Saturday, December 31, 2011

10 years ago

Once upon a time, on a New Years Eve, a man and a woman met.

It was December 31, 2001. The man drove from Bloomington to his high school friend's house in West Lafayette. The woman drove from the Chicago suburbs to her friend's house in - yep, West Lafayette. It was dark, there was a time change, she missed a turn and so was frazzled and late when she arrived.

Spaghetti was already on the table, but the group was welcoming. There was the friend and the couple... and the man and the woman. Who talked and talked and talked late into the night.

And then emails were exchanged. The rest, as they say, is history. A short 15 1/2 months after meeting, we got married.

So Happy Anniversary to my love on this, our 10th anniversary of meeting.

Friday, December 16, 2011

End of a journey

When Wil was 9 months old, Chris went back to school. He had found a Masters program he was interested in.

Now, 4 1/2 years later, he will graduate tomorrow.

While still in the same department, Telecom, he changed concentrations along the way, finding something (3D video production) even more interesting. Even better, it fits with what he does at work. And has opened opportunities. He enjoys working with 3D and he'll get to teach it this spring.

This isn't a very long blog post, but I wanted to say, "Congratulations. We're proud of you."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The real Santa

Our boys believe in Santa. And I'm glad.

Some people think it's awful to teach children about Santa because it is lying to them.

I disagree. Because Santa is real.

Is he a strange man in a red suit who lives at the North Pole, making toys with elves, flying around the world on Christmas Eve with a sleigh full of toys? Well, I'll leave that to you to decide.

Is Santa an idea? Absolutely. He's a marvelous idea. He's something in all of us. If you haven't read the famous response to the simple question "Is there a Santa Claus?" from The Sun, take a moment to do so.

We're teaching our boys to believe in Santa Claus... but we're also trying to teach them how to be Santa. And that's the important thing to me.

A few weeks ago, we bought some shower gel and a pouf as part of "Be a Santa to a Senior". And we bought a cute outfit for a little girl as part of our neighborhood sponsoring a family. Sam in particular had a really fun time picking the clothes (a sparkly lavender sweater, long sleeve t-shirt to go under, cords, and matching socks). They helped pick a toy for each of 2 kids for another angel tree program through Chris's work.

Beyond helping people they don't know, which helps teach them compassion and kindness, and caring for everyone, they like picking presents for people they do know. Wil picked the color yarn for the scarf I knit his teacher. They came up with ideas for a gift for Daddy (Chris). When I shop for our niece and nephew and a few other kids in the family, they will help me pick presents.

So what will we tell them when they eventually ask? We'll tell them the truth. And the truth isn't that adults lie, but that sometimes we pretend. And that Santa is real, just not what they thought. And then we'll let them in on the fun of being Santa and knowing it.

So is there a Santa? I think so. Absolutely. We're all Santa. If you read it in The Sun, it's true.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Giftmas story

It was coming. It was coming fast. Only 16 more shopping days before it would be time once again to celebrate the holiest of holy holidays: Giftmas.

The season of getting was in full swing, with people rushing to the malls, charging into stores, frantically clicking 'buy' online, all in the hopes of getting a great deal. It didn't matter what they were buying; all that mattered was that it was 50% off.

"Ooh! That thingamawhatchacallit is on sale! Only $29.99! I must buy it," Joe shouted into the empty room. Glancing up at the sound of his voice echoing, he frowned.

Feeling lonely, he turned on his favorite Giftmas music. Maybe that would help chase the feeling of emptiness away.

We wish you a merry Giftmas. We wish you a merry Giftmas. We wish you a merry Giftmas and a happy new haul!

Switching back to the thingamawhatchacallit, he clicked his mouse button, hoping he could complete his purchase before the price went back up. He wasn't sure who he would give it to. But that didn't matter. The point was he had to buy it.

As his purchase completed, he heard a chime as the confirmation email hit his inbox. Opening the message, he saw three little words he hadn't noticed before: "All sales final."

His stomach clenched. With a frown he read and reread the email. He looked down at the credit card sitting on the desk in front of him. Glancing back at the screen, the words jumped out at him again: "ALL SALES FINAL".

All I want for giftmas is a lot of toys, a lot of toys, a lot of toys. All I want for Giftmas is a lot of toys, then I'll have a merry Giftmas.

Suddenly sweating a little, he opened a new browser page. Logging in to his credit card account, he blanched at the balance. It was higher than he had thought. "Crap."

Why had he wanted to buy that thingamawhatchacallit? He didn't need it. He couldn't think of anyone to give it to. He thought back on all the stuff in the mail on its way to him now. None of it seemed worth buying. It was all just stuff. His head fell into his hands, dark thoughts whirling through his mind.

I'm dreaming of a bright Giftmas, with toys and games and more for me. Where the ribbons sparkle, and paper crinkles, with bows on every box I see.

Raising his head with resolve, Joe shut down his computer. He wasn't sure what he would do with all the stuff he had bought, but he knew he was done. He couldn't afford to buy, buy, buy. He didn't need more things. He needed to be less alone. And that wasn't going to happen sitting here in an empty room.

This is just a fiction piece that came to mind when I thought about how much Christmas seems to be turning into Giftmas. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Christmas playlist

I admit it: I have a lot of Christmas music. I like Christmas music. Some songs or albums have memories. Some I just like. Some are new discoveries. Some are golden oldies.


  • All-Star Christmas (various) I think this is the only album I have with "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" by Elmo & Patsy.
  • Arthur Fiedler's Christmas Pops (Boston Pops Orchestra) Orchestras just have a way with Christmas music.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas (Vince Guaraldi) Is it even Christmas without Charlie Brown?
  • Chex Holiday Classics vol. 3 (various) I got this one free in a Chex cereal box a number of years ago.
  • The Chipmunk Song (The Chipmunks) This is the only song I have from their Christmas album. I generally find them annoying, but this one is a classic.
  • A Christmas Album (Michael Crawford) He's best known for playing the Phantom in London and on Broadway. The man can sing.
  • Christmas at Home (Donny Osmond) I admit I love Donny Osmond. Is that wrong? Some songs I've never heard anywhere else include "Who Took the Mary Out of Christmas" and "The Kid in Me". 
  • Christmas Cheers (Straight No Chaser) The original group from IU, singing their a capella versions of Christmas songs, including the studio version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas".
  • The Christmas I Love (André Rieu) I have fond memories of seeing André Rieu in concert with my grandma. He leads a fabulous Strauß orchestra.
  • Christmas Songs of the Season (various) I don't know if they still do, but Kohl's used to sell a Christmas album every year to benefit their Kohl's Cares for Kids charity. This is the version from 2000. 
  • A Christmas Together (John Denver and the Muppets) I so wish they would release the special this is from on DVD. I love this album. Some of my favorites include the medley with "Alfie, The Christmas Tree", "The Peace Carol", "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (one of few versions of this song I like), the story of "Silent Night" and they sing the first verse in the original German,  "When the River Meets the Sea", "The Christmas Wish".
  • Elvis Presley Christmas Duets (Elvis and various) Just what it sounds like: artists did duets with recordings of Elvis.
  • Elvis' Christmas Album (Elvis Presley) This is an older album that only has 12 songs. There used to be a lot of versions with the songs just in different orders.
  • Get Music - Holiday (various) I got this free online years ago.
  • Holiday Pops (Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra) I admit it: I'm a Keith Lockhart fan. 
  • Holiday Sing Along with Mitch (Mitch Miller and the Gang) I grew up listening to this one. If you want a Christmas album with easy to sing along with tunes, this is the one to get. 
  • Holiday Spirits (Straight No Chaser) Yep, I have both of their Christmas albums. Their version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is one of the few I like. (I hate that song.)
  • If Every Day Was Like Christmas (Elvis) I'd have a "Blue Christmas" without Elvis, and this is his complete Christmas recordings. 
  • Listen! It's Christmas (Johnny Mathis and CeCe Winans) This was offered by Hallmark a number of years ago. Johnny Mathis is another one I can't have Christmas without.
  • Merry Christmas (Bing Crosby) When I bought the album, it was called Merry Christmas but is apparently now White Christmas. Bing is a classic. You can't have Christmas without Bing. Some songs here you won't hear elsewhere include "Christmas in Killarney" and "Mele Kalikimaka" and "Adeste Fideles" in the original French ("O Come All Ye Faithful"). And of course he does his most famous one: "White Christmas".
  • Music of Christmas (IHM Choral) This is an album made by the choral group at my mom's high school. 
  • Now That's What I Call Christmas (various) A mix of old and new - some of my favorites are Nat King Cole singing "The Christmas Song", Bing Crosby & David Bowie singing "Little Drummer Boy/Peace of Earth", John & Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band singing "Happy Christmas", "Merry Christmas Darling" by the Carpenters, Gloria Estefan's "Love on Layaway", Burl Ives singing "Holly Jolly Christmas"... I could go on.
  • Platinum Christmas (various) Modern pop stars sing Christmas songs. 
  • Snoopy's Christmas (The Royal Guardsmen) Snoopy faces the Red Baron on Christmas. It's a classic. 
  • A Soap Opera Christmas (various) Essential for any soap fans from the mid-90s. 
  • That Christmas Swing (Dave Williamson Big Band and Singers) I love big band music. I love swing music. I love big band swing Christmas music.
  • These Are Special Times (Celine Dion) Yes, I have her Christmas album. Got a problem with that?
  • Twisted Christmas (Bob Rivers) This is for when I need something irreverent. There are several albums in the series, but I only have the one. "Joy to the World" on electric guitar should be a classic. Seriously, that track alone is worth the album. One day I may pick up I Am Santa Claus if only for "O Little Town of Bethlehem" set to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun" (it fits perfectly, thus enhancing the irony.)
  • Ultimate Christmas (The Beach Boys) Yep, love the Beach Boys. "Little Saint Nick" is now a classic, but it was on the young, hip side of this album (the other side is more traditional) when it was released.
  • When My Heart Finds Christmas (Harry Connick, Jr.) My favorite original tracks are "When My Heart Finds Christmas" and "(It Must Have Been Ol') Santa Claus"
  • 25 (Chicago) I love horn rock. Even at Christmas.
Amazingly, with 440 songs, there are still three albums I miss. Alabama Christmas and Christmas II, and Kenny Rogers Christmas were perennial favorites growing up and I still miss those. Maybe one day I'll have them. 

