I had some dreams ... they were klowns in my koffee.


(With apologies to Carly Simon)


This is my journey through job transition from a toxic environment to a better life. Join me for a few thoughts and a few laughs along the way.
What are "klowns in my koffee"? They are the factors large and small that make you less than you are. A "klown" can be a grossly incompetent boss,
a short-sighted policy or a moronic coworker. They won't kill you, at least not immediately, but they abrade the soul
as you scrape past them to get through the day. Sometimes it's best to dump them out of the cup.


Monday

Day 66 - Memorial Day


Sunday

Day 65 - Kazakhstan Part 3

Every Sunday, this blog will describe our life-changing trip to Kazakhstan in 2005 to adopt our two youngest children. While some of our friends and family have seen a few of the pictures, we've never put it all together in an organized format. One of the reasons is that I hesitate to subject others to a 21st century version of the endless slideshow of vacation photos harking to some relative's visit and a lost evening of my childhood. Still, the story must be told before details are lost since this is my children's unique birthright. When we get to the end of the story, I'll edit the posts together into an extended and separate blog page and then have it printed by one of the blog-to-book(let) services for my kids. For people with less interest, these posts will be easy to identify and avoid.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Our preliminary conversation with Tree of Life Adoption Center went well. They basically said that the steps are: pay us some money, fill out a bunch of forms, have someone inspect your house, pay them some money, fill out some more forms, get on a plane, bring some money. It was actually kind of reassuring since our contact, Bianca, was able to make the process seem like a long to-do list that ends with success as long as the directions are followed.

We signed up and started on the path of paperwork and more paperwork. We obtained copies of birth certificates, marriage certificates, and followed up on every traffic infraction for the last ten years. Noted for the record that this was made more difficult when it became clear that someone spent a year racing across Iowa.

There were physical examinations, HIV tests, and a notarized copy of the medical license of the doctor who performed the medical examinations. After our examinations, we found out that the practitioner was a physician's assistant and did not have a medical license. She talked a doctor in her office into taking her license off the wall and letting us photocopy it.

There were letters to be gotten from employers, the mortgage holder and a group of wonderful friends. Add to that tax records, financial statements, a letter from the county assessor, and a letter giving the adoption agency power of attorney in case something bad happened to us legally while we were overseas. We were a little iffy on what that bad thing could be but it seems that the American Embassy can't always get you out like in the movies.

We prepared for the home study by cleaning the house to a level that it had never seen before or hasn't since. We look at those pictures of the clean house and sigh now. When the social worker didn't even particularly look around the house very closely, I wanted to grab her by the arm and drag her through each room. We had our interviews, filled out our forms and eventually a completed home study was mailed to us.

At the end came the passports, fingerprints to be sent to the FBI and the clearance from the immigration service, officially called the USCIS Form I-171.

The completed dossier included everything previously mentioned and a number of other administrative forms. Remember the number of papers that you signed when you bought a house? Now multiple that by ten. Everything had to be copied, notarized and then apostilled by the Secretary of State. This is a kind of super-notarization that verifies that the notary is licensed and everything is in order. Every single one of these documents had to be reviewed and signed by the then Secretary of State, Mary Kiffmeyer. I find it humorous that I was sitting in her waiting room while she was signing a picture of my clean living room.

<-- Clean living room certified by State of Minnesota

Somewhere in the midst of all this paperwork relay race, we were asked how many children we wanted to be approved for. We were qualified for two based on our resources and Kazakhstan was one of the only places in the world that allowed the adoption of unrelated children at the same time, so this fit into our picture of the family that we would like to form. As expenses were mounting and I wasn't getting any younger, it also seemed like it was unlikely that we would be able to go back in a year or two for an additional child. Since the little boy in the picture was almost three by then, we asked the agency to look for a younger girl.

It is common in adoptions to get a referral when you are matched with a child. The referral is often in the form of pictures or videos of the child along with whatever information about the child's medical condition, background and personality that may be available. The potential parent or parents then decide whether to "accept" the referral, meaning whether they are making a tentative commitment to adopt the child. Accepting a referral is very serious, though nothing is final until the adoption is processed by the court of the foreign country.

When you accept a referral, you've kind of reserved that child until you can get to wherever he or she is in the world. In theory, the orphanage and agencies stop showing the child to other potential adoptive parents. In real life, it doesn't always work that way and there have been parents who have found themselves victims of a particularly cruel bait-and-switch tactic.

When you have a photo of a child, the human tendency is to start the process of incorporating that child into your emotional life. Once you name something, it is. The adoption agencies try to counter this with these four words: "Don't count on it." These words are universally ignored.

Kazakhstan law forbids referrals. It is illegal to give photographs of these children to prospective parents, release medical information or in any way not present any adoptable child for selection by anyone who shows up at the orphanage with the appropriate approvals. The law is a trifling nuisance and is treated with a level of doublethink that would make Orwell proud.

So we had this illegal picture, and eventually a video and records, of a child who may or may not be available, reserved, or actually even exist for all we know. The agency informed us that their contact in Kazakhstan says that he is close to aging out of the "baby house" – the orphanage for babies and toddlers – and will be moved to the preschool for children three to seven years old. This would be a potentially difficult transition for him and they urged us to complete the remainder of the documentation as soon as possible. We asked the agency to talk to the orphanage director and request her to keep him just another month or two since we would be there as soon as possible, but they said didn't have room and would not be flexible on policy. Soviet states are mushy on laws but adhere unflaggingly to minor administrative policies, we would soon realize.

In the meanwhile, the agency sent us pictures of girls but lacking medical information and videos that would help detect medical problems. We sent the boy's information to the International Adoption Clinic at the University of Minnesota, a nationally-recognized program under the direction of Dr. Dana Johnson. The boy received a clean bill of health, but Dr. Johnson wasn't so sure about the picture of the baby girl we sent him. He called personally to say that he doesn't have enough information to be able to make a determination. He said, "Go and see the child; trust your instincts. You will know."

The dossier had been translated into Russian and was making its way through the Kazakh Embassy in the US to the Ministry of Education. From there, we would wait for a letter of invitation (LOI) from the Kazakh government allowing us to enter the country. The letter could come at any time and we would need to travel almost immediately. We completed the applications to our employers for leaves of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act and sat back nervously to wait it out.

Saturday

Day 64 - Kids' Day

What makes a perfect summer day? Is it the blue sky and balmy temperatures? Or the wispy breeze that ruffles and moves on?

On Saturday morning, we went to Midway Stadium, home of the minor league St. Paul Saints, for my son to compete at the sectional level of the Aquafina Pitch, Hit and Run competition. He had won the local level competition a few weeks ago.

It was a gorgeous but hot day. You'd think that a competition sponsored by a water company would give out bottles of water, but no such luck. The contest was administered by the Jaycees, the community service group of young business people.

Whenever I think of the Jaycees, I think of an incident that happened several years ago.

My ex-husband is a former professional musician who still plays in several volunteer and professional bands of different types. One of his groups was a big band in the swing era meaning of the term. They frequently played paying gigs for dances. As he was putting on his tuxedo and preparing for the gig, he mentioned that he was a bit nervous about the job. He had been told that the dance was for developmentally challenged people and he was just a little uncomfortable. He is the type of person to whom any display that is out of the ordinary is vexing.

He called me when the band was on break. When asked how the dance was going, he said that it was going pretty well and that he wasn't as nervous. He said that he and the other band members were commenting to each other that they could barely tell that some of the audience had any mental challenges, while there were others where the disability was extremely clear. He said that he had watched the seemingly unaffected audience members closely and, after a while, he was able to see their disabilities, too. He was surprised, however, to observe that mentally challenged people drank so much alcohol.

After the gig, the bandleader spent a few minutes with the band firming up the scheduling for the next job. It turned out that they had mixed up their program. The group that they had played for that night were not developmentally challenged, but were a chapter of Jaycees.

