Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in review

I'll go ahead and use mostly the same questions I’ve used in previous year end reviews.

What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before? I am now managing a team that’s partly comprised of associates based overseas. That’s a new one as was traveling to India twice as part of being their manager.

Did anyone close to you give birth? As with last year’s answer—yes. We have friends squarely in the kids stage of life so that’s not a surprise.

Did anyone close to you die? No one close to me has died; all’s quiet on that front.

What countries did you visit? Mexico and India. We didn’t take any Crazy Trips™ this year, mostly because we had a lot of expensive home repairs/maintenance this year. Edited to add that we did go to Miami over Memorial weekend, but that wasn't a crazy trip.

What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015? Cheesy but true: I lack for nothing and I’m grateful.

What dates from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? No specific date for me again this year, just a handful of events:
  • Kent got a new car so now we’re all matchy-matchy with our Volvos. I know, that’s pretty cheesy.
  • My low frequency hearing loss got worse and I shelled out the cash for a hearing aid.
  • I had and am recovering from sinus surgery.
  • Kent started working on his MBA.
  • I didn’t really sew at all this year. Neither did Kent. We’re both overwhelmed with our jobs and when that happens, the creative hobbies take a hit.
What was your biggest achievement of the year? This isn’t an achievement, but maybe the best thing that happened all year was the unexpected positive outcome of my younger son’s deployment. I’ve always liked and loved my daughter-in-law but in my son’s absence, it seemed as though our relationship got even better and I feel like today that relationship stands fully on its own merit.

Did you suffer illness or injury? Not really, although I guess the sinus surgery sort of counts.

What was the best thing you bought? I got yet another suitcase which seems to be my magical unicorn suitcase. You can read about it here.

Where did most of your money go? Home repair and maintenance. We replaced our HVAC and our dish washer and did some expensive foundation repair.

What did you get really excited about? I’m going to sound so very lame but I was stoked when we ran the new dishwasher the first time. You would be shocked at how very quiet it is.

What book(s) did you love this year? I read Justin Cronin's The Passage: A Novel and The Twelve, the first two books in a planned trilogy. I absolutely loved them and pre-ordered the third book the instant it was available. The City of Mirrors comes out in May and I cannot wait.

What song will always remind you of 2015? Definitely this one

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Did you just say that?

I ran across this video the other day, and was curious if I’d heard many or any of the 48 comments. Much to my—well surprise isn’t the right word, maybe sad resignation is better—I had heard nearly all of them.

I have a story of my own to tell.

In 2011, Kent and I took a short vacation in Negril. This was our second time there and we’d had a relaxing time. We were waiting to catch the commuter flight from Negril to Montego Bay and one of the men who worked at the local airport was making small talk with us.

Somehow it came up in the conversation that we have grandchildren. He was shocked and commented that I didn’t look like a grandmother. I told him that I was and that I’d passed the half century mark and lived every year.

He looked me up and down, and then said “You must have been a goddess when you were young.”

Stop for a moment and consider those words. Never mind the looking up and down (which happens to women all the time and we are expected to either not notice or not mind). Think about the implications of what he said to me.

What I thought (but didn’t say and have regretted ever since that I didn't) is that I’m as much of a goddess now as I was 30 years ago, that being a goddess has nothing to do with age and in fact not much to do with looks.

I know this sort of thing happens all the time. I hear it about my marriage to Kent (he is younger). I'll be clear with you that the cougar comment offends me. I'm not a cougar, I am a woman who happens to be deeply in love with a younger man. No one would think twice about the reverse situation.

I suspect that I'm going to end up being that one woman, the one who got more outspoken as she grew older and realized that some things ought not be said, and some attitudes need to be changed. I'm OK with that. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

On pain and judgment

Years ago, I read an article that described the controversy surrounding aspirin and the relief of pain. The argument went roughly like this:

Pain is from God, especially for women in childbirth, so to alleviate pain is to go against God’s will.

I tried to find that article this morning but my Google-fu let me down. I did find articles that specifically mentioned childbirth, and also the use of pain as a diagnostic tool, but wasn’t able to find the bit about any pain relief being in opposition to God’s will.

