Archive for September, 2006

Flat Top Mountain

After dropping off Jere Bidwell on Flat Top Mountain, the dogs and I went to check out a nearby lookout that was marked on the Gazetteer.  It was a pretty easy trip– we just followed a gravel road up to a series of radio towers.  Just when I thought the radio towers were the only sites to be seen, we turned a corner and found a gentle slope down to a clearing.  Lo and behold–that clearing sported some rocks and a pretty decent view:

All my pictures from this brief but satisfying outing are available on my website.

September 30, 2006 at 9:57 pm 1 comment

Congratulations to Jere Bidwell!

This morning, I woke up early and dropped an out of town hiker off at the Appalachian Trail on Flat Top Mountain.  This is the same hiker I dropped off a few weeks ago (refer to Summoning the Strength to Wuss Out)– a man by the name of Jere Bidwell.  Jere serves as a hike leader for the Charlottesville Chapter of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and for years now, he has been doing day hikes all around the state.  He’s been working towards hiking all of the Appalachian Trail miles in Virginia.  And today was the final hike he needed to complete that goal! 

Jere at the beginning of today’s hike

Finishing Virginia isn’t a trivial feat.  Virginia hosts 550 miles of the Appalachian Trail, the most mileage of any state and over a quarter of the entire trail.  Combine that with all the driving, logistics and shuttling that would accompany the individual day hikes, Jere has shown a great amount of dedication, drive and patience to complete his goal.

With that, I humbly submit my congratulations to Jere!

September 30, 2006 at 9:01 pm Leave a comment

Project Runway and Team Building

Last Friday, in celebration of Zero Defects Day my work had a team building exercise.  Employees were split into small groups.  We were given some wooden pallets, two chairs and the ability to buy other supplies (like bubble wrap, paper, tape measure, cardboard, etc).  We were allowed to use anything we found outside of the building (including our cars… if we had our keys with us).  Our assignment was to make a hotel room within 30 minutes.   Our team ended up winning.  In this kind of exercise, I think it pays to have people with a lot of junk in their cars.  🙂


The activity was quite fun and reminded me very much of one of the Innovation Challenges on Project Runway:

  1. You had to use a lot of creativity to turn junk into hotel amenities.  For example, our team made a toilet out of a bucket, a spare tire and the dirty lid of a styrofoam cooler (The stains make it more authentic, right?).  We also made a toilet paper holder out of an empty CD-R container I had waiting for Clint in my car.  That CD-R container had 100% utilization– we used the lid to make a lampshade. 
  2. Like the Project Runway designers, we had a time limitation. 
  3. We also had to keep in mind the objectives of the challenge and what the judges may be looking for.  Since it was Zero Defects Day, and the theme of the event was Continuous Improvement, Customer Satisfaction and Quality– we made sure to include a survey in our room to show that our hotel was concerned about the perceptions of our guests and that we took improvement seriously.  🙂
  4. Finally, we had to sell and justify our work to our judges.  I think our “tour” was instrumental to our win.  We had a number of great comedic public speakers on our team, but settled on Jeff S. to do our presentation.  He had the entire company and the judges laughing up a storm.

Unfortunately, the only pictures we have of our work are from a cell phone.  I do have all three precious pictures up on my Flickr account with markups showing the different items, what we made them from and why in the world some of those items were still in my car.    Enjoy!

Pictures on Flickr

September 27, 2006 at 8:01 pm 1 comment

Crossword Coincidences

In the weeks proceeding the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, the Allies found themselves a bit concerned with the crosswords in the Daily Telegraph.  Five of their codewords– Overlord, Utah, Neptune, Omaha and Mulberry appeared as answers in puzzles that appeared between May 2, 1944 to June 2, 1944.  It worried the allies so much that a counterespionage team at Scotland Yard (M.I.5) investigated the author, Leonard Sidney Dawe, and even showed up at his house to interview him on June 4, 1944.  From Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day:

“Mr. Dawe,” said one of the men as the questioning began, “during the last month a number of highly confidential code words concerning a certain Allied operation have appeared in the Telegraph crossword puzzles.  Can you tell us what prompted you to use them– or where you got them?”

