Archive for the ‘ In the Book ’ Category

How Much Should One Person Accomplish in One Day?

Seriously. How much should a mature, responsible adult accomplish in one day to be able to assess that she’s been sufficiently productive for a single calendar day?

Let me qualify that.

How much should a mature, responsible, unemployed adult accomplish in one day to be able to assess that she’s been sufficiently productive for a single calendar day? Has she done “enough” this day to justify her occupation of planetary space for one more day…

OK, I’m not being completely honest…

How much should a mature, responsible, unemployed, Type A adult personality accomplish in one day to be able to assess that she’s been sufficiently productive for a single calendar day?

I’m still coming to terms with the realization that I’m a Type A. Years ago when the Type A/B designations came into popular consciousness, I easily lumped myself into the Type B bucket as I understood the personality definitions. To my understanding, Type As were high energy people who were always busy, always productive, and highly successful. That was not a definition that I associated with.

It never occurred to me to associate
my self-assessment as “lazy” whenever I wasn’t busy
or my guilt at not accomplishing some kind of measurable results every day
as the hallmarks of one who is a solid Type A. It took the insight of a homeless person to inform me that I am most certainly a Type A personality.

We were both looking for work at the time. That morning, I picked her up from her current place of residence–Union Gospel Mission–and drove to a local job fair. While sitting in my car, watching and waiting for the growing line of job hopefuls to shorten, she tagged my impatient body language and conversation under the circumstances as that of a Type A. And so she pronounced me to be! Right then, right there.

Did she know what preconceived notions she was challenging? What self-perceptions must I confront to answer this pronouncement?! What a complete shift in the concept of my own productivity would be required to accept this reality?

Yeah, OK. I give! I’m good with all that now.

So the question remains, How much should a mature, responsible, unemployed, Type A adult personality accomplish in one day to be able to assess that she’s been sufficiently productive for a single calendar day? It’s 5:00 p.m., and I’m feeling like I haven’t done this day justice at all.

Wait. WAIT! I hear the mail truck…

Ah, yes! My TurboTax Home and Business 2013 software has arrived ahead of the promised delivery date, and I’m going to get right on it. I’m good!

Sorry to have bothered you while I doubted my productivity on this particular day…


I’m Back

And you know what that means.

I can once more characterize myself as “UE” or Unemployed. As an independent, who has only been offered (and accepted) contract positions for the past seven years, I’m not sure I can legitimately characterize myself as unemployed, laid off, let go. Regardless, I’m pretty sure that I still haven’t learned how to make it seem otherwise.

Let’s back up. I am more than grateful that my most recent contract dovetailed so perfectly into the one before that. I never took for granted the fact that I managed to parlay one, then two contract gigs straight into a third. The result is that I was serially employed for 28 months!

… without any substantive time off. Sorry, in all honesty, I just had to throw that in there… the fact that the time/money tradeoff always taints the unemployment angst.

But back to being “back.” Because this development is so fresh, I propose to take you with me on this latest adventure in real time. It’s only been since Thursday, December 5, and I have many curiosities to share already.

Let me get back to you on that…

Pecan Capers (Sequel)

When we last saw our heroine, she was more determined than ever to win the “nut” wars. (Some would say she already has.) Our story resumes on Saturday last* …

I heard the noises again during the night. That blasted squirrel is really asking for it. (What – I don’t know, but I’ll think of something.) First order of business Saturday is to resume harvesting pecans using the ladders to go as high and reach as far as possible. I also intend to start cutting back some of the branches that are touching my roof and that of my neighbors’ house. 

Instead of pruning back the good-size branches all at once (which will involve a saw and two good arms**), I decide that I’ll first just cut off each tendril that has already yielded its fruit. This will systematically expose where the final cuts should be after the harvest is spent (and put off for now the need for tools more dangerous than ladders and loppers).

Work is progressing well. Every time I get about 10 or 12 pecans in the pie pan, I hit the limit of my reach and have to move the ladder. And every time, I move the ladder without first removing the pan from its perch, so I get to “pick” the pecans a second time off the ground. I finally get smart and bring out a brown paper bag to offload pecans from the pie pan (preferably before moving the ladder). Sometimes I remember to.

