Monday, March 28, 2016

Career Day

Last Thursday was Career Day at the elementary school where a friend of mine teaches, and she asked me a couple of months ago if I'd be willing to come talk to the students about the work I do. I said I'd be happy to help. Somewhere in my mind, I was thinking elementary school as in third and fourth grade kids - not kindergarteners.

Sure enough, my first four sessions of the day were with the little tykes. And for three of the four groups, they came in immediately after seeing the gal from Bayer, who had rigged up some dancing raisins for their edification and enjoyment.  (It involves vinegar, baking soda and raisins, quantities unclear to the little darlings - one thought maybe you used a cup of baking soda...) Tough act to follow!

I work with computers for a living. When I tell adults my official title - I am a Solutions Architect and work in systems analysis and design - their eyes automatically glaze over. The kids, I'm sure, would have just cocked their heads and politely looked at me like I was speaking gibberish.

So, I started with the basics. Who knows what a computer is? Where do you find computers in your lives today? Did you know they use computers to fly airplanes? When you get on a computer and click on the picture, how does it know what to do? How does it know to bring up the app about numbers instead of the one about learning the sounds of the letters?

Some of you speak English, some also speak Spanish.  Did you know computers have a language of their own?

Ah, this, they could comprehend!

So, we talked about the computer's special language, and how long it takes to become a programmer.

Here, I lost them again. When your life's experience only spans five years, making it through sixteen years of education seems like FOREVER! So, we counted out the numbers. We talked about high school and how college comes after that. We talked a little bit about how they'll be adults by the time they're 22 and done with school. (they couldn't go there, either.)

We talked about the two most important things they can do in school where they are right now. One is to work hard to learn their letters and numbers so they build a firm foundation for everything else they'll want to learn. (kind of like making sure the bottom row of your blocks are good and solid when building with them - this concept, they had down cold!) The other is to learn to ask the right questions. These children have resources I couldn't have imagined at their age, with Google at their fingertips and widespread internet access. But all the readily available information will do them no good if they can't frame the right questions.

Kind of like my life these days. When I can figure out the right question, I'm more than halfway to finding the right answer.

The best part about talking to the kindergarteners?  They're not too big for hugs. They like to give hugs, even to strange ladies talking to them about computers. They give the best hugs!  I liked talking to the kindergarteners.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Cabinet Doors

Dad was right. He said I'd never regret an investment in good tools.

We installed a heater in the garage last week. In a remarkable example of lack of planning, it ended up directly beneath the smoke detector, so every time the fan quits blowing the heat rises and the alarm goes off and you need to stop working to reset it. I'll be moving the smoke detector soon. But, this also meant I could go out and comfortably work in the garage last weekend, with the temps still in the forties.

Which meant I could begin work on one of the last remaining to-do items in the kitchen; the rest of the cabinet doors and drawer fronts.

First, I had to get everything set up. When a good friend retired and moved to Florida last year, I inherited his router table. (Before this, I'd either been making do with an edge guide and clamps, or a small table my dad rigged up to use in his RV.) It didn't take me too long to use my handy-dandy drill press (the one I inherited from Dad) to carve out a new set of mounting holes that matched the ones in the new, improved, more powerful router I bought a few years back.  (I'd loved Dad's, but the nuts used to tighten down the bits got stripped somewhere along the way, and I'd finally had to replace it.)

When I went to the wood store to find out what bits I needed to duplicate the work Ron had done on the existing doors, they sold me a set of Freud tongue and groove router bits. They were a bit pricey, but I figured the guy knew what he was talking about, so paid the price without question. 

A bit of internet research showed me the best way to set up the bits, and soon I was ready to try my first cut. I put on my ear protection, turned on the shop vac to the dust collector on the back of the new table (another great invention!), turned on the router and started cutting on my first piece of test lumber.

With the old router and bits I used, I had to fight the wood. It had a tendency to bounce and jump back and make little divot cuts and generally misbehave. This time, as I started to cut, it was so smooth I couldn't even feel it cutting.  Startled, I stopped and pulled the wood back to see what I'd done wrong, only to see a smooth, even cut, right where it belonged!

Dang! This was suddenly fun! I happily spent the next couple of hours making little boards out of big boards, producing an impressive pile (well, I was impressed anyways) of neatly cut rails, all ready to be glued into panels to make the doors.

It's fun to learn new stuff - especially when you have good tools to make the job easy!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Cat:1 Me: 0

Now, as I've said before, Monster is a cat of strong loves, but not the sharpest of intellect.

He loves three things - boxes, bugs and blankets. (Especially and still, his BOXWITHWATER!)

I've given in on the BOXWITHWATER; I know when I've lost a battle. But the cats still are not allowed on the counter top. Unless, of course, they are on their way to or from the sink. I have my rules, and the cats know what they are!

This past weekend, I was working on installing the backsplash for the stove, and covered the cooktop with a towel to protect it from falling debris. After I finished the tile work, I tossed the towel aside onto the counter top.

