August 2010 Archives

health-freedom-tastic

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When I got this job at Ipas, my old friend Kevin said "That's health-freedom-tastic"! I promised him I would make a sign for my cube with that motto, and here it is.

health-freedom-tastic

I have no idea what the real-life Amitabh's position is on reproductive rights, but the imaginary Amitabh in my mind thinks they're wonderful. And he will kick the ass of anyone who restricts a woman's reproductive choices, and he'll dance and sing a catchy number while he's doing it. Dishoom!

(If you don't get the "Cheers, gentleman" reference, watch the first 20 seconds of this clip.)

orphan orchid

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I try not to impulse buy plants. So many times I've bought a plant that just did not work, because it caught my eye in the store.

So, yesterday when I saw a big shelf of clearance orchids at Big Blue, I passed them by. Sure the price was good, but what do I know about growing orchids? I used to have a couple of orchids: there was this nursery that would take care of them for me, and every year they would send me a postcard when an orchid was in bloom. I'd go pick it up, pay the nursery fee, enjoy the flowers, then when it bloomed out back to the nursery it went.

That nursery closed down years and years ago, and I haven't had an orchid since then. And I couldn't stop thinking about the poor sad clearance orchids at Big Blue. I searched online and found out that lots of orchid people buy them and nurse them back to health. And oftentimes the plants aren't unhealthy; the store just can't sell them when they're done blooming. On the other hand, the people at the big box stores don't usually know how to take care of orchids and sometimes they're in very bad health. It's hit or miss.

So I read online about how to identify a problem orchid vs. one that will be okay, went back after work today, and bought a cattleya. I also bought a bag of orchid potting mix. Before dinner I repotted it, with help from this fantastic photo tutorial.

The pot it came with was covered with a thick layer of sphagnum moss. In the store I had pulled away some of the moss and seen enough healthy roots to feel comfortable buying it. Though I was expecting to find rotten roots also, since it was clearly being over-watered in the store. The surprise was that the orchid had been very recently potted up from a much smaller pot. But all they had done was yank the orchid out of its original pot, stick it into a bigger pot, and stuff sphagnum moss all around it. It was still potbound in the shape of the original pot -- this mass of roots in the shape of a small pot, sitting in the middle of soggy sphagnum. Poor cattleya!

I read that orchids don't like having too much space, they prefer to be slightly potbound. So Georg found a smaller pot out in the shed that would be a better fit. I had to cut away about 1/3 of the roots, and I think I got all the bad parts. The weirdest part of the instructions was to sprinkle cinnamon on all the cut ends! Apparently cinnamon has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, and it's used to prevent opportunistic bacterial infection.

The cattleya is all potted up, though I think I might pull it out and try again. Orchids get potted in this really loose mix made of bark chips, chunks of charcoal, even bits of styrofoam. No soil at all. You just have to poke and tuck the bits in and around the roots. And that tutorial said to plant it really firmly, and I think I might have left too many air pockets in there. It's kind of wobbly and they said that's bad for the plant when it starts to grow fragile new roots.

So the best case scenario is that it will like my sunny desk, and it will grow, and in a couple of years it will flower again. It came with a tag that identified it as Burana Beauty, which is a dramatic yellow and red flower. I read that a lot of orchid growers mislabel them though, so I won't count on it being any particular color until in blooms. If it ever does!

the prince and the moon

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Today I learned that ergonomics are something one should think about immediately when starting a new job. I never much worried about it before, because no matter what kooky desk setup I was working at, I knew I'd only be there for a couple of hours and then onto the next job. Now I sit at the same desk for 8 hours or more, and the ergonomics were apparently terrible. The desk is way too high for me, and the chair way too low. Last night pain in my left wrist woke me up in the middle of the night, and I couldn't get back to sleep for over an hour. (Thank you, I think, to the Sleep Cycle app for providing a cute graphic of how long wrist pain kept me awake last night).

