Sunday, September 7, 2014

Creativity Redux

So for like the 8th time in recent history I've started The Artist's Way again.  Clearly there's something in this creativity program for me if I keep doing it.  I think one of the signs for me is that, since I now sort of work on the fringes of publishing, I see all these mom&pop publishers putting out 3-5 eBooks a month on random topics, and somehow they're making it.  They're not millionaires, but I'm buying books from them, and I know others are too because they have employees, and book designers, etc.  They seem to be making enough to be comfortable, and I think to myself, "well I could do that."  

So why don't I?

I mean, I know eBook publishing as well as anybody else out there doing it (probably a lot better than anyone else out there doing it).  I already have a market in place with libraries.  I know good writing.  I've even done some good writing.

So what the hell is my problem???

I have a gazillion excuses - time, energy, job, yada fucking yada.  But I still have 24 hours in the day, just like Gandhi did.  He managed to win independence for an entire subcontinent.  And I can't put out a few eBooks?  Seriously?

I hit a fork in the road recently with my bipolar diagnosis, and then the summer was spent rehoming the cats and tearing down the home office J built me, but I'm starting to get into a groove now that Hannah is settling into a schedule that gives me at least 2 hours in the evening, and an hour in the morning (if I'm lucky) in which to do some creative work and still get a decent night's sleep.  I'm adjusting to my meds so that I don't feel like I got hit by a truck upon waking up every day.  

And the best part is that next year I'm not going to be working as much.  We have decided to move back to Pennsylvania and I'm going to take on contract jobs, hopefully staying with my current organization, and then maybe picking up some other projects along the way.  So I will have time in which to pursue some of these other goals I have around writing and creativity.

Every morning these days I get up around 5:30 or so to write.  I do my Morning Pages, and I'm working on actually finishing a damn NaNoWriMo book.  Which is good, because every day I get more book ideas.  But I actually have to finish one first.  So that's a goal for me, before the next NaNoWriMo in October.  Lots of editing and rewriting.

I have several friends who have had books published this year, and I'm hella jealous.  One has become quite a big deal - I see her books in Barnes & Noble, and I'm so proud of her - and she's an amazing writer.  But I'm tired of being on the fringes of that world.  I want to get in there and create and publish my own stuff, and stuff I've chosen.  I want to have a say over what gets created and published, too.  Life is too short, and I don't want to have some kind of crazy midlife crisis in 10 years because I never followed my dreams when I had the chance.

So here we go using the tools of The Artist's Way again.  Stay tuned to see what comes of it :)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Roger Mortimer: England's Greatest Traitor

I've recently started reading The Greatest Traitor, The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327-1330, by Ian Mortimer.  I'm a big fan of Ian Mortimer, having read his Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the 14th Century several years ago.  He writes about some obscure history in a really accessible and conversational way, which I love.

In short, the story of Roger Mortimer is a little interlude in the history of the monarchy that doesn't often get the attention it deserves.  Basically, he was a nobleman based out of Wales, born in 1287.  His life was pretty normal and uneventful until around 1322 when he revolted against Edward II.

So Edward II.  Poor Edward II.  What can we say about Edward II?

He was sandwiched in between two great warrior kings, Edward I and Edward III.  He was the father of Edward III?  He was well educated, and intelligent, and also had very bad judgment.  He may or may not have had sexual relations with his dear friend Piers Gaveston.  Whatever their relationship (ie sexual or not) he loved Piers to the exclusion of others, and he risked much of his kingdom to keep Piers happy, rewarding him with land and titles that the nobles didn't think he deserved.

(Actually, I've just found a really great blog that started from a person wanting to salvage Edward II's reputation, so I'm going to have to do some reading on that, to see if my mind is changed.)

So the court was political and there were lots of factions.  To say the least.

And Mortimer comes along, and he's all, "yeah, this king sucks, I'm going to join the movement to rebel, and we're gonna kick some ass."

Except he got caught and was imprisoned in the Tower of London.  From which very few people ever escape.  In fact, Roger Mortimer was one of the very few people who have escaped.  At the time of his escape, he was the first.  He escaped by drugging his guards thanks to the help of a sympathetic guard, escaped through the kitchens and across the river, and eventually to Dover and then France.

Where he wound up taking as his mistress... wait for it... the Queen of England, Isabella, who was also sick of her husband and laying low in France.  Her young son, Edward III would eventually join the couple, and they would plot to invade England.

Poor Edward II (that's really all I can say about him now - Poor Edward II) is captured and imprisoned.  There are rumors that he was never killed, but somehow managed to live out his life in obscurity in Italy.  But he was most likely killed.  There are other rumors that he was sodomized by a hot poker, a token to his supposed relationship with Gaveston.  No one really knows for sure.

What we do know is that for several years, until Edward III came of age and got sick of being a puppet for Isabella and Mortimer, Roger Mortimer essentially ruled England.  He wasn't a king, he had no royal blood, but he was the ruler.

Eventually Edward III plotted his death, with a bunch of his equally-fed-up friends, and in the middle of the night they went through a tunnel in Nottingham Castle that went straight to Isabella's rooms, the door of which was conveniently left open by a sympathetic guard (sympathetic guards were very useful to have around) and Edward III came in with his buddies, swords drawn, and caused a bit of a scene.

Mortimer was subsequently taken to Tyburn, despite Isabella's pleas, and hanged like a traitor.  They didn't take him down for several days so everyone could get a good look.

Other than when Oliver Cromwell ruled as Protectorate, I can't think of any other times since 1066 (other than Regency's) when someone without royal blood has so clearly ruled England as a king himself.  That in itself makes him an interesting guy to study.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Project Fitness Update

So it's Monday, which means I do a Project Fitness Update, and.... it ain't too shabby.  I'm within 6 pounds of my pre-pregnancy weight!  I'm hoping to get that off in a month.

I actually can't say that I know how I managed to lose 5 pounds in the last 2 weeks.  I wish I did know.  I know the following:

- Hannah now weighs 20lbs and 5 ounces.  I lift her up probably about 50 times a day.

- Hannah is now waking up at around 6:15 each morning (though of course we pray that doesn't continue for long.  Mama needs her Alone Time in the morning to drink coffee, meditate, write, etc).  But it is what it is for now.  Who knows, maybe tomorrow she'll sleep in till 7:30.  Knock on wood.  But anyway, what it means is that we have very long mornings together before I start work.  We go for a walk around our lake - all three miles, pushing the stroller on a hilly path - the majority of days.

- We go to bed really early.  It's almost 9:30.  That's my bedtime.  We start bath time at 7, and then put her to sleep at around 8.  Then a little quiet time, and then bed.  What that means is that I don't do a lot of late night snacking.

I guess those three things are combining to speed up my metabolism or something.  I don't know what it means.  But I'll take it.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Summer Recap

So long time no post.  We've been traveling for my work, and busy with Hannah, and she's started sleeping through the night (yay) but winds up getting up at around 6 most mornings (not yay).  Which means that I kind of have to rethink my whole sleep schedule, getting up early to write, how I'm going to fit in The Artist's Way etc.  Our babysitter likes to talk about how she "puzzles" things together, and that's what I'm trying to do.

I was thinking back on the summer, and how it didn't work out at all the way I'd planned.  I had planned to go to Sweden for my best friend's wedding, and North Carolina for my stepbrother's wedding.  Neither of those things happened.  Instead, the following happened.

Memorial Day Weekend: the Saturday morning of Memorial Day Weekend I went to the doctor and got meds for my bipolar disorder.  I took them that Saturday night, felt like a freight train hit me, and slept for 13 hours without waking up once.

Hannah moved into her own room Memorial Day Weekend as well.  It was a big weekend all around.

The week after that I was in New York for BookExpo where I met a lot of publishers, took lots of long walks through the city, revisited some of my old haunts, and ate a lot of Pret a Manger sandwiches.

In mid-June the shit hit the fan with our neighbor when he came pounding up our steps swearing at us (he has some anger issues).  We should have called the cops for disorderly conduct, but we were too shellshocked.  Next day the County comes out and says that:
- we have to tear down the cat shed
- we have to get an inspector out about the home office
- we need to rehome half our cats.

That night I escaped to Seattle for the launch of the Amazon Fire phone and met Jeff Bezos the next day.

When I got home we decided that we were moving back to Pennsylvania by the next summer.  We would swing seriously into Moving Mode, which meant getting rid of stuff, fixing up the house, and yes, rehoming our cats.  I stopped feeling safe in our home thanks for the asshole next door, who also started coming up more often.  Before The Incident we'd seen him twice in 7 years.  Now he's up like every week.

Ok, so we spent tons of time and energy calling cat places and trying to find homes for older cats, which is a tough sell.

Then I went to Vegas for ALA Annual.  It was hot.  That's all I can say about that.  Oh, and the Bellagio fountain show is amazing.

