Friday, November 05, 2010

random things...

My boss stopped by my cube today to compliment me on two reports that I'd sent him to review yesterday. He'd approved them with no changes, and I'd forwarded them to the safety doc, who also approved them with no changes (clearing the way for me to submit them, which I did), but my boss stopped by and said "Those 2 reports you sent me? They were really well written!" I have to say, that meant a lot to me. Bette never compliments or thanks anyone; she's more of the "Beatings will continue until morale improves!" school. It was nice to get a compliment for a couple of things I'd worked hard on.

I came home at a decent hour for me: 8:30. I was wiped tonight, and Mike has been sick with URC (upper respiratory crud) so no walk, and dinner tonight was tuna melts on sourdough toast.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

raise high the roof beam...

I'm addicted to the NY Times real estate section. I can't afford anything in it, but that doesn't stop me from looking. In this economy, to have articles titled, "What you get for...$1.1 Million...." really amazes me. There's a range of prices; to be fair, today it was "What you get for...$275,000..." However, that's as out of reach for me as $1.1 Million is. I want to downsize (and thus my compulsive looking) but everything appealing seems incredibly expensive.

What do I want? I'm trying to figure that out. Tonight I was talking to Mike about it, and I said, "Well, there are two things that I absolutely want: a steam shower and a bidet." I thought about it for a moment and added, "And of course, a fireplace..."

I prowl IKEA, trying to imagine if I really could live in 762 square feet of space. I think the answer is YES. When I was younger (i.e., in my 40's) I thought I'd stay in this house forever. I love this house, but I no longer want to stay here. This is a wonderful house for a family, but not for a woman on her own. I used to think I wanted to keep it so the kids could always come home for visits, but I've decided that's a poor reason to stay here, plus, it's exhausting, playing hostess all by yourself!

I'm ready for a change, and I'm ready to downsize. I don't think I'm the only one. Architects and builders of America, are you listening? I don't think so. I find these wonderful living spaces that are under 1000 square feet at IKEA, but they don't exactly abound in the real estate section of the NY Times, or anyplace else I've looked. There are lots of little tiny houses filled with tiny rooms; that's not what I'm talking about.

Take one of those houses and gut it. Raise the ceilings, so it's open and light. Rip out the wall to wall carpeting and put in hardwood and stone. Make the doorways wide, so they can accommodate a wheelchair, if it comes to that. In the bathroom(s), install a bidet and a steam shower, complete with a bench and old fart bars: Note: in addition to feeling like HEAVEN, 20 minutes in a steam shower uses about 7 gallons of water. In the kitchen, I want gas to cook on, and stone counter tops. I want a patio where I can have pots of flowers. There should either be public transportation near by or the place must be within walking distance of grocery stores, etc., because the day will come when I can no longer drive (and since I currently drive 25,000 miles a year, that's a day I look forward to!). And oh yes, ideally, this place should be near at least one of my four children...

That's what I'm looking for. Does it exist?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

and the beat goes on...

Tonight I worked until 11:15, then walked across campus in a light rain, got in my car, drove like a fiend and arrived home at 12:30, just in time to pull on some sweats so Mike and I could walk (albeit the short route tonight).

Back home at a little after 1AM we sat around in the kitchen and ate delicious, leftover-from-last-night cold lemon chicken, followed by slices of a Granny Smith apple and a little white stilton with apricot and mango. Then I said goodnight to Mike and took a long, hot bath with nice scent added to the water, and now I'm writing rather than sleep because I have to go back in in a couple of hours.

Here's to finding a job I can do anytime, anyplace, so long as I have a laptop.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

this 'n that...

So I handed in the performance eval with the observation, hmmm, I get it, this job is a DEAD END and I need to be looking around if I want to develop my career plan. Alright then, that's what I'll do! Not in those words, of course. Dunno what the response will be, and frankly, don't really care.

On to happier things. Mike has been living with me since late July and I'm happy to say he's a really good influence, in so many ways. I now have an iPhone, and what's more, I know how to use it. Since he's arrived, I hardly watch any TV (I've seen all the Law and Order reruns anyway) although I have to admit the two of us do watch lots of movies, which we then endlessly analyze...I've FINALLY perfected a frozen strawberry margarita, and managed to do so without buying one of those $350 margaritaville machines...except for the margaritas, I'm eating healthier...we do a brisk walk on one of three routes (short, medium and long) through the neighborhood every night (we've only missed 2 nights since we started)...and I'm beginning to think seriously about leaving Dallas. All of which is GOOD...

Monday, November 01, 2010

End of Year Performance Review - raaaaggggghhhhttttt....

So it's time to submit my end-of-the-year Performance Review. Ugh. This time, to add insult to injury, there's a new question, no doubt thought up by some Harvard educated MBA: Where do you see yourself in 1-3 years? I have to make up some suitable BS to answer this inane question, and I will, but what I really want to say is this:

Listen, you dweeby bean counter, I've been a permanent employee now for almost 4 years. In that time, although my caseload has increased by almost 50%, I've never submitted a single late report (this is a big deal at the company where I work). Furthermore, I've taken on many additional responsibilities since I started, some of which have been assigned to me, others that I've initiated, e.g., I created a training manual, complete with screen shots, that's now used internationally to train new employees on our pharma database, and I'm expected to keep it current. Yet I haven't received a raise or a promotion, or even an overall EE (exceeds expectations - word is that management doesn't like anyone to receive that rating, because an employee receiving that rating might expect some sort of financial reward, e.g., a raise or promotion). And so I'm still working at the same grade at which I was hired, as are those employees hired at the same time as me whose idea of work is pretty much to show up for 8 hours a day, period. Furthermore, in spite of my putting time and effort, twice a year, into writing these performance reviews, I have yet to have a one-on-one or to receive any sort of feedback on the work I'm doing from anyone who's supervised me. I'd say writing these is sort of like pennies down a well, except that I know someone reads them, because we get them back to redo if what we've written falls short of the rah-rah spirit with which they're supposed to be once again, I'm writing and submitting mine, but oh, what a colossal waste of time.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Princess and the Pea...