My son didn't win but tried hard. He received a nice certificate of participation and a free ticket to that night's Saints game.
After some errands and a nap, we drove back to Midway Stadium to see the Saints play the Sioux Falls Pheasants. It was truly a delightful evening. The Saints keep a continuous string of audience participation going that catches the interest of the most wiggly child. Costumed mascots wander around greeting children and giving out small toys. We sampled products and received coupons. We left with free compasses, coupons for appetizers at Chili's and free chalupas from Taco Bell, courtesy of the sponsors. The Saints played well and won, though it hardly mattered.

I don't know what a constitutes a perfect summer day but whenever you can drive home with a car full of sleepy, happy children that comes pretty darn close.

Friday

Day 63 - Komics

This hit home just a little too closely.



© Pearls Before Swine http://comics.com/pearls_before_swine/




Thursday

Day 62 - Poetry Klass

Last week I took a poetry class from the Loft, a prominent local writer's group. It was a step outside my comfort zone, but what good is an envelope if you don't push it once in a while?

It was a small class of mostly older people. It's been weirdly satisfying to be the youngest person in the room. We seemed to come from a wide range of backgrounds and levels of writing experience. One woman named Dolly had completed a memoir of her childhood called, appropriately enough, "Hello, Dolly." Can't make this stuff up.

The instructor was Clem Nagel, an older man who began writing poetry twelve years ago when he says that poetry "just showed up." He had an unassuming manner and a gift for active listening.

We warmed up by randomly pulling a small handful of words a la magnetic poetry from a basket. For some reason, all the words were related to nature and the outdoors. I suppose that topic yields a greater chance for success than — say — a list of words like carburetor, taco, ukulele and bandsaw.

My little pile of word arranged themselves into this:
Language can be sharp like Spring yard tools,
Snip words, green and full,
Dig and prune,
By Fall, dieback worn and dull to rest.

We moved on to haiku. Some chose to engage heavily in metaphor, while I followed Clem's advice to write about "whatever you were doing before you came to class." I'm not sure that he meant it this literally.
Upstairs Neighbor

Sought winter refuge,
Bold raccoon in the attic,
Evicted this Spring.

For the final exercise, Clem took a blank sheet of paper and made a fold bending inward (as opposed to back and forth like an accordion) about every inch from the bottom to the top of the paper. Flattening the sheet, he handed the paper to the first person with the instruction to look around the room and write a line about something in the immediate environment. The first participant hands the paper to the next person, who reads the line and then adds another line below it between the next set of folds. The paper is then folded so that the next writer sees only the contribution of the previous writer and not anything that came before. This continues with each contributor seeing only the last line and then adding the one more line until everyone has has had a turn.

While the paper circulated, Clem entertained us with his poems and stories about the writing process.

This is what the class produced:
Inspiration

Blank boards call out to hidden poets,
Words rise from the heart to the page,
From the page into our hearts,
As we stride down the hill,
Slipping, greasy footsteps in our path,
Holding onto your arm, we support one another.

I left the class both a little braver and awed by the poetry hiding just below the surface of a group of eight common strangers from every walk of life brought together on a sunny afternoon.

Wednesday

Day 61 - Kindergarten Screening

Today was the last step of the lengthy process of getting my daughter registered for kindergarten. You'd think this would be a relatively simple thing, perhaps showing a birth certificate and signing a form, but it has grown into a multi-stage event that starts almost a year before kindergarten does.

When I went to kindergarten, my mother let me accompany her to the school to drop off the papers and I believe that they let me look in the door of the the kindergarten room. On the day that school started, my grandmother waited for the bus with me. Thereafter I waited for the bus by myself. This concluded the orientation.

For my daughter, we had to go to an overview meeting to decide which of the school's kindergarten programs would be the "best fit." There was a large packet of information and multiple forms. The drop dead date for registration for the "good" programs was in February and then we had to wait to see if she was accepted.

When we received the acceptance notification (Congratulations! We are glad to inform you ...), we had to submit another set of forms and a registration fee -- yes, for a public school -- so that we could get the next packet of forms and an invitation to the Kindergarten Roundup.

The Roundup was an opportunity to hand in some forms, ride around the parking lot in a school bus, and see that mystical kindergarten room with its cubbies, small chairs, and Lilliputian bathroom fixtures. (This is what my mother achieved with less ado by dropping by one afternoon so that Principal Dowling could show me around Boon Street School. I think he died right about the time that they tore the school down in 1970. Maybe he went down with the ship. From what I remember, he was not a "form" man, though he seemed upset when I vomited all over the papers on his secretary's desk in the fourth grade. Perhaps she should have been less dismissive when I said that I did not feel well.)

After the Roundup, we had the physical exam and inoculations. Then there was an evening orientation. The tiny toilet does not look any different at night. I was kind of hoping that it lit up.

There was also a half-day Saturday orientation session where attendance was "strongly encouraged." My daughter was bored with seeing the room by then so I cavalierly tossed the notification.

And today, we were finally screened. Screening is a nice idea and helps the schools be prepared to handle any challenges. As with my other children, I was counseled to have them practice both standing on one foot for five seconds and then hopping. My children are hopping-impaired. I still remember my now 43-year-old brother sobbing because he was going to fail skipping in kindergarten. It was officially on his report card. We practiced on the driveway for hours -- hop, hop on one foot, then hop, hop on the other, slowly, slowly, never gaining any fluidity of motion.

In today's screening, my daughter piled blocks flawlessly, read letters from a card, completed syllogisms, and counted up a storm. She did everything she was asked nearly perfectly. A bittersweet victory because she failed an important part of the screening. The audio screening revealed that she can't hear in a significant frequency range in her right ear.

They will retest next week and maybe everything will be fine, but it's more likely that we'll be seeing more doctors and more occupational therapy specialists. You can prepare and do all the tests and fill out all the forms and still life is what it is.

When I went to kindergarten with no extensive preparation, early in the school year one morning before the bell rang I climbed a huge old tree in the corner of the school yard. The teachers yelled at me from way down on the ground that my behavior was both unsafe and unladylike -- since ladylike is always safe -- but I tested their patience by not climbing down for a long time, not having been "oriented" to the idea that I needed to conform. Thirty years later during a visit home to Northern New York, I stopped by the lot where the elementary school had stood. The city demolished the neighborhood schools and many historic buildings in the 1970's in a misguided attempt to modernize by forcing the older teachers into retirement and replacing graceful construction with featureless, windowless block structures and vacant lots. The old tree was still there in the corner, reigning over a grass-covered lot that had been the "girl's side" of the building where children had lined up to listen for the morning bell for sixty years. I stood beneath the green canopy and examined the rough bark, the enormous girth of the trunk and branches of the massive old relic. I did not climb.

Tuesday

Day 60 - Awkward ...

The topic today is awkwardness. As "awke" is Old Norse for wrong, the word literally means "in the wrong direction."

I had a mammogram today. It was awkward.

Anytime someone asks you to lift your chest up onto a shelf and hold still while a big weight presses it down, 'awkward' pretty much describes it. I was OK for the first round but then the technician thought that she could get some more of the skin from under my arms up on the plate. In terms of the skin tone of my arms and shoulders, apparently Madonna I'm not, since the tech managed to dig into where my lymph nodes had been happily living and somehow yank them forward, over and up.

Still, it didn't take very long, was uncomfortable only momentarily, and they gave me a bottle of cranberry juice. For a bunch of cookies, they probably could have pulled them out through my back and onto the plate. Good info on mammograms and breast cancer from the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society. Want a reminder for yourself or someone you love to schedule a mammogram? Sign up with the American Cancer Society Health Messaging Assistant to receive an annual reminder. http://acsremindme.com/hma/modify_subscription.php?CID=288

Since I am 10 years and 10 repetitions of this test overdue per the American Cancer Society (or right on time per some cheap insurance companies), I'm a little concerned about the outcome. Making up for 11 years of missed health care was on my immediate post-layoff To-Do list and I am only a couple more tests from project completion. Don't want to die early from some completely preventable ailment because I was busy working on the Porkus plantation. Now that would be awkward.

And, speaking of awkward, I have been chuckling over this site since I came across it last week. For the first few pages, you'll think it's cute, but you'll find some pictures by about page 15 that might make tears roll down your face.

