Tuesday, September 30, 2003

RSS = NQSSS, Part 2 

(Really Simple Syndication = Not Quite So Simple Syndication)

More on the Adventures of Blog Syndication

When I last wrote on this topic a couple of days ago (see RSS = NQSSS, Part 1) I had managed to create my .rss text file and upload it to my server. I used a validator to make sure that my coding was good. I also placed an icon linking to my .rss file in the left column of this blog. So far, so good.

Today I decided to change the RSS icon in the left margin. This made no difference other than a visual one. The new logo (I got it from FeedValidator.org) proclaims that my .rss file has been successfully validated. Somehow I felt this could be important, and even if it’s not…I like this icon better, anyhow.

My next dilemma was how to get my blog noticed (it didn’t seem useful to keep jumping up and down on street corners, waving my hands in the air and shouting out my blog address). After doing a little online research, I quickly found two places to submit/register) the URL of my .rss file for consideration: Aggregator.UserLand.Com (I had to become a member of their site first, which is free) and syndic8 (which I did not have to join).

After I submitted my .rss file to Aggregator.UserLand.Com, they confirmed that my file was correctly formatted, showed me what my “channel” looks like from their point of view (it looked like a nicely formatted version of my plain text .rss file), and told me that they would get back to me pending approval. I am not too certain what it takes to get their approval, but I guess I will find out. I am also not sure what this site is all about…but I will continue trying to figure that out by exploring it.

I feel as though I am entering a whole new parallel universe.

Syndic8 offered two ways of suggesting a site: a) type the URL for the http site where my blog can be found, or b) type the actual URL for the .rss file itself. Not knowing which was better (or correct), I did both. I guess I will find out eventually. Syndica8’s home page proclaims that it is “the place to come to find syndicated news feeds on a wide variety of topics.” When I have time, I will be reading more here to discover what they offer.

I visited two other sites today as well. The first one was NewsIsFree.com. I used their form to ask them to add my site. They said they would get back to me. I have a feeling they will decline because it looks as though their site only adds news- or politically-oriented blogs. However, while there, I found a very useful link to an RSS Primer for Publishers & Content Providers. I liked this primer not only for the information it provided, but also because their logo looks like an Evil Eye, which was the topic for my blog yesterday. (See, everything in life just ties together?)

The next site I went to, Feedster, was easy to navigate and wanted both the URL to my .rss file, as well as the URL to my blog. They did not say that my site submission would be reviewed or anything; only that it would be indexed within the next 4 to six hours.

So, I didn’t get very much farther today…but I think that’s about all of the geeky-ness I (or my gentle readers) can handle for one blog entry. You’ll learn more when I do!

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Monday, September 29, 2003

Ick and the Evil Eye 

A friend gave me an evil eye pendent today. It fell out of her over-burdened purse while she was in my office and somehow it just had to become mine. It’s taped at the top of my computer monitor right now staring at me, myopic and ominous.

Besides being a complete and total psychopath of course, my friend obviously has some “issues” with superstition. I am fascinated by her numerous superstitions partly because I have somehow managed to grow up without very many of my own.

Spill salt, and I know enough to throw it over my left shoulder. (Or is it the right shoulder? I never can remember, so I usually do both, which has the effect of evening out my luck.)

I know not to ever put shoes on a table. (Although I can’t tell you why, other than it’s sort of gross. I mean, you go out to get the mail and you step on a snail. Who wants snail guts on your kitchen table?)

If I scratch my left palm, it means I am going to lose some money. Scratch my right palm, and I will be coming into some money. Or is it the other way around? I can never remember, so if I notice myself scratching one palm, I usually make a point of scratching the other, which probably makes me come up dead-even, money-wise. (This explains why I am not a millionaire, I guess.)

Walk under a ladder or let a black cat cross your path, and you are certain to have some bad luck fall upon you.

Bird flies into the house? Somebody’s gonna die, right?

Break a mirror? You got seven years of bad luck comin’ to ya.

Step on a crack? Break your mother’s back.

A few minutes of research on the Net proved that every culture has their superstitions. In Japan, they believe that if you lie down right after eating, you will become a cow. In Italy, if you hear a cat sneeze, you will be the recipient of some good luck. Greeks believe that crows foretell a death. In Russia, if you are going to buy somebody flowers, be sure to buy an odd number because even numbers are only for funerals. The Irish believe that two people washing hands together in the same basin are courting disaster. The Chinese have so many superstitions it’s a wonder they can even leave the house.