I’m trying not to share the pecans hanging over my neighbors’ property, but inevitably some of them fall in their yard. Oh well. Hopefully, they will find them before the squirrels do.

Pecans can be sneaky. And they’re in cahoots with the sun. You can be looking straight at them, but you’re blinded by the sun. Hence ensues much ladder-moving forth and back to where I could swear I’d already gotten them all. 

You have to look from all angles to catch them hiding. In their still-green husks, the pecans are nicely camouflaged in the leaves. They’re even a similar shape! But when you find a bunch of pecans with your head, you know the difference. D’oyng.

Once when I go back toward the front yard to take a break, I notice whole pecans on the ground too far away to have bounced from the tree. I’m guessing that the squirrel thinks he’s “hidden” them in the tall grass. Who’s laughing now? Thanks for the freebies!

After a couple of hours of moving the ladders all the way around the tree, as well as against the house, to pluck every possible pecan within reach that looks remotely ready or that yields to my probing fingers, there is only one thing left to do. I climb into the tree itself. Now, now. No gasping in horror! We have already established that I’m crazy many stories ago. This move should not surprise anyone, except me.

Is it possible that this tree I planted myself when it was only a twig and that used to snap under the weight of the neighbors’ cat can now support my pre-WeightWatchers weight? Are there sufficient footholds for me to gain enough height to reach the otherwise unreachable? Am I really going to do this? You guessed it.

Carefully, I hoist a leg into a crook between branches. The next foothold is a foot or so higher. And I’m in the tree, recalling childhood days. But I need to go higher to achieve my real goal. I can see one more possible foothold, but it means sort of balancing there on just the one leg with my butt “anchored” against the limb. I go for it. And I am rewarded. 

I’m able to reach those pecans that previously offered only a dare. Another battle won in the nut wars! But from this vantage point, I am saddened to see the irony that I couldn’t grasp from the ground. One of the tallest branches had folded in two from the weight of the plentiful pecans and no doubt, at the urging of a stiff breeze. I don’t know if the branch can be saved. But as tall as it was, it’s as if the branch knew that I had no chance of reaching its offering unless it bent down to me. (Hm, is there a metaphor there somewhere?) 

I continue to harvest from this new find. The stiff breeze returns and I feel the tree (and my stomach) swaying. 

There are still so many pecans all over the tree that are not ready to be disturbed. It’s tempting to try to beat the squirrels to the bounty by picking the pecans prematurely. But I decide to save the rest for the next episode …

* I wrote this on October 16, 2007. “Saturday last” would have been October 13. With the drought of 2011, this pecan story would be pure fabrication if I wrote it now. Otherwise, it is completely factual. 😉

** My left arm had been seriously injured (four-part fracture) earlier that year in May.

Midnight Marauder

Overnight I was robbed!

I was rudely awakened by a crash that came from my bathroom. Then I hear what sounds like thrashing around or maybe even splashing. (You’ve heard about varmints that swim through sewer lines to surface in people’s toilets?) Or is it rain? Maybe just wind knocking the pecan tree around on my roof? No, it sounds like it’s coming from inside! Sometimes the shower head will decide to start dripping, but that wouldn’t account for the crash, which sounded like something falling on the floor.

My first reaction is fear, then distaste at the thought of what I might find when I investigate (and how am I going to deal with it?), then resignation that I’m going to have to deal with it. But what does one wear to confront a sewer rat? (I sleep in only underwear.) So I get up, put on slippers (because I didn’t know the answer to the last question), and go in the bathroom. I turn on only the heat lamp, which puts out a dim red glow. (Didn’t want to startle the creature into charging me.) But I don’t see anything. Still I hear noises. I get up the nerve to pull back the shower curtain. Nothing there. So much for the surfacing sewer sloth theory (thankfully).  

I’m squinting through the skylight. I see Orion, but I’m pretty sure he’s not the culprit. Some of the leaves on the tree are shaking. But if it was caused by wind, they’d all be shaking. Hm. I begin to realize the noises I’d been hearing sound like gravel pelting the skylight. Not loud enough or hard enough to be falling pecans. To hell with it. I turn on the real bathroom light. It makes no difference. Still can’t see anything, still hear the pelting noises. 