Before the surprised Dawe could answer, the M.I.5 man pulled a list out of his pocket and said, “We are particularly interested in finding out how you came to choose this word.”  He pointed to the list.  The prize competition crossword in the Telegraph for May 27 included the clue (11 across) “But some big-wig like this has stolen some at times.”  This mystifying clue through some strange alchemy made sense to Dawe’s devoted followers.  The answer, published two days before on June 2, was the code name for the entire Allied invasion plan– “Overlord”

Dawe did not know what Allied operation they were talking about, so he was not unduly startled or even indignant at these questions.  He could not explain, he told them, just how or why he had chosen that particular word.  It was quite a common word in history books, he pointed out.  “But how,” he protested, “can I tell what is being used as a code word and what isn’t?”

The two M.I.5 men were extremely courteous: They agreed that it was difficult.  But wasn’t it strange that all these code words should appear in the same month?

One by one they went over the list with the now slightly harassed bespectacled schoolmaster. 

Dawe had no explanation for the use of these words.  For all he knew, he said, the crosswords mentioned on the list could have been completed six months before.  Was there any explanation?  Dawe could suggest only one: fantastic coincidence.

An old co-worker of mine, Chris Martz, got me hooked on the Roanoke Times Crossword (done by Eugene Sheffer).  I’ll have a few periods here and there where I don’t work on them regularly, but when I do, it isn’t unusual to run across a series of coincidences in the clues and the answers. 

It happens so much that I’ve written about crossword coincidences in my past journals, but I don’t have to tap into those today–  I have a fresh example to share!  Yesterday at Larry’s, I printed out a fresh Eugene Sheffer crossword and worked on it throughout the day. 

  • Pea
    Early on, I ran across the clue, “Cause of royal insomnia”.  It was a reference to Hans Christian Anderson’s The Princess and the Pea.  It was a story I had not heard a while, but it was still alive enough in my memory to know the answer.  Without saying a word, I filled in PEA. No more than ten minutes later, Larry Bowman starts mocking his daughter and her sleeping habits.  He ended his ridicule with asking her whether she had a pea under her mattress.
  • Hahn
    There was one trouble area in the upper right of the puzzle where I ended up being stuck.  When I had completed everything that I could, I decided to look up the answer to one clue I had little chance in knowing, “Physicist Otto”.  Four Letters and I knew _A_N.  It turns out it was Otto Hahn, a pioneer in radioactivity.  Once I had the two missing H’s filled in, the rest of the section was solved quickly. With the puzzle done, I moved on to another activity– reading Discover magazine.  The first article I started to read was called “20 Things You Didn’t Know About the Nobel Prizes”.  Number 13 and 14 both mentioned Otto Hahn– the very man I had just looked up.

It is occurences such as these that make me feel the Operation Overlord code words appearing in the Daily Telegraph was not that “fantastic” of a coincidence afterall. 

It seems to me that coincidences in crosswords are, in fact, commonplace.

September 24, 2006 at 1:41 pm 10 comments

Internet Legacies: Don’t Fire Al Groh

The last two seasons, my husband has been maintaining a site called DontFireAlGroh.Com, making fun of the inepitude of U.V.A.’s football coach. 

Well just like my cheerleader animated GIF from 1996, DontFireAlGroh.Com is popping up in unexpected places.  Yesterday at work, a co-worker said his sister had a link on her MySpace site.  He didn’t tell her about the site or how one of his best friends made it– it was independently circulating around the Virginia Tech Hokie club.  Then this morning, Sean was perusing his usual sports news websites and he found his site mentioned on Ben Maller’s Sports Rumours and News (10th article under College Rumors and News). 

Granted, it isn’t as exciting as turning on CNN one morning and seeing Sean’s Jackass Driver Registry featured (which happened to us in 1998), but the DontFireAlGroh coincidences are still pretty neat.