This morning I contacted HR and within an hour I had a taller chair, and a plan to install a keyboard tray on my desk, replace my keyboard with a standard size that will fit in a keyboard tray, and give me a foot rest. It will be next week before the keyboard tray and foot rest come in. In the meantime they gave me a wrist pad so at least my wrists get some relief, and a temporary foot rest (it's kind of broken but it works as long as I don't put too much weight on it). I have to say, I've felt more than a little culture shock coming into this environment. But there's definitely something to be said for working in a place where there's a whole department whose job includes making sure my desk is comfortable and will not injure me.

For a long time I've slept with a brace on my right wrist, and today on my way home from work I stopped and got one for the left. I wanted to knit tonight, even had a project all ready to start, but I couldn't because of my wrists. I've been wearing the braces since after dinner & I hope the soreness will be gone in the morning.

Since I couldn't do anything craftsy tonight, here's a photo of my last project. A katamari! I had made one as a gift last Christmas, and now that I have a desk I wanted a katamari of my own to use as an office supply caddy. I splurged and ordered rare earth magnets so it would hold a lot of stuff.
katamari for my desk

I looked up rare earth magnets because someone asked what they are and I wasn't exactly sure, to be honest. Except of course stronger than regular magnets. According to Wikipedia, rare earth magnets are made from alloys of rare earth elements. Thus the name.

Wikipedia mentioned the danger of careless handling of rare earth magnets, and I can confirm it. The ones I used were only 5/8" diameter and 1/8" thick -- like a stack of 2 pennies -- and I pinched myself pretty bad when I let two magnets get close enough to jump together and catch my finger. I thought I was going to end up with a blood blister but the next day it was just a red spot. After that I learned to carefully separate the magnets. When I needed to join two together, I would put one inside the "bump," (which was like a little cup until sewn in place) hold it open from the back, and let the other jump inside without coming anywhere near my fingers.

Wikipedia says that rare earth magnets larger than a few cm can break bones. Also, I did not know that they are more brittle than regular magnets, and if you let big ones jump together they can shatter on impact and then you can be hurt by magnet shrapnel. Magnet Shrapnel would make a great band name.

lunch geek

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I am officially a Lunch Geek. I love making my lunch every day. It's so much fun to pack everything in the little Ms. Bento containers. And I got my spork back! It had disappeared during my first week at work. I guess someone saw it in the dish drainer and thought it was part of the communal kitchen supplies. I wrote out a note with a drawing of my spork crying because she had gotten lost and missed Ms. Bento!

The note disappeared from the kitchen last Thursday and I figured that was it, my spork was gone for good. Well it turns out the note was removed when the spork was returned! I found it in my pencil cup on Monday, it must have been there for days. I thought it was a letter opener, pulled it out of the cup and it was my spork!. I left another note with a drawing of the spork laughing and saying "thank you."

While the spork was missing I ordered a set of travel silverware that all fits together. The knife handle is hollow and the fork and spoon fit inside. It's a nice set; I'll set it aside in case I ever need a knife for my lunch. I also picked up a set of cloth napkins at Ikea. Super inexpensive and now I don't have to use paper napkins every day.

Ms Bento 9 AugThe past couple of days I've packed a hot lunch instead of cold. I filled the containers with boiling water to preheat them while I heated up my lunch. When I got to the office I set it in the windowsill so the sun would help keep it warm. Ms. Bento works as advertised: I packed my lunch at 8:30, and at noon it was still, well not so hot it burned my mouth, but about like I'd expect a meal right from the stove. I had put peach cobbler in the smallest container, which is the one intended for soup & therefore the best insulated. I had the cobbler at 2:30 and it was still kinda hot.

I was so excited about Ms. Bento's heat retaining abilities that I took a photo of yesterday's lunch and posted it in the Mr. Bento group on Flickr. And now I have written an entire blog post about my lunch.

sleep cycle

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I've been trying a new app on my phone, called Sleep Cycle. The idea is that you program in the time you want to wake up, and then leave the phone on your bed overnight. The phone tracks your movements and figures out when you're in deep sleep, when you're dreaming and when you're awake (or nearly so). In the morning, starting 1/2 hour before your awake time, the phone looks for a time when you're close to being awake and then sounds the alarm. It wakes you when you're ready to get up, so you feel more rested than if you had slept 15 minutes more and then had to wake up from a dream.

