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August 30, 2006

losing it

I sort of lost my keys today.

I put them in my pocket and went to work. Then, after a busy day I got home and they weren't in my pocket. I panicked. I searched around. I called the few places I had been. I considered going back to work to check there but didn't because I wasn't sure I could get in and I was late for a dinner meeting. Besides, I couldn't imagine where they would be at work. I kept feeling like I was missing something else besides my keys but couldn't put my finger on it. I definitely didn't bring a bag to work...

Two and a half hours and much thought later, some one was able to let me in (I was at the dinner meeting most of that time). Getting ready to go out again I wondered if I would need my jacket.

Then, suddenly, I knew exactly where my keys were - in my jacket at work. I don't know how I managed to completely forget for most of the day that I wore this outer layer to work this morning. It is the oddest (and longest) bout of forgetfulness that I have ever experienced.

The weird thing about the forgetfulness is that it was both physical and mental. While I could remember the feel of putting my keys in a pocket, it didn't dawn on me that the pocket was on a jacket and not pants.

This disproves any theories of a mind/body split. A friend of mine is struggling because a parent is suffering from the early signs of Alzheimer's. Previously I always thought this was a mental problem. Your mind is slowly not working. But actually the mind is just the player for all the other senses that create a memory. Then I started to wonder if memory problems are an issue of mind-player error or from data gathering and storing error. After all, even when I realized I wore a jacket this morning, I still couldn't remember putting my keys in a jacket pocket - all I recalled was putting them in a (generic) pocket. I've heard that playing mind games can help with your memory but I wonder if there are physical things you can do to help that kinetic part of data collection as well.

I suppose my mother would tell me I need to meditate more. Sometimes I think that is the answer to everything.

August 29, 2006


My horizons have expanded since becoming a scooter girl. The other day I found myself eating skittles in the parking lot of a greasy spoon in the suburbs. It suddenly brought memories back of being in BFE Tennessee. The more I get to know the suburbs of the Twin Cities and even parts of Saint Paul, I see the less perfect side of this metropolis.

In order to continue to ride legally I need a motorcycle license (my paper permit expires eventually) so a friend and I signed up for the state sponsored motorcycle safety course. I saw this as a good opportunity to explore the heavier side of two-wheeled transportation. Recently I have been getting the urge to upgrade to a bit more power but the class squelched that desire.

Although it took me awhile to get used to the dangers of riding a scooter, it is nothing compared to an actual motorcycle. I was surprised at the difference a few hundred pounds can make. Previously I was worried about braking with a foot and a hand and using a clutch and shifting gears with my two other limbs (simultaneously!) but I proved a quick learn on that subject. The area that nearly killed me (don't worry - not literally) was cornering. I just didn't feel comfortable with the whole "lean", "counter balance" and rolling a throttle smoothly through a turn. Even the little 250 cc I was riding was a lot clunkier than my scooter (150 cc). The weight also makes a huge difference when you stop - although the brakes are better if the handles are straight a fast halt will throw your bike on the ground sideways. Balance is much more critical on a bike that isn't easily lifted. It isn't just the weight but also where it is located. My scooter is much more bottom heavy - meaning that it doesn't tip easy. The tires are smaller so the whole package is closer to the ground, making it much more stable.

Not that I didn't enjoy the additional cc's and I suppose I would eventually get used to cornering and stopping. Perhaps someday I'll decide to move from a scooter-girl to a biker-chick. But in the meantime I am happy to have started with my little ride. Now I just need to learn maintenance.

August 24, 2006

creative pain

My brain hurts.

This is not because of the beer I just drank or the amount of stupid television I subjected myself too - those were all attempts at cures.

Today I thought way too much. I am not used to a job where I have no slack time. I was on the go from the minute I walked in the door this morning. Sadly it wasn't all physical - a lot of it was mental work, but even worse, a sizeable chunk was trying to be creative.

