Compulsory Public Service

Someone on my LJ friends list is in favor of having a sort of compulsory public service instituted in the US.

As a rational anarchist1, I’m against that.

This is not to say I am against public service projects. Not in the least. What I do say is that they should be voluntary.

I challenge anyone in favor of compulsory public service: If you haven’t done so (and perhaps many of you have. Good for you if you do!), pick a public service project and donate ten hours a month of your time to it.

Volunteerism on a regular basis doesn’t happen as often as it could. There are a lot of reasons for this. Housewives used to be the big volunteer base in the US, and between high taxation and a higher perceived “minimum” standard of living2, the stay at home mom is a rare bird. (For good or for bad. Me? I prefer to support myself, but that’s a personal taste thing). Government services have increased to the point where we genuinely believe that it is the Government’s job to take care of social needs, and we seem willing to pay for charity to be a highly specialized profession. We have a mental blind spot about it.

I’m not saying this as someone who spends a lot of her time volunteering. Maybe you count Polyfamilies as a community building volunteer type project. If so, I don’t do it any more, and that’s five years out of 37, ya know? And I don’t really count it. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of the fact I haven’t spent much time on community service, but I did want the facts straight.

I do think community service is a good and worthy thing. I just don’t think we should use our young adults as slave labor because we can’t be arsed to get off our butts ourselves! We’d be setting ourselves up for another fiasco like Social Security! I’m all for setting an example. You think community service is important? Go do it! Yes, many readers do. And good for you! Talk it up on your LJs, cause people should see a good example to follow.

1 “A rational anarchist believes that concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame . . . as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world . . . aware that his effort will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure.” — The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein

2 House size has increased threefold since the 1950s. — http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/1088198054084680

But I'm TIRED!

In a change of topic to shock everyone, I’m going to talk about.

<drum roll>

Gaining physical fitness when you start out obese and severely out of shape.1

One of the realities of being quite overweight is that you are often flipping tired! Will taking off fat and building muscle help? Of course. No-one argues that. But, if you’re like a lot of other people you’re told, “Oh exercise is great, exercise is wonderful, you’ll feel so much more energetic if you work out!”

Yes, and no.

What very few people who try to encourage us to work out say is, “The first month of starting a fitness program, even a very sensible one within your present fitness level, is going to mean that you are going to be tired. You’re going to need an extra half an hour to an hour’s sleep a night so that your body can build the muscle it needs to start getting stronger and more energetic.”

Oh, they’ll slip in “get plenty of sleep”, and yes, that’s good advice, but the detail is generally lacking. I’m not sure why. Maybe they’re afraid of scaring us off from starting. It’s a mistake, though. We know how to cope with difficult. We do it every day of our lives.

It doesn’t scare me to know that I’ll be tired for a month, but the payoff will be feeling great after that! I bet it doesn’t scare you, either. But, if I’m told, “Just exercise and you’ll feel great”, and I don’t feel great for weeks, I’m going to think something is wrong. Why in the world would I keep up with that? And why don’t more exercise proponents talk about it?

The problem is a simple one. It’s easy to forget what starting out feel like. I woke up this morning feeling a little sore because I’d done some different lifts last night. But it was a “good” sore — kind of a “Go muscles for gettin’ all strong and stuff!” When I got in to work, I ran up to the third floor with Disturbed blasting in my iPod, and my backpack full of exercise gear because I could and it felt great! I felt like I could wrestle a grizzly bear, give him the first fall, then eat him raw without salt. Back in July when I was starting out with serious lifting, I was resting at each landing (which I hadn’t been doing before) because my muscles were sore and I was tired.

A properly designed exercise routine isn’t an instant payoff thing. Oh, you’ll notice little positive changes early on. If you have trouble sleeping, you might find you sleep more deeply, and wake feeling a little better. When I found a cardio-type exercise that didn’t hurt, I was lucky enough to start getting the endorphin rushes pretty early on. You’ll notice little subtle changes in strength and endurance if you pay attention, but they are pretty subtle. In general, though, at the end of the day, you’re going to be tired. That’s okay. Your body is obediently trying to adapt to your new routine and needs the sleep to do it.

But that wonderful rush of energy and strength is a minimum of a month away — more likely two or three.

Thing is, you’ve sweated out two or three months of something difficult to get something good. I know all of you have. You might have a college degree, or have tediously practiced an instrument to learn to play, or done any of a number of things. This is no different, really.

1Yes, I do have other things on my mind, but they mostly involve getting Keith Hamilton Cobb in… Nevermind… Don’t want you clawing out your eyeballs.

