Clouds and Dogs

I roll out of bed an hour and a half later than usual this morning.  I am not a morning person.  In fact, I am so not a morning person that even as an infant I was cranky in the morning.  But, I’ve learned that if I give myself a lot of time in the morning, I am able to function without snapping at too many people.  Losing an hour and a half of “me time” makes this difficult.

Fortunately for me, my hubby gets up and takes the dog out.  This is due to a secret I will share with just you, my faithful readers.  We are thinking about keeping the dog.  However, because fostering was my thing, I was doing most of the care taking.  And, since I work from home and I’m hanging out with the dog all day, Tisen has particularly attached himself to me.  My husband decided he needed to take on extra dog duty to decide if keeping him is feasible.  I am relieved to have the additional help with walking, even if we end up not keeping him.  We are weighing the joy of fostering against the joy of being dog parents.

This morning, because my husband is now fully participating, I gain back a half an hour of the time I lost by over sleeping.

Once the coffee is made, I look out the window and decide to shoot some of the clouds hovering over the aquarium.  I’ve been having fun using my 100mm lens for everything these days, so keeping with that trend, I try shooting the landscape with it as well.  Although I miss the range of a zoom lens, it’s nice that the 100mm gets me over the nasty parking lot in the foreground.

After shooting for a few minutes, I decide I’d better pack it in so I have time to refill my coffee before my first meeting.  But as I turn, I see beams of light streaming through the clouds behind me.  Why is it that the light so often does the most interesting things when you have your back turned?

I fire off a series of shots at various exposures.  I know if I stand there for 15 minutes the light will change and the beams will become more distinct, making a more intense image.  But, alas, the clock ticks and I don’t get paid to shoot sun rays.

At the end of the day, the clouds have cleared and I turn to Tisen as my model.  He loves to lay on the couch.  He looks at me without moving except his tail.  I do my best with a long exposure to get his wagging tail in motion.  I can think of nothing in life that so consistently makes me smile–I never tire of a wagging tail.  Then, Pat comes home and Tisen demonstrates how much he’s come to appreciate Pat by curling up on his lap.  Who can resist taking a picture of that?

Rain Day

The rain is back.  I have nothing against rain. I would just like to be able to schedule it.  For example, the summer afternoon thunderstorms in the Rockies are nice.  They roll in, drop their goods, and roll out like paratroopers on a daily exercise.  Having done their duty, there’s no need to linger and keep the sky gray for days on end.

While Chattanooga seems far sunnier than Columbus, the winter has brought a lot of rain.

Living on the top floor in a faux-loft apartment changes our relationship with rain.  I don’t have to look out the windows to tell if it’s raining–the sound of it hitting the roof gets so loud in a downpour that I frantically hit the mute button during conference calls.  In heavy rains, mysterious leaks start to appear that seem to be related to the angle and speed of the rainfall and can’t be pinpointed or recreated for maintenance men.

After a few hours, the rain drumming in my ears starts to fade into the background so that when it finally stops, it’s a similar experience to being in an office building when there is a power outage–the sudden absence of the white noise leaves the building in an eerie state of silence, often causing its inhabitants to start whispering.

While there is never silence here–there is always something making noise whether it’s a  delivery truck rumbling down the street, a car stopped at the intersection with its stereo blaring, people shouting and laughing over the sounds of traffic–there are moments of less noise.  When the droning of the rain suddenly stops, these other noises pop to the forefront and I find myself missing the buffer of the rain.  So, I have come to appreciate a slow, gentle rain that is just enough to wash away not only the debris in the streets, but also the noise pollution.

I have visions of shooting rain drops sharply in focus in the foreground with the blurred but recognizable backdrop of the aquarium across the river.  But first, our foster dog must go out.  After taking him out in the rain, drying him off, and setting up my tripod, it, of course, stops raining.  I shoot the aquarium in the mist.  Then, I aim for the clouds over the mountains in the distance.  Finally, I discover water drops forming on the balcony overhang and decide to try to get the effect I was looking for by shooting them falling.

An interesting thing about photography:  it’s one thing to envision an image and another to capture it.  After 30+ shots, I manage to capture the drops falling, but they disappear into the light gray background of the sky.  I cannot capture anything close to the picture in my head.

When I set my camera aside and buckle down to a hectic day at the office, it starts to pour.  If only I could schedule the rain . . .

Turning on the Heat

We have not turned on the heat.  There is no reason for this other than a combination of my large sweater collection and stubbornness.  My husband doesn’t care–he’s usually hot anyway.  I, however, am always cold.  One might assume this would motivate me to turn on the heat sooner, not later.  But, my logic goes like this:  I am cold when it is 72 degrees and I am cold when it is 65 degrees.  Our apartment is 65 degrees for free, but to heat it to 72 degrees would increase our electric bill.  Therefore, there is no return on the additional expenditure for turning on the heat.

