Thursday, December 22, 2011

Can't we just let them secede?

This morning on the way into work I listened to a news story about education in the state of Texas. It seems that they've doubled what they spend per student over the last decade or so, and essentially have nothing to show for it. The state, seeing the same hard times as the rest of us, is now slashing funding for education.

This in and of itself is not surprising, nor necessarily news. It's a pretty common sentiment, unfortunately.

What was appalling to me, were the interviews conducted with parents of children currently attending several Texas high schools.

Some idiot mouth-breather stated that he'd rather see curriculum cut than football. "Football is more important," he said. "I'd work overtime, take another job, just about anything, to make sure football isn't cut. I think they should cut curriculum before they cut football."

This is when my mouth started hanging open, as my brain tried to grasp the sheer stupidity of my fellow man. I'm sure the drivers around me thought I was having a stroke.

What the f*ck.

Then he went on to clarify, because his first statement didn't fully convey what a meat-head he is. "They oughtta keep math and science, and bring back vocational skills. Cut all the liberal arts crap. That stuff is just fluff anyway. Cut liberal arts and keep football."

Which is when the voices in my head started screaming. What about the vast majority of students who don't play football? What about the kids in the drama club, the kids in band, the kids for whom art is their way of feeling they belong in this world and that it's their only way to communicate?

I absolutely cannot stand it when people discount the importance of liberal arts. What the jackass on the radio this morning fails to realize (perhaps because he never benefitted from any liberal arts classes, or education whatsoever, apparently), is that art has been around as long as we've been around. Cave men were scratching out images on the ol' living room cave wall well before they figured out how to skin a pig, make a funny lookin' ball, and run around and jump on each other. Society will always create art. Football, however, is not essential.

Now, I'm a football fan, and a big fan of team sports in general. I think they teach important social skills to children, and can be excellent for building self esteem. However, I would never, ever consider cutting educational curriculum to keep football on the program.

The reporter stated that as Moron Man (my name for him; the reporter maintained his objectivity) was speaking, a small cluster of other parents standing around were nodding in agreement. After he left, several other parents stepped up to say they vehemently disagree. I found it interesting that they waited until the man left to speak up, but then considered they were probably confronted with a trash-talking, uneducated former linebacker bully and chose personal safety over trying to start an informed debate with an idiot.

I realize we Missourians have our own issues, but man, today I'm supremely thankful I don't live in Texas, or anywhere near someone who thinks that football (an exclusionary sport that generally doesn't allow women unless in a highly sexualized manner as sideline ornamentation, and that never includes smaller, less athletically inclined boys) is more important than actual education.

Presents and possibilities

I can't sleep.

Not for my usual reason of there being so much to do that I can't quiet my mind.

I've got Christmas under control for the most part. All 53 presents that have arrived or were purchased locally are wrapped. We're awaiting a few more from on-line stores, but they'll come over the next few days and I'll be able to wrap them leisurely. This year, I've been wrapping a bit each night instead of doing my usual marathon wrapping session right before Christmas Eve. This worked well for keeping my stress level down, but our kitchen has been a huge mess and virtually unusable for about five straight days. My cook had some issues, but he coped well and overall things went much more smoothly for me.

We tried as much as possible to purchase from local small businesses this year. While we may have paid a bit more here and there, I think it was worth it. I've been noticing a movement to support small business and I hope more and more people listen and that it pays off. Some things just couldn't be sourced locally though, and in those instances we purchased on-line from reputable companies. We finished up Zoe's shopping tonight, finally hitting the evil Wal-Mart behemoth only in an attempt to make sure we covered all our bases, and I'm pleased to say that the retail bully got less than ten of our Christmas dollars this year.

No, I think the reason I can't sleep has nothing to do with Christmas, and everything to do with a new opportunity opening up at work. When my position was created for me last year, we threw pretty much everything related to communications in the job description. And then some. We had no one handling comms for the North America Zone thus far, and it was a stretch to even get a headcount of one, so we figured why not? Well, why not turns out to be that it's insane to expect one person to handle media relations, website creation and maintenance for both corporate and multiple product sites, and internal communications, along with translation responsibilities ("Here, we French have roughly translated this scientific document on poultry vaccines into English and we mangled it but good. Can you fix it before we send in to the international journals?"). My communications counterparts at headquarters also recently took on event planning, which is fantastic when you have a staff of six plus but damn near impossible when you're trying to tack that on to the sole team member in the US.


