Monday, December 31, 2007

What Makes the Season Special

Is fighting with a giant fake tree - without that, Christmas just isn't Christmas.

Below follows a guest post courtesy of an email from my father. For context, my mother found a ginormous fake tree in a catalog and then found some sort of storage thingamagic for the giant fake tree in another catalog.

Also, she is the only person qualified to handle the ornaments, though she will occasionally deputize others only after many years of experience and proven success moving ornaments from the tree limb into its proper box.

Subject: Storing the Christmas Tree

You won't believe the issue of taking down the Christmas tree (OK, you probably will believe it).

As I reported earlier, I started to take down the ornaments on the tree, but of course, I was doing it all wrong, and was chastised for my precipitous actions, so I deferred.

After the tree was properly denuded, it was a simple task to break it down into its three sections for storage. But wait, there is a magic storage system that was obtained from the latest catalog that allows you to store your tree with out taking it down.

First, you get some wrenches and put together a rolling cart. After that is done, you unwrap a canvas storage unit that is a cross between a body bag and a straight jacket.

You unzip and unstrap all the straps, and then you try to pull it up over the 14 ft. tree. However, the bag is only about 8 ft. long, so you eventually have to remove the top one third of the tree and set it aside.

Then you pull, tug, stretch, and grovel with the body bag, sweating and straining, until you finally get it up over the tree. It has now been about two hours since this simple procedure was initiated. Now you are ready to move it to the garage.

Remember, even without the top portion, it still weighs about 150 lb. Well, of course when you roll it out the front door, it tumbles down the steps and you are unable to lift it, so you sort-of drag it like a dead body away from the front of the house, and somehow get it back upright so you can roll it into the garage, where it now stands as a huge phallic symbol to Christmas Past.

Following this ridiculous exercise, I decided that a double Manhattan was called for, and the admission that perhaps this latest catalog adventure was ill-advised. However, I doubt if the deluge of wonderful items will end soon. I am contemplating an airline flight to the Bay Area unless there is a change of attitude.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Another Year [almost] Over

And what have you done?

Today I sorted through a box of old papers I'd meant to file years ago, papers, check stubs, bank statements, all sorts of crap that is now fit for the shredder.

Among the scraps I found a sketch I did almost 10 years ago of an *awesome* platform storage bed. This bed kicks ass, furniture-design-wise. Sure, I was hopped up on Prednisone at the time, but that doesn't detract from the genius of my design.

I'd had a wicked bad reaction to an Oil of Olay cleanser (heinous beta hydroxy acids) and when my face swelled up like I'd been stung by a thousand wasps, I hightailed it to the dermatologist who shot me in the hip with Prednisone, then sent me home with more in pill form. She said I might feel "hyper" or have trouble sleeping. And how!

I was sitting there on my futon sketching it out on a couple of pages: a 3-dimensional view with measurements, functional specs, the separate components and how they might be joined together, and how the platform for the mattress would have to be built to accommodate all the storage underneath.

This thing had a set of drawers along one side, drawers in the foot board, and bookshelves along the other side.

At the time, I lived in a sweet studio and while I loved the space, I was in constant need of creative storage, as well as modular units that could be easily rearranged to suit various space needs.

And the whole thing sits on big, locking casters, so you can roll it all around the room if you want to. I mean, if it's all loaded up with stuff as well as a mattress, you can't easily rearrange the furniture - it's going to weigh 400lbs. I was planning ahead.

Move it into the bay window during the summer, then move it back across the room in the winter. Roll it into the middle of the room and make it a buffet table for parties. It's so versatile, I want to build it and use it today!

We could get rid of a dresser and a bookcase and continually confuse the cats when the bed isn't in the same place they found it the day before. Sure, it requires a small step-stool to climb up into it, but we have high ceilings, so that's not an issue. You'll see I even included a step-stool in the drawing. I'm nothing if not thorough, and as you'll see, a very talented artist.

Now, where do I go to have a custom storage bed made?

Also found in the box for safekeeping, a quote from Clint in High Plains Drifter I'd written on a small scrap of paper: "It's what people know about themselves inside that makes 'em afraid."

