Nov 29, 2008

Things you don't wanna know

Ah, yes, the world of belly-button lint and pure trivia, coming together in graceful order for embarrassing reveals on a blog near you. Here we go:

The most difficult part of this meme is, that you can only answer the questions with a single word. (And considering that I grew up in more than one country, miss more than one person, etc., what follows is first impulse.)

  1. Where is your cell phone? — Bookshelf
  2. Where is your significant other? — Future
  3. Your hair color? — Brown
  4. Your mother? — Nevada
  5. Your father? — Dunno
  6. Your favorite thing? — iMac
  7. Your dream last night? — None
  8. Your dream/goal? — Published
  9. The room you’re in? — Messy
  10. Your hobby? — Blogging
  11. Your fear? — Unknowns
  12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? — Better
  13. Where were you last night? — Here
  14. What you’re not? — Shy
  15. One of your wish-list items? — Chair
  16. Where you grew up? — Norway
  17. The last thing you did? — Laundry
  18. What are you wearing? — Jeans
  19. Your TV? — Off
  20. Your pet? — Dead
  21. Your computer? — Pretty
  22. Your mood? — Peaceful
  23. Missing someone? — Yes
  24. Your car? — None
  25. Something you’re not wearing? — Watch
  26. Favorite store? — This
  27. Your summer? — Hot
  28. Love someone? — God
  29. Your favorite color? — Blue
  30. When is the last time you laughed? — Today
  31. Last time you cried? — Wednesday

The other part of the challenge is to nominate five people to take up the challenge on their own blogs. However, I can't be bothered tagging any one. You can all do what I did: Steal.

Acknowledgements: Meme stolen from NicoleB, Carol Burnett clip found at Lou's

Nov 23, 2008

Winter wonderland

The snow that started to fall Thursday, fell some more on Friday and Saturday, then it stopped, and left us with a frosted, white world bathed in muted, peachy sunlight. The best part? Some left-over Ghirardelli hot chocolate mix for when I got back indoors. Nom!

Nov 20, 2008

Blizzard day

I should call it a snow day, but on my way home, the snow came at me from all directions, making it pure guesswork which way to angle the umbrella. But when it's snow, it doesn't matter in the same way as when it's rain.

I tried to capture the thin layer of snow, enough to turn the lawns white, before the light faded completely (it's not 4:30 pm yet, and already it's dark out). The asphalt is bare because the janitor has already sprinkled salt on it.

Snow and fading light make things look black and white. This close-up of the trunk of the cherry tree in front of my building looks more like a study in pen and ink than a color photograph.

Nov 17, 2008

Sort of on break

It's downright distracting to have arms whose protests against too much typing and mousing can no longer be ignored. I am doing better, and my increased awareness of what is good for me is definitely helping. But it doesn't take much abuse to get the arms protesting again (they're very mutually supportive that way, my arms: They both protest even though only one has a problem; well, I need the reminders).

There's a lot I want to do - at the computer. But after a whole week at work, I didn't feel up to doing a lot of typing during the weekend. I need to give my arms that rest.

Happily, today at work went better than expected, with me rearranging stuff so I could have a mouse on the right-hand side of one keyboard and a mouse on the left-hand side of another. (I have two computers on my desk at work. See?) Then it was move one computer over so there'd be room for two mouse pads. Only to discover that moving one computer over had me leaning against the button for the desk lift so it would suddenly start to lower. That was when I came up with the brilliant solution of having the two mice share a mouse pad because I wouldn't be using both at once (I astound myself sometimes with my brilliance... :-p ).

So after a day of mousing with both hands, and varying between sitting and standing while working, my arms are feeling pretty good. I'm not well yet. Just not getting worse any more. Which is good.

Now, inspired by The Iceland Weather Report, here is what I have to look forward to tonight:

Note the wind around midnight (7 on the Beaufort scale), and the amount of rain (over 2 inches in just one hour at its worst). I sleep with my window open if it isn't freezing outside, so I expect I'll hear a lot - or sleep right through it. I am safe from hurricanes and floods where I live so I can truly enjoy the meteorological drama this time of year gives us!

