Monday, December 03, 2007

Why I wear earplugs at work

I keep a pair of squishy foam earplugs at work. They have some fantastic industrial rating, and when I wear them, I can't even hear my keyboard as I type. Clearly, I'm not working with a jackhammer or a high-powered blender. So why do I wear them, in my pleasant office setting?

Because I work about ten feet away from someone, who, like Nature, abhors a (conversational) vacuum and so fills it all day long with talk.

I try to remind myself that he does a good job, that I'm glad he's here, that he's a pleasant, dedicated worker. If I were shipwrecked alone on a desert island, I'm sure I'd grow to miss his constant chatter. But it might take a few years.

I try to just concentrate on my work, and sometimes that's enough. But sometimes I just can't shut him out.

"Would a brown bear really kill a grizzly bear? Don't they know they're cousins? They shouldn't do that! I don't think I like Nature."

"Did you ever hear of a fan tax? I know this guy who's one of the last clothing manufacturers in the city, and they came to him one day and said, 'you know, we noticed you have a fan up in the back of your shop, and there's a new fan tax.' And a ladder tax, too. Can you imagine that?..."

"Wow. I put (unintelligible) in my shoes and now they're stretched out."

"They're coming to our house today to put in new cable TV. HD TV, something to do with high definition, supposed to be a sharper picture..."

"I got a new phone. The old one was really big, and it didn't get good reception anymore and..."

All this in the space of four minutes before I inserted the earplugs. Sweet Lord in Heaven! Can you not give it a rest?

This is when he's got down time. Otherwise he's answering the phone, routing calls to the appropriate people. Sometimes the appropriate people would be a state government agency, or maybe a mental health hotline. He's got Bob Newhart syndrome. Like the comedian in his early days, he doesn't just answer the phone; he repeats everything the caller says. "You say you've got a terrible problem? You say you're concerned for your life? Your, uh, yes, neighbor lives downstairs and she's... trying to poison you by using dryer sheets in the laundry? And you want us to come out and test your apartment? And arrest your neighbor?"

It just drives me wild sometimes. There's no partition between this gentleman and me, so nothing to diminish the sound. He's fairly quiet when he's by himself, though he does like to go around to people's cubicles and strike up conversation with them if the phones are slow. Once his colleague arrives in late morning, he's got a tidal wave of suppressed chatter that needs to come out.

But I see an end in sight. In a few more weeks, we're to move desks, and I should have enough seniority to choose a desk well out of earshot of the Babbling Brook.

I feel guilty even writing about it, because I know he means no harm. But I can't hear myself think when I have to hear someone else think, too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dervish on my mind

One of the pleasant things about working from home sometimes is that I get to listen to music without headphones and without interruption. Right now I'm enjoying Dervish's 1996 album Playing With Fire. It's just so pleasing. It helps me forget the Eurovision fiasco, and bolsters my belief they've got other more interesting things in store.

A couple years back I was listening to the cranial jukebox--that's when you get a song stuck in your head; sometimes pleasant, but more often irritating, especially when it's just the few bars from an old record commercial and you never heard the rest of that song so that's all you've got and it goes around over and over in your head...

Well anyway, a couple years ago, it was a Dervish song stuck in my head (The Banks of the Sweet Viledee, another version of the House Carpenter). This led me to visit their website to see when they might next be around Chicago on tour. Not anytime soon, I found, but they'd be at a festival in Sebastopol, California in late September. For some reason, I checked the website for that festival and the lineup of performers was stupendous! In no time, I'd told my husband that this was how we should celebrate our tenth anniversary, with a trip to this festival. Aussitôt dit, aussitôt fait, and a fine time we had, too. We splashed for VIP tickets and brought the instruments, too (the guitar got lost and found and delivered 75 miles to our hotel). We knew no one in town, but quite a few of the performers. One new discovery was the Welsh poet Les Barker; it's hard to pick a favorite among his many self-published poems, but I can't forget about the lovesick dachsund... Thanks to Cloud for the great hospitality.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

One (hundred) for the road?