In truth, I’m waiting for two milestones to occur.  First, I would like to make it until January until we turn the heat on.  The second is a more logical milestone:  if the apartment fails to get up to 65 degrees for more than 2 consecutive days, I’ll turn the heat on.

In the meantime, I find creative ways to deal with the cold on cloudy days when the apartment peaks right at 65.  I noticed the other day that my coffee consumption has doubled and I’m also drinking hot tea when I used to drink water.  I have started layering on extra sweaters.  Sometimes, I will put on a layer of long underwear, a long sleeve T-shirt, a cardigan, and then a big scarf I can wrap around my shoulders.  If that’s not warm enough, I throw a blanket around me while I work at my desk.

However, I really struggle with my hands and feet.  My nails turn blue and my hands stiffen as I type.  My feet seem to be permanent ice blocks.  The only way to thaw them is to sit cross-legged and tuck my feet under my thighs.  This doesn’t work so well in my desk chair.

Since I can’t put more clothes on and still fit in my chair, I get up and drink some tea when I find my fingers are getting stiff or my feet are aching.  I find walking around the room does more to warm me up than adding an additional blanket.  When I get my heart beating a little, it helps move warm blood into my cold toes and fingers.

Since I’m drinking more coffee and tea, I need to use the restroom more often.  This forces me to get up and move around even more.  Interestingly, I find that the need to get up and move is also helping my neck heal.

Pros:

  1. Saving money
  2. Reducing use of electricity (we have electric heat) reduces the amount of coal burned and the associated release of greenhouse gases
  3. Getting up more often and getting more exercise throughout the day
  4. Keeping my neck more limber and having less pain overall.

Cons:

  1. Drinking more coffee and tea may contribute to my decreasing sleep
  2. Drinking more coffee and tea definitely contributes to heart burn

Looks like the heat will stay off for now.

Grocery Therapy

Well, dear readers, in response to requests from some of my geographically distant friends who would like to read my blog but just don’t have time, I am going to see if I can keep my entries to under 500 words for a while (not counting this paragraph, of course :-)).  Here I go . . .

I wake up with such an ache in my neck I feel nauseous (or maybe it’s the realization it’s Monday that upsets my stomach?).  I walk around with the weight of my head in my hands, trying to prevent a major spasm.

Throughout the day, no matter how much I keep my head propped on my headrest, the pain increases as I work.  I take a break in the early afternoon to lay on the floor and try to get my muscles to relax.  Then, I try sitting on the couch, which makes every muscle go nuts all over again.

I remember seeing a sign in the window of a local yoga studio advertising some type of therapy I’ve never heard of before.  I go to their website.  It’s called Ortho-Bionomy.  It sounds pretty logical as an approach, so I call and make an appointment.  Unfortunately, I will not be able to get in until tomorrow.  Jann, the therapist, suggests ice and anti-inflammatories in the interim.  I’ve been trying to only take the anti-inflammatories at night so I’m not taking too much of them, but I decide I should take Jann’s advice.  I take aspirin and prop an ice pack on my neck while I work.

I make it to the end of the day, and even manage to get all my online Christmas shopping done before I have to get away from the computer.

It’s late and we have no food.  I walk to the grocery store alone since Pat is preoccupied.  I plan to only pick up enough for dinner, but I end up getting milk and soy milk and yogurt and coffee and . . . I have only 2 grocery bags with me, figuring I can balance the load for the walk home to avoid irritating my neck further.

I look at the full cart and worry I’m going to be in agonizing pain walking the block home.  However, the aspirin, ice, and the walk over here seemed to have helped quite a bit–my neck feels better than it felt all day.  I decide to risk it.

I pay for the groceries–can I just ask, why is GreenLife/Whole Foods so freaking expensive?  Aren’t they supposed to be sourcing directly from local farmers?  Shouldn’t that make their groceries less expensive?

In any case, I divide the groceries carefully, distributing the weight evenly between the two bags.  I carry one bag on each shoulder and then walk home.  Amazingly, the weight of the bags pulling my shoulders down actually feels really good.  As long as I don’t turn my head, it helps.

When I get home, I heat up the stuffed pasta shells I bought and feed me and Pat.  It’s hot and good.  My neck is feeling more functional than I would have thought possible just an hour earlier.  Maybe I shouldn’t complain about the prices at Whole Foods since buying groceries turned out to be physical therapy as well?

