And now, we begin . . .

It’s time — past time — for me.

After the last 18 months, after the multiple health scares with my father, and family and friend drama, and just the sheer massive all day all week load at work, I don’t have a choice.  I have to make ME the priority above everything else.  

I’ve looked over my whole life — my job and career, my health, the statue of my finances, the fact that I’m working 24/7 as opposed to living — and realized I’m deep down in a pit in every facet of my life.

It’s time to climb out.

Three simple goals:

  • Get back in shape.
  • Get a new job or get my career moving again.
  • Make a plan to pay off my debts from law school and post-9/11 unemployment.

Three simple goals — on paper.

Three goals that are going to require lots of work, and finding the time to do that work.

But I have to take the time for me.  Otherwise, I’ll be broke, fat and unhappy for a long time.

Only an idiot wants that.

And I’m not an idiot.  At least not anymore.

I’ll be blogging with updates on the overhaul of my life.  I’ve also preset a number of posts so I can complete the review of Star Wars books, which I had plenty of time to read thanks to my hospital vigils, and I’ll add in other topics of interest as I go along.

Wish me luck.  And if anyone needs a talented in-house attorney — let me know!

My Goals for 2015

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t do ‘resolutions’ for the year, I set goals. Resolutions are too restrictive for me. The word ‘resolution’ implies that you are going to do or not do something all the time. Then, when you inevitably stumble trying to keep a resolution, it’s too easy to say ‘I failed to do x’ and go back to your old ways.

Goals, on the other hand, are something you work toward achieving. If you stumble – eat that cheeseburger, forget to post a blog on a particular day – you haven’t broken your goal, you’ve simply taken a slight detour on the way to achieving it.

I spent the first week of this New Year taking a long, hard look at the events of the last year and the lessons I’ve learned from them. They weren’t pretty lessons. My father’s illnesses taught me that I need to pay attention – a lot more attention – to my own health. I found that, in a crisis, you learn more about your family members than you wanted to learn, especially what they really think of you. Stress makes people just blurt out their actual feelings. Add in my work situation, the behavior of some coworkers, and I realized that, now more than ever, I want something else out of life than what I’ve gotten. Actually, I realized that I deserve a lot more out of life than I have right now. And so I’ve set some pretty ambitious goals for 2015, listed from least to biggest.

Goal Number 5 — Lose weight and get back in shape.

This goal will, I believe, be the easiest to meet this year. You see, I finally got a physical and discovered why my previous attempts all ended in failure. It wasn’t the food I was eating, or the frequency of exercise I was getting. No, it all came down to a tiny little gland in my throat.

My thyroid isn’t working.

The thyroid, for those who don’t know, is a one inch or so gland in your neck. For such a small thing it’s very important, because it produces the hormones that control your body’s metabolism and the functioning of your heart, digestive system, muscles and, oh yeah, your brain. Thyroid problems can lead to serious health issues or even death. My poor thyroid gland is trying its best, but it’s no longer capable of producing anywhere near enough hormones to keep my body running correctly.

Looking back over the last two years, I had every textbook symptom, from weight gain to exhaustion, brittle nails to mental fogginess. They started slow and sporadic and cascaded into a constant storm. I just never put the pieces together, blaming my weight gain and exhaustion on my massive workload or the stress of my father’s illnesses and the family dramas. Fortunately, this problem is easy to correct – I take an inexpensive hormone-replacement pill each day.

But that also means I no longer have any reason for not meeting this goal. My metabolism is humming along fairly normally, and better yet, Planet Fitness opened up a location five minutes from my house. That’s a measly five minute drive to reach a 24-hour, 365-day gym with all the bicycles, treadmills and weight machines I could want, not to mention a friendly staff to nag me into getting fit.

Oddly enough, I’m happy just thinking about the going to the gym. It’s great to have the energy to work out!

Goal Number 4 — The craft cabinet of doom.

