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.


Day 307 - Rhonda's Rules of Order

Daily Kup (My Life in Order)
I spent the day preparing for the Annual Meeting of the local Girl Scout Council. In a moment of weakness and guilt, I volunteered to be a delegate and now face the prospect of spending the whole day at a local high school where I might get to practice the Robert's Rules of Order that I had to learn to complete the delegate training.

Rhonda's Rules of Order
Robert seems to have been a bit of a control freak. Since my upcoming meeting promises to be about 98% female, some modifications may be warranted:

"I move" ... when I damn well feel like it.
"You can take the floor" if you have mopped it. Otherwise, get those boots in the tray and grab some paper towels.
I am my own quorum.
"I call for a division of the house" is now literal and has nothing to do with asking for a vote by actual count.
Debates that were previously ended with "I move the previous question" don't end until I leave the room. And may reappear without warning.


Day 304 - Pay Close Attention

Daily Kup (My Life in Close Attendance)
I'm thinking that I should take down the Christmas tree, but it's currently doing two very useful things: 1) Blocking a draft from the north-facing front windows, and 2) Creating a needed, and I'm sure greatly appreciated, visual barrier between my husband dressing in the living room in the morning and my neighbors who already don't like me a lot.

Maybe I'll just leave it up until the weather is warmer and the sun comes up early enough to make the outside of the house brighter than the inside. I think it will look fine with Easter eggs hung on it.

Don't Pump Gas on Your Shoes
Don't you think that there must be a better way to say this?

The indirect association lends a certain free floating, fortune cookie nature to the whole thing. "A person?" Any person?

How about a person filling a gas can?

I suppose that Dickens, when he was composing the language on this sign, felt no need to explain the obvious reason for the request or simply knew that the sentence was much too long already.

I can concede the absence of a 'why' since the we don't insist that the "No Smoking" sign include an "unless you are planning on immolating yourself" clause.

Watch the nozzle closely while pumping gas so that it doesn't overflow.

Pay attention to what you are doing, loser.

Don't pour expensive, flammable liquid all over our driveway and the side of your car.

A person must encounter guilt processes if that were to happen.


Day 303 - Juiced?

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Unemployed Person)
Some days, there's not much going on. Since I attempt to do something new every day, the new thing that I'm doing doing is not doing anything new. Convoluted enough?

Jacked Up on Juice?
Fitness pioneer Jack LaLanne died yesterday at age 96. He was still in remarkable shape for his age. People often slip in the phrase "at his age" as a way of discounting, but photos taken well into his nineties show a mobile and vibrant person who continued to work out for two hours every day -- a true testimony to the healthy lifestyle that he advocated for eighty years.

LaLanne founded America's first health club in 1936. He rose to national attention as a result of his TV exercise show that aired from 1951 to 1985. I remember seeing him on my grandmother's huge old black-and-white console TV in the early 1960's, a time when even the top movie stars were flabby and no one thought anything about it. (For we carb lovers, this time is known as the "Golden Age.")

Later in his career, LaLanne marketed electric juicers with which he made his vitamin-laced health drinks.

So synonymous was LaLanne with these appliances that a wag, commenting on the announcement of LaLanne's death, posted: "Wonder if he'll be buried, cremated, or juiced?"


Day 301 - My Latest Vice

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Unemployed Person)

Well, here it is.

My latest vice:

What did you think I was talking about?


Day 300 - Thanks but No Thanks

Daily Kup (Good Klown Hunting)
Don't you hate it when some entity tells you that they are doing something wonderful for you that is obviously meant only to benefit themselves? Usually, there is a sunny presentation in a veiled attempt to distract you, the abused consumer, from the blinding truth.

I got this lovely four color flyer with my new local newspaper that thanks me for my patronage by telling me that they will be delivering a newspaper to me on days that are not part of my contract. And charging me for it

Well, what a delightful bonus that is. Congratulations! Your 13-week Sunday subscription is now 11 weeks since we decided to deliver a paper on the Thursdays before Martin Luther King Jr. and Presidents Days. And we'll extend the same courtesy to any week when the mail doesn't come on Monday. Lucky, lucky you. That's just the kind of swell, community-focused guys we are.

I checked the Star-Tribune website and they have not, however, renamed the subscription level to "Sundays ... and Convenient Holidays for Increasing Our Sad and Lagging Sales" plan.

Since I don't have a birdcage, the only reason that I get the newspaper at all is because it costs less than the cost of printer ink to get my coupons.

The other irony is that I like getting the holiday editions of newspapers -- I simply reject the falseness of being greased by my monopolistic supplier in the transparent guise of their selfless service.

Star-Tribune, don't puke in my punch bowl and tell me it's (enhanced) vegetable soup!

Announcement at 9 PM at a Local Mall
"It is now 9 PM and the mall is closing. For your convenience and to accommodate differing sales hours at our anchor stores, we'll be securing the interior mall doors now.

