Sunday, August 30, 2009

More Bad News

As if not getting the full-time jobs I applied for, the two expensive car repairs and my as-yet unsuccessful attempts to get the State of Arizona to pay my unemployment claim aren't bad enough, I've got more bad news. Times two, in fact.

One: an insurance company wants to total John's car after he was rear-ended again a week ago. I don't know whether he'll be able to keep it, or get enough money to replace it. We can't take on a car payment right now. Even if we qualified for a loan on John's income alone, we'd be crazy to add to our monthly obligations. John wants desperately to hang onto his Alero, which despite its bent frame is drivable, but I doubt that our insurance company will allow that once they hear what the other insurance company said.

As for me, I remember how this worked when the kid in the 1965 Ford truck totaled my Saturn. The settlement was almost enough to pay for a car three years older, my 1994 Eagle Vision. And yes, that's the car I've spent $1100 on this month with two loans from my dad and one from Citibank.

Two: I heard a mosquito-like whining coming from the den just now, partly muffled by the sound of the room air conditioner in there. Thinking the a/c had overheated or frozen up or something, I turned it off. The whine continued. It was coming from our decade old ONLY television, a Magnavox that was rather good in its day and has never given us any trouble. Now it has no picture, no channel changing, and the only sound it makes is one we wouldn't want to hear.

The tv, back when it used to work.

"One by one, everything we have is breaking and we can't replace it," John said.

We have a Commodore 64 monitor in the bedroom, which is tiny and has the wrong aspect ratio. But it still works, bless it, after a quarter century. It will be interesting to see whether it's possible to run cable tv through it via our little seven-year-old VCR/DVD player or our $30 DVD player.

If the unemployment money finally comes through this week, maybe we'll get a modest tv of some sort. Otherwise, we'll have to made do with the Commodore and John's computer. My laptop doesn't have the RAM for multitasking, and I'm not at all sure the DVD drive is working reliably these days.

And this week we somehow lost Disc Two of Doctor Who: The Complete First Series. We've both been searching for several days, to no avail.

Please, God, I'd like some good news now.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Weekend Assignment # 282: I CAN HAZ LOLCATS?

Last week I showed two offline friends my "I CAN HAZ HEALTHCARE" poster, and ended up having to explain about LOLcats and what "can haz" means. That little cultural divide inspires this week's Weekend Assignment:

Weekend Assignment: #281: Create a LOLcat (or a LOLdog, or a LOLpig, a LOLhorse or whatever). If you can do it with your own pet photo, great (I'm looking at YOU, Sara and Sarah), but alternatively you can just describe what it would look like. Don't forget the humorous caption! Here's a "lolbuilder" to help you out.
Extra Credit: Do you like "lolspeak" and other Internet slang, or mostly find it annoying?

[Update #1: I have been taken to task for not explaining about lolcats and the language thereof, for those of you who may not have made it to those areas of "teh interwebs." Here's a quick glossary:

  • LOLcats - funny pictures of cats doing cute things, posted online, usually captioned in a peculiar form of internet slang known as "lolspeak," a humorous mangling of English inspired by the accidental wackiness of "Engrish." From LOL = laughing out loud + cats. The motherlode of such things is on the website I Can Has Cheezburger? Of particular interest are Ceiling Cat (a cat peeking down from ceiling tiles, with spinoff pics and a mock-religious following), Helmet Cat (a cat wearing a helmet made of melon rind, or possibly a hollowed out lime) and Bacon Cat (John Scalzi's cat, Ghlaghghee, with bacon taped to her side). Unsurprisingly, I prefer LOLdogs myself
  • I CAN HAZ (or I Can Has) = May I have (a)....
  • OH HAI - Oh, hi! (as in being nonchalant after being caught in the act)
  • MAI = my
  • UR = your. Most often found in the construction "I'M IN UR ____, _____ING UR _____." An example would be a cat looking at a Webster's, captioned, "I'M IN UR DICKSHUNARY, SPEELIN UR WERDZ."
  • KTHXBAI (and variants) = okay, thanks, bye!
  • KITTEHS = kittens or cats
  • TEH = the
For more, check out the various internet slang dictionaries, decoders and guides as well as lolcat websites. You can also get your very own lolname at (Mine is apparently "Kernel Snookums," which doesn't suit me at all.) There is even a project to translate the entire Bible into lolspeak. This begins,

Genesis 1: Boreded Ceiling Cat makinkgz Urf n stuffs

1 Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.

2 Da Urfs no had shapez An haded dark face, An Ceiling Cat rode invisible bike over teh waterz.

There is much more to this subject, but that's enough to give the uninitiated a taste of what we're discussing and replicating here.]

[Update #2: for those of you with no easy way to come up with pictures of your own to caption, here are three of mine you can use in your entry. Click on a picture to get to my relevant Picasa gallery, where you can find more pictures to use. Please add "Photo by KFB. Some rights reserved." to any photo of mine you post on your own blog, k? Thx bye!

Photo by KFB. Some rights reserved.
From the Picasa album Hermitage No-Kill Shelter

Photo by KFB. Some rights reserved.
From the Picasa album Hermitage No-Kill Shelter

Photo by KFB. Some rights reserved.
From the Picasa album Trouble Dogs

end of Update #2]

My own answer is also my response to Carly's Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot for this week, which calls for pictures of laundry. My photos are technically rather crummy this time out, but they'll do:

I'm strongly ambivalent about Netspeak in general, and the spelling and grammar of lolcats in particular. There are enough assaults on correct written English as it is, with the online and offline worlds both rife with sloppy punctuation, and a generation (at least) more comfortable with the abbreviations of texting and Twitter than the actual words from which they spring. My allegiance is with real English, as taught in school and promulgated in books - well, most books. When I try to use the lolcat patois, I find it difficult to make myself misspell a word, even for humorous effect. Yet at the same time, I'm fascinated by the very existence of this odd dialect. Why "can haz?" Why "hai" instead of hi? What are teh rulz of the language of kittehs? Is there somewhere I can take a course in it? (Answer: iz here.) If I did, would I do better in it that I did in my French lit course? I doubt it! So I guess I'll struggle along with my hybridized English and lolspeak as needed.

How about you? If you have a camera, catch your pet (or in a pinch, your human) doing something interesting, photograph it, and add a funny caption - spelling optional. Post the result in your blog, along with your comments about Internet slang, and please, please include a link back to this entry. I'll be back next Friday with a roundup of your responses. Like this!

For Weekend Assignment #281: Writers or Actors?, I asked whether you pay more attention to actors or the behind-the-camera talent (writers, producers and directors) when deciding whether to watch a film of tv show. We had a good turnout this week, so let's get right to the excerpts from your responses:

New participant (and veteran Leaper) Jo said in comments...

Hi Karen,
Scott Bakula is definitely my favorite actor as well as one of the nicest people I know so yes, I'll watch almost anything he's in. Even saw Lord of Illusions although I hated that one. Not my cup of tea. But some movies I'll watch because I've read the book. The Time Traveler's Wife was one of those and so are the Harry Potter movies. I'll usually go to a Pixar or Disney movie because they do quality stuff - UP was one of those - although Monsters vs Aliens stunk.

Guess I have to say except for Scott, it's the subject matter that draws me into a movie, not the actor. TV - it's the writing definitely. That's first. If it's not well written, I don't stick around to see how good the actors are - usually.

Duane said...