For some time I've needed a new mattress, but I didn't realize how much I needed one until I went to AZ in May for Mike's graduation. The hotel I stayed in had sleep number beds, and I cranked mine up to a very firm setting and got my first good night's sleep in a long, long time.

When I got back to Dallas I began researching mattresses. This is not an easy thing to do, because mattress manufacturers rename identical products for each different store that sells them. I don't know of any other commodity for which this is done, but for mattresses it's perfectly legal. I knew from personal experience that the result is confusion for the buyer, but I didn't realize until I began looking into it that this is also the
purpose of the practice: to confuse the buyer, so that you can't find the lowest price for any particular model. I know that this sounds like a paranoid delusion, but it's a fact.

It wasn't always this way. Ironically, the practice came about after trade laws were passed in the 1970's prohibiting manufacturers from setting a price floor (a minimum sales price) for mattresses. Although the goal was to help consumers by keeping prices competitive and therefore low, the result has been the opposite. A proliferation of discount mattress showrooms opened up after these laws were passed, selling mattresses for prices that were often considerably lower than department stores. In response, department stores negotiated with mattress manufacturers to provide "exclusive" department store models. That doesn't sound so bad, until you realize that the thing that makes these models exclusive is usually very minor: it might be something as insignificant as the color of the ticking, or the pattern of the stitching, or there may be a few more or less coils, etc. But no salesperson will tell you that, and the result is that in 2010, each mattress company manufactures a few different mattresses that are then marketed with dozens of different names, making it impossible for consumers to compare prices and get the best deal. This practice is a manufacturers dream, and it's now so widespread that even discount stores carry models that are exclusive to them.

As if that weren't enough, the price of mattresses, like everything else, have risen astronomically. Google "most expensive mattress" and you'll find the Vividus by Hastens for...drum roll...$59,750.00. That's right; by the time you add tax and shipping, over $60,000 for a mattress. Seriously? Of course, I wasn't looking at the Vividus. In fact, I decided after sleeping on the sleep number mattress that I didn't want an innerspring mattress at all, but I have a king size bed, and king size sleep number mattresses, manufactured by either Select Comfort or their parent company, Comfortaire, ran anywhere from $1100 to over $3000.

Two of my brothers have Tempurpedic mattresses and love them, so I decided I'd also check out memory foam mattresses. A couple of weeks ago, I went to Brookstone's at NorthPark where I spent a very relaxing half-hour on two Tempurpedic models (15 minutes on each). Both of them felt wonderful, but the price for a king size ran from $1700 (mattress only)/$2200 (mattress and foundation) to $4,000 (mattress only)/$4500 (mattress and foundation). A boatload of money!

12 years ago I spent a boatload of money on the mattress and box springs I'm now replacing: a top of the line Serta pillowtop. It came with with a 20-year-warranty but that didn't keep it from sagging, beginning at about year 8. Sagging in year 8 isn't covered under the warranty (of course) but suppose the mattress had a manufacturing defect...what would be covered? With Serta, I'd be responsible for 1/10 the dealer retail price times the number of years used. I paid $1200 for the mattress and box springs set, so multiply $120 x 8 years...under the warranty, I'd be responsible for $960
plus shipping costs...some warranty, huh? It's similar for other manufacturers, e.g., the Select Comfort Sleep Number bed has a 20-year limited warranty. If your bed fails in the first 2 years, you're in luck: replacement is totally covered. However, after that, the consumer is responsible for paying 20% of the retail cost plus 4% for each year since purchase. So if you paid $2000 and the pump failed in year 6, your out-of-pocket cost to get the mattress fixed under the 20-year warranty would be $880, plus shipping and handling (of course).

All of which left me thinking I didn't want to spend a boatload of money on a mattress this time around. But what were my alternatives? Here's a great site where I read a lot about mattresses: The first thing I discovered at this site is that memory foam mattresses have the highest consumer comfort rating: 81%. This is followed by an 80% comfort rating for air beds, 79% for water beds, 78% for latex, 66% for futons and 61% for innersprings (!!!). The site has received and sorted over 9,000 consumer reviews on mattress types, and provides a breakdown of how many reviewers responded for each type of mattress, e.g., 4476 for memory foam, but just 253 for water beds, so 79% of 253 water bed users rated water beds as comfortable.

The site also provides comfort ratings by mattress brand, and mattress type is listed after mattress brand. I spent hours looking up memory foam mattresses on the internet using this table, and in doing so, I read about off gassing, defined as the evaporation of volatile chemicals in non-metallic materials at normal atmospheric pressure.
The chemicals used in making memory foam are, for the most part, petroleum based, and those chemicals, and some of the fire retarding agents (e.g., PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers), emit fumes that can cause reactions in people with chemical sensitivities. Off gassing occurs with all mattress types, including innerspring mattresses.

I looked at and read about mattresses sold at a number of places, including Costco, Sam's, Walmart, and as well as mattresses sold only online, and I read endless customer reviews of individual mattresses. As expected, reading the reviews confirmed that no mattress is right for every person. For example, although 87% of Tempurpedic customers love their mattresses, 13% do not, and some of the 13% who don't love Tempurpedics really hate them! I learned that no matter what the cost, most mattresses can be expected to last without noticeable deterioration for about half the warranty, ergo, 5 years for a mattress with a 10-year-warranty; 8 to 12 years for a mattress with a 20-year-warranty.