We started Mommy & Me swim lessons the last week in June.  Hannah had a blast with the kids in the water, and even went off the diving board.

By the 4th of July we had homes for the cats lined up, and we were delivering them.  J took down the cat shed, but it took a week because he was doing it carefully since we might wind up reassembling it in our driveway.

The inspector comes in mid July and says that J has to tear down the home office, and has 2 weeks to do so.

I work part time so he has time to disassemble, and Hannah and I spend a lot of time together in the afternoons.

We had our first yard sale on August 2, and made around $70, and got rid of 2 carloads of crap.

The home office was mostly torn down by her birthday, on August 7.  Which she spent in the ER with strep throat.  A 15 hour overnight ER visit.  I'm still recovering from that.

Sometime in there I went up to San Mateo and got pissed off at the summertime tourists clogging up the airport.

After all this, the idea of going to Sweden - just the idea of it - made me nauseated.  I just couldn't do it.  So I bailed on my best friend and his wedding.  So sad.  I also bailed on my stepbrother's wedding.  Too many people got married in August.

Hannah took her first steps August 9.  She was really seriously walking by around the 19th.  Now she's a pro.

This past week we were up in Santa Clara for a big event I do there each year.  The drive through the Central Valley with an antsy 1 year old who can walk was pretty rough.  I had told my boss back in mid July that I was moving, and was going to be working for myself.  I might still stick around with my current job on a consultant/contract basis (and in fact I think it makes sense for me to do so, at least for a year or two), but I'm also hustling for other work next year, and will be going to the Pa Library Association meeting at the end of September.

And today, to nicely wrap up the end of summer in a neat little package, we had our second yard sale and made around $250.  I sold the Asus tablet I bought in 2011 at Best Buy in Upland.  J sold his first guitar.  We're seriously getting rid of everything.  It's awesome and freeing and amazing.

This summer I also started practicing daily meditation, daily writing, and using the loseit app.  I'm within 7 pounds of my pre-pregnancy weight.  I walk around the lake at least 4-5 days a week, with smaller walks the rest of the days.  It's great to start feeling healthy again.  I'm fairly well adjusted to my meds - they don't make me feel like I was hit by a freight train anymore, though I do still need 8 hours of sleep each night to not feel like death.

Hannah is on a good schedule, and I get time in the evenings to myself these days.  Also the mornings, if I can drag my ass out of bed early enough.  Now that it's getting light so much later, the 5:45 alarm seems even more like a medieval torture instrument.

And I've read a ton of books on Oyster.  I heart Oyster.

So that's where we are.  Nothing went as expected, but that's kind of how life goes, and I'm really excited about the future.  Working for myself, however that will go.  Moving back home (which sort of fills me with dread, but is also exciting at the same time - plus J is really excited, so it's great to see him like that).  Really committing to a number of big changes, which I think will be for the best for our family, and for Hannah.  It's been a crazy summer!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well

I've had several signs pointing me to the writings of Julian of Norwich lately.  She was a fourteenth century anchoress and Christian mystic, who, when she was 29 years old, was deathly ill.  While on her sickbed, she had sixteen visions of Christ, starting when she saw the garland wreath in her room literally bleed, the way Christ's crown of thorns would have made Him bleed.

After she had her visions - and survived her illness - she wrote about them, and was the first woman to publish a book in the English language, right around the same time as Chaucer, Revelations of Divine Love.  She also devoted her life to meditation on her visions, and became an anchoress in Norwich.

Another famous anchoress was Hildegard von Bingen, who is famous for being the first woman to publish her music compositions.  Anchoresses were nuns who wanted to completely shut themselves away from the world, and devote their lives solely to meditation and prayer.  So they literally walled themselves in a small room attached to the abbey, and there was a little slit where they would receive meals, and communion, and they could view the services.  They were regarded as very wise and learned women, and people would often stop outside and ask them for advice, or a blessing.

There is a festival in Norwich celebrating Julian now, Julian Week, which features lectures and information about this amazing woman.

I've been reading her Revelations (there are several versions in print, and available at my favorite place, Oyster) and I'm struck by something really wonderful, and I think, part of the reason why I was led to her (there are no accidents in life - or books).

In all her visions, she saw all kinds of stuff - she saw Jesus, she understood sin, she got her divinity, but she never saw hell.  There was no hell at all that she saw.  There was only everything being Well.  That was the key message that she got: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

This wasn't particularly a popular opinion with the Church, the Pope, etc.  But she saw what she saw, and even though she had moments where she doubted how real her visions were (between Showings 15 and 16 especially) she never doubted that she was spoken to by God, and what she was was a Divine message.

So here's how she came to understand it, after meditating on it for 20 years.  There is a part of all of us that is connected to God, that is part of God, the infinite energy of the universe, the Source of life, etc etc.  God would never send part of Himself to hell, and anyway, even Satan himself (if he even exists, which I haven't seen in her writings yet) had once been an angel, and is still part of God.  Then there's the part of us which is human, which messes up, and which hurts people (and ourselves).  That part suffers enough from our actions.  The part of us that is part of God is what is sustained after we die.

I like Julian.  She articulated answers to some of my most burning questions like 750 years ago.

“[God] is our clothing. In his love he wraps and holds us. He enfolds us for love and he will never let us go.”
 “The soul is immediately at one with God, when it is truly at peace in itself.”

Monday, August 11, 2014

Project Fitness Update

So here we are, another Monday.  Oh man, this is painful.  So you know, we were at the ER on Thursday night into Friday.  And it's so interesting how I deal with stress, which is by eating.  I've noticed it so much this week.  I have a stupid fight with J, and I run out to the kitchen and grab a handful of malted milk balls to calm my nerves.  On Thursday night, I had a screaming baby on my lap for hours - I wasn't about to let her crawl around in the ER with all the who-knows-what on the floor.  So I just held her on my lap while she flailed and screamed.  And she sat in her stroller sometimes, and I'd walk with her.  But mostly it was her on my lap, flailing.  Until she finally started to pass out.  So guess what I did?  I hit the snack machine.  Grape soda.  Orange soda.  Diet coke.  A giant pack of vanilla cookies.  Chocolate.  You name it, I guzzled it.

I didn't choose to meditate and channel my inner silence.  No, I inhaled sugar.

This is not particularly healthy.

Even worse, I justified it because I did spend a ton of time walking her in her stroller in circles.  So I was like, "well, I'm walking her around for hours, that must be burning some calories, no?"  Uh, no.  Not that many.  

I've also gotten out of the habit of using the loseit app, which I started rectifying today.  I'd also been sliding on my meditation (mostly because I noticed that whenever I would meditate, I would start thinking hateful thoughts about my asshole neighbor, but that's a different story).  Which doesn't seem to be the point of meditation.  So I meditated today and pushed past that and started thinking no thoughts at all.  For about 6 seconds.

So that's where we are.  Stopped by stress eating.

New week this week.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

People I'm Glad I'm Not: Tony Stewart

It's still a rough time in HannahLand, with her still sick, and being super fussy for most of the day.  We did have a few high points - she took her first steps by herself! - but for much of the day it's been rough.  We're even letting her cry herself to sleep - something I've been totally against from the get go - because she's fighting sleep so much, but she needs it desperately, and when we're in the room with her, she just cries to be held and won't lay down.  Poor baby.  It's been rough.

Still, it's better than what Tony Stewart is going through.  The bigwig Nascar racer (3 time champion) killed an unknown driver last night by freaking running over him.  He was doing some dirt track racing an hour away from the Watkins Glen speedway where he was meant to be racing the next day in NASCAR, and got into an altercation with a driver, spinning him out.  The caution flag came out, and the driver stepped out onto the track, and seemed to play a game of chicken with Stewart when he came around the next time, pointing at him and not moving.  Tony is famous for his anger (he's pulled similar moves himself, even throwing his helmet at the car of another Nascar driver two years ago) and while it's tough to tell from the cell phone video, it appears that Stewart did something before hitting the guy - revved his engine, swerved, something.  The investigation will have to determine what that something was.

In the meantime, we're sad about it here in the Teysko house.  Tony Stewart has always been J's favorite racer.  The year J and I met, 2005, Tony won the championship.  We bought a #20 car Christmas tree ornament (now Stewart is in the 14 car, but at the time, it was the 20 Home Depot).  In fact, for a long time, J refused to shop at any DIY store besides Home Depot, thinking it might jinx Stewart.  Only once he changed cars would J walk into Ace or Lowe's.

J identifies with Stewart in lots of ways, but especially his anger issues.  He doesn't get road rage to the same extent as Tony, but he gets pissed off and says really stupid shit that he regrets later.  It's cost him friendships, roommates, and often causes fights between us.  But at the end of the day, nobody dies.  Tony lost his temper, refused to yield, and a 20 year old kid's existence has been wiped off the face of the earth.  And even if Tony didn't hit him on purpose, he still has to live with the knowledge that his car caused the death of this kid, and he'll need to wake up to that every morning for the rest of his life.