So what are your favorite Christmas songs and albums? Is there anything "must have" that's missing from my collection?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The God of Black Friday?

I've been reading headlines and listening to radio stories about Black Friday. And they make me ill.

Here's a sampling:

Sharp elbows: Shoppers scuffle on Black Friday
Violence mars some Black Friday shopping events
Black Friday warriors: They just keep on shopping
Woman pepper sprays other Black Friday shoppers

All the violence, all in the name of good deals, is horrifying. I hope those people who did fight and use pepper spray are ashamed of themselves, but they probably won't be. All they will see is that they beat the other guy and saved a lot of money.

The one line that sticks out the most is from the third article linked above: "They shop straight through the night, fueled either by caffeine or just the thrill of the almighty discount."

Now, I'm not a religious person, but where is the Christian Right on this issue? They spend so much time telling everyone else how to live their lives, insisting that Jesus is the answer. They thump their Bibles when it suits them, but they aren't offended by that one statement.

What about that statement sticks out? If you didn't catch it, they have compared discounts to God. Go look up "almighty"; I'll wait here.

Is stuff really worth all that? If this is supposedly a Christian nation (it isn't, but that's the argument from certain corners), where is the outrage that people are so consumed by consumerism, that the spirit of Christmas has been lost in a gluttonous haze of things and more things?

I forgot: the same folks who shove their Bibles down everyone's throat conveniently forget that same book when it comes to defending capitalism and the "almighty dollar". Because they can worship both their God (and Jesus) and money.

Besides all that, the "need" to get everything at the lowest price at the expense of family (leaving holiday gatherings to shop), of decency (pepper spraying other shoppers, elbowing, pushing, fighting), is beyond my comprehension. There are plenty of sales. They don't require agressive behavior. They don't mean people get robbed at gun point in the parking lot by someone who wants to get an even better deal (see the second article linked above).

I guess if it were just consumerism, I would watch in bafflement, as I usually have, wondering why anyone would want to go fight the crowds to save a few dollars. The violence of the last several years just makes the whole Black Friday tradition disgusting to me.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Thanksgiving visitor

Ah, Thanksgiving morning. Time to make the mashed potatoes, our contribution to the holiday dinner. I settle the boys with some cartoons while they eat breakfast, giving myself a peaceful kitchen.

As I step to the sink to begin washing the potatoes, I look out the window and see a deer munching on some leaves.

6 point buck having breakfast
Now, our backyard is fenced. Three sides have 6' wooden fencing, but the back is just chain link. Deer have never jumped the fence - the pickings are too easy elsewhere.

In amazement, I walk to the dining room, raising the shades to get a better look. I startle him.

Isn't he beautiful?
He's a six-point buck. A blacktail deer? He watches me watch him, eventually deciding I'm not an immediate danger. I notice he is favoring his right hind leg, walking on three. He probably hurt it jumping the fence. Now why would he jump it? Was something chasing him?

There aren't many options when an injured deer is in your yard on Thanksgiving. Everything is closed. We don't want to call the police to take care of it. He can stay, at least for today. We'd rather not start the holiday with a bang.

He found a safe place.
I fear his leg is broken, but maybe it's just sprained. He seems to be ok other than that. He walks across the yard, finding a sheltered place to rest. We open the gate, giving him a way to leave when he's ready.

When we come home that night, he has moved to a new spot in the yard. He seems to like it here. 

He rests here, protected.
He's gone now. He was back in his favored place this morning. I tried to put some water out for him, thinking he might need some. I stayed well away, but still spooked him. He jumped the fence, still limping, and left. 

I hope he's ok. I hope he heals and lives a long life. At least we gave him a chance. And if he doesn't make it, he'll go back to nature, into the natural cycle of things.

But this Thanksgiving, we had a visitor.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I am thankful for...

There are many, many things to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Eve. Before I start my list, grade school style, there are two thoughts I would like to share. First, LeVar Burton tweeted this earlier today: gratitude = grateful + attitude Second, I've read a lot of posts in the last few days with tips for surviving Thanksgiving with the family. And I find it sad that family is something to be endured for so many people. Maybe we're boring, but I am so glad our family avoids all the drama, that we get along and can have a good time without reminders to "be respectful". So here's my Thanksgiving survival guide: Remember that this is your family. If everyone can do that, no one has to go home in tears. Unfortunately it seems there are a lot of people who forget this and make each other's lives miserable. So, this Thanksgiving I am thankful for a caring family, a great bunch of wonderful friends, our reasonably good health (Chris's current cold is minor compared to what we could face), a home that is more than a roof over our heads, Chris having a job he likes, being able to pay our bills, Chris finishing his degree this semester, our loving cats. I am so grateful we have opportunities to do what we love and that, when things go wrong, we can remind ourselves that they are first world problems. I am thankful we can afford to put food on the table, that our kids have shoes and warm coats and a safe place to sleep at night. There are so many things to be thankful for, but I think that's a pretty good list. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Giraffe cake adventure

Wil loves giraffes. This year for his birthday, he wanted a giraffe cake. As any good parent would, I searched online for a giraffe cake pan.

Did you know giraffe cake pans are hard to find? There is the Wilton generic animal face pan, which is discontinued, but still to be found on eBay. And you can download directions on how to decorate it as just about any animal, including giraffes.

But that wasn't good enough. Because Wil saw a full body giraffe cake pan and wanted that. So I ordered it.

Imagine my surprise when I saw how tiny the pan is.
Yep, I didn't read the description thoroughly. The cake pan is not much bigger than a cupcake. 

On to plan B. What can you do when you realize your cake pan is not right and the birthday party is in less than a week? Well, I could have ordered something else online and paid for express shipping. But I decided to be Creative!

What did I come up with, you ask? Cupcake giraffes. 

Cupcake giraffes.
The birthday boy loves them. He especially loves that there are two! And that he gets a tiny giraffe cake all to himself while the rest of us have cupcakes.

Decorating the giraffes was pretty easy. I used some yellow dye left over from a previous Wilton cake I did for the frosting. Chris added cinnamon spots because he mastered the shaking technique.  We lined them up in vaguely giraffe shape. The long necks are the key.

