Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Five Questions

Wow, I hope Barbara Walters doesn't perceive Sonja as a threat and have her eliminated, because these were great interview questions. For those of you who don't read Sonja's blog, I responded to a challenge (or offer, depending on how you choose to look at such things-- I, obviously, am of the "double dog dare" school of thought) she issued.

1. Where does your screen name come from? (Do you purrrrrrr?)

Well. It’s like this:

I have a cat. I speak German to this cat, sometimes all the time, sometimes just some of the time. Somewhere along the line, her name morphed from “Jenna” to “Jenna Katze”, which in turn became a convenient screen name that I occasionally used on message boards and such. At the same time, Katze became one of the few German words that most of my friends knew. Somewhere along the line, Finbar’s family started calling me [My Real Name] Katze. It stuck, and in fact, my old primary email address was [My Real Name]katze. So, when I started the blog, it was a natural choice for my blogger name.

2. Fill in the blank: My morning would be absolutely ruined if my _______________ was missing/kaputt/wet/replaced with a smaller one.

Coffee. I must have it. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever told this story on the blog, but that’s one of the things that Luneray and I bonded over. Having learned from my experience living in student housing in Germany back during my undergrad days, I packed those little Folgers single serve coffee bags (like tea bags, only filled with coffee), lest I find myself unable to make coffee in the morning for the duration. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get coffee in Germany, or that I thought that I wouldn’t be able to get coffee in Sweden, it was that I didn’t have access to a coffee maker in the dorms in Offenburg, and was concerned that I would be similarly deprived in the Uppsala dorms or student housing or wherever I’d end up staying*. I had also packed quite a bit of portable food, on the advice of my Iceland travel guide. Although the guide was 100% correct that food prices were outrageous in Iceland, I did not end up eating all of the stuff I had packed, especially since I discovered a small grocery during my wandering stroll through Reykjavík and took full advantage of the youth hostel’s breakfast buffet. So I unpacked these things and placed them in one of the kitchen cabinets in the apartment I was to share with my yet-unarrived roommate.

Luneray arrived later and set about unpacking. She wandered into the kitchen with a few things and I heard her start to laugh. Turns out that Luneray had brought along a french press and a bag of Peet’s Coffee, similarly concerned about access to coffee and quality thereof.**

In fact, allow me to offer a second example from that same summer to further illustrate. We were set to take part in a day trip to Dalarna as part of the course, and the bus was going to leave the main dorms at a ridiculously early hour. Luneray and I did not live in the dorms, we lived in a “real” apartment some distance from the dorms, and so we’d have to leave at an even more ridiculous hour to ensure that we didn’t miss the bus and the trip. I knew that I’d never be able to get up early enough to make and drink coffee and still leave by whatever up-with-the-birds hour*** we needed to be out the door of our apartment. Had I been back home in Our Fair City, that would have been no problem at all. I would have merely used a plastic travel mug to carry the coffee along. Unfortunately for me, all my coffee-related foresight had apparently been utterly used up by my purchase and subsequent transport of the aforementioned Folgers****. I had not, however, exhausted my supply of creativity and as such, I applied my formidable coffee-seeking skill to the task at hand and came up with this:

There is a McDonald’s in Uppsala.

McDonald’s serves coffee in little cups with lids.

I could wash out a cup and re-use it in the morning.

Et voilà, coffee for the trip!

So I stopped at McDonald’s on my way home from classes, bought a coffee, drank it, washed out the cup very carefully, and set it out for the next morning. Shortly before our departure, I brewed a cup of coffee and poured it into the cup. Luneray and I put on our jackets, picked up our backpacks, and walked out the door. In the common entry way, I stopped to lock the door behind us and in that moment, I lost my grip on the cup. It slipped from my fingers, hit the floor, and splashed, defying the laws of gravity and conservation of mass, all across the walls, the floor, and even the ceiling. Truly, it was astounding. I’m told that my expression at that moment was the very definition of “crestfallen”. What I remember is that in that moment, I was trying desperately to think of a way to FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT (MY COFFEE!!!), but my rational brain caught up—pretty quickly, too, considering that my coffee was coating the entry hall and not coursing through my veins—and I realized that not only did I not have time to make another cup of coffee, but we didn’t even really have time to clean up the mess. I grabbed something and mopped up the worst of the coffee on the floor and left the rest for the next day, when Luneray was kind enough to help me scrub coffee stains from the white walls and ceiling. The whole way to the bus, I was angry with myself, and all was not right until we stopped for a little food at a café in Dalarna before continuing on to Carl Larsson’s house , and I was able to get a lovely, strong coffee.