How is locking the main door between me and my car "for my convenience"? Wouldn't it be refreshingly honest for mall management to say "For our convenience" or "To reduce our overhead"? Even "We think you are a little fat and could use the exercise"?

Brutal Translation: We are locking the mall doors. If you are in an anchor store, you'll be walking around, chump.

Thanks for the Intent

I heard this joke from some well-known comedian on television and I can't remember who it was. If you know, please comment so that the comic will be correctly attributed.

A guy is in a diner. The wait person appears with his order and says, "Sorry we burned your fries, but we gave you some extra to make up for it." Guy says to camera: "If it's anything I like more than bad food, it's lots of it!"


Day 299 - Sleep On It

Daily Kup (My Life as a Mattress Tester)
I'm trying an experiment for the next week or two that may delay the timely publishing of my daily posts.

Sleep. At least seven hours of it a night.

I've heard about people who actually go to bed at what they snidely call a "reasonable" hour. I've always had a reason to stay up. When I was a drone at Porkus, I usually worked online from about 11 PM until 2 or 3 AM many nights since there were always invoices to process, reports to compile, or knives to take out of my back. After Porkus ("A. P."), I read or wrote my blog or played games until roughly the same hours.

Sleep deprivation is the ugly stepchild of a harried society. Starbucks may have saved Michael Gates Gill's life but it may be slowly killing everyone else who substitutes chemical stimulation for natural rejuvenation. And what's with all these ads for Five Hour Energy? There's one ad where the guy is almost suicidal about the effort required to get up, get dressed and have breakfast. One swig from the little bottle and he's bouncing down the stairway.

I could live with the laundry list of negative effects of sleep deprivation until I read the results of the latest research. Having insufficient sleep makes you fat. Hah! That explains it!

Since I usually eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after everyone goes to bed, I don't even need to think about increased cortisol levels to get a glimmer of why this correlation between sleep and weight may exist. At the very least, if you are sleeping, you are not eating.

I haven't had the medically recommended amount of nightly sleep since junior high school. Yes, there were junior high schools back in the Dark Ages. I taught Lincoln to do that thing with writing on the back of a shovel. And did he mention me in the Gettysburg Address? No gratitude ... but I digress.

So, if my posts are delayed during the next week or so, please know that there is a reason: I'm sleeping on it.


Day 298 - A Lump of Cole

Daily Kup (My Life as a Confused Parent)
Princess Potatohead is nearly six years old and has just had her heart broken. She was enamored of an "older man" -- a fourth grader -- named Cole. I didn't realize how doggedly serious she was until she turned down the chance to go to a Girl Scout Leader meeting with me (where the attraction is snacks) to tag along with her father to a Cub Scout pack meeting (where they do not have snacks but they do have Cole).

Snacks have heretofore been the one motivator that could be counted upon to get her attention, banish any funk, and, in general, be that magic carrot that has always worked. Ah, good times.

I've seen Cole and he's actually a pretty cute little boy as nine-year-olds go. Very Alpha male. BMOP (Big Man on Playground). Right side of the tracks and all that.

Through sobs this evening, we learned that she had inveigled the probably very perplexed Cole to commit to meet her on the playground at recess tomorrow. This in itself was a feat of negotiation worthy of a hammer-wielding ex-president since kindergartners are sequestered in the "upper playground" while the big kids rule the hallowed lower playground with the skating rink.

Using a very efficient elementary school form of Twitter, Princess Potatohead could not resist telling a few dozen of her pals about her upcoming "date."

The grapevine quickly stretched tendrils to Cole, who was apparently surprised to find that he was "dating" anyone, let alone a kindergartner.

On the dreaded schoolbus, Cole loudly pronounced Princess Potatohead to be "cuckoo" complete with the rotating hand motion around the temple. Attila the Son, ever the jovial bearer of bad news, left his assigned seat to repeat this loudly to his sister in case she hadn't heard it clearly enough.

People say 'sobbed inconsolably' with the two words stuck together tighter than Donald Trump and whatever that is on his head. Like 'veritable plethora.' You hardly ever hear of a plethora that isn't veritable. Or a sob that's successfully consolable.

Princess Potatohead sobbed for about four hours and this is not an exaggeration. She slowed down both out of exhaustion and because Mr. T. told her the story of his failed engagement. We were saving that story for high school and are now out of good material on heartbreak.

Whether you are five or fifty, you don't want to hear the only answer that seems to work: Time heals all wounds. And, if you wait long enough for the jerks to get theirs, time wounds all heels.


Day 297 - Can Starbucks Save Your Life?

Daily Kup (Last Week Redux)
In a stunning homage to last week, Princess Potatohead started the morning barfing in not one, but two, wastebaskets. Keeping that "sunny side up" attitude, it's a wonderful way to remind yourself to wash out your wastebaskets thoroughly.

