Sunday, September 11, 2011


Photo: Magnus Manske
Love and loss.  Bravery and sacrifice.  Coincidence and near misses.  Pain and shared healing, and the kindness of strangers.  There are millions of stories.  Where were you on 9/11?  I was closer than I could ever dread to be, and yet so blessedly far.  I was there, in Manhattan, and that day, that week, was so difficult I've shied away from the memory for 10 years.  I don't like watching television coverage commemorating the events because it all comes back, so raw.  Besides, my own experience pales in comparison with those who lost someone in the tragedy.  But I was there, and this is what I remember.

* * * 

On September 11, I had been working in Manhattan for several months, staying at the Palace Hotel during the week and flying to Cayman to visit D most weekends.  We had been seeing each other, in a long distance relationship, for just under a year and he was taking me home to England to meet his family that coming weekend.  On Wednesday, I was due to fly to a conference in Vancouver before taking a flight to meet D in London on Saturday.

I was working in midtown that bright Tuesday morning.  Around 9 a.m., I received a call from D in Cayman to check I was okay after he heard the news a plane had crashed into an office building in Manhattan.  It was the first anyone in our office knew of it and the last time I was able to speak to D, or anyone, on a phone for a while.  I flashed up CNN live video online as co-workers gathered around my desk.  We watched in disbelief at the smoke pouring out of the north tower a mere 4 miles away and wondered how it was possible that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

9:03 am: Overwhelmed by site traffic, the CNN video weblink crashed, leaving us with the audio broadcast only, while the video remained frozen on the haunting image of Flight 175, a split second before it crashed into the second tower.  The image remained on my computer and is still burned into my mind.  Everyone on board that flight in that moment knew their fate but were powerless to stop it.  I wished the power of video technology worked in real life to freeze a moment in time and forestall the inevitable.  CNN reporters were discussing "some sort of explosion" in the south tower.  I stared at that frozen image, thinking, "It's another plane.  How can they not know it's another plane?"

Riveted by the reports of disaster in downtown, we start to hear about the plane hitting the Pentagon, and rumors about other flights that are MIA.  The stricken looks on the faces of my coworkers mirror my own emotions.  How far would this disaster, this attack, extend?  It feels like the end of the world and for the first time in my life I feel hate in my heart - for those that could do this terrible thing to so many innocent people.  I'm not proud of it, but that is truth.

By 9:45, we have lost the audio link to CNN and I decide to cross the street to bring back the clock radio from my hotel room.  I get back to the office and have barely plugged it in and found a news broadcast when the reporter starts saying "Oh my God, oh my God, the tower is collapsing!"

The view of downtown from our office is blocked by the MetLife building straddling Park Avenue, but the group of us rush to the conference room on the southwest corner to see what we can.  There is a growing cloud of dust emanating from the area, enveloping the city like some kind of evil creature.  A few people begin to cry  - I don't remember if I'm one of them. It's barely been an hour since I received the phone call from D.  The world is already forever changed.

I had been introduced to a friend of one of my coworkers at a happy hour the week before, and she is panicking now because he works at the WTC and she hadn't been able to reach him.  I did some quick mental math based on news reports of the 50,000 people usually in the complex at that time of day and came up with an eerily accurate estimate of the lives lost - about 3,000.  I told her to keep up hope, the chances were very good that he was okay.  Thousands of people may die, but tens of thousands more were likely to survive.

He worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, and we didn't know it then, but that firm was in the direct line of fire when the first plane crashed.  They never found her friend.  I still don't know whether to feel bad about my platitudes to her at the time, or to be relieved that I gave her some hope, however futile, to calm her in the moment.

I don't remember many clear moments for the rest of that day.  Most of the local employees began their hours-long trudge home, lacking any other mode of transport but their own two feet to make it back to their loved ones.  The out-of-town travelers like me milled around the office, unsure of what to do.

I do remember, vividly, crossing Park Avenue to go back to my hotel in the afternoon.  The city streets were empty and deathly quiet.  I started to cross, against the light.  US airspace had been shut down for hours, but I heard the roar of an aircraft and felt a flash of panic, stopping in the middle of the street to scan the sky for a threat.  It was a fighter jet, on patrol.  The strangest thing about that moment was the quiet on the street.  If I had stopped in the middle of Park Avenue while jaywalking on any other day, I would have been mowed down by a cab.  But there was nobody out there now, only a few lonely souls such as me.

