Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sociology of Trees

The weather this year has been quite childish. Spring was unseasonably warm. Once summer arrived, it was relatively mild. Now that autumn is here, summer is throwing a temper tantrum and not wanting to let go. The trees won't let summer get away with it though. They have started turning and shedding their leaves. As I have looked at them on my daily walks, I notice that there are certain trees that seem to be unaffected by peer pressure.

I work at a business that has a large campus, complete with ponds, a playground, parks, dining pavilion, and walking paths. I take a leisurely stroll each day at lunch to clear my head of everything that bombards its way in. I throw my headphones on, crank up the tunes, and forget that five or six people are vying for my attention while my computer system limps along at a snail's pace. It is quite theraputic for me. I usually go alone on my walks, partially so that I can clear my head, and partially because I enjoy introspection. I have noticed that there are some trees that are more social than others.

There are trees that are spaced in the parking lot. They tend to hide the large light poles, but also offer protection from the sun (but add bird targets to your cars). These are the trees that generally start turning the soonest. They can be the same variety as another tree that isn't surrounded by asphalt, but it tends to turn quicker. I don't know if it is because it doesn't have the luxury of grass, or it doesn't have as much space as it wants for the roots to spread, or maybe it is just that the roots don't get the water because of the road. Whatever the reason, these trees turn quickly. Once one of these trees has started, they all quickly follow suit.

Along the paths, there are trees that are kind of clumped together. They don't always butt up against each other, but often times their branches will have grown out to each other to create one tree with three or four separate trunks. Think of a really big hedgerow. These trees tend to be a little bit less likely to turn. Once they do, they work in tandem. Down the road from us, we have a neighbor that has three identical trees planted. One is red, which melds nicely into the yellow tree, which melds nicely into the still green tree. It makes quite an interesting visual palette.

And then there are those trees that have been integrated into their environment the longest. These massive trees just resist the chill of autumn. The crispness in the air doesn't seem to affect them.

I wonder if we are like trees as well. I mean, how many people do you know who go out and do something on their own? There are very few original people out there. As soon as they catch wind that someone is changing colors, they try to change as well. Those with close support systems are less likely to change. They change more gradually, and tend to work as a group. And then there are those who resist change all together.

I would like to think that I am a bit of the second option, mixed with the third. I resist change a lot more than I conform to it. It might be because of my stubbornness, or maybe because I have the clarity to know what I want. I hope it is more of the latter. I still flounder at times, but I keep taking my afternoon walks to help me flounder less. So maybe I am less of the second option, and more of the third.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Just for Old Time's Sake

A few months ago I was at a Boise Music Week performance. I happened to run into one of my old professors there. We chatted for a bit and caught up on what we were doing with our lives. He knew that I was working as an editor for a local company, and asked me to come in sometime and talk to his editing class in the fall.

I was a bit taken aback. I had always worked pretty hard in class, and did my best to participate, but I never expected to be a guest lecturer. I guess my A's in his classes were well deserved. I walked away smiling with my ego stroked, and wondered if it would ever really happen.

Tomorrow, it will.

A few days ago it really hit me. Dr. Willerton, the current president for the Snake River Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (which I no longer belong to), asked me to come talk to his class. I'm sure that he has a lot of other contacts in the valley who have more editing experience. They could probably do a better job as well. But he asked me to give the presentation.

I just put the finishing touches on my PowerPoint presentation. I feel like it will be a relatively rousing 45 minutes for the class. I hope that they will not be scared of me, eagerly asking questions so that I can impart my meager knowledge to them. Remembering how my three hour lecture classes were, I am guessing that they probably won't be as eager as I am. At least I get them for the first part of the class before their brains are wandering to the social engagements they have planned for 9:00 when class gets over. It should be a fun experience.

Wish me luck tomorrow. It will be fun to walk the halls and smell the dust from the Liberal Arts Building once again. Who knows, I might even go take a peek at the pictures in the halls from the photography students like I used to on break. Just for old time's sake.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Two Fun New Blogs

Because of the wonder of Blogs of Note, I recently found two blogs to which I promptly subscribed.

The first one is a whimsical ride through the mind of a child. The child version of Everyman, aptly named Bob, lives his life with his mom. Bob is about four (I think), but he is a pretty smart cookie, and has a sharp wit. Like most of the four year old children in the world, Bob has some interesting views on things. This blog is a quick read, and can brighten your day if you need the refreshing view on life that only an energetic child can bring. Go check out Smacksy.

Jim's Pancakes
If you have ever been in a kitchen with a dad who happens to be making breakfast, I am sure that you have had pancakes as part of your morning meal. Dads make pancakes, but more importantly, dads make fun pancakes. Sure, dads know how to make normal pancakes, and will occasionally make some for the boring grown up. But dads really excel at making special pancakes. A common favorite is the Mickey Mouse pancake. If you are unfamiliar with these, please don't panic. eHow has dedicated an entry on how to make these (although they aren't that complex). You too can become a Mickey Mouse pancake master maker.

