Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy Raleigh

I just posted a minute ago, but completely forgot to mention that my middle son has gotten involved in the "Occupy" movement.  I'm proud of him for reading about things, making up his mind on what he believes and acting on it.  When I was his age, I would have been there too.  I think a revolution is coming - I'm just praying that it's a peaceful one.  It's time for things to change.

I'm thinking of the things I can do that can have an impact on the fat-cats.  First, I'm trying to find a Credit Union that I qualify to join.  I'm going to take my money out of the for-profit bank and put it in the not-for-profit Credit Union.  I know my few pennies won't mean much, but I've heard that this trend is happening all over the country.  I think this is a good thing.

I got my retirement account statement today and it was incredibly discouraging.  I've been having them take huge percentages of my pay and put it in the retirement account to try and make up for the fact that I had NO retirement account until 9 years ago.  It seems, this year they have not only managed to lose every penny they've taken from my paycheck, but an equal amount from what I had previously accumulated.  Sheila is not happy with the brokers.  If they're just going to flush it down the loo, I ought to just keep it and have fun with it.  Is this irresponsible?  Well, it would be if the account was actually making money, but to decide not to let them gamble with any more of my money...I think that's a fine call.  I'll pay off my debts faster so that when and if I do retire I'll be in a more comfortable position.  I think I'm also going to see if they can't redistribute what they do have.  Right now, they're way too heavily into stocks.  I'd feel a lot better about something less volatile (and less Wall Street related).  Wonder if I can get them to just invest it in gold for me?  LOL  I'm pretty sure that was NOT an option on the chart.  CDs were though.  That might be the safest bet.  I'm not feeling like the system is particularly trustworthy anymore.

So anyway, while there have been incidents in other cities, Raleigh had a total of 20 arrests in the last 2 weeks, and 19 of them were the traditional "sit in a circle and let yourself be arrested to make a point" sort of arrests.  (One was a lady trying to get back on the Capitol grounds after they locked the gate).  Nothing at all this week.  The city sent out only one policeman, who the occupiers proceeded to essentially adopt.  They nicknamed him "The Babysitter".  They are still not allowing bullhorns or microphones, so the protesters are still doing the "human microphone" thing, which seems to be working quite well.

There are reports that a number of Armed Forces personnel, particularly Marines, who have seen what is happening in the cities are going to the occupations in full uniform to protect the rights of the citizens to protest.  They are not actively getting involved, just getting in-between the protesters and those who are attacking them.  It is refreshing to see that the Marines are still on the side of the people of the USA, and protecting our rights.  It's very sad when the police start to become the "bad guys" again... but there they seem to be headed.

Okay, enough chatter.  Now I really DO have to go.

My squirrel

I heard a squirrel cry today.  I didn't know that squirrels did cry, until I heard him.  He was a young squirrel - too big to call him a baby, but certainly not full grown.  He was on the trunk of the pine tree near my deck when my son and I stepped outside.  He started making a noise that was nearly a screech - I assumed it was an alarm to others that there were humans about.  Still, this was unusual.  My squirrels are very accustomed to me, often coming within a few feet to gather the sunflower seeds I put out for them.  The squirrel flattened himself against the bark, parallel to the trunk of the tree in his best "camouflage" position.  The screech got quieter and more plaintive.  I said to my son "I think he's hurt".  My son slowly moved down the steps to look closer.  The squirrel ran around the far side of the tree, in a full cry, now.  I could see his throat moving as he called for help in a panic.  My son took a step closer and the squirrel ran down the tree, jumped to the fence post, back down off the fence post and back to the tree, looked up (and you could almost hear him say "Oh no, I'm not going up there again"), back to the fence post and down the other side to the Crape Myrtle a few feet away, where he scampered happily off.  A squirrel that was afraid of heights?  Hard to fathom!  Perhaps because he was so small relative to the tree he became frightened.  In any case, he's fine - and I've learned that squirrels can, indeed cry.  I hope I never hear it again, though.  It was a sad sound, like an injured child who could not be consoled.

Some of the stress of recent times is behind us, now.  Mom moved to a nursing home quite a few months ago.  We'd hoped that she would get strong enough to live on her own in the Assisted Living wing after some physical therapy to strengthen her broken hip, but she never got that strong again and decided she would stay in the nursing home.  I had terrible images in my head of nursing homes.  I've visited a few over the years and they've always been very sad places, as run-down and worn out as the people who were stored there just waiting to die.  I hated the thought of my mom in a place like that, but none of us was in a position to take care of her full time, and even between us we couldn't afford a full time nurse for long.  My brother said he had found a nice nursing home, near his house so he could visit almost every day.  I was skeptical.  My other siblings assured me it was nice.  (Being out of commission with knee surgery, I wasn't able to go up for quite some time to see for myself).

