Saturday, January 28, 2006

Elevator Etiquette

The other day I stepped onto the elevator in one of our buildings and there was one of those five foot tall plants with big leaves on it. I forget what you call it, kind of like a rubber plant. Then I noticed the blond woman peeking out between the leaves.

“What a great idea” I said, “We should have a plant like that in every elevator. Really dresses up the place.”

The woman was embarrassed that she was being seen with this green monster. She said she thought it was late enough in the day on a Friday that she could get it into her office without being put on public display. No such luck. Everyone else in the elevator got a big kick out of it, though.

Earlier in the day I was in another elevator (I save my knees for really important things like lifting Max). There were two women students talking about gas mileage. One was complaining how much gas her car had used on a recent trip. The other agreed that it seemed like it was too much for a just a few hours. The first woman then said, “Well, I was going 90 miles an hour most of the time. Maybe 85…do you think that would have anything to do with it?”

I didn’t say anything, though I was tempted to. I wasn’t really part of the conversation and they didn’t seem inclined to include me.

Usually people file into and off of elevators in silence. If you are with someone, or see a person you know, you might strike up a conversation, but otherwise you just stand there and stare at the floor numbers going by. In my building, I will usually try to engage people with a word about the weather, or the “speed” of the elevator, or even ask them how school is going. People usually respond well to that, and if they don’t want to contribute, that’s OK too.

I wonder why that sliding box causes people to clam up. Maybe it’s that there’s not enough personal space to go around, so we need silence to keep ourselves safe. I’ve never been stuck in an elevator, though I wonder how I’d react. Bet that would get us to talk to each other.

Earlier in the week I was carrying a couple of boxes of Girl Scout cookies back to my office and one student remarked on that, saying she would mug me for my cookies, especially the Thin Mints. I figured we could share them, should the elevator get hung up between floors. We could probably write a great existential play about characters in an elevator. I wonder if anyone’s done that yet?

So what do you do in elevators?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Birth Order Predictor

I found this “Birth Order Predictor” on another blog (linked to a blog I sometimes read—a long connection away from me, but I digress.) The “predictor” said I was probably a “Forth Born” (sic). They can’t even spell.

This was rather insulting since I am a first born, of course. My mom used to call me their “experimental model.” I was the first to be shoved out of the nest into school, scouts, summer camp, organized baseball, and eventually college. Day Two of first grade was traumatic as I got lost in the hallways of what seemed to me to be an immense building. Homesick at boy scout camp, best benchwarmer you ever saw in baseball. I came into my own in college, though. Before leaving for my second year, I remember being sick because I was so anxious to get back to where I was free to do anything I wanted with no parental supervision of any kind.

Though this “test” was a bust, I still think there is something to birth order and how it affects you. I was reading about it back in the ‘70’s and decided to include it in my tenth grade class I was teaching. I told the kids that I would guess their birth order just by the way they conducted themselves in my class. If I knew something about their families, I would not guess them because that wouldn’t be fair.

The first born were serious, grade conscious, rule followers. Middle children were loud, conspicuous, attention hungry. Youngest were those who would lay back and wait for others to do things for them. Sometimes they would ask me how I knew their birth order, and it was hard to be diplomatic about some of the telling characteristics.

I went ten out of ten before they said, “Do Jamie!” Jamie sat in the back of the room, was a quiet young man. I considered him for a moment, and said, ‘Jamie, you’re an only child!” The class was blown away; they had been so sure they could trip me up. Jamie was self assured, really didn’t need any one else, was friendly enough, but not dependent on others for finding satisfaction. He was quite self sufficient.

Now that I have insulted half of you, how does birth order affect you?

They completely missed the mark on me.

You Are Likely A Forth Born
At your darkest moments, you feel angry.At work and school, you do best when your analyzing.When you love someone, you tend to be very giving.
In friendship, you don't take the initiative in reaching out.Your ideal jobs are: factory jobs, comedy, and dentistry.You will leave your mark on the world with your own personal philosophy.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Year One is in the books

It has been one year today since I started this blog. At first I thought it would be a kind of business related one where I would be talking about career issues and dispensing the wisdom gained in twenty years of work in the field. HA! I even called it “Your Life’s Work”, a rather outer directed name.

