high-minded drivel

high-minded (adjective) - refined; cultured; particularly civilized. drivel (noun) - senseless talk; nonsense.

Friday, December 9, 2011

If you shop til you drop you have planned poorly

A hamlet such as this would be ideal,
because you could start by going uphill
and then take advantage of the downhill
later on in your shopping outing.
This evening's post comes to you from the Grandview Avenue Caribou Coffee in the lovely hamlet of Grandview, just northwest of downtown Columbus.  I am in Grandview this evening because it is one of several Columbus hamlets with a Main Street of sorts (or a main street, I suppose) with shops and restaurants all within easy walking distance of each other.  Hamlets like this are quite excellent in my view because they promote community, exercise (in the form of walking), commerce, creativity, and a host of other benefits.  I'm sure you can think of some for yourself.  Hamlets are a place where you feel good about yourself, where you feel like you're part of something special, where you want to spend time and not rush it.  This is in contrast to the world of big box, parking lot, frenzied pace, get-out-while-you-can suburbs and strip malls.  In other words, a hamlet is ideal for a little holiday shopping.

Mmmmm....Christmas hamlet.  So savory.

While I contrast shopping in the context of a hamlet with shopping in the context of suburban malls, I must say that my shopping approach in a hamlet is still "mission-style" shopping.  You could say that I take a very thorough approach to shopping.  This means checking every store, looking at every item, making a calculated decision, and then EXECUTE! EXECUTE! EXECUTE!.  Leave no stone unturned, because the stone you don't turn over may have the ideal gift underneath it, covered in moss and earthworms.  This isn't to say that if I do come across the ideal gift early on while shopping that I'll keep going.  I don't love shopping that much, and I'm no fool.  But I don't just pick and choose a few stores and then settle for what I can find in them.  Any store may surprise you with something you never thought you'd find, so every store deserves a look.  As you might expect, power-walking is not out of the question when mission-shopping, and it might even be essential.  I'm not an aggressive shopper, but you've got to move quickly and be efficient to get all the stores in.

Remember that all this is in the context of shops along just one to three streets in a hamlet, not striding through the vast wasteland of a mall.

Christmas hamlet.......mmmmm.......with potatoooooooes......

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A freshly pressed post just for you

Tradition! Here in our little village of
Anatevka, weaaaaaaahhhhh peepperrrrr
It is now the third day after Thanksgiving, and after hunkering down in our homemade bunker with 12 gallons of water and a shotgun during Black Friday, it's now time to come out and update the blog.  In truth, Dad and I actually ventured out mid-morning on Black Friday, but it was to get a few tools at places like the local hardware store and Sears, not to rush the gates at Best Buy and Target.  The hardware store and Sears were definitely busier than usual, but old fat guys looking at tools lends itself to more of a "milling" pace than a "rabid" pace.  And they keep their guns in the beds of their pickups trucks rather than bringing them into the store.

Black Friday shopping is not a tradition that our family has ever engaged in.  For me, it's rather unsettling to read about the latest religious-induced trampling at a temple or mosque in India or the Middle East, and then realize we have the same thing here....but for game consoles.  However, our family does participate in other standard Thanksgiving traditions, like consuming turkey, and napping, and being thankful for turkey and napping.  We also watch some football, that most celebrated of American sports, although sitting around watching TV compels us to get outside and exercise or do yard work for part of the day as well.  Because if there's a feeling that reverberates in our souls just as strongly as thankfulness, it's guilt.  Ha!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Just so you know, this blog post was made from scratch

You....want....career advice?!!!
A couple days ago I started reading a book titled Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford.  The basic point of the book, if I'm interpreting it correctly after the first two chapters, is that society over time has developed an unreasonable aversion to work that falls into the categories of "crafts" or "skilled trades." While students are in high school, we promote college as the better path and discourage them from actively pursuing a basic trade, believing that life will be harder and less lucrative for them if they go into a trade.  But more recently people have started realizing that "knowledge jobs" are not as secure as once believed, and even worse, the individuals pursuing those careers find that they are not only unsatisfied at work, but woefully unable to be self-sufficient.  Crawford calls for a new look at manual work, and recognition of the fact that it can be satisfying, secure, and even lucrative.

Here are a few early passages from the book so that you can read some of Crawford's own words...

The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy.  They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth.

Craftsmanship means dwelling on a task for a long time and going deeply into it, because you want to get it right.  In managementspeak, this is called being "ingrown."  The preferred role model is the management consultant, who swoops in and out and whose very pride lies in his lack of particular expertise.  Like the ideal consumer, the management consultant presents an image of soaring freedom, in light of which the manual trades appear cramped and paltry.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Stretch goals: Not just a buzz word anymore

With grad school long since finished, all current ASOFAI books read, a momentary stoppage on house projects with the completion of the front porch, and a corresponding increase in the regularity that workouts and runs occur, I decided that this weekend I would sit down and establish some goals.  Mostly this meant coming up with things to do in my free time, but I've found it necessary to frame these things as "goals" so that I actually do them rather than spend all my time laying on the couch reading.  A little explicit commitment can go a long way toward not settling for the same-old same-old.

My thoughts exactly
Some of the items that made the short list came pretty easily to mind, and included "Take one course in a language by the end of 2012" and "Run your fastest marathon yet by November of next year."  But other possibilities were less sure, because goal-setting is actually tricky business, believe it or not.  For example, I considered making it a goal to update the blog at least once every two weeks for the coming year.  A respectable goal, right?  But by defining a goal like that, am I not in a way discouraging myself from updating the blog more than once every two weeks?  I hate to think that the blog would become just another task to be checked off once the goal is completed, when it should really be something that serves as a natural outlet for creativity and thinking, and something that provides real enjoyment.  The blog should not be a "job," and it seems that harnessing it with a goal would put it into that realm.

It seems to me that another way goals can become a double-edged sword and accidentally limit one's efforts is by way of the timeframes we attach to goals.  People naturally think of personal goals on a one-year timeframe, but why stop at one year?  With my goal of starting to learn a new language, I'm purposefully saying "Take one course," but realistically this is only a starting point for something that will take numerous years before there are really any results.  If someone sets a goal for a year, does that mean at the end of the year they should quit on whatever they've started?  On the other hand, it is true that breaking things into manageable chunks helps us to accomplish goals, so maybe a timeframe less than one year would be more appropriate.    

There really is a thin line between a goal that pushes your limits as intended and one that restricts you to doing less than you are capable of doing.  My marathoning goal is mostly a matter of convenience.  There are marathons all over the place now, but otherwise there's no good reason to stop at 26 miles.  Why not 30?  Why not 40?  The 26-mile mark is set as the "finish line," but if I set the finish line at 30 miles I could probably make it.  The weariness I'll feel as I approach 26 miles probably wouldn't be as bad if I was thinking in terms of going for another 4 miles.  If I set the mark at 30, I may not feel the same level of exhaustion until mile 29.  Obviously there are limits to this, but it's sometimes difficult to tell when the limits are psychological and self-imposed, and when you've really gone as far as you can go.

At this point you may have set an immediate goal of preventing yourself from gouging your eyes out as an involuntary reaction to this annoying flood of speculation and self-questioning.  Let me assist you in achieving that goal by moving on to some less drivel-rich content...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reading this post is a sign of true character

Much time of late has been spent engrossed in George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.  As noted in prior posts, I read the series for the first time a few years ago, and upon the release of the newest book in the series, A Dance With Dragons, I decided to re-read all the books before getting to the most recent addition to the saga.  While Martin has been criticized for his snail's pace in releasing the books, much of the reason for fans' impatience is because of Martin's obvious talent in telling the story, which makes readers long for the next chapter in the tale to unfold.  Part of the appeal of Martin's writing in this series is that he combines classic fantasy elements (dragons, magic, knights) with a historically-grounded setting.  He paints a picture of lords and peasants, castles, and warfare that closely resembles the lifestyle in certain parts of the world in human history.