I love to knit, make jewelry, occasionally sew and paint with oils. However, the last few years I’ve had no time in which to indulge myself. That did not stop me from stocking up on supplies, though, and as a result, the poor armoire in which I store those supplies is stuffed to bursting with yarn, fabric, beads and tubes of paint.

So this year, I will finish out those projects. I will knit – lots and lots of sweaters, scarves, hats, gloves, there’s a two-page list! I’m also going to bite the bullet and finish knitting a set of Avengers dolls. I’ve found some lovely decorative pillows on Pinterest which I plan to make, and the remaining fabric will go to cover magazine files and storage boxes. I’ve already sketched out several designs for necklaces and bracelets to use up all my stone beads, and then, in the summer, I’ll set up an easel outside and finish those abstract paintings I mapped out three years ago. There’s also some mercury glass I need to wrap up for the next set of winter holidays.

The trick to meeting this goal? Not being distracted by all the pretty, shiny, new ideas I find on Pinterest. Seriously, that site should carry a warning that it’s hazardous to your mental health – and your wallet.

Goal Number 3 — Publish a book.

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month (known far and wide as NaNoWriMo or NaNo for short) for a number of years. NaNo is the annual November insanity where 150,000 plus people across the world try to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It takes discipline, inspiration and no small measure of insanity to want to participate. The goal isn’t to end up with a clean, ready for publication book. It’s to write, consistently, dramatically, creatively, and to learn to trust your muse when you’re lead down a different path than the original intent of your story.

NaNo is not just a pointless exercise; it’s produced a lot of published works, including Water for Elephants and The Night Circus.

I’m not claiming to be in that class of novelist. But, as a result of my diligent participation in this annual exercise in masochism, I have three semi-completed books that hit well over that word count, and another two that hit the 30,000 word mark. Despite some interest, I’ve never actually had the time to follow through on publishing them, which involves a large amount of work to add additional scenes, rewrite the draft, edit the language and finally – gulp! – let the book loose into the world.

This year, I’m going to start in on that – on my own, so I can use the time I have as I find it and not be under deadline pressure from someone outside my life. I’m going to pick just one book, and take a fresh look at it. Do a proper outline, expand the plot I’ve already written, add in more characters where needed and do a better job at scene description. Edit it, spellcheck the heck out of it, give it to someone to read and tear apart, and then make the changes he/she suggests. Rinse, repeat, until I get it where I think it’s ready to be read by real people.

And then I’ll self-publish it. Amazon has a lot of self-published authors. I’ve bought some of their books and enjoyed most of them. So why not add one of mine into the mix and see how people like it? If they don’t? Well, I’ll still be able to add ‘published author’ to my list of accomplishments! And if they do like it, then I’ll consider the same treatment for some of the other things I’ve written, or the 19 ideas for books I’ve tucked into my projects list.

Goal Number 4 – A Job, A Career.

Okay. Deep breath here. For the first time, I’m going to honestly state what I want to do with my career.

And that is to look for something new in a job and . . .

Hopefully move to and work in – London.

That’s London, England, not London, Texas or any other state in the Union.

I think I’ve always been in love with Britain. My mom started me off by reading bedtime stories about King Arthur and Robin Hood. To this day, I devour every new book about them, as well as the wonderfully-convoluted Plantagenet family. My personal favorites are Eleanor of Aquitaine – that woman never let anything stop her for long! – and Richard II, who started well and ended so sadly. I’ve practically memorized Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, and the adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. My library makes sure I read all the latest British mysteries and novels.

My mother also bequeathed to me her love of movies, which only encouraged my addiction. I grew up watching British World War II dramas, Sherlock Holmes mysteries and every movie made from the great classics. If there’s a movie from the 1930’s to the present about England, Scotland, et al, odds are pretty good I’ve either seen it, have it queued up on online or am hunting for an old VHS tape of it.

