Thursday, December 28, 2006

2006 Political Bowl

Even in the 2006 Political Bowl, pitting the UC Berkeley Golden Bears against the Texas A&M Aggies, it was better to be a liberal than a conservative. Apparently sports, like art, can imitate life.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Most Shocking Christmas Ever

This weekend was the most shocking Christmas ever. No one got electrocuted, though that might also have been fun. My husband and I spent five days with my family, and it was actually nice. I didn't ever want to kill my crazy middle sister. My mom and dad only yelled at each other once. My husband didn't strangle my dad. My dad's sermons didn't make me want to gouge my eyes out. My mom didn't give me a case of Ramen and some dry erase markers as my Christmas present. My little sister didn't run off to her room crying. It was great!

There were some nice times, too, to go with the absence of killing and death. We played a few games where no one pitched a fit when they realized they were going to lose. My sister went running with me, and we actually had a nice conversation. There were a few conversations that didn't revolve around food. My little sister practiced for the last two months on a flute concert that she gave us, and sounded really great. My husband went out on a bike ride and got not one, but two flat tires, and some nice guy gave him a ride back to the house. My mom found a woman leaving Christmas Eve services realizing this would be her first Christmas without her husband, and she had no family around to celebrate with her, so my mom invited her to the house for Christmas dinner.

It was just a breath of fresh air to see how my family could act when everyone was on their best behavior. I guess there are families out there that always act civilized, but mine's not one of them. This year, it turned out we had a really nice holiday. I hope yours was also memorable, and was so because of the nice memories it produced!

Dreaming Life

Last night I dreamed that I was having a party, and my favorite aunt came to it from a long way away. Then, she collapsed in the middle of the party, and had to be taken away in an ambulance. We found out she was pregnant, and had a baby. But when I went to the hospital, the baby was tiny and missing an arm. Someone that was there needed a postage stamp, and I happened to have one, so I went down to the parking garage to get it, and the elevator malfunctioned, catching my arm and causing a scare, but I was lucky and unhurt. As I got to my car, I decided to go somewhere and then a carjacker appeared in the garage and pointed his gun at me. I slammed on the accelerator to get away, and ducked to miss getting shot. However, my car just wouldn't speed up, so the man was able to walk up to my car. As he was about to shoot me, I woke up.

As my husband decided that he is now ready to have children this weekend, he also gave me a glimpse into the depression that rules his brain. I think my brain was trying to work out why every good thing also comes with a bad thing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I Can't See What They're Thinking

I have quite a few blind and visually impaired acquaintences. It helps to understand the struggles, since I'll likely be there, myself, at some point in the future. Meanwhile, one of the things that always causes problems for them is our stinking US paper money. Some of them have elaborate ways of folding different denominations so they can find them in their wallets. Some keep certain bills in one pocket and other bills in a different pocket to keep them straight. But nearly always, they have to rely on other people to tell them which bills are which, and this results in trust issues and sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they are taken advantage of.

And then you go anywhere else in the world, and you see how that country's money wouldn't present the same challenges that ours does. Each denomination is a different size, or has the demonination numerals punched out in the money, and often different colors, which helps the folks who can see a little. Obviously, this would make their lives easier.

But in a recent statement from our government, they are appealing a ruling by a district court that our paper currency is discriminatory to blind people. The district court had noted that there are 180 countries in the world with paper money, and we're the only country that doesn't accommodate for visual impairments with our money in some way. The ruling says we can punch holes in our money or put Braille lettering on our money or make them different sizes, but we have to make it possible for all people in our country who use our money to be able to use our money.

Our government claims that it would be too hard for the vending machines to get switched. Is the Vending Machine Lobby honestly that powerful, that our government would send out a stupid sounding appeal? Thay also claim that varying the size would be inordinately expensive. Then vary the color and punch out numbers or add Braille dots!

Meanwhile, they say that the money isn't discriminatory, because blind folks can use portable currency readers. Oh sure, they can all afford to spend $270 to find out which money they are spending. The other option the appeals brief offers is that they could use credit cards. Can you find any segment of people that all qualify for credit cards? And since when does every retailer in the US take a credit card? One of our favorite restaurants over here only takes cash and check -- so blind people just aren't allowed to eat there because the VML is more important?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Questionable Pictures

Recently in the local news, there has been much buzz about a teacher who took pictures of girls at his school. He's taken pictures of their rear ends in the hallway at school, and even took pictures of them going up and down the escalator in the local mall, all without their knowledge. Obviously, this guy must be a sicko.

You may know where I'm going with this, but just in case you don't, I'll continue.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't get where the problem is in this "crime". The girls didn't know they were being photographed until the story broke. So, it's not like he took them into a room and forced them to dress a certain way or pose provocatively. Just girls walking through the mall. Surely the pictures couldn't have been that sexy if they were doing their normal thing out in public at school and in the mall. Well, they could, but this is not a post about skimpy teenage fashions. Regardless, they weren't forced to do or wear anything they didn't choose of their own accord.

I honestly don't care if he takes a gazillion pictures in public places and jacks off to each and every one of them during his sad life at home. It's kind of like how my husband doesn't like me to line-dry my underthings in the back yard, because there is an apartment building behind us, and he's concerned that some sick guy is getting some pleasure out of looking at my bra hanging there. Personally, that doesn't bother me at all. As long as the guy never involves the girls directly, it seems like a victimless activity. The girls didn't know they were being photographed, so how could that be traumatizing to them until the story details became public? According to the stories, the teacher never made any threats to the girls or touched them inappropriately or tried to get them alone or anyrhing like that. So what is he being jailed for?

My concern is that he is being charged with the assumption that he would try to physically do something in the future. The logic there is that the pictures now would lead to molestation or rape at some point in the future. It is totally unacceptable in the United States of America that we would jail someone on the supposition that they might do something at some point in the future. That gets all Minority Report and creepy. Even more creepy than some dude taking picture of girls in the school hallway.

It sends me down a whole other tangent about jailing terror conspirators before they've actually done anything. But that will have to be left for another day.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Pinnacle of Texas Sports

The top sport in the state of Texas is football. And nothing really riles up the folks in Texas towns like the high school variety. This weekend, I had the opportunity to go to a 5A quarterfinal game. My little sister's school was still playing, so I drove out to meet them and watch them play a tough game against a team that was bigger and faster. More exciting than the game (which was plenty of a nailbiter, and her high school will be playing again next week) was the pageantry that goes with the overall event.

To start, the teams ran through smoke in their inflatable tunnels with animal mascot heads to the sounds of bands playing fight songs, erupting crowds and the announcer reading off the list of all 44 starters (offense and defense for each team). The cheerleaders and mascots for both teams were then introduced individually. Then there was the playing and singing of the respective alma maters, a prayer, and then an announcement of what good sportsmanship really means to the UIL group regarding high school sporting events. The singing of the national anthem came next, followed by the bands playing musical challenges at each other. All of this before the game ever commenced.

I was struck by how many people really come together to make a high school football game happen. At our particular game, between players, managers, drill teams, cheerleaders, bands, and everyone else, there were 1100 kids participating between the two schools. Absolutely incredible.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Vacation: Returning on Tuesday

Tuesday morning we got up and drove back to the Cancun airport for our flight back to the US. We had no travel issues of any kind, and got back safely in the early evening. My Spanish got a little boost, but then it had no where to go but up. My metric also got a big boost, with road signs in kilometers, hotel scales in kilograms, and weather reports in Celsius. We got to eat good food and sleep well. We also got to really relax and refresh ourselves for regular life back at home, which is the point of vacation. I can officially call our vacation a success. Woohoo!

Vacation: Learning on Monday

Our plan Monday morning was to get up early and visit the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza before the tour groups got there, around noon. When we got up, however, the rain had other plans for us. It had rained for a while when we woke up, and it didn't really show any signs of stopping anytime soon. So, we looked for an umbrella or a poncho or something, but there wasn't anything in the room. We went down to the front desk and asked there. After several back and forths where they assured us there was an umbrella in the room and we assured them there wasn't, we finally found that they didn't have any extras. So, we resigned ourselves to getting wet. And the underwater housing for the camera came in handy.

The Mayans were obviously geniuses of stone work and construction. I don't know how much, if any, the ruins at Chichen Itza have been rebuilt or restored, but the overall complement of structures is mind-boggingly stunning. We started at the hotel's entrance to the ruins, but we might have ignored certain directional signs and gone some ways not so well traveled. We came, first, upon a temple that wasn't anywhere on our map, but it was also not corded off, as the later structures we saw were. There was no plaque describing this structure, but it was definitely a temple of some sort. While the carved stone altar was impressive, the most compelling things in the temple were the 50 or so columns. Each column was about 2 meters tall, half a meter in diameter, built like a layer cake with alternating layers of smoothly cut stone about 8 centimeters tall and layers of 3 centimeters of jagged small stones mixed in with the mortar.

