2019 New Year’s Resolution- Do.

For me, the word of the year 2019 is:

DO

Online dictionaries provide various meanings for the verb ‘do’, including to:

  1. Perform an action or a particular task.
  2. Work on something to bring it to completion or to a required state.
  3. Solve or work out a problem.
  4. Act or behave in a specified way.
  5. Achieve or complete something.
  6. Finish something or being finished with something.

It is an action verb – you’re not dreaming about something, or thinking about maybe taking some action – YOU ARE ACTUALLY DOING SOMETHING.  Actually taking concrete and measurable steps towards achieving some goals.

As Yoda said, Do or do not, there is no try.  And for years now, all I’ve been doing is trying.  Trying to fit a workout program into a 75-hour work week.  Trying to look for a new job while doing the work of two people.  Trying to have a social life or write stories when I’m so tired after work that I just grab takeout and then fall asleep.

Somewhere in the last week, it occurred to me, when I was thinking about the fact that I fell asleep before 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve because I was too tired to stay awake:

There is plenty of time.  I’m just using it for the wrong things.

I’m giving my time away, to people who don’t appreciate it and for causes that will never provide a return to me anywhere near the effort I’ve put into them.

Time that belongs to me.

So this year is dedicated to  me doing.  Me getting that new job, by prioritizing a job search and actively networking.  Me getting in shape by making sure I work out.  Me having at least one social event a week, by seeing a movie, stopping in a bar to hear a local band, going to a museum.

That’s my New Year’s Resolution.  Just one.  Putting me first.

Me actually living my life and doing things to make my life a better one.

 

 

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!

I went, I saw, I cried!

I did go to the Sunnybank Gathering last weekend.

It was wonderful. And inspiring.

I’ll post a much longer entry, probably tomorrow, once I finish editing my pictures. What I will say right now is this:

I went to Sunnybank largely because it was someplace I’d wanted to go since I read Albert Payson Terhune’s books as a child. And while I was there, I found myself more relaxed than I’d been in a long time, happy, a bit sad (for a good reason) and above all, inspired.

The setting:

While the house is no longer there, having fallen into disrepair and then been torn down, there is enough left of ‘The Place’ to connect you to the books. You still drive down the narrow, winding driveway, where Wolf herded the harum-scarum puppies out of the path of early automobiles. There is now a parking lot where the house once stood, but if you can ignore that fact, exercise your imagination, you can look around and picture how it must have been to sit on the veranda of Sunnybank or walk its grounds.

The root cellar remains, you can see foundation stones from the barn peeking through the grass, and a replica of a puppy house has been installed where the original once stood. The pond has been filled in, but its foundations have been retained and now a stone frog leaps from a cluster of lovely grasses. The line of larch trees still marches down to the landing on the lake, and while I was there, no speedboats were cruising by — you could close your eyes, listen to the silence, and imagine yourself back at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

Or rather, you could listen to the barking of collies and think yourself back to Terhune’s time. So many collies (and shelties), in so many colors — sable and mahogany, tricolor, white, different permutations of merle, black and white — and all of them friendly and welcoming, even to total strangers like me. As if they were saying, welcome back to the place that made our breed famous! Along with collies, I saw borzoi, a chihuahua, a couple of other toy breeds, a staffordshire terrier (I think) and a corgi, who sported a bow for a tail.

I went to Sunnybank, uncertain what to expect. I got out of the car, said hello to the lovely ladies from Ohio getting out of the next car, and promptly was made to feel welcome. They gave great advice to this newbie on what to do first, outlined the whole day for me — and any hesitation I felt just melted away.

I did feel a bit sad (alright, I teared up!), when we went to the gravesites of the Sunnybank dogs. Yes, their graves have been preserved, at least those that could be identified a hundred years later. The kennel dogs are buried in one spot, along with two of the Township’s K-9 officers. The champions — known through many of the stories — are buried by Champion Rock, including one of my personal favorites, blind Fair Ellen. Bruce and Jean are buried elsewhere, and then, there is the patriarch, the dog who started it all, Sunnybank Lad. I’ll admit, when I saw that stone, “Lad, Thoroughbred in Body and Soul”, I wanted to cry.

But more than anything, I was inspired by my visit. Why? Because, this park, this preservation, was not undertaken by government. It was driven by people who love these books, love the dogs in them, love collies — and therefore entered into years of organizing, fund-raising, lobbying and politicking, all to save this little slice of American history. Not the usual ‘grand’ history of war or politics, but a personal, beloved history for so many people who grew up with these stories as part of their childhood. Ordinary people who took on a task of saving something personally important to them, and who continue to fight to save it, against the encroachment of time and ongoing vandalism.

