Friday, April 29, 2005

So Why Ain't I Rich?

I'm in shopping mode right now. It's how I deal with bad times. It does me good to get out of my usual environment and see what the rest of the world is up to. Today I met with an old friend for lunch in Round Rock (about 30 minutes away from the office); indulged in an overlong lunch; then stopped at the Barnes & Noble on my way back to the office. (Hey, I work my butt off most of the time. I deserve to screw around some once in awhile.)

I've never met a bookstore I didn't like and I know when I walk in the door that I will be spending money. It's not a question of if, but on what. About 25 minutes later I walked out $100 poorer, but I've got some good books to put on the waiting list to read. Which is neither here nor there as pertains to the title of this piece, but I'm setting the scene.

As is my habit, I wandered over to the crafts and hobbies section to take a gander at what new books there might be for knitters. I don't have time to knit much anymore, but I still like to keep my education up for someday in the future when I do have time (ha, ha). Today there were four shelves worth of books on knitting and crocheting and most of them were books I didn't own. It suddenly hit me that I've missed the boat once again.

I have a unique knack for getting interested in a subject years before it becomes really popular and people start making a passle of money catering to that audience. It was quite a few years prior to the Barnes & Noble/Starbucks alliance when I played with the idea of opening a book store where there would be comfy chairs around where someone could sit and pass the time among the wonderful world of books and that would have a coffee center in the corner where you could get a good cup of coffee to drink while you were sitting. And who's making a bundle now with my idea?

I fell in love with Colorado about 18 years ago, before the movie stars found it and started running up the real estate prices to a point where a real person can't afford to buy a vacation spot there. If I had had the foresight to buy a few acres around Ouray, Gunnison, Salida or Durango back in 1987, I might be able to resell it now for quite a tidy profit.

I've been involved in genealogy since 1968, back when you had to dig, dig, and dig some more to get even a tiny babystep further back in your research. I read everything I could get my hands on to teach me techniques to find missing dead people, and there wasn't much to read. A pitiful magazine that I subscribed to for several years and a few antiquated "how to" books. Now I subscribe to four wonderfully helpful genealogical magazines, have access to census record images via the Internet through Ancestry, and have the bountiful data online that has been assembled by a network of volunteers through the US Genweb. It seems like at least 2-3 new books on various aspects of genealogy are on the shelf everytime I hit a bookstore. And most of them don't teach me anything that I didn't learn the hard way 20 years ago. But did I have the gumption to write a how-to book myself?

Another hobby that is on slow simmer at the present is dollhouse miniatures. I backed into the hobby in the early 1970s and spent several years constructing and decorating dollhouses and vignettes. Back in those prehistoric days, manufactured miniatures were virtually nonexistent. You learned to look at every scrap of metal in a hardware store with an eye toward what it could be made to look like in a 1/12th scale world. Nowadays you can find just about everything in miniature version, thanks to an explosion of interest about a decade ago in dioramas and the need for things to put in antique printer trays to produce an interesting decorative piece for your wall. It is still a very focused market, but with the Internet you can make a decent living selling miniatures to nut cases like me. And there's a lot like me out there - some even nuttier. Folks like Brooke Tucker have turned themselves into professional miniaturists and charge around $500 per student for workshops where they learn to build quality vignettes and roomboxes. Another missed opportunity.

And now knitting. I have long dreamed of owning a good yarn store, where there would be natural fiber yarns, classes, local fiber artist showings and the like. I squashed the idea many years back because it was a dying art. Yes there were the faithful, like me, who still loved to work with quality yarn (not that acrylic crap you find at Walmart). But times were bad when I got the idea (mid 1980s), and small businesses were dying at a frightening pace. People weren't interested in costly, luxury items. But now, with Julia Roberts and Darryl Hannah and tons of other stars carrying around their scarves in progress, novelty and speciality yarns are hitting the shelves and going home with people in large quantities. Book after book is being published not only with how-tos and patterns, but on the philosophy of knitting. For the record, I haven't totally given up my dream, but once again, I was on the cutting edge and didn't even know it.

I can cite other examples. I loved the basics of homemaking skills long before Martha Stewart came on the scene. I was baking bread and creating sourdough starter and learning to spin when she was still a stockbroker. I quite often get interested or tired of a product or service several months before the rest of the world follows. I guess I missed my true calling as a trend-spotter.