In a post last night, Stacy said “it sure can be a small world”.  Apparently the Internet falls under that scope!

September 21, 2006 at 9:05 am 6 comments

The Walls of Troy, Documentation and Log Files

Walls of Troy Lecture
This evening, I went to see Dr. Sarah Morris of the University of California at Los Angeles speak at Virginia Tech.  Her topic was “Apollo, Poseidon, and the Walls of Troy: Homer and Archaeology”.  She covered a large array of talking points– the excavation history of Troy/Ilium, the new technologies and practices that accompany modern archaeology, how the Trojan Horse may have stemmed from Greek memories of a seize machine, etc.

One note I found particularly interesting was her observation that Troy was the 24th city that was seized by the Greeks.  She mentioned there was even a city that was much bigger than Troy (sounded like “Pegalon”– but not sure of the spelling). 

So she asked, “Why Troy?  Why did this site become more important than the others?”

To answer that, Dr. Morris cited that there were six Epic Cycle poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey all written around Trojan War events/aftermath.  However, it seemed what she felt really solidified Troy’s importance was the continued prominence of the city/site afterwards.  She talked about pilgrims visiting it and she also shared a story about how a city cursed by Ajax the Lessor (aka Ajax of Locris) sent noble young women to Troy for years to serve as prietesses in the Temple of Athena.  Their gesture was an effort to redeem themselves from Ajax’s brutal rape of Temple of Athena priestess, Cassandra, during the war.

Granted, I’m just a layperson, but my biases from years of journal writing and work in document control have me feel without the documentation (even fictional accounts), the ongoing visits to Troy would not been enough alone to sustain its appeal.  In fact, common phrases throughout the lecture were “Homeric Troy” and “Homer’s Troy.”  We did not hear the phrase “Ajax the Lessor’s Troy.” 

Importance of Documentation – Monticello and Ashlawn Highland
I have a relatively contemporary example of the importance of documentation with historical sites– right from my home state of Virginia!  During the Fall of 2001, Sean and I visited the homes of Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe.  An excerpt of my November 18, 2001 journal entry:

The two homes were quite different. Jefferson’s had tall ceilings, unique architecture and filled with expansive book collections and interesting inventions. Monroe’s was a modest farmhouse, more functional and less showy.

The tours were a little different too. There was a lot of certainty regarding Monticello and its happenings. With Monroe there was a lot of speculation. A lot of “We don’t know [for sure]”s and “We think”s.

These two men lived in the same time, only 2 1/2 miles apart. They were friends. They died exactly five years apart.

So why the discrepancy in knowledge?

Jefferson wrote things down.

They gave an overwhelming statistic of just the letters he wrote. Perhaps 20,000 letters?

He documented daily life. He recorded his thoughts and opinions as well as the mundane.

We know so much because he wrote. We, 200 years later, still benefit.

The moral– write things down even little things about dry cleaning and toilets, even about the placement of nails. Write it down so the future won’t have doubt.

Back to Troy– remember those young ladies that were sent to be priestesses to redeem Ajax’s offense to Athena?  I’m told there was a lot of doubt and speculation about that transaction.  There were thoughts the ladies had to run a gauntlet when they first arrived at Troy and no one really knew how long they served as priestesses or how it worked.  The picture became more clear within the past few decades– when an inscription describing the legalities of the ladies was found in a completely different city.  The picture became more clear…. because of documentation.  🙂

Log Files
Maybe that is why I’m big in log files and audit trails in my software work.  I recently described the new QualTrax Error Handling, including our usage of low exceptions for logging purposes.  QualTrax has historically had a number of different log files that could be toggled on or off as needed.  Each service had its own log.  We had database connection logging, file access logging and of course, general error logging in the event log.  At the same time, every action to a document, workflow, user, group and test is recorded in an audit trail.  In my Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) work with QualLinc, the importance on logging persists.  The three features that have the most potential for problems (PDF Generation, Processing Incoming Emails and Attachments, Distributing Batch Emails with Attachments) are logged heavily– allowing the system to record each key step for traceability.