A lesson to be remembered by us all. When it’s important to you, you can, and should, stand up and fight for it.

Upgrading

I think I just turned myself into a monster — for technology.

I don’t have wifi in my apartment. I mean, my apartment is small, the cord to my internet connection is extra-long, and I tend to sit in my comfy chair in the living room next to the cable outlet anyway when I’m working on the laptop. Why would I need wifi?

So I can work on my book while sitting in bed. (Okay, I’ll be honest. So I can work on my book for a bit and then watch Netflix while sitting in bed.)

Over the weekend, I went shopping for the necessary hardware, and being me, I spent a day researching and asking the pros for advice, before using up another day checking out the best price. And that’s when the bug bit.

While making my purchase, I happened to look over at a display and realized that prices for external hard drives have really dropped. I picked up a 3T one — trust me, between movies, music, books, fanfics and story ideas, I’m going to fill it up quickly.

Walking to the checkout counter, I passed the printers. Now, my laser printer is still working well — but the scanner is older and let’s just say it doesn’t play well with Windows 7. No, I didn’t buy one right then and there; at the time, there was no way to carry it all home with me. But I’m currently doing the research thing — I want a color laser multifunction with a flatbed scanner and possible two-sided printing, and I’d prefer it for less than $400. Still looking.

And in the course of looking — well, let’s see, so far I’ve pegged a new Roku, a blu-ray player (legitimately need one as mine was fried courtesy of a lightening storm), and a new TV to replace the extremely-elderly one whose picture is clearly going — the detectives on Law and Order UK intermitently have green faces.

All of which will need to be interconnected with the turntable, speakers, DVD carousel player (for movie marathons), DVD recorder, and iPod dock.

Oh, and with my laptop as well. The laptop that, over the weekend, acquired upgraded RAM, a new 1T hard drive, a spare battery and is now awaiting installation of some new programs.

All I wanted was a wifi connection . . . and that’s what I’ve been up to for the last few days.

Leaves

The leaves are changing colors.

Not just on one tree, or on a group of trees in one location. They’re changing color everywhere.

I’ve been running a lot of errands this last couple of days, and everywhere I’ve gone, I’m seeing signs of autumn. In August.

The tall maples outside Villanova’s law school building are orange and red along their tops. In Devon, the crabapples have random patches of yellow-orange, and out in Valley Forge, one of the back paths had a small pile of red-brown leaves under a tree already.

Not to mention that, outside my own door, several of the oaks have small lines of yellow running along their crowns.

Not to mention, there’s two maples along the wildlife sanctuary that have actually dropped all the leaves from the top third of each tree.

This does not bode well for the winter.

A happy lifestyle change

I am not dieting. Rather, in the words of Nora Roberts, I am undergoing a lifestyle change.

As I declared at the start of the year, I want to get back in shape. That desire has several components to it: lose weight, regain flexibility and endurance, eat balanced meals, drink lots of water. The holy trinity of activity, hydration and good food. Easy to say. Not so easy to do, as I’ve discovered.

I could plead the heavy workload on my job, a lack of time to regularly cook, the faint metallic taste of my local water supply. But excuses don’t solve anything — they just perpetuate the problem. So I make no excuses, and have instead embarked upon a lifestyle change.

“Her love of the quick and the greasy had sent her on an odyssey of fad diets, unsatisfying supplements, and miracle workout tapes through her late teens and early twenties. Until she’d finally slapped herself silly, tossed out all her diet books, her diet articles, her I LOST TWENTY POUNDS IN TWO WEEKS — AND YOU CAN, TOO! ads, and put herself on the path to sensible eating and exercising.”Blood Brothers, by Nora Roberts

That’s me, in one short and concise paragraph, both past version and determined present tense.

Growing up, my food choices, as established by my family, were not always the greatest. My mom cooked meals for us almsot every day, but looking back, they were in part a product of our heritage.

Ethnically, I’m a hodgepodge, as we discovered when my family traced our ancestry back to practically the Stone Age. On my Dad’s side, I’m a combination of Slovak, a bit of German, Russian and Lithuanian (maybe). I’m largely Polish on my mother’s side — but she came from a very old family, which has ancestors who are Ukranian, and more Russian, Cossack, Transylvanian and just about every Baltic ethinic group you can name.