Then it dawns on me. There is at least one flippin’ squirrel somewhere up there chowing down on my pecans! Tap, tap, tap… tap, tap. The sound of bits of shell dropping onto the skylight. Indignation! How dare he, she, they?! And while I slept unaware!

How does one scare away a marauding, thieving squirrel in the middle of the night? I grab my exercise dowel (broom stick) and bang it on the underside of the skylight. I can hear the squirrel laughing with its mouth full.

I know it’s useless, so I go back to bed. It’s still pitch black outside. But there’s no sleeping. Tap, tap… tap, tap! My big, beautiful pecans are being stolen and consumed right under (above?) my nose, and the thief with bad table manners is tossing crumbs at me!

I resolve to get out the ladders at first light of day to try to salvage what I can.  Fortunately, it wasn’t as mid-night as I thought, because when the 6:30 alarm went off, it seemed like I’d only been awake about an hour. I get up for real, but it’s still so dark. I eat breakfast while plotting strategy. 

I get dressed and go into the backyard. Don’t see any squirrels. Don’t see pecans or pieces on the ground. But then, I can’t see much of anything! Haul out the painter’s ladder anyway. Start snatching the clinging pecans out of pods that have opened since the last time I checked. My gosh! There are still so many! Above the skylight, I can see a bunch that I’d not seen before, but I don’t see evidence of the theft or the thief.

I get out the extension ladder. I continue pulling off pecans until I fill a deep-dish pie pan and then decide I need to stop to get ready for work. By now it’s light enough that I can see the off-white flesh of bits of my beautiful pecans on the ground.  Not too much though, for all that racket…

I leave the ladders in the backyard to resume my quest in the evening. I pray that the thief enjoyed his breakfast and has found another place to sleep it off. Perhaps I can afford to share nature’s bounty, for it is nature who has blessed me with big, beautiful pecans!

Note: I wrote this on October 12, 2007. With the drought of 2011, this pecan story would be pure fabrication if I wrote it now. Otherwise, it is completely factual. 😉

No Longer a Bag Lady

I got in a good walk yesterday before the promised rains began. As I described in a February post (, I set out, garbage bag in hand, to get some exercise and pick up the aluminum cans that litter the streets among all the other refuse of litterers. I had just turned the corner leaving my subdivision when a pickup truck I’d seen on my street passed me, then turned around and pulled off the road next to me. It was a family of four on their way out for the day, but when they saw me pick up a can or two, they suspected they’d found the neighborhood bag lady at work.

As had happened to me on previous can walks, these neighbors offered to give me a couple bags of cans they had collected but never recycled. Do I need to remind these people that Fort Worth does accept aluminum cans in the weekly recycling pickup? No, that would take money out of my pocket, and these folks are being nice enough to let me have that money in exchange for getting the cans out of their house and off their conscience. We arranged for them to drop the bags by my house upon their return home later in the day.

Maybe I’m working too hard at this. I could just walk around with a garbage bag and wait for people to give me the cans they’ve already collected. Forget the stooping and bending that can aggravate my back, which already aches from age and more than one unfortunate accident. I’d still get exercise from walking, as well as keep my bag lady service and reputation alive. My garbage bag signals to all, “The bag lady’s here!” just as the ice cream truck’s jingle heralds its arrival.

But actually, I’m not a bag lady anymore. I’ve now been employed for two months. And it’s amazing that I didn’t have to take a cut in pay – I just had to take a year off.

Mind you, you did not hear this rumor from me. Besides keeping my bag lady status intact, I also intend to maintain my persona as the downtrodden voice of the unemployed. Besides, its hard to give up the perks of unemployment. Free meals are still most welcome as always.

Though I’ve finally made it to the other side, my work here is far from done. I’m just not going to call myself a bag lady anymore.

I’m the Can Whisperer.

From the Top

(continued from 7/29, “Summit (Seven)”)

The regular program of The Summit 2011 of the Society for Technical Communication began on Sunday evening (May 15), with the usual introductory fanfare and a keynote address by Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media. The keynote speeches are always engrossing, because the Society usually taps talent from outside the realm of conventional technical communication. Although Mr. O’Reilly admitted to being a Society member in the past, he was nevertheless as quirky and entertaining as past keynote speakers, whose work-lives provide anecdotes and insights we would not have heard about otherwise.