The rest of the ruins were named and described on plaques in the ground. We saw many more temples, more of the columns, several platforms, etc. Some of the carved reliefs were very detailed, showing obvious reverence for snakes, eagles and jaguars. We walked out to a cenote, sort of a sacrificial sinkhole where offerings of various kinds were made into the water about twenty meters below. We saw a ball court where a Mayan version of a cross between soccer and basketball (as best as archaelogists can guess, apparently) was played. It was very neat to see that the basketball stadium and hoops really did have their roots in American history. :)

The Kukulcan Temple is the centerpiece of this ancient city, and the pyramid-like structure is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The whole thing is probably four stories tall and approximately 50 meters on each of its four sides. Each of the sides has a stairway to the top, and the sides of stairs end in giant serpent heads. The Mayans also knew the way the sun worked, so as the sun sets on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the stairstep sides of the pyramid make a shadow with the serpent heads such that the shadow looks like a snake slithering on the ground. We didn't get to see this phenomenon, as we were a little late in the year (or very early, depending on how you want to look at it). But it certainly looked believable that that kind of shadow could occur.

The motivating reason for the trip into Chichen Itza was the observatory. The Mayans were enamoured with the sun and the moon and the stars, and had studied and catalogued many astronomical events from this location. The placement of the windows and markings inside the domed building indicate study of the equinoxes, the highest and lowest points of the moon, and the various solstices. It was great that this was one of the structures they really let us climb around and through and on. Very impressive that they understood so much about the yearly calendar.

As we finished up, the tour groups were showing up, and it was starting to get crowded. We returned to the hotel to get changed out of our wet clothes, and decided to trek into the little town of Piste for lunch. The food at the hotel was pretty bad, so this wasn't too difficult a decision. The hardest part was whether our Spanish was good enough to eat in a town where English probably wasn't spoken much. We ate at a place where a woman was grilling half-chickens at the storefront, with tables behind her. At the back of the 3-sided building was a man behind a counter. The couple's 7- or 8-year-old daughter was our waitress, and we ordered drinks and some chicken enchiladas. We then saw the little girl walk across the street to a market to buy tortillas and a few other things. I guess that's one way to make sure you don't have anything go to waste. The enchiladas were amazing, and when we requested the check, the woman told us they were 85 pesos. 85 pesos? Are you serious? That's like 8 bucks for two plates of enchiladas and a liter of bottled water. It was easily the cheapest and tastiest meal we had on our trip. Totally worth the couple of awkward conversational moments. Emboldened by our success, we went to a local grocery store and bought some cookies for dessert.

We rounded out our day with a nap, and packing to head home. That was Monday, and we slept well.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Vacation: Exploring on Sunday

Sunday morning we got up and packed our things and checked out of the hotel. It had been a nice stay, but now it was time to go. The conference was over, and we had other plans for the rest of our trip.

But, before we left Cozumel, we wanted to check out the rest of our temporary home. So, we left our bags with the bellman, jumped on our trusty scooter, and headed out to explore the rest of the island. We drove to the south point of the island, and walked around for a bit, but that eastern side was the nicest part, and we enjoyed it thoroughly.

We stopped at one point where the reef rock shoreline was home to a wave-land blowhole. I'm not exactly sure how the phenomenon works, but every time a wave crashed into the shore, the pressure built up under certain rocks further inland, and the water shot straight up one to three meters into the air. It was kind of like a cyclical geyser, but mostly reminded me of the blowhole on a whale or a dolphin. Very nifty little oddity in nature.

We stopped a little further up the coast and enjoyed a pristine piece of beach where you could look forever and see no footprints in the sand or buildings on the beach -- just the untouched, natural beauty of the ocean meeting the island. The vegetation was stunning. I noticed how bright the greens and yellows and oranges and red and purples were. Nothing pastel here, only bold colors that indicate a world that is proud and strong.

We continued on, stopping periodically to take a stroll or a picture. We stopped at the San Gervasio ruins, but the guy in the booth talked us out of going to see them. "It's six more kilometers in, and then it'll take an hour to walk through it, and there's not even much to see there -- these are not the good ruins." How can you argue with a salesman like that? So we went on to complete our circumnavigation of the main island road, ending with the experience of getting gas for the scooter. Did you know we went all around that island for two bucks in gas? I've gotta get me a scooter. But I think a sidecar would make it more stable and less likely to skin my knee.

Once we got back to the hotel, my husband took a taxi with our luggage, and I took the scooter in to be returned. We met at the ferry there to go over to the mainland. It rained while we waited to be loaded onto the ferry, which wouldn't have been a big deal, but it was actually a bit cold and windy. We should have realized that standing in the cold rain wouldn't be the worst of it. The ferry ride started out fine, but I noticed that we were pitching back and forth with the waves quite a bit. After ten minutes or so, I remembered that my husband gets seasick very easily. I located the restroom, and then braced myself for how he'd handle the ride. As it turned out, I needn't have worried about him. He leaned his head forward and fell asleep for most of the 45-minute boat ride. Other passengers didn't fare so well. The crew handed out lots and lots of seasickness bags, and one poor girl spent the whole ride in the bathroom. She did emerge at one point for about twenty seconds before she dashed back in the door. But my husband was a champ -- he didn't even get woozy!

Once we arrived in Playa del Carmen, we dragged our stuff to the bus station and took the bus to the Cancun airport. There, we got the rental car my husband had reserved for us for the mainland part of our trip. Once all was settled, we began the three-hour drive to Chichen Itza, home of the most famous Mayan ruins.

We arrived after dark, and settled into our room with its carved mahogany doors and bedframes. The window shutters were most interesting. The windows were just screens on the inside and outside, the shutters were like four-centimeter-wide venetian blinds. But, rather than a string to raise and lower them, there was a lever to twist them open or sealed shut. Once the lever was in place, the knob at the end of the lever turned to lock the shutters in place. They are hard to explain, but they were a nifty little simple machine.

Throughout the day, we experienced quite the variety in modes of transportation: on foot, scooter, taxi, ferry, bus, car. By the end of it, we weren't sure it was still Sunday, but we went to sleep, and slept well.

Vacation: Driving (not Diving) on Saturday

Saturday morning I got up and decided to go for a run on the island. I ran toward town a couple of miles and returned to the hotel. It was a nice relaxing run, and the humidity was tempered by a little bit of rain while I was running. When I returned, the bellman met me with a cold minty washcloth and a bottle of water. He said he saw me leave and was waiting for me to get back. Service like that sure is nice!

When I got back to the room, my husband was working on his talk since he was slated to give it that afternoon. He wanted to have it done by noon, in order to have time to practice so I decided it was best to stay out of his way. I went to breakfast by myself, and had food sent back to the room for him. It was almost meditative to sit there, watching the ocean, not having to make conversation with anyone.

Once I was done with my leisurely breakfast, I went back to the room to find my husband stressing. Clearly he wasn't going to finish his slides by noon, so I headed down to the beach with my book. If he was going to be making a stress scene of his vacation, I didn't need to be part of that. I came back in time to confirm that he'd run everything down to the wire, having me proofread his presentation slides while he took a shower at 1:45 for a 2pm conference start.

Once he was safely off to the conference, I started my afternoon adventure. I got a taxi into town, and walked around all the shops. Somehow I found absolutely nothing to buy, except a nice sangria soda. Then I wiggled my way to my intended destination: a scooter rental shop. Now, I've never driven a scooter, and I told the guy as such. He gave me the crash course in starting and driving the scooter. As I took the helm of the bike, I must have hit the gas a little, and it jerked forward. The rental guy asked again if I was really going to be able to handle this thing, and I assured him that I would. I put on the helmet they gave me, and started the couple mile trek back to the hotel with my new-toy-for-24-hours. Conveniently, the drive back to the hotel was pretty direct, so I didn't have too much to really do. I just had to stay on the road, not crash, and keep that stupid helmet from trying to choke the life out of me. I, apparently, have a small head -- a large ego shoved into the tiny circumference of my noggin. In marching band in high school, they gave me the smallest hat they had, and they were annoyed that they might have to purchase a smaller hat if I couldn't get that one to work. Baseball caps just don't get small enough for me. And rental scooter helmets are decidedly enormous. It just kept flopping back, causing the chip strap to strangle me. I started to wonder if the hardest part of driving the scooter was dealing with the helmet. Regardless, I made it back to my hotel, and parked, and went looking for my husband for their dinner break.

His presentation had gone wonderfully (he has a knack for that sort of thing -- procrastination until beyond the end of the line, and then delivers something better than expected), and many people were wanting to talk with him before heading off to dinner, so we got a bit of a late start. Since the closing proceedings were slated to be after dinner, we had to get a move on. He was shocked I'd managed to get the bike out to the hotel, so we took the adventure back to town for dinner. He drove, this time, and I rode in the back. Based on all the fun I'd had with the helmet, we decided not to wear them for this trip. He didn't have any experience with a scooter, either, and we hadn't really learned the Mexican street signs, so we were an odd pair trying to make this work. I had identified a restaurant during my afternoon wanderings, so I was trying to direct us back there. When you're walking, though, one-way streets don't mean as much. I told him to turn down a specific street, and we came face-to-face with a taxi going the correct way down the road.

Since braking and accelerating occur from the same handle, stopping can be a little tricky, and this situation was no different. We fell over on the street, and had to jump up and get the bike out of the way. He seemed to be completely fine. I skinned a knee, bleeding through my slacks, and got a couple of bruises. But I can't complain -- it is my fault we went down that road. Once we actually got to dinner, the food was good, but we were a little traumatized by our scooter issues. We did, however, get back to the hotel without incident.

After the closing presentations and a mixer (where ordering a pina colada apparently gets you a shot of tequila -- oops!), we were worn out by our adventures and all the last minute presentation stuff.

