Thursday, December 31, 2009

Let the bells ring out

The New Year is rapidly approaching. I know it’s time to go “home” now because everybody else has left the building long ago…not, mind you, that I am physically in the office to see it (I’m working from home today), but looking at the corporate instant messaging window showing all my most-used team members…yeah.

They’re all long gone, off to ready themselves for fancy and/or rowdy parties and champagne and finger foods and karaoke and staying up too late and sleeping until forced to get up by pets or children or an urgent need for the bathroom.

So I suppose it’s time for me to pack it in, pack it up, and go shower some attention on my adorable offspring – who have actually been awfully good today while I was working.

Thank you, Nintendo Wii.

Me, I’ll be sitting around in my jeans drinking Riesling (because that’s what we have on hand) while the kids bounce around like atomic-powered missiles trying to stay up until midnight just to prove they can (like they need to prove that).

Oh. And playing on the Wii whether I want to or not (believe it or not, I’d kind of rather not right now…I’m kinda tired and would rather do nothing more energetic than knitting a gauge swatch on some pink cashmere blend [mostly ‘blend,’ almost no cashmere]), because it turns out that the kids find it far more amusing to watch me play Raving Rabbids than to play it themselves.

I’m going to pretend it’s because I rock at it, and not because I look like a durn-fool while I’m shaking my aging booty trying to do the dancing part of the game. (Oy.)

I hope your New Year celebrations are exactly what you want them to be, as exciting or relaxing as you like them – that you come home from them safe and sound and ready to have a joy-filled, kick-butting, healthy, happy and prosperous 2010.


Welcome home, Money!!

OK, so, I had a little drama around here over Christmas – because nothing says, “Merry Christmas!” like logging into your checking account on Christmas Eve day and seeing four transactions you don’t recognize for $71.61 each (plus four separate $0.72 ‘foreign exchange’ fees, rut-roh!) and realizing that somebody is having themselves a party on your dime down in Meh-hee-co.

I called the credit union and ran into one of the blind spots in Credit Union Land which was this: There was nobody home.

One o’clock on Christmas Eve, and they were closed for business.

Folks…they were so closed I couldn’t even report my card number stolen. Every number I had led to the same basic message: “Due to circumstances beyond our control, we cannot answer your call at this time. Please try your call again later.”

Ya. Circumstances beyond our control…I’ll just bet they were…

So all I could do was sweep all the cash out of the checking account into the savings (which didn’t have a direct tie with the debit card), fire off emails so I had some kind of “I did too try to tell you this was happening, don’t you DARE tell me it was MY fault!” ammo, and watch helplessly as the charges continued to bang into the account – and the credit union continued to pay them.

I suppose this is a “feature” for “my convenience,” but seriously…they need better automatic fraud detection. They just paid and paid and paid, as the account went further and further into the red.

They don’t trust me enough to let a physical paper paycheck clear in less than ten or fifteen days, but they’ll gladly let “me” charge over $400 a day in Mexican phone cards, even if it means my checking account goes $1600 in the red. Nice.

I finally got hold of someone Saturday morning, and she slapped a freeze on the card and transferred me to the fraud department’s line. (Six more charges got through that day. Argh!)

They were closed. Sigh.

So Monday, I finally called and talked to a person in the fraud department who said, “Ohmygoodnessgracious, you poor dear, that must have been so awwwwwwful for you!”

Needless to say, my account was bloodied. Overdraft charges, foreign transfer fees, the actual purchases themselves…ugly.

And it’s stayed that way since Monday.

This morning, wincing, I logged in to see if anybody had gotten around to all the reversals they’d promised they’d make.

Oh look…Reverse Foreign Fee…Dc Disputed Item…Reverse Overdraft Charge…reverse-reverse-reverse-reverse…

Welcome home, money. I surely did miss you while you were gone. Hope you enjoyed the warm sandy beaches down there in Mexico, and are ready to get back to work for me back here in the ice-frosted drudgery of Northern California…

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Boudin deal - act fast!!!

If you live near a Boudin bakery and love real sourdough - head's up! Boudin now (and probably for quite a while, but I've been out of touch) has a frequency-buyers reward card. If you grab one and register it before the end of December (EEP!), they're thanking you with one FREE one-pound loaf every month for thirteen months! That's about a thirty dollar value, folks, just for signing up for their card!

...I am a very happy native right now...for me, this is "the" sourdough. Even my own doesn't come anywhere close to their chewy sweet-and-sour's good just to eat, but even better used to sop up the broth of your favorite soup. And if you're ignoring the diet enough to spread some real butter on it first and then dipping it into, say, a three-heirloom-bean soup flavored with a smoked ham hock and simmered all day in the crock pot?

Well, it just doesn't get much better.

Now quit reading, San Francisco, and go get that card!!!!

The Major Minors

There are things in this life that are big fat hairy deals, things worth fighting for, things perhaps even worth dying for. Justice, freedom, my mother-in-law’s homemade peanut brittle, etc.

And then there…things that are…not.

Like, say, cellular signals dropping in tunnels.

Recently, BART stunned us by announcing that they now had signal all the way through the Transbay Tube – which, you know, is pretty wow. We’re hurtling along under the San Francisco Bay, and now people can yak on their cell phones and check their email like they’re not rattling along under billions of gallons of water?

Um…it’s great. Really. Because being able to be on the phone at all times yelping, “Where you at?! No, where YOU at? DUH! I’m on the TRAIN, FOOL!” is just…vital to our national mental health.


But, all kidding aside, it’s pretty nifty for me. It lets me work an extra twenty minutes each way, which gives me that much less time I need to spend either in the office, or trying to catch up at home after Everything Else – which is going to mean I’m staying up too late, which is going to mean testiness.

However. They do not have this astonishing cellular connection through the tunnels leading to and from the Lake Merritt station.

Soooooooo, my connection drops for a few minutes, and I have to go through the whole song and dance and genuflections to the Four Quarters and Solemn Incantations and potion-brewing and wand waving involved in getting all the layers of security back in place so that I can log back on to MegaBank’s networks and keep working.

It can take up to ten minutes when the forces of technology are not with you – which in computer time is, like, a hundred years.

For some reason, this really, really, really pissed me off this morning.

And I’m not entirely sure why, although I suspect it has to do with my perception of the relative difficulty on getting cellular connection in the two areas. (That, or the fact that BART doesn’t allow any food or drink in the “paid areas” of the station, which meant that my almost-full commuter mug of steaming hot ambition coffee had to stay tucked in my backpack. Go ahead, tease the tiger, wave the nice juicy steak in front of her and go, “Neener-neener, you caaaaaaaan’t haaaave it!”…) (And YOU can’t have your ARM anymore! RRRRRRROWR!!!!!)

You’d think I’d know better than to assume what I assume is anything like technically correct. I mean, people do it to me all the time at work.

Me: OK, so, you need information – what do you need to see?

Them: Welllllllll, can’t you just show me everything that’s in the database?

Me: Uh, no. Just tell me what you want to see, and…

Them: But I want to see what’s in the database! Just for my region, of course!

Me: OK, here’s the thing…the database? It’s not like, you know, a spreadsheet. Wouldn’t even fit on a spreadsheet. It’s a couple hundred tables containing millions or even billions of rows of information, joined together by numbers that make no sense to anybody but us data jockeys. If I were to even try to show you “what’s in the database” just for your region, I would be getting nasty-grams from the DBA because I’d be hammering the system so hard nobody would be able to do anything for, like, five days. And then you’d have an insurmountable amount of data, so much data you wouldn’t be able to actually see any of it. We can’t get there from here. That bridge is out. So! Tell me what you want to know! You want to see how many days worth of information, for which departments, in what categories, that kind of thing…

Them: …I don’t see why it’s so hard to just get what’s in the database…Gloria got to see what was in the database last week, and her region is much bigger than mine…

Me: {face-desk}

You’d think, therefore, that I wouldn’t be the sort of person who does that sort of thing to other people.

But this morning? I was all, “The Tube got seamless connections, how come the Lake Merritt tunnels can’t, huh? How hard can it be? I MEAN YOU KNOW REALLY!! The Tube is under water, and they figured it out! The tunnel is just feh!, A TUNNEL!

…dirty rotten no good lazy such-and-sos…they just don’t care about me and my needs

What makes this particularly funny, of course, is the fact that I’m pissy because something that didn’t exist a few weeks ago anywhere in the BART system doesn’t now exist everywhere in it.

I am one extremely spoiled little brat.

