Category Archives: Work

A Monumental, Colossal Error in Judgment

Yes, it’s probably redundant to use monumental and colossal together, which just shows how much emphasis I want to place on the sheer enormity of the stupid I walked into. I took a class last spring semester, and I enjoyed it. It was a mediation class, part of the overall legal assistant education program at the junior college where I work as a testing center administrator (part-time). I somehow got it into my head that maybe I should just go ahead and take the rest of the required courses to become a legal assistant and basically start a new career. I didn’t actually need the math class I took during the first summer session for the program, but I wanted to take it to prove something to myself, and I did.

Then I took an introductory psychology course, which is a requirement, and I really enjoyed that class, too. Plus I was loving the grades I was making — A in Mediation, B in Math Analysis, and A in Psych. I was feeling invincible. Then fall semester started, and I was signed up for Intro to Law, Intro to the Court System, and Family Law, all on line classes. Oh, my stars and garters. I am not loving these classes. In fact, I already dropped two of them. I have to take my first exam for Intro to Law tomorrow morning, and even though I have a pretty good grasp of the material, I really should be doing a better job of studying than I am by sitting here making up stuff to put on my blog.

What brought it even more home to me that I was trying to cram a square peg (me) into a round hole (anything but science) was when I went to visit my friend who works for the department I got my Bachelor’s Degree from at the local university. She also teaches a biology class at the junior college where I work — where I once worked as a part-time biology instructor myself. The reason I left had a lot to do with lack of preparation on my part, and some to do with issues involved with caring for my ninety-something year-old father. All that aside, I’ve never really lost the desire to teach again, and I’m thinking of asking the department head if I might be able to have another shot at it. Because it’s obvious I have no future in the legal profession.

The Once and Future Crazybasenji

I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about where I want to take my blogging/writing efforts, and how Crazybasenji fits into my plans. (Obviously I’ve been doing more thinking than writing…)

Now that I’ve had several book reviews published at StoryCircleBookReviews, I feel like I have some legitimate “clips,” examples of my writing that I can use to try and sell my skills in other places. Book reviews will continue to be a big part of what I want to write, since reading books is a requirement for writing book reviews, and there are few things I like better than reading. But I also want to write a better blog. Crazybasenji has been my classroom, and my muse. I had wanted a website called Crazybasenji ever since I came up with the name, inspired by the second basenji I owned, who was truly a crazy-eddie basenji. But I didn’t really have a consistent theme for the blog, and I didn’t work real hard at trying to get more traffic. I’ve studied all kinds of blogging advice books and articles — and blogs — so I know what I’m “supposed” to do. I just haven’t been sure enough of myself to do it… and I feel kind of protective of Crazybasenji.

I think there must be something about the name — because of the “crazy” part — that makes it a spam magnet. I figure more traffic at all will cause an exponential increase in the amount of spam I’ll have to deal with, not to mention the chances of being hacked. Moving the blog to the WordPress universe has made me feel more secure about the hacking part, although I can’t really say why that is. I’ve discovered I’m a lot more limited in the amount of “tweaking” I can do to my theme than when my blog was hosted elsewhere, and that’s a little frustrating. Not frustrating enough to make me put forth the effort to build my own theme, and I certainly can’t afford to pay anyone else to build one for me. So I must soldier on and make do with what’s around me.

In a sense, it’s likely a good thing that I can’t get distracted messing with the theme as much as I used to, since I should be concentrating more on what I write. (Duh!) How many ways is it possible to avoid doing something you’ve set as a “goal for today?” It seems that, even if your goal involves doing something you enjoy, you can find a way to piddle away the time doing other things. Writing is a great example. I think it’s safe to say that most people who start writing blogs do so because they “like to write.” Yet ditching the work of writing is something I see so many blog posts about that it has to be an almost universal phenomenon. You might have a lot to say. You might have a ton of stories to tell. But sitting down and organizing all those thoughts into a coherent whole is a pain in the ass. It’s that simple. One thing to think the stuff up, and quite another to group all those letters together so that it makes sense to anyone else who sees it. Am I right? I know I’m right.

And I’m getting off topic. See how easy that is? What I wanted to — sat down to — write about was my plan to start another blog in the near future where I’ll be more consistent in what I write about — if not in how frequently I post. I won’t abandon Crazybasenji completely, but I’ll try to concentrate more on stories about my dogs — although most of them will be about the ones who are no longer with me — I have a lot of stories I haven’t told. My new blog will be more about the books I read and some more memoir-like stories that I think might have a kernel of wisdom in them that I’d like to share. And I still have some more to write about on my Crazybasenji on Linux blog, about using open source software and how it’s possible to do that and still interact with computers in the proprietary world (Windows and Mac) without having to get a doctorate in computer science (not to mention computer-speak).

