Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Life in Cubicleland

I started my new (temporary) legal-y job today, and it didn't take long for me to remember exactly why life in cubicleland sucks so very much. In the eight or so years since I last worked in a cubicle, I've apparently lost the critical ability to block out the sounds of the people around me. My neighbor entertained me most of the morning and into the afternoon.

10:30-- She picked up the phone and called someone, starting the conversation with "Hi! I just needed to talk to you about two things real quick." She then mentioned the two things, and then launched into a very long monologue about diets, the diet that she's on, the woes of being fat, how she's getting too old to keep dieting, how much she hates not being able to eat whatever she wants, and how she's certain that the reason she gained the weight back after her last diet was because she didn't ease back into eating "normal people food".

11:00-- The phone rings, she answers, and listens for a minute before launching into what has turned into a much more... engaging topic. "How much? Well, hang on." (Much rustling in a bag.) "Well, I've got my Advair right here, and it says 100/50 on it. I think your dosage is too high." (More rustling.) "Listen to this." (Starts reading aloud from the package insert, pausing every 30 or 40 seconds to inform the listener(s) that she "can't read that word".) "I think you're taking too high a dosage. You should call the doctor. Ask him about it. You're probably taking too high a dosage. I'd make sure to call the doctor and ask him if you're taking too high a dosage." Lather, rinse, repeat. Eventually, she hung up, but that didn't end the topic, oh no! For the rest of the day, I was treated to a repeat, including several additional read-throughs of the package insert as she told everyone about how she was sure that her sister was on too high a dosage of Advair.

Tomorrow, I am totally going to remember to bring my mp3 player.


Thursday, November 23, 2006


It's hard to quantify and list the things I am most grateful for this year. It's been a wonderful year, and I've never been happier. Odd, perhaps, seeing as it's not like I haven't had some setbacks this year, careerwise. But instead of feeling angry, anxious and hopeless, I find that I am utterly unworried about the details. The future doesn't seem scary. I feel hopeful in a way that I haven't felt in years, like life is full of possibilities and good things are... not even just around the corner, they're all around me. I'm thankful for that.

I have enough to eat and a warm home with nice things. Yes, I'd love to have more money, and sometimes I get sick of sticking to a budget. But I'm not making decisions like "Medicine or Breakfast?", "Rent or heat", "Pay the doctor or lose the car". I may wish for certain material things, but I have everything I really need and lots of things I want. I don't wqrry about where my next meal or the meal after that is coming from. I'm thankful for that.

I have friends and family who love me, even though many of them are far away. I have companionship and solace, we share our joys and our sorrows. I've said goodbye to some people whose idea of "friendship" was too different from my own, losing two of the more negative influences on my life in the process-- a fact that I was too blind to see until after they were gone. At the same time, I've deepened my ties to other people, gaining new and more satifying friendships. I'm thankful for that.

I do not live in a perfect society, but I live in a time and in a place where I can be fairly certain that I will not the victim of violence while going about my everyday life. I probably won't have to leave behind my family, my friends, my home, all of my belongings, everything I've worked for in order to flee violence or starvation. I can work and study, and no one will force me to marry against my will. My water supply is clean and plentiful. I won't be denied opportunities or be beaten or threatened or killed for my religious beliefs. I'm thankful for that.

I'm thankful for the beautiful days, for the starry nights, for the rise and fall of Ash's chest as he holds me close, for the friends who make me laugh until I'm physically ill, for small hands tugging at my pants leg to get my attention, for hot chocolate with marshmallows, for friendly dogs and snuggly cats, for cozy evenings knitting on the couch with all of the mantle candles burning, for fresh bread, for raw cookie dough, for the enormous bluejay that sits in the tree outside Ash's living room, for the smell of a fire on cold winter nights, for second chances, for serenity, for love. As Garrison Keillor once said, "Thank you, God, for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough."


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Speaking of Using the Squirt Gun

I have a large window in the back corner of my living room. There's a waist high bookshelf in front of it, and the top of the bookshelf is covered with potted plants. I moved them all there after discovering that this particular window gets by far the best exposure to sunlight in the house. Back in September, I took cuttings from one plant that has done particularly well and placed them in a cup of water to root.