Proud as Lucifer

I had a glorious swim today. I checked out a whiteboard that had a workout for a swim team on it, and I figured I’d try to do as much of it as I could in 20 minutes.

It felt great, slicing through the water, feeling my limbs extend and pull as I tried strokes I don’t often use, doing the intervals and just having a deliciously wonderful time getting all hot and out of breath.

After he workout, I bounded out of the pool, and pulled off my cap, feeling the hot slap of my wet hair hit my back.1. I went to get my towel, ID and my workout record sheet.2. One of the lifeguards caught my eye and went over to a table to sign off on the sheet.

“Good job,” he said as he took the sheet, and signed it, then said Very Seriously again, “Good job.”

I had been flying up until then. While my mouth smiled, I thanked and I left the pool area normally, I cringed into a little ball inside.

Why?

It embarrassed me that a boy young enough to be my son said such a thing. Now, I have accepted similar compliments from boys that much younger than I am before and wiggled with satisfaction and accomplishment. Granted, they usually wore white pajamas and had black belts around their waists, but they were still that young.

I got to thinking about it as I showered the chlorine out of my hair and tried to pull jeans onto my slightly damp body.

That boy, a lifeguard and I suspect at least a junior swimming coach, did not mean the slightest harm or condescension in what he said. Far from it. For the last eight weeks, he’s seen me several times a week go to the pool. He’s watched my improvements in speed and form in the pool, and while I doubt he’s paid that much attention, my general shape change as well. I would bet a fair amount of money he thinks seeing improvement in anyone jumping in that pool is cool.

I’ve been called “as proud as Lucifer” more than once. I always kinda liked it. Damn’ right I’m proud! I’d think to myself. I did not get that this is not a compliment.

The classic story of Lucifer goes something like this:

Lucifer was the most beautiful of the angels and the closest Being to God, whom he loved with all his heart, soul and angelic might.

He watched with interest and excitement when God made the earth, separated the heavens from the earth, filled the sea with fish, and the land with animals. Then He made a Being in His own image — a being he loved and wanted His angels to love as well.

But then He asked for one thing more.

“I want you angels to bow down to this new Being.”

Lucifer was shocked. He was crushed. He was horrified. “But Lord, you cannot ask me to bow to any but you. I won’t do it!”

God, who could hardly believe anyone, much less His beloved Lucifer would defy Him, cast Lucifer from His sight.

Now…. That’s usually where the story ends.

But there’s more to it.

You see, God repented of His anger3 and reached out his hand to Lucifer, who by this time had decided he needed neither love nor kindness any more, he’d been too hurt and no longer trusted kindness or love. The angel turned his face from from his former Beloved to live in solitude with is own thoughts.4

You can draw many conclusions from the story and take many lessons5. For me, in this moment, the lesson of the story is not to close myself off from kindness, or be so proud that I’m embarrassed rather than pleased at it.

1 You can imagine how hard I was going for my hair to be hot in a pool!

2My insurance company will reimburse an amount that actually covers a basic gym membership at the college for employees if you get it documented that you worked out 2 times a week for 12 weeks out of 20. A sweet and easy deal.

3Don’t get shocked at the idea of God repenting of anger or judgment. God repents of many things in the Bible. Look it up!

4YOU HAVE PERHAPS HEARD THE PHRASE THAT HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE?
“Yes. Yes, of course.”
Death nodded. IN TIME, he said, YOU WILL LEARN THAT IT IS WRONG.
— (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)

5You could actually make a pretty good case for the fact that the One True Love idea is a serious sin.

Language and Choice

I have to go to work in the morning.

I have to get the house clean.

I have to finish this term paper.

I have to pay my bills.

I have to make this sweater for my mother.

Ever said anything like that? (Be honest, you have!) We all do. It’s an idiomatic quirk of the English language. Idioms are telling, however, and this is something I’ve been examining lately.

I’ve been doing an experiment lately –replacing “have to” with “choose to” or “want to”.

“Honey, I want to get enough sleep not to feel badly in the morning when I go to work, so I want to go to bed now.”

“I know that Martian Spider Silk would make a great sweater, but I am choosing to pay my rent rather than buy the silk at this time.”

“I want to get the house clean.”

I notice a serious emotional difference. Instead of feeling put upon, I feel a sense of power. Now, people often feel different things, but I find that because I am removing “have to” and “should” from my vocabulary, I am experiencing two things:

First, I feel a sense of empowerment. There is this sense of endless possibility, and I could choose any of it. This means, I am much more focused on doing what I really want.

Second, a sense of background guilt is gone. I don’t feel bad if I don’t clean the house. I chose not to! I didn’t skip out on what I “should” do. If I want a clean house more than I want to fuck around on the Internet, I am perfectly free to put the computer down and pick up the cleaning rag.