I’ve had an idea for the new blog for a while, and now I need to get some original content written before I actually launch it, so I can have several pages of fascinating stuff on there. And, of course, I have to do all this while working my part-time job and going back to school so I can prove to potential full-time employers out there that, yes, people over fifty can learn new things.

Why I never want the learning curve to go flat

I love learning new things, and sometimes re-learning old ones. I’d like nothing better than to go back to school full time and take a bunch of math classes, and not let math kick me in the butt this time. I’d take more chemistry, and biochem, and organic chem, and extraterrestrial chem. And I’d take every art history and art appreciation course I could find; and anthropology and philosophy and physics. And languages. I’d get a PhD or three. Just for fun.

And I want to read almost every book that comes out, especially if it’s about science. I know I’ll never get through even half of them, but I want to give it a shot. I never want to stop putting new knowledge into my brain. And I never want to get complacent about what I already know. And so I’ll never turn into my dad.

I know a lot of people who think I’m nuts for wanting to go back to school — for even considering it. That doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t bother me that a lot of people don’t like to read — who think they had to do too much reading when they were in school and they’re done with that. That’s a completely legitimate reason not to do something. That’s how I feel about ironing — that I did enough ironing as a kid in school ironing my uniform blouses, and later in the Air Force ironing everything that wasn’t tied down. Unfortunately, I have to iron some of the shirts I wear to work now because I no longer have a job where I can wear jeans and tee-shirts, darn it. I am working on finding shirts that don’t require as much ironing as some that I have. I would gladly stop completely, so I can relate to anyone who doesn’t want to do something that they find unpleasant.

But I watched my dad slowly lose his mind, and I don’t want that to happen to me. He wanted to live to be 100, and he got pretty damn close. But he thought he could do it just sitting on the couch watching re-runs of “Walker, Texas Ranger,” and claiming he was “too old” for other activities or learning new things.

I will not will not will not let that happen to me. And so I’ve already started back to school — part-time — and I’ve already taken one math class. In summer school. One whole semester in five weeks. I made a “B” dammit! I’ve never made that high a grade in math in my life, and I’m pretty frakking proud of it. And last night at work when a student asked me for some help with one of her algebra problems, I was able to show her a function she could use on her graphing calculator that she didn’t know about. Two months ago I could use a graphing calculator to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, and waste everything else it is capable of. Now I know a few more of those uses. But there are a lot more I have yet to discover.

And I’m just like that calculator.

Happy Holidays

It is considered bad form to refer to the amount of time one has been ignoring one’s blog, or to apologize for doing so, or to say anything at all about not letting it happen again. So I won’t. Although I must confess that, while I’ve had good ideas for topics to write about, the sitting down to write them has been somewhat problematic.

The recent twelve-days-in-a-row work week marathon might have had something to do with it. By about day eight I was feeling a bit brain damaged. And I had this loathing of all things keyboard-related. My job entails a certain amount of time entering student information into the database we keep in the testing center where I work. Student’s name, Instructor’s name, Check-in time, Check-out time, On-line course, On-line exam, Time limit. Of course, most of the choices involve merely clicking a check-box, but when you are trying to enter 14 at a time (at least it seems that way) it gets a little harrowing. Yes, there’s nothing like finals week in the testing center. And although a lot of them have been taking exams there all semester and know the drill, there are always those students who are there for the first time (Really? I mean, where do they take all their other exams?) who need to be led by the hand through the routine — “turn your cell phone off, put it in your back-pack, put your stuff in a locker, lock the locker, take the key.” These stimulating conversations were finding their way into my dreams by about day ten.

But, oh well. It’s all over now, and I’m off until Spring Semester begins next month. Time to get my brain functioning again, and think about sharing what’s in it. And time to read some more books and write reviews, paint some paintings, and moosh together some polymer clay to make things wondrous and strange. That’s what the holidays are for. I hope you all enjoy yours.

Oh, no! Not another learning experience!

A former co-worker had a bumper sticker that said,”Oh, no. Not another learning experience.” I feel just like that today, with all my sore muscles, after planning and executing the Responsible Dog Ownership Day event for the local kennel club I belong to. I learned a few things.

  • It’s never too soon to start planning an event, but it’s possible to start planning too late.
  • The volunteer helpers you start with may not be the same ones you finish with.
  • If you’re in charge, it may mean you’ll be doing everything.
  • People who don’t want the job usually keep their mouths shut about how well you’re doing — or not.
  • You will always get way more suggestions for things to do than volunteers to help make it all happen.
  • No one will complain that it was over too soon.