In both applications, the availability of this extra documentation proves to be an invaluable tool and is usually instrumental in diagnosing an issue.  And when one is troubleshooting an issue with a software application…. one is trying to answer the some of the exact same questions archaelogists are struggling with:

“What happened?”


“Who did it?”

“What went wrong?”


September 18, 2006 at 10:02 pm 3 comments

A Different Kind of Tailgate– Hawk Observatory Tower

Yesterday, we gathered as usual at Larry’s tailgate for Virginia Tech vs. Duke.  Even though the game started at noon, this was an all day event.  My husband woke up at 5:15 AM to start cooking the food.  Others arrived as early as 8 AM to begin the festivities and then after the game we ate and visited until well after dark.  We are far from the only ones celebrating. As we walk back and forth to the game, we always pass the fleet of RVs, trucks and cars with their own array of food, chairs, flags, signs and even satelitte TVs.

I woke up this morning and remembered that it was the peak season for the hawk migration at the Hanging Rock Observatory Tower on Peters Mountain in West Virginia (near Waiteville). 

(Look closely– Henry is on the rocks)

That reminded me of a different kind of tailgate!  Instead of bringing plenty of food and supplies and for an entire day of partying for football, these participants are there for the hawks.  And although they are much smaller in number, the participants are every bit as dedicated as the Hokie fans. 

Almost exactly two years ago (September 18, 2004), Alex Moskwa and I happened to visit the tower on a very good day and we met three of the die-hard fans.  My journal excerpt from September 20, 2004:

On Saturday we drove to WVA to the hawk observatory tower.  On the way there I said to Alex, “I hope we see a hawk.”

My goodness, did I feel silly once we got there.  Hawks were plentiful!  It turned out to be one of the best weekends to watch the migration!

There were so many hawks, in fact, that Jimmie took an interest in watching out the window:

There were three men already in the tower when Alex and I arrived.  Boy were they serious bird watchers!!!  They had extra binoculars with them, [food, drink, chairs] and they had been there since 9 AM!  One guy even had a click-counter like the one Grandma had at the Mill House Musuem [in Occoquan].

At 6 PM, one man had to drag himself home for dinner.  He said if he’s good tonight and went home for dinner then, “[He] could come back tomorrow.”

Here’s something cute.  The clock in the observatory tower was an hour behind.

“That’s hawk time,” an old man named George told me.

The hawks are from South America and they don’t change their clocks as they pass through time zones, so the observatory keeps their clocks in time with the hawks.

All three men were very friendly and informative.  I throughly enjoyed meeting them.

After we parted ways I got to redeem myself.  Alex and I found a geocache I failed miserably to find over a year ago. 

The three hawk watchers had been up there so much, they were familiar with “the treasure.”  It was cute they referred to it that way.

If you are in the Southwest Virginia/West Virginia area and have free time in the next week or so, I highly recommend a visit up to the Hawk Observatory Tower.  Now’s the time to go– yesterday alone, they counted 681 hawks!

September 17, 2006 at 3:56 pm 3 comments

Appalachian Trail and Invasive Species

This evening I got a letter from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy naming six threats to the Appalachian Trail.  A number of the items were items I had heard or read about before (particularly in editorials in the AT Journeys magazine)– new Wind Farms in Maine, expanding surburban sprawl in Northern Virginia and Pennsylvania, and the ongoing misuse of motorized vehicles near the trail.  There was one item that did stick out to me though– Threat #4 was “Invasive Species.”  They had an interesting quote:

Invasive species are the single greatest cause of loss of biodiversity in the US…

Now, the invasive species is something my relatives and I are definitely aware of, having had frustrating run-ins with them.  (Oddly enough, all three of these annoying plants were once recommended by the U.S. Government.  These are problems the meddlings of our own government brought on us!)