I mention all of that because I’ve heard from more than a few people that they don’t ever take anything for pain. You’ve probably met people like that yourself (or maybe you are one)—there’s a sense of pride that the pain is just endured, almost like it’s a virtue to suffer. God knows I’ve done plenty of that myself, no doubt some remnant of my own upbringing.

But the thing is, pain is also exhausting and can interfere with recovery.

Case in point—I had an appendectomy when I was 19. My appendix wasn’t actually where it was supposed to be so I ended up with a seven-inch incision and my small intestine was compromised. Because I hate needles so much and also thought in my twisted way that I was demonstrating some sort of fortitude, I refused all pain relief post-op. I went on to do the same thing with my first C-section, but by the time I had my second C-section, I was tired of being so exhausted after surgery, and also cranky from the pain. So I endured the shots and got some relief.

And another case in point—2006 was a very tough year. I had ongoing, never ending pain after my sixth major abdominal surgery and was put on a pain management system. Since most prescription pain medication makes me incredibly nauseous, I took half the prescribed dose. As you might expect, I didn’t get much relief plus I had horrid nausea. I ended up having my seventh major abdominal surgery in August that year. The surgeon repaired an incisional hernia from all the previous surgeries, and also cleared out what he called a lot of scar tissue. If I’d been clearer about the amount of pain I was in after my sixth surgery, I might have had that seventh surgery sooner. But no, I was being all tough.

I’ve come to realize (finally) that there’s no virtue in enduring something that can be alleviated or relieved. So I am writing this post after having had sinus surgery on Friday and I’m definitely taking the pain meds (along with some strong anti-nausea meds). I want to recover quickly and I want to be able to sleep.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Standard Luggage: An unsolicited review

I have a bit of an addiction to luggage and laptop bags. I always look at those items when I’m out shopping and of course I look at them online. Some people love shoes, I love luggage and laptop bags.

In 2010 when I was traveling 90% for work, I got a Briggs & Riley wheelie bag that was touted as fitting in overhead bins. That was important to me because I didn’t want to gate check a bag ever. But as it turned out, that suitcase wouldn’t fit in the tiny planes’ overhead bins. Normally that would only be annoying but on one trip, we'd encountered strong head winds so that the 2 ½ hour layover in Memphis was all used up. I stood on the jet bridge waiting for that bag and heard the gate agent for my second flight paging me. Sure enough I missed that flight so I was in the market for another bag, one that would either fit in the overhead or else fit under the seat.

I got a Timbuk2 Wingman Travel Dufflebag—Kent has one and loves it, but I have never filled it all the way up. Since this is a soft bag, that's meant my belongings slide to the middle and sag down. Talk about awkward! Plus the bag is just a bit too big for my body so I would end up bumping people. That’s also annoying.

I read about my current bag on a blog I follow. The author mentioned the bag and included a photo. I loved the look of it so I checked out all the details on the web site and I was hooked. It’s got just a slight bit of structure around all four sides, it’s a bit shorter on the long dimension a bit taller on the short dimension. It’s got a lot of well-designed and thought out pockets, plus I loved that the laptop sleeve is on the back. It converts to a backpack with ease and can also be put over the handle of a roller bag. And you can also expand the bag by a few inches. Here are the dimensions:

  • Bag dimensions: 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 in when zipped and 21.5 x 13.5 x 9.5 when expanded
  • Volume/Capacity: 35L zipped and 45L when expanded
  • Weight: 3.7 pounds
  • Laptop Pocket: Holds most 15" laptops and 15" Macbook Pro

I used it when we went to Boston and then Norfolk last month as a trial run for my next trip to India. I was able to pack a full week’s worth of clothing etc. and then add in some of the gifts we received for the trip home. It performed like a champ so I used it for my most recent trip to India.

Here’s a photo of my bag (plus bonus photo with Eddie photo-bombing the picture).

As with all luggage that comes with a shoulder strap, I used my Tom Bihn Absolute shoulder strap. This strap messes with gravity somehow because it makes even the most awkward messenger bag seem lighter and easier to carry.

All in all, I absolutely love this bag. I can't wait to see what other products Standard develops because they sure know what they're doing.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A tiny rant

As with a lot of US-based companies, mine offers preventive health assessments and lots of resources through a company called StayWell. Part of what’s offered is an online health assessment that has you enter things like total cholesterol, hdl, ldl, ratios—that sort of thing. Also blood pressure, weight, etc, etc, etc. I think it's pretty invasive, but figured I'd take a look. (Yes, I know the results are used in the aggregate and not at the individual level. Still think it's nosy and invasive.)