So what did I end up buying? And where did I buy it, and how much did it cost? To be continued...

Monday, July 05, 2010


When my kids were little, I usually took them to Old City Park in Dallas, for the Old Fashioned 4th of July celebration that's held there each year. I'd pack a picnic lunch, which we'd eat while sitting on a quilt in the shade beneath the trees, and then we'd explore the old buildings, including watching the blacksmith, to get a glimpse of how Dallasites celebrated Independence Day prior and up to 1910. We'd come back home and swim to cool off, and then in the evening we'd go out again to see fireworks. I'd usually make some sort of 4th of July cake and sometimes we made home made ice cream with an old fashioned, hand cranked machine.

But now that everyone's grown, that torch is passed to Alex and Kath, both of whom are now moms themselves. These days the 4th is a quiet holiday for me. So how did I spend it? I went to IKEA, of course!

If you're not an IKEA-ite (and I really wasn't until we finally got a huge IKEA store in Frisco a few years ago), IKEA is a Swedish store that was founded in 1943 by a 17-year-old Swedish kid who had a part time job in a furniture store and realized there was money to be made by flat packing. The name is an acronym derived from his name (Ingvar Kamprad), the farm he lived on (Elmtaryd) and his home parish (Agunnaryd in Småland, South Sweden).

IKEA is a dream store for anyone on a limited budget: they sell a wonderful assortment of stylish but inexpensive, flat-packed furniture and accessories, including kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom items; everything from mattresses to bed frames to picture frames. Ingvar Kamprad is reportedly dyslexic, making product codes a nightmare for him, so every item at IKEA has a single word name, most of which are Swedish in origin. There’s a special naming taxonomy: with some exceptions, upholstered furniture, coffee tables, bookshelves, media storage and doorknobs have Swedish place names; beds, wardrobes and hall furniture have Norwegian place names; dining tables and chairs have Finnish place names; bathroom articles are named after Scandinavian lakes, rivers and bays…you get the idea. There are a lot of jokes about some of these names, e.g., the Jerker computer desk (now discontinued). As absurd as it may seem, a couple of years ago IKEA was accused of cultural imperialism after a review of an IKEA catalogue revealed that carpets and mats were given Danish names whereas top end products (e.g., sofas and desks) were given Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish names. This was widely interpreted by Danes as IKEA encouraging their customers to walk all over Danes. I'm not making this up; an irate Danish politician actually called for a ban on the practice, saying "IKEA is walking all over us!"

IKEA also sells some Swedish foods. Happily, there's no lutefisk (cod prepared in lye; the main dish every Christmas when I was growing up) but sadly, there's no lefse either. There are always fresh cinnamon rolls that smell like heaven when you walk into the store, and there are also surprisingly good frozen meatballs (I usually keep a bag in the freezer and often nuke a few for breakfast), lingonberries, gingersnaps, fish candy...(just kidding about the fish candy).

I went to IKEA because, having completed my research on mattresses (I'm going with Bed-In-A-Box), I decided to follow their advice on keeping the cost down by getting the box springs locally, ergo, IKEA. They have decent box springs at reasonable prices, so I’ll probably buy them there…but what would a trip to Ikea be without checking out the Poäng Chair? (Per Google translator, Poäng means "point", as in score.) The Poäng chair is a bent, beech wood chair with a fabric seat. It’s incredibly comfortable, and has a bit of bounce to it. I love this chair. I don't own one, but only because I don't have anyplace to put one. I’ve wanted one since I first sat in one, and every time I go to IKEA I spend some time sitting in a Poäng chair, trying to figure out where I could put one.

Well, today when I went to IKEA, I bought one…for WIGGLE!

Yes, IKEA now has a
Poäng chair for kids…for LITTLE kids! Happily, it comes in a flat pack, which is perfect, because I’ll be mailing it to Fairfax in a couple of weeks.

There's a website where you can find out what your name would be in IKEA. It's where I generated the title of this post. If you want to check it out, click HERE.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010



Isn't this a fabulous pic? It's my son-in-law, Chris, proudly holding Wiggle and relaxing with a beer (well, no beer for Wiggle) at the venerable Jimmy's in Hyde Park shortly after successfully defending his dissertation at the University of Chicago.

Woo hoo! Way to go, Chris!

This means, in addition to being
  • a TERRIFIC son-in-law
  • a WONDERFUL son
  • a DEVOTED brother
  • a FANTASTIC brother-in-law
  • a LOVING husband
  • and a DOTING Dad
We can now officially call you DOCTOR!


Friday, June 25, 2010

Happiness is...


spending time with a sunny little boy...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Solstice 2010


I'm in Chicago watching Wiggle while his parents look for housing in Virginia. Not quite 17 months old, he's a total sweetheart. He's so sunny in the morning when he wakes, and he stays sunny all day long. I'm sleeping on a futon in his room, and I hear him talking to himself cheerfully the moment he wakes up, like a little bird, and the moment I roll over and he sees that I'm awake he smiles and gets to his feet in his crib and says brightly, "UP UP UP!" Of course I get up and pick him up. Then I change his diaper and we go out into the apartment for breakfast. While my cup of coffee is brewing he has a banana and a cup of milk, and he chatters away happily as he eats.

Today we read books, worked on puzzles, played games, watered plants, blew bubbles and drew, letters and objects and shapes. We went to the store twice, and he was terrific both times. This afternoon when we got home he ran into the apartment and looked around, and I know he was looking for Alex and Chris, but when he saw that they weren't there he accepted it and looked to me to get his dinner, which of course I did. He was a little reluctant to have his bath tonight, but I'm quite sure that's because he'd figured out that if I gave him his bath, the only reason for that is that his parents weren't here to do it. So he had a very quick bath; really just a rinse off. He didn't want to play, and he usually loves to play in his bath, but I think he was especially missing his mom and dad when it came time to have his bath, because that's part of his usual bedtime routine with them. He didn't want me to read any stories to him, either, although he relented and had me read Where The Wild Things Are a couple of times. We did a couple of puzzles before I put him to bed, then I started his music and leaned over his crib and rubbed his back for half an hour while he listened to Leonard Cohen songs. When I left his room he cried for a couple of minutes before he fell asleep.