That being said, we have Mickey Mouse pancake dads, and then we have Jim. I found this blog through Smacksy (See previous entry), but I find this guy amazing. He does colors. He does layers. He does sculptures. He does requests. And he does them well. I'm not a huge pancake fan (mainly because my tongue finds them boring. My tongue also finds maple syrup a bit nasty as well. You can put two and two together), but I have a feeling that I would like pancakes if I had grown up in Jim's house. Go check out Jim's Pancakes.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Birds: Part II

As promised, here is another post about birds. In case you were wondering, here is the first.

Bird 2: Mockingjay
Mockingjay is the concluding volume in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The series is a bleak dystopia set in a not-so-distant future in what I saw as North America--really called Panem in the books. The government was overthrown, then recreated. The citizens of Panem were separated into districts by their fields of labor (like wheat, coal, livestock, etc.). There is a bit of commerce, but it all happens through the Capital. The Capital decides who gets to have the luxuries, and they make sure that the citizens of Panem remember the wonderful things they did by recreating a government from chaos and providing food for their people.

The Capital has a bit of a funny way of doing this though--they require that each of the districts send a boy and a girl (picked at random) between the ages of 12 and 18 to a televised teenage deathmatch each year. This holiday (if you can call it that) is called "The Hunger Games." All production stops while the Hunger Games are being televised. Rich citizens will send gifts to people in the Games to help them out on their journey to kill everyone else. There is a lot of money invested in bets, and the longer the Games go on, the more expensive it is to send gifts.

Boy it is hard to talk about a book when you can't really give specifics/spoilers.

I don't want to say too much more, but there are a lot of social parallels to today's politics mixed in with slight hints of the barbarics of the gladiators in ancient Rome. While it sounds utterly depressing, I found it to be an invigorating read. The books don't dwell on death and destruction (although there is a healthy chunk of that in there), there is a love story involved, as well as familial relationships.

Wifey picked up Mockingjay on a whim in Costco. We had borrowed the first two novels in the series from Wifey's sister (by the way, the first one is great after I got used to the writing style, and the second one was good, but a bit too transitional for me. I needed more action and less character thinking during the first half of the book). Wanting to finish the series, I voraciously devoured Mockingjay. It did not give me the ending I was hoping for, nor did it go in the direction I was planning, but it left me fulfilled. I have thought a lot about the decisions of Katness Everdeen since reading this book, and find a lot of similarities between her and I.

Katness has a way of seeing situations that don't directly involve her with clarity. She can enter a battlefield and know where to go and what to do to pull off a win. She can know how to spite her enemies. She can get into her nemesis' head and understand what he is thinking, or what his next move might be. But when she is in a situation that she has to make a decision on her own, she can sometimes cripple herself.

When Wifey and I were dating, it got to a point where I was working nights full time and going to school full time during the day. This left us little time together, and what little time we had, I was a healthy mix of zombie and vegetable. I was doing too much while trying to woo a woman, and I was losing in all respects. Because this was a bumpy time, Wifey and I had some good long meetings (they were too formal to be chats, mainly my fault) about where our relationship was going. At one point, I knew that I really liked her, and wanted to marry her, but she just didn't seem all that interested.

*begin flashback ripples and harp strumming now*

Flash back to a year and a half earlier. I was living with a different pair of room mates, one of which was in a pretty serious relationship. He was in the same boat I was going to be in once a year and a half had passed. He really liked a girl, but she wasn't reciprocating. I encouraged him that he needed to get rid of her if she wasn't going to put in the effort to make their relationship happen. He hummed and hawed, but wouldn't commit to dumping the girl. A few months later, she dumped him, and he was heartbroken.

*begin return flashback ripples and harp strumming now*

I was sitting in one of my sleep-deprived stupors one day, trying to figure out what to do. I knew I loved Wifey, and wasn't sure if she even liked me. I realized that I was in the same situation that my friend had been in a while back. I tried to give myself my own advice, but the situation seemed more complicated than that. It didn't feel right to just walk away because I had such strong feelings for this girl. I was in a situation where I had to make a decision for myself, and I was crippled by it.

I think that Katness does this a lot in the last book. She just isn't sure what she wants. She can decide to do something for the good of her family, but when faced with a decision that affects her happiness, she fumbles through with indecision. Some people complain that this is poor writing, but I found it quite true to character.

I also related to Katness' feelings of futility. She is put into a situation where she can do some real damage to the flawed system that she lives in. As she is posed with a crucial decision, she keeps with the current system. I think a lot of people are frustrated by the government at this point, and I don't necessarily think it is the fault of the current (or even former) administration. There are a lot of people willing to point out that there are major flaws in today's systems; however, there are not many people who are willing to create solutions for those problems. I think that if we had more people willing to take some action (or even willing to take responsibilities for their actions) that many of these issues would become easier to handle. I realize that there are many people out of work right now, but if there were less people like Wanna B. Doctor who are willing to sit and collect unemployment while jobs pass him by and more people who are willing to keep busy however they can that things would be better.  Not fixed, but better

I was out of a job for eight months after I graduated. It was hard on me, but I ended up doing a lot of volunteer work. It kept me busy--which helped me keep my sanity--and gave me something to talk about in an interview when the inevitable question comes up: "So, what have you been doing for the past eight months." People with any kind of sense would at least answer, "Job hunting." I felt that it gave me a let up to talk about how I was helping people or doing something more productive than surf the Internet all day scouring forums and listings for jobs. If you don't have a job, work anyway. Who knows, you might get a new skill, or someone might notice how hard of a worker you are while you are there and give you an informal interview while you are working together. Stop thinking, "How can I mooch more?" and start thinking, "How can I help myself find a job?"