So that was Saturday, and we slept very well.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Vacation: Diving on Friday

Friday morning began much the same way Thursday did, and we were on the boat out to the first dive spot by 7:30. Our first dive was another section of the Palancar reef, called the Palancar Bricks. Here, the reef grows straight up, and didn’t grow back upon itself like the caves. This was, by far, the most amazing dive of the trip. We saw manta rays and a lobster, tons of fishes including flounders, and my absolute favorite tropical plant/animal/thingy in the ocean. I have no idea what they are called, so if you know, please tell me. The little creatures are stationary, attached to pieces of coral, and they extend out about 3 centimeters. Along the main stalk, there are 3-4 rings of increasing size (kind of like a classic toy). Each ring is made up of light, wispy strings sticking out. If you cause waves to run near the little dudes, they retreat into their bases, and then reemerge later to gather whatever floats by. I have called them Christmas tree worms, just to have a name to refer to them, but I have no idea what they are actually called. Regardless, once I saw my favorite little creature, I was all set for my diving fix.

We spent our surface interval hanging out at the beach again, chatting amongst the divers in the group. Our second dive was at a place called Tormento Reef, and this was another dive where we went where the current took us. Here we watched another ray trying to shake a large fish that was following along right above it. It was almost comical to watch. We saw several barracudas, and caught a glimpse of an eel heading for cover. This was a great dive, but I was starting to get fed up with my dive mates who couldn't seem to do a three-minute safety stop in less than fifteen minutes.

We returned to the hotel for lunch and a shower, and I went on my next mission -- an attempt to get hold of a scooter for a day. We thought this might be a good way to enjoy some more of the island without going broke paying for taxis. I asked a lady who seemed to be manning a concierge-type desk, but she then trapped me for 45 minutes to talk about a timeshare with the hotel. Ack! I did eventually escape, and wandered around the rest of the hotel. Eventually, I ended up on the beach, reading again. It was very relaxing, even if cliche.

After the conference finished up for the day, niether of us was very hungry or interested in any more interaction with the other attendees. So, we holed up in our room reading and working and sleeping and watching TV with Spanish subtitles. I decided that helped me learn Spanish words better than Spanish TV with English subtitles. Not sure how much I really learned, but I did pick up a few things.

And that was Friday, and I slept well. My husband was working on his conference presentation and an application for a job in Munich until well into the night.

Vacation: Diving on Thursday

We got up in the morning, and gathered all our scuba diving equipment. We were to be down on the hotel’s dock at 7:30, and we certainly didn’t want to be late. As we approached the dock, the boat was arriving, and we loaded up. There was some question back in the hotel room about whether wetsuits were really necessary, but as our divemaster put on his full-body wetsuit, we followed along and did the same.

Our first dive was at a location called the Palancar Caves. This is a section of the main reef where the coral has grown up and back onto itself, creating holes in the reef that divers can swim through. Now, the first dive after a long hiatus is always a bit rocky. My last scuba dive had been in Cyprus, two and a half years before. So, I had a bit of rust to knock out of my diving. This particular dive where we had to come very close to the coral and the seafloor was probably not the best way to get un-rusty. I was incredibly worried about bumping into things, and for good reason. I know I touched coral three times in the dive, and I wasn’t the only one in our group. In fact, the reef generally looked like there had been a lot of divers before us that had done the same. It could be that the beat up look comes from the damage the island sustained a year ago from Hurricane Katrina, but that seemed unlikely at 30 meters. Fifteen meters, probably; but not much below that. We did see lots of colorful fish, most of which I can’t identify by name, but there were yellow ones and bright blue ones and red ones and purple ones and multi-colored ones. It was very pretty, but mostly I was just happy to have that first dive of the trip under my belt, and reminding myself of all the things one must remember while diving.

The surface interval involved us hanging out on a beach for an hour, just basking in the sun. There’s not much one really wants to do while outgassing the nitrogen from the dive. It’s surprising how tiring a dive can be when you’re really not doing much. After that we were back in the boat and on our way to the second dive of the day. I can now say I’ve done most every kind of scuba diving entry that can be done. During my certification, we did dock entries where you basically step off the dock into the water. In Bonaire, we did shore entries where you load up your equipment on shore and walk/swim out from there to do your dive. In Cyprus, we did great strides off the back of the anchored dive boat. Here we’re doing backward falls off the side of the boat. Very interesting how few dive trips I’ve done, and yet how much variety there has been. There’s been as much variety in the underwater view, too, but I digress.

Our second dive was in a spot called Los Palmas, and this was a current dive. We basically dropped down to our intended depth, and let the current drag us along and that’s how we went by the reef. We saw a huge turtle, and lots more of the fish from the first dive. There was a bright red and green parrotfish that I followed for a while, and then it decided to relieve itself, which was interesting to watch. There were tons of brain coral and sponges and wispy floating plants connected to the coral. This was also a very pretty dive, and I was amazed how long our dives were – 60-70 minutes! Usually, when you have a group of 6 people diving, someone will go through their air faster than the others, and we’ll have to surface earlier. Usually that someone is me. But my air consumption wasn’t the limiting factor this time!

We got back to the hotel in time to rinse off gear, take a quick shower, and grab a bite to eat for lunch before my husband had to head off to the conference. This conference was set up specifically to allow attendees to go diving in the morning, so it started at two o’clock each day and went into the evening. As he went to talks, I went back to the room for a nap. I tend to go to sleep after eating, anyway, but the morning was so busy that I was legitimately tired, too. In the evening, my husband had hooked up with a guy from an observatory that is currently wooing him to go work there, so we went into town and had dinner at a nice Italian seafood place with him and his wife. The observatory in question is in California, and we talked about life out there and how the leader of this observatory likes to run things, et cetera, et cetera. I do like the wooing phase, though. It’s nice to have someone really want you to come be part of their organization. In the middle of dinner, it started to rain and we had to move inside. And thus started our daily rains in Mexico.

We got back to the hotel for the guys to go to more conference talks, and the wife and I went to the hotel’s restaurant for dessert and coffee. It was nice and relaxing to hang out by the ocean at night with a few boat lights shining back at you. The dessert tray came out, and the waiter told us what everything on the tray was in English, except there was one dessert we couldn’t identify by sight or by his explanation. He said it was “coca pie”, but it was definitely not chocolate-looking. We asked him to write it down on the napkin, and he knew only the Spanish word, which we thought might help us in our identification, but the word was “elote”, which we couldn’t figure out either. So, I ordered it. It turned out to be a coconut pie, and it was very good. And I learned another Spanish word along the way.

After the conference ended for the night around 9pm, there were drinks, and we stayed for the prerequisite socializing with various folks. It was contrived, but we made nice. Afterwards we went back to the room.

And that was Thursday, and I slept well. My husband was supposed to finish putting together his application to an observatory in Chile, so he was already expecting to be up most of the night.

Vacation: Traveling on Wednesday

Wednesday morning we woke up at the butt-crack of dawn, and my husband started to panic. He'd apparently nodded off to sleep with quite a bit left to do. This is not uncommon, as he is one of the biggest procrastinators I've ever met, so I'd set the alarm accordingly. He dashed around, and then we went down to campus for him to get a few more pictures and data to take with him on our trip. He'd apparently also volunteered us to pick someone else up and take him to the airport, since he was on the same flight we were. There's nothing like a few added errands to have to run in the morning before leaving to add to the stress level. And that, my friends, is par for the course, and the reason I set the alarm clock for 4:30am for an 8:40 flight.

Regardless, the driver's license-voter's registration card thing worked great, so we got in and through security without a problem. Since we had lots of miles lying around, my husband had upgraded us to first class for the trip, so it was very nice. It's especially great to have red wine on your international flight with your microwaved cheese pizza. But whatever. It made for a comfortable trip, and we weren't all that tired when we arrived in Cozumel.

In the airport, there were tons of people trying to sell us stuff like tours and tickets to events and rent us cars and it was kind of crazy. We got sucked into listening to one guy's spiel for twenty minutes, but we didn't buy anything from him. We just took the map that he had just marked up. We took the shuttle to the hotel, and found ourselves a decent way out of town. The hotel selection was made because he had a conference there for a few days. As we waited to check in, we were given frozen blue drinks, and I became immediately convinced that we were staying in one of those excessively touristy places. This is unfortunate, because it's so hard to actually experience the culture you've visited this way. It just ends up being like all the pictures you see in travel brochures of excessively suntanned men and women lounging in chairs by the pool, drinking things with umbrellas in them. No one really lives like that, and that’s what we enjoy when we travel – seeing how the typical people in the area live.

But, I can make the best of any situation, so once we were settled into our room, I put on my swimsuit, grabbed my goggles and a book, and went down to the hotel’s beach. I swam around, following the various fishes I saw for thirty minutes or so, and then reclined to a lounge chair on the beach, reading my book. It was tough, but someone had to do it.

My husband had met up with a couple of the guys from the conference, and we all went into Cozumel, and filled out forms at the dive shop we’d be using for the next few days. Once they decided we were suitably waivered, we ate dinner there in town. I do love Mexican food, and my mole was nice and spicy.

And that was Wednesday, and we slept well.

We Went on Vacation!

Sorry to have been inexplicably MIA for a while. We went on our first vacation in quite a while, and we've just gotten back. I'm going to break down the days and try to give you an idea of what I've been up to for the last week. This will likely be a little diary-esque, and probably too detailed, but I wanted to write down what we did so I can reread it later in life.

