Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Making Money -- The Hard Way

No, I don't think anyone would pay me for that these days.
Instead, it was a taste test. I've done these frequently. They put about 20 people in a room and give us chewing gum or macaroni and cheese or coffee to taste, and we give our opinions on a survey. Then we walk out and they hand over a white envelope with $20 or $30.
So I had no trepidation as I entered the room to taste diet soda. Then the woman in charge told us we'd be tasting six different sodas. That's a lot, considering that I don't even drink diet soda.
Next she told us we'd be given four ounces of each. We needed to drink half of the sample before we answered the survey. What? Drink 12 ounces of soda?
Then, she said, we had to finish the entire sample. Gulp! That's 24 ounces of soda. Two cans of pop. In half an hour.
I can't remember drinking that much since I played quarters in college.
I was looking for a nearby plant that could benefit from some refreshing soda, but I was isolated in the middle of the room, surrounded by other desks.
The first sample burned a bit as I chugged it and it only got worse. When the people around me began belching from all that carbonation, not the cover your mouth and release a small bit of air, but the college frat boy burps, I knew this would be the hardest money I'd ever made.
One guy had to excuse himself to use the bathroom. Come on. Half an hour and you couldn't make it?
The samples seemed to get more bitter as I made my way toward the end, but finally I downed the last cup of soda, slammed the survey shut and exited the room.
My husband was meeting me for lunch on that hard-earned money.
We went to a local "cafe" that had inflated prices. I had the special of the day -- the Monte Cristo sandwich. I think I had that before in France but there wasn't nearly as much deep frying going on. I ate half of the rather blah sandwich. My husband ate the other half and half of his chicken salad wrap. I just couldn't muster any enthusiasm for the meal.
Luckily, it was $17, so with the tip, my hard-earned money was gone. Of course, the company of my husband was priceless. I drank 24 ounces of soda for a mediocre lunch. Next time, I think I'll hold onto the money a little longer, at least until I stop burping.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Stars and Sweat

Okay, enough worrying about self-centeredness. (See previous post.) Now, back to me.
I've been in a real exercise slump lately. I manage to run, interspersed with walking, a couple of days each week. I've gone to the gym to do the weight machines a few days each week. Last Thursday though, I dressed for the gym, dropped the kids at school, and came home to take a nap at 8:30 a.m. That is pitiful!
I missed my long run with my friends on Saturday too.
Maybe I'm just overwhelmed with teaching at two colleges and juggling five classes at one of them. But the essays haven't begun to flow in like they will in the coming weeks. Maybe I'm getting old and worn out.
Getting up at 5 a.m. just isn't as attractive as it used to be.
This morning, I didn't set an alarm, but I woke at 5:15 and got up. We had a wind advisory yesterday that was supposed to end by 2 a.m. When I hit the streets at 5:30, it seemed like no one had told the wind that it had a 2 a.m. curfew. It was still blowing gustily between the houses. I ran down to the main street and stopped to chat with some friends who bicycle at 5:45. Of course, I'm thinking that bicycling would be so much easier. Why don't I bicycle? But the wind definitely made it harder today.
So I did my 3.5 mile loop. It wasn't too bad. I do need some new music on my iPod though. Less cowbell.
When I got back to my drive, I looked up at the sky. I hadn't paid much attention to it, instead focusing on the asphalt beneath my feet. I strained my neck to look up, tilting my head far back until I felt dizzy. Then, eureka, I decided to lie down in the hammock for a clear view.
It was still dark, of course, but the sky was more navy than black. Big clumps of clouds skittered across the sky. As I lay there watching the clouds race, stars would wink in between. I could see one -- there -- for a good 30 seconds before another white streak of a cloud covered it. Then a clump of stars there then gone again.
I hoisted myself off the hammock and came into the house. Grace was in the shower. It was time to wake up Tuck. My morning had begun, but at least it started with the wind and the clouds and the stars, and a bit of sweat thrown in for good luck.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