Since this was the only option to start the comms department in North America, I gamely took it all on. Suffice it to say, I've given it my best shot and, as in most cases where one is stretched too thin, I've managed to do none of it particularly well. One of my three bosses began to recognize this much earlier than any of us, and took it upon himself to retain an independent external PR professional with whom he had worked in the past. We all got off on the wrong foot as he basically hired her without informing anyone, and because she can be (okay, is) a royal pain in the ass to work with. The last six months consisted of petty cat fights and a tug-o-war of responsibilities. At one point I thought we were going to resort to pissing on the corners of the building in Lenexa to mark boundaries.

In a come-to-Jesus meeting a couple of months ago, I finally admitted that I don't have the bandwidth to get everything done. At least not get it all done well. But I also demanded that if we were going to rely on external vendor support, I needed to run it. It's the only way to ensure that messaging stays consistent and the only way to keep France happy. My US boss balked at first, but finally agreed. I grudgingly let go of the media relations portion of my job and he grudgingly gave up micro-managing. It's been going extremely well, and I feel as though a weight has been lifted and that I'm finally free to really focus on some much-needed projects and do them well.

My second boss has been hounding me to research and purchase a new DSLR with video capability. I resisted for a long time, simply because I couldn't take on any more. Video shooting and production on top of everything else? Pssshhhh. Ain't gonna happen. In a conversation this morning, one of our first since the shift in responsibilities, he brought it up again. And, for the first time, I began to understand the value and feel as though I could, indeed, take it on.

And it would be fun.

A new camera (squeee!), and a new format (video!), and training on how to edit video (hooray for learning!), all paid for by my company.

So that's what has my mind reeling tonight, I think. Why I can't sleep. I'm pretty excited about this. I have no idea what this may translate into for the future, but it looks pretty damn good. And fun. I've already started research, and it appears I'll wind up learning the Canon system. My beloved Nikon is behind the 8-ball these days with innovation, due in part to a manufacturing facility in Japan being taken out by a tsunami. Lenses and bodies are short in supply, and I think they've released only one new body this year. What they do have available is half as good as Canon and twice as expensive. The internets are rife with rumors about pending competitive releases, but I can't sit around and wait for conjecture to become reality. Nope. I think a Canon 5D Mark II, a kick-ass lens, and the latest in editing software is in my future.

Come to mama.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Card ritual

We picked up our Christmas cards last night, so after Zoe was tucked into bed I settled on the couch with the lap desk, a snuggly blanket, favorite pen, and a stack of envelopes.

I forget each year how important it is to me to write these out by hand. Every year I contemplate using my Excel spreadsheet in true geeky fashion and creating a mail merge to print labels. I consider what clipart I could use, or if I could make one of my images teeny tiny and still capture what I'm trying to convey. I let my mind wander through fonts, deciding which I'd use this year.

And then, when it comes down to it, I give up the merge idea and start to handwrite simply because it's easier than messing with formatting in Office.

And once I begin, I remember why it's so important that I do this each year.

Things change. I mean, there are always huge changes to reflect upon that happen in the course of just one year.

People move. Couples get married. Babies are born. We lose loved ones.

Writing out each address by hand reminds me to slow down and think of everyone with intention. Sometimes I laugh, remembering how much fun we had at this wedding or that. Sometimes I cry, slowly striking off my list those who passed away. With each name comes memories. I mail a card to my 7th grade teacher who meant so much to me during a difficult time, and this year, to my new friends gained during the incredible experience of Camp Shutter Sisters. Old family friends we see only once a year but who are held in special places in our hearts, and new friends found on the sidelines of kindergarten soccer games. Former colleagues with whom we waged corporate battles and endured layoffs and budget cuts. I always send a card to the phenomenal group of women at P.A.R.I.N.T.S., an organization dedicated to helping couples conceive. This one simple act each year, writing out their address, reminds me once again of how much we struggled to get our darling girl, and how every agonizing second of that experience was so worth it.

The cards are almost ready to go now. Everything is addressed save for one, and I just need to seal, stamp, and return-address label them. I'm thankful for this opportunity to look at my year in review while relaxing by the fireplace with my beloved nearby and my girl warm and snug in her bed. I am determined to savor everything good about this holiday season, and this was a great start.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Now & Later

My world was rocked this weekend, and it didn't even happen to me.*

I spent much of Saturday in tears, trying to make sense of something that is senseless, and asking questions that are, at best, unanswerable.

It wasn't until I woke up Sunday morning, feeling just a tiny bit better about the whole thing, that I realized the only salve for profound emotional pain is time. Which sounds hokey but is so unbelievably true.