Last night I glanced up from balancing my checkbook to see Jenna sitting in the window. This is "her" window, and it's the only place in the house that Ash considers off-limits when he's "playing" (read: "Making even crazier than she already is/ torturing") with her. The windowsill is very deep, and all summer long I left that window open. Only the strongest windstorm could drive rain in through the window, so I didn't worry about things getting wet and ruined. And the combination of the deep windowsill and the coverage offered by the veritable mini-jungle of house plants seemed to appeal to the tiger in my little house cat. She spent most of the summer peering out from behind the green leaves. I'd guess that she'll find the window less attractive as it gets cold.

This time, though, she wasn't just getting in touch with her inner tiger. Instead, her face was shoved into the cup of clippings and she was slurping down the water in the cup. I clapped my hands and made a loud hissing noise, and she jumped so hard she smacked into the window. Then she sat back on her haunches, looking around for an escape route, and becoming more and more freaked out as she realized that the only way out of the windowsill was toward me. Finally, she gathered her courage and jumped down, claws scrabbling on the hardwood floor in her attempt to make a 180 and get as far away as possible as quickly as possible, while I stood there and laughed myself sick. Stupid cat.

Friday, November 17, 2006

We Finally Found It

My motto-- well, one of them, anyway-- is "when in doubt, look it up." I also tend to believe that if I want something to happen or be true, that it's just a matter of finding a way to make it be true or happen. So when faced with the reality that we could not get the ring we really wanted, I turned to research. And instead of finding a way to make the shiny diamond happen, I just got more and more outraged about the diamond industry, until I started to feel like everytime I saw the ring on my finger, I'd think "DeBeers! in a voice combining the repulsion of Jerry Seinfeld's "Newman!" with the anger of William Shatner's "Khaaaaan!". What can I say? I really resent being manipulated and lied to, and I have a major problem with abusive business practices.

Still, I must admit that I like the way diamonds look. We considered Moissanite, but I was concerned about possible discoloration. Also, we knew that we wanted platinum for our bands, so I was worried that Moissanite wouldn't look white enough when set in platinum. On the other hand, I loved the sparkle and fire of the Moissanite stones I saw in some of the large chain stores. And then there was also the matter of not really knowing what other options we might have. I wanted a white stone, and I wanted it to be sparkly and pretty. It is not important to me that it fool people into thinking that it's a diamond-- in fact, I have no problem telling people exactly why I don't have or want a diamond. I'd even go so far as to say that there's a distinct possibility that I'll have trouble not haranguing people with the fervor of a new convert.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the local mall to run some errands and decided to visit a couple of the jewelers and see if I could get some ideas. I picked one at random, walked in, and told the saleswoman who approached me that I was on a fact finding mission. She replied "Oh?" and pulled up a chair. We sat down at the counter together, and I explained to her that we liked the look of the traditional diamond engagement ring, but had serious misgivings about buying one. I didn't go into detail because I didn't want to offend anyone, but she knew exactly what I was talking about, and to my pleasant surprise, she didn't try to talk me out of it. "I assume you've considered a non-conflict diamond?" was the closest she came, and when I told her that yes, we'd thought about Canadian diamonds and decided that we still didn't want to support the diamond industry, she smiled and said "I completely understand" in a way that made me feel that she really did understand and probably even agreed to some extent. She thought about it for a minute, then offered me the name of the independent jewelers that her chain deals with for special order work, commenting that it would probably be best to just cut out the middle man and go straight to the source.

Then we started brainstorming possible stones that we might use, and suddenly she sat up and said "Actually, you should go see the man who did this for me", indicating the ring on her own finger. She wrote down the address and name, and finished by saying "Tell him Andrea Billroth sent you."

It took a little while for our schedules to match up during the business day, but Ash and I finally managed to go see the man that Andrea so kindly recommended. He's a jeweler, but he doesn't have a retail shop. Instead, he does a lot of custom work, and the office/ shop we visited was little more than a small counter separated from his workshop by a wall with a large window in it. We rang the bell, and he buzzed us in, coming out to the front to meet us. He had protective goggles pushed up over his head, and his hands were black from working with the metals. In the background, we could see a young man, presumably his apprentice, working on a broad ring in a white metal of some sort. It was a happy, busy sort of a place, and I had a good feeling just walking in the door.

We told him what we wanted, and he talked to us about some possible options, taking the time to explain pros and cons to us, and never once making it seem like we should rush or like we were taking too much of his time. We really liked the idea of a white sapphire, and he brought out a couple of stones for us to see. It was exactly right: white, sparkly, and pretty, but not a diamond and also not connected to DeBeers. Then he helped us find the right setting for it and even brought out a couple of "dummy" versions so that we could see how it would look with the stone in it.