While cold (DUH!), it's sunny with a startlingly blue sky. Sitting in my non-office this morning and writing a book review, I could hear birds singing. I pounded the side of my head with the heal of my hand and the sound was still there, so it must be so. Right?

Now why couldn't it be so beautiful yesterday when we drove out by the lakes with the camera?

A Cup of Kindness
I read an inspiring book over the weekend, How Starbucks Saved My Life - A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else by Michael Gates Gill. It's not a perfect book but that adds to the main message that some high-falutin' lifestyle may not be the most satisfying cup of tea ... er, coffee.

As a side effect of the espresso-tinged product placement liberally dolloped throughout the book, I also have an uncontrollable desire for a mocha latte. Go figure.

I reviewed the book for Lunch.com, where you can read the review if you want to see a picture of me wearing a hen outfit. http://www.lunch.com/reviews/book/UserReview-How_Starbucks_Saved_My_Life_A_Son_of_Privilege_Learns_to_Live_Like_Everyone_Else-1561610-199519-A_Warm_Beverage_Subtle_Sweet_If_A_Bit_Frothy.html

For those with a paltry poultry interest:

A Warm Beverage -- Subtle, Sweet, If A Bit Frothy

Michael Gates Gill’s memoir might easily be subtitled "A Riches to (Cleaning) Rags Story" in which a patrician advertising executive tumbles from grace and finds himself needing a job – any job – with health insurance and a chance to be gainfully occupied. Through serendipity, he accepts a job at Starbucks and starts the long climb to regaining self-respect. With an extra shot.

Gill was the son of New Yorker writer Brendan Gill and was brought up in affluence in the New York social circle. The opulence did not quite overcome his loneliness for his absent parents and his lifelong need for their approval. He is plagued by being not quite enough by one standard or another.

Gill gets a plum corporate job with the help of an acquaintance from Skull & Bones, Yale’s secret society. From there, he rises up the hierarchy for 25 years through single-minded devotion to his career at the expense of his family and his dignity … and a little coattail riding. (Hey, could have been worse. This same career launch could make you President.)

Laid-off in his early 50’s, Gill makes a failed attempt at reemployment, destroys his marriage, uses up his savings, is diagnosed with a brain tumor, and finds himself in a Starbucks with the last of his dignity with the lint in the pocket of his Brooks Brothers suit. The young, female, African-American manager offers him a job. Having no other prospects, he accepts and is grateful to have a chance to show that he has any value at all in the world.

As a "Partner" in a green apron and lone white, older male employee, he scrubs the bathroom, stocks shelves, mops floors, and faces running the much-feared cash register. Caffeine is an eye-opener as Gill learns to let go of his past and appreciate the value of camaraderie, respect, and the dignity of engagement in his life and others’.

The pace of the book is leisurely with many side trips into the past. Gill’s family rubbed elbows with the upper crust of the day and he tells their stories matter-of-factly. After nuggets about Hemingway, James Thurber, and Jackie O, one wouldn’t be surprised to read, "While having dinner with my Dad, the Pope leaned over and said…" Still, the namedropping has a purpose in underscoring both the grandeur of his beginnings and the recognition that the past is, well, past. Gill’s much younger coworkers greet the story of meeting Frank Sinatra with blank stares, but are excited to learn that Gill’s daughter is making a movie with 50 Cent, of whom Gill knows only by name.

Some have questioned the book’s veracity or found it cloying or rambling or both. Keep in mind that a memoir has to contain the truth but it doesn’t have to be an encyclopedia of all the truth. While Gill skips over some details that would seem to be relevant (his first marriage, his failure to finish college, etc.), he is unflinchingly forthright about his weaknesses. His fears, big and small, echo true. So does his joy at finding a place where, unlikely as it seems, he discovers his true passion and learns to fit in.

What’s missing for me, much like a macchiato without milk froth, is an indication of the next step of growth. He learned the joy and satisfaction of tangible work and the importance of attitude and effort. He extols Starbucks and their positive corporate values to the point where the majority of his new life is working at the shop and then returning to his sparsely furnished attic apartment. Even if he overcame his personal snobbery to get to this conclusion, isn’t being the vassal of a coffee chain a lot like misplaced devotion to an advertising agency? Where does he truly make amends with his children, with his ex-wife, with his ex-girlfriend? When does he decide to volunteer at a soup chicken or use his second helping of fame to do some good for someone beyond his own soul or a cheery word to a Starbucks Guest? He wrote complimentary notes to his co-workers but does he sit on a bench in Central Park and enjoy the sunshine?

This is a charming book that reads quickly. Is an ad man always an ad man or can someone really change? I don't know, but the book gives one hope that one can build one's own island of happiness through insight, willingness to take a risk, and —perhaps — desperation.

Michael Gates Gill earned his redemption one latte at a time and he deserves the happiness that it has brought him. Now he needs to go one step farther. He learned that ‘up’ was not a direction that brought satisfaction; let’s hope that he takes his hard-won personal victory and moves it the nest step ‘out’ into the world.