Starting last Tuesday, the hunt for the passport got really heated. I'd been looking for mine since the weekend, but had had no luck. My husband's, of course, was exactly where he'd put it last, but not mine. I went to our storage unit to look there (aren't we sad folks to have a storage unit?), but to no avail. After going through everything in the house that we could think of, hubby mentioned that he might have taken it to the safe deposit box at the bank. Eek! So I left work early to go home and find the key to the box, and then went straight to the bank to find that the vault's time lock went into effect thirty minutes before. So, I was not able to look there. Eventually, I gave up looking, and since our flight was to leave before the bank reopened in the morning, I called the airline to find out what options I might have.

Of course, when traveling to Mexico, one could use one's driver's license and birth certificate. However, we know that my birth certificate was in the safe deposit box, since it's from Hong Kong, written in pencil, and would be difficult (likely impossible) to replace if lost. Since that was also inaccessible for the moment, I tried to find out if there was any other form of ID that I could use to fly to Mexico, and, more importantly, to get back into the US when we were ready to come home. This is surprisingly difficult when your husband has made all the plans, and purposely avoided giving you any of the flight/hotel/rental car/etc. plans. The conversation went something like this:
Me: I'm on a flight tomorrow morning to Cozumel, Mexico, and I can't find my passport.
Airline: Do you have your confirmation number?
Me: No, I don't.
Airline: Do you know your flight number?
Me: No, I don't.
Airline (exasperated, already): Do you know what time you're leaving?
Me: I think my husband said 8:40.
Airline: Oh good -- there is a flight at 8:40. Now, let me give you some numbers, and please write them down....

Anyway, did you know that a voter's registration card will work in place of a birth certificate? Well, it will, and I actually could find that little document, so we were back in business! For those of you who might be planning a trip to Mexico in the future, be warned that this little ID trick will only work through the end of this year. Starting in 2007, the US will require a passport to get back into the country from Mexico and Canada.

The rest of the night was packing, since we always seem to wait until the last minute to pack. We did get done early enough to get a few hours sleep before the day of traveling.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving Complete

I believe I can call Thanksgiving over...and a success. My family didn't kill each other. Ten people were fed the classic meal. The Aggies beat the Longhorns.

And I still didn't run. I really have got to do something about that. But not until after that new James Bond movie.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Getting to the Same Page

My husband and I may actually be approaching the same page as far as family plans go. Shocking, I know. "Approaching," you ask? Let me explain.

We got married young, so neither of us were ready for a family then. And then I was, but he wasn't. And then I decided he was neurotic and I didn't want kids with him. And that made him want kids (have I ever mentioned that he can be a bit of a contrarian sometimes?). Then I still thought he'd be neurotic, but likely to be the kind of neurotic that leads to fun parents. You know, the dad that all the kids down the street think is cool because he knows lots of projects to blow up ... I mean ... *try* out in the back yard. Yep, that's him. The Bill Nye, the Science Guy type. Of course, this made him decide he's not parent material.

So back and forth we go. One week I might want kids and he doesn't, and the next week we've flip-flopped. It's like two wave functions slowly converging. One of these weeks, I predict we will both want kids at the same time or both not want kids at the same time. I can't tell which side of the debate our wave function will end up on, but it's nice that we're approaching some kind of agreement.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Unpopular Sentiment

I have been trying to figure out lately why I am so disturbed by all the initiatives surrounding convicted sexual offenders.

For a while now, we've had Megan's Law requiring registration and community notification of all convicted adult sexual offenders with victims under 17. In recent local news, there are now cries for some way of notifying the "people who need to know" if a juvenile sexual offender is out of jail. Even more recently, punishment was handed down to include wearing a shirt in public places to declare the convicted man's status as a sexual predator.

To me, this seems to be getting a bit overboard.

Now, this doesn't mean I'm a supporter of sex crimes, or that I don't want to protect our nation's children, or that I think criminals' rights are more important than victims' right. But expressing any opposition to any of these proposals or laws is viewed exactly that way. Thus, no useful debate can be done on these topics. And so, our politicians have to continue to support every stupid piece of legislation that comes along on this topic. Really, which congressperson wants to go back to their constituency and try to get re-elected when they voted against Megan's Law? The public outcry would be uncontrollable.

Anytime that people are afraid to speak up against the majority, the majority oversteps reasonable bounds. So, here I am, speaking up against the absurdity of this line of policy-making. Please try not to skin me alive for my opinion. At least beat me to death before you skin me. I think that would hurt less.

I guess my biggest concern is about the notification that occurs for sexual offenders when they move into a new area. It's as if we're saying it's more important to know that a previous sexual offender that has been released from prison has moved in than a murderer or a person convicted of DUI or drug dealers or anything else. Why can't a sexual offender give out candy (and there is major public outcry trying to make sure everyone knows and makes sure they keep their porch light off), but we apparently don't worry about any other criminals coming into contact with our kids.

It sends the message, in my mind, that sexual offenders are the only criminals that aren't rehabilitatable (I hope that's a word). If that's not true, then let them reassimilate into society without the shameful sign hanging around their neck. If we don't make other criminals list their rap sheet on their sleeve, don't make these folks do so either. However, it's possible that we don't think they'll ever turn from their sex crime ways, but if that's the sentiment, then why are the punishments for these crimes so small compared to other crimes? If we really think we can't make these criminals safe for reentry into mainstream society, then why can't we sentence them to life in prison or to death? I'm not talking about death penalty as a legitimate punishment here, but if we use it for other crimes, why not these? As I was doing "research" (it's hard to think of internet searching as research -- no library, no card catalog, you know) for this piece, I came across someone who apparently questions this, as well. I'll be interested to see what happens with some of those pieces of legislation here in Texas.

The other concern I have on this is that general movement by this country to offload the raising of our children to public officials. Teachers, police, and others are expected to carry more of this load than parents. I'm not wholesale blaming parents for their child's molestation -- of course there are unavoidable situations. I'm just saying that parents shouldn't let their kids stay the weekend at Neverland. Beyond the highly publicized stranger encounters, though, most sexually oriented crimes occur in the family. And family incidents tend not to be prosecuted but hidden as part of that family's "skeletons in the closet." If they're not prosecuted, you can't be warned unless the family talks about it (unlikely).

I just don't want parents to get a false sense of security that with all these regulations that their children become "safe." Continue to be vigilant, and good luck!

Fast-Tracked Life

This was originally an entry better suited for HIAH Jealousy.

I have some friends that, apparently, have decided that having as many milestones as possible in as short a time as possible is a good thing. Just eighteen months ago, we were the three musketeers -- we worked together, went out together, watched sporting events together, and teased each other. We had dubbed the male group member an honorary woman, and we enjoyed talking with each other about just about everything.

Then, last August they started dating each other. I guess I should have seen it coming, but I was suprised. And apparently, I was the only one. Most people realize that when two single people spend so much time together that an attraction is nearly inevitable. I was so convinced they acted like brother and sister. Note to self: don't try to read relationships -- you're not good at it.

In February, they got engaged. This I did see coming, so I wasn't surprised. They decided not to wait a long time to get married, so last April, they tied the knot. Many people assume a two-month engagement means a shotgun wedding, but that was not the case here. They just saw no reason to drag it out -- just get started living their marriage as soon as possible.

In June, he left his stable, but not advanceable, job to go work for a company in New York. In August, they bought a house. At this point, many of us started pointing out that of the most stressful things that one can do in their life, they had just done the top three in four months (getting married, moving, and changing jobs). They agreed that things were crazy and they were looking forward to things settling down and getting some work done on their house.

Then the morning sickness started, and all was confirmed -- they're pregnant, and expecting the week after their first anniversary. They joke that they're glad they did things in the "right" order, but you can tell they're a little overwhelmed with the speed of change in their lives. Are they excited though? No, they're ecstatic.

I only have two questions -- what milestone comes next? And what are they waiting for?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Supporting Veterans

Yesterday was Veteran's day, and I thought briefly about the veterans I'm related to, to see if there was anyone I needed to call and thank for their service. One grandfather was in the Army in the Pacific theatre of WWII, but he died in 2000. The other grandfather was in the Air Corps in mostly Africa in WWII, but he died in 1986. Both of my husband's grandfathers also served in WWII, and are both also dead. I have no aunts or uncles that were veterans, and my dad found ways to avoid the draft (including going to seminary), so no dice there. So, I quietly thanked all the folks that serve/have served in the military, national guard, police force, firefighting lines, and the like. But I didn't worry about calling any relatives to thank them personally.

And then today, I remembered my sister is in the Navy. What kind of a terrible person does that make me?

In my defense, she's in school on the east coast pursuing a degree so they can make her an officer faster than the 20 years it would have taken her as an enlisted person. So, I think of my sister in college working on a nuclear engineering degree (which she insists on calling nuk-u-lur, since her "commander-in-chief pronounces it that way"), rather than as a member of the active military. Of course, she is an active military member, and has been so for five years, this month. She is a talented person, though, and has managed to not have ever been stationed on a ship, or anywhere outside of the continental US in her years in the Navy.

Also in my defense, she'd likely be offended if I called her to thank her for her service to her country. This has actually been a point of contention between her and our dad in the past years. He is so proud to have a member of the military in the family that he asks her to bring her dress uniform home with her so she can wear it to church. And she doesn't want to be paraded around as some sort of statement. She also feels really bad being viewed as a military member when she hasn't experienced the kinds of things that her colleagues from boot camp have endured. She feels that degrades their contributions to recognize her for hers.