My earliest memories of television are the same. They revolve around the classic Doctor Who and Masterpiece Theater, All Creatures Great and Small and period costume dramas. I’m pretty sure I was the only girl in my school who planned her schoolwork around Upstairs Downstairs. The only reason I still have cable? BBC America and PBS. Doctor Who, Law and Order UK, Downton Abbey (although I might prefer Upstairs out of nostalgia), so many other wonderful programs as well as my morning fix of BBC News.

For the longest time, I’ve dreamt of, toyed with, talked about the idea of moving to Britain and working there. But I never did anything seriously about it.

Why?

Well, for the sake of honesty, let me just point out that I have no actual long term personal or professional connections to London or to Britain. I was not born in Britain – although I do have a grandmother born in an EU country. I’m an American-trained, American-licensed in-house lawyer with a specialty in corporate operations, taxes, compliance and the internet, as well as a background as a business and HR manager. I have never worked in Britain – although I have some familiarity with its governance, legal and employment systems due to my employers having subsidiaries there.

Nevertheless, I want this. Life is too short to spend it pining for something and then regretting not doing it on your deathbed. I no longer have any ties to staying in the US, and I want to fulfill my dream of working in London. I want the joy of finally living in Britain, exploring all the places I read about and saw on television. I have a list, people, a list from high school, of places connected with the Plantagenet dynasty that I will need a solid year of weekends to see.

And if I don’t like it? Well, I could always come back to the States. But I think, given my adaptability and love of adventures, that I’d do just fine over there.

Now I just have to figure out how to get there. I’m a realist. I may not get a job there right away; maybe I’ll get a job that allows me to travel there frequently. After all, there are immigration laws and licensing laws and financial barriers in the way. The IRS penalizes US citizens who work abroad. But I can still start networking and examining how I can leverage my talents towards my goal, right? And even if I don’t get to London, right off, that process will be good professionally for me.

And that leads to the big goal.

Goal Number 1 – I Come First.

This goal is the most important. It’s me retraining my brain to accept that I should come first.

I was raised in a conservative family, and taught that as a girl I should always put other people and their problems ahead of my concerns. My mom gave up things regularly. My grandmothers did the same. And true to my training, I will cancel personal appointments so I can take on a new project at work or help a friend with a problem.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing – if, that is, I was just changing my haircut or manicure appointment or going to see a movie on another day.

But my ‘year in review’ showed me I don’t just put off little things. I cancel appointments at the garage for car maintenance and repairs. Vacations for which I’ve made reservations and waited all year. Financial things like balancing my checkbook. Even doctors’ appointments to deal with what turned out to be a serious health problem.

And that’s not good. At least, that’s not good for me. For the coworker with the last minute project, or the relative with a personal problem, it’s all good, because their work and worries get solved. Then I’ll scramble to take care of my own problems. Reality check: a lot of times my own problems don’t get handled, or at least, don’t get handled in a timely manner. It’s hard to squeeze more than 110 waking hours into one week.

And perhaps I wouldn’t have even considered changing things, until my father’s illness. When I learned just what certain members my family think of me, my life, and the things in which I am interested. I can sum it up easily enough – ‘what you want to do/currently do is stupid and unimportant, and no one works those kinds of hours so you’re just lying.’

I could be angry with them, or I could realize that they’re not going to change, there’s no use arguing with them, just release them and go on with my life.

I have to take care of myself – no one else is lining up for the task. And that means that I have to make sure my interests and concerns are handled by me in a timely manner. I have a right, just like everyone else, to keep my personal appointments. If people can leave in the middle of a project meeting for their dentist or their child’s school play, well then I can leave for a doctor’s appointment or to get my car repaired.

I’m not saying that I won’t continue giving my usual 100%+ at work. I wouldn’t know how to work any other way.

But it does mean that I’m going to make sure that if I have an appointment, I keep it absent a world-ending problem. And that I pay more attention to my own personal situations.

It’s only fair. To me.