I don't know how advertising designers survive. I spent four hours today walking around and talking, thinking, breathing signs. We kept playing with words, trying to get at what we wanted to say, how to say it best, briefest, most amusing... with colors, with pictures, with cross stitch. You get the idea. Fortunately two people accompanied me who are much better at this kind of thing. Just trying to keep up with them was exhausting - especially since I have recently discovered my opinionated side on this matter.

This learning - and the diversity of tasks means I am always learning something - is what keeps me energized about work. However, using my mind this much means I need to invest in some good organizational tools. I've got too many items competing for brain cells now. It's kind of nice to feel wanted and challenged.

August 21, 2006

civil civic servants

I keep joking that my job equals earning a degree in recycling with a minor in the city of St Paul. Over the course of the last three months I have learned about their city government, especially the district councils. The capital of Minnesota is surprisingly de-centralized. The city is divided into around twenty neighborhoods or districts, which each have their own board (elected by the residents) and small non-profit organization. Between city allocations, grants, and neighborhood fundraisers, the non-profits manage to have a few staff to work on neighborhood improvement projects.

The staff at non-profits are rarely compensated adequately for their work. However, that underpayment pales in comparison with many other people I work with who are full time volunteers. Some of these people are retired but I don't know (and am afraid to ask) about the rest of them. Many may be on these event committees as part of their job or college education but I recently realized that for some, it might be an alternative type of social life.

I think back to all the years my grandmother donated to the Democratic Party (she eventually got an award of recognition) and realize that for many people who are civic minded, don't care much for bars, games, or "just hanging out" this is what they do for fun. In the long run it can pay off too. In earning a reputation for ambitious volunteering they meet interesting people, learn a lot, and are able be social and productive at the same time.

Recently, while planning an event, we had an issue, wondering what was happening with a bit of road supposedly under construction. A dedicated member of the committee said he would make a call to find the information. I was shocked - he said "make a call" - not several. It would take me at least half a day to track down whom to even call to find out about such things. This is the not the first time I have seen examples of people who are aware of intimate government details.

I still don't fully understand how the city government works. Sure, I know enough to elect my city council member and other representatives, but who ever pays attention to the public works manager? Who is the person who decides the garbage contracts for your city? What about school issues? Government assistance allocation? City business development? There are so many cogs in the wheels of a city that I can only imagine them. Perhaps this is something people learn in civics class. However, judging from the ways in which Minneapolis is different from St Paul, from Bloomington, from New Brighton, and on and on, it might take a bit more than a high school or college course to figure out this tangle. Looks like I have a ways to go before I complete my degree, eh?

August 15, 2006

Paper - recycling 202

How many times do you think paper can be recycled?

Honestly, I don't know. But there are around fifty grades that the stuff can be sorted into. And you thought separating your newspaper from your cardboard from your office paper was a pain. St Paul residents don't have to sort their paper. We have a machine that separates the larger (than two feet) cardboard from the rest of it and then people sorting the rest by hand in our Materials Recovery Facility (MRF).

Each time paper gets recycled, the fibers shorten, depending on how short the fibers are, different products can be made out of it. This also means the paper is weaker and not as good at holding itself together.

From what I know (and I am still learning) paper towel tubes (not paper towels) and toilet paper rolls are almost all recycled paper with fibers to short to recycle again. Egg cartons are the same. The good news is that this means no fresh trees were cut to make those tubes. The bad news is that they cannot be recycled again.

I am not sure where on the fiber spectrum office paper, cardboard, boxboard (cereal and other dry food boxes), newspapers, and magazines are, but I know that all of them can be recycled and office paper is worth the most.

More difficult to recycle are what we call "wet strength" - which is boxboard used to hold soda and beer together. This has a light plastic coating on it to prevent condensation from destroying the box. Saint Paul residents are able to recycle this but Minneapolis residents have to sneak it across the border. Many recycling companies won't collect this type of paper because although the fibers are long, it takes extra solvents and a longer soaking time to separate the plastic from the fiber so it is among the cheapest recycled paper we can sell.

Two recyclable fiber items we haven't been able to collect because the supply and demand are too unstable are freezer boxes, aseptic packages (juice boxes and soy milk containers among other things) and gable top (orange juice and milk cartons).