Awkward Family Photos

Monday

Day 59 - Mucho Kalor

Mucho Kalor ... twisted Spanish for much heat. It's 93 degrees in the house since we don't have air conditioning. The computer locks up every few minutes, so my ability to do much(o) of anything that I wanted to accomplish this evening is pretty well shot. Amazing how dependent we get on these devices.

Everyone in the house is crabby, including the cats, so an honorable retreat seems the best course of action.

Try to post this before we lock up again ...

Sunday

Day 59 - Kazakhstan Part 2

Every Sunday, this blog will describe our life-changing trip to Kazakhstan in 2005 to adopt our two youngest children. While some of our friends and family have seen a few of the pictures, we've never put it all together in an organized format. One of the reasons is that I hesitate to subject others to a 21st century version of the endless slideshow of vacation photos harking to some relative's visit and a lost evening of my childhood. Still, the story must be told before details are lost since this is my children's unique birthright. When we get to the end of the story, I'll edit the posts together into an extended and separate blog page and then have it printed by one of the blog-to-book(let) services for my kids. For people with less interest, these posts will be easy to identify and avoid.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Adoption can be an arduous process, both emotionally and physically. If the adoption decision has been made to create a family as a result of infertility, there are multiple emotional issues to work through. It is necessary to let go of one mental image, complete with all the steps of mourning, before you can productively move on to create a new mental image and direction. Close door, open window. In our case, we had started down the path of infertility treatments to counter physical problems that we both had and then simply stopped one day and wondered what the hell we were doing. Examinations, pills, shots, samples -- none of it really felt right or like it was going on the correct path.

As Americans, we have this "Rocky" complex that says that the winner is the one who wants it the most, who has put the most time in; we resent a winner who doesn't try very hard but has a natural talent. It seems unamerican somehow. Being infertile is a challenge that can't be overcome by trying harder. That's not even a joke statement or double entendre. Some infertile people mention feeling that their bodies have betrayed them. It's a good preparation for middle age -- and that IS a joke statement.

Adoption was an option that gradually made more and more sense to us. It was empowering to go from a situation where one has minimal control to one where it seemed at the time that there was quite a lot of choice.

A few years ago, it was common for international adoption agencies to post pictures and information about available children. Due to egregious abuses by middlepersons of all stripe, a number of countries negotiated the Hague Convention, more explicitly the "Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption", which viewed this practice as a form of commoditization and human trafficking. As countries ratified the Convention one by one, the photolistings disappeared and are now a rarity. At the time, however, we spent evenings looking at the listings which showed available children both within the United States and throughout the world.

We had an acquaintance who was pursuing domestic adoption. He and his wife had to put together an ad with pictures of themselves and answers to a series of interview questions as required by their agency. This information was filed into a book to be reviewed by pregnant women. Month after month, the couple was not selected, beaten out by younger, more photogenic, higher profile couples. We didn't think that we would do any better than they did and somehow international adoption seemed to move to the forefront of the strategy.

Some countries do not permit international adoptions and those that do establish controls of all types. These controls may include restrictions on age, income, marital status, sexual orientation, length of marriage, physical health, mental health, weight, criminal background, whether a trip to the country is required and, if so, for how long. We went through the list of countries and crossed out those where we did not meet the criteria. The rules change constantly so this becomes a moving target.

We went to seminars given by local adoptions agencies. We had lunch with coworkers who had adopted internationally and were blown away with the generosity of time and candid information that these people chose to share with us. The process was overwhelming, we were swimming in information, and didn't know where to start.

Of all the countries in the world, Kazakhstan was at the time the one that was most expensive from which to adopt and which imposed the longest in-country stay requirement. We kidded that, though we met all the requirements that the country imposed, we should stay away from those adoption agencies since the logistics of the finances and travel would be nearly impossible.

Fate is a fan of irony.

My daughter was fifteen at the time and was active in and supportive of this project. We were looking at photolistings one night. There was a particular one that caught my eye and that I returned to it time after time. The photo showed a serious toddler boy with chubby cheeks. The written description started, "This chunky little fellow ..." There was an accompanying photo that showed the child wearing a little vest playing with brightly colored toys, the same direct expression as he faced the camera with unsmiling determination. My daughter commented that she had seen a photo of a child that we should look at. In true melodramatic fashion, it was the identical child. I showed the web page with its pictures of different children to my husband. He often agonizes and dithers over choices. He perused the page quickly and then pointed. "What about that little boy?" And, just like that, we were decided.

The next day, I contacted the agency that had posted the listing and was told that he was in Kazakhstan. Cue Fate laughing.

While in theory, a child who is available for adoption should be a kind of free agent and one ought to be able to work with any adoption agency who is licensed in both countries. In real life, the path to the child is through the agency who is representing the child in the listing and the road is cluttered with the politics, contacts and payments of all kinds. It may not coordinate with our American sense of how things should be done, but other countries do not understand and do not give a damn about our opinion of their internal processes. In the US, a practice would be bribery that is considered the normal way of getting things done elsewhere. It feels wrong but that's absolutely the way it works.

We wanted a nice local adoption agency who would hold our hands through all the endless paperwork and multiple process steps. We got Tree of Life Adoption Center in Portland, Oregon. Fate giggled.











Saturday

Day 58 - Scout Kamp

Today, we were outstanding in a field. Unfortunately, we were out standing in a field in South Haven, about one hour west of the Twin Cities, during a downpour for a couple of hours. Huddled under canopies with hundreds of Boys Scouts wearing garbage bags is an inauspicious way to start the day. As the rain started to retreat, I spotted a coffee tent in the distance and trotted out despite lingering jagged cuts of lightning in the sky. The day got better.

This is StarCamp, a feel-good festival for Boys Scouts of all ages and their soggy, resentful families. With jean pantlegs soaked to the knees, we began to slosh our way to the displays and activities. We pealed off soaked sweatshirts, preferring to shiver in and dry out the lighter layers underneath until the sun would presumably start to shine.
Here's a typical Scout activity and a very smiling Bear Cub enjoying it.

The lanyard (see Day 42 post) around his neck carries a tracker of the various activities that he completed. The emphasis was on trying at least one activity in 60% of the "Action Areas" — broad categories like communication, cultures, history, survival, climbing/ropes, and team building.


There were Civil War Re-enactors firing cannons, yo-yo artists and aquariums of poisonous snakes. There was a trebuchet. It was malfunctioning and, as a very short person, I was wary since a trebuchet had already injured one dwarf on Little People, Big World. Perhaps trebuchets hate the vertically challenged.

We learned about conservation, how to count in Chinese, how to walk on stilts, and how to sail a little boat in a rain gutter. Not everything was educational or even tasteful.


Here, for example, is the goal object for Booger Wars, a game played by stuffing large green sponges in giant noses at either end of the court.


Yeah, it's hard to make a comment that makes this seem dumber than it already is.

I'm always a little apprehensive about the Boy Scouts as a general concept. As the Inquisition is taken by some as the ultimate poster boy for organized religion (I lean toward Unitarian Universalism, not really a religion and about the least organized anything that you can imagine), the Boy Scouts carry a whiff of hyper-conservatism, homophobia, and — obviously — sexism. In real life, almost all the contacts we've had with the organization have been free of those influences. There was a minor exception to that today during registration when the groundhog behind the folding table gave my husband a "participant" badge and me a "visitor (non-participant)" badge when we had both paid the adult registration fee. When I questioned it, I got a blank stare and the statement, "I didn't think you'd want to do anything." Since this was before I found the coffee, I nearly missed the bus while helping the gentleman create the appropriate badge (a rewrite that my husband suggested as a more even-handed version of my draft clause: "handed him his ass"). Other than that, the Scouts have been reasonable and accepting and a good choice for my son who needs structure to feel rooted.

The sun came out, my son completed enough activities to get his pin, and then we sprawled on the grass in the arena to listen to the band. For some reason, the organizers felt that the perfect entertainment to book was a mock-metal cover band with the motto, "Totally 80s — Totally Awesome." Wake me up before you go-go ...