Aren't they both important? Doesn't one group complement the other? I'd lean toward the writers, producers and directors, but my set of favorites would be small. The actors would influence my decision, but the material, the kind of movie or show it is would influence me the most. I'd rather see Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves than The Bodyguard.

Florinda said...

Given that answer to the extra-credit question, it seems like my answer to the first question would be the "behind the scenes" people...and if I think about it a little more, that's probably right. Since I spend most of my non-watching time reading, it makes sense that I would have an affinity for the people who create the premises, develop the settings and themes, and put the words in the characters' mouths. The actors bring those characters and words to life, and when the part is cast just right - when you truly can't imagine someone else in the role - they're integral to the project. But without the writers, producers, and directors - who sometimes overlap in two or even three of those roles - there would be no project in the first place.

New participant Amy (welcome, Amy!) said...

The truth is, the writers, producers, and/or directors probably have the most consistent impact. While I am definitely attached to certain actors and actresses, when I hear a certain creative mind is behind a project I am automatically curious. This is especially true for television. For me, the name Joss Whedon inspires ridiculous loyalty. J.J. Abrams, Rob Thomas, Eric Kripke, Howard Gordon, David Fury, Jane Espenson, Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, Tim Minear, Bryan Fuller....all those names will make me take notice.

Mike said...

I am leaning towards the writers and directors. As Karen says, they bring the idea to the show or movie. They create the world, the characters and most everything about a movie. Without them you would have people walking around and making stuff up the whole time. It would be the world's worst improv session.

That's it for tonight! Many thanks to Jo, Florinda, Amy and Mike for their help this week. If you're reading this (and you are), I hope you'll follow their example, and jump in with your own Weekend Assignment entry. Here are the guidelines if you'd like to participate:

  1. Please post your entry no later than Friday, September 4th at 6 PM. (You can also post your response in the comments thread, but a blog entry is better. )
  2. Please mention the Weekend Assignment in your blog post, and include a link back to this entry.
  3. Please come back here after you've posted, and leave a link to your entry in the comments below.
  4. Visiting other participants' entries is strongly encouraged!
  5. I'm always looking for topic ideas. Please email me at mavarin2 on if there's a Weekend Assignment theme you'd like to see. If I use your idea, you will be credited as that week's "guest professor."

That's it! Simple, huh? I look forward to seeing your lolpix!


Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Job, the Claim, the Blog and the Doctor

I didn't get the job, the one I really, really wanted. The company's recruiter was very nice throughout, and there's a tiny chance that maybe I'll be able to get a job with them someday. But not now. Drat.

Meanwhile, I spoke with an Arizona unemployment insurance deputy again yesterday, filing two more weeks' worth of claims. She initially insisted that I'd not been filing weekly and that all the unpaid weekly claims were all put into the system at once on August 17th or somesuch date, and furthermore that I had not been reporting my small income from St. Michael's. I explained, twice, that I had in fact filed weekly online whenever the system let me, and on the phone or in person the rest of the time, and that all those weeks had been marked "unresolved issue," and then "disqualified" or "denied" (I forget which), and then deleted entirely, and then put back in as "unresolved issue;" and that I have indeed reported my part time wages all along. She looked again, grudgingly admitted to seeing my $30 gross wages on one week's claim, and asked whether I was making $30 a week. That's actually the low end of a range, but there wasn't much point in arguing about it. She eventually worked out how to take my weekly claims for the two recent weeks in which the computer wouldn't let me file, and told me in the future to tell the deputy that I "need to file my weekly claim under Sequence One."

Once she managed to do that, I'm sure she thought she'd done all I needed. After all, who cares that I've been jerked around for two months with conflicting answers about what unemployment compensation I may be due and how to get it, culminating in two months of still-unpaid claims? What does it matter if my finally-approved claim is currently held up by a question about whether working 2 to 4 hours a week on a flexible schedule prevents me from accepting a full time job? What's the point of acknowledging that such an idea is insane, or of checking on the status of two forms and a note from Father Smith that I've already submitted in refutation? So what if I need to know whether this is in the process of being cleared up, or will stay unresolved indefinitely until I speak to someone who has a clue how this works, as has already happened twice before? Surely it's not the deputy's problem, right?

But I did manage, on the edge of tears, which isn't usually the case for me in these wrangles, to get her to look up what is happening, if anything. Apparently the case is being actively worked. That meant she couldn't do any more for me, but now I knew that my file was theoretically not hanging around in perpetual limbo.

Yeah, well. I just checked. You know what the website says?

Unemployment Insurance Claim Information

The balance remaining in your claim ending 05/29/2010 is [$]. Your claim is not in active status. To avoid losing benefits, reopen your claim before 5:00pm on 08/28/2009

Unemployment Insurance Payments
Benefit Week / Amount Paid / Date Paid / Check Number / Earnings
No payments found

Unpaid Claimed Weeks
Click on a paid or unpaid week date to display deductions to the benefit payment. Unpaid Week Non-payment / Reason / Earnings
08/08/2009 / Unresolved Issue / $0.00
08/01/2009 / Unresolved Issue / $0.00
07/25/2009 / Unresolved Issue / $0.00
07/18/2009 / Unresolved Issue / $0.00
07/11/2009 / Unresolved Issue / $0.00
06/27/2009 / Unresolved Issue / $0.00
06/20/2009 / Unresolved Issue / $0.00
06/13/2009 / Unresolved Issue / $0.00
06/06/2009 / Unresolved Issue / $0.00

Unresolved Issues
Established Date / Issue Reason
08/14/2009 / Available for Full Time Work
Allow four weeks after the Established Date before contacting the UI Call Center regarding the status of the issue.

In other words, not only has there been no progress on getting the "unresolved issue" resolved, but the clueless deputy's "Sequence One" reporting of the weeks ending 8/15 and 8/22 hasn't made it into the system, either. And yes, on the face of it, my reported $30 to $60 a week isn't in evidence. And they want me to wait until mid-September to call about the problem, and, at the same time, "reopen" my claim by this Friday afternoon, using a website that consistently gives me an error message on the final screen!

I had a call tonight from a volunteer with the Democratic Party about a few upcoming local events, including one that costs $25 a plate (or maybe $35; I forget). When I explained my financial situation and mentioned my troubles with the unemployment claim, he suggested that I contact my Congress person. He said that he worked for Nancy Pelosi, and that House members have "back door numbers" to call and the clout to get things done. Well, it may come to that. This has gone on far too long, and is more than a little dispiriting to John as well as for me.

So if I'm not blogging enough, and delinquent on commenting on people's EMPS and Round Robin entries, I hope you'll understand that it's me trying to reduce my stress. Mostly I've been doing Facebook stuff and watching early Doctor Who instead. I started the latter activity a month or two ago, trying to watch, in order, all the First Doctor stories I hadn't already seen recently. Now I'm about two thirds of the way through the Second Doctor era, watching a 1968 story called The Invasion.

Like many of the 1960s Doctor Who stories, The Invasion suffers from the fact that the BBC shortsightedly junked a large portion of its television archive in the 1970s, before the home video market and overseas reruns made valuable commodities of fondly-remembered old shows. The BBC is fortunate to have four of the six episodes of The Invasion, and has created an animated reconstruction of episodes one and four. Other serials have only one surviving episode, or none. Fans have made "reconstructions" of the missing Doctor Who episodes from still photos, surviving clips and the episodes' soundtracks, distributing them for free in a low enough quality format to avoid raising the BBC's ire. Some are great; others, at least the versions I've seen, feature images so muddy and dark or washed out that it's hard to tell the Doctor from a Yeti, or even a bit of landscape. That's generally when I break out the Target Books novelization of the story. I have a complete set of these, covering nearly every serial from 1963 through 1989.