Which gives me hope about the state of our government. I've been calling George W. Bush a preppie jerk from the time he strode into the Texas governor's office. Surely, it will be any minute when the rest of the world catches on. But I digress.

I guess it takes vision to act on your impulses and guts to trust your instincts. Too bad I never realize that I'm on to something until it's too late for me to grab hold of the train and get on board. But I'm here to tell you, Barnes & Noble and Starbucks should cough up some money. That was my idea.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The King is Gone

May 19, 1990 - April 27, 2005
Truly one of a kind.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Twiddling My Thumbs in the Waiting Room

I've been spending a lot of time in vet's offices these days. Yesterday Mr. Bebop had his ultrasound at the Central Texas Specialty Hospital. To reduce it to the bare facts, the old man has an enlarged prostate which is probably the result of an infection in the prostate. I'm mulling over the recommended treatment, which in itself can cause problems, and getting ready to discuss the matter with his regular dr. tomorrow.

While I was waiting for them to bring my baby back, I noticed two framed posters in the exam room on the subject of Cat Lovers and Dog Lovers. Since I am both, I can verify that they speak the truth:

Every dog lover should...
know his dog's birth sign;
leave phone messages for the dog;
get birthday gifts from the dog;
consider getting a cat for the dog;
see babies and think of puppies;
have a near-miss in traffic
because a dog was walking by;
have stepped in some;
barefoot; in the dark;
know better than to leave a closet open;
know all dogs by name, if not all owners;
be pleased to learn that 63%
of you sleep with them;
buy anything a dog is selling;
should be counted on to ask,
no matter what other awful things
are reported, was the dog okay;
understand they are never replaced;
AND you will fall in love again...

* * * * * * *

Every cat lover should...
appreciate good angora;
great vacuums;
realize, after much fruitless effort,
that "Here Kitty, Kitty"
is a courtesy, not an expectation;
know that furballs are bad;
curiosity is worse;
marvel that an animal could be
so tidy; vain; compassionate;
arrogant; goofy; independent;
needy; in the same five minutes;
like people with cats better
than the OTHER KIND;
not be particularly
ashamed ABOUT IT;
swallow roughly 16 lbs.
of cat hair in their lifetime;
should have given the cat a party;
a middle name; a bath; a pill;
have the scars to prove it;
know the look that says,
"I was going out anyway,"
cradle a new kitten
and know that nine lives
will never be nearly enough...

both by Teresa Eliot, John Boiler, Kay Smith-Blum

Let me just say that I have stepped on it, barefoot, in the dark, and I have scars to prove I've given pills to the cat.

I fear that we are in the waning days of the Bebop's rule, but rest assured that he will be given princely treatment and spoiled rotten until his last breath. He may be weak and wobbly legged, but those black eyes are still snapping out the orders which are not to be ignored. We are greeted at our regular vet's by every technician asking "How's Bebop?" Yesterday he won over a strange staff, who told me "he's just the sweetest thing!". They broke the mold when they made that boy.


Friday, April 15, 2005

Team Work

I confess. I watch The Apprentice. I'm not big on reality shows, but I enjoy this one because I can relate to the different types of people you run into in a business environment. The first season was especially good, with contestants you felt could actually fill a high-level position in a Donald Trump company. The second season was pretty awful, but still entertaining. We are nearing the end of the third season and even though I dislike almost all of the participants, I find myself glued to the TV. Sort of like watching a train wreck. You just can't help yourself.

Last night's episode hit a nerve. Two teams of three were assigned the task to design a promotional brochure for a new Pontiac design. The team of three men spent a good part of their time patting themselves on the back for being so much more superior to the other team that contained two women and one man. They could beat that group with their, um, let's say right arms tied behind their backs. They proceeded to turn out a brochure similar to the kind you can pick up at any car dealership. Boring and predictable.

The other team, led by a woman for heaven's sake, got off to a shaky start. The leader had experience in designing promotional material. The other two obviously thought she was an airhead, but agreed to support her as team leader. Their support generally consisted of ignoring their leader's ideas and disappearing from the scene at 3AM, leaving their leader to complete the job without them. She stayed on the project until 8AM and produced an innovative, slick and powerful brochure (which incidentally Pontiac is going to use in their promotion).

