It didn't even show up in the discussion.

Boss made various suggestions and asked some leading questions, then moved on to change some of my wording and compliment my writing in other areas. He's very kind and respectful in his mentoring - never showing the slightest frustration that I'm still not getting it. After heavy revisions on graduate work and several rounds of work on this paper, I still don't see the world as clearly as I could. I still don't write well enough to convince people that the research is important.

Once I noticed it, I saw the point very clearly. I found old graphs, made three new figures and currently think that this 'obvious' thing is probably the more important of the two findings. I'm mulling over how I want to restructure the paper - it is very cleanly written so there can be a lot of copying and pasting of what I currently have. But I need to read about what these results mean and make sure my initial interpretation is supported by the literature. I'm getting it - I can think about it and quantify it and interpret it. But the fact remains that I didn't notice it. I'm better now than I was - I've learned a lot in the past three years - but I'm still not where I think I should be.

Boss would argue that point, I'm sure. Friend would tell me I'm being too hard on myself. But I'd still hand you a tennis ball to lob at me and note that I'm looking to get out. The thought of doing another post-doc makes me cringe. Not that I couldn't learn more or that I'm at all too good to do that level of work. And there are parts of this lifestyle that I adore.

"When I think about what I like and what I'm good at," I told Friend as we were talking about this very topic, "industry or academic staff positions seem most reasonable." The looks on people's faces when I say that indicate I'm wronging them. I've been trained to do research. I have a lot of the qualities that indicate I'd be good at it. I'm learning and improving, but it's not fast enough. So now I wait (and write) and hope that one of the two potential jobs can hand me the white flag.

My cat has already done so.

Note: I realized as I edited this that I sound utterly defeated. That's probably true, but I'm not sad about it. I really think this is the right thing for me and would be thrilled to get either of these jobs. I feel happy when I picture myself in those roles and given the opportunity, I would take it. The other point that emerges is that I'm grossly impatient. I can't defend that - the truth sometimes hurts.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Ontology of Bags

Minor Revisions: Where the Learning Never Stops.

PhysioProf had the question this time (and I always welcome questions and the opportunity to photograph my belongings) so I'll try to explain the way I name belongings-carrying items.

In the interest of doing so properly, I threw a few bags off my closet shelves and toward the bathtub where I arranged them by type. So we have (left to right): purses, totes and laptop bags.

Purses
So we'll start with purses. You'll notice I like brown and oblong shapes. But I tried to add some variety to illustrate my point. So we have black leather (that was the one I got in Chicago - tres chic, yes?), blue cloth (It's whimsical, dammit! Don't judge me for the Tinkerbell purse!), some sort of plaid pleather-type-stuff (it's a faux-Burberry) and brown suede. Note the variety of sizes even in the small selection I've shown. I don't always match my purse to my shoes, but I did buy the black because I knew I'd be in that color heels the following day. So you might think that purses are smaller than totes, but I'd argue it's more a question of quality than size.

Totes
This brings us to the discussion of totes. I define these as casual bags that generally hold more than the purses I carry and that were free or extremely cheap. Gifts with purchase (green Clinique) or perks of membership plans (black BooksAMillion), and from Dove promotions (quilted brown and blue one in the back). I do like the Dove bags.

Due to their 'I'm a bonus item!' nature, they tend not to be as structured as purses. There are rarely divided compartments but the good ones will have a little pocket on the inside or outside for small items (lip gloss, a bit of cash and the like). You don't take a tote out shopping or to the theater. You bring it to the beach! Or perhaps to the office when you're not carrying a laptop! They're casual and cute!

Laptop Bags
But there are days when a bit of professionalism is required and the pale green Clinique bag just won't do. The laptop bags I buy are generally very organized - multiple compartments, places to put pens and a cell phone and mesh pockets with zippers and pockets and dividers and...well, I could go on but I won't. They must be large enough to hold Nick and the hope is that they offer a bit of padding to cushion the laptop when you set it down. These carry a good deal of paper without wrinkling it. Are pretty durable. And rather pricey.

I just noticed that Citronella warned in the comments, " Dear PhysioProf : you're asking for trouble." To which I reply: Too late now! So let's review.

You might look at the picture on the left of the panel and say it looks large enough to be a tote. Bite your tongue! That's an actual Burberry! Yes, it's a bit old, but it's a beautiful bag! Obviously a purse.

Now you might be afraid of my wrath and not so eager to ask more questions. So I'll give you that the little cutie in the middle is a tote. Note the puckered stitching and happy yellow color. Does it not belong at the beach? Of course it does. And I think it was an Avon gift my mom gave me. Casual, nearly free = Tote.

The brown guy on the right side looks a lot like a tote, yes. But it is not. I paid for it - I needed a brown bag that was a bit more professional - and it has pen holders and 2 compartments. Laptop bag, obviously.

I hope that clarifies some issues. And because I am a just and merciful blogger, I didn't get into overnight bags versus carry-ons (which overlap with laptop bags, I think). Nor did I show you my collection of backpacks that I haven't used in years. Now, who has more questions?

Oh! And the panda? It would work on any one of these. It's like a miracle! I love the panda ever so much...

Behold The Panda!

OK, CAE, see the silver curvy thing at the top? That's the magnificent gift I received. It has a little clip that attaches to my keys and is basically a silver loop with a panda on one side. So I originally cooed over its cuteness but had no idea what in the world I was supposed to do with it.

So I turned the panda this way and that way and cocked my head at the panda and smiled at the panda. Then I dug the cardboard piece that came attached to the panda out of the garbage where I'd hastily thrown it.

I frowned at the picture and attached it to my keys, then frowned at the picture again. "Never lose your keys again!" it claimed and I thought that sounded nice. I don't like digging for my keys and often find myself wondering what pocket I dropped them in when I'm carrying a laptop case or tote or purse. So, following the instructions, I hung it on the side pocket of my bag.

So the keys go inside the bag, the panda hangs outside the bag, nibbling on his little bamboo snack there, and then when I'm ready to find my keys, I say, "Hello, Mr. Panda!" (or think that sentence if there are people around) and I'm good to go.

The power of the panda. Pure brilliance.

Monday, April 21, 2008

My Day On Campus

I work from home a lot. In fact, before today, the last time I was on campus was April 9 for about an hour. Before that, I think April 4 for a half day. As I've disengaged from projects here - started to write and analyze without any real thought toward collecting more data or initiating new projects - there's nothing overly exciting to do at work. So though I love my desk and all my pretty stuff, I also like being able to watch TV while in pajamas and take naps whenever I feel sleepy.