The direwolf, fearsome sigil of House Stark
The series is built around the concept of various "houses," or families, each going back many years and involving histories of both heroic and despised figures.  In keeping with the historical theme, each house has its own sigil, meant to represent the family in some way.  In a number of cases, the family is very mindful of building its identity around the sigil it has chosen.  For example, House Lannister has a lion as its sigil, so the members of the family think of themselves as having lion-like characteristics (ferocity, power, etc) and try to display those characteristics in life.  Lions don't necessarily have anything to do with the family or the area in which they live, but at some point a connection was made between lions and Lannisters, and so the Lannisters purposefully make an effort to enhance that image.

Think of it this way: Professional football teams have a mascot.  Some mascots are connected to the city in which the team plays.  For example, the San Francisco team is the 49ers, in reference to the gold rush that occurred in the area's history.  On the other hand, Chicago's team is the Bears.  The mascot has nothing to do with the city, and is simply chosen because it makes for a fearsome, intimidating image.  But the marketing folks for the Chicago Bears will eagerly try to make the players fearsome like bears and project the characteristics of bears onto the team.

My uncle once said that professional football is just modern-day tribal warfare, and I've oft thought that truer words were never spoken.

Monday, October 10, 2011

If you need something to read while surfing the web during lunch at work...

Untapped market: Edible brown paper lunch bags
Being a planful, health-conscious, and generally tight-wadded individual who places a lot of emphasis on what I'll be consuming throughout each day for purposes of replenishing my calorie stores, it comes as no surprise that I am very purposeful about grocery shopping.  A lot of thought goes into the weekly grocery list to ensure that the items I buy will be appropriate for comprising both dinners each evening and lunches each day at work in the week to come, all at the best price.  A balance must be struck between food that tastes good and food that is good for you, meals that are standbys and meals that stretch your culinary repertoire, ingredients that are merely marketed as high quality and ingredients that truly make a difference in the cooking.

While planning and cooking dinners is a genuinely enjoyable activity, planning and preparing lunches is more of a task.  You can't host people for lunch at work, and although there is some ability to put some simple ingredients together at your desk, you can't truly cook anything in the office.  There is little enjoyment to be found in placing items in tupperware containers and carrying them to work with you, especially when you know that you'll likely be having the same thing the next day.

The exception to this rule is leftovers.  Leftovers are like a refreshing redux on the previous night's dinner-making enjoyment.  Obviously you aren't preparing the meal all over again, but in eating the leftovers at work you are reminded of the enjoyment that went into the initial preparation.  Leftovers are the perfect lunch because you don't need to spend any extra time preparing something in the morning and they break up the monotony of the "daily salad," so to speak.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A bountiful harvest of drivel

This past weekend brought with it one of those splendid annual opportunities to get outdoors, see some fall foliage, and engage in some "back to basics" endeavors, courtesy of a traditional autumn harvest festival.  At these festivals there is a standard array of activities regardless of where you go.  Some of the classics are basket-making, metal-working, and whittling in one form or another.  Basically, the festivals provide an opportunity for certain individuals in society to show that they, unlike you, could still survive on the frontier if need be, and you are reminded that you ought to respect these people and learn from them, as some day you may find yourself in a situation where "the old skills" are relevant once again.  All of this is quickly forgotten as you move on to the booth selling country-style pies, and the sound of gleeful mastication punctuates the certainty of your doom should you ever get stuck in the wilderness for more than three hours.

Is that real anger on the face of the pioneer? If so, it's probably
because he knows there is a pretender in his midst.
The activity I was most looking forward to at the harvest festival was apple butter stirring, not because I'd ever done it before or developed some great fondness for it, but because it had been awhile since I'd gone to one of these festivals, and the activity that stuck out in my mind and that I associated with festivals of the past was people standing around a bubbling cauldron, stirring apple butter with a giant wooden paddle.  The festival we attended did not disappoint, and we not only found the apple butter stirring station and sampled its product, but also participated in the stirring.  While the few minutes of stirring that we performed was enjoyable enough, and accompanied by much fanfare and pomp, I did not envy the poor sap (who was inexplicably not at the maple syrup station - ha!) whose job it was to watch over the apple butter cauldron for the better part of the day.  Because here's the thing about the olde skills like apple butter stirring: While they may require a knowledge that is now rare, and may bring a high amount of personal satisfaction when you've completed your task at the end of the day, they are not what you would call "mind-blowingly exciting."  In the case of apple butter stirring, imagine standing at your stove for 11 hours, stirring a pot, and occasionally throwing in some spices.  Now imagine that the pot is much bigger, and it's over a fire rather than sitting on the stove.  Now imagine that you're wearing a big floppy pioneer hat, and yea...you've pretty much got it.  This is probably why the festivals that exhibit apple butter stirring only occur once per year.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

An HR presentation is only as good as its dueling banjos

As a supposed Master of Human Resources, one could assume that I have a relatively extensive knowledge of the Human Resources field, and furthermore, that I would hold strong opinions about certain aspects of Human Resources.  While the first of these two points is highly disputable, the second is more sure.  I can say with a fair degree of certainty that I have strong opinions about many aspects of Human Resources, and will not hesitate to hold forth on those opinions if they should be solicited.  Most of them go something like "You don't need a Human Resources degree to figure that out."

Arriving late? What part of 'high noon' didn't
you understand?
However, there are some Human Resources practices and trends where my perspective could more easily be characterized as positive or negative.  In the "negative" category are things like resumes, and the 40-hour workweek, and team building.  These things all warrant disdain, skepticism, and scorn.  If I had enough pull in the Human Resources community to make a change as momentous as enacting a shorter workweek, or had the genius to develop a team building activity that actually resulted in a group of individuals bound together in one common purpose, I would be very proud.  And rich.  And I'd probably put both accomplishments on my resume.

On the other hand, there truly are many "positive" concepts within Human Resources, and one of these is flex time.  For those not familiar with the idea, flex time is easy to understand.  Basically, you can come into work later than others, or leave work earlier than others, or work a few hours on weekends, or generally do whatever you want in terms of hours as long as the work gets done.  In other words, you can have that less-than-40-hour workweek, and only feel like you're cheating the system a little bit.  It's a great arrangement, and runs contrary to the traditional idea of 8-5 workdays.  Certainly there is still a place for standard shifts of 7:00-3:00, 3:00-11:00, and 11:00-7:00, as some industries must operate on strict schedules, but for the average office worker, flex time is the gift that keeps on giving.  Workers are more productive, happier, have more control over their lives, and to top it all off, the common phrase "I'm going to flex my time today" is, in some inexplicable way, much more palatable than other phrases like "We're creating an environment of empowerment."  Probably because it doesn't smack of highly processed bullshit.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Probably not a good investment of your time

We shall begin this blog post as we do every blog post, with a look at the day's stock market news, courtesy of Stock Market Today...

The downturn in the market has nothing to do
with economic conditions, and everything to
do with people finally acknowledging that a
bull would never beat a bear in a fight
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (known to friends as "The Dow," or to really good friends as "DJ") finished up 1.25%.  It was bested by both the S&P ("Stealth & Power") at 1.33% and the Nasdaq ("The Nasty Nas") at 1.57%.  Some analysts interpreted these outcomes as a real clash of the titans, being decided by only a few hundredths of a percent, but wiser investors saw these numbers for what they really were: a classic case of one market standard taking a dive in the 5th round and letting others win in exchange for under-the-table bribes.  Needless to say, the dirty money is delivered in cash, not stocks.  In terms of individual stocks, the big winner on the day was Transcept Pharmaceuticals. The big loser was Leapfrog Enterprises, a company that "designs, develops and markets a family of innovative technology-based learning platforms and related proprietary content for children of all ages at home and in schools around the world."  Silly Leapfrog!  People don't want education!  They want drugs! Finally, among commodities, Corn had the most positive change at +2.19%, while Silver lost out with a 1.6% decline, leading to immediate speculation that the Olympic Committee, in preparation for the 2012 London summer games, had abruptly scrapped tradition and suddenly invested in a new second place finisher's medal.  More specifically, an edible one.