Will they win any decorating contests? Nope. But they won the only one that counts. I have a happy kid.

Oh, and the cake is spice cake with cream cheese frosting, which we chose as Wil's special cake for his first birthday and have done ever since. It's a nice fall cake. (Sam gets strawberry cake since that's a nice summer cake and he loves strawberries.) 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Just because something is....

Just because something is doesn't make it right.

Last night I posted a link on Facebook to an online petition telling Target not to open at midnight for Black Friday. You see, Target has decided that 5 a.m. isn't early enough to lure shoppers in for super deals on the day after Thanksgiving. They have employees coming in at 11 p.m. so they can open at midnight. (You can bet the people who decided this was a good idea won't have to leave their dinner table to sleep before an exhausting 8 hour shift.)

A lot of people agreed that it's ridiculous and that the consumerism inherent in this decision, curtailing the ability of employees to enjoy a national holiday for the opportunity to earn a few bucks, is sickening. But I was surprised how many people defended Target, saying we live in a capitalist society so we have to put up with this. That this is the price people pay for working in retail and it isn't that different from doctors, nurses, EMTs, firefighters and police who work on holidays.

Just because something is doesn't make it right.

And I don't agree with those sentiments. I find the whole idea of Black Friday kind of nausea inducing, but people will shop. Opening the stores early is rather blatant and obnoxious, but there are people out there shopping. At least when a store opens at 5 a.m. the employees can still enjoy the holiday the day before, get a reasonable night's sleep, and still work.

This opening at midnight is gross. If someone has to be at work at 11 p.m., and get sleep, they need to have a very early Thanksgiving lunch. They'll be hitting the sack about the time the Macy's Thanksgiving parade ends!

But that doesn't get to the heart of the arguments defending Target.

1) We live in a capitalist society. Sure, but that is just our economic system. We still live in a democracy, where we can vote with our dollars. Do we really have to get the absolute cheapest price on some piece of stuff probably made in China? To steal from a friend, "has your Christmas ever been ruined by a present you didn't get?" Sure, companies are out to make money, but it shouldn't be at the expense of their employees. Because if no one has any money because all the companies only worry about stock holders, no one will be able to buy their products. Any forward-thinking business knows you treat your employees well because it is better business in the long run.

2) Just because you have had to work on a holiday doesn't mean every person who ever works retail has to. Just because something is doesn't make it right. Why is it assumed that just because someone has a job they shouldn't have a holiday off? Do we really want to defend workers not getting paid decent wages, not getting holidays or paid sick leave or reasonable insurance?

3) I'm sorry, but there is a big difference between retail employees and public safety workers. If Target doesn't open until 5 a.m., the world doesn't end. If an ER is closed or a fire department unstaffed, bad things happen. There's no comparison. So don't even try. And most of those necessary employees rotate through holidays. They usually work things out so if someone works Thanksgiving, they get Christmas off, or something similar.

Another friend really nailed it when she commented that she is angry because the stores opening early is taking the employees away from their families. All we have is time, and that is being taken away. Time is precious. Our families are precious. On a day when most people celebrate being thankful for their families, that is being taken away. When a lot of people don't have much money, celebrating the spending of money seems crass.

Just because something is doesn't make it right.

Monday, November 14, 2011

All fiction is fantasy

I know I'm not the first to realize this, but the idea that all fiction is fantasy is something I was thinking about in the shower the other day.
See, I even wrote it on the shower wall with tub crayons.
So, all fiction is fantasy. Some types are just closer to reality than others. But they all spring from the author's imagination: mystery, suspense, romance, historical, sci-fi, and even... fantasy.

I like the freedom of writing fantasy. I get to invent a world in which anything could happen. I get to decide on the rules. I can even write about dragons that aren't dragons.

But all fiction is fantasy. And it is all made from nothing. Sometimes we borrow places or people we know. Sometimes we disguise them so we can make them just a little different to fit the story, or to protect them, or just because. Sometimes we make things up.

If fiction were not fantasy, it would be pretty boring. And it wouldn't be fiction. It would be history, or biography, or journalism. There are some interesting and exciting tales in reality. But there are no fairies or magic.

Pirates aren't swashbuckling in real life. Aliens aren't from outer space. Detectives have to worry about evidence tampering and usually aren't Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes.

All fiction is fantasy. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Victim blaming your kids

A major issue that has been talked about in circles I follow, especially in regards to rape, is victim blaming. Victim blaming is all about excusing the perpetrator by pointing out behaviors of the victim that "led" to their being victimized. It's wrong. I know this.

One of our boys can be a bit of a bully; the other can be a little whiny at times. I know this, and yet I still find myself in situations like the following.

One of the boys is sitting on the other, who is crying. We tell boy1 to get off his brother, which he does (sometimes it takes counting, or one of us actually lifting him off, but sometimes he just needs to be told). Not having seen what led to it, we tell boy1 not to do that.

Aware of the dynamics at work, we keep an eye on the two. Boy2 puts himself in a position where boy1 will very likely take the bait. Yep, sometimes he eggs boy1 on. Inevitably, we end up once again with boy2 on the ground and boy1 sitting on him, sometimes holding him in headlock.

Now, brotherly dynamics are not the same as most of the situations we see in the news where the victim gets blamed. And I see boy2 kind of "asking for it", until he gets sat on. And an easy solution in a lot of these instances would be if boy2 didn't make himself such an easy target.

And just as we're telling him to get off the floor, not put himself right under his brother's feet, it occurs to us that we're blaming the victim here. Boy1 will get a time out in his room, toys removed, whatever appropriate punishment fits the particular moment.

But it's a fine line to walk. Because, while boy1 really, truly, is upset about getting wrestled to the ground, he also does do things that make his brother want to do it. How do we teach him to not be a victim while also not blaming him?

I know, I'm way extrapolating here, but I really think we need to start teaching out kids at a young age that rapists rape, murders murder, etc.

And yet, there is a reason women take self-defense classes. And police recently have been a bit heavy-handed, but there's some truth to taking personal responsibility for one's own safety. No, women who are raped do not ask for it, but there are things they can do to "be smart"* and make themselves less likely to be a victim.

The only way to stop a crime is for the criminal not to commit it. But we still lock our doors. Some people have security services and alarm systems on their homes. The reality is that there are things we can do, but we still need to remember that even if you do everything right, bad things can happen.

I know this post seems to be wandering and pointless, but here's what it comes to: we need to teach our kids that boy1 is the one who gets punished for being a bully, but boy2 can also do some things to avoid the situation. They are each responsible for their own behavior.

And as they get older and learn more impulse control, then we can work on those harder lessons.

*Please note, I am NOT saying that women who get raped asked for it. I'm not saying they shouldn't wear sexy clothes if they enjoy doing it. I'm not saying they should be tea totalers. We should all be able to leave our doors unlocked and walk the streets at night without anything bad happening. But, just as we do lock our doors to make our homes and cars less of an easy target, there are ways to be a little smarter without being at fault.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On voting

Women have always been able to vote in the US in my lifetime. In my mother's and grandmothers' as well. The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, 91 years ago.

Would you believe Mississippi didn't ratify it until 1984? Actually, considering the state of women's rights in Mississippi, I guess I do.

I could write a lot about women's rights, such as the fact that the Equal Rights Amendment still has not been ratified and is not the law of the land, but this is an election day. I want to concentrate on elections.

Here in Bloomington, there are only 2 contested races. Pretty abysmal. Most of the new officials who will be sworn in on January 1st were elected by default during the primary because there is a full slate of Democrats but very few Republicans running. That's just sad.

Frankly, I don't think partisan politics really have a place in local elections. Most of what our local leaders do has very little to do with the big polarizing issues, anyway. And we would have a much more robust local election if more candidates were on the ballot. Really, does it matter which party someone is from at this level?

I would be willing to state that most, if not all, local offices are not political in that sense. Who cares if the recorder or auditor or a judge is a Republican or Democrat? They have a very specific job to do, which should really be more dependent on actual qualifications.

Add to that the local issues that really sway voters tend to have nothing to do with party. Can we let our candidates run on those issues?