You might think this would get me in some trouble. Is nobody upset that I'm not here? Well, no. Not really. I'm brilliantly productive on paper - far more than any of the other post-docs in my cohort - and can offer a list of things that I've been working on even if the past four days were spent online and plotting the murder of those spikey weeds in my back yard. So nobody's ever said or hinted that it might be good to put in more time. Well, except Friend. But she works 10 hour days! So she's obviously jealous of my flexible (read: nonexistent) schedule. And it's not as if I never do work - I write and analyze and edit and read. Sometimes I do those things a whole lot. But while others might debate about teaching and service, I think more about which novel to read or when good TV starts again. And in all that time that my brain rests and swims through its sea of thoughts, some good ideas occur to me and I come up with new paper topics. So it all works out - my luxurious, little life here.

"You even have stuff to do today!" Friend coaxed as I drove, face firmly set in a pout, toward her house. I glanced down, spared a thought that I did like my pretty white skirt with the clusters of blue flowers and then frowned again. "Files to check and a boss to bother!"

"I could do that tomorrow," I sighed. "Or next week - whatever. I'm tired! I want to sleep more. And I can't get those files until 2 and we'll get there," I glanced at the clock on the dash and calculated time spent petting cats and having Prettiest Cat take a pill, "around 11. I don't have enough work to do for 3 hours!" But pet cats we did, all six of us (me, Friend, Prettiest Cat, Largest Cat, Cat Who Loves Too Much and Suspicious Cat) finally flopping on Friend's soft bed. I snuggled a pillow under my cheek and smoothed the coat of whoever was closest while drifting pleasantly, eyes closed.

Things were not so good once I arrived at work. I found a spot to park, enjoyed the way my skirt flounced around my knees when I pranced to catch the bus, then emptied my bag of various files once I arrived at my desk. I tapped my fingers and made a thoughtful face when everything was nice and clean. Email went into the folders I keep on Belle's (the iMac) hard drive. Papers went into drawers and cabinets organized to hold them. And it was 11:02.

I wandered down the hall, flip flops flip-flopping, and crouched to check my mailbox. I had journals and a seminar notice and glanced at them both before tossing them away. Then I sent another email to the publisher asking that they cease with the monthly mailings. I don't like or want them.

It was 11:05.

I walked to our new secretary's office and got a travel form for my upcoming trip. While I was slowly and carefully entering my personal information on the proper lines, I decided I might as well start printing receipts for registration and flights. I returned a paper-clipped packet to her at 11:07. Then I spent another minute glaring at list of things to do I keep on iGoogle. I moved Firefox aside and clicked on the appropriate icon to open a folder for a long-neglected project. Then blinked at the names that appeared in the window. I had absolutely no clue as to what this crap was, I realized. So I looked in my online lab notebook and couldn't find it there either. Muttering about how lab notebooks aren't useful if one doesn't create entries, I started to search old email to clues. A fresh note to a collaborator and subsequent hints later, I began to process data in Matlab, concurrently noting the appropriate steps on the blog I keep for that purpose.

Once I started feeling productive, it got easier. I wrote a note to DayByDay, asking after her wee one. I got to see more pictures, which made me happy. The wee one is ever so gorgeous. I finished an email to Steve, my industry contact. I wrote a few sentences that were beautiful - both in the way they were constructed and the message they conveyed. Pleased, I sent it off and am waiting to hear back. I made plans to meet OldestStudent at the upcoming conference to talk her through post-doc application materials and listen while she debates options (Advisor isn't so good about making people comfortable in such meetings) and decided on a day next week for lunch with another collaborator.

Marlie arrived, back from a meeting, and we chatted for a few minutes before she set to work. Ken arrived and mentioned there was food in the lunch room so I walked down the hall to steal a sandwich and some tiny desserts. Pleased that it was just after 1PM, I nibbled on chicken salad with pepperjack cheese and decided between the fudgy cookie with the pie crust and the coconut/chocolate chip bite of goodness. I went to wash my hands (and make sure I hadn't gotten crumbs on my shirt - I do that) and returned to find a small bag on my desk.

"I got you a present," Marlie explained and I gasped with delight.

"A gift? For me? Thank you!" I breathed, eagerly peeking inside. I withdrew a metal panda and puzzled over its purpose for a second. Something to do with keys, I decided and thanked her profusely while she blushed and smiled. After she left to check on her mice, I read the small cardboard attachment and obediently clipped it to my keyring. Then I took out the bag I brought to work and hung the device on the edge - panda outside, keys inside. Then I beamed at the delightful invention. How fantastic is that?! No searching for keys and I get to look at a panda?! Utterly wonderful. I'll have to search hard for a suitable gift when I'm away in a few weeks.

As Matlab worked in the background, I winced when email from Carrie arrived. She's been in a spot of a bother lately and noted that she might not be in the best frame of mind to review my latest draft. But she attached her comments anyway and I felt relieved that I could avoid looking at them while I headed across campus. I grabbed my bag, made sure the panda was facing out so everyone could enjoy him, and walked out into the sunshine. I chatted with another secretary while she unlocked an office for me. Then I busily corrected dates on the spreadsheet I'd printed while I organized files and withdrew extraneous information. I poked my head in her office to thank her again on the way out and returned to my desk to pack up to leave.

Friend asked via email if I would check on her later and I paused before tucking my soda into my bag. I looked at the small request in the corner of my screen and placed the bottle back atop my desk and wrote that I could hang around and have dinner when she was done. If she didn't want to be alone, I'd take her home with me and she could sleep across the hall. I'd be there if she wanted to talk, though she hasn't lately. And I could worry while glancing over at her rather than fretting while she's across town.

So rather than heading home and flipping through channels in pajamas, I typed in my spreadsheet corrections. Answered more email and made my way through Carrie's rather encouraging comments and changes and sent the paper off to another co-author for further refinement. I made a hair appointment for tomorrow and told Cousin I was free anytime this week or weekend to come to her house of happiness. I filed more papers and altered my to-do list. I started more analyses running and backed up some data. I'm finishing my my long-neglected project now and will know what to do next by tomorrow. I talked to Boss - about my paper that he's still working through and about the desk that holds stuff from a person who hasn't been here in six months. We discussed job prospects and how he's looking to replace me at the annual meeting while I'm looking to find a place to go.

My point - aside from sharing mundane details of my day - is that while I'm good enough at home, I'm stunningly productive while at work. I get bored and instead of reading or watching television, I solve problems. I look for something to do. I talk to people. It's almost like boredom works to motivate me to tackle projects I'd rather not do just so I can avoid staring at the postcards and pictures I have on my bulletin board. It's rather delightful!

