Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Thank you, I'm Sorry

Two phrases that I'm trying to use less: "Thank you" and "I'm sorry". Sounds weird, doesn't it? Like I'm intentionally trying to be less-mannered or something? Actually, I'm just trying to return their relevance. At both of my jobs, I have to thank customers constantly, and that's OK. When I am a customer myself, I appreciate being thanked for my business, my patience, or whatever. Sometimes I have to apologize as well-- wrong drink made, check on hold for a week, long line. That's OK too. It's just part of the job and I take some pleasure in being professional and courteous. But in my personal life, I sometimes act like an employee out of habit.

I find myself apologizing to strangers over nothing. Do you know what I mean? When someone else bumps into you in a crowded place, and you instinctively burst out, "Sorry!" I accidentally thank people for *not* holding the door open for me: when they do that half-assed thing where you sort of shove the door open a little further behind you, but it's too soon and the door still slams into the next person? So that it *looks* as though you held the door but in reality you did not? I'm so used to thanking people that I say 'thanks' anyway, and they can't hear me, because they're already inside the store. I want to save "I'm sorry" for real apologies, things that I'm sorry for, things I regret. I want "I'm sorry" to mean something and not be a trivial nothing that I throw out into the open continuously. I want to thank people only when they've done something for me, so that "Thank you" implies real gratitude and not just routine 'manners'. I want to say both with sincerity, meaning and eye contact with the other party. I want to reclaim true manners and get rid of the false, silly stuff masquerading as politeness.

Monday, February 19, 2007

House Dreams

Yesterday, Don and I decided to forget all the stuff we had to do, and take a drive instead. So instead of laundry and cleaning (our usual Sunday routine) we drove all around the Virginia countryside, which is lovely even in winter. We drove up into the mountains where it was snowing, past farms, orchards, vineyards. With work so hectic for both of us right now, it felt imperative to take some real quality time together. In the car we can talk uninterrupted by the TV (or a movie or the Internet or laundry); plan for the future, daydream together.

We are really thinking about moving out of town when we make the quantum leap from renting to buying, so we were casually looking at anything for sale, too. Moving to Virginia has put a real hold on our home-buying plans, because the real estate around here is so much more expensive than where we were in Texas. There, you can get a decent house in a decent neighborhood for $100,000-ish. For twice that, you can get a really nice house in an even better neighborhood. It's a cheap place to live. Don and I could afford something like that; we have enough saved to make a sizeable downpayment. Here... yeah, right! We just can't afford a $400,000 house. Or a $300,000. or a $250,000. You get the picture. Everybody wants to live here, and it makes land expensive. But homes are a little less expensive out of town. It would mean a long commute (although Don says that he wouldn't mind that.) And it would mean the kind of isolation that living away from a city might bring.

I'm a cities-and-suburbs kind of girl. Never lived in the country. Never lived more than a mile from a restaurant, gas station, coffee shop. I like living a life that is in contact with other people, even the most casual kind of contact. On the other hand, I have (very cliched) daydreams about living "out there". Being able to do things like have a clothes-line, chickens*, and more than one dog. I would love to be able to play my piano without checking to see if our neighbor is home, first. But, I wonder what the people are like, who live away from town. I don't know if it's a stereotype or not, but it seems like they would be more conservative, old-fashioned, and religious? Or is that outdated? Maybe the countryside is full of crunchy-granola hippie liberals now. In which case, yay!

Could I live 30 miles from the nearest Starbucks? Is there a house out there somewhere for under 200,000 dollars, that still has a decent roof and foundation? We're pretty much 'over' renting. We would have bought a house in Texas if it weren't for the fact that we knew we'd be leaving within a few years.

*I've always wanted to have a chicken. But I know that once she's too old to lay eggs, we would have to retire her on pension, not turn her into dinner. Don says I would never be a real farmer. I have no idea how keeping chickens and having big dogs would work other than really good fencing.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Anti V-Day Rant

Wow! I just checked my calendar and discovered that it's time for my annual anti-Valentine's Day rant! I can't believe I forgot.

Main Points:

1. If you are part of a couple, there is intense pressure to act in certain ways, all of which involve spending a lot of money: candy, flowers, jewelry, dinners out. While I like all of those things, I don't like being dicated to by our commercial culture about when and why to get them. Don and I would rather choose when to be "romantic", and we create our own definitions! Romance doesn't come with a price tag.