With his help, we put together a classic Tiffany style ring set with a 1 carat white sapphire. I am so excited to have found something that is pleasing to us aesthetically as well as ethically. He's going to try and have it ready for us before we leave town for Thanksgiving. I can't wait to see what the final product looks like, and I am so anxious to finally wear Ash's ring, and I want to show it off to my family, especially since I may not see them again for quite a few months-- who knows? Maybe not even until just before the wedding at the rate I'm going! I will definitely be sending Ms. Billroth a nice thank you for her wonderful recommendation.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

LSAT Whisperer

So I'm tutoring several people for the December LSAT. They're all very nice and very hard workers, and I've really enjoyed working with them and seeing them progress. They're at very different skill levels, which makes it a challenge for me, but also keeps it interesting when I have to teach the same lesson for the eightieth time. One of my students, if I may take a moment to brag, has gone from a 150 on her first diagnostic test to consistently scoring in the low to mid-170s. I am so proud of her, I could just burst. Not that I'm not proud of the other students' progress. Everyone seems to be doing much better on their Logic Games, consistently finishing three of the four games with near perfect accuracy. It's really gratifying to see the little "a-ha!" moments when something just clicks for the first time.

One thing that they all have trouble with, regardless of skill level, is having enough confidence in their answers to just let go and move on to the next question. Given an unlimited amount of time, that wouldn't be a problem, but since you only have 35 minutes to answer 20-odd questions in each section, you have to work as efficiently as possible. I try to show them how they can use the various Kaplan methods to find the right answer without needing to check and double check their work, and as they go along, they start to believe that it works intellectually-- and as a side note, it does work: I'm really impressed with how Kaplan has dissected the LSAT. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: had I known and used the Kaplan method back when I took the LSAT, I may well have gotten a perfect score.

Anyway, understanding that it works intellectually doesn't always mean that it's easy to let go of their anxiety, and sometimes, as we're working through practice sets together, I catch them running through the wrong answers, just to reassure themselves that they really are wrong.I usually just remind them that they don't need to do that because we already found the right answer, we know why it's right, and we also know that if that answer is right, the others must be wrong, so we don't need to be concerned with them. At that point, they usually grin a little sheepishly and agree with me. Sometimes, you can tell that it's really a matter of the student not feeling confident in their own abilities, so I remind them of specific things that they've mastered that they didn't know before, and point out how accurate their answers have been so far. My superstar student's results really skyrocketed once she internalized that idea. I want all of my students to have that revelation, even if they only believe it for a specific skill set at first. So far, everyone I've worked with has been very conscientious about homework and practice, and no one's failed to make progress in some skill sets. And if someone's really struggling with the idea of trusting their skills, then I tell them that, if they really feel queasy about their answer after working through the question carefully using the Kaplan method, they should mark it in the test booklet with a big star or something, and then if they have time left at the end of the session, they can come back and go over it again, after they've given themselves time to answer the other questions. It's all about maximizing your ability to complete as many questions accurately as you can.

But all the gentle encouragement in the world is not enough sometimes. Last night, I had a session with a student who is stuck on a particular problem type. We worked on understanding how the problem type works and what methods he could use to tackle it. He's catching on, slowly but surely, so we started doing some practice sets. As we did more and more of them, I started to be more insistent that he keep moving and not second guess himself, but I guess he's still feeling a little hesitant or something, because he just could not let go. As I "caught" him doing it for what felt like the six thousandth time, I had a mental image flash across my brain:

What if, every time a student started to go back and review the wrong answers, I squirted them with a water gun or shook a can full of pennies at them?

I know, I know: that's not a good pedagogical technique. But it seems like it might be effective, you know? After all, who wants to get a cold stream of water in the face? If you faced the threat of being squirted every time you did a certain thing, wouldn't you start to avoid doing that thing?

The image was gone in an instant, and all I did was smile to myself before I stopped him and reminded him that he doesn't need to check that the wrong answers really are wrong, that he understands now what kind of answer that particular question type calls for and how to apply that idea to whatever specific instance appears on the test, that he's getting more and more accurate now that he understands the question type better, and that he needs to work on timing now that he's got the hang of how to get the right answer. I'm sure he'll get there eventually. Still, I wonder if a healthy dose of strategically applied cold water might not speed the process...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

It's Not Covered in the Zombie Survival Guide

Ash and I are watching the utterly abominable remake of Dawn of the Dead. Honestly, I don't know why we haven't turned it off. It's really horrible and clichéd. Anyway, I've got to thinking:

Strictly speaking, wouldn't zombie dogs eat other non-zombie dogs, not necessarily people? I mean, in the movie, the zombie people ignore the non-zombie dog, and if it were simply a matter of needing flesh or brains or whatever for survival, surely the zombie would grab whatever living flesh comes in range. This leads me to the conclusion that zombies must be limited to flesh of their own originating species. So wouldn't zombie dogs have to eat non-zombie dogs?