Now, can you guess what happened next? If you've spent time in the business world, you probably can. Teamwork.

The all boys' team took a severe beating. The team quickly turned on each other, casting blame every which way for a lousy job done. They did have the grace to acknowledge the incredible job done by their opponents. Chris, thankfully, finally got shown the door. The guy has been a consummate jerk for the entire season. And how the mighty do fall. Mr. "I never fail" dissolved in tears.

Back to the winning team. And I use the word "team" loosely. The leader was quickly pushed to the back of the presentation by her cohorts, who had spent the better part of the project prep time in their beds. The leader did manage to push her way back to the front and received some well-deserved compliments from the Pontiac executives. Compliments that were quickly sucked in by her teammates with gushing thanks. Of course, we viewers all know who deserved the kudos. (One can only hope that word got back to the Donald.)

I said all that to say this. Earlier this week I mentioned the meeting where I spat some venom toward a "teammate". I don't care how liberated the business world gets, there is always an element of "how could a woman" or "how could someone with a lesser degree than mine" have a good idea? The male with the superior degree spreads his colorful feathers and sounds his crow regardless of whether he has an idea one in his head. He usually "participates" by criticizing. God forbid he should put his neck on the line with an original idea that might get shot down by an "inferior" teammate who can think outside the box.

And then there's the "superior" teammate who brushes off or talks over a teammate's suggestion, only to rephrase the idea and present it as his own 10 minutes later. If I only had a $1 for every time that's happened to me, I could start preparing for early retirement. At this point in my life, I usually call them on it in front of the group, but in my sweet, demure days I got stomped on alot.

We live in a time of "me". The concept of team hardly exists any more, that I can see. Every one is so busy trying to get credit for themselves that the needs of the many no longer count. Loyalty to a company is pretty much nonexistent these days. And loyalty to the employee is teetering on extinction. For the good of the company is only important if it benefits "me". And "me" is available to the next best offer. You can't blame employers for developing a callous regard for these types.

It's really sad. I've worked for the same company for 30 years and I still feel a part of its lifeblood. We are unique in that a good portion of our employees have worked here for more than 15 years on average. There's still a faint trace of a family feeling here that you don't find many places. But the younger folks that come through here never get the opportunity to know how it feels to have business roots. They've been taught to keep moving, to take care of yourself and only yourself. They never cross the line into "teamwork" for the betterment of the company. They will always be solitary actors in a cut-throat world.

Yeah, ok. I'm a geezer. But I like the view a lot better from my vantage point. We're losing that central sense of belonging that helps a person become a stable member of society. I feel very sorry for the youngsters coming into the job market. It's lonely out there. And when the chips are down, your teammates will turn on you without a second thought, or grab the glory that rightfully belongs to you. It's the same whether you take a job in an office in Smallsville or you get a leg in the door of a huge Donald Trump corporation.

How long before we wise up? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Back in the Saddle

Unfortunately vacations don't last forever. After a pleasant plane ride back to Texas, life resumed its normal abnormality. Dishes to wash, laundry to do, caregiving to resume, cats to pet and dogs to worry about.

And, oh yes, the job trials and tribulations. We'll take that up later.

Mr. Bebop, the crown prince of the house, also known as canis rattius terrorus #1, has been sick lately. He's getting old and every illness is cause for immediate concern. The week before my trip he went down abruptly and I was preparing myself for the worst case scenario. He has ruled the house with a iron paw in a velvet glove for almost 15 years now. (His 15th birthday comes around on May 19th.) Hard to conceive of life without him.

Fortunately, after several days of IV fluids and antibiotics to combat an infection, he bounced back enough for me to go ahead with my trip plans. His care was left in the capable hands of Uncle David. Along about Saturday night, he began to go down again. So back we went to see Dr. Leslie as soon as I got back. As it turns out, we think the second round was more likely the result of arthitic problems and being pissed off at Mommy for leaving him than a relapse. He still has an infection, but he's back on his arthritis medicine, continuing his antibiotics, and beginning to act more like himself. We are waiting on a consult report from a doggie internist in Austin to see if there's more that needs doing. The total for this little round of hospitalization and follow up visits is in the hundreds of dollars already and continuing to mount up. But then, what are savings accounts for? He is, after all, my baby.

