Monday, March 31, 2008

The Shop

It's funny how my childhood has so many common names that I thought of a proper nouns. The cargo area of our Bronco was The Back Back. A visit to my grandparent's cabin was going to The Mountains. And my grandfather's engine repair business was The Shop.

Visiting The Shop was an integral part of all my childhood visits to my grandparents. I loved seeing my uncle's blue doberman, it was so neat get the key to the coke machine and get a free soda, I could find random pieces of wire in the yard and make believe with them, I could hang out with my grandmother while she did the bookkeeping and help swat the never-ending flies. My mom would tell me the story about how my aunt protested the pin-ups of scantily clad women by hanging a PlayGirl centerfold. Happy memories.

I've wondered if having so many positive memories from that place is why I can enjoy coming into a building where the smell of oil permeates the air. Or even other industrial smells: I loved walking near the melting facility at one of my internships, because the air smelled ionized from being near something so hot. I guess there's no way to tell for sure, but it's neat to think of my career as one of the gifts my grandparents gave me.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Writing into thin air

At work, I have two reports I put together every week, regarding some of the things I work on every day. They're part of a packet that gets distributed to the management team.

Last week, my boss told me they decided the packets were too thick. They wanted to focus on the information that most needed their attention, and one of my reports was no longer going to be included. They trusted me to keep this variable under control.

But I still have to make the report every week, just in case the owner wants to look at it every once in a while.

It was somewhat surreal making that report this week, knowing that in all likelihood, no one would ever look at. And next week I will overwrite that data with next week's report. Which will also, in all likelihood, never be looked at. It's only about ten minutes of my time each week, but what a bizarre way for my boss to order me to spend it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I catch moths

Some of my young childhood memories are of catching moths. Sitting around in our house, my family would often find a moth fluttering around us. My sister and I were taught to catch them, then release them outside. That's what we always did with moths in the house, and we had a lot of practice.

Since moving into our current house, my partner and I have encountered the occasional moth. Of course, I catch them and take them outside. These encounters make the place feel more like home to me. (Home is where the moths are?)

My partner, on the other hand, is mildly disturbed by the entire business. From his perspectives, moths should never be in houses (his childhood house had no moths), and a catch-and-release campaign is not the normal way to respond to such things.

Fortunately, he is grateful I take care of the insect handling. So in the part of our relationship where we deal with moths in the house, my methods go.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Uncle Anton in Vienna

Not my uncle. The uncle of a friend from synagogue. She had a dream about him last night... hadn't thought about him in years, she said. He was quite a character from her childhood. Some things she remembers are that he was a bachelor, he always dressed very stylishly, he was the assistant manager of the best theater in Vienna.

This was in the 1930s. Her family told him he should leave, it wasn't safe there anymore. He wouldn't leave: he was an important person in Vienna, he said. Nobody would touch the assistant manager of the best theater in the city. Besides, he wasn't even Jewish: he never attended synagogue and was secular in his beliefs.

He was taken to a concentration camp. My friend's family never heard from him again.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I read to my parrot

Sometimes, I read to my budgie (this type of bird is also called a parakeet).

My cockatiel seems to like hanging out with my partner and I. He'll stand on a shoulder, a knee, on the furniture near us, whatever, and just - hang out. Preen, sleep, chew on stuff.

The budgie, on the other hand, seems to need more direct attention. He enjoys sitting on us and being talked to, and will come over and seem to ask for this (staring intently at our lips, for example). But as soon as the talking stops, the budgie goes back to a mirror. (The bird in the mirror always pays attention to him.) I'm challenged to come up with conversation entertaining to both myself and to a small parrot, so this rarely lasts for more than a few seconds.

In an effort to spend more quality time with my budgie, I've recently tried reading to him for a couple of minutes at a time. He will sit very still on my finger and listen. It's quite a different experience reading the latest article in Science News out loud. The articles are just as interesting, but in a different way I'm not really able to articulate. I also feel somewhat silly reading out loud to a budgie who doesn't understand a word I say. But it is so neat to have that intense budgie attention.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Electronically taxing

I was excited to see on our federal tax booklets that anyone making less than $54,000 a year can file electronically for free. I had known for a few years that "low-income" households could do the free e-filing, but didn't realize the cut-off for "low-income" was so high. (Although, my partner and I would not qualify if we had a marriage license: how silly is that?)