Nov 14, 2008

The week of November 10

No, that's not a typo. In Europe, the week starts on Monday and this week that was the 10th. I sometimes get American calendars and have to remember that on those Sunday is to the left. For some reason, it's not as confusing as I thought it would be.

This week, my arm is better, I did more core exercises (and enjoyed them), and I seem to be on the right path. Mac users trying to prevent RSI may want to try this little time-out app that reminds you to take both micro-breaks and regular ones.

I donated to Wikipedia. See badge at bottom right column. I keep linking to it so I figured why not.

Nazis are on the loose in Fyllingsdalen, my neck of the woods. They've tagged the church earlier, and on the 70th anniversary of Crystal Night, they tagged a kindergarten, an elementary school and an apartment building. Last night, there was a meeting between the youth of Fyllingsdalen and the municipal politicians, and I hope something concrete came out of it. The kids don't have anywhere to hang out except the shopping mall, and that lack of something useful to do tends to encourage extreme behaviors, said the police.

I was commenting at work on how the color is changing where I live. No, not on the trees, but on people. When I moved into my apartment 22 years ago, there were only white people. Now I know of at least four families in my immediate vicinity where the skin color is non-European. One of our steering committee members is a black woman, and one of the local constables interviewed in the paper regarding the swastika on the school is named Hernandez. Times sure have changed in Norway!

Which brings me to the Obama Effect: The Norwegians are probably more excited than I am that Obama won, but what got me was an interview with black kids in a school in Oslo (I told you times had changed!) and how they were encouraged by the US voting for a black man. Think about it: Every time we turn on the news and something about the US is on (and there always is; Europeans are very interested in what the US does), we'll now see a black man when they flash the picture of the president. What a powerful message to send not just to kids in Oslo (and Washington, DC), but to the whole world. I'm proud to be an American again. Really proud. This we did right. (And now dear Barry has to deliver on his promises, but that's another matter.)

It is time for wage evaluations at work, and my boss is one of the better ones when it comes to making sure to use the opportunities he has to give pay raises, one-time bonuses, etc., and he also distributes as evenly as he can. One may want to argue that this means those who do exceptional work don't get compensated correctly, but there are two things you should know: One is that we all do exceptional work because we all know we are all appreciated, and we are treated like a team and act like one. The other thing is that when I failed to meet the requirements for a raise in pay last fall, but then got myself back on track, my boss made sure to reward me with a one-time bonus. In April, he put in a request for a pay raise for me and got it. So we do get rewarded when we deserve it, and not just automatically.

There's another new boss in town: My boss's boss, who, among other duties, has the final say-so about how my boss uses part of the budget. Since the new guy is really new (been here only three weeks), he asks a lot of questions and makes requests that my boss isn't used to getting. Like written reasons for why my boss wants to give us all raises. So my boss asked us all to make our own employee reviews. One co-worker balked and said that was damn well the boss's job! He's right, but I wrote my own three-sentence review, anyway. In third person. And my boss said it was as if he'd written it himself! Heh.

The aforementioned new boss is just a couple of doors down from me (like four meters away), and the other day he started playing what sounded like Barbra Streisand and Andrea Bocelli airing their tonsils. It wasn't my kind of music, but it also wasn't disturbing enough for me to say anything right then. I did tell my new boss's boss, as I was leaving around 4:45 pm, that playing music in the office was actually forbidden, and he reached over to his iPod with external speakers, all in black, and turned up the music. He meant it only as a joke, but I got a bit annoyed and just bid him good evening. The next morning, he'd sent me an e-mail where he apologized for his reaction. I tried to get him in person, but he was busy, so I e-mailed back that the apology was accepted and that next time he wanted music to work to, to just walk around first and see if he was really alone. Or use headphones.

But you know, I'm so used to the one having to apologize, that I never expected to be on the receiving end in this case. The coolness factor of my new boss's boss did go up several notches.

Speaking of music, it has now been shown that music really does soothe the savage breast:

"Listening to your favorite music may be good for your cardiovascular system. Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore have shown for the first time that the emotions aroused by joyful music have a healthy effect on blood vessel function."

(Via the Norwegian article on same.)