So my priority right now is to take good care of my baby. I am not so interested in the so-called emergencies that proliferate at the office on an hourly basis. I'm getting much better at distancing my nerves from those little explosions. One of the advantages of getting older, I suppose. There was a time when I did not sleep for weeks on end, terrified that work would not be done right and on time. My stomach churned constantly, worried that some slipup on my part would result in a telephone call the next day to ream me out about something. Well, it finally occurred to me that nothing I did was going to have a forever effect. The best I could do was to do the best I could and take every precaution to avoid catastrophes. On the rare occasion that the you-know did hit the fan with a splat, I made reparations as quickly as possible and added one more thing to my list of things to never do again.

Be that as it may, the work still piles up. My desk that was almost clean when I left was piled up again when I got back. So I've been running all week. Staying fairly cool and collected, save for a brief moment in a meeting this morning where I finally couldn't stand listening any longer to a complaining attorney and turned my acid tongue loose. Nobody seemed too surprised and I think I was just saying what everyone else in the meeting was thinking. And it did shut him up briefly. I've learned to stop feeling guilty about controlled outbursts, too. Keeps the ulcer count down, dontcha know. Another good thing about getting older. Speak my mind and go along my way, the devil take the hindmost. I foresee a future as an eccentric old lady, wielding my cane at all idiots encountered. Almost looking forward to it.

As I was writing, the report came back from the specialist and I will be taking Bebop in for an abdominal ultrasound on Monday afternoon. Someday I will write about my unfortunate and unwanted familiarity with the hospitals and doctor offices in Travis and Bastrop Counties, thanks to my mother. It looks like I may become an authority on the animal specialists in the area thanks to Bebop. Keep your fingers crossed that we can keep him going until he disappears in a puff of dust, like the one-hoss shay.


Saturday, April 09, 2005

Travel Journal, day 4

We've decided that it's a good thing we're headed back to Texas tomorrow. Everyday we look a little more bedraggled. From the time we get up from the breakfast table to the time we finally get back to the hotel room, we are up and down and back and forth. Up to go get another film from the row after row of film cabinets. Down to the floor to sit cross-legged while checking the indexes of every book available on a county of interest. Back to the microfilm cabinets. Forth to the microfilm printers. And round and round and round we go.

Today was a good day for all of us. We have piles of paper to cart back to Texas. I started off the day determined to find a probate record that, regardless of knowing the volume and page, I could not find to save my life. Yesterday I was ready to kick the microfilm reader. This morning, tanked up with coffee and a good breakfast, I finally puzzled out the problem. For some reason known only to the powers that be in Vermillion County, Indiana, they have three Volume 3's in their probate records. I had to plow through all three of them before I finally happened across the right record. After that success, I located two ancient Wilcoxen wills, the oldest one dating to 1716. A few marriage records here, a probate record there, God's in his heaven and all's right with the world.

Today's lunch break was The Passages restaurant. Great food and orange rolls to die for. I ate two of them and did not waste my time feeling guilty. They're grrrrrrreat! Elegant surroundings with soft piano music to soothe the nerves of folks who have spent the previous 4 hours on activities like pondering why on earth there are three Volume 3's in the probate records of Vermillion County. Or how much money the library rakes in everyday at 5 cents per copy (23 cents for microfilm prints). The three of us averaged a $25 copy expenditure each over 3-1/2 days. Considering the number of folks who pass through their doors, it's a nice little money-maker.

But I digress. We've eaten well, found a lot of good stuff, enjoyed each other's company and bascially had a good time. We'll be back.


Friday, April 08, 2005

Travel Journal, day 3

Today was my day for chasing wild geese. I had some kind of idea that I might be able to find a marriage record that has eluded me for years. Some new information had led me to believe that a concentrated hunt in southern Missouri would pay off. Hah. After three hours I conceded defeat. I've about come to the conclusion that the couple in question were just living in sin.

But I shifted gears and located a marriage I didn't even know about, so I guess it wasn't a total loss.

About 4 o'clock we stopped for lunch and wandered down to Lamb's Grill Cafe, a 3 block hike. And it is a hike. Salt Lake City blocks are at least twice the length of Austin blocks. The restaurant doesn't look like much on the outside, but inside is quietly dignified and soft music from the 1940s sets a relaxed mood. The food is good, the atmosphere is peaceful and it's a great place to wind down after a wild goose chase has stretched your patience.