And I got a panda. What more could one want? (And why do I dread the fact that since I left my car on campus and Friend drove to dinner then to my house, I have to go again tomorrow? One day was great, yes, but perhaps it was enough.)

Hi.

"I tried!" I told Friend when she responded to yet another claim of boredom by telling me to write a blog post. "I opened a Word document and I stared at the Word document and put my fingers on the keys and nothing happened. So I closed the Word document. And told you I was still bored."

So this post reminds me of one of Chienne's habits. She'll wander to the back door, nudge her dog door open with her nose and poke her head outside, the thin plastic resting atop her head. She'll stand there, all four paws on the kitchen floor and just look around for a minute. Then she'll step back and her door will thwap closed and she'll wander back to the living room to nap on the couch. I've been reading what you're all writing lately and it's far better than anything I have to say right now. But I feel it necessary to poke my head out and wave before starting the week.

I started asking Friend for her paper last night. She finally pried the unpublished work out of her graduate adviser's hands with offers to submit it herself. And when I hear the word 'publish' I get all excited and pushy. My own papers are out at the moment - one waiting for a decision (for 3 weeks - if you don't have time to edit a journal, don't edit the journal! And my politely worded email to the office resulted in a politely worded response that I'd hear something when the editor decided. Insert huffy sigh here.), another with Boss (I will begin bothering him today - I don't look forward to this.) and the third with Steve and Carrie, both of whom are quite busy with their own work.

"I want to read it," I whined to Friend, thinking that if I asked enough annoying questions, she'd want to work on it herself.

"It's not very interesting," she said, not picking her head up off the pillow of the couch. "Go mow your lawn again. It's probably already grown."

I paused to consider that question, glaring threateningly toward the back of the house. I drug Friend with me to Lowe's after shoving the mower through patches of long, thick grass. And there are weeds that produce spikey extensions on their gross, ridged leaves! I won't have it! So I went to buy weed killer and a spreader. I attack tonight. I'll keep you updated. But I think the degree of my hatred for the spikey weeds will promise victory. Or I'll kill my entire lawn trying to get rid of them. Either way.

"The bag told me I have to wait a day before I use the weed stuff," I explained. "It also says it kills weeds 2x faster. Faster than what I don't know, but doubling the rate still seems good. So I have time to read the paper. I bet it's good. And interesting." But my arguments didn't work - Friend has developed strong skills toward tuning me out, I think. So I shrugged and refreshed bloglines and waited for anyone to send me email or initiate a chat.

Speaking of, I've always resisted chatting. I like capital letters and punctuation and properly spelled words. Once I tried it though, I fell hard for the little windows and the way my sentences zing off to their recipients whenever I hit enter. So if you've happened to send me blog email, you're in my address book. Anytime the dot by your name turns green, you may picture me perking up and saying, "Hello! How are you? Would you like to chat? I type very fast!" But then you turn gray again and I pout for a second before going to refresh bloglines or my iGoogle page. Let's face it, I soothe myself, I have very little to say that would be even moderately interesting.

Which is why the blog post ends here, I think. We'll just hope that something cool happens at work today.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Totally. Awesome.

The Earth Shakes
"Did you feel the earthquake?" My wonderful friend Anna wrote this morning. "We did!" At this point, my mouth dropped open with realization. I woke this morning around 4, coughing so hard that it hurt and wandered down the hall to the living room. Sometime before I shuffled back to bed at 5, I did frown with confusion.

The clock rattled against the wall and Sprout froze in the middle of the room, dropping to his tummy and sinking his claws into the carpet. His ears went flat and I glanced outside to see if a really loud car was passing by. It lasted mere seconds, but my brain was still sleepy and I didn't really understand what had happened. I did idly wonder if that was how an earthquake felt, but then I went back to bed and slept with Chienne cuddled against my side.

If you hadn't heard, I was south of the actual event, but the shocks did travel relatively far. Anna noted they felt it in Chicago. I read online that even Atlantans (or whatever they call themselves) were aware of the trembling. Now I'll confess that I think this is so cool. But as I was outside mowing my lawn just now (I'll spare you the details), I realized something.

In the Midwest, there are bitterly cold winters and miserably hot summers. We have tornadoes. And now an earthquake. So our new slogan should be something like, "At least we're too far inland for hurricanes!" But then I thought about global warming and wondered how far ocean levels might rise and added to my little blurb, "At least for now!" This amused me as I finished trimming the grass outside.

Did you see this?!
Colbert Report. EdWords. The second awesome thing. Love, love, loved it!

Retired Dad is a Talkative Creature.
"Did you feel the earthquake?" I asked when he picked up the phone this morning.

"I did," he replied. "The sliding doors were rattling like crazy and I thought somebody with a loud car was out by my garage so I got up." Huh, I thought with a smile that I'd also wondered if someone's vehicle was noisy. At least I know where I get it. "But there was nobody out there and the doors kept shaking so I put my hand against them. Then it stopped and I went to wake up your mom to tell her."

"It says there was no major damage online," I told him, reading on my laptop. "I know there was some concern about bridges after an earthquake in our region."

"They're checking them," he said and I nodded with satisfaction.

"Yeah, it's the most exciting thing that's happened to me lately," he said, but then brightened. "Well, except for when the police came! Did your mom tell you?"

"She did," I noted, shaking my head. "You do like to burn stuff."

"Well, to turn in the copper wire, you have to get the insulation off," he defended himself. "So I took all that wire that I had behind the garage and put it on a grate over the fire to burn the outside off. But somebody called the police," he pouted. "And it's not like I can deny it - that stuff makes thick, black smoke." Irritation lost in his apparently love for thick, black smoke, he paused to think about how much he likes burning stuff, I assume.

"The cop said I had to put it out and asked if the hose from the house would reach. But I thought that if I just talked to him for a few minutes and screwed around, then the insulation would finish burning off. So I walked up to the house - real slow - and unrolled some of the house and walked out toward the burn pile. It wasn't enough hose so I slowly walked back to unroll more hose and walked back out the burn pile. Then I had to walk back to turn on the water and I was starting to worry that I was going to have to put the fire out before I was ready, but then there was a kink in the hose!"

"So you finished burning the insulation off," I concluded, trying to hurry this along.

"Well, yeah. Then I took it downtown and got $120 for it. The price of copper is really up. But I don't have any more wire. I guess that's good if the neighbors are going to call the cops when I'm burning it."