Wow. I think I need to sit down now. That last one – that’s a big one.

Those five goals will consume this year.

Having said all that, we will resume regular postings now about Star Wars and books and things that need digitizing. Enjoy and Happy New Year to All!

2014 — A horrible success

Although 2014 was a horrible year for my family, especially my father, I am still grateful for the year. Because at the end, my Dad is still alive and with me.

I started off 2014 with a lot of hopes and dreams in my brain. I planned to work on advancing my career, getting myself back in shape, finally finishing and publishing the book I’d been writing for two years. I mapped out my goals, set out basic plans, joined a gym.

Then in February, my Dad had a heart attack. Although it turned out to be a minor one, it still was a heart attack in an older man with congenital heart problems.

Over the next month, Dad went through a variety of tests to find the reason for the attack. He then had to undergo not one, but two, heart procedures to correct this new problem. It was a physical strain on a man who prides himself on being strong and doing everything for himself. But he worked hard at recuperating, and by mid-year, he was almost back to where he was before the ‘incident.’

He even came to stay with me over the July 4th weekend. July 4th in Philadelphia is a lot of fun. There are parades everywhere – from the major ones in Center City to our township parade with fire engines and antique cars and marching bands from local schools. We ate ice cream under the stars, watched fireworks from my balcony, and did the usual tour of all the golf shops in three counties. The following weekend, I went home and spent more time with him. I am so glad I did.

Because the next weekend, in late July, he had a stroke. A massive, bilateral stroke that left him comatose. He was transferred to a critical care unit at a major hospital, where we learned the type of stroke he’d suffered was rare, and that the prognosis – was not good. Essentially, we were told he probably would never wake up, would not make it out of the hospital alive.

They had obviously never met my Dad. He surprised everyone by waking up from the coma after a few days, and again began the long, difficult road to recovery. He learned how to breathe without a ventilator, and like an infant, started figuring out how to move his arms and hands and legs. The hardest part was relearning how to speak – the stroke left his larynx paralyzed, and you could see the frustration in his eyes when he tried to answer simple questions. But after two months, he had made enough progress to be transferred to a rehabilitation unit.

And ran into another problem, his third of the year – the nurses discovered a pre-cancerous condition. Back to the hospital he went for another round of surgery, and a reset of his recovery from the stroke.

But regardless of all these illnesses, my Dad is still here, still fighting, still determined to recover. Although he requires care and is in a nursing home, in just the three months from the last round of surgery, he’s now able to feed himself, stand and walk a bit, talk to everyone about everything and is incredibly happy Notre Dame won its bowl game.

He’s even able to come home for short periods of time – he spent part of Christmas with us, as well as the bowl game and New Year’s Eve.

Knowing my Dad, he’s probably planning on being discharged and back to normal by next Christmas. But I don’t care if he doesn’t make that goal, because my Dad is still here, and more importantly, still my Dad The happiest day of 2014 for me was about three weeks after he woke up from the coma – when I walked into the room, said “Hi Dad” and heard him say “Hi Shel” back to me. He appears to have had suffered little to no mental impairment as a result of the stroke, for which we are all so grateful.

So, despite achieving none of my stated goals for 2014, I count this year as a success. Because we pulled together as a family, and because Dad showed us once again how to be strong and successful and how to never give up.

I just hope 2015 is a quieter, safer year for him.

Why net neutrality is important

Why does net neutrality matter? Two reasons. First, there’s no improvement in speed planned, which means those who don’t pay will be slowed down from today’s speeds which will make accessing basic websites problematic.  Second, slower speeds on websites will affect more than your Netflix or Facebook account – slower speeds will impact your ability to pay bills, access your bank accounts, renew your driver’s license and even register to vote!

No improvements in infrastructure are planned . . .

