Sunday, February 27, 2005

Lunacy & Voodoo

Another week, another trip... this time to rainy L.A.

According to one of the magazines in my hotel room, there is a great new body treatment available at one of hippest spas in town-- a salt scrub mixed with warm coffee. You can absorb caffeine through your skin, so apparently it's quite a rush. My only thought was, "Doesn't it stain?" Maybe the other benefit is an artificial tan.

While I'm sure that there are lots of other great reasons to live in Los Angeles, I have to say that I vastly prefer my standard of living (and 5 minute commute) in unglamourous Ohio. On Tuesday evening, we spent over an hour driving about 10 miles on the highway from LAX to Wilshire Blvd. We were in 6-8 lanes of stop-and-go traffic, all moving along at what seemed like a comfortable walking speed, and it was like 8-9pm at night-- so rush hour should have been well over, at least by the standards of any Midwestern city. Maybe the traffic snarls were due to the rain, but given the fact that the interstate has a total of 12+ lanes, I'm thinking it's far more likely that what we experienced is just a normal part of life out there.

I flew out to L.A. on Tuesday evening and back on Wednesday, so it was a quick trip. As it turns out, sitting in a plane for 3-4 hours a day is not the best cure for a stiff knee. But I am happy to report that my knee is considerably better now than it was last Sunday, and I didn't have to go to the doctor after all. Apparently it's going to let me off with a warning shot across the bow this time.

It was a rough week for the rest of the clan as well. My husband had a really bad cold from Sunday to Thursday, and my father-in-law had knee replacement surgery on Tuesday. Not to be outdone, the pets also got in on the act. The dog needed her teeth cleaned (which required general anesthesia) and had to have one tooth pulled, and my poor cat had a tooth pulled and surgery to remove a tumor on her side. They shaved a swath about 6 inches wide from over her spine to her belly, and she's got a stiched-up incision that is about 8 inches long, so she looks just awful. The only thing more pathetic and ridiculous than a wet cat is a half-shaved cat.

On the Subject of Lunacy...

We worked at the ski area yesterday afternoon & evening, and it was absolutely INSANE out there. (I'm attributing the craziness to the nearly-full moon last night.) We have five beds in our aid room, and at one point, they were all full, with another kid waiting in our big-wheel chair.

Before I became a patroller, I used to tell people that skiing was a safe sport that just got a bad rap. I don't say that any more. Now I can only say that, in general, skiing is only as dangerous as you (or the people around you) make it. Roughly 80% of the injuries that I see can be directly attributed to either a general lack of common sense or staggeringly bad judgment. Unfortunately, some injuries are attributable to somebody else's poor decision-making skills.

On the Subject of Voodoo...

For Valentine's Day, I bought tickets to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy for my husband, and the concert was tonight. They performed with the Cincinnati Pops and put on a really excellent show. They've got some amazing talent, and it was a lot of fun to see them live.

Monday, February 21, 2005

You know you're an adult when... find yourself following steps A-E.

A> You have a crush on someone. (This step is not necessarily a sign of adulthood!)
B> You're under the premise that said person's spouse has died of a dreadful disease.
C> You find out said person's spouse is in fact alive and kicking, not dead from the dreadful disease that he/she did in fact have.
D> You learn that said person is in the midst of a divorce from undead spouse.
E> You try to talk said person out of the divorce...

(This "YKYAAW..." was submitted by a friend of mine.)

Blue Like Jazz

Last week, while I was flying home from Miami, I read a truly great book. I was so amazed by it that I read it again on Saturday. It's called Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. While the style of the writing is very casual, I can't help but feel that it deserves a place next to C. S. Lewis' great classic, Mere Christianity. Both books share a power that comes directly from the realization that Christianity should not be a cause of division and exclusion in this world, but instead it should be a source of wonder and outreach.

In Blue Like Jazz, Don talks about his group of friends setting up a "confession booth" on their college campus, but in an amazing twist, instead of asking people to confess their sins, he and his friends confess the sins of Christianity to them. They apologize for some of the horrible things that have been done in history in the name of Christianity, and they confessed their personal failings as Christians as well.

Unfortunately, Christianity is represented by imperfect people, but just imagine what would happen if, instead pretending to be perfect, we admitted to the fact that we can be self-absorbed, and judgemental, and lacking in compassion for other people. Of course, it's not enough to simply apologize for these failings-- As my mom used to say, "Sorry means you won't do it again."

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Finally, a day of rest...