It quickly changed into something else entirely. The name is now “My Life’s Work”, which is probably more accurate and certainly more inner directed. Now I realize that the purpose of blogging, at least for me, is to explore my own experiences and my feelings about them. Also, being a relationship oriented sort of person, it serves to meet new people and hear about their lives.

I have met many very nice people through this blog. A few nuts, yes, a few “nice nuts” as my mother would say, and some remarkable people doing great things just by being themselves. It’s fun to read about others’ lives, their dreams.

“Oh, the humanity!”, one might say.

Punch the “Next Blog” button for high adventure, or just check your regular commenters to see how they are doing. There is a blog by young woman in Amman, Jordan that I check once in a while just to keep my world view in shape. She kindly referred people to one of my recent posts. Of course, Rebecca is required reading if you need a lift. Darlene’s blog is actually the first one I ever read. Her stories are wonderful, as are those that John Cowart shares on his blog. Read about Suzanne’s adventures as a Suburban Lesbian, or the story of Wannabemom. Are you a fan of nurses? Then catch up with Third Degree Nurse and her friends.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but no blogroll would be complete without a mention of a sparkling young writer named Ann. I wonder where she gets all that talent. Nature or nurture?

The only thing that kind of gets me is the amount of time I could be spending doing this. The more exploring I do, the more people I meet and the more blogs I want to bookmark. Winnowing these is difficult since of course, I only pick the most fascinating and cool people to read. If I knew more about the tech aspects of setting up my blog properly, I would have a convenient list of the people I read. Surely Mirty will address this at some point in her special blog. (hint, hint).

There are more people I could mention, but this is enough to get you started.

There is one other thing that gets me: how honest to be in writing here. I’m afraid to be completely honest about my feelings, but at the same time, I find reading about others’ true feelings to be the most fun. My children read this, so there is some self censorship going on. The best introduction to a blog comes from It’s not exactly Pepperland. It goes like this: “If I know you personally and haven't invited you here -- well, there's a reason for that, so kindly go on back to whichever part of my life you belong in. Trust me, this is for your own good.” That makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t want people from work reading this. I don’t like certain people knowing a lot about me and my inner life. That’s why I took out my real photo and substituted a made up South Park character in my profile. (The character my daughter created for herself was so perfect, I had to try one.) If I am really honest, what will people think of me? So I struggle with that.

To all of you who take time to read and comment, thank you. That’s what makes it worthwhile, knowing that you are out there. I appreciate your sharing a little of yourselves. Makes us realize we’re all in this together.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I pray, therefore I'm home

Ah, there’s nothing like coming back to work after two weeks off in the Caribbean, especially when you asked someone to help you while you were out and that person blew you off and left all the work for you to find when you turned on your computer.

There was just a crushing load of work waiting for me. I had forgotten about all my commitments to our professional organization’s conference committee, the fact that our giant spring career fair that I manage is coming up in about a month, that there were student appointments set up on my calendar, and the hundreds of emails that I actually had to open, read, act on and delete.

Whimper, and whine whine whine. I am finally feeling somewhat human now, though.

Curiously, I did not give any of this stuff a thought the whole time we were gone. My main problem was trying to figure out which way to turn when I stepped into the passageway on the ship. Do we want to eat? Gamble? Lay out in the sun? See a show? Go shopping? Decisions…decisions.

You know what else I didn’t do on the cruise? Pray. Oh, except for when we were afraid we were going to miss the ship, and the time they lost our luggage and that little “left the beach bag on the taxi" incident. Other than that, God didn’t hear a peep from me. If you go on vacation, does that mean you take a vacation from prayer?

One day we went into the dining room for breakfast, which we don’t usually do, but it’s a fun way to meet more people. We wound up sitting with a young married couple and the woman was wearing a t-shirt that said, “I pray—get used to it.” I thought that was kind of neat.

OK—maybe it wasn’t a complete spiritual hiatus. We did go to the nondenominational service on Sunday, conducted by an Army chaplain. He said he was going to do a “field service” like he does for soldiers in combat, which means it was short and to the point. Kathy, a reluctant participant, later said she was glad she went because she did get a little lift out of it.

On our last cruise, there happened to be a Catholic priest on board, so we were able to go to Mass as we sailed through the Panama Canal. The theater was jammed with people—very fun. This time there were very few worshippers. The Catholics certainly didn’t turn out, but then, neither did the “I pray—get used to it” girl. I think Catholics won’t go if it’s not a real Mass, like it doesn’t count.