So, while she's in the Navy, I'll continue to be thankful for all the other folks that are serving currently in scary places in the world. And I won't worry too much that I didn't call her yesterday. But if I had, I would have asked her how that Fluids class was going, rather than talking about Veteran's day.

Marathon Training: Week 16

Technically, week 16 finished yesterday with me completing a grand total of zero miles. There are a lot of things that led to this less-than-stellar week in my marathon training. I had a lot of things go wrong at work, and found myself working a lot of extra hours. I did, however, have every intention of running the easy-week-seven-miler yesterday morning, but my Saturday got away from me. I got up and found that RC had commented on a previous post, so I went over to take a look. And then I got sucked in. See, I thought I'd like to add a link to his blog, but I can't add a link to my sidebar unless I've read the full contents of said site, so I got to reading. I'll stop short of blaming him for my not doing my run, but I'm sure that you can see that if it hadn't been there, I wouldn't have had the distraction. After I finished reading there, it was time to meet friends to see Stranger Than Fiction, and after that we had to watch the second end-of-the-game one point loss for the Aggies in as many weeks. By then, there wasn't enough Saturday left to do the run.

But I did it this afternoon. And it went great. Of course, now that I did Saturday's run on Sunday, I have a decision to make. Do I skip the regularly scheduled Sunday run, and do it on Monday or skip the Sunday run altogether? My general plan on these questions is just to pick back up on the regularly scheduled run for the day. The only reason I shifted the run today was to get that long run in there.

I'm really not sure why I'm finding myself so unmotivated to continue to run my runs these last few weeks. Maybe I'm realizing just how slow I am and getting depressed. My guess is that I'm getting bored with not enough variety in my workouts. As a result, this week I will be modifying my workout schedule to really mix some other stuff in there.

Now, can I kickstart my training if I know I'm trying to kickstart my training? Is that one of those things where because I know what I'm doing, I can't outsmart myself?

Problems with Drafting

I promise that this is not a post about bicyle racing.

Instead, I am starting to notice an issue with writing a first draft of a post, and then planning to go back and review it to finalize it and post it, but I never do. And after a month or two, the content is no longer relevant or I have no desire to finish the post, or whatever, and that post falls into the blogbog, never to be heard from again.

Why don't I finish posts when I start them? Sometimes I don't have time to finish it all the way. Sometimes I'm worried that I've posted too much at one time and then that will lead to weeks of nothing to post about. Sometimes I'm still trying to think through some of the thoughts before I post something rambling and without a coherent argument. Other times I'm concerned I've written a post that's too revealing or belongs on a blog entitled HIAHSelfishness or HIAHMeanness or HIAHCynicism. Regardless, the result is the same: the post never sees the light of the blog.

I hadn't really been able to understand why this phenomenon was occurring, until I read this post from an author whose blog I stumbled onto. As Ms. Cabot points out from her experiences (she actually hates outlining, not drafting):

But the truth is, story ideas don't come along often, and when they do, you have to treat them with care. Outlining them too thoroughly—even TALKING about them too much over coffee with a friend--can actually ruin them, because it can make you feel as if the story is already told.

I kinda feel this way about some of my posts. Maybe it's just because blog posts are generally so short that it seems silly to go through an editing/review phase. It could also be because I don't possess the discipline to draft and edit. I don't really know, since I haven't done much writing beyond college papers, technical documentation, and custom work estimates.

I'm now going to save this as a draft so I can go get ready and get to church on time. :)

- - -

I'm back now. I edited a few things above, but mostly I'm done now. I just want to let you know that I will no longer be saving my posts as drafts to be reviewed and finished later. I will also be working through my current backlog of posts that are in various stages of completeness, and getting those out there. I hope you'll enjoy a little more raw posting, and a little less cleaned up versions of the random crap in my brain.

Thoughts on Blogging

I've decided I must not be committed enough to the blogging concept. It appears that most of the interesting blogs I read (rather than the ones that aren't interesting) do a whole lot more stuff than I do here at HIAHS.

Pictures: Other bloggers seem to use pictures. We have a digital camera, but it is always in my husband's possession, so I never have access to it. Taking film pictures and scanning them is just silly. I could search for associated pictures on the internet, but am (apparently) too lazy to figure out how to add that to my blog. I'm just words with nothing pretty to look at.

Tags: Other bloggers categorize their posts to allow for better searching of their content. There are custom categories, and technorati categories, and del.i.cious categories, and other bloggers use these nifty little tools. This has just always seemed like too much effort to get started (do I have to recategorize all my old posts, etc.), and so I haven't done it.

Counters: Other bloggers know how many people come to read their blogs. It seems they also know what domain those folks came from (allowing extrapolation to country of origina, etc.). I went looking for one of those nifty programs once before, but the first one I found cost money, so I quit looking.

Searches: Other bloggers know what searches are used to allow people to find their blogs. This seems to be linked to the previous part about counters -- maybe it's the same software? Regardless, I don't really think people find my blog randomly, so I don't imagine there are too many interesting search criteria used to get here.

Then, there is the fact that a lot of other folks just seem to post way more often than I do. They either have way more interesting lives, or they find topics or regular themes or something else to motivate additional post-fodder. I know we're all supposed to live our own lives and not worry about keeping up with the Joneses, but I just keep asking myself why I go to other people's blogs, and whether there are some things I could do to make my blog more appealing to the masses.

And then I realize that would take a lot of time and effort. Time and effort that I'm not really willing to commit to blogging. And so my few readers will continue to be stuck with no pictures, no categorization of posts, no counters, and no recaps of what searches brought readers here. And I will continue to be content that my posts don't garner 50 comments apiece. And I'll keep enjoying reading the blogs of people who do choose to spend that much time on their blogs. And I'll stop starting sentences with "And."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hour Long Commute

This past week, there was a day where it took me an hour to get to work. Generally my commute is more like 15-20 minutes, and when traffic gets really bad it might take 30 minutes, instead. But this particular day, it wasn't a traffic problem that delayed me. However, I was a traffic problem delaying some other folks in their commutes.

I was waiting at a stoplight in the right-hand lane, but a ways back in the line. As I sat there, my car sputtered and died. I tried to start it again, but it wouldn't go. And then the light turned green, and I was blocking traffic. Had I been moving, I could have coasted into a parking lot, but there's not much coasting to be done from a standstill. So, what does a person do next in this situation? Turn on the flashers, put the car in neutral, and try to push it. Now, I don't have a small car, but a massively heavy car. I didn't make much progress -- maybe a centimeter or so. A man got out of his car and helped push. We made more progress that way, but still not enough. Then another man emerged to help, and then another, and then another. With four folks pushing and me just steering at that point, we got the car into a parking space in just a few minutes. One of the guys offered to call a tow truck and a woman pulled over and asked if I needed a ride. I politely declined both offers, and gushingly thanked everyone for their help as they were all running off to get to their own jobs, no doubt. I have to say that I was completely overwhelmed by the number of people who stopped to help a stupid girl who ran out of gas a block and a half from the gas station. I just would never have expected that to happen. Certainly was a nice surprise. Thanks, Austin!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Marathon Training: Week 15

This was a good week for running. There were a couple of days that were colder than I like, but my husband even joined me for one of the four-miles runs during the week, so it was fun. Lots of firsts this week:

  • First time I ran a marathon in a single week. Actually 28 miles.
  • During my long run, I matched my previous long run of 11 miles,
  • And then I completed the 12 miles I was supposed to do two weeks ago,
  • And then I completed my first half-marathon,
  • On my way to completing a 14-mile long run.

    I did cheat a little, employing that staple of the endurance athlete, GU. But considering how badly I cratered in my last long run, I decided that wimping out was less bad than sitting on the side of the road trying to have enough energy to continue.
  • Monday, October 30, 2006

    An "Extra" Hour

    Saturday night, we received the best present possible -- time. I went to bed late, slept in the next morning, and still had time to run my four miles, take a shower and be to church early. What decadence!

    Then the confusion sets in as I try to keep track of which clocks have been updated and which have not. But is all this stress and changing of clocks really necessary?

    In this map of the time zones, you can easily see that those of us in the United States have been victims of some pretty severe time zone gerrymandering. Clearly, from this diagram, if our lines hadn't been moved all over the place to align with something that someone thought would be more right, the city of Austin would have been in section T -- placing us seven hours before Universal Time, and therefore in traditional Mountain Time. In general, that means we would stay in the Central Daylight Time we just left all year round.

    While I enjoyed my extra hour of sleep this weekend, I still think we should have stayed in CDT, or more appropriately, we should be in Mountain Standard Time all year long. Why do I feel this way? I run in the morning, so you'd think I would want light for that time. However, I have mostly run in the dark till now anyway, so light a little earlier is not likely to affect me. Mostly, though, I abhor the fact that it will now be dark when I leave work today. I hate the early hastening of the dark sad time of the year known as winter, when the days get so short that you start to forget what the sun looks like. I know I shouldn't complain -- I'm so far south that this is barely an issue compared to all the folks that live in the north. But I've grown spoiled with the days of sunshine, and I depend on it to remain sane (if you can call me sane). Without the abrupt changing of the hours, I would have been eased into this part of the year where I leave work in the dark. I might have had time to adjust. But now, when I left work on Friday it was light, and when I leave today, the sun will have already departed. No adjustment period allowed.