But at least I can finally drink my coffee, now that I’m no longer in a “paid area” of the BART system. (In related news, Contigo vacuum-insulated stainless steel travel mugs rock. Two hours later, my coffee is still hot and it did not spill all over the inside of my backpack. Righteous!)

…ya know, Amtrak lets you have coffee. Shoot, Amtrak has dining cars, where you can buy more coffee, should your cup run dry. Why can’t BART be more like Amtrak, huh…?

(I’m actually posting this from the Transbay Tube. Underwater blogging!…what will they think of next…)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Money Monday: December 28, 2009

On this auspicious last-Monday-of-2009 occasion (the solemnity of which I just totally negated for myself by typing ‘ospitious’ and then getting the giggles because it made me think ostrich, which is different financial management theory entirely than mine) (look, I started this at 4:45 in the morning, ya know? It doesn’t take much to set me off at this hour), I thought I’d try for one last Money Monday post in 2009.

Hmm…is there an onomatopoeia for “primal scream”? Because I very much doubt I’m alone in feeling that 2009 was a year to be burned in effigy and the charred remains buried face-down with a garlic-studded stake through its heart.

(But I’m not bitter.)

I have to admit I’m actually looking forward to 2010.

(And I hope I didn’t just become the girl in the slasher film who goes, “OhmyGAWD, I just remembered I forgot my hairbrush! It’s, like, vital and some junk! I’ll just go traipsing through these dark, spooky woods to get it! I’m sure the Spooky Wood Slasher isn’t out there right now…!”)

There have been a lot of changes in the last few years. More and more we find ourselves asking, “Where are we going with this, anyway?” and honestly…we don’t know the answer.

It’s hard to get someplace when you have no idea where you want to go.

When I look back at the plans we had in years past, I find that an awful lot of what’s on the list doesn’t really apply anymore – we’ve changed. Things that were in the top five don’t even make the top fifty now; things that weren’t even on the list have replaced them.

I guess that’s part of being a human being, living in an imperfect and changing world. We change too, as we learn more and more about ourselves and our world, and how those two things go together.

It’s the time of year whenever people start sidling up and asking, “Soooooooo…any resolutions this new year?”

Now, I despise new year’s resolutions. For one thing, if you’re going to decide to do something good for yourself, just do it. Don’t wait for January 1, or your birthday, or your first child to arrive, or the 15th of Octember – just do it.

There’s no time like the present, says I.

Furthermore, there’s This Thing about the new year resolution gambit: Nobody takes them seriously. We can make whatever sweeping, grandiose, ridiculously complex or impossible statement we decide fitting (sometimes with the help of half a bottle of champagne), and nobody bats an eye when three days later we’re right back to our old ways.

How many people, for example, will start the new year by declaring that this, THIS RIGHT HERE, this year of Grace XXXX, is The Year when they will finally lose those thirty (OK, forty) extra pounds they’ve been meaning to lose just forever.

And when we all see this friend plowing face-first into a bowl of ice cream and chocolate pie on January 15th, does anybody say, “Forsooth! Madame! What of thy pledge a fortnight ago?”

Pshaw. Of course not. It was “just” a new year’s resolution, right? A pie crust promise! Easily made, easily broken…we don’t hold ourselves to them, nor each other to them, and pretty much nobody expects that anybody has any intention whatsoever of keeping them.

And that irks the devil out of me.

Hmm. Actually? I think it irks the saintly out of me. Because if it irked the devil out of me, I don’t think I’d be so snarky about it…I’d be more like, “But that’s fine, my child, for lo! $DEITY is nothing but pure love and forgiveness…” and then I’d probably launch into a rendition of Gloria so, yeah.

I think it actually irks the saintly out of me.

The devil stays firmly put.

ANYWAY. All my personal feelings on the subject aside…it’s still a time of year when, even if you weren’t thinking about it naturally because of that whole ‘new year / new opportunities’ thing, or because perhaps the after-Christmas regrets were already settling in (I surely do regret eating all the peanut brittle my mother-in-law brought up), people are going to start asking you, in moments of idle conversation.

So. Any good resolutions for this year?

I refuse to call this a resolution, mind you, but there is something I want to do this year.

I want to give our goals a thorough makeover, see if we can’t do more than just sort of paddle along hoping the river is going where we want to end up.

It’s not exactly a simple undertaking…which of course is why I’ve kind of…uh…well…not gotten around to it, when things began changing so drastically and it was obvious I should but, well, you know…

It’s hard and some junk. And involved. And speaking of involved, it isn’t just a matter of me sitting down and figuring stuff out.

There’s an “us” involved, and “we” need to get things onto a single page, and come up with a plan, and stick to it, and pull together toward whatever goals we decide are the Top Priority.

But…it’s worth doing.

Life is full of hard things. Even when you’re doing something you love, there are times when the best you can do is put one foot in front of the other and keep on keepin’ on.

When you’re just sort of surviving, with no idea where you’re going or what it gets you, those hard times seem really, REALLY hard.

But when you have carefully thought about where you’re going and why, what you get in the end and why you think it’s worth giving up whatever you’re giving up, doing whatever you’re having to do, those hard times don’t seem so hard.

So I guess I have some homework for this week: To start hashing out where we want to end up – in December 2010, 2015, 2030. What do we still want, what don’t we want anymore, what new things have become important to us when we weren’t looking?

What do we want now…and what are we ready to toss aside.

How we expect to get there…will have to be another week’s homework. This is going to take enough thought, and discussion, and more thought, and more discussion…it’s not just a “me” proposition, but a “we” with a lot of other souls involved.

What about you? Given any thought recently about what you really want to have, to be, to do…today, tomorrow, this year, next year, in five years, in twenty?

It’s an interesting exercise, and one well worth doing. Need a nudge to get you started? Grab some paper, and a pen. Think of something you want to have, or do, or be. Get a college degree, see Amsterdam, be a child advocate, have a ranch with five acres and a six-stall barn for the horses.

Write it down. Don’t worry about how important it is (or isn’t), or whether it’s in the right order, how (im)possible it is, or any of that.

Just write them down as they occur to you.

When you get stuck, don’t worry about it. Just put the list down and leave it alone. Come back to it. Put it away for a day or two – then take it out and take another look at it. Take a stab at putting things in relative-importance order…then put it away again.

If you keep coming back at it, thinking things over and letting the list evolve, eventually you’ll find it practically sorts itself – especially if there’s only one person involved. (It can get complicated in a hurry when it’s a married couple doing this together. Oy.)

Remember, it’s not carved in stone. You have the right to change things around when you realize they aren’t quite right – even if you’re halfway through your plan when your realize it. We change, and grow, and make realizations about ourselves and our world.

That’s OK. Part of life on this planet in these freckly, wrinkly, pimple-infested skins.

The main thing is, to know that you’re doing your best to get what you want to get for all the hard work Life is going to demand you do whether you get what you want or not.

And that’s a lot easier to do if you’ve taken charge of your goals, rather than just sort of rowing along hoping you’re going to end up someplace, uh, well…good.

Give it a try. You might be surprised at what you didn’t know you didn’t know about yourself. (Or not. You might be one of those Born Organized types who has always just known you were going to be whatever you already are. Well…good on you and all, but this post is kind of for the rest of us? So maybe you could go be perfect somewhere else for a while? k-thx!)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Risks and Rewards

Sometimes I think life is nothing more than a series of gambles – and that really, no matter how “educated” your guess may be, push come to shove, the final outcome is just as random as a toss of the dice across a swatch of worn green felt in a seedy, smoky gambling den.

I made a gamble this Christmas. I bet my last-ditch shot at Mother of the Year that the Denizens would rather get a Wii (which nobody had asked for, because they knew it would be a waste of breath) than anything that was actually on their assorted lists.

It was an educated guess. After all, it had been pointed out many, many, many times that we did not, in fact, own a gaming system of any sort. (That Mommy Dearest had stolen the only computer capable of playing any video game produced after 1982 and locked it up in her own bedroom / office / video gaming den of iniquity was also pointed out, repeatedly, but unfortunately they kept mentioning this in my deaf ear so I couldn’t hear them.)

It had also been pointed out that Everybody Else© had one. A Playstation, or an Xbox, or a GameCube or a Something Awesome™ or a Wii or something. EVERYBODY else. Everybody. The entire world? Has them.

According to the Denizens, even the children you see on those commercials late at night, the ones who go to bed hungry wearing rags and no shoes in the snow…they go to bed after an hour or so of Playstation because, Everybody Else©?

They have one.

Only we, poor deprived souls that we are, still staggered on through life, gaming-system-less.