It seems like I've been busy pretty much non-stop since my last blog two weeks ago. The summary of my past two weeks looks something like this:
* 2 - Evenings of tutoring
* 2 - Trips to Miami
* 5 - Days working in Miami
* 6 - Days working in Cincinnati (including last Saturday)
* 4 - Days that my dad stayed with us (He flew into town to visit us and to ski as much as humanly possible.)
* 4 - Days/evenings of skiing (Thanks to the wonders of modern travel, I had lunch in Miami on Thursday and was out on the snow in Cincinnati by 5:30pm that evening.)
* 3 - Weeks of having a cough that won't go away
* 3 - Naps necessary to recover from all these other events

I know that the Miami thing may sound exotic and fun, but please believe me when I say that we were working in a climate-controlled (62 degrees) clean room (i.e. wearing lab coats, hair covers, latex gloves, and booties on our shoes) with no windows from about 8:30am to 9pm every day. The weather was lovely, but I didn't see much of it.

I actually have a holiday tomorrow, and I'm really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I kind of tweaked my knee yesterday, so unless it's feeling significantly better tomorrow, I think my husband is going to force me to see a doctor. I'm sort of in denial, because I really don't want someone to tell me that I have knee problems and that I should stop skiing, even if it's only temporary. After all, how serious can it be? I didn't actually fall, and I was able to keep skiing for over an hour after it happened.

In hindsight, I have to admit that taking the jump was not one of my better ideas, but in my defense, I would like to point out that I actually landed it. (My husband insists on saying that all jumps result in a landing, but I maintain that there is a difference between landing from a jump (passively) and actively landing a jump.) It may not have been graceful, or even comfortable, but I didn't actually fall. Anyway, my knee has chosen this "teachable moment" to remind me that I am, in fact, over thirty now, and to insist that it will no longer tolerate such juvenile behavior from me.

You know you're an adult when... use a precious vacation day to go home a take a nap.

The past two weeks have been insanely busy for me, and I just haven't been able to catch up on sleep. So on Friday, I used a half a vacation day to go home and take a nap. Now there are very few things that are more precious to me than vacation days. I am desperately envious of the European standards of 4-6 weeks of vacation each year. I only get 3 weeks of vacation, and I have to work for 2 more years before I make it to 4 weeks of vacation. So blowing even half a vacation day for something so mundane as staying at home and sleeping is completely uncharacteristic for me. The only thing that convinced me to splurge was the idea that if I DIDN'T take the afternoon off, I would probably wind up sick for the entire 3-day holiday weekend.

Friday, February 18, 2005

On the Importance of Philosophy...

Some people choose a career path, while other people find that a certain career is more of a "calling" than a choice. I think that most people, myself included, tend to associate the idea of a "calling" with people who are artists, or writers, or doctors, or social workers, or pastors. But I also believe that there are people who are just born to be engineers.

I am an engineer. It is more than just what I do for a living, it is also a significant part of who I am. I love taking things apart and figuring out how they work. I love taking things apart to figure out why they aren't working. I love the mathematics of engineering-- the study of physics, statics & dynamics, and material properties. I love that mechanical objects can be described by a set of equations, and that those equations can predict how that object will move or bend or break due to the forces acting upon it.

My job involves an obsession with concrete data-- We determine what data we need to collect, we develop test methods to control inputs and measure outputs, and we use statistical techniques to analyze the data so that we make unbiased decisions about whether something is good or bad. I am comfortable with this obsession. By my nature, I prefer the Empirical over the Subjective. Politics and psychology aren't factors in mechanical systems, so it is easy for me to marginalize their importance in the rest of the world.

Recently, however, I've come to recognize how important it is to understand our own personal philosophies in life. Our decisions and our behaviors are driven by our beliefs, whether we are cognizant of those beliefs or not. If I want to make better decisions or improve my interactions with others, I need to understand how my psychology is being affected by my philosophy. For example, I can say that want to be more patient and considerate of other people, but I'm not likely to change my day-to-day interactions with people unless I also work on changing my heart. When I focus on the reasons why I should value other people-- whether it is my husband, my friends, my co-workers, or total strangers-- my behavior will naturally start to reflect this esteem.

This week, I started developing a list of philosophy statements, and I also am including the ramifications that should be driven by these beliefs. I won't pretend that my life demonstrates evidence of these beliefs right now, but by writing them down, I am hoping to ensure that I will ponder on them and reinforce them in my mind so that eventually my actions WILL reflect these beliefs. And so I have become an engineer with a profound respect for the importance of philosophy...

Sunday, February 13, 2005

You know you're an adult when... pay for your heat in the summer because you know you won't be able to afford it if you wait until winter.