I have never thought of myself as a “people person” or a “joiner” or even a little bit outgoing, so taking on a job like this was a bit like volunteering to go roll around in a fire ant mound. One of those “What the HELL was I thinking!?” moments. It has always been my habit, when someone gets upset about something I’ve done, to think that they are mad at me, they blame me, they don’t like me. Me, me, me. But we all learn with age, sometimes even when we try real hard not to, and I’ve discovered that it’s not always about me. Who’d’ve thunk it?

I don’t mean to give the impression that the event was a failure, or a disaster, or that everyone was mad at me at the end. This is more about the nightmares I was having for the weeks leading up to it than anything that happened on that day. I always imagine the worst. I was expecting nit-picking and criticism every step of the way. I expected to come under fire for a long list of things I “should” have done, but wasn’t able to do because I realized it would be entirely up to me to make it happen, and I just didn’t have the time.

But the long and the short of it is that I will probably volunteer to plan the RDO Day again next year, because I learned a lot, and I had fun. Only this time, I plan to start planning next week.

Of chocolate, ScienceBlogs, and Pepsi

I recently came to the sad conclusion that I must give up eating chocolate. In all its forms. Entirely. That’s a whole food group kicked out of my diet. Because I tended to overindulge, and it started making me sick. I won’t go into detail. Let me just say that the consequences of eating chocolate became increasingly unpleasant over the past several months, to the point of some acute pain. Poor, pitiful me.

It is often the case with addictive behavior, that what you crave will kick your butt sooner or later. It’s why there are twelve step programs for so many things that so many of us do in non-addictive ways. I mean, we all eat (stop and you die, in fact), but food addictions are not healthy, hence, Over-eaters Anonymous. Then there are the alcohol addicts, drug addicts, sex addicts, solar eclipse addicts (I don’t think the last group has a 12-step program yet, though). People recognize and get help for their addictions or they don’t get help and they get in trouble with the law, or with health issues, or in car versus tree arguments, or they develop some kind of physiological symptoms of substance rejection like mine. My stomach started saying “no more chocolate, or I will make you pay, and pay, and pay!

For a while after I discovered Science Blogs, a site maintained by Seed Magazine that hosted a lot of great blogs about all kinds of science written by scientists, I was an addict. I could burn up an entire day reading the different blogs, the comments — and some of the comments were like blog entries themselves. And then I’d kick myself for not spending that time doing something worthwhile in the world.

I tried subscribing to the combined RSS feed for ScienceBlogs so that I’d get a chance to read samples from all of them. I was overwhelmed. I skimmed some, skipped a lot. Then I learned how to “mark all as read” so when I found 400 articles waiting for me (which would sometimes happen if I didn’t check in for a few days), I could just deal with them with a mouse click instead of the endless scrolling and scanning. I felt bad about not actually consuming more of the content, but there was just too much.

As with chocolate, I finally had to just stop cold. I started following a couple of my favorites on Twitter and Facebook, so that I could follow links they posted to articles that looked interesting. Because at the time I was trying to figure out how to make blogging profitable for ME, at least a little; I was trying to find a “day job” so I could keep it while I learned how to make a living doing something I love, because “they” always say, “keep your day job” when someone expresses an interest in trying to make a living in a way other than the accepted norm. It always helps if you actually have a day job that you can keep. Duh.

What I eventually found was in fact an evening job — or at least a late afternoon job — and is only part time, but could actually work out better in the long run because it leaves me with enough energy to work on my other projects. But I digress.

Last week, I read a tweet by Laelaps, one of the Sblings I follow, to the effect that “David Dobbs is leaving SB, and I’m thinking I will, too.” What? So I went to David Dobbs’ Twitter page and read a few tweets, and then I followed a link to a Science Blogs article about how there was going to be a new nutrition blog on SB, authored by employees of Pepsico. And many bloggers were up in arms over it. They questioned the logic of their blog administrators in allowing what they called “advertorial content” on the site, which would lower the credibility of all the other writers. I followed the arguments back and forth for days. It didn’t take long, after ten or more writers left as a direct result of the decision, for the SB overlords to cancel the Pepsico blog (or Pepsico pulled out to avoid more negative press).

I spent more time on the SB site in three days than I had for the past year. I was on a binge. Sad thing is that the surge in readership for the site as a result of the controversy still brought in a lot more readers. And some people will say there’s no such thing as bad advertising when the results are more sales — or more interest. It certainly worked with me. Now I have to be smart and start doing my own work again, hoping I can make something that will matter not just to me, but will affect others the way chocolate and Science Blogs have affected me. LOL

Catching up, looking back

My preoccupation lately has been with making things rather than writing things, which isn’t entirely a bad thing, even though I’ve been thinking things that I could be writing about. But sometimes it’s just hard to put down the Sculpey, or the paintbrush; or I’ve already been sitting at the computer for what feels like a long time, and I have to jump and run do something else.