And this got me to wondering about the idea, the goal, of "living in the moment." I've written about that a lot in the past, mainly because my own life gets so busy and I get so caught up in where I need to be next and what I need to do next that I miss what's happening right in front of me. But what if the present moment is just so damn painful that you want to be anywhere but here, any time but in the present? When you know that in five years, you'll hurt way less than you hurt now. And you wish, with all your heart, that you could just blink your eyes and be there, five years later, with less pain.

I think this is why people drink. It temporarily numbs the pain. You drink and drink until you don't feel anything any more. The only problem is when you wake up the pain is still there, now accompanied by a hangover. So you drink again, to numb it again. Ah, so this is how people become alcoholics.

No, I didn't drink myself into a coma this weekend. I'm just saying I can understand why people do it. Why they fall for fleeting relief.

No, my drugs of choice are cleaning products and mad organizational skills. "Okay, I can't fix that, but I can make the bed and do laundry and put these clothes away and hang up this shirt and clean the litterbox and organize my desk..." I bury myself in straightening my environment when I can't straighten out the mess in my head, or fix what's hurting those I love most.

So there's this dichotomy. This desire to live fully in the present and experience everything that's happening right now, right here, because we get but one chance and each day lost is a day we can't get back. How does one balance that with the need for distance and time to just feel better?

I suspect this is one of those Great Unanswerable Questions. And I'm becoming more comfortable with the idea that sometimes there isn't an answer and that you just have to muddle through as best you can, and maybe do a little cleaning along the way.

*No, I will not disclose to whom it happened, nor what it was. I'm usually the girl who can find a silver lining in any situation, and I take great pride in that. There was no silver lining this weekend, though. Not that I can find right now anyway. It is what it is...a deep, dark hole the likes of which I hope I never personally experience, and which saddens my soul for those who do.

Someone reading this will know what its about, and to you, I can only say that I love you and I am here for you always. I can't fix your broken heart, but I can hold your hand while you mend. And I promise you that you will, indeed, mend.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Learning from China's Rats

One of my favorite things to do is look at photographs. I know this comes as a huge surprise, but it's true.

Lately, I've been pretty caught up in images made by those I know. Friends made at Camp Shutter Sisters mostly, but also some old photo buddies and even family. The other night I decided to branch out and see what the fine people of VII have been up to.

Well, the first thing I discovered was that apparently I've been quite insulated from the Big World of Photography, as I didn't even know that James Nachtwey (one of my all-time favorites) left VII. This is huge, as Nachtwey was a founder of the agency back in 2001 with six other photographers. (M asked, "Are they calling themselves VI now?" Smartass.)

Anyway, after getting over that startling bit of info, I perused the various photo projects of VII and learned all kinds of new, and mostly discomforting, information.

One of the things that really popped out at me was a story done under the auspices of the VII Mentor program by Sim Chi Yin, titled "China's Rat Tribe." It's a glimpse into the lives of people living in tiny rooms two and three stories below Beijing. It was startling, to say the least. Many of these rooms are barely wide enough to fit a bed. They suffer from mold and mildew in the summer months. I read that "50 to 100 rooms often share a single bathroom and several toilet cubicles." The Chinese government is looking to shut down these basement and former air-raid-shelter dwellings in the name of safety, and the occupants are worried about finding other, affordable housing.

This story made me look around my comfortable bedroom with clothes strewn across the floor and over furniture, toys scattered around, and other various daily life accouterments; I felt a combination of gratitude and disgust.

Do we, as a family, really need all the stuff that is in our house? No, we don't. People a half a world away are living with a fraction of what we have in tiny basement closets.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am not a keeper-of-things. I'm a pitcher. I much prefer sparse simplicity to clutter. I renewed my personal vow that, with this move (this double-move, I should say), I will rid our house of everything that is not absolutely essential to our health and happiness. This is not to say that I'm going to throw out everything save for some clothes. We will keep things that have sentimental value, that remind us of places seen and memories made. M and I have an absolutely incredible collection of items purchased with thoughtfulness and care from around the world on our trips. Our Christmas tree is full of ornaments that evoke memories of new experiences (trout fishing at 5 a.m., riding bikes with M pulling Zoe in her little two-wheeled carrier, dinner in the southwest dessert with fresh guac prepared tableside, snowshoeing in Colorado). These things, these small, tangible objects that we selected to represent our lives, are worth keeping.