The evil eye superstition apparently has roots everywhere: Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, and Hindu people all seem to share the belief that a certain type of malevolent glance can cause injury or death or destroy somebody’s mojo (sexual power).

Jolique.com has this to say about the history of the term “evil eye:”

Personally, I always refer to this kind of creepiness as "the ick."

Typically, women are most often accused of having the ability to cast an evil eye. (Since we are wise and crafty, this does not surprise me.) Children are thought to be most vulnerable to the evil eye. (Since they are young and innocent, this only makes sense.)

In many cultures, wearing a special talisman (which actually resembles an evil eye itself) works to ward off the evil eye. Mother’s pin them on their children. Men secret them in their trouser pockets. Women wear them as jewelry. I suppose is why my computer is now sporting one. Hopefully it will now be protected against the blue screen of death and other such technological manifestations of the ick.

Thank goodness for generous friends and over-burdened purses. Now spit three times and turn around in a counter-clockwise circle…and be sure to leave this blog the same way you came in.

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Sunday, September 28, 2003

RSS = NQSSS, Part 1 

(Really Simple Syndication = Not Quite So Simple Syndication)

When "Simple" is a bit of a Misnomer

I spent much of my Sunday afternoon reading about (and tinkering with) RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication*-- or what I am currently referring to as NQSSS , or Not Quite So Simple Syndication.

For a self-proclaimed GeekyGurl, I am feeling really outta the techno-loop with regards to this topic right now. For example, I now have an RSS logo on this page, and I know that it is linked to an .rss file I created and placed on my web server, but I sorta feel like a modern artist who just sketched something even THEY don't recognize.

I think I learned just enough today to be dangerous.

As far as I can tell, RSS is a way for me to bring more visitors to my blog. (SELF syndication -- get it? Like a syndicated newspaper columnist, only on the web and unpaid.) One of the many sites I visited today said to envision it as a "distributable 'What's New' for my site." I am not entirely positive what that means yet.

An RSS file is a simple text document that contains placeholders for data. Like HTML, these placeholders have starting and ending "tags," as well as a standard syntax to follow. (If the word "syntax" throws you off, think of it as grammar rules for coding.)

So the first thing I did was create a text file containing the necessary coding, along with the titles and descriptions of my blog entries. Not being one to reinvent the wheel (or in this case the code), I copied (with permission, of course) the basic coding from Blog Bloke's site (see his blog for 9-20-03) and edited it to point to my blog entries. I then saved it as a plain text file with an .rss extension and uploaded it to my server.

Geek that I am, I even validated (made sure it was correct) the code and the validator gave me the thumbs up.

Since I know enough HTML to get by (heck, I used to teach it, so I should), the RSS codes were fairly easy to deal with. Since I know how to use FTP to upload a file to my server, I accomplished that very quickly as well. I even figured out how to add that little RSS link/button you see over there in the left column (it points to the .rss file on my server).

So that's as far as I got today. Now I have to figure out where to go from here. One article says that I have to go register my site with "news aggregators." Since I don't know exactly what that means, I guess I will learn soon.

If you want to learn about RSS syntax (and, honestly, who wouldn't?), this article by Jonathan Eisenzopf was the most helpful: Making Headlines with RSS.

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Saturday, September 27, 2003

Made in Pennsylvania 

I totally believe you can manufacture your own luck -- good and bad. I think anybody can have good luck if they can learn to recognize positive opportunities and then practice seizing them. And I think anybody can have bad luck by either failing to recognize good opportunities or just letting them slip away.

For example, everybody knows you can't win the lottery if you don't play it, right? So therefore, just by playing it, you increase your changes of winning from zero to something. Why not apply that same logic to luck in general?

As a writer, I don't have a prayer of getting published in a national magazine unless I actually submit query letters, right? So if I increase the probability of that happening by sending out 1500 queries instead of 17, then aren't I essentially manufacturing my own luck? Through my own diligence?

Likewise, I probably won't be killed in a fiery "bad luck" racecar accident at the racetrack if I don't put myself in that situation. By deciding not to be a professional racecar driver I have reduced the probability that I would die in that manner.

One of my least favorite sayings in the world is "If I didn't have bad luck, I'd have no luck at all." Saying that is caving in to the attitude that our own efforts count for nothing -- and blaming everything on fate, instead. How convenient.