If I complete this particular online health assessment by December 31 and am enrolled in a Health Savings Account (HSA) insurance plan (definition here, IRS Pub--it's a PDF--here), I'd get an extra $300 contributed to my HSA. Well, I'm enrolled in an HSA and let's face it, $300 extra would be nice. Plus I have very current lab results from my annual physical so I decided to fill out the assessment even though I have those misgivings. Still--$300.

I got to the section where I needed to enter all my cholesterol values and when I tried to enter my hdl, I got an error message. My value was “invalid” and I needed to enter a valid number. Only my value wasn’t and isn’t invalid. I just happen to have very high, off the chart high, hdl cholesteral.

That’s actually a good thing to have, and means that my ratios are perfect. That high number does make my total cholesterol appear to be a bit over normal. It is, but that’s entirely because of the hdl numbers. This isn't a new set of numbers for me and both my current primary care physician and my previous one are pleased with my numbers.

So I tried to get the system fixed. I made phone calls, I emailed, I talked to an HR person at work, all to no avail. Oops, they said. Sorry about that. We'll take your feedback to the team. And the latest solution that StayWell offered was this: Enter 79 in that field and then the StayWell representative would enter my actual value on the back end.

Um no.

Basically I have to put in a false number and hope that it gets fixed on the back end. That’s just a horrible user experience and since it’s related to my health records and involves me essentially lying, I said no thanks. While I appreciated the offer, that isn’t a fix to crappy design and a poor interface. I guess I’m glad that I’m in a position that the loss of the extra $300 isn’t catastrophic. It just sucks is all. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Setting aside old tapes

Years ago when I lived in Germany, two friends took a quick trip to Paris where they were mugged. The muggers told them that the reason they mugged my friends was because they were American. That’s always stuck with me, and not in a good way, so Paris has never been a place I wanted to visit.

Delta doesn’t fly into Bangalore but one of their partners, Air France, does. So I was on an Air France flight from Bangalore to Paris last week, and ended up having probably the nicest flight attendant I’ve ever had. Since I’ve flown at least 75,000 miles a year since 2010, and plenty more in previous years, that’s saying something. But he was fantastic. And of course he was French*.

On that long 10-hour flight, I found myself reconsidering my opposition to going to Paris, and long story not so long, realized it was time to ditch that old tape. After all, I’ve definitely seen that India is not full of people like the Ferals, so why would Paris be filled with muggers who hate Americans?

I have no idea when we’ll go—this has been the year of home maintenance and repair, not travel—but look for us to make it over there hopefully in 2016.

*He told me a couple of hours into the flight that he was pretty good at identifying where people were from. He pointed out one he'd known was Italian, and another who was British. But, he said, he'd thought I was German. I laughed and said that I'd lived there three years so maybe that's why I seemed German. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Jet lag is a funny thing

Much like altitude, sometimes I have zero issues with jet lag—in fact, usually I have no problems—but sometimes? Well let’s just say I can be in a fog for a bit.

I got back to the US Thursday evening. I thought I slept well that night but FitBit disagreed. Apparently I was awake 20 times and restless a record-setting 43 times. Wow. Friday night, I woke up around 2 AM and that was essentially it for me for sleep. I dozed a bit but never fell fully asleep and gave up at 5. You can tell from the multi-colors below that I didn't actually sleep much (the dark blue indicates when I was asleep).

Yesterday—Saturday—Kent and I had a massage in the late afternoon. We picked up sushi on the way home and by 6 PM I knew I was not long for this waking world. I managed just barely to stay up until 8 PM and I think I was asleep within 15 seconds of Kent turning the light out (he stayed up later, like a normal sane adult would).

Then in the middle of the night, I struggled to wake up, almost the way it feels when you’ve swum down lower than you can safely handle. I was convinced I’d left my 3-1-1 bag at home and that I would have no way to wash my hair or face or get cleaned up. I managed to open my eyes and could not for the life of me recognize where I was. I’d say it took me a good half minute to sort out that I was at home and so was my 3-1-1 bag.