So, off to the IRS website I went. It presented me with a long list of companies that offered free e-filing. In a hurry to get things going, I picked a company off the first page with a nice sounding name: Liberty Tax. It met all my expectations for e-filing benefits: the software found a couple of small credit I didn't know I could take, it was very nice to not have to mess with photocopies and envelopes, and my refund arrived very quickly. But, the user interface was slow and frustrating to work with, and the attempts to get me to purchase e-filing for my state return were irritating, to the point that I might have rather filled out the paper booklet.

Next, state taxes. The state of Illinois has developed its own software (unlike the IRS, which just links to the software of private companies). And after my experience with filing our federal taxes, I was pleasantly surprised by the clear instructions and quick run-through time of the Illinois software. Plus, this software is also free (so why was Liberty Tax trying to charge me $10 to use their clunky system?)

I'm glad my 2008 tax experience ended on a positive note. I can't say I look forward to doing taxes twelve months from now, but having a good experience at least with state taxes gives me hope the whole process will be better next year. Thank you, software writers for Illinois.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bridge graft

In the three years we've had our house, I've attempted to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables. Most have died in short order. As a result, I've become very attached to the plants that remain. These include three apple trees we planted two years ago.

I put compost and mulch around them, maintain the fencing to protect them from deer, prune them and put spreaders on their branches. Although our yard is shady and full of tree roots competing for nutrients, the trees have grown a little every year, and it means a lot to me that they seem to respond to my care.

My heart just sunk last fall when I saw that one tree had been girdled: some woodsy creature had eaten the bark in a six-inch-tall swath all around the tree. Worse, my apple tree book had warned about this, and instructed me to put wire mesh around the tree in the fall to protect it against just such an occurrence. I had known my tree was at risk, not acted, and now my neglect might have killed it.

Spring is coming here, and soon the trees will come out of dormancy. It seems like a good time to attempt to put the tree in a position to heal itself. Armed with instructions from Five Acres And Independence by M.G. Kains, a few long twigs from pruning the trees, and wax from a wax toilet ring, today I attempted to bridge graft the girdled area. I felt bad for the tree cutting long sections of its bark wide open to stick the twigs into, and I'm not sure about my skill in shaping the twig ends.

I'll be ecstatic if the tree leafs out and looks healthy this spring. Last year, the apple trees leafed out at the end of April. So here's to some hopeful watching and waiting.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Being a breadwinner

I recently started our taxes for last year, and was quite surprised to see my partner's income: two-thirds of my salary. I don't know why this surprised me; I've done our taxes every year we've been married, and for the past three years (since we moved for my job) I've made more than him.

So, if he lost his job, we wouldn't build up our savings as fast, or eat out as much, but would basically be fine. If I lost my job, we would really struggle. I guess that makes me the breadwinner.

He's never been very comfortable with this, although he doesn't make a big deal out of it, either. I thought my feminist self was above that kind of feeling, but I guess the information was uncomfortable enough for me I just blocked it out of my mind.

Being the breadwinner has another implication. I would like to have a child or children, but I have no desire to balance a full-time career with parenting. I would be happy to work if my partner took on the main childcare responsibilities: but his personality is not suited for staying at home or being the primary caregiver to a child. So having a child would mean I'd have to significantly cut back my work hours: not something the breadwinner is generally supposed to do.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

You don't make the cut

My boss is planning on firing a new trainee tomorrow. He "doesn't catch on quick enough". The trainee learns things at an average rate, and I guess my boss only wants to employ above-average people.

Two things bother me about my boss's decision. First, it would be wonderful for the company if we could employ only above-average people. But the fact of the matter is, finding an above-average person applying for a job that involves hard manual labor in a dirty and (compared to an office job) unsafe environment and starts at $8-10/hour is uncommon. Those that we do find tend to either have poor attendance (for a wide variety of reasons) to the point they are unsuitable for employment, or very quickly find a better job and leave us (without any notice). Holding out for an above-average learner with good attendance and a long-term desire to work for our company means the position is going to be open for a long time. Which will affect me: as long as this position is open, I will work more hours and do less interesting work.