The evening closed with a Welcome Reception, where we played the business card game, and I finally got some substantial sustenance! I had volunteered to staff the Consulting and Independent Contracting Special Interest Group (CIC SIG) table for part of the reception, but by this time in my long day (mind you, this is the eighth installment about a single day), the creature comforts were about all I could think of. After repeated trips around the buffet tables and conversely limited attempts to meet the people in my way, I set out for my comfy hotel room and its Jacuzzi tub.

But I just took a shower. It would have taken way too long to fill the Jacuzzi to the water level required to actually use it. A good night’s sleep was a higher priority.

The next morning, I breakfasted at the hotel’s complimentary buffet. It was quite adequate to get me going. The Summit sessions began at 8:30, so I had no time to linger before my morning stroll to the convention center.

Orange Trees on 13th St.But I ask you, Where else can you stride sidewalks lined with orange trees? For the first time, I noticed the round orange fruits hanging overhead. Actually, discarded orange peels on the sidewalk gave me the first clue. Now, that’s what I call fresh orange juice for breakfast!

At the convention center, I located my first session just in time to get a seat. Leah Guren’s session, “Cut the Fluff (A Diet for Text-bloated Docs)” quickly became standing room only. The hour-long session lived up to my expectations, and so I was off to a good start in the marathon that is The Summit. And you thought just getting there was an exercise!

My preplanned session agenda that day included two sessions before lunch, the Lone Writers’ SIG meeting, the CIC SIG meeting, two afternoon sessions, and the Society’s Annual Business Meeting, non-stop back to back. While not exactly lunch, the snacks I was able to snag at the two SIG meetings were adequate substitutes to get me by in that regard, and the price was right. So far, I’ve spent nothing additional for food.

The CIC SIG meeting included a raffle of quite a few prizes. But I think I won “the prize” when they drew my name for free registration at this year’s LavaCon conference in November. I haven’t been to LavaCon, which gets its name from the fact that it was originally held in Hawaii. I haven’t been to Hawaii either! But this year it’s in Austin, Texas, of all places.

Because I have family there, Austin is the last place on earth I’d want to attend a conference—not because of family, not exactly, but because I’ve been there. And been there and been there already! And I’m pretty sure there are no orange-bearing sidewalks in downtown Austin.

Well, what are you complaining about? It’s free registration! The fact that the conference locale is not a choice travel destination for me should be immaterial, right? Let’s just say that I’m expecting a fantastic conference experience otherwise.

The first full day at The Summit ended with another networking reception, this one designed to showcase the Society’s 22 Special Interest Groups. I had volunteered to repeat my table staffing duties, this time for two of the three SIGs I hold membership in. So, between this evening’s repeat of my repeated trips to the buffet tables, I hovered at one SIG table or the other, and also managed side trips to visit other SIG tables.

OK. Enough networking for one day! Sanctuary awaits in the Sterling Hotel Jacuzzi.

But again, it was too late. I wondered if I could have asked the hotel staff to fill the tub for me before I got back for the night? Too late to think of that, too.

Tuesday’s agenda was similar to Monday’s, except I had only the single, Technical Editing SIG lunch-/snack-time meeting and nothing after 5:00. Tuesday evening is traditionally reserved for the Honors Banquet, when all manner of individual achievements are recognized at the Society level. But even the honorees have to pay to attend this formal event. Thus far, I’ve had no incentive to attend…

But there are always other options for this evening. Back in April, the CIC SIG had requested RSVPs for dinner reservations at a nearby restaurant. Citing financial constraints, I had declined. But here at the conference, I connected with colleagues who offered for their employer to buy me dinner one evening, so I conveniently invited them to attend the CIC SIG dinner with me. That worked out well, didn’t it?

Wednesday. Today, the final day of the conference, is when I will finally present my topic at the Lone Writers’ progression, during the conference’s final session slot. This is the real culmination of The Summit for me. This is the reason I have come on this quest—to impart whatever wisdom I believe I possess about a tiny idea, which spawned a plausible discussion topic that I dare to toss out there to colleagues unknown.