Sorry, I'll get off my soapbox now. Back to topic...

Anyway, read the series. They are worth your time. While it isn't exactly a story touting puppies, unicorns, and rainbows, it is a good ride with some very human story elements.

There is still another bird on its way, so stay tuned. I know I have a few of you hooked, as I see certain numbers of people coming back at the same time of day. Feel free to spread the word if you like what you read.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tag. I'm It!

It's official. I have been tagged by my first neighborhood blogger. Since there is not a whole lot of rules to this tagging thing (at least that I'm aware of), I'll do my best to abide by them.

My quest: answer this question:
 If you could live with any piece of famous art, which would you choose and why?
(provided by didyouhavejuice, joint teacher's pet for Mrs. Fisher's tenth grade English class)
After thinking long and hard on my daily lunch walk, I went through a couple of different ideas.

Option one: Choose a piece of music I love
I started thinking immediately outside of the box, and started thinking of music that I would love to have interact with me. Something that really describes a lot of my moods and whims. The problem I ran into was that I have too many moods, from mischievous to melancholy. content to contentious. One musical work (or song cycle, for that matter) just didn't cover all the options. Needless to say, Option one quickly became Option two.

Option two: Choose an historic or famous concert venue
I started really liking this idea. I mean, who wouldn't want their own concert hall that they could go hop into? On nights that had concerts, I could just hop in to my assigned seat (and yes, I have had dreams that the Morrison Center is attached to my parent's garage) and listen to whoever might be playing. On days where there weren't concerts, I could go pull out the 7 foot concert Steinway and play to my heart's content.

It had to be somewhere where you could get full musical productions, orchestras, choirs, and rock concerts. I considered the castle where the Savonlinna Opera Festival is held (meaning Finland would be a bit closer), the Sydney Opera House, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, or even the Kennedy Center.

I started thinking a bit more about this, and realized that such great big places bring great big crowds. I don't care for people encroaching on my personal space, so Option two begrudgingly became Option three.

Option three: Choose a place where I feel at peace
There are few places that can just wash everything away. One of my favorite places is at the base of Schoolroom Glacier in the tops of the Tetons. It is quite the hike to get there, as it is at the base of the Grand Teton on the Wyoming side of the border, but when I was there for an evening, I felt like I could sit and stare into the milky, turquoise water forever. As much as I liked the idea of having this be my backyard, I felt like I would be defiling the area with my human touch.

The second place I thought of is near a well known Pacific Northwestern town next to a bustling zoo and one of the US's oldest rose gardens. Wifey and I happened to go there on our honeymoon, and I have been wanting to go back ever since. You might have guessed by now that it is the Japanese Gardens in Portland. You can take a little tour below.

For those of you who are thinking this is totally cheating, consider this: many artists manipulate stone, paint, tones, and other media to evoke an emotional reaction. Just because some of the elements that the artist still uses are alive doesn't make it any less of an art form. There is careful planning involved, and having tried my hand (quite unsuccessfully) at growing bonsai trees, I realize just how hard this can be.

I would choose these pieces of artwork because they have the ability to transport me away from the city. I enjoy the bustle of the city, but I like having a sanctuary where I can hide. I'm fine with the company of my own thoughts. I don't need entertaining distractions to keep me occupied. I have enough distractions in my day to pull me away from the things that are most important to me. 

There are enough kinetic elements (like the koi pond, the waterfalls, and the blowing leaves) to keep me engaged in the mainly static forms of the garden. If I feel mentally stuck, I could hop to another bench or take a stroll. And when I need to do some physical labor to help with my mental processes, there would always be plenty to do. I would leave a majority of the work up to the gardeners, but would enjoy being apprenticed by them. It sounds like a good option for retirement to me.

So next time someone is planning on transporting their Japanese garden to a different location, please let them know that I would be happy to take it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Yes, I'm a Nerd

And yes, tomorrow is National Punctuation Day.

It really is.

If I was an uber-nerd, I would enter the contest to write a haiku about punctuation.

So, I'm just a nerd.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wanna B. Doctor

I have a former schoolmate who I graduated with. He told me that we wanted to be a doctor, but after being in one class with him, I realized that he would never be a doctor. He didn't have the discipline to make the grades. For this reason, I'll refer to him as Wanna B. Doctor.

Wanna has struggled to keep work, as there aren't many positions out there in the writing field in little old Idaho at the moment. After his latest contract ended, I have kept in contact with him via LinkedIn. This has been a useful site for me, and somewhere I can send people who I don't want to be friends with on Facebook.