  • Crown Vetch (Me)
    For years now, I’ve battled crown vetch in my backyard.  I may have the Virginia Department of Transportation to thank for my woes.  Many highway departments, including Virginia, started planting crown vetch along the sides of highways and new roads.  It grew fast so it was intended for erosion control.  Alas, it grows quickly, chokes out the other plants (such as my poor periwinkle in my backyard) and it is tough to kill.  The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says, “prescribed burning in late spring can be an effective control” and they go on to say, “Burns may need to be repeated for several years to achieve adequate control.”  Great.  Good one, highway departments.
  • Multiflora Rose (Great Uncle Chuck)
    Everytime I visit his farm, my Great Uncle Chuck points to all these thick thorny bushes taking over his farmland and gripes about it.  When he first started his farm, the government encouraged (and paid) him to use this plant from Japan as a “living fence”.  He complied and got his nice little subsidy.  Then as the National Park Service so aptly describes, “Its tenacious and unstoppable growth habit was eventually recognized as a problem on pastures and unplowed lands, where it disrupted cattle grazing.”  This poses a problem for my Great Uncle as he runs a beef farm.  As a summary, my Great Uncle got a small subsidy right after WWII and years later, he is still paying the price!  He can’t kill his “living fence”– it’s been a half century and it is still plaguing him.
  • Kudzu (Carolyn and Clint)
    My sister and brother-in-law are encountering this one.  It took over their entire backyard within a week this past summer.  (Clint’s pictures on Flickr).  Kudzu originated from Japan and in the 1930’s the U.S. Government promoted it for, just like crown vetch, erosion control!  Just like my Great Uncle was with multiflora rose, farmers were paid incentives to plant it during the 1940’s.  Now, according to The Amazing Story of Kudzu, it “covers over seven million acres of the deep South” and “there are a lot of people working hard to get rid of it.”

Even though, I’m very familiar with the downsides of invasive species, I guess never thought about them threatening the AT. 

That said, the biodiversity we have on the Appalachian Trail is one of the things I really embrace.  I love seeing all the variety of trees, fungi and plants.  In fact, I specifically felt (and wrote about) the abscence of diversity when hiking in Northern Minnesota and in Colorado.  Those hikes were fun and invigorating in their own right– but they just didn’t have the same spirit and the same feel as my beloved Appalachian Mountains. 

Sadly, if the multiflora roses, oriental bittersweets, mimosas, tree of heavens, privets, Japanese honeysuckles, English ivys and the coltsfoots of the world have their way, that spirit and feel won’t quite be the same.  Especially if the rhododendrons, mountain laurel, ferns, Virginia creeper and trillians are choked out.

….I’ll probably still hike it though. 🙂

P.S.  If you feel so inclined, I’m sure the Appalachian Trail Conservacy will be happy to take your donation to help with their trail maintenance and invasive species fights.

September 12, 2006 at 11:57 pm 4 comments

Journal Except: September 11th

With a number of the networks airing their original 9/11 coverage again tomorrow, I thought it would be a fitting year to share my 9/11 journals. 

Entry from Journal on 9/11/2001
Reactions and Church


Today is September 11th, 2001.  It’s the eight year anniversary of [a negative event in my life].  It’s been so long now.  It feels like a dream.  It feels like it doesn’t matter anymore.

Especially today.

Tonight I walk my dogs and for the first time in my life I can look up and see the sky my grandparents would have seen growing up.

A sky completely absent of aircraft.

Instead I saw two shooting stars.

The first one I made a wish as custom (or hope) encourages.

I wished, “Please help those people and their families.”

The news didn’t seem all that big to me.  When I came into work, I found Jaye Snidow was in.  Two evenings ago, he had to rush his wife to the emergency room.

Chris Mullins and Jaye have adjacent desks.  Chris was perusing a news web site.

I asked, “Jaye, how’s your wife?”

He said, “She’s doing much better now.  She’s home and might be returning to work this afternoon.”