Day 296 - Giving Back

Daily Kup (My Life in the Community)
With no school and a day off from work for Mr. T, we wanted to do something special and meaningful. With the recent translation of Martin Luther King Jr's birthday into a day of national service, we found many opportunities. Unfortunately, most did not suit the abilities of an 8-year-old and an almost 6-year-old.

Then we found Pastor Wes at Spirit of Christ Church in St. Louis Park. We spent half the morning scooping powdered laundry detergent into one load containers, making sandwiches, and assembling kits of basic hygiene products for adults and children in shelters.

Let me tell you, it felt great. In chatting with the other volunteers, we were surprised to find out that most of them were not parishioners of the small church but people like us who had searched the Internet.

Just for a moment, it seemed like maybe, just maybe, some of the world's problems could be addressed by groups of friends and strangers working together in church basements, schools, parks, and wherever people set aside an hour or two to take that step.

Want to spend an hour or two and accomplish something great? Your mom would be proud.


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. ~ Margaret Mead


Day 295 - Kazakhstan Part 29

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. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

We strode into the large room with its tempting delicate displays feeling that we were fully armed this time. We had a large bag of animal crackers, some blocks, some building toys, and a coloring book and crayons. We also had the only item that had been a hit on the last visit -- a small photo book with pictures of our home and family.

We sat on the wildly patterned sofa and waited. In time, a caregiver arrived with Nurlan. Since we had last seen him, they had given him a very short crew cut. The absence of hair made his chubby face look even rounder. He wore a little white T-shirt, jeans, and little red shoes. He entered the room with no hesitation like a bustling little general.

Inna the interpreter quickly stepped in. She bent down on her long, long legs until she was eye to eye with the chubby little boy. Nurlan's eyes darted here and there with an expression that seemed to say, "I have a lot of energy and I am planning on bouncing off the walls."

Inna explained who were were and why we were visiting. If this made any impression, there was no sign. Inna shrugged and stepped aside.

Knowing very little about three-year-olds, we were quickly laid out all the wonderful things that we had brought with us. Nurlan looked from item to item and seemed thoroughly unimpressed.
The one item in which Nurlan was overwhelmingly interested was Terry, particularly his beard. Nurlan poked, prodded, approached and retreated. He had a lack of interest for me that rode the border between invisibility and disdain. He was a little more attentive to Inna, but then again, she was so young and pretty that even a toddler could be attracted.

The wooden blocks had pictures on each side. The kit included sheets of paper with the completed pictures so that you could match the blocks on top of the paper. We were anxious to show Nurlan how the little deer or the birdies would emerge, but he was much more interested in piling the blocks up and knocking them down. Not only knocking them down, but doing so in the most dramatic way possible. When the plan turned to throwing the blocks from a distance painfully close to the rickety table of dishes, we attempted to distract the toddler and put the blocks back in the bag.

Nurlan was not one to be distracted easily. On one level, his tenacity was another sign of his intelligence. His eyesight was certainly good since there seemed to be no subtle movement that he couldn't detect.

Food! Yes, let's bribe him with food. Out came the bag of animal crackers. He grabbed it and stuffed a chubby hand into the top. A fistful of crackers was shoved into his mouth. And then another. He was like a conveyor belt with teeth. Feeling that things were again going wrong, we tried to get the bag away from him before he ate the paper itself.

We were very conscious of being watched and judged by the orphanage staff. Inna had retreated from the room to set up camp with her magazine in a chair outside the door, assured that we would prevent damage to the collectibles or die trying. The door was partially open to the hallway near the administrative offices.

The crackers were disappearing with frightening speed. With frozen smiles, we attempted to establish control over the uncontrollable. No dice.

I finally snatched the bag out of his hand and he screamed like I'd removed a kidney with a can opener. The sound echoed across the expanse of wood floors and bare walls. We froze while Nurlan grasped for the bag.

Inna stuck her head in and, assessing the situation instantly, uttered something in Russian that sounded a bit threatening. Nurlan slowed in his quest. In lilting English, she addressed us: "Next time, you might bring only a small amount placed in a little bag." She closed the door and presumably went back to her magazine.

Thoroughly stuffed, Nurlan slowed down enough to take a look at the coloring book. He seemed to be unsure of what to do with the crayons, but at least he didn't try to eat them.

Terry patiently demonstrated the use of the crayons and peace ensued for a few minutes.


Day 294 - All Aboard

Daily Kup (My Life at Scale Size)
We had a wonderful carefree day today. We went to Lowe's for a Cub Scout special activity on how to build the infamous Pinewood Derby car. We have two of these babies under our belts now from past years but every year is a new challenge as we think up wilder and more elaborate designs.

Later, we stopped at the library to research the date that Attila the Son was born for another Scout achievement. As though we didn't already have enough books -- and you can NEVER have enough books -- we dropped by a local church sale to browse for some more.