Needless to say, Wanna B. Doctor contacted me the other day looking for job leads. I can't say I blame him. Here are some excepts from our conversation:

Wanna: I'm just curious if you know of any leads in the tech comm field, I've been lacking in that dept for some time. Anything helpful would be appreciated, just looking for a trail to follow! 

Me: I'm still here with my contract. I am coming up on my two-year mark in February, and so I am on the hunt as well for more permanent or temporary work that will last me for my 100-day break. Unfortunately, there aren't very many job openings at this point that I have been able to hunt down.  

What have you been up to since you left [your last position]? I took a peek at your profile page, and didn't see any updates since you were with [another department]. I know that [said department] was looking for someone about three or four months ago, but I don't know if the position is filled at this point. I have a sneaking suspicion that it has been filled.  

Drop me a line sometime, and I'll let you know if I hear of anything.  
 I figured that I would ask the question, "What have you been doing with your time?" to give Wanna the opportunity to redeem himself a bit in my eyes. Who knows, maybe a year without work has changed him. Maybe he has been studying hard to train himself and become more marketable. Maybe he really deserves a job, but he just can't find one because he is looking for that "trail to follow."

Here was his response to me:
Wanna: The project I was helping on wasn't renewed, so I've been away from that game for nearly a year now. Unemployment insurance leaves something to be desired, let me say, but it's given me more time to look seriously into the military (something I've considered since high school). Otherwise I try to keep busy, oh yes-- I !

Thanks for passing along the word, in the future.

So, from what I can gather, Wanna B. Doctor has spent his time collecting unemployment insurance, looking into the military (which he has been doing for about ten years, might I add), and keeping busy all while playing around on reddit.

The only reason I might suggest him for a position is because I wanted to make sure my competition looked worse than I did. There are jobs out there in our field. I have a couple of resumes in right now that I am waiting to hear back on. It raises my hackles when people feel entitled to have someone hand you a job. Sure, it is nice when it happens, but it happens because of all the hard work you have put in.

Wanna B. Doctor sat in the same classes I did. He was given the same opportunities to learn how to job search. He participated in the same conversations I did. But he squandered everything. I enjoy helping people find jobs, but you have to do some of the legwork yourself. Things don't just fall into your lap these days. If they do, be leery of them.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Know a Good Plastic Surgeon?

Just curious if anyone knows of a good plastic surgeon. You see, I am attempting to make a Halloween costume, and the character I am planning on attempting, when compared to my height, should have a 4.86" waist. Yes, that is inches, not feet. I figured that I could just start dieting, but I don't think I could get that small in a bit over a month.

Oh yeah, and I have these things called hips too that are getting in the way.

This is going to be my first second attempt at making a costume. The first one was a Peter Pan outfit that was VERY basic. Very basic as in I wore green scrubs, sewed a makeshift skirt that I cut while it was hanging on me, and fashioned a hat out of felt. I was pretty impressed with the hat, as I didn't have a pattern.

We will see how well the new costume goes. I might post pictures and keep you updated on the status. If I don't get it done this year, then maybe next year.

Next step, get some fabric...

The Birds: Part I

Remember that creepy horror flick that scared most of the world a few decades ago where you could see the wires holding the birds that seemed to be flocking around a screaming, flailing woman's head? The one that no longer scares people?

This next set of posts will have nothing to do with said movie.

It seems I have had a lot of birds that are keeping me company as of late. It might be a bit of a stretch, but bear with me for my next few posts.

Bird 1:Meadowlark

I came across this video from a friend of mine (thanks Josh) who is very into musicals. We had talked about the musical Wicked, and how fun the music and story was. The Baker's Wife is written by the same talented writer, Steven Schwartz. You might recognize some of his more popular projects, like Disney's Pocohantas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Enchanted, and some other company's Prince of Egypt. In short, he is a prolific songwriter, and I have enjoyed many of his tunes and lyrics. Check him out when you get a chance.

Here is a song from a musical (The Baker's Wife) that has captured my attention recently. I have never seen this musical, and probably never will, but I am entranced by this song every time I hear it. The piano music is quite difficult, from what I understand, and I think Liz Callaway does an amazing rendition in the following video (except for one sour note near the end):

This song comes at a point in the musical where a beautiful younger married woman bumps into a young strapping buck. Her husband is an older man who is generous and kind, but not very affectionate or caring. The buck tries to encourage the wife to run away with him and have an affair. This song is her decision.

While I don't love the topic of the song, I do like the way this woman's story mirrors the story of the meadowlark. The writing (music and lyrics) have a way of engaging entrancing me. As I watch this video, I find myself cheering for the meadowlark, glad that she made the decision to stick to her guns. And then she gets killed.

There is a harsh reality here. Sometimes nice guys do finish last. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes you don't get your burger the way you ordered it. I believe that it isn't what happens to you that makes your life what it is; instead, your life is molded into what it is by the choices you make.