And so, I will take a crying fussy baby giving me a migraine over what Tony's going through, any day.  I'll wake up tomorrow and take my baby to the doctor, and she'll probably be happier, and then I'll get a break while I work, and then we might walk at the lake, and eat dinner, and have a bath, and bedtime might go better than it did tonight, or I might want to gouge my eyes out with a spoon again.  But either way, it's a hell of a lot better than what Tony's going through right now, and I feel for him.  And the driver he killed.  What a freaking mess.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

I'm completely dysfunctional without a routine

I am a creature of routine and habit.  It's the Taurus in me.  Routines and regular rituals are comforting to me.  If I have my routines down for everyday things, it frees me up to be more creative and add more activity to my life because the basics are already sorted.  It's also incredibly comforting to know that when I wake up at 5:45, I have most of my activities sorted out and I don't need to spend a lot of time thinking about them.

The past few weeks my routine has gone to shit, and I'm really suffering from it.

Jonathan has been working on tearing down the home office (which we need to do because it violates a setback law).  I've been working part time in the mornings so he can tear down the building in the afternoon.  I haven't had much of a break for me-time because I know that I can't tear down a building, but what I can do is give J time to work, so I've been watching Hannah so he can work every extra second possible.

So I'm way behind on work.  No fun.  The upshot is that the deadline to have the building down is this Monday, so I know this will all come to an end then either way.

Thursday was Hannah's birthday, and we had fun for much of the day, but she also seemed kind of "off" - not eating right, not going to the bathroom, generally fussy...when I finally took her temperature, it was over 101, so I took her to the ER and spent the whole night there while they ran tests, waited to see if her fever would break (started at 102.9 taken rectally - which was really awful - in the hospital) and to see if she would eat and not get dehydrated.  The ER is pretty much an exercise in hell.

They got her in to get vitals and see a nurse practitioner really quickly, but then when they decided she needed to be seen by a doctor, and we had to wait for a bed to open up, the fun began.  We were told to go back out and wait for a bed at about 8pm.  We finally got called back at 1am.  During that five hours (which was way past her bedtime, of course) I walked her in giant circles in the parking lot, drank a ton of diet coke, played with her toys with her, carried her back and forth, practiced walking with her, and then, as the night went on, tried in vain to avoid the crazy people.  There was the homeless guy, Darren (named after the Bewitched character) who arrived at the ER with a broken rib, and also had seizures, but he was still waiting after 7 hours.  Then there was a lady, Sylvia, who wanted to sell me solar panels, and followed me around on our parking lot Circle Walk to extol the virtues and ease of solar panels.

I kept going up every hour and asking for the status, wondering whether I could go home without seeing a doctor, or if I should just wait it out.  They gave her Motrin, she seemed to be not so hot, and so a big part of me really wanted to just go home and make an appointment with her pediatrician.

Eventually we went back, though, and they ran a battery of tests including needing to get a urine sample (inserting a catheter), throat cultures, and lots of other fun stuff.  She was hooked up to wires, which meant that she couldn't move around the way she wanted, and she also just wanted to eat the wires, so I had to try to keep that from happening.  For some of the tests they swaddled her so she wouldn't flail around so much.  Also not a good time.

Finally at about 3:45 she fell asleep on my chest sitting in the chair.  She dozed like that until around 9 when we got released, though of course she woke up every hour when they took her temp with the stick up the butt.

We had decided that J would stay home and rest, and I would go alone so that one of us was rested.  So when I got home, I could just crash out and sleep all day.  During some parts of the night (the Circle Walk of Agony) I really missed him and could have used just 10 minutes to sit in the car in silence without a screaming baby.  But I really appreciated being able to crash at home, so that worked out.  When we finally got home (after a Jack in the Box breakfast) Hannah slept all day (and, blessedly, all night) and I slept for 2 hours, and then also all night.

So Friday was pretty much a waste.  And this morning I slept in until she got up at 7:15, so I lost my morning quiet time.  And we missed doing our 10K this morning.

Really, I'm just a wreck without my routine - I haven't been meditating, I haven't been doing Morning Pages, I haven't been writing... but I guess that's life, and hopefully I'll start to get some semblance of it back this coming week.

It never ceases to amaze me just how much I fall apart when I lose my routine.  I never thought I was a creature of habit or routine, but apparently I am.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Happy Hannah Week

I've been engaged in a game of Last Year at This Time because August 6 was when I went to my 38 week appointment and Hannah failed the nonstress test and the doctor decided to induce and the next day we had a Hannah Bear.  So all day we've been looking back at pictures and thinking about what was going on last year at this time.

I hadn't been thinking that it would matter whether I was here for Hannah's birthday or not - originally I had plans to maybe even be away from her on her birthday if I had gone to Sweden to my friend's wedding.  I mean, she's a year old.  It's not like she knows.  Right?  And it's just a day.  Days are days.

But now that it's here, I think I'd be really upset if I wasn't with her on her birthday.  It's not even so much for her, but for me, remembering what it took to get her, honoring the journey we took together, and looking back on it all.  Tomorrow and this weekend will be a time to celebrate the little miraculous (thanks to the miracles of modern fertility drugs) bundle of energy and life that she is.  But like all great feasts and celebrations, there is a time of quiet meditation beforehand, and so that's what we're doing now.  In the time I'd normally be blogging, we looked at pictures from her first few months of life.  Our goofy girl.

Today I gave her a shape sorter from Ikea.  It is a house with the shapes opened in the roof.  You put the little shapes in the holes, the shapes go in the house, and you've got a working system.  Except I showed Hannah how to do it, and then gave the toy to her, and the first thing she did was just lift off the roof, put it on her head, and put all the little shapes directly inside the house without putting them through the roof at all.  My kid is nothing if not efficient.  Then she looked at me like I was supposed to be the smart one, and she was extremely disappointed in me for not having thought of this option before.

Good point, Hannah.  I like that you don't play by the same rules as everyone else.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Week in Old Music: Voces8 and Purcell

Henry Purcell is a Grandaddy in the world of early music.  There are a couple of Big Names that most people who are into music, but not early music, have heard of, and Purcell is always one of them.  He lived in the late 17th century, and was right on the border, getting baroque music started in England.  He wrote the first English chamber opera, Dido and Aeneas, and wrote enough sacred music to fill about a hundred recordings.  He's influenced everyone from Elgar to Pete Townsend of The Who, who said that his harmonies are based on Purcell's.

This week I've been listening to A Purcell Collection from Voces8, a vocal group based in the UK that has a recording contract with Decca, and must receive the award for the Bass with the Most Unique Name in the world: Dingle Yandell.  Seriously, his parents thought that was a good name.  Who names their kid Dingle?  But I digress.  The guy's super-cute, and he can sing, so who care's what he's called?

I like Voces8 a lot (though sometimes I call them V8 and pretend they're vegetable juice).  Their new album is called Eventide, and has more modern music on it, but lately I've been in a Purcell mood, and this album from 2013 does it for me.  It was a Classic FM "Choice for the Curious" pick, so if you're curious, have a listen (and then download the album on itunes.  If you're into this stuff, it will be on regular rotation, I promise).


Monday, August 4, 2014

Deja Vu All Over Again (and baby news)

Things have been absolutely crazy here in HeatherWorld.  What with J tearing down the building (he has 6 more days), me trying to watch Hannah so he can have time to work while trying to keep up with my own job...there hasn't been much time to spare here.  Plus, on Saturday we had a table at a local flea market and got rid of oodles of stuff.  We're starting to think ahead to the move to PA, and are getting even more ruthless than we were before we had Hannah.  This was the first layer of skin off the onion.  Everything that didn't sell (except for the 'spensive electronics - like my Asus tablet - which I can sell on ebay) went to the thrift shop on the way home, and we got rid of about 8 boxes of junk.  That's 8 less boxes that we'll have to move.  And 8 less boxes in Hannah's closet so I now have space to think about the next layer of ruthlessness.

The reason it's been deja vu is because over the weekend the building was at about the same level that it was last summer before Hannah arrived, and looking at it brings back all the memories of pre-Hannah life; before I was bipolar, before I spent 5 months pumping, before I was so tired, etc etc.  The night before I was emergency-induced, I was sitting in there with the floors unfinished as they are now, while J was doing some wiring, and I posted on facebook that I was craving whoopie pies, and I read magazines on my ipad, and I felt Hannah kicking.  Now the building is back in the same shape, and we have a Hannah, and life is completely different, and the building is coming down rather than going up.