The Invasion
is notable for a number of milestones, including the introduction of a character named Benton. Corporal Benton of UNIT was soon promoted to Sergeant Benton, and eventually to RSM Benton. But in his first appearance he's almost a secret agent character, doing plainclothes surveillance and extraction work. The actor who played Benton, stage name John Levene, had previously been an extra on the show, playing a Yeti and a Cyberman. He's a really interesting guy, someone I've known casually for nearly 20 years, ever since interviewing him at the first Gallifrey One convention in 1990. He's used a number of surnames over the years for various purposes; I think of him affectionately as John Manynames. Our early interviews with him formed the basis of an article Teresa Murray and I wrote for Starlog many years ago, which in turn, John claims, helped him get his green card.

Anyway, I was happy to finally see John's earliest stories, imperfect and incomplete as they are, and to see his name roll by in the reconstructed credits. It occurred to me that I hadn't spoken with him in a couple of years, so to cheer myself up (and for other reasons) I gave him a call. He's generally doing all right, but is suffering from a torn rotator cuff, for which he'll have surgery in mid-September. Nevertheless, it was great to hear his wonderful English voice again, and to catch up a bit on our respective lives. We agreed to check in again in a year or so.

So this is where I trot out the cliche about at least having my health, not to mention friends and a husband who loves me (and still has a job). As another cliche tells us, things can always be worse. But you know what? Things could be better, too.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Round Robin: One White Dove

From A Herd of Birds

Given all my distractions this week - repeated car troubles, two job interviews, battles with the state of Arizona over unemployment compensation, obligations at church, volunteering for the Democrats and our hot, rain-challenged Arizona monsoon - I really thought I would have to resort to archive photos for this week's Round Robin Photo Challenge, "Birds," as suggested by Robinella of Robin's Nest. But when I came out of the Pima County Democratic Headquarters late Friday afternoon, an hour or so after a brief thunderstorm, I came upon this flock of rock doves, otherwise known as pigeons. Intriguingly, just one of the doves was nearly all white. I spent the next several minutes photographing the doves' reactions to each other, to passing cars and to the woman with the camera.

Almost immediately after I started photographing the birds, a passing car put them to flight. Intriguingly, the white dove ended up on the far side of a nearby fence while the grey doves returned to the ground on my side of it.

The separation was short-lived.

Kinda cute, isn't it?

Eventually, a honking car sent the whole flock into the air again, including the white one and a sorta-kinda partly-white one. I took one last shot and headed for Kinko's.

Now let's see everyone else's bird photos!

Linking List

Robinella (private - login required)

Carly - Posted!

Betty - Posted!
A Corgi in Southern California

Karen - Posted!
Outpost Mâvarin

Steve **Welcome, New Member** - Posted!
Gone Batty Photo

Mommy's Treasures

Ellen B. - Posted!
The Happy Wonderer

Monica - Posted!
Shutterly Happy

Molly Mavis - Posted!
Visual Dialogues

In Quest of Freedom

Jama - Posted!
Sweet Memories

Suzanne R
SuzyQ421's Photo Blog

Margaret **Welcome, New Member**
Facts From A Fact Woman

Rita - Posted!
Cashjocky and the Old Salt

Fhaye - Posted!

Vicki - Posted!

Gattina - Posted!
Keyhole Pictures

Peggy - Posted!
Holmespun Fun Memes and Themes

Linda - Posted!
Linda's Window

Betty - Posted!
A Glimpse into Midlife

And don't forget our other memes:

Karen... Outpost Mâvarin (Weekend Assignment) A new assignment posted each Friday!

Carly... Ellipsis (Monday Photo Shoot) A New assignment posted every Monday!


Friday, August 21, 2009

Weekend Assignment #281: Writers or Actors?

Let's get right to it:
Weekend Assignment: #281: Who has a greater impact on your decision to go to a movie or watch a tv show, the actors you see on the screen, or the behind the scenes writers, producers and/or directors?
Extra Credit: Who is your favorite actor?
By the time I hit high school, my allegiance with respect to the creative forces behind my favorite tv shows was solidly behind the show's writers and, by extension, the producers. My heroes were Gene Roddenberry, David Gerrold, Harlan Ellison and Larry Gelbart, not William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and Alan Alda. Oh, I liked and respected all of those actors, particularly Nimoy (who was also a writer) and Alda (clearly a highly intelligent and articulate guy). But they merely said the words that the writers dreamed up. I cared about the dreams and the dreamers of the dreams, not the dreams' human delivery systems.

That was a long time ago. My primary interest is still with the people behind the words; without J K Rowling (and Steven Kloves) there is no series of blockbuster films for Daniel Radcliffe to star in. But over the years my respect has grown for good acting as well. I can tell you about the top five writers of Quantum Leap's most important episodes, each writer's particular forte and certain recurring themes; but none of it would have worked without Scott Bakula's extraordinary acting skills. That show depended on Bakula's ability to convincingly portray Sam Beckett, a man who takes on many personae in his involuntary travels through time and other people's lives. In one key episode, "Catch a Falling Star," Bakula plays a scientist who is pretending to be an actor who is playing Cervantes as he portrays Alonso Quixano who believes himself to be Don Quixote, and those layers of identity are there on the screen. In another story, "Lee Harvey Oswald," Bakula is absolutely chilling as Sam is gradually taken over by the insane, obsessive personality of the infamous assassin.

These days, of course, my favorite tv show is one that started back in 1963, and that I've been watching on a more-or-less regular basis since about 1988. Last night I was watching the only surviving episode of The Enemy of the World, a Doctor Who serial from December 1967 through January 1968. In it, the late Patrick Troughton plays both the cuddly Second Doctor and his doppelganger, a Mexican mad scientist and would-be world dictator called Salamander. Troughton's portrayals of the two characters are so utterly distinct from each other that one almost forgets that the same actor inhabits both of them. The evil Salamander is unmistakably a completely different man - except, of course, when the Doctor impersonates him!

And yet, Troughton's outstanding work in this story isn't the primary thing that struck me as I watched what still exists on video, and filled in the gaps with audio, still photos and the Target Books novelization. I was more amazed by the story itself, written by early Doctor Who script editor David Whitaker. Ostensibly a children's show, Doctor Who became quite breathtakingly violent for those six weeks, especially in Episode One of The Enemy of the World. The Doctor arrives on an Australian beach with gleeful plans to frolic in the surf and build a sandcastle. Seconds later he's being shot at with realistic, real-world guns. His companion Jamie manages to knock out one of the would-be assassins before a woman named Astrid rescues the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria in her helicopter, which quickly acquires bullet holes in its gas tank. One of the gun-toting dissidents soon lies dead on the floor of Astrid's bungalow, and the others are killed when they steal the helicopter and it immediately blows up. In subsequent episodes, a political leader is shot in the back, his potential replacement is poisoned, a refugee from a nonexistent war is fatally attacked with a crowbar, and Salamander himself falls out of the TARDIS into the time-space vortex. I doubt that another Doctor Who story gets quite that nasty until Resurrection of the Daleks in the mid 1980s. The violence is placed in context as story pulls the viewer along with lots of interesting twists and turns, showing us Salamander's ruthlessness and duplicity as well as the evil intent of one of the Doctor's ostensible allies. The story has good science fiction ideas, interesting character studies and even a wonderfully humorous sequence featuring a cook whose pessimism rivals that of Narnia's Puddleglum.