All of which has left me reflecting, and I've decided that I'm amazed and humbled to be in the presence of Wiggle. He's too young to have any real sense of time, and also too young to ask or understand where his parents are, and when they'll be back. I know he must miss them terribly, and yet he's cheerful and makes the best of the situation, without any complaints. Most of the adults I know, myself included, could take a lesson from him.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

time for a new...HOT WATER HEATER!!!

Why do these things happen in the middle of the night, instead of in the middle of the afternoon? I guess I should say, why do we discover them at night? I discovered this because, walking barefoot across the saltillo tile, I hit a wet spot...which is not a good feeling. So I turned on the lights and thought, there's only one place I can think of that water might be coming from near that I opened the door of the closet that houses the main hot water heater and had an Aha! Oh, crap! moment....


This is not a good thing to see. And then there's this alarming Danger! sign:


It's 11:58 PM on Sunday night as I write this. I have to be up for work in a few hours but instead of going to bed, I'm draining the main hot water heater. I've shut off the gas (at least I hope I have...the valve is very counterintuitive) and I've shut off the least I think I have...following these instructions:


and I've gone into the back yard and detached the garden hose from its rightful place, and dragged it into the house and attached it to the hot water heater, which I've then turned on to drain into the flower beds outside the house, the water being only tepid because the heater has stopped working big time. I'd stay home tomorrow to have it replaced except I didn't bring my laptop home, a few hours I'll drive in to work; I'll call a plumber and make an appointment ASAP to have the old hot water heater removed and a new one installed...and one day later this week I hope I'll be able to telecommute while that happens. The floor that supports it will have to be replaced too; this is just a 30" x 30" piece of plywood, an improvement over the pressboard (!!!) that was used for the original hot water heater that came with the house. When that baby went, the heater fell through the pressboard (of course). Ah, the joys of home ownership...OK, I'm done whining (for NOW)...

more later though.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Virgo Virgo Virgo...


Did Imelda Marcos start like this? I do love shoes.

Summer skirts...the long and the short of it...

I spent the weekend reorganizing the big closet in my bedroom. There are two closets in the master bedroom: a big one and a small one. I usually manage to keep the small one fairly tidy, but the big one had become a catch all. It was time to go through everything and I did, with the end result being the closet is now pristine, but my bedroom is a disaster, because that's where I moved the discards and I haven't packed all of them up yet.

Still, it feels good to finally have my closet organized again. After the fire, I thought I'd gotten pretty good at paring down and discarding what I don't need, and I think for the most part that's true, but going through my closet and the armoire in my bedroom, both of which were filled with clothes, I felt like I was just this side of becoming a hoarder, a truly frightening idea. However, with an empty armoire and an organized closet, I think I can safely say that there's no danger of that in my immediate future, thank goodness!

I've posted some big pics because I'm pleased with the result. The closet didn't always look like this. When we bought the house, this closet was nice and big but it had a single, sagging, pressboard shelf on 3 walls with a wooden clothes rod suspended beneath it. There were also two truly awful built-ins that managed to waste almost as much space as they occupied. After the fire I gutted this closet, painted it, and designed the new one, using Elfa shelving from The Container Store. Closet Maid makes excellent knock-offs of this shelving sold for a fraction of the cost at Home Depot, but I wanted several features that were unique to Elfa so in this closet I used Elfa.

I hung it all myself. It's very easy to do. You simply locate the studs, attach the top track, (a horizontal metal piece - make sure it's level) to the studs, and then just slide the hanging standards (vertical support pieces) onto the lip on the bottom of the top track. Attach the shelf brackets where ever you want a shelf. You can vary the depth of the shelves you're using, and although I like the ventilated shelving for a lot of reasons, Elfa now makes solid shelving too. You can have the shelving cut to size, or you can buy long pieces and cut them yourself (I've done both). I'm pleased with the end result, if I do say so myself.

Post Script: Goodwill Industries is probably pleased too. After initially posting this, I dropped off a full carload of discards.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

R.I.P. Martin Gardner...

Martin Gardner died Saturday. He was 95. I first became aware of him 41 years ago, when I was 19, and just discovering Scientific American. He wrote a monthly column called Mathematical Games for that magazine. Math has never come easily to me, and I was never able to solve his puzzles, and yet somehow he always managed to intrigue me, and I looked forward to his column each month.

Then I discovered The Annotated Alice, (first published in 1960). If you haven't read it, this book is every geek/trivia lover's idea of heaven. Gardner was an expert on Lewis Carroll, and often described as a kindred spirit. In The Annotated Alice, he explains where Carroll was going (or coming from): the riddles, jokes and literary references as well as the context in which much of the book was written. In the first few pages, when Alice speculates, "I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth!"'s the beginning of Gardner's footnote: In Carroll's day there was considerable popular speculation about what would happen if one fell through a hole that went straight through the center of the earth. Plutarch had asked the question and many famous thinkers, including Francis Bacon and Voltaire, had argued about it. Galileo (Dialogo dei Massimi Sistemi Giornata Seconda, Florence edition of 1842, Vol. 1, pages 251-52) gave the correct answer: the object would fall with increasing speed but decreasing acceleration, until it reached the center of the earth, at which spot it's acceleration would be zero. Thereafter it would slow down in speed, with increasing deceleration, until it reached the opening at the other end. Then it would fall back again. By ignoring air resistance and the coriolis force resulting from the earth's rotation (unless the hole ran from pole to pole), the object would oscillate back and forth forever. Air resistance of course would eventually bring it to rest at the earth's center. The interested reader should consult "A Hole through the Earth," by the French astronomer Camille Flammarion, in The Strand Magazine, Vol. 28 (1909), page 348, if only to look at the lurid illustrations." I'll concede there are readers to whom that footnote doesn't sing, but I'm not one of them. It sang to me; from that point on I was hooked on Gardner, who even translates Jabberwocky ("Twas brillig, and the slithy toves..." Bryllg (derived from the verb to bryl or broil), "the time of broiling dinner, i.e., the close of the afternoon..."

