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Sunday, May 6th

Okay narcissistic rants aside – I do enjoy writing every day. As the (over written?) introvert, I do better when I can process. Writing allows me to process.

But, what to process? The never-ending balancing act and working towards my deemed purpose.

I want to educate people on the importance of a sustainable society. So, I’ve picked volunteer projects, paid jobs, reading material, and seminars to support that idea. I’ve started endeavors to support that idea. Every choice I make tries to support that idea.

My thinking on what I should be doing with my life has always been ongoing. Growing up Catholic, there is a certain amount of time dedicated to thinking about listening for God’s calling. I never felt like I had one. I only knew to follow my interests. My interests have always been consistent in the environment and education. When I was 18 and a freshman at Michigan State University, a first year at James Madison College eagerly awaiting my studies in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy, I thought maybe I would or could be a lobbyist. I’d lobby for the virtues of the environment or education. I thought maybe I’d need a law degree, which always has intrigued me.

Then I got a bunch of loans through two universities, and suddenly spending more money I didn’t have on law school didn’t seem so important. In between those two universities, the school of life focused my studies on environmental thought, food, and community building. Those themes coalesced at Portland State University with the opening of their Sustainable Urban Development minor. My studies then concentrated on geography and urban development. Two themes where I continued to think about food, people, and how to make it all work together.

Is it any wonder then that I work intimately with a food buying club that focuses on local food sustainability and an environmental nonprofit that guides its thoughts in stewardship? One of my parting studies introduced me to the concept of “servant leadership”. It’s this idea where you lead from behind. A great example is how I stopped arguing with my husband about what to have for dinner and just focused on whole foods, home cooked foods, and organic foods (as budgets allowed). Now, he tells me the virtues of the food we eat.

Each refocus can be identified by a shift in thinking and impatience with the day-to-day. Like when I finally graduated. I had spent so much time thinking about my degree, that when I finally got it all I wanted was to put all those studies into action and work towards some semblance of a career. Then, there was the (housing) crash of 2008. Just one month after I graduated. I was loathe to apply for just any job – I had an idea of what I wanted to do. So, I focused on environmental jobs. I applied to be program coordinators and managers. I tried for AmeriCorps jobs. I tried for a plethora of administrative jobs. I had interviews. I had second interviews. I applied for more than 300 jobs in three years (starting in 2007).

I get a job. And, well… it proves to be more or less as dysfunctional as the twenty some jobs I held in my twenties. So, maybe working for others doesn’t work for me. I don’t get their lack of vision. I don’t get their lack of leadership. I don’t get their in ability to properly facilitate meetings. (Meetings that could identify vision and leadership and focus the organization past dysfunction!!)

These weeks of not writing have been thinking about all of that. It’s been spent thinking and doing the day-to-day, just to get by. It’s been pondering how to fix the rut and get into a career. I think I have some ideas. Now, to put them into action.

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Small Town Memories

Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

It was my first week at Michigan State University, during one of those new rounds of introductions, when I realized two things: 1) Michigan has a lot of small towns, and 2) half the MSU population came from the Detroit area. Part and parcel with revelation #1 was that I too heralded from a small town. The town I claim is Greenville, Michigan.

Greenville is home to the Danish Festival (3rd weekend in August, annually). It used to be a manufacturing capital where it’s claim to fame is (was) the largest refrigerator factory (from Gibson’s to Frigidaire to Electrolux to bust) and the world’s first Meijer (formerly Thrify Acres, current competitor to Wal-Mart). Greenville, in the 1990 census boasted 8,100 residents. We had 4 elementary schools, one middle and one high school. By the middle of middle school, there were pretty good odds that you knew everybody.

Greenville, Michigan
Greenville, Michigan: My Hometown, my Small Town America.

Like many small towns, many of those who I grew up with moved away. We’ve gone across the world, the country, or state. And, in this day and age, we’ve reconnected with the Internet. First it was MySpace, and then it was Facebook. Now it’s various Facebook group’s. The most recent splurge of groups seem to be “You remember X if you grew up Y…” And true to trending form, my hometown has its own group.

I noticed the group on a break, while at work. A quick little Facebook peruse to get my mind off the task at hand and see if anything interesting has happened. Nothing interesting had happened, but this group was created. Suddenly, I’m flashing down memory lane.