I’d looked at a lot of things and finally decided I liked two things about the Wii: It seemed to have more previously-owned games at Gamestop for $10, and it involves moving. Taking a golf swing, running, dancing, all that kind of stuff.

I figure that’s got to be better than the games where you sit on the couch fiddling with sixty-seven tiny buttons while the rest of your body sits tense and still for whackity-majillion hours while your mother is working upstairs. (I’d like to pretend that the Wii isn’t going to be my babysitter this week while the babysitter is taking time off I don’t get to take myself, but let’s not end this year lying to each other – I am totally relying on the Wii and am even going to move my our game-playing computer back out to the student center so whoever can’t play on the Wii can play Actual Video Games instead of the circa-1980-something educational stuff the other machines can play.)

So, what was the gamble here? Well, the Wii itself was a little over half my entire Christmas budget soooooooooo…everybody got a lot fewer things, and I don’t think anybody got anything that was actually on their list.

So Christmas morning came, and the Denizens collected their candy and knick-knacks from Santa, and then they turned their attention to the presents under the tree.

I think Boo Bug opened the first Wii game…which she assumed was a DS game.

“Oh, thank you, mommy! It’s Animal Crossing! Yay!”

Eldest peered at the box (trying to decide if she wanted to steal it from her little sister, who hasn’t yet cottoned on to her ways and still lets her “borrow just for a second” her games an awful lot) and said, “Oh, wait, mommy? This isn’t a DS game – it’s for a Wii.”

“Oh, ya?” I said innocently. “Well, crud. OK, fine, well…we’ll deal with that later.” {snicker-snicker}

About this point, Danger Mouse opens up Raving Rabbids…and all the girls sort of froze for a second (Captain Adventure was oblivious)…

And then they went nuckin’ FUTZ trying to find IT.


She shoots, she scores!

Even Captain Adventure loves the thing. Of course, he loves games of all kinds and can be bribed into using the dreaded potty with the promise of Playstation time at the babysitter’s, so I suppose that’s no real surprise.

I have to threaten them with bodily harm to get them away long enough to eat something. I’ve had to use Very Firm Mommy Voice and Dire Threats of No More All Day Tomorrow to get them to bed at night.

It’s brilliant.

Reminds me of the year my brother and I received an Atari, actually. We hoped and prayed and asked Santa and Grandma and Grandpa and the neighbors and pestered mom and dad and left advertisements for the thing lying around and brought it up at dinner for weeks but didn’t really think we’d get one – it was one of those things that seemed to us completely out of range.

We had a budget when I was a kid, too, and The Lady My Mother wasn’t known for blowing out the budget on things like video games, for carp’s sake.

But she did, and we had to be threatened with bodily harm to get us to the dinner table, and we fought over it incessantly and I think one of my eyeballs actually did melt out of my head once due to spending waaaaaay too many hours defeating the Space Invaders (here’s the World War IX flying ace, swooping out to defend the helpless villagers…), oh yeah.

High watermark Christmas, that one.

I hope this one will be that way for the Denizens, that years later they’ll stand around eating Christmas dinner together watching their kids opening their presents and remind each other about That Year, when they got the Wii…oh stars, remember those things…?

I hope they get to have a Christmas gamble that pays off, too.

It feels pretty awesome when you manage to get one thing that all six of us love. (I promise, and I really mean it, that I won’t sneak it up into my bedroom and keep it all for myself. Much.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wrapped up for Christmas

Last night, we took an inventory of the gifts – our version of checking the list twice.

Unbelievably, I’m short a few.

Which is insane, because my list is crazy-short this year. Pretty much just our family, plus four.

I mean, seriously. How hard can this be?! The Lady My Mother managed for years to keep track of a gift list that included all kinds of cousins and in-laws and friends and their kids and ohmygah, Santa should have hired her because she could make a list and check it twice like nobody else in the world.

And yet I’m sitting here three days before The Day, going, …oh crap…I forgot my niece and nephew and those two $10 things for that gift exchange at the 4H meeting…

And for a little while this morning, I was feeling pretty darned sorry for myself.

But then I opened up Quicken a few minutes ago to check my budget balance, and got the kind of smack upside the head I wish everybody out there could have right now.

I’ve got crisp black numbers in my household checking account. There’s money left over, and you know what? Compared to the last couple years? I’d go so far to say there’s plenty of it…because I’ve got a gift that at least 16.9% of my neighbors don’t have: A paycheck.

If we were able to count all the folks who have been looking so long they’ve dropped out of the system, or given up, or taken part-time work or significant pay cuts just to be bringing something in, I’m sure the tally would be much, much higher.

I actually have a more generous budget this year than last.

I “get” to go to the dentist later this morning. Oh goody…but you know what? I’ve been putting this work off for months, chewing on the other side of my mouth and so forth, because I just couldn’t seem to scrape that cash together. (I broke a tooth.) (I don’t care to discuss it.) (OK, OK…it was an atomic fireball. YES, I know you’re not supposed to bite on them. I’m not sayin’ it was my brightest move ever.)

But now I have it, and I was able to make an appointment, so hopefully I’ll be able to enjoy Christmas without that tooth a) throbbing and b) threatening to shatter the rest of the way every time I bite into something.

It’s the little things in life that matter, you know? Things like chewing without fear, or getting through a day without thinking, Damn, that tooth is throbbing AGAIN…

And after the dentist, I can go to the mall on my way home (whether or not I feel like it being another question entirely) and get the stuff I want to fill up the holes under our tree.

A lot of people out there this year would love to have my problems.

Shoot, a lot of people would love to have the problems I’ve had these last two years. Things got bad and things got worse, but somehow we kept the ship afloat. We didn’t go into foreclosure, we didn’t lose “everything,” we still actually have some retirement savings left and while we may be maxed out, we’re not down-n-out.

And you know what else?

We’re still laughing. We’re still loving. We’re still all together and having fun.

I’ll admit it: I still smile when I hear my husband’s voice when he comes home after {gasp!} ten whole hours apart (which is rare these days), and sometimes when I look at him he’s just so gosh-darned handsome I can’t believe he’s mine.

Sick, huh? You’d think the blush would be at least a little off the rose, after thirteen years of marriage, four kids, mortgage, minivan, etc. etc. etc.

When I think of all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, that kind of astounds me. Statistically speaking, we’re really outliers. You take any one of the nasty surprises we’ve had and look at how often a marriage disintegrates into an ugly ball of accusations, and we’re in a tiny, but happy, minority.

Combine them all in one, and honestly…I’m afraid to know what the statistical likelihood that we’d still be as tight a unit as we are would be.

And yet here we are. Getting through it one step at a time. Together. Through good times and bad…although the more I think about it, the more I realize that even our bad times are better than some folks have.

It’s not just the immediate family, either. We’ve been blessed with a clan of true-blue friends, with a network of kith who stand by us, put up with us, support us through thick and thin.

The kind of people who respond to, “Can I ask something of you?” with a single word: “Anything.”

I think it’s rare to have even one friend like that – and we have many.

Furthermore…I’ve got you. I’ve often said I have the best blog readers ever. I really believe it’s true. I read the comments left on other blogs sometimes and I think…wow…what a rotten thing to say, what a horrible judgment to be making, what a dirty low-down crummy wad of venom to spit at somebody who is obviously having a vulnerable moment out here in the Wild Wild Internet…

And you guys don’t do that. I don’t think I’ve ever had a purely nasty comment made here by someone who wasn’t a random Anonymous obviously bent on being a troll; certainly nothing that doesn’t fall squarely into the Corrective Criticism category, which is hardly the same as Pure Meanness.

I’m awfully grateful for that. You make this a comfortable place for me to share stuff that, let’s face it, isn’t always all that pretty. Hi, I’m a bashed up cackled with Issues! Also I’m probably certifiably nuts! Here! Look at this picture of my nasty living room, which really needs a good cleaning and decluttering! And I have this nutty idea that I totally think might be workable! Let me tell you all about it, in fourteen pages of wildly digressionary prose… (I think I just invented the word ‘digressionary’. SCORE!)

So…thanks. Thanks for being here, and sticking with me while I struggled to hold onto the funny and keep my head from exploding and my emotions from running off with the rest of me.

It’s mattered. More than you can possibly know.

Anywho. It’s 6:04 a.m., and I’m going to sign off on this machine so I can boot up my work laptop and get started earning the paycheck that is supposed to be deposited on Christmas day yes way!

…go ahead, tell me there’s no Santa Claus…

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why I suck at Christmas shopping, #314

I went Christmas shopping today.