I've used it for 3 nights now and I'm mostly impressed. The first night was the best:
my phone is my sleep monitor / alarm clock

It looks like a pretty accurate representation of my sleep that night. Deep sleep at first, then dreaming on and off. I remember getting up to use the bathroom around 5:30 which caused the tall spike in the graph. Then at about 6:40 I woke up, pulled out my earplugs and the alarm went off. (I had told it to wake me by 7.) It worked as advertised and I found it easier to get up than usual, even 20 minutes early.

The second and third nights weren't as accurate -- there were times when I remembered waking up and sitting partly up to look at the clock, which the phone indicated as dreaming. The problem, I think, is that it's not truly measuring your level of sleep. It can't because it's not measuring brain waves, and I'm not quite ready to give my phone that kind of access to me. It's just measuring how much you move. I've trained myself over the years to move as little as possible when I wake up during the night, so as not to disturb Georg. And so the phone can't generally tell when I'm awake unless I get out of bed.

The other problem is that it can't make you sleep better, and the trick of waking you when you're ready to wake up won't work if you're just plain still tired in the morning. For instance, here's last night:
sleep-cycle-aug-8.jpeg

As you can see I woke up around 4:30 and had a really hard time falling back asleep. And when I finally did fall asleep, the clock ran out on my wake-up time so the alarm went off when I was still tired. I think it was wrong about me being in deep sleep, but it was pretty hard to get up. I don't know why I set the alarm on a weekend anyway. I should have just slept in!

So far the first morning was great, the second morning the dog woke me before the alarm could, and the third was a bust. I'm going to keep trying and see if it improves. One out of three isn't great, but then again that first morning really was wonderful. It felt so refreshing to get up and not feel tired or groggy. I sat in bed and web surfed until it was time to get up, and felt like I'd had extra time that morning, for free.

ikea

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Our big event this weekend was a trip to Charlotte to shop at Ikea. We started with lunch at Dish, which was marvelous. It was kind of a funky diner. Like a much more subdued Lynn's Paradise Cafe. We shared a potato cake appetizer, then I had the meatloaf sandwich and Georg had a pimiento cheese burger. I wish Dish was in the Triangle so we could go there more often. There were other things on the menu I really wanted to try.

Ikea itself ended up being a bit much for me. On Saturday afternoon it's insanely crowded, babies screaming constantly, people bumping into you constantly. And we made the mistake of walking the entire layout of both floors, although almost all of our shopping list was for small things on the lower floor. By the time we got to the things we needed I was feeling so frazzled and overwhelmed that I would have just left, except that we still needed to get the things we needed.

So it's wasn't the most fun I've ever had at Ikea. I often stop there on my way home from trips to Delaware, and in those cases I have a short list of things to buy, go straight to them, and then I'm done. Wandering around the entire store and stopping to remark on everything that we might someday want, or reminds us of something, or just looks interesting ... Ikea is just way too big to do that. At least when it's that crowded.

On the bright side we got almost everything we wanted. A new set of cheap knives (it's nice to have inexpensive knives for tasks where you don't want to use your good knives). Plastic cuttings boards. A pack of cloth napkins which I can take with me to work, so I don't have to use a paper napkin every day. A bath mat. A flower pot. A really big wood cutting board, big enough to roll out pastry dough. And best of all, enough fabric to completely cover the walls of my cube:
fabric for my cube

They actually had one I liked better, with a big leaf pattern that would have been easier to hang because it could go in either direction. (This one has to go vertically and one of the panels in the cube is wider than the fabric, so I'm going to have to do some sewing.) But there wasn't enough of the other; it was a discontinued print and they were down to the last bolt. At the time I was bummed out about that but the more I think about it, the more I think it turned out for the best. The other print was really dark, and might have been depressing to be surrounded by every day. This tree print will be bright and colorful. It's going to look so cheerful!