I’m remembering things like:

  • When a car crashed in the local JC Penney’s (years after it moved away from its former home downtown). I worked there for a short while after returning home post-high school, mid-college hiatus.
  • The Dairy Queen that was a block and a half away from my house and only open during the summer… my siblings and I managed to squeeze a few dollars out of my mother a few times during the summer to go.
  • When the “main street” was vibrant with places like my favorite gift shop, Chapter III books.
  • The Candy Store across the street from the Dairy Queen, Old Mother’s Hubbard. We would buy candy cigarettes.
  • The wading pool at the larger city park.
  • The Historical Museum in my backyard. We’d wander through it when we were bored in the summer. I’d fantasize about living 100 years before. In the winter, there was a big hill in a neighbor’s back yard, where we’d basically sled into the parking lot hoping not to hit the river.
  • That same parking lot served as the space where snow was dumped in the winter. It was a great place for forts, snowball fights, and wicked games of King on the Mountain.

I grew up in Small Town America. Small Town Michigan. Every place I lived in was dominated by some major manufacturing whether it was car related (making the parts that the manufacutresr use to build the cars), or tree related (paper mills, etc.). I loved many parts of my free range childhood, where we were allowed to walk down the safe streets of our small town. Where we knew the silly boys who tried to be in a gang (named the Lynch mob). Where daily the paper spit out who had an encounter with the police the night or day before. Where everyone’s business was everyone’s business.

Aside from stupid childhood cliques, I don’t remember it as a bad thing. I remember it as a community. It was the third place, a place where everyone knew your name. And, now, I have Facebook to thank for an “Epic” reunion with my childhood.

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Allergies, Asthma & Your Immune System

Farm Shot
My brother, his daughter, and The Farm. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

It was the year 2000. I was chatting with my favorite professor (or soon to be) after the MSU class. We did this occasionally. Since, I love idea swapping and learning all that I can, and my friend enjoyed sharing all the various things he knows, it was a good combination. We’d go to Crunchy’s. He’d have 2 or 3 beers. I’d struggle with one and a half. We’d talk all sorts of ponderings and meanderings in modern philosophy. Utah Phillips, Politics, the length of a cold, extra education from the class I took. The recurring themes: religion, environment, and how it all meshes with politics.

These conversations had a large influence on what I believe or choose to believe of religion and how I justify my understanding of it and especially the words within. These conversations also helped shape or give ideas and momentum to my environmental passions.

One of these conversations centered, albeit briefly, on the difference between allergy and asthma in city kids compared to kids who live in the country. Six or seven years later, I wrote about it for one of my final Sustainable Urban Development classes. The idea that we are building up our immune system by subjecting ourselves to “untidy” animals was and is fascinating to me.

My mother grew up with nine other siblings. They lived on a 160 acre farm (80 acres on one side of the highway, 80 on another) with their parents, my grandparents. My grandfather worked at the Munising Paper Mill (until he retired), planted and sold potatoes “on the side”, and my grandmother tended the garden (although she hated it) all the while my grandfather was at work. Their garden preserved the family through winter with most essentials. My grandmother made 16 loaves of bread weekly. They milked their own cows and pasteurized the milk on the counter. They’d make their own butter, slaughter their own meat, preserve their own food. They farmed. One year, they shelled so many beans not only was the kitchen sink full but so was the claw-foot bathtub. There was always an assortment of cows, dogs, cats, and pigs. Less common in my growing up years were horses, poultry, and rabbits. All said, this is The Farm. The Farm is what I consider home.

When I was in fifth grade, I started to itch and loose my breath around cats. I had been 3 years away from my constant Home. Although we didn’t live with my grandparents, we were there nearly every weekend until we moved downstate when I was in 2nd grade. Someone told me along the way that body chemistry can change (dramatically) every 7 years. So, the question, always on my brain, was how can my limited farm experience lend itself to moderate to severe cat allergies. Now, this past summer (of 2010), I was tested for allergies. The doctor did a scratch test of over 40 common allergens to the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest. I scored a significant reaction on more than half. I have year-round allergies.

So, again, the question begs: what’s the connection? How much of an affect to our sanitized cities have on our reaction to the environment? Am I just an allergic person, written into my DNA? I always thought I came from stout, healthy people – but now I’m not so sure. I have two considerable immune issues that require constant handling. I think that’s fairly significant, even if I’m not overtly bothered on a daily basis.

I think I need a couple of more beers at Crunchy’s washed down with one of their burgers and my friend to ponder this one out.