This topic comes up, not only because I live in a houseful of teenagers, but because I live in a country where we are pretty much intent on finding joy for ourselves, even at the expense of others. It's not like we trample people lying in front of us, but we aren't overly aware of how our actions affect others.
I thought about this last night and again this morning while listening to the radio. A small town near Columbus decided to ban texting while driving. The radio spoke with a woman whose husband was killed in a car accident because the other driver was texting. The woman's voice was raw as she asked how that driver could have thought that her text message, her communication with someone by phone, was more important than someone's life. Of course, if we asked the driver, she would not have said that her text was more important than the man's life. But she was busy thinking about what she needed. She was entertaining herself, or answering someone's question about where she was, or her plans for that evening. I never thought that texting or talking on the phone was self-centered until I heard the wife's words about her husband's death.
Then this morning the radio played some clips from the UN conference where President Obama spoke on, among other things, global warming. He said, "all nations must act responsibly." That doesn't seem self-centered. Later, the president of the Maldives spoke urging nations to make a difference at a global warming conference in December that takes place in Copenhagen. Global warming means something different to President Mohammed Nasheed, leader of an island nation that barely keeps its head above sea level. The story at NPR put it this way: "Nasheed said he's often called upon to remind people in the rich countries about the fate of small island states, but he says the world continues on, business as usual."
How selfish are we that idling in the car in the drive through is more important than the fate of the people in the Maldives. Our wants are more important than their needs, than their existence.
Here are Nasheed's exact words, taken from the NPR story:
When the Maldives desperately want to believe that one day our words will have an effect. And so we continue to shout them even though deep down we know that you're not really listening.

Ouch! That hurt. That takes me right back to Horton Hears a Who. Here is a tiny island calling and waving, warning us of the danger, and we drive two blocks to the dry cleaners, or turn the air conditioning on because it is 80 degrees outside.
Maybe it is time for us to figure out, as people, as Americans, as members of the Western world, that each of our actions is having a reaction somewhere.
I'm going to work on being less self-centered. Maybe it will spread as quickly as swine flu.
Here's the complete NPR story:

Texting photo used with permission from:

Monday, September 21, 2009

New Adventures

This weekend my family completed two firsts. And firsts can be difficult. More difficult for some than others, but I would have to say that both of my children who conquered new territory had definite butterflies for a few days.
First, my daughter visited a college, but this wasn't like my college visits where we sailed through three campuses in a day, following a tour guide. She had lunch with the swim team, went to a class, talked to guidance counselors, practiced with the swim team, went to the team dinner and then spent the night in a dorm room with girls she didn't know.
At one point she texted me that she was freaking because they were driving on the highway, the two hostesses and two male students, on the way to Walmart. Grace has not been comfortable riding on the highway with teenagers since her accident.
But really, I wanted to laugh because when Grace, a homebody, is hanging with her friends here in town, they usually sit around watching movies and at times will make candy runs or Wendys runs. So, it sounds like she was in with a similar crowd at college.
She was so nervous to go and spend the night with these strangers. She even begged my husband, staying at the hotel up the hill, to let her stay with him. He held firm and she came home saying this school in West Virginia was her top choice.
I texted her that I was proud. She did something she was afraid of and it paid off.
My 13-year-old, my youngest had a first as well. His band of four played at the town festival on Saturday. Every year the boosters hold a festival with lots of fund-raising pie sales and games. The high school garage bands all play, but this time, a middle school band got a chance as well. Tucker was a little ticked off that the newspaper ad listed the words "kid band" beside his band's name, but next year when they're freshman they can be promoted to "student band."
They played five songs and my favorite was "Free Falling" by Tom Petty, but they also did songs by Green Day, Good Charlotte.
My video camera picked that moment to revert to stripes on the screen, looking like an old pair of Dick Van Dyke pajamas. I did recover a few minutes of the performance, including Tucker's ripping solo at the end of "Wake Me Up When September Ends." But I can't figure out how to save it as a separate track and post it. You'll just have to take my word for it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Learning Lessons

While my husband was away for five days, I learned some important lessons about myself. Well, two.
1. I get to be the good parent because he flies off the handle.
When he was gone, I found myself becoming the yelling parent and I wondered if the only reason I am the calm, caring parent is because he yells so I don't have to.
On Tuesday night when Spencer stayed out until 10, I was the one who met him at the door with threats of grounding. It was a school night after all.
You already know how I handled the things with Grace (see post below).
I found one too many wet towels in Tucker's room and sentenced him to two full loads of laundry, washed, dried and folded, before he saw his friends again.
At that point, all of my kids were asking, "Why are you so mad?" "Why are you taking this out on me?" Good questions.
And, the moment my husband returned, he jumped right into the yelling role again, and I became the soother, trying to smooth things over.
The second lesson, I learned from my husband's trip:
2. You'll get a more joyful welcome home if you arrive at 4:30 p.m. rather than 4:30 a.m. And don't expect sex when you come home at that hour either.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Senior pictures -- although I don't know if she'll need them now.