Fun with Boxes!
But in unrelated news, it rained all day yesterday, so we had Rainy Day Fun, which involved figuring out a gazillion things to do with a cardboard box while staying in our PJ's.  Examples: you can sit in it.  You can hide in it.  You can get pushed and pulled in it.  You can put things in it, and then take them back out.  You can put all your stuffed animals in it, and then sit on top of them.  You can sit in it and close it up so you have your own private space.  Who knew there was so much you could do with a cardboard box???

Hannah's birthday is this week, and I may have gone just a tad crazy on the toys.  But here's what I figure.  I figure that she won't really be getting more until Christmas, so this lot is going to have to do her for four and a half months, which, in baby time, is like forever.  So I got stuff that may be a little advanced for her (like a my first leggo-wannabee set of giant blocks, and organic edible crayons) because I figure that by November she might be totally into it.  She also got some more normal age appropriate stuff like shape sorters, pull toys, bead mazes, pounding things, some bath toys, and baby musical instruments.  We went to Ikea last weekend to get a baby duvet set for her crib (now that she's a year old, she can have blankets, and I wanted to make her crib more friendly and cozy looking than just the gross white sheet that seemed to always get stained with her drool).  But anyway, I had no idea that Ikea had so many kickass toys in their baby department.  I bought one of everything.  Even some things that she already has one of - like a ring stacker thing - because with toys like that, it's good to have variety (so she says, justifying it).  She's also getting some German baby books and I heard a rumor that her Opa (originally from Leipzig) has purchased some German cartoon kids' dvd's from, which will play in our playstation.  And she also got her little duvet and sheet set, which I gave her early, and she adores. She still moves around too much to actually sleep under the blanket; I just put her in her little sleep sack on top of the duvet, and then in the mornings sometimes I catch her kissing it.  It's very sweet.

To celebrate her birthday on Saturday (2 days late) we are doing a 10k at the lake (the Run Through The Pines, which they have every year) and then the grandparents are coming up, and maybe her little friend Neil (baby of Jason and Katie, born about 6 weeks after Hannah). I'll get some pre-made food at Costco to pop in the oven, and we'll have a nice meal, but I refuse to do a cake smash.  I got her a brand new sweet birthday outfit, and I'm not ruining it with a cake smash.  It is one tradition that I am not going anywhere near.

In fact, I am not baking a cake at all.  I have enough issues with food, and J has enough issues with alcohol that the chances are pretty strong that our babygirl is going to grow up with some addictive tendencies of her own.  I'm not going to start a precedent that happy occasions mean sugary crappy food, and so we will be having a nice healthy meal (post 10k) and perhaps the adults will have cupcakes.  Maybe.

And that, my friends, is how we do birthdays in HeatherWorld.  At least, it's how we're doing brithdays this year.  Next year it might not be so easy.  For one, I probably won't be able to keep her presents in a big Ikea bag next to her crib without her catching on to them being there... There's pros and cons to every age, I'm finding.  Right now she is teething and fussy, so that's crappy.  But I can keep her presents in her room, 3 feet from where she sleeps, and she has no clue.  Plus I don't have to wrap them.  Pretty awesome.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Week in Books: More Bernard Cornwell

In among all the angst associated with us losing our building that Jonathan built last year, I've been immersed in the adventures of Uhtred of Bebbenberg, which has been a lovely distraction.  I've been staying up past my bedtime to see what adventures he'll have next.

The whole premise of the Saxon Tales series is based on Uhtred, who was born Saxon, but in book 1 the Vikings start their invasions, and while they are capturing York, Uhtred's father dies in battle.  Then his uncle usurps Uhtred's inheritance and he was captured by the Danes.  And he was raised Viking.  So when the Danes push south through Mercia (the present day Midlands) and capture East Anglia and Cent, there is just one Kingdom left; Wessex, led by a young and inexperienced king, who would become Alfred the Great.
Throughout the series we see Uhtred torn between his loyalties.  On one hand, he loves the Danes who raised him like a son and trained him to be a great warrior.  He loves their gods, and he loves their lifestyle.  On the other hand, he's a Saxon, and Alfred is his king.  And, what he really wants is to go back and capture Bebbenberg from his thief of an uncle. And what his king, who now respects him above all other warriors (while also keeping him on a tight leash because he questions Uhtred's loyalty) wants is to unite all the English speaking kingdoms into a united England, and repulse the Danes back to their lands of ice and winter.

The best thing about these books is that all the battles he writes about really happened.  Alfred really did want to unite the kingdoms into England.  He really did build the first navy.  He did constantly have to fight battles to protect his lands and his people, and he had to fortify his towns with burghs (walled defenses).  And we just see all this unfold through Uhtred, a fictional character, and what he wants.  

The writing is compelling and pulls you in.  If I didn't have a daughter, I'd devour them in a long day on a weekend.  Alas, Hannah pulls me away, and I go kicking and screaming to change her diaper, or feed her, or pay attention to her rather than Uhtred (the nerve of her!).  

The first six books were all on Oyster.  The seventh, since it's not backlist, isn't yet, and so that's a good enough reason for me to take an enforced Uhtred break.  

Next up I'm reading the writings of Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic contemporary of Chaucer, whose Revelations of a Divine Love was the first book to be published in English by a woman.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Project Fitness Update and Random Iceland News

So depending on which way I stand on the scale, I'm within 5 pounds of my prepregnancy weight.  If I stand one-footed, towards the front.  I'm trying to remember whether I stood this way on the scale before I was pregnant, because then I'm really comparing apples to apples.  Actually, comparing apples to apples would be seeing how my jeans fit, but it's been so hot, I haven't worn them.  And anyway, my weight has shifted around a lot (towards my belly - boo hoo) so it's still not quite apples.

I need to get back on track with using the loseit app.  I sort of checked out of it because I was eating out and eating new foods, and continually scanning barcodes when Hannah was spilling her sippy cup and throwing oatmeal at me got a bit trying.  But with that said, I have been walking around the lake, three miles, pretty much every day.  It used to be that on a rest day I actually rested.  But now, I just putter along walking slowly.  Hannah really enjoys the walks, it's something to do with her, and it gets us out and in the sunshine, so I continue to do them, even on days when I'm beat, but just slowly, listening to my audiobook in one ear.  It's still good exercise, even if I'm not racing myself; pushing that stroller with her in it is about an extra 40 pounds, up and down the hills.  Not too shabby.

So that's the news on fitness.

In other random news, Iceland just had their first fatal police shooting.  This is why I love Iceland.  The whole country has never had a fatal police shooting until now.  It's sad, but it's still a pretty great testament to how awesome Iceland is.  I can't wait for us all to go back there, with Hannahbear.  And spend longer than two days.  Fingers crossed it could be next summer.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Last year, J built a gorgeous home office for me.  We were expecting Hannah, I needed a place to work, and he wanted a building project.  So he leveled out a 12x16 area in the back yard, which took a lot of digging, concrete and bricks to make a retainer wall (since our backyard is a huge hill, so the home office is on much higher ground than our house), and got to work.  We got giant windows from a guy in Fresno.  We got floors at Ikea.  The whole thing was, and is, an awesome space to work.  It looks out over the trees, and in the winter when it snowed, it was so cozy up there, watching the world turn white.  Plus, as an added bonus, we put cats up there once Hannah was born.

Everything was great.


We didn't get a permit for it.

No big deal, everyone told us.  You don't need to permit that.  If you ever sell the house, they'll just permit it then.  The son of the guy who owns the house next to ours (and is rarely there - it's a vacation home for him, and we've seen him twice in 7 years), and is a contractor, told us that as long as we got along with our neighbors, it was fine.

So apparently in April, the owner wanted a home equity loan on the house, and sent an assessor up, unbeknownst to anyone.  We still had construction debris in his driveway (again, the son told us it was ok), and our Jeep was parked there, and the home office violated setback laws.

The guy calls the County, and they came out in mid June.  The code enforcement officer saw how many cats we had, also a no no.  Plus, the cat house Jonathan built in 2011, on our deck (which was there when we bought the house) is apparently on his property.

We were given 30 days to tear down the cat house, rehome 8 cats, and get a building inspector out to see what to do about the home office.  So we spent most of the next three weeks frantically finding homes for all the cats (successfully, thanks to a wonderful cat sanctuary on the mountain that was able to take the ones we couldn't find homes for), and then J spent a week tearing down the shed.  We had a brief respite when we sold the Jeep, and were waiting for the inspector to come.

He came today.  And the home office needs to come down in 2 weeks.  Apparently the inspector was heartbroken telling us.  Told Jonathan it was a gorgeous building,   And we could have tried to drag it out, but then he probably would have made a giant fuss, and forced a lien on our house.  We just want it to be over with, so we're tearing it down.  Well, Jonathan is.  I'll be working part time the rest of the week so that he can have the afternoons free to deconstruct.

It was strange, going up there today while Hannah was napping.  All the furniture was out, and he was ripping up the floors.  When I was pregnant, I used to sit there with him and read while watching him build.  The night before we had Hannah, I was up there reading magazines on my ipad, and I posted on facebook that I was craving whoopie pies.