Muddy and sunburned, we schlepped back on the bus and realized that we'd really had a good day.


















Friday

Day 57 - De-Kluttering

I've been decluttering my house. It's been a tough road, particularly that road that leads past so many garage sales. Still, we are now on living on the principle that for every new item brought into the house, at least one item has to leave.

The same principle ought to apply to popular culture. There are some things that we easily cannot stand just one more of. A Jonas brother, for example. Some would say that even the current allotment is duplicative and somewhat extravagant. If a new one appears, one of the old ones must go to the landfill.

For this week's final list:

Things We Don't Need More Of

1. Articles explaining how to select a swimsuit to disguise any of six figure flaws
2. Rocky movies
3. Movies base on old sitcoms
4. Sitcoms based on old movies
5. New movies based on old movies
6. Medical shows where the doctors spend all their time on their unstable personal lives
7. TV ads featuring Bob who takes Enzyte
8. Tweets from B list actors
9. Reality shows
10. Lists

Thursday

Day 56 - Porkus Kountdown

I have chosen to ration myself to taking only one shot at Porkus per week. There has been some suggestion that mentioning my former employer is a sign of failing to let go. Maybe, but it's also tremendously fun. I previously worked at Honeywell, a great company, but how interesting is a list of what a fine company did well? With Porkus, the sheer volume of ridiculous policy and behavior is an unending source of wonder. It's like the old joke where the guy is joyfully digging through piles of excrement with the rationale, "With so much crap, there must be a pony in here somewhere!"

The subject of tonight's list is Porkus HR leader 'Cheryl Boobquist'. Cheryl is a small, pathetic dried shell. She is the old french fry that you find under the couch cushions when you vacuum. She's afraid of breasts, people of color other than Asians, technology (including telephones with more than one button), and the future. She claims to speak Spanish but it seems to be a way of keeping an eye on the janitor.

Due to the number of lawsuits brought against the company by employees (for being forced to pray, as well as other interesting motivational tools), Cheryl guarded against the possibility of harassment claims by refusing to hire anyone attractive. This approach, of course, shows the type of innate ignorance of human resource issues that sets Porkus apart from the other sweatshops and cult-run businesses. After several years as attrition weeded the earlier hires, we became quite a homely group. When we would see an African-American and/or good-looking person waiting for an interview, employees would exchange knowing glances because we would never see that person again.

Cheryl asked me to remove an Ikea floor lamp from my office because she found it inappropriate and suggestive. This lamp and I share the same general shape and it is suggestive of nothing other than too many baked goods. A few weeks after the lamp did not disappear, I did. I think of it as an inverse genie effect.

Cheryl was concerned about the health of the employees on the plantation and occasionally sponsored seminars on health topics that we were required to attend during unpaid time. She often used herself as a model of the benefits of good and healthful living, a questionable strategy since she looks like Emperor Palpatine in pumps.

Over the years, I developed a playful list of items that would be hideously inappropriate gifts for her. Without further ado:

"Bad" Gifts for Cheryl Boobquist

1. A thong
2. Tickets to a ZZ Top concert
3. Membership in the NAACP
4. Membership in NOW
5. Membership in the ACLU
6. Erotic bakery item
7. A rap CD
8. Any CD since she doesn't know what they are
9. Anything needing a sense of humor
10. An Ikea lamp

To give the devil her due, here are items that would make wonderful gift choices.

Great Gifts for Cheryl Boobquist

1. Bible signed by the author
2. White hood, cross, matches
3. Anxiety medicine
4. Stock in a turtleneck company
5. Stock in a chastity belt company
6. Gaydar
7. A polyester pantsuit
8. Another knitted scarf to cover the Adam's apple
9. A minion to do her bidding, Jedi powers preferred
10. Any gift that would encourage retirement

Day 55 - Little League Klichés

The week of lists continues.

My husband and I are not sports people. He was always picked last and so was I – except for the times when I was chosen by the teacher to be captain, not because I was any good at athletics but because I was all responsible and leaderly and respectful and things that teachers like. It was a shock to discover that our son was the apparent biological offspring of über-jocks. After a period of reflection, we decided to treat this as an alternative lifestyle ... not that there's anything wrong with that ... and give him our full and completely ignorant support.

With two children in Little League, we attend games three or four times per week. Baseball is an appealing sport because we sort of understand it and because it is a cheap sport in which to involve your children compared to hockey and football. Also warmer.

Not having played sports in a team environment, I was perplexed at first by the various admonishments heard repeatedly from the coach and the stands. In time, I compiled this lexicon for other parents who also confuse a pop fly with that conspicuous lump made by children's athletic supporters. (My son will drum on his and it makes a sound like hitting a coconut. Proud, proud parent moment.)

Little League Shouts of Encouragement or Direction and What They Really Mean

1. "Let's go, {name here}, let's go ... (ad nauseum)

Means: We are bored and want an excuse to yell. [By high school, it means we are drunk and want an excuse to yell.]

2. "Good swing"

Means: You missed, but you didn't let go on the backswing and impale the catcher this time. Also said when the batter looks just like the picture in the manual but connects with nothing.

3. "Run it out"

Means: The ball is two feet from the first baseman so you are surely out, but you should run and not second guess in case he drops it.

4. "Good eye"

Means:

A. The pitch was two feet over your head and you didn't swing at it.
B. The pitch was targeted at your head and you jumped out of the way just in time. (This is particularly true if the child does that Matrix thing to avoid taking a hit to the solar plexus.)

5. "Good hustle"

Means: You ran pretty fast, but not as fast as that kid who got you out.

6. "Be ready out there"

Means: Stop lying or sitting on the grass, making duck noises and moving the bill of your cap up and down, or adjusting your athletic supporter. Or drumming on it to the rhythm of "Let's go, Tommy, let's go."

7. "Make a play"

Means: Next time, let's hope that the four kids who touched the ball can get it to a base, any base.

8. "It's a pitcher's game"

Means: (Particularly poignant during machine pitch games) The score is zero to zero and no one can get on base because the machine has decided to pitch randomly in a wedge pattern 15 feet wide and either at your feet or your head.

9. "Watch the ball"

Means: All the other clichés have been used recently and we are starting over.

10. "Good game"

Means: Good game.




Tuesday

Day 54 - Kringing to Admit

Many thanks to Corsair for the comments on yesterday's post on things that may be more hype than hip.

I was driving the other day when that dopey Fireflies song by Owl City came on. I had two simultaneous thoughts: I grudgingly like this syrupy, golly-gee, whiny, adolescent song and I was glad that there was no one else in the car to admit that to.

Don't we all have some quirky things that we like despite conventional opinion and perhaps even common sense? (As an example, my family puts up with my Keanu Reeves memorabilia though I avoid confrontations where I might have to defend his acting ability. He played Hamlet, you know. But not in this country. I met him and he's a genuinely nice person. And really, really good-looking in person. Trust me.)

While I'm confessing and exposing myself to public ridicule -- Yes, I actually liked the first Star Trek movie. Not as much as later Star Trek movies. But we had been waiting so long.

In the spirit of full disclosure, here is my list.

Rueful Admissions of Misbegotten and Possibly Unsupportable Affection

1. Jello salad with those little marshmallows
2. Fireworks displays
3. Reruns of the Addams Family
4. Any Bruce Willis movie where he's the one guy saving the population from an evil gang
5. Ditto Clint Eastwood
6. Even the Clint Eastwood movie with the orangutan
7. Some country music
8. The Celebrity Apprentice
9. Line dancing (if no one is watching)
10. Reading People magazine in the dentist's office


You know you have your own list, whether you want to admit it or not.




My daughter went to high school with the drummer. This guy should get out more.

Monday

Day 53 - Katcher in the Wry?

What a fabulous and beautiful weekend! And this week looks like it's going to be even better. We remain raccoonless, in a state of raccoon deprivation, sans raccoon, raccoon-free, menos un mapache.

I'm getting a lot of weird email from companies who want me to be things like insurance agents. I suppose that's the byproduct of publishing a resume online. There are many things in life of which I am unsure but my determination not to be an insurance agent has been constant from the womb.