The rest of the week is a blur of isolation and frustration.  For two days, my flight out of the city was cancelled and rebooked waiting for the airports to open again.  By Thursday morning, the airline just told me they couldn't rebook and would contact me when a flight became available.  I fell apart.  I was alone in New York and I couldn't escape.  I couldn't book a flight to London from another city because I couldn't get transport out of New York.  The rental cars were all gone - in fact, some of my coworkers had left for a two-day drive home to Dallas the day before.  Eventually I booked a train ticket to Washington DC for Friday morning and then checked all the airlines for a flight from a city anywhere between New York and DC that could eventually bring me to London.

When I got to the Philadelphia airport to check in for a flight I booked to Miami, the line stretched for a quarter mile outside of the airport.  I was never going to make it, but saw no other course of action.  I had struck up a conversation with a teenager, traveling on his own, who left the line to make a phone call and asked me to hold his place.  An airport worker, for some reason, came down the line calling that young man's name and I directed him to the phone bank.  Miraculously, that same airport worker, after getting the young man settled, came back and personally escorted me through security and to my gate.  If I hadn't made that flight, who knows how long I might have been stuck in Philly.  It was like an angel had been sent to rescue me.

Arriving in Miami, I had time to meet D briefly at the airport before his originally-scheduled British Airlines flight to Heathrow.  His plane was full, and I got the last available seat on my American Airlines flight so we couldn't travel together. The BA employee at the front of the blocked-off check-in lines impatiently asked for him to just wait for his name to be called when he inquired on how to check in.  How would they know to call his name when they hadn't let him register his presence at the airport?  Never mind, I was already checked in and had to leave for my own departure - an hour before his - so I'd see him the next morning at the customs exit in Heathrow.

Saturday morning, I waited at customs for two hours after his flight landed, impatiently scanning the crowd.  Eventually I checked my voicemail to find a harried message.  BA had given away his seat "because he hadn't checked in."  He was now stuck in Miami for another day.

I know that I did cry then.  I was alone, more alone that I had already felt during the week, now in a foreign country, with nothing to do but find a hotel, wait for D, and contemplate the horror of the tragedy back in New York.  I remember little of that time, which felt like purgatory, but I do remember that people were so kind to me when they detected my American accent. 

The next morning, I was back at the customs exit anxiously awaiting D's arrival.  In more than 10 years together - that includes nearly three years of commuting in a long distance relationship - I was never, ever happier or more relieved to see him at an airport.  He enveloped me in a great big hug, and in his arms, although I was thousands of miles from where I lived, I was finally home. 

* * *

What's your story?

Sunday, September 4, 2011


I recently received an email with the following video attached along with the text in italics below....

This is almost unbelievable. See how all of the balls wind up in catcher cones.

This incredible machine was built as a collaborative effort between the Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory and the Sharon Wick School of Engineering at the University of Iowa . Amazingly, 97% of the machine's components came from John Deere Industries and Irrigation Equipment of Bancroft , Iowa . Yes, farm equipment!

It took the team a combined 13,029 hours (6.26 years) of set-up, alignment, calibration, and tuning before filming this video but as you can see, it was WELL worth the effort.

It is now on display in the Matthew Gerhard Alumni Hall at the University and is already slated to be donated to the Smithsonian.

The thought that such a machine could actually be built is an intriguing one.  However, having read a bit about chaos theory in the fascinating book by James Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science, I questioned the feasibility of launching thousands of balls with enough precision to form the soundtrack and land in the collector cones every time.  I undertook in-depth research (okay, a quick google search) and found that the email story is a hoax

The video is still remarkable, and kudos to the folks at Animusic who put it together.  Stuff like this makes me feel so fortunate that there are amazing, creative, artistic souls in the world that share the product of their inspiration with the rest of us.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Who'd a thunk it? Geometry IS useful!

The time has come at the little shack on the prairie (well, actually it's been long past) to tear off the rickety front porch with its rusted metal roof.  And this past week, that is exactly what D did.

This was a bit of an adventure in which skunks, geometry and suspected survey monuments all played a part.  And you thought I lived a quiet life in the country.

I arrived home from work to find D wielding a sledgehammer and a crowbar, with most of the porch roof already missing.  I asked D is there was anything I could do to help, but he just indicated that my mere presence and moral support were more than enough.  (The level of assistance I can provide on DIY projects is generally on par with that of a five-year-old child.)  So I settled in to watch the goings-on.  At one point, D got an odd look on his face and backed away from the deck, brandishing the crowbar.