Yes, I know, it’s the Sunday before Christmas and that’s cutting things a little fine. I’ve been busy. And penniless.

ANYWAY. I got a paycheck last week (actually, we got three of them altogether!), so I went shopping today, and I snuck around to the outlet stores which were, as I’d hoped, almost completely deserted. Righteous. (For me. Not so much for the retailers, who were probably hoping for more swarming, desperate customers looking for those rock-bottom-priced, almost-in-fashion last-second gifts.)

I went into the Gap Outlet and began looking for cute things for the kids. Cute, but warm because it’s getting cold out there.

So I’m looking at sweaters.

NOW, my free time right now is what might be called limited. Or it might even be called rare. To put it in sentence form, it would be something like, “My free time is rarer than hen’s teeth right about now, pardner!”

Gap Outlet had some cute little sweaters. Machine wash (we approve!), acrylic (blech!) sweaters with stripes. Very cute, very trendy, very simple, very ohmygah, I could knock out one of those in, what, two weeks?! (Which is not true. I mean, if I had spare time maybe I could but please see paragraph above for commentary on how much free time I do not have right now.)

And then I started with the mental inventory of my stash. I have a cute blue and a cute pink and a cute green, and if I put those together I could make this EXACT sweater basically for FREE or at least on SUNK COSTS, which is, you know…not current-capital kind of money…

That Christmas is less than a week away is beside the point. I could make this. And I will force the space-time continuum thing to work out. Somehow.

And I’m not going to spend $20 each on cute little sweaters I could totally make myself.


And this, friends, is yet another reason why I should not be responsible for buying Christmas presents.

I also can’t remember what size shoes my kids wear for two seconds at a stretch. Lessee…Eldest wears a…1? No, wait, 13-1/2? Nooooo, that’s Danger Mouse…wait…oh crap… (That’s #315.) (#316 is the fact that I get super pissy by the third stop because while I can’t hold onto numbers related to sizes [e.g., the husband wears 36x34 jeans, needs a 17-1/2 neck with 36-37 sleeves, etc.] [and yes, I had to go look that up in the closet just now], I can’t not hold onto running totals of what I’ve spent as I go on my merry way. So when the nice kid at the third stop tells me for a third time that my total is $100 today, I suffer intense hot and cold flashes, nervous tics and an inability to let go of the card so he can swipe it.)

THEREFORE! I have decided that I’m never shopping for Christmas again. AND! I’m going to get started now on the knitting for next Christmas!

Because for Christmas 2010? I’m not going to find myself in this position yet again! That’s right! For the first time in five ten twenty forty{mumble} years, I will be prepared when December 25 rolls inexorably around!

…but first, I want to finish the Learn to Knit afghan I just started…I know, I know, it’s practically cheating for me to be doing a “learn to knit” project but the squares are so darned small and portable and I’ve been meaning to do it just forever and then I was cleaning my bedroom and said, “Wow, why do I have all this Assorted Gray And Black Acrylic” and then I was all, “Ooooooh yeah, I was going to do that learn to knit thing in a kind of monochrome thing…where is that book, anyway…” and then I found it and I realize that this would make great train knitting because the patterns are easy and the squares are small-project sized and then I just sort of cast on and cast off and I’ve got the first two squares done already and you know what else?

It makes me feel really clever to do something I already know how to do and then read the little blurbs about “examine your square, you will find that garter stitch doesn’t roll and lies nicely flat” and be all, Why yes, I knew that, actually

I wish it were wool, but it’s going into the playroom – so machine wash / dry acrylic that won’t felt if treated somewhat (ahem) roughly is kind of important. And I have to admit it feels nice (for acrylic) – it’s soft and warm, and it’s knitting up rather nicely.

Red Heart has come a long way since I learned to knit. I made my poor brother a scarf in Red Heart waaaaay back when that I think came close to sawing his head off, it was so rough.

BUT, ANYWAY – right after I finish the afghan?

I’m so getting started on Christmas Knitting 2010. And I won’t be distracted from my mission until everyone in the family has a finished sweater ready to go under the tree in December!

Except that socks don’t count.

Or hats. Hats don’t count either.

And maybe a matching scarf. And gloves.

But other than that? I am eyes on the prize.

Friday, December 18, 2009


You know…I love the holidays.

And I hate them.

I love the people and the presents and the food.

I hate the added layers of crazy.

I hate the planning. I hate the way my husband will suddenly, after dumping all the arrangements into my lap for weeks or months with a cheery wave of his hand and a “I guess we’ll need to do, I dunno, something about this, huh?”, will suddenly turn into Captain Officious and start peppering me with questions. Did I book this, did I bake that, did I have time to buy this and that and this and that, here’s an email about the check and a card with a reminder about this other thing and what are you doing what are you doing what are you doing you should be blah blah blah.

I haven’t yet found a good way around this. If I try to dump everything right back into his lap, he just ignores it. Or he’ll continually try to shove it back onto my plate. No, no, you’re so much better at making hotel reservations…

And no matter how much we wrangle, there’s no getting around this particular part of the fun: When he decides that matters must be taken into hand, namely HIS hand, and he starts charging around interrupting me every eight seconds with questions I don’t know the answers to, demands I’m so ignoring, and exchanges he apparently thinks are going to mean something to me.

He also does a play-by-play of everything he’s doing.

“I’m getting a box! For the White Elephant!” Great. You do that.

“I’m going to write a note to go with it!” Fine. Knock yourself out.

“What do you think, should I say blah blah blah, or yadda yadda yadda?” Don’t care. Working. Hourly employee, working from home after long week of rotten hours…meeting in thirty minutes…talk to hand…

“You know what?”
“You know what else?”
“Did you?”
“Will you?”
“You need to…” (Wait…did he just start telling me what I need to do? That’s it. I’m calling my people to call his people…)

Of course, this weekend is going to be…very interesting.

WE are going to Los Angeles to pick up my mother-in-law. I don’t usually announce these things until after the fact (you know, as in, “Hi, we just got back from not being home!”), because I surely would hate to come home and find out that somebody who knows me personally and knows where I live came over and lightened the Den by what little we have with any street value…but…here’s the thing.

The Den?

Is not going to be empty while we’re gone.

No. In fact, there may well be more people here while we’re gone than usual…because the annual north/south holiday migration has begun, and the Den is ideally situated close to I-5 (the major north/south artery connecting San Diego with Seattle and points even further north).

We tend to have a lot of overnight guests this time of year, as people now living Here journey There to be with family.

Which of course is adding a whole new layer of officious to the officiousness today, because Mr. Man is charging around trying to make sure that our guests tonight will be able to find everything without our smiling presence.

Blankets, sheets, pillows, extras, TV remote, towels, food, etc. etc. etc. etc.

And guess who he thinks is an active partner in all this?

Oh yeah. That would be me.

To be fair, I was taking today off, originally. Today, and Monday. To clean up before and after a weekend of Crazy.

But then that whole hospital thing happened, and my hours this week were weaker than a teabag steeped in lukewarm water for thirty seconds, and my task bar is full and my paycheck is empty so instead, I’m working at least half of today, possibly a bit over the weekend if I can swing it, and then charging back to the office Monday like my tail is on fire.

Honestly, the light paycheck bothers me less than the fact that my team is having to do everything themselves. We’re in the middle of a rather big flurry of activity, and all my crazy is making their lives crazier than they need to be.

Not cool, man.

Also, just like Thanksgiving did, Christmas is sneaking up on me. I just can’t get my arms around the fact that it is next week.

I keep thinking I have at least two weeks. Maybe three. Something like that, anyway.

This is, of course, really funny considering that I used to be the Franklin-Covey time-management guru who was always really on top of what day it was, and how close it was to some random holiday nobody ever heard of, and what the weather would be and what tasks would have to be done on such-and-so a day…

Been a long time. I don’t even have a current time-management “system,” which is of course a large portion of my problem these days.

And I’ll get right on that.

As soon as I put out whatever is on fire over here…hmm…appears to be luggage of some sort…

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

DRAMA! at eleven



This has been a helluva week thus far, lemme-tell-you.

So the husband had his diverticulitis (which I still can’t pronounce reliably) attack, right? And it got really bad, and I took him to the doctor Monday afternoon.

I sat there for about two hours knitting (almost finished the hat, too!), and then they fetched me into the back and said, “OK, so! We’re going to shoot some morphine into him, and then we want you to pour him into your car and drive him over to the hospital, ‘kay?”

You know…it’s funny how you just kind of go, “Um…OK…” like some kind of idiot pull-string doll under these circumstances.