3. What was your backup career plan in case the lawyering thingy hadn't worked out?

What is this “backup career plan” thing? That question assumes that I had a career plan in place to begin with. I’d originally planned to do my PhD in German, but a series of events waylaid me, and then September 11th happened and I found that not only was the job market in the field—never all that robust to begin with—basically dead, but I was really, really pissed off at the things I saw happening. I wanted to change things and I wanted to have a job while doing it. So I entered law school with this vague idea of getting into some sort of advocacy work, maybe with an NGO or something, and another, competing idea that I might like to try something in the area of EU law, maybe working for a government agency or a multi-national corporation*****.

Sometimes I still wonder if I made the right choice, ditching my PhD program. I was very, very good at it, and it was intuitive for me. But in the end, I felt that quality of life was more than quality of career (not to say that career doesn’t enter into it), and that I wanted to choose where I get to live, to be able to get married and not have the nearly inevitable clash of career strictures, and even though I don’t really need to be rich, I wanted more financial stability than I could forsee from a future in academia.

4. If you had the choice, would you rather live in the city, the suburbs, or out in the boonies? Explain.

It would depend on which city, but I’m going with suburb. A close suburb of a biggish city. For example, I was quite happy with living in Rockville. Close enough to DC to go in any time without major hassle, far enough out to escape most of the major hassles of city life. I like that kind of balance and would seek that out, given a choice.

5. If you had unlimited resources (money, connections, etc.), what would you do to change the world?

Holy crap. I honestly don’t know where to start. How do you end war and poverty and ignorance and injustice and disease and all of the other things that constitute the spectrum of human misery? Honestly, I don’t know that all the resources in the world can do that. Perhaps that means that I have a very dim view of human nature. Still, I do believe that the world can be improved upon, so maybe I could find a few ways to alleviate specific problems.

I’d fix our healthcare system—make it affordable and accessible for everyone. I’d include treatment for mental illness in that mandate. Don’t ask me how that would be accomplished. I guess I’d use some of those unlimited resources to hire people who could make that happen, absent the constraints of limited money and political will (use those connections, right?)

I’d make higher education a privilege earned based on hard work and skill. No one with the ability and the drive would be turned away, and no one would be able to buy their way in, whether by way of money, or connections. Once in, you’d have to continually earn your place, but hard work would be balanced with grades.

I want to say that I’d make sure that every child has a safe and loving home, but I don’t know how that would be possible without denying the free will and choices of the parents. And yet, I want to trample the holy hell out of the free will and choices of the abusive or negligent parents who damage their children physically and mentally. There will always be children who are unwanted by their parents, parents who find themselves unable to fulfill their roles properly, families that implode or explode due to failings such as drug or alcohol abuse, inability to cope with stress, mental illness, or any of a myriad of other things. I think maybe the best approach might be to make resources and help available for the parents who want to do right by their kids and don’t know how or can’t do it without a hand or just get overwhelmed. And I’d make birth control of varying forms widely available and free, and a cursory education on what it is and how to use it would be compulsory, no matter what your religious beliefs, so that far fewer children will be born into homes unprepared for their arrival, raised by people who didn’t want them and resent their presence. Those on the religious right can feel free to tell their kids that birth control is evil at home, but I firmly believe that the benefit of reaching every child, even if only in a cursory manner, with simple, true information about preventing pregnancy and responsible behavior far outweighs the detriment to the religious freedoms of a small part of the population.

I’d fix the foster care system so that kids don’t just “age out” the day they turn 18 and get booted to the street with no home, no financial assistance, no guidance, and no one to go to when they need help learning to be adults or just a shoulder to cry on. No one expects the average high school kid to move out of his parents’ home on his 18th birthday and fend for himself, so why do we as a society expect this very thing from some of our more vulnerable young adults?

So that concludes our interview for the night. Thanks for the interesting and thought-provoking questions, Sonja! You can totally come and hang with me anytime.

*In fact, I wasn’t even sure where I’d be living, since I’d not received any sort of housing confirmation whatsoever from the program. I figured they’d have to find somewhere to put me, so I didn’t sweat it too much.

** I, obviously, had decided to sacrifice quality for ease of transportation. Plus I didn’t know how to use a french press—a skill that Luneray made sure to teach me.