August 12, 2006


I love my job. Lately I have chosen it over relationships and certainly free time. If anyone wants to keep me yakking all they need to do is ask me how it is going and listen attentively.

However, I have recently found my first stumbling block: I hate design.

As a "manager" I am supposed to make at least some-what executive decisions regarding projects under my watch. This makes perfect sense and I enjoy the responsibility and the freedom it brings - for the most part.

One of my projects though, is creating a self-explanatory waste-free office. At first I was really excited because I love creating systems and refining them to work well. Then I learned that I am supposed to come up with detailed descriptions of all the signs that explain this new type of office. This means I need to think about color, size, wording, and placement. In struggling to complete the assignment, I discovered I am a lot less creative than I suspected. When it comes to words brevity is not my strong point. This is bad if you are trying to create a sign. To top it off, we don't just want signs we want entertaining ones - that engage and humor people. I definitely am not witty and brief in my language. I can occasionally be one or the other but both seems like a tall order. The final cringe factor relates to deciding the look of the signs - what material should they be? Paper? Wood? Metal? What about canvas? How will they hang on the wall? What size is best?

In struggling with this project I have come to understand that while I am efficient and practical - and even creative and resourceful when it comes to accomplishing those two ends - it is at the expense of wit and style. Sad but true. Now I just need to figure out how to work around this handicap I have discovered. I am sure whatever happens I'll end up learning a lot being a better person for it all - I am too efficient and practical to waste a good educational opportunity.

August 07, 2006


Two years, three months, and one week after I return to the States I got my first bout of food poison. Yep - I thought it was a virus but it turned out to be a meat and dairy friendly bacteria. So for those of you worried about Delhi Belly and Montezuma's revenge - I say the states isn't any safer. Here are some fun facts about my new bacteria "friend", Campylobacter.

It takes three to five days for it to incubate in your system. Most people don't associate this food poisoning with food for that reason and it can be impossible to trace where it came from.

It tends to come from chicken. In fact, half of all raw chicken is infected with the campylobacter. This is why you always want to cook chicken really well. This bacteria doesn't survive heat at all. However, one drop of raw chicken juice (eeewwww!!!) can infect a person and make them sick. So this is why people are freakish about washing cutting boards!

Chickens can be infected while alive too but they don't get sick from it (Lucky them). Cows and beef can also be infected, though it is less common. However, a cow can have it and it can get into her milk. This happened once and a class of school kids who visited a dairy farm and drank un-pasteurized milk all got sick. Generally though there are not mass infections of the campylobacter.

Taken early antibiotics can help lessen the symptoms, however, not always, and taken late they can have no affect at all or even help breed antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Generally it takes seven to ten days to recover from the campylobacter.

Seven to ten days!!!!!!!! What a fabulous weight loss program I have stumbled into…

August 03, 2006

Season Ail

Well, I finally crashed. I knew I couldn't keep up that speed for long.

I hit the summer flu, thoroughly and hard. My body wracked by a virus (as far as we can guess) was in a fevered state for two days - hitting a high of 103.5. Food and water wouldn't stay in me. Dehydrated and exhausted, I suffered from the regular fever aches including a headache that has yet to fade. In that state the only entertainment is your own mind. I am not sure I was up to the task.

I felt like I was on a combination of all the worst drug experiences I have ever had. Reality split apart and fragmented. Time played tricks with my mind. Dreaming state and reality were interchangeable and sadly neither of them were that interesting. And all I could do was watch and wait for my body to heal.

Outside the weather was doing its own dance. I first realized I had a fever while scootering around in 100 degrees and feeling chilled. That night as my fever spiked, the electricity was palpable as thunder and lightening crashed across the sky. Rain fell on the parched earth and sadly ran into our basement as well. The three inches supposedly brought us out of the water debt we have accumulated this year but in the city too much of that translates into runoff - especially when it falls so fast and hard.

The next day I was not cognizant of the weather but two day later when my fever finally receded enough to allow me outside I was surprised by the cool sparkly green world that awaited me.