The strange part is that I didn’t even realize I was taking a vacation from prayer until I got home and sat down to dinner and slid right into my grace and usual prayers for friends and our pastor and family members, petitions, thanksgiving, whatever is going on in our lives. Maybe it’s just that every vestige of my routine dropped away when I set foot on the ship. Prayer is part of that everyday schedule and so it was shed as well.

So what does this mean? Am I a terrible person? Is prayer just a routine and nothing special any more? Should I be concerned that I so easily forgot to talk to God?

Maybe it’s just that God needed a vacation from me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

OK--more of Thong Woman.
Sorry--that's all I have. Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 16, 2006

The End. Posted by Picasa

Poolside games. Posted by Picasa

More Seven Mile Beach.
That's "Thong Woman" in
the distance. I didn't tell
you about her? Just as well. Posted by Picasa

Seven Mile Beach on Grand
Cayman. Just as beautiful
as it looks. Posted by Picasa

Docked in Jamaica. Posted by Picasa

Kathy likes to call these
"God-rays". Posted by Picasa

It says it's "the only beer
worth drinking" in Belize.
Not sure what she has to
do with it. Posted by Picasa

Look close--it's a baby
crocodile on that tree. Posted by Picasa

Honest to goodness jungle path,
however well-worn. Posted by Picasa

At the foot of a Mayan temple
at Lamanai, Belize. Posted by Picasa

Relaxing in Costa Maya. Posted by Picasa

Coral formation 100' down,
off Cozumel, Mexico Posted by Picasa

Double sinks! Woohoo!
Better than what we have at home. Posted by Picasa

Suite 8016 on Splendour of the Seas

Posted by Picasa
This was a nice sized room, probably more than we needed.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Rainforest, ruins and raging seas

Rainforest, ruins and raging seas—this trip had it all. We are just back from ten days in the western Caribbean: Cozumel, Costa Maya, Belize, Jamaica and Grand Cayman. It’s been ten years since we had seen these places, so we were curious as to how things might have changed.

We were three hours late getting to the ship in Galveston, Texas due to thunderstorms in Atlanta and mechanical problems on one plane, so we made it on board thirty minutes before the ship was to sail. We had to take a bus to the pier, and it was a lively group, with everyone excited about our coming adventure. We started meeting people who were to become friends for the rest of the trip.

Kathy was thrilled with my last surprise—the fact that we were in a “suite” which amounted to a decent sized hotel room on the ship. We had an embarrassing amount of closet space, even room to store our suitcases. There was nice sitting area with a sofa and two chairs, and mini refrigerator under a bar. Of course, the best thing was a huge balcony, where we spent much quality time. The bathroom was nicer than what we have at home, with double sinks and a big tub and mirrors all around. Some people take an inside cabin reasoning that they don’t spend much time there anyway, but now we are spoiled and will be in suites whenever we cruise in the future.

The dinner table is always a challenge. We take our chances with a table for eight. Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. This time there were some nice people and some well, different people. The nice people consisted of a couple in their fifties and the man’s parents. The younger pair live in Alaska, while the parents are still in Maine. Sometimes relatives at a table will only talk to themselves and ignore the rest of us, but these people were not like that at all.

Then there were…The Others. Bob and Loree, a couple in their sixties from Michigan who were rather snobbish and extremely concerned with status. You see, if you go on a certain number of cruises with Royal Caribbean, you move up on their “frequent flyer” program through different levels. Each level gives you more benefits. They happen to be “Platinum” members, near the top level. (Honest to goodness, my “Sea Pass” card—the card you use as a credit card on board and an ID card to get on and off the ship—said “Gold Member” on it. I am not making this up.

Since we were celebrating our 35th anniversary on this cruise, our cabin attendant (Allyson) left a bottle of champagne in our room. When we told the dinner table about it, right away Platinum Loree started in her chair and said, “Are you platinum?”, quite put out that they didn’t get a present like that. One night I ordered the Thai chicken and it came with a wing attached and sticking up like a little flag pole. Platinum Bob had ordered the same thing and when his came he said dismissively, “I’m not eating that! Take it away.” What’s the big deal? And how am I supposed to feel when I sit there and eat what he just rejected? That’s the thing, they would loudly proclaim their dissatisfaction with food or service, or their pleasure with their order. One night Loree said, “I love Osso Bucco!” so I leaned over and said, ‘You have all his albums?”