"It all worked out, I guess," I noted, trying to conclude the conversation. But then I had to hear about how the neighbors came over to talk to the cop and how they discussed a break-in across the street and how Mom's not doing great at work and how Dad's looking forward to the trip they're taking this weekend with the girls (Brother and his wife are heading to Florida. Mom, Dad, Little and Smallest Ones are going to St. Louis.). This went on and on (and on and on) until I asked to let him go six times. And so calling Dad while he's alone and bored takes a lot of time now. I'll make a mental note of it.

Done and Almost Done (x2).
The Penguin revisions are back in and, I think, put us in a good position to get the paper in press. The reviewers, though plentiful and with various problems, seemed pleased with the responses we carefully crafted. I like it when things work out. Plus, it's fun to work with those guys.

The quality checks for my menial-labor project went relatively well yesterday. I caught enough errors to make the hours of glancing between paper and screen feel worthwhile and it wasn't as painful as I expected. I just have some date-checking to do and I need access to the paper files for that. Good times.

Yet the minor feeling of productivity that lingered from those two tasks has inspired me to finish correcting my paper and I'll likely resubmit it today. Boss still hasn't given me comments (Not Totally Awesome), but I think between co-authors and my text, I have a handle on what I want to say. So I'll just hope I'm cool enough on my own.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

An Afternoon at the Vet

It all started innocently enough. We were tired of shopping on Tuesday afternoon and decided that arriving around 4:00 and reading for a bit in the pretty waiting room would be fine. Prettiest Cat, we were told, should be ready to go home between 4 and 5. So we wandered in to the bright waiting area and found that some benches were padded. Gravitating in that direction, Friend told them we were there and we sprawled, arranging the hair-covered pillows comfortably, to read.

I finished revising a paper and tucked the folder back in my bag before withdrawing a novel. I glanced across the room to find Friend focused on her giant science fiction tome and settled in to read my more frivolous selection. Someone came in to buy food and a couple arrived to see an elderly golden lab who wandered out from the back. I smiled as he wagged his tail at them, walking over to lean against the woman’s legs as she absently patted his head.

“So you don’t need him until Friday?” Her husband asked. “Can we take him home until then?”

“Sure,” the tech replied. “Let me go get his things.” She returned with a half-empty bag of kibble and two squeaky toys. I grinned when his tail began to move again at the sight of his belongings. He followed the couple out the door and I felt all warm and fuzzy when I returned my eyes to the pages in front of me.

Another couple arrived with news that the food they’d purchased wasn’t agreeing with their pet. A long discussion ensued with choices of brands and sizes and flavors and dry versus canned. They were sent home with several options and told to return with a better idea of what worked. Sometime during the moments spent examining labels and discussing vomiting probabilities, there arrived a teeny-tiny dog. He was no larger than my hand and squeal-inducingly adorable. The food-choice woman ended up on the floor while using her highest pitch voice to tell the puppy how cutesy-wootsey he was and how itty-bitty and lovey-dovey. I glanced across the room at Friend and grinned widely.

It went downhill from there.

“Tyler’s ready for you,” the receptionist noted when a woman with lovely curly hair came in. “I can’t make eye contact with him - he just looks so ready to love and cuddle someone that it breaks my heart to leave him back in the kennels.”

“He is good at making people pity him,” The curly haired woman smiled at the news of her pet. “Did he wave his paw at you? That’s what always gets me.”

The receptionist shook her head and returned my smile before I glanced down at my book. Curly Haired Woman walked out to her car to get x-rays then returned to sit down. A man walked in not long after and fidgeted on the bench next to me. I glanced up and offered him what I hoped was a reassuring smile and he returned it weakly before getting up to pace.

“Seamus is ready for you,” the specialist vet said, walking briskly into the waiting room with her ponytail secured neatly at the nape of her neck. I liked her a great deal, telling Friend I was impressed and being reminded that it cost $125 to walk in the door. I nodded with understanding. Sun drenched, non-smelly waiting rooms with polite office staff and brilliant professionals cost money. “We were able to biopsy the lymph node,” the vet told the man as they moved to one side of the room and away from the three of us who were still waiting, “and though I’m not a pathologist, I’m nearly certain that it’s cancer.”

I frowned but continued to stare at my book, not wanting to intrude on his receiving such news. The vet talked about drugs and options and how the news wasn’t as bad as it could be.

“So we caught it early?” the man finally said and his voice quivered. I winced and glanced across the room at a frowning Friend.

“Well, no,” the vet said, not unkindly. “Early would have meant that it hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes. At this point, it’s spread throughout his system, though he doesn’t appear to be in any pain.” She continued to explain while Seamus, a spaniel mix with curly, brown hair on his big, floppy ears, walked around the room.

“Hi,” Friend offered dryly when he placed his front paws on her knees. “She’s the one who likes dogs,” she motioned to me and I made kissing noises until he walked over.

“Aren’t you sweet?” I asked him, trying hard to sound happy and not heartbroken. “Yes, you are. You’re just a precious puppy.” He soon grew bored with my compliments and began to explore further. He’d entered the back rooms before his person called to him and he wandered over, tail wagging.

“If I’d brought him earlier,” his person said as the dog continued to walk toward him, and then his voice broke as he began to cry. I looked up and winced with sympathy. Ducking my head again, I peeked over to see him rubbing his dog’s side as one of the techs brought him a box of tissues. “He’s like our first child,” he said, sobs still interrupting his words. “I should have known earlier and done more.”

The vet offered comfort and assured him they didn’t think Seamus was in pain. They would be in touch with the final results of the biopsy. Seamus and his person walked out of the waiting room and I brushed the tears off my cheeks and watched Curly Haired Woman sniffle into a tissue.

“Are you OK?” Friend asked me and I nodded.

“It’s just so sad,” I said softly and she nodded at me.

Tyler was up next, a very chubby beagle who waddled out from the back room, utterly pleased to see Curly Haired Woman who cooed to him immediately.

“We were able to flush a lot of the stuff out,” the vet said, “but I was pretty aggressive so the bleeding will probably continue for tonight. So keep up with the pain medication and don’t be alarmed if his nose bleeds a bit.”

“Hey, Tyler,” I greeted him when he waddled over to me, his body swaying as he moved his short, little legs. “How’s the good boy?” I patted his head very gently and sternly told myself not to react when bright red blood splattered out of his snout and on the floor near my feet. He headed out the door with his curly haired woman a few moments later, pills and paper towels in her free hand and I fidgeted for a moment before wandering up to the desk.