One of the contested races this year is for the 3 city council at-large seats. The big issue that seems to be dividing voters here is I-69. And there is no consensus within either party. The 5 candidates run the gamut from against to absolutely for, with most being more practical and somewhere in the middle.

There are nuances in how they feel about other local issues, but again, it doesn't really split by party so much as by personal experience. And that's good. I don't like politicians who pick their stance on an issue by party (or voters who vote a straight ticket). That means they aren't thinking. It means they haven't learned that there's an awful lot of gray.

Me, I like to be an informed voter. I don't have the time to learn everything about the candidates, but I try to learn a little. It's pretty simple why: the last time I voted without having a clue who I was voting for, I accidentally helped elect someone who stood for the exact opposite of what I wanted, who turned out to be a criminal.

I've voted in almost every election for which I have been eligible. I think I may have missed some local elections when I was in college, but that's ok since I had no clue. I also consciously skipped voting in the first local election after moving to Bloomington because I didn't feel like I had a handle on the city or the candidates. I made a point to educate myself before the next one, though.

So what is the point of all this? Even with uncontested races, it is worth exercising one's right, privilege, and duty to vote. Even if someone is uncontested, you can abstain from voting. But that doesn't mean anything unless you cast a ballot. See, the math is such that if 1000 people vote in the election but only half vote for an uncontested candidate, that means the other half DIDN'T. That's significant. It may not sway the vote, but it makes a statement.

So vote. Please. Just do it. Seriously, it took all of 5 minutes this morning, including getting the boys in and out of the car, walking down the hall to the polling location, checking in, filling in the ballot, and getting our nifty "I voted" stickers.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Being a tissue donor

Yesterday I did something that's maybe a little crazy: I donated some healthy breast tissue to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank.

This tissue bank collects healthy tissue because researchers need to know what normal is before they can really understand not normal. If they only collect samples from breast cancer patients, they don't have anything to compare. Hence the tissue drive yesterday at Bloomington Hospital. I heard there were 179 women signed up to donate.

A bunch of doctors and nurses and volunteers came to Bloomington, many from the IU Simon Cancer Center to collect blood and tissue samples. They took over the outpatient surgery section, moving donors through the process in a very organized way.

This next section won't be very interesting, but I want to document the process so anyone who chooses to make a donation in the future will have an idea of what to expect.

When I arrived at 11:40, someone escorted me to the check-in, where they marked me off their list (I had signed up for an appointment online). Next I was directed to the next 'runner' who escorted me to another volunteer to sign the consent forms. She then walked me to the next station where my height and weight were noted. Another runner walked me down the hall to the medical history station. A volunteer there helped me find my ID numbers to log in and fill out a simple medical history on a laptop.

Then she walked me to the nurses who were drawing blood. It was noon by this point. Now, I have very firm veins, which is great except when blood needs to be drawn. The first nurse tried but my vein rolled. Rather than dig around, she asked a second nurse to try. The second time was the charm. This was probably the worst part of the process, but not their fault.

After the blood draw, a runner walked me down the hall where several women were waiting for their turn to have the biopsy. There was a little delay waiting as the doctors can only work so fast. It was probably about 12:15 when I sat down. I actually didn't not the time, but I don't think I waited more than 15-20 minutes. During that time, those of us waiting chatted about, well, whatever.

Once in the room, a nurse gave me a general run-down of what would happen. I changed into the gown. The nurse came in to tell me some of the precautions for afterward while we waited for the doctor, who had gotten delayed on a phone call about a patient. (Really, can't blame a doctor for taking care of their patients.)

The doctor came in and told me what each step was as she did the biopsy. She raved about what a great tissue sample mine was with not much fat, nice and dense, which would be good for research. She even showed it to me (little blobs on some gauze). Pain-wise, it stung a little when she did the local anesthetic (well, duh, needles sting a bit). The actual biopsy was fine - just a little pressure and an odd feeling.

Afterward, the nurse put pressure on the site for 10 minutes, then put a gauze bandage on and gave me an ice pack to stick in my bra. Once I was dressed, a runner walked me to the check-out, where they marked me off the list and gave me a gift bag and t-shirt. It was about 1:15.

Yep, that's a Vera Bradley bag.

All in all, I feel pretty good. I was a little sore yesterday afternoon, but a couple of ice packs helped. By last night it was mostly just tender (meaning: don't touch!) but not really a problem. Following the post-procedure orders of ice and not lifting anything "heavier than a martini glass or a menu" for 24 hours are pretty easy. Later today I get to remove the gauze and see what it looks like. If there's any bruising, it's under the bandage so I can't see it - and that was about the only major side effect expected. 

So, for anyone who skipped all the procedural stuff, here's the take-away: it was pretty easy. Yes, there is some soreness, but it's not a big deal. Really, think of the alternative. It's a nice way to help with research and the more research the better this disease is understood (just as with any other disease). And the better it is understood, the more likely it is that it can be prevented, managed and/or cured. In my lifetime, a breast cancer diagnosis has gone from a death sentence to a disease that can be managed.

There's a big drive planned for Indy the last weekend in January as part of a Super Bowl promotion: Indy Super Cure. If you want to join their interested donor list, they will keep you updated about events in the area. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

About the percenters

I don't think people get it. I really don't.

1) First there were the 99% folks, who have very legitimate gripes.
2) Then there are the 1% people who either a) agree with the 99% or say screw the 99%.
3) And then there are the 53% folks who are clueless.

A lot of people have been posting their pictures with their stories about why they fit into one of these groups. There has been a lot of commentary on those pictures. Here is what I see.

1) The 99% aren't lazy. They aren't whining because they have to work hard. The problem, what they (most of us since 99% of us are that 99%) are trying to convey, is that hard work doesn't get anywhere. You can work hard all your life and you will get poorer - unless you are in that 1% that keeps getting richer. You can have a good job, pay your bills, have health insurance... and still not get ahead. There is no American Dream for the vast majority of us who just want to be comfortable enough to pay the bills and maybe have a little extra to take a vacation, all without worrying if the next illness will send us into bankruptcy.

2) The guy from the infamous picture (who works 80 hour weeks and thinks the 99%ers are whiny) doesn't get it. The point is that he SHOULDN'T have to work 80 hour weeks for the rest of his life. And there aren't enough jobs for everyone to work that many hours. The American Dream is not about working yourself to death and not getting ahead. If you work that hard for a few years and do get ahead, that's fine. It isn't about a free ride either. That's not what the 99% are asking for. They just want to get a fair wage. They object to CEOs making 350X what the average worker makes, with stockholders getting crazy dividends, while the people who create the products that make all that money sink lower and lower.

3) The 53% folks supposedly represent the 53% who pay taxes. Except that a lot of the ones posting don't pay taxes. And why, if you pay your taxes, which go toward building roads and airports, and all sorts of other public projects, defend companies and the wealthy, who benefit from those tax funded services, not paying their fair share of taxes?

4) As for the 1%, I'm very happy to see that quite a few understand that they didn't get there on their own. Their wealth wasn't built in a bubble. They were able to make money with the help of others and using public resources. And that use of public resources is a big reason why they ABSOLUTELY SHOULD pay their fair share of taxes. As has been pointed out, many of them wouldn't even notice if their tax rate increased a small amount. The ones who gloat are just that - gloaters. We shouldn't feel sympathy for them or want to do them any favors. That doesn't mean we need to resent them (if people work hard and make a lot of money, more power to them). But they certainly don't need our help or Congress's to get even further ahead.

5) Some of the folks defending the status quo are doing so against their own self-interest. When the options are tax cuts or tax increases for the wealthy and the non-wealthy are fighting for tax cuts (even though it means tax increases for the middle class), it makes me wonder why. Is it because they aspire to be wealthy enough to not pay income taxes? Because if so, I hate to break it to you, but it's unlikely. Why do some folks want to pay more taxes so the people who can afford to pay more get a break? Don't tell me it's because they really believe in trickle down economics or that the wealthy are job creators. Those are fictions which have been disproved time and again. (For the record, when companies make more money [including via tax cuts], they don't hire more workers - they pay bigger investor dividends. They only hire if they need more employees. If the vast majority of American workers can't afford to buy products, it will only keep shrinking the economy. And the wealthy don't really create more jobs - at least not high paying ones. Maybe they'll hire another maid or gardener, but paying lower taxes isn't really going to encourage them to spread the wealth around. And they don't necessarily buy more stuff just because they saved a a few thousand dollars in taxes.)