I've been playing with lists this week. I'm a listmaker at heart and we LM's always flock together and feel comfortable with our own kind. An LM can spot a clipboard at 100 feet. I have lists for daily chores, groceries, charitable donations, and what to plant in my vegetable garden. I have goal lists by day, week and year. Yes, it's sick (in the bad sense, not in the cool, goth kind of way).

Yet some lists can be fun and provocative. I was thinking about the George Gobel quote: “Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?”

Maybe George's observation can be stretched to include those circumstances where everyone else seems to hear the sizzle except you. Or where the build-up is so intense that the occurrence itself is underwhelming. Y2K and (fortunately) SARS and H1N1 come to mind. Here's my personal list.

Ten Things Over Which It's Hard to See the Fuss

1) Prime rib
2) Killer bees
3) Robert Frost
4) diamonds
5) long fingernails
6) the Electoral College
7) escargot
8) doing anything until you vomit
9) sushi
10) "Catcher in the Rye"

To come completely clean, I have to admit that I miss the brilliance that other people freely ascribe to Ernest Hemingway, Andy Warhol and Lady Gaga but concede that the problem might be me so they didn't make the list. I also left off Chris Farley out of deference to my husband who really liked him. One person's fat, sweaty, obnoxious drug addict is another's comic genius, I guess.

I reread Catcher in the Rye about every five years on the premise that there is bound to be more than I'm seeing if people try so hard to censor it, but the thin novel merely seems more wart-like at each repetition. When I was a teenager, I didn't like Holden Caulfield; now I despise him. That's progress I guess.

So, please inform me of the error of my judgments. Or comment on what else on everyone's hot list leaves you cold and wondering what the fuss is all about.

Sunday

Day 52 - Kazakhstan Part 1

I'm organizing photographs as part of writing the annual required post-placement reports to the government of Kazakhstan. Most countries of origin of overseas adoptees have such a requirement. For Kazakhstan and the other former Soviet block countries, the reports are usually required each year on the anniversary of the court date. The children retain their foreign citizenships until the age of eighteen so each country has a shared and vested interest in the health and happiness of its citizens. My children, as dual citizens, have both American and Kazakh passports.

Going back through the photos and memorabilia of our extended visit in "Kaz," as the adoptive parent groups call it, always brings back find memories. Since most of our friends and relatives have not seen the pictures nor heard the stories of that trip, I'll be documenting them in each Sunday's blog. When we get to the end of the story, I'll put the posts together into an extended and separate blog page and then have it printed by one of the blog-to-book(let) services for my kids.
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In 2004, we had never heard of Kazakhstan. This was before Sacha Baron Cohen used Kazakhstan to represent a backwards developing nation to serve as a backdrop for his eccentric Borat. We had a misty familiarity with some of the "istans" -- the multiple post-Soviet countries clustered to the west of the Caspian Sea. "-stan" means "place of" in Persian, "settlement" to the Russians written in Cyrillic as "ctah," and is related to the Latin that gave us "state" and "status." So Kazakhstan is the place of the Kazakhs.

And who are the Kazakhs? The Kazakhs are the descendants of a blend of Turkic groups, Mongols and Huns. Yes, like Attila the Hun. When you talk about the Kazakhs, you must keep in mind that the term can indicate two different and overlapping groups: ethnic Kazakhs, who tend to be handsome Asian Muslims, and Kazakh citizens, who are about 50% ethnic Kazakhs and 50% ethnic Russians. It's quite a binary society - Asian or Caucasian, Muslim or Russian Orthodox. The largest group of minorities is German, but that population is falling as the Germans repatriate after the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin wall. For the same reasons, Kazakhs who had fled Soviet rule or had been scattered are now finding their way back to the homeland.

This is the thumbnail version. We learned much about this country in the year-and-a-half between making the decision to adopt and getting on that plane on Halloween, 2005, bound for Chicago, then Frankfort and then Almaty, Kazakhstan. And the value of what we learned and gained there is immeasurable.

My husband hates flying. Why did we go to the other side of the world completely on faith? Because we found this picture.



Saturday

Day 51 - Know Your Weeds

When Voltaire wrote in Candide that "we must cultivate our garden," I doubt he had a half acre of garlic mustard. Crouching for a few hours to be able to get the roots out, I thought about the old George Burns quote: "You know you're getting old when you stoop to tie your shoelaces and wonder what else you could do while you're down there."

We removed many bags of garlic mustard. It's making it much easier to see the buckthorn, lambsquarters, thistles, burdock and stinging nettles. And whatever those scratchy, segmented weeds are that break off so you can't find the roots.

I can't wait to get rid of those, too, so that the expanse of creeping charlie is unbroken.

This is stinging nettle. This is a weed with attitude. Welts will last for a week. Some people eat these. Some people have issues.

Remember an earlier post where it was suggested that weeds were simply plants with a bad press agent? Several aching muscles in my back suggest that weeds are both evil and an excellent source of exercise. If anyone else would like to share in this wonderful physical stress, I'd be glad to send you my address. The fence gate is unlocked. Help yourself.

Somehow, knowing the names of the weeds makes the process more interesting. The U of M has the web equivalent of a post office wall of wanted weed criminals. http://www.extension.umn.edu/gardeninfo/weedid/idlist.html

On a related note, wikiHow has a good article on treating sore muscles. I recommend the baking soda bath, though I'm willing to believe that chocolate milk is a reasonable remedy because I'd like to believe it without any scientific basis whatsoever. http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Sore-Muscles-Feel-Good

Friday

Day 50 - Karma Chameleon

This has been a good week. It's finally stopped raining. The sounds on the roof that were not not the prancing and pawing of each little hoof have stopped, indicating there's a homeless raccoon family chewing on the tatters of my karma. My house is getting clean. I'm learning my Quality Engineer material, though it will be a race to have completed the reading and practices before the 6/5 test; it's an open book test so worst cases, I have to scramble. My dental crown will be completed next week. The battery of medical tests came back and I'm a reasonably healthy chubby person.

And I'm starting to feel healthy. No more chest pains or throbbing headaches. I don't wake up exhausted and then get more tired as the day progresses. I don't even need to sleep wearing a mouth guard anymore since the dream-induced grinding has stopped. Perhaps in my sleep I was trying to chew off my leg to get out of the steel trap.

I'm starting to feel positive about finding new employment. Or I'm starting to get bored with my living room. One or the other. Maybe both.

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What you have become is the price you paid to get what you used to want. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

Things do not change; we change. ~Henry David Thoreau

What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality. ~ Plutarch

The most important thing to remember is this: To be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become. ~ W. E. B. Du Bois

To change one's life, start immediately, do it flamboyantly, no exceptions. ~ William James

Thursday

Day 49 - Things to Kome?

Wednesday

Day 48 - Kareer Resources

This was a day to get in gear in terms of job search. While we are still covered with dense gray clouds, the steady drizzle has let up and a patch of more lightly-colored clouds can be seen to the west.

Search engine, anyone? We all know that networking is the key, but knowledge of the market keeps your eyes wide open. The resume search optimization site, reCareered, published their list of the Top 30 Job Boards for 2010 (http://recareered.blogspot.com/2010/02/top-30-job-boards-for-2010.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Recareered+%28reCareered%29), a good link to keep close.

If one truly wants to drown in data, flail to the surface and gasp for digits, 100 Search Engines in 100 Days(http://websearch.about.com/library/tableofcontents/blsearchenginetableofcontents.htm for you. The focus is not job search, though this topic can be found among the resources. Never again will you want for a resource for bar trivia with a list like this. Many thanks, Kevin, for forwarding this link.

I spent some time on the roof with the wildlife removal guy today. While Ashton Kutcher is tweeting that he's in some restaurant somewhere, I can counter that I'm on a roof in 45 degree weather hanging onto a jar of raccoon testicles. From the odor, I suspect that male raccoons have trouble dating and must rely on eHarmony.com. The product is sold as "Raccoon Eviction Fluid." There's one that smells even worse called "Vanish." Jim the wildlife guy used both of them to increase the chances of success. It's possible that Jim has trouble dating also. And, since I can't seem to get this stuff off my hands, my romantic evening similarly seems endangered.