Of course, this is all "tongue-in-cheek" commentary (whatever that means).  I'm no market analyst, and Stock Market Today was just the first site that came up on a Google search.  In fact, I only bothered to link to them because the various percentages I've noted were legitimately taken from their site.  You'll have to forgive me for getting carried away in my fervor.  You see, I'm in an investing mood.  For some time now my savings account has essentially sat dormant, gaining next to nothing in interest per year, but I finally woke up and realized that those finances have not earned a rest, and must be put to work.  It's like having a teenage son who has grown over time, and suddenly you look and see that he is bigger than you realized, and he is loafing on the couch.  So metaphorically speaking, I'm taking my teenage savings account and telling it to get a job, for the love of God, and to start bathing more regularly.  Time for Savey to start earning its keep.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Guilt and validation, please, in the eggshell finish

Now that the summer vacationing is concluded for the year, things have settled back into the typical pattern.  Running in the morning, working during the day, working on the house or taking care of other tasky things in the evening, cooking a meal when possible, and reading before bed.  Then, after pretending to go to bed, slipping out of the house in my leotard and fighting crime through the night.

How am I ever going to know which color to choose?
This week was a bit different than the normal week in that Monday was Labor Day, so instead of going into the office I stayed at home, and Nate and I got some painting and trim work done on the porch.  The decking on the porch was a bit rotted, and rather beaten up in general, so we tore it off and have since replaced it with new cedar decking, as well as new columns to support the roof.  While we're not going to paint the cedar, we did paint the new columns and the ceiling.  Of course, any time there is a painting job at hand, some decisions are necessary about which color paint to use.  For our primary color, we chose Roycroft Vellum.  You could say that Roycroft Vellum could just as easily be called "cream," but that would be neglecting the many other slight variations on a basic cream color that you can purchase from Sherwin Williams.  Allegorically speaking, Sherwin Williams has a really, really, really large box of Crayolas.  And the crayons are breeding.

For the accent color we chose Craftsman Brown.  Or as Nate likes to call it, Inoffensive Brown.  But seriously, what exactly is "Craftsman Brown" supposed to describe?  Is Craftsman a generic term, or is it the name of a specific personage?  You know, like Craftsman Brown is Encyclopedia Brown's blue collar brother, or Farmer Brown's wayward son who didn't want to raise corn anymore.  Is there an Unskilled Laborer Brown as well?  Who comes up with these names?  Was the color Craftsman Brown inspired by something in particular, or were the Sherwin Williams folks just lightening/darkening a basic brown by different degrees and dubbing the resulting colors with the first word that came to mind?  If I had a microphone, and a trenchcoat, and a cameraman, and I saw a Sherwin Williams executive climbing out of the back seat of a nice car with tinted windows to make their way into an office building, I would totally harass them with these questions.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summer Vacation Part VI: Gobsmacked! (or, Getting My Ass Kicked In The Welsh Countryside)

The Bog Snorkeling Triathlon that I referenced in the first of these Summer Vacation posts and subsequently alluded to in other posts is an annual event held in Llanwrtyd Wells.   Llanwrtyd (pronounced lan-er-tid or lan-er-tif) claims to be the smallest town in the UK, and in a brochure that we picked up states that it intends for things to remain that way, at least after the annual cull.  Knowing that their status as the smallest town in the UK may not be enough by itself to draw people to the town and fuel a livelihood for the townsfolk (a relatively high percentage of which own bed & breakfasts), Llanwrtyd has gained a bit of a reputation for hosting unusual annual events, including the Bog Snorkeling Triathlon.  A lineup of the annual events can be viewed here.  The Bog Snorkeling Triathlon actually plays second fiddle to another of the town's events: The World Bog Snorkeling Championships.  The Championships consist of contestants snorkeling just one length in the bog, with each contestant racing against the clock to see who will come away with the best time.  The event now attracts a few hundred participants each year.  In contrast, the Bog Snorkeling Triathlon gets less than 30 participants (and only about 16 this year), and is, as you might expect, and much longer and grueling affair.

If you're wondering about the bog itself, think about a muddy, water-filled ditch, like you might see on the side of the road.  Or just refer to the picture below.  The bog isn't a vast swamp, with web-footed creatures and gnarled trees and a perpetual mist hanging over it.  Rather, it is basically farmland, spongy with water, and a few ditches have been hacked out of the ground to create long, narrow pools of water that are about six feet deep.  The water is very cold, even in summer, and the reason people ever decided to snorkel in it, as the townsfolk will gleefully tell you, is because in the absence of other things to do in Llanwrtyd, people hang out at the local pub (the Neuff Arms) and think of odd ways to entertain themselves.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Summer Vacation Part V: Bartering Abroad (or, Playing With Monopoly Money)

I live in Paree and I am quite le wealthy.  That is why I have
a sculpture just standing out on my balcony!  Hoh-hoh-hoh!
As we continue on in our bloggy jaunt into France and the United Kingdom, we shall focus today on that most prevalent of staples of the modern world: beaver pelts.  Or, their substitute.  I am of course speaking of currency.  Cash.  Coin.  Money.  That stuff that you give to a person in exchange for some item, rather than simply taking the item, to effectively avoid a confrontation with the police.  It's that great medium through which we value things, and feel fairly traded with when we offer some of it up, often accompanied with a hearty "Thanks!" returned by a corresponding "Thanks!" from the person on the other end.  Or, if you're in France, "Merci!"  Or, in certain parts of England, "Fanks!"

Prior to traveling over to France, I had heard many times that things were much more expensive in Europe, and especially in Paris and London.  Thus, as I set about purchasing train tickets and making the few reservations we would need, I came to rely on Google's handy conversion calculator.  Of course, I couldn't use one consistent calculator for the trip, because the United Kingdom chooses to do the equivalent of biting their thumb at the rest of the continent, conducting exchanges in their traditional "pound sterling" rather than the newer euro, despite the many attractive features of the euro, such as anti-lock brakes, CD player, and moon roof.

But despite having to switch back and forth between Google's dollars-to-euros calculator and the dollars-to-pounds calculator, it was fun to do business in two types of currency while abroad.  Riding the Eurostar from Paris to London really brought it all together, as they conducted transactions in both euros and pounds.  However, whether the metaphorical oil lubricating the engines of the economy was euros or pounds, it was all foreign to me.  It looked roughly the same as American currency in that it consisted of coins and paper, but it also looked different.  Rather than a standard greenish hue, the money came in different shades.  The paper money was not the same size as our dollars, and instead of Andrew Jackson grimacing back at you, there was Queen Elizabeth, smiling pleasantly.  In short, going to the ATM and making a withdrawal in Paris or London was like replenishing your supply of play money.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Summer Vacation Part IV: Dining In Style Across The Pond (or, It's Difficult To Eat When You Have Your Shirt Over Your Nose)

The French are truly craftsmen when it comes to confections.
Yes, this toolbox is made of chocolate.
Despite being a first-time international traveler while on my trip to France and the UK, I expect that someone who has traveled internationally with some frequency still maintains the same enthusiasm I had for sampling the cuisine abroad.  Seeing art and the countryside and engaging in athletic endeavors is all well and good, but in the end, life is about the daily cycle of obtaining sustenance, replenishing your energy stores, and imparting to your body its nutritional needs.  And at least in Paris, that may or may not mean a foot-long hot dog on French bread, smothered in three kinds of cheese.

While the title of this post alludes to food that smells bad, or, as the case may be, reeks like rotting flesh, it could just as easily have been titled "Will It Float?"  If you aren't aware, the phrase/question "Will It Float" is the title of a recurring comedic segment on The Late Show with David Letterman during which Dave and his crew drop various objects into a pool of water, with great fanfare, to see if the objects will float.  And although the segment is absolutely absurd, which is the whole point, there is some anticipatory build-up for each object to see if it floats.  And just as there is this ongoing, amused curiosity among the audience members at the Late Show to see if various objects will float, there is a similar ongoing, amused curiosity when dining abroad.  Of course, the question being asked when dining abroad is not "Will if float," but "Will it taste good?"

With that question in mind, and applying the same anticipation that is exhibited in the "Will It Float?' segment on the Late Show (because you really aren't sure if something will float or not), let's take a look at a few of the culinary delights that Jen and I sampled as international travelers...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer Vacation Part III: Great Britain By Train (or, The Sheep Lovers Tour Package Deluxe)

So big.  So Ben.
As I noted in my previous post, getting into France ended up being far less involved than anticipated.  Therefore, as Jen and I embarked on the "British leg" of the trip, we expected a fairly similar experience, departing Jen's apartment on the way to Gare du Nord international station with thoughts of how easy everything would be once we were back amongst fellow English-speakers.  The first step in traveling from Paris to the UK was to take the "Chunnel," which is the nickname for the most popular way of traveling between the two countries, formed by combining the word "Channel" (that is, the English Channel) with the word "funnel."  Thanks to advances in transportation technology, travelers now have the ability to cross the English Channel by means of a specially designed funnel-like transporter.  You simply step up to a swirling vortex of water, created by high-powered fans on both the British and French shores, hold your breath, and step in.  Voila!  Or, once you pop out on the other side and need to quickly change tongues, There you are!  Nothing to it, right?  That's what we thought...

