Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Squeaky Wheel

I’m usually a bit uncomfortable being the center of attention. This time was no exception. It felt like every person in the store was staring at me. I’m certain one lady rudely glared at me. Two children even pointed at me and appeared a bit frightened. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye.

The noise really was most unpleasant, almost offensive. The repetitive squeak of the shopping cart wheel could be heard 5 or 6 aisles away. It rapidly and unpredictably wiggled back and forth while the other 3 wheels silently rolled along in a straight line. Periodically the cart would emit a high pitched screech and veer to the left for no apparent reason.

This was the third shopping cart I had chosen that morning. The other two were just as obnoxious and difficult to maneuver. I returned those back to the cart holding area. After the third time though, I just gave in and resigned myself to my apparently predestined, unfortunate shopping fate.

To say it was an unpleasant shopping trip would be an understatement. The entire super store was being remodeled. The drop ceiling was missing. Wires were visible. Racks and shelves of merchandise were blocking the short cut I normally took to the petite clothing area. Workers dressed in Carhartt attire were wandering around shouting measurements to each other.

When I finally made it to the petite clothing area I was shocked to find it full of shelves of men’s underwear and socks. I eventually squeaked my way around the store and found the petite clothing area near where the shoes used to be. Most of the clothing racks in the store were jammed in quite closely preventing even the miniature kiddy carts from passing through. Of course, despite the obvious, I tried to fit through two racks of dresses. My cart hit the rack making a loud ignorant shopper racket. I tried to push forward, to no avail. I just couldn’t fit. I resorted to backing my cart out of the area only to find that three of the dress tags were now stuck between the bars of my cart. I couldn’t move forward. I had to pull the cart backward. As I did, the silky dress fabric slid right off the see through plastic hangers they were on. Soon the dresses were on the floor, ripped unceremoniously from their tags. I tried to slowly inch my cart forward to reach the dresses on the floor with my hands and only succeeded in running them over with the dirty cart wheels. I ended up crawling like an unsupervised toddler under the rack to reach the dresses. I managed to put them back on the hangers without being seen by anyone except the unseen worker viewing the security camera and two worker men in Carhartt brown.

I eventually screeched my way over the grocery section of the store, my cart announcing my arrival well in advance. The remodel was in full swing in this section of the store. The aisles were barely more than one cart wide. Everything was out of order. Nothing was where it had been the last time I was there. My well organized list was practically useless. The soda was across from the cheese. The pickles were across from the bleach. It was so wrong. Attempting to navigate the Hispanic foods aisle I encountered a cart full of children hanging off of the sides. I attempted the evasive maneuver of moving as far to the right as possible. It failed miserably. I still brushed up against a curious three year old and knocked a can of refried beans to the floor, denting it. Not needing dented refried beans this week, I put them back on the shelf without being seen by anyone except the unseen worker viewing the security camera and two workers in Carhartt brown. My squeaky cart continued to annoy the other shoppers, occasionally veering left, as I continued searching for each item on my list in the frustratingly rearranged aisles.

By the time I started unloading my purchases on the conveyer belt at the check stand I may have been a bit on edge. My nerves might have been a bit rattled. I kept hearing repetitive squeaking in my ears. The friendly and good looking assistant manager was my reluctant checker. He was pressed into action because there were at least 4 people waiting in each of the other two open lines. Relieved to be almost done with my shopping trip, I politely asked him when the remodeling of the store would be done.

“We’ll be done at the beginning of August, ma’am. We start getting new cash registers installed next week.” he proudly said to me.

“Are you going to be getting new carts?” I innocently asked him.

The manager stopped running my yogurts across the scanner, took a deep breath, and then breathed out a little huff. “That is the most asked question we get about the remodel, ‘Are you getting new carts?’ It seems like that’s the only thing people seem to care about!” he said just a little too forcefully.

I chuckled and jokingly said to the manager, “Gee, it looks like you coulda saved yourselves a few million dollars by forgetting about the remodel and just buying new carts.”

Obviously perturbed by my ignorance, the manager informed me that a store remodel was not a “few million dollars” but was a shocking 15 million dollars.