Now it's deja vu all over again, only I'm not pregnant, and the house is coming down, not going up.

Lessons Learned:
1) get a permit on everything.  It's not worth it to try to cheapen out and risk having to tear down your work.
2) see above.
3) even if your neighbor is an asshole, if you have a permit, they can't do anything.
4) move away from the assholes

So we're taking this all as a big sign that it's time to move back to Pennsylvania.  It's been on our minds for a while, but after this, I just feel like the rug got pulled out of us so suddenly, and I don't feel safe here anymore.  The neighbor was up the day before the County came, and he stormed up our steps ranting and swearing, and called J a "fucking degenerate" while I was feeding Hannah 3 feet away.  Classy.  Oh, and he's a licensed firearms dealer.  Good times.  Out of nowhere, we had to get rid of our cats under pressure of them being taken away by animal control, and pieces of our home were coming down.

I'm officially over this mountain, and California in general.  We're going back to PA next year.  Where there's history.  And people don't drive quite as crazy.  Now we're in Full Speed Ahead on this move.  Doing it with a toddler is going to be interesting.  The fun is starting with pulling down this building, and on Saturday I have a table at a local flea market, where we're starting to get rid of our stuff.  I've become much more ruthless.  "Do I really want this," has become "do I want to move this across the country."  Much easier to say no to that.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Perfect Crime of the 1870's

I've been reading The Men Who United the States by Simon Winchester, a history of the US told through the elements of wood, metal, water, fire, and air, which is an interesting lens through which to view history.  The wood chapter, for example, was all about when wood was the primary material; the homes the early colonists built, the boats they used to explore, right up to the Lewis and Clark expedition, which did truly unite the states in ways they never could have imagined.

The metal chapter had a story in that I've never heard before, the Great Diamond Hoax of 1872.  So two guys walk into a bank in San Francisco, and they say they want a safety deposit box.  They have a bag of jewels, and they say that they found them all in some land, they won't say where, but the jewels are so plentiful that you can scrape your boot, and hit amethysts, rubies, and diamonds.  They're just everywhere, just waiting to be picked.

Of course all the prospectors in San Francisco want to know more.  They had the jewels appraised, and even Tiffany got in on the action saying they were real and valued those stones at $150k.  People say they want to see this magical jewel field, and so the guys take people, blindfolded, to the spot.  Eventually a company is formed to prospect for more of the jewels once geologists verify that the jewels are real and the land is really full of them.  The two original prospectors, Philip Arnold and John Slack become original shareholders of the company, and their shares are worth $300k each.

Eventually, word of all this gets to Clarence King, a government geologist, who smells a rat.  The probability of all these jewels being in the same spot is so rare, he just can't believe it.  He goes to SF, asks one of the geologists who verified the field of diamonds and jewels was real.  The guy said he traveled for a day and a half by train, and then by horse for 2 days.  Everyone had assumed that the field was in Arizona, but King looked at railway line timetables, and guessed that a day and a half by train would put them somewhere in present day Wyoming or Utah or somewhere around there.  He got all Sherlock Holmes and asked about what the weather was like, trying to figure out whether the guy had gone across the Rockies or not.

The one distinguishing landmark the geologist had remembered was a dome shaped mountain.  He also thought that they had traveled south from the railroad station.  King guessed that the station was in Wyoming, and went there.  Sure enough, the station managers reported that there had been a rush of activity at the same time the men were having everyone come out to see the diamond field.  King traveled south by horse, and saw the dome shaped mountain.  He eventually found the field, and the jewels.  And he saw that they had all been planted.

Turns out the guys had bought $35k worth of cast-off jewels in Brussels and London and planted them there, literally digging the holes and burying them.  Meanwhile, back in SF, the two prospectors decide that running a company isn't for them, and they'd like to cash out and go back to a quiet life of prospecting, please.  So they get their $300k each, and go back to Kentucky.  Eventually the whole scam comes out, and people lost a crap-load of money.  The guy who owned the bank in SF wound up eventually committing suicide and his body was found floating in the bay.

The story of the planting, the swindling, and the eventual way it was solved needs to be made into a film; seriously, I have no idea why this isn't a movie yet.  It's freaking fascinating!

Friday, July 25, 2014

The bipolar chronicles: Learning to Give Myself some Grace

Some of you know that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder back in early May.  I thought I was just dealing with a nasty case of post partum depression, and then I saw another specialist, and he put it together that since bipolar disorder runs in my family, all the stress made it completely flare up on me.  Good times.  So since then I've been on three meds - Lamictal and Seroqual, which help the bipolar mood swings, and Xanax, which helps the anxiety I get.

I think it's ironic that I tried so hard to be med-free during pregnancy and delivery, and now I'm sort of making up for lost time.  I try to do everything you're supposed to do - meditate, exercise every day, do yoga, etc etc.  Sometimes you just need a little extra help, I suppose.

Anyway, I've been thinking lately about how there are a lot of times when I want to crawl into bed and completely avoid life, and all the demands that it has of me, for several hours.  Every day.  I hate facing disappointed people, and being a working mother, I seem to be surrounded by disappointed people.  Hannah's upset because I can't play during lunch.  Boss is upset that I didn't get something done that I said I would.  Friends upset because I never email or facebook.  Husband upset because I'm a bad wife who doesn't pay enough attention to him.  Quicken Loans upset because I decided not to refinance with them.  And on and on it goes...

I remember once about 10 years ago I was producing The Vagina Monologues for V-Day - where Eve Ensler lets you produce the play without paying royalties as long as all the proceeds to go charity - and I was doing it in my hometown of Lancaster PA while living in NYC.  The whole thing had a massive implosion at the end, largely due to me not paying enough attention.  When I showed up to the dress rehearsal, I was literally accosted by actresses upset that they couldn't get tickets in advance, and a director upset that his name was spelled wrong, and a venue upset that their phone number was given out inappropriately, and on and on and on it went.

After all the complaints had been dealt with, and I had apologized and admitted my many shortcomings as a producer, I was having coffee with a dear friend who told me, "heather, if any of this starts up again tomorrow, you just need to say, 'I'm sorry, yesterday was complaint day, and you clearly missed it.  I just can't hear your complaint today.  Maybe next time.'"

It was a good lesson.  There are things I can deal with.  There are things I'm responsible for.  And sometimes I just need to let people down.  And that's ok.  People let me down regularly.  Nearly every day someone doesn't do their job properly and that impacts my world and my job.  We're all just humans.  I can cut them some slack, and I can cut myself some slack.  No, hubby, I'm sorry, I can't listen to xyz now, I need a bubblebath.  Maybe tomorrow.

I can't imagine myself talking like that on a regular basis; I'm a pleaser and I like to be useful and make people happy.  But in the meantime, it's adding a huge amount of pressure to my life, while also making me pissed off at the other people who don't adhere to my standards, and therefore it makes us all miserable.

After all, I do live in California.  You'd think I was better at chilling out than I am...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Old Music Thursday: Ensemble Cinquencento and the Hapsburgs

If any of you are into early music, and you have sirius radio, there is a wonderful program, which I'm sure I must have mentioned before, called The Millennium of music, on Symphony Hall, channel 76, at 11am eastern/8am pacific on Sunday mornings.  I generally catch it when I'm on my way to the lake.  The host, Robert Aubry Davis, has a wonderful voice and a passion for early choral music (he started a channel on XM called Vox, which was cancelled when Sirius bought XM - their loss).  I always learn something new on his program, or discover a new composer to start a love affair with.

This week the program was on the Ensemble Cinquencento, and their new album, Amorosi Pensieri.  They are a German group who have focused largely on sacred music of the Renaissance, but with this new album, they are turning towards more secular music from the Hapsburg Court.

The Hapsburg Monarchy ruled the area around what we would think of as Germany or Austria from the end of the 13th century until WWI ended, which is an amazing lineage.  But their heyday was in the Renaissance, when they were often elected to be the Holy Roman Empires, and they had a vibrant court in Vienna and Prague, and they were everywhere; taking turns ruling Spain, the Low Countries, you name it.  They were the major force of the Renaissance, and they had a court that matched their vibrancy, supporting dozens of composers and artists.

If you're interested in this kind of music, Hyperion, a label out of the UK, has an amazing selection, which is now available via download.  This particular album is here:

Or, you can get a taste of the music with this complete album of Philippus de Monte, a famous sacred and secular composer who was a shining star of the Hapsburg empire.  I'll definitely be adding these albums to my playlists.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Writing about Reading: Amazon Kindle Unlimited

Last week Amazon announced they were also entering the ebook subscription service, which I wrote about previously, by starting Kindle Unlimited.  The new service is a direct competitor to Oyster and Scribd, and while I love the promo video, that's about the only thing I love about it.