Let me first say that there have to be thousands, if not millions of tourists who travel from Paris to London each year.  There may even be some people who make the journey as a daily commute, if they are rich enough and want to live in one city but have their job in the other.  At the very least - the very least - businesspeople must frequently make the journey between these two major metropolitan areas.  But judging from the reception we got, you would think that Jolly Old England had a massive problem with vagrants coming across via Eurostar (the transportation company that operates one of the Chunnel portals).  Vagrants with lots of expendable cash with which to purchase tickets, apparently.  There is the usual security, including metal detectors, scanning machines for bags, secret passwords, etc, but then we hit the real roadblock, which was the border security agent.  For a few moments I honestly thought we were going to have to turn back and regroup, or if all else failed, create a diversion.  After passing all the initial security and determining that we weren't carrying weapons or posing an imminent threat, the border security agent wanted to know where we were going.  No, I'm not talking about "tourist attractions," or "Wales," or even "the Holiday Inn in northwest London."  She wanted a specific address.  She wanted details.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Summer Vacation Part II: Sculpture Viewing In Paris (or, With All This Nice Art To Look At, How Could Anyone Be Les Miserable?)

As I alluded to in my last post, the trip to France and the UK this summer was not going to just be fun and games, as there was strenuous bog snorkeling to be done.  But more than that, I was visiting Jen in the midst of her work for the summer.  In other words, I was on vacation, but she was not.  This worked out splendidly for me because I got to see Paris in a rather unique way.  Rather than going to touristy destinations each day, we'd hunt down various sculptures of some relevance to Jen's work, seeing neighborhoods that otherwise would have gone unseen, and seeing the touristy things as a matter of happenstance if they were on the way.  With this arrangement, I like to think that I was able to assist Jen in her work, and by extension, be a contributor to original research!  Not only did I consistently get out of the way when she was taking pictures of the sculptures, but I also offered insightful observations, such as "I like this sculpture, because.....because...........well, I just do."

Allow me to pause here and say a few words about the monumental difference between me and all the tourists in Paris.  I've already touched on the fact that we did not set out each day with the aim of going to a tourist destination, but rather of going to work, like regular residents of Paris.  In addition, after only 2-5 days of clinging to Jen like a scared child while traversing about the city, I felt more than comfortable navigating the Metro system, shouldering past all the tourists standing around with their maps, and occasionally displaying a disgusted sneer or disdainful sideways glance.  Furthermore, I went running in the city a few times, like a real Paris resident, loping along confidently on streets that began to feel as familiar to me as my own neighborhood, overshooting the turns on my selected route only about 75% of the time.  Finally, and most importantly, I wasn't one of those tourists (even saying the word is distasteful to me) going around speaking English and expecting the French to speak it back to me.  In fact, I didn't speak at all, letting Jen handle all communication with her ability to ask questions and order things in French.  You will note that I used the word "monumental" at the beginning of this paragraph, and that term was not chosen randomly.  As the French clearly erect public works of art for almost anything, it is only fitting that a new sculpture be commissioned to honor my non-tourist, good will-heralding visit to Paris.  I just can't be expected to deliver an acceptance speech at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer Vacation Part I: Adventures In Flight (or, The Best Way To Get A Good Rest While Flying Is To Exhaust Yourself Ahead Of Time)

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my plans for this summer involved a trip to select countries in Europe to see Jen and engage in some eagerly anticipated R&R (Self-impRovement & GRowth as an individual).  I am now returned from the trip and, as you might expect, have many thoughts swirling in my mind about the experience and what to share here (that is, how to best take a fantastic trip and reduce it to some meaningless banter that will serve as cheap entertainment in keeping with the nature of this blog).  It seemed best to write about the experience in manageable chunks rather than trying to cram it all into one ungainly Voltron post, so this post will be the first in a series over the next few weeks, with each part of the series having its own theme, subject to the usual tangents and side notes.

But before we get too far, let me outline the basis for this trip, both so that you have some background and so that I can get focused.  First, the trip was a two-week venture that took me to Paris, London, some towns in Wales, back to London, and finally back to Paris.  For some time now I've had the desire to do some international traveling, but also a desire to not just be a tourist.  Rather, if I was going to travel, I wanted it to be in one of two contexts: 1) for the purpose of participating in some event or purposeful activity, or 2) to live in another country for an extended period of time so that I could truly become familiar with the way of life in the country.  Clearly, this trip fit into the first category, and it actually involved both an "event" and a "purposeful activity."  A "purposeful activity" could be something like a service trip, or it could mean visiting someone, which was the case in my scenario, as I was visiting Jen.  The "event" for my trip was a Bog Snorkeling Triathlon in Wales.  Just because.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Please, please, no need to dress up just for this

Two blog posts in one week?!  Preposterous!!  And yet it's happening before your very eyes...

A nice suit can only do so much to make you look good,
especially when you have no hands and a knob for a head
This week at work I had occasion to dress up a little bit more than usual, wearing a suit one day and wearing a sport coat the next day.  If you're a working professional, you probably know what that means, and if you're an HR professional, you definitely know what that means.  If you're an HR professional and you don't know what that means, you are merely posing as an HR professional as part of some clever ruse, and I wish you the best of luck in your chosen subterfuge.  Typically a suit is not part of my day-to-day attire, as a jacket seems a bit overboard for my role.  As a result, I have not accumulated many suits over the years.  In fact, I own one suit, which I have had since partway through my undergraduate years.  There have been enough occasions over the years that the suit has gotten plenty of wear, but there really haven't been enough occasions to warrant getting a second suit.  And certainly there is no reason to get a new suit if you aren't going to wear it regularly, as a suit represents a decent investment if you want to avoid the social stigma of wearing a "cheap suit."

Monday, June 27, 2011

A long flight will inevitably also involve some drive(l) time

You may as well pack it with krill
In just under one week now I'll be taking flight to cross the Atlantic en route to visiting Jen in Paris and getting into other mischief in the land of sheep and harps.  Much more on this later, to be sure, but for now the business at hand is packing and making other final preparations for the trip (or more accurately, blogging about packing and making final preparations for the trip).  When packing for such a venture, it is important to pack light.  The weight of your luggage is not important because it is difficult to carry around heavy luggage on your person, but rather because you want your stuff to have the best chance at being retained when they jettison luggage midway over the Atlantic to reduce weight in the aircraft and thus save on fuel.  Airlines have to be profitable like any other business, and cost-saving measures such as this are regarded as commonplace.  What, you thought there was just a "mix-up" with your luggage and that it's sitting at some other airport now?  Silly traveler!

The luggage-jettison idea was submitted via a standard corporate "idea drop box" in 1979 by a gal named Rosalind Grenbodine, and was so quickly adopted by all major airlines that nobody could actually remember which company implemented it first.  Rosalind would have obviously been able to speak to this question, but she was a rather unpopular employee within her organization (nobody likes the coworker who always has the good ideas), and company administration either purposefully or inadvertently approved a suggestion, also submitted via the idea drop box, to award Rosalind a guest seat on the first flight that would practice the luggage jettison, with the underlying intent (and outcome) of also jettisoning Rosalind.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

For best results, read while sitting outside in the evening

Have you hosta?
Tonight's post is brought to you from the front porch of the house, where I'm sitting out in the cool of the evening with a light rain coming down on the multitude of hostas planted alongside our house.  Some of the hostas have pointy leaves, some have rounder leaves, and some have leaves with a whitish border around the green interior.  Being shade-loving plants, the hostas are really "in their element" on the side of the house, where they get a limited amount of sun but a full dose of any rain that falls, as they are now.  I pronounce the word "hosta" with the h-sound, much like I pronounce the word "huge" with the h-sound.  Some folks like to pronounce the word "huge" like "yuge," leaving off the h.  I expect these same people pronounce the word "hosta" like "ahsta."  Although I am definitely not a proponent of leaving off the h-sound in any word, I would take it as a compliment if someone came by the house and said "Boy, those are some yuge ahstas you 'ave there!"