I know now why parents are anxious to see their children go off to college, and it's not just for the superb opportunities.
Tonight, I sat through a one and a half hour meeting in a room full of parents with the school's guidance counselors reading information to us. That is so incredibly painful. I think I'd rather have a filling without novacaine.
While I was sitting there, I received a text from my 17-year-old. She said, "Ask them to fax my transcripts." She is going on a college visit in two days and the school didn't have her transcripts yet.
"U emailed them last night." I reminded her.
She had brought the transcripts home. I went to the kids' computer and scanned them in, enlarged them and saved them. I asked her to email from her address since mine is on another computer.
She headed downstairs about 9 and came up an hour later.
Her return text, while I sat through the excruiating meeting, admitted that she hadn't emailed them. They weren't on the desktop so she didn't send them.
I wanted to get up right then and leave the meeting. If she can't be bothered to send an email with one attachment, what the hell am I doing spending hours of my time to learn about college applications? Why is my husband returning from his vacation early and taking vacation time so he can take her to the college overnight when she can't send one fricking email?
I'm so pissed, I'm tempted to cancel the college visit. But really, who would it punish more if she doesn't go to college, me or her?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why I get nothing done...

From the top of the basement stairs I see that the dehumidifer is blinking. That means it needs to be emptied. Heavy sigh.
As long as I'm going, I grab some kitchen towels that need to be washed. I get downstairs and see a wet towel laying on a chair by the desk. I grab it and venture into the boys' bathroom where I see a towel and a washcloth that need to be washed.
I look down at the overflowing trash can and sigh again. How difficult is it to walk the trashcan over to the big one in the laundry room? I grab it too.
I empty the trash can and see that a bunch of towels are wadded on top of the washing machine. I start a load.
The kitty pan needs to be scooped. I scoop it and add some more litter to the pan.
I start back to the bathroom and realize I forgot the trash can. I get it and go back to pick up the rest of the trash that had overflowed onto the floor. I notice a damp smell in the bathroom and I open the shower door. I spray the whole shower with Tilex, emptying out the soap and shampoo.
I go to wash my hands after the Tilex incident and notice that the hand soap dispenser is empty. Now I'll need to go upstairs to refill it. As I start upstairs I notice that I haven't emptied the dehumidifier -- the reason I came to the basement. I empty it finally.
A one-minute job that took 20.
This photo comes from Maybe I could find bicycles on my washing machine instead of wet towels.


I know that all too soon my children will be gone, having moved on to college and careers and marriages of their own. But for right now, this one moment, I am so happy to have the house quiet and to myself, but for the skitter of the cats.
A hectic morning of pancakes, and pain from wisdom teeth removal, along with complaints of colds and allergies, and a little anxiety about a French counting quiz had various children lobbying to just stay home today rather than going to school. But finally they're all out the door.
My husband, who is usually home during the day now, is safely ensconced in some Canadian Provincial park, immersed in wilderness, and I have the day to myself.
A break between classes this week.
Nothing but me and my computer to hammer out scenes from my latest novel.
That and a good cup of coffee.
Life is sweet.