And finally, from yesterday's walk, something for those of you who miss life in a temperate climate:

Nov 13, 2008

Alexanderplatz

After a delayed lunch (through no fault of our own), we finally arrived in Berlin. It was a long drive into the center of town because Berlin is your typical large metropolitan. We drove by the Berlin Wall, and I tried to make a note of what boulevard we were on. When I finally got a map, I learned that we had been driving through the old East Berlin part, right up Karl Marx Allee to our hotel, the Park Inn Alexanderplatz.

Our guide joked that Berlin could be considered one of the largest construction sites in Europe. The view from my 22nd story hotel room confirmed that. (I was actually facing Karl Marx Allee from my room.)

But what I really wanted to do was get out and look around. Unlike Dresden, the drive through Berlin whetted my appetite so I grabbed my camera and went out. It was late in the afternoon and getting a bit dark, but my pictures turned out better than I expected.

Between the hotel and the TV tower is a plaza with shopping centers. I was told that Galeria offered live concerts instead of muzak for the shoppers. Next time I'm in Berlin, I'll have to go shopping (I didn't go inside any stores at all).

The joke about the originally 365 meter tall TV tower, built in 1969, goes:

"What happens if it falls?"
"You get to West Berlin."

That tells you how close Alexanderplatz was to the wall.

Between the TV tower and the river Spree is a park, and on one side of it is the reconstructed city hall, all in brick. I was absolutely charmed by it. It was adorned with several versions of the Berlin bear (the animal depicted on Berlin's flag).

On the other side of the park is Marienkirche (St. Mary's church), and suddenly the fountains played up while I was standing there.

The next day I wandered around Alexanderplatz, too, with better light, and noticed how pretty the fountain outside the Galeria was, though the shapes the water spray made reminded me of McDonald's golden arches.

Later I discovered that I could see the Alexanderplatz plaza from my window - if I opened my window and leaned the camera out a bit. And waaaay down there is the subway station.

The Park Inn was a typical business hotel, but what got everyone talking was the evidence that the architects must have taken "en-suite bathroom" literally. The bathroom was not closed off from the rest of the room. What tickled me was that there was only one sliding door that the shower and toilet stalls had to share.

And, finally, Berlin by night - the bird's-eye view:

Nov 10, 2008

Spreewald

The river Spree runs through Berlin. Halfway between Dresden and Berlin is Spreewald (Spree Forest). We were told we were going on a boat ride and imagined a large motorized passenger boat with large viewing windows. But what we got was a ride in large, low prams, propelled by German gondoliers, through a very quiet and lush series of canals, now on UNESCO's world heritage list. It turned out to be a wonderfully relaxing morning.

A characteristic haystack

The business end of the the gondolier's pole.

There was a little stop at a restaurant area, which also had a small museum, an aquarium, and a souvenir shop. The latter featured miniature "Trabbies" - the infamous Trabant car that the former DDR used to produce, and which is as much a symbol of the DDR-era as the Berlin wall is. In fact, we did do our fair share of Trabant-spotting from the bus. There aren't that many of them left, so my fellow travelers got excited every time they saw one.

Nov 8, 2008

Best meme ever

The most beautiful thing I've read lately is this:

Rosa sat,
so Martin could walk,
so Barack could run,
so our children could fly.

(It seems have first been said on NPR/BBC.)

Nov 7, 2008

My plan worked!

There is a hall monitor in my building. OK, not like in school, but basically those who live in a building take turns being the go-to person for complaints and light bulbs. That last is very important, especially in winter. Our stairwell has landings on each floor and halfway between each floor. There is a single light fixture with a single light bulb on each landing. My landing gets light from the landing halfway above, its own bulb, and the landing halfway down.

Now, if one bulb goes out, the other two still help one see. Two went out, and I could still manage to tell if the daily newspaper was left on my mat, but not enough to identify anyone through my peephole. But when all three went out, I started waiting for the upstairs neighbor who is currently in charge of changing light bulbs (he gets them for free from our co-op office) to change these light bulbs.

A couple of weeks passed. Finally, I took matters into my own hands. I could have gone upstairs and asked my neighbor to change the bulbs, but I had a couple left over from when I was "hall monitor" so I chose to change the bulb in front of my door myself a couple of days ago. Ah, much better!