As I was discussing with Jen recently, sitting out on the porch is one of the simple pleasures in life.  Porches are for bare feet, and cups of coffee or tea, perhaps a book, and watching critters when the opportunity arises.  Much like the hostas on the side of the house, I feel like I'm in my element on the porch.  It's a place to read, write, and think, not to mention go about in bare feet, drink coffee, and watch critters.  I feel I excel at doing all of these things.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Been awhile since the last post. Good thing blogging is like riding a bike.

Trying to get this post in before it gets too late tonight, as tomorrow will be another fairly early morning.  Tomorrow will start with a bike ride, as I ran this morning and I'm alternating run-bike-run-bike right now. Hopefully there will be more to share on the reason for this training regime later, but for now we'll just leave it that biking has become part of the regular routine.  Biking is significantly less jarring (that is, less difficult) to get up and do in the morning, so you could say that tomorrow is an "easy" day.  Some may say that if it's an "easy" day then I must not be trying hard enough.  To those people I say "If you're pushing hard every day then you must be on steroids."  To this they would respond "We're not on steroids."  To that I say "Yes you are, because I injected you when you weren't looking."

Obviously 'roiding
The bike I'm riding is actually the same bike that I had when I was a kid - a Huffy Mountain Storm.  It's black and green, with white spots that presumably represent a mountain storm (of snow).  This was my first 10-speed bike, and remains the only 10-speed bike I've ever owned (and no, I haven't dallied with more or less speeds - why go looking for something else when you have a 10?).  The MS has had some time in the garage, no doubt, but after getting it out recently and having it tuned up at a bike shop, it's back in good shape.  Both Nate and I had the same bikes as kids, as they were given to us as Christmas gifts by our parents.  If memory serves me, Dad was pretty excited to give us the bikes because it was a gift that he had always wanted as a kid, so retaining the bike over the years comes from more than just a desire not to spend money on something new.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Click to add title

A neatly stacked, perfectly organized hell
Today in lieu of my usual walk to work in the morning I hopped in my car and traveled over highwayed hill and dale to that mythical, far-off place....actually, make that "foulest of abominations"....the Easton Town Center.  If you aren't familiar with Easton, let me tell you about it.  There are fountains and trees and decorations, all of which sound lovely on paper.  But their true purpose is dark and sinister, for they are merely intended to distract you from the fact that you are slowly forfeiting your soul.  You see, Easton is a giant outdoor mall ('outdoor' in the sense that all the stores have outside entrances), full of evil the likes of which this world has never see...er....sees in every major city.  There are strollers, and piped music, and Pottery Barn.  Let me reiterate that as you walk through Easton and observe all these things, your soul is slowly leaving your earthly form.  This is why the models in the Abercrombie & Fitch store windows look so forlorn.

Fortunately, my time at Easton was actually to be spent in the giant Hilton there and not in the mall area.  Being in the Hilton is kind of like losing your soul in its own way, but you at least get a continental breakfast.  My trip to the Hilton was made necessary by a conference I was attending for work, put on by a (rich) legal firm, so the continental breakfast promised to be especially grand.  And by grand I mean "tastes really good," because the focus of legal firms hosting continental breakfasts is getting potential clients to like them, not to make the potential clients healthy.  Fresh fruit?  Maybe a fresh fruit pastry.  Whole wheat toast?  Fah!  I will swipe that away with one fell swoop of my bear claw.  Bacon?!  How dare you bring that before....oh wait, bacon is okay.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Powering my way through another (wooden) post

When reading about foreign countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, one often reads that the country is in the midst of "the rainy season."  This is the time of year when the country experiences extensive precipitation, flooding certain areas as a matter of practice and at times causing unwanted damage.  Apparently Columbus has now developed its own rainy season, as the month of April had record rainfall and May is supposed to follow suit.  It has rained for about two weeks straight now, off and on, but mostly on.  My only comment is, aren't we supposed to get a water buffalo somewhere in this deal?

Not an Ent
Nate and I purchased the hardwood flooring for the remainder of the upstairs recently, and due to the wetness in the current climate it may have been important to give it adequate time to acclimatize.  It's like the equivalent of a traveler overcoming jet lag.  After letting the wood hang out for a few days, laid out log cabin-style in the living room and upstairs, we set to the task of installing it yesterday.

Nate and I chose to go with some nice oak to finish off the upstairs.  For a time we considered going with bamboo, but in the end oak seemed like the better option.  The decision came down to which type of "predator" would be less desirable.  With oak the primary danger would be termites, while with bamboo you'd have to worry about pandas getting into your house and eating your floor.  While I don't have any great aversion to slaying Ling Ling should the need arise, the mess would be much harder to clean up, even if we are talking about wiping blood off a hardwood floor rather than carpet.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose. Now is the time to read this post.

The Easter Bunny doesn't just bring jelly beans
Sitting here at the tea house for the last time updating my blog, because in case you didn't know, today marks the end of the 2011 Lenten Challenge, and the tea house will soon magically transform back into the coffee house.  At the stroke of 5:53pm Eastern Standard Time, the tea house will politely excuse itself from the party it is attending, mount a Segway drawn by 50 magical gerbils, and go on a careening ride through the greater Columbus area before returning to its original location.  The patrons found caught inside the tea-transforming-back-into-a-coffee house during this journey will be given free refills.

I plan to continue drinking tea in many instances when I would have previously had coffee, as tea gives the image of being healthier and has the desirable placebo effect of making you feel healthier, too.  The timing is perfect, because spring is now here, and while most people make their New Year's resolutions at New Year's, I make my New Year's resolutions at Easter.  It makes much more sense to align the resolutions with the change of seasons because the transition from winter to spring is also the time when you do spring cleaning, clean out junk accumulated through the winter, and experience much more of a feeling of rebirth all around.  At New Year's the feeling is more like a hangover.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Read this aloud if you want to waste some time

Now that the government has narrowly avoided shutting down, I feel much more secure sitting here at the coffee/tea house writing this blog entry.  If the government had shut down, surely things would have rapidly descended into mayhem, with various tribes grabbing for power.  There would be some of the standard oldies but goodies (Tories, Whigs), some once-forgottens rising from the ashes (Hatfields, McCoys), and some unexpected groups suddenly turning vigilant and trying to further their views (those who tie a Windsor knot, those who do not).

I shut down the reptile house first because I wanted to start
small.  Next time I'll try the government.
Of course, it seems that a government shut-down basically just means that some folks don't get paid, and mostly we're talking about the people least deserving of that outcome.  As last Friday's deadline drew nearer, the media picked up the pace with reporting and did their darndest to strike fear into the heart......er......prepare their readers and viewers for what might happen in the event of a shutdown.  One of my preferred news outlets is the BBC, partly because I like the more "underground" networks that aren't part of the mainstream, but mostly because of the BBC's excellent coverage of the Bronx Zoo cobra.  The BBC is a good news outlet because they do a great job of anticipating the questions of their readers.  For example, when posting a story about the potential government shutdown, the BBC was kind enough to also post an article titled What Does Government Shutdown Mean?  This is extremely appropriate and helpful, right?  After reading a headline that says "Government about to shut down," most people will naturally think "Hmm, what happens then?"  The BBC understands this, so instead of burying the facts about a shutdown in the main article, they provide a convenient link to a separate page.  There they lay out the basic details that everyone wants to know, like how disease monitoring and toxic waste cleanup is temporarily put on hold during a shutdown.  Everyone loves an FAQ sheet, because it serves two great purposes: First, it answers frequently asked questions.  Second, it makes people feel secure and/or smart because they can verify that all the questions in their mind are not dumb questions.  Along those lines, I've decided to demonstrate excellent service to you the reader here by providing some FAQ's about a government shutdown...

Q: What happens when the government shuts down?
A: Some services are suspended, some people don't get paid, and you may not be able to visit national sites of interest, although that last part may just be a ploy by Nic Cage to get his hands on some treasure.