I choose to be the person that I am because I like the results I get. I am a nice guy, and I have finished last many times. The funny thing is, I'm fine with this. I don't have to be the best or the brightest (although I still do try). To steal a line penned by Schwartz, I have found my "corner of the sky." That corner is sometimes not very exotic, but it is perfect.

I'm glad that I don't feel trapped by my situation. Introducing new responsibilities into my life has never been something that I have yearned for, but I have tried to accept them as they come. And sometimes it isn't about the new responsibilities that come, but more about staying true to the old responsibilities that brought you to where you are.

Next time you have a seductive young man coming your way, just sing him this song (if you want to make the same choice she does). If you don't, tell him that you will face the consequences of the Sun God instead of going out with him. Just be prepared for the young buck to strike you dead, just like the meadowlark.

You have been warned.

P.S. Wicked is coming to our neck of the woods in 2011. We are going, and have already purchased tickets. If you get a chance to see the show, please do. If you get a chance to read the book because you loved the musical, please don't. The book wasn't nearly as good.

Friday, September 17, 2010

She's Alive!

Munchkin has been able to walk for quite some time now. We had a family reunion that we attended back in July and she decided to take her first steps then. On random occasions, she decided that she would get up and go, and that is exactly what she did. On multiple occurrences she would walk across the room to Wifey. It wasn't that she was nervous on her feet, or couldn't keep her balance. In fact, she would sometimes do squats while keeping her balance. She just wouldn't walk very much.

Yesterday, Wifey went over to her sister's place to watch some of Munchkin's cousins for a few hours. Munchkin decided to walk to try to keep up with her cousins. And now she won't stop.

She's alive!

I would like to think that she is this way because of me. When I was a child, I didn't want to have anything to do with potty training. And then one day, I just decided to be potty trained; just like Munchkin decided to start walking.

I realize that Munchkin is not even a year old yet, and doesn't understand the complexities of making your own choices, but she is starting to find her own preferences. She likes certain foods more than others. If presented with a food she kind of likes, she will eat it. If a food she likes better comes around (like cantaloupe or spaghetti), she pulls out whatever is in her mouth and crams in the new food.

I considered starting to read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to Munchkin so that she can start grasping the similarities between Frankenstein's monster and herself, but I doubt I could get her to sit still long enough. Don't get me wrong, she loves books. I think she might be a bookworm when she gets older (which I would be totally fine with). I just think it might take a few more years until she starts having conversations about literary criticism with me. Until that day, I'll be fine having her totter over to me as I hold a toy in my mouth while trying to mumble coherent words of encouragement.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Parenthood, Points, and Pakistanis

Wifey is planning on submitting to her latest obsession. Well, actually it isn't her latest, but it is just coming back on again. She loves that Parenthood show. I have seen one or two episodes, but I never caught the bug. While Munchkin is falling asleep, I am left to my own devices. As you might have guessed, I came to writing.

One thing that I have recently become obsessed with--Google Stats. I can take a sneaky peek at where you are coming from. So far, I have had visitors from the US (and I probably know who you are. There might be a few who surprise me who don't know me, but I doubt it), our friendly northern neighbor, Canada, China, Denmark, the UK, and Russia. Whoever you are, I'm glad you came, even though many of you didn't return. I like knowing where people find me. Feel free to drop me a line saying hi. And to return.

I think one of the best things about it is that it gives me points.This appeals to my deep down urge of being male. This is why young men will spend hours on end trying to get a high score. This is why there are hot dog eating contests.This is why there are Olympic world records. Guys like points, and if you have more points than another guy, then you must be better at it. Since I am new to the game, I am glad that I don't have access to other people's Stats pages. Maybe after I have been at this a while I might be more inclined to look at another's Stats page, but for now, I'm content.

Lately I have picked up Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Dad is big into education (as he was a professor at Boise State University) and happened to pick up this book after he had retired because all the staff on campus was supposed to read it. He liked it, then got my mom to read it, and then told me I should read it too. I didn't take him up on it right away, and frankly ended up forgetting about it.

As I like books, I ended up having a co-worker recommend this book to me. The light went back on in my head, remembering that Dad had the book collecting dust on his shelf, so I finally pilfered it from its position when Munchkin was trying to pull books from the bookshelf when we were there about a week ago. I started the read without high hopes, as Dad and I don't generally share our tastes in books. The first few chapters have some pretty awkward passages in them, and I found myself having to read sentences over again so that I could figure out what the author was trying to say. The story of the Greg Mortenson won me over though, and so I am going to finish it.

This man's life is quite amazing to me. After almost dying and becoming lost in the Himalayas, this Mortenson is nursed back to health by a village elder who makes an indelible impression on Mortenson. He ends up promising to build a school for the village, as they don't even have a full time teacher for their kids. Mortenson has made it his mission to build schools for kids and help them to learn, and went through quite a bit to realize this mission. I'm about a third of the way through the book, and am looking forward to making my way through the rest.