This afternoon after my show we're getting together with two friends who are visiting for Nasfic. Really looking forward to it. And then tomorrow it's back to work!

they scream from the graveyard

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I was going to write about something else this morning. Then I watched this clip of Stephen Colbert handing Laura Ingraham her ass on a silver platter:

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Laura Ingraham
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I often skip the Colbert interviews with right-wingers because they're likely to start spouting some bullshit that would just make me angry right before bedtime. This one was brilliant. The background is that Ingraham wrote a book that purports to be Barack Obama's diary. Colbert used the conceit that the book's author was Obama, not Ingraham, to insult her right to her face, over and over.

The best part was how thrown she was by it. She acted like a playground bully who spends so much time beating up little kids as part of a gang, that she's completely unprepared for a fair fight. She's clearly offended -- like when she glares at him and mutters "I'm over it" about a past insult that he not only doesn't walk back, but reiterates. (And by the way, Laura, calling you a banshee is not racist against Native Americans because banshees are an Irish myth. Jesus Mary and Joseph, are you really that ignorant?) After living for years in a bubble where she can say and do anything she wants and people will invite her to the best parties and congratulate her for being so edgy, she has no idea how to deal with someone who calls her on her shit.

Actually the best part was something I didn't know until after watching the clip. At the beginning of the interview, she says that they both went to Dartmouth College, and they trade a few quips about their Dartmouth days. Then later on when it goes really badly, she tries to derail him by bringing up Dartmouth again. Here's the thing. Stephen Colbert the person did not go to Dartmouth. He went to Northwestern. "Stephen Colbert" the TV character went to Dartmouth because that's where Ingraham went. Colbert's fake biography is a pastiche lifted from various right-wing media personalities. He says he went to the same college she did because it makes his character sound like more of an idiot. He's parodying the arch-conservative who brags about going to liberal Dartmouth.

Ingraham tried to save herself in the interview by invoking a shared past that not only doesn't exist, it's actually just another example of Colbert mocking her. Is that ironic? I think that counts as irony.

photos

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I took my plants in this morning. Though it took three trips to carry everything upstairs, it actually went faster than I was expecting and I ended up starting work a little early.

The gerbera daisies look so cute, I really hope they do well in the window:
plants for my cube: gerbera daisies
They get full sun in the morning, up until about 11:30. By noon they're getting just a sliver of direct light, and after that it's bright indirect light for the rest of the day.

I hope the Kimberly Queen fern gets big enough to drape over the walls of the cube.
plants for my cube: kimberly queen fern
It's seriously potbound, and I need to get a new pot for it. The purple pot is to hold water overflow, it doesn't have drainage holes. So the fern is still in the pot from the store, just sitting inside the purple pot. I guess I could drill holes in the purple pot and get a plastic tray for underneath it.

These two -- the rubber plant and the aralia -- will be small enough to sit on my desk for awhile.
plants for my cube: rubber plant &amp; aralia
The aralia was the only plant I bought that wasn't in my book. I really liked the leaf shape, and from the tag in the store I thought it would end up a bushy shrub, 2-3 feet tall. Today I googled the plant and it's actually a tree that grows 6' tall in containers! And it grows straight up, hardly any branching, so I couldn't prune it into a bushy shrub like I wanted. And it needs bright light, which I won't be able to give it once it's too big to sit on my desk. And it hates cold temperatures, and I've been warned repeatedly that our corner of the office gets cold in winter.

In other words, aralia is completely wrong for my space in every way. This is why I got the book! So I wouldn't make mistakes like this! At least the plant only cost $3. I've been thinking that maybe I could attempt to turn the aralia into a bonsai. I've always wanted to learn about bonsai. If I could keep the aralia small then it could stay on the desk where it would get adequate light. And I do really like the shape & color of the leaves.

