July 29, 2010

Survey Question for you

There are blogs which are updated daily or almost daily. Most of them consist of short, pithy/funny and/or thought-provoking entries. Other blog authors seem to take days or weeks to craft longer entries.

I often don't have time to really CRAFT a blog entry, but since I enjoy frequently updated blogs, I opt to just toss something up here.

Would you prefer more crafted/less frequent, or less compelling/more often? (we know the answer is supposed to be 'crafted AND frequent!', but that's not always realistic.)

July 27, 2010

Is it just a number?

Last week I attended a surprise 30th birthday party for Smart Girl. Most of the participants were in their late twenties or early thirties. I ended up chatting with a woman who commented on being older, single and childless and how hard it is. I sympathized and mentioned that since we don’t have children yet, and the husband I do have is often working, I’ve ended up with many single women friends in their late thirties. She blinked at me and asked, “How old are you?”

“I’ll be 39 soon”

She gasped, “I NEVER would have guessed that. You don’t look your age at all!”

(Thanks, Mary Kay! And the basal cell skin cancer in my 20’s that has made me a sun avoider ever since...)

39. Tomorrow. I’m surprised how little it affects me as a number. I’m fine with approaching my 40’s. I’m in good shape, I love my life and there are adventures ahead. The only place of fear is around us having children. We’ve been trying since the miscarriage last December, but lots of circumstances have conspired to make it difficult. It’s just strange to know that every month is crucial, and that no matter how young I look or feel, inside my body, I’m still 39 years old.

July 24, 2010

Interior Design Shenanigans

In various places we've lived, I've had friends ask my help organizing their homes as they move in, or to advise them what colors to paint their rooms. I love thinking about that sort of thing. Usually in that context, the person requesting advice views me as the creative/organized one. Well, trying to reorganize and redecorate a design studio full of creative people is next to impossible. EVERY one has opinions and in the opposing views, nothing ever gets done. The other print designer, Old Surfer Dude and I basically just staged a coup this week. Our creative director left for another position last week, Gentle Man was very busy with work and Broadway Director was focused on moving his stuff from a dark corner into a beautiful corner of the design studio. So, Old Surfer Dude and I both arrived at 8 AM every day this week and moved things, purged things and made it all better.

Gentle Man would come in every day around 10 AM and dig things out of the trash, "We really should keep this, you never know when it might come in handy..." Have I mentioned that since cleaning the house after my mother's death I've been a total purger?! He drove me nuts all week!!! Old Surfer Dude kept shaking his head. When it was just the two of us he'd make comments about having had to deal with Gentle Man for years. I understand 'just in case' thinking, but the reality is, if you haven't touched it in a year and can't foresee a use for it in the next year, you won't miss it! Hanging on to things creates an anchor that makes it hard to be agile and move ahead.

Anyway, below are the promised photos.

This is what the rest of the office looks like. It helps you understand why people love to come into our area.

Mouse maze anyone?

It's not all awful. The waiting area near the receptionist is ok.

The hall leading toward our area isn't bad either.

Welcome to the design department. (That's a poster I designed for an event last year. On the shelves is a collection of old wooden tools belonging to Old Surfer Dude. The vase is my o-so-exciting fish tank!) The door leads into the creative director's office.

The fish tank. I'm really, really hoping that there are no floaters on Monday!

The snails keep sneaking up to the top of the glass and freaking me out. Not because I worry about them escaping, but because from a distance it looks like one of the guppies died and is floating on the surface.

I never knew there were fancy guppies. These are called "Tequila Sunrise". There are two female guppies in the tank, so we might get babies!

This is OUR waiting area. It's right across from the creative director's office. The reality is that no one will ever sit in that chair, but it looks good, right?

We moved the bookshelf from the 'waiting area' and created two 'rooms'. On the left is a conference table and on the right is our 'brainstorming lounge'. (I find that naming areas helps define the purpose which then helps determine what objects to include and how to flow the space.)

The view from our studio is amazing. We have a small airfield to the left and a national wildlife wetland to the right.

Friday we invited everyone to come into the design department for drinks. The lounge worked perfectly. I don't think you can see it, but in the middle of the table is another fish bowl with two guppies and a snail which is a great conversation starter. We call them Oscar and Felix. When I left work at 6:15 PM, there were still five people gathered around the table gossiping and laughing.