Both treasures are staying in the box.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Inspiring Strength

NPR on Saturday is always full of interesting things, from the great tidbits I learn on Car Talk to compelling stories on This American Life and Soundprint.

On TAL this week they had stories about "being left alone." The story I really loved was about a woman and her two young kids back in the early 80s, who had been left alone by her husband who'd been dealing cocaine. He'd taken off and she had no idea where he was.

He'd been gone about a week when a thug from Florida came knocking on her door asking for him. He'd absconded with a kilo of the boss's coke and the boss was going to get his merchandise or his money.

The thug showed her his gun and said he'd come in and wait for her husband to come home. As the kids played in the yard, she let him in and later told the kids a friend of dad's would be staying with them for a little while. The kids thought it was exciting and fun to have dad's friend stay over.

She never showed any sign of fear or anxiety in front of the thug or the kids. She cried once in the bathroom the night the thug showed up, but never lost it again.

That first night after she put the kids to bed, they watched TV and the Godfather came on. She casually mentioned that her uncle was in the mafia. She noticed the thug seemed nervous after she mentioned her uncle. He called his boss in Florida to tell him they may not want to get involved with this woman and her husband because she was "connected." The boss convinced him to stay.

The next day, Miami Vice came on the TV and she mentioned that her cousin was a New York City detective. This made the thug even more nervous and he called his boss again to express concern about being involved in what seemed to be turning into a high-risk assignment.

Throughout the thug's stay, the boss would call every hour or so to berate and threaten the woman, thinking that might help smoke out her husband. Fed up with the boss's harassment, she told him if he had to have her and her children killed, so be it, that was out of her control, so he should go ahead and do whatever he had to do.

For days this thug stayed with her and the kids and she went about business as usual, never showing any signs of distress. One day, she convinced him to let her go next door for milk, and while there, called her good friend and explained what was happening and asked him to stop by the house, to show this thug that they were not alone.

The friend stopped by and the thug thought it must be her NYC detective cousin - he just happened to be wearing a dark navy t-shirt and pants. He excused himself to again phone his boss, now very upset about the position he was in. Somehow the boss convinced him to stay, but it was clear that the only person who was afraid in this situation was the man with the gun.

A day or so later the husband finally showed up with the money and a really good explanation that allowed the thug to call it settled and be on his way. Before he left, he apologized profusely to the woman for having put her through this, then took her hand and kissed it.

And yes, she left her husband after that.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Lance Armstrong is an Ass

And I know this because in a dream the other night, we went on a date.

What a colossally self-absorbed jerk. The whole time, all he wanted to talk about is when and how much I work out because this is all he cares about.

"So, when you get up in the morning, what's your first workout? Running? Swimming?" I didn't answer.

He asked me this question while we were out on a run together. And after the run, he got onto his bike to go for a ride while I swam in a river near the road.

And because I'm a badass, I was swimming fast enough to keep up with him on his bike. But I knew this would be our first and last date/workout/triathlon.

After the all-day workout, he took me to his parents' outdoor restaurant somewhere in dusty, rural Texas. It was a collection of picnic tables under a long tent.

I must say, his father is a lovely person - so sweet and friendly - I felt like I'd known him all my life. While Lance was working the tables like a plastic politician I was helping his father serve food & bus tables.

His father asked me how the date was going with a look on his face like he knew the answer he was likely to get.

I told him there was no way I could put up with an ass like his son after all the shit I'd been through in the past - it just isn't worth it. His father nodded in agreement and we said a warm goodbye.

David agrees that he's a total ass because he screwed up a relationship with Cheryl Crow. She seems so nice and so easygoing, he'd have to be an idiot to mess that up.

So, sorry Lance, but I have to ask that you never call me again. And my first workout of the day is pushing the button on the espresso machine.

(I know, quite a departure from the previous post, but Debbie Downer is a drag.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

G'Bye Satellites

Yesterday a friend called with very sad news. His friend is gone, by his own doing.

A horrible thing for him and the entire family - worse yet for the two little girls who will grow up without their dad.