Yesterday was the first frost. Today is November 3rd, and even though it's almost 8:00 in the morning and quite light, our yard is full of birds. There are countless robins in the box elders lining our back fence, and they're darting around madly like barn swallows. I step out on the deck to marvel, but they take no notice.
A trio of mourning doves is foraging under the great tall spruce outside the kitchen window. Something small and stripey (a nuthatch? do we get those here?) is shouldering them out of the way as they earnestly overturn the dry needles.
Coco is buried there. My cockatiel companion for eleven years, he always liked to find the highest perch in the room, which often meant the tallest guest's shoulder. When he died, we laid him under the blue spruce, some fifty feet tall.
I wonder if everyone's finally getting ready to go someplace warmer for the winter.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Such assistance

Is interpreting this statement one of the requirements to become an employee? (I wonder what the fire exit door says...)
Whitehall Hotel, Chicago

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Fontenay Field Trip (or The Long March in August)

We hosted a group of 29 visitors from our sister city in France last week. Most of them were students 16-18 years old, plus six adults. We had a family of four staying with us. They were great company, and indeed the whole group of teenagers were remarkably well-behaved.

On Tuesday, I took the day off work to help lead them on a trip to Chicago. There were some last-minute worries about whether any other leaders would accompany the group. This was important, because I had a doctor's appointment (in Chicago) in the middle of the day, so I knew I couldn't be with them the whole day. But in the end Janet and Ruth and Nancy were able to come, and two young adults, Andrew and Giselle, joined us as well. Here, as best I can remember, is how the day went.

7:30 - Mike is making breakfast, our houseguests are getting dressed, and I'm making sack lunches for them.

7:45 - I run to the grocery for more bread, bottled water and some cookies to pack in their lunches.

8:30 - I make half a dozen ham and cheese sandwiches and put them in an isotherm bag along with apples, fig newtons, and tortilla chips. I hand this to the oldest boy explaining that it's lunch.

8:50 - We walk to the train station to meet the rest of the group.

9:15 - Janet asks where to pay for the parking garage. I explain about the pay boxes when you exit the garage, but there's no time to go back now. It turns out that she parked in the reserved spots on the first floor and is liable to get a ticket or worse. Ruth confides that she, too, parked in the reserved spaces. The train is approaching and there is no time to go back and move their cars.

9:20 - Ken shepherds us to the far end of the middle platform, we keep everyone well back from the edge and the moving train, and we board the pre-arranged car which we have all to ourselves. I am The Bearer of the group ticket, which is a letter stating that we have pre-paid for the group. It is good for exactly two rides, the 9:25am train and the 7:30pm train.

9:30 - We board the train and head off for adventure.

9:32 - I call the Village Hall and explain about the two misparked cars. I give the license plate numbers and ask if it's at all possible to ask that those cars not be ticketed. They will see what they can do.

9:42 - I check voicemail and return a call from Runa, who visited our houseguests when she went to France. She's trying to meet up with them for lunch. I pass the phone around, and they all arrange to meet in Millenium Park for lunch.

9:53 - I exchange cell phone numbers with Giselle and Nancy. This will prove to be very good planning, with some caveats. Nancy's phone, as it turns out, gets terrible reception near water or in buildings. Giselle's phone is rapidly running out of juice, so she will keep it turned off much of the day to conserve the battery. I am glad I have brought my charger.

10:23 - We arrive in Chicago. The din on the platform is deafening. I lead everyone to the glassed-in waiting room where they will regroup and decide how they will go the mile to Millennium Park.

10:36 - I take my leave and dash off to the water taxi so I can make my doctor's appointment. For $2 I enjoy a swift, scenic ride to the foot of the Michigan Avenue bridge. For once, I am early for my appointment. I plug in my phone charger and wait...

11:16 - I get a text message from my boss. Can I possibly come in today to take care of a couple things? Of course; he's such an easygoing person and rarely asks me for anything. I'll be over right after my appointment, and I can still meet the group at the art museum.