This title was suggested by my friend PV31W, who has learned about the cost of heat the hard way. Her last apartment apparently had either a) the least effective furnace in the Midwest, b) completely inadequate insulation, or c) all of the above. It was never warm enough (i.e. above 60) in her apartment, and to make matters worse, she is also a person who just gets cold easily. At one point last winter, she came over to our house and showed us that her hands were a ghastly jaundiced-green color because her body was shutting down circulation to her extremities in an attempt to maintain her core body temperature. Obviously, just putting on a sweater wouldn't solve the problem for her, unless she could also put on mittens, but that would probably have interfered somewhat with her ability to do her homework for college. So she found another apartment, but she also started paying for her electric & gas bill under the level-loading payment plan.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Why I Love Skiing

I think that I love almost everything about skiing. I can only think of one thing that I really dislike, and that's skiing in the rain. But I still like the skiing part of it, just not the rain part of it, so I'm not sure if that really counts. And OK, I'm also not a big fan of ice, but there are still so many other things that I love about skiing that it's at least 99.44% pure love.

So here is a small list of some of the things that I love about skiing:
* I love first tracks in the morning, after the groomers have done their magic to smooth out all the runs.
* I love the way that freshly groomed snow makes you feel like you're gliding on velvet.
* I love the sound of the snow under my skis. It can range between a squeek and a roar, and it tells you everything you need to know about the snow.
* I love the swooping sensation of skiing-- It's a combination of falling and swinging and dancing that you just don't get from other sports.
* I love being outside in the cool, crisp air.
* I love that skis can take you to places that wouldn't be accessible any other way.
* I love the comraderie of the chairlift.
* I love working with my fellow patrollers. I love that we have such different backgrounds and that we come together because of a common obsession.
* I love helping people learn something new and, in the process, learning new things myself.
* I love the way the ski area is lit up at night. It looks like a birthday cake with white icing.
* I love the peace and solitude of doing our final sweep of the trails at the end of the night.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Super Sunday

What a great way to spend a Sunday. We went to church this morning, went out to lunch with a few friends afterward, and then I headed out to the ski area for my weekend shift. Due to the Super Bowl, it was a very calm evening at the ski area. My fellow patrollers and I watched the first quarter of the game from the rustic comfort of our hut ("Aspen East") at the top of the hill. After that, we got on to more important things, like having fun on the nearly empty runs and occasionally helping people, although I'm glad to report that there were no real injuries this evening. At the end of the night, we closed down the area and helped one of the other patrollers get his truck started before heading for home.

On the way home, I was thinking to myself, "I really do have a good life. I have a wonderful husband and some really great friends. We have a home that we love, and we are part of an amazing church. I enjoy my job, and I also really enjoy my "other job" working as a patroller at the ski area. Life is good."

As I was thinking all of these things, I saw a shooting star, and I thought, "My life is so blessed-- What else could I possibly wish for?"

Thursday, February 03, 2005

You know you're an adult when...
...the repair of a home appliance is the highlight of your day.

Our big excitement for today has been that we now have a working humidifier on our furnace. (Keep in mind that we're both sick, so our opportunities for excitement are severely limited by the confines of the house.)

Our house is new-- It was just completed last June, and the furnace was installed probably sometime last March or so. Late in December, we discovered that the humidifier wasn't working. After some preliminary troubleshooting, my husband talked to the manufacturer, and discovered that some of the key components (the humidstat sensor and the external temperature sensor) were never installed. Fortunately, they were kind enough to send us the necessary modules, and my husband tried installing them in January. However, at that time, the main controller appeared to not be working, so he made another phone call to the manufacturer, who agreed to send us a replacement. It came in the mail today, along with installation instructions.

As it turns out, the installation instructions were more critical than the replacement controller. The original controller works fine, now that the wiring is hooked up correctly.

So we will finally have some level of moisture in our air for the remainder of the winter!!! I realize that this doesn't seem like such a big deal, and when I was younger, I would have agreed. Generally, I'm not such a big fan of heat and humidity-- With the exception of scuba diving, my favorite outdoor activities tend to be better when things are cold and dry. However, for the past couple of months, my feet have been making velcro noises in my socks, my fingernails have been spontaneously disintegrating as soon as they reach the tips of my fingers, and my lips have been perpetually chapped. (Like a squirrel, I have compulsively stashed chapstick everywhere I go-- in my purse and in the pockets of all my coats, next to my computer at work, in my car, near the couch, on the bathroom counter, on my nightstand, etc.) So I am eagerly anticipating the relief that the humidifier will bring.

If I had a voice left, I would give three cheers for my husband and the kind technical support woman at Aprilaire.


A couple of weeks ago, I read an interesting book called "blink" by Malcolm Gladwell. It ranges far and wide, starting with a description of how a fraudulent piece of artwork was exposed, moving on to researchers who analyze marriages and matchmaking, the marketing of flops (New Coke) and hard-to-sell products (the new Hermann Miller chair), why some doctors are more likely to get sued for malpractice, how people react under traumatic or high-stress conditions, and prejudice against women in the classical music world.