*** In my mind, it seems like it was around 6:30 a.m., but that’s solely based on my memory of how the light was and how the air felt, and as this was Sweden in late June, there was scant difference between the light at 4:30 and the light at 7:30, especially on the grey, drizzly mornings such as the one on which this story takes place.

**** Man, that last bit almost sounded like a lawyer wrote it or something.

***** Come to find out, EU law is so boring, it could make you check your own pulse, just to make sure that you didn’t die while thinking about it.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Remember, Only YOU Can Prevent Mulch Fires

Several "reminders" in increasingly stern language have been sent to the entire company over the past few weeks, asking people to smoke only in the designated smoking area, and to dispose of their butts in the provided receptacles. One of the more recent ones even asked all managers to make sure that any temps were shown the smoking areas, just to ensure that they understood where, exactly,the back lobby doors are located. Apparently, this is a very difficult concepts for the smokers in our building, because today, the following email was sent to the entire company:

"Mulch acts as kindling when cigarette butts are tossed into shrub beds and it is therefore imperative that cigarettes are distinguished in the cigarette repositories directly outside of the back lobby doors. Last summer, [another building in the office complex]'s front flower bed caught fire and was completely destroyed due to a cigarette thrown in the bed. A mulch fire was just extinguished today at yet another building [in this office complex] for the same reason.

As a reminder, the only location designated for smokers on the My Company property is outside the back lobby doors."


My New Decorating Scheme is Corrugated

We moved on Saturday. And Sunday. And Monday. And today. More on that in a few days: we have no internet, no TV, and no phone in the new place. The public library boots you off the innanet (Hi, Juice! )And yet, it feels really great to come through the door and know that it's our place.

I must say that I was somewhat taken aback by the realization that I had spent my last night as a truly 100% single person-- someone with her own space, in which every item belonged to her, and her alone, and which she was not obligated in any way shape or form to share with someone else. I mean, yes, we're not married yet, so I am still legally single, but we are actively merging our households now. That feels like a bigger step than I thought it would. I mean, we were spending most of our waking, non-work, non-school hours together anyway, so it didn't seem like it would be a very big change to just move in to the same apartment.

Our families are coming for Ash's graduation in just a few days, so I am headed back to work on unpacking some of the 500 books that we own between the two of us and try to cut back on the amount of cardboard in the apartment, lest someone think Hildi's been to visit.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

I Thought of a Very Clever Title For This Post, But I Didn't Write It Down, So Now I've Forgotten It

Paca tagged me for a meme with the following rules:

1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Okay. Let's see...

1. I like plain oatmeal, but only the really good, non-instant kind.

2. Small children love me. Children in shops and on the street regularly take my hand, grab hold of my leg, reach to be picked up, smile, laugh, and tell me stories, often over the concerned or embarassed protests of their parents. I could have a great career as a kidnapper, if I were so inclined.

3. I played the munchkin who says "We thank you very sweetly for killing her so neatly...", etc. in a summer stock production of The Wizard of Oz when I was 17. It was my first and last speaking role, in no small part because it was the second summer stock production I was ever in (having played a wardrobe girl in Act I and a Bathing Beauty in Act II of a production of Mack and Mabel with the same company the previous summer), and also my last-- I left for Germany and by the time I came back, I was too busy to get involved in that sort of thing. Sometimes I toy with the idea of trying out for some community theater production, but then I think that maybe it's better to keep the memory of those two wonderful summers intact.

4. At any given time, the number of lip balms I own can be measured by double digits. Same for the number of lipsticks. I set a moratorium on new lipstick purchases every once in a while, but it never lasts long because I am constantly searching for the perfect pink lipstick. My coloring makes most pinks look unbearably sickly on me. It used to be the search for the perfect shade of brown that fueled my acquisitions, but I now own at least ten brown lipsticks that I love, plus a handful that I think are okay and use for mixing with other lipsticks.

5. The first meal of any given day must be breakfast-- and by this, I mean it must consist of foods that I consider "breakfast food". The very idea of eating, for example, cold pizza for breakfast makes me queasy. However, once I eat a small breakfast and have coffee, I am perfectly willing to segue into non-breakfast foods, provided that there is a short interval of time in between.

6. I cannot sleep without a blanket, no matter how hot the temperature is in the room. In the summer, I often spend several minutes trying to rearrange the covers so that the minimum amount of skin is covered that will still allow me to fall asleep and stay asleep. I am also a blanket hog.

7. I used to dislike the comic strip Pearls Before Swine until I read it in Swedish. Now I think it's hysterical in English and Swedish. I cannot explain this. Now that I know that Stephan Pastis is an ex-attorney, I think the strip is even funnier.