So they gave him a shot of morphine and we poured him into the car and I drove him over to the hospital where they whisked him into a room and did a CT scan and put him on an IV and then the last two days were kind of a blur.

He’s feeling great now, but still trapped in the hospital on the IV antibiotics with a big yellow sign that says “THIS PATIENT IS NPO” on his door – which translates to “Not To Be Fed Anything But Ice Chips.”

He is not a happy camper. The antibiotics have worked their magic and he feels fine, dammit and he wants to go home, and eat something…not necessarily in that order.

It’s really good to see him so feisty. Sunday and Monday he was not a bit feisty, which is so abnormal for him I was having a lot of trouble holding things together. My role in life, alas, is not the “dissolves into tears and clings to people squealing, ‘Make it all better!’” gig. I’ve been cast as the “competent, together one who gets her She-Ra on and makes things work out somehow and if she’s got to cry, she’ll go hide in a closet and do it” type.

So I was all briskly “handling things” and trying to work from home yesterday as if nothing was happening, la la la.

I am not billing a single second of the time I was working because I wasn’t working or even “working”…I was answering or making non-stop phone calls and filling out paperwork and the hospital dredged up this invoice where they thought they hadn’t been paid for his last trip way back in February and oh yes you were too and there were Proofs of Payment and thus did I spend the entire day Tuesday with my laptop on and not a lick of Actual Work being accomplished.

I got to the end of the day, said some very rude words indeed, and shut the thing down with a big old goose egg in my daily time sheet.

I’m not above billing for fifteen minutes I spent at the water cooler gossiping. I’m not even above billing a half an hour “annoyance surcharge” when somebody calls me after hours with a stupid, non-urgent question about something that doesn’t matter or isn’t my call to make anyway and makes me talk for fifteen minutes or go log into my laptop so I can definitively say that there’s nothing we can do about That right now.

But I just can’t wriggle my morals around enough to bill a client for time I spent doing them absolutely no good whatsoever because I was busy with other things.

This morning, I went over to the hospital confident I would be collecting my boy and bringing him home.

But no.

He’s still got the big yellow card over the door and the IV thing and no doctor in sight to release him. Damn.

So, I’m working from home again and waiting for calls and I am not wearing my happy face right now.

In point of fact, She-Ra has been making some very testy, rather Yuppie-sounding calls this morning demanding to know what kind of operation they are running and well, where IS the good doctor because he NEEDS to blah blah blah. (They love it when you tell them what they NEED to be doing. The only thing they like more is if you throw in some veiled threats of lawsuits and maybe say they’ll be hearing from your attorney…like I have one of those…)

It sounds like the problem is that two different doctors each thought the other guy was stopping in to provide Orders.

So neither of them did.


Cooks…kitchen…salting the broth…left hand, right hand…double sigh

YA KNOW…we don’t usually have Drama like this.

We have Chaos, and plenty of it – but not Drama.

I don’t like Drama.

It makes me edgy, pissy, and prone to doing things like telling other people what they NEED to do and stomping my feet and worst of all, getting all teary in {ugh!} public.

SO not my kind of role.

That’s it. I’m calling my agent. Get me a latte! Have my people call their people! I want lunch! I’ll be in my trailer! Drinking Evian and updating my Twitter…

…oh wait, I don’t have a Twitter…(twit, I’ve got, loads of twit…)

Monday, December 14, 2009

These ARE the better times

I’ve been a contractor a long, long time. I suppose if I count all the years we called it “temping,” I’d have to own up to having been mostly a contractor since 1984.

When I first started working For Real, the economy wasn’t so great. I was blissfully unaware of how bad things were, because I was young and sheltered. I had no idea that it was “bad” that I never got job offers, but merely bounced from temp gig to temp gig.

I thought it was rather grand. I’d work for a few weeks, bank the paychecks, then take off for a long weekend up in Tahoe, or down in LA, or drive up the Pacific Coast highway, camping in the redwoods, hanging out on the beaches, being all artsy for a few days…and then the money would dry up and I’d climb down from whatever tree I’d been hugging and call my agency and within a couple days I’d be working again and it would all be good.

Of course, in those days I paid something like $60 a month for private Blue Cross Prudent Buyer health insurance (ah, to be young and free of pre-existing conditions again!), had a $600 monthly tab for the rent on my worst-cave-in-the-nicest-complex apartment (with gorgeous views of the parking lot, overlooking the dumpsters!) and didn’t even have a cat to feed.

Now, of course, I have a few more obligations. That cat food doesn’t buy itself, you know…nor does the human food, the gasoline, the clothes, the mortgage, the health insurance, etc. etc. etc.

Ten years ago, I had a hellish run of back luck while working for MegaBank as a contractor. It was a one month period that, by the end of it, had me questioning what deity I had pissed off because obviously, Somebody really had it in for me.

The kids were sick, never all at once but rather one at a time. My husband was out of town on business a lot, so when the call would come that somebody was puking at daycare – I had to drop everything and go get them.

We were in the middle of a big project at work, right in the center of crunch time, and here I was dropping everything and running out the door, gone for two or three days while the tide of puke turned and fevers came down and Kid 1 could be returned to school…and I’d get back in the office, sighing heavy sighs of relief…and {ring-ring} goes the cell phone and DAMN if Kid 2 wasn’t now in the nurse’s office hurling up last week’s Jell-O…gah!

At the time, MegaBank had a firm policy about contractor’s working from home, and it went like this: Absolutely not under any circumstances NEVER NO WAY!

Which meant two things: I went without pay for most of the whole month (but still had to pay for the childcare we couldn’t use because of all the barfing), and the project ground to an utter halt because I wasn’t just ‘a’ programmer, I was ‘the’ programmer.

We circumnavigated the rules a bit to keep the project from drying up, but I couldn’t “work from home” or anything like it. I lost a lot of time and money, and my group was set back almost an entire month – very embarrassing, but nothing to be done about it. Unlike when I was temping as a receptionist or filing clerk, the plug-n-play aspect has dropped considerably. It can take months to find a suitable database programmer to begin with, and even one far more crackerjack than me is still going to take weeks to get enough familiarity with Things to be of much practical use. (The first month of my contracts always frustrate the @*^&@ out of me. I want to be doing stuff, earning my keep, producing things that make people go, “AWESOME! My Saints, how have we ever survived without you?!”…but instead I’m spending that time going, “Wait…OK, stupid question here, sorry, but…is this table updated daily? Or is this one of the weekly ones? And does it come from Domain, or does it come from Host? Wait…do we trust Host? I can’t remember, was Host one of those ‘we take it because we have no choice, but we trust is as much as we trust a grinning insurance salesman?...hang on, I’ve got it written down here somewhere…”)

So when “the” programmer suddenly has Issues, there’s often no fast work-around if they can’t log in from wherever they are.

Which brings me to today.

I’m working from home today, unexpectedly. I got up and put on my fancy workin’ duds and came downstairs to find my husband groaning on the sofa, unable to stand up, drive, or deal in any way. His diverticulitis is not merely flaring up but exploding this morning.

It’s not a complete surprise, since he’s been suffering all weekend – but we’d thought it was getting better, not getting worse.

Sooooooooo, we’ll be off to the doctor in a little while, who will likely send him on to the hospital, where Very Unfun Things will go on, and then I’m going to be bringing home a very unhappy husband to recuperate.

In the meantime, well, I’ve been working. I’ve been calling in to my meetings, taking notes right on my work laptop, producing spreadsheets, uploading files to the Share directories, writing code to update changes directly in the SQL Server, calling sprocs and building reports with drill-thrus and all like that because…this MegaBank lets me.

The first day I arrived, they handed me a laptop. A few days later, I got the Official Bank Air Card.

I can securely, with layers of encryption that makes NASA look like an open book, work from anywhere. From home, from the car (passenger seat!), the train, the doctor’s waiting room, from the cafeteria at the hospital, from the school library while waiting for the 4H meeting to finish up…I’m able to take care of things that come up, and keep my work life running even if my home life is throwing curveballs at me.

It removes a tremendous layer of stress from me. Having my husband in awful pain I can do nothing about is bad enough; sitting there saying, “there, there” and finding household chores to do (which isn’t hard – just, you know, glance around the room…I guarantee there’s something that needs to be cleaned, put away, vacuumed, etc., no matter what room of the house you’re in) while also knowing I’m letting my work team down just adds a lovely layer of whipped-cream frosting to the stress cake.

I like going into the office. I like the energy, I like being able to sit right there with people in meetings so I can read their body language (and occasionally their lips – I’m slightly hard of hearing, which makes phone meetings a bit of a challenge for me), I like the fact that I’m not seeing something I should be tidying up every time I look away from the computer screen.