And then it started raining again.

Tuesday

Day 47 - Koncern

It was a dark and stormy night ...

The heavy rain on the roof last night sounded like tympani. I don't mean like a musician playing a tympani; I mean like someone throwing kettledrums at my roof. In the midst of the storm, a sound came out of the crawl space above my cathedral ceiling like a large dog shaking to get the water off its fur. The raccoon must be four feet tall. I heard her in a mad argument with the cables from my recessed lighting and later pacing back and forth across the rafters. At dawn, I heard soft mewlings and realized that we finally have baby raccoons. Not being all that sentimental when it comes to rabies and fouled insulation, I called the wildlife specialist and he'll be here tomorrow to spread around the biological deterrent to scare the raccoon into moving her family out of my attic. He told me that he had just received shipments of the biological agent from two different sources. I was initially surprised that there was one domestic source of pureed male raccoons, let alone two.

I'm starting to be concerned that one day I'll be typing "Day 1000" in the title line. Kennedy's Camelot lasted 1000 days but someone got shot at the end.

In keeping with the whole personal revitalization theme, I told my stylist that I wanted something a little less Betty Crocker and a little more rock-and-roll. So she cut my hair like Sharon Osbourne's. Scary on multiple levels.

I took a course through Hennepin County Library today about Business Tools for Entrepreneurs. They have business plan software, consultation with SCORE mentors, and a group of killer databases that would allow you to pinpoint every left-handed chiropractor within 50 miles of your zip code with a $350K house, no outstanding warrants, and an interest in ballet. I'm not sure what you would sell to someone with the described demographic, but it's fun to think about. The class finished early so I spent the extra time self-stalking, investigating Porkus, and then checking out my neighbors. Once again, scary on multiple levels.

Back at Career Central, I'm haunted by the cost of child care. Any salary that I make has to include an additional $10.50 per hour, more in the summer, just to offset the price that we are paying for daycare. In rough numbers, I've got to make about $26 per hour to cover my complete current expenses if I work full time during hours that daycare would be required. Let's say I worked at another paragon of management excellence like Porkus. In that case, I'd work perhaps 60 hours, get paid for 40 hours and then have our expenses pop right back to where they were for more meals out, drycleaning, more car expenses, just like it was before the great bloodletting. Make a lot of money, don't get to keep much of it, have chest pains, have no life -- been there, done that. The obvious alternative is to be able to work a more flexible or nontraditional schedule. I'm looking at options that couple a part-time job with self-employment but this is going to take creativity, timing, initiative and a lot of luck.

To compensate for the dearth of humor in the last paragraph and for perspective on how trivial daily budgetary ruminations are when compared with the broad swath of human history, here is one of my favorite clips. Yes, it's a commercial for a TV show, but isn't it done well?



Monday

Day 46 - LinkSync 2

I saw "The Bucket List" today. This was doubly fulfilling since an item on my bucket list was to see "The Bucket List."

As long as we are thinking about the issues of life and death (Oh, PLEASE stop raining...), let's take the pulse of celebrities and other public figures at Dead or Alive (http://www.deadoraliveinfo.com/). Abe Vigoda's still with us.

Now that we know who is still on the team, share your weightier thoughts at Soul Pancake (http://www.soulpancake.com/), a project of Rainn Wilson and friends. It's the conversation that you have with an old friend sitting off in a corner after three Cabernets.

My husband and I largely agree on the moral issues of our time but are very far apart on whether Harrison Ford's character in Blade Runner (http://bladerunnerthemovie.warnerbros.com/) is a human or a replicant. There's no question in my mind that he's a replicant with implanted memories and an expiration date. But aren't we all really?

Blade Runner was based on sci fi giant Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? A site that is equal parts computer science project, experiment in abstract art and homage to Dick is Electric Sheep (http://electricsheep.org/).




The "sheep" are produced by the combined computing power of volunteer PCs when they are "sleeping." As the compilation above shows, the outcome can be breathtaking. In the fractals, you can imagine the birth and death of the universe. And then you understand why it doesn't matter if Deckard is a replicant or not.

Sunday

Day 45 - Happy Mother's Day

When I was fourteen, I wanted to be a performer because I felt so freed by the experience of being on stage and being anyone but myself in the way that fourteen-year-olds think. Sadly, I had a huge heart but no traditional talent. (I also wanted to be a bridge officer on the Starship Enterprise, a role for which I actually had more talent, but again reality betrayed me.)

As in the late and missed balladeer Harry Chapin's Taxi (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5dwksSbD34), life may have you idiosyncratically fulfilling your early goals in a way far different from what you had planned. The best acting job I've ever had is reacting with enthusiasm to special gifts like this from my children.



I once worked on an engineering improvement project for the Volcano mine system, a scatterable munition deployed from the back of trucks so I immediately recognized this statue as a rendition of the Volcano delivery system as done in medicine bottles.

So being a mom means receiving things like this and making the giver know that you couldn't have wanted anything different or more. Not even a lanyard. "Harry, keep the change."

Saturday

Day 44 - Tying Knots

Time to tie up some loose literal and figurative threads from previous posts.

Day 30 - Keep Cheap (The One With the Links to Frugal Doings in the Neighborhood)

A friend added a recommendation in a comment to visit the Eloise Butler Wildlife Garden and Bird Sanctuary in Golden Valley. It's a beautiful place and well worth a visit.

In the same post, I mentioned the Garage Sale store in Hopkins as a potentially good thrift shop based on some scuttlebutt. I visited and it is not worth anyone's time unless you really, really enjoy the thrill of the hunt of digging through piles of sheer junk to find one good item. You feel like rubbing hand sanitizer over your whole body after you leave.

I forgot to mention a fantastic resource for giving away and receiving items that have a second (or third or fourth) life in them: Freecycle (http://www.freecycle.org/). There are local groups in most areas of the country.

Day 38 - Komic Sans Bans? (The One Where We Explore the Odious Plot to Banish a Whimsical Typeface)
A friend sent this link to new Windows 7 fonts: http://www.microsoft.com/typography/fonts/windows7.htm

I recognized the English of course and then the Japanese, but the rest had me perplexed. I'm pretty sure that Dr. Daniel Jackson of Stargate will be needed to interpret them. Aparajita? Time for that Sanskrit for Dummies book!

Day 41 - Weed n' Feed? Indeed! (The One Where We Murder Garlic Mustard)
Have weeds been pulled, poisoned or pureed? No, they have not. The gardening gene does not become active until the temperature is at least 65 degrees. There were snow flurries during baseball practice this morning. Once it warms up, you are dead and salad-ized, you little green demons. (I feel obligated to eat one now, sort of like being a five-year-old dared to lick a metal railing in the winter. Curse you, Boon Street School!)

Day 34 - Kub Scout-In-A-Day (The One Where We Complete a Year's Wolf Scout Requirements in a Day)
The birds will have to get an apartment or perhaps move in with the raccoons. We built this.

Cub Scout ceremonies take much of their text from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement, asked Kipling for permission to use the references from the Jungle Books stories as he was developing the original Scouting program and it has stuck to this day. The local Scouting leaders are caring and dedicated individuals, but must have missed a training where they are briefed on the story and characters of the Jungle Book. None of them can pronounce any of the character's names. Throughout the wolf ceremony, the leader referred to the dread tiger Shere Kahn, as "Sherry Can" -- in a tone that suggested that this was a girl with whom he'd gone to high school. I want to give them a copy of the Disney movie so at least they can get the names right. And they can listen to Phil Harris as Baloo, the jazz-singing sloth bear. I met Phil Harris in the San Francisco airport when I was a little girl, cementing a fragile recognition for a performer that I probably never would have heard of otherwise. [Note: This is Phil Harris, the jazz singer and Jack Benny-era comedian, not Phil Harris, the ill-fated captain on the reality show The Deadliest Catch.]