We all used to work together some years ago. He was one of the smartest, funniest people I'd met. While talking about vacuum cleaners in a meeting one day he said "I want a vacuum so strong it'll suck the stink right off the dog," and I spewed coffee all over the computer keyboard.

Then there was the time when a strange, hilarious website called came out - a website that allowed you to anonymously provide numerous "tips" to friends and loved ones from recommending they prune their personal area to dealing with their bad breath or to stop swearing so much, and much more - there were many helpful tips to choose from.

One day, soon after a new art director started, I received a JustaTip that told me I should stop talking like a drunken sailor - it was becoming offensive and negatively affecting others.

I must have stared at my monitor for 20 minutes replaying the conversation I'd just had with the new art director, certain I'd kept it clean - I always did that at first. But there must have been something I'd said and now couldn't remember - jesus fucking christ what had I said???

And then he started laughing. He'd been watching the growing panic on my face and couldn't take it anymore. Bastard. I was two seconds away from running back to the art director to apologize.

He also used to tell a story about a retarded (his word, not mine) kid he went to grammar school with who did a report on satellites, except the kid yelled when he talked, so everything he said was hollered at full volume. It still makes me laugh every time I think of it.

Sadly, I didn't get to work with him as much as I'd have liked. He was much smarter than most and there seemed to be nothing he couldn't figure out.

And now. It's just tragic and senseless.

On one hand I think Coward - he took the easy way out. On the other hand, I can't begin to imagine how it feels to decide that's the only option left, let alone follow through to the ultimate end.

When I read about Spalding Gray stepping off the Staten Island ferry into the cold dark waters of the East River, I was angry. That asshole. He and his amazing gift was gone forever, and the most horrible thing I couldn't understand was how he could do that to his own kids, especially after he had to live with the aftermath of his own mother's suicide.

And now, two more kids are left fatherless. If your own kids can't give you that one last safety line to help you stick around, then there really must be nothing (in your own mind) left to live for. Really?

There's much more to it than this, I know. It's all just too incomprehensible. If shit's getting really impossible to manage, start cleaning house, in a hurry. Clean house, circle the wagons, and find the courage to make a path out of it. Easy for me to say, right?

But if you can't do it for yourself, do it for the people you'll leave behind, the people who will have to clean up your mess and deal with the shit you couldn't find a way to deal with. Think of someone else, and maybe that's the key to start fixing your shit.

I am Jack's wasted life. I am Jack's colon. I am Jack's broken heart.
And time moves on.

p.s. 02/20/08 - I've since learned that Mr. Satellites had a long, long struggle with mental illness and was likely bi-polar, but misdiagnosed, which explains a helluva lot. It's tragic to think that had he only been properly treated, he may have enjoyed a very long, happy life.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Festivus!

Have a rockin' great holiday! Like Rooty, we're running behind this year, but that doesn't mean we don't love you.

We're thinking of you, and it's the thought that counts, right? Right. So enjoy all our warm, cheerful thoughts - we don't have them often.

And as a special gift, Nikita caught a moth and ate it for you - isn't she sweet? Now that's a gift from the heart.

OK then, have a wonderful Festivus and we'll be back soon.
Love to all y'all!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Electric Blanket Coma

These things are dangerous, and I'm starting to think, probably not good for your health.

On cold nights we've been "preheating" the bed, which is lovely, but instead of turning off the blanket after getting in, I'd leave mine set fairly low, on "3." (The settings range from 1 - 10)

"3" is just warm enough to feel deliciously cozy, but not too warm - it's hardly even noticeable. What *is* noticeable is the absence of icy cold spots around the body's perimeter, and that's nice.

The problem with "3" is, it's warm enough to #1, make it very difficult to get out of bed in the morning, and #2, slow-cook my brain.

On "3" blanket nights, I wake up feeling not groggy, but sort-of cooked. Definitely not clear-headed, ready to jump out of bed and attack the day. That rarely happens anyway, but when not using the blanket, I usually wake up feeling pretty good - refreshed.