I remember reading something years ago about Chaos Theory that said that even the tiniest of happenings can have huge consequences. The example given was how the beating of a butterfly wing in the rain forest can cause a windstorm in the desert. People do a million things every single day to manufacture their own luck -- both good and bad. It might be something so slight that it practically goes unnoticed, like smiling and letting another driver squeeze out ahead of you in a long line of traffic in the rain forest. Meanwhile, weeks later in the desert, there you are sitting at that person's desk for a job interview. There's something about you she responds positively to and you're hired! Like the butterfly, your tiny speck of positive energy had huge consequences.

Like attracts like. Luck attracts luck. A negative attitude attracts negativity like dust to a TV screen.

Want to be lucky? Seize every opportunity to share, smile, think positive, help others, and be kind. It works. Trust me; I'm very lucky.

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Friday, September 26, 2003

Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude 

Like most people I know, I bitch a bit. Not excessively, or anything. I am not one of those people whose phone calls you dread or whose conversation drags down a dinner party with negative energy. (In fact, a few months ago a casual acquaintance actually had the nerve to call me a "Pollyanna" because she was growing weary of me trying to spin our choral group's grumblings into something lighter and airier.) But I know I can bitch with the best of 'em.

I am trying to change that.

Like the bumper sticker proclaims, I am trying to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. I am trying to not only accept the good with the bad, but to actually appreciate the mundane. And I am continually on the look out for that grain of salt that we are supposed to take things with.

Life is short. And it's all we have.

I vow to embrace it.

I am going to figure out what I would do if I absolutely knew I couldn't fail? And then, I am going to do it.

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Thursday, September 25, 2003

Fear and Loathing in Las Silla Del Dentista 

I went to the dentist today to get my teeth cleaned. At least, that is what I thought. I conveniently “forgot” that I also had an appointment to get a chipped filling replaced. So there I am, in the torture chair, with the way-too-cheery-for-reality dental hygienist (she must inhale happy gas moments before every patient) complimenting me on the progress I’d made with my “pockets,” when the sudden realization that this wasn’t all there was to my visit hit me like a ton of toothpaste. It must have been something I overheard between the dentist and the chirpy receptionist, but suddenly I remembered that I had other work to be done. Damn.

It wasn’t bad enough that my jaw was throbbing me from a four-week-long bout with TMJ. It wasn’t enough that’d I’d been persecuting my gums nightly with not one, but TWO different kinds of floss. It wasn’t enough that I knew my way around the rubber tip end of the Butler toothbrush. I was about to experience the drill yet again. Double damn.

I admit to a lifelong utter fear of dentistry work. Not apprehension, not trepidation, not even mere dread, but rather a stone cold horrific fear of previously unknown human proportions. The kind of fear that raises blood pressure and induces the urgent need to urinate.

It’s not the dentist I fear; my dentist is a lovely mother of three who has a passion for Disney World and taking Caribbean cruises when out of the office. What I fear is the sound and the pain and feeling of vulnerability and the taste of my own blood and the smell of the instruments and even the strange yellowish lamp that swings precariously over my head. They all send my body into extreme panic mode.

I once had a holistic dentist actually throw up his hands and squeal in frustration at the amount of saliva I produced when under the drill. I am not joking. He apologized profusely afterwards and made a tasteless attempt at a joke by calling me a “very juicy lady,” but the fact remains it happened. I no longer go to that dentist, but I never fail to think about him as one dentist after another stuffs my cheeks full of absorbent gauze.

During my cleaning today the dental hygienist hit a place in one of my back top molars that made me simultaneously whimper, squint, grimace, lock my hands together and point both toes down as though I were having a seizure. From her reaction, I think she thought so too. I removed the ever-present saliva-sucker tube from the now-raw corner of my mouth and politely told her to please not go there anymore. She agreed. Her cheery patter pretty much dried up about then, and the cleaning ended soon thereafter. After watching globs of my blood swirl around the porcelain spit sick, I was moved to the Dentist's personal chair.

I have this thing I do whenever I am under the drill. I can’t remember who taught it to me, but I hold my hands in such a way that each hand is grasping the opposite thumb. Whoever taught it to me (probably the holistic dentist, as he was a font of this type of information) told me that it would help channel my energy in such as way as to help me relax. It’s sort of like holding your own hand, I guess. I have no proof that it helps, but I do it anyway. I also pray over and over…”Dear God, let the dentist do her job well. Please let this be over soon. Please don’t let it hurt. Please.”

Today my dentist said something that I would have only thought I would hear if David Letterman was doing a “Top Ten List of Things You Don’t Want to Overhear Your Dentist Say” list. After dropping something on the floor, she giggled and said “Geez, I am all thumbs today!” I am not kidding. I joked about it with her afterwards (inmate kissing up to the guard) and she told me that when she was in dentistry school the first thing they taught you was to never say “Whoops.”