12:01 - Giselle calls on behalf of our house guests who are wondering where their sack lunches are.
- "It's in the gray bag," I tell them.
- Do you have it? - No, I gave it to you. - We didn't take it with us. We left it on the dining room table. - Oh dear. I'm very sorry, but you'll have to buy your lunches today, then. - It's all right (much laughter), no problem. I am grateful that Corinne is even more easygoing than my boss. I think wistfully of the six yummy ham and cheese sandwiches going bad in our dining room, and how the cost of the ingredients just about adds up to one lunch from a Michigan Avenue sandwich shop. Sigh. At least they brought the water.

12:45 - My doctor's appointment over, blood drawn, follow-up appointment made, I head to my office. It's a very hot day, probably at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Not being completely selfless, I duck into a handbag shop to admire the wares and enjoy the air conditioning. I also pick up a couple plants at the farmer's market.

1:06 - Giselle lets me know that the current plan is to meet outside the art museum gift shop at 3pm and then head over to Navy Pier.

2:15 - My work done, I leave the office and wend my way to the Art Institute.

3:45 - We have finally rounded up the entire group. Nancy and Maeva will meet us at Navy Pier; they've been at the Shedd Aquarium instead today. After some discussion of using the free trolleybus that goes all around downtown during the summer, we decide that I will accompany three of our more venerable guests in a taxi, and everyone else will walk to Navy Pier. It's about a 20-minute walk in the hot sun. Janet needs to head back early to get to a wake. But first, she'd like to take a group picture on the steps of the museum. All 30+ of us form up, and cameras are passed down to the people taking the pictures so everyone will go home with this shot. A group of American students offer to help us take all those pictures; by the end, they join us in the shot, holding an inscrutable banner as we all get in the frame.

4:35 - The Venerables plus Nancy and Maeva are enjoying cool drinks at an outside table when the youth show up, sweating and panting but cheerful. Poor Giselle looks half dehydrated; I make sure she gets a big glass of water first thing. Then Maeva and I skip off to ride the giant Ferris wheel and enjoy the spectacular views of the lakefront it affords. It has been decided We Are All Meeting At 6:15 To Go Catch The Train.

6:15 - Some of us are here.

6:30 - Now all of us are here. The train is at 7:30, and I have the ticket for everyone. We recommence discussions of how to move 30 people two miles across town. We learn where to catch the free shuttle, but there is much doubt:
- how long will we have to wait?

- how long will it take?
- will we all fit on one trolley?

- will it get us close to the station?

- we need the yellow one, but we only see the blue one...
- can we take the water taxi?

6:38 - The Venerables take a taxi. The Durables and I begin a 20-minute march to catch the water taxi. For $2 a person, it will deliver us right to the station. Some of the students are singing French marching songs and camp songs. It is charming.

6:52 - A moment of doubt, a wrong turn, a doubling back, and we are racing the last block to the landing. We arrive, we pant, we sweat, we wait.

6:56 - We consult the schedule. The last taxi leaves the landing at 6:56.

6:58 - No sign of the boat. I call the water taxi company, and they say it's either just about to arrive or it's just left.

7:06 - A fellow from the other boat service at the neighboring landing confirms that the last taxi left just before we arrived. We muster the troops and march double time through the dingy lower level of Kinzie Street, up the stairs and out onto Michigan Avenue. I send Andrew and Giselle ahead to start hailing cabs. We shove kids into cabs and explain to amused drivers where they are going.

7:09 - Nancy calls. "Are you going to make it in time?" "Yes we are. Can't talk. Gotta go."

7:16 - We've coached the kids how to pronounce a recognizable "Ogilvie Transportation Center" and told them to meet at the 7:25 train but wait for me to board. Because I have the One Ticket That Rules Them All. I pluck the eleven-year-old off the lap of one front seat passenger before they can get the door closed. We jump into the last cab and take off to the station.

7:18 - I call Nancy to apologize for being abrupt and reassure her that we are indeed coming.

7:24 - We arrive at the station. I make a quick swing by the waiting room to make sure we're not leaving anyone there. We wait for the two students who made a desperate dash for the restroom as soon as they arrived. We run to the deafening end of the platform by the engines and join our group, who are miraculously all there. I surrender The Ticket and we all pile into the train. Following some unspoken etiquette, all the under-20s go on the upper level, and all the Venerables sit in quiet dignity on the lower level.