Now you might say, “But I don’t have a choice — not really!”

But you do. For every Harriet Tubman, there were hundred of people in the ante-bellum South who said, “I don’t like slavery, but I can’t help any of the slave escape. It’s too dangerous.”

What they were not saying was, “I am choosing not to help in this, as I do not want to risk myself/my wife/my husband/my children in this. My immediate family is more important.” This is not a judgment. Were my immediate family not more important to me than the General State of People I Don’t Know, I would be living very differently from how I choose to live.

When you remove “have to” from your life, all of a sudden you are faced with the fact that everything you do is a choice and it is very difficult to hide from facing the reality of choices you don’t want to make or are uncomfortable coping with the consequences of. I choose to be heavy rather than to diet, and I am aware that’s a choice. I choose to write a lot because it works for me and makes me happy. I choose to get rid of clutter, not because it’s acceptable to have a neat house, but because it makes me happy. If I say, “I am choosing not to clean the house” and there is food rotting in the sink, I am directly confronted with the fact that there are things more important to me than whether or not the house stinks. The consequence is there and there is nothing to hide behind.

We live in a culture that trains us to be uncomfortable with facing up to doing what we want. Not only that, but we live in a culture that is not very accepting of choice. You’re supposed to want to earn a lot of money and accumulate a lot of physical things whether that really makes you happy or not. You’re supposed to have children, and God forbid if you say you choose not to.

Facing the fact that everything you do is a choice takes a lot of courage. You really face up to your self in a lot of ways, and it can be a path to self-judgment. You can feel bad about yourself because you really don’t want what you should want, whether or not it’s because of idealism or something more external. It’s a risk, too. Try saying, “I choose to do X” to someone in your life who doesn’t want you to do X. You can get all kinds of reactions from (happily) supportive to downright hostility. You’ll be asked to justify yourself. Now certainly you can choose to, but ya know what? You do not have to make choices that you can explain to another person such that you get an agreement as to the validity of your choice. You might want to. That choice might work best for you. But you do not have to.

It’s always down to choice.

Bulk Cooking

Okay, you’ve probably run across the concept — bulk cooking, Once a Month Cooking (OAMC), Frozen Assets, Freezer Cooking.

Whatever you call it, the concept remains the same.  You cook meals ahead and freeze them.  Now, when you do this, the resultant meals are not going to send your little gourmet taste buds into quivering delight.  You’re not going to be getting perfect meals at their peak of flavor.  If that’s what you’re worried about more than anything, chances are good that cooking is a hobby or profession with you and you’re unlikely ever to let your hand rest on the phone while you argue with yourself that just because you’re tired from a long day at work, the kids are whining and you don’t feel creative, that it’s not an excuse to call for a pizza. If this is not your world, freezer cooking will likely mean little to you.

Now, while I genuinely do like my gourmet meals (I live with a chef, after all), I’m not up to that kind of cooking every night.  There are times when I just want my damned dinner and to be able to sit down with the family and not sweat too much how dinner got there.

There are a lot of ways to do it.  You may have heard of Once a Month Cooking. I’ll provide some links at the end of this article, but I do not do this.  If it sounds like a good idea to you, try it and let me know how it turned out.  You might sell me on it.

What I do is a little different.  I’ve seen it called “Mini sessions”.  I’ll have a certain kind of meat, then make a bunch of meals to freeze centered around that.   So, when I do my hamburger session, I’ll make meatballs, chili, shepherd’s pie, Impossible cheeseburger pie, and burritos.   My hamburger session is the big session and it takes about four hours.  The last chicken session, I made chicken pot pie, chicken curry, and froze some diced, cooked chicken that I can throw in a stir fry, or make into a spaghetti sauce — whatever I get a wild hare across my butt to do.    I think it took me about two hours of actual work.  I don’t count the time stuff is in a crock pot and I’m blissfully in the bath.  On my Italian session, I made a big ole pot of marinara sauce, pizzas, and two lasagnas.   That’s the quickest, and takes an hour or so, again not counting the time I spend screwing around doing other things while the marinara sauce cooks away in the crock pot.

To supplement this, I’ll make planned-overs. I’ll make a big pot of soup, cook it all day in the crock pot, have half to eat and freeze the other half before I serve the meal.  That’s a little trick I got from the Organizedhome.com.  If you don’t do this, people going back for seconds, or picking all the meat out, or whatever, will prevent that extra you cooked from being a full meal.