Friday, September 11, 2009

New Job Blues

You know the reason you jump through all of those hoops to start a new job -- the paycheck!
So I've done the online training sessions and I've had the in-person meeting as we slogged through a huge, loose-leaf notebook filled with pictures of powerpoint photos. I've met with my mentor several times and shuttled back and forth to the office copying papers and preparing lessons.
This week I had to go to a seedy part of town and pee into a cup while a woman hovered outside the door to make sure it was actually my pee. Then she took the cup and put it into a machine that looked like it was a reverse drip coffee pot, but it's real purpose was to measure the temperature to prove that the cup of yellow urine was actually mine. After all that, my anticipation for the paycheck was increasing.
Until I got a call this week from my supervisor. Somehow my bank account number hadn't been entered and, if I wanted to be paid in the next few weeks they'd have to give me a gift card.
I'm sorry. Did you say a gift card?
Yes, a Visa gift card.
So I left the office today without a hefty paycheck, but with a small Visa gift card that fit neatly in my pocket. Who knows, next time maybe it'll be airfare miles, or green stamps. Paychecks are overrated.
Photo by: card

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Time to Yell "Yopp!" on Health Care

This morning, a little later than I should have, I sent emails to the two senators and one representative who speak for me in Washington, D.C. I'm not sure why I waited so long, but I've had some time to let the ideas percolate.
I think health care in the U.S. definitely needs fixing. We pay about $64 a week for insurance through my husband's work. I know that isn't much compared to people who have to get their own insurance. But we also have about $4000 taken out every year and put into a medical savings account. Total, we pay about $7300 and we usually run out of that money in our medical savings account so we end up paying more. It just depends how many bones our children break, who needs braces, and who has physical therapy. And we're a healthy family. We have no chronic illnesses.
I hate watching the party that is currently in control in the government (democrats) wimp out. It's like they get to Washington and can't remember the people they left behind. They're so intrigued by the big parties and worried about getting re-elected, they become hypnotized by big business.
So, here's the message I sent:
"I am for a public option. Healthcare needs to be turned around for everyone. We have good healthcare through my husband's job but we still end up paying an exorbitant amount. Please think about the people you are representing and stand up for them rather than the insurance companies.
Think about how companies in other countries with socialized medicine benefit from not having to pay healthcare for their workers.If we had something similar, this could help boost our economy as well.
We have traveled in Europe and seen how well their healthcare is run. A trip to the emergency room with my son in Italy cost 75 euro. I laughed when they asked if we wanted them to bill our insurance.
We aren't scared of the word socialism. We have "socialist" roads and highways that everyone can use. We have "socialist" schools that everyone can attend equally. Don't be afraid of labels, just do the right thing for the people you represent."
I'm not sure if my message will make a difference, but I know I can't make a difference if I don't send it.
When I talk politics and health care with people, I usually reference a woman who is on a writer's email group with me. Someone posted a fund raiser for an American woman who had breast cancer. They were trying to raise money for her treatment.
Another woman on the list who was American but lives in Italy now, responded that she had survived breast cancer. She said that while she was sick, she was able to focus on getting better rather than raising funds, because the treatment was paid for in Italy. She said she couldn't imagine having the added stress of worrying about how to pay the bills and whether she might bankrupt her familiy.
That really struck me. How different would an illness be if the focus was on recovering rather than worrying about the payments?
Let's go, Americans. We need health care reform. Like the Dr. Seuss story Horton Hears A Who, it is time for all of us to gather together and yell, "YOPP!" so they hear us, they know that we are here. If you remember the story, Horton the elephant was trying to save a small speck of dust that had a whole world on it, but the other animals couldn't hear the people who lived on the speck of dust. They all needed to yell out to be heard. So, the mayor:
"just as he felt he was getting nowhere,
And almost about to give up in despair,
He suddenly burst through a door and that Mayor
Discovered one shirker! Quite hidden away
In the Fairfax Apartments (Apartment 12-J)
A very small, very small shirker named Jo-Jo
was standing, just standing, and bouncing a Yo-Yo!
Not making a sound! Not a yipp! Not a chirp!"
Don't be Jo-Jo! Don't be a shirker! Don't let health care fail because you refuse to yell louder than the right wing.
Push your representatives to pass health care with a public option. Now is the time.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Forced Labor

Children forced to do dishes can get carried away with the suds!

