Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Idea Overload

Dear Readers,

I've got kind of an Andy Rooney vibe going on at the moment, mainly due to the fact that I received one of my regular e-newsletters from Better Homes & Gardens proudly proclaiming "124 DIY Decorating Ideas."


I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the trend of media companies throwing tons of information your way, in an attempt to be all things to all people. If I even was into DIY decorating (and if you've seen my home, I clearly should turn in my woman card because it's obvious decorating is really not my forte), I don't want to sift through 124 different projects, which are probably on 124 different web pages so that I'll see 124+ different ads.

BHG is not the only culprit. I also hate the cooking-related e-newsletters that contain 50 chicken recipes so that I can "quickly" choose something for dinner tonight! By the time I look through those 50 recipes, dinner might have been close to done. How about picking five that work with different kinds of dietary restrictions (low-carb, dairy/gluten-free, etc.) and showing me those? Then next week, send me another five? I'm really more apt to browse them then.

This is all really just a lament for what appears to be the dying art of editing. The "more is better" mantra keeps pervading everyone's thought process just when nobody seems to have the time to do anything. Oh, I understand the need to sell ad space and make money off your website, but when you're shoving so much information down my throat that I won't even open your e-newsletter or read your article, that's a lost cause and a waste of a company's money too.

But if they still don't understand, I can write up an article called "27 Tips for Editing Your Information." I've just got to sell some ad space first.

Your pal,

Monday, January 23, 2012

Nominee for Best Day of the Year

Dear Readers,

One for the records: Last Friday was The Day.

The Day is the most important day of winter. I never know when it will happen, but when it does, nothing could make me happier.

I'm talking about the day when I first notice that the days are getting longer. The day when I know that spring and summer--!-- are officially going to come and that it will get warmer. This is especially meaningful because I work in a drafty home office that's located directly above a stairwell. That whole scientific concept about bridges icing faster also applies in my house. The Day gives me hope that my work environment will once again be pleasant and not reliant on fuel oil and a space heater.

Most evenings I walk to the commuter rail to meet the Boy when he's coming home from work. The two-mile round trip gets me out of the house and gives me a little bit of exercise. I usually leave the house about 5:25 in order to meet him on time. In winter, it's usually a more difficult trek--it's dark, cold and sometimes icy/snowy; I'm wearing a dark coat; cars don't necessarily see me (though in Massachusetts, that's the norm). But when The Day comes, it's the start to the end of all of that for another year.

On Friday, I walked outside to go to the train station, and I saw it: The faintest hints of blue and orange far on the western horizon. It didn't last long--maybe five minutes at best--but it was there. And it's just a harbinger of days to come.

Therefore, I'd like to nominate The Day for Best Day of the Year. Some people might say Christmas is the best day of the year, or Mother's Day, or the First Day of School. I think The Day is right up there with them and worthy of such recognition.

Your pal,

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fun with Buttermilk

Dear Readers,

The other week I was at the grocery store, and thinking it would be nice to make some whoopie pies, I picked up a quart of buttermilk.

A couple of days later, I was at a different grocery store, and I thought it would be nice to make some whoopie pies, so I bought a quart of buttermilk.

A couple of days after that, I was digging through the fridge and discovered that I had two quarts of buttermilk.


My whoopie pie recipe only calls for a 1/2 cup, so I'm used to never really finishing a full quart of buttermilk in the first place. But I hated the idea of wasting nearly two quarts of buttermilk, so I decided to go on a bit of a rampage.

This week, by the time both quarts expired, I managed to make:

  • 1 batch of buttermilk biscuits (very flat)
  • 1 batch of mac & cheese (which is not the world's best, but it's sufficient for my lunches)
  • 2 batches of scones (fruit, chocolate chip)
  • 3 batches of whoopie pies
And I used all but probably a 1/2 cup or so of buttermilk. Not bad. Though if you can use buttermilk a day or two beyond its sell-by day, I may have the chance to make something else this weekend. Then I'm declaring a buttermilk moratorium.

Your pal,

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why Don't You Use It?

Dear Overzealous Product Reviewers (including normanj.moxey),

We all know that the Internet has made shopping a lot easier. Don't know if you're going to like a product? Check out the user reviews! Give your star rating! Speak your piece! Tell the world how they should or shouldn't buy said product/use said service/go to said restaurant!

However, reviews are only good if you actually use said product or service.

I was looking around for some compression software on CNET today, and I thought I'd check out the user reviews for one item, since it got high star ratings. Only 3 reviews, one of which didn't comment, one of which was helpful, and the other--by the above normanj.moxey--which said, "I have only just downloaded this software? Not used yet".