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Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Driving Force 

My Guardian Road Angels were out in full force this evening as I tried to make my way to a dinner date. Guardian Road Angels are what I call earth-bound citizens who firmly plant their vehicles between me and wherever it is I want to go.

In this case, the restaurant was 28 minutes away, and I had 22 minutes to get there. This always brings out my daring asphalt angels. I can be on an empty road, with nothing between me and my destination but solid blacktop and a few sing-a-long Joni Mitchell songs, but the minute I realize I am running late, suddenly there are Guardian Road Angels coming out of every side street, all going 5MPH slower than I want to go.

This used to really frustrate me (to the point of increasing blood pressure and dangerous, not to mention rude, hand signals) until I decided to stop the madness and create my own little private sanity-saving fairy tail. I decided that they were all there for a reason: to protect me.

I have trained myself to believe in these Guardian Road Angels because it beats the heck outta getting shaking-fist, red-faced incensed at the slowpokes who always seem to be one car length ahead of me. The way I look at it, these people were placed in my path to keep me from getting in trouble somewhere down the road. Perhaps they slow me down enough to prevent me from driving into a ditch or getting t-boned by a tractor-trailer. Perhaps they force me to arrive at my destination seconds after the mad sniper has vacated the area.

Whatever the reason, keep on truckin’ Guardian Road Angels.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The Waiting Game 

7:30 a.m.
I awoke at 4:15 this morning, nervous about taking my husband to the hospital for minor outpatient surgery. He was awake too, but he was refusing to acknowledge it. I tried faking sleep, snuggling extra close and practicing deep breathing techniques. Although I think he actually fell back asleep for a few minutes, it was a useless exercise for me.

After a half-hour I finally gave up, threw on my reassuring Barney purple fleece bathrobe and headed for my basement office where I deleted junk e-mails, searched for a Dyson Animal vacuum cleaner on Amazon (I am besotted with these) and looked for a used harp on eBay (for some reason I feel like I should play the harp, even though I have never even touched one).

When the church bell alarm clock started bonging at 5:15 I joined my husband upstairs to get ready. As planned, we arrived at the hospital a few minutes before 6:00. The intake door was locked and no receptionist was on duty. (Good, let's go home--nobody's here!) With a foyer full of patients and family, it seemed as though the inmates were in charge of the institution.

Eventually we were able to get him registered and back to the Short Procedure Unit (or SPU, pronounced "spew" by the staff, believe it or not) by about 6:30. While he has getting changed I was asked to wait in a small waiting area, where the TV was absolutely blasting and the chairs were torture chambers. The fact that I hadn't had my morning cappuccino yet and my nerves were rattling made for a disintegrating mood.

I was able to sit with him for a while before he was taken to the operating room and then I was told to wait in the Family Waiting Room, which, luckily for me, has comfortable couches and a place to plug in my portable. The two grandmotherly volunteers in here managed to get almost every thing wrong with regard to my husband's info, with the exception of his name. They had him down for 9 a.m. instead of 7 a.m., they had the wrong doctor's name, and they thought that he was spending the night. What little confidence I'd had was plummeting.

I calmly corrected everything and fixed a strong cup of really bad (albeit free) coffee. Now the waiting game is on.

5:15 p.m.
Home now, with a hurtin' husband who's nurse encouraged "better living through pharmaceuticals." All is well, thank God.

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Monday, September 22, 2003

Working for a Living 

I have been working since I was 13, and I’ve had a lot of different jobs. I guess they all add up to who and what I am today, but as I look over the list I fail to see any discernable pattern other than consistent inconsistency:

And then, because of that scoundrel of a boss, in 1989 I started decided to work for myself and started ComputerEase, where I can do a little bit of everything…writing, training, desktop publishing, coaching, and plenty of learning.

What I mostly am learning is that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up…or if I am going to grow up at all. Ever.

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Sunday, September 21, 2003

A Month of Sundays 

Wouldn’t you love a month of Sundays? It’s my most favorite day of the week, even if my To Do list is a mile long or the weather is rotten. There’s something so soothing about having a velvety cappuccino sitting on the table next to me, and a chunky Philadelphia Inquirer sitting on my lap.

Droning in the background is the CBS Sunday Morning Show (which I’ve learned to Tivo now, so I can watch it when I want to watch it instead of when it wants to be watched), or “The Sounds of Sinatra” on the Sid Mark radio show.