6) This wealth imbalance can't continue. Historically, this is when societies either fall or reform. Can we please reform?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How I write

With NaNoWriMo almost upon us, I thought I would share how I write.

It's not complicated: I fly by the seat of my pants.

At least, that's how I've worked on my first novel (tentatively titled "The Dragonlords"). When I started, I had the first scene, the prologue, stuck in my mind. And I just went from there. I let the story tell me where to go. And when I got lost, I would talk to Chris. He would ask great questions (sometimes as simple as "why?") and of course I knew the answers. And those answers were usually where the story needed to go next.

I only had ~25K words after last November, so I've been fleshing it out for the last year, with the help of my writing group. I had some good bones when I started. I have almost 36K words now and plan to use this November to reach 50K (or, ideally, 60K). It needs filling in, but I know a lot of the places that need work, thanks to the lovely ladies in my writing group.

I also have the start of a stageplay/screenplay("Life is a Journey") that runs about 8 minutes so far. After I'm done with my novel, it is next on the list. Chris and I came up with the idea on a car ride a year and a half ago. We actually did outline the scenes before starting. I've done most of the work on the stageplay version, but want to switch it to a screenplay, since that is Chris's forte. Since Chris and I are working on this together (I write most of the dialog; he helps with the general story idea), this one needs to wait until we have time to work together. That means January at the soonest.

And I even have a story idea for next year's NaNoWriMo, when I will be ready for something new. I just can't juggle multiple projects without dropping them, so I need to concentrate on one at a time.

That's what I'm writing.

I actually do some of my writing in longhand and then type it up later. Sometimes I type directly. It really depends on what mood I'm in and what resources I have available. When I'm revising, I tend to do a lot of longhand, in red pen, on the printed pages. I can arrow stuff around and do insertions (I know, I can do that on the computer too, but it isn't the same as seeing what I've done).

I sometimes wear a writing outfit of cozy pajama pants, a shirt, my big black sweater, slippers.

I read recently a nice blog article about writer's block that really resonated. The gist is that no one gets talker's block, so why do they get writer's block. If you are a writer, go read it. I'll wait.

What did you think? Eye opening? He makes sense. I'll even add to his cure for writer's block: talk. When I get stuck, I bounce my story off Chris and he helps me get to the next scene (or the one after that). Just by listening and letting me talk about it. I probably don't even need to talk TO him. I bet a voice recorder would do just as well.

An example: at the last Bloomington Screenwriter's Community meeting, a writer was explaining how she didn't know where to start, then told us what her story was about. She does know where to start, she just has trouble writing it down. We suggested she record herself talking about it and she'll have the whole thing down in no time.

That's pretty much how I write.

So why do I write? Because I have these stories inside me and I want to share them. Finding the right words and being able to express these characters who inhabit these incredible worlds and do amazing things? What could be better than that?

Monday, October 24, 2011

The politics of sex

I know, 2 touchy topics. But a lot has been written and said lately about so-called "personhood" laws and abortions that save women's lives. And I have to comment.

If you are unaware, there is a trend right now to pass laws, quite notably in Mississippi, that define life as beginning at conception. A lot of people who know a lot more about this than I do have been writing about problems with this idea, including 1) it would effectively outlaw hormonal contraceptives, 2) it would open women who have miscarriages up to possible legal action, 3) teens in states that pass this could quite possibly be allowed to vote 17 years and 3 months after their birth, would be able to drink 20 years and 3 months after birth, et cetera, thus causing confusion as to actual age...

There has also been a hullaballoo about Mitt Romney and a woman he censured years ago when she sought a life-saving abortion, with the support of Mormon leaders.

The general rhetoric is that people (read: women) shouldn't have sex unless they are married and with the intention of creating children. I mention that this means women because the usually male politicians aren't too worried about the men who impregnate these women. And are sometimes caught with their pants down. And the general consensus is usually that 'boys will be boys' and they need to sow wild oats, but women need to be paragons.

Don't get me started on what a bunch of hypocritical, sexist crap that is.

Let's look at facts:

1) People, both men and women, have sex, sometimes when they are not married. That is a moral issue, not a political one, so can we stay out of everyone else's bedrooms?

2) You can preach all you want that no one should have sex unless they are married, but that ain't gonna happen. If you think it will, you live under a rock. If you think this is a new phenomenon, you don't know your history. Heck, even the vaunted Bible is full of stories of pre-marital and extra-marital sex.

3) Even within marriage, people have sex without the main purpose being procreational. Think about it. Sex, usually called making love, is used to bring a couple closer. It strengthens bonds. And it just feels good. Do you really think people only have sex when they want kids? That's not the kind of marriage I want. And a lot of people who are past childbearing age still have sex. (Do you really want people to have babies they can't afford? Because that's the consequence of sex only being procreational.)

So, the whole personhood thing. An embryo is potential life. It cannot exist outside of its host, much like a parasite. Without going into the morality of abortion, it is not yet born. If you want to truly protect life, there are a lot of people already walking this earth who need their lives saved.

And consequence #1 as listed above? Just go watch this video:

Yep. For all the men out there who think this issue doesn't have anything to do with them, you won't be getting all that sex if your wife or girlfriend can't use the hormonal contraceptive of her choice. I bet Trojan is thrilled - here comes a resurgence for condom use!

Have you had a miscarriage or know someone who has? (You probably do.) Think about the heartbreak, then consider if all the women who have had miscarriages were investigated for possible murder. Think about the backlog with police, who are already stretched thin, having to look into this - and they are not medical experts.

This is just a bad idea with consequences beyond just outlawing abortion, the real reason for the laws.

And so we get to abortion. And the generally accepted reasons of rape, incest, life of the mother, that even anti-abortion folks will allow. Even the Mormons all the life of the mother as a reason for an abortion. But then some folks can't accept even that. They don't see understand the tough decision of choosing one life over another. They don't understand that when two people decide that the person (woman) who is already walking this earth deserves a chance to live, and that leaving a motherless child (or children if there are already children) is also a bad. That even if a woman chooses to risk her own life to bear her child, she and the child may still both die.

Can we leave politics out of the bedroom? Can we leave medical decisions to doctors, not politicians? And can we try to think about the long-term consequences of our actions (or legislation) rather than the knee-jerk, FU that most of it seems to be these days?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

About sandwich crusts

Before I was a parent, I always told myself I would never cut crusts off of sandwiches. It always seemed such an indulgent thing to do. I told myself kids needed to suck it up and learn to either just eat the crusts or eat around them.

Then we had a child who would not eat. For over a year, he wouldn't eat anything other than Cheerios and the occasional gold fish cracker or Nutter Butter. He survived on milk and Pediasure.

We tried everything. We offered food. He went regularly to the pediatrician for weight checks. We heard advice and admonitions from so many people. I'm sure some were well-meaning, but it wasn't helpful.

Yes, we tried cutting back milk. And he didn't eat more. He actually lost weight. So we went back to what worked, under the advice of the pediatrician, hoping he would outgrow this stubbornness.

I think it was his regressing and rebelling when his baby brother was born, but I'll never know for sure. As suddenly as he stopped eating food, he suddenly decided he liked it. He developed an appetite and could recognize when he was hungry.

But he's still a very picky eater. Little things will kill his appetite. We have a one bite rule with dinner. He has to have at least one bite before he can say he doesn't like it. He has discovered some things he likes, but often will stop after that one bite.

So when my very picky child, who can be stubborn enough to not eat for months on end, will only eat a sandwich if all the crusts are cut off, do I cut them off? You bet I do. I know the alternative. I cut every bit of crust off.

We have well-fed birds and squirrels and chipmunks in our yard. Some days they don't even scurry away when I toss the crusts out the back door.

And I have two children who eat their sandwiches.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What theaters could learn from the IU Cinema

On this week's IU Cinema podcast (episode 53), the hosts, Andy and Jason, talked about the separate horrible experiences they had watching a movie at two different theaters.

Hollywood studios are lamenting the lackluster attendance at movies. They wonder why no one goes to the cinema anymore.