Informal Guide to Church Rummage Sales
I've gone to a lot of rummage sales at religious establishments and have learned that each denomination has certain characteristics that will help with your shopping. While this information is given tongue-in-cheek, there is a little grain of truth hiding inside. Test at your next rummage sale.

Catholics - most childrens' clothing, religious art, beaten up odds-n-ends; large selection of Reader's Digest Condensed books and trashy novels; usually a booth with good sloppy joes or thick soup; pricing is usually on the low end for all goods.
Lutherans - most unopened and unused gift items; holiday sweaters.

Episcopalians - High quality conservative clothing; good selection of hardcover business, educational and current books; higher prices.

Jews - Many children's items, including books and educational toys; seriously expect to haggle; delicious baked goods.

Methodists - Clothing is washed and ironed and/or freshly drycleaned; wide variety of practical goods like bicycles, furniture and kitchen goods; not much shiny or fancy.

Unitarian/Universalists - The most eclectic selection of books possible; a good source for natural materials and exotic, almost painfully sincere items.

Night Trains
The highlight of our day was a trip to the Twin Cities Model Railroad Museum in Bandana Square for the Night Trains exhibit. Every year, the Museum decorates their massive scale model train layout for Christmas. Tiny buildings display tinier wreaths on their little doors and miniature Santas dot the street corners. The Christmas Train, bright with lighted holiday patterns, takes to the rails amid the historically accurate Soo Lines and Great Northerns.

A new display of toy trains has taken over the building just to the north of the main Bandana Square. Multiple train layouts are displayed, several with button-activated devices to delight children of any age.

We ended the day at the railroad-themed Broadway Pizza, just right for the end of the line.


Day 293 - The Management Has Received Complaints

Daily Kup (My Life as an Electronic Sybil)
Ah, the magic of Fridays! This week was filled with activities from various charities and professional groups. Yesterday, for the Girl Scout Service Unit Leader Meeting, I whipped up a website and survey to gather input for the Annual Meeting for I volunteered, in a moment of chump-like optimism for the future of girlkind, to be a delegate.

I now have quite a number of sites and the trepidation that is starting to come from the need to develop some and maintain others. Since each site was birthed by some fractured portion of the psyche, I have to remember who I am and what my niche in the universe is at the moment.

This leads to ridiculous inner discussions like, "Should I promote this blog on my Facebook page where there is a large overlap between people who know me and readership or should Khrome face the Facebook?" (Porkus prepared me for this conundrum by giving me several simultaneous job titles and bosses to go with them.)

Several of me are going have a meeting and straighten it all out. I hope we all bring snacks.

Cat Lobby Unhappy with Air Temperature
A delegation from the Society of Cats Reacting Aggressively To Cold Households (S. C. R. A. T. C. H.) contacted Management today.

The group was apparently formed as a response to recent cost- and energy-cutting measures. They were quite fluffed up about the whole thing and threatened to launch a litter-writing campaign if conditions were not improved.

When the delegates were confronted with the Management Purview claws in their contract, they slunk away but vowed to return victoriously with tails held high ... at 3 AM.


Day 292 - An Inconvenient Utility Bill

Daily Kup (My Life by Programmable Thermostat)
My home has the original furnace and it works fairly well, except for being incredibly inefficient and therefore expensive to operate. When running, it sounds like two squirrels rubbing sticks together.

The water heater is relatively new, which means the seller was forced by city safety statutes to replace the old, exploding one when I bought the house sixteen years ago.

We struggle to be green and to tread lightly on the earth. We've put a blanket around the water heater and lowered the temperature on the burner. This last move was as popular with Mr. T, king of the 45 minute shower, as the threat of back hair waxing.

Through a combination of hibernation planning for the servers, switches on vampire energy-using devices, replacing incandescent bulbs, and crazed screaming at those who leave lights and appliances on, we've reduced our electricity usage by almost 20 percent.

We use our programmable thermostat and set the nighttime temperature low enough to keep the children in bed and the cats really fluffy.

I'm thinking that Al Gore should be proud of us right now.

CenterPoint Energy, our local supplier of the natural gas used by our furnace, oven, water heater, clothes dryer, and stovetop, begs to differ. They've instituted a new program to punish the 20% of their customers whom they consider to be high energy consumers by making them pay significantly more per unit of energy. It's a tiered program where I'm paying $0.363 per therm for the initial bit of gas that's about enough to run the pilot light and then the fee eventually goes up by steps to $0.756 per therm.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune recently published this story (see link) describing the strategy and results. I'm all for conservation and even personal sacrifice for the good of society but I'm pretty much out of ways to conserve more natural gas than we are doing now unless I can start knitting a new furnace out of steel wool.

Wouldn't that be the ultimate craft project? But then what would those two squirrels do for a living?

Ways to Lower Your Heating Bills
Keep the humidity high by flooding the basement.
Three words: Calisthenics on commercials
Wear a bathrobe of live cats.
Use husband as source of methane.
Get in the refrigerator -- it's warmer!
Decree Snugglies worn at all times.
Break out the dilithium crystals.