And my favorite actor? I have to go with David Tennant, who (unless there is a Children in Need charity scene) has just four more appearances as the Doctor to be aired before Matt Smith take over the role. (There are three more Doctor Who specials scheduled for 2009, plus a two-part appearance in the children's spinoff show The Sarah Jame Adventures.) Much as I respect Scott Bakula's versatility, I have to say that Tennant is even more amazing. The Doctor is an extraordinary character with a huge range of emotions. David Tennant gives us all of them. We can read our favorite 900-something-year-old alien's joy and sorrows, his great age, his intelligence, heroism and enthusiasm, his vitality, loneliness and weariness as appropriate, all in David Tennant's eyes and expressions. Like the Second Doctor and Salamander, there is an unmistakable difference between the Tenth Doctor and David Tennant, a huge contrast in voice and visual characteristics, in attitude and gravitas. Tennant is a highly intelligent and thoughtful actor, a huge Doctor Who fan from childhood to adulthood who understands the character to his core. He makes the show a joy to watch, even when the script is problematic, although frankly there are few modern Doctor Who episodes I would rate lower than four out of five.

I've also watched David Tennant in a Harry Potter movie (as Barty Crouch Jr.), as a driving instructor, as Casanova, as a man trying to save the life of a goldfish and as Einstein correspondent Arthur Stanley Eddington. To be honest, I couldn't quite sit through the Casanova miniseries because the sexuality made me squirm, but Tennant is nevertheless one of the few actors I at least try to watch in roles other than the ones for which they are famous. His recent portrayal of Hamlet is being filmed for tv and will be on PBS, a fact that will probably force me to reassess my mild antipathy toward that particular play. (I'm a thousand times more enthusiastic about Shakespeare's comedies than his tragedies, but that's strictly a matter of personal taste.)

How about you? Do you go see a movie because Brendan Fraser, Tom Hanks or Kate Winslet is in it, or are you more likely to be enticed by names like Tim Burton or Neil Gaiman? Do you follow a new tv show because Joss Whedon is involved with it, or are you more interested in watching the scantily clad Eliza Dushku (for example)? Tell us about it in your blog, and please, please include a link back to this entry. I'll be back next Friday with a roundup of your responses. Like this!

For Weekend Assignment #280: Volunteers, I asked about your experience with charities or causes. I'm happy to say we got some really interesting answers. As always, I highly recommend that you check out everyone's respective blogs for the full responses, but here are the excerpts:

Julie said...
I'm a parent. I did five years on the PTO (Parent Teacher Organization, which is independent of the PTA) board. I did it because I believe in education, and felt that as a work at home parent, I could afford the time.

And boy, did it become a time sucker. I ended up spending massive amounts of time on the annual school supply sale, even when it wasn't my job. I put together a yearbook, a student directory, took pictures for the yearbook, helped with every darn thing under the sun at school, and what did I get for it?

Florinda said...
I sometimes like to think that the fact I've spent most of my career in the non-profit sector is a form of civic-mindedness in itself. One way to compensate for the essential soullessness of bean-counting for a living is to count the beans of organizations that serve a greater good, I guess. I felt the most strongly about this when I worked for the Memphis Zoo, where my work helped quantify how well it was accomplishing its missions of education and conservation, and I remained a paying member of the Zoological Society even after I'd left the city.
Mike said...
I've never actively campaigned for a candidate or volunteered like Karen does, but I was part of one a long time ago. Back in the late 70's a family acquaintance was running for governor in Illinois. You know, back before Illinois had such a bad rap. Of course I was only eight at the time, so it may have and I just didn't know.

There were also a few comments by Alan on the political content of my own answer to the question:

Alan said...
Having followed the US debate on healthcare I’m astonished by the amount of disinformation about the NHS being peddled by right wing groups. As if having free universal healthcare is somehow a bad thing.
The argument is false anyway as, from what I gather, Obama is not even suggesting anything approaching a British system.


I should qualify that last statement. It may resemble the NHS in that he is offering an insurance scheme but the likeness would be on a superficial level only. By its very nature any scheme would have to take into account the current system of health insurance and the whole infrastructure which goes with it (drug supply etc.) and the individual needs of the US, which are specific to that country. A sensible debate would help.

My Round Robin entry will follow in a couple of hours.



Nothing like a well-reasoned argument...!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

No, Because....

I've have a difficult day. Let me tell you about it.

It started well, with a rather pleasant job interview across town. I was surprised and pleased to discover that the downtown stretch of I-10, the ramps to which have been closed for over a year, was finished and the ramps were open. I found the right building with no trouble, was intrigued by the project for which I interviewed, and liked my potential employer. The only bad part was that it is strictly a temporary position, expected to last one to three months. The money is such that I was interested anyway, but it did put me in an awkward position with respect to a permanent fulltime job I was supposed to interview for this week (and still will, it turns out). My interviewer hoped to have an answer by the end of the day. John and I agreed that if offered the temporary job, I would take it, and ask the other employer to keep me in mind for later in the year when the contract is up.

On the way back I detoured to the office of the recruiter who sent me out on this morning's interview. She was impressed when I told her that I'd apparently done well on the other company's computerized assessment and had been scheduled for a phone interview.

So far, so good, right? But on the way home, I noticed that a) smoke was billowing from under the hood of my car and b) temperature gauge was on H for Horrendous. I let it cool off for a few minutes in the parking lot of a grumpy signmaker, and then managed to get it over to my mechanic. I'd literally blown some gaskets, and probably needed a thermostat as well. Again. This will take the 2-week total in car repairs to my 1994 Eagle Vision up over $1000. By the way, I checked, and its fuel economy is exactly 1 mpg too high to qualify for Cash for Clunkers, even if I had a good job and the money to spend on a new car.

I got an email from the recruiter for the company that did the computer assessment last week, rescheduling the phone interview to Friday. It had been postponed from Monday because she was out sick. I explained that I was waiting to hear back on the temporary job, and she said I could cancel the interview later as needed. Fair enough. But it made me nervous that in my efforts to behave ethically toward both potential employers by providing disclosure, I was shooting myself in the foot with both of them.

5 PM came, and my mechanic called to say that the car was still leaking, and they needed to keep it overnight.

6 PM came, and I didn't hear back on the temp job.

6:30 PM came, and John came in with three pieces of mail from the Arizona Department of Economic Security. Having already changed their minds four times about what I do or do not qualify for and what I need to do to get an unemployment claim going again, they have found yet another excuse not to start paying me as promised. To wit:


What it comes down to is that because I work 2 to 6 hours a week and have been reporting that income, they're not convinced that I'm available every day to accept and work at another job, despite my having told them repeatedly that I was indeed available to work each day. The form asks "WHAT TYPE OF EMPLOYMENT ACTIVITIES ARE YOU INVOLVED IN?" I have already explained in detail to at least one, possibly two of their deputies, that I'm working part time at St. Michael's and that the church is flexible about when I put in my few hours a week, freeing me to work full time elsewhere. But because my file is passed endlessly from deputy to supervisor to who-knows-who, and isn't as straightforward as one full-time job and then nothing, the people at DES can't settle on one determination about my case and go with it. They have to second guess it over and over, changing their minds and leaving me stuck until I can contact them again. And again. And again. This has been going on since June. I've repeatedly been told that I'm qualified for one kind of claim or another, but then the ball is dropped or someone else looks at the file, and it never actually goes through. And I'm sick of it.