Here's the thing; Amazon is quickly turning into a Company Town.  They boast 600,000 titles (more than the 400,000 and 500,000 on Scribd and Oyster, respectively), but the thing they don't say is that most of those are from their own Amazon publishing division, and they don't have any of the Big 5 (Scribd and Oyster each have 2 of the Big 5, including HarperCollins who publishes my current Uhtred of Bebbenberg Saxon Stories from Bernard Cornwell).  And it doesn't look promising that any of them will come on board, with the recent Hachette contract negotiations stalling the way they have.  The one thing they have that the others don't is some audiobooks (the professional narration that comes with some ebooks) and audiobooks seem to be taking off a lot recently (Amazon owns, too).

It's not surprising that they've taken this step - they've long had the Kindle Owners Lending Library where Kindle Owners can "borrow" one book a month.  How that will be affected by Kindle Unlimited remains to be seen.

Maybe Amazon is betting that people will publish their books on Amazon, make them available through the Kindle Unlimited Service, and maybe they can either force the Big 5 to work with them, or just circumvent them all together.  I'm all in favor of competition, and I think publishing companies are going to have to prove their worth much more than they ever have before, but that's where my agreement with Amazon ends.  Replacing one giant behemoth of a company with another doesn't seem to be that great for Authors or Readers either.

I'm curious as to whether this will affect normal kindle ebook sales (I'm betting not, at least not right away, since they don't have the Big 5) and how the kindle bestseller lists will be affected (apparently they are already being affected since "checkouts" are counted towards bestsellers).

I always tend to root for the scrappy little guy.  In the Amazon/Hachette dispute, I'm on Amazon's side.  Amazon vs Oyster and/or Scribd, though, is a different story, and though I've signed up for my 30 day free trial of Kindle Unlimited, I'm not giving up my Oyster account yet.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to Not Piss Me Off When Flying This Summer

I went up to San Mateo today for a meeting about the future of our ebook project, with our partner library, Contra Costa County.  It's all good; just some restructuring and redefining roles after some departures from CCCL.  But the bad news was that I had to travel in the summer time.  I think most people who fly often will agree that summertime travel sucks.  So many badly dressed people who have no clue what they're doing.  So many people who are unprepared to go through security.  So many children who are also clueless because they are traveling with clueless people.

There should be a lane just for frequent travelers.  Oakland used to have that lane, but it was on the honor system, and the queues were always shorter, and so people took advantage of it and you'd see 75 year old grandparents in pink cotton capri sweatsuits trying to figure out where they last saw their license, and if maybe they dropped it at church bingo last week.  Meanwhile I'm standing with my laptop out of the bag, shoes off, liquids ready, waiting for Myrtle to fish through her stack of Depends for her wallet.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Depends per se.  In fact, I wore them for a good 2-3 weeks after Hannah was born.  I still think how awesome they are when I sneeze and sort of pee my pants.  But seriously.  Get your damn license out before you get in line.

And for the love of God, do not wear capri sweatsuits.  To start with, anyone under like 5"9' should not be wearing capri pants, period.  Very few people can pull them off.  They break up the line of your leg at the widest point of your calf.  And do not ever wear a velour jumpsuit.  Just don't.   If I see you in an airport in a velour capri sweatsuit, I will put on a very smug look, and make snarky comments about you.  Which I did about the woman herding two children to a dance competition this morning.  She had clearly spent hours on her look.  Her toenails matched her shirt.  Her sandals matched her bag.  And she had overhairsprayed the worst short hair style I've ever seen.  She put way too much effort into looking like something off of that Toddlers and Tiara's show.

You don't see shit like that in airports during the rest of the year.  It's mostly business people who are wearing business attire.  People who are in a rush to get somewhere, have a productive meeting, and get home.  And do it looking somewhat professional.

Next, have your damn shit together before you get in the security line.  Seriously people, it's not that hard.  You need your license, or passport if you're traveling internationally.   Then, once you get past the security person who checks to make sure that you're on a flight today, you do some fast emptying of stuff, which is much easier if you plan ahead.  You put your liquids in a bag.  You take the bag out.  If you have a laptop you take that out.  You take off your shoes.  If you're a man, you have a little extra work because you have to take off a belt.  I know, for some men this might just push you over your cognitive limits, but if you practice at home, it's not that bad.  Empty your pockets.  Take off your jacket.  Put them all in the nice little bins.  Boom, done.

Next, after you go through the scanning machine, please don't stand on the other side of the xray machine getting your shit together.  They have chairs and benches for that.  You may not realize this, but you're holding up the rest of us, who want to get past you to collect our stuff that is piling up coming out of the xray machine.  Please.  Just get your stuff, and go.

Now, we're in the airport.  We need to check the gate that our flight is leaving from.  It's not rocket science.  You don't need to stand ten feet away from the monitors blocking the aisles for the rest of us who need to navigate around you like a stone blocking a creek (bring your glasses if you do!).  You know where you're going.  Look for that city.  Then you know what time your flight is.  Find it.  Done.

Please do not carry giant quilted bags that include pillows stuffed inside for a 45 minute flight.  People, overhead space is precious.  You don't need your damn pillow.  You aren't going to sleep anyway.  You know you aren't.  You're way too excited to sleep.  I can tell.  I was behind you in the Starbucks line wondering why the hell you were getting even more caffeine.

Ok, cell phones.  I don't care what cousin Harry did to Aunt Joan, and if she's going to be at the family reunion or not.  I know you're hard of hearing, so you think everyone else is, and consequently you scream.  Stop that.   I'm thinking about my meeting.  Not your reunion.

Children.  Look, I get it.  I've traveled with Hannah, once to New Zealand.  It's a bitch.  And in general, I don't have much of a problem with children if their parents are being responsible about them, and watching them.  I'm not their jungle gym.  If they try to go through my bag, like the three year old in Oakland did today, and you don't stop them, I swear to God, I will smack them for you.  I don't believe in hitting my child.  But yours is fair game.   A little bit of planning goes a long way.  Have some toys.  Have some snacks.  There are literally hundreds of articles on how to travel with little ones.  Google them and read them.

Car rental counters:  I don't care if you're from Philadelphia, and neither does the lady behind the counter.  Look, I hate to be harsh, but nobody here cares.  Really, they don't.  It's great that you're excited to see the Pacific Ocean, and I hope you have a great time doing that.  But I'm trying to get to a meeting, and I'd like to not have to race across the San Mateo Bridge to get there, so can you please hurry your story up a little bit because the lady behind the counter is wearing a fake smile, and she's too polite to tell you to shut up.  I'm not.

Look, the Soup Nazi had a very efficient system going.  And during most of the year, those of us who travel for work a lot abide by a list of unspoken rules, and we all get along efficiently.  In the summer it all goes haywire, and I really hate it.  So until they get airports and planes specially made for frequent travelers, have some respect for those of us who do this all the time.  This may be your vacation, but this is our life.  We know this airport like we know our own home.  You're in our space now, and you should have some respect.

That is all.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Project Fitness Update

Really quick update tonight because I need to wake up at 4:30 tomorrow for an early flight up to San Francisco (though one perk of having a baby is that I'm completely on this morning-biased schedule and regularly get up at 5:45 anyway, so 4:30 doesn't seem as early) but this week was a lot better.  I credit it to hiking the three miles around the lake every day without fail, sometimes twice a day (if Hannah is really fussy).  I'm getting a lot faster.  It's a three mile trek around the lake, with lots of hills, and in my heyday of 2012, I could do it in about 36 minutes.  

With pushing a stroller it's a lot harder, having to navigate the hills and keep her from tipping over where the banking is weird.  Plus I was massively out of shape when I started again with her.  In the beginning, with the stroller, I did it in an hour and ten minutes.  Now I'm down to about 50 minutes.  Still a far cry from the high point, but fast enough so that J was impressed with my ability to push her up a steep hill, and not need to stop for breath along the way when he came along with us on Saturday.

I'm also really getting in the habit of not eating that much.  Now that I'm becoming mindful of what I'm eating, I'm realizing that I was just shoving stuff into my mouth before without even thinking about it.  A cookie there, a bagel here, some cottage cheese with blueberries now, and some chocolate in a few minutes.  That being said, I still need to work on finding other ways to deal with stress besides eating.  Today, for example, Hannah decided that, even though she was super tired, she wasn't going to take an afternoon nap.  Which led to her being fussy and totally unable to keep happy.  I had been at it for about 2 hours, and J ran an errand so I was alone with her.  She didn't want to be in the walker.  She didn't want to be in her safe play space (behind the gates).  She didn't want to go on my back and go for a walk.  She didn't want to eat.  She didn't want to play in the high chair.  I was running out of ideas.  And so I ate.  Cookies and cream ice cream, three spoonfuls of chunky peanut butter (choosy mom's choose Jif) and a spoonful of cool whip.  Yep, that was dinner.  In between her wails.  