Here is the badge:



Day 21 - Raccoon Love (The One Where We Waited for Raccoon Babies to be Born So That We Could Evict Them)

We never heard raccoon babies, though once in a while I hear something in the attic that sounds like it is playing ping-pong. I don't know whether to call Mr. Wildlife Specialist back or wait until I don't hear any noise one day, cover over the hole and hope for the best.

Day 8 - Kleaning Up (The One Where We Wanted to Rescue an Abandoned, Ill-Tempered Cat from the Animal Shelter)
I took my family back to visit the cat. He wouldn't let my husband pick him up, snapped at my daughter and took a gouge out of my hand. I hid the blood dripping down my arm from the attendant so that the cat would have no more strikes against him. He was already in tough shape since he was older, had been at the shelter for a while, needed some extra medical care, didn't like other cats, and didn't seem to like most people. I'm not sure whether the attraction was that I thought he deserved another chance after the trauma to which he'd been exposed or that I secretly feared that he was me in cat form. Either way, my family charitably suggested that we come back in another day or so when he wasn't being made nervous by all the visitors. When I checked a couple of days later, he was gone. So maybe he was adopted by someone he liked. Or maybe he ran out of chances. Not every situation is a metaphor but wisdom to be learned from the mistakes of others is that you can't make someone like you and you can't reliably save anyone but yourself. Person or cat.

Day 36 - Korpulent (The One Where the Doctor Told Me to Lose Weight or Have a Heart Attack)
Not surprising, Days 15 (Where We Eat the Juicy Lucy Cheese-Stuffed Hamburger) and 35 (Where I Market Test Frosted Cinnamon Rolls) may be implicated. My blood test results revealed a cholesterol level that would be a darn good bowling score. When I die, I wish my body to be wrapped in bacon and affixed to the coffin with a giant toothpick. Until then, I'm eating a lot of oatmeal, soy milk and lentils.

Day 42 - Mother's Day Approaches (The One with the Lanyard)
Despite the drawer full of lanyards that my son has made during two summers with the YMCA, we made gift baskets that were completely lanyard-free.
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Enjoy your Mother's Day and do something nice for someone you love!

Friday

Day 43 - Koming Klean

This evening, I re-read the old posts from Day Zero to yesterday. Over the last few days, I've gotten calls and emails from friends and family who just started reading the blog, read from the beginning of the experiment, and were concerned about me. I almost felt that I should add a Spoiler tag that says "I cheer up on Day 16."

When I wrote about feeling frozen out by some friends, I didn't realize then that my whole perception of time had shifted. Three or four days or a week or so were enormous expanses of time to me but not so to people still stretched by the Monday to Friday work schedule. In the meantime, I've caught up with those friends and now understand that they were busy and distracted. Going in the other direction, friends have sent me job leads that I have not jumped on with immediate responses as I have continued to wrestle with trying to figure out just what I want to do next. I appreciate the opportunities and the caring on which they are based; please forgive my faltering replies at times.

I think of the times when I was slow to react to a transition in the life of an acquaintance — quick emails I didn't write, phone calls I didn't make, funerals I didn't attend — all the times when I didn't seek out people as soon as they may have needed to hear from someone; I resolve not to make that mistake again. Each person's emotional welfare is his or her own and there comes a time to take the Big Boy or Girl pill, but none of us appreciate how truly far the ripples from our little pebbles go.

Looking over the old posts, I see that there are a number of stories, big and little, left unfinished. Are the raccoons gone? Are the weeds flourishing or flambéed? Am I dumping the 25 pounds by self-discipline or through amputation? Where's the bird house? Will my mother be opening a box with a lanyard in it and, if so, what will she do with it? Will the rain let up so that I can be funny again tomorrow or will there be more cloudy weather and navel-gazing? Will I get in gear and look for a freakin' normal job or have a brilliant self-employment idea before I run out of daily living expenses? As they said on Batman, for the answers to these and other questions, tune in tomorrow.

Thursday

Day 42 - Mother's Day Approaches

Hey, anyone get about 15 emails today from florists reminding you that Mother's Day is at hand? If you are intending on sending flowers — and it's a bit late for this year, though nothing that paying extra charges won't fix — remember to check for discount codes that can be used at checkout for online orders. There are a number of these sites around but RetailMeNot (http://www.retailmenot.com/) is easy to remember. Searching on 'coupon codes' will find others. Another popular site is Coupon Chief (http://www.couponchief.com/).

For non-floral gifts, I like Red Envelope (http://www.redenvelope.com/) for a nice cross-section of products and dependable delivery. I get absolutely nothing out of mentioning sites with which I am familiar other than a buoyant hope that I've saved someone else some time and aggravation.

If you are struggling to find something less commercial and more personal, former US poet laureate Billy Collins has a suggestion.





Here is the poem put into card format. http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0B2uZ86rR3vRfOGNmYzg3ZjYtNTQxNi00MjQ2LWI1ODctZWVlMWJjNDhmOTFi&hl=en

For other basic templates including the ever popular coupons for a free back rub or whatever your little heart dreamed up: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/results.aspx?qu=Mother%27s+Day&av=TPL000

And here is how to make a lanyard http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Box-Styled-Gimp.

My daughter gave me this card and poem ... and lanyard ... once upon a time.


Wednesday

Day 41 - Weed n' Feed? Indeed!

This plaque appears in a display at the Arboretum. Let's applaud the Behrens, whomever they might be. It takes a certain whimsy to sponsor an exhibit of weeds in an Arboretum. It's like bringing your lima beans to Dairy Queen.

At the Arboretum, the weeds are planted in plastic enclosures to keep them from spreading their unrevealed virtues throughout the cultivated beds.

Attributing the quote to Anonymous (a guy who gets credit for a whole lot of quotes!) seems to give short shrift to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, "What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered." Maybe they were concerned about a mob of unruly Emerson descendants demanding royalties.

So, weediness is a subjective perception. I suspect my neighbor, Mrs. Clean, the neighborhood informant, may not be enthused by the natural prairie rain garden that I designed on the front lawn last year.

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them. ~ A. A. Milne

A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows. ~Doug Larson

A weed is but an unloved flower. ~Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I went to a class this evening entitled Garlic Mustard, A North American Noxious Weed. In 1.5 hours, I learned so much about the reproductive cycle of garlic mustard that I felt more like a voyeur than a gardener. The attendees, consisting of 25 mostly elderly people and me, had signed up for this free city-sponsored class in order to know the enemy and kill it. The instructor is deeply and perhaps almost pathologically involved in the battle of city against weed and admits to losing sleep in the springtime, tossing and turning while agonizing over the specter of uncontrolled weed propagation. (As previously mentioned, I don't, and couldn't, make this stuff up.)

I didn't take on this task of volunteer vegetation killer lightly or without forethought. My backyard is full of the stuff. If you haven't seen it before, this is a view almost anywhere in my backyard:
Garlic mustard was brought to this continent from Europe in the 1800's as a garden plant for its tangy leaves. Belatedly, it was noticed that this plant has no natural enemies in North America, with the possible exception of the woman who teaches this class. By the year 2000, this plant had been demoted from garden plant to weed and had spread throughout most of the US north of the Mason-Dixon line.

In Minnesota, it's technically a listed prohibited noxious weed with consequences for having it growing on your property. With the millions upon millions of the plants in Minnesota, the prohibition is more a subtle head-shaking, so don't expect a midnight knock on the door from the Noxious Weed Police.

So I signed up for this community service class. It was a cold, gray, blustery day and my enthusiasm for trying out my job hunting 'elevator speech' on innocent strangers had fallen with the dropping Fahrenheit. I went to the class with the preconception that the way to get rid of the weeds was probably to pull them out before they have seeds or spray Round-up on them. One and one-half hours later, I left with the knowledge that the way to get rid of the weeds is to pull them out before they have seeds (preferred) or spray Round-up on them (for any lazy environmental slackers out there).

One participant was thinking wonderfully outside the box when she suggested that we should just eat the plants and kill two birds with one stone. Perhaps more people would attend a public seminar entitled, "Free Food in Your Backyard" than one detailing the apparently demonic growth cycle of a weed. The state could give out cookbooks.