“Hi,” I said to the receptionist and she smiled back at me.

“You’ve been so patient,” she told me. “I’m so sorry about the wait.”

“Oh, no,” I waved my hand. “They said Prettiest Cat was having some trouble waking up so we knew we’d be waiting. And you’ve been lovely, really. It’s no trouble at all. I just wondered if I could maybe have a paper towel? To clean up some of the blood from Tyler’s nose? It’s making me a bit queasy.”

She immediately rose from her seat and bustled around the counter with a wad of paper towels while I protested that I could do it myself.

“Of course you won’t,” she scolded, bending over to swipe at the dribbles on the floor. “You’re already my favorite patients for being so nice and quiet, but you will not clean up messes here.”

“Well, thank you,” I said and frowned when she moved away. “Actually, there’s more right here,” I called after her. “You missed a spot!”

“Is she yelling at me?” Receptionist asked Friend with a teasing smile when she came back with a spray bottle. “I was just going to get water, honey,” she said. “I’ll get it. Calm down.”

“Oh,” I said, chastened but smiling. “Sorry. It’s just turning my stomach a little,” I told them and Friend rolled her eyes before Receptionist offered another smile and asked if the floor was now clean enough. “Yes, thank you,” I offered primly and grinned.

Prettiest Cat was the final patient released for the day and I peeked in her carrier to say hello while Friend got news of crud in her head and pneumonia and low oxygen levels and pills for some of the respiratory issues and drops for the ruptured ear drum.

“Hi, love,” I said softly as I looked inside the carrier, finding her arranged on her bed with one black paw raised. “Is that a bandage?” I asked of the pink thing around her arm that was clearly offending her regal sensibilities. “Are you doing OK? The hard part’s over,” I assured her. “We get to go home very soon.”

I drove Friend and her feline back to their house, pleased that the diagnosis wasn’t dire though I wondered if it would firm up when the results of the crud culture came back. We had some dinner and went to fill a prescription for the ear drops. Then I took my leave, heading home toward a cat who hid under the bed before deciding I could once again be trusted and a dog who was beside herself with frantic joy.

I patted the bed beside me that night, coaxing Chienne up from her place at the foot of the bed and curling around her to kiss her head. “I love you,” I told her and continued to rub her belly while I offered prayers for the dogs and cats and their families. “And you can’t leave me for a long, long time. Promise?”

I took the swipe of her tongue on my chin for agreement. And I'm holding her to it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Stories with Links

I had just curled up in bed for yet another nap - I’m painfully lethargic of late - and my bedroom was cool and rather dark. The sheets were smooth and clean and the Horton I got yesterday from Kohl’s was soft where I’d tucked him under my chin to cuddle. I’d just decided that I’d tuck the plush elephant in, take a photo and write a blog post entitled, “Horton Takes A Nap.”

Then, as my mind drifted from topic to topic as it likes to do, I realized that several situations have recently presented themselves which neatly update old posts I’ve written. And with several new readers of whom I’m fond, I tend to preen and flutter by linking excessively to stuff I’ve written in the past that they might (or might not, more likely) want to read. But when thinking of the venerable Black Knight or the exquisite Citronella, a rather irrepressible character called PhysioProf or the delightful Bean-Mom, or Life Member, whose writing is so painful I have to wait for the right moments to read his posts, I decided some linking was in order after all. So Horton is alone down the hall and I’ve returned to the loveseat to do some writing with some general hope of something coherent as a result.

Dad and His Job, or Lack Thereof
“I just wanted to let you know I was unemployed,” he said last night after I told him that Friend and I had taken Prettiest Cat to the vet, that they weren’t sure what was wrong and we were going for medicine. I was tired, I told him, since we’d driven around all day, shopping and running errands and having an incredibly pleasant day despite being distracted by thoughts of Prettiest Cat.

“You finally quit,” I breathed and Friend glanced up with eyebrows raised.

“Did your mom have to bail him out of jail?” she asked quietly and I shrugged as I continued to listen. Dad has a bit of a temper and, when confronted, has grown violent at various points in his life.

“How are you?” I asked. “Did you get terribly angry?”

“I’m fine,” he said, sounding odd, but not too bad. He’s worked there for fifteen years or more, I thought. How strange to walk away from something you’ve done for that long and never return after making a quick decision about it. “I was mad at first, but I calmed down.”

“Well,” I said last night, “I think it’s a good thing. It’ll be better for you now, I think.” I called again this morning and caught him while he was out in the garage. He told me he’d been to the scrap yard already and turned in some copper he’d been saving. He got $60 for it. Then he decided he’d organize the garage a little while he thought about what else he’d do today. And I frowned because he sounded so lost. What gifts I have for manipulating people come from my father. He has this ability to make me feel sorry for him even when his circumstances are all his fault.

He told me what happened and I nodded along, not particularly surprised. Tension has been building on both sides for a long time now. Dad’s not happy and makes little money and works very hard. The problem is that he’s not very, um, diplomatic about stating his concerns. He’s insulting and condescending and seems not to understand that people don’t like that. Yet they don’t, so they snap at him, and he’s offended and angry so he snaps back. So a simple conversation with his boss about training yet another person to do his job while he takes my mom and nieces on a four-day trip next weekend ended up with his boss threatening him with suspension for being grossly insubordinate and Dad’s subsequent resignation. Effective immediately.

“They sent a regional manager to talk to me and she asked how they could make me stay. I told her they could pay me - I haven’t had a raise in five years and that’s not how you manage people. She said they couldn’t do that right now and I said I was done. So I shook hands with the people I liked and told them to mail me my check and 401K. I’m not going back. Your mom got me back on her health insurance this morning.”

I nodded while I thought for a moment then opened my mouth to speak. “I really do think this is good, Daddy,” I told him firmly. “You went to sleep at 7:00 at night and were up at 2AM - that’s not normal.” I shuddered at the very thought. “You were stressed and angry a lot and you need to take better care of yourself.” I vividly remembered - and you can too if you click the link - watching his eyes roll back in his head. Curling my fingers around his hand and timing my breathing to his as the ventilator worked at his side. I don’t want to do that again. I really, really, really don’t want to do that again.

“I slept until 7:30 this morning,” he said proudly. “It was light out when I woke up!”

“Isn’t that nice?” I asked, smiling as he pulled me from dark memories. I listened and offered encouraging noises when he talked about part-time jobs and buying an old car to fix up and watching the girls a little more during the week. Over the past years, I’ve wondered how long he has left and always worry before his annual cardiology appointments. So this is good. Perhaps I’ll now worry a bit less.