2. If you are single, Valentine's Day makes you feel pretty shitty. It really rubs your lack of coupledom in your face, even if you're happy to not be in a relationship. There is an equally commercial reason for this. The message is, 'you don't need boyfriend/husband to buy you chocolates or jewelry, you can buy it yourself!' As long as it's still getting bought. "Girls only" nights, alcohol, and chocolates especially are marketed as the "be your own Valentine".

3. Valentine's Day is essentially sexist and unbalanced. It is seen as a day for the men to buy stuff for the women. Gifts going in the other direction are generally a token, like a card. The implicit message is that the sex later will make up the difference, reinforcing the tired stereotype that men want it, women don't... yeah, right. This is why single women are seen by society as "missing out" on V-Day, while single men are seen as lucky for escaping the whole shebang. I like a little more balance between myself and Don. My birthday is all about me. His is about him. But our anniversary and etc are even-- there's no emphasis on giver/givee.

4. The commercial powers-that-be are spreading V-Day's influence, so that now it's seen as normal to give Valentines (cards, candy, etc.) to parents, kids, friends, siblings... it doesn't subtract from the romantic element of the holiday but creates an even wider buying field.


When I'm at work, I wonder sometimes if I've become too removed from the average customer, too knowledgeable about banking to understand where they are coming from. I worry that maybe this all seems so normal to me, so logical, that I don't get why THEY don't get it. I try to remember what I knew about THE SYSTEM back before I was a part of it. Because honestly, how hard is this? I deal with the same problems over and over again.

Losing your debit card. Happens to everyone. Has happened to me in the past. We don't charge anything for new debit cards, even though it's a pain to block the old one, order a fresh one, give out a temporary one. But I think there should be a reasonable limit to how many times someone can lose their card. I think that there should be a one-new-card-per-year free, and any losses after that should get charged. Because who loses two debit cards in, say, three months?

Overdrafts. Is this as hard to comprehend as the customers make it seem? I can't remember. I know that before I worked at the bank, I did overdraw my account. But, I understood WHY that happened. I knew that it was my own error and not the banks. Here's how banking works, and honestly, not that hard, right?

You put money in the account. You then spend the money, either with checks or with debit-card purchases. Responsible people keep some kind of record. The rest of us use online banking combined with a healthy just-in-case-I-forgot-something balance. If you are going to spend close to the edge (that is, spend right up to the whole balance of your account) then you better be damned sure that you're keeping track of your purchases, because here's the major catch: they don't always show up right away. If you write someone a check, they have six months to cash it, so don't forget that you wrote that check. Store purchases frequently take a few days to "post", so if you go to Starbucks on Tuesday, that may not be reflected in your balance Wednesday. YOU have to remember that you already spent that money. Let's say your balance at first is 100.00. You spend 5.00 at McDonalds. You check your balance, say at an ATM, and it says, "$100.00". You then buy concert tickets for 99.99. The next day, your balance is negative 24.99. Because you over-drew your account with the concert tickets, and got charged an over-draft fee on top of that.

What I'm trying to figure out is, have I been doing this for so long that it seems too obvious? Every day I have to explain that no, it's not a bank error, it's a customer error. YOU are the only person whose responsibility it is to not over-spend your account. The bank did not "let" your concert-ticket purchase "go through" in an attempt to "nail" you for the overdraft charge. The bank does not know about your McDonald's 5.00 purchase until it hard-posts to your account, which could be days later.

Sometimes I feel like one of those computer-expert-people on the phone, who start yabbering on in computer jargon as though you can just follow along. But banking... everybody does it. These people, they come to the bank at least once a week. Why do they look at the deposit slip as though it's a foreign item?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Trojans and Mutts

Why look, it's my blog! I haven't been here in a while. For many reasons, or many excuses. First, I had a Very Bad Virus on my computer, and I really couldn't use my computer online till it was fixed. Usually, McAfee just finds the virus, Trojan or whatever, deletes it, and a little window pops up that says,

"Virus found and deleted!"

and disappears again. And I pat McAfee on the head for being such a good anti-virus software, being so diligent, protecting my computer! But this time, the window said,

"Trojan found, unable to delete"

which started all kinds of trouble. Many hours spend doing scans, visiting McAfee Help Online, visiting their forum boards, reading the FAQs, downloading their helpful mini-programs, running scans again. I eventually triumphed over the evil Trojan, which is now in quarantine. And I learned a lot about my computer and what to do with it. Like, Safe Mode. I didn't know what that was or how to use it, and now I do. This is the kind of thing I generally go to Don for, so it's nice to know that I can fix it myself if necessary.