The thing that really tore it with me was the night that Nice Debbie from Alaska and I were talking about books and how she was currently reading ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.” Platinum Loree said, “Oh, I found that to be trite. I never like anything that I think I could have written myself. There wasn’t much dialogue in it.”

OK. Enough’s enough. “Memoirs of a Geisha” was more than a book. It was an experience. Golden created a wonderful multilevel story that moved a reader through a marvelous sensibility and sensitivity. You felt transported by the story. I asked her if she had ever read “Snow Falling on Cedars” (“No”), and I said you have to appreciate the Japanese sensibility to understand “Geisha”, but I stopped at that point because it was evident that I wasn’t getting through. Later in the week, Nice Debbie made a point of saying, “I’m sure enjoying reading Memoirs of a Geisha”—I don’t think she was trying to start something, though!

So I sat next to Platinum Loree as sort of a buffer zone between her and the rest of the table.

Nice Debbie and her husband Paul were staying in the “Owner’s Suite” on the ship, and this was a sticking point with Platinum Loree. She hinted around saying, “I’d sure like to see what that looks like!”, but Debbie and Paul didn’t bite. In fact, Debbie was embarrassed by the fact that they had that ostentatious sounding room and didn’t want to invite anyone in to see it, feeling that it might be seen as “showing off”. At the end of the cruise, she did invite us in. It was about twice as big as our space and even had a Jacuzzi. They explained that the only way they could have afforded such an opulent cabin was the big discount that Royal Caribbean gave them. They had had a problem on a previous cruise and they eventually settled with RCCL.

We set up a few excursions in advance and in some ports we didn’t do anything except shop a little. One of the things I always wanted to do was to do down in the submarine “Atlantis” that they have in several different ports. I finally got my chance in Cozumel, Mexico. It was very much fun, seeing the coral formations and the fish. We even saw a great big lobster and a barracuda. Kathy stayed on the ship, praying that I survived the submersible.

Speaking of survival, we saw lots of hurricane damage in Cozumel. Buildings with roofs torn off, beachside hotels gutted, fields of trees snapped off, rubble everywhere. I saw construction workers don wet suits and snorkel gear and wade out into the water. They picked up big rocks from the bottom and heaved them onto the shore. That was their way of clearing the beach. No heavy equipment, just manual labor.

Costa Maya was just a short way south of Cozumel on the Yucatan peninsula, and we had never been there before. Turns out it’s basically a tourist trap financed by Royal Caribbean. We did some shopping, and that was fun because you can bargain with people—no one expects that you will pay the asking price. One disturbing thing we saw was young Mexican men wearing fake Mayan headdresses posing with tourists. Just seemed like they were debasing themselves.

We saved our Mayan ruins tour for Belize, since we were acting on the advice of an Anthropology professor from the university. We took a bus ride for an hour out into the countryside, and then got on a small boat for a trip up the New River. The captain stopped periodically to show us iguanas, crocodiles, and cool plants along the shore. Belize was everything I hoped it would be: a walk in a real rainforest, amazing ruins, beautiful country.

I climbed one very tall temple with crumbling steps, with the help of a heavy rope that ran up the center of the steep steps. Kathy was having a private adventure in the woods (one which should put an end to the age old question: Does a tourist poop in the rainforest?), so she didn’t see me go up, but she returned in time to see me scoot down the side on my butt.

I have a feeling that they will probably close that particular temple to climbing at some point, because it is taking a toll on the structure. It was a great view of the jungle and the river from the top, though. The whole Mayan city in that area covered about thirty square miles, so of course we saw only a small bit of the remains.

We did have several misadventures along the way—the things that make a trip more memorable. For instance, one of our bags wound up on another ship! We eventually got it back four days into the trip, but it gave me a headache for a couple of days until they located it. Fortunately, I packed the way they tell you to: a little bit of hers and little bit of his in every bag. That way, if one gets lost, you will each have something to wear. It made for some great jokes at the dinner table, as I told the group I would be wearing Kathy’s underwear pretty soon.