7:30 - The train takes off with us in it. I feel both relieved and enormously guilty at the harried trip I've just led all those people on. If I were them, I'd be complaining to someone about me. But they are very polite, and the youth are apparently unharmed, judging by the amount of noise they are making up there.

8:14 - I call my friend Laura to tell her how glad I am she's in Chicago, and how sorry I am I can't hook up with her while she's here because I'm just too busy.

8:24 - We arrive safe and sound. No cars have been towed. No students have been lost. Mike is waiting with both of our cars parked at the station, and printed maps to our dinner destination in each car. He squires our houseguests off to dinner. I drive one lad home and follow along to our friends' house. Despite a flooded basement and some time without electricity earlier in the week, they've smoked two enormous beef briskets and we sink gratefully into chairs around their table and eat and talk and drink late into the night.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A True Celt - according to Google

I searched on the phrase "true Celt" in Google, and found the source for this little poem in the search results.

A true Celt
like Dad
fiery, impetuous, and quick in action.
speaking their language, thinking their thoughts, dreaming their dreams
believes in the unearthly
revels in rare and lovely decoration, and fills every corner of his canvas with rich and intricate patterns of symbolic meaning
hard-working... content to toil from season to season, and all day long
a bit darker than the fair German
on inquiry... in his reply to information,... he asks another question
fiery, passionate, quarrelsome and apt at misunderstanding

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Oh dear...

This has unsettling implications for face cream.

New idea for a business

Our friends told us about a new quarry that started operations in their area. It's a relatively small business, but they quarry limestone there, used for flagstones and landscaping.

It was probably all the Fourth of July fireworks that got me to thinking about this: wouldn't it be fun to have something like those "u-pick" strawberry farms for stone quarries? That way if you needed some pavers, you could just bring a truck, pay a deposit for some safety equipment and explosives, and come away with your very own stone that you cut yourself from the living earth! The roadside signs could say "Blast your own" or "U-Hew!"

Let me know if you're interested in going into business together.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ineffective ultimatum

Overheard in an airport concourse last week:

Mother to squalling child: "Do you want me to send you to your room?"

Friday, June 15, 2007

Dyslexia or just moment of doubt?

I always have to stop and think before I say or write these things:
  • dot your i's and cross your t's
  • move a date up or back (I just never say this because I'm not confident I use it the same way as everyone else)
  • judgement or judgment
  • Meán Fómhair or Deireadh Fómhair
  • Daylight savings time or standard time
  • cynical or sarcastic
Does anyone else have ones like this?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Balancing on the deck

Just coming off a really nice three-day weekend here. Sitting on the deck in the moist-but-not-too-warm-yet morning, with my laptop, really good yogurt, and a pot of tea. There are three big red poppies open this morning, and the peonies have all passed out on the grass like a crowd of pink-headed drunks. May always brings a nearly impenetrable wall of trees and indiscriminate green growth between us and the neighbors behind, which is probably a good thing (except for the damned giant mulberry tree). From six to seven it goes from nearly silent, except for birds and squirrels, to busy traffic: cars, grindy trucks of lawn services, school buses approaching their last runs of the year, and the fainter ding-ding-ding of the train crossings. A big crow, a small barky dog, airplanes, motorcycles but no mosquitoes.

I get to just listen to them instead of being out among them because it's Tuesday, and I get to work at home on Tuesdays. I've done this for almost ten years now, and that one day a week gives me such respite; I'm really grateful. If I get up early, I can log more work time, or use the time for myself instead of getting ready to go and commuting. I could technically sit out here on the deck and work, though I rarely do; it seems a touch too hedonistic. No one cares how I'm dressed, and I can have whatever music or radio or sweet silence I want. The tea is also better.

And for the record, I really do work on these Tuesdays. It's a good time to write, think through a project, or churn out a lot of tweaks to a website.

Tomorrow I'll get up refreshed (I hope, unless I've had too much tea!) and bound off to work knowing that I only have to pull my way through three days before I get a free one. I even manage to enjoy the commute (it is nice to see other people after a few days at home).