And on Sunday, I had to work at the bookstore, when I've never had to work there before over the weekend. Everything I had planned to do-- you know, nothing interesting or fun but those little things that keep life moving like laundry, clean sheets on the bed, cleaning out the fridge-- didn't get done. So, no time to write. But, I've given my 2-weeks notice there. Starting in March, I will work just the one job, and just 35 hours a week.

I'm so exited that it's hard to describe. I'm trying to picture coming home from work on a Friday. It's about 5:00pm, and I have no other job to rush off to. The evening is mine, to spend with Don, to go out, to do as I wish. The weekend is mine. And all the evenings of the next week. It is an embarrassment of riches, this impending free time. The funny thing is that because the bank pays so much better per hour than the bookstore, I will barely be making any less money working 35 hours a week than I have been working 50-55 between the two of them these last three months.

Last night, Don and I watched the Westminster Dog Show, and Pedigree was running these commercials in order to raise money for their Adoption Drive . The first time this commercial came on, I cried. I think it's time to get another dog, or maybe, take some of my new free time and use it as volunteer time at the shelter here. Either way, I've decided to use dog-ness as a new judge of potential friends. I can't think of anyone worth knowing, off the top of my head, who doesn't like dogs.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Big Plunge

One of the nice things about working is that sometimes, we get bonuses. Extra money! Money that isn't already ear-marked in some way or another, for bills or for savings. I'm getting my year-end bonus at the beginning of March, and I think I know exactly what I want to do with it, but I'm scared. Last year, I was such a good girl. My bonus went straight into my fledgling little 401(k), every penny of it.

Only a few years out of college, and I'm still not used to this grown-up life that comes with paid vacation time, performance reviews, 401(k)'s, and bonus checks. The pay may be modest but the perks are OK.

The thing is, Don and I don't generally buy big things. We'd usually rather have $500.00 in the bank than have a 500-dollar-thingie at home and no money in the bank. We're saving to buy a house, saving to have emergency funds, for everything. Every time we think about buying something substantial, the thought fades away and we decide that the 'old one', whatever it is, should last awhile longer yet. That goes for the futon, Don's truck, our mattress, the dog... (just kidding about the dog). That doesn't mean that we're great at saving money or that we're really frugal. We still blow a lot of money on eating out, nights out, lattes, books, trips to Target or Lowes. It's easier to blow three hundred dollars by spending a little here, a little there until it's gone than to buy one three-hundred-dollar-thingie.

But here at the house we have a Laundry Situation, and it is not pretty. Our washer and dryer, they don't match. The dryer is an awesome dryer, a really fancy one, the kind that retails at over seven or eight hundred dollars. Don ended up bringing it home from work after it was discarded and no one else wanted it. One minor repair later and it is a dream dryer. The washer, though, is a piece of crap. We bought it for $50.00 from a relative of a coworker. It's probably as old as I am. It's 'belt' is broken, so when it tries to spin it vibrates all over the floor but the clothes are still soaking wet. It makes so much noise that I try to do laundry only when our downstairs neighbor isn't home. The clothes come out sudsy half the time, and have to go through another rinse. I'm pretty sure that it's only a few loads away from kicking the bucket completely.

So, I want to buy a new washer. But, I want to buy the dream-boat washer that would match our dryer, one that will eat up almost my whole bonus. At first I thought: maybe just a new, cheap machine. Something functional but basic. But if I do that, I'll want to replace it long before its time, because it won't have any of the features that I want: namely being a front-loader, being Energy-Star certified, and being crazy water-saving. Something like this, or this, or this. I want a washer that I will want to keep for as long as it survives, not a temporary machine. Washing machines last forever, I think; at least 8 or 9 years, judging by my parents' experience. (And obviously, by the dinosaur that I'm using right now, which could probably remember the Reagan Administration if washing machines had memory.) If I splurge right now and buy the good washer, it should last me a long, long, time. And it's not that hard to justify the cost if you calculate the cost per year if we can keep it working for, say, ten years. And, it will save money, too! Because of the Energy Star and the water-saving, and because if it actually wrings the clothes out during the spin cycle, the poor beleaguered dryer won't have to work quite as hard, either. But honestly, even the cheap washers spin. And it's hard to justify spending hundreds of dollars to save tens of dollars. But I want it. And I'll have the money to buy it, so what's the problem? I'm just going to do it. I am going to ignore that little voice that tells me to put the bonus check into my retirement account or into the House Down-payment Saving Account. It may not be a trip to Paris or a piece of jewelry, but it's what I want. Expect pictures of the Exiting New Washing Machine sometime in March.