As if that weren't enough, Gardner was also an outspoken foe of pseudoscience, writing columns for The Skeptical Inquirer. He was a terrific writer, and a terrific man. If you haven't read The Annotated Alice, check it out. He will be missed.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Congratulations Mike!

I'm off to Tucson to attend Mike's graduation from the University of Arizona where he's earned a BFA in visual communication with an emphasis in graphic design. Yes, I'm VERY proud of him, and I can't wait to see him.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

hurts so good...NOT!

It rained all weekend, a soft, grey drizzle of the kind I love, and so after replacing a burned out dimmer in the master bath on Saturday morning (what a drag!) I spent hours Saturday and Sunday working, in the rain, on my flowerbeds. It was sufficiently wet that my bangs curled into unflattering ringlets and I got drenched to the bone, but both days, after finally finishing up, I kicked off my clogs and removed my sopping clothes in the mudroom, where those items went straight into the washing machine and I donned a towel and sprinted through the house to a long, hot shower. Sunday afternoon, after putting in 10 bags of mulch, I decided I'd indulge in a shoulder massage. I paid the masseuse for 15 minutes, and every minute of that massage hurt, and tonight my shoulders and back are still sore, and so tender I can hardly stand for anything to touch them. But I don't think this is because I had a bad massage; I think it's because I've been storing up a lot of work related tension in my back.

I need to start making some real time to undo that tension build-up, but that's so much easier said than done.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Just call me Martha...

OK, it was TOTALLY worth it that I declined brunch last Sunday in favor of working on my yard, because when I got home from work on Monday night, not only did the yard look good, but there was a sticky note on my front door telling me that my yard had been chosen by the Homeowner's Association as Yard of the Month for April! Woo Hoo!

I confess that I've secretly coveted this particular honor for many years, but I never thought I'd get it because I thought that you had to belong to the Homeowner's Association to be considered, and for reasons I won't go into here, that's a membership I let lapse years ago. I think it's pretty cool that it's not the case; that you don't have to belong. But I also thought I'd never get it because most of the recent recipients have posted signs in their yard telling who "does" their yard, e.g., they have gardeners or landscaping services putting in their flower beds, whereas I "do" my beds myself.

That is apparently coincidental: when I went to pick up the yard sign I found out how it works, and it couldn't be simpler: they drive around and look for the prettiest yard that month. Period. Needless to say, I'm thrilled that my yard made the cut. In addition to the honor of that (and I really do consider it an honor), I get a gift certificate to Calloway's. Another woo hoo! I'm posting some pics to show off my flowers. Thank goodness they didn't have to see the back yard, though!





Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter brunch...NOT!

I didn't do Easter this year, and I have to say I don't miss it. Although I'm not religious, for most of my adult life I celebrated Easter. When the kids were little, the night before Easter we'd dye eggs, of course, and then after the kids were asleep I'd hide the eggs and the kids' Easter baskets, inside the house, and Sunday morning we'd have an Easter Egg hunt. I usually let the kids dye a dozen eggs each, which meant I had to hide 48 eggs. Sunday morning, though, we'd inevitably find 45 or 46, but not the full 48, because after I went to bed the cats had their own Easter celebration, batting the eggs around the house and effectively re-hiding them, in new and interesting places that we'd find by smell in a couple of weeks.

Easter lunch was always the same: leg of lamb a la Julia Child, meaning marinated for 24 hours in a heavenly rosemary-garlic-soy-mustard sauce, then grilled until pink and served with mint sauce, plus fresh asparagus with hollandaise and a family recipe called French salad, which isn't French and doesn't contain anything like lettuce or celery. Dessert varied, but I remember making a strawberry tart one year. You get the idea. And afterward, on Monday night, I'd make a curry with the leftover lamb.

After I got divorced, I continued to make Easter lunch for whomever was here, including the ex, but because we're not religious this tradition sort of petered out. This year I decided I wasn't going to do it. I called the ex to tell him I was punting, a little concerned that he'd be disappointed, but I needn't have worried.

"Oh, yeah, uh, I meant to tell you...I'm driving to Memphis with F" he said, F being one of his lady friends.

I chuckled. So much for worrying about him being disappointed! I was looking forward to a weekend of puttering around in my flower beds and finding various other ways to avoid doing my taxes, but on Friday night a friend called and invited me to brunch. I don't know what possessed me, but I accepted, and as soon as I'd done so, I bitterly regretted it.

Let me back up. I really hate everything about brunch, beginning with the word itself. Brunch? Give me a break. If you skip lunch and eat an early dinner, you don't call it "linner". And Easter Sunday brunch...I don't know how it is in the north anymore, because it's been so long since I've lived there, but in Dallas, Easter brunch is a big business for restaurants. Families come in after church; the parents drink endless mimosas and wander back and forth to the buffet tables while the kids run around, unsupervised, to their heart's desire. It's my idea of restaurant hell. I thought, well, maybe we could just go to the Nasher for lunch. That would avoid most of the families just out of church. But the invitation wasn't to the Nasher for lunch; it was to LaMadeleine in Lewisville for brunch. Which meant driving to Lewisville. At 11:00 AM. Ugh. I know there are women who would jump at the chance to meet a guy for brunch, especially on Easter, but I'm not one of them.