So now, we preheat the bed but as soon as I get in it, I turn off that damn blanket. The other night we put it on a high setting for preheating and when we got in, it was like slipping into an incredibly soft, cushy hot tub. But I'm pretty sure it's not healthy to sleep in a hot tub.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Festivus Came Early

Last week I received the best Festivus gift ever - I reconnected with an old friend I hadn't seen in about eight years.

We'd slowly lost touch after we found ourselves in challenging new jobs and exciting new relationships. Without noticing it, we became ensconced in our own bubbles and drifted apart. Then I moved a couple of times, she bought a house, and time quietly slipped away.

Fast forward several years and I happened to reconnect with a mutual friend of ours. He then sent an email to both of us and you could almost hear the squealing sounds of excitement only audible to dogs and bottlenose dolphins.

After numerous emails we set up a dinner date. I drove into the city and couldn't wait to get there. I was so excited to see her. As she opened the door and yelled "HELLO!" it was like no time had passed. We talked so much that my dinner got cold before I could eat it.

It's hard to describe the elation and joy that comes from reconnecting with a quality person who was a true friend. It was like finding a part of myself I didn't realize I'd lost, a part of me I loved and needed, now with me again.

I couldn't stop smiling the whole night. I think when good people fade out of your life for whatever reason, they do take a little piece of you with them, whether you realize it or not, and you might only realize it when they're back in your life.

It felt like the beginning of a whole new chapter of life, not just a new beginning for an old friendship.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Usability - Not Just for Toilets

The other day on This Old House they visited a major bath fixtures manufacturer and I was impressed by their design methods.

It's not surprising they'd be so thorough - one seriously malfunctioning toilet could ruin their business. What was refreshing was their attitude and approach to design.

Thorough, comprehensive research and testing is the foundation of their business, not just annoying project plan line items holding up a product launch date.

Sure, you might say, it has to be - they make things that if not well designed, will sink (har har) their business. But that's true of most businesses.

No matter what is created or for whom, if the end users and good design methods aren't part of the process, it'll miss the mark and the company will suffer - from technology companies to toilet makers.

Before the fixtures manufacturer begins designing a new piece, be it a gorgeous pedestal sink or porcelain throne, they do extensive research to build upon past successes. Design styles or functionality users preferred (or didn't) in the past, or new, modern styles and features popular today.

Based on all the research, many sketches are done and from those, plaster prototypes are built to ensure what they've imagined can be successfully built.

From a proven, plaster prototype they make the porcelain piece and subject it to exhaustive quality testing. The acceptable failure rate is 0. Zero. It must test as 100% functional before they proceed with user testing.

Yup, that's right - they user-test new designs to gather customer input. That feedback is factored back into the overall design process.

I can't tell you how many projects I've worked on where little or no research was done before kickoff - even basic user/audience research. Or even answering the question, What's the goal of the xyz?

Most projects have severely limited budgets and timelines, but just a small amount of forethought and research can save time and money in the long run. Rushing something to market never works out well, so why does it happen?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Menopause ROCKS!

I can't wait for "the change." My body might already be prepping for the transition, but I'm psyched about the complete cessation of my menstrual flow.

I just read a great article about understanding menopause and I had no idea how big a change it will be.

Turns out, according to Berkeley gynecologist Risa Kagen (Nina Hagen?), "A woman may spend the last third to half of her life post-menopause; and it can be a life of quality including dating and new jobs."

All this time, all I'd ever heard about was the hot flashes, mood swings, horrible musicals, depression, potential weight gain, vaginal dryness, and ending up with a cupboard full of useless tampons.

I never knew that once you're in menopause, you can start dating again. David was surprised, too, but supportive as always. He said he'd be glad to take care of the house & pets so I won't have to worry about that when I'm out for drinks with my boyfriends.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Lawyers - What's Not to Like?

Before I begin, let me just say, I know not all lawyers are evil, useless gas bags who should be strung up and pelted with rocks and garbage. Just most of them, like these guys, especially for their hellacious website.

Really, kids, how hard is it to put up a simple website that doesn't reek of lameness? Someone's nephew should be able to help you out. Please. Put a flier on the break room bulletin board.