Voice Quake

I spend most of the day on the phone today.  Three of my calls are me presenting for an hour straight.  Throughout my day, I notice my voice.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m losing my voice.  It dips awkwardly and then cracks or tremors slightly as if I’m nervous.  Or, sometimes, I get a tickle in my throat and get an annoying cough to go with it.  Other times, I feel like my voice is booming.  The thing I can’t figure out is why.

My voice frequently sounds nervous even when I don’t feel nervous.  Then, when I notice my voice shaking, I worry that I sound nervous, which makes me nervous.  Most of the time, I just talk on through it or pause to clear my throat and then it seems to ease.  Every once in a while, it just gets worse and worse the longer I talk.  When this happens, I feel a growing tightness in my throat, like it’s closing.  As I continue talking, my throat keeps squeezing and I eventually choke on my words, literally.  Then, I have to stop and cough.

I haven’t really tried to compile data on what I’m talking about when this happens, but it seems like it could be something as innocuous as sharing product information.  I haven’t noticed any correlation between my level of confidence and my cracking voice–it seems to happen randomly.

I decide I should do some research.

What I learn is that my voice could be affected by many things.  One of which is fatigue.  Do I talk too much?  Oddly, on a day of 3 hours of presenting plus 5 hours of phone calls in which I participated in discussions, my voice acted up the worst on my first call.

Another possibility is the structure of my airway.  Apparently some airways are more apt to introduce vibrato than others.  But again, why is it that it’s so variable if it’s a physical thing that causes my voice to quake?

Another article suggests that the problem is a combination of not using my chest to resonate and aging, warning that the quake in my voice will only get worse if I don’t learn to use my chest.  Apparently I am overworking my vocal folds.  This turns out to be an ad for a voice coaching service.

I am intrigued.  Should I buy the DVDs?  Can I improve my voice?  Would it help my career?  Could I truly speak more authoritatively?  The DVD set is $297.  I think I’ll pass.

Next, I find a multitude of web sites that tell me throat problems develop when the throat chakra is not open.  Apparently, if I fail to speak the truth, express my feelings, or deny my values in any way, I am opening myself up for voice issues as a result of this chakra.

I have to say that I was raised firmly within a scientific paradigm where objective evidence in the form of the double-blind study is king and things like chakras sound a lot like voodoo.  The thought of healing a chakra to speak clearly seems a bit like, well, nonsense.

On the other hand, finding that modern medicine often falls short on treating simple problems without causing bigger ones, I have researched a lot of approaches to well being that fall outside classic scientific research.  When it comes to curing what ails me, I take the mindset of “who cares if it’s a placebo effect if it works, doesn’t cost much, and isn’t harmful?”

What I know is that yoga makes me feel significantly better both physically and mentally.  I also know that yoga is supposed to have something to do with chakras, which I have never really taken much interest in understanding.  But, it goes to follow that if practicing yoga makes me feel better, then maybe trying this throat chakra crap is worth a go?  Maybe I shouldn’t call it “crap” if I’m going to give it a go?

So, I have decided to try a few exercises I found online for one week to see if there is any improvement.  It’s free, does no harm, and should be an interesting experiment.  Not a scientifically sound experiment, but an interesting one none-the-less.

My hypothesis:  perhaps my voice is telling me something.  Through performing simple exercises to “open the throat chakra,” maybe I’ll figure out what my voice is trying to say.  Worst case, it will be relaxing.

If that fails, maybe I’ll try the DVDs.

Waking Up

I get up at 5AM so I can be at the gym by 6AM and be awake. I only need 15 minutes to get ready, but I need an hour to be functional. It’s early for a workout. I get to the gym and realize I didn’t turn my phone on before I left–I wouldn’t have received any cancellation texts.  It gets to be a few minutes after 6 and I see no evidence that anyone else is here for the class I’m attending, including the trainer.

This is an anxiety producing situation for me. I don’t know why. Even if no one shows up, I’m at the gym and can get a workout in on my own. However, I get stressed when I’m supposed to be meeting people and we don’t hook up. I worry that I’m in the wrong place and we missed each other. Because, after all, if my trainer came in and didn’t see me, I just know he would assume I didn’t show and go on without me. And, even though the front door is only 20 feet from the treadmill I’m on, it’s entirely possible that the 200+ pound trainer could sneak by unnoticed and that he would never think of turning his head.  It’s ridiculous, but I do this to myself every time I meet someone until the situation becomes familiar.

The trainer arrives about 2 minutes after 6AM (depending on which clock you’re looking at). I am now stretching in the hallway outside the training room door. While I prefer to stretch in the women’s locker room, it’s too anxiety producing to be out of sight. Now that I know the trainer will arrive a couple minutes late, I will factor this into the next class and not be so anxious.