Another gaffe happened on our way to the famous Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman. We looked for a taxi to take us out there, but the driver wouldn’t leave until he had found enough people to fill his cab. We stood on the sidewalk while he cajoled other tourists into taking a ride. Finally, I started to sell it too! When we had a quorum, we set off for the beach. We got out of the taxi and we were a few steps away from the place we had waited ten years to get back to, when Kathy said, “I want to change into my water shoes.” And I said, “Sure, they’re in the bag--that we left in the taxi! I was so mad—mad at myself! I ran back to the road, crossed over to the other side (Fortunately, they drive on the wrong side there), figuring that the driver would have to return on that road. I tried to remember what color the cab was; I kind of remembered what the driver looked like. After a few minutes, here he came around the corner and we flagged him down and retrieved the bag.

The beach was gorgeously sandy, the water gloriously warm, and we were so happy to be there.

The cruise ended with two days at sea. I had chosen the port side, thinking that the sun would be on our balcony for the return trip, and that worked for one day anyway. Then it clouded up and got chilly. Earlier in the trip, we had had twelve foot seas and a little bouncy ride. Neither Kathy nor I ever get seasick, so we didn’t mind. Made things more interesting. One thing I noticed this time, was that there is a small army of people whose sole job is to wipe down the handrails all over the ship. These days, the cruise lines are afraid of contagion racing through the passengers. They even have alcohol hand wipe dispensers at the entrance to dining rooms. When the seas were heavy, the rail wipers put out barf bags on the stairs, just in case someone needed one in a hurry.

No cruise would be complete without a trip to the casino. We did our best ever on the slot machines this trip, putting in a hundred dollars and coming home with $360. We would put in ten dollars and when we had doubled our money, we’d leave. Kathy a hit a nice jackpot once, and I would occasionally hit a small one, so we escaped as winners.

Our trip home was uneventful. Everything worked fine, all the connections connected, and we said our goodbyes to new friends at different spots along the way as we scattered to our homes. We arrived to temperatures near 60 and then typically, the thermometer dropped by thirty degrees overnight and it’s snowing. Typical Cleveland weather. It’s somehow just wrong, after ten days in paradise.

Thanks for all your good wishes!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A Word About Wives

At Mass on Sunday a few weeks ago we heard one of my favorite readings, Proverbs 31, describing the ideal wife: successful in business, taking care of her family, pretty much a 24/7/365 job.

In our 35th year, now, we do things like find each other’s hand as we start walking somewhere, finish each other’s sentences, say out loud what the other is thinking at that moment.

For the past five years, we’ve been driving to work together, and have even turned that into a comfortable routine. Kathy asks me about my day and gives me a chance to vent or describe something satisfying that happened. Then she tells me the latest about her office and which doctor or coworker made her mad that day or something funny a patient said or did.

When one of us is quiet, the other remarks on that, giving the taciturn one a chance to explain. Or not.

“How the hell can a person go to work in the morning,
Come home in the evening, and have nothing to say?”
(One of my favorite lines, from the John Prine song “Angel from Montgomery”, sung by Bonnie Raitt. Sometimes it seems to happen that way, though.)

For the past week she has been sicker than I ever remember. A terrible cold—the kind I usually get, but that she has somehow avoided all these years. She’s starting to come out of it now. I can tell by her breathing at night. I knew how sick she must have been when she said, “I’m not cookin’—you find your own dinner.” Sometimes she says that and then goes ahead and makes something anyway.

One day I looked at her and realized something. I said to her, “You don’t have a favorite color.” She said that’s right, I don’t. Who doesn’t have a favorite color?

She doesn’t care about clothes. She is content to wear nurses’ uniforms to work (it’s OK—she is a nurse after all) and come home and put on her jammies. She’ll wear the same jeans until they disintegrate, and is not interested in buying clothes for herself. Who doesn’t like to shop?

If we are in the car together, she has to drive. This bothered me when we were first married, but then we discovered why she’s always behind the wheel. She needs to be in control. You can’t be in control if you are a passenger, thus, she drives. She hates flying. Can you guess why? Right. She can’t drive the plane. Thankfully, this principle does not extend to cruise ships.

Which is good, because we leave tomorrow for our vacation. They have Internet connections on the ship, but I probably won’t use it. Too much like being at work. It’s going to be so sweet. Wait till she sees the cabin. That’s my last surprise for her on this trip. I’ve kidded her that we might only have a little window to look out at the water, when in reality, we will have just about the biggest balcony on the whole ship. After 35 years, she deserves an upgrade. I’m just glad she kept version 1.0 of me all this time.