Monster saw it and immediately settled in. "Blanket!"

A blanket is any item of cloth that's been tossed onto a horizontal surface, especially my bed. As soon as I lay something down, he walks over to it with a gleam in his eye. He sniffs to make sure it's not contaminated, then steps lovingly onto it. He circles a time or two, then settles his not-inconsiderable bulk carefully and directly onto the center of the cloth. Settled, he favors the room with a look of intense satisfaction and radiates contentment. "Blanket!" (His favorites are the dark colored items. "I see you have a dark thing which has no white hairs upon its surface. Here. Let me help.")

Well, blanket or not, the towel was still on the counter, and I chased him off. The minute I turned around, he hopped back up on the towel again. I chased him off again. Again, the minute my attention was elsewhere, he hopped back up on the towel. This time, when I tried to chase him off, he resisted mightily. "Blanket! I'm allowed on my blanket!" Undeterred, I picked him up and dumped him on the floor. As soon as I stepped away, he was back up there. "Not counter. Blanket!"

I gave up. I let him sit on the nasty dirty towel until I got around to bringing it up to the laundry.

But he's still not allowed on the counter. I'm holding my ground!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Early Spring

I'm a tree-watcher, especially this time of year. 'Long about now, if you look carefully at the winter gray-brown of the trees, you'll see a light green haze surrounding their branches - buds starting to open, flowers greeting the lengthening days.  It's one of my favorite times of the year. Winter isn't quite gone, but it has lost its grip and the cycle of renewal begins.

This year, spring is about two weeks early. The robins have been back for weeks, the temps haven't dipped below freezing in ages, some of the tulip trees and dogwoods are already showing their color. I know it's not supposed to be warm around here just yet and that the early warmth doesn't bode well for a comfortable summer. But knowing I'll likely be melting in the shade in a couple of months doesn't stop me from enjoying the warmth that's here today.  Why borrow trouble?

Already, I've been able to go out for my walk around the park without a coat on - or even long sleeves! The skin on my arms welcomed the touch of the warm breeze. Yesterday's much-needed rain washed color into the grass and brought the bushes back to life.

The sun is still up when I finish work; the sky lightens just as my day begins (at least until daylight savings time kicks in this weekend and we have to go back without passing Go, without collecting $200, to getting up in the dark.  **sigh**  But, the time change also means we get an extra hour of light in the evenings - light after dinner to work or just enjoy being outside, so I really ought to quit whining.)

It's time to put the candles and hot tea away. Time to take the heavy quilts off the beds, wash them and tuck them away for the summer. Time to clean fall's debris from the flower beds. Time to wash the windows. (Especially to wash the windows. With all that happened last year, I never got around to it then, and the construction dust didn't clean itself off when I wasn't looking. Some of them are barely see-through at the moment!) Time to take time to ignore the long list of spring chores and go sit on the porch swing and rock for a bit, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the smell of the wakening earth.

Yeah. Time for porch sitting. The rest of it can wait for a bit while I remind myself to




ah, Spring!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Words Matter

Colorado sunset
Words matter.

The ones we use when we speak to others; the ones we use when we speak to ourselves.

I've spent some some this week thinking about my family rules. Family rules aren't bad things; they are, after all, the guidelines we used as children to help us navigate our family systems and become grown-ups. (we all wanted to be grown-up back then. I'm not so sure about it now, but I'm afraid it's too late. but, I digress.)

Family rules can often be recognized by three words:  always. should. never.

You should never get angry.
You should always dry the dinner dishes.
You should go to church every Sunday.

As adults, we tend to follow these rules because they're buried in our subconscious; we're not even aware we're following them. Some of them are still useful, some can hold us back; even be harmful.

At last week's workshop, they taught us how to transform the family rules into something more like guidelines. When I hear myself saying I must always (fill in the blank), I was told to ask myself what would happen if I didn't follow the rule? How would life be different?

I'll use an easy rule as an example. There were ten of us at home when I was growing up. We didn't have a dishwasher, and there just wasn't room to leave the dishes to dry in the drainer. There were ALWAYS too many dishes, so we ALWAYS dried them after dinner.

I must always dry the dinner dishes. (state the rule)
I must dry the dinner dishes. (remove the always/never/should)
I can sometimes dry the dinner dishes. (substitute can sometimes)
I can dry the dinner dishes when (give myself three choices):
-- when there are too many dishes to fit in the dish drainer
-- when I have company over and want to pretend I always keep my kitchen spotless
-- when they are delicate and prone to get broken if left on the counter to dry

Suddenly, I don't always have to dry the dishes. Yay!

The words matter.

This is one family rule I rebelled against long ago. I am a fairly tidy housekeeper, but I hate drying the dishes. Why dry them when God's perfectly good air will do it for me in about 45 minutes?  My cause was furthered by a study that showed you introduce germs onto the dishes by drying them - they get carried on the towel. See? I don't always have to dry the dishes!

Know what the rules are.
Before you break a rule, know why it's there.
Know the rules well enough to break them (and not get caught!)