Please, oh please, let me get the permanent job with the good company!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

EMPS: The Chocolate Shop

For this week's Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot # 51: Candy, Carly wants us to photograph candy. I seldom indulge, unless you count the candy one finds in certain kinds of ice cream. But when I do buy candy, it's almost always chocolate. And when I think of chocolate, I think of a shop I drive past nearly every day but seldom visit. It's called Choc-Alot.

Choc-Alot in the glare of the late afternoon sun

Choc-Alot is tucked away in a neat older shopping center at Broadway and Wilmot, the Mercado. This is a place that makes its own chocolate, in a dizzying variety of shapes and flavors, and even custom designs. Want some chocolate with a personal message on it, or in the shape of a dog, an angel or a high heel pump? You can get it here.

The store's owner, Sean McMillan, tells me that Choc-Alot is one of the few surviving candy shops in Tucson. McMillan, who lists himself as the store's "Sugar Daddy" on his business card, further points out that some candy purists don't consider chocolate to be candy at all. Their definition of candy is something in which sugar is the main ingredient, which isn't quite true in the case of chocolate. At least one proponent of this view, from what Sean has read, also claims that milk chocolate isn't "really" chocolate.

But I don't care about such esoteric discussions. The very reason I love chocolate is that it's not just flavored sugar. There's something special, almost exotic, about the cocoa-based candy, especially the high-end stuff. I'm not the sort of chocolate snob who goes for the super-high-percentage dark chocolate, but dark-chocolate-with-stuff-in-it tends to be my favorite.

I bought a black forest truffle, two pairs of chocolate covered cherries, almond bark, cranberry bark and an orange cream, all in dark chocolate. I gave one pair of cherries to my friend Cliff at Safeway, and all but a little of the almond bark to John. The rest... well, I managed to make it last a couple of hours, anyway!

The photos were all taken with either the automatic or "easy" setting, some with the macro setting on. I have saturated most of the photos somewhat to fight the glare. No special effects this week. You don't get to see me eat the candy. Sorry.

Be sure to check Carly's blog Ellipsis every week for the Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot! And don't forget the Weekend Assignment every Friday, right here at the Outpost.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Weekend Assignment #280: Volunteers

Okay, we had zero responses to last week's Weekend Assignment. Perhaps this will be more to your liking - or not:

Weekend Assignment: #280: Have you ever been actively involved in a campaign or a cause, to the point of doing more than just donating or voting? Tell us about the phone calls, the food drive, the charity walk or other civic-minded work you've done, if any. And if you've never done this sort of thing, why not? (It's okay if you haven't - I'm just interested in the reasons.)
Extra Credit: Do you have a favorite charity? Which one?
Extra credit first. I'm rather fond of the Red Cross. And St. Michael's of course.

Years ago, John Scalzi had a volunteer-related Weekend Assignment, but I don't think it was this particular question. I doubt anyone really cares if I recycle a four-year-old idea, not when the whole meme is on the verge of extinction.


I had a call last week from the local Democratic Party, asking if I'd be willing to do data entry work again over at their HQ. I said I'd be in on Friday afternoon. The day got away from me, though, adding two more chapters to the saga of my unemployment claim. (Short version: you don't qualify for the new claim after all, so a supervisor will reinstate the extension instead. Hey, wait: what's all this income you've been reporting since the beginning of June? Oh, that changes everything; you qualify for the new claim after all. What's the exact name and tax number of your church? It's not in our database. No, that number isn't long enough. Well, we'll get it in there, but it will take longer. Sorry.) So I didn't actually make it to HQ until after 4 PM, when it was nominally closed.

That didn't stop me.

The local coordinator, Gil, put me to work anyway, showing me the software (which I used in a slightly different form last fall) and giving me a stack of paper petitions (sort of) to enter. There was to be a sign-making party at 5 PM, but the data entry was more helpful than waiting around for five o'clock would be. As if turned out, it was more helpful than me making signs, too. There were plenty of other people to do that, people with far more manual dexterity than I have. But I was the only one in place at that moment to catch up with the record-keeping. Besides (and I didn't mention this at the time), I had no brilliant ideas for sign slogans, especially within the parameters given.

What were the signs for? President Obama is the short answer to that question. He's going to address the VFW in Phoenix on Monday morning. The signs are about Tucsonans and other people from Baja Arizona (a joke term for the Democratic/relatively liberal part of the state) welcome Obama and supporting his health care plan.

Thing is, I've been watching all this malarkey unfolding on tv for weeks and weeks now, people getting all upset and nasty, yelling and carrying fearful, hate-filled signs, mostly because they've swallowed a series of lies from a noxious cocktail of racists, lunatic fringe types and people with a political or financial interest in the status quo. No death panels are proposed or contemplated. Health care will not be rationed. (In fact this will help stop the insurance companies from the rationing they do now in their quest for profits.) Nobody is making you pull the plug on grandma. There is nothing in the fill to cause the government to pay for abortions, or sex change operations, to get between you and your doctor, drive the insurance companies out of business, drive small businesses out of business, take away your Medicare, or turn this country into a totalitarian state. The best argument anyone can make, short of a bald-face lie, is a "yeah, but" argument. "Yeah, but, if this passes, they'll add all that stuff later!" Um, no.

I'm not an argumentative or confrontational person. Calling a stranger on the phone practically gives me an anxiety attack. A Republican and a Democrat loudly interrupting each other on tv will make me turn the tv off. When John wants me to explain a religious belief - my own or someone else's - I want to run screaming from the room. I hate strife and standoffs and ill-will. And this aversion to conflict tends to make me a bit of a moral coward. Just the other night, I took a Facebook poll about whether people stand by the votes they cast last November in the Presidential election or would chance them today. (From what I saw, almost everyone stood by their choices.) The poll had a comment wall, and I made the mistake of looking at if. It had more than a few rather nasty anti-Obama remarks, some so incoherent I couldn't even tell what the poster was trying to say beyond "Obama = bad." I hesitated before adding my own, mild comment about right-wingers believing lies rather than discussing the real issues involved in health care reform. But I wrote it, and nothing bad happened. On the other hand, I didn't revisit that comment wall. Who needs that stress?

But that's not much of a contribution to the cause - me and my paragraph vs. any number of ill-informed shouters on tv. So I was glad to come in and volunteer, even if it was just a little data entry, even if it was late in the day.

And then.

"Do you have a camera?"

The question wasn't directed at me. It was Gil asking someone else who worked in the office.

"Want to borrow mine?" I said. I reached into my bag and brought out my trusty Canon.

Gil was amazed and pleased.

"I never go anywhere without it," I explained.

So Gil took a couple of pictures, and when I finished entering my stack of pages I took a bunch more. Here are the best of them. Maybe they'll contribute to the cause, somehow. And I didn't have to make a single phone call.

How about you? Have you worked for a candidate, or run for the cure? Helped out at your church? Organized a blood drive? Worked in a shelter or soup kitchen? Done dentistry in a remote Guatemala village? Sold Girl Scout cookies? Tell us about it in your blog, and please, please include a link back to this entry. I'll be back next Friday with a roundup of your responses.

And if, like this past week, nobody participates, you will instead see an announcement of the demise of the Weekend Assignment. Sorry, John Scalzi, I tried to keep it going. Really I did. But after writing 80-something entries continuing the meme you started, I may have to admit that it's a lost cause. I seem to be running dry on crowd-pleasing questions, and haven't had any good topic suggestions in a while now.



Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Day Without the Car

What can I tell you about my day, given that I try not to "overshare" in certain areas of my life? I'll say this much: it was not the Worst Day Ever, nor yet the Best Day. But it certainly qualified as an Interesting Day.

Today was the day when I dropped off my 1994 Eagle Vision at the garage, ostensibly to have the air conditioning clutch and compressor replaced. This was originally supposed to happen yesterday, but somehow the part hadn't been ordered. That made things tricky, because I had an appointment with a potential employer already scheduled for this afternoon. The mechanic/co-owner originally hoped to have it ready for me in time to make my appointment, but that was before he found out why the car has been overheating or threatening to overheat. He said something about a radiator fan and a blown fuse and I'm not sure what else: two motors, I think. The estimate of $450 jumped to $750, and the prospect of driving to my employment assessment was out the window.

So here's what I actually did today. First thing this morning, I drove the dogs to the garage, because the walk home is a little over a mile, a walk with the dogs is less tedious than one without them, and it was a chance to get them out and about. It was only 84 degrees, but the humidity was quite high by Tucson standards, 40%. Not a dry heat. I soon wished I had a cloth for wiping the dripping sweat off my face.

Okay, yes, I know. Oversharing.

Anyway, we got home, I watched the President on tv, and then I walked down to the Safeway shopping center, a little less than a mile away in a different direction. The plan was to have the hair salon fix my hair color, but it turned out that they don't do coloring at all there. So I went to Cato and bought a white blouse for my interview. There was a slight delay as they had to reboot the credit card merchant computer. By the time I made my purchase and ate a 6-inch sub at the nearby Subway, I doubted I had time to take two or more buses to my appointment, even if I could figure out the routing quickly.

Plan B: a cab.

After my third mile of walking in the Syracuse-like humidity, I took my second shower of the day and washed my hair, in the hope that a little hair color would wash out, which it did. I had called a cab already. The driver arrived well ahead of schedule, while my hair was dripping wet and I was utterly failing to find either pair of halfway decent shoes. I made do with the black athletic shoes I wear every day, and off we went. The minimum fare was $10, and it was worth every penny. Even after pausing outside to brush my hair, I was still almost 20 minutes early.

It turned out I was the second person to arrive. This particular company, evidently a high-tech one in more than just its product line, screens all job applicants in groups, having them sit at computers for a wide-ranging series of tests. These resembled what I imagine the SATs would be like now, or maybe a MENSA application, because much of it was a real challenge. Seriously. Everything but the personality assessment section was timed, and I think I only finished one or two sections before the clock ran out.

The test is proprietary software for this company, so I won't tell you any actual questions, but there were mathematical word problems, questions of vocabulary and fact, several kinds of pattern recognition, and a self-assessment of mechanical aptitude (I have none). Their process was to the similarly time-consuming application I did for a local car dealership what an iPhone is to a rotary phone: far more advanced in every way.

I was told I would hear back in a week or so, a promise I appreciate very much. Too many companies just don't bother to tell you whether you're still under consideration or they've hired someone else.

The garage called just before the assessment, and the co-owner kindly picked me up afterward in my own car. The final bill was a little under the estimate, and the co-owner had good things to say about the overall condition of the car. He wants to fix my window and my door handle, though. Maybe someday.

So I've done well, I assume, on this assessment for a company that is close to home and presumably in a growing industry instead of a distressed one; and I have my car back. Hooray! Now if I can just get a) my long-delayed unemployment claim paid, and b) an actual job, things will definitely be looking up!


EMPS: Layers of Color, Part One

When I first saw that Carly's topic for this week's Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot was "Layers," the only things I could think of offhand were Cayenne's bandannas and the top I wore to my interview at St. Michael's a couple of months ago. The top is an artificial "layered look" garment, the front half of a black shell sewn into a pink shirt with black pinstripes. I've been to more than a few interviews wearing a black career wear suit jacket, even in summer, but it always strikes me as a bit silly as well as uncomfortable and impractical in the Arizona heat. Whoever is interviewing me is invariably dressed more casually than I am. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be. I got the pink and black thing to achieve a similar layering effect as the black jacket without it being quite so hot. Tucson tends toward business casual anyway, if not casual-casual. Former Tucson mayor George Miller caught flack once in the 1990s for wearing a pair of jeans while meeting then-President Bill Clinton. Miller had just come from Tucson's annual Rodeo Parade, which seems like a pretty good excuse!

But, as I say, most of the time the only Blocher who wears layered clothing is Cayenne. She wore a red bandanna with a doggie design on it when we first met her, and frankly just doesn't look right without a bandanna around her neck. The first time I washed the red one, I dug the turquoise one out of John's top drawer for her to wear instead. That looked even better on her, and she's worn them both ever since.

These two examples would likely have been the extent of my contribution to this topic, had I not a) walked my dogs tonight and b) fretted about my hair color (see the entry below this one). It was sunset and cloudy as Cayenne and Pepper and I made our circuit to the end of the block, down the alleyway and back up the other end of our block. I soon realized I was seeing layers of cloud and layers of color, with a wonderful variety of each.

I'm going to let the photos speak for themselves for a bit. Some have been lightened or darkened or saturated to bring out the colors that my eyes saw better than the camera did. Others are unaltered expect for resizing and sharpening. If you mouseover for the photo filenames, you'll see some are labeled with a "u" at the end for "unedited" or "unsaturated."

You can find more of this photo series here.

Be sure to check Carly's blog Ellipsis every Monday for the Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot!


Monday, August 10, 2009

EMPS: Layers of Color, Part Two

You can't really tell the extent of the what I did from the photo above; but I colored my hair today, and made kind of a mess of it. I seriously considered adding another layer of color over it - which is why this part two of my Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot for the topic "Layers." Yes, I'm posting these out of order for a reason.

Ever since discovering a henna-based product in college, I've occasionally colored my hair with some kind of reddish tint. It's probably been a year since I last did it. But I'm meeting with a potential employer tomorrow afternoon, so I figured it was time. The other day I bought a new kind of L'Oreal, which is supposed to take just ten minutes. It's more or less the same color as the darker of two shades I've used many times before. But although I timed it to the minute, it came out a bit too dark, and a bit too burgundy, which is to say, slightly purple. It also lacks any highlights to break up the darkness of the shade. I happened to be in the driveway when John got home, and the first words out of his mouth when he stepped out of the car were, "too red."

I thought about adding highlights myself tonight to moderate the color, although I realized that for someone who has never done highlights before, this could be a dangerous experiment! But when I went to Safeway, someone there (a customer with red hair) told me to look for a neutral blond and put that over this color to moderate it. So I ended up with two boxes of stuff to try, if I could only figure out which way to go in fixing this. I also saw a hair color stripping product called Color Oops or Oopsie or somesuch, but I didn't buy that one.

When I got home, John recommended that I return the hair products and go to a hairdresser to fix things properly. Carly, too warned of the dangers of my messing with things further. So if I do anything at all, I'll go to the hair salon tomorrow. No more layers of color tonight for me!

Part One will follow in a little while.


Saturday, August 08, 2009

RRPC: We Bottle Our Own

For this week's Round Robin Photo Challenge, "Bottled Up!", I rashly combined three similar topic suggestions. I wanted to see bottles, Kim of Nekked Lizard Adventures wanted to see labels on bottles, and Carly wanted to see the drinks themselves.