It’s always with deep sorrow.
A friend lost a colleague this week. Within my relatively short time in academic circles, I’ve lost but one person with whom I worked. I happened to write about much of the process - being told, attending her memorial service (could be the saddest post I've written), the subsequent therapy sessions devoted handling the loss - and, as pain tends to do, the ache has eased over time. Yet I still miss Winnie. I still hurt for the time she didn’t spend laughing with her children or making some important discovery. She was bright and funny and wonderful and the department lost something profound when she didn’t return.

I don’t mention her a lot because I’m ashamed to say I haven’t kept track of her husband and children. The post-doc position wasn’t very kind to her and while I was too new to the job myself to know that expectations were out of line in her case, I still feel guilty that I didn’t help more. I still hate that it didn’t seem like a very big deal that she died. That I sometimes have to explain in clipped tones to whom I’m referring when I mention her. But her violet is still doing very well - I bought it a new pot that offers continuous moisture and it offers me pretty purple blooms. Jill comes to look at it sometimes and tells me I’m taking good care of the plant.

I keep thinking of what to offer said friend, though my condolences and offers of prayers were sincere and quickly expressed. It’s difficult - the understanding of what the world lost and what good a person was doing and what brilliance he or she was capable of exhibiting. I was showering as I thought about it, frowning deeply as I rinsed the shampoo from my hair, and realized that my friend is never shy about offering an opinion. If he’d had a comment for his colleague, it would have been expressed whether it was positive or negative. When you love people like that - openly and without fear - there’s comfort in knowing that they were aware of your appreciation. That’s lovely.

As far as losing someone who is smart and important and a source of laughter and thought and delight at work, that’s sad. Very, very sad.

Oh, and…!
I frowned and paused, facing the manager of human resources during my interview, and pondered a third thing my colleagues might say of me. I let my thoughts touch on my interactions with Penguin and Dr. Icing and Dr. Mentor and brightened.

“I answer emails right away!” I told the man across the desk and he grinned back at me. “I do get that comment a lot from people - appreciation or expressions of admiration for how quickly I get back to folks with questions. I’m pretty amazing.”

“I had a colleague like that,” he mused, still smiling. “We’d time him and he’d rarely take longer than five minutes. He didn’t know anything most of the time, but he wanted us to know that he was working and all over it and answering email with his Blackberry!” We laughed for a moment and I shook my head.

“I don’t have a mobile email device,” I said sadly. “So people are safe for hours at a time while I’m away from my computer.”

“Is it hurting you?” he asked conspirationally and I giggled and shook my head.

“Not so much,” I replied and told him I was enjoying talking with everyone there too much to pine for email. “But,” I continued, “I enjoy my collaborators and make sure I appreciate how important their priorities are. So it works well that I have a compulsion to keep my inbox clean and get back to them very soon. Sometimes I can answer questions right away. Other times I need to let them know that a task will take some time or that I can’t take a meeting until next week. But I do communicate a lot with people who send me email.”

“Oh, no,” I moaned last night to Friend. “Penguin sent a note and needs me to comment on this second round of revisions. And I’m tired!” For the record, we dropped off the Prettiest Cat at 10, then went book shopping. Friend made me stop when I couldn’t carry anymore and we returned to town to feed her other cats. We had some lunch and flitted off to some quaint little shops where we bought bags full of bath products.

“I take more baths than you,” she said and I looked in at my four bath orbs and a giant cupcake-looking fizzie. Then I nodded. We stopped at a pricey toy store where I mooned over Horton toys until she reminded me that Kohls has them for $5. I looked at her with hopeful eyes and tugged her toward the car. We each acquired a Horton - the last two they had - and went to WalMart for dog treats and dual-layer CDs. I sat in the car outside the fabric store, loving the idea of making a reviewer voodoo doll, but exhausted by the thought of looking for fabric and yarn and needles. Yet we trudged through and returned to the vet where we waited until Prettiest Cat was finally allowed to come home.

“Too tired,” I said after greeting Chienne and flopping on the loveseat. “I know he asked me to do it tonight, but I can do it tomorrow.” Then I opened the document anyway and began crafting my responses. Pleased with my thirty minutes of effort, I sent it off and went to sleep. When I woke after midnight, coughing so hard it hurt, he had written back and asked for a bit more information. I had to force myself back to sleep without replying immediately. We traded emails this morning and wrapped up the revisions by noon. And he thanked me profusely for my 'instantaneous' replies.

Then I got an email from the company from whom I did the 'no credit for you! Oh, if we're forced, then maybe some credit for you.' project. They want me to do some quality checks on the data they reformatted. I wrote back immediately and said I'd get to it this week. Which I probably should be doing now. Or go sleep with Horton. One of the other.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lacking a Point

I have beginnings of posts in mind. But I like it when a story connects into something I’ve been thinking that somehow hints at the fact that I might be deep and cool. These are just random bits of conversation that have no real point. Because I keep wondering if I should be embarrassed about continuing to talk about my bathtime exploits. Which actually brings us to my first snippet.

*****

“Do you mind?” Friend asked and I shook my head and took the bottle of lotion. Throughout the winter, she sometimes asked if I’d apply some to her back and, familiar with the annoyance of that dry spot on my back that I can’t quite reach, I’d smooth some on her skin. She normally has a different bottle she keeps at my house and I was at her house for some reason and this container had a pump top. I set it on the table and after placing my hand underneath, I pushed down on the spout.

“Well!” I exclaimed when the lotion spurted out of the bottle in the slender stream and ended up on my shirt and all over the couch next to me. Friend, wrapped in a large towel, looked over and laughed and after I blinked at the mess and wiped at her slipcover before giggling with her.

“That’s just not polite,” I said primly of the lotion’s behavior. “At least a bit of warning is in order before events of that nature.”

“What is with you lately?” she asked while shaking her head. “It’s like your mind’s in the gutter or something.”

“I know!” I replied, shaking my own head too after I finished with her back and rubbed the rest of the lotion into my hands. “And I’m not sure - springtime? Too much stress? One too many sexy novels? It’s a problem.”

Friend rolled her eyes, nodded and went back to her room to dress while I waited in the living room. The Cat Who Loves Too Much ended up on my lap and while I smoothed his gray coat, he began to lick my arm.

“At least I don’t go around lapping at people’s skin!” I called to her. Then I frowned when I realized if that was my best defense, I should probably calm way down. I'll work on it.

*****

“Hi, Dad,” I answered my cell phone about a week ago.