ETA: I have become my mother. I am trying to justify the purchase of a prosaic, boring, useful appliance for the house, albeit an expensive one. How did I get so old so fast? Or have I always been this domesticated and not realized it till now?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Sunday, February 04, 2007

"Leading Cause of Death" or, statistics

Heart disease is the 'leading cause of death' among women in this country. This is the month dedicated to "awareness", but what does "awareness" really mean? And what does "leading cause of death" really mean?

In any population, there are going to be several main causes of death. That is, you could pick maybe 10 "causes" that accounted for almost all of the deaths in that population. Something is always the leading cause of death. Throughout human history, the leading causes of death have remained fairly constant until the last century or so... you know, when everything changed. Until then, the leading causes of death for women were (first) infectious diseases like pneumonia, influenza, tuberculosis, and syphilis and (second) childbirth, although there is some overlap because one of the main 'ways' to die from childbirth was to contract a deadly infection from bad birthing hygiene.

"Leading cause of death" for children has changed dramatically, as well, thank God. According to one website, the leading causes of death for children in 1900 were "pneumonia and influenza, tuberculosis, and enteritis with diarrhea", and children under 5 accounted for 40% of those deaths.

So in 1900, if you were lucky enough to live through childhood without contracting a disease that would today be considered either extinct or curable; and you didn't contract one of those same diseases as an adult; and you were blessedly able to deliver your children into this world without dying in the process.... then you might worry about a 'later-adulthood' disease like heart disease.

That's the story for this country a hundred years ago, but life is still like that in countries right now. According to the World Health Organization, the world-wide leading cause of death is HIV/AIDS. Second: lower respiratory infections (as in pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis...) Third: Diarrhea. Really. "Childhood Diseases" is still number six on the world's chart. All over the world, things like diarrhea and pneumonia are still leading causes of death, killing not the elderly but babies, children, young adults...

I guess what I'm trying to say is that as a country, we're damned lucky to claim heart disease as the "number-one-killer-of-women". It means that it's not childbirth. Not violence by men, by war, or by genocide. It's a disease that tends to strike later in life, and it indicates that as a population we're living long enough and healthy enough to get there.

I don't mean to say that "awareness" is not important. We should know what the top "killers" are, especially as the media tends to pick favorites (breast cancer, traffic fatalities) and publicize them. I'm not sure but I would guess that the average 40-something woman has been tested for breast cancer but maybe not for heart disease, and that's not right. We should definitely stop viewing heart disease as a men's problem when statistically it is killing more women. And of course we should make every attempt to eradicate heart disease, as we have with so many other things... polio, TB, syphilis.

But... we should not treat heart disease as some kind of "epidemic" that's "killing more people than ever before." Heart disease is not necessarily getting worse, or if it is, it is most likely due to lifestyle issues; our sedentary, overweight population is straining their hearts like never before. It's that we're dying so much less from everything else.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


ok so I know I posted here only a few hours ago but in that time I discovered this:


I could not be more exited, seriously. Have to go hyperventilate for awhile and call all similarly minded friends.
Heck, I'll be calling even the friends that couldnt' care less, just to talk their ears off a bit.


I thought this year that instead of making a grand list of New Year's Resolutions or Goals, I'd make one small goal each month. Keeps life more interesting that way, and I think it's easier to achieve. Having year-long goals makes it too easy to fall off the wagon, get depressed and angry about it and say, "Screw all the goals!" But at the other end, making no goals at all is tantamount to saying, "My self and my life are absolutely perfect, nothing here that needs any kind of improvement". My little goal for January was to get my 'extra room' into order, so that it was neat and usable instead of being crammed with unpacked boxes. Check!

For February, I'm trying something different. The bank where I work, it's in a building on the university grounds that houses all kinds of stuff-- student services, game rooms, cafeterias, a coffee place. Within the cafeteria (which is maybe 20 feet from the bank), is this stand that sells roast chicken, turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, peach cobler... it's wonderful and it all tastes homemade-from-scratch. The macaroni? It's as good as the stuff I make at home. The gravy is not McCormick's, it tastes like Thanksgiving gravy. And I've been eating there two or three times a week, because it is SO GOOD, and yet it is SO BAD for me. So this month, I will abstain from the roast-chicken stand. Instead, I will go either to the sushi bar for non-fishy sushi (yes, I know. I know.) or get a fruit cup and yogurt, or bring something healthy from home. One month with no turkey-n-gravy-n-mashed . . .can I do it? I told my plan to both of my coworkers, so that they will hassle me should I waver. It's not that I'm trying to lose weight (although that would be OK too) so much as that I'm sure it's bad to eat as though it's Thanksgiving a couple of times a week.