    I know Daylight Savings Time was initially suggested as a way to help out farmers dealing with businesses, primarily banks, be able to work their fields and still get to town as necessary. At this point, that argument is now archaic and completely useless. People are expected to continue to remember an arbitrary rule set up during a time when the country was virtually entirely agrarian, when most of us now couldn't even distiguish a combine from a hay baler. Last year congress wasted time while figuring out the latest energy bill to debate adding four more weeks to daylight savings time. Apparently this was, at least partly, motivated by a desire to give the kids more daylight in which to collect candy on Halloween. If, instead, they had just spent the same time realigning our country with the longitude lines that were originally intended to be used in time zone definition, we'd all be better off.

    Some people say that the lines squiggle around to keep whole states together in the same time zone. If that's the case, then why are so many states, including Texas, divided anyway? if you're going to divide South Dakota into two zones, why not divide it along the longitude line, rather than some other arbitrary location? I, for one, wouldn't care if Austin was in Mountain Time and Houston was in Central Time. It would just add to the flavor of the state.

    Why isn't this incredibly important issue front-and-center on everyone's election platforms this year? If someone promised me they'd move Austin into Mountain Time, I'd vote for them.

    Saturday, October 28, 2006

    Marathon Training: Week 14

    After a week and a half of lackluster commitment to running, I'm back. Being sick gave me an acceptable excuse for skipping a few runs, and that was all it took to get me back to my lazy non-running self. I skipped more than the few runs needed to get back to healthy, and I suffered for it. I even had the thought that maybe I wasn't cut out to do a marathon. I had the thought, but that doesn't mean I entertained it.

    This week, starting Tuesday, I kicked myself in the rear and figured I better get moving again. I did just twelve miles this week, but the big thing is that I'm back on track. I'm now into the part of the training where I have a long run every other week, and the other week is half my long distances. The "long" run was just set to be six miles, and those six miles went well. It was just encouraging to have a good Saturday run to get back into it properly. And, after all the bad runs I've had in the multiples-of-six-mile runs, it was good to break that streak. Now I'm ready for this week, too.

    Tuesday, October 24, 2006

    Stuff in My Desk Drawer

    I opened my drawer at work recently, and was sort of surprised by the random collection that resides there. Currently in that top drawer are:

  • a rubberband chain about eight feet long
  • additional rubberbands that never made it into the chain
  • packages of Orbit citrusmint flavor gum, which was my favorite for a week
  • the box for my desk phone's hands-free headset
  • containers of generic ibuprofen from Target and Albertson's
  • a container of Sortkwik, used to moisten fingers for faster and more accurate collation (which I do once a year in preparation for the client conference, but brought from Motorola where I hadn't collated anything in years)
  • a half-completed McDonalds Monopoly game board
  • four ketchup packets
  • a bag of honey-lemon cough drops
  • a protractor
  • assorted sizes of PostIt notes, all yellow
  • an assorted pile of paperclips, binder clips, and desk/chair hardware that I hope isn't necessary
  • two containers of sour apple Altoids
  • a pair of socks I must've worn a month ago, but in a fidgety conference call, removed
  • the owner's manual to my keyboard (longer than most keyboard manuals)

    Who keeps this kind of junk in their desk at work? Someone who's been there way too long, and is way too comfortable with staying right where they are. I guess it's a good thing our office is moving to a new building on Congress at the end of this week. It'll give me a good reason to throw away a whole lot of stuff that I should have been throwing away as I was going along.
  • Saturday, October 21, 2006

    Marathon Training: Week 13

    After being sick the last part of last week, I started back into running very slowly. I was concerned that I needed more days to heal. I only ran 2 miles on Wednesday as a result. It wasn't probably the best prep for today's twelve-mile run, but I did survive it (but let's not speak of today's run ever again), and I did get healthy. Now on to the next week.

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    Cowboy Mouth at Antone's

    Tonight I went to see Cowboy Mouth at Antone's. I'd never been to a concert there, though I've walked by it numerous times (it's near a club I visited during our customer conference last spring), and it always sounds like good fun is going on inside. I had seen Cowboy Mouth before, but last time it was at La Zona Rosa, which has some similarities to Antone's as a venue. I think the stage is higher at LZR, which worked well with CM. But I digress.

    The opening band was called Johnny Sketch, and they were amazing! I love to see band members that look like they are enjoying themselves, and this was definitely the case with this group. Add to that fact the non-standard instrumentation including a tenor sax and a trumpet (they said flugelhorn, but it wasn't that big), and you find yourself in one rocking ensemble. We were a little late arriving at the show, so we missed probably 15 minutes of their set. Regardless, they were a lot of fun (you know that's the case when you remember the name of the opening band at the end of the show).

    Then CM came onstage. They have a new bass player since I last saw them, but they seemed like they've been playing together forever. Fred (the drummer/lead singer) will not allow the crowd to just listen -- the audience is part of a Cowboy Mouth show. You have no choice but to get involved: singing, jumping, clapping, screaming -- it's all expected. Fred threw a half dozen sticks into the crowd, and Johnny even threw out his pick. It was tons of fun, especially watching the people who were there. After two solid hours of "Southern Louisiana Rock" I walked back to my car trying to learn how to hear again. And we didn't even stay near the speakers where we started out.

    Ah, good fun. And all the better to enjoy with your girlfriend when both husbands are out of town. It's mostly nice just to pretend we aren't normally in bed by 9:30.

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    Sad Music Addendum

    As always seems to happen, as soon as something is declared finished, more ideas come to mind. I can't imagine how authors do it -- deciding that something is really finished and ready to go to print must be awfully tough.

    After completing my recent assignment, I realized there were some doozies I left off the list. And since I don't have a publisher that prevents me from modifying and adding things, I decided I can add additional songs here.

    "Hate Me" by Blue October

    I often feel like my husband is struggling in the same kinds of ways as the protagonist in this song. Depression instead of addiction, but very similar struggles. There are times I see this as the only kind of outcome that will keep my life intact. I'm not sure I'd get the kind of mature release that is described in this song, but maybe that's a realization that doesn't come to the leavee until well after the leaver has done their leaving. Depression is a life-sucking monster -- especially when sufferers can't/won't/don't do something about it. We actually had a really good talk recently which might lead to him getting some help, but we'll have to see how that plays out.

    "The Dance" by Garth Brooks

    I don't listen to a lot of country, but I did attend Texas A&M, so I was exposed to it. Somewhere along the line I decided I liked Garth Brooks, and bought one of his albums. When I met my husband, he also didn't like country, but had purchased one lone album from the genre. And, you guessed it, it was the same one. The only overlapping CD in our collections.

    This song is one of those songs about how you can't enjoy the mountains in life without the valleys for comparison.

    And now I'm glad I didn't know
    The way it all would end the way it all would go
    Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
    But I'd have had to miss the dance

    Touching, how looking back, one might choose to make the same decisions, even knowing how a particular situation or relationship might turn out.

    "He" by Jars of Clay

    I realized the other night as I left their most recent concert, that I am glad they didn't sing this song. Crying in private in one's home or car is different than crying at a concert with lots of people around. The lyrics to this song are such a poignant look at children who suffer abuse, that I wonder which of the four of the members of the band had the experience that hit so close to home. Especially the line

    And they think I fell down, again

    just gets me. The picture of kids screaming in whatever ways they feel that they can, and not getting heard is just devastating.

    "Butterfly Kisses" by Bob Carlisle

    This is an overly sentimental song, but melodrama always gets me. If something is "supposed" to make a person cry, you can just about guarantee that will include me. Speaking of crying in public places, people who use this song at their weddings aren't nice. Wedding attendance is one of the few things that motivate me to wear makeup -- and then you want to go make me mess it up?

    Sorry I had to create a second post on these kinds of songs, but there were just too many more to leave them out!

    Sunday, October 15, 2006

    Paying for Clean Energy

    I recently started to respond to a post on clean energy, and found that I had more to say than I thought. So, I decided to post on the topic here on my own blog.

    I honestly think that if those of us with the means to pay for for cleaner energy don't opt to do so, we are dooming the ability for those energy producers to get to the point where they can make energy cheaper for the general public.

    I would equate the need to pay more for cleaner energy in the short term less to a moral issue and more like the ability for more wealthy people to pay for a higher quality of health care. You get better health care if you can pay more, whether that's through your insurance or your own cash. Whether you agree with that or not, that's the way it is. As treatments become more common, and more sought after, they become cheaper and covered by more insurance plans, and they become available to people with less means.

    For people with the means to pay for cleaner energy who choose not to do so, they are acting irresponsibly with the lives of those who come after us. It's sort of like knowing there is a procedure that would save your child's life when they are deathly ill, no moral or religious concerns about the procedure, and having the means to proceed, but just choosing not to have it done. Are we really that callous a people?

    So, what is my family doing on this front? If we weren't doing something, that would make us awfully hypocritical. We have been trying to get on the City of Austin Green Power program, but it's very popular and nearly impossible to become a part of it. We have decided that solar energy the only way to participate in the immediate term from our location in the city, since we don't have enough land to produce our own wind or hydro energy. We've investigated the ability to sell any overflow power back to the energy grid, looked into the different technologies available for solar panels, and are saving up for the initial outlay for the equipment. We expect to have those panels in place within the year.

    There are always other things to do to reduce your energy footprint, and other things that we are doing at our house, as well. I would submit that if you have a computer and enough free time to have read this entry, that you have the means to make decisions to help the environment with your money. And nothing speaks louder to our country than how you choose to spend your money. What are you doing?