Three weeks ago, Nathan (my oldest) and I drove to Ohio to visit Mom and to help clear out her house which was being sold.  Jeremy had already done the lion's share of my work up there while I was at home, knee packed in ice.  In any case, my siblings were right.  The nursing home is far more like a hotel or nice boarding house than a nursing home.  The dining room has white tablecloths, the hallways are carpeted and have lovely dark wood chair rails.  There is a parlor and a library, and in the lobby an antique piano and a chandelier.  In order to keep Mom as mobile as possible the nurses and aides "encourage" her to walk to the dining room for her meals.  It's a struggle, but she can do it.  (They follow closely with her wheelchair in case she gets too tired).  A couple months ago, mom was in such poor health I doubted that she would see Christmas.  Now, I'm wondering if she won't outlive us all.  I'm at peace knowing that she is in a nice place.

Despite the awful housing market (particularly in Ohio), Mom's house sold 1 week after it was listed.  Everyone who knew my dad knew that he was a maintenance-aholic.  Everything in that house was very well cared for and in tip-top shape and the whole town knew it, so as soon as word got out that it was on the market, the Realtor was inundated with calls from people who wanted to see it.  The closing was earlier this week, so it is done.  I'm thankful for my sister Rosanne who lives nearby and kept a check on the house until it officially changed hands, and who also ended up being the unfortunate soul who was given power of attorney by all of us listed on the deed.  That closing probably took an awful toll on her signing hand!

My knee surgery went well and the knee that was operated on hurts very little.  The other one, unfortunately, still hurts a lot - so I have an appointment coming up to see if I can get that surgery done this year as well, since my "out of pocket" has hit the max.  I hope he'll do it.  I'm really tired of feeling like I'm nearly handicapped..  Physical Therapy is tough, but it seems to be helping, so I won't complain about that.

This week's good news:  As of Thursday I am on vacation.  I set sail on a Celebrity cruise on the 27th for 4 nights.  I'm going to the same ports as last time, but doing different things.  Last time in Cozumel I went to see the ruins of Tulum, this time I plan to see a little of the town and perhaps the beach.  Last time in Key West I was so exhausted from seeing Tulum that I gave up my space in the pub crawl.  My friend was still nice enough to bring me my free t-shirt.  This time I signed up for a narrated bus tour of Key West.  It's a hop-on, hop-off bus, which leaves me the option to explore if I see anywhere that I really must investigate, but since I'm still having so much difficulty walking, I think I will probably mostly just ride the bus.

The biggest differences between this cruise and the last one is that this time I am going alone, and this time I got a balcony cabin.  These things are both good and bad.  If I panic about being alone - which is always a possibility - at least I have a nice place to sit and escape the crowd.  I'm really going to make an effort, though, to be at least a little bit sociable.  Definitely planning on going to the restaurant for dinner.  Assigned seating won't leave me in the awkward position of being at a table all alone and being stared at.  This has happened more than once at company and church 'events'.  Only empty seats in the place are at tables set for six or eight...and just me sitting there.  Not pleasant.

I'm also going to do a better job of finding out where and when the entertainment is.  Cruising is a "learn as you go" activity, and it was just at the end of the last cruise that I discovered that the advertisements that kept appearing in the room weren't just advertisements... they were also schedules.  DUH!    This is a new world  to me.  I've never been in a position to take "real" vacations.  (But I find, in the job I have now, if I don't do something to depressurize every few months my work definitely suffers).  I'm looking forward to seeing what a balcony cabin looks like... finding out if I can smell the sea air from my bed, hear the waves and the gulls, see the rising (or setting) sun.

I need to check the weather and I still need to pack.  For right now, I'm tired, so I guess I'll go.
I just had to tell someone about my squirrel - the rest, well, once I get writing... you get what you get.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The roller coaster