“What happened?!?” I asked in regards to Jaye’s wife.

“A plane crashed into the World Trade Center.”  Chris Mullins answered.

I didn’t know what to say to his unsolicited answer.

“Oh…” I said and then redirected my question to Jaye, “What was wrong with your wife?!?”

It just didn’t seem like a big deal.  I guess I figured it was like the plane hitting the 14th Street bridge.  The bridge is still there and heck people survived that crash.

Then Chris Martz, Larry and I went into the conference room to see Martz’s first training session.  Mid-way through we had a technical difficulty.  We took a break and when we emerged from the room practically the rest of the company sat and stood in disbelief in front of a TV set in the lunch room.

Everyone was in shock.  Andy B’s sunburned face would occassionally turn from the TV with wide eyes– almost looking to others’ reactions for approval.  Jaye Snidow stood in silence and periodically shook his head.  It was as if he wasn’t allowed to express sorrow or fear so he settled for disgust.  Marvin sometimes lowered his head and his fingers would graze over his closed eyelids underneath his glasses.  Amy just sat, silent and dumbfounded.  At one point, Shane Kennedy grabbed a nearby newspaper ad and started writing.  Chris Martz’s usually medium complexion turned pale.  He’s supposed to fly out Thursday.

Larry Bowman disappeared for sometime, he even missed lunch.  When he returned I asked, “Hey what happened to you?”

“I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to go hug my daughter,” he said.

Stacy sent an email saying he was okay after the plane hit the Pentagon.  That affected me a bit.  I didn’t even consider he would be harmed.  But now that the notion crossed my mind as a possibility (even though Stacy already declared his well being) I wanted Stacy down here.  I wanted to see him and I wanted him to get out of that target for good.  I’m glad he is okay.

I went to a church service today at St. Mary’s.

It’s funny.  I never considered myself as an especially patriotic person.  I mean, I love my country and all, but I don’t get all emotional seeing the flag, hearing our anthem, etc.

Today at church the opening hymn was America the Beautiful.  When they annonced that, I suddenly got choked up.

I never noticed before but the words to that song are excellent…and reasonable.

I’m mentally and physically and emotionally tired.  I think I will go to sleep.

Notes on a Piece of Paper I Wrote at Work on 9/11/2001
Resentment of Life Going On


I am in a meeting, watching Chris Martz debut his … training.  My heart beats and my lungs breath.

Meanwhile on the streets of Manhattan, hundreds perhaps thousands, a “horrific” amount says the mayor of New York, of corpses lie buried and crushed under steel and rubble and suffocating grey dust.  Under what used to be the World Trade Center.

Here life goes on and we worry about trivial things like password prompts and the loss of love.  We have that luxury in our workplace.  The people of the Pentagon no longer have that.  Instead they have destruction and flames and evacuation to contend with.

But here, life goes on.

Entry from Journal on 9/12/2001
Envy of Dogs and Reading the Passenger List


Tonight I sat on the floor of my bedroom and watched, dumbfounded still, the television reports.  Jimmie kept approaching me wanting attention and I kept denying his bid for affection.  But he was persistant.  Finally I lost my patience and I pushed him far away.  He laid down and looked sad.  I felt bad.  I started to pet him and scratch his chest as he rolled on his back and held up his legs.  I laid down next to him and kept petting him on the neck and ears.  He looked at me with beautiful brown eyes and I thought:

“How can you explain this to a dog?  How can I make him understand?”

Although I still think if they were on the streets of New York, both dogs would feel the same fear as their human counterparts, here, now in Blacksburg, they can’t comprehend the loss and the pain.  And for that, I envy them.

At 6 AM this morning, Stench woke me up.  This, unfortunately, is becoming a daily ritual.  As I stumbled up, I noted the television was silent.   I closed in on it — as I always do without vision aids and as I have been finding myself needing to do even with glasses and contacts.  The TV was scrolling the names and ages of the people who were on the planes.  The silence made it all the more eerie.  I found myself uttering, “Oh my gawd” outloud as I watched this list slowly migrate up the screen.  [My exclamation] woke Sean up.