“Wow”, I responded. “I bet new carts were a whole lot cheaper than that and woulda made most shoppers just as happy.”

I was quickly handed my receipt, just a little too forcefully. The manager tersely told me to, “Have a nice day.” I politely echoed the sentiment. And with that, I squeaked and screeched and veered my way out to my car. Men in Carhartt brown, security cameras, disgruntled shoppers and offended managers watched and heard my every move as I left the store. And every one was very happy to see me go.

Check This Out!
Randy Morgenson, a back country ranger in the High Sierra, was legendary for finding missing people. Then one day he went missing himself. Read about this gripping and suspenseful true story in, The Last Season, by Eric Blehm.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Run Away

The woman looked at me incredulously. I had obviously hit a nerve. She shook her head and vehemently offered me her opinion. “I didn’t think you’d be one to run away. I thought you were smarter than that. Have you even thought about what you’ll be losing?”

We were leaving the city. We were moving to the suburbs. Our reasons were common and familiar. We wanted a lower crime rate, better schools and a bigger, newer house. This, despite the fact that during our entire time in the city we had never been the victim of any crime. We found the school our daughter attended to be extraordinary. And our house wasn’t inadequate in any way. Yet, the suburbs were calling.

My husband and I have moved 11 times in our adult lives. We’ve lived in the middle of the city and we’ve lived in the quietest of rural areas. We’ve lived in the suburbs and in small towns. We’ve lived on the beach and we’ve lived surrounded by corn fields in the middle of the country. We’ve lived near the Amish and the Klu Klux Klan. We’ve rented apartments and owned many houses. Between the two of us we’ve literally lived in every corner of the United States.

When we announced to our city friends that we were moving to the suburbs, most held the same feelings as the woman who accused us of running away from the city. It was true that I easily believed the city school system to be large and ineffective, full of low income students with behavior problems whose racial and cultural differences caused discord and dissension in the classroom. My city friends shocked me with their deeply held opposing views. They believed the large school system was full of unlimited opportunity and a multitude of learning possibilities. They felt that the low income kids had their values straight and truly appreciated their free lunch and their discount store shoes. Daily exposure to a racially and culturally diverse student population only mirrored the real world, they believed, and served to help children become tolerant, accepting and enthusiastic about those who were different than themselves. I had assumed that every couple with young children wanted to move to the suburbs. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My city friends loved all that the city and the urban schools had to offer their children. They wouldn’t have left in a million years.

We found many stereotypical fears, similar to my own, in every place we lived. Our rural friends assumed the city was an unsafe and ungodly place full of rappers and gays and Democrats. Neither did they have any desire to be stuck in a suburban traffic jam of BMW’s full of spoiled teenagers who spent more time with their iPods than they did their own family. Suburbanites associated urban diversity with crime and poverty. They criticized the lack of opportunity in rural areas and took it for granted that a rural life was limited and slow. The city people felt the rural areas were just too closed minded, Republican and devoid of culture and opportunity. They assumed the suburbs were too white and were full of malls of conformity.

It’s true you won’t have to look very far to find instances where these fears and assumptions are easy to support. You don’t have to look very hard to find an inner city shooting. It won’t take you long to find a conservative Republican in farm country. Finding a teenager with their own BMW in the suburbs will take you less than a minute. However, you also don’t have to look very hard to find a shooting outside the city in a suburban or rural school. It won’t take you long to find urban and suburban drug problems in a trailer housed meth lab in an otherwise rural utopia. And finding a spoiled city teenager who embraces typical suburban conformity won't take long either.

I have held pre-conceived assumptions about every place I have ever moved to. Yet when I look back at each place I have lived, my experiences and memories are never centered on the fears and suppositions I had in the beginning. Every place I have lived was full of unexpected surprises that didn’t fit any demographic or statistic or alarming trend at all. It’s true that you could have labeled certain people as black or closed minded or self centered. Certain areas could have been called run down or ritzy or conservative. But those limiting, descriptive labels in no way began to describe who each person fully was. The news blurbs of shock and negativity in no way began to tell what the community was about at its core. The stories and assumptions and fears of what living in a certain area would be like never did directly mirror what my experience turned out to be.