Here's a thought: Jason and Andy hit the nail on the head.

Why would I pay exorbitant prices to see a movie when the experience is bad? Yes, a good cinema can produce a fantastic experience, enhancing my enjoyment of a show. But a lousy experience is just painful and will make me hate a movie. As a studio, would I really want people to see my product (movie) in such a bad light, with poor sound or jumping picture?

Instead of worrying so much about dvd sales and Netflix, maybe the studios should worry more about the EXPERIENCE of the cinema. That's really what the moviegoer is paying for when they buy their ticket. They aren't paying to see the movie (there are a lot cheaper ways to do that now). The shared experience, the larger than life picture, those are why we pay to see a show.

If you really want to encourage people to get off their couches, give them a reason. If you want to steer them away from other options, make the cinema experience worth their effort. Make it truly an experience.

That's where the IU Cinema excels. AMC and other bog box theaters could learn something there. Yes, most shows at the Cinema are free or low cost. But that's not why we go. We go because the experience is fantastic. We go because the seats are comfortable, the sound is always good, the picture is better than anything you will see elsewhere. We go because the people there truly love movies and make the experience worth it. We go because the other patrons love movies and make for a great shared experience. Filmmakers have commented that they have never seen their movies look and sound better - who am I to argue?

We don't go to the movies very often. Babysitters are too expensive to make it easy on our budget. But we've gone much more often since January. What changed in January? Yep, that's when the IU Cinema opened. We used to see one or two movies a year. In the last 9 months, we've seen many films- Metropolis with live salon orchestra, Hoosiers, Certified Copy, Summertime, and The Last Picture Show to name a few.

Give me truly state of the art and I will pay to go. Give me a crappy experience and I won't. It's as simple as that. (Ok, so a good movie helps. But that's a different lesson altogether.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fruit flies

A week or so ago we ended up with overripe bananas in the kitchen. And fruit flies appeared like magic. It's not unusual for that to happen.

But this time, when the bananas were removed, the fruit flies didn't go away. Usually they disappear within a day or two, but they keep multiplying this time. And I haven't figured out where they are lurking.

So I did what anyone living in the future would do: I googled 'fruit fly trap'. Along with ones you can purchase, I found a recipe to make my very own, with ingredients I have in my kitchen:

Pour a cup of apple cider vinegar in a bowl or jar. Add a few drops of dish soap. Leave it where they congregate.

I put out the trap yesterday afternoon. This is what it looks like this morning:

Fruit fly trap in action
Yep, that dark smudge on the bottom is a bunch of dead fruit flies. Now, there are still a few flitting around, but it is definitely working. I'll definitely remember this recipe - and keep apple cider vinegar in my pantry.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On making friends

I belong to a very nice moms' group. I've met some great friends through activities with the group. Every mom I have met through the group has been very nice.

I preface with this information because I am always baffled by the occasional post on the message boards asking how to get to know other moms. Invariably, every couple of months, a new member will post that they are shy, that they don't know anyone, and that they feel uncomfortable going to a meetup because they don't know anyone. Sometimes they add that they are worried the group, which currently has 146 members, will be too cliquey and won't be welcoming to new members. And I shake my head.

This is what I would like to say to all those moms, and actually to anyone who is a new member of a group:

Most of us were shy when we started. I went to my first meetup in someone's house not knowing any of the other people who would be there. I met one of my best friends at that very first meetup. Did I have butterflies? Yep. Were my hands shaking as I rang the doorbell? You bet. Did I walk in that door and get to know the other moms and kids there? Absolutely.

The worst thing you can do is let fear keep you from making new friends.

As an adult, we all should have learned a long time ago that making friends takes a little work. You can't just expect someone to magically appear and bond. You have to reach out a little too. Will you click with every new person you meet? No. But you won't meet those great new people if you don't take the first step.

Put on your big girl panties (or whatever a suitable non-female-specific phrase would be) and do it. No one will bite. No one will laugh. If you mention that you are nervous because this is your first time there, you will probably hear stories of others' first times.

Not sure what to say? Want to stay in a corner hoping someone will come rescue you? Sometimes even with the best intentions, especially in public places, someone else may not realize you are waiting for an introduction. You might have to start a conversation yourself. Not sure what to say? Well, if we're in a group together, we must have something in common. That's a good place to start. Here's an example (with a fictional mom I'll call Jenny):

"Hi. My name is Meagan. Those two boys over there are mine."
"It's nice to meet you, Meagan. My name is Jenny. Mine are the girl in red (pointing) and the boy with the cape."
"He sure looks like he's having fun. How old are they?"
"Carrie is 4 and John is 2. How old are yours? Are they twins?"
"No, they are actually 3 and 4 1/2. But they are the same size. Everyone asks if they are twins."

See, the start of a conversation. It can continue on it's own from there or you can find another person to meet.

In my experience, there are a lot of moms in the group that I enjoy talking with. There are a few that I have become very good friends with and we get together for playdates outside the group. There are some I haven't met and some that I haven't talked much with. There are some that have infants that I don't have as much in common with but that doesn't mean I don't want to meet them or talk to them.

Maybe it's because we aren't in school where we have to sit in a room with the same 20 or 30 kids every day, but sometimes it seems like we've forgotten how to make friends and that we don't have to be friends with everyone. Maybe we need a little help. And so I will close by linking to this video from "The Big Bang Theory" where Sheldon discovers the Friendship Algorithm.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fun times in Nashville

Nashville, IN, that is. This past Saturday we went on a double date with my parents to see Robert Shaw and the Lonely Street Band in both "Heartbreak Hotel", his tribute to a young Elvis, and "Man in Black", his tribute to Johnny Cash.

Wow. Both shows were fantastic. Seriously, if you have time to go to Nashville before the end of October, take the time to see these shows at the Palace Theatre.

The only thing that marred our evening was dinner. Actually, that would be the lack of dinner.

The first show started at 5 and ended at about 6:45. The second show began at 8. There is a restaurant right next door, Holy Cow, a steak house. Considering the proximity we figured they would be used to serving the crowd between shows. We even stopped in just before the first show to make sure we could be seated and served, with time to eat, before the 2nd show. They claimed it was possible and took a reservation. Or so we thought.

Come 6:45, we walked next door only to be told that they had our name down but that it wasn't really a reservation. They would do their best to seat us. Which they did, at exactly 7. It was 7:15 before our waitress came to the table. We ordered 4 burgers. 7:30 passed. And 7:40. At 7:45, we decided that even if our food came out, a half hour after ordering it, we wouldn't have time to eat it. At 7:50, with still no food, we asked for the bill. (They didn't charge us for our drinks when we told the waitress that we had been told we would be able to fit in dinner before the 8 p.m. show and we just didn't have any more time.)

Yep, we sat through the second show on basically empty stomachs (2 sodas and a tiny roll didn't do much but give me heartburn). The only good thing about our non-dinner is the cinnamon butter for the roll. That was fabulous. And I'm sure the food is good - if you have a lot of time to sit and wait. Really, over 45 minutes waiting is not acceptable in my book. Over 30 minutes to cook burgers? WTH?

So, bottom line: go see the shows (we didn't see the Sunday afternoon "How Great Thou Art", gospel music of Elvis show, but I assume it's good) but find somewhere else to eat.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

In the fridge

So I was talking to some friends the other day and mentioned that I bought 6 gallons of milk the other day. The checker at the grocery store ask me, rather incredulously, how many kids I had. I have 2. And a husband who drinks chocolate milk by the gallon (ok, a little exaggeration). My friends were shocked that I even had enough room in the refrigerator to hold that much milk... and also that I bought that much at a time.

So here goes. I went shopping again today. And took a picture of the inside of our refrigerator.

What's in our fridge?
So it's not the best picture, but here goes:

Note 8 gallons of milk (about a week's worth) - 4 in the door and 4 on the shelf. (2 of those are partials)

There are 2 1/2 loaves of bread - we go through 3 or so a week.

Tonight's dinner (meatloaf) is thawing in the front.

There is also juice, yogurt, bagels (a treat!), fruit in the bins, cheese and ham in the meat drawer, eggs, peanut butter (we go through a jar/week) and jam. Oh, and tortillas.