I’m not going to provide a million recipes, or anything like that.  The links at the bottom of the article have all this stuff quite well covered and I see no need to get into it again.  What I do what to talk about is how to make it work, and explain why it might be a desirable thing to do.

First on desirability?  It’s cheaper — a lot cheaper.  I actually questioned this when reading about bulk cooking in its various forms.  All of them were extolling the virtues of a home-cooked meal, and how it was cheaper than being all worn out and wanting to go through the drive through.  Well… I’ve got the home-cooked meal most nights covered.  I cannot recall the last time when even a working majority of my household went through a drive through.  It’s been a few months, I can tellya that!  We’ve ordered a pizza to be delivered twice in the last six months.  Resorting to fast food is just not something my family has really ever done much.  So, the savings there would be minimal.  You get the savings because bulk cooking forces you to plan.  (If you have a menu plan and shopping list you stick to over a period of months, then this method is not going to significantly increase grocery savings.   You’re already doing well.  Pat yourself on the back).  Bulk cooking also reduces waste.  Have you ever bought something with an eye to making a meal down the road only to put it off until the ingredients are spoiled?  This happens when the menu plan strays from the reality of how much time you’ll actually spend in the kitchen!  If you’re preparing meals to freeze, you’re not going to have a problem with that.  It’s cooked, it’s wrapped well (more on that later), and it’s going to keep awhile in that freezer.  Less chance of green hairy stuff in the back of the freezer demanding voting rights.


Second?  It saves a lot of time.  It takes about 10% more time to assemble two lasagnas at one time than it does one.   It doesn’t take twice the time to double or triple most recipes, so once you’re cooking, you might as well freeze ahead.  I can tell you I love coming home, popping those burritos in the oven and feeling free to kick back and noodle on the ‘net, play with the kids or take a hot bath while dinner is cooking.  I don’t know about you, but I come home tired and being able to relax knowing that I’m going to be able to have a good dinner with my family feels good to me.

So, how do you make this work?

The first thing you need to make sure of is that you have the proper equipment.  While you can do a bulk cooking session just with the standard pot, pans and knives, there are a few extras that make things nice.    The two biggest, in my opinion, are the six quart crock pot and the food processor.  The food processor cuts the the dicing time to almost nothing, and the crock pot is great not only for prepping soups, stews or stocks, but the really big one is perfect for planned-overs.  I also get disposable aluminum pans for casseroles and such.  If you don’t want to go that route, it’s a good idea to get a few extra baking pans of the size you’ll use for the casseroles.  You can spray the pan with cooking spray, line it very well, assemble your casserole in it, freeze it, then pop it out of the pan to wrap and then reuse the pan later.  You also must have some way to mark the wrapped meals.  I promise you that you will not be able to just look at a properly wrapped meal and be able to tell what it is.  Freezer labels are cheap, as are permanent markers.  Protect your investment of time and money with this stuff.

Next, you need your plan.  I really recommend some good cooking software to streamline the planning process.  I use Mastercook and like it a lot.  You can create a meal/cooking plan directly from the recipes you have, scale them to the quantities you want, and create a shopping list directly from that.  (One that you can put on your PDA.  That, I really, really like!) However, there are some links at the bottom of this article that list some very good websites that have recipes and can generate shopping lists from them as well.  In your plan, I think it is a good idea to take a look at the sales.  If there’s a big sale on some sort of meat, it’s a good time to plan a cooking session around it.

So then, you need to shop.  My mini-sessions usually yield between 8 and 10 meals, so it’s a respectable-sized grocery run.  I have shopped on the same day I cooked, but that’s a long day.  I don’t recommend it if you can avoid it.  Of course, you know all the standard shopping rules about not shopping hungry and sticking to your list.

Once you’ve made your plan and shopped, you’re all ready to cook, right?

Nope.  Not yet.

Take a look at your counters.  Do you have ample counter space?  (In my 37 years, I’ve lived 8 months with ample counter space).  Cluttered?  Clear them of everything you do not intend to use for that cooking session.  Yes, that means the coffee pot.  Stow it in the bedroom, or wherever for the next few hours.  You’re going to need all the space you can get.  Move the crock pot to another surface once you’ve got the stuff you’re going to cook in it set up.  You can put it anywhere near a plug where a child won’t pull it down on top of her head, so be creative.  If you’re not going to use the mixer, move it.  The more space to spread out for the assembly-line stuff, the better.  Make sure that all your cooking utensils are clean and ready to go.  If have a dishwasher, make sure it’s empty.  Fill your kitchen sink with hot, soapy water so you can clean as you go.  You do not want to end this session with a huge mess, and if you clean as you go, you won’t.