On the best Sundays, the day has no structure – no place to be at a certain time, nobody to meet. I float from chore to chore, cheerfully crossing items off my list; I take special care with dinner (if I feel like it) and treat the dog to an extra two or three blocks (if he feels like it). I even like feeling a little lonely on a Sunday…but just a little.

The only problem with Sundays is that they end on Mondays. This link shows how time marches relentlessly: Industrious Clock (it may be slow to load, so be patient, which time is not).

Although it’s compellingly cool, don’t watch this clock for too long…especially if it’s Sunday. Just watch it long enough to grasp the concept of what a month of Sundays could be like.

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Saturday, September 20, 2003

Big Yellow Taxi 

It’s easy to take health for granted if you are in good shapre. Like anything you are accustomed to, until it’s endangered or gone, you don’t much think about it being there.

Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” (recently re-recorded by the Counting Crows) described this concept from an environmental and relationship standpoint:

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin' hot spot
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got 'til it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

They took all the trees, and put ‘em in a tree museum
And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got 'til it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT, now
Give me spots on my apples,
But leave me the birds and the bees
Please! Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got 'til it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Late last night, I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi took away my ol’ man
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got 'til it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”

I think there should be another verse added that describes the concept from a health standpoint:

“Hey doctor, doctor, tell me what I need to hear, now
Make me healthy and whole,
And don’t give me reason to fear
Please! Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got 'til it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”

A good friend recently had a health scare. I don’t know who it was tougher on…him, or the people who love him. He’s OK now…but I think he’s been changed slightly from the experience. I sense a keener zest for life…for good times…for healthy food…for fresh air…for the love of family and friends.

Don’t it always seem to go…that you don’t know what’s it’s got until it’s (almost) gone?

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Friday, September 19, 2003

Unchained, Part 2 

Earlier this week I was the recipient of an e-mail chain letter (see 9/13/03). Today I was the recipient of an emotional chain letter (ECL). If you are over 12 years of age and have any friends or family to speak of, you probably know exactly what I am talking about.

An emotional chain letter is started by somebody (call this person, “Person A”), who is mildly to moderately irritated or distressed by something, so they call somebody (call this person, “Person B”) and tell that person about it. Person B (who cares deeply about Person A, which is why Person A called him or her in the first place) now assumes the mantle of annoyance as though it were his or her own. (“I’ll take that moderate irritation and raise you some extreme aggravation!”)

So Person B decides to share this emotional endowment with somebody else (call this person “Person C”), who he or she knows also happens to care about Person A.

So Person B calls Person C right before bedtime to help assuage their own aggravation, leaving Person C up all night writing in their blog because he or she is now too worried about Person A and frustrated with Person B to sleep.

Meanwhile, Person A, who made the original call is probably over the whole thing and relaxing with a glass of wine in front of the boob tube. Person B, who has successfully lessened their own angst by sharing it with Person C is probably sound asleep.

And Person D, who was the final chain in this emotional chain letter and personal witness to Person C’s tossing and turning and moaning and bitching, has the earthy metallic taste of blood in his or her mouth from biting their tongue.

Ahh, the power of love combined with the second-to-last day of a Mercury Retrograde.

Somebody should invent an ECL filter.

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Thursday, September 18, 2003

It was a dark and stormy night… 

It is a dark and stormy night here on the East Coast. Hurricane Isabel’s winds are whipping the media into a furious frenzy and long lines are forming at the grocery stores as the media-made-frenzied folk stock up on bread and milk and duct tape.

Personally, I always go for the salt and vinegar potato chips – they can help me weather almost any storm.

I have always had a thing for big, bad storms. I embrace them. I love gigantic cracks of thunder that reverberate in my stomach and send the cat shivering under the bed covers. I am fascinated with lightening and always end up sitting by the window and watching it. But the wind is what steals my heart. Strong gusts of wind have a way of waking up your entire being. I love walking on the beach (or anywhere, really) when a storm is kicking up….letting the wind at my back push me along, or, at my front, try its best to impede my progress. Cheeks aflame; the entire world silent but for the rushing of the wind in my ears.

I think I love storms because of the way my mother handled storms when I was a child. When a storm was coming my mother would set out the candles and flashlights (the electricity was almost always certain to go out back then) and we would have a party. We would applaud the striking lighting and laugh with glee when the thunder roared. As soon as the electricity went out, my mother would sit at the piano and play to her heart’s (and my) content. I would dance in the living room…twirling and twirling…until we were both exhausted, or the storm was over.