"Skunk!" he exclaimed.
 * * *

One evening a few months ago, I called the cats in and caught a pungent whiff of eau de skunk.  A cursory sniff of my feline family members indicated, thankfully, neither of them were in the line of fire.  Further olfactory investigation revealed the event had definitely taken place pretty much on our front door step.  That odor ebbed, but never really went away.  It did seem to be coming from under the porch deck, but I thought perhaps the skunk had sprayed under there after being cornered by the cats and the odor wasn't dissipating because it couldn't be washed away under the shelter of the porch roof.

* * *

Back on porch demo day, surveying the immobile pile of fur from a distance, I said, "Well, at least that explains the lingering smell."

"What if it's only sleeping?" asked the husband.

"Do you really think that a skunk would sleep through 2 hours of porch demolition taking place right above its head?" I asked.  It's easy to be confident when he's the one in the line of fire if I'm wrong.

D wasn't taking any chances.  He whipped a rotten tennis ball he'd found under the deck at the skunk and, receiving no response, assured himself it was indeed dead.  Closer inspection revealed it had been that way for some time.  Thank goodness that skunk up and died under the porch BEFORE we tore it off and built a new one, which would have made recovery and disposal of the vile thing a significantly more unpleasant task.  For D, of course.  Because that's what husbands are for.

* * *

This isn't the first time we've been startled by an unexpected finding of fur at the little shack on the prairie.  The day we bought the house, D was exploring the dark nether regions of the attic eaves with a flashlight.  There was rotten insulation falling from the ceiling, piles of hazelnut shells discarded by some varmint and mouse droppings everywhere.  Suddenly, D recoils and says, "What the F@CK is that?  Is that a creature?"

I'm backing away from the attic hatch thinking, Right, it freaked you right the hell out and you want ME to investigate?  Ain't gonna happen, buddy.  After some poking with a long stick to assure himself the object was well and truly (currently) inanimate, turns out it was a poorly cured, half-rotten full elk hide someone had just tossed up there with the rest of the mess.  Who does that?  Country people, that's who.

* * *

So after clearing away all the porch deck beams and boards, D was left with the concrete foundation blocks, half buried in the soil that had accumulated over the years.  He begins to dig them out and finally reaches the last one, set closest to the corner of the house.  It was ENORMOUS.  Easily three to four times bigger than any of the others.

"Do you think the county surveyor will mind that I've just dug up and disposed of one of their survey markers?" D asked, only half kidding.

I'm pretty sure the porch deck wasn't built over an official county survey monument.  But in the country one never knows.
* * *

When the porch deck was fully dismantled, we needed some temporary steps built to reach the front door, now two feet above ground level.  D had acquired some lumber and was eyeing up the situation, trying to determine how to measure and construct the steps.  I confidently told him that I was sure there would be an internet calculator that would work it all out for us lickety-split.  D made a cup of tea and waited for me to provide him the measurements.

Turns out it isn't as easy as I thought.  There are indeed stair calculators online, but I couldn't make heads nor tails of the results provided.  So I went back to simple geometry.  Measuring stair stringers is merely an arrangement of right triangles.  I'm calculating hypotenuses (hypoteni?), adjacent and opposite angles and diagramming for all I'm worth.  After an hour, on my third attempt at a measurement diagram that D might be able to read, he went straight to his saw and prepared to cut the stringer to length. 

"Wait! Aren't you going to check my work?" I sputtered.  (My math is notoriously unreliable.) "Or at least draw out all my measurements before you cut?  What about measure twice, cut once?"

"Nope - if you got it wrong, we've only wasted $4 in wood.  And we've got to learn to work together to get this renovation done."

Feeling his confidence was entirely misplaced, I nervously hovered over him while he measured and cut wood to my specifications.  If I'd calculated right, that should result in two stringers on which we could affix the stair treads, hopefully level and plumb.

When the last piece was measured and cut, and it all fit perfectly onto the lengths of wood I specified, I was elated.  I raised my arms in the universal gesture of victory and said, "I don't care what happens now, that was a math WIN!"

Turns out I did have a small logic error regarding the interplay of tread depth and stair rise, which means those three steps now measure 8", 6.5" and 9.5" high to get to the front door, but the damn math WORKED.  They're only temporary stairs anyway, so I'm still claiming a victory.  Anyway, I won't ever make that mistake again when I'm designing stairs; sometimes an error is the most effective way to learn.  