As it is, I follow him into the room and stand there feeling awkward while he tries to get his stuff situated to begin the class. My presence and readiness to start rushes him and he forgets to turn on his music, set up some equipment, put away his hat. Next time, I will wait outside until he tells me he’s ready.

As it turns out, I am the only participant today. Apparently everyone else thought 6AM was too early. I am at about 60% of full capacity with my cold. I am still tired and I’ve been laying around too much. I go a little easy today, but my shoulders and chest are still exhausted by the workout.  By the time we are done, I’m debating whether I want to walk before work or wait until after.  But realistically, if we don’t walk now, we won’t walk later.

When I get home, I write. By the time I get Pat out of bed and get myself ready, there is little time for a walk. We’ve also realized we have nothing to eat. So, we do go for a walk, but it’s just to the store and back. We pick up some cereal and milk so we can eat breakfast.

Even keeping it quick, I am racing back to get to my first call of the day by the time we’re done. I don’t know where the morning goes sometimes. I get up hours before work to have time to take care of the things I want to do. I like getting those things in at the beginning of the day. Somehow, making time for me first thing in the morning sends a message to my brain that I am a top priority–I will not sacrifice my health, my needs, myself for the sake of my job.

I have a fantasy work morning that goes like this: I sit on the balcony sipping coffee, watching the sunrise, maybe shooting a little. I finish my coffee and do yoga for a while, ending with some meditation. After feeling completely and totally relaxed, I write for an hour. Then, I go for a walk with Pat along the riverfront before starting work.

Theoretically, since I get up at least 3 hours before my work day starts, I should be able to make this fantasy reality–well, other than the sunrise during coffee. I don’t really know what happens, but my real morning often goes more like this: stumble out of bed, get the coffee going through bleary, half-shut eyes. Check email for emergencies. Answer a few mails. Check calendar for first meeting. Pour coffee. Write blog. Start researching some trivial point that has little to do with my post. Finish post, realize it’s getting late. Wake up Pat. Jump in shower, get cleaned up and ready to go. Decide to log on while waiting for Pat to get ready. Try to answer a couple of emails and then realize I’m out of time and we can’t go for a walk now.

Ah, I see what happens–I start working first. Funny thing how priorities work. How many times have I said, “I want to . . . But I just don’t have time”? Yet, I manage to make time for so many other things–like obsessive email checking. I tell myself “What if someone needs me?” In reality, what I think drives me is the fear that maybe no one does. Otherwise, wouldn’t it be easy to let them wait until office hours?

Tomorrow, maybe I will try leaving my phone in airplane mode until after I’ve finished that walk with Pat.

Recovering

I am still feeling like crap.  Having gotten a call at 11PM last night that kept me working until after midnight has not contributed positively to me getting over whatever I have.  I drag my tired rear out of bed and start my day.  All day, I keep thinking I’m going to have to take a break and lay down, but I have back-to-back calls and things to get done.  The day goes by until at about 6:45PM, I decide I can no longer think clearly and I really do need to stop.

I haven’t showered since Sunday morning.  I am puzzled as to why this is–for some reason, I grew up believing you’re not supposed to shower when you’re sick.  Maybe because having wet hair makes you feel cold?  But not showering only makes me feel sicker.  I decide I am going to the gym in the morning unless I’m dying when I wake up.  As such, I absolutely must shower tonight.

Pat asks what I want to do about dinner.  I look out the windows and realize it’s Wednesday night and I haven’t left the apartment since we returned from our weekend in the smokies on Sunday afternoon.  I briefly consider going out to dinner.  But, realizing that we have too many things yet to get done tonight and I want to go to bed early, I decide it makes more sense for Pat to pick up carry out while I convert myself back into a human being.

That’s exactly how I feel in the shower.  As difficult as it was for me to coax myself out of the 6 layers of clothes I’m wearing in an attempt to stay warm, I don’t want to leave the shower once I’m in it.  The hot water strikes my feet, making me realize how cold they really are.  They feel like giant ice cubes melting in a vat of scalding hot water.  My stiff neck and shoulders likewise feel like they’re melting under the heat of the water.  I stick my dirty hair under the water and I feel like the water just runs off.  My hair has grown waterproof after 3 days of wearing a ski cap and not bothering to so much as run a comb through my hair.

I use way too much shampoo, wanting a nice, thick lather to break through the grime.  Having converted my helmet back into hair, I feel like my transformation into a human life form is complete.  But I decide I should rinse some more anyway–I really cannot bring myself to step out from under the hot water.

Did I mention that we haven’t turned the heat on yet?  I don’t know why; it’s just a thing.  We want to make it to December before we turn the heat on.  Up until yesterday, there was only one other day we were tempted to turn the heat on.  But yesterday, the temperature inside dropped to 61.  And then, to 58 overnight.  Today, things warmed up considerably.  The apartment is back up to 65 thanks to the passive solar effect of the windows facing South.  But still, it’s enough of a chill that I really don’t want to get out from under that hot water.