Page 291 - Oh, Say, Can You 3D?

Daily Kup (My Life in 3D)
What a beautiful day! Even Princess Potatohead's vomiting at sunrise could not overcome the glorious blue sky. Crisp air, gorgeous landscape, a small girl retching into a wastebasket ... just the normal stuff in our neck of the woods.

Attila the Son is doing a book report on Albert Einstein for his "people who changed the world" project. Maybe before Kollege Kid graduates this spring, we can wrangle a chance to meet Micky (http://klowns-in-my-koffee.blogspot.com/2010/08/day-132-klaim-to-fame.html), though I hear he gets touchy if you mention his great-grandpa. That must be the "special" Theory of Relativity.

3D or not 3D, That is the Question
The American Society for Quality (ASQ) meeting that I attended last night included presentations about 3D imaging techniques. My tiny geek sensors were all aquiver and the advancing technology presented truly interesting. If you have a few hundred thousand bucks lying around, I know a couple of guys who could set you up with some nice hardware.

Sure, they talked about dimensional inspection possibilities and non-destructive testing. Quality Girl was all tech geek jazzed, but Burning Khrome was bored until they got to the following stories.

Jay Leno has one of the 3d printing systems installed in his super-garage and uses it to create 3D images from which he can print plastic molds and then fabricate metal replacement parts for vintage cars. The presenter said that Jay imaged his face as well when their team was interviewing him. Why, Jay, why?

Check out Gizmodo for more info on Jay's 3D printer: http://gizmodo.com/5311414/jay-leno-uses-3d-printer-to-replace-rare-old-car-parts

In another example of 3D imaging that rocks more than imaging samples of rocks --
English alternative rock group Radiohead created a milestone video using this technology entirely with no traditional cameras or lighting. If only this technology could make lead singer Thom Yorke enunciate ...


Day 290 - The Adventures of Quality Girl

Daily Kup (My Life guarding the buffet)
One way to avoid re-taking the Quality professional certification tests that I took earlier in the year is to get additional training, take more tests, write a book, or attend a rubber chicken dinner. The latter seemed like a good bet.

"I'll take rubber chicken dinner for 0.6 recertification units, Alex."

For the unemployed and those with other dinner plans, there is a zero dollar meeting attendance option that fits the needs of those who wish to sit in the middle while everyone around them eats.

The table for the 'non-eaters' was directly in front of the buffet so that all the other attendees had to walk around us to get to the food. There was a time when that would have made me feel awkward but giving birth in a teaching hospital and two years working in a call center pretty much knocked out whatever embarrassment was residual.

The 'non-eaters' were mostly non-talkers as well, so dinner time went slowly. The sole exception was a long-haired Buddhist who bragged and name-dropped while occasionally slapping the side of his head to loosen water that he said he got into his ear because he wasn't used to washing long hair. And, again, I don't make this stuff up.

Quality people are an eccentric lot. They generally dress poorly. Many of them wear glasses. They mumble and avoid eye contact.

I felt at home.

During the lull amid the clacking of knives and forks, head slapping, and the other non-eaters playing with their phones, I had time to draw this cartoon.


Day 289 - The Garden Awaits

Daily Kup (My Life in a Snow Globe)
In my makeshift office between the living room and the dining room, the glowing monitor makes a central altar bridging two sets of huge double windows facing the snowy landscape. A light dusting of snow has been falling at a constant pace all morning. The winds kicks it up, sending silver sparkles across the lawn.

My grandmother believed in heaven. It's easy to think of her perched up there turning the handle on the giant flour sifter that uniformly and continuously blankets the yard in a precisely measured dose of snow just like she used to top a cake with confectioners' sugar.

The street itself shows no sign of pavement or even tire ruts. Three whitetail deer meander down the center and, alerted by an opened door, spring across a neighbor's yard into the white swirl. Another photographic opportunity missed.

Seed Catalogs
They are out there and they are coming. Any day now, the mailbox will reveal bright photos of fat, sassy vegetables and page after page of flowers and apples trees and tomatoes.

The Jung Seed catalog usually shows up first. Look for the picture of the onion next to a softball and the horseradish root that's really shaped like a horse ... if you squint and are optimistic.

And you should because gardening is about optimism.

Every year, the garden starts anew. Maybe this year, the Swiss Chard that every book says is so easy to grow will come up. Not enough room for corn, but how about adding an asparagus patch? And raspberries! Have you seen how much they cost in the grocery store? So many catalogs and only so much plantable space.

There will be time for this in February and March. For now, let the garden rest and wait.


Day 287 - Not Fair

Daily Kup
There are some days when trying to be funny or delve into the minutia of domestic life simply are not appropriate.