Given this small taste of success, I'm now ready to conquer the DIY world... as long as D is around to run the power tools.
* * *

So tell me about your DIY experience.  Are you afraid of power tools too?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Slow like Honey: Adventures in Molten Glass

I have long been fascinated by the art of glass blowing.  There is something completely mesmerizing about watching a clear, brittle substance morph into a glowing orange viscous mass that can be formed into fantastical shapes.  So when I recently spotted a groupon for a glassblowing lesson for two, I jumped on it.

I was slightly nervous as D and I arrived at the glass blowing studio.  For one, I had no idea what to expect, and for two - as I lack hand eye coordination - I was afraid I might make some spastic move and cause myself or someone else a serious injury, or at least cause some damage to my dignity by, say, dropping my masterwork just as it reaches completion.

But Corey, the owner of Portland Glass Blowers, put me right at ease.  Corey is a super cool dude, and as D is wont to say, "You know you're in good hands when you see a beard like that."

Rockin' the Specs
First, we got kitted up with some stylish purple goggles that shifted the visible spectrum and made it easier to see the flame.  The type of glassblowing we were doing didn't involve using a big furnace and putting glass in the "glory hole."  (I'm not kidding; that's what Corey called it, which made me inwardly giggle like a schoolchild.)   

No, we were using a propane torch that fired at upwards of 4000 degrees F.  Okay folks, that means I've got a stinking HOT flame mere inches from my hands.  Oh yes, and I have to keep the glass spinning evenly or I end up with a hot gooey mess dropping to the work bench.  Concentrate much?  You bet I did.

That set up affords some very cool pictures.  I was able to capture my favorite image while Corey set D up on his torch before I got started:

Our first task was to create a little paperweight by first heating a 1-in. rod of clear Pyrex until it forms a ball of molten glass at the end of the rod.  This takes some time, and you must keep the rod spinning slowly and evenly.  There is something almost meditative about the process.  When it is ready, you dip it into powdered colored glass and continue applying heat until it all melds together in a sort of lens shape.  This is an exercise in chaos theory.  The colored glass crystals often look nothing like the finished blown color, and you have no idea what shape is going to form inside the lens as you fuse the glass, but I'm pleased with this effort.  It brings to mind some kind of blooming coral on a reef.

Next up, making a stemless wine glass.  We heat a tube of pyrex glass and, when it reaches the desired consistency, blow slowly and evenly through the tube while spinning to keep the shape blown out symmetrically.  That's the idea anyway.  Here, D demonstrates the technique with his usual flair for doing things perfectly:

 I, on the other hand, managed to get a tendril of my hair in my mouth while trying to blow the bowl, which promptly spiraled around the tube and restricted the spinning motion.  In an effort to get that sorted out, I stopped blowing for a critical couple of seconds (as the glass cools very quickly) and ended up with a sad, oddly pregnant-looking shape.  Corey took over, put the piece back into the flame, and valiantly tried to rescue it, with decidedly mixed results:


So what have we learned here? 1) Glass blowing is as mesmerizing when I'm doing it myself as it is when I watch someone else; 2) I shouldn't quit my day job because it turns out I'm not going to be the next DaVinci of glass blowing; 3) Much like in life, it's about the journey, not the destination. (a.k.a. whatever, my glass looks like it was blown by a wonky troll, I still had a good time.)

* * *

So tell me, what new thing have you tried out recently?  Did you surprise yourself with success?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July

View from my office: Rose Festival Fireworks, Portland Oregon.  May 27, 2011
Happy 4th of July to my American friends and Happy (belated) Canada Day to my friends up north.  To the rest of the world - have a great week!

P.S.  I'm finishing a four day break which also served as a kind of honeymoon for me and my new Android smartphone.  My online activity has been almost exclusively devoted to learning how to best take advantage of its capabilities.  Regular blog commenting will resume shortly.  I've been reading, but I couldn't figure out how to accurately type on this @#$^% touchscreen keyboard, 'til I discovered "Graffiti" which lets me write out the characters like the old Palm Pilot days. Sweet!

P.P.S.  Do I dare download Angry Birds?  I hear it's crazy-addictive.

* * *
So tell me, how did you spend your weekend?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I've been a bit quiet on the blog lately.  There are big doings in Keenie Beanieland at the moment, but I'm not free to write about it all yet.  They're good things, but this has had the effect of altogether stifling my urge to share, ya know?  Being absolutely consumed with something, but then trying to focus on other things and pretend it's not going on feels somehow disingenuous.