Eventually, I talk myself into turning off the water and wrapping up in a towel before stepping out of the tub.  The bathroom is, thankfully, full of steam, helping to preserve the warmth from the shower.  Pat returns as I am pulling on about my 5th layer of clean clothes.  I am grateful for the numerous layers of warm clothes I have accumulated for winter activities–after all, I am about to brave the temperature of the apartment outside the bathroom.

Pat’s hunting and gathering expedition has turned up Taco Mamacitos.  Unfortunately, it’s gotten cold between the walk from the restaurant and waiting for me to get dressed.  Plus, my taste buds are not fully functional yet.  I eat it all anyway, realizing that I haven’t had anything to eat yet today besides a cup of soup and some crackers.

We flop on the couch with our cold food and turn on the TV.  I eat and worry about whether I’ll sleep tonight.  My cold is turning into a cough and I didn’t ask Pat to get me anything for a cough when he went to the store for me earlier today.

I find myself wondering about the human immune system.  Why is it, for example, that I get sick more than Pat?  He rarely catches anything.  He’s even more resistant to stuff like parasites.  I was violently ill at seemingly random intervals over 3 years until I finally figured out I was getting parasites from eating sushi.  Pat was eating at least 3x the amount of the same sushi I was eating, yet he never got sick.

Given that Pat and I live in the same place, eat mostly the same foods (I generally eat healthier than Pat, if anything), and are exposed to the same germs, it has to be genetic, right?  Or could it be that he drinks more beer?  Is beer the secret ingredient to a healthy immune system?  Perhaps I should try matching his diet exactly to see if it makes any difference.

Whatever the cause, I am annoyed that I am sick.  I feel like it’s personal weakness somehow that I have succumbed to a virus.  I ask myself what I have done wrong that has led to this illness.  I go down the list of possible errors on my part:  what have I been eating; how have I been sleeping; how careful have I been about washing my hands?  I find that I’m at fault on eating and sleeping, but hand washing has become almost an obsession.  Then, I wonder if I’m washing my hands too much.  Is that possible?  Am I denying my immune system its required exercise?

I take a deep breath and stop my root-cause analysis.  I am sick and I need care, not blame.  Why is it easier to sit around chastising yourself than to just figure out what you need and provide it?  I think about the Nonviolent Communication book I am reading and realize that’s the basic premise.  I’m too tired to think about it any more than that, though.  I try to take another deep breath, but I start coughing.  I decide I need to just watch TV mindlessly and I settle myself more comfortably into the couch.

To Clean or Not to Clean

This week is a short week for me-I am taking Friday off because friends are coming for a visit for a long weekend.  This weekend is the Head of the Hootch regatta–apparently one of the biggest regattas around for rowers.

I’m getting email newsletters from Outdoor Chattanooga, the Tennessee Aquarium, two farmer’s markets, and a hiking organization and all of them are hyping the Head of the Hootch as a an event to see.  Given that we can practically see it from our living room, I think it will be hard for us to miss.  But, back to our visitors, one is a rower and will be racing on Saturday.

It’s a funny thing about taking a day off.  It means that every other day suddenly becomes both compressed and extended.  In preparation for taking off 1 day, I work more efficiently and with more intensity and I still end up working more than one day’s worth of extra hours in the four days that lead up to it.  Is that really how vacation days are supposed to work?

In any case, I’m looking forward to acting as tour guides for our friends when they come.  I have a vague itinerary in my head ranging from going up to Point Park to enjoy the view of the fall leaves and downtown Chattanooga to taking them on a River Gorge tour at the Tennessee Aquarium.  They have told us about two restaurants they want to go to, neither of which we’ve been to before, which is even more exciting.

We actually chose to move to Chattanooga because of this couple–they had come down before for the Head of the Hootch and really enjoyed the city.  When we told them we were thinking about moving to Tennessee, they were the ones who advised us to check out Chattanooga.  So, we will take turns playing tour guides.

I’m more or less ready for their visit, which is good. They are staying in a hotel, which is probably for the best given that our guest bed now consists of a queen sized air mattress placed on our living room floor.  If I were competing in a rowing race, I would want better sleeping conditions, too.

But, since I assume they will come to our apartment at some point in time, I do feel like I should clean up the place before they get here.  I haven’t really thought about when I am going to do this.  I’ve had a few vague thoughts that maybe it would be a good time to try a housekeeper, but upon reflection, I realized that I cannot have a housekeeper when I’m working from home.  Given that there are only two distinct rooms in our place (besides the bathroom) and my office is in the largest of the two, the noise of the housekeeper cleaning would disrupt work.