It kind of makes me scared to step on the scale tomorrow, but I'll deal.  It's a new day tomorrow.

Granted, it's a day in which I'm going to walk past an Auntie Anne's pretzel stand in the Oakland airport.  But it's a new day nonetheless.  And maybe tomorrow I won't stop at the Auntie Anne's pretzel stand when we land.  Fingers crossed.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Week in Books: Island of the Lost

Another fantastic Oyster find, I devoured Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the End of the World by Joan Druett this past week.  It's a true story about two simultaneous shipwrecks on Auckland Island in the 1860's (though they never met each other, being on opposite ends with a mountain range in between them).

Auckland Islands is an archipelago south of New Zealand, so they are sub-antarctic.  The main inhabitants are seals, during their mating season, and when the calves are very young.  There are also some edible roots, and some mussels and other bits of seafood.  So really, it's not a place where you want to be shipwrecked.

The first shipwreck, the Grafton, was in stark contrast to the second, which arrived about 8 months later.  The first was made up of five men who excelled in teamwork and problem solving.  One of them, a Frenchman named Francois Raynal, actually managed to build a forge with stuff they salvaged from the wreck, and was able to make a mold for nails.  They were shipwrecked in summer, so had some time to build a cozy cabin with a fireplace, make some nice beds, use seal blood for making ink to write journals, and use salt they salvaged to salt meat enough to last them through winter.  They had a lifeboat they could use for hunting, worked amazingly really well together, and managed to thrive in their environment, coming up with one plan after another for escape.

The second, the Invercauld, had 25 men and wrecked on the other side of the mountain.  Six of them died right away, leaving them with 19.  They wound up splintering apart into groups, one of which may have resorted to cannibalism.  The captain completely lost touch with reality, and had a pretty major freakout. The officers pulled rank on the regular sailors, one of whom seemed to be the only one with any brains in the bunch.   It was a complete contrast with the first group, which had such a strong bond.  This group was losing people left and right, and not seeming to come up with any ways to make shelter or find food.

Their story was gripping.  I figured they had to have figured out a way to get off, or be rescued, because the story talks about testimony later on, but I had to keep reading to find out the way they escaped.  It was fascinating reading about the strength of humanity when pushed up against the wall.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Goodbye to the Monster Jeep

In the fall of 2010, on October 5, we bought this Jeep.  We bought it because we were due with Baby T in February, and we didn't want to risk being up on the mountain, and me going into labor, with only a Chevy Aveo to get us to the hospital in a snowstorm.

I would lose Baby T exactly a week later.  I was already feeling sick and fighting off the infection that would eventually send me into early labor.  We got the Jeep from a guy up above Palmdale, out in the desert.  We drove up together, and I spent the hour or so while Jonathan checked it out talking to the kids of the guy who owned it.  My belly was already showing, and they asked me questions about being pregnant.

We drove home, and stopped at Charlie Brown Farms on the 138, a farm stand tourist attraction on the east side of Palmdale, halfway to Hesperia.  Jonathan got dinner - they have a giant menu with everything you could ever want, and more.  I wasn't feeling great - was tired from the long day, and also cold and shivery - and I just got a hot cocoa.

The next day, we went out to check out the Jeep, and we both climbed into the cavernous back, where we talked about how much fun it would be to go camping with our kid the following year.  A week later I was in the hospital in shock, having delivered Baby T the night before.   And as of this evening, the Jeep belongs to a nice couple from Yucaipa who are going to use it as the wife's primary car.  I hope they're prepared to spend a lot on gas.  It gets like 7mpg.  But it will go over a snow berm 3 feet high.  It did that five months after we had bought it, in March 2011, when I miscarried the Mustard Seed Baby during a snowstorm, and had to go to the hospital.  They'd plowed the road, but the berm was high, so Jonathan drove over it while I stood on the street and waited, not wanting to get jostled around.

I got an email the other week from a girl who had lost her baby in May, and found my blog.  She wanted to thank me for writing about Baby T, and tell me how it gave her comfort.  I wrote back to her and told her what she could expect from the future.  Four years later, after years of infertility, it still hurts, but you just get used to it.  It hurts every day, and not just because I miss my boy, who would be almost 4 now, but because the last time I was truly and innocently happy was that day when we sat in the backseat of the Jeep and planned our future camping trips.

Now, I'm cautiously happy.  Always on guard for the next surprise.  Because the worst part of the Baby T loss was just how sudden it was, and how much of a surprise it was.  Looking back on it, we felt so stupid for thinking that later losses couldn't happen to us.  We felt so naive and silly for just skipping along being happy when the greatest heartache of our lives was waiting for us, just around the bend.  Now I take a cocktail of anti-anxiety drugs for when things get really bad, and I get so afraid that something awful is going to happen to Hannah that I can't concentrate on anything and need to lay down and take deep breaths and bury my head under a pillow, hiding from the world (yep, my meds are professionally monitored - don't worry, I'm not self-medicating).  I miss that person I was on October 6th 2010, sitting in the back of the Jeep reading a book while Jonathan washed the windows outside.

I'm glad to be rid of the Jeep because of the memories I have associated with it.  After the loss, Jonathan drove it as his main car for a while, and neither one of us wanted to be without the other for very long, so I went along to his AA meetings, and waited in the truck reading a book.  It meant that there was an extra half hour of driving time that I wouldn't have to be alone.  I spent many hours in the Jeep that fall outside the Presbyterian church, wrapped in a blanket so I wouldn't have to run it for heat, reading ebooks on my phone, waiting for Jonathan, and being heartbroken.

So farewell Jeep.  I kind of hate you, and I kind of love you at the same time.  But either way, I'm glad to be rid of you.  Time to clear out the old.  Lots of clearing of the old going on lately.  It's emotional, but necessary.  We're getting ready for the new, and it's exciting.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Old Music Thursday: The Fasch's

Everyone who has studied even a smidgen of music has heard about the Bach clan.  Johann Sebastian and his son Carl Philipp Emanuel (known as C.P.E. to increase his street cred).  There's also the Strauss's, another prolific musical family.  One lesser known family of musical note (ha ha, note, get it?) are the Fasch's.

Johann Friedrich was born in 1688 in Buttelstedt Germany.  He studied in Leipzig (where the great Johann Sebastian was working, too, and, incidentally, the hometown of my dad) and wrote a prolific amount of concertos, cantatas and symphonies.  The music he wrote was never printed in his lifetime, and he's largely forgotten today, though at the time he was highly regarded by his contemporaries.  Johann Sebastian Bach actually made copies of some of his manuscripts to preserve and study them.

His most popular youtube offering is his trumpet concerto, below, which seems to show up on any anthology of trumpet music produced.  There was a great album from 2013, Overtures in G Minor, D Minor and G Major, with Paul Dombrecht on oboe, that was all Fasch.  Incidentally, this group is becoming a favorite of mine for all their early music recordings.

He also appears with one of my other favorites, Telemann, in a lot of Baroque anthologies.

Like the Bach's he gave birth to a musical son, Carl Friedrich Christian who was born when his dad was almost 50, and founded the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin, which still exists today as a musical society (which Mendelssohn apparently wanted to become the director of in later years).

So the next time you're at a dinner party and some classical music snob is going on about the talent of the Bach family, you can come right back at them with the talent of the usually-overlooked Fasch's.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Going email nuclear on Verizon

A few weeks ago, in early May, I had the worst.ever.experience with Verizon.  Back in January I tried to bundle my home phone (we'd been using Vonage) with my Verizon internet account because the phone was basically free when I did that.  I've had that account on auto-pay for 7 years, since we've lived in this house, and so I kept it on autopay.  Money kept coming out, the phone worked, everything worked, I was happy.

Until late March when Jonathan started getting emails saying we were going to lose our phone service due to nonpayment.  How can that be, I wondered.  It's on autopay.  I called, and it turned out the stuff was never bundled.  They set up a separate account, and the bill was going to my home address - we live in a rural area and don't get mail at home, so everything has to go to the PO box, and so I never saw a bill.  Since the money kept coming out, and everything worked, I'd never even thought about it.

So they tell me they're going to try to bundle it back, and it will take about 10 days, and the charges will be dropped since it was incorrectly bundled.  Then about 2 weeks later we get another call.  We're losing service tomorrow if we don't pay.  I asked how that could be, because the first person said she was going to bundle it properly.  No, the guy said, she can't bundle it because it was on a financial hold.  You can't do anything with a financial hold on.   So he takes the financial hold off for 24 hours so I can sort it out.  I call someone else, get bundled, and they even throw in my DirecTv for free, and there you go.  Sorted.  I asked about the charges, and the girl couldn't even find the other phantom account, so she tells me the next time I get a call about it, get the account number and then call her back, and she'll put credits on the account.  I got a call a few days later, got the account number, left a message with the info, and I figure it's all good.