Some politicians just turn to more easily obtained
street drugs, which are actually less harmful than
Q: What do all the politicians do during a government shutdown?
A: Nothing changes related to the politicians.  It's business as usual for them.  Finger-pointing, speeches, suits - all that continues uninterrupted.  However, some government workers are literally not allowed to work, which includes not using their Blackberries.  Faced with this situation, many government workers are compelled to score 15-20 seconds of Blackberry usage on the street, at around $40 a pop.  The street name for this activity is "Berry Buzzing," or sometimes just "Berrying."  You may also hear it referred to as "Raspberrying."

Q: How does the government get itself out of a shutdown?
A: This isn't entirely clear, but what we do know is that some more speeches are made, some papers are pushed around, and at some point Donald Trump and/or Ted Turner probably get involved.

Q: Is it true that governments shut down because of too much filibustering?
A: Yes and no.  To answer this question you have to first understand what it means to filibuster.

Q: What does it mean to filibuster?
A: The filibuster, originally named after Phillip Buster, a politician from the 1800's, is a tool or trick used by savvy politicians to stall government proceedings.  In this sense, filibustering can lead to government shutdowns because they simply waste time.  In an effort to stop a bill from passing, a politician will take the podium and begin speaking.  Depending on the stamina of the politician, the speaking can last for days, or even weeks, and as long as a politician has the floor they can't be told to step down.  As a result, a filibuster can bring the wheels of progress to a grinding halt.  

The record length for a filibuster is 3 weeks and 4 days, set in 1968 by Lawrence Augustus Xavier, a Senator from California who liked spending time at home rather than in Washington, but who was in such high demand for his filibustering skills that he was practically on-call for the party and basically ended up living at the airport, constantly waiting for the next flight out.  

The reason that a filibuster may not lead to a government shutdown is because not all politicians are as skilled as our friend Lawrence, and when a filibuster backfires it can actually speed up the pace of government.  The prime example of this phenomenon comes from 1937, when Representative Kilgore Ferdinand Crumb of Kentucky tried to employ the oft-used trick of simply reading from the phone book at the podium.  As Crumb read through the phone book he happened to come across the name of an old girlfriend, and stunned by the coincidence decided to call her on the spot from his cell phone (this was still technically part of the filibuster).  The old girlfriend agreed to a date, but being a registered member of the opposing political party demanded that Crumb meet her for the date right then.  Moved with emotion, Crumb agreed, thus ending the filibuster and providing the necessary opportunity for the debated bill to pass.

Q: You said that the filibuster was named after Phillip Buster, so why doesn't the word "filibuster" begin with a "ph"?
A: For the same reason that a lower-case "s" looks like an "f" in olde timey writing.  

Q: You also said that a politician called an old girlfriend from his cell phone in 1937.  I think you're making up some of your facts.
A: That is not a question, but admittedly, we're a bit off track.  Let's get back to the government shutdown...

Q: Will a government shutdown mean that this blog shuts down too?
A: No.  Fortunately, this blog does not rely on government funding to operate.  All revenue for the blog is obtained through the hard work of my Grassroots Fundraising Department.  One of my staffers from the GFD will have to answer specific questions about how funds are raised, as I don't like to micro-manage, and therefore don't know about everything they do.  I think it might involve selling Blackberry hits on the street though.

Q: Why are taxes still coming out of my paycheck if the government is shut down?
A: Remember how FAQ sheets are supposed to verify that you aren't thinking of dumb questions?  Well, this is actually a dumb question.

Q: Is there anything I can do to help the situation when the government shuts down?
A: Yes, there is always a role for you, the individual concerned citizen.  First, you can remain calm.  But not too calm, because really, occasionally getting hysterical is what life is all about.  Second, go get yourself something nice.  When things shut down, you have to live in the moment a bit and say to yourself "Well, if nobody is working, then I may as well kick back for awhile."  Go shopping, go out to dinner, whatever floats your boat.  Spending money makes you feel good, and will take your mind off the impending doo.....er.....makes you feel good.  Third - and this is the really important activity - you can share the information you've read here with your family and friends to help ensure that the maximum number of people are educated about the issues.  Seriously, go ahead and spread it around.  I need the readers.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Maximize your time by reading this, and do some isometrics while you're at it

The day dawned sunny and bright today, and a peek outside told me that although there was a slight chill in the air, it wasn't such a chill that a coat was needed for purposes of traversing the distance to work.  On multiple occasions now it has been warm enough outside that the walk to work has gone without exterior weather protection.  This is always a welcome change each year, as it means not only that the walk to work won't be freezing cold, but also that I'll have those few extra seconds previously reserved for bundling up to use for other purposes, such as letting a little extra warm shower water run over me, or ambling around scratching myself.

Of course, the warmer weather doesn't mean it's all luxury.  No, the warmer weather brings with it an annual decision about whether or not I want to engage in an important and potentially life-changing activity (yes, annually life-changing).  That activity is exercising my grip.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Don't worry, I can assure you of the quality of this post

This morning I'm writing from the coffee house down the street, which is not atypical, but given that we are still in the midst of the 2011 Lenten Challenge I am drinking tea in lieu of coffee.  My selection today was cinnamon spice tea, and it is quite good.  The fact of the matter is, drinking tea the past couple weeks in place of coffee has been kind of nice.  It's lighter, more refreshing, and you don't have a "let-down" 45 minutes after you've finished the tea.  Plus, tea hydrates you, bringing you slightly closer to the recommended impossible daily fluid intake level.  Of course, coffee still does sound good at times.  Over the weekend Mom and Dad were in town, and after-dinner coffee is a staple with them (as well as morning coffee, second coffee, and elevensies), and I believe they may have questioned the legitimacy of my claim to be their son when I informed them I was abstaining for the time being.

Last night was no different in terms of the after-dinner coffee ritual when we went for dinner at the Blackwell.  If you're unawares, the Blackwell is a restaurant they have within the business school complex.  This was actually the second time I'd been back to the business school since picking up my piece of paper allowing me to claim (with questionable legitimacy) that I have obtained a mastery level knowledge of Human Resources.  The first time was actually the same day that I picked up my diploma, as I wanted to find a quiet place to get some work done in the middle of the day, and Fisher happens to be right next to the place where the diplomas were being kept, thus making it a convenient stopping location with which I was familiar.  The place where I picked up my diploma is the Student Consolidated Services Center, or something like that, and is contained within a new building that, by virtue of its waterless urinals, saves an amount of water each year equivalent to the amount that the average American household uses in a year.  I picked up this little factoid because they have it proudly displayed over each urinal in the men's restroom for your reading pleasure while relieving yourself.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hi, I'd like to order something that will cauterize this wound

Seriously, why didn't I get this?
Tonight Sayak and I went for a dinner outing at the Elevator on High Street in downtown Columbus.  'Twas quite tasty, although neither one of us ordered the signature Elevator entree, which is the "Rock Filet."  For those not familiar with the Elevator, the Rock Filet is a cut of meat served uncooked alongside a very hot rock.  The purpose of the hot rock, if you couldn't guess, is to cook the meat right there at your table.  The patron who orders this entree can enjoy both the taste of the meat and the satisfaction that comes along with cutting off a juicy piece and applying it to the sizzling rock.  Numerous scientific studies have proven that sizzling something on a hot rock produces an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment, and the Elevator has wisely tapped into this phenomenon.  Personally I wonder about the Rock, because it seems to bring an element of danger into dinner.  For example, if you're going as a family to the Elevator, and you've got really small children, can you depend on them to listen to the waiter or waitress's admonishments about how hot the Rock is?  Probably not.  Probably you would end up with a small, cute, sizzling child's hand at some point during the meal.  If not danger, then at least the Rock draws focus away from the companionship of the dinner, because you know that the conversation would pause for some throw-away "Ooh, look at that, listen to that sizzle" comments any time a new piece of filet was applied to the heat.  The obvious solution to this issue is to order the Rock Filet, but hold the Rock.