The cooking itself?  You know how to cook or you wouldn’t be considering this.  Do keep in mind that because you’re putting together several of the same sort of meals at a time, you can make the assembly line process work for you.  When the meal is assembled, however, comes storage.

You have gone to a lot of work.  Oh sure, in the long run, it’ll be a lot less work than making a meal every day, but still, you’ve put a lot of time and money into this, and you don’t want it wasted.  Make very very sure that you cool down your meals before you wrap them and put them in the freezer.  Many chefs, if they intend to freeze food immediately, use waterproof containers and ice water baths to chill the food in preparation for freezing.  Once the meal is cooled enough to put in the freezer wrap it well and keep the air out!  Air is what makes freezer burn possible, after all.  I buy professional grade wrap from a local warehouse store (it’s actually cheaper than what you get in the grocery store in addition to being of superior quality).  If you are using freezer bags (and choose freezer rather than storage bags.  A spoiled meal is more expensive than the increase in price on the heavier bag), make sure you get all the air out before you close it.  If your freezer space is limited, remember that you can freeze foods flat in freezer bags, then restack them in better ways once they’re blocks of ice.  Freeze things in a square rather than round to make better use of limited cubic as well.   If space is not a big consideration, one trick that can work well for soups and sauces you will reheat is to freeze them in the pot you will use to reheat them, then take the frozen disc out of the pot, wrap the disc well, label and date it, then pop it back in to reheat whenever you like.

Do remember to label and date.  This is a biggie.  No, you’re not an exception.  Label the food, date it and keep an inventory.  I personally have a list of meals with boxes next to them, and I cross off meals as they’re used.  I know of people who use a whiteboard to make a list and just erase as used.  However, you really, really do want an inventory.

After all this is done, whenever you want to cook one of the meals, take it out of the freezer to thaw it in the morning, reheat it that night, and you’re all good.

Links

Cooking software, recipe sites, and shopping list generators

  • AllRecipes.com — If you join, you can create a recipe box of your own and other’s recipes, and generate a shopping list from that.  I’ve used it for years as my recipe lookup and have always been satisfied.
  • Cook of the Month — This site is directly designed for Once a Month Cooking with meal planning and shopping options. It has an option to put your shopping list on a PDA.
  • Mastercook — This is the software I use.

Vegetarian OAMC recipes

  • http://www.ellenskitchen.com/bigpots/oamc/vegweek.html
  • http://www.christysclipart.com/vegetarian.html
  • http://www.motherspirit.net/articles/simpleliving/OMAC.htm

Freezing Guidelines
Frozen Assets:  Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month
OAMC Recipes

Living in a Science Fiction Novel

The Beast and I had been talking to the kids about “penny candy” (the kids have never seen that), and what things cost now compared with what they used to cost. We started laughing about how we sounded like our parents.

I had been curled up in my favorite chair in the living room, playing on a laptop with a wireless connection, updating my iPod. At one point I finally said, “Yeah, you pay seventy-five cents for a candy bar, but on the other hand, you couldn’t have an orchestra in your hand for any price.”

Not entirely true. Transistor radios came out on the market in 1954. Interestingly enough, when you do the inflation conversion, they were more expensive than the 30GB iPod is right now. (I’ve no idea what an iPod cost when it first came out. If it was under $300, it was still cheaper).

Still, it is funny to me what’s available to us. It’s even funnier when I compare it to the science fiction I’ve always loved. Asimov mentions “pocket computers” in his short stories of the 1940s. I have two (palm pilot and an iPod).

In Friday, written by Robert A. Heinlein in 1982, Heinlein discusses a society that has… well, the Internet as we actually use it, really. While our telephones are not yet integrated into our computers as a matter of course, nor do we use video phones, they can be, and many people do that even now with webcams. Certainly we write letters, pay bills, shop, arrange for travel, watch performances and do research via our computer terminals. Yes, the internet existed in 1982, but it was not something routinely used by the average working stiff who did not work in a technology field. Hell, even my systems engineer father did not use email in 1982. It’s funny. Many of the things that were meant to be futuristic in that novel seem very routine. When she talks about “sticking your card in the slot to pay for something” or to draw cash? How many of you were using ATMs or point of sale terminals in 1981? Visa came out with the POS terminal in 1979. They did exist, but were not in widespread use until a few years later, and people were not using cardholder-activated terminals until the mid-1990s in California. (For the credit card market, California is the usual test market. If it goes well, then it goes to New York City, then other large cities – the deep South being the last place for the change).