It's the other stuff that needs to go. Like the 90 pounds of wax that make up an inordinate amount of candles purchased years ago but never burned. Toys Zoe no longer plays with. Books I will never read again.

M found a local organization that takes stuffed animals, so several trash bags will disappear this weekend. He's sold a couple units from the old Christmas display on eBay, making me look at nearly everything in our home with a shopkeeper's eye. "When in doubt, throw it out" has taken on new meaning, new purpose.

Soon, I will pack everything we own, move it, store it, move it again, and unpack it. It damn well better be worth keeping to do all that.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Away in a Manger

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St. Nick's Day

St. Nick stopped by last night for Zoe. I didn't say anything to her when she woke up, as I wanted to see if she'd notice. We didn't use her shoes, but opted for the stocking on the mantel.

After she dressed, she headed out to the kitchen to take her cereal bowl back and feed the cats. I was getting dressed in our bedroom when I heard her feet pounding down the hall. "Mommy! I have stuff in my stocking!" I explained that today is St. Nick's Day, and I guess he paid her a visit. The feet pounded away, and then she returned with one of her presents, an owl pen with blue LED eyes and a "hoooo hoooooooo!" call.

I love that she returned with each gift one by one, savoring the newness and the excitement, instead of just dumping everything out at once.

She danced around like a little imp, thrilled that St. Nick came. She talked to her elf, Henry, and laughed that she found him in yet another box of tissues. "Why does he keep sitting on the tissues?" I said maybe he likes them because they're soft. She thinks maybe he likes them because he sneezes a lot.

She is cracking me up these days, and I love seeing the world through her eyes. We've become big fans of The Wizard of Oz, which she's watched both at school and at home. She determined that bad witches are green, and good witches are "skin-colored," and that's how you can tell them apart. Because the maniacal laugh doesn't give it away at all.

This child, this little person who looks like both me and my best friend, who is both insanely creative and intensely analytical (also traits inherited from her parents), who is so empathetic and energetic...she blows me away. You'd think I'd be used to it after six years, but I'm continually surprised by my capacity to love, and to learn from her.

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Monday, December 05, 2011

Everything is as it should be

The universe knows. It just does. I'm convinced now more than ever, after this weekend.

We learned last week was that a major component of this year's addition to The Christmas Display would not be delivered in time. As many of you now know, we added a train this year. Not just a little choo choo that chugs around the track and looks good. We added a friggin' train. One that children can ride on. And adults. Many of them, all at once. It's really, really cool.

M has worked on this project for over five years. Five stinkin' years of painstaking research and planning. The man doesn't move quickly on projects half this size, so he really did his due diligence on this. Given the financial commitment, he wanted to be absolutely certain we were getting exactly what we wanted, and that it was a good value.

This year, we finally decided to pull the trigger. It was time to order the train. The locomotive and track came from one vendor, the cars from another. We wrote a bunch of checks and consulted calendars and arranged for help from the elves. The cars were done first; M and Dad drove north to pick them up with Dad's truck. They were then shuttled to a local powder coater here in STL that M found (also through a ton of research). The guy was great, and the cars were done quickly and looked phenomenal.

M started leaning on the other vendor, who started floating excuses. It was his busy season. His cost of materials went up. He was upside-down and we caught him between price changes. A bunch of malarkey is what it was. M continued to remind him of our deadline of December 3. The guy promised, "Next week." Well, "next week" continued for about a month. He blew the first deadline and M rolled with it. Then he blew the second, and the third, and M started to panic. Frequent calls and emails, trying to push the guy into action from thousands of miles away. More excuses were floated. The welds weren't coating right. The steel had a defect. It was always something.

We got down to last week and really started flipping out. He had to ship it by Wednesday night for there to be any chance of making it here by Saturday, and even then we'd be cutting it close. And crossing our fingers that the damn thing worked right out of the crate.

Wednesday went by with no call from the vendor, no email. Thursday started ticking by...still nothing. I lost my shit several times and started making plans for an Internet jihad against the vendor. M kept cool, and talked me off the ledge. I kept thinking that maybe the guy figured out that he was about to royally blow it and was trucking it here himself. Nope. He shipped it Friday. The day before our big party. When there was absolutely no chance of it arriving in time.

M said, "Hey, look at it this way...if we were going to be missing something, I'd rather it be the locomotive. We have track, we have cars...we can always push/pull the kids around the track." I didn't see the glass as half full like he did. I saw it half empty with a hole in the bottom and several hundred pounds of steel and humans with no horsepower.