Which is why I'm touched and grateful that Leonore (Leo for short) of As a Linguist was kind enough to nominate me for an Irresistibly Sweet Blog award.  It's a fantastic way of pulling me out of my blog shell a bit.

First a bit about Leo: she is my #1 internet crush at the moment.  Devastatingly clever, she puts together posts centered on her passion for language that I once likened to an episode of the Simpsons.  You start one place and end up ranging far and wide; so much happens in her entertaining blog posts.  Plus, the more I learn about her, the more I wonder if we weren't separated at birth.  A few of our odder affinities: a mutual crush on Top Gear's Stig and a penchant for stick shift cars.

So according to the rules of this award, I should disclose a few facts about myself and pass the award on to a few other deserving bloggers.  I've decided to use this forum to write a few snippets rattling around in my head that don't seem to merit a complete blog post, but do have a sweet theme.

Kitchen Adventures
I'm a picky eater - not very adventurous - but not a particularly discerning one.  I don't much care about the quality of the food I ingest, so long as it's not rancid.  I've no talent in the kitchen at all.  I'm a to-the-letter recipe follower but I don't generally have a feel for what's going on with the dish I'm attempting to make.  There's some secret to the alchemy of creating tasty food from a collection of raw ingredients that can't be conveyed directly by a cookbook page, and therefore I am missing out entirely.

My husband is a superb cook and, as such, bears the brunt of the feeding duties in our home.  He is also an extremely discerning judge of the quality of most things, including the food he eats.  So if there is something I cook that he approves of, I feel like raising my arms in triumph and taking a victory lap of the kitchen.  I recently baked a carrot cake from scratch, frosting and all, for his birthday.  He doesn't have much of a sweet tooth; I more than offset that for both of us.  I served him a slice of the cake, which he immediately pronounced 'ginormous' - at which point I offered to polish off the portion he wouldn't be able to eat.  I figured this was kind of a pity tasting - like you might undertake for the baking efforts of a small child.  Imagine my surprise when a few minutes later he presented me with a sparkling clean plate and a word of gratitude for the 'delicious cake.'  I wanted to rent a billboard to proclaim my success to the world.  Instead I just blogged about it.

Childhood Memories

Speaking of baking, the act of creating that carrot cake brought back a rush of memories.  When I was very small I was given a children's baking cookbook and I used to really enjoy making cookies and brownies and such.  I'm not sure I was ever particularly good at it... I mainly liked sampling the batter.  Somewhere along my journey to adulthood, I gave up baking.  I'm sure my waistline is grateful.  When I was making the cream cheese frosting for D's birthday cake, I forsook my trusty Kitchen-Aid mixer and dug out the rarely-used handheld mixer - one just like my mom had - to whip the frosting.

It was when I ejected the beaters and began cleaning off the frosting (with my fingers and tongue, naturally) that I was so completely returned to childhood I could almost feel the whoosh of years reversing past me.  I carefully licked the outside of each batter "blade," then switched to sweeping frosting off the inside with my finger, slightly stymied when it all collected where the base of the blades joined the shaft of the beater before I realized I could extract it with my tongue.  The systematic, almost reverential, execution of the process took me back years and years to those determined childhood baking efforts and their primary reward - licking the beaters.

Favorite Sweets

Speaking of sweets, I've recently rediscovered a passion for a certain candy.  Lemonheads.  I know, right?  You probably haven't had a Lemonhead since you were about ten.  I think I was first introduced to these when you could buy a little box for 5¢ or so.  I used to get them at a penny candy shop that one of the neighbors was running out of the front room of his house.  Isn't it funny when you are small and your reality doesn't seem strange to you?  Of course, everybody has an old guy on their street with a sweet shoppe in his living room.  That's not odd at all.

Recently, I was in The Dollar Store and I found this big box of Lemonheads.  I took them home, put them in the cupboard, and forgot about them for a few days.  Then one evening I cracked them open and popped two in my mouth.  Oh, sweet candy crack, these are amazing.  I simply must eat them two at a time; no more, no less.  If one has enough patience to suck on them until the sweet-tart outer covering dissolves, you are rewarded with a tiny globe of purely sweet candy core.  I do not have that patience.  I pop two in my mouth and there is a rush of sensation from the back corners of my mouth, right up under my ears, responding to the tartness.  Then I crush the little candies to release even more of the sweet-tart flavor all at once - it's like a drug to me.  I can eat a ridiculous amount of these things in one session, but it's not like I'm thinking about them if I don't have them or anything.  I could quit any time, honest.