I’ve spent most of my life having the wonders of computer technology pointed out to me. My father got into the computer industry a few months before I was born in the late 1960s. I can remember as a very little girl being taken into a room with a bunch of tapes on wheels and my father very proudly showing me a quaint little punch card machine. He’d written a small program that would print my name in punch code on the card. When I was nine or ten, Mom gave Dad a pocket calculator for his birthday and Dad commented that it had more computing power than ENIAC*. I thought that was really cool.

But it’s not just computers, and it’s not just really new technology that fascinates me. I have comforts and services available to me that no king from even 200 years ago could have at any price. While I bemoan being fat, I do like the fact that food is cheap and easy to obtain in my society. I find it offensive that given the abundance and the technology we have that the distribution problem has not been solved well enough that this boon is available to the rest of the world. The technological infrastructure that supports our entire distribution system is truly amazing. I find the automobile and the spinning wheel (and how they changed the way we live) as fascinating as the microchip.

Do I think all new technology is automatically wonderful? Sure do. Oh, I think we often suffer from cranio-recto inversion when it comes to its implementation, and we’ve been doing it since long before we hunted wooly mammoths into extinction. But our nifty monkey brains and the shiny things we can come up with are just awfully cool.

So, where’s my flying car that folds into a suitcase?

*I don’t know if all my readers are nerds or not, but if you’re not, ENIAC was built in the early 1940s and is usually considered the first digital computer. It was two stories tall, used 18,000 vacuum tubes, and weighed about 30 tons. You are now reading this on a machine with a processing speed millions of times more powerful.

Pink Collar

If you’re reading this, you’re online. Go your favorite search engine and enter “pink collar”. You’ll get a definition along the lines of “Pertaining to the type of jobs, such as telephone operator or secretary, traditionally held by women.”

The expression is supposed to be analogous to “white collar” or “blue collar” jobs – designating a certain level of social status.

If you look a little further, you’ll get a plethora of articles and books with really positive titles like Beyond the Pink Collar. Now, I recognize that if I do a search on titles such as “administrative assistant” or “secretary”, I’ll get something a little more respectful.

But there is this general attitude that it’s somehow “unworthy” work to be a secretary, and if you’re intelligent, you should be moving up and on to other things more worthy of your time. Frankly, it’s started to get under my fingernails, which I do not file at my desk, thank you very much.

I’m the most fortunate of Administrative Assistants, and I know it. I have a pleasant environment in which to work, 95% of the time I am respected and appreciated, I can wear whatever the hell I want and I am paid well for my position. I know quite well that I’m lucky. I’ve worked other jobs where the attitude to me was horrid. That other 5% of the time reminds me of the general world attitude, and I don’t really get it from my co-workers but people outside my department.

You know what? It’s the feminists that make it worst. You see, the two jobs I like best and am most suited for, apart from writing, are secretary (or administrative assistant or whatever you want to call it), and homemaker. I have a managing temperament, I like to make things work smoothly, and I really do like being helpful. Yes, yes, yes, my IQ is as high or higher than my co-workers – people who have advanced degrees. (I work in a college). Yes, I am well-read and there’s not much they talk about that is over my head. (I confess to a complete ignorance of and lack of interest in French Surrealism). Other than for chasing money – something I only have limited interest in once bills are paid, I have no real reason to want to climb the career ladder. I like where I am. I hate the assumption that I have any need or desire to fight for social status or money, and I resent the idea that I am somehow “settling” or “letting the side down” if I make “traditionally female” choices.

What it really boils down to, I think, is a certain cultural attitude that one should want to climb the socio-economic ladder and if you do not, there is something wrong with you. I’ve lived all my life with people who have made career their focus. I can think of two for whom it is a joyful passion, and yes, they are both tops in their fields. They get respected. The thing is, I also like what I do, though maybe not with the intensity of the aforementioned gentlemen. But I do like my job far better than most of my co-workers. It would take a lot of money to move my ass from the chair I am in, and even then, I would approach the move with some trepidation. I can think of moves up that would be more or less what I am doing now, sure. After all, the old saw about executives doing more or less the same work as the average secretary has a lot of truth in it. And if offered such a job, I would take it and enjoy it.

But if the executive is respected for doing a job, then shouldn’t the poor little pink collar lady be respected for doing similar work? And shouldn’t the feminists writing those books like Beyond the Pink Collar be respectful, too? Don’t they realize that an admin did a lot of work to get the thing out?

Moving Tips

I do not consider myself an expert mover.  I did not grow up with a parent in the military, nor was I in the military myself.  However, I’ve moved six times now since I was 21 under a variety of conditions — having a leisurely month to pack, finding out a house has been sold out from underneath us and we had to move immediately, combining a three person household into a six person household, having to move 8 months pregnant, finding the right house on a whim and having to move in two weeks, moving 500 miles, moving seven blocks….