At 9:30 I did myself (and my friend) a huge favor: I called and cancelled. I didn't insult him by telling him I hate brunch; I just said I have too much to do, which is true. After I got off the phone, I put on some old clothes and made myself a cappuccino. Then I pulled on a pair of gardening gloves and began potting plants, and I found myself smiling because I realized, insofar as I'm concerned, this is the perfect way to spend a Sunday, Easter or not.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A pain, not in my back, but in the you-know-what...

Most health plans, including mine, recommend a first colonoscopy at age 50. I managed to put off the procedure for eight years, but two years ago, at age 58, I finally got around to having it done. It's a good thing I did, because the doctor found several polyps of a type that, left untreated, are likely to become cancerous. Those polyps were removed, but because they are aggressive and tend to grow back, he scheduled another colonoscopy in two years. Last month I had the second colonoscopy, and the results were good, so I now have a three year period before I have to have another.

This morning I got a letter from a subrogation services company contacted by my insurance company "to get more information about the injury or care you received". The first question on the Questionnaire included with the letter read: Was your treatment due to (please check one below) auto accident? home injury? work accident or injury? medical malpractice? liability, like a slip or fall? other/not an accident (explain below). The letter had a case number that I'd never seen before, but no other information about what they were asking about: not the doctor involved, or the facility; not the treatment or procedure; not even a date of service.

I sighed and called the 1-800 number. After spending some time going through a number of annoying steps in the electronic processing procedure, I was put on hold. Eventually, a claims representative came on the line. I told her that I thought the letter must have been sent to me by mistake, because I haven't been in an accident.

"That doesn't mean anything," she exclaimed cheerfully.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because," she said distinctly, and I could practically hear the unuttered DUH! "You could have been injured in an accident without being in an accident!"


After I provided my date of birth, she began to unravel the Gordian knot. The inquiry was related to my recent colonoscopy. Apparently, my insurance company would like to get out of paying for this procedure. Never mind that it wasn't an emergency procedure, and I had to be pre-approved before it was scheduled, and they'd been apprised two years ago of the results that would require this to be done again in two years time.

"It says here you had this procedure due to back pain," the claims rep said.

I told her I did not have the procedure because of back pain; I had the procedure because I previously had a certain type of polyps that requires regular screening in case they come back. She blithely disregarded me, exclaiming, "Back pain is what the nurse put down!"

"Well then the nurse got it wrong!"

"Was the back pain due to an accident?"

"I DIDN'T HAVE BACK PAIN!" I exclaimed, although I was beginning to have another sort of pain trying to get her to understand this.

"I can't change the record, but I'm making a note that the back pain wasn't due to an accident, so you can tear up that paperwork," she said.

I hope the new health care plan is able to eliminate some of this idiocy, but I'm not counting on it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Things I Did Today...Sunday, 21 March 2010

1. Cleaned and cleaned and cleaned and cleaned...and still there's more to be done...
2. Went online and ordered skins for my Macbook (a blueberry Macpad, and I was tempted by a Spidey gelskin for the cover, but ended up ordering The Great Wave for now)
3. Picked up a script at the pharmacy
4. Did a couple of loads of laundry
5. Paid bills
6. Went to Blue Mesa for dinner, where I had goat cheese enchiladas while reading Sue Grafton

Friday, March 05, 2010

if seven maids with seven mops...

So this morning I got an email from my (new) boss asking me to estimate how many hours I think I'll spend working next year handling complaints for a new product that's not yet launched. Huh? I can't fault him; he's been asked to get the information, but to me, this sort of idiotic question smacks of MBA mentality. I handle all product complaints for all consumer products that we make, foreign and domestic. I can tell him approximately how many hours I spend per complaint received, by dividing the number of hours for which I'm paid each year (40 hours per week times 52 weeks) by the number of complaints handled, but I can't break that down by product. Some products are so obscure that I get no complaints for that product most years, or maybe one complaint or three complaints. Other products, more widely distributed, result in hundreds of complaints routed to me. I should add I have absolutely NO information about the new product, other than that it's scheduled to be launched eventually.

He might as well ask me how much I think it would cost me to live for a year on Mars, at some time in the future when/if Mars is colonized. I have GOT to start looking for a different job.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

the joys of getting older...

So I'm thinking I've had better Saturday night dinners. In fact, almost any Saturday night dinner would be better than what I'm having tonight: a cup of hot chicken broth, a glass of chilled Chardonnay and, for dessert, any kind of jello I want, so long as it's not red. I need to keep in mind that this is a feast compared to what I'm having for dinner tomorrow night: a gallon of chilled NuLytely, to which I'm welcome to add a flavor packet, if I so choose.

Yeah, it's time (again) for the dreaded colonoscopy, scheduled for bright and early Monday morning. The procedure itself is no big deal: they give you really good drugs. It's the prep that's awful. Last time I did this, 2 years ago this month, I scheduled the procedure for a Friday. That meant I was at work the two days of the clear liquid diet. This time, I scheduled the procedure for a Monday. What was I thinking? Working provided great distraction. Being at home for two days on a clear liquid diet, I just feel deprived (whine whine).

Here's the thing: a colonoscopy if recommended for everyone at age 50. I put off having one until I was 58, thinking this was yet another unpleasant, pointless, routine screening procedure.