* * *

So, on to the nominees for the Irresistably Sweet Bloggers I'd like to recognize.

Nicki writes at Suddenly Single Journey and What Dreamers Do and just recently quit her job to write full time.  Nicki was the first blogger that encouraged me to keep writing - I might have give up long ago otherwise.  Life keeps throwing her curve balls and she keeps fielding them with drive and determination. I can't wait to see how this next stage of life develops for her.

Leanne of Ironic Mom is wickedly sharp and funny and I'm in awe of her ability to come up with great on-line community building ideas.  For instance, she is the co-conspirator behind Search Bombing and School Photo Day.  Mainly, though, I am drawn to her brilliant tales of being a mom of 7-year-old twins, because it gives me a glimpse of what I might take on should I choose a path of motherhood, and an example of how to deal with that eventuality with grace and humor.  Well, with humor anyway. ;-)

Beth of The Botut Blog chronicles her journey of "experimenting through life" as a wife and mother of three.  She is hilarious and has a big heart - she and her family coordinate International Relief Missions in order to share their blessings with families lacking basic essentials due to conflict or natural disasters.  If anyone can be called Irresistably Sweet, it is her.

Last, but not least, Em at It's the Small Things blogs her adventures in the North of England, including periodic posts of scrumptious entries into the Iron Cupcake competitions.  Somebody needs to get right on the invention of teleportation of delicious baked goods through broadband lines so I can find out if her amazing cupcakes taste as good as they look.

Thanks once again, Leo, for passing this award on to me.  You are so sweet!

* * *

So, tell me, what is your favorite sweet... or if you don't have a sweet tooth, feel free to wax rhapsodic about the one food you can't resist, sweet or not.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I Heart Macro

studio waterstone

How often have you stopped to really take in the little details? These are the nearly imperceptible textures, colors and shapes that saturate our world, but are so easily overlooked.  This is why I adore the "I heart macro" project hosted by Lori at StudioWaterstone.  The power of macro photography amplified by social networking gives me a peek into the little details other people capture from their lives.  Wonderful!  Click through the link to enjoy this week's other submissions.

Here is my contribution, captured on a walk with the trusty tiny Canon point-and-shoot I always have with me.  It's lucky I found it before the surface tension collapsed and this water droplet, impossibly suspended on the leaf ridges, disappeared like it was never there.

Falling into a dewdrop

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Way Back Wednesday: Swag me baby

I originally posted this back in April 2010.  If you ever click through to my blog, you might notice the banner at the top of the page that tallies the real dollars I've earned using Swagbucks in the past couple of years.  If you want to join me in the Swag Nation, read on.

* * *

About a year ago, I heard about the Swagbucks search engine. Every time you search the net with Swagbucks you get a random chance to win 10 or more swagbucks. You can use your swagbucks to redeem gifts and prizes, my favorite being the $5 Amazon gift card for 450 swagbucks.  In the past 12 months, I've earned $85 (UPDATE: now over $200!) in real money to spend at Amazon... just for searching the net!  How cool is that?!

My strategy has been to set the swagbucks search site as my home page and default engine in my browser's tool (both at home and at work) and never go directly to any website before first entering the name in the swagbucks search.  Amazon?  Ebay? Yahoo mail? MSN portal? Swagbucks 'em all.  Alternatively, in Firefox and Internet Explorer, you can add Swagbucks to the browser built-in search toolbar as your default search tool by installing a plug-in.

Swagbucks uses and Google to provide the search results, which include sponsored listings, and if I'm honest, the search is nowhere near comprehensive (UPDATE: It seems to have improved over the past year).  For easy searches, it gets the job done, but often I find that after first entering my search terms at Swagbucks to try to win a few, I just go up to the address bar or favorites menu and directly access the site I'm seeking.  For more complex or in-depth topic searches, I often end up swagbucksing Google then heading there to do a "real" search.  I always laugh deviously at the irony when that wins me swagbucks too.

Full disclosure:  If you sign-up for a Swagbucks account using this link or click through from the banner I've posted at the top of this page, you will get 30 swagbucks upon registering and I get a few swagbucks too.

If you are the type of person that only cares about efficiency in your keyboard strokes, swagbucks isn't for you.  But over the past year, I would estimate that the extra keystrokes I've entered as a result of using swagbucks could only add up to an hour at most.  And earning $85/hour for something I'm doing anyway... that is totally worth it to me.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

School Photo Day: Oh the horror

The journey as I morphed from this adorable tot...