This book does a nice job of making people from across the world seem like people. Even though they live above 16,000 feet in the air and eat what they can catch or hunt, they are very happy. It makes me want to spend time in a foreign place to try to assimilate myself into a culture and learn its language. It would also be fun to talk to a Muslim about his beliefs now that I know a bit more about the people from this book.

If you are interested in the book from my weak pitch and want to help fund education through buying this book, then buy a new copy. Mortenson donates a portion of the proceeds from each book to go to his non-profit organization that builds schools. You can buy it through any of the normal retailers (like Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Borders, or Hastings), or stop by a local bookshop and pick it up as well. I will probably return it to my father and pick up my own copy so that I can do my minuscule part of buying some pencils or paying a teacher's salary for a bit.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Solving the World's Problem One Day at a Time

I really like it when someone else verbalizes something that stews in my brain. It wakes me up to think Hey, why aren't I saying anything about this?

That being said, I came across an op-ed piece today by Thomas L. Friedman called We're Number 1(1)!. The article piqued my interest, making me put some things together that I haven't thought of in a while.

I have always heard the term "The Greatest Generation" attributed to my grandparents' generation. I never had that great of a relationship with my grandparents because they lived far away and I was a (sometimes) cantankerous teenager. I would rather stay home and have a weekend to myself than make a road trip down to Utah and stay with people who seemed so far detached from my current situation. This was before I found out that you could learn things from other people that didn't share your viewpoints.

Now that I have become somewhat enlightened, I struggle with many of my generation. Many seem to be self-serving to a large degree. Many were raised with both parents working, so they were given free reign to do as they pleased until Mom and Dad came home at 5:00. Self-gratification was the name of every afternoon, which has translated into schooling.

Friedman says it this way:
We had a values breakdown — a national epidemic of get-rich-quickism and something-for-nothingism. Wall Street may have been dealing the dope, but our lawmakers encouraged it. And far too many of us were happy to buy the dot-com and subprime crack for quick prosperity highs.

Our big problems are unfolding incrementally — the decline in U.S. education, competitiveness and infrastructure, as well as oil addiction and climate change. Our generation’s leaders never dare utter the word “sacrifice.” All solutions must be painless. Which drug would you like? A stimulus from Democrats or a tax cut from Republicans? A national energy policy? Too hard. For a decade we sent our best minds not to make computer chips in Silicon Valley but to make poker chips on Wall Street, while telling ourselves we could have the American dream — a home — without saving and investing, for nothing down and nothing to pay for two years. Our leadership message to the world (except for our brave soldiers): “After you.”
Another author, Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post, argues that people have lost their zeal for learning.
The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail. Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a ‘good’ college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school ‘reform’ is that if students aren’t motivated, it’s mainly the fault of schools and teachers.” Wrong, he said. “Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard and don’t do well. In a 2008 survey of public high school teachers, 21 percent judged student absenteeism a serious problem; 29 percent cited ‘student apathy.
Samuelson is talking about primary and secondary schooling, but I would hazard a guess that this issue occurs in graduate and post-graduate work as well. It declines sharply once you are paying for your education, but I know that there are high school grads right now who are cutting classes. The sun is shining and their friend is having a barbecue tonight. It won't hurt to skip just one class, because their teacher is teaching in a large lecture hall with 119 other students who are supposed to be there.

I was amazed by the fact that as I was in college, people were just trying to make the grade instead of learning. I saw a discussion on LinkedIn claiming that someone's military experience had given him more useful skills than his Master's degree. He cited the fact that he learned a can-do attitude in the military, which was more important than the education he received. While the military can teach you a lot, I don't buy the fact that his education was not of value. I buy the fact that he does not value his education. Or maybe the fact that he felt his education's value had been inflated.

The cost of education is rising, but so is the cost of not getting an education. How do we expect to fix the economy if we encourage freeloading? If someone is used to asking for the answer on all their tests, aren't they going to be fine asking for the answer on all their work assignments?

I appreciate it when people live up the their mistakes. I don't find that it tarnishes their reputation, especially in difficult situations. Instead, it tells me that they are human, like me. I know I make mistakes (even though I don't like to), and I don't know how to fix everything, but I do my small part by attempting to do a couple of things:
  1. Try to make someone's day better every day. I go out of my way to help out someone each day. Sometimes it is something as small as offering to write an email for a colleague that has a slammed workload. I just try to do at least one thing a day to make someone's life easier.
  2. Accept responsibility for my successes and failures. It is hard to do at times, but I do it anyway.
  3. Use the things I learned in life (or school) to make my own life easier. I have many friends and family members who are teachers, and I find them to generally be giving and passionate individuals who feel like their hands are tied. I honor them by trying to use the knowledge they offered to me. We all know that they don't get rewarded handsomely for their chosen profession.
  4. Put myself in situations where I can learn. If I am not learning, I feel bored. That is just the way I work. For this reason, I know a little bit about a lot of things. If you have new things for me to learn, please send them my way.
  5. Explore the arts. Books and music have a way of expanding my views on life that give me vicarious experience. It gives me a chance to attempt or experience something without having to fall on my face in a public space. It also helps me connect with other people. These things tap into my emotions and remind me of people who I might need to help the next day.
What kinds of things do you do to make sure you stay industrious or honor those who have taught you?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Monday? Already?