When my husband and I moved from the city to the suburbs it was easy to quantify and analyze the reasons we were moving. What we failed to consider was what a small part those presumably known factors would play in our life. We had no idea that it would be the unexpected and the unknown that would change who we were forever. It’s easy to run away and hide from what you think you know. It’s a whole lot harder to put your assumptions aside, open your mind and your heart and embrace the unexpected surprises life has to offer.

Check This Out!
I strongly recommend Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat Pray Love. Travel to Italy to find the joy and pleasure life should have. Travel to India to experience a calm, centered existence we all wish we had. Travel to Indonesia to find the balance to make it all work together. Read this book now before the Julia Roberts movie hits your theater.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Please Pass the Chip

The official letter warned me of the suspicious, unauthorized activity on my account. Incorrect answers had been entered multiple times in response to the passwords and security questions for my account. To ensure the safety of my account and personal identity, my account was now suspended indefinitely until I reset my passwords and security questions. If I had any idea who could have attempted to access my account I should contact client services immediately.

I had a pretty good idea who was trying, unsuccessfully, to gain access to my account. IT WAS ME!

I’ve reached password saturation. I can’t do it anymore. I have so many passwords, log ins, identifications, phrases, special numbers, jumbled words and secret codes to remember that I just can’t keep them straight. I’ve got more grocery store cards, preferred shopper cards, and club member punch cards than my wallet can hold. I’ve had to type in my mother’s maiden name and the name of my first pet so many times I’ve started mixing the two up.

My entire life is tied up in a chaotic hodgepodge of numbers and letters and barcodes and secret questions. When I forget a password or don’t have the appropriate store card with me, my life comes to a complete standstill. I can’t get any financial information. I don’t know how much money I have in the bank. I don’t know how the retirement or college investments are doing. I can’t get in the gym door. I have to pay more money for my groceries. I can’t read anything more than the headlines at the online version of my local newspaper. I don’t have access to my children’s grades. I’m unable to find out if I have any money left in the school hot lunch account. I can’t put a book on hold at the library. I can’t download any music. I can’t buy anything online using PayPal. I don’t even get my 10th pizza free without my special pizza club member card.

I’m ready for a new option to all this madness. I’m ready for a computer chip. I want it implanted in my wrist. This chip would contain all of the pertinent and useful information about me, but especially all of my passwords and barcodes and account numbers. I don’t even care about my privacy anymore. Let the government track my every movement. Let the satellites take photos of me. Let the computers analyze my life’s details and assess my risk of being a terrorist. It will all be worth it if I don’t have to remember another password or carry any more cards.

From now on, every where I go and every thing I do will be taken care of with one wave of my wrist. I’ll log on to my computer in the morning by waving my wrist in front of my chip reader. It will immediately turn on and bring up my email accounts and all of my favorite websites. Every time I want to check a bank or a mutual fund balance I’d just wave my wrist again and access will be granted. I’d just walk through the gym door and my chip would be detected automatically. I’d pay for my groceries and receive all of the special club member discounts all in one swipe of my arm. I’d be able to download music, check out at the library and pay for my son’s hot lunch at school with one swipe. When I swiped my hand at the pizza place they would know automatically that my pizza was free this time.

My chip could be useful in other areas as well. When I took a shower I’d wave my wrist on the bathroom reader and the water would turn on to my preferred temperature. My chip would come in handy at toll booths and ticket booths. One swipe and I’m paid. At the doctor’s office I wouldn’t have to fill out any more paperwork. One swipe and they’d even know how much I weighed that day. My car would unlock and start with a quick swipe. Heck, bad drivers could even get tickets if their chip runs a red light. The chips of robbers would automatically scan as they ran out of the door with their loot. The chip could even start beeping and flashing if anyone ever tried to reprogram it or steal it.

