Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The moments that change our lives

“I’m sorry; what did you say?”

I looked at Heidi, who sat in the passenger seat of my car, her brows raised and her head turned slightly to the side. I hated that expression on her face. It made her look like the Church Lady from the old SNL skits.

I was irritated. We were on our way to the grocery store to pick up the other half of the ingredients for the dinner we had sitting on the stove back at my house, I had just spent an hour fighting with my friend Joyce over animal testing of pharmaceuticals, and I couldn’t fathom what esoteric bit of sanctimony Heidi was now trying to lay on me.

“What’s it worth to you to be right? What are you willing to sacrifice in order to win this?”

I regarded her with an expression of disbelief.

“So you think I’m wrong about this?”

She shook her head, “I didn’t say that. For the record, I think you’re probably right, although on matters like this, perception shapes reality as much as anything else. What I asked you was what you were willing to sacrifice in order to win this.”

“Sacrifice? I’m not sure I follow.”

“Well, you and Joyce have been having this fight for the better part of a week. She makes her points; you make yours. But the tenor of this argument is getting progressively nastier, on both sides, as this week as worn on, and the rest of us are getting a little tired of listening to it. You have logic and a body of scientific evidence on your side; she has a passionate belief in her sense of right and wrong on hers.

It’s possible that you can overwhelm her with argument until she gives in, but what does that gain you? Self-assurance, perhaps, but does it make you definitively “right”? And in the meantime, you two are breaking down a ten-year friendship over, what? A snippet of ideology? Like I said: you can win, but are you willing to sacrifice your friendship to do it? Because that’s what it will probably cost you.”

She paused. “On the other hand, you can agree to disagree, and honor each other’s feelings. You don’t get the satisfaction of “winning”, but you don’t lose -- either the argument or your friendship.”

In retrospect, that conversation changed both my outlook on life and my career. I started to focus on seeing both sides of an argument more. I started focusing on fighting “fair”. My marriage was stronger. I found I was happier and I slept better. I found that several intractable negotiations at work suddenly got a lot easier to manage.

Most of what I do now is teaching people how to communicate with each other better, to negotiate for a long-term relationship, and to focus on what they share, rather than what divides them. It’s enormously satisfying.

I’ve known a lot of smart people in my life, but Heidi may have been the wisest.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

In praise of my rubber boots

Today was my honey's birthday. Happy birthday, sweetheart! This is the 21st time we've celebrated S's birthday together. It was a great day.

After dinner, I asked S if he liked his presents OK. He said he did

As I was getting the dogs ready for their evening walk, he asked me, "What's the best present I ever gave you?"

Now, you must know that S LOVES to buy presents. He excels at it. I have jewelry. I have music boxes. I have electronics. They're all really lovely.

I thought about it for a second. "My boots."

"You're a very strange woman. You know that, right?" He was smiling.

Six years ago, S bought me a pair of Cabela's rubber boots, with Thinsulate liners. They are supposed to come up to my upper calf, but it's a pain the neck to pull them up that high -- most likely because I have the calves of a middle linebacker -- so I fold them down to mid-calf height. I can slide my feet in and out of them in a fraction of a second. I will tell you that they look utterly ridiculous on my feet.

I love them.

Don't get me wrong. it's not that I don't appreciate all the really lovely luxuries he's given me over the years. I mean, who doesn't love emeralds?

But I wear these boots outside, at least once, every day. Year round. And at least once a week, as I'm hosing something oogey off of them, I silently thank S for my empowering footwear.

Because my rubber boots make me fearless.

I can walk across fallen branches without injury. I wade through mud and things nastier. The morning dew that would soak my Keds just beads off my rubber boots. I stride with confidence through poison ivy, stinging nettle, thistles -- you name it.

I can wear them, without socks, in the coldest snow. And even in the deepest snow, when I roll them up to full height.

My neighbors have witnessed them as they adorn my feet under my jeans, sweat pants, dresses, shorts, and even my pajamas.

I can help anyone do anything outdoors, as long as I have my rubber boots on. I am even empowered to drive the tractor.

They make me a better person.