When I was growing up, my three burning ambitions were to be an artist, a veterinarian, or a writer. Or all three. Well, the vet thing was the first to crash and burn. I suck at math. But now I work at a “Learning Center,” and I have discovered the secret to my previous lack of success with math, and possibly the key to overcoming the huge sense of helplessness I feel when confronted with something like a quadratic equation. Not that I’ll be ready to tackle one of those any time in the immediate future, but I figured out why I was never even good at remembering my times tables, which I was supposed to memorize back in second or third grade. I was supposed to recite them. Out loud. Over and over. And over. And I never remembered them. I don’t learn through my ears. I learn through my eyes, and my hands. I should have been writing my times tables. Over and over. And writing out whatever additions I had to do to get past the places where I kept getting stuck, like anything greater than five, times anything greater than three. Yeah. I know.

I don’t know who figured out the different learning styles, or when, but when I was a kid, we were all expected to learn all the exact same things exactly the same way as everyone else. C’mon. Really? Who were these people who decided kids were all exactly the same? Aliens? It makes me mad that no one was enlightened enough to figure out that children, and adults, learn differently, and that I never figured out what I needed to do to make the most of my abilities. I just assumed I didn’t have those abilities. Sheesh. Just think what I could have been doing with my life.

Going on the assumption that it’s never too late, I’ve borrowed some old algebra books from the bookshelves at work, and am trying to fill in some of those gaps. It’s a pain in the butt, realizing I pretty much have to start with baby algebra and work my way up, and I practically have to copy over everything in the book. Just reading it isn’t sufficient. I have to write. I have to draw. I have to work problems. Lots of problems. I feel like I’m in third grade again. I guess that’s not so bad. I got my first puppy when I was in third grade. Something that changed my life for the better. Maybe this will, too.

Lost treasure, hard times, and small miracles

In the face of all the rotten things that are going on in the world right now — the earthquake in Haiti, the drunken staggering economy, the fact that I can’t find a job and have no money and may have no water or electricity, or a home, next month — I came across something the other day while my brother and I were cleaning out an old storage unit that the owners plan to demolish to make way for “mini-warehouses.” It was a poem I wrote a geologic age ago, printed on a yellowing page with a dot-matrix printer (yeah, that old). I had forgotten I wrote it. Normally I don’t do poetry — writing or reading. Maybe after you read it you’ll see why. But I kind of like it. Here it is.

Fantasy Lost

In the faraway land of Mallenorn
Where enchanted creatures go,
There dwelt a lovely unicorn —
The last of her kind, you know.

Her mane was white as the driven snow.
Her eyes were darkest brown.
Her horn did shine with a golden glow,
and her tail was like silvery down.

On the other side of that isle of green
there lived a dragon bold.
And in the forest called Genzereen,
flew a griffon, all yellow and gold.

The phoenix lived on the highest peak,
and soared every day through the sky.
With fiery wings and a gilded beak,
he sailed to the clouds on high.

But none of the creatures could leave that place
to travel the paths of old.
For changing times, and the human race
had cast them out in the cold.

So they found a forgotten, enchanted land
to live in forevermore,
Except for when chance, and a poet’s hand,
can bring them to life once more.

 

At this point in the game, I sure wish I could join them. I’ve spent a lot of my life living inside my own head, where all the wild creatures are gentle and a bit sleepy, people are never mean or petty, and no one expects me to be something I’m not. But at this moment in history, I can’t escape the harsh reality of the present situation. Teetering on the brink of possibly losing everything I own and hold dear — like a heated building to live in and food to eat — is scaring the stuffing out of me. But it might not happen. My fortunes could change overnight. Somehow I always keep thinking they will.

In the meantime, comparing what I have at the moment to what the people in Haiti have, I’m aware of how immensely better off I am. As long as I can keep scraping together enough money to pay something on the electric bill and the water bill and buy another bag of dog food for the Puppy, some bread and peanut butter for me, I’ll get through.

And I have to say how glad I am that I’m not married anymore. I can only imagine how much stress it would add if I was still married to either of my former spouses, both of whom thought that their money was theirs to spend, and my money was also theirs to spend. It was always left up to me to figure out how to pay for groceries and utilities with what was left after they finished playing.