Not Fair
When you have small children, you hear, “That’s not fair” as a constant refrain. “It’s not fair that my brother got a larger bowl of cereal” even if the difference is one Cheerio. It’s not fair to have to go to bed at this time or have to do homework now or to have chores when a pampered friend wallows in TV and video games.

It’s not fair when good people lose their jobs to sycophants and posers or when children are warehoused in a society too poor or troubled to care for them adequately.

And it’s certainly not fair when some nutjob shoots blameless children or the elderly or public officials.

None of these things are fair and they offend us because we are all grown-up small children who have a good sense of what justice is and what it isn’t.

It’s a common response to say, “Life’s not fair, kid” and end the conversation.

I believe that we do a disservice to ourselves and to others — particularly to children — when we state a shallow version of the obvious and shrug. Yep, the outcomes are often not what we want and don’t match the inputs. Harold Kushner famously wondered Why Bad Things Happen to Good People and found comfort in knowing that we can't know.

Some bad, or good, outcomes are just probability. Wrong place, wrong time. She missed the plane and it crashed. My kids made me two minutes late and the car that sped through the red light hit someone else.

My good friend left work on August 1, 2007, and drove home over the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. A few minutes later, she heard many sirens and wondered what had happened. The bridge collapsed a few minutes after she had crossed, killing 13 people and injuring 145. The cause was later determined to be a perfect storm of original design defect plus contributing factors. One part shoddy work and two parts probability.

When we shrug away the vagaries of life’s unfairness, we miss the opportunity to tell children two things: First, that the cosmic coin flips and the results, both positive and negative, are random, largely incomprehensible and beyond our control. Second and most importantly, even when the world seems unfair, WE CAN BE FAIR in our dealings with others and in the quality of work that we do. Our efforts and the way we chose to live our lives are separate from any fluke of fate. "Life" may be unfair, but that doesn’t mean that we have to aid and abet.

On one level, it’s almost comforting to know that the Tucson perpetrator was a complete whackadoodle whose dysfunction was obvious to everyone in his orbit. It’s less personally threatening than the seemingly normal people, like those who surround us and our families, who suddenly commit incomprehensible acts.

On another level, why does a guy voted by his college as Most Likely to Fire into a Crowd continue wandering around? That’s not probability; that sounds like a failure of some people in a system to do the right thing.

That’s what’s really not fair.


Day 286 - Taxes, with Help from Gandhi and Walmart

Daily Kup (My Life Clinging to the Weekend)
It's ironic that for the person with — let us say — an atypical business week, that Monday no longer holds a sting but Friday still comes soft and gentle and with some giddy anticipation. Perhaps the joy that many feel as the end of a standard workweek approaches is in the air like ozone before a lightening storm. Yes, casual day!

Taxing My Resources
On January 3rd, the mail contained a thin paper book. Some of you may have received the same book. It was from our state government and contains income tax forms and instructions. We got two — one set for us and one for Kollege Kid.

I leave them on the coffee table, the pair of them. I want to carry them with tongs to some place where they can't scare the children but instead I let them stare at me accusingly while I avert my eyes.

It's a canned response, like Pavlov's dogs puking whenever they were audited. The irony is that my bookkeeping has never before been so perfect. Illustrating clearly that two negatives make a positive, I've never before had the time to devote to tracking and managing my money so completely ... and I've never had so little of it to track and manage. It's like Gandhi discovering that his pesky problems with laundry and closets were solved by extreme sartorial reduction. It's a weird relief.

But the fear still lingers. I should do the taxes by hand when the 1099's and W-2's and 1098's and all the other letters and numbers arrive at the end of the month, but I've become addicted to TurboTax. I love the big checkmark over the name and the words "Don't Panic" in large, friendly letters on the cover. (Thank you, Ford Prefect.)

The cheapest place that I've found to buy TurboTax so far this year is Walmart, since I've been too cheap to renew my Costco membership. I made my way to the Mart of Wal but unfortunately forgot to bring my nearly constant friend, Cam the camera. I was told about People of Walmart (http://www.peopleofwalmart.com) over the holidays, but I didn't believe that I would encounter the same phenomenon so close to home and in such infinite and perverse complexity. It's true. All of it.

And I thought taxes were scary!

Thanks, Larry and Tracey, for sharing this disturbing website.

Benjamin Franklin said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." I believe I encountered both at Walmart.

That's what you call one-stop shopping.


Day 285 - Social Media Haiku

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Unemployed Person)
Oh, ye local people, beware! The time of the Cookie Drive is almost upon us. Much time was spent today learning the Secrets of the Thin Mint and how to sell it to unsuspecting passersby.

Need a cookie fix? Come see me late in the month and I know a little girl who can fix you up with as many boxes as you want.

PS They freeze well. It said so in the training.

We're Off to See the Wizard. LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter, Oh, My!

When middle-aged people can find their junior high school teachers on Facebook, I think we can conclusively state that social media has touched a wide swath of the population.