In “To the Main-of-War Bird", Walt Whitman wrote:
Thou born to match the hale (thou art all wings,)
To cope with heaven and earth and sea and hurricane,

I think that’s me…all wings, ready to ride the hurricane winds…

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Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Nice Dirty Hands 

8:03 a.m.
The carpet installers are here! The carpet installers are here! And now I do the dance of joy! Out with the old dirty beige crap that I never would have picked in the first place (spec house=no choices) and in with the new pretty sagey-olivey green loopy Berber!

9:17 a.m.
Wow, is it a mess up there. I hope they clean up after themselves.

11:30 a.m.
Whoosh! The new carpet has already been installed in all of the extra bedrooms upstairs, AND in the piano room downstairs. I never imagined that it would be done this fast! It looks so nice! These guys work fast…and it’s already evident that they do clean up after themselves. (Thank God.)

3:00 p.m.
I looked down at my hands a few moments ago and they are really dirty and I don’t know why. I have no idea what I touched, but I have black machine-oil-type stuff all over my hands and now I see it on my shorts as well. I was just upstairs with the carpet installers answering a few questions about the master bedroom (almost done!) and admiring the NEW CARPET!

3:07 p.m.
I just played out this little 2-minute job fantasy in my head, where one of the carpet guys asks me why my hands are so dirty and I tell them that it’s because I have been down in my basement workshop building things. (I know that’s pretty vague, but I don’t fantasize much.) I actually got so much pleasure in this innocuous little fantasy that I had to laugh out loud.

How cool would it be to actually make something…a piece of art, a beautiful cabinet, a graceful sculpture, a carpeted room? How wonderful would it be to sit back and see what you made…to finish it, admire it a bit, and then give it to a happy client and be done with it…to then move on--look forward to, even--another project?

The carpet installers working upstairs right now will leave at the end of the day knowing that they completed their job. In my line of work, it feels like I never complete anything. I have owned a home-based computer training and technical writing company since 1989 (ComputerEase), but mostly what I do (personally) these days is technology and business writing. But since so many of my projects are technical in nature, and technology changes every freakin’ second, I feel as though nothing I ever start actually gets finished! I swear that I am still working on some projects that were born in the early 90’s!

So when I looked at my hands, I got to thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great to have nice, dirty hands after a day’s work? To be able to wash off the grime and leave the work behind? To not be compelled to answer the business line while I am cooking dinner?”

I somehow imagine it would be a very satisfying feeling. In writing, nothing ever seems quite “done” enough. I haven’t met a sentence yet that I couldn’t rewrite if given enough time. (I revised that last one at least four times.) And if you’ve ever worked with programmers or technology project managers, you know that they’ve never seen a line of code that they couldn’t modify, which means that my job is never done.

This is not a complaint about my work – I love what I do, and I am grateful for my ability to earn a living without working for somebody else. And I guess that, technically, I do create something (an article, a user guide, a training program)…but I just now had this intense longing for manual labor when looking at my dirty hands.

This is also not a complaint about working at home – I enjoy being able to take the dog to the park in the middle of the day; I take pleasure in attending a teleconference in my pajamas; I like being able to work at strange hours to accommodate my husband’s shift work. It’s just that, for a fleeting moment, I imagined what it would be like to get your hands dirty at work, and I liked what I saw – the simplicity, the wholeness.

Maybe I need a new hobby?

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Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Must. Go. Costco. 

Hello, my name is Karin* and I am a Costco addict.

There, I’ve ‘fessed up. They say that admitting to a problem helps you overcome it, right? Not that I necessarily want to overcome my Costco addiction, but I think if I don’t at least suppress it somewhat I could be in for big trouble somewhere along the line.

Wait…am I already headed towards disaster by admitting that I don’t want to kick my habit?

Costco’s square-shouldered, putty-colored stone façade beckons to me whenever I pass. Why they ever put one right next to my gym, I cannot comprehend. They should have realized the magnetic pull the place has over babes in spandex.

Hang on…was that the corporate siren’s heinous plan?

I actually look forward to going to Costco. For me, it’s the prom of shopping experiences. I always have a “Costco list” on my kitchen counter, ready and waiting for those just-gotta-have items to be added. (Although why anybody, let alone a two-adult household, actually has to have 48 rolls of toilet paper, is beyond me.) However I almost always forget to bring the list, which means I usually have to go back in a day or two.

Hold on there a minute, bucky…do I do that on purpose?