I figured that doing that may send the message to my upstairs neighbor to get on the ball with the other burned out bulbs. And he did. I came home today to a properly lit stairwell, lights burning on every landing.

I'm so pleased my plan worked!

Nov 6, 2008

A note from Mom

Sometimes the sweetest things show up unexpectedly, like a note from Mom. That was the title of the e-mail my mom sent me today. Actually, it was notes from Mom. One of them was a healing prayer for me. It is now laminated and resting by my keyboard as a reminder that both life, body and family are all good.

Thanks, Mom!

Nov 4, 2008

Election night and other thoughts

Yes, I've been missing in action, without saying why. Nothing serious. A bit of idea drought, RSI, and happy moments that involve friends that are not comfortable with being blogged about. About that latter, I will merely say that I made a new friend on my trip to Trondheim this summer.

About the RSI (repetitive strain injury): My mouse arm (which sounds terribly dirty in Norwegian because, well, where in American one refers to a certain female body part as something akin to Tom, in Norwegian it is akin to Jerry) has been acting up. For quite a while, actually, and now so badly that I finally realized it was time to seek help. And it turns out that my company has a new health plan (actually, a medical treatment plan) and a new physical therapist with office hours in my building on Mondays (as far as I know). So last Thursday, while discussing the matter with my boss (every time I said "mouse arm" we both tried not to giggle - sheesh), it occurred to me to call the company doctor's office. I got a hold of the chief physical therapist there and she told me about the new guy and got me an appointment for Monday at 10 am.

He was a pleasant man whom I found I could relax with right away. We both agreed that I was quite self-aware and knew what had put me in my current state as well as what would likely fix it. But, I said, it's not enough, which is why I'm here, hoping you can give me some exercises that will help. He nodded and took me downstairs to the company's exercise room, and demonstrated a few core-strengthening exercises with straps and pullies. Sort of like pilates. The point was to strengthen the core muscles around the spine to help support and stabilize the large muscle groups supporting my arms.

Now, just being in an exercise room with mirrors along the wall and weights and mats and his and hers showers disheartens me because I never learned to enjoy exercising while I was in school. But, my arm matters (I do love my job) and I did ask for help. One of my co-workers likes to use the rowing machine every Tuesday at 2:30 pm so I asked if I could join him and if he could show me how to set the exercise bike (for warming up). He helped me rig the straps and set the bike and then he started rowing across some imaginary fjord, while I biked some imaginary Norwegian road complete with hills. Goodness! My legs really hated that and it was so b-o-r-i-n-g. So to heck with 15 minutes of peddling; I was warmed up after 6 and went to do my stabilizing exercises.

I enjoyed those because they remind me of yoga, of being able to concentrate on the moment, feel your own body and its responses, and adjust. Afterwards I did do an amputated yoga routine, mainly to stretch out, and when it was all over (even had the shower to myself - yay!), I felt pretty darned good. I'm even thinking about doing it all again Thursday! (Will miracles never cease...)

I go back to see the PT on Monday for half an hour of massaging (which he gave me the first visit, too) and progress report.

I was just helping a friend figure out how to use her new Mac without the mouse because she didn't want a repeat of RSI, only to find myself dealing with my own. Thing is, it's not necessarily the mouse use itself. It is how you use the mouse. From what I've learned on the internet, clicking fast is more harmful that pressing hard, and my PT confirms that, stating that speed prevents those muscles from getting a rest. I do everything fast, including typing and mousing. I have to learn to slow down [she typed at 80 wpm].

It's a matter of awareness, of being conscious, of bringing the yogic centering into the office, at the desk. I have something new to learn. I have to tell myself there's time enough and to take that time.

In the meantime, I have tomorrow off. Nice! And I intend to greet the morning bleary-eyed but hopefully grinning from ear to ear: Our main TV station will be broadcasting live from the election in the US and everybody is hoping Obama will win, including me, because I voted for him.

And even if I should decide to get to bed at a decent hour, come tomorrow, no matter who won, the world will be different.

PS: I intend to post more frequently. I just need to find a routine that will spare my "mouse arm".