When we got our new refrigerator, we got the biggest one that would fit into the space we have, but it is actually one of the smaller ones easily found in a store. It seems even fridges are getting bigger these days. We have a bottom freezer because we spend more time going into the refrigerator section than the freezer. The freezer is currently full of make ahead meals.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New people, new habits?

Has anyone else noticed that there seems to be less traffic on campus? Even at 5 p.m. Granted, there is still plenty, but it seems like a lot less than even 5 years ago.

What has happened in the last 5 years to make traffic noticeably lighter? I'm sure several factors are at play - more expensive parking permits, more expensive gas, free employee bus passes, car pool tags, ZipCars, incentives for employees to exercise more. But I wonder if the most important factor is actually as simple as turnover.

New students, of which there is a new crop every year, this year's being the largest to date in Bloomington, are orientated to use the bus system. Their IDs act as free bus passes on both IU and city buses and they've been using the buses since that started. Lack of parking makes taking the bus a better bet for students. I see a ton of students parking in the White Lot, with more walking from nearby apartments.

But I think employees are starting to use transportation options other than cars. Yes, a lot still drive. But as parking has gotten more expensive and spaces harder to find, I think more employees are finally looking at car pool, bike and bus options. City buses became free for employees with a special, free bus pass in 2006 - the year I left.

It seems like 5 years is about right for a paradigm shift. There are a lot of new employees - faculty and staff. A lot have retired or left. New programs have had time to settle in with early adopters talking about the conveniences.

Add to all that the new premium reduction incentives for health insurance for 2011 and voluntary Get Healthy programs and you have a recipe for this change. The construction on Bypass (and probably also 3rd Street) probably help too. If it isn't convenient to drive, people find other ways.

I don't think I'm imagining things. It really feels like there are fewer cars and less backup when driving through campus.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Our playlist

I was listening to iTunes today when something not unusual happened: Elvis ended and Metallica came on. I don't like Metallica, but sure enough they are in my library. That's what happens when you get married and combine music collections. Chris has embarrassing moments at work when ABBA suddenly comes on. So what is in this library? Elvis, ABBA, Meatloaf, The Beatles, Queen, Aerosmith, Straight No Chaser, Metallica, Lord of the Rings soundtrack, Barenaked Ladies, Ozzy Osbourne, Blondie, Crystal Method, Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts, Beethoven, The Rolling Stones..... It's an eclectic mix. I like a lot of the music Chris has introduced me to. I hope he likes some of what I've introduced to him.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

International Rock Flippiing Day

Along with being the 10th anniversary of the 9/11/01 attacks, today was the 5th annual International Rock Flipping Day. I read about it earlier today but didn't get around to flipping over a rock until after sunset. So what did I find? Nothing. Yep, apparently all the under rock critters that are usually there (ants, centipedes, isopods (otherwise known as roly-polies), and worms) are all sleeping. Unlike our kids, who were still talking in their beds while I was turning over no fewer than 7 rocks, flashlight in hand. I did startle a cricket sitting next to a rock, but it wasn't under the rock. At least I know what denizens are usually under the rocks in our back yard.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Free time

The boys have now been in preschool for two weeks. And I have free time! Five hours (ok, really 4.5 after factoring in travel time) twice a week. It has been so long since I've had free time, I almost don't know what to do with myself. There are so many things I want to do, along with what I need to do. I need to find time to do my book packing work. I also want to start working out for an hour or so. And writing! If I can find time to write, even for an hour, I can get a lot done on my novel. I'm a planner. I really need to make a schedule for myself and get into a routine so I can do all the things I want to do. So, a rough draft of a schedule: 9:30 drop off boys 9:45-10:45 work out 11:00-12:00 package books 12:00 lunch/reading 1:00-2:00 write 2:10 post office 2:20-2:30 pick up boys I'll have to see if this schedule will work. I'm sure it will need tweaking. And as we get closer to Christmas packing books will take longer (sometimes 2-3 hours per day). Of course, I can always finish those after picking up the boys and just take a late trip to the post office before 5. Now, am I forgetting anything? Oh yeah, grocery shopping and any other shopping that needs doing. Hmmm.... Well, we'll see what works. Maybe just writing on Thursday and shopping on Tuesday?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Welcome to House Eller

You may have noticed a little change to the blog. We purchased the domain and are now publishing there. It's a little thing, but getting here wasn't as easy as it should have been.

When we made the decision to purchase the domain name, I looked at a couple options to purchase it. I decided to buy it through Blogger/Google because they set everything up for me. I like easy, and that seemed the way to go since the cost was pretty much the same no matter how we did it.

It wasn't that easy. I guess partly it's my fault. I was using my iPad (Have you met my iPad? His name is Helo.) so I blithely walked through the purchase steps on it. Turns out Google Checkout, which is how you purchase through Google, didn't like using a mobile device. Unlike just about every other service on the web, it distinguishes between devices. And it wanted me to have a Google Checkout account on my computer first. Which I could then link to Helo.

So I thought I made my purchase. I even got a confirmation email. Then the fun came. The next day, I couldn't get in to view my purchase (I think I did once and saw something that said cancelled, but I couldn't get back to it). I followed the link in the email to link my mobile purchase to my computer. And kept getting errors that it couldn't find the information.

I somehow ended up creating a new Google Checkout account, not linked to Helo, and couldn't find a way to link them after the fact. Google Help was no help. Apparently, if you have an actual problem, you are out of luck. All the Help articles were basic instructions on how to set things up initially - actually more of a FAQ than Help.

Have you ever tried to contact Google about a problem? You can't. You can fill out their form once you dig through layers of unhelpful help, but you get an autoresponse that they can't address each individual problem, but have you checked out Help? (Yes, I did. That's why I tried to email my problem.) There is no chat help, no phone number. You can try the message boards and see if someone somewhere might have had this same issue and found a solution. But you can't actually get help from Google.

After verifying that the domain wasn't properly set up, I tried to purchase it again, but it wasn't available. Well crap. Time to leave this for the day and cool off.

Wednesday rolls around (I tried my original purchase Monday night). was still not set up. I had given up on looking at anything through Google Checkout since that was useless. I tried to purchase the domain name again, this time from the computer.... and it went through! When I got my confirmation email, I didn't hold out much hope. But then I got a second email with links to setting up administrator accounts! And this morning Blogger had magically migrated the blog over to the new domain.

Lesson learned: Google doesn't like mobile devices.

So, I welcome everyone to the new Same blog, just with our custom domain. It only took 3 days to get here, but we made it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jury duty review

So I've been released from jury duty. My number was never called and no jurors are needed today or tomorrow. So here are my thoughts now that my term of service is over.

I'm a little disappointed I didn't get called. While it would have been a hassle to work out child care (my mother-in-law was going to come down, but Chris would have had to stay home from work until she got here), I wanted to see how the whole process worked.

Jurors were only called 2 of the days all month. Apparently a lot of cases have been settled out of court lately, so they haven't needed jurors.

The nice thing is that I didn't have to call every evening. Some nights the message was that jurors weren't needed for several days and when to call in. For those of us who are planners, that made it a little more tolerable because I could plan some stuff a day or two in advance.

It's rough not being able to plan things for an entire month. A week is bad enough, but an entire month was a very long time. And there were special things happening this month. I was able to give them days that I was unavailable (when we were on vacation, preschool orientation and the first day of preschool).

But I've been nervous the last two weeks that I would get called on a school day. With a 3 year old who is nervous about school, a change in routine could be disastrous. Yes, Chris could take them in, but we're working really hard on that routine.

And then there is the factor that all these potential jurors were on hold for a month without being called.... I wonder if there are ever months when they don't have enough jurors and have to postpone a trial.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Preschool prep

Next week the boys start preschool. Wil will be in pre-K and Sam will have his first day of school (again).

As expected, Wil is excited to get back to school. He loves school. (Let's hope that continues!)

Then there's Sam. Last year was a disaster. He just wasn't ready so we pulled him out after a few weeks. This year, he says he's ready, although he still sometimes looks unsure. He tells me he won't cry and he'll stay at school all day - talk about making my heart break, listening to that! He is a year older and more independent than last year.