... to this adult version (hands down, the day I felt most beautiful - it's amazing what professional hair, makeup and photography can do for your self image) was not always a graceful one.

Wait, you say, this is supposed to be School Photo Day?  Well, that is true, but for my own pride I had to post those two images to counteract the pain of what comes next.

I was, like all of us, a cute baby and I have grown into a reasonably presentable semblance of human as an adult.  However, there were those terribly awkward years in between, painfully documented in that annual rite - the school photo day.  I never had cool clothes. I didn't know how to smile naturally.  I would wait for my turn in front of the cameras, in line with all my fellow students like lambs to the slaughter, inwardly practicing my best portrait smile.  This, of course, was a useless exercise because I didn't have a mirror.  The torturous process was made worse by the feeling that one was doing it in a fish bowl.  The whole class was standing there, probably thinking what I a dork I looked like, smiling my geeky smile.  For someone as shy as my childhood self, this was intolerable.  Ack! 

The portraits documenting my awkward progression through childhood were lovingly compiled and labeled by my mother, who I still haven't quite forgiven for those bangs:

These culminate in my senior yearbook portrait... my, my I was really working the supermodel pout there, wasn't I?

Those aren't so bad, you say?  Well, we always are harder on ourselves.  But it gets much, much better if you scroll down to the bottom.

There were informal yearbook photos too.

I was a cheerleader:

I was in the school play:

I was in the school choir, which is the only excuse for this getup:

But if there were a contest for awkward yearbook photos, this has got to be a top contender*.   Note the snarky comment inserted by a fellow student signing my yearbook:

* The year after this photo appeared, I joined the yearbook club in order to have some chance to intercept the publication of any other humiliating photos.

* * *
So come on internets, if I'm willing to post a yearbook photo of me apparently picking my nose, you gotta give me what you got.  Join in and post a link to your site in the comments below.  No excuses if you don't have a picture available today.  It's now School Picture Week!  Follow my nose-picking lead and dig one out... then come back and post a comment in the next few days.  For more school photo fun, visit the sites of my co-hosts: Ironic Mom and EduClaytion.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blast from the Past: School Picture Day

Join in and spread the word: Graphic courtesy Leanne
So last week, I was back in the old home state kickin' it with a friend who's known me since I was four.  During the visit, she shared a brilliant scrapbook that her mom had put together with pictures spanning her entire childhood.  I appeared in a few of those pictures too, at various stages in my ugly duckling childhood.  Well, that wasn't my whole childhood.  Mainly just the years from, oh, seven to seventeen.

During the week, S and I also discussed blogging, bloggers and the IRL childhood connection that she has to one Clay Morgan at Educlaytion.  Yearbooks were dragged out and photos were perused.  After I threatened to unleash Clay's 3rd grade photo via Twitter (I didn't), Leanne of Ironic Mom, a veritable font of great ideas, mooted a suggestion and a blog-hopping "School Picture Day" was born.  SPD, or doomsday, depending on how you feel about your school pictures, is June 1st.

The idea is to dig out your old school portraits or yearbook photos and inflict it upon share them with the world on June 1st in a post, tweet or even a billboard if that's your sort of thing. Comments on other photo posts with link-backs to your own are encouraged and, as with most on-line contact sports, the more the merrier.  It will be like, but more inclusive.

If you know Clay and Leanne, the dynamic duo that unleashed SearchBombing upon the world, you already know that anything these two cook up is bound to be a good time.  If you don't know Clay and Leanne, add them to your readers ASAP.  You won't be sorry.

So tell me - are you on board for school picture day? Extra points: Any ideas for the Twitter hashtag, besides the obvious and rather lengthy #SchoolPhotoDay?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Things for which I am Supremely Grateful

"I'm not going to tell you cancel your vacation, but I am going to tell you if you choose to go, you'll be working very hard." 

This came from my boss four days before I was due to take off for a week-long vacation to visit, in two separate jaunts, a couple of dear friends on the east coast.  The trip was spectacularly ill-timed due to some big developments at my company on a transaction for which my input was critical to meeting its deadline.  To his credit, my boss offered to pay for a replacement trip at a more convenient time, but I didn't want to reschedule at the last minute.  I had already been working very hard and darn it, I wanted to go; hell, I needed to go.

So I headed out Friday evening on a red-eye flight.  By the time we were airborne, I had been up for 22 hours, and operating on less than 4 hours of sleep the night before.