I love the whole Costco shopping experience. Before I exit the car I make sure my Executive Gold Star Membership card is in my hot little hands, so I can just flash it and breeze right by the head-counter (an hour early than “regular” members, I might add). I walk in briskly and immediately slow right the hell down…basking in the glow of the fluorescent lights and drooling over the right-by-the-door, eye-catching special values. Even if I am there to buy one or two specific things, I ogle the jewelry, caress the clothes, sniff around the bakery, man-handle the meats, feel the fruit, buy books by the cart-baby-seat full, and wait way-too-patiently in line to pay. It’s never less than a hundred bucks. I don’t care if I was just there yesterday; it’s never less than that.

It’s only money…I’ll make more of it. What, me worry?

At the neighborhood block party last summer, my fellow Executive Gold Star Membership neighbors and I goaded one “regular” Member so badly that one of the first things he did when he arrived at this year’s picnic was to present us with his Executive Gold Star Membership card. We passed it around like it was a new PDA.

Oh my goodness…did we cause this? Did peer pressure make him want that 2% back, early entry, and exclusive monthly magazine?

And now for the seriously deranged part…my husband and I have Costco “dates.” We have gone there JUST for the hot dogs and sauerkraut. And no, I am not joking. (Note that these visits do not technically count as shopping trips because we enter through the exit--so don’t go holding that hundred bucks a trip statement over my head.)

Besides, how can you beat a meal for two for less than four bucks (including two large refillable sodas and gas)?

We had a dinner party for family around Christmas last year and I was actually getting embarrassed because every time somebody would ask me “This is delicious; where did you get it?” or “That’s beautiful, where did you find it?” I had to answer “Costco!” I think my family is ready to do an intervention on me.

Should I seek a 12-step program? Is there a Mega-Shoppers Club Anonymous? (Preferably one that is exclusively for Executive Gold Star Members?)

*Name changed to protect the embarrassed.

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Monday, September 15, 2003

What’s On YOUR iPod? 

I bought a 30-gig Apple iPod (nicknamed ShyPod) a few months ago and, while the beginning of our relationship could be described as a torrid affair (I think my sneaking away to tend to it while blatantly lying to husband that I had to run downstairs for a sec to “get something from my desk” counts as an affair of sorts), lately it’s just seemed like a really beneficial friendship.

In the beginning, I spent days loading songs from CD's into iTunes and then onto my ShyPod. Then I dedicated hours to organizing the tunes in my iTunes, to make my ShyPod easier to navigate. (Small screen + long names = need for creative truncated alternatives.) Since then I have spent a small fortune on the iTunes Music Store site…hopelessly addicted. I love the entire concept…the look, the feel, the sound, everything. Well, everything except for the earphone buds. I have purchased four different pairs of earphones and still don’t own a pair that combines comfort with great sound. (Any suggestions?)

I now have 2571 songs on my ShyPod and still have 12.46 gigs left! What a great gadget! Some of the artists/composers on my iPod: America; Andrea Bocelli; Ani DeFranco; The B-52’s; Bach, Beethoven, Brahms; Billy Joel; Bob Dylan; Bonnie Raitt; Bruce Springsteen; Buena Vista Social Club; Carly Simon; The Clash; Chopin (dream piano nocturnes), The Commitments (my favorite movie); Counting Crows; The Cranberries; CSN&Y; Dar Williams; David Wilcox; The Doors; Ella Fitzgerald; Elton John; Enya; Etta James; Frank Sinatra; The Jayhawks; Joe Jackson; John Mayer; Johnny Cash (rest his soul); Joni Mitchell (my idol); Kristian Rex (my brother); Lucinda Williams; Michael Nyman (The Piano); Miles Davis; Nancy Griffith; Neil Young; The Nields; Norah Jones; Paul Simon; Peter Gabriel; Rickie Lee Jones; Santana; Sarah McLachlan; Sheryl Crow; Steve Winwood; Suzanne Vega; Talking Heads; Tom Petty; The Wall Flowers; Warren Zevon (rest his soul); and YES.

I also put unabridged books on my ShyPod – great for listening to on long walks or having a bedtime story read to you. I have Andrew Weil (for health issues), Bill Bryson (to assuage my travel bug), Dan Brown and James Patterson (for my mystery kick), and Paul Pimsleur’s “Learning Norwegian” series, which helped me enormously when I visited relatives in Norway this past summer. Ya!

I use my ShyPod when I walk the dog, wait for appointments, drive in my car, beat my insomnia into submission, rollerblade, and when I exercise. (OK, the last one is a lie; I don’t actually exercise, but I plan to. In fact, I think I will go take a walk right now…

…too late, Hurricane Isabel has send us some rain!