In essence, my family inherited a cuisine that’s heavy on the well, heaviness. Lots of butter and cream, bread and potatoes, doughs and sweets, not to mention supersized portions long before Mickey D’s thought of the term. Dinners regularly featured a large serving of meat (beef, pork, occasionally chicken or fish), usually pan-friend or topped with some kind of sauce. A mountain of mashed or fried potatoes on the side, and a dessert, usually sweet cookies or a slice of cake or a Tastycake pie, to finish it off. We enjoyed pierogies, beef stroganoff, and mac-and-cheese, casseroles and breaded cutlets and large, juicy burgers topped with a load of cheese.

Oh, we ate vegetables too — after all, we had a garden. Peas, green and wax beans, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers. Depending on the year, we might be trying to grow brussel sprouts or beets (successfully), broccoli (not so successfully) or corn (which fed the deer). But the vegies were additions to the meal, not equal partners.

Not to mention that my family motto could be “No food left behind.” Second helpings (and thirds) were definitely encouraged. And for those occasions when my mom or gran didn’t have time to cook, there was always a trip to the Golden Arches for a Big Mac and fries and a nice chocolate shake.

Let me put it in perspective for you. Our traditional Easter breakfast consists of cold ham, bread and butter, eggs, hrutka (egg cheese), poppyseed and nut breads, and kielbasa. Oh, and a side of redbeets and horseradish. If that isn’t a heart-attack lying in wait, I don’t know what is.

Now, those menus were balanced by activity — long bike rides or walks to get anywhere, after-school band and sports practices, just plain playtime. Still, my taste buds and eating habits were formed early, and their training was to eat a lot of fatty foods.

Which brings me to the lifestyle change.

Over time, I gradually re=trained myself to cook healthier, and to eat a lot more vegies, more fowl and fish than red meat. But I’ve fallen back into old eating habits, and coupled with the lack of exercise (and an ankle injury a few years ago that sidelined me for a year), I’m no longer in fighting trim. At the start of the year, I tried ‘dieting’ – no-carbs, and then when that didn’t work, blood-sugar balancing. But there’s a problem with diets — it’s very easy to slip off the regimented eating schedules (a meeting that runs long, an unexpected business trip). And once you’ve slipped, you can easily make excuses to slip again. Because a diet is a temporary thing, something you go on, and go off when you finish losing the weight.

But a lifestyle change is just that – a permanent change. You are, in essence, re-educating your palate and re-training your brain about what foods you want to eat, and when. At the same time, you get your body used to steady doses of activity.

And that’s what I’ve been doing the last few weeks. I’ve stocked my kitchen with fish, fowl, lean cuts of meat. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a wide variety of farmers’ markets in the area, and I’ve gradually been working my way through them, learning which stalls offer the best and freshest and most unique vegies (Chinese long-beans anyone?). I’ve gathered together a plethora of recipes I’ve always wanted to try, dishes that are light on the sauces and place more of an emphasis on herb dressings.

I’ll still eat potatoes, rices, breads, but in sensible and occasional amounts. Oddly enough, desserts won’t be that big of an issue for me. I actually don’t like most cakes — the icing is a different story, but since you can’t get icing without cake, I’m safe. I do like cheesecake, but not enough to buy an entire cake and let it go to waste.

And soda’s also not an issue – I discovered years ago that I like the bubbles, not necessarily the taste. And so my fridge has a nice selection of sparkling mineral waters. I just have to commit to actually drinking the water, at least eight glasses a day.

That just leaves the activity portion of the program, which I’ll update on tomorrow.

Ouch

Getting back in shape will be the death of me yet.

Why is it when you start an exercise program, you always feel worse than if you sat on the sofa and watched Shark Week? Why?

In between prepping for my Company’s annual meeting (which went quite well), and all the projects at work and at home, I restarted my program to get in shape. It was one of my goals for the year, but I’ll confess — I massively fell down on this one. As in, regular visits to the gym were not in my schedule.

But I’ve turned over a new leaf — more on that later — and that new leaf includes the gym. After 5 days of walking, biking, stairmastering (is that a word?) and assorted yoga and stretching routine — I ache.

Okay, I more than ache. I’m seriously contemplating never getting off this heating pad. Ever.

More tomorrow on the whole hopefully well-thought-out healthy lifestyle change.

Right now, I’ve got to convince my body it wants to roll off the bed and seek aspirin.