On the way back, we made a pleasant discovery. Edinburgh Castle, a little shop we happened upon, was full of items to tempt someone of Scottish descent. I never find much in these places because my Clan MacFie/MacPhie is a rather obscure bunch. But I did find a scarf, a tie, and a kilt pin.

The afternoon was spent prowling through court records on microfilm. We stayed to the last minute and then made our way to the hotel restaurant for a round of pie ala mode and coffee. Perfect way to end the day.

The weather ran the gamut today, starting with chilly drizzle and ending with clear, brilliant skies and crisp, cool air. Everyone immediately turned on the central heat. Since I stay overheated these days, it gets pretty warm at those microfilm readers. I think I will be shopping for one of those fans that plug into your USB port. I could sure use one on this trip.

Tomorrow we will be starting bright and early and I expect we will close the library again tomorrow night. It's fun and it's tiring. And I'm already looking forward to the next trip.


Thursday, April 07, 2005

Travel Journal, day 2

Everyone knows that you should avoid staying in a hotel where there's a Shreiners' convention in progress. Consider yourself warned about student nurses' conventions. We arrived at the same time as a large herd of young, robust women who move through the hotel in blocks of a dozen or so at any one time. When you see them head toward the elevators, you just park yourself on a chair in the lobby until they finally clear out. In the room next door to me, the shower ran the better part of two hours last night. There are at least 4 of the creatures to each room. The experience has inspired me to stay really healthy. They don't exactly instill confidence.

During the day we join our own herd at the Family History Library next door. There was a time when you didn't see many young people at work on their genealogy, but times are changing. You see just about every type of person, each with an over-stuffed notebook and most with a laptop, laying claim to an expanse of desktop for the day. We've seen young girls who, despite the repeated requests to refrain from cell phone use in the library, call up various relatives to inquire about granny's brothers and sisters. We've seen an elderly 80-something woman, dragging her rolling cart of research and giving us all hope that we have a few more decades to poke those recalcitrant ancestors out of their hiding places.

The first day of research was a success. We all found something. Maybe not all we wanted to find, but enough to make the day worthwhile. We had an excellent lunch at a rooftop restaurant where the ceiling had been retracted to let the fresh mountain air drift through. It was a good day.

Tomorrow we hit the microfilm readers again. There's ancestral gold in them thar hills of film. Gotta get me some.


Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Travel Journal, first day

Flying is not my favorite thing. I still feel that if God wanted us to fly, we would have feathers. Be that as it may, this morning I stepped on a small jet and headed off to Salt Lake City, Utah, also known as the genealogist's Mecca. Myself and two friends are spending four days in the Family History Library, trying to pry a hole or two in some genealogical brick walls.

Odd thing about this trip. I enjoyed the flight. No churning stomach, no desire to squeeze my eyes shut until the plane leveled, no claw marks in the arm rests. Either I'm getting better at this flying thing or I've reached that point in my life when I've accepted that if it's your time to go, it's your time and there's nothing you can do about it, so why not enjoy yourself in the moment.

The sky was bright and clear and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the patchwork quilt down below. I found myself comparing my mode of travel in 2005 with that of my ancestors. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, they moved slowly by horseback or wagon, perhaps occasionally by train. What would they have thought if they could see the land from 20,000 feet above? While I made a 1,000 mile trip in less than 3 hours, how long must it have taken for the Mobleys to travel to Texas from Georgia? I know they came to Galveston by boat and at least one group of them walked the rest of the way to Bastrop County. Can you imagine?

This is my third time to fly to Salt Lake City. I always look forward to crossing the Rocky Mountains and drinking in the beauty of their craggy peaks, covered with virgin snow. It's been a long time since I've driven through the mountains, which is my favorite way of viewing them, but seeing them from above is special too. There is still a lot of snow covering the mountains and the view today was spectacular.

Tomorrow I immerse myself in the past. It may not be most folks' idea of a vacation, but I love pulling new details of my family's past out of the bank of microfilm that is available here. I know I will leave here Sunday with a sore arm from cranking microfilm, but I also know that somewhere along the way I will discover something about my family's history that I didn't know. Another piece of the puzzle will fall into place and I will leave here satisfied and actually glad that I got on that plane.