I miss having a housekeeper.  We had a great one at our house in Columbus.  Having her come every week was the perfect antidote to my natural tendency towards messiness.  I don’t know why, but I would rather throw my clothes on the floor at night than to take the time to put them in the laundry.  I’d rather put dirty dishes in the sink than to rinse them and put them in the dishwasher.  Someone once told me that this was just a form of prioritization.  Apparently, having a neat house is low on my priority list.

But having a housekeeper who came once a week forced the issue.  Since the housekeeper can’t clean if the floor is covered in dirty clothes, I was forced to pick up at least once a week, which is not enough time to accumulate an enormous mess.  And, the house gets cleaned regularly in addition to being neater.  I love having a clean house; I just don’t want to be the one who has to clean it.

But now, in our apartment, it seems ridiculous that I still don’t want to spend my time cleaning it.  I am happy to have a reason to have to clean it now–we still have piles of excess stuff lining the wall of the entry hallway that we haven’t figured out what to do with yet.  The whole place could really use a good scrub.

Unfortunately, I get an instant message from my friend telling me that she and her fiancé will not be coming after all.  As it turns out, two of her team mates have health issues that preclude them participating in the race.  Since the boat requires four rowers, my friend won’t be racing after all.

I’m bummed–I was really looking forward to having friends come to see us.  Pat and I discuss the change of events that night and decide to take advantage of my planned day off since I’ve already cleared my calendar and I need to use up my vacation days or lose them.  We decide we will go hang gliding on Friday with the thought that it will be less busy on a week day and we will get more flights in that way.

The next day, I call the flight park and schedule time on the training hills both Friday and Saturday.  That settled, I decide I will not worry about cleaning up the apartment and will focus on keeping up with work instead.  That gives me pretty much unlimited time to work, besides sleeping, eating, and working out.  I’m secretly relieved that I can continue to ignore the state of the apartment for a while longer yet.

I suppose if we had a place to put everything, I would be less overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning.  But having to figure out what to do with a bunch of stuff that I’ve already tried to figure out what to do with at least a half a dozen times before makes the whole notion seem like way too much effort.

For a moment, I wonder if I could call that TV show that comes and puts your stuff in 3 piles:  keep, donate/sell, trash.  It feels like we’ve gotten rid of so much stuff in the process of downsizing that there wouldn’t be much left to deal with.  What we really need is someone to organize what’s left.  But, there’s no point in getting organized when we have temporary living accommodations, so I decide to look the other way instead.

When I turn away from the mess and look out the windows, I see the moon rising over our apartment.  I turn my attention to capturing the moon, which seems far more interesting than cleaning the apartment.

One Small Chirp for Man; One Giant Mistake for Womankind

It starts with a small beep. A high-pitched chirp that demands my attention even though it’s coming from somewhere outside the apartment. It sounds like a smoke detector with a low battery, but our smoke detectors are wired. Every 15 seconds, “Chirp!” It’s like an alarm clock with a leak.

During the day, I manage to distract myself most of the time. I cannot hear it over my headset when I’m on the phone. For the first time, I find myself looking forward to conference calls.

But at night, I lay in bed waiting for the next chirp to come. Finally, I pull out the iPad, put in some ear buds and watch a show from my cable company’s app until I nod off. Still, the next morning I wake up feeling like I’ve been fighting with that chirp all night long. My jaw has practically seized into a clench, my TMJ flares when I bite into an apple, and I am cranky. Cranky, cranky, cranky.

I wander around trying to hear where the stupid chirp is coming from. It could be on the roof. It could be next door. It could be below us. After I’m dressed, I walk out into the hall and listen. Eventually, I determine the beep is coming from next door. It go back inside and check the time. It’s only 6:30AM. I decide that a) it’s improbable our neighbor is there, listening to the chirp and doing nothing about it, and b) it’s too early to knock on her door to find out because I will wake up many other neighbors in the process.

For the next hour and a half, all I hear is “chirp!” I try taking my coffee outside. For once, there is very little traffic. I can hear the chirp even from the balcony when there are no cars driving by. I go back inside. Pat gets up. I ask him, “Do you hear that?” He looks at me like I’m insane. I am beginning to have memories of “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

At 8:00AM, I go next door and knock. No one comes to the door. I knock again, standing there, listening to the chirp echoing inside. One of the disadvantages of a loft-style apartment, by the way, particularly one with finished concrete floors, is that sound bounces all over the place. I wait for the next “chirp!” and then knock one last time. Another neighbor comes in with his dog. I smile, but don’t ask if he hears the chirping or not.