Oh, you're helpful, Norman. How'd you come up with a 4-star rating?

Granted, maybe that review was plant or a robot or something else, but this is not an isolated incident. How many times have you looked for reviews, only to find garbage, and that's what pushed you over the edge to take up online product reviewing as a hobby yourself?

Let's make our reviews better, people. Because I don't want to have to start reviewing products myself.

Your pal,

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Threshold Phrases: Useful Warning Device?

Dear Readers,

Yesterday I realized that I've pretty much acquired a threshold phrase, something you say when you've had enough and if you're going to have to deal with much more stupidity, everyone in the general vicinity is going to get it.

Bill Cosby's wife has a threshold phrase, which he describes in one of my favorite Cosby routines, "The Same Thing Happens Every Night":

In the past I often quoted a comedian whose name I can't remember, who said that she was "up to here," ostensibly also holding her hand up to someplace on her body (I usually would signal somewhere around my eyes). "When I'm full, you're in trouble." Or something like that. 

Now it seems like I've developed my own saying. Like many things, it just happened organically, and over the last few months, there have been a few events where it's the only thing I wanted to say. I'd give myself points for creativity, but my phrase unfortunately involves both swears and breaking a Commandment, so I'm not exactly proud. I just thought I'd let you know, in case you happened to be near me if it pops out of my mouth.

My threshold phrase first came up this fall during tournament season. At South Centrals, I started getting sick. I developed a bad cough, so I started taking the Dayquil/Nyquil combination. By Day 3, being a Hackety Ann really started working my nerves, so a mess of tiny things that irritated me became a large pile of nonsense, and if anyone did anything remotely off, I just wanted to snap, "I SWEAR TO FUCKING GOD!" and then tell said person how to get it together.

For the record, I didn't really have many problems at South Centrals, so how I came up with this phrase is beyond me. It could've been dealing with things for the tournament that was to come. It could've been a side effect of Dayquil, one of which is possible "excitability," but taking the Lord's name in vain doesn't appear on that list. And speaking of taking the Lord's name in vain, if you consider this action to be lightly throwing His name around, but I reserve this phrase for times of utmost gravitas, am I really breaking a commandment? [Don't answer that.]

I did make it through the tournament without tearing anyone's head off, and then it was on to Indianapolis, where, because my cold wasn't getting better,  I continued with my Dayquil/Nyquil treatment program. In fact, at North Centrals, you could tell which laptop on the dais was mine just by locating the ever-present bottles of diet Coke and Dayquil, both of which I chugged at regular intervals. By this point, I'd long given up using the little plastic cup that came with the cold medicine and figured that self-dosing was a better way to quench the cough.

I'm not going to lie: Heading up a tournament can be a little stressful. Even though North Centrals was pretty organized, problems still cropped up. By the end of Day 2, I was on my 4th printer; I'd had to painstakingly go through paperwork to figure out why an error occurred; and I had had to make some tough staffing decisions. Around 2 AM when I opened up my laptop to finish populating some spreadsheets for the last day's paperwork, I was about out of patience. 

Then I checked my e-mail and had one from the Head Ref of my next tournament. The tournament that was a month away. This e-mail was a response I was cc:'d on that was asking about staffing in terms of a marketing task that had to happen (later I found out this hadn't happened well at North Centrals, which was mostly my fault, but on the other hand, I didn't know I was supposed to do said task in the first place. Still, I'm sure the marketing person was pretty much at a similar threshold point with me).

Anyway, the Head Ref innocently responded that he and I would be working on assignments early in the week and we would have them finalized by the beginning of the next week.

When I read that, I lost it. And I lost it in either the best or worst way possible: By replying to said Head Ref. Early in the next week?! As in day after the tournament?! I was still traveling! I was heading up to the Region to visit the family and wouldn't get back to Boston until extremely late on Wednesday! Not to mention that I was still sick--and had probably contaminated two entire officiating staffs--and all I wanted to do was sleep and not start almost every sentence with, "I SWEAR TO FUCKING GOD," illustrated with examples--to apparently prove that I may have been delirious at that point. 

After hitting "send," I shut it down for the night. I was at the point where the spreadsheet cells were swimming in front of my eyes, and I could no longer put numbers in alphabetical order [standard practice: It's kind of like arranging numbers by the Dewey Decimal system, since usually officials say them digit by digit instead of whole number form]. Better to get a little bit of sleep and crank out the paperwork in the morning than to stay up and do it incorrectly.