So if you see me tromping around the yard in my work clothes, or walking the dogs at midnight in a pair of pink Scottie Dog jammies, you can bet on one thing: I'll be wearing my goofy rubber boots underneath.

And I'll be powerful in them.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The problem with rational thinking...

So I've been thinking, which is always a dangerous thing:

They (the ubiquitous "they", of course) are talking about building offshore oil rigs, about a rate roughly equal to the number of rigs built between 1979 and 1983. During that time, a total of nearly 300 MODUs were put into service. 230 jackup rigs were delivered at an average cost of $35 million each. 48 semisubs were delivered at an average cost of $84 million. 8 drillships were also delivered at a cost of $72 million each. That's about $12 billion in investment in rigs that started pumping at capacity about 6 years after they were started.

To equal that output now will cost about $35 billion in construction costs, plus operating costs once the rigs are operational. If we start January 23, 2009, we will be able to start re-couping our investment around the end of 2014 and they will be fully operational by the end of 2016.

If we have all of these rigs working at capacity, they will have the potential to offset about 2.3% of our dependence on foreign oil. Which is not an insignificant amount. But there are the environmental risks, as many have discussed. And things like hurricanes will continue to get in the way. And eventually the oil will run out.

So we're talking about investing (at a minimum, because the figures I pulled up were from 2006) $35 billion and six years before this off-shore drilling plan can start to alleviate the price at the pump.

And I guess I'm wondering what we might get if we invested that same $35 billion in alternative energy companies and gave the developers the same six years? If we could offset that same 2.3% with a renewable/clean energy source, wouldn't that be worth it?

Am I doing this math wrong?

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I overheard a conversation today, wherein someone described me as, "quite a few years older than you probably think she is."

I'm not sure if I should feel flattered or offended.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In which I quit being politic-y for a bit.

So as much fun as I’m having with the Sarah Palin Name Generator today (thanks BHD!), I’m returning to our regularly scheduled programming, which is to say that I’m back to kvetching about my life. I’m sure you all are thrilled.

My bug is turning 8 tomorrow! Happy Birthday, Bug! We had a party for her Saturday, with all her little friends. It was a spa party. They had pedicures and facials, and we made bath fizzies and bath oils and soaps. It was epic. Now I want to have one for ME! :-)

We had the remnants of Hurricane Ike come rolling through here the other night. It was pretty intense. I really, really love big, dangerous storms. I don't know why. S and K were huddled in the hallway; I was out on the porch, watching it blow. Ripped out the neighbor's tree while I watched. It was cool.

Other than that, I am writing five grants, all due between October 15th and October 31st, and I am getting a cold. Meh. For serious...I'm giving really, really serious thought to seeing if I can make a living doing a combination of writing, teaching and making soaps and bath fizzies. Because right now, my need for sleep and contemplation are out-weighing my need to save the world. Screw the world. I need a nap.


Today’s vexing question, courtesy of my collection of email subject lines: Are you crepuscular?

Turns out I am. Who knew?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Nine and Eleven. And Sixes and Sevens.

A good friend of mine sent me an op-ed by Roger Cohen in this morning's New York Times. I found it brilliant and cutting, but once again, the phrase, "If you're not appalled yet, you haven't been paying attention." came to mind.

This country has been raped and plundered by an administration that is beholden to the financial elite, big oil, and a sense of entitlement that boggles the mind. I want to say it's unprecedented in American history, but my husband the history major is quick to point out that it's been done before -- we just didn't have CNN covering it any of the previous times.

In reading this Op-ed, however, and pronouncing it "Brilliant!", I find myself wondering if I'm suffering from hypocrisy.

Yes, in case you're wondering, this entry is about to enter the Scope Creep Zone. We'll see if I can bring it back. ;)

Someone who shall remain nameless sent me a link to an op-ed by Jon Voight that was published in the July 28th Washington Times. She pronounced it insightful and reflective of her own fears. I wrote back to her that I thought it would be better titled "OMG! There's N*ggers in the Woodpile!" and I suggested she was too smart and too good-hearted to spend her time listening to the language of bigotry and hate. I pronounced the piece to be nothing more than mean-spirited, white-fear pandering and I told her I was offended that she thought I might be interested in seeing it. I told her never to send me anything of this sort again, or I might be forced to lose respect for her.