I go inside and tell Pat I’m going to send an email to the manager to see if maintenance can come without the tenant calling them. He is upset by this notion and tells me not to. When I ask him why not, his justification is because we watch TV loudly (to hear over traffic noise) and no one complains. I give him a look. I cannot understand his logic on this–it’s like he thinks I’m telling on the girl next door for having a chirp. After much debate, I finally decide to give it a day.

I make it through the day, but the chirping doesn’t abate. I tell Pat I’m sending an email and, once again, this leads to a debate. Now, I am irritated with him. I cannot understand how he can think it’s a bad thing to tell maintenance that there is something wrong in the apartment that needs to be addressed when the resident is clearly not home to take care of it herself. Finally, the core of the argument seems to hinge around Pat’s assumption that our neighbor must have something in the apartment that belongs to her that’s beeping whereas I tend to assume it’s something that goes with the apartment. I allow Pat’s anxiety about upsetting our neighbor infect my thinking and forego the email again.

But now, my ire has turned from the chirp to Pat. The chirp is now his fault. Every time he is in he room, I wait for a chirp and then say, “Did you hear that?” What I discover is that he can’t hear it most of the time. Only if there is absolutely no background noise and he’s listening for it is he able to hear it at all, and even then, it’s so quiet to him that he’s not annoyed. Now I am doubly angry. He doesn’t want me to solve the problem because it’s not bothering him!

For reasons I do not understand, instead of just ignoring Pat and sending the email to the manager, I’m now pissy about absolutely everything. The apartment is a mess; there’s too much clutter that we still need to find places for. That is Pat’s fault. I stand up without realizing my foot is asleep and sprain my left foot. That is Pat’s fault too. I am tired and sore and it’s raining and I need to get away from that incessant chirp! All of it is Pat’s fault.

His tenacity is remarkable. Four days later, the chirp is still going and so am I. I’m amazed that he hasn’t begged me to write a letter to the manager by now. Instead, he just seems puzzled as to why I’m so irritable. Even when I explain that I’m not sleeping well because of that damn chirp, he doesn’t believe that the chirp (which by now he seems to think is just a figment of my imagination) could possibly disturb my sleep.

Finally, on Saturday, Pat walks out to get something out of the car and runs into movers coming out of the apartment. He asks them if they heard a chirp and they say no. Now I’m really pissed. Pat feels like he’s taken action to resolve the problem, but all he’s done is prove that I have better hearing that a total of 3 men. However, at least it eliminates Pat’s argument that I will upset the neighbor if I report the chirp. I sit down and send a note to the manager.

Of course, the manager won’t get the note until Monday. This is Pat’s fault, too.

A funny thing happens to me when I’m overly tired. I start dropping things a lot. Usually little things. This time, it starts with the hair clip I use when I wash my face. I drop it, pick it up, and drop it again. I pick it up a second time and it falls from my grasp before I can even stand up again. Next, it’s my glasses. Same thing. Three drops in a row. Then, it’s a bottle of beer, which I drop only once because it shatters on the concrete floor. Each time I drop something, my temper ignites. By the third drop, I can literally feel the anger shooting through my body in a trail that runs from my toes to the top of my head. If I were a rocket ship, I would be airborne. Thankfully, the weekend distractions keep me from completely losing it. When we are out of the apartment, I feel much, much better.

We both live through the weekend. Monday, I get a note from the manager that maintenance will be over the next day and they will fix it then. I decide to concentrate on ignoring the chirp. It’s like the old trick where someone tells you not to think about elephants and that’s all you can think about. Fortunately, it’s a work day and I spend most of the day with my headphones on. The weather has also warmed up again and I discover that sleeping with the ceiling fan on helps drown out the chirp.

The next day, I hear men in the apartment next door, but the chirp is still going strong. I walk over and knock on the door. When the door opens, the chirp echoes even more loudly with the apartment empty and the door open. I look at the men inside and ask if the can hear it. They look at me like I’m playing a joke and they are waiting for the punchline. After a moment, one responds that they have to get batteries for whatever it is (maybe it is a smoke detector after all). I explain that I just wanted to make sure they could hear it because my husband can’t and he thinks I’m insane. The men laugh at this and assure me it’s loud and clear to them. I am relieved to know I am not crazy (well, at least not in this particular way).

I return to work and am on the phone for several hours straight. When at last I take off my headset, I am still thinking about work as I get up to grab a bite to eat. Suddenly, I realize I feel a little happier and less annoyed than I’ve felt in days. I freeze and listen. The chirping has stopped! I sigh with relief. But when Pat comes home that evening, I am annoyed again. I don’t know why I’m annoyed with him because I let him talk me out of solving my problem a week ago, but I am.

