Tag Archives: community

More about the Arthritis Walk

2009DogWalkFlyerThere’s just over a week to go before the Bryan/College Station Arthritis Walk and Dog Walk. The Brazos Valley Kennel Club is sponsoring a water stop, which is also the “Dog Zone,” a special table for registering Walk participants who have dogs with them. There will be at least one kiddie pool for dogs to drink out of or walk through to cool off, and there will be other containers for more “discriminating” water drinkers. BVKC is welcome to put out Club related literature, AKC brochures, etc.

Since my “Old Guy” is the “Dog Walk Hero,” I’ve set up a team called “Chief’s Doggone Walkers.” Kind of lame, I know, but obviously dog-related. This shortened link will take you to the team page if you want to join the team. http://tinyurl.com/yaqnxqu

There are several ways to participate. You can join the team and make a donation on line. You can join the team and not put an amount in the donation box, and bring a check made out to the Arthritis Foundation (or cash) to the walk. You can join the team and mail a check to the Arthritis Foundation. You can start your own team. Or you can make a general donation to the walk from the Walk home page. This is the link to the home page. http://tinyurl.com/yc48vo4

If you want to join the team but can’t come to the walk, and you want to mail a donation, there is a form you can print out from the team page to send along with your check so that Chief’s team will get the “credit.” If you want to join Chief’s team, there is a link on his page to “Join our team,” which will take you through the steps to register, and you will have your own “member” page. On that page there should be a “My to do List” menu where you can load and print the off line donation form to mail with your check.

And since someone already asked, donations made to Chief’s team go to fund research on arthritis in general, which includes dogs — not just dogs.

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.

On being productive

Tuesday night I went to one of those meetings of the local computer counter culture. Another attempt to expose myself to another way of thinking, working, solving problems. Kind of like taking a calculus class (and, oh, I suck at math). I’m never very sure going in if I’m actually going to get anything useful out of these meetings, aside from satisfying my curiosity, and in truth I usually end up thinking, “well, that’s not something I can do” (or, at least not until I figure out wtf they were talking about).

The topic was productivity — although the title of the talk was “Scrumming things done.” Yeah, I have absolutely no idea where the term “scrumming” came from (although it sounds vaguely sports-related), or why it applies. But I was probably the oldest person there by a substantial margin, and one of only three women. So. Language barriers kind of go with the territory. [Update -- here's a link to a video that explains "scrumming"]

[Oh, and note to presenters. Acronyms. Not everybody knows what they all mean. If you're going to use them, have a slide with the words spelled out. If you don't want to do this, don't open your meetings to the "public."]

Now. Productivity is something everyone can use a little help with, so I figured I’d learn something. In fact, I had what might even pass for one of Havi Brooks‘s “hot-buttered epiphanies” [Okay, I couldn't find something to link this to, but, trust me, she talks about them.] Most of the guys that were there are software developers/web designers/programmers or closely related species. (Then there was me.)

They all spend a lot of time at their computers writing code, entering data, doing research, reading and writing e-mails, and Twittering. Hopefully not all at the same time. Setting boundaries around tasks, prioritizing, and deciding on time lines in advance is the only way to keep that kind of mess sorted out in a way that can make work flow toward a finished product of some sort. These people really have to manage their time, and there are all kinds of tools available that let them micromanage it if they want.

I realized that the reason I never felt like I was getting anything done when I was working for the Kentucky Division of Water was that I wasn’t doing those time management things very effectively. Why not? Well, nobody really told me I needed to or showed me how. So, why didn’t I already know how? I’d had other jobs…which I started to examine.

I worked at a zoo. Work flow = arrive at work, clean cages, feed animals. Next day — clean cages, feed animals. Next day — clean cages, feed animals. Next day — well, you get the picture.

Then I worked at a lab where we did parentage tests for the Jockey Club, the U.S. Trotting Association, and the American Saddlebred Horse Accociation. There the job was — run gels, read gels; or run gels, make gels, read gels; or run gels, make buffers, read gels; and sometimes run gels, read gels, run more gels, read those gels.