Dinner was on me tonight, as I had lost a friendly wager over a 2 out of 3 ping-pong match a couple weeks ago with my comrade.  We ponied up the $10 to play at the RPAC, not knowing of a more suitable location around the area, and Sayak soundly trounced me in two straight games.  It had been awhile since I had really played ping-pong, and certainly a long time since playing with any regularity.  Back in the day, Nate and I would spend many-a-night in the basement at our house in East Liverpool, volleying back and forth on Grandad's homemade table.  I got pretty good, although I now realize that part of my "skill" was actually found in tactics that are technically cheating.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also

Sitting here at my computator at home tonight, recently returned from the Fisher College, where I just completed the next to last class of my Master's.  I did get the confirmation last week that my final paper/project had been deemed satisfactory, so it's just the "finishing touches" left now.  Just like on a work of art.  A terrible, crappy work of art.

As I sit here I've managed to consume four cups of fine Aldi Breakfast Blend coffee.  Because I'm eating breakfast at 10:00pm?  Haha, no.  Because I need to stay awake for the next few hours to complete a project?  No, no, remember that my MLHR project is done now.  Because Aldi Breakfast Blend is actually slang for an illegally smuggled substance that I need to eliminate all trace of before the Feds bust down the door?  Nope.  Because I want to attain a new level of spiritual enlightenment?  Why yes, that's correct.

You see, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which represents the start of Lent in some Christian traditions.  I've never been part of a Christian tradition that observed Lent, but I do have an affinity for challenges of a certain nature.  Therefore, the decision was made to participate this year.  Not in Lent, but rather in The 2011 Lenten Challenge!  (BOOM!!  Oh look!  Confetti!)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Several shades of inspiration

Is honorable discharge the same as graduating with honors?
Today was supposed to be the day that I would get the email telling me whether or not my final project for the MLHR program passed.  However, the email never arrived.  Coincidentally, today I sent in the official form stating that I would not be attending commencement later this month.  Perhaps that option was going to be chosen for me by default...

My rationale for not attending commencement (if I do have the option) is that 1) it will just be a big event with no real personal significance, especially given that I don't view completion of the MLHR as any great accomplishment, 2) I already attended undergraduate commencement at Ohio State, so I've "been there, done that," and 3) I don't know who the commencement speaker will be.  A quick Google search allows me to add to my knowledge database the fact that Ms. Donna James will be the Winter Quarter commencement speaker at Ohio State.  I will quickly summarize Ms. James for you by describing her as "accomplished."  National business advisor and corporate executive...Fortune 500...named by President Obama as chairwoman...blah blah blah.  No doubt Ms. James is deserving of some amount of respect, but you know who else is accomplished and deserving of some amount of respect?  My undergraduate commencement speaker, Senator John McCain.  You know how much of Senator McCain's speech I remember?  Yea, that's what I thought.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Consider yourself warned: Reading this will take a toll

A decent layer of sleety slush has now covered the ground in Columbus, so I'm secretly (not really) hoping (really) that tomorrow's evening class will get cancelled.  It is doubtful that this will occur, because theoretically people will have had a chance to prepare by tomorrow evening.  Ideally the precipitation will pause, and then start up again right around 3:30pm tomorrow, with great vengeance and furious anger.

I braved the sleet to venture up to the corner coffee shop tonight to write this post, seeking an atmosphere more conducive to creative writing.  Being in the coffee shop and suddenly feeling more inspired to write is probably something like a placebo effect, but who doesn't enjoy a nice mug of warm, Costa Rican blend placebo once in awhile?  More than that, I just wanted to get out of the house.  After weeks of buildup (procrastination?), I sat down to complete my tax return tonight.  For something that results in getting me money back, it's amazing how much I loathe completing my tax return.  It's one of those things that feels good when you finally complete it, but still, the dollars you get back barely seem worth it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A punch in the face would be preferable

It's now official that my least favorite word in common usage is the word "vetted."  About a year or a year-and-a-half ago this word suddenly started coming up in the office vocabulary, and it rubbed me the wrong way from the start.  I don't know how words like this start getting used, but now everybody is vetting everything.  "Has this been vetted with the appropriate people yet?  We need to make sure this is fully vetted before communicating it to everyone.  What was the vetting process for that initiative?"  When words like this start getting used, I take a very hard line.  There is no compromising on such matters; the only acceptable course of action is utter refusal to use the word.  Furthermore, you have to subtly discourage people from using the word whenever possible.  If someone were to ask me "Have you vetted this with anyone?" I would respond by saying "Well, the way I look at it is that I talked with Bob about it and he didn't suggest any changes."  "So you did vet it with him?"  "No, not really.  It was more of a discussion."  People, words should not be like fashion.  Expanding your vocabulary is fine.  Trying to start a word trend deserves getting your nose bloodied.

You may have noticed that at about this point in my last two posts I've utilized the page break feature that prompts you to...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Going far afield due to icy conditions

Note posted on the gas pump at a BP gas station:

If it seems like your gas is pumping slow, follow these steps:
  1. Stop pumping for 15 seconds
  2. Start pumping again
  3. You will see that it is okay
This is what you could call a "fail proof" set of directions.  What, gas not pumping quick enough?  Well, did you stop pumping for 15 seconds?  Yes?  Okay, well did you start pumpi...okay okay, I'm not trying to insult your intelligence.  But did you follow step number 3?  What do you mean it's still not pumping quickly enough?  If you just follow the simple instructions then it will work properly.  First you stop pumping, then you start pumping again, and then you'll see that it's okay.  If it doesn't seem to be working, just try following the three steps again, because they really should take care of the problem.  What do you mean you don't see that it's okay?  Did you follow the directions?  

The stop at a gas station was made necessary by a car trip up to Austintown over the weekend to see one of Mom's paintings that was chosen for a show at the art museum in Youngstown.  All in all it was a nice short weekend sojourn, complete with an exhilirating episode of having the car spin around while driving on slick roads at 65 miles per hour down the highway and landing in a snowy ditch.  The route up 71 and across 76 has never been my favorite, and this just added to my dislike for the drive.  A much preferred route was the one taken when Mom and Dad still lived in East Liverpool.  Although driving on 70 East across the middle of Ohio was nothing great, it was infinitely more scenic than 71, and the ride up the Ohio River on 7 was far superior to the boredom of 76.  

Aside from the highway driving, going back to East Liverpool was preferable for three primary reasons:
  1. The Young Mens' Christian Association downtown
  2. Topography
  3. You will see that it is okay  
Haha, that third item is a joke.  The real number 3 is "the availability of places to run around East Liverpool."  Let's look at each of these items in turn:

Friday, January 28, 2011

I'm not advocating Ashton Kutcher or anything, but...

Gawd.  Last night I turned in my final MLHR project, and there are few things I can recall that I've been more happy to be done with.  After three years of skating by in grad school, it's like the MLHR program finally woke up and took on a life of its own, saying "Hey!  What are you doing here?  Rar rar rar rar!"  (That last part represents the MLHR program coming at me swinging its fists)  If the program was more rigorous, I would have been conditioned to this treatment from the beginning, but as it worked out, all the hard work was saved for the last quarter.  Rather than leaving the degree program with head held high, feeling proud of an accomplishment, I think I'll be leaving with a good-riddance middle finger raised.  And my frustration isn't with the program itself.  The blame for the dissatisfaction rests squarely on my shoulders.  I'm the one who chose to go through the program despite not having a burning interest (or much interest at all) in a long-term career in Human Resources.  I'm the one who subsequently chose to take shortcuts and easy routes through the program rather than choosing to become engaged in my classes and work hard.  I'm the one who went through the program with the singular goal of getting a Master's degree, not the goal of truly learning or developing myself all that much.  So maybe there is some benefit to this whole experience in the end after all: I probably won't make a similar bad choice again in the future.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Put the stew on, Jacob Marley is coming over

Today was a pretty nice day in Columbus.  It was only 4 degrees early this morning, but the sun was shining and there was no wind, so by the time the afternoon rolled around it had turned into a good day for a run.  Today my chosen course went south on the bike trail to Confluence Park, back up Neil Avenue, through Goodale Park, and then the rest of the way up High Street.  The miles are gradually increasing, and with them my stamina, self-esteem, and ability to eat stuff without getting fat.  Because there's nothing like celebrating a boost in your self-esteem with a burger and a pile of waffle fries at Champs.

Winter itself comes with its own bedfellows as well.  They are not necessarily strange bedfellows, because some are expected and widely recognized.  However, others may be less anticipated.