I may have missed it, but I haven’t seen that the carriers plan to dramatically improve the infrastructure of the Internet in the United States to provide a ‘fast lane.’ Just for the record, by every measurement I have seen, our Internet access speeds are slow when compared to the rest of the world. In fact, depending upon the measurement you use, U.S. connections rank behind some countries we would consider third world nations. In the absence of any improvement in the infrastructure, what will happen is that whoever pays for faster access will get the same speed they have now – and those who don’t pay will have their pages and services slowed down from today’s benchmarks.

Slower access will impact your daily life, not just your Netflix account

Why does it matter if a website slows down? Because the Internet isn’t just about Netflix and Facebook. It’s about paying your bills AND YOUR TAXES, accessing your bank accounts, renewing your driver’s license and even registering to vote! And we might have to forget about checking our business emails 24/7 or working from home.

Tried to pay a bill lately? You either need the Internet to access the company’s website – or you may pay a fee to receive a paper bill and use the phone or a check to pay. (This assumes, by the way, that you get the bill in your hands in a timely fashion to make that payment by phone or check, not at all guaranteed under today’s mail services.)

Most of my service providers have gone paperless – they will charge me if I want paper records, and some now have a service fee for paying by phone or check. Some of my providers’ pages already have access issues (my cell phone provider, for one). I’m quite sure that if they must pay for increased access to the Internet, a fee will be tacked onto the already-outrageous number of fees I pay for basic services.

The same with banks. Again, they’ve gone paperless. You need the internet to get your statement, balance your checkbook, and use the website to make bill payments. Want those records in paper? You’ll have to pay for it, and then experience the same problem with fees if the banks must pay more for access to the Internet.

Want to renew your driver’s license, or the car registration? You can either wait to get a renewal in the mail (see the previous comment about timeliness, I got my car registration renewal notice a week AFTER it was due), or hit the Internet.

Voting is the foundation of our Republic, right? So how do you register to vote, or change your party affiliation? You need the internet. My county requires me to access the form online. I actually asked a couple of years ago if they could send me a paper form in the mail. The girl I spoke to didn’t even know to what form I was referring. Same problem with communicating with your elected representatives – you need the Internet to keep track of what they are doing, how they are voting, and in some cases to contact them with your concerns.

As goes voting, so goes taxes. You want to file a return and pay the taxes owed, you need the internet. Oh, you can still use a paper return, and a check. But that paper form will take months to process. And if you’re filing on behalf of a business? Forget paper. I handle corporate taxes, and the Federal government and most states don’t allow my company to file a return or pay taxes using paper – we’d be assessed fines and penalties if we did that! I am quite sure the states aren’t going to pay for faster access, which means the slow-loading pages they already have are going to be positively moribund come tax season.

Most of us are now required to be connected to our offices 24/7. I’ve had to check emails, review documents and edit them at midnight. On bad weather days, when it’s impossible to get onto the roads, I’ve had to work from home. I don’t see most businesses paying for faster access to the Internet so I can look forward to waiting for Outlook to load, and delays as my emails to go out and come in. Slower response times will definitely endear us to our employers, I’m sure.

I could go on, but you should have gotten the idea by now. The country AND the carriers have spent the last decade urging us to go online and transitioning all services to the Internet. Now, when there are no longer free redundant systems in place, the carriers want us to pay to access basic and necessary services essential to daily life. I don’t believe that should be allowed to happen. Do you?

If you don’t September 15th is the last day to make comments to the Federal Communications Commission about net neutrality at http://www.fcc.gov/comments. 

 

 

 

National Haiku Day

 

Happy National Haiku Day!

According to the online calendars, today is National Haiku Day (also National Bat Appreciation Day). A haiku is a form of short, traditional Japanese poetry.  Haiku generally follow a set number and pattern of beats (5 accents, then 7, then 5), and celebrate everyday life.

I am a terrible long-form poet, but I can manage to come up with short, concise observations of daily life.  And so, in honor of this day, I present three original works.

 

Longing for spring break, A student whines at teachers Who hold him captive.