While the book doesn't explicitly teach how to change the way you make decisions, it does present a compelling case for the fact that people can develop amazing aptitudes in areas that might normally be called intuition.

The book reminds me of some of the things that I learned about in my cognitive psychology classes in college... I find it fascinating that people have so many different areas for talent-- a sense of direction, the ability to learn new languages, photographic memory, "perfect pitch" and other musical skills, recognizing faces or voices, being able to visualize how things fit together, the ability to "read" other people through their body language and facial expressions, special gifts for physical/motor coordination, being able to do calculations in your head, etc, etc, etc. Not only are there many, many of types of abilities, there is also enormous potential for developing and improving upon those abilities, given the right conditions and motivation.

State of Social Security

Could someone give me a GOOD explanation for why personal accounts are a bad idea? Several years ago, when I graduated from school and starting working full-time, my grandmother said to me, "You need to start saving money, because Social Security won't be enough for your retirement." And I laughed out loud. I told her, "Grandma, I don't plan on ever getting any money from Social Security."

I would like to point out that I don't know anyone from my age group (aka Generation X) who seriously thinks that we'll get back the money that they take out of our paychecks every month for Social Security. My husband and I just consider it a type of income tax, not a part of our plans for retirement.

So if Bush wants to put a PORTION of the money that I'm paying and put it into an account in my name, I can't see why I'm supposed to be upset by that. As it is now, ALL of the money that I'm paying will go to other people. (Does anyone seriously want to claim that's not true?) I know that Bush's plans for renovating Social Security go beyond just the personal accounts, but it's the idea of privatization that seems to be drawing the greatest fire, and I haven't heard any rational arguments for why it's a such bad idea. (And no, claiming that it's a bad idea just because Bush is the one pushing for it is NOT a rational argument.)

For people my age, I think it would be great to get SOME sort of guaranteed return. Younger people should see even more of an advantage to this, since they will benefit more (through the magic of compound interest) from starting even earlier. (And how many other opportunities do people under the age of 25 have to start saving for retirement? Most people that age don't have 401k or IRA accounts.) I'm not sure why the AARP is so upset by the idea, since Bush has already stated, on several occasions, that people who are already at retirement age would continue to receive the benefits that they have been promised.

So is it the people in the 40-50 age bracket that feel threatened by this proposed change? Obviously, they'll still be able to draw out of the existing pool, plus they'll have access to some of the money that the government will be collecting from my age group and the people younger than us. (And I'm OK with that. Since I've essentially already written off the entire Social Security system, I'd be pretty silly to argue about what happens to the remainder of the money that doesn't go into my personal account now.) If they believe that the pool isn't enough for them, isn't that just a stronger argument that it certainly won't be enough for people coming along later?

Sick Day

Today I'm home sick with a bad case of bronchitis. I went to the doctor yesterday afternoon, and after hearing me speak (croak, actually) and listening to me breathe, she quickly wrote out a prescription for antibiotics. While she was writing, one of my (obnoxious, overwhelming, and exhausting) coughing spells occurred, and when she heard that, she quickly added an additional prescription for cough medicine. It's a particularly busy time at work, but I think I'm better off staying home and trying to rest than going to work and potentially infecting all of my co-workers, especially since we're all going to be travelling a lot in the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, my husband came down with the flu yesterday, so he's at home today too. When I'm not busy coughing, I'm worried that four days from now, when we're both on our next business trips, he'll come down with bronchitis and I'll come down with the flu. He'll be in Huntsville, Alabama and I'll be in Miami, Florida, so if you live in the Southeast, start taking your vitamins now.

So my occupation today mostly consists of reading, surfing the net, and watching the pets migrate across the living room floor, following the pools of sunlight that are streaming in through the windows. The dog usually spends weekdays in her kennel, so a sick day for us turns into a rare treat for her. Here they are-- Virgil the Dingy Dachshund and Emma the Tubby Tabby...

What I'm really bummed about is that in the last 24 hours, we got about 3-4 inches of snow, and it's a beautiful day today. (In Cincinnati, fresh, fluffly snow is unusual, as are sunny days in February. Both things happening together are rare beyond all reason.) We were scheduled to be on duty at the ski area, but obviously, neither of us is in any shape to be skiing. (We have ski patrol duty every other Thursday, and two weeks ago, my husband was out of town on a business trip, and I couldn't make it to the ski area because of bad weather, so I feel especially bad about missing two shifts in a row.) It's bad enough being sick when all I'm missing out on is work, but to be sick and missing out on good skiing is truly unfortunate.