The first hallmark of the cold season that we shall consider is dirty cars.  Car washing is a common practice in the warmer months, but quickly falls by the wayside as soon as it becomes cold enough out that water will freeze and/or people don't want to stand outside a enclosed space with a perfectly good heater for any old reason.  Interestingly, it is the winter months that lead to cars being their dirtiest because of all the grimy slush and salt that gets flung onto the sides of cars making their way through the snowy streets.  With this in mind, people eagerly flock to car washes as soon as a rare warm day comes along, with the goal of getting their car clean and preserving the life of its exterior by a little bit.  Some go the route of the "manual" car wash, where the driver actually gets out of the car, puts some quarters in a receptacle, and proceeds to use the ever-popular "foaming brush" to clean their vehicle, which is really akin to a person using a washcloth that has already been rubbed all over the bodies of thousands of other bodies previously.  And people say they love their cars!

Anyway, another route to take is the gas station car wash, which is like super-sizing the extra value meal that is your standard fuel fill-up.  And this really is an appropriate parallel, because just as you can Biggie Size It, Really Biggie Size It, or "Biggie" Is Really A Kind Description Size It here in 'Merica, you can select the extensiveness of your car cleaning when utilizing the gas station drive-thru wash.  I decided to use the car wash at the local Marathon station on a recent warm-ish day, and have to say that I was perplexed when presented with my car wash options.  They were as follows: Buckeye, The Schott, The Horseshoe, and St. John.  All appropriately "Ohio Statey" for a business close to campus, but utterly devoid of useful information, including the price for each option.  Was Buckeye a more extensive wash than The Horseshoe?  What was the price difference between St. John and The Schott?  None of this seemingly important detail was provided.  Buckeye was the first on the list, and seemed to be the most generically named of the bunch, so it got my vote with the thought that it was probably the least extensive and least expensive.  Of course, I was wrong.  Buckeye was the most extensive and most expensive wash, and probably the gas station owners put it at the top of the list thinking that unsuspecting customers would fall prey, just as I did.  And just let me say, if Buckeye was the best wash available, I'd hate to see St. John.  For St. John they probably pump in the slush water from the street and spray it on your car, and then use the dryers to bake it on.  Yeesh.  Buckeye didn't even have any octopus strips.

A second hallmark of winter is stews.  Few things are as glorious as a nice stew, stewed for at least an hour to fill the kitchen with a pleasing stewy aroma before being consumed in belly-warming delight.  Preferably with some crusty bread.  The interesting thing about stews is that they can be either purposeful or inadvertent, but both varieties are usually wonderful.

For a Christmas gift, both Nate and I received a couple cookbooks, and so I decided that it would be a good habit to make at least one dinner each week trying out a new recipe from the cookbooks, to give them some use and to increase my culinary knowledge.  For the first recipe choice from the cookbooks, I decided to choose at random.  My finger landed on Brunswick Stew, which would have been totally welcome and appropriate had Nate not made it the previous night, un-prompted by the cookbook.  I took another random stab and came up with Onion Rings.  Despite my increased running mileage, I figured that a dinner of nothing but onion rings was a bad idea, and the search for an agreeable recipe continued.  My next attempt landed on Crawfish Etouffee (pronounced ay-too-FAY), and it was thus delegated as the recipe for the night without further ceremony.  

The first step to preparing the dinner was to obtain the necessary ingredients.  Unfortunately, Giant Eagle did not have a number of the ingredients, so numerous substitutions were made.  For example, shrimp stock was not to be found, so chicken stock was used instead.  Giant Eagle was also sold out of French bread (there was a sale), so a similar non-French bread was purchased.  Finally, there was no crawfish tail-meat available, which would seem to be an essential ingredient for Crawfish Etouffee, but I determined that some other sea-dwelling creature would suffice.  I didn't want to go for a standard bag of shrimp, because this was supposed to be somewhat experimental after all, so instead I picked up a bag of "Seafood Medley."  I admit that I was both unsure and intrigued by the Seafood Medley, because by all appearances it looked like someone had taken a magical underwater lawnmower and run it over the coral reef.  It really was unclear what was included in the various chunks and giblets in the package.  Blue whale?  Great white shark?  Ariel?  Anything was possible.  It was the kind of food item that looked so heinously prepared that you expected to see a label on the outside that said "No tuna was harmed in the making of this product."

The dinner preparations got underway, and in typical Parry fashion I didn't hesitate to cut down on some of the less health-oriented ingredients.  The recipe called for both Old Bay Seasoning and Creole Seasoning, but I made the executive decision to use just a pinch of salt and pepper rather than quintupling the sodium content of the meal.  Of course, my nutritionally conscious motivations were rather negated when Nate pointed out that I had used double the amount of butter needed.  This was an honest mistake, and I lay all the blame on Trader Joe's for their stupid packaging.  You see, Trader Joe's has to be "special" and "unique" and "fun," and the way they achieve this is by using atypical packaging.  When you buy sticks of butter at Giant Eagle, you get four sticks in the package, and if you were to look at the end of the package you would see a square made up of four smaller squares.  Follow?  Well, at Trader Joe's they also sell sticks of butter in four's, but they make them short and fat, and they are packaged in one flat layer, two sticks deep.  If you were to look at the end of the package, you would see a rectangle made up of two squares.  Follow?  Okay, so I was aware of none of this, and I just pulled out one of these short, fat, stupid sticks of butter and figured it was a half stick, because naturally I wasn't going to get out my tape measure and see if it was a uniform thickness with other normal sticks of butter.  The result is that we had a low sodium, double-fat meal.  Increasing mileage.

To get back to the original point, the "Crawfish" Etouffee came out rather good, but we ate it like a soup rather than using it as a sauce, which I think is perfectly acceptable given the description of true etouffee.  In fact, it was quite similar to a claw chowder, and chowder is quite similar to a stew, and stew is quite delicious in winter, and now you see how this is all relevant.

A third bedfellow of dropping temperatures is swearing.  Yes, hanging out with Old Man Winter will give you a potty mouth.  Fear not, the swearing is not directed at other persons, and is not done in anger. Rather, it comes out as the only possible way to express oneself when oneself is freezing.  Common exclamations include "D*mn it's cold!," or "Sh*t it's cold!," or "It's really f*cking cold in here!"  This is typically followed by blowing on your hands and some more family-friendly phrasing like "Brrrrr."  Lest you think that my fingers mistyped in their frostbitten state, let me confirm that the words "in here" were used intentionally.  Nate, being the good Christian soldier that he is, dutifully keeps track of our finances related to the house, including the monthly bills.  He not only makes sure that the bills are paid on time, but he also looks over the history of our bills to see how the current month's expenses compare to the previous month's, and how the current month's expenses compare to the same month in the previous year.  And it's really quite interesting at times.

As I've noted on numerous occasions, our old house is rather chilly in the winter, and so part of our remodeling efforts has been to add insulation whenever possible.  With this in mind, my hope has been building for three years now in anticipation of the day when everything is insulated and the house becomes a warm and cozy haven from the cold.  However, a gaping hole in my logic was revealed when Nate tallied up the monthly bills recently and did his analysis.  You see, we keep the thermostat and at a fairly conservative 60 degrees.  Originally this was done out of a true cost consciousness, as the house really didn't have much insulation and therefore the heat ran constantly just to keep things at a reasonable level of warmth.  All along I've been thinking that as we added insulation, the house would get warmer.  But the huge fallacy in this thinking was that we would actually nudge up the thermostat as we added insulation!  Haha!  Yes, for some crazy reason I was thinking that the house would get warmer as we added insulation even though we never increased the controlled temperature of the house above 60 degrees!  I am mere weeks away from my Master's degree!

If you couldn't guess, the lightbulb flickered on when Nate informed me (with a smile) that our heating bill has gone down remarkably year-by-year.  We're keeping the house at the same temperature, but we're paying less to do it.  The thing is, despite this revelation, I'm not going to bump up the temperature. At this point it's like a pride thing, and our insulation investments are going to pay for themselves, several times over darn it.  As Nate aptly said, "Our greed warms us."

With the money we save on heating costs, maybe we can get some stylish padlock and cash-box accessories