But I love that I can work from home, almost seamlessly. I love that I don’t have to lose a whole day’s pay because someone is sick, or the car won’t start, or the mass transit system gummed up because a cow decided to play chicken with a train.

I love that I don’t have to fall behind, just because I had to stay behind when the train pulled out of the station this morning.

And I’m pretty sure MegaBank is glad I can keep on keepin’ on, too.

Speaking of which…it’s about time to get back to it. It’s going to be a fractured-up day no matter how you slice it, so the earlier I get started, the better…onward!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Frozen Garden

Have you ever wondered what freezing temperatures do to tomato plants? Me neither. I just sort of knew that once freezing temperatures hit…the scythe of the reaper would strike and that would be that.

And that my tomatoes were on borrowed time.

And then hey, guess what? We just got a couple days of freezing temperatures! And I found out what happens! So I thought I’d share, in the interest of passing along scientific knowledge and all:

tomatoes REALLY don't like cold
Let us have a moment of silence for the tomatoes…

green beans don't like cold
And the green beans.

bell peppers don't like cold
Aaaaaaand the bell peppers.

I didn’t take any pictures of them, but the little pumpkin patch in the front was also killed off by the freeze. Which is a thousand pities, because we were just starting to get wee little pumpkins – they were about the size of golf balls.

They would have done a lot better if I’d realized that Homer the Odyssey was blocking all their sunlight a little sooner than I did. Ahem. Yes. Memo to me: Parking the van so that it shades that portion of garden? Kind of messes up the whole ‘growing things’ thing.

So, that’s the death report. But! The peas? They’re all, “Pffft! It’s not THAT cold! Tomatoes, they’re such drama queens…”

peas are all "WHAT cold?!"

We still haven’t eaten many peas for dinner, though – the Denizens having discovered how sweet they are straight off the vine, I tend to find many, many empty pods discarded on top of the compost heap.

I’d be pissed about it, but – my Denizens are eating peas. Voluntarily! Eagerly! With greed and avarice in their cute little hearts!

So I shut up about it.

And try to get out there once in a while before they come home from the sitters so I can steal my own pod or two.

The broccoli is likewise unimpressed by the repeated flirting with freezing temperatures.

broccoli likes cold

The Brussels sprouts are all tucked safely along the stalks, and frankly I think they like it cold because it has killed off the moths that were cheerfully eating them alive.

sprouts are happy

I didn’t take pictures of them either (it was starting to rain – enthusiastically), but the lemons came through just fine so far; the oranges are…well, they’re the size of grapefruit and not a bit ripe yet. I picked one to satisfy my curiosity, and found it to all pith and almost no “fruit,” and sour enough to launch a rocket.

Meanwhile, the lemons are so sweet you can just eat them raw, right off the tree. Go figure.

The onions are happy, the celery is happy, there is spinach barely coming up (I’m afraid I started that too late, though – we’re starting our freeze a few weeks early, it seems), the carrots are still ending up stunted but mighty sweet, there’s a few bok choy that think they’re going to grow…the golden beets are all safely in tummies and some regular red ones just starting to sprout up…

It’s amazing to me, how much is still insisting on growing out there. I’ve been on pins and needles this week, waiting to see what this sudden freezing snap had wrought out there – all week, I’ve left before dawn and gotten back after sunset, so my glimpses of the garden are shadowy and indistinct.

I was more than a little afraid I would find nothing left.

We’re galloping up on Yule, the shortest day of the year; soon, the days will start to get longer again, and if the rest of the year goes at the same speed the last month has I’ll be leaving after dawn and coming home well before dusk soon.

I can’t wait for that.

But of course the minute I have it, I’ll be complaining…ohmyGAH, I had to spend my whole evening weeding and woe is me the porch needed sweeping (one of the surprises encountered by all this micro-farming stuff is the sheer volume of dust/dirt that now spreads itself all over) and feh, these long days suck because instead of being able to say, “OH WELL, IT’S SO DARK, NIGHT AS WELL JUST SIT DOWN AND KNIT SINCE I CAN’T DO ANYTHING OUTSIDE!!!”, I hafta get stuff done…

Sometimes, I suspect $DEITY would just like to smack! me, you know? “It’s too hot, I can’t stand it…wah! Now it’s too cold, make it stop!...Too dark! Too light! Too short! Too long! We need rain! NOT THAT MUCH!!!”

Ahem. The Denizens inform me that it is time for dinner. And hot cocoa. Not necessarily in that order. They also inform me that I have been on the computer much too long and they would like me to stop. NOW.

Heh. I’m annoying Eldest. She says, “Stop saying what we said and tell me what’s for dinner! I can make it myself! Mommmmmeeeeeeeeeee…!”

(OK, OK, I’ll stop now, and descend back into the Real World where there are hungry children. Geesh.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

When worlds collide

It’s been a while since I worked downtown, and I’m having some interesting moments of culture shock. This particular office isn’t exactly full of them, but there are a few examples of a peculiar sort of city-dweller roaming around.

Encountering them is like running into an alien species.

These are people who…have a maid service come and clean their 500 square foot apartment, where they live alone (or maybe with one [1] cat). They have cunning storage solutions for their large collections of matching outfits and shoes, and it may well involve a large network of dry cleaners and shoe shine shops.

Speaking of dry cleaners…they take things like socks and underwear to the dry.cleaners.YES.WAY.

See? It’s another species. For those of us who not only wash our own Unmentionables but then hang them up on a clothesline in front of God and Everybody…well, the idea of paying a buck fifty per rag to have my Unmentionables steam-cleaned, pressed and neatly folded for me…?

Does. Not. Compute. Does. Not. Compute. Does. Not. Compute.

And then, of course, there is the food issue.

I made a chicken/turkey shepherd’s pie for dinner one night – your basic “throw everything in the fridge into a pot with white sauce, top it with mashed potatoes and see what happens” kind of recipe. It’s the kind of thing I toss off because I don’t know what I’m going to make tonight, an emergency meal that throws all four food groups into one pan and hopes for the best.

It’s pretty fast to make, tastes good, is hot and filling – a great meal for tired parents who just want to go to bed, already.

As I made the main “dinner” casserole dish, I also put some of the filling into four small deep-dish ceramic pie plates, topped those with some of the mashed potatoes, sprinkled some cheddar over them and put them into the fridge to take for lunches later in the week.

Which we did.

And this is where it gets kind of funny.

The lady ahead of me in the microwave line stared at my pie for the longest time, and then suddenly asked, “What brand is that?”

“Oh, uh, it’s homemade,” I said.

“Homemade?” she repeated. “I haven’t seen that, is it at Safeway?”

Y’all can imagine how hard it was not to bust out laughing.

“No, no, it’s homemade, I made it. You know, from scratch.”

“Scratch? Is that a dry mix?” Dog is my witness, she was asking me if “Scratch” came in a box. I think I deserve a medal for not falling over in hysterics about this point.

“Noooooo, see, I…I had some leftover chicken, and some leftover turkey? So I took some butter, and flour, and onions, some milk and water and herbs, and I mixed it all together, and then I made some mashed potatoes and put that on top, and we had most of it for dinner and I put the leftovers into these little guys and…ta da!”

“Oh my gaaaaaaaahd, that’s…that’s so amazing,” she said. She took her Insta-Noodles out of the microwave, shook the bag, opened it and dumped it into a bowl. “Wow. I can’t believe you have time to actually cook…”

AND THEN SHE SAID, AND I QUOTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“…you must spend a fortune on ingredients, though.”

My brain went like this: {thunk!!}

Meanwhile, my mouth went, “Actually, it probably cost less for me to make four of these plus a meal for a family of six with enough leftovers for the two adults to have one more dinner than it cost to buy your bag of frozen pasta.”

“Oh, no, ha ha ha, this is the vegetarian one,” she said. “It’s only five dollars for this big old bag!”

“Ha ha ha ha, yeah, well…meal for six, leftovers, four small lunch pies, probably less than five bucks for the ingredients, especially since the vegetables came out of our garden, ha ha ha…”

Two worlds arm-wrestled for lunchroom domination. Both of us were perplexed by the other, not sure if we were fascinated or repulsed. We stood there arguing chatting about how hard it was(n’t) to roast a chicken, how (in)convenient cooking in general was, how (in)expensive homemade meals were these days.

I’m pretty sure we both wondered why we were having this conversation.

And I’m pretty sure it’s because we both envied the other.