I really struggled with my feelings over this. I was so angry at this vendor. We had given him plenty of time (M built in a whole month for cushion, after all, and he still blew it). We had paid up front (and trust me, this thing wasn't cheap). There was no real excuse for the delay other than he. f*cked. up. Which is pretty unacceptable for me.

Last week I had a kindness club meeting. I tried to think of the man kindly, and found it damn near impossible. I searched for ways to try to get over it already, try to calm down. Intellectually, I knew this wasn't the end of the world and that in the grand scheme of things it was really nothing to be too worked up over. I watched how M dealt with it, and wondered how he could be so calm, when I wanted to call and ream this guy on his behalf. I was in full mama-bear mode: don't f*ck with someone I love. And that's exactly what this vendor had done. He let down my boy.

Finally, late Thursday, M got me to laughing. I can't even remember what he said, but it did the trick and before I knew it I felt much better. I resigned myself to having our show without the main attraction, and we set to work on changes.

Saturday night, with nearly 80 people standing in freezing cold between rain showers on our front sidewalk, I served as a locomotive and debuted our train (with Zozer as passenger) to our guests. I smiled as big as I could and let out a hearty "CHOO CHOOOOO!" as I pulled. And then I chugged a bit. I heard laughter, so hopefully my stint as a locomotive went over okay despite the fact that I've never taken any acting classes.

Then, after the show, the sky opened up and it began to rain again. And it didn't stop the rest of the night. Which meant that even if we had a locomotive, no one would have been out there to use it anyway. It was God and the universe saying, "S'okay, kid. Everything is workin' out just fine."

The party was a lot of fun, and while I'm sure people were disappointed that we didn't have the locomotive, it didn't keep them from having a good time. The house was packed, and drinks were flowing. The pool table was loaded down with food. I showed off my architect and our house plans. I heard laughter and saw lots of hugs. Most people promised to come back sometime this season and see the locomotive, which is now scheduled to be here tomorrow.

Looking back, we'll laugh about The Year the Locomotive Didn't Arrive, and remember all the really, really great stuff that happened despite its absence. My friends and family surrounded me and made me laugh, and reassured me that I'm loved and that no matter what, I won't fall, because they're all here to catch me.

Hopefully next time something happens, I'll remember this, and will be better equipped to handle it. Trust the that everything is unfolding exactly as it should, and that we are all exactly where we need to be right now.

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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Okay! Uncle!

Dear Universe,

Just when I thought the day couldn't get worse, you took it to an all new level of suckitude. Thanks for that, because it's always good to know that yes, indeed, things can always get worse.

We'll start all over again tomorrow, 'kay?


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Choosing to believe

Some days, when it seems like it's impossible for anything to go right, when it seems the odds are stacked against you, when it seems as though, despite your best efforts, things are still f*cked up...some days you just gotta believe that it will all work out just fine. Even when it seems logistically impossible.

That's what I'm choosing to believe these days. After a night spent tossing and turning in bed, cursing one person in particular and plotting some good old fashioned Internet-style revenge, I've come to the conclusion that thinking that way doesn't help anyone.  (Note, none of ya'all know this person of whom I write. In fact, I've never even met him. But he's negatively impacting my little family nonetheless. Can't go into great detail now...maybe next week.)

I liken it to the weather. People planning outdoor events and weddings and such seem to always freak out about the weather. I am pleased to say that I have never, ever gotten torqued about a weather prediction. Partly because a.) the weather clowns never get it right anyway, b.) where I live the weather can and usually does change rapidly, making any predictions futile, and c.) I can't do a damn thing about it. Mostly c. I mean, you can have a Plan B in place because of inclement weather, and that's always a good thing, but don't fret over it. Mother Nature is gonna have her way no matter how many times you check

Same thing goes for the price of gas. I need gas to get through my everyday life (work, grocery shopping, etc.), and I can't do a damn thing about the price so I don't even pay attention. Folks get all worked up, and why? No one I know ever really changes their driving habits because of the price of gas. No one tells her boss, "I can't come in for a couple weeks until the price of gas goes back down." I find it interesting that when I bought my car in 1999 I could fill the tank for $18, whereas now it's just short of $50, but it doesn't really piss me off. It just is what it is.

So today, I'm applying my weather/gas principle to this one issue, this one thing that looms over what should be a pretty fantastic Saturday night. Since I can't control the man on whom something is depending, I'm just going to keep the faith that he'll come through. I'm holding on to the feeling that it will all work out. It has to.

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