Not a whole lot of need for productivity management tools. That was my epiphany. Not really even so much “hot-buttered” as “oh, duh.”

Then I compared what I do now to the kinds of things they were talking about, and realized that, yeah, I let things distract me from writing articles for my blog, drawing and painting, etc. I check my e-mail, read other people’s blogs, read Twitter, do housework, fritter my time away. Not that doing those things is always bad. In fact it’s absolutely essential to do something else when I lose my focus on some tasks, or I run the risk of making a real mess.

When I’m drawing, especially when I’m working with my colored pencils, I get completely absorbed by what I’m doing. All the internal noise just goies away for a while. As soon as it starts trying to intrude, I have to walk away from what I’m working on. Sometimes I only need a minute or two — I check on the dogs, get something to drink, then I can get back into that zone. But if I dont’t get up, I’ll mess something up.

It’s a little different with writing. If I mess up a watercolor painting, I can sometimes pretend that I “meant for that to happen,” but if I make a big enough mistake on a drawing, it can’t always be erased away without damaging the paper. With writing I can always use some of what I’ve done, even if I chop out huge chunks before I’m finished. Writing is like drawing in that I get completely absorbed, especially when I work with pen and paper, like I often do for first drafts. But when I draw, I don’t hear words in my head. I don’t consciously hear anything. It’s very peaceful. But not something I can sustain all day.

Toward the end of the meeting one of the guys said he felt lucky on days when he got as much as six hours worth of work done. I think he probably gets more done than he realizes. I think we’ve all been programmed to see only certain things as qualifying for “getting things done,” and the rest is fluff. I think a lot of the fluff matters. When I get up from my work table and look out the kitchen window and see my dogs curled up asleep on their hay bails, it rassures me that everything is okay, and I can go back to work or on to the next task. And it may seem counterproductive to do housework to avoid studying for an exam, but there’s always the possibility that you’ll study more effectively in a clean environment. Or should I say cram?…or would that be “scrum?”

Hard-Ass Work

An interesting thing happened a couple of years ago. I belonged to a community list-serve, which I largely ignored. But one day I got an e-mail from the list from someone talking about starting a new group locally for “creatives.” It said that whoever considered themselves creative was invited to attend something called “Refresh Bryan/College Station,” or “Refresh BCS.” I thought, “hmm, that sounds like me.” So I went.

What a shock I was in for. It wasn’t about art, or music, or writing, it was about computers. At the time I wasn’t aware of any overlap among those things. My creativity mostly involved pencils and paper, sometimes paints and brushes, and my computer was only another writing tool, with some incidental research and communication functions thrown in. At the meeting, I kept hearing about design, and I heard things like “twitter,” and “flikr,” and “facebook,” which had no meaning at all to me at the time. But I was intrigued, and thought I might be able to learn something, so I went to another meeting the next month, and another the next. I still felt like I was in another country where I didn’t understand the language, but the natives were friendly, didn’t seem to mind my advanced age, and it certainly gave me an excuse to get out of the house.

Of course, when someone says “Do you stumble?” my first thought is, “well, sometimes when I get new shoes, because my left foot is a little longer than my right… (and by the way, what an odd question),” but that’s not at all what they mean, I feel totally out of it. These days I know different. I almost said better, but I’ll reserve judgment for now. Now I know how to Stumble, and how to use Delicious, and I’m on Twitter and Facebook and MySpace and Linkdin and Digg. All these things are supposed to help me network and increase readership on my blog and get me noticed by people who can help me in my career or just invite me to more social gatherings. But none of it changes the fact that I’m a frakking megaintrovert and unless I’m forcing myself the whole time, I just sort of let those social things slide.

It’s ironic that all the advice givers say you have to be willing to work hard at what you love to be able to make a living at it. To me the hard work is all this peripheral stuff. I almost don’t have the energy to do the work I really love. Go figure.