I suffered through that incessant chirp for a week because I listened to him. I suppose I must first stop being annoyed with myself for listening. Then, I must stop being annoyed with Pat for thinking it’s more important to avoid irritating the neighbor than to stop the neighbor from irritating his wife. I wonder how long that will take?

Back in Chattown

Having spent the night just outside of Lexington in a semi-frightening hotel, I am doubly surprised when the alarm jerks me out of a sound sleep.  First there is the expected surprise (sort of paradoxical, isn’t it?) of the alarm itself, but then I am also surprised to realize that I have slept through the night undisturbed.  I hop out of bed and get myself ready to roll quickly.  We have a 3 hour drive to home, today is a work day, and I have an important conference call this morning.  Fortunately, I was able to finish the presentation material last night and send it out for a quick review.  I check my mail to see if I have any responses.  Only one with no suggested changes.

We forgo the free breakfast that comes with the room (probably just cereal and bananas anyway) since it’s still a half an hour before the service starts.  We get in the car with me setting up to work from the car while Pat drives.  It’s early enough that nothing much urgent is happening and my cellular MiFi is getting sketchy reception as we get into the hills.  Deciding I’m as caught up as I’m going to get this morning, I put the work away and watch the sunrise over the mountains as we make our way from Kentucky to Tennessee.  It’s a gorgeous morning.

Pat starts nodding off at the wheel, so we stop for a break and to grab something to eat.  Then, we switch drivers.  I drive us the final stretch into Chattanooga.  It’s the first time I’ve been the one behind the wheel as we returned to our now hometown.  It’s only the 2nd time I’ve driven in Chattanooga since our move.  I get to experience some of the oddly banked curves of 27 as we round the city and cross the river to our exit.  I manage to drive us safely to our parking lot, but with the stop we made, it’s almost 9AM.  I grab all of my work related items and dash upstairs to get back online.

When I get online, nothing has happened.  My boss hasn’t sent me any comments on the slide deck.  No one in Australia responded to the replies I sent early this morning (already past their office hours).  I’ve still heard nothing from Singapore, Hong Kong, or China on any of the things I’m working on there.  And no one in any other part of the world sent me an email between 7:30AM and 9AM.  That hour and a half that I wasn’t able to check emails really wasn’t so critical after all.  I’m glad that I relieved Pat of driving rather than insisting I needed to be working.

During the day, fortunately during a break between conference calls (and after my most important call of the day was over), squealing tires and a big crash attract my attention.  Two cars have collided in the intersection below our balcony.  Since my camera is already set up, I indulge in a few quick shots from the window and then return to work.  I count the number of sirens required for this accident.  Both drivers are alone and both walk away with no apparent injuries, yet 3 fire trucks, 1 ambulance, and 6 police cars all come screaming to the scene.  This helps explain the ridiculous number of sirens that go by every day!  When I next look out the window, they are loading up one of the cars on a flatbed tow truck and sweeping the debris out of the street.  I get a few more quick shots and then forget all about the accident.

That evening, the sunset reminds me why I tolerate the sirens during the day for our view.  I talk Pat into going up on the roof with me so I can get a better shot of the sunset since there’s a building between us and the horizon to the West.  I watch the sun go down with deep breaths.  I slow down all of the anxiety-produced nervousness.  I settle into myself as I watch the sun settle into the landscape.

I think this is why I love to shoot–it creates stillness.  It stops the motion of time and pauses in a single moment.  While a photo stays in that moment forever, the photographer moves on to the next moment and repeats the process.  Between shots, I watch with an open mind and wide eyes.  I am eager to see what next will present itself.  All my senses feel alive and alert as I decide, “Is this the moment to shoot?  Is this?”  This is especially true during a sunset when I might shoot a hundred pictures of virtually the same thing–I watch for minute changes that make the scene worth shooting again.

Today, I am also working on some skills.  As much as I enjoy shooting, I am rarely really pleased with the end results.  Today I am practicing using a tripod and a remote shutter release in the hope of improving the sharpness of my images.  While I’m at it, I play with long exposures and car lights, which is always fun.  I also always try to improve composition.  Unfortunately, I’m finding the use of the tripod is making composition much more difficult.  In addition, my viewpoint makes getting the elements I want in the photo difficult to arrange around the rule-of-thirds.

Although I work on each of these things and take them into consideration as I set up for each shot, it is without anxiety.  After all, this is a low-risk activity.  If I don’t like the picture, I delete it.  Instead, I work with the tripod to figure out how to best position the camera for the composition I want.  I don’t worry so much about the rule-of-thirds for tonight.  I breathe into the sunset and push the button on my remote.  I feel calmness, serenity, and perhaps a little awe as I watch the light disappear.  This is why I shoot.