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Tux, the Linux penguin
Image via Wikipedia

One of my first jobs was at Michigan State University in the computer labs. Working as a Lab Monitor Service Provider. I was eventually promoted to a Lead Lab Service tech-person. I have many years experience in a multi-platform computer lab. Yea. I have Windows, Mac, Unix, and now Linux experience. Yippee. (Snood was made for Macs, originally, and free, and lots of fun.)

Now, we live in a Linux household. This is my doing. This is my choice and my direction. One which my husband acquiesces too with the disclaimer that he wouldn’t do so if it wasn’t for his “Tech Tweety Beans (that’s me).”

A friend recently asked me to help her put Windows XP back on her 5 year old laptop. She didn’t like Ubuntu 10.4, Lucid Lynx, too much of a learning curve from MS Office 2007 down to Open Office 3.2, I presume. Granted, it is different, but I prefer it because of the Windows headaches, and I find the learning curve easy and made easier with the benefits of Linux (integrated note system, the icons, the Gnome panels, the true plug and play nature of it all).

So, she wants to go back to Windows, creature of habit, I get it. I don’t have time right now for Ubuntu lessons (teaching), so let’s get her up and running. We took Duke and Nuked her machine, wiping it clean. Did the Windows install, and she left to finish up on her own.

The Drivers. This was Reason #1 why I switched. She couldn’t get all the drivers to load. She got some, she found some Internet connection somehow, but her wireless wasn’t working, so she asked for more help. I was reminded, full force, why I switched. Neither of us enjoy the “you must buy new to get it working” mentality our computer society operates under. The motherboard we are currently using was built in 2001. We have our own hardware mistakes, but at least our computer runs.

So, my friend brings over her laptop, and we plug it in. We were able to upgrade the various drivers, and it recognized her wireless, finally. So, we tried it out. For some reason, when it came to her wireless connection (my friend is two doors down), it wouldn’t let any alpha entering of a password, only numeric. My wireless connection worked, so we weren’t really sure what the problem was. So, I asked if she didn’t mind if I started over. She agreed.

So, I took Duke’s Boot & Nuke and erased her hard-drive again (the original erasure to Ubuntu was to attempt to correct a virus on the her hard-drive). Installed Windows, and went to do a few updates before I updated the drivers. Windows circumvented: the first drive that needed to be updated was for the Ethernet. So, I go to my Ubuntu PC to Dell’s page to download her drivers manually. (She doesn’t have the recovery CD.)

Dell said I needed to be on a Windows machine. No joke. I could add things to the queue, but I could not even download individually.

So, I logged in remotely to work. And, I began the process.

While on lunch at work, when I finally got there, there were still problems with Dell’s queue and the Windows XP machine! I was able to get most of her drivers, hoping they were the correct ones since – of course – the names didn’t even match! I couldn’t load the ISO, and I couldn’t get the ISO to save correctly on my Dropbox, so I opted for loading it all on my jump drive.

I get home, I plug my jump drive into her laptop, and do you know how many times it asked me to restart her computer? No less than 10. I am not even kidding.

I go through all that, get the Ethernet working, etc, and then have a brainstorm. Maybe the Wireless software only wants a numeric passcode (as it is written), so this alpha-numeric thing really won’t work. We try it through the phone, two doors down. It works to a point and quits. I attribute it to the distance. But, when she tries it at home: still no go.

So, Ubuntu worked, but Netflix did not. She can’t get into OpenOffice (and how can I really encourage it when they have their own problems with Sun and the split to LibreOffice?).

What’s a girl to do? I suggest she call Qwest since it is a Qwest modem. That will likely have to wait until Monday. But if that doesn’t work? My friend will likely find herself trying to buy a Mac. That’s right, no more Windows. Why? Because of problems like these.

  • I broke the drink holder.
  • It won’t give back my credit card.
  • It won’t turn on (monitor, printer, computer).
  • It erased my document (replaced by new Doc2).
  • Some favorites from the “Top Ten Things a Tech Person Hears.”

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Life: Not a Competition

Playing at the Park with Grandma
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

This too shall pass. This phrase is one of my favorite. Why? Simply because it’s true. It doesn’t matter what is happening at any given moment at any time at any event: This too shall pass. Good, bad, horrible, indifferent, great, exciting, fascinating – it all passes into history, awaiting a new day with new adventures. Finally ending in our own deaths where in a certain regard, it doesn’t matter because what’s done is done. In that sense, life is not a competition.