“Someone called my phone,” he told me without saying hello and I just waited for him to elaborate. “They didn’t leave a message, but I saw the missed call.”

At this I smiled. Mom had called me on her way home from work one day, exasperated beyond bearing with the man she married some 39 years ago. “And,” she said after we’d talked for a while and I giggled and soothed in response to her ranting, “he calls people back who call his cell phone accidentally! I tell him to just leave it alone and that it was probably a wrong number, but he can’t let it go! And he’s mean!

“‘You called my cell phone,’ he’ll accuse them. And when they say they don’t remember doing it, he’ll insist that they did and ask what they wanted. They didn’t want anything! It was just a mistake! And then he comes to complain about how stupid people are for calling by accident when he’s the idiot who wasted time calling them back!”

By this time I was laughing too hard to speak and she finally joined me. So my lips curved widely while I waited for Dad to tell the rest of his story.

“So I called them back,” he said, a superior tone in his voice and I bit my lip hard to keep from laughing. “And someone from a bank down there answered.”

“Oh,” I said, gulping back giggles and realizing what had happened. “My bank wants me to transfer my home equity loan to them from the company I use now. When I first opened my account there, I didn’t have my current cell phone and was still using the number you have now. Remember that when I got my own account, you took my phone? I must have forgotten to update my number when I changed it. So they called you and my secretary at work and finally wrote me an email. I wrote back and said I was selling my house soon and a conversation wouldn’t be productive. So it’s all taken care of. Sorry about that.”

“But,” he said, sounding disappointed, “they called my phone.”

“Right,” I replied. “They still thought it was mine. I’m sorry.”

“I called them back.” He was obviously determined to tell me his story anyway, so I settled in to listen. “A guy answered and I told him somebody had called my phone and I wanted to know why. He said he didn’t know, but I kept asking. Then, when he couldn’t figure it out, I said they were in your city and asked if that was right. Because I recognized the area code.”

At this point you might wonder why he didn’t lead with that information or call me directly. To which I’d answer that my dad thinks a bit differently than many of us. And this way was obviously more fun for him.

“So I told him,” Dad continued when I continued to wait patiently, “that you were down there and worked at Current Institution doing research in Specific Field. And he said that was really impressive.”

“Thanks,” I said, shaking my head but continuing to smile.

“I got his name if you want to talk to him,” Dad offered.

“That’s fine, Daddy. But thank you.” (Though maybe I should have taken it…)

“But he didn’t know why they called. But I guess you figured it out. I just don’t like it when people call my cell phone.”

“You know,” I said gently, trying to help poor Mom, “most of the time the people who don’t leave messages don’t really need to talk. So you could just forget about it.”

“I always call them back,” he said, sounding confused. “We never use all our minutes so it doesn’t cost anything. So I called this guy back on my way home from work.”

Thinking there are so many better hobbies to have and wondering if I should encourage him to write a blog, I decided instead to thank him for letting me know. And to assure him the situation was under control. Then I told him I loved him - which I really do, though I act like Mom in that I walk away from him in complete frustration a lot. And he loves me back. But if I ever call his cell phone, he'll definitely be in touch to ask me why.

*****

“How strong?” Friend asked from the kitchen last night when I nodded to her earlier question and said that yes, I did want a drink.

“One ounce will work, I think,” I said of the tequila she was pouring into orange juice. “Pretty,” I cooed at her when I noted how the grenadine pooled at the bottom. “Density differences are awesome.”

I started to sip and raised my eyebrows over the rim of my glass when she said we’d drink a bit less this time. “So as to avoid a repeat of this morning,” she elaborated when I continued to look expectant for an easing of my confusion.

“I was hungover?” I gasped with wide eyes a moment later as realization slowly dawned. “Seriously? I had no idea!” I paused for a moment to look suspiciously at the pretty drink that was orange on top and red on the bottom, ice cube melting innocently inside. “I guess that would explain the awful headache,” I mused.

“And the inability to do anything but sit around all day,” Friend added and I nodded as I slowly came around to the idea that she was right.

“Well, maybe I don’t like tequila anymore,” I declared strongly, then shrugged and took another sip before glaring at my glass again. “I felt awful!”

Friend laughed and admitted that she told her good friend and former roommate that she felt badly enough today that only drinking more could cure her. “So we’ll ease back on the quantity tonight,” she decided and I nodded in firm agreement. Then I glanced at my glass suspiciously again. So pretty, yet so dangerous…

*****

Nary a glimpse of anything meaningful. But this is all I have for you today. (So disappointing...) (For me. Not necessarily for you.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

3 of 3: The end of the bath triology

It has unexpectedly and delightfully grown cold outside. I was lazy and relaxed for most of the day, spending most of the cloudy daylight hours curled into the corner of my loveseat. My muscles were tense from travel and stress and I made a mental note to call my old massage therapist tomorrow for an appointment. There was nothing on television and I didn’t feel like reading and you people are, for the most part, not great about updating your blogs on the weekends. For all of these reasons, I sighed, looked at Friend, and told her I thought I’d take a bath.

Oh, Katie, you’re thinking, another bath post? Seriously? And to you, I’d offer sheepishly that you could take the next couple moments you might have otherwise read my blog and go do something else. Get some coffee! Have some sweet tea! Do you drink enough water? How are you doing on your daily servings of fruits and vegetables? Write that email you’ve been putting off or call your parents and/or children. I won’t be offended at all. But the fact is that I did take a bath and feel compelled to document the progress I’ve made in this area. Now I’m still not a bathing expert, but, as an experiment, it’s coming along in terms of being pleasant and relaxing.

“I have no bath products,” I huffed when I came to fetch the candle with the wooden wick that I used last time. When Friend replied she might have left some bath salts somewhere at my house, I shook my head and said I’d just use shower gel and clean water. “Like an animal or something,” I muttered as I returned to the master bedroom tucked into a corner at the back of my house.

Determined to enjoy the experience in its entirety, I turned on the water and began to arrange necessary items on the edge of the tub. I stood on tiptoe to fetch my razor from the shower caddy and peered around my bottle of face wash to see the shower gel I rarely use in the corner. I’d found a small tub of foot scrub in the cabinets when I was on my failed search for bubble bath so I placed those things at the far end of the bathtub. I found my pumice stone and remembered the white poof I’d need for the shower gel. Then I found some a small tub with some product designed to look like cucumber slices. After briefly wondering if such things expired, I tossed it where it could be reached as well.