The other day I asked Grace whether she wanted to unload the dishwasher or load it. She brought me a copy of an article she read for English class. It was by Jane Smiley, the author of A Thousand Acres, and made a case for not requiring kids to do chores. It turns out Smiley never did chores as a child. Her mother followed her around cleaning up until they could afford a cleaning lady.I'm sure this is similar to the life many of us led. Smiley learned work ethic by taking care of horses, which she really loved. Smiley also isn't making her children do any chores.
The case she made was that children are asked to do the worst chores. For instance, Mom will cook dinner and the daughter will be asked to do dishes. I have no problem with this, if Grace wants to cook dinner, I'll be happy to wash dishes.
Smiley also claimed that it takes four hours maximum to keep a house clean these days, I guess that was her reasoning for why children shouldn't have to participate. I'm flabbergasted by that suggestion. On Friday I did not do a lick of cleaning, but probably still spent four hours after I got up to make lunches (hate making lunches already), went to the grocery store, and made dinner. And this was in between working from 9-2 then 6-9:30. Why shouldn't my kids help out?
I think it would be nice if we could all have someone to take care of the chores we don't want to do. I would be happy to cook a few times a week, but that isn't my choice. I have to cook every day if I want my children to eat something other than chips and salsa.
I'm not certain if I would ever say, "I really could get into cleaning the toilet today," but, face it, it needs to be done.
Simply put, kids should do chores because everyone lives in the house together and we should all contribute. They don't contribute nearly as much as my husband and I do, but some small token is required. Unloading the dishwasher, scooping the kitty pan, running the vacuum. This will not kill them and will help them realize what is involved and necessary to keep a house running at a minimum level of cleanliness.
So Jane Smiley, I disagree with your essay. I'm not sure what advantage children get from not pitching in, other than more time on their facebook pages and the inability to figure out how to run a vacuum when they're older.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Love/Hate Relationship

Finally, I had a good run today.
It seems like weeks since I've run the whole way and felt good at the end. Most days I don't want to go, even if I'm out of bed at 5:30, or I tell myself I'll run when the kids leave for school.
But 8 a.m. is way too late for me to run. And really, 6 a.m. is too late for me to run, because I have to wake Tucker at 6:30 to get in the shower. So I need to be out the door at 5:30 or 6 at the latest.
This morning, I heard Spencer up at 4:45 so I went to check on him. Allergy season has led to lots of nose bleeds. But he didn't have a nose bleed and went back to bed. I lay in bed debating whether I should go back to sleep. The kitten decided that I shouldn't. When I got up, the doubt in my mind about running was already in full voice. It's kind of chilly outside. It's still dark. You don't have a reflector light. Your knees have been really stiff lately.
I ignored those doubts and walked half a block before I started running to get the stiffness out of my knees.
Ahhh. I didn't even feel my body. Does that make sense? It was one of those days where I could have been on rollerblades because my run was so smooth. I think it might be similar to meditation for some people where they feel like they're on another plane. I have to jolt myself back into my body -- like, watch where you're going!
I thought about running farther this morning then decided not to push my first good run in awhile. After a cool down, I walked in the house at 6:24. Plenty of time to spare and another run under my belt.
Photo by Nwardez on Flicker

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Too Cheap Not to Go

It entered my email account without a sound, but it got me talking. AirFrance, my favorite airline of all time, sent a message about a 6-night trip to Paris starting at $749.
$749! I shrieked. That's what you might pay for airfare alone and we could get the airfare plus six nights in a hotel in Paris with breakfast included. We wouldn't even have to eat the rest of the day, just drink cheap wine.
My husband rolls his eyes at me.
"Look, it includes a bateaux mouches ride."
I couldn't shake it. I called my best friend and shared the deal with her.
"No time off," she said in that brisk way that she uses now that she's reconciling with her husband. No fun.
I think of the people I could email. Maybe Sheila and Bethany could use this deal when they go to Paris for their modeling gig. I'll forward it to her.
Maybe I could send it to my mom and she would say, "Let's go. My treat."
My husband thinks maybe if he sent it to his sister and her husband she might want us all to go and offer to pay. But then we'd have to spend all of our time with his sister and her husband, and they'd be like "Are you guys going to take another nap?" before we disappeared into the hotel.
This deal just kept eating at me. There must be some way we could afford it. I do have that new teaching job. My husband is working some overtime next week.
We have eight days to book it and pay for it. The deadline is Sept. 9.
I'm not giving up. This could happen.
Here's the link for anyone who feels, like me, that this is way too cheap to pass up.

Cockadoodle Doo or Cocorico?

 We stood in the middle of the road, having walked together 13 miles that day and Claudine grasped my forearm. "Mais non! It doesn'...