A delighted bee Dances between pink blossoms Waving in the wind.

Brightly-colored ducks Zig-zag through silver-blue waves Beneath the full moon.

 

Happy spring, everyone!

More Claudia — digitized!

Publishers really do listen to readers — because books 2, 3 and 4 of the Claudia mystery series have been digitized!

I’d described Marilyn Todd’s Claudia series in an earlier post. The books, set in early Rome, feature Claudia Seferius, on paper the widow of a wine merchant from the upper class. She has a business to run (and no idea how to manage that task), questionable friends from all strata of society, an annoying nobleman-investigator who’s constantly “interfering” in her life, and a teensy, tiny little gambling problem. Oh, and a tendency to fall, trip or run headlong into murders.

The series was published mostly only in Europe, and it can be difficult to find the books at a reasonable price, particularly the first 9 which were only published in paperback. However, last year I discovered the first book, “I, Claudia,” had been issued in a digital format. I’d only sent off a request for a Kindle version to the publisher every week for the last year! Untreed Reads is bringing the books out in e-pub, Kindle and Nook formats, at last!

Book 2, Virgin Territory, followed a couple of weeks later.

Spoilers below for some elements of the individual books in the series, although I’m only offering brief plot summaries.

Claudia, disconcerted to realize she’s actually expected to run her husband’s wine business, jumps at the opportunity to get out of town and away from her oh-so-onerous business responsibilities. She agrees to accompany a Vestal Virgin back to her family after the completion of thirty-years’ service to the goddess Hestia. After starting the journey, Claudia realizes there’s a little problem — she saw all the Vestals earlier in the season at a major holiday, and the woman she’s traveling with was not one of them. Oh, and she’s fairly certain the fake-priestess is not completely sane. Matters only get more confusing when they reach their destination and Claudia’s companion is recognized, and welcomed, as the daughter they’d sent off to the temple. If she wasn’t serving as a Vestal, just where has the woman been for thirty years? And why are people connected to her childhood suddenly dying? As second books go, it was solidly entertaining, and interesting in that you got a look at elements of Roman society that were not based in Rome itself. I found the twist at the end about the woman’s identity to be a bit unbelievable at first, but realized after a second reading that my assumptions as to the plot’s believability were based on how modern society works — not how a rural farming community without any means of rapid communication would have functioned.

Book 3, Man Eater, followed hard on the heels of Virgin Territory. Claudia just can’t win. She ran away from her business and straight into murder in the second book. Now she races to handle a problem at her business — and runs straight into a murder again. This time we travel to the northern countryside, where Claudia is ambushed and ends up convalescing at a training facility supplying animals to those Roman games on which Claudia just loves to wager. The characters, the facility — even some of the sub-plots, they all reminded me of old black-and-white mystery movies, where everyone had dark secrets and any one of the characters could have been the murderer, but in the end, the resolution of the mystery was so apparent that you could not believe you hadn’t figured it out earlier. Overall, well-plotted, lots of action, and another glimpse into a Roman world we’d rarely seen before Gladiator.

And now I’ve bought Book 4, Wolf Whistle, where Claudia has to confront memories of her real earlier life when her good deed of rescuing a street urchin rewards her with a serial murderer, thugs running a slavery ring, and the ever-more-persistently determined-to-save-her-from-herself Marcus Orbilio. By this point, if I were Claudia, I’d have sold the wine business and emigrated to the furthest country outside Roman’s empire. I plan to read this treat this weekend.

Overall, the books thus far have lived up to my memory of them — good plots; interesting characterizations; a heroine (if Claudia lets you call her that!) who’s funny, abrasive, determined, arrogant and desperate to ignore her impulses toward caring for others; and glimpses of everyday Roman life, not just the historic events we see in blockbuster movies.

Now I’m off to harangue the publisher to bring the rest of the series out. I can’t wait to get to books 6-9 which I never got to read!