Well, maybe not so pointless as I thought. There are polyps and there are polyps, some of which are less innocuous than others. The first colonoscopy revealed that I had some of those that are not so innocuous. They were removed, but they're classified as aggressive, which is why I'm having this procedure done again just two years later. I'm confident the results will be good, but if you're 50 and thinking of putting this off...don't. Schedule it now.

As for me, I'll savor the chicken broth tonight. Monday afternoon, I'm going out for Mexican food.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Office Space

It's 9:30 Friday night and I just got home from work about 10 minutes ago. I brought my laptop home with me, because I have work to do this weekend. The situation is really grim: more people were demoted today. The slacker wasn't demoted of course; he appears to remain bullet proof for now, although I really doubt that anyone is bullet proof in this regime. After seeing what's happening in terms of the reorg, all I can say is I used to think Office Space was a funny movie. Never having worked for a corporation when I first saw it, I didn't realize it's actually a documentary.

Two of the people who got demoted today are hard working, diligent women who have been there for years. I was happy to hear that one of them said he's going to have to fire her; she won't make it easy for him by leaving because he demoted her. I'm a foot soldier myself: an exempt employee, yes, but not high enough to qualify for those pesky bonuses or stock options. He has an army of us working for him. Most of us have master's degrees, a few have just bachelor's, and some have higher degrees. One of the women is an MD. I'd be willing to bet she's a really good doc, but her English isn't good enough to pass American boards, so she does elaborate statistical analyses for him while being the same level that I am. No bonuses or stock options for her, either. We'll probably survive, because he knows we're drones, and he knows he needs drones, but I'd imagine many of the people in management right now are feeling like the wives of Henry VIII.

I'm grateful to have a job. I know that there are many hard working, qualified people out there right now who don't have a job to complain about. But the way he has of dropping these little emotional dirty bombs late on a Friday afternoon is wearing on all of us, myself included. Whose head will he go for next, I wonder? I don't think I really want to know.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

snow dreams...

So I'm watching the Olympics and remembering how much I love snow. Well, northern snow...meaning cold, white, dry snow, and lots of it. I felt this way before I took the kids to live in Colorado for half a year a couple of light years ago. The first week there, I was enchanted with the snow, but then came the reality of living in a snowy climate, which meant spending 10 to 15 minutes every morning scraping the car windows before I could drive the kids to school...and that was assuming the driveway was plowed...and I was less enchanted at those times. And yet I remember I joined the gym, and most of the time I'd walk to the gym, a long cold trek through town, and on Fridays I'd stop for a bowl of tortilla soup, a late lunch at a Mexican restaurant on the way home, and then I'd step back out into the snowy town and trek home, and I loved that walk, always.

A friend took his family skiing in Colorado and posted pics on Facebook and I looked at those snowy slopes and thought what I think more and more these days, which is what on earth am I doing here in Texas? Two of my children live here, and I love that. I love the fact that I sometimes run into Chris at the grocery store or even on LBJ driving home (what are the chances? but it's happened), and that on Saturdays I can go see Xander play basketball...and I admit I do hate wearing socks, which is pretty much a requirement during the winter in places where there's snow.

I don't know what the answer is, but I'm spending a fair amount of time these days thinking about all of this.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Happy Birthday Dave!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAVE! You're my favorite little brother (never mind that you're my only little brother)

Saturday, February 20, 2010


So work has become really weird. We're in the process of a takeover and rumors abound (of course), but beyond that...we got a 483. Well, one group in our division got a 483; not my group (huge sigh of relief). For those of you who don't work in the pharmaceutical industry, a 483 is an FDA form that's used to report compliance issues after an on site inspection. It's a big deal to get one, and at the moment, management is understandably upset about it, as a result of which everyone in our department was invited to a MANDATORY (yep, the subject line in the email was all in caps like that, and attendance was taken) spontaneous meeting last Wednesday to listen to a very bizarre lecture by our division VP that began with how embarrassing it was to have this happen and then segued into a rambling digression about how even thieves have values, and how a bank robber with a gun who hugs the teller will always get caught because he's not clear on his values; he's conflicted...

I confess the VP who delivered this little gem of a lecture sort of lost me there, because I was wondering what on earth robbing banks has to do with compliance issues, but then it got even more weird, and threatening. The VP said he knows who each and everyone of us is and if he sees us walking around looking happy, then he knows that we're not doing our jobs, because we should not look happy at work, and if we're walking slowly he knows we're not doing our jobs, because there is work to be done, yada yada yada. Uh-huh. Sitting there listening to this very unpleasant lecture, I consoled myself with the thought that after making Fortune Magazine's "One of the 100 best companies to work for" list every year for over 10 years, the company didn't make it to the list this year.

And I also thought about the bozo in our little group who is out at least one day a week, week in and week out; who, despite the fact that we're swamped with work, stayed home a couple of weeks ago to celebrate his dog's birthday; and who was at work for a total of maybe 9 hours this week. Most of the time when he's out he just no-shows. On two of the days he was out this week, he was seen sitting in his truck in the parking lot, the engine running, early in the morning, after which he turned around and left. On one of those days he called our boss, and said he was sitting in his truck in the parking lot "but y'all don't wanna be around me today so I'm goin' home". When my boss told me this (she thought it was funny) I said, "Shoot, we don't want to be around him every day; why doesn't he get the message and just stay home?" If any of the rest of us did this, we'd get fired, but he's apparently bullet proof. In spite of the fact that has absolutely no work ethic, he's several pay grades above most of us, which means in addition to being paid more, he gets stock options and bonuses. Did I mention that his Daddy was big man in the company several years ago? Which is why he gets by with this stuff. Although he's closer to 50 than to any other birthday, he always refers to his father as Daddy, and he spends a lot of time talking about Daddy.

He missed the mandatory meeting (of course). But he walks fast and looks unhappy and he's clear on his values: he doesn't want to be there. I guess that means he'll continue to survive...