Anyway. After leaving a full-time job earlier this year I found I had time to get back to things I'd put off for quite a while. Like reviewing my credit report. I know, I live the high life.

I'd done this a couple of years ago and all looked OK, though there was one thing I wasn't sure about - something from a past life when I was married to a total and complete loser.

I collected and reviewed new reports and found that one thing that had been there before - a very old account I thought had been closed after the divorce (10 years ago).

Turns out, the loser kept the account open, ran up a small debt, and then later filed for bankruptcy. This one credit card was apparently the least of his financial worries. What a colossal dumbass.

The bankruptcy was filed in 2003. No one ever came looking for me to cover the outstanding credit card balance. It's just been sitting there, and since I don't go opening up new credit cards or applying for loans, it hasn't been an issue.

Regardless, I thought I would try to get this off my credit report. So I went spelunking to first track down a phone number for the reporting company. Found that, then had to find additional phone numbers to customer service departments, because the reporting company is the parent company of the actual credit card company and when the loser went bankrupt, the debt was purchased by another company, and that company is now represented by a typically sleazy law firm.

I finally reached someone who actually knew something about the account and they said because they're just a law firm, they don't report to the credit bureaus, so I'd have to contact the reporting company to request it be removed from my credit report. OK. I tried that, but they sent me to you. Making all kinds of progress now!

I sent a letter to the reporting company and they actually wrote me back a month later, informing me that the account balance was still open and only after it was paid off could they remove it from my credit report. Um, OK.

So, I called the law firm back to try to understand the actual situation. I finally spoke to someone who could adequately explain that even though a loser files for bankruptcy, it doesn't mean the account is purchased and paid - the debt still needs to be collected, but the loser gets a pass.

Knowing this, I made an offer to settle the debt so we could all move on with our little lives. I thought my offer was fair - it's not a big balance, but it's not my debt, so there's no way I'm covering the total.

After I gave the "paralegal" my offer, I could hear her working out the math to find out what percentage it was of the total, because the critical number is their cut of whatever they end up collecting. She was actually whispering to herself as she calculated the percentage. Then she said she'd take that offer back to her client.

Weeks passed. The seasons changed. Then this week I heard back. Her client would not accept my offer. I told her that was too bad, because that was as much as I was willing to pay to call this done.

I also told her I found it hard to understand that after all this time, after no one ever tried to contact me in an effort to settle the account, that a company wouldn't be willing to entertain the offer, especially when it was me who tracked them down in an effort to give them my money.

Then she tried to tell me something about how no one's collecting on this account, so it doesn't matter that I found them, they won't accept anything less than 60% of the debt. She kept repeating that they're not a collection agency, so "I don't know what to tell you."

I hope she really is a paralegal and not a lawyer, 'cause that's a whole lotta money to waste on an education if that's the best she can do - for her firm and her client. I explained again that this was only something I'd hoped to take care of, but if they weren't willing to accept my offer (or something closer to it), then I would just let it fall off my credit report in another year. It's been six years already, what's one more?

Then I told her she was probably hoping to get more so her cut would be better. She repeated that she was "just a paralegal." Yup. And I'm just a philanthropist hoping to help all the little credit card companies of the world.

And why won't "the client" accept less than %60 of this piddly balance? Here's why:
The law firm of Becket & Lee is dedicated to serving its clients by maximizing recoveries from their bankrupt portfolios.

The stupid thing (or 'stupider' thing) is that even 60% of the debt wouldn't cover one tenth of one percent of "Becket & Lee's staff of over 300... made up of lawyers, paralegals, programmers, technicians, managers, supervisors and processors devoted to making our clients' job of managing bankrupt accounts as simple as possible."

300 people? Sweet chocolate christmas, and not one of those people can build you a serviceable website? I think you could cull the ranks there, B&L, and maybe find someone who wants to resolve open issues instead of burn up your valuable, billable time giving people like me the runaround.