From Round Robin Photo Challenges

I'm afraid my own response to this Challenge is not my best work. Unusually for me, I took the photos a couple of weeks ago instead of a few hours before the Challenge date; but I didn't look at or edit them until Friday night. They're mostly pretty grainy, too yellow or orange because of the light source, and lightstruck on the ones that used flash or an adjacent lamp. But here are the best of them.

Checking out at Safeway - a nearly all-beverage purchase.
The fast hand belongs to Cliff, world's greatest grocery clerk (no, really!).

As I keep mentioning, it's been a hot, unusually dry summer in Tucson. This is the time of year when I sometimes go to Safeway and buy $30 worth of flavored water: diet soda, beer for John, sugar free Popsicles and maybe even bottled water. Any food purchase, such as the Italian sausage above, is almost incidental.

Recently, however, our summer drinking habits have changed. It used to be that I was hauling in four or five 12-can cartons of diet soda from the car, or getting John to do it. But recently we've switched to 2-liter bottles, sugar free Kool Aid if available, which it mostly isn't anymore, and Crystal Light.

Only one of these bottles has its original contents.

What's slightly unusual about our use of drink mixes is that it doesn't go into pitchers, or alternatively, into bottled water. The night I took these shots, I did purchase a gallon of refrigerated drinking water, but only because I was in a hurry to have nice cold water to add to the powder. We mix it up in bottles that originally contained an apple-pomegranate-blueberry juice blend. In the photo above, the bottle on the left has this blend still in it; the other bottles, not so much. The bottles are handy because we can just pour the mix in the bottom, add a bit of water, shake it, fill it up the rest of the way, cap it, shake it a little more, and stick it in the fridge. No stirring, no measuring, no open container to spill or attract bugs. A splash of the juice blend can be added to the Crystal Light for flavor and extra antioxidants.

Tonight's reshoot

The other advantage to these bottles is that we can have several of them in the fridge at once, in different flavors. In this weather, we get through two or three bottles a day, sometimes more. I try to have different colors in the three bottles so it doesn't all look the same; there's always a choice in what to drink.

Unfortunately, nearly all the flavors are some variation of red. I recently drank a couple of quarts before a Wednesday effort to give blood, and again before I successfully gave blood two days later. I would not be at all surprised if my blood was extra red by Friday from all that food coloring!

Now let's see what everyone else came up with for this Challenge:

Linking List

Karen - Posted!
Outpost Mâvarin

Carly - Posted!

ellen b. - Posted!
The Happy Wonderer

Martha - Posted!

Beach Bum

Sandra - Posted!
A cappuccino a day

betty - Posted!
a corgi in southern california

Sherrie - Posted!
Sherrie's Stuff

Suzanne R - Posted!
SuzyQ421's Photo Blog

Linda - Posted!
Mommy's Treasures

Molly Mavis - Posted!
Visual Dialogues

Linda - Posted!
Linda's Window

Jama - Posted!
Sweet Memories

Gattina - Posted!
Keyhole Pictures

Teena - Posted!
It's all about me!

Peggy - Posted!
Holmespun Fun

And don't forget the Weekend Assignment writing prompt, in the entry below this one!


Friday, August 07, 2009

Weekend Assignment: #279: This Changes Everything!

Following on from last night's entry:

Weekend Assignment: #279: At one time or another, we've all had some kind of good news, expected or unexpected, that made a big difference in our lives, or at least gave us a sense that things were getting better. Tell us of such an incident.
Extra Credit: Who was the first person you told about your good news?
When I came up with this topic yesterday, it was going to be my excuse to tell you about Pepper not limping any more and the three job leads I had yesterday. But I wrote about all that last night, so I'm not going to do an extended rerun here. Suffice it to say that having three people call me on the same day to express interest in my resume is a major boost to my confidence, giving me real hope that I will soon be fully employed again.

With that rather obvious observation out of the way, let's go back a little over three decades, to two bits of related news that had a greater impact on my life than I ever expected at the time.

Karen at the Clarion SF Writer's Workshop, 1977Me at Clarion, July 1977.

When I was in high school, my major extracurricular interests were Star Trek and the writings of Harlan Ellison. I also read and enjoyed lots of other fantasy and sf, but Harlan in particular was a big deal to me. He wrote the original version of my favorite Star Trek episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever," but that wasn't the main reason for my interest. I was hooked on his collections of award-winning short stories and edgy, personal and often political essays.

I've written about my interactions with Harlan a few times over the years, but for the purpose of this entry, the thing to remember is this: he was my favorite writer, and a huge influence during my teens and early 20s. He was having a surge in popularity back then, fueled by several awards and a deal with Pyramid Books to republish many of his earlier works plus several new collections. Meanwhile, I was struggling to get a certain novel past page 2. (Yes, that novel, the one I'm still intermittently revising all these years later.)

One book I bought about the time I graduated from high school was titled Clarion 3. It was an anthology of sf short stories by people associated with the Clarion Writers' Workshop, interspersed with essays about writing. The editor was Robin Scott Wilson, founder of the workshop. The last piece in the book was the essay "When Dreams Become Nightmares: Some Cautionary Notes on the Clarion Experience" by, you guessed it, Harlan Ellison. Harlan had taught at several Clarions, but wasn't going to do it anymore. That was unfortunate, I thought as I finished reading the essay in our back yard in Manlius. At that moment, I really, really wanted to go to Clarion and be taught by Harlan Ellison. Apparently, I'd already missed my chance.

So: life-changing good news incident #1. My first two years at Syracuse University, I was majoring in Creative Writing and TV-Radio. (I switched to English Lit and Film my junior year.) My problem with Creative Writing was that I could never find the department head in his office, and consequently spent a lot of time hanging out at his closed office door. That's where I saw it: a little paper notice about the 1977 Clarion Writers' Workshop. Robin Scott Wilson would be teaching, as would Peter S. Beagle, writer of one of my favorite fantasy novels. These facts alone would have been enough for me to want to go, but there was more. Harlan was also teaching. I was stunned, almost shaking with excitement. It was like the Universe was saying to me, "Karen, the thing you wanted really badly but thought was impossible is possible after all. Now find a way to do it!"

Fortunately, both my parents agreed to let me try, as long as I was willing to work a summer job until the workshop began. So I sent Chapter One of The Tengrim Sword (as it was called then) off to Michigan State, along with a self-addressed, stamped manila envelope. Weeks passed, and then that envelope arrived back at my dad's apartment. When I saw it, my heart sank. It was too heavy and bulky to contain just an acceptance letter.

Then I opened it anyway - and a map of Michigan State fell out. Joy! Unbounded, whooping joy! And there you have it: life-changing good news incident #2! I was going to Clarion!

I assume that my dad was the first person I told of my good news.

a package from Harlan, 2005.I've written before about the Clarion workshop I attended, the people I met and worked with, the personal relationship stuff, and the not-entirely-positive effect the workshop had on my writing. (I put the novel away for years after that.) There were a lot of things about "the Clarion experience," as Harlan put it, that still influence me, all these years later, in my writing and in other ways. Harlan was part of that, but only a part.

The biggest impact, by far, came from an unforeseen consequence of my six weeks in an East Lansing dorm in the hot summer of 1977. I started hanging out with one of my fellow Clarionites, this guy named John. Last name Blocher. 22 months later, I married him.

How's that for a bit of good news that changes everything?