Second, this trainee quit his last job to come work with us. I don't feel so bad when my company fires people from temp agencies: most likely they didn't give up anything to come work for us, and at least they were employed for the time we had them. But giving someone a "better" job, so they quit a secure position, and then firing them after four weeks? Does our business really require that kind of cold-heartedness?

Monday, March 10, 2008

I feel like a woman

I had a birthday a few months ago: I turned 26. Just over those last couple of months, I've finally become comfortable with calling myself a 'woman'. Until now, I didn't feel mature enough to qualify for that label. Why it would take almost half a decade of being married and running an independent household I don't know; it seems like I should have been calling myself a woman years ago.

I shared this experience with my partner recently, and he congratulated me on being a liberated chick. The 50-year-old secretary at his office still calls herself a 'girl'.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

I love spreadsheets

I love spreadsheets.* Some of my earliest memories (happy ones) are of my father teaching me how to use Lotus123.

I have on my home computer a spreadsheet to balance my checkbook and track my finances, a spreadsheet to track what meals I've cooked recently and what my partner and I like to eat together, and a spreadsheet to track what toys I've recently put into my birds' cages. I'd keep track of my workout activities in a spreadsheet if there wasn't a spot on my fertility charts for that. Speaking of charting, even though my fertility charting is done on paper, it's very spreadsheet-like: that's probably one of the reasons I love fertility awareness so much.

I also have a spreadsheet to estimate how much it would cost us to have child. While in general the costs don't phase me, the daycare expense for me to work part-time is mind-boggling. Since my partner hasn't been convinced we should have a child, it helps to keep that expense mind if I need to fight off baby fever.

At work, I am the go-to person for questions about using Excel. I've converted a few important company documents from Word into Excel and have my eye on a few more. It's amazing how one type of software program can have a positive impact on so many areas of my life.

*I really wanted to title this post "I love Excel". It's just so much more catchy, and for most people probably a more familiar name for this product. But even aside from my fond memories of Lotus123, I use OpenOffice software at home, not Excel.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Community involvement

Yesterday, the President of our congregation's Sisterhood called me. She asked if I would like to serve on the Sisterhood board. I said no.

We've been members of our congregation for three years. Technically, I was a Sisterhood member the first year for free. They have a few times sent me bills for dues, which I've never paid. I've never attended a Sisterhood event. Candidates must be pretty sparse for them to call and offer me a board position, which makes me feel guilty for not taking it. I believe I made the right decision for me, but I'm not sure how to resolve that guilt.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A different world

Going to work is normally a, well, normal experience for me. I go to work in the morning around the time the sun is coming up, I haven't been awake for very long when I get to work, and at work is where I really start my day.

Occasionally, I'll go to work on a Saturday afternoon. I've had time to really wake up and start paying attention to my surrounding, the sun is full out and shining. Walking into my company's building I immediately notice how dimly lit it is, the pervasive smell of oil, the hulking presence of heavy machinery, the occasional hum of a forklift engine. It's like entering a whole different world.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

But women don't like getting dirty

A friend from college frequently states that she loves the smell of horse manure. It is a very positive smell for her. I teased out of her one day that she would not actually enjoy the smell of, say, a bag of manure from the garden center. It was only in connection with having actual living horses in the vicinity that the smell was positive for her: being around horses was such a positive experience that nothing associated with that experience generated negative emotions for her.

Having my hands and clothes get soiled at work is a similar experience for me. It's not that I have any positive feelings for oil and dirt, it's that the work I do is enjoyable for me: enjoyable enough that the grime that never completely washes off isn't something that concerns me. I don't believe the experience is any different for men: my coworkers are washing their hands all day long and most shower as soon as they get home from work. None of them seem particularly attracted to soiled hands or clothing. And yet I've had more than one person be very surprised I work where I do, where I get dirty, because "women don't like getting dirty".