My eight-year-old yearns to text. My ninety-five-year-old ex-father-in-law uses his laptop to pass on a steady flow of hypernationalistic gibberish and Internet hoaxes to his large circle of acquaintances in a well-intentioned attempt to ... well, I don't know why he does it, but he's pretty darn computer savvy and uses the technology to his advantage. With Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg as Time's Person of the Year for his contribution to an application that just signed up its 550-millionth member, it's safe to say that — if this is a flash in the pan — it's a pretty big pan.

Still, social media can be a little artless and isolating for all its immediacy. It's missing a little panache, a bit of poetry. Here's my shameless attempt to remedy that:

Social media
Like reality TV.
Photoshop my face?

LinkedIn, oh Linked In,
Vessel of my connections --
Anyone want to hire?

I like your content.
Lead the charge, then re-Tweet.
Now your fame is mine.

Smiling photo face,
Friends I never need to meet.
Got many; want more.

Faintly familiar
High school friend Facebook photos.
When'd they get so old?


Day 284 - Idyllic Snow

Daily Kup (My Life Applying Myself)
Each day has a sliver more of daytime than the previous and I find my mood elevating with every glimmer of sunlight. My Peter Pan side muddles in alternative employment while my Wendy evaluates brick-and-mortar opportunities to do exactly the same work I've done for almost thirty years. It's a classic battle and. like the good former defense contractor employee that I am, I am arming both sides.

The Wendy side gratefully reports that there has been an upswing in completely acceptable employment opportunities this week, a good sign for everyone grappling with the disappointing economy.

Shivering and Shutter-ing


Day 283 - Candycane Enable

Daily Kup (How to Clean Up in the Holiday Business)
Two days of peace and quiet have resulted in the restoration of order to what was a cluttered post-holiday household. It is again possible to walk through most rooms without resorting to performing either the limbo or Twister-type motions to move in a straight line. If it didn't move quickly enough, I vacuumed it. Apologies to sleeping cats.

The Reindeer in Spain are Really Quite Insane
My countertops are where unfinished projects go to die. Strike that -- that was the old me. Now projects are often completed. And the leftover pieces remain as clutter on the countertops. Hey, it's an improvement. Continual improvement - that's the goal.

Among this dying clutter on my countertop were several unfinished candycane reindeer left when my kids got bored after the first couple were glued.

For those hyper-organized people out there who want to get a jump on next year's holiday crafts, this is how to make a candycane reindeer:

1. Materials:

Little googly eyes
Small pompoms (nose-sized), red if you want to make Rudolph
Brown chenille stems (These were called pipe cleaners when I was a kid. Now, apparently there are either no pipes or a limited need to clean them.)
White glue, slick or glitter paint, or any adhesive that will bond light materials

2. Add eyes.

Use the adhesive to affix two googly eyes about one inch from the bottom of the short end of the candycane.

Tweezers or little fingers are helpful.

3. Glue nose.

Add a bit of adhesive to one side of a pompom and attach below the eyes almost at the end of the candycane.
It's interesting to experiment with feature placement to obtain different expressions from your reindeer.

4. Cut the chenille stem in half and form antlers at the top of the candycane's curve.

Having already made a small herd of "normal" reindeer, I found some other reindeer from the bad side of the pole.

Charles Manson Reindeer

Justin Bieber Reindeer

Reindeer seeking a transfer to the Easter department

Reindeer after a bad sleigh accident


Day 282 - Elf Debris

Daily Kup (What I Learned on My Reality Break)
The tribe has returned to school, to college, and to work and it is quiet. This is not the quiet of the scenic winter day but rather the silence that hangs over the site of crash landings after the ambulances have left. There are bits of wrapping paper, toys without assigned homes, the occasional ownerless sock, the flotsam and jetsam of the post-holiday scene. I wander through the wreckage like the victim of a head injury.

The tree has a few more days to go from a "Twelve Days of Christmas" perspective and I appreciate its company. It doesn't complain or ask to play video games or eat every few minutes; it simply shines and does its job.

I will be kind to myself today for this is my personal holiday, christened 'St. Buddy's Day.' In my fledgling mock-theology, St. Buddy died a painful death for the holiday cause. While wrapping gifts, he received a mighty paper cut. Searching for a band-aid, he took a wrong turn into a dark corner, lit a match to get his bearings, and was immolated in a flashfire of eggnog that was a little too seasonally spiked. It is in remembrance of him that we abandon our naked Christmas trees on the side of the road near the garbage cans like so many green, spiky winos.

I probably should lay off those New Year's Twilight Zone marathons.

Sartorial Splendor
On Day 279 http://klowns-in-my-koffee.blogspot.com/2010/12/day-279-new-years-perspective.html, I mentioned Mr. T and the Snuggie that he has been wearing that gives painful reality to the term "sad sack."

In case there is a quiz, here is a guide to differentiating between the two cylindrical objects in my house that are frequently plugged in near the TV:


St. Buddy would be proud.