I came to a bleak realization today—my weekend is already gone. I understand that the time-space continuum has not yet jumped to Monday, but I also realized that my thoughts of having a restful weekend are out the window.

You see, tonight I have plans to go people watching at Art in the Park. Boise City gathers a bunch of local (and not so local) vendors who come and sell their artistic wares in the park right next to the Boise State campus. It is a great people-watching event where all sorts of people come out. You get the bohemians who wear their sun dresses and Rastafarian hats haphazardly hiding their dreadlocks who stare at the same yard sculptures as the well-to-do businesswoman in her a-line skirt who is quickly trying to pay the vendor so she can get back to her 1:00 conference call. Munchkin will love being out among the people, as she always does. Such a social creature. She must take after her mother.

Tomorrow is going to be a marathon. We have a service project starting around 10:00 in commemoration of September 11th. It is kind of a hole in my American memory, as I wasn’t in the country when it happened. That is a post for another day though. Needless to say, we are going there until about 1:00, followed by a church meeting for me at 4:00 that will last two hours, followed by another church meeting for Wifey and I at 7:00. We will go home, slide into pajamas, peek on (hopefully) sleeping Munchkin, and slide into bed ourselves. The next morning, we have our normal church meeting at 10:00 – 12:00, and then we can rest. And by rest, I mean we will probably visit family.

As you can see, my weekend is almost over, and it is only Friday. I am glad that Munchkin is well behaved, and doesn’t mind having family babysit her. She suspects that we are planning something this weekend though, because she has been waking us up at all hours of the night to punish us for not keeping her in the loop. I understand that children are prone to doing that, but not our Munchkin. She slept through the night starting around two months. 

Yes, I know we are lucky.

The past three nights, Munchkin has decided that she needs to wake up at crazy times. Last night, it was about midnight. She went back to bed after about an hour of drifting in and out of sleep. Then she decided to wake up at 6:00. And she stayed up.

I could tell Munchkin was pretty sleepy when I was leaving for work about 20 minutes to 8:00. She crawled up to me making that noise where she wants me to pick her up. Generally it is accompanied by upstretched arms, but the arms stayed down this morning, and her eyes locked on my shoes instead of my chest (which is about as tall as she can see from a crawling position). I picked her up as her eyes came level with the television. And she just stared; no little hands trying to pry my lips apart to see my teeth or tongue, no cheek pats, and no attempts to grab the glasses. As Wifey came back with a bottle, Munchkin yawned, then immediately started to jump out of my arms so she could get at the bottle. 

The funniest part about the whole situation is that Munchkin starts whining as soon as she sees the bottle. It is almost as if she thinks that we aren’t going to give it to her. The frantic moans and squirms come until the bottle is through her lips. As soon as she can taste it, she stops making noise and squirming, but she doesn’t exactly relax. One arm generally stays up in the air as if she had a question. She doesn’t reach for anything. Her eyes often close. Her arm just hangs out in the air. After a while, her tiny fingers start to explore the side of the bottle, or sometimes pat your arm or chest (but only if you are lucky).

The fact of the matter is, Munchkin was yawning then, headed for a nice cozy nap in her fuzzy, footed pajamas. Now I am yawning, wishing for a snooze, but I realize that it is almost Monday again—no nap for me.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hooray for Headphones