Later at work, I read a list on CNN.COM.  One flight it looked like a family of three perished… including a 4 year old.  A lot of passengers were senior citizens.

How can you look into the eyes of a 4 year old or the precious folded skin of a 77 year old and continue with their demise?

I went to work today.  I arrived an hour late.  I just couldn’t wake up.  Reality deterred me.  I even turned off the alarm clock.

I expected the … parking lot to be sparsely populated, even at 10 o’clock– but it appeared I was one of the last to arrive.

On one hand, I think it’s good so many continued on with life.  Showing “them” that we are okay and we are going to presevere.  Much like what I tried to do eight years ago.  Show that we are survivors.

But today, I felt a bit detached.  This whole tragedy still doesn’t feel real.  I haven’t had time to let it sink in to penetrate me.  Every now and then I feel like I should cry, that it would feel better to do so.  But I never did.

Those planes crashing into the buildings, all the deaths.  It doesn’t feel real.  It feels like a dream.

Entry from Journal on 9/13/2001
Silent Lunch, Patriotism and a Free Cookie

Day 3 after the disaster.  It still doesn’t feel real.  I can close my eyes and see with crisp detail the many images of that second plane colliding into the tower.  But still… it feels fabricated.

Today was the 3rd day in a row we ate lunch in near silence.  Day 1 we ate in a mob around the small TV set up in [the] lunch room.  Yesterday, Larry Bowman, Chris Martz, Bill C and I joined Sean’s regular lunch crew (Sean, John Smith and Colin Wiseley) at Gobblertown.  Independently, Tony Airaghi and Lud and two female co-workers showed up there as well.  A number of tables were pushed together.  We had a very large lunch crowd.  So many people, but it was more quiet than a simple lunch of two.  We all gawked at the TV set even though the reports never fully satiated our need for information.

Why did this happen?  Who really did it?  How many people died?  What were they like?  What were their dreams that will now be unfulfilled?  What kind of person did they want to be?

For the 2nd day in a row, I didn’t want to wake up.  I managed to force myself and got to work only 15 minutes late…I mean later than usual.  Yesterday I was an hour late.

I think part of the problem is we sleep with the news on.  Even when we’re sleeping, we are exposed to the terror and loss.  I don’t consciously notice anything and I don’t recall any negative dreams, but it can’t be a restful sleep.  Like Grandma’s morphine dampened misery the first week in the hospital.

People are displaying American flags everywhere.  We have one outside our cubicle wall.

Never since childhood have I coveted a flag so much.  I want to purchase one promptly.

All over the news you see the best of human nature evolve from the rubble.  Strangers helping strangers, people hugging and crying, everyone wishing each other the best.  Those gestures of generosity are so touching.

Tonight I saw a simple act of kindess, hours from the tragedy, right in my own town.

Sean and I went to Sycamore Deli for supper.  The owner greeted us promptly.

“How are you?” he said.

“The best you can be under the circumstances,” Sean said and the guy agreed.

A TV perched high up played the news of course.

I’m fond of the Sycamore Deli man.  Although he is too young to be mine, he reminds me of an uncle.  With his beard and vibrant demeanor, he reminds me of the Uncle Mark’s and the Uncle Timmy’s of my youth.  This man is always friendly and upbeat to us.  I’m glad we give him our business and I trust his food.

Tonight he rang us up and he said, “I accidently grabbed 3 cookies.  You two can split the third.”  He glanced up at the TV and noted, “We can all use an extra cookie this week.”

It was such a simple gesture, but its impact on me was astounding.  It was so nice of him.  Another time I got choked up.

In fact, I was so flustered with gratitude, I said “Thank you” and started to leave.

“Wait, we need our food.” Sean reminded me.

“If you want to pay $16 for a soda and a cookie, that’s fine with me!”  the Sycamore Deli man laughed.