Monday, February 15, 2010

pulled kicking and screaming into the 21st century...

So in January I switched from a PC to Mac, and bit by bit, I've been figuring out how to use it and how to do things like download pics from my digital camera and edit them and post them to Facebook and Flickr, etc. But just when I was thinking I was fairly with it, I hit a major bump in the road.

This happened last week, when I went back to the gym for the first time in a LONG time. Getting ready to go, I dug around in my closet until I found my gym bag, abandoned in a corner where it was sadly covered in dust and looking the worse for wear. I pulled it out and still lying inside, after all this time, (reminding me a little creepily of the childhood poem by Eugene Field that begins, "The little toy dog is covered in dust...") I found my clipboard with my charts of sets and reps for when I lift (yeah, I'm totally OCD at the gym). I also found my lifting gloves; half a dozen laminated guest passes; a black nylon Gap fanny pack that contained an ancient chap stick, some spare change, a comb and some AA batteries in various pockets and...the reason for the AA portable CD player, still in its Case Logic case, complete with some CD's for working out, the best of which were The Pretenders Last of the Independents and Tina Turner's What's Love Got to Do With It.

Well, I may be out of it, but even I knew that I couldn't go into a gym in 2010 with a portable CD player strapped to my body...not unless I were wearing a sweatshirt with DORK printed in big, black letters across my I left it behind. Somehow, I managed to have a good workout on the elliptical cross trainer despite the lack of personal music. But the experience made me realize that I need to get up to speed, so to speak, on what options are available for listening to music these days...and here's where I had a real Rip Van Winkle experience. I knew about MP3 players and iPods, sort of...well, it would be more accurate to say that I knew that they exist, in the same way that you might be aware that people go to the Galapagos, without having actually been to the Galapagos yourself. But that is all that I knew, that such things existed; I really had no idea of how they worked.

So I did what I always do in these situations: I called up Kath, who's the family wizard when it comes to fancy electronics, and confessed my ignorance to her. Luckily for me, she laughed and took pity and promised to help me out. On Valentine's Day I stopped by her house and she gave me a tiny MP3 player, about the size of a couple of tubes of lipstick, to play with until I figure out what exactly I want in an MP3 player. She also emailed links to a site explaining what I needed to do to sync the player with iTunes (a week ago the word iTunes wasn't in my vocabulary) and a link to where I could download the manual. Last night I went to those links and played around until I got everything working, YES!!!! :) And then I went to the iTunes site and redeemed a gift that my son-in-law Chris gave me for Christmas: Dusty Springfield's Dusty in London CD. Whoa. On Amazon, that CD is $50 new, but it's available as an MP3 album for a fraction of that cost, and as if that weren't enough, here is the really cool thing that I'm so happy about: I can buy individual songs and make my own mix collections! Woo hoo!

I realize that to most of the people reading this, this is probably the equivalent of saying that I went to the grocery store and discovered they sell loaves of bread, already sliced! Yeah, I know, but bear with me. I don't know where I've been, but this is all new to me, and I'm thrilled to discover it. I also discovered so now if I'm in the mood to hear something obscure I can go there and search and listen and decide whether I want to buy that song or not. This is SO incredibly cool...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!



The snow is melting; there's still quite a bit left on grassy areas, but no trace of the magic that was there when I woke two days ago. It's time to look forward to spring, so when I went to Central Market and saw one of my favorite harbingers of spring, pussy willows, I bought a bunch, and for Valentine's Day, a bunch of pink tulips too. This was money well spent: I smile every time I walk into my kitchen and see them.

A lot of women (and most of the men I know) hate Valentine's Day. It's sort of an odd day. It's supposed to be a day when lovers express their love for each other. I think that everyone who celebrates it with that in mind enjoys Valentine's Day; but for many people, Valentine's Day has become a day when men give gifts to women, and women give...well, whatever the gift inspires them to give, I guess. That's more than a little twisted.

I decided when I was very young that I wasn't going to sit around waiting and hoping for things to happen; I was going to take charge of my life. To that end I was on my own in Chicago when I was 17; I learned to drive at 30; I finished college and went on to grad school in my 40's; and part of that early decision is why I found myself getting divorced at 50. When I was younger, taking these steps was sometimes frightening but usually exhilarating, but as I get older, I find that a lot of the time what it actually entails to take charge of my life leaves me feeling like Sisyphus; especially when it comes to big things like refinancing the house, or buying a new car, but also for more mundane things, like realizing when the power went out during the snowstorm two nights ago, tripping a smoke alarm upstairs, that turning the thing off in the dark was up to me, and only me. I can laugh now at the fact that I managed to get the thing off the ceiling and remove the batteries while standing on a step stool in the dark, using my cell phone for light, but it didn't seem so funny at the time.

So, being the independent, take charge sort of woman that I am, I decided a few years ago that if Valentine's Day is a day for lovers to express their love for each other, then maybe those of us who aren't in a relationship on Valentine's Day should use it as a day to express our love for ourselves; to treat ourselves to some things in which we might not otherwise indulge ourselves. The first year I did this I wanted to commemorate it, so I bought myself a beautiful pair of garnet and pearl earrings. Since then I've kept it simple.

Tonight, wearing those earrings, I'll pour myself a glass of wine and make myself a really nice dinner: grilled scallops; a salad of mixed greens with chevre, walnuts, strawberries and blueberries, tossed in a raspberry vinaigrette; and for dessert, a bunch of grapes with two cheeses, white stilton with lemon, and brie.

If you're in a relationship, use this day to celebrate your love for each other, and if you're alone, don't miss out on the opportunity to use it as a day to celebrate your love for yourself. Happy Valentine's Day!