Today was meant to throw me off kilter. I am almost sure of it. Here is my synopsis.
  1. It was cloudy. I woke up late because I was nice and comfy in bed. I didn't think it was really morning because it was too dark to be morning. Morning comes when the sun jumps above the horizon. Yeah, the seasons are changing, but not that quickly.
  2. We had an unplanned fire drill. We have some remodeling going on at work to make a museum/break room. I heard some power saws working (which is why I now have headphones that cover my ears instead of ear buds), followed by a hissing. One of the workers accidentally cut the pipe that feeds water to the emergency sprinklers. Needless to say, my day was demoted from very productive to productive.
  3. There was a coffee talk at work. This is a fancy term for get everyone in a room so the mucky mucks can tell where the company is heading in the next quarter. For most employees, this means catch up on emails. As a contractor, I was able to dodge the coffee talk, but I have the pleasure of sitting on the corner next to where everyone enters and exits the coffee talk. Headphones get another shout out here.
  4. I had crazy requests come my way at work today. I generally am done taking care of those requests by 11:00, but today I wasn't done until about 1:30. I partially blame #2. The other part of the blame comes from the fact that they were odd requests that took extra time to take care of.
  5. After getting into my groove working on the document that I was trying to get written today, I looked down at the clock and noticed that it was about 2:45. It started getting loud again because at 3:00, there was a beer bust. This was a fancy term for let's have a party while the contractors work. I realized that I hadn't dropped off my dirty silverware from lunch, so I walked over to the cafeteria. The beer bust had been moved inside due to a light sprinkling of rain, so they took over the cafeteria. There was Stern Security Lady, looking quite unhappy that she had to stand guard instead of participate in the beer bust (even though she is a contractor who wasn't invited). I told her that I wanted to drop my dirty silverware off (literally two steps around the corner, and then I would come right back). Instead, her eyes narrowed, her lips pursed, and she shook her head. Instead of being able to take those two steps, Stern Security Lady shot out her upturned palm. I said a quick thank you and flashed a smile as I placed my gently-used fork into her hand (handle facing her, of course). She shifted her weight, cocked her head, and gave me a pained smile (with lips still pursed). I'm sure it didn't make her day any better that she had to hold onto my used silverware, but she could have at least spoken back to me. Or, better yet, she could have let me take two steps to drop off the soiled silverware myself.
  6. Arriving back at my desk, I put on my headphones again (this is three, for those of you who aren't counting) because of the increase of traffic. Evidently beer is a popular commodity at work. After I got a bit more into my document, I realized that this was going to be a particularly sticky set of steps. I had to remove my headphones for about 30 minutes so I could concentrate and get everything straightened out. It gets hard to manually block out the increasing din of a beer bust down the hall.
  7. About 4:00 I started smelling the beer in my cube. I got used to the smell of alcohol when I lived in Finland, so this didn't bother me as much. More of an annoyance, and something to put me on edge, fearing that someone would come barreling through my cubicle wall in a drunken stupor. I am sure this wouldn't happen at work where all the mucky mucks were, but my mind often plans for the worse. I was grateful for my double-thick wall for this reason, even if it is only seven feet tall.
  8. About 4:45, I realized that I might actually be able to get my document done today. I started feverishly throwing the last few steps together with increased intensity, and by 5:05, I was done. I went to check the document back in so we could publish it, only to find that our system decided not to work. It had been so good for the past 2 days (but bad for the previous 43 or so). After waiting for ten minutes to get everything else wrapped up, it was still uploading. I was sick of it, so I figured that I will just let it stew overnight, read through it tomorrow morning with fresh eyes, and then get it out for review.
We will see what bumps tomorrow brings. And we will also see how I handle them. Crunch time is here, and I have a few deadlines coming up on Monday. I still have a good chance of getting it all done, but I keep forgetting that I have fewer days at work this week because of Labor Day.

Deep breath.

I can do this.

In better news, Sara Bareillis released a new album yesterday. Go check it out. I recommend Uncharted, King of Anything, and Bluebird. Of course, the whole album is good, and that is what I have been listening to on my headphones all day.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Replacement Monks

Munchkin has a stuffed animal of a monkey that we received as a gift from one of my co-workers. He is very soft, cuddly, and Munchkin goes to sleep with him every night. If ever Munchkin is having a hard time, we can hand over Monks, and she will bury her face in him to drown her sorrows. Or maybe try to bite his face off. Or maybe just give open-mouthed kisses to. The last two are kind of hard to tell apart sometimes...

Here is a picture of Monks so you can see how cute he is (from the Jellycat Website):

I have a sneaking suspicion that Monks is going to be Munchkin's Linus blanket for the first few years of her life. If we forget Monks, it is generally a crisis and we turn back to go get him. She will go to bed without him (we tried it once), but it took quite a bit of time to convince Munchkin that everything was right in the world when he wasn't there beside her when she was laid down in her crib.

With all that said, the other night Munchkin was having a hard time falling asleep (even with Monks around). I was reading in bed and heard her start to fuss. I put down my book (even though I was at a really good part) and braved the engulfing darkness of her room. The only light that comes into that room is from the cracked door behind me because we have put a blanket over the window for the summer so that she can go to sleep in the dark--a cheaper alternative than new blinds.

As I fumbled blindly to her crib, the pull string from the ceiling fan hits me directly in the middle of the forehead. You would think that having these things for three months would teach me, but the fact that my eyes haven't adjusted yet overpower my memory of the new additions to the room.

Guided by the sound of Munchkin's voice, I bump into the crib and blindly feel for a binky and Monks. Instead of finding these items, I find Munchkin standing up in her crib, binky clenched between her teeth and Monks firmly pinched in her armpit. She reaches up for me, and my soft spot gets the better of me.

I pick her up and back up to glider rocker in her room. My eyes are starting to adjust to my dim surroundings. I cradle Munchkin in, making sure that Monks is up by her face. She encircles him with her arm, closes her eyes, and sucks with increased fervor on her binky.

I gently rock her for a moment, planning on putting her back in her crib. She shifts her weight--not to escape my clutches, but to get a bit more comfortable. As part of the shifting, I watch her push Monks away and he gently falls to my lap. Then the payoff comes.

She wraps her little arm around me.

Instead of moaning for Monks or wiggling her hand like she is revving a motorcycle, she just moves her arm to wrap around as much of my body as she can. My Achilles' heel has been punctured, and instead of putting her back into her crib, I have to sit there for a while longer and feel like Super Dad because she chose to snuggle with me over Monks. I know that Monks is the favorite, but it is good to know that once in a while, Daddy can be a Replacement Monks.