    Marathon Training: Week 12

    All I can say is that it's a good thing this was scheduled to be an "easy" week. I had run my two 4-mile runs this week, and then on Thursday, I came down with the cold/flu that's been running around the office. I ran a low-grade fever Thursday and Friday, and proceeded to try to take care of myself. Saturday morning I got up and felt much better, and while I knew I was still not completely better, I figured if I ran slow I'd be okay. And besides, my long run was only scheduled to be 6 miles, so I figured that would be manageable. While I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, I don't always make good decisions.

    About a mile in my fever was back, and I thought about quitting. But I didn't, and by mile 4 when I made the decision to quit, I was too far from the house to do anything but finish the mileage. I thought about asking the nice people that were out and about in their neighborhoods to give me a ride home. I wished I'd brought my cell phone to call someone to come get me. Regardless, that last hallucinatory mile was completed, and I can still say I have completed all my long runs on the program.

    Now I'm back to sleeping and drinking lots of water to try to get back on the appropriate track for next week.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Jars of Clay at Stubbs

    This weekend I went to see Jars of Clay at Stubbs. Now Stubbs is one of my all-time favorite venues, and I've gone to see bands I've never heard of there. Jars of Clay is one of my favorite bands, and the only band I've seen more than once. So, when I heard they were coming to Austin and playing Stubbs, I had no choice but to attend.

    The first time I saw them was at a church in Fort Worth while I was in college. There couldn't have been more than 300 people there, and they did a fully acoustic set, including a violin and cello on a couple of the tracks. After having been involved in a church band for a while now, I have a real appreciation for how much harder it is to make a quiet acoustic song sound good than a really loud, rocking song. But even then, I realized how talented these guys were to make that intimate setting work.

    The next year there was a new album, a new tour, and a grammy under their belt, so they had a bigger venue. That year, I saw them open for Michael W. Smith at the Astrodome in Houston. I'm not generally a big MWS fan, but he is a talented musician, and can certainly draw a crowd worthy of the Astrodome booking. And Jars sounded amazing in the big place, too. Their second album was generally passed over, but I think it's been their best so far. It was a reflective album, but it concerted well. I doubt "concerted" is a word, but I have a documented knack for making up words when I need them.

    This weekend they were promoting their sixth album, which is a rocking look at the juxtaposition between the good and bad in all of us. Much higher energy than previous albums, and the show was, too. It was like they're all grown up now. They have a more robust sound, but they still stay true to their talented roots. Some of the vocals were muddied through some of the songs, but on the whole, it was a great show. Lots of fun, and I'm glad I went.

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Another Odd Anniversary to Celebrate

    This week I received a small box in the mail. It contained a butterfly necklace from my Aunt in strange Aunt in California. It seemed strange to receive a present (and yes, I assumed it was for me, and was not a silver necklace intended for my husband) when my birthday was a while back, and Christmas is still a ways off. So I opened the card next.

    I'm sure your mother taught you like mine did to always open the card before the present, but I've stopped doing this since I got married. Mostly, because my mother-in-law has a habit of telling you what she got you in the card, and then is disappointed you aren't more surprised when you open the gift. I try to still open the card first if my mother is around, but other than that, I don't worry about it. And the box wasn't wrapped, so it sort of just fell open.

    Regardless, the card said something to this effect:

    Dear Heather, Your grandmother loved butterflies, and wore butterfly jewelry quite often. I hope this necklace will remind you of her as we celebrate her one-year anniversary in heaven. Love, Your Crazy Aunt

    One might think, upon reading this note, that the necklace in question was something from grandmother's butterfly collection that might bear some sentimental value. But, no. This is silver, and grandmother always wore gold. And I've certainly never seen this necklace, so it holds no sentimental value for me. So my aunt actually went into a store and bought multiple pieces of butterfly jewelry (both my sisters received similar packages) for this express morbid reason. I can just imagine the overly friendly clerk getting a little freaked out when they ask my aunt if these are gifts for a special occasion.

    Monday, October 09, 2006

    Marathon Training: Week 11

    Last week was a pretty good running week. I did miss my first required 4-mile middle-of-the-week run, but I did all the optional runs to make up for it. Justification aside, the eleven-mile long run on Saturday felt great. I was even able to speed up about 1.5 minutes on the pace for my last mile to finish it out.

    In several of my runs this week, I crossed some train tracks. I never actually heard or saw the train, but I know it comes through early in the morning on the weekend, because we've heard neighbors complain about the noise. Anyway, it came to my attention that there is a big sign along the tracks, where the train engineer could see it. That sign has a blinking red X that I assume means that the train shouldn't be coming that way -- that traffic is only lined up for the other way. My only question is, Is that really expected to work? I mean, trains take a long time to stop, and a little blinking red X sign doesn't seem the most effective way to avoid a head-on collision of trains.

    "Sorry about that massive accident with the chemical fires and all the dead people. I saw the blinking X a mile back, but I just couldn't stop in time."

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    What? A Year of This Crap?

    Today is my one-year blogging anniversary. I've probably learned something about myself this year, but then again, maybe I haven't. Mostly I've just rambled on about things that, together, interest no one but myself. Or maybe that's just the sentiment of a person that hopes they're more unique than they really are.

    Regardless, I thank you for the opportunity to bore you with my stories, and I hope to continue to do more of the same. And maybe throw a few interesting ones in there, too, just to keep you guessing.

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Songs that Make Me Cry

    There are way more books that make me cry than songs (so you can imagine I'm a wreck when I read), but I have been challenged to continue building on the meme started by George. And I cannot back down from a challenge. Just ask that poor guy from college during that truth or dare game.

    As I was thinking about which songs make me cry, I realized that there are a lot of them. So, for the sake of brevity, I have only selected songs that have made me cry more than once. Be thankful for that.

    "Home Free" by Wayne Watson

    This is essentially one of those cathartic songs Mr. Watson wrote after a friend died of cancer. Perhaps because my grandfather was the only person I knew at the time that had died of cancer, I have this song associated with that event. It's not a timing thing since he died in '86 and the song didn't come out until '90, but there you have it. When I hear this song, I grieve for my grandma who's been living without my grandpa all these years. This album was the first tape I ever bought with my own money, too. When the tape got jammed in my player and snapped, I pieced it back together and it still plays to this day (well, at least until the last day I owned a tape player). And wouldn't you know it, the tear was in this song, so it seems weird when I hear it on the radio, and the little tape-blip isn't there.

    "Cats in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin

    This is one of those classic regret songs -- a warning, really, to the rest of us to not have this happen to you.

    I've long since retired and my son's moved away.
    I called him up just the other day.
    I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind."
    He said, "I'd love to, dad, if I could find the time.
    You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kid's got the flu,
    But it's sure nice talking to you, dad.
    It's been sure nice talking to you."
    And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
    He'd grown up just like me.
    My boy was just like me.

    There was some day when I really listened to the words of this song, and I realized my relationship with my Dad was following this path. And while I'm not his son, I still felt like the song was pointing out that I had a choice to not wait until my Dad regretted things, but to do something. I think I can safely say, I have heeded the warning, and have not grown up to be just like my Dad. And we have a pretty good relationship now, too.

    "Brave" by Nichole Nordeman

    I am small
    And I speak when I'm spoken to
    But I am willing to risk it all
    I say Your name
    Just Your name and I'm ready to jump
    Even ready to fall...

    Reminds me to go out and take risks. It points out to me when I've been too meek (kind of a constant battle for me), and reminds me that I can be bold and go out and do stuff!

    "Your Body is a Wonderland" by John Mayer

    I know there are lots of people out there that think John Mayer is beyond cheesy. This song is so romantic, though, and it causes me to tear up. It makes me cry if things have been going well between my husband and I because I realize how good I really have it, and it makes me cry when things aren't going so well because I've experienced this and miss it. The most touching line in the whole song is:

    I'll never let your head hit the bed
    Without my hand behind it

    And those of you rolling your eyes -- "you're heartless bastards! Heartless I tell you!" (from an English professor in college when none of us had completed a required reading, and thus didn't raise our hands when he asked who cried in a certain part of the story).

    "I Want to Be Just Like You" by Phillips, Craig, and Dean

    This is such a touching sentiment. It's basically the writer's prayer to be the best man and father that he can be, because his child learns more from his actions than from anything else -- this overwhelming responsibility to be a good example to his kids, so they grow up right, respectful and loving and as Christ-like as they can strive to be. The chorus pretty much covers it all:

    Lord, I want to be just like You
    'Cause he wants to be just like me
    I want to be a holy example
    For his innocent eyes to see
    Help me be a living Bible, Lord
    That my little boy can read
    I want to be just like You
    'Cause he wants to be like me

    "The Leader of the Pack" by the Shangri-Las

    I'm a sucker for a sad story. This is the story of a girl who fell for a guy in a motorcycle gang. Her parents made her dump him, and he drove off and crashed his bike and died. Very melodramatic and over the top, and it makes me cry.

    "Sometimes Miracles Hide" by Bruce Carroll

    Another ballad. I feel like a broken, crying record. This chronicles the struggles of a couple that tried hard to have kids, and then finally got pregnant. Early in their pregnancy, they find out there are problems, and are encouraged to abort. They don't, and they have a daughter that is extremely disabled, but one day she goes to school on the bus, all by herself. Ultimately they realize that their blessing may not have been in the package they expected, but she is a blessing nonetheless.