Come morning, my inbox held a directive:
Deep breath.

Finish the day strong.

We'll make this happen without any major freakouts.

I took the deep breath. And instantly felt better, which was good because right then I was discovering that I would be getting printer #5, so the zen moment helped. But not to the point where I didn't also offhandedly comment to my current Head Ref that I'd like to start every sentence with my threshold phrase. To which he replied that he knew exactly what I meant. Still, we did finish the day strong. And I didn't need to freak out--especially at anyone in particular, so it was a win-win.

One might think this is something I just would use in a roller derby sense, but at Champs, I didn't feel I got to that point. Sure, I had some massive issues with our scoreboard setup, but that was the one big problem of the weekend. One that I probably showed way too much frustration about, but at least I didn't have many other problems that piled onto that to make me want to swear (to fucking God. In all caps). [It may also have helped that Champs has 5 fewer bouts than a Regional and only 2 bouts on the last day vs. 5, so there's not as much to do on Day 3.]

And it's not stress + sickness either, because I've hit my threshold point at the voting polls, and I've been perfectly healthy for both elections I've worked. I've started Election Judging in my town, and while I love this gig, the long day (6:30 AM to ~8:30 PM, depending on how quickly you can close up shop) and the different personalities have a way of quickly breaking me down so that by the end of the night, I can no longer deal with small talk and being in close proximity to a lot of people (I work alone, you know); I can no longer deal with elderly people who may cling to doing a position they can no longer focus on by 6 PM; and I SWEAR TO FUCKING GOD, I can't deal with the desire to overstep boundaries in what we can and cannot do in the hour before the polls close if it's not busy.

Last night, after a long day working a poorly attended special election, I explained my threshold phrase to the Boy, mostly as a PSA, which I'm also now telling you. I consider myself a fairly patient person (I can probably get some references, if you'd like), but I'm now aware that even I have a breaking point, and everyone probably needs to be in on what that point is. At least it's one that identifies itself so that we can all prepare for what might happen in case I actually blow.

Your, for the time being, mellow pal,

Thursday, January 5, 2012

How Much Do You Need?

Quote of the day: "As long as you're no longer living in a garage and shitting in a popcorn tin ---- how much money do you fucking need????"

My friend Missy sent me an e-mail complaining about the new stars of "Celebrity Apprentice." Not that she watches the show (though I sometimes do), but she was procrastinating, saw the list and then marveled at how Botoxed and/or Photoshopped everyone looked....and why in the world was Adam Carolla stooping to do this show.

I responded that he probably needed the money to maintain his lifestyle, not to mention his little business venture of having his own broadcast studio.

Missy then responded with the above quote, which has had me chuckling ever since.

Money's been a hot topic around the house lately, since it's time to talk to my accountant. Did I make more money this year over last? Yes, but that's still not saying much in the grand scheme of things. I did make more than my first job out of college, which is progress, though if you think a file clerk racks in the big bucks, you'd be sorely mistaken. 

Still, my business is improving, and I'm fairly content with this year's results, considering the effort I put in. Would I like to make more money? Well, sure. There are a ton of things I want to do and buy, and I need money for them. However, I'm not living in a garage, and I'm not shitting in a popcorn tin, so even though my income isn't the greatest, I think I'm probably doing OK in the grand scheme of things. I would like to not live in an apartment and shit in a low-grade bathroom though, so that means it's time to look for more work. Mr. Trump, are you casting?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

While I Was Away

Dear Readers,

Oh, it's been a WHILE, hasn't it?

In my office, I have a shelf next to my desk, and on it I tape pictures and a calendar and other reminders that I need to quickly reference. As I pulled off these three things that I don't need for 2012, I realized they pretty much sum up the last half of 2011:

First off, we have a Field Notes calendar. I love Field Notes (I prefer them to Moleskines), and with one of my orders, they included this handy one-page calendar. It was the perfect calendar when I needed to quickly find a day and date. This year I ordered a special page-a-month Field Notes calendar, which is nice, but I miss the simplicity of the one-pager.

Next, there's a Boston Derby Dames 2011 schedule. Sure, derby occupied a lot of time in 2011, since I served my league as Head NSO (Non-Skating Official) and Officiating Committee Co-Head. Our July bout turned into a 4-bouts-in-3-days spectacular, which meant some extra work. I spent a chunk of that month (and August) catching up on writing NSO evaluations toward WFTDA Certification.