8. If I had to go back and do college over again, but couldn't major in the same thing, I would choose to major in Geology. I put off fulfilling my science requirement until the last possible moment, and I loved my Geology classes so much that I half-seriously considered trying to add a minor.

9. I have been to more foreign countries than states of the United States.

10. I had scarlet fever as a young child and it left streaks in the enamel of my teeth. But I've never had a cavity, not even after the five year stretch when I had no dental insurance and consequently did not go to the dentist.

Wow, that was actually kind of hard. Maaaan and now I have to think of people to tag? Ummm... Sonja for sure. J was already tagged by Paca, Paca tagged me... Ooo, Luneray has a blog and so does Eep, so they're all tagged and stuff... Oh! Juice! You're tagged! And now I am drawing a blank on other bloggers who I like and read and if you want to consider yourself tagged, please do, but I am going to hit "Publish" and then go check my email. And work on packing. Because we are moving in five (5) days.


Always Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Late Saturday afternoon, Ash and I got in the car and set off for the mall. It was a glorious sunny weekend, the sort of weather that just begs you to shirk your responsibilities and do something fun. As I pulled up to the traffic light at the end of the road from our neighborhood, I looked up at the highway overpass and noticed that the traffic wasn't moving at all. We were taking a closer look, trying to decide whether it affected the lanes in one direction or both directions-- in other words, whether we should turn around and take the back roads to the mall-- when a very blonde woman jumped over the jersey barrier between the westbound lanes and the median. She ran over behind one of the decorative bushes at the top of the hill, and in full view of both lanes of travel, plus the lines of traffic at the bottom of the hill, waiting for the traffic light to turn green, she dropped her spandex pants and took a piss. Allow me to illustrate:

Ash and I looked at each other, torn between laughter and horror. Transfixed, we looked up the hill in time to watch her pull up her panties (white granny panties) and pants (black spandex capris), run back over to the jersey barrier and haul herself back over into the lanes of traffic in a single, practiced movement.

Wow. I guess when you've gotta go, you've gotta go. I wonder if she realized just how little cover those decorative shrubberies provided?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

This Has Been a Good Morning For Blog Reading

Forget the post (not that there's anything wrong with it) and scroll down to the fourth comment. Heh. Made me laugh out loud.


I Think Some of My Former Classmates Minored In That In College

A tale of parenting the gifted child, from a blog I read only occasionally, but very much enjoy. I don't know how people can be this strange and funny on a regular basis.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Bad Bumper Stickers

It was not a good day for bumper sticker philosophers in Our Fair City. On my morning commute, I was stuck behind an enormous pickup truck bearing the very dumb and illogical statement "Get my flag off of your foreign car". First of all? That big ol' truck you're driving? Is burning up foreign oil at the rate of between 9 and 14 miles per gallon, according to the manufacturer's website. And that foreign car that has the audacity to sport "your" flag was very likely assembled here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave and your "American" car was quite likely assembled from parts made in Mexico. It's called globalization and it's an inescapable fact of modern life.

Then we come to the tougher questions of philosophy here. Just who the hell do you think you are, claiming the flag of the United States of America for your own? What makes you think that you have the right to dictate who has the right to claim allegiance or affinity to that flag on any basis, let alone the basis of what kind of car they drive? And really, what is it that the patriotic among us say that the flag stands for? Freedom. Seems just a little contradictory to me that you might try to refuse someone the right to wave the flag of freedom just because you don't like their car.

And then, on the afternoon commute, we have this nonsensical and self-righteous gem from the other end of the political spectrum: "I'm already against the next war". What? That doesn't even make sense. Oh, wait. I guess you're trying to say that you're a pacifist and believe that there is no such thing as a just war. Fine. I think you're flat out wrong about that, but we could agree to disagree... but still. Shouldn't you wait until you know what you're protesting before you open your mouth to protest it? Otherwise you just dilute your message and start to sound like the teacher in a Peanuts TV special wahwah wah wah wah.

I can't wait for my shorter commute with no tunnel traffic. If I'm not stuck dragging along at 15 mph behind the same irritating bumper sticker for 10 or 15 minutes at a stretch, then maybe they won't cause my blood pressure to skyrocket.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

They Must Have Been So Disappointed

Unfortunately, neither law school nor my previous work experience has ever taught me any tricks for removing dampness from my cocaine. Sounds like a real problem. Probably an expensive problem, too.