I find these damned moving advice sites to be worse than useless.  I have not once used professional movers, and have bought at the most six specialty boxes for odd items.  I do not buy enough boxes to move.  I cannot think of a more useless expense except under the most unique of circumstances.

While I do not color code boxes, yes, the advice on making it very clear what box goes where is only smart.  However, that seems a little obvious to me.  If you’ve enlisted some husky friends, and are feeding them beer as a bribe, ya need to make things short and obvious.

Another thing on the blisteringly obvious list — loading the truck so that things that need to be unpacked right away are the first things to leave the truck.  Oh and that thing about not loading a box to weigh more than fifty pounds?  Again this falls into the “no shit” category.  A big, strong guy can lift fifty pounds and carry it (hell, so can I), but if you’ve got a copier paper box, don’t load it up heavier than the eight reams of copy paper that is supposed to go into it.  The box is only designed to take that much weight.  Filling a banana box full of textbooks is mean to the people helping with your moving, even if they can lift it.

The thing about having services switched on before you get there?  Again, DUH!  I don’t know about you, but I do not want to live out of a cooler for longer than I have to and battery powered lamps just ain’t gonna cut it for light when you’re unpacking after dinner.  (If you’re moving a fridge, you might have to for a day or two.  You do want to make sure the confounded thing is clean before you move it).

It’s the esoteric stuff that’s more useful.  Things like —

  • Dust the damned bookshelves and other display cases  before you move ’em.
  • If you’re moving an item with drawers, tape or tie the drawers shut or remove them entirely.
  • For a short distance move, it is perfectly okay to move clothing in the drawers.
  • If there’s something you haven’t touched since you moved moved to your new place and you’ve been there more than three years, just get rid of it. That goes double for anything still in a sealed  moving box from the last move.
  • Don’t move any clothing that doesn’t fit.  It ain’t worth it.
  • Those ugly afghans and ratty towels you’ve got stuffed into the back of your linen closet make great packing material for things like glass fronted picture frames.
  • Paper plates, napkins and plastic cutlery can be your friend. You can make perfectly healthy quick meals of subs and sandwiches loaded with veggies.
  • If you clean your trashcans, you can use them as moving containers for things that are not easily breakable.
  • Have your toolbox be one of the things you pack last and unload first, you’re going to need it.
  • Hiring someone to move just your piano is probably a good idea
  • Clean out deep storage, and cabinets first. It will give you a clearer idea of how much there is to move, and will ease making a packing timetable.
  • Do make a packing timetable. If you don’t pace yourself, you’re going to make yourself sick.
  • Take breaks.  If you have to, use a timer.  Work for 45 minutes, and then take a fifteen minute break.  Drink a big glass of water.  (Yes, FlyLady is right about this, and trust me, you’ll be able to get stuff done faster than if you drive yourself nuts with no break and working until one in the morning).
  • Get as much sleep as you can.  If you have down time where you’re gonna be waiting, a nap is not a bad thing.  It doesn’t make you a slacker.  It makes you more efficient.  Power naps really do help.
  • If you have any sort of reaction to dust, make sure you have a non-drowsy antihistamine on hand.
  • Be meticulous about taking your vitamins. Same goes for your meds.
  • Check expiration dates on boxed and canned food. Don’t move anything that’s expired.
  • Spices don’t have a shelf life of more than a couple of years (less if you’re a foodie). Toss, toss, toss.
  • Things that might leak can be contained in ziplock bags. Make doubly sure that they are sealed well.
  • For your tupperware, no liddie, no movie. Toss ’em. Do the same with those fifty margarine and cool whip containers.
  • FlyLady’s concept of an office inna bag is a good one when you’re moving and might lose needed paperwork.  (I have a zippered notebook with some plastic folders inside and pockets for pens and stuff).
  • When I am doing tedious, repetitive work, I like to listen to music or audiobooks.  It makes the time go faster, and I am less likely to procrastinate on what needs to be done. (Harry Potter books have been my friend lately).
  • Force yourself to have a time to stop work in the evening and do something that will relax you.  You do need your sleep and if you go hammer and tongs at this, you’re going to be too spun up to sleep well.  Did I mention you will need your sleep?
  • Accept offers of help.

This is the kind of thing I find more useful than color coded boxes!

D'Une Certaine Age

I’m 36 and am rapidly approaching that stage in life where I can be une femme d’une certaine age. I’m looking forward to it.