And then I got a few e-mails with regards to the last scrap of paper: The WFTDA Big 5 Tournament schedule. I love tournament season. You get to work with the best of the best officials from all over during a three-day tournament, and it's a great learning experience. With an afterparty. That might or might not involve a mechanical bull.

Last year I did Easterns and Championships, and this year I applied to work Easterns (in Baltimore), North Centrals (my old region, and since it was in Indianapolis, that was close enough for a visit to the parents), and Championships (in Denver). You'll note that these tournaments are all in the fall--well, the application process starts much earlier than that. Officials need to apply by June, they're vetted, and after a couple of months, you find out if you're in.

Tournaments involve a ton of organization and structure, but on the officiating side, the top dog is the Tournament Head Ref (THR), which is an elected position. Each tourney has a THR, and this person selects a Tournament Head NSO (THNSO), 3 Crew Head Referees (CHR), and 3 referee crews. The THNSO staffs the 3 NSO crews.

Near the end of July, I got an invitation to be a CHNSO for Easterns. I was excited because it was a good opportunity to expand my skills and learn some tournament crew management.

The next day, I got an invitation to be the THNSO. For Championships. Championships!

A few days after that, I got an invitation to be the THNSO for North Centrals.

WTF?!! I mean, I know I'm a good NSO and I'm organized and everything, but really? A CH and two THs? It was unbelievable.

And then South Centrals needed some extra NSOs, so I applied for that and got another CH position.

Needless to say, I was busy. Staffing two tournaments kept me up late for probably a week (on top of which, I had a regular home bout to deal with). For August and September, I flip-flopped between dealing with wrapping up the end of my league's season and organizing the two tourneys, both of which involved many more late nights (the Boy was both angry and amazed that I could go to bed at 3 AM and wake up at 7, full of energy). Before I knew it, it was time to travel.

Easterns was good -- my first time as a CH, and I was nervous as all get out. As a CH, you also work a position, and at Easterns I was a Penalty Wrangler, which is a pretty involved position, trying to help Penalty Trackers capture the penalties refs call as quickly as possible. This can be a pretty physical position, and I discovered that I did better if I warmed up before the bout (usually NSOs stand or sit...Wranglers have to move). The final bout was so fast that it just about killed me--it was like I had to do rounds of shuffles for an hour, with a 10 minute break at half time, during which I sat on the ground and sweated profusely.

My crew at Easterns did really well, though I tend to think that's more based on their talent than my leadership. Let's just say it was a massive learning experience for me, one that I really appreciate getting.

The next trip was South Centrals and North Centrals, a two-week trip. I had business in Indy as well, so I flew from Kansas City directly to Indianapolis and worked for the few days between tourneys to produce this article and hang out with this client.

South Centrals was awesome. I had another solid crew, and I did much better as a CH. Sometimes tourneys can be really magical. You never know what will make them that way, but this year South Centrals was pretty magical for me. I met so many great people, and the venue, hotel, and after-tourney food options were within walking distance, which is a massive plus.

That's not to say that the last two tourneys were not good--on the contrary, they were great, but it's different when you're a TH and don't work actual bouts. You prep paperwork, observe, and do general management. This, I happily discovered, is also a great job. It's a lot of work (and I mean, a lot of work), but it's so incredibly rewarding. At North Centrals, NSOs rocked positions in ways I didn't know they could be rocked. At Champs so many NSOs brought their A+ game that my jaw dropped more than once at the quality of work I saw. It inspired me so much [and the amazing thing is that no one notices it -- sure, if an NSO screws up, you notice it, but we blend into the background so much that nobody's looking at the really amazing work we can do].

Anyhow, the tourneys didn't really end in November. Once Champs was over, I still had to write evaluations. 111 of them, which is close to, if not actually the most evals someone was expected to write for tournaments this year. One might think, well why bother? Well, the certification process is important to me, and it's really hard for NSOs to get evaluations, which are an essential component of an application. It took me until after Christmas to finish it all, but I'm done, and now it's on to 2012.

So, what does the new year have in store for me? Well, in terms of work, things are going well, but I need to hustle to make it better. And blog more, of course. I'm no longer my derby league's Officiating Committee Co-Head, but I am now a WFTDA Officiating Clinic Instructor. So much change. It's sometimes it's hard to say good-bye to the old positions [I was pretty sad when Big 5 season ended, which is a nice way of saying I bawled like a baby], but the new doors that are starting to open seem to be really exciting to walk through. I just hope they prove to be that way.

I hope 2011 ended well for you too and that you have good prospects for this year. More soon--and by soon, I don't mean March.

Your pal,