So how about you? What bit of good news made all the difference for you? Please tell us about it in your blog, and include a link back here. Then leave a link to your entry in the comments below, so that next week I can direct people to your blog, thus:

For Weekend Assignment: #278: Time to Blog, I asked you about your blogging habits, particularly your blogging schedule and frequency. Here are excerpts from the responses:

Julie wrote...
What it boils down to is the more I have to do, the less time I have to blog. That may be a good thing. Or not, depending on what I have to do. This is one of my busier times of the year, and some days I sit down at the computer, and the next thing I know, it's 3:30. Where has the day gone?

Florinda wrote...
"How often I blog" and "how often I post" are two different things, usually. I try to post here at least five times a week, and most of the time I have something up on one of the weekend days as well. But most of my posts are written ahead of time, and then I schedule them out daily; posting time is 5 AM Pacific time weekdays, and 6 AM on weekends.

Mike wrote....
Well, for me, there isn't a straight up answer. I certainly don't have a schedule. I pretty much blog when I can, or when I have something I want to say. I participate in Karen's Weekend Assignments, but I don't have a certain day that I do them. That's why I'm writing this at 10pm when I should be going to bed. That's dedication for you, people.

Your turn! If you've ever considered participating in the Weekend Assignment (or used to participate but dropped out), please help us out with your thoughts on this topic, or else the next one. You've got until Thursday night to post your entry, and in a pinch I'll even take a late one. And if you haven't considered participating, why the heck not?

Also please, if you have an idea for a future Weekend Assignment, email me at mavarin2 (at) Thanks!

My Round Robin entry will follow in a few hours.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

News for Now

Some of the following info will be included in my next Weekend Assignment entry, which I'll post tomorrow. But for now, the news:

1. Pepper is no longer limping. John and I have been lifting her on and off the bed all week so she doesn't re-injure herself, but she seems to be okay now.

2. Still no progress on the unemployment claim going through.

3. The car still smells of burning wiring. I'm a little nervous that whatever made the a/c compressor clutch burn up may be burning something else as I drive in the heat. A friend told me today that a car in her neighborhood just plain caught fire recently due to the weather. I am therefore only driving a few miles at a time, windows open, and only when I have to. Obviously, the dogs have not been in the car since Monday morning.

4. I am going to repair the car a/c anyway, probably Monday. My dad is stepping in with a small loan to cover it. I did not ask him; he offered.

Now the other good news.

Cayenne has no idea what the news is,
but is prepared to be happy about it.

5. A recruiter called this morning to say that a really good job with a major disease-related charity opened up again, one for which she sent my resume over early this year. She's sending them the latest version of my resume, which now includes actual, professional non-profit experience with St. Michael's.

6. Another recruiter called this afternoon, with a potential job with a different non-profit! I have no idea what it is, but it's probably also in the medical arena.

7. An hour after that, I got a third phone call, this time from a medical software company! It was in response to an application I put in online late last week. I was invited to come in for a 2-hour application screening process next week. I'm told it's a very good company, and their HQ is about five minutes from my house.

Well! After months of employment drought, interest isn't just trickling in, it's pouring! A phone call is not an interview, and an interview is not a job. But it's a start!


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

EMPS: Charcoal Disaster

For Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #49, Carly wants us to match a word with a color and photograph it. My color: charcoal. You know the color I mean: it's that range of grays, almost but not quite black, that replaced chrome as the default color of electronics and other products, stuff made of metal or high impact plastic. It's the color of carbon, the color that absorbs light and turns it into the most heat this side of true black, the color of things that burned up at the worst possible time.

The color of disaster.

If you've been reading this blog, you know I've been griping quite a bit about the weather here in Arizona this summer. Normally by mid-July, we're getting lots of afternoon thunderstorms to cool things down. This year: not so much. Day after day we're getting high temperatures of 107 to 111 degrees, with some late afternoon clouds but only rarely any actual rain - and when it finally happens, it lasts about five minutes.

Charcoal-interior on a hot day - like we need to retain more heat!

Result: it's hot, all day, every day. Except for those hardy souls who can tolerate such temperatures, and the unfortunates who have no air conditioning or can't afford to use it, we Arizonans are running our air conditioners a lot - at home, at work, and in the car. We've already had at least two blackouts at the house as the overloaded grid reacted, and bits of it burned out.

When I take the dogs to the park, I try to do it in the cool (only 90 degrees!) of the evening, and even then, my dog who is bred for northern climes, with charcoal highlights to her long black fur, hangs out a few inches from the car's air conditioning vents, running full blast. But yesterday, I didn't take her at all.

Charcoal highlights on my suddenly-injured dog, Pepper.

That very dog, Pepper, somehow hurt one of her legs (hips? feet?) on Sunday. She was limping intermittently, enough so that John and I were lifting her on and off the bed. There was no sign of one of the "goat's head" burrs that we sometimes have to remove from the dogs' feet or our own, and nothing seemed to hurt to the touch. We figured it was probably a sprain, and decided that I would take her to the vet today. Disaster, right? It was at least a minor one. If she really needed x-rays and treatment, it would be uncomfortable for her, and financially difficult for us, considering that my new unemployment claim still hasn't gone through, and nobody's getting back to me on any of the jobs I've applied for lately. We haven't really dug out from the debt of Tuffy's cancer treatments from 2007 to August 1, 2008.

But when I called today, there were no appointments available, so we'd have to pay urgent care rates, an extra $20. I didn't want to make Pepper wait any longer, so I agreed. But I watched as I led her into Valley Animal Hospital, and she didn't visibly limp at all. So I made my apologies to the assistant at the front desk, and took the dogs back to the car. (Cayenne was along for the ride.) We then hit the drive-throughs at the bank and McDonald's, and started home, a/c blasting.

That's when I noticed the burning smell in the car, like hot tar, like burning electrical wires, like melting plastic.

Like disaster.

I tried to ignore it, explain it away; but I looked at the engine temperature and it was halfway up. Thermostat failure? I opened the windows and hurried home with the dogs.

This afternoon, I was called to St. Michael's to write an emergency check for fixing the air conditioning on a house the church owns and currently rents out. On the drive over, not a whisper of coolness could be detected in the hot air my car was blowing. The interior of my car was hotter than the outside air, I discovered as I stepped out into the St. Michael's parking lot.

So after my errand at church, I headed over to ask the mechanics at our favorite local garage to give me some idea what the problem was and how much it would cost. Martin opened the hood, and we saw this:

On the hot charcoal-toned bits of engine, there was visible evidence that the clutch of my air conditioning compressor had quite literally burned out. There were bits of charcoal-colored ash, actual charred bits of ex-clutch, coating the charcoal-colored metal.

And what looks like bits of actual burned wiring: charcoal-colored, of course:

Disaster! The clutch assembly alone costs more to replace than the whole compressor, including the clutch. We're looking at $450, even with the mechanic giving me a good customer/pity break on the price. Without this repair, a drive in the car is suddenly infinitely more miserable, and it's impossible to drive across town to a job interview (if any) and arrive cool and dry. More immediately, it's not safe to drive the dogs for more than a couple of miles, if that, and even then I'd better have cold water out for them.

But how can we spend the money right now? John has asked, and I've agreed, that I wait out the week and see whether the unemployment payments, which I supposedly applied for successfully a week and a half ago, finally start getting approved and posted to my account. If that doesn't happen soon, and if potential employers continue to ignore my resume or two-hour application, our personal economic disaster will be darker than the ash on my engine block.

And Pepper is limping again.