It probably wasn't me at my diplomatic best.

And today, I find myself wanting to send her the Cohen Op-Ed, which makes me wonder if I'm a hypocrite.

And yet, I'm not sure.

The nature of the dialog from the two faces of our nation is wrought with subtle but important differences.

Cohen looks back on actions and opines on their worth and their consequences. Voight postulates on a potential future and plays to the emotions of those who look to be emotional. Cohen asserts that the current administration is damned by its action and deliberate inaction, Voight asserts that our nation is damned by an unnamed evil that will be wrought from association and conjecture.

I find this reflective of the dialog that is taking place all over the nation. On one hand, we have the look back at the last seven years of this administration: the patterns of behavior that have emerged, our shared shame at the loss of standing our country has suffered, our economic hardship that seems not to affect those who make our policies, our loss of sons and daughters for a cause we can no longer easily define. And we look to the a team that has stated they support the actions that have brought us here. The condemnation, in this case, is related to the actions and the words spoken by the candidates that seek to lead this country.

On the other hand, we have a look at a candidate that is characterized as "different", "other", "untested", "inexperienced"...in other words, an "unknown". The language we hear speaks to a potential future that might be different from our past, and that future is cast as undesirable, evil, subversive. There is little, if any, reference to specific words and actions. I think these words are meant to convey one thought, and one thought only: "If these people are allowed to rise to power, they may disrupt the status quo. Those who have been in power might lose power. Those who have been on the sidelines until now may help shape the agenda from now on. You should be afraid of this. This is dangerous. We must protect our power (our empire?) at all costs."

I find myself wondering why we, as a nation, tolerate this double standard of linguistics and logic. I wonder if our nation has been willfully blinded into believing that the two arguments are equivalent. They're not.

What has this to do with the seventh anniversary of 9/11? I was in the kitchen of a friend in Heidelberg, shortly after the attacks. He turned to me and said, "Do you think your nation will learn the important lesson to be had here?"

I think the answer to that question will be revealed in the choices we make in November. Will we choose the language and philosophy of change, tolerance and unity that reflects an administration that promises to open up seats at the table for people who have been too long on the sidelines, or maintain the language of divisiveness and imperialism that reflects a future still beholden to those elite few who have always been at the table.

I know my choice. And I hope you make yours with both your heart and your head, and not based on either blind devotion or blind fear. We have too much at stake.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Wow. Who'da Thought.

I just realized that I'm a 43-year-old hockey mom who is quick with a snide comment and experienced at selling big-ticket items on EBay.

I can administer a $45 million budget and I know how to build consensus among adults who act like children.

If I can just get my kid knocked up and learn to field-dress a moose, I will be qualified to run for Vice President!

God Bless America.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Damned with Faint Praise

Grandma K passed away Saturday. It was peaceful and she died without pain, and with family nearby. May we all go like that. We've been busy with arrangements here. S and his parents are on their way to Grandma's native Florida to see to her burial.

That leaves me and the Bug together for the week.

Tonight, I was defrosting a pound of hamburger for dinner, when K suggested Walking Tacos. Having never heard of such a thing, I offered conjecture that perhaps a Walking Taco was what happened when too many cucarachas made off with a standard taco.

Not so.

A walking taco is made with taco meat, served in a snack-size bag of Doritos and topped with lettuce, cheese, tomatoes and salsa.

I was skeptical of this meal plan, but I always go on a guilt trip when one of us is out of town, so I agreed to it.

I cooked up hamburger taco meat for K, chicken for me. We opened our bags of Doritos, spooned in the various toppings, then squeezed the bags to crush up the chips. This concoction is eaten out of the bag. i found it somewhat repulsive. Perhaps not the nacho cheese Doritos next time.

K was delighted, however. In fact, she looked at me, smiled and said, "Wow, Mom! This is as good as the lunch we get in the school cafeteria!"

I've reached culinary rock-bottom.