What has been remarkable in all this is how well my brother and I have been getting along. I guess the “blood thicker than water” proverb has some teeth to it. I’m very sensitive to negative energy, to use a New Age term, and if he was hating on me for not being able to find a job, I would know it. But he’s not, and that actually surprised me. When we were growing up he seemed to be hating on me over every little thing, like my very existence. Being older and wiser definitely has its perks.

How a blog is like a house plant

This should be fairly apparent. Both need regular attention. Sometimes you can get away with a certain amount of neglect, like if you have all potted cacti, and if your blog is well established and people are going to keep checking back even if you only write one or two articles a month — if the audience knows you’re good for that one or two articles every month. But you can never just forget about the whole deal. Plants don’t water themselves; they can’t turn on their own grow light, and a blog won’t write itself.

Low maintenance real plants

Low maintenance real plants

So much for the ridiculously obvious. Here’s a link to a site called 43folders. It’s about being more productive/creative. I thought at first that it was actually about folders — as in how to use 43 folders to organize one’s productive/creative efforts. And that it would answer my burning question — “Why 43?” But alas, my attention span is only so long, and after skimming a few articles and not seeing an obvious answer, I gave up.

It didn’t help that I couldn’t exactly remember the name correctly. I was thinking 47folders? or was it 48folders? It wasn’t until I went to the meeting about “scrumming things done” and somebody mentioned 43 folders and how you have 31 days and 12 months that I had that “duh moment.”(It used to be a “eureka moment” but nobody says “eureka” any more unless they’re talking about the town in California or the totally awesome show on the Syfy channel — which I still maintain is a lame-ass name.)

So I came home and counted out 43 folders from the box I got back when I thought I’d be doing more teaching, and I put numbers one through thirty-one and months January through December on the tabs. Now I have no excuse to lose paperwork and/or receipts. I just put the stuff in the numbered folders that correspond to what day of the month it is, then on the first of the next month I move everything into the month folder and start over again. I reckon I’ll need year folders, too, so I can keep stuff I need for taxes. But only seven. I swear I’m not going to come up in 2057 and still have folders full of junk from 2009, 2010, etc. The IRS says you only need to keep tax records for seven years, and, by golly, that’s good enough for me. Going through my dad’s desk after he died, I found all his tax returns going back to the 1960′s. Seriously.

For me to start using any system to get organized is a huge step. This system is so simple that I think even I can do it. It’ll just take a little effort to remember to put the stuff in the folders. They need regular attention. Like a houseplant. Or a blog.

Not real - always blooming

Not real - always blooming

Celebrate, c'mon

It RAINED! Here. Yesterday. In my yard. On my crispy, crunchy grass. It rained hard, then tapered off, and was over after about twenty minutes. My roses loved it. They’ll be happy for days, maybe even put out some new blooms for me to smell. My brother may have to mow the lawn this weekend. Maybe he’ll remember how to start the mower. But I will be hauling the hose around tomorrow morning once again to soak my beloved crepe myrtle, and the two baby trees in my front yard. The grass can dry up and go to hell, for all I care, but I need those trees.

We all need trees. That’s why it always blows me away when we get into drought conditions, to see people wasting water trying to save their lawns, and ignoring their trees. Stupid. Most grasses are annual plants, if my memory serves, which means they grow fast — they can be easily replaced after they die off for whatever reason. On the other hand, how long does it take for a live oak tree to get big enough to provide enough shade for a house to lower the cost of keeping the air conditioner blasting all the time? And after it dies, how long to grow another?

I recently helped my brother put some blow-in insulation into the attic of a house in College Station where the owners were having a hard time keeping the house adequately cool in the recent/current heat wave. At one point as I was feeding the shredded phone books and what-have-you into the blower hopper, I noticed a rough looking place in the front lawn. A circular, disturbed bit of ground, just the right size to have been the base of a large, shady tree. A tree that would have blocked the entire front of the house from the brutal mid-morning sun (which was about to give me a heat stroke). No wonder they were “suddenly” needing additional insulation.

I am in no way implying that the home owners killed their tree through neglect or anything like that. Trees die, after all, and I don’t know how long those people had lived there. But while I was pondering the fate of that tree, the sprinkler heads popped up in the yard next door and started spraying water around the lawn, and into the street, and into the bright sunshine where it could evaporate before hitting the ground. And sprinklers are in no way adequate for watering trees unless they are set up to deliver the equivalent of an inch of rain per week. It’s better to just shut off the sprinklers and set a hose at the base of the tree with the water running at a gentle trickle for an hour or two. When watering bans go into effect, they generally don’t include woody plants like trees and shrubs. City officials and water treatment plant staff have information on what can be watered and when if restrictions  get serious.

We need to keep our trees alive. Screw the grass.