I believe in God for a few reasons. One is because it simply sounds like a good idea. There is so much in this world I cannot and do not understand. My feeble little human brain cannot wrap itself around all the crap we are dealt with in our lifetime. Life is not fair, and I have to have faith that there is something else better awaiting us just for my own simple sanity.

I came to this realization one night when I was in third grade.

I still had my own room. It, I recall, had a big bed. I was laying in bed, tucked in snuggly with the sheets and blankets pulled taught with their tight hospital corners.

Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Image via Wikipedia

I couldn’t sleep. We had moved again. Still no return of my father (he had left us 3 times, the last being for good). We were away from the place I knew as home: my grandparents farm. We moved downstate into my aunt and uncle’s apartment first. Downstate was like another country as far as I was concerned having lived only in the Upper Peninsula. The most recent move moved us out of my aunt and uncle’s apartment (yes, that was a tight fit – two bedroom apartment, 3 adults and 3 kids) into a (public housing) townhouse, across town, to another school. All those comforts of home were gone. I had gone to yet another school. I was, yet again, the new girl who couldn’t make any friends. At that point, I had lived in more than 5 different towns/cities and had gone to maybe 4 or 5 different schools.

I was in third grade. I was 8 years old.

That means one or two different schools per grade, at that critical age when you’re trying to fit in, figure out life outside of Mom, and get to know all these new “friends”, your peers in your community.

So, that night instead of sleeping, I prayed. I remember thanking God for what I did have. A house. My mom. My sister and brother. Food to eat. Clothes to wear. Church friends. I also remember thinking, if my real father couldn’t be there, at least there was someone I could call Father.

That, in essence, explains my spiritual beliefs. When we cannot get comfort from those around us, let us get comfort from something outside our being. I was raised Catholic, so I continue to use the label of God because this is what makes sense to me.

With my belief in God (and selling books door-to-door), I also believe that no one is dealt a hand with which they cannot deal. That is, you aren’t given something out of your means. Death, life, success, failure – it is all within our capabilities to handle the situation, and to survive.

Sometimes someone is dealt a very shitty hand. And, sometimes a person isn’t (to our eyes) – they might be born with what we deem to be a silver spoon. However, we all have terrible moments; and we all have good. I believe, I hope, that we are all given crap relative to which we can handle it, hopefully gracefully. (And sometimes not.) But, in the end, I believe we are given the ability to come out smelling like roses.

So, in effect, I believe that no hand is shittier than another. Just because someone only lost a loved one late in life, this doesn’t mean their trials and tribulations are less worthy of note than another if they were dealt with loss their entire life. Why? Because in this sense, life is not a competition. This part of life is where we need to lean on each other for support.

Regarding my own personal sob story, I can see the lessons and some of the reasons now, nearly 30 years later.

My step-father, Chris, and Levi. Michigan, September 2009. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

It was actually a very good thing my dad wasn’t a full part of my growing up years. Sure, it sucked pickles while growing up, but it allowed my mother to remarry and for me to have a great role-model in my stoic, even-handed, kind, generous step-father. It grew my family, so we were five siblings growing up together instead of 3. We had enough for the starting line up in basketball. Nearly enough to fill all the bases in baseball (or softball). It broadened my awareness of what family is, now being a blended family with all these “STEPS”. It showed me a different culture from the Polish heritage I had only known. Stability reigned through to my step-father’s hometown, where we spent the rest of my growing up years, and now consider my hometown. I even began my college career at his (nearly) alma-mater, Michigan State University. I have my Aunt Betsy because of this sequence of events, the one who introduced me to 50 Ways We Can Save the Earth, the book I consider the fire that ignited my environmental-sustainable passions, what I feel is my purpose in life.

Life is not a competition because everything happens for a reason. Sure, argue that I tell myself this for comfort, a religious crutch. I won’t defend the point because with this comfort, I can sleep at night.

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Sharing is not Intuitive

MSU Old Botony
When I attended MSU, there was a "Butterfly Garden" behind this building. I had French in the building to the east. It was a 15-minute walk from my dorm, which I did twice a day, three times a week, generally by msyelf. I didn't even share walking! Image via Wikipedia

Levi, you have to share. LEVI, you have to share. Levi, please give a toy to the little girl. Levi, if you and Elliott cannot share, the toy is going to go away. You have to SHARE.

Sharing. Sometimes, a several times a day lesson. Sharing. Something that as adults we still struggle with. Sharing. Something we try to impart onto our children with barely a grasp of how to it when we’re grown.