    Next up: Kyle, Amy, and Monica -- you've been tagged to continue this process, and share about the songs that force your emotions to the surface. I'll look forward to your entries.

    Saturday, September 30, 2006

    Marathon Training: Weeks 9 and 10

    Week 9 was so bad I couldn't even write about it last week. Here's the short version:

    I completed 20 miles of running, culminating in a long run of 9 miles. Because of bad weather on Saturday (excessively humid in the morning and pouring rain with hail in the afternoon), I ran it on a treadmill. Which sucked. Not doing that again.

    Week 10 was better, so I can even write about it already this morning!

    I ran my long run of 10 miles this morning. It was so cool and comfortable outside that the run was exceptionally pleasant. I even found myself speeding up towards the end of the run, which was a really nice feeling.

    Today's completed run puts me a third of the way through my training for the marathon in February. I have run 133 miles in 30.5 hours over the last ten weeks. I never imagined I would run anywhere close to that many miles in the same year even. "Amazing" is the only word I have for this.

    In other news, I ran in different style clothes today. I have been running in running shorts and tight shirts. Since I run mostly in the early morning, I catch my shadow as cars drive by with their headlights on or from street lights along my route. I had noticed that my shadow really looked like my butt needed a sign on it that says "WIDE LOAD". I spent much time trying to figure out if this was true, or some kind of weird optical illusion. Today I ran in a loose shirt and a pair of tight spandex shorts. The shadows now looked proportional, the way I thought I looked. So, I've determined that my running clothes make my butt look big, and it's time to get some new ones. Oh, and there's the fact that my running shorts are all hand-me-downs, and are all too big, which might also be contributing to the wide load look. But whatever. The conclusion is the same.

    Sunday, September 17, 2006

    Marathon Training: Week 8

    This week was a light week. Every fourth week is supposed to be a rest week, and this was mine. I thought about changing things up since I slacked off so bad in Week 6. But I decided I don't understand the ramifications of changing up the training plan, so I just stepped back in last week and continued on with the plan, as designed. This week's mileage total was 15 miles.

    You have to give a program credit when one more mile just doesn't seem like that much. I haven't been afraid of a run, which makes it easier to get out there and do it. The eight-mile run yesterday was tough, but I really think that has more to do with the humidity in the air than anything else. The last two miles found me with a high heartrate and that's the marker for getting to feeling bad enough to have to walk. And, I did have to walk for about a tenth of a mile just to get my heartrate back down.

    I also had a great chance to practice my biofeedback-esque heartrate lowering exercises. I use a combination of deep breathing and concentration to lower my heartrate and prolong a run before it becomes a walk. I've had pretty decent success in the past with it, but yesterday I was too distracted to make it work quite right. I did still prolong my run, just not quite far enough. But, I learned some valuable things about the process that I can use in the future.

    Thursday, September 14, 2006

    And To You, Too!

    To the person that wrote a note to my car:

    Thank you for the thoughtfulness that led to you writing a note and putting it under my windshield while I was at lunch. My car was obviously lonely, and appreciated the company. It was very nice the way you carefully crafted your two-word message with the lovely exclamation point and the three lines below it. It was especially poignant that you drafted the message on a napkin, as I was likely using mine inside the restaurant at the time.

    My car tried to tell me that it thinks that you intended the message for me, but since I was nicely parked at least 6 inches from the cars on either side of me (and certainly within my space), I told it that couldn't be the case. I told my car it should appreciate the comments it receives, and it doesn't need to be modest, diverting attention from itself. It was so insistent, though, that I had to give it a second thought.

    However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if anyone had wanted to convey something to me about my parking, they would have been more verbose, explaining in great detail my precise infraction. There wasn't anyone else on the row when I parked, so I didn't "steal" anyone else's space. I didn't bump my door into the neighboring car when I emerged, even though the spaces are very small, so that couldn't have been the concern. So, since there wasn't a direct explanation of my great overstepping, I assume the message must have been meant for my car.

    And Car, you have to understand that different people have different tolerance levels for how pretty and clean you are. It doesn't have any bearing on how I feel about you. I still love you. And the person who wrote the note loves you too -- they just haven't figured out how to express that appropriately.


    Tuesday, September 12, 2006

    Movie Mayhem

    We went to see a late showing of "A Scanner Darkly", and it created some odd experiences. My husband dropped me off to get seats and went to pick up a friend who has no car. I was the first person in the theater, and sat down in the middle. The second person who came in made eye contact with me, and then proceeded to sit on my same row with just two seats between us. This seemed very odd, but I assumed I was overreacting to the situation. Apparently this location was too far away, though, so when his friend came in, Guy #1 moved a seat closer to me.

    Some of you may have seen the emails that circulated a few years ago about urinal usage etiquette, and how it's important not to select a urinal too close to one that is already in use. I've never had use for that information, but much the same logic applies in other public settings. After he moved closer to me, I decided I didn't care if I was overreacting or if my actions were rude. I was uncomfortable with the three people in the theater all being within four seats of each other and not being a group. So I moved to another row.

    Then, if you've ever been to a movie at an Alamo Drafthouse location, you know they have a whole short film at the beginning about being quiet in the theater, encouraging patrons to flag any loud guests for management to deal with them (they probably don't deal with them in the same way as they do in the short films). I've never had to even think about doing that...until this particular night. About halfway through the movie, a guy on my new row started being exceptionally loud. Laughing in inappropriate places, telling his friend that certain characters were stoned, rehashing certain story points. My guess is he stepped out, got himself stoned, and returned to be a punk in the theater. His friend seemed really embarrassed, and much of the theater was obviously annoyed with this guy's antics. So why didn't anyone call for management to take his ass out?

    Besides all the strange activity in the theater, it was a good movie. However, since we saw it relatively late at night, we came home and I went straight to bed. I should probably stayed awake a while to process the movie before going to sleep. But since I didn't, I had my own short film inspired by the movie as a dream. Or nightmare, more like it.

    I was going about much my normal business, when people started reacting to me like they couldn't understand me. I knew I was doing drugs, but not enough to impair speech functions. As time progressed, I got to where I couldn't understand myself, and my motions became slower and more sluggish. As I couldn't understand what I was saying, I got scared, wondering what was happening to me. Panic and confusion increased and increased and then ... my screen went white ... and then little letters and numbers appeared on the screen arranged in a bootup sequence.

    Sunday, September 10, 2006

    Marathon Training: Week 7

    I recovered from my disastrous week last week. Whew.

    I ran my seven miles yesterday morning. It was a perfect day for a run -- cool and breezy, overcast but not raining. It was a very enjoyable experience. All told, I ran 20 miles this week. Again, not fast, but I made it, and ran the whole way. This constitutes a new personal best long run. My last was 6 miles in about 1999. I ran a lot faster back then, as I was in better shape, but whatever. I'll get back to that speed one day.

    As I was running in a new area, I came to be thinking about hills (there's a lot of time to think during a 7-mile run). The definition of a hill is very different depending on what you're doing. To "feel" a hill in a car, it has to be pretty big -- something like the 2222 or the Spicewood Springs hills from 360. That's about the only way the car really has to work hard, and many not be able to maintain it's speed on the incline. On a bike, hills creep up in more scenarios -- you're susceptible to a smaller incline before you slow down on a bike. While running, it seems to take almost no visible hill to require me to slow down while climbing. 'Course maybe that's cause I'm not in marathon shape yet. Maybe then it will take a slightly visible hill.

    Saturday, September 02, 2006

    Marathon Training: Week 6

    This was the first week I really did poorly with my running. I've run slow and I've had days where I walked some, but this week, laziness reached an all-time high. I only ran twice this week, making this week's total mileage only 8 miles. Quite the drop from last week's 17.

    Today I did my long run of 6 miles, regardless of the runs I missed this week. As I got going, I found that my heart rate monitor was not working quite right. It started out okay, climbing into the 150-160 range, and then it lost the connection. When it came back, it said my heart rate was 128 which immediately jumped to 228. So, I quit looking at it. I have a tendency to start out too fast, and then I use that monitor as a speed limiter, but now without the limiter, it was interesting to see how I did. I still started out too fast, but I lasted at that speed for a little over 4 miles. Then I cratered, and ran less than 3/4 of the last two miles. Overall, I finished in about the total time that I should have, so that gives you an idea of how quickly I was going at first. However, I have to learn to read my body, rather than relying on a digital readout, so this was a good experience from that perspective.

    Ultimately, though, it was a hard run because I skipped way too many runs this week. Here are some of the excuses I used with myself to get out of running.

    I'm tired. This one is actually relatively legit. You try to be rested when your husband comes home between 2 and 4 in the morning and then wants to talk about his day for a while. The alarm clock comes early on those days.

    I'm dehydrated. Also probably true, but not that hard to do something about it.

    I need to reread the form chapter. I have felt that I could probably get some good insights for my form runs by rereading that chapter, but that's no reason to not run them the way I have been so far. Or just reread the chapter.

    My legs are sore. Actually getting out and running makes this go away.

    I woke up too late. Wah. This leads to...

    I'll run tonight instead. Ha! We all know that won't happen. If I don't run in the morning the afternoons are even harder, because of...

    It's hot outside. This is mostly how I convinced myself out of those afternoon runs when I didn't run that morning.

    Better get back out there this week and run past the excuses. Next week has to be better.