Friday, May 18, 2007

Visualizing unimaginable statistics

This artist, Chris Jordan, uses enormous images to help people comprehend statistics about America. One example is the image of the 60,000 plastic bags that we use every 5 seconds in the US. Of course, he's trying to make a point, but the sheer communicative power is remarkable.

Friday, May 11, 2007

"Will that be fine?"

Having an Andy Rooney moment here. Have you ever had someone (usually a stranger, maybe a restaurant hostess) request something of you, and end the request with: "Will that be fine?"

I'm not sure when this started, but it always rubs me very much the wrong way, and I have to fight the desire to give them a sharp retort. It just seems so presumptuous.

"I know you've purchased a seat in the extended legroom section of this flight, but I'd like to switch places with you so I could sit near my fiancé. My seat is back by the toilets in between two parents who'll be holding their infant twins on their laps during this flight. Will that be fine?"

"Would you mind?" is surely a better way to phrase this. Even "would it be okay" or "would it be all right".

It will definitely not be fine.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Why should I love spring?

I don't think I've ever read a sour word about spring. Why not?

We build it up with such expectations: love, new beginnings, or at least a definitive change from dull winter weather. We treat it like some young starlet and expect so much of it. But it's like any other adolescent: moody, flighty, and flat out disappointing sometimes. Spring is the eighth-grader of the seasons.

When I think of spring, I think of:
  • sitting in a grade school classroom and looking out that big bank of windows at the rainy world like some inverse aquarium

  • the college trips to Florida I never took with my friends because my parents said how much they wanted me home. So I would come home, and stay at home while my parents worked, and I had no car, and the only places I could walk to were McDonald's or car repair shops. And the weather stank. (I'm sure there were better parts than that, but this is what I remember.)

  • flowers that come up and trees that bud out and birds that migrate early and late freezes that come and give them all what for

and also:
  • 45-degree days (that's about 7 for you Celsioids) that made us run around outside in shorts and shirtsleeves and sundresses

  • a discernible stirring of interest among lads and lasses

  • lambs - Easter lambs! - it never dawned on me till I visited l'Ile d'Ouessant at Easter and saw new-minted lambs that yes, this is why lambs are associated with Easter/Passover/spring in general. (How would that be to have all your flock's birthdays in the same month? Imagine the strain of gift-giving!)

Sunday, April 15, 2007


It's Sunday, and rather than do yard work, I'm going to see if I can transfer this blog to my other blogger account. Please bear with me.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Popcorn ballet

I was in a great hurry last night to get out of the house and on to a meeting. Instead of the sandwich I'd planned on, I made a bag of microwave popcorn, dumped it in an enormous plastic bowl, and hit the road. I drove one-handed, stuffing popcorn in my mouth with the other hand. When I arrived, I brushed the inevitable stray crumbs off my person before joining the meeting.

Afterward, on the way home I had to stop at a long light at a busy intersection. I opened the window and emptied the bowl onto the road. Half a minute later I was transfixed, watching a dozen small white fluffies make their way out to play in the middle of the street. They were rolling and bouncing, dancing with the traffic. I was amazed how they glowed in the headlights, like motes of dust on a bright afternoon.

Monday, January 01, 2007

More music, more reading, less dishes

It'd be a shame to waste the opportunity for New Year's resolutions. I want to move away from mindless duty and do more things that I like instead of waiting till all the chores are done to get around to them.

So I will find more time for playing music and reading, and not be in such a rush to get the dishes done, because by God, those suckers will not care one bit if I wait.

I was listening to Cathal Hayden's 1999 album of great, bracing fiddle music. I remembered how I always play better when I get to play with good players. This is not nonsense; it was even true back when I played in orchestras in high school. You rise to the level of those around you, and you feel great in the process. So I'm trying something: putting on headphones and playing along with the recording. It worked pretty well this evening. But man, that guy plays

As for reading, I made myself a nest in the spare bedroom with all kinds of lovely books. And I wound up settling on
The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie (yes, the actor). I suppose you could fault the text for being over full of clever bits, but then you would probably turn out to be someone who thinks there can be too many chocolate chips in Toll House cookies.

The kitchen is looking only slightly sparkling. So far so good. Happy New Year.