This whole concept of sharing never ceases to amaze me, as a parent. I never thought much of it as a young adult except that we create rules to order sharing. For example, when I was a college freshman at Michigan State University, we had a roommate who created a bathroom schedule based on class schedules. She did this in the first day we were suite-mates. Little did she think of was when people skip classes, or in general life intervening to mess up this order. After about two weeks (maybe less time) the bathroom schedule was useless and we had to go back to knocking and asking questions (non-violent communication would have been helpful here!). We had trouble, as adults, sharing the bathroom. 5 women in one suite with varied classes, study styles, party styles, etc – and we couldn’t communicate our needs to use a schedule or not use one. We couldn’t share.

My husband and I own one gifted (that is free) television. We also own a few computers. One, I paid for several years ago. The other, the laptop, was paid for cheap then swapped for a better working model. We also purchased an eMac a few months ago, cheap, from Free Geek, a local non-profit that educates, reuses, resells, and rebuilds computers and their parts. Why do we have three computers in this house of three? Because we can’t share. My husband needs to look up his tools while I need to do food club stuff and check my email. We’ll even let Levi play with the computer, but he has a tendency to explore by deleting our settings, so it’s easier to not share and let him use this eMac.

We set an example, as adults, of separate toys, separate rooms for use, separate this and that. It’s no wonder, when we get our kids together, they too have a hard time sharing.

I think I get it now. Most parents will probably say, “Duh,” if they were to hear my realization – but sharing is not intuitive. We have to be taught, and continue to learn that lesson – to share. I used to believe we are innately good, and now I even question that. We are innately selfish, because we have to be. We have to cry when we’re hungry, tired, or need to be changed. We simply pass this pattern onto perceived needs, like playing with a particular toy. We have to learn to use our words through repetition and discipline. And, maybe, if we’re fortunate/lucky/disciplined, whatever, we’ll realize as adults that sharing isn’t so bad after-all.

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Logo of General Motors Corporation. Source: 20...
Image via Wikipedia

Living in Portland is kind of like living in the land of foreign cars. We have lots of Japanese models to choose from: Subaru, Toyota, Honda. And, then there’s the European branch of Volvos, VWs, Saabs. And of course the other Asian market of Hyundai with their Kias and Souls. My husband is convinced that Subarus outrank American (made?) cars 3 to 1. An old boyfriend claimed the West Coast just had more variety.

So, all car companies have their problems. My theory is that the younger the car company the less likely you are to hear about problems because they haven’t been around long enough for any to really make news. GM has been around, what? 75  years? Toyota has been around for 50 years. Just now Toyota makes the news with all their recalls, cars not stopping, and whatnot. Anyway, all cars have to be maintained, and if they aren’t, they’ll break.

We happen to be an American-kind-of-Car company. Some of it has to do with growing up in Michigan and your choices were one of the Big Three lest you be chastised from your family that worked for the Big 3. As it stand, my husband’s father (my father-in-law) was a GM Engineer. Now, we happen to own GM cars because my husband knows them inside and out (he’s the house mechanic like I’m the house chef). But, he’ll be the first to complain about GM engineering and explain why they are in the shit hole they are today.

Okay, that all said, this post is really about ridiculous marketing. So, Toyota’s image has been tarnished with all their recalls, right? So, they have been employing what looks like a massive ad campaign to keep the positive spin on their image going strong. I enjoy watching the Boob Tube at night to wind down my mind. While watching The Mentalist a Toyota commercial came on. They have these actors pretend their families who’ve owned their cars for 200,000 to 400,000 miles, and express how they’d never trade it in for anything except an appropriate upgrade. So, this one family in this one commercial talks about how the car went through the parents for a few years then the girls each drove it for a really long time. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear that they bought the car new in 1997 (I was in my first year at Michigan State University). The first girl explains she got it when she was 16 and drove it for 9 years. So, if the parents drove the car for a year, that means she had from 1998 to 2007. Then, the next girl got it when she was 16, and the family upgraded to a hybrid Camry. Yea family, now the boy wants the Hybrid when he turns 16.

We have three cars. One was purchased as a project car, and it will liekly be turned into my commuter with my new job (yea!). The newest car is the Bravada (Olds) 1999. The other two are white, Pontiac Grand Ams, 1994. Both have around 150,000 or 130,000 miles on them. We are fortunate enough to live in Rust-Free land, so we expect these cars to get at least another 5-10 years out of them so we can give them to Levi has his first car. Beat that Toyota ad campaign.

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