I’m beginning to think the tradeoffs inherent with having a chip implanted in my wrist just might be worth it. I’d never again receive a threatening letter from my mutual fund company. I’d never again have access denied. And I’d always get my free pizza. Until then I will continue to live with my frustration in trying to remember my many, many passwords. Now let’s hope I can remember the username and password I need to get this blog posted.

Check This Out!
Check your local PBS listings for Elvis Lives: The 25th Anniversary Concert. Through the wonders of technology, Elvis “reunites” with his band in this 2002 Memphis concert that marked the 25th anniversary of his passing. Don’t miss his powerful version of How Great Thou Art.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Rounded to the Nearest 10

I was quickly losing my patience. Our voices were rising and could now be heard outside through the screen door. My daughter threw her pencil down on the table. The cat took refuge under the chair. “Mom! What are you doing?” she yelled at me in frustration. “That doesn’t make any sense. We do it a different way at school!”

“What do you mean you do it a different way? It’s division! There is only one way!”

I have painfully learned firsthand that in much of today’s math curriculum, the teaching and learning are done very differently than when I was in school. It’s been referred to as New-New Math, Whole Math, MTV Math, Mickey Mouse Math, Fuzzy Math and even Fuzzy Crap. While I still long for the days when two plus two was always four, I have realized there is some value in learning math the way my children are. Two plus two doesn’t always equal four, there is more than one way to do long division and, as I now agree, understanding the process can be as valuable as actually getting the right answer.

While this approach to math does have many advantages in a school setting, it would be a very different world if the New-New Math way of thinking spilled outside of the school walls and into our everyday lives.

All debit and credit card transaction amounts would be rounded to the nearest 10’s place. After all, it’s easier and faster to use rounded numbers and it still gives an accurate enough impression of how much money was spent.

Doctors wouldn’t be able to give us a precise, scientific diagnosis. They would be able to make an educated guess after they had developed a good conceptual understanding of the problem and discovered all of the clues using their higher order thinking.

Airplane manufacturers wouldn’t worry too much about the exact measurements of the airplane parts. The company would be more concerned that their employees understood the process of how they made airplanes and were familiar with each step. The exact measurement of each specific part would be a secondary consideration.

Taxpayers would congregate every April 15th. They’d gather in a circle, each holding a mini white board. They would write down on their white board the amount of tax they think they should pay, rounded to the nearest 10 dollars, and hold it up for an IRS agent to see. The IRS agent, standing at the head of the circle, would review each answer. “No, I’m sorry Mr. Jones. I can see that you tried very hard today, but you owe more money than that. Erase that number and try again.” Or “Mrs. Johnson, I can see that you forgot to use your thinking brain. You have to remember the deduction for your medical bills. “

Drivers caught speeding would be able to get out of receiving a ticket if they were able to tell the police officer how much they were going over the speed limit. This would be a one page story problem. Each step of the speeding process would be listed and written out in complete sentences. The conclusion would be proven using two different mathematical functions. Final answers could be rounded to the nearest 10 mph, of course.

Buying a car would involve a team problem solving session between the purchaser, the salesman, the dealership owner, the mechanic, an oil company executive, a bank loan officer, a Department of Licensing representative and a Starbucks drive thru employee. Each would take turns giving their opinion on the car to be purchased using their best group sharing and problem solving skills. It would be most important that everyone get along and feel good about themselves.

Checking out at the grocery store would require you to place your items on the conveyer belt in one of three ways: largest to smallest, most expensive to least expensive, or most perishable to least perishable. You would then have to give a brief oral report explaining to the other shoppers standing in your line why you chose to group your items that way. Your fellow line #5 shoppers would then be required to ask one well thought out question afterward in order to proceed forward in the checkout line. You would be required to be respectful to your fellow line #5 shoppers and exhibit a real team spirit or you would have to go to the back of the line. Your total bill would be an estimate and would be rounded to the nearest 10 dollars, of course. It’s just easier that way.

Check This Out!

Combine in a food processor-4 cloves mashed garlic, 2 15oz cans garbanzo beans-drained and rinsed, 2/3 cup roasted tahini, 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup olive oil, and salt to taste(start with 1/2 tsp).