To successfully impart that idea is all I ask of this mountain-top experience. To witness a spark of resonance in one or two participants would send me over the top! And make it all worth it.

In the two progression rounds I was able to complete, feedback from eye contact and body language indicated that I might just have attained my goal, before making an early exit to catch the airport shuttle. Whew! I made it through my first experience as a conference presenter.

But there was that one person. The one in the first round, who skewered me with her eyes the whole time, but otherwise remained silent. As of this writing, I’m still waiting for participant feedback from the session evaluations. I do hope that this unhappy person took the time to voice her discontent. Somehow though, I suspect it had nothing to do with me, my topic, or my presentation of it.

As far as I’m concerned, I reached The Summit—a personal and professional milestone—and I descended from the pinnacle, all the better for it. My only regret is that I didn’t manage to sink into the delicious depths of that double-wide Jacuzzi.

(But then, there’s the rest of the story…  The unexpected challenges I met on the down side of my Summit Sojourn were another adventure altogether…)

Summit (Seven)

(continued from 7/17, “Sacramento Summit”)

I had reached The Summit in Sacramento, but had no map, no address, and no phone number for my hotel. I had to laugh at myself for this gaping omission in my detailed plan. It wasn’t like the hotel was miles away. I could probably wander around awhile and find it eventually. But wandering with luggage in tow would not exactly be a relaxed, enjoyable stroll.

In the conference registration area was a table manned by the local STC chapter. Two Sacramento members sat ready to help hapless travelers like me with information about their city. Surely they would know right where I needed to go. Nope, they’d never heard of the Sterling Hotel!

The small map they had showed no indication of it either. But one of the members had an Internet-enabled phone. He found the Sterling’s address and was able to point me in the right direction. So I descended the Summit, escalator by escalator, to make my way back outside to J St.

That’s when I glimpsed a familiar face from my home chapter of STC, the Lone Star Community. Louellen Coker was headed for sightseeing at the Old Governor’s Mansion, in the same direction as my hotel. Like me, she had brought along her rather weighty camera. But I knew hers was state-of-the-art digital, because she’s known for her skill in manipulating digital photographs. I told her I’d catch up to her at the Mansion after I stowed my luggage at the Sterling.Sterling Hotel

And soon, there it was. The Sterling Hotel did not disappoint in its promise of 1890s charm. And the staff were welcoming even though I was too early for check-in. The receptionist was happy for me to leave my luggage with her until later when my room was ready. But by the time I rearranged items in my suitcase to trade my travel bag for the camera, she had decided to put me in another room that was ready. Even better!

My room was in a corner of the second floor. The Sterling seemed more like a really nice boarding house than a hotel. In fact, it had been built as the family home of “affluent, successful department store entrepreneurs.” I looked forward to it being a quiet place to sleep. Each room was different, but each room had a double-wide Jacuzzi tub, obviously part of the “21st century modern luxury” advertised as “intertwined” with the 19th century architectural charm. (

The tub tempted me to test that promise right then. But the day is still young and other adventures await.

I soon reached the Old Governor’s Mansion where I caught another glimpse of Louellen already on a tour. I also greeted another Lone Star member as she came out the front door of the mansion. Strange that the last time I saw Kay Walker was at last year’s STC Summit in Dallas, though we both live in the Fort Worth area.

Governor's MansionI bought a ticket for the next tour and waited for it to begin, while the sky turned dark again with rain that threatened my ability to take good pictures inside with available light. The sun came and went during my tour, and after developing, most of my exposures provided something I could work with in Photoshop to get decent digital images of that fascinating historical space.

So by 3:30 or so, I had accomplished the single sightseeing component of my Summit sojourn. But I still had not had lunch. The opening session of the conference would be at 5:30 with a reception (food) afterward. I decided to just have coffee and biscotti at Starbuck’s on the way to my hotel. Actually, that was the only option I could find. It seems that Sacramento restaurants are not open on Sunday. Who knew?

I returned to the Sterling to get ready for the evening. The Summit was about to officially begin!

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