Oh, c’mon, of course I envy her! Sure, I like my cooking – but there is definitely an appeal to just grabbing a bag out of the freezer, a bag I didn’t have to assemble first, and then you zap it and dump it into a bowl and Done.

No dishes, no standing around stirring, certainly no weeding / planting / watering / harvesting / washing / trimming / gah-can-we-eat-YET?, no pans to clean, no figuring out how best to freeze it so it will come out reasonably edible…someone else deals with all that, and I get to Just Eat.


I daydream about having not merely a maid service, but Household Staff. Someone to nanny the Denizens, so they can slumber peacefully on when it’s time for me to leave in the morning. Someone to take them to school, to micromanage their homework, to tutor them while I’m working one-on-one, instead of what they get…which would be me trying to tutor this one while micromanaging that one unloading the dishwasher while yelling at Captain Adventure to quit taking all the paper out of all the printers in the house while trying to figure out why Boo Bug is crying while cooking dinner and giving the cat more water because she’s out again.

Someone to clean the house, someone to drive us where we need to go, and yes, a personal chef who serves up good food on a regular schedule.

But the valet probably has more important things to do than iron my newspaper for me.

Not that this wouldn’t be a nice touch, mind you. I’d hardly fire the man for it, if he was so excellent at time-management that he could iron the creases out of my morning paper. Saints Forfend!

…I’m just sayin’ that we have what might be termed a tumultuous household, and even if I had five or six household servants rushing about cleaning, dusting, polishing, doting and so forth and so on, I rather doubt the valet would find himself sitting around with nothing better to do than iron a newspaper I’m just going to skim through and then toss in the recycling.

That’s all I’m saying.

Ahem. Anyway.

It was quite a moment. I have to admit, I’d clean forgot that there are millions of people out there in the Real World who wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what to do with a dead chicken; that there are, in fact, households that don’t have a month or more of food on hand At All Times; that there are grown adults who honestly think it is cheaper for them to buy pre-cooked meals than to make them from scratch.

And I’d forgotten that I kind of envy them, sometimes.

And that moving among them would remind me of possibilities I’d almost forgotten existed, of things like maid services to clean the bathrooms and pre-fabricated frozen meals that could be reheated at my convenience for lunch.

And that they would tempt me, Yea verily, they do tempt me, to be purchasing things like cool winter boots and trendy sweaters and all like that.


It’s going to be an interesting year, isn’t it…

(The pie was awfully good, though. It had that “grounding” quality to it, warm and filling and feet-on-the-ground good. ‘Course, it might have been better if the feet that were on the ground were in boots instead of wearing-out-at-the-toes pumps but you know, hey…one thing at a time…)

Monday, December 07, 2009


It snowed this morning.


In the twelve years we’ve lived out here in the Central Valley, we’ve seen hail, and we’ve had plenty of ice. Vehicles parked outside have to be scraped down from about now until mid-February. (It can actually be a little fun, seeing how big a sheet of ice you can peel off the windshield. Where “fun” is pronounced, “trying to ignore the fact that your fingertips are threatening to shear right off your hands because Christ-awl-mighty, it is coooooooold out there by saying, ‘Isn’t it fun how you can peel these big old sheets of ice right off the minivan?! Yippee! I LOVE WINTER SO MUCH!!!!’”)

Now granted, it wasn’t “real” snow. It didn’t stick to the ground, it will be gone the moment the sun peeks over the horizon, but…still…it was snowing when we left the house this morning.

And there was actual snow sticking to the ground over the pass.


Of course, after a few minutes of going, “Squeeeee! Snow!!” I realized that the first thing I need to do tonight when we get home is cover up my poor little peas and green beans – because guess what?

Our teenaged-weather is starting now. We seldom get hard freezes out here, but our overnight lows do dip briefly into the teens, and plants that aren’t covered up overnight have a way of, well, dying.

I am ashamed to confess that, upon pondering the logistics here, I had a few moments of, “Maybe I should just let the garden die for now…”

But that was my it’s-too-early-right-now morning self speaking. At 5:15 in the morning when these sorts of realizations are hitting me, I am not what might be considered a bright, energetic, optimistic sort of person.

I’m more of the meh, doesn’t matter, don’t care, might be cancer, let’s just go ahead and DIE rather than deal with it sort.

But my will to live follows sharp behind the first dose of caffeine and Tylenol, and then I say to myself, BRIGHTLY AND WITH GREAT ENTHUSIASM!, “Aw, c’mon, it’s not THAT big a deal!!”

So tonight, I’ll be out there in the dark happily spreading the aren’t we humans the most CUNNING things?! plastic over my adorable little pea and bean sprouts.

And at 4:45 tomorrow morning, I’ll be out there wrestling with the vile, villainous billows covering the blasted! sprouts that aren’t growing fast enough anyway and who cares, FIE! this is stupid YA KNOW, a can of peas is only $0.69 on sale, just sayin’.

Speaking of not wanting to deal with things…this week is going to be a nine-layer crazy cake because guess who didn’t feel like dealing with things this weekend?

Uh-huh. I spent most of Saturday not dealing with things, and then I spent Sunday at the Dickens Fair. That’s right. I left the house, all by myself, and took BART to the Dickens Fair, and wandered around with my friends – whose reaction to my presence really drove home the point that I definitely need to get out more.

“Oh look, it’s a unicorn!”

“Never mind that old thing, Tama’s here!”

“NO. WAY!!!!!! This I gotta see…”

I had an awesome time, and my husband did a fair amount of cleaning and even baked bread while I was gone (woo hoo!), but everything else I should have been doing this weekend sort of didn’t get done, and now I’m going to have to figure out how to get it done mid-week…which is going to be (ahem) interesting.

I don’t even have a meal idea, let alone a plan for the week. I didn’t get to either the farmer’s market or the supermarket, we’re almost out of milk, the Thanksgiving leftovers have been used up and I’ve got about thirty minutes a night to produce food for the Starving Masses.


This kind of stuff is good for me, right? Builds character, keeps the mind nimble, all like that?

In other news, I’ve decided that we need to remove the chairs from the house. All of them. Because they are a very real problem, in that I keep sitting down. With knitting. Just for a second, just for a few rows, you know, just until I reach the crown decrease on this hat, just until I finish turning the heel on this sock, just until this CSI:Anywhere is over.

And then, six hours later, I go, “OH CRAP! I didn’t {household chore that REALLY needed to get done today, but now it’s going on 11:30 at night and I’m not running some noisy appliance at THIS hour, for gosh-sakes}!!!”

So. I have decided that the chair absolutely must go.

And the television.

But not my yarn stash.

Because, you know, let’s not get all crazy with this thing…

(Sitting. That’s the cause of all my sorrows. If I couldn’t sit down, I wouldn’t be so far behind on everything right now…CURSE YOU, COMFY CHAIR MAKERS EVERYWHERE!!!!!)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Like the great cycle of life itself…

…my desk (and drawers, and all other flat surfaces in my office/bedroom) acquires massive piles of crap, which I then spend a few hours or days dealing with, so that I can dust the crumbs, cat hair and I don’t even WANNA KNOW off it and admire the pristine uncluttered appearance of my fully handled desk for a day or two.

And then, just like that whole life-death-rebirth thing…the piles come back.

I had a ‘work from home’ day today. I love my telecommute days for two reasons: One, I don’t have to get up at 4:30 a.m. to start the whole “putting on clothes / getting coffee / scraping children out of their nice warm beds / commuting for-evah” thing.

I can sleep in until, say, 5:30 instead. Which might not seem like much, so if you don’t get why that’s such a big deal…try getting up at 4:30 for a few days, and then give yourself a nice lie-in until 5:30.

You’ll see my point.

And the other reason is that, with that four-to-five hours of daily getting-there-and-back-again out of the picture, well. That’s five hours of time I have back for important things like sleeping and dealing with massive piles of miscellany that have, once again, infested my desk (and any other flat surface in my bedroom/office) like some kind of really persistent mold.

(I love paperwork. I love it so much. No, really. I also love the fact that I am the only person in the whole house who knows what to do with any and all pieces of paper, from the scribbled drawings of the enthusiastic and prolific Captain Adventure to benefit enrollment forms to things that make no sense whatsoever…like the pest control company I terminated service with back in September sending us a bill for November. Hmmmmm…)

Of course, the problem with working from home is that I don’t have to catch a train. The sitter has a very firm 6:30 pickup time in the evening, and in order to be 100% certain I’m going to make that, I must catch the 4:09 train out of Embarcadero.