But Sam is nowhere near as independent as Wil. My boys are different in so many ways, not least of which is that Wil has always been sure of himself, not needing me nearly as much as Sam does. Even as a baby, Wil would push me away from playing with him because I was doing it wrong. He wanted to create his own little world. Sam, on the other hand, has always been much more dependent. Maybe it's because he has always had Wil to play with. Maybe it's just his personality. Sam has lots of brovado, but he's not good at being on his own.

We've been working on preparing Sam for preschool. This summer we've been reading books and watching shows that show how fun school can be. On heavy rotation right now are "Llama Llama Misses Mama", "The Night Before Preschool", and "The Kissing Hand" for books. We also found "Leapfrog: Let's Go to School!" on Netflix.

"Llama Llama Misses Mama" is nice because it let's him know it's ok to miss me, but I'll come back. He can miss Mommy and still enjoy his time at school. He has really gotten into "The Kissing Hand", making me kiss his hand and kissing mine in return when we read it. I think we may have to use that, at least at the beginning, to reassure him.

Generally, he likes all of these because the kids aren't always sure they will like school, but they always end up having fun. I just hope next week he remembers that second part and has a good time at school.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What if... a world with no stock market

Imagine a world where there is no stock market. Where companies answer to their stakeholders (employees, clients) rather than investors. Would that make a positive difference? I don't know (I am very far from an expert) but it's a question I'd like an answer to.

There are nuances to the stock market, so maybe what I'm really asking is about publicly traded companies. The reason I ask is because it seems that those publicly traded companies are answerable first to their stockholders, even at the expense of the company's best interests. Future gains are less important than a big dividend now (or at least that's the impression I get).

A small portion of the population keeps getting richer (CEOs, investors) while the workers keep getting shafted. I keep hearing that companies aren't hiring - not because they can't afford more workers but because they can make more profits for their stockholders by overworking their current employees. (I'd argue that this will eventually backfire since people burn out. They leave and/or they work less efficiently. So the company spends more training new employees. Which they think are expendable. Then they question why they aren't making more - when no one can afford to buy their products because no one has any money!)

I've been in a job where I was most definitely overworked. As people left, my department became me. Doing what 4 people had done before. Granted, I found ways to make processes run more efficiently (I had to), but it was still too much. I had a little breakdown just before I left (oh the relief when I walked out and realized I didn't need to down Tums continuously to get through the day!). And they had to hire 2 people to replace me.

Now, I bring all this up because I'd like to point out that they ended up paying salaries and benefits for 2 people anyway (after a short time of paying me exorbitant overtime), but there was also a toll on my health, which meant I used more health insurance. Yes, I paid more in co-pays, but overall, that helped raise insurance rates for everyone. (When more peope get sick, insurance companies raise rates. They don't generally lower them.)

People started leaving that company, abandoning ship so to speak, as working conditions worsened. New people were hired who didn't have as much experience, who needed a lot of training, who took time to learn. Clients weren't happy when everyone they talked to had to ask someone else for help and couldn't just get the job done. Can you see the snowball effect? This wasn't a public company, but I can imagine what any investors would have thought as they watched numbers fall.

Ok, so maybe this isn't a great case study for my question since this wasn't a public company and it shows how any company can make bad decisions. I just think using stock price as a benchmark is a bad idea. It magnifies the problems in bad management and puts undue emphasis on a metric that is kind of meaningless. Having to make profits to pay dividends to investors rather than making a profit to reinvest in the company seems foolish. (Ok, yes, you can do both. But it seems from where I'm sitting that sometimes those in charge forget that the employees are a part of the company. A company is only as good as its employees. Investing in human capital (which sounds awful) is just as important as investing in equipment.)

Anyway, I know there are no simple solutions, but this was just a thought exercise and a bit of a gripe that I wanted to put out there.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Dishwasher Fairy

Our house has a Dishwasher Fairy. I know this because I drink a lot of chocolate milk. I like to re-use my chocolate milk glasses for a day or two, so I rinse them and leave them on the counter until they're really in need of a proper washing. Think of it as a way to season the glasses between beverages. From time to time, one of my glasses will be captured by the Dishwasher Fairy and loaded ito the dishwasher well before its appointed time.

This is just how things are.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jury duty

I'm in the local jury pool for August. First let me be clear: I don't mind having jury duty. It'll be kind of interesting to see that side of the system.

But there are a few ways it really frustrates me.

I'm a planner. I like to have a plan, even if it ends up being thrown out the window. I like the illusion of control a plan gives me.

I can't plan anything this month. Nothing. I have a whole month of limbo, just waiting for my number to be called. I don't know until the night before if I have to go in the next day. Yep, I call each evening at 7 to find out if 13 hours later, at 8 a.m., I have to be at the courthouse. So far I haven't. There has only been one day where jurors have been called.

So 7 p.m. I call. Then I call Chris's mom to let her know. Because I'm lucky I have a mother-in-law who is available on short notice to watch the kids. Finding emergency child care would not be fun. I would hate to have to pay for the privilege of serving on a jury. (The token amount they pay certainly wouldn't cover daycare or a babysitter.)

Here I am left hanging each day for a month. What ever happened to being on call for a week? A week would be easier to work around.

And the worst part is that my day is tied to someone else doing their job. Last night I called the jury message line to find out if my number had been called. The message hadn't been updated. So I called every half hour until 11. And called again when the alarm went off at 7:30 this morning. Luckily there were no jurors required today, but it was a stressful night, all because someone forgot to update the message.

I sure would hate to be held responsible for not appearing because I didn't know I was supposed to. Yep, I have no control over my life this month. And that sucks.

Monday, August 8, 2011

GenCon 2011 in review

GenCon is over for this year, so it's time to review our mini-vacation.

Games: We played Munchkin Zombies Friday night (It's Munchkin! With zombies!) and yes, we bought it to add to our Munchkin collection. (I won our game.) We also tried a mini-figure game system thingy called Battles of Westeros, a BattleLore game. It's a strategy game, sort of like the minutia of a round of Risk. We were both new to the type of game. It just wasn't our cup of tea, but that's the point of GenCon - to try new games and see if there's something out there you have been missing.

Seminars: We went to lots of seminars, mostly on writing. Last year was the year for film seminars for Chris so this year we went to writing seminars for me (and Chris since things like world building and storytelling are also important for filmmaking.) I don't think I heard anything completely new, but a lot was confirmed. There were a few small things I needed to be reminded of, and it certainly wasn't wasted time. Hearing from a bunch of published authors who all had different takes on the writing process was informative.

Films: We had one film seminar on independent filmmaking. We also saw the sci-fi shorts block, which included one fantasy piece. It was an interesting mix. We capped off our time at GenCon with a viewing of "Beverly Lane", a fun zombie flick. May I just say, if you like zombie comedies, this was a delightful one.

Puzzle Quest: We tried our hand at the puzzle quest this year. There were 18 puzzles based on characters from "Alice in Wonderland. After solving those 18, there were 6 Alice puzzles. The goal was to solve them and find Alice. We only solved 8, but had a good time trying on the rest.

Bingo: Of course, one of the best parts of GenCon is all the costume watching. I decided to make a game out of it this year by creating a bingo card (after all, this was a gaming convention). Out of 25 squares, I found 21. Not bad. For an even bigger challenge, I took pictures as I found things on my card.

So here is GenCon in photos.

Wearing my Wil Wheaton shirt, in front of a war jack.

Anime characters

Zombies on the exhibit hall floor.

Just a bunch of fun costumes.

Transformer and Cobra Commander.

There were a lot of Jedi.

And Vader with Obi-Wan and a Rebel.


Fun steampunk

Kilts were well-represented.

Slave Leia and Stormtrooper.

Not sure, but neat costume. 

Chris dozed off in one of the writing seminars.

A couple of Captain Jacks.

Jareth, Pikachu.

Tusken Raider on the escalator.

My elf costume.

Spiderma'am and Wolverine.

Steampunk family.

Steampunk wheelchair.

Chris having an anachronistic moment with his iPhone.

Red shirt with sword in his back.

Our band of steampunks.


My steampunk costume. We'll add 'stuff' for next year.
And speaking of next year, we plan to go, but it's mid-August, so we'll have to see since Wil will be in Kindergarten and school starts around that time.