It's a good thing the laws were changed and it's harder now for losers to skip out on their debts and keep colon dwellers like these in business. But in the end, karma's a bitch, so one way or another, it all comes back around.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Yer Gonna Be Sticky

This morning I mixed up a new jar of almond butter and decided I'd throw in the very last of some honey that was crystallized - it had been sitting on the counter for weeks, un-squeezable in its solid form.

I was trying to scrape the honey out of the plastic bottle without letting it drip anywhere, 'cause if there's one thing that makes me crazy, it's sticky-ness.

As I maneuvered the little scraper in the bottle, it was inevitable - there's no way to work with honey without it dripping and within moments, your hands and fingers are sticky and there you are, sticking to everything.

It reminded me of an awkward conversation I had one day with one of Blue Shield's VPs. He's a really nice guy, but we didn't talk with him often and when we did, it was typical corporate chit chat and it was always just for a minute at the most.

One day he stopped by our area as a few of us were getting ready to head down to the Ferry Building's Farmer's Market. I was waiting for a friend to grab her wallet and the VP was hanging around in the main aisle.

He asked where we were headed and I told him, but I was nervous, 'cause I don't know the guy and we'd never tried a non corporate chit chat before. Then he asked what we were shopping for and I told him I needed to pick up more honey - this really good honey from a guy based in Santa Cruz.

At this point, I'm feeling like honey is the only topic we're going to cover, and my nerves get the better of me, so I start rambling on about how great the honey is and how you can taste every variety they have, and it's so good for you, blah, blah, blah, please why won't someone shove a toner cartridge in my mouth...

I guess because I'd been raving about it so much, he asked if I'd pick up some for him, and I cheerfully said Sure! Then I realized my friend wasn't yet ready to go and we would have a few more minutes of this strange interaction before getting anywhere near the safety of a crowded elevator.

The awkward conversation continued with me going on about how he wouldn't be able to wait until he got home to break into his jar, riding home on the train eating honey out of a jar with his hands. He was laughing along with my weird vision of his evening commute and then I said, "You're gonna be sticky!"

I can't tell you why I said it or what it even means. It just felt like the natural thing to say after imagining someone eating a jar of honey on a train. It made sense to me at the time. I'm sure at that moment he wondered how I'd passed the new hire drug screening.

Thankfully, just after I'd told a VP he would be sticky on his ride home, my friend was ready to go and the painful encounter was over. I did my best to avoid him after that and I'm sure he did the same.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Headache Update 12/07

I'm happy to report that our migraine-free trend continues for the second half of this year. There have been minor cranial annoyances in the form of sinus headaches or a-little-too-much-red-wine headache, and the good old standard tension headache.

But since July of this year, we've remained migraine-free. Coincidence?
Probably not.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

I Drove a Pickup Truck

Yes, it was a big weekend - drove a Ford 150 pickup truck, and now I understand why people love their trucks.

Compared to my sensible little station wagon, that truck hauls ass, along with large items I couldn't houdini into my wagon. And I had way better visibility down the road - it helps to be tall.

At the root of all this is HGTV, a channel my friend "Jeannie," aka Shauna, says I shouldn't watch because they broadcast subliminal messages.


Jeannie thinks she gets messages like MUST GO SPEND MONEY AT HOME DEPOT. Maybe those messages are there, but I'm not receptive to them. I don't have any money and I hate Home Depot, so I should be OK.

Work had been slow the past few months and that led to hours and hours of HGTV while I went about de-cluttering the house and redesigning rooms to be more functional.

We dropped off a full carload of donations to Goodwill and now have more recycling than we have bin space - it'll take at least three weeks to dispose of it all.

And then I decided to get rid of an old desk that serves only as a clutter magnet and replace it with a computer armoire - at least I'll be able to close the doors if it starts getting messy. So onto Craigslist to search for a gently used solution.

Found a great piece and the only way to get it home - rent a truck. Unfortunately they don't rent gun racks, but the truck alone was great. It made it so much easier to get the armoire home and I got to experience the thrill of a V8.

Now we just need to rip up the old linoleum, paint, put in a new floor, then move everything back into my office. After only 6 years of having a half-assed room/office/storage space/nightmare, it'll be a place where I can actually work.

Soon I'll have Before and After pics to post.