I go to New Zealand.

I come back from New Zealand and everything still works.  When I log into the account online, everything is there properly.  I'm thinking it's all sorted.  Until a week later when I wake up and there's nothing.  No internet.  No phone.  No TV.  Nothing.  I look online, and apparently when the stuff all got bundled, the charges got moved over as well, and even though the account was on autopay for 7 years, they shut off the service.  I paid $400 to get it turned back on, which I shouldn't have had to pay since it was their error in the first place, and I wait.

But that's where the fun begins.  It never came back on.  I called several times through the day and kept being told it would be turned back on in 2 hours.  I wait 2 hours, nothing.  Day 2 comes along, still nothing.  I call again.  They escalate it.  Wait another hour.  Nothing.  I talk to supervisors and managers.  Nothing.  No one seems to be able to explain to me why my account isn't working.  I'm trying to work using my neighbor's wifi, but keep having to call every few hours to check on it.

I talk to customer care people, and customer care supervisors, and it turns out that...wait for account has been completely cancelled due to nonpayment.  No one could see that before?  Seriously?  I paid $400 to get service turned back on, which I shouldn't have had to pay since it was their f-up, and the account doesn't even exist any longer?  WTF?  I talk again to customer care people to get a refund.  No, they can't give me a refund, they say, because it was for services that I had received.  No, it was for services I was mistakenly charged for since you guys f*cked up the bundling.

I'm getting mad just thinking about it again.

Anyway, we finally called Charter, they came the next day, everything got installed, life was happy again.  I cancelled everything with Verizon, and while I was still steamy over it, I just figured I'd move on.

But then I started thinking about it, and about how rude the managers were, insisting that I had to pay the fees that I was mistakenly charged without even looking into it, and how they couldn't even tell that the account had been cancelled, and how I waited for 2 days with nothing working and no one calling me back or giving me any information as to why, and I got really mad again.

So I went email nuclear.  I drafted up an email with my long story, and I sent it to every Verizon executive I could find.  I sent it to the CEO, the COO, the CFO, every person listed on their website as being part of the executive team.  I guessed around to get the email addresses - I looked at some press releases to see what the general formula was - ie - and then tried a few variations.

I sent it to something like 40 addresses, and 7 bounced.  I got a few out of office responses, too.  I'm not sure who all saw it, but that very night I got one response.  The next day I got three calls from different divisions.  The best part of the whole thing was that finally somebody got the situation and didn't just give me the stock "I'm sorry for the experience you're having," line (I wanted to shoot the next person who was going to tell me that) and they really got how frustrating it was, and they actually seemed upset about it.  One woman said, "I was reading your email, and with each new paragraph I was thinking, 'Oh my ever loving Lord,'" so that was cool.

The end of the story is that they are refunding me all the fees I had paid to get the service turned back on.  They saw the bundling error, and they are trying to figure out what happened there (was it a computer glitch or was it a personnel error).  They have listened to the phone calls I made, and have given feedback to the various people who were really rude (Dianne, the collections supervisor, I'm talking to you right now).  I had also passed on the people who were good - Laura in the California call center who finally bundled everything, and Jennifer in billing, who had agreed to give me a partial refund (though I hadn't received it when I sent the email blast).

Also, someone from Verizon wireless called me, and is saving me $50/month off my bill.

So, all told, I'm now a turned around customer, and am pretty happy with Verizon.  The way they followed up, and continue to follow up to tell me the status of the refund, etc., was way above and beyond what I had expected.

The only thing that sucks is that I had to research the executives, research the email addresses, and send that email out to everyone.  I'm guessing most people who have bad experiences with front line call centers wouldn't go to that trouble.  They'd be like I was and just say, "screw them, I'm moving over to Charter," and that would be it.  My email saved me $1000 - the $400 payment and the $600 off my cell phone bill.

I'm going to still stick with Charter since they got everything hooked up so quickly, and I'm happy with them, but I'm so pleased with the way everyone in the executive offices at Verizon responded, and I'll stick with them for my cell phone.

So, in sum, if you're going to do a nuclear email blast on a company, it can pay off.  But just make sure that you really do have a case; it's just not you being pissy because you don't like your bill.  Make sure that you've tried to get it resolved through the normal channels, and this is only the final solution.  And research the executives to make sure you get the right people.  You can usually find executive teams on hoovers (a business and company database) or on their website, or on business databases at the library.  It takes some work and effort to do something like that, but as I saw, it can pay off in the end.

So this is my official Thank You to Verizon for getting back to me.  It's just a bummer that I had to go nuclear on you to get the service, but I'm glad that when I finally did, you took care of it so quickly.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Writing about Reading: Oyster and Scribd

The Oyster Whoopie Pie Truck in NYC outside BookExpo
Because I spend a lot of time reading online publishing news, I kind of thought everyone's heard about Oyster and Scribd, the two main ebook subscription services.  I was recently reminded that most people don't have their head stuck in digital publishing news the way I do, so I thought I'd talk about them here.  I have a subscription to Oyster, so that's the main one I can talk about.  I've actually spoken with the founders of Scribd - a colleague of mine in our ebook project was on a panel with one of them, and they had questions about how librarians handle metadata.  But Oyster gave me free iced coffee and whoopie pies at BookExpo this year, so there my loyalties lie.

So both of these competing services are like Spotify for ebooks (leading me to wonder what the spotify of spotify, that's deep....).  For $9.99 or $8.99/month for Oyster and Scribd respectively, you get access to a huge catalog of 500k or 400k books (again, respectively) that you can read.  You can read one a month, or 20 a month, or 100 a month.  Still the same price.

Oyster first launched last fall, and I used it when I was pumping in the middle of the night.  At the time they just had an iphone app, which I used on my ipad, which wasn't the greatest, but it was ok.  Now they have an ipad app, and they just launched on android and the kindle fire.

Neither one of them has the most current bestsellers from the big 5 publishers, though Oyster just announced a deal with Simon & Schuster (though it's for their backlist mostly, it appears).  The publishers are all wary that these kinds of services are going to cost them sales, so they're dipping their toes in.  That being said, they have great stuff from HarperCollins, Workman, Smashwords, and lots of others.  There's a lot of discoverability in these services with personalized recommendations, and the ability to share lists and the social aspect of reading and sharing  your reading with your friends (though you can opt to read in private mode if you're reading something smutty that you don't want people to know about!).

Oyster's reader is totally wonky, which I kind of hate, especially now because I'm used to it, and so I wind up trying to do the same actions when I'm reading on my kindle app, and it's all very confusing.  You scroll up, which is just weird.  Rather than across.  Like you're reading a scroll or something.  Maybe that was the plan.  Tie it all to medieval scrolls and Gutenberg or something.

There aren't a ton of variations to choose from in terms of font size, etc., though they did just add the option to have night mode with your favorite font.  In a previous version, night mode had its own font, which I didn't like.  Now I can keep my favorite font, and just switch it to night mode so the screen is dark.  You can download up to 10 titles at a time to read offline, which is good for when you're away from home and wifi, like on a long flight.  And there are all the normal highlight, notes, etc., buttons.

What I really love about these services is how I can read books I would never usually try otherwise because it doesn't cost anything more than the subscription fee.  It's much the same affect as being at the library.  The thing is, the ebook library services don't provide that same experience because the main vendors have a one-checkout-at-a-time model replicating the physical world (even our ebook platform does that; it's what the publishers want and understand, with the exception of Workman who are interested in trying unlimited simultaneous use models, and are doing so in North Carolina on a platform there, but that's a different story), so there are waiting lists for most titles.  With Oyster, I see something I like and I can start reading it without putting it on hold.  It provides instant gratification.

I'm definitely getting my money's worth from Oyster, and I've discovered several new authors that I wouldn't have tried otherwise.  If you're a bookworm, these kinds of services are worth a try.  I can't speak to Scribd as much, but I'm sure they offer the same features (if not more - they've actually been around longer, but only just launched their consumer service).  Sure, they don't have the big bestsellers right now, but they have great stuff (I've had the experience several times of buying a book - like Bernard Cornwell - from Amazon, only to see it show up on Oyster - new note to self...always check Amazon wishlist against Oyster first!).

And while you don't own the books, you don't "own" any ebooks, unless you break the DRM, which is illegal.  Amazon can your ebooks back at any time if they find you violated the terms of service or something.  It's a philosophical sort of question, but I'm much more getting into having access to something, even if it means paying each month for that access, than having ownership of it.  $9.99/month for access to millions of songs or 500k books doesn't seem that bad a deal.  Sure, it's often free at the library (and I'm biased and need to put that in there) but again...instant gratification.

So I'm an Oyster fan.  Sometime I'm going to have to try Scribd, just so I can compare easily.  Until then, if you ever want an Oyster invite, get one from me so I get a free month!  Shameless plug, but there you go.