It’s one of those commuting laws, as powerful as Murphy and just as stubbornly contrary: If I catch the 4:09 train, all will be well. There will be no accidents on the 580. No idiot will have crashed into any other idiot, nobody will have decided to take a nap on the BART rails or (which is actually a thousand times more likely) have decided that their catching this train is far more important than obeying piddly little rules so they just threw their laptop case (or shoulder, or whatever) into the door as it was closing, jamming it off the track and thus taking the entire train out of service so that we all have to get off and wait for the NEXT one, NICE GOING, JACKASS.

I’ll probably be pulling into town around 6:00. Possibly even earlier! On days that are holidays for just about everybody else, I might even be skidding into my driveway by 5:45! And even if there is an exception to this rule, I’m still usually home well before the 6:30 deadline – one day last week there was indeed Traffic due to an accident, but I was still at the babysitter’s house by 6:15 to collect my Adorable Offspring and head home.

If I am even five minutes later than that, if I miss that 4:09 train and have to catch the 4:24…disaster!

The trains will be late. There will be not merely traffic, but Traffic…all the way from Dublin over the hill. There will be accidents, roadwork, Acts of God Satan, protestors lining the streets banging drums and chanting End Fossil Fuels! End Fossil Fuels!…MASS HYSTERIA!

And it will be 6:35 before I am even getting off the freeway, and 6:45 before I get to the babysitter’s house.

At $1 per kid per minute, that’s a $60 penalty for being just five minutes late leaving the office.

Which makes for a pretty good motivator when Quittin’ Time rolls around at the old office, which is good because the kind of work I do is…well, to be honest? It’s a bit like playing a video game. Or maybe it’s more like a really good crossword puzzle. Whatever. You can easily lose track of time while working, is the point. You can also forget about personal hygiene, as we learned when we were both telecommuting full-time. “I’ll take a shower right after I figure out why the DDA field isn’t loading properly in the MSRV_ACT table during the secondary load…{three days later}…what IS that nasty smell?!...oh…it’s me, yeah, heh-heh, I’ll go take a shower right no-…hang-on-a-second, why do I have a failure on Validation 276,208? Didn’t that load happened last night? Wait, who put a third EXEC into that statement, it can’t handle a third EXEC, it’ll cause a timeout error…lemme just handle this REAL QUICK, and THEN I’ll…”

...three days later, the neighbors put together an Intervention because the smell from my armpits is causing property values to plummet all over the neighborhood...

Anyway! So, guess what happens when I’m working from home?

I start the day saying, “Sweet! It’s 7:00, I’m getting started, I’ll work straight through, be done by 3:00, and then I’ll take a shovel to this pile of crap on my desk, clean something, get dinner ready to go, run a couple errands, pick up the Denizens early, it’ll be awesome!

And then 3:00 rolls around and I spend just “five more minutes” on the Problem At Hand for, like, three hours and suddenly I’m going, “OH CRAP! I GOTTA GO GET THE KIDS!!!” because it’s 6:15 and what is wrong with me?!?!

And then the kids file in, dump yet more crap onto the piles of crap already infesting my life and instead of making any progress on All That…I’m six inches deeper under it.

I am determined that this will not be the case today.

Which is why I’m only two hours later than my 3:00 quitting time, and about to dive right on in to those piles, the forms and bills and ‘do something with this’ and end of year filings and the (!) 697 new emails in my inbox (holy crap…quick, somebody throw me a life ring, I’m drowning…)

Oh yeah. Time management skilz. I haz them…

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The train diaries

As dawn creaks over the sky behind me and my train rockets toward San Francisco and my paycheck…I blog.

Because this is how I roll these days, people.

Well actually, I’m not usually blogging on the train. Usually, I’m sorting through my email, setting up my task lists, organizing my meeting schedule (I’m in meetings from 9:00 to 3:30 Wednesday…which begs the question, But when shall you get anything, you know, DONE but then again I am an experienced contractor – this is how they roll at

But today, I blog…because my connection is too gads-awful to make get anything but ‘connection timed out’ errors from the SQL Server, and I spent most of the last meeting yesterday some quality time yesterday afternoon dealing with email and such.


I’m really enjoying my new job.

Once I’m there. And while I’m there.

And most especially when I gather my lunch and my husband (who is as of today even working on the same floor with me – just a few desks away!) and we walk down to the Embarcadero to watch the ice skaters or the ferries or the tourists or whatever while we eat our sandwiches.

The best day is our once-weekly eating out lunch. I was born in San Francisco, and have spent most of my working life in the financial district.

I have a lot of favorite lunch places I haven’t been able to hit up for several years.

The work is interesting, the people I’m working with are bright (yay, smart people!) and fun and most of us wear jeans most of the time (but “nice” jeans, which has me at something of a disadvantage actually) (also, nice shoes, which…uh…well…I did knock most of the mud off mine this morning…).
I got my first paycheck the day before Thanksgiving. It was the lightest I’m likely to have for this whole contract – but it was still enough to pay for almost three weeks of childcare.

I can’t tell you how teary that makes me. Part of the reason I’d essentially given up on getting myself employed “for real” was that the pay rates had dropped so drastically. I was being offered things that were like… “Hi! We’d like to reset the pay-clock to 1992, ‘kay? Oh, but you still need all that experience and the college degree and all that other stuff you worked so hard to get!”

I really wondered what the “kids” were doing, you know? If they’re resetting my “prime earning years” rates to what were entry-level rates in the early 90s…but the cost of an apartment hasn’t gone down a dime…what are they giving those fresh-faced college grads who have at least most of a degree but absolutely zero actual experience?

“Yes, OK, you can work here…you just have to pay us $7.55 an hour for the privilege…”?

I have to admit, the deal clincher on this one was the full pay rate. It’s right up there with what I would have been making in 2007 – enough to actually have something left over after paying for commute and childcare.

A fair pile of something left over, to boot.

Which makes the downside of this whole thing a little easier to bear.

The 4:30 alarm comes to mind.

And five hours of the day being spent just getting to and from work also occurs to me as possibly being a downside.

And of course, the way the weeknights have become a condensed nightmare of family so-called life. Scooping up the kids at 6:30, rushing home, being in the middle of a whirlwind of little voices: I’m hungry, I need / I want / I did / I was invited to / sign this / check that / lookit what I drew and by the way hungry-hungry-hungry!

Did you invoice Client A? Did you find my social security card? I need a photocopy of the contract, I need you to go over these documents and make sure they’re, you know, “good,” can you find this or iron that and do you know where my cufflinks went, you know, the blue ones?

The laundry and the cleaning and the cooking and the more-cleaning and the checking of homework and the dreaded slips from teachers saying things like, “Please remind Boo Bug to turn in her homework folder tomorrow, she has forgotten the last two days.”

Dreaded, because I always want to fire back with something like, “Here’s a thought: How about YOU remind her, since she AND the folder is in her backpack AT SCHOOL five feet from you, while I am 70 miles away AT WORK when she’s supposed to be turning it in? k-thx!”

Seriously, is it just me? Why can a teacher not say, “Boo! Folder!”? Why do they just sit there without saying a word, expecting the seven year old to “just remember” to turn things in, and then spend fifteen-twenty minutes penning a missive to her parents – who can’t do a damned thing about it when The Time Comes, all we can do is remind her FOUR HOURS before she’s supposed to turn it in…which in Kid Time is, like, four YEARS…look, just lean over your desk and say, “Where’s your folder?” And then goes, “OH YEAH!” and gets the folder and there we are! PROBLEM SOLVED!

But I digress.

All the stuff that used to take up a full twelve hour day are now crammed into a two to three hour window – a window when, by the way, I’m so tired I want to just fall-first into the couch and never move again.

Of course, this old hen has pecked around in this particular poop before – many, many times.

I know how it goes.

The first month or two (or even three, sometimes) is hellish. It’s kind of like…well. Imagine a bunch of people doing a complicated set dance. Dancers are darting in and out of lines built by other dancers as they go, up and down and around and through, coming together in pairs and foursomes, breaking away, the whole thing working together into one dance.

And then some jackass changes the tune, the rhythm and the dance. The dancers kinda know the new tune, the new rhythm, the new set, but…well, now, they’ve got to adjust.

They’re running into each other. Stepping on each other’s toes. Lines are crooked, rows too narrow, sets are scattered, half the troop is heading into a swing while the other half thinks we’re on the wheel…gah!

It takes a few measures and quite a few missteps, but eventually we’ll find the rhythm again.

But we’re going to have pretty sore toes in the meantime.

Right. We’re about to head into the tunnel. Happy Tuesday, all-y’all.