I hoped it was 2:30 when I woke up, figured it was probably 12:30. Actually it was midnight, so I took a sleeping pill and went back to sleep.

I feel far more normal today, although still fairly low energy. Maybe I’ll be back to normal by Friday—just in time to have that sinus surgery and get all discombobulated again.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

High contrast

I’m no expert on Bangalore, let alone India but here are my observations for what they’re worth.

This country is a land of extreme contrasts—yes, there’s desperate poverty but there’s a lot of wealth and the two don’t always live that far away from each other.

I’ve seen shrines scattered and tucked away in the smallest spaces. Some are plain stone or limestone and others are highly elaborate and colorful. I’ve also seen a fair number of Christian churches here—I passed one this afternoon and I could see inside where the altar and cross were, along with a couple of motorcycles.

This trip, the garbage was far more obvious than last summer. I read an article in the paper that described the garbage dumping as a protest. Apparently, the garbage is supposed to be sorted by whether it’s wet or dry and people aren’t doing that. So the garbage trucks aren’t picking up the trash—so in turn, people are burning it.

Bananas here are a lot smaller. They’re maybe three inches long? Limes are different too, the skin is much smoother than the limes I buy at home.

I’ve seen more cows in the road this trip, also goats (which I didn’t see last time).

Someone asked me last time what I missed the most when I’m here. I don’t think I posted this (apologies if so) but other than my husband what I miss the most is being able to rinse my toothbrush under running water.

It’s winter here, and people think it’s cold. I’ve seen down vests, heavy sweaters and scarves and the other night I saw a woman wearing ear muffs. Temps have ranged from highs in the mid-80s to lows in the mid- to low-60s.

The floods in Chennai have had an impact here. The drains run under the sidewalks for the most part, and the sidewalks are made up of concrete slabs designed to be picked up and moved so the drains can be dug out. And that’s what I’ve seen—huge piles of dirt and debris piled alongside these open channels where the sidewalks are. If it rains here the way it did in Chennai last week, Bangalore would flood too. There’s just nowhere for the water to go.

We don't take cabs here, the hotel provides a driver to take me to work and pick me up (and also do the airport run). Some of my drivers have really wanted to talk—they’ve asked where I’m from, how many times I’ve been here, what religion I am (that topic isn’t taboo here), what I think of Bangalore etc etc etc. It’s mostly sweet although sort of tiring.

I’m glad to head home tonight, well really it’s early morning. Regardless. In about 30 hours I’ll be home and that’s a good thing.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A quick catch up

Hi from India! I’d love to say we’re enjoying exceptionally good weather but that’s not exactly true. You may have read about the record-breaking rains in southern India—Chennai has been particularly hard hit with amounts of rain that broke a 100-year record. The airport was underwater for nearly a week, with flights diverted to Bangalore (where I am). While Bangalore isn’t experiencing the floods, it’s been cloudy and raining off and on since I landed around 1 AM Thursday morning.

I thought the rain might cut down on the air pollution but that hasn’t been the case. I also expected that the pollution would be about what it was like last summer when I was here but that also hasn’t been the case. It’s much, much worse and I’ve seen a lot of garbage burning along the sides of the streets. As you can imagine, that doesn’t help the air quality.

It’s hard to adequately describe the population density here; it’s staggering. And with that kind of population density, it’s no wonder that the infrastructure isn’t adequate or that public services aren’t on the same level as what we enjoy at home. Honestly, any country would have these issues if they were this populated.

But as with the last trip, I am enjoying working with my team.  The culture here is very hospitable and Midwestern nice in an Indian sort of way.

Here are a couple of pictures I took yesterday at a team builder. I thought these flowers were lovely, I have no idea what they are—maybe you do?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

I have no shame

Last week while in Virginia for Thanksgiving, I got pedicures for Jen, Alison and me. But we wanted to go shopping afterwards and I hadn’t brought proper flip flops.

What I had brought was a pair of house slippers that are like flip flops but pretty clearly not the real deal. They do have soles on them but they are pink terry cloth and you’d never wear them on the beach. But I didn’t want to ruin my pedicure!

Pink slippers on the right
So I wore them to lunch—I’m sure I shocked anyone in Panera who looked at my feet but so what? After we finished lunch and got to the mall, I put on my real shoes and was good to go.