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Just Fix It, All Right?

Sunday evening, I was sitting on my couch, talking to my mother, when I realized that it had gotten quite chilly in my apartment. At first, I thought the heat just wasn't working. There was some difficulty when the landlord first turned it on this year, requiring service to the boiler and resulting in over a week of temperatures hovering around 50­°F so really it wasn't so far fetched. Then I realized that I could hear the faint hissing of the radiator in my bedroom. Obviously the heat was on. I felt the radiator behind the couch and made the odd discovery that the three bumps on the far right side of the radiator were hot, but that the other 12 or so bums were stone cold. This, obviously, is not normal. This meant that the only thing heating my entire apartment was the small radiator in the bedroom and an even smaller one near my front door. The radiator in the bathroom didn't work all last winter, but the enormous radiator in the living room kept the place so warm that I didn't bother to fuss about it.

I'd intended to call the landlord on Monday, but what with one thing and another, I just forgot. So Tuesday afternoon, I dialed the number that I'm beginning to know by heart now. Bob the Landlord answered, which was a bit of a shock-- he normally screens his calls and either returns them, ignores them but fixes the problem, or ignores them entirely, depending on his mood or maybe on the positions of the planets or maybe on messages that he gets from his neighbor's dog. I said "Hi Bob, this is Katze over at 400 Mystreet in apartment X. I'm calling because the radiator in my living room and the one in my bathroom are not working. The one in the bedroom seems to be working just fine, though." Bob the Landlord was silent for a moment, then he responded, with an undertone of irritation, "Soooo... are you complaining that your apartment's cold?"

Well, duh, you idiot! How else do you think that I'd even noticed that the radiators aren't working? Do you think I make the rounds every hour or so and check to be sure that the radiator in each room is working? I may be high strung, but I'm not OCD. And even if the apartment isn't cold, wouldn't you, as the owner of a property, be concerned if a major appliance-- or whatever the proper word for your heating system and its accoutrement is-- was not working? Especially one that might, if broken, leak a large amount of water, causing damage to not only the apartment in which it is located, but also the apartment or apartments underneath?

It's not like I call Bob-o for every little thing. If something goes wrong and I can fix it, I do. Case in point: the little bobber thing inside my toilet tank wasn't sealing properly. I looked it up online, saw that it was a simple matter of draining the tank and readjusting the arm mechanism with a gentle bit of pressure from a pair of pliers. I can handle that!, I thought to myself, and handle it I did. Problem solved, Bob didn't have to pay his maintenance guy to drive out to my place and do it himself.* Ditto for clogged drains or a broken window screen. Small things, I can fix them, I don't bother Bob about it. Furthermore, I pay my rent on time, and I'd be willing to bet a lot of money that Bob's never had another tenant complain about me for any reason because I am quiet and considerate of my neighbors. Frankly, I am a dream tenant, so I resent Bob's irritation with my request. Wonder how long it will take him to get around to fixing this?

*Though in the interest of full disclosure, the problem eventually returned maybe 7 or 8 months down the line and I had to call Bob when my fix didn't work. They ended up replacing the little rubber thingie altogether, so I guess that I really only delayed the repair. Still, it got him another 7 or 8 months out of the stupid thing, right?

Monday, November 06, 2006

More Fun With Automated Phone Systems

At this very moment, I am on hold with American Express, waiting to take care of some small business. To get to the point of being placed on hold, waiting for the next available representative to take my call, I first had to navigate the automated system. This particular system uses a... somewhat different voice than I've heard before. Each and every phrase and sentence ends with a sudden sharp rise in inflection. Presumably, this is supposed to make the voice sound more natural and less like an automated voice, but I think they've gone a bit far with this one, because the overall effect is to make it sound like American Express has hired a 17 year old teeny bopper to answer their phones:

"Thank you for calling American Express? To continue? Please enter your card number?"

I swear to you, I expect to hear:

"If you've, like, lost your card? Go '1' or, you know, press the button?"