I frowned with confusion until I remembered Friend borrowed my basket to do laundry here this weekend then tossed my pajamas into a small pile on the other side of my lengthy bathroom. I dipped my toes in the hot water that had thus far pooled and winced a bit as I eased them to rest on the bottom. The water lapped at my ankles and I’d no sooner adjusted to the temperature when I realized I’d likely forget to water the plant that hangs above the bathtub unless I got the large cup I typically use for that task. I swung my legs out of the tub and carefully moved toward the vanity, remembering the time I scampered out of the shower to answer the door and slipped on the tile floor. I landed hard on my side and remained on the floor, stunned and feeling not unlike a felled elephant. After finding it under the counter, I settled the huge plastic cup - the ones that come holding far too much soda and don’t fit in my car’s cup holders - at the near end of the tub. Deciding if I had a cup, I might as well wash my hair too, I opened new bottles of shampoo and conditioner and put them close at hand.

I eased into the water and sat with my legs crossed in front of me. “Third time’s the charm,” I said resolutely and was determined to be sublimely relaxed by the time I finished. The water was just water, I noticed again before removing my glasses and setting them neatly out of the way. No bubble bath or bath orbs or anything cool, I pouted. Looking on the bright side, I picked up the plastic cup, filled it with water, and considered it for a moment. Thinking that I hadn’t washed my hair in a bathtub for decades, I shrugged and poured the water on my head.

“Well, that’s fantastic,” I said out loud after the cup was empty and my hair was dripping. Enjoying the cascade of warmth that contrasted with the coolness of the room, I emptied cup after cup over my head before pawing my hair out of my eyes and reaching for the bottle of shampoo. There was just enough light coming through the frosted glass to assess the amount in my hand before I started to lather my hair. There was something wonderful about it, I decided. Without water falling from the shower for dilution, I took time to massage my scalp and breathe in the smell of the shampoo I always use. I scooped water in my hands and splashed the suds off my face before eagerly reaching for the cup again and beginning to rinse.

I leaned my head forward and watched the white foam steam off my hair and dissipate into the increasingly foggy water. Checking to make sure I was clean by patting my hair and squinting at the locks I could see, I tilted my head back and, apparently addicted, dumped more water over my head. I soon swirled thin lines of conditioner from the full bottle into my palm. Rubbing my hands together, I smoothed the goo into my hair while I detangled it with my fingers.

“Lovely,” I declared and rinsed my hands before nudging the bottles of hair cleaning substances away from the water. I reclined, bending my knees so I could settle my shoulders under the surface. I frowned with concern when I could feel my hair against my back, sweeping it forward so that the conditioner could continue to cling to the strands and do something like permeate and make my hair healthier. (I heard that somewhere. Really. I think.) I reached for the white poof and tipped the bottle of shower gel upside down, watching as the viscous fluid slowly pooled at the tip before flipping the cap open. That’s a lower case delta, I smiled when I looked at the pattern I’d drawn on the poof. I efficiently washed, scrubbing firmly at my elbows and breathing in the promised stress relief that the eucalyptus spearmint scent offered.

“Oops, supposed to relax,” I remind myself so instead of rinsing and moving on to my lower half, I set the poof on my chest and folded my hands at my waist, leaving my skin sudsy with the idea that if it worked with the conditioner, maybe I'd be cleaner if I left the soap on longer. I was soon tapping my fingers, feeling rather bored, when I remembered the fake cucumber slices. I sat up, located the small tub and pounced on it before unscrewing the lid and removing two cotton pads soaked with liquid before examining them with squinted eyes. I reclined again, listening to the water lap against the sides of the tub, and put the material over my eyes.

This was the beginning of where it got good. The room seemed darker (with my eyes closed and covered, I suppose that makes sense) and I felt less obligated to be efficient in the whole procedure. So I sighed happily, breathing in the smell of the gel and settling more comfortably in the warm water. I jumped, startled, when the plastic cup tumbled into the water, but decided it could be fortuitous. The water drains so that I’m partially exposed to cool air, depending on my position. I decided that if dumping water on my head worked, pouring it over my body might be good too. Something about timing my breathing left me feeling slightly dazed. I’d inhale as water filled the cup and exhale as I poured from waist to neck. Using some caution to get the pressure right - too slow and it tickled, too fast and it didn’t last long enough - I found an ideal method and spent long minutes doing that.

What I found delightful - and why I described it so that it could be replicated - is that I thought of nothing. No papers I need to revise or emails to answer or rooms of the house to clean. I didn’t worry about Friend’s cat or wonder if I should have called home again today or think about what I’ll do if I don’t get a job offer. I just was, feeling hazy from the warmth of the water and the chill of the air, the growing darkness on the other side of my closed eyes and breathing in the scent of relaxation and clean. I sighed and let the cup float at my side as, several minutes later, I removed the cucumber-looking pieces of cotton. I tossed them aside, hearing the flop on the floor and slowly sat up, stretching as I moved. It was too dark to see anyway, so I left my glasses on the edge of the tub, following the strokes of the razor with my free hand to make sure I didn’t miss any spots on my legs.

I traded the plastic razor for the double-sided pumice stone and scrubbed at my heels. Running my fingers over them, I made a face at the continued roughness and brightened when I saw the foot scrub. Scooping the sand-like substance out with three fingers, I settled one foot on my opposite knee and smoothed the scrubby stuff into my skin. I wiggled my toes and thought of standing at the ocean, feeling the water rush to and fro as the sand buffed away the dead skin on my feet. Between the smooth side of the stone and the sand that clung to my feet, I was able to achieve satisfactory results on both sides.

Less ideal was the feeling of sitting in sand a moment later, but I toughed it out and washed my back with the brush I remembered to grab pre-bath. Making a mental note to finish washing before getting the water all gritty next time, I began to drain the tub while scooting away from the faucet until the newly pouring water warmed again. When it did, I found the cup and rinsed the conditioner from my perfectly soft hair and the suds from the rest of my body. Standing, the room very dark save the flicking candlelight in one corner, I finished rinsing my legs and glanced into the mirror across the room. Silhouetted against the slightest light coming through the window as I wrung the water from the hair hanging halfway down my back, I smiled when I realized I felt pretty. Blinking at the novelty of such a thought, I stared for another moment at the indistinct shape in the mirror as I brushed my hair and tugged a towel around myself before stepping from the tub.

In terms of appreciating moments, I decided as I moved back toward reality and all the worries and pressures and problems within it while smoothing on lotion that matched the scent of the shower gel, it doesn’t get much better than that. When awareness focuses on the current moment and sensations and everything else drifts away. So I think I’m getting it - this bathtime relaxation ritual. Given that, I also think I’ll stop writing about it.