Yesterday was a tough day.  My life has always been a roller coaster, with soaring highs and depths so low I wonder if I'll ever be able to surface again.  Yesterday was a low day, but thankfully, only lasted a day and I'm distinctly more even today.
There is so much going on right now - scrambling to keep up with my work so I can get a few days off at the end of the month.  I decided I'm going to go on a cruise - all by myself.  Last time, my best friend went with me, so while it wasn't lonely, I did have to tolerate a great deal of drunkenness.  I love his company when he's sober.  He's intelligent and witty.  When his demons act up, unfortunately, he turns from an impressive man into a drunk little frat boy.  A really irritating drunk little frat boy.  Sadly, he doesn't recognize that he is really great when he's sober.  He thinks he has to drink to fit in.  He thinks he's still 20 and the frat house party is still going on.  So, he's my friend.  My best friend.  But until his demons go away (which will probably be never) all we can be is friends.
This cruise, I decided to try alone.  It's a gamble.  I might shut down and hide in my cabin the whole time (which is about what I did when I went to the Bahamas alone).  But maybe I'll be okay.  If the ship is like the last one, there will be plenty of things I can do alone.  There was a library and an "adults only" pool area.  (Now that my kids are grown but I have no grandkids, I find it depressing to be around the children of strangers.  I want them to be mine, and they aren't).  Given the recent knee surgery, I think it might be wise to skip the rock-climbing options.  Based on the advice of a very experienced cruiser who knows me well, I'm opting for a balcony room.  (Excuse me, a "Verandah Stateroom" LOL).  That will allow me to enjoy the fresh air and the ocean without necessarily having to be around a lot of people if I don't want to.
I'm gambling a little bit on my timing.  A few days ago, I signed up for a Delta Airlines credit card.  I get 30 thousand frequent flier miles once I spend $500.  I'm waiting for the card to arrive in the mail, so I can use that to buy my passage and get the bonus miles.  Each day I check which cabins are still available.  I've picked out the one I want, if it's still open when the card comes.
Hmmm - I just realized something.  After today I'm going to be gone until Thursday night - and no mail will be coming on Sunday.  The cruise is only a couple of weeks off.  I think my master plan has failed.  I'll have to buy the ticket using my other credit card or gamble that it is still available nearly a week from now and the price hasn't changed.  That's NOT a good gamble.  I'm a seasoned enough traveler to know that.  I guess I'll order the ticket today.
Anyway, it's this sort of daydreaming about the cruise that allows me to keep going on the bad days.  When the cruise is over, I'll have to find a new daydream - but I have to always keep something good out there in the distance.  My carrot, so to speak, when life gets me stuck in the mud.
My liberal political leanings have allowed my curiosity to be piqued by the "Occupy Wall Street" movement.  Thirty years ago, I would have been there.  The media is doing a remarkable job of ignoring it for the most part, except for the sensational bits...the cop pepper spraying women who were already in custody, for example.  I haven't seen the media reporting on the big picture.  I think maybe they don't understand the big picture.
My son, Jeremy and I had a great discussion last night, comparing the 60's to today.  There were huge inequities then that resulted in rioting and violence, which eventually became a more peaceful protest and which eventually led to change.  I think this generation is trying to skip over the violent part and go directly to peaceful protest to try and solve the inequities of our time.  Unfortunately, I suspect that the only reason the government of the 60's became willing to consider change was to stop the violence.  Peaceful protest may inconvenience some people, but I'm afraid it won't be enough to lead to any meaningful change.
The protesters also need leadership - someone intelligent and well spoken who won't hijack what they have been doing to suit his or her own agenda.  The 60's had Dr. King.  Today, the voices that have spoken up have been heavily laced with agendas of their own.
Some folks in Raleigh have gotten a permit for an "Occupy Raleigh" protest, including permission to camp in the park.  There is a planning meeting today.  I think my son is going to attend.  He was clearly nervous about it when he said that last night - saying he didn't THINK he could get in trouble for attending a planning meeting.  It made me sad to think that young people are so afraid of our government that it makes them nervous to even talk about having a protest, but at the same time it makes me proud that my son is planning to stand up for what he believes is right.
Steve Jobs died this week, too - may he rest in peace.  He was certainly a man responsible for a huge amount of innovation in our lifetimes.  Thank you Mr. Jobs!  I saw an absolutely lovely tribute cartoon, with Steve Jobs talking to St.Peter at the pearly gates... St. Peter flipping through the book of life to see if Steve Jobs was in there, and Steve Jobs saying to him "I have an app for that!"  8-)  RIP
I had decided a couple of weeks ago to postpone surgery on the other knee until next year and this weekend my knee advised me that this was not a good decision.  After being challenged with stairs repeatedly during the past week, twice this weekend it put me in such pain that I had to just completely stop halfway down a flight of stairs to regain my composure.  That's just not a working thing in my business.  Planning to call the surgeon's office ASAP and discuss getting it done in early December, which is my slowest time of the year.
Today I have to finish laundry and pack for this week's trip to audit a foundry in Atchison, Kansas.  I have to go to the drug store and re-fill prescriptions (among my least favorite tasks) and I just need to brace myself for another week of running.  Fortunately, the planes in and out of Kansas City are big ones, not hop jets, so I shouldn't have to do nearly as many stairs.  Jet bridges are SO much easier.
Well I guess I should get at it..  Time to prepare for another week.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Another day, another bit of babble

I had a good friend in high school.  The kind of friend I could count on.  The kind who really cared about me. I didn't understand what that meant back then, or I didn't trust it, or I took it for granted but along the way my friend and I lost track of each other... until about two years ago when he found me on Facebook.  We were both ecstatic.  We called and e-mailed and even got together once.  It was wonderful and exciting and I felt like new worlds were being opened up to me - maybe second-chances.  Just about a year ago he disappeared again.  We talked on the phone one night and we talked about him visiting me.  He said he'd look into whether he could get some days off.  I never heard from him again.  Never got another e-mail (although I've written many).  I got his voice mail - left a message once or twice last year, then got discouraged.  Yesterday, during a layover at Dulles airport   (Washington D.C.) I happened to think of him.  He lives near there.  I tried to call his daytime number and was told he didn't work there any more.  He's got my e-mail address.  He'll write if he wants to.  I guess it's just been really hard because I thought he was as happy as I was.  I thought I at least had a real in-person friend in him, if not a chance to be more than that.  I guess I was wrong on a lot of fronts.  Maybe he'll re-appear one day.  Maybe there are reasons.  Maybe not.  He doesn't owe me anything.  I'd just love to see him again.

I've been running this month.  Last week, Texas.  This week Pennsylvania.  Next week Kansas.  It will be my first trip to Kansas.  It's encouraging to me how many "Help Wanted" signs I'm seeing everywhere I go.  Most of them are in the lower end places - fast food and retail, but also trucking companies.  That tells me a couple of things - people are starting to have at least a little bit of money to spend.  They're going to McDonalds again.  They're buying the things they hadn't been buying, and as the store shelves get empty, the trucks have to bring new merchandise... and as warehouses empty out, the factories will have to start producing more.  The wheels turn slowly, but they are, indeed beginning to turn.  I also learned that there are an unusually large number of jobs in Pennsylvania and parts of West Virginia because of shale-oil deposits that have been discovered.  I'm trying to figure out how to get my out-of-work son up there.

Yes, I'm babbling.  Sorry - It's been a rough week.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

My First Try

Okay - I've heard people talk about blogging... read people's blogs... but never until today considered doing this myself.  Now I'm wondering why I haven't.  It probably will be a useful tool in my travels if I can get in the habit of using it.  For example, recently I was on a business trip to France and took a week of vacation afterwards to go to England and Ireland to meet relatives I've only known by e-mail.  It would have been a good idea to record the things I saw each day, particularly in France, and my impressions of them.  I discovered (the hard way) that my cell phone camera does not date stamp photos.  (They were all taken January 1, 1980 for some reason), nor does it transfer them to the computer in the order I find myself at the moment with quite a lot of photos that I can't identify in terms of place.  I even made a point of taking photos of the signs at the entrances to the different places, but since the photos are in no particular order, I find myself playing detective - trying to match stonework to determine which photos were taken where.  I've decided that two of my folders are going to be Misc scenery and Misc architecture.  Perhaps written descriptions would have made this easier - perhaps not.

I also find that I'm leading rather a solitary existence.  I guess this happens to people who travel a lot,  I don't have the opportunity to make and maintain friendships anywhere other than on the internet.  Frankly, I've never been good at the friendship thing in person.  I find I usually don't know what to say or how to say it.  The internet gives me the luxury of playing with the words - typing and re-reading and editing until they say what I want them to.  This luxury doesn't exist in real life.  It's hard to find the courage to speak in social settings without being able to try out my words and make sure I've found the right ones.  I usually run them around in my head a few times before I'm convinced they're ready to be released for public consumption.  Unfortunately, by the time my words are ready to be spoken, the topic of the conversation has usually changed and I have to discard them.  If there were a collection bin for all my ideas that I never managed to speak, it would be overflowing, I'm sure.  I was told once that sometimes people think I'm a snob because I act like I'm too good to join in the conversation.  If they only knew!

On the other hand, put me on stage with a microphone and a topic I know something about and I'm as comfortable as can be.  The stage allows me to be separate, not a part of the group, far less subject to being mocked or confronted.  Usually members of an audience who disagree with a speaker will just leave.

Best of all, put me on stage with a microphone and a guitarist who knows the old Irish pub songs and I will be more than comfortable - I'll be happy - I'll be free - I'll be me, singing to you about Molly Malone and Tim Finnegan's wake, and I suspect I'll make you happy too and you won't want to leave.  But at the end of the night, you will still be a stranger and I will be no closer to having found real world friends than I was to begin with.

So maybe somehow my blog can be my friend.  It won't talk back or confront me.  (Although if anyone actually reads it, they might call me an idiot - but there is no fear, no confrontation.  This is the internet).  It will be an interesting experiment, anyway.  Here's to experimenting!