I call that a job well done!

Old Surfer Dude suggested they let me loose on the rest of the building. I would LOVE that, but I doubt it will happen.

July 22, 2010

Kickin' the bird out of the nest

Just to give Jrex a little more to fret about at 3:30 a.m., his advisor just had him sign papers to the effect that his fellowship ends December 31. Good old Nice Egomaniac has run out of money and doesn't see much 'use' out of Jrex anymore (no, silly, of course he didn't SAY that out loud). Never mind that the job process could take until next spring. Never mind that Jrex was hoping to get some research done so that he has evidence when he applies for grants. Never mind that Jrex has done 5 years of research that wasn't that interesting to him to benefit a man who hasn't mentored him. We're in a stressful enough process that it would be nice to NOT have anything else added to the pile.

Of course a situation like this highlights our different approaches to life. Jrex is seeing difficulties and impending doom (which is not invalid). I'm seeing the potential to take a few months off and see what happens! (Of course one of his valid concerns is that a random 'leave of absence' might disqualify him if the grants he applies for go through.)

His interview for Ann Arbor looks like it will be in September/October. Dallas and Portland are in August. The main thing that makes me sad/stressed is that if we move in January/February, even if I got pregnant this month, I wouldn't get to have the baby here. Que sera, sera!?

In a total change of topic, today at work I created two aquarium habitats. I got the idea from Graceful's husband. Basically, get a cool vase (thanks, IKEA!), aquatic plants and aquatic plant rocks, snails, shrimp, and guppies. The plants create the oxygen the fish need, the fish create the 'food' the shrimp and snails need and the whole thing creates some relaxation in our crazy art department. I bought a HUGE vase that is near the entrance. In addition to the life forms mentioned above, I put in four tall bamboo and some weird bottom feeding fish called "Dojo".

That all makes it sound straightforward. It ignores the part where I tried pouring the plant rocks into the water (without doing the 'minimal' rinsing suggested) and ended up with a dark brown cloud. My coworker brought up his "Mexican credit card" (a HORRIBLY racist phrase!!!) and we siphoned off the brown water. Then I took the rocks into the bathroom in the office and spent 40 minutes washing rocks in a trash can. I definitely got some weird looks today!

I've spent the last week working with one of the other designers to completely revamp our whole studio. It's been the happiest slow work week ever. Everyone walks in and exclaims at the difference. I'll put up pics tomorrow.

July 16, 2010

Laying your life on the line

Last night during book club someone asked, “In what circumstances would you, or have you, put your life on the line for someone else?”

Great question.

I racked my brain. After growing up in inner city Cincinnati, spending college summers in inner city Chicago and then inner city Boston, living in a rough neighborhood in Rochester, surely I’d been in a life threatening situation!

All of a sudden I remembered one incident. I related the following story to the group:

The summer of ’91, I lived in a Christian community in a really rough neighborhood in Chicago. As part of community life we had to ‘volunteer’ once a week; I chose the women and children’s shelter. It was a second-stage shelter so the women could stay there for up to 12 months while they earned money and took classes or worked. Every Thursday night I walked two blocks and descended into the darkness of ‘Blood Alley’ as the neighbors called it. We walked over in a threesome: a big guy, another woman and me. At night the guy kept watch at the front desk while the other woman and I bunked upstairs in an open dormitory with the women and their kids.

Every night at 9 pm the doors were locked. No one could go in or out (trying to make it harder for drug users to get out or boyfriends to get in). Many evenings I sat up and chatted with a woman named Sydnatta. We were both 20 years old and enjoyed each other’s company.

One Thursday we met a new resident. As soon as the doors were locked, she started complaining about being hungry. Can’t we order pizza? Why can’t she go out and get some food. What kind of place is this?

I looked around and saw a big pile of bread that had been donated, “Well, I’m sorry you’re hungry, but you can’t leave. If it’s that bad you can have some bread so you can survive until morning.”

She glared at me and pointed her finger in my face, “Honey, black people don’t eat BR--E--AD!” I shrugged, “Sorry. You won’t starve, but that’s all we have.” I got the cold shoulder or random jabs about bread the rest of the night.