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Sunday, September 14, 2003

Where I Was 

Earlier today, somebody asked me where I was on 9/11/01. I didn't much feel like talking about it then, but I sorta feel like writing about it now.

I was at the vet with my much-loved Golden Retriever Rusty Angel, and had just found out that he had a second lung tumor, and not long to live, so I was very, very sad. I stopped at the local CVS to pick up a prescription and got in line at the pharmacy. The lady who was being waited on ahead of me turned around to leave and it was apparent that she was very upset, so I asked her if she was OK. She was crying and said, "Haven't you heard the news?" I said I hadn't, and she told me that a plane crashed into one of the World Trade Towers in NYC. At this point, I was thinking it was just an accident, like everybody else.

I quickly got my prescriptions and got back to the car and tuned in the local news radio station. I picked up the cell phone to call my husband, but immediately, it rang. It was my husband calling me to tell me that my brother had called him with news of a plane hitting the towers and that I should come right home.

I walked into my house, where the scene on our too-large-for-this-purpose television was the second plane slamming into other tower...over and over again. I called my very distraught brother, who lives in NJ, about 90 minutes out of NY. His wife works one block from the Trade Centers and he hadn't yet been able to reach her. I was on the phone with my brother when the first tower collapsed. I have never heard a human make the kind of anguished cry that came from the other end of my phone. He was convinced that his wife, like the tower we’d just watched collapse, was gone.

We were to be counted among the "lucky" that day -- my sister-in-law made it home (albeit much later that night) safely. She had been in her office, which faced the towers, and bore unwilling witness to the second plane hitting, as well as to the mass exodus from the immediate area. She made it onto the last subway into midtown, and didn’t even know that the first tower had collapsed until somebody told her to look.

It was a horrible morning, followed by an unforgettable mourning.

Rusty Angel died less than 2 weeks later. The two events are forever linked in my mind; I can't think of one without thinking of the other.

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Saturday, September 13, 2003


A friend from college (circa 1982) sent me an e-mail today. It was a chain letter—you’ve probably seen it – it’s the one that declares that Bill Gates is sharing his fortune. It states that, if you are a Windows user, you should forward this message to all of your friends and soon you will be rich. The first few lines of the message contained “this was on the news” and “I got this from my friend so-and-so, who is a lawyer and knows about these things” (which should be a showstopper right there).

When I have the patience for it, what I usually do when I get these kinds of messages from somebody I care about, is to look the hoax up on one of the web sites that catalogs such things. I then send a reply back to the numbskull who sent me the chain letter gently explaining that it was a hoax and letting him know that he can read the details of the hoax at the link provided. I usually make a gentle point of suggesting that, in the future, instead of perpetuating these vile things, he stops them in their tracks and looks them up himself at one of the many sites that track hoaxes and urban legends.

Today, just minutes after I sent this very helpful e-mail reply to my chain-letter-sending friend, he sends me a note that says, ”Yea, I thought so…but I figured what have I got to lose?”

At that point I just HAD to climb up on my soapbox and compose a letter back to him explaining what it is he has to lose: his INTEGRITY! I mean, think about it…he sent that stupid chain letter to a long list of people. The loss of productivity and personal time he caused…not to mention the snowball effect of many of those people regurgitating the damn thing to all of THEIR friends is astounding. On top of that, he caused a small mountain of useless e-mail to be sent over the Internet, adding to its already over-burdened infrastructure. This is a guy that I am in contact with maybe once or twice a year…if he’s sending this kind of stuff to me, I wonder what he sends his really close friends?

When you get this kind of stuff in your e-mail box…just ignore it and delete it. Don’t even bother to take the time to digest it, let alone forward it. If you cannot resist reading these types of dastardly messages (and you know who you are), then do yourself a favor and bookmark the following sites:


It’s fairly simple to check the validity of a chain letter. Pick out some key phrases in the e-mail and search for that phrase at one of the above sites. Placing the phrase within quotation marks will help narrow down your search. For example, in this case I searched on “bill gates is sharing his fortune.”

You may have to choose more than one phrase to search on, and you may have to search at more than one site…but isn’t it worth it to preserve your integrity?

OK…I am climbing down off my soapbox now (but I probably won't stay there).

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Friday, September 12, 2003

Carpe tabela! 

(Which is Latin for "seize the writing tablet"...or in this case the free blog space.)

Just putting it out there is half the battle, right?

Don't know where this is going--and since I don't know that, I don't know how I will get from here to there. I just know I want to jump on the blog-wagon. Maybe, one day...this will all have a point.

More to come...

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