He’s a very good man.  His business seems frequently empty.  I hope it never goes under.  I would hate to miss out on what has become a weekly encounter with this man and his great food.  Not to mention his awesome chocolate chip (& cinnamon?) cookies.

These cookies are delicious, but I bet this man could have offered us an extra stick of gum and the action would still be as meaningful.

Last night I woke up at 4:30 AM and watched the news for a while before falling back to sleep.

This morning I woke up and the news was still on.  I stood close to the TV and squinted to see the dusty cityscape without my glasses.  The whole morning and scene was just like yesterday.

I felt like I was in the movie “Groundhog Day.”

Well time for bed.

Entry from Journal on 9/14/2001
Thunderstorm Warnings and Camping


Another day and apparently no rescued survivors. 

It’s funny.  We now have an advanced weather monitoring system to warn the midwest of an approaching tornado.  We have flash flood warnings, hurricane warnings and tropical storm warnings.  Heck we even scroll messages during prime time and transmit messages on the Emergency Broadcast System for thunderstorm warnings.  Not actual thunderstorms, but the potential of one.

These are acts of nature, acts of God, acts beyond our control.  Yet we can give people advanced notice.

But we weren’t able to warn people about objects we built and man.

I’m going camping with Carolyn and Jay tomorrow night.  It’s a good weekend to get away from it all and absorb the week’s events.  It’s especially a good weekend to spend with family.  I look forward to the Sawyer siblings having another adventure… like skiing earlier this year.

Entry from Journal on 9/17/2001
Marquee Mottos and Memorial Service


Tomorrow it will be a week from the attack.  It’s amazing.  I look around at America.  What I see is remarkably similiar to my life eight years ago.

Everywhere fast food marquees declare inspirational messages:

“We Will Overcome”

“Always Remember”

“Never Forget”

These are the same messages I told myself.  How frightened I was of forgetting … That notion seened like the worst thing that could ever happen.

Not it seems like nothing.  “So what?” I think.  I even venture to feel it isn’t part of my life anymore.

Another frequent marquee sign:

“God Bless America”

America has grown close to religion again as I did this time eight years ago.

America’s me.

There are some gas stations or restaurants that don’t have messages of significance.  Just annoncing the specials.  Then there is the Western Sizzler by work.  It went for a combination:

“God Bless America.

11 ounce sirloin $6.95”

On Friday Bowman and I went to the conference room to observe the moment of silence with our co-workers.  We ended up watching a service at the National Cathedral for 45 minutes.

I stood the entire time.  I really don’t see why but my legs started quivering.  I can run 2 miles, but I can’t stand for 45 minutes?

I kept thinking about sitting down, but then I remembered some wisdom from a choir director or CCD teacher.  She was responding to one of my peer’s complaints that kneeling was uncomfortable.

“Jesus died on the cross for you and you can’t even kneel for a few minutes?  Do you think hanging on a cross is comfortable?”

I think about that a lot when religion and discomfort are together.

September 10, 2006 at 8:23 pm 6 comments

Shitty Weekend

I had a shitty weekend… literally.  I’m not thinking about how after being in the office for 14 hours on Friday, I had to go into the office on Saturday.  And I’m not referring to the fact that I was too exhausted to go on a camping trip I had been coveting since August.  Nope– I’m referring to today’s task:

I cleaned up sewage in my basement.

When I was younger, I attended a magnet school, a high school for the supposed gifted and talented.  I also have a Bachelor of Science in Management Science and Information Technology.  But today my education failed me.  I was never taught what to do with feces and toilet paper in your basement.  So I relied on an amusing quote Sean says from time to time:

“If only… there was this tool…. where I could go to the computer… and look things up.”

I got on the Internet and it appears I’ve profitted from all the families and towns who were victims of hurricanes.  A lot of the sites providing advice on cleaning up indoor sewage spills were on hurricane sites.  It was a less than wonderful process, but fairly easy.  A lot of the steps, I found to be common sense. 

Advice from Seattle Washington Disaster