The next morning (remember, I am NOT a morning person), I woke to loud shouts from the other end of the dormitory. I jumped out of bed. The other ‘staff’ worker was downstairs with the guy getting breakfast put together.

I saw Sydnatta and the new woman shouting at each other. Sydnatta brandished an iron toward the new woman who turned and snatched up a pair of scissors. I ran over and jumped between them. I forced my face in front of Sydnatta’s and told her in a loud, calm voice to go walk over and sit down. Don’t get into it with this new woman, we’ll sort it out. She kept yelling as she walked over, but then she quieted down. The other woman put the scissors down. Everyone wandered back to their respective bunks and I took a deep breath. I waited to make sure that nothing else was going to happen, then went into the bathroom to brush my teeth.

A couple minutes later the new woman cornered me in the bathroom. In a quiet voice she whisper yelled at me, “OTRgirl, don’t you know better than to put yourself in the middle of a fight?! You couldv’e gotten hurt real bad.”

It suddenly occurred to me that I’d turned my back on an angry stranger with scissors. I thanked her for the warning and she nodded, “You’re ok, honey, but you gotta be careful. You’re gonna get hurt, girl. You got to think.” I kept my ironic laughter inside and nodded solemnly while thanking her again. “Allright then.” I never had any other problems from her that summer.

In our book discussion, after I’d related that story, we discussed the fact that the reason I jumped in was because I had a relationship with one of the women. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have trusted Sydnatta to listen to me so would have called downstairs for the guy to come up and deal with it. When I jumped in, it honestly hadn’t occurred to me that I might get hurt. In some ways it feels like it doesn’t count as a ‘life on the line’ moment because I didn’t ‘choose’ it despite danger. I just did the obvious thing and then thought about it later.

What about you, have any of you laid your life on the line? Did you have time to think it through first? Or have you chosen NOT to intervene? Why or why not? I think I might use this as a conversation starter at parties.

July 15, 2010

Oh happy day!

Jrex got home Tuesday night from his LA trip. I picked him up from his lab and brought the mutt along. While waiting for him to finish up inside, the dog and I wandered the hill behind the lab while I chatted with my sister. I love my sister. I like that we get each other's humor, we challenge each other on stuff without hard feelings, and she's also a designer--so the bitching about clients is entirely mutual.

We'd just hung up when Jrex called me. When the phone rang, I headed for the stairs that lead to the back door he usually exits.

"Hey, I'm heading outside. Are you ready to go?"

We were at the top of the stairs as I agreed. He continued in a very tired voice, "Do you need me to come up to find you?"

I laughed, "Jrex, call your dog." I saw him standing with his phone down below. He turned and called for her. She was in such shock that she hesitated in quivering ecstasy before bolting down the stairs to jump all over him and try to lick the hair from the top of his head (ok, slight exaggeration).

His chats with the heads of the centers in Portland and Dallas had gone well, he has interviews at each in August. This morning he chatted with the head at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Looks like they have money and want to fly him out as well. Vanderbilt doesn't have money and neither does Jrex yet (grant money to do research), so they are going to see if they can squeeze water from the stone, but it doesn't look likely.

It's great to have him home. It took a long time for us to weave our independent streaks into an interdependent relationship, but at this stage of our relationship, it is a bit like an amputation when he's gone.

The good news for me is that people have given Jrex wonderful birthday gifts: Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, and his sister just gave him Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc. YUMMMMM...


Totally off topic... I just found a hilarious site filled with cartoons about life in the digital world. Click here to find out "How to suck at Facebook".

July 12, 2010

Measuring up to the ideal

On Saturday we gave a baby shower for our friend who is having a baby with Down Syndrome. Smart Girl was the event organizer. She sent me a link to show me the party theme. She bought fabric for the runner and wanted to work together on decor. I couldn't jump when she needed me to, and then she was out of town for three weeks, so I got to figure out how to create the decor on my own.

This is the magazine version. Created by professional event designers.

Do you know how deceptively simple those decorations are? There were no 'how-to' instructions at the professional event designers' website. I had to look at photos and make up my own how-to.