Oh sure, we live in a culture that worships youth –and young was good. I liked the fact my breasts didn’t sag, that I had that smooth, soft skin. I liked the energy of youth and the lack of stretch marks on my belly. The wide open possibilities were fun and exciting. The lack of responsibilities that made it easier to concentrate on my obsessions. It was good. I won’t claim that I did not enjoy those advantages. I mourn them some.

But only some.

You see, at a certain age, your directness stops being offensive and personal power is accepted. You stop being a domineering bitch, and become a force to be respected. The elegant manicure stops looking vain and and the good jewelry no longer seems pretentious – like a girl playing dress-up. An understated style stops looking plain and starts looking elegant. A lifted eyebrow and smile can speak volumes that are actually listened to.

Those possibilities of youth become more real. You have the resources to accomplish them. You have more shading to your life, perspective and a latticework of structure from which to view and create your world. Life has almost certainly knocked you to the ground at least once, and you know in your bones that it doesn’t matter, because you know you can get back up every time. “Ma’am” becomes a badge of honor rather than a jab that tells you that you’re getting old.

You’re less patient with nonsense, more compassionate with real trouble. You have the wisdom to know the difference. You’re not so easily suckered by a sob story and you have the resources to help out when you really can make a difference.

There’s a balance that you get when you’re of a certain age, and it’s fun. You understand the ebb and flow of life better and don’t take everything so damned seriously. You understand that the cup of coffee after the hard labor is important – that the job is not really done until you’ve relaxed and enjoyed yourself after the labors. You understand that the silk scarf is just as important as the good kitchen knife, that life is too short for bad chocolate and that the youthful energy out there with the youngsters playing in the grass is as much for you to savor as for them.

Coping with Adult ADD

Dealing With ADD You’ve got a friend or a co-worker. Sometimes this person amazes you with the concentration he pours into his work, producing prodigious amounts of material with seeming ease and fluency.

But…

He might be late a lot.

He nearly always forgets details. If you ask him to bring wine, salad dressing and croûtons to a gathering, chances are good that you’re going to be croutonless that evening – though the wine will probably be of some special vintage and he’ll entertain you with a story about it.

If he has a task to do – like mailing checks… Don’t count on him to do it. He might get them out on time, but if you’re out of stamps, he’ll know he cannot do the task until he gets stamps. He’ll either forget the stamps or forget to mail the checks AFTER he gets the stamps.

When you talk to him, chances are good that he’s jiggling his leg or playing with the change in his pocket or doodling. You wish he’d stop that crap and just PAY ATTENTION. Screw what’s on the damned radio, and LISTEN TO ME! You might often want to shout.

If you are dealing with someone with Attention Deficit Disorder, chances are good you are going to want to choke that person. It’s a pain in the butt to deal with, no question.

The thing is, it’s not hopeless. Really, it isn’t. It’s just that the person with ADD needs to be able to cope. Here’s some things to keep in mind:

  1. Ohhhhhh SHINY!The person who has ADD can make his natural tendencies work FOR him. I use a PDA with an audible beep to remind me when I need to do things. I make extensive use of color coding to get things done at work, as well. Make the “oooh! SHINY!” response work for you. You can only blow off a reminder if you’re giving first aid! You’re allowed to reschedule, if you absolutely cannot do something at that moment, but do not refrain from taking action on your reminder.
  2. Eliminate clutter as best you can.ADDers are not known for being very orderly. Don’t beat yourself up about it, but on the other hand, do eliminate clutter. The very last thing you want are distractions from what you are supposed to be doing.
  3. Timers are Your FriendHonest to goodness, no kidding, I schedule my day in 15 minute blocks. I do not even TRY to work on a project for more than 15 minutes at a time without taking a break. Because of my hyperfocus abilities, I can get a LOT done in those 15 minutes, so I make the most of them. By then, my brain does need a context switch, but that’s okay.
  4. LJ, Email and Chat Notifcations are Spawns of the Devil Don’t leave them running when you are trying to concentrate. Turn them off during scheduled task periods.
  5. Schedule playtime. Allow yourself time for breaks, where you can have unrestricted fun with ferret shock. Your brain actually needs it. You can run your email and chat notifications then. Enjoy!
  6. Screw verbal instructionsADDers suck at verbal instructions. I mean, REALLY suck. Badly. If you have to give them, let the ADDer take notes. If you can, give written ones. My own family indulges me by sending me emails about things and lets me copy them into my PDA. This really works wonders.

    I work in a fairly laid back office as a secretary, where email is the backbone of communication. I discovered that the people who sent me emails for task requests where the ones who got the most attention. I finally had to break down and explain to people who made requests of me verbally that I was not being inattentive by taking notes, but was actually doing my best to be as attentive and cooperative as possible.