If your yard has been infested and you want to get the bite on the invader, you could try these recipes:
http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/edible/msg0420561126968.html

Garlic mustard is strongly flavored. Most recipes use it to add a savory note mixed with a larger quantity of a milder ingredient. Like cassava roots, apple seeds and almonds, it also contains trace amounts of cyanide -- a little special zinger that I generally want to avoid in my consumables. So, another reason not tuck into a giant bowl of it by yourself. Perhaps a gift for someone you don't like very well? "I made you something special. Here, have a dish of cyanide-laced lawn clippings ..."

If you do get an urge to de-mustardize your domain, this presentation describes exactly what to do at which points in the plant's biennial life span:
http://www.eminnetonka.com/public_works/natural_resources/restoration/documents/garlic_mustard_presentation.pdf

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Struggling to find something meaningful to send for Mother's Day? Check out tomorrow's post.

Tuesday

Day 40 - Porkus Hears a Who

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." — Dr. Seuss

I've had some uplifting communications with former coworkers over the last couple of days. I'm everlastingly grateful to them for their gifts of humor, strength and companionship over the years.

In honor of them, here is a gift of twisted Seuss-ian poetry as he might have written about my former employer, the all-too-impeachable 'Porkus' Computer Systems. For those of you -- you know who you are and so do I -- who may wonder if I wrote a non-family-friendly version of this, well, you'll just have to wonder. Feel free to submit your own stanzas.


Porkus was busy,
So busy you see,
They added new branches
Like leaves on a tree.

They added them Up,
East, West and Down,
And whenever they could,
They hired a klown.

Thing 1 and Thing 2,
They grasped at each dime,
And wrestled for power
Like brothers in crime.

"Our factories are full,
Our checkbooks are sunny,
But we want
MORE ... MORE ... MORE
Of the money."

"You all try to cheat us
And swindle our dough,
Workers and customers,
You all have to go."

Then they thought up a plan
So evil to do
That the truffletrees trembled
For Thing 1 and Thing 2.

"We must scare employees,
Put them down in the dumps.
I know who we'll hire!
An old bat wearing pumps."

"Next, we'll jettison customers
of the Porkus PC
By removing that thing
That they call Quality."

"We'll drive away sales
Let them fall PLOP ... PLOP ... PLOP
And blame the employees
And say you're an ESOP."

"Let's crush them with labor
And triple their work,
And out in LA
Let us hire a jerk."

"He'll make a Call Center
Where clients are hurled
And he'll make it sound
Like it's in the Third World."

"American workers,
They get too much pay.
Let's send it to China
For two bucks a day."

There was a recession.
That much was true.
A chance to dismantle for
Thing 1 and Thing 2.

They gathered the klowns
And shared the big goal
And said, "Go close branches
But don't tell a soul."

"Tear down what we built.
Suck it dry for the cash.
We'll invest it in cupboards
And then make a dash."

And, in the end,
It was sad but it's true,
All that were left
Were Thing 1 and Thing 2.

No employees for payroll.
The phones will not ring.
The buildings are empty
Save just one thing.

The last piece of Porkus.
On the carpet it sat:
The tiny black heart
Of the old HR bat.

They threw a big party
On the cabinet side
And grinned a sick grin
With their mouths open wide.

"Silly employees!"
Thing 1 lit the rockets.
The term 'ESOP' stands for
"Everyone Stuff Our Pockets."

Monday

Day 39 - Tears of a Klone

The Minnesota Zoo has a cloned bull the size of an SUV. His name is Lantz 2. It must be presumed that his "father" is Lantz 1, though it doesn't really say anything about that on the sign. The zoo doesn't use him for breeding. Having grown up in an agricultural area, I can tell you that breeding is really the only reason that you'd keep a bull around. They are foul-tempered and dangerous and they eat a lot. (I'm reminded of my brothers when they were teenagers before they became the wonderful men that they are today.) The Zoo's marketing material says that Lantz 2 is a "valuable educational tool" giving "visitors a chance to learn about and discuss issues in the future of farming." My daughter wanted to know why he had a big earring in his nose. Not sure that this is the type of issue discussion that the sponsor had in mind.

In a world where there is so much bull, we shouldn't be surprised to discover that it's just a copy of the bull that came before. As they say -- Same bull, different day.

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Here's a rare chance to test and maybe improve your mind while actually doing someone else some tangible good. Free Rice http://www.freerice.com/index.php is a site run by the World Food Programme. Select from 13 different topics and answer increasingly more difficult multiple choice questions. For each correct answer, the WFP donates 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program. It's strangely addictive to watch the grains of rice pile up in the wooden bowl.

Sunday

Day 38 - Komic Sans Bans?

While I was at Porkus I used the font Comic Sans for most of my reports and forms because I liked the clean lines, appreciated that the font set was loaded on all our office PCs as part of the basic installation and wouldn't be transformed into the dreaded boxes, and because the name reinforced my developing belief that I just might be working for klowns. On the latter, I would have used a font called "Pearls Before Swine" to underscore the same point if it had been available.

I also thought comic sans looked cool and creative in that "I don't need to impress you with my archetypal coolness" sort of way. Belatedly, I found out that I am not cool, never was, and -- in the opinion of my children -- am not likely to be cool anytime in the future.

Another jolt is that there is a group of people who have deemed comic sans not only uncool but a basic insult to the fabric of the universe. The movement to ban comic sans started in 1999 and is said to be picking up adherents.

What's not to like about comic sans? The font was based on the hand lettering used by artists of classic comic books, so there's genuine geek cred. Unfortunately, it was developed for Microsoft Bob, widely regarded as the New Coke of user interfaces. The font's use spread and the detractors cite its jarring misuse in dire warning labels written in the whimsical style. It brings to mind the old Steve Martin routine where he demonstrates that no one can be dismal while playing the banjo.

Here's the Wikipedia's take on the font that many love to hate: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comic_Sans

And the site of the Ban Comic Sans group, complete with petition:
http://bancomicsans.com/main/

They must have infiltrated widely because I can't change this post to comic sans without HTML heavy lifting. Google "Comic sans must die" for more examples and chatter on this nearly meaningless but somehow both enduring and endearing kerfuffle.

Saturday

Day 37 - LinkSync

This was a throw-away day spent going to baseball games and doing errands, just the perfect day for meandering through links.

Want to send that fabled Message in a Bottle and see what comes back? Try http://www.oceangram.com/ It's been interesting to watch this site develop over the years. They now boast an impressing array of bottle-themed gifts.

Speaking of messages in bottles and in the throes of an 80's flashback, here's Sting: http://s0.ilike.com/play#The+Police:Message+In+A+Bottle:14918:s141406.16877.8650394.1.1.10%2Cstd_4e5d408d158e588d61e4ec4e9f8fb2be

Sting is an avid supporter of preserving the Rain Forest and also advocates responsible population growth. Sting has six children so this was perhaps a realization that came to him later in life or maybe the rich are simply different. Want to keep track of the estimated world population? Go to Worldometers http://www.worldometers.info/.

Worldometers also tracks the amount of money spent on video games in the world. This would include Guitar Hero II where Sting's Message in a Bottle appears in set 2, "String Snappers." Want to gain a strategic advantage? Check out these cheat codes at Cheat Code Central http://www.cheatcc.com/. I'm intrigued by the code for GHii (http://www.cheatcc.com/xbox360/guitarhero2cheatscodes.html) that makes the audience appear with monkey heads.

As you progress through your mock rock career in Guitar Hero, each level finds you driving the van across the country to better venues and larger audiences ... that you could fill with monkeys, apparently. From the Rain Forest.

Planning your own road trip? Be sure to include the world's largest catsup bottle in Collinsville, Illinois.: http://www.catsupbottle.com/

How many people would it take to put a message in that bottle and throw it in the ocean? New category for Worldometers?

Having now gone full circle, is this Intranet synchronicity? The Skeptics Dictionary says that the concept of synchronicity is some crap that Freud's student, Carl Jung, thought up with his other batty ideas. http://www.skepdic.com/jung.html

But we all know that Synchronicity is Sting's fifth and final album with The Police. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synchronicity_(album)