One last photo: on my first day they gave me this awesome page of stickers. I hung them on my wall. Aborto seguro!
aborto seguro

nesting impulse

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This weekend was taken up with catching up on sleep, housework, yardwork, and shopping for work. Some practical things like hand sanitizer, and just for fun, plants! In my first week at the job, I've been impressed by the plants some people have in their offices and/or cubes. Some of the plants have obviously been there for years. Like a gigantic begonia in the library. And someone has a pothos in their cube, with 6-foot long vines trained to grow along the outer wall of the cube.

Since I have a nice big window with morning sun, I had to get some plants. Yesterday I drove to Big Orange to browse, and was sorely disappointed by their puny selection of house plants. I also managed to dump about a gallon of water on myself! Here's a tip: after a heavy rain storm, don't go to an outdoor nursery and pull down a planter box from the top shelf. The sad thing is, even though I was thoroughly drenched -- I mean wringing out my clothes while I was still in them -- this time of year is so steamy, by the time I finished my errands I was almost completely dry. And it wasn't even very hot yesterday!

Not finding any nice plants at Big Orange, I went to the library and got a great book on houseplants called How to Grow Fresh Air. The author tested 50 houseplants to see which were the most effective at absorbing toxins like formaldehyde from the air. The book has a little chart for each plant, ranking them according to toxin absorption, how easy they are to grow, light requirements, and resistance to pests & disease. Last night I read through the book and made a wish list of plants for my cube. I guess it's kind of a nerdy thing to get a book and do research on houseplants, rather than just go to the store and pick the ones that look nice. But it seems to me that if all goes well I'm going to have this job, and therefore these plants, for years. And what if I got the wrong plants for my space?!? I could spend years trying to nurse along plants that I should never have gotten in the first place! (My new boss is really into Myers-Briggs, and I think she would say this is a sign of how "J" I am. I prefer to think of it as deliberative.)

This morning, armed with my list, we went to Big Blue. The big one on Roxboro Road. And they have a fantastic selection of houseplants! Much better than Big Orange. I got everything on my list:

  1. For the front of my cube, away from the window and under a fluorescent light, a Kimberly Queen fern. It looks like a Boston fern and is much easier to take care of. According to the book Boston fern is far and away the most effective absorber of toxins, out of all the plants they tested. Kimberly Queen fern isn't far behind, and is better able to deal with the dry air in the typical office. Still, I bought a little mister and will try to remember to mist it regularly.
  2. For my desk next to my computer, a variegated rubber plant. It was a toss-up between that or a dracaena Janet Craig. Both are easy to grow; I just happened to see a rubber plant with nice colored variegation. The rubber plants at Big Blue were being horribly overwatered: they were in cache pots that had no drainage holes and were sitting in several inches of water. The soil was completely saturated. Several hours later when I repotted it, it was still dripping wet. I'm going to have to keep an eye on it, be sure not to overwater, and hope the poor guy recovers. If it does survive, when it gets bigger I'll move it to the floor next to my desk.
  3. For the sunny window sill, a window box with three gerbera daisies! I love them so much, it was a thrill to find them on the list of best plants for absorbing toxins. And the book says that if properly cared for, they bloom all winter! I'm not actually surprised by that. The ones we have outside go dormant in high summer, then when it cools off in late September they start blooming again. In mild autumns we've had flowers on the gerbera daisies well into November. Even when it's not in bloom, I love the foliage too. Anyway I've had really good luck with this plant outdoors, and I'm hoping I'll be able to grow them inside as well.

So those are my plant purchases! I've never grown houseplants before -- our house is so dark, there just didn't seem any point -- and I wanted to start with relatively easy ones. I potted them up this afternoon after my show, so they'd be ready to go in the morning. I forgot to get a drip tray for the rubber plant, but it's so wet already that I've got at least a week before I need to water it. I'll take photos tomorrow when I get them situated. I'm going to try to get to work early because it's going to take three trips to get them up the stairs.

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