And here is where we get to a list of things for which I am supremely grateful:

1)  Technology.  A secure, accessible-anywhere-there-is-internet connection that lets me get my job done pretty much anywhere in the world.

2) Workplace flexibility.  I have worked hard to earn the reputation that I don't let people down.  I've been rewarded with an extraordinary flexibility in when and where I get my job done.  Even when the success of one the most important events in the company's history was partially contingent on the performance of my job, nobody batted an eye when I said, "I'm going anyway."

3) An empty middle seat next to me on the red eye flight.    Holly over at Nothing But Bonfires said it better than I ever could in her post about flying this week.
"On the plane, on the aisle of a row of three seats, I chanted The Frequent Traveler's Prayer as the other passengers filed on. Oh, you don't know The Frequent Traveler's Prayer? I just made it up and it goes like this:
Please please please please please please please please please please please plesase please please please please please please let nobody be sitting in this middle seat.

You can mutter it under your breath or chant it in your head until... the flight attendant announces that the aircraft doors are now closed---at which point you may sigh with relief, turn to your neighbor on the window and exchange a smug smirk and/or fistbump, depending on his or her age and your feelings on fistbumping strangers in public."
I don't even remember the last time I flew on a plane that wasn't completely stuffed full of people.  So I didn't dare to entertain such a decadent thought as I settled into my window seat with a pillow and a Delta blanket that left red fuzz all over my freshly dry-cleaned trousers.  I was so involved in the 820-page novel I'd brought to pass the time that it wasn't until we were backing away from the gate that I noticed a distinct feeling of freedom.  Space, sweet blessed space, afforded by the empty seat next to me, which brings me to the next thing I am grateful for...

3) Physical flexibility.  I might possibly have missed my calling in the circus.  I have the ability, rarely found in those past puberty, to curl myself into a 3 cubic ft ball and comfortably sleep that way.   So as soon as we were airborne, I tucked my feet into the empty middle seat, stuffed every soft thing within arms reach behind my back to the plane wall and didn't wake until the flight crew were asking us to place our seatbacks and tray tables in their full upright and locked position for landing.

4) Last, but by far not least, the unconditional love and acceptance of truly great friends.  I worked well over 40 hours on my week's "vacation."  I'm not sure I joined my friend's families at the dinner table more than once on my visits to their homes last week.  But my friends kept me fed, watered, and even cocktailed if necessary.  They offered me sympathy and support and never once questioned why I was putting so much effort into work when I was ostensibly on vacation and there to visit with them, not to spend the week tethered to my laptop.

* * *

I've been friends with R for the better part of a decade.  We've never even lived in the same city but became close while surviving an intense workload during a 9-month stint working together on a client in Manhattan.  Few people in my world could have understood why I was working so hard last week better than her.  She is pragmatic, driven, sympathetic and supportive.  She cheers my successes, and I hers; she seeks and provides counsel in equal measures.  She's not afraid to tell me what she thinks, she doesn't take offense at my own frank opinions and I know that she always, always has my back.  I couldn't ask for more in a chosen sister.

I've been friends with S for even longer.  It shocks me to realize that I've known her for nearly 3 1/2 decades.  Where does the time go and when did I get this old?  We met on my first Sunday at church after we moved to Pittsburgh when I was 4, when she offered to let me play with her stuffed cat.  It had realistic fur softer than anything I'd ever felt before and I admired it immensely.  She gave me that cat just before I moved across the country at age 14, and I stumble across it now and again when I'm organizing boxes.  We roomed together briefly in college to cement our friendship as newly-formed adults.  Despite long periods of disconnection, we have never held the passage of months or years between calls or visits against one another.

As we explored the depth and width of our shared history and put the current world to rights during the past few days, I realized just how lucky I am to have a friend who has known me for so long.  It a rare treasure. We exist in such different worlds and might not have been able to find the common ground to connect our souls, had we not enjoyed a childhood together.  It's a shame that we haven't lived within a few thousand miles of each other since I was 17, but I know it matters not - I always have a home where she keeps hers.

* * *

I had poured all of my mental resources into work before this break.  I felt as though I had been turned inside out and wrung free of every last bit of energy I have to give.  Although my "vacation" was anything but relaxing, being welcomed into my dear friends' homes for a few days with nothing but acceptance and support was a more restorative experience than I could have hoped for, and I can't thank them enough for getting me through the past week, and for the treasured friendships of many years.