I had blue sheets of paper that were 22 x 28 inches. When cut into 1.5 x 28 inch strips it took two strips to create one folded circle. At first I tried to just use Elmer's Glue (with paper clips to hold it until it set). That became untenable, so I had to invest in a glue gun. This one is a mini (which fits my small hands better) and has a low setting which is better for paper.

My big dilemma was what to use for the napkin ring underneath the blue 'fan circle'. I thought of gluing ribbon and then tying it around the napkin, but that seemed ungainly. I actually prayed about it and had that 'aha!' moment. Cut up paper towel holders and spray paint. Voila!

While it didn't look exactly like the magazine...

...it came pretty close!

The circles on top were cut from pre-existing paper that was embossed and had silver applied. Smart Girl bought 12 feet of the raspberry fabric and from that I made three runners. One 12' long for the picnic tables, another for the dessert table and a third to go inside for the coffee table.

Only Child had a great idea for the craft. We each decorated flowerpots with our hopes/prayers for the baby. Then we planted seeds in them. She invited us to watch the seeds grow and use them to remind us to pray for the family-to-be.

We had dessert and coffee inside and then prayed for her and the baby before opening the gifts. Intimate, supportive, filled with love--it was a perfect baby shower.

July 8, 2010

There's the edge of the cliff: JUMP!

This morning, we had a meeting which we assumed would be our usual departmental traffic meeting: who's doing what, how's it going, etc. When the company CEO walked through the door and joined us at the table, we knew it would be something different.

Our current creative director, Hapless, has taken another position. He leaves this coming Tuesday. During the discussion about it, our team made it clear to the CEO that Hapless needs to be replaced with two people. They've already sent out recruiters to hunt for the next Execut1ve D1rector for Cr3ative S3rvices. The missing element is a person to attend operational meetings and proactively coordinate what the rest of the company needs and run it through the design department. I've spent at least half my time since starting this job doing just that. A couple months ago I'd considered proposing a new job within the company where I organize things full-time. I discussed it with Jrex and he thought it was a good idea. I thought about it non-stop for a couple weeks, but ended up not pursuing it.

Well, during today's discussion, I couldn't stop thinking about my idea. It buys the company time while they hire a Creat1ve Dir3ctor and it moves me forward toward becoming an Art D1rector. Our company doesn't have art directors per se, but this position would give me more client-facing opportunities, teach me about managing others, and give me a taste of life without design (as an Art Director, I'd translate what the client wants and supervise designers who would create according to my direction, but I wouldn't be the hands-on designer).

Once Jrex and I move, this new position would be a launching pad toward art direction, or enough to nudge me back toward designing for a small company.

I asked Hapless if he could think of a title for the position. If I call myself a traff1c manag3r, then it looks like a step down. He suggestion: Producti0n D1rector. YES. Sounds great. I wrote up a job description which included why I'm a fit for the job and counter arguments to any concerns about me in the position (loss of my skills as a designer, etc). I gave it to him an hour ago.

He invited me into his office to give me feedback, "I'm going to miss you! This is so you! It's SO organized." I asked him whether I should ask for more pay if the CEO is interested. He said I should go for it. As a designer I can expect incremental raises, but this would be a big move. I named a number that is a significant jump. He agreed that something in that range sounds right.

He cc'd me on the email forwarding the job description to the CEO. Yee hah! (Have I totally lost my mind?!)

July 7, 2010

Our engagement story

Over the weekend, Jrex had me watch this video, "It reminds me of you!" As I watched, I kept asking him questions, "Is it 'cause she's cute?" He smiled, "Yes, but keep watching..." A little while later, "It's her sense of humor!?" Another grin, "Sure, but keep watching..." They got to the part about the proposal and I just started hitting him in the arm as he laughed out loud. Check it out and then I'll tell you our version.

When we started dating, we both agreed that unless we heard 'no' from God or each other, we were heading toward marriage as the goal. Which allowed for various conversations: what kind of ring ("no gold, no diamonds"), what kind of proposal ("I have to tell this story the rest of my life so you'd better make it a good one") and what kind of wedding ("I'm fine with a pot-luck, I just want everyone we care about to celebrate with us"). It also meant that it might be hard to surprise me ("Aha! He's taking me for a balloon ride, obviously time for a proposal." "A nice dinner out? Obviously a proposal.").

In the fall of '96, Jrex went away two weeks for work. I knew he'd be going to his parents' for Thanksgiving and assumed he'd be having another talk with them and might propose around Christmas time. The day after he returned from his trip, he picked me up and we went to do laundry together. Neither of us had facilities at our apartments and it was a nice way to spend time together. As we finished the laundry, he asked, "Do you want to go for a hike?" Sure!

We headed over to Mendon Ponds where we often walked after church or on sunny afternoons.
As we came around the pond, Jrex suggested sitting on our usual rocks. We sat and then he pulled out his tin whistle (not so ordinary, but not unheard of), and said, "On the flight home, I was missing you and this tune came into my head, so I wanted to play it for you."

As I listened to a really lovely melody, I looked across the water. There were two trees that grew so close together that they looked like one tree. After waiting and waiting for our relationship to move ahead, I wistfully wondered, "Will we ever get to be like that? Being together and growing towards each other; will we get to be a cute old couple?" The song ended and I smiled at him, "Wow, that was beautiful." We chatted a bit about the song and then he casually continued, "Oh, that brings up a question..."

I nodded, "Sure, what's up?"

"Will you marry me?"

I stared at him in disbelief, totally caught off-guard. Then he reached into his jacket and pulled a blue velvet box out of his pocket. As he opened it I spluttered, "What?! You're serious!? You have a ring? Oh my god! You had that in your pocket the whole time? At the laundromat???!!! But!? What?!" I babbled on as he pulled out a beautiful sapphire in a platinum setting. I quickly pulled off my glove to try it on my finger (where it fit perfectly). I finally took a breath as I looked at the ring in shock.

He smiled quietly and said, "Does the fact that you put the ring on mean yes?"

"Didn't I say 'yes' already?"

He shook his head.

"Of course it means yes! It's beautiful." Then I realized what had happened. We had our story and I looked like an idiot! "Oh my God! Jrex, you TOTALLY got me." (Lest you think he's noble, he gloated right then.)

Then another thought struck me, "Did you ask my Dad already?"

With a very smug grin he nodded, "Called him this morning. He said he'd been hoping I'd take you off his hands."

So THEN we finally kissed and said sappy things to each other.

I got my story alright. He LOVES it when people ask me to tell how he proposed. Sigh.

A story I get to tell for The. Rest. Of. My. Life.

July 2, 2010

Maps help us see where we are

A couple days ago I learned about making mind maps thanks to a new blog find. Check out the video, it's worth the couple minutes it takes.

Since I was about to start a new journal, I decided to start with a mind map rather than a narrative. I usually start a journal with a "State of Life" entry. Where I'm living, what's important to me, and my friends list. Creating the "state of life" as a one page graphic was a fun challenge.

I drew our apartment in the middle, then a thick line to Jrex and all that's happening in his life. Another thick line to my job and all the annoyances there. A third branch out to exercise (biking and climbing) and its joys. Another to life in California and our friendships here (my restored 'best friendship' with Jrex being the biggest one). The line to my Kindle made me laugh, but it's true! I spend most of my free time reading these days. No different than before, it's just more conspicuous when it's all on the same device vs a string of changing books. Then I paused and realized I'd forgotten a line to God. OOPS. This past week I've been getting back into the rhythm of relating to him, but it's been a while. So it made sense that it wasn't one of the first things I put down. Then I added my joy/concern around my Dad moving to Seattle this week and Mom K and her future in NYC/LA.

That was it.

As a one-pager, my life felt small and insular. More so than it's ever been. No service projects, no 'ministry', no vast church network. Just a restored marriage and good friends. It fits with the ways that God's been challenging me to learn to BE rather than DO. I felt a bit weird (like it's not 'enough'), but mostly content when I looked at it. No wonder I'm fairly bland on the phone these days--there's really not that much going on!

(Well, Jrex did call to say he was asked to interview at Southwestern in Dallas. Sigh. I managed to say, "I'm proud of you" in the middle of groaning, "Don't make me do it!" He laughed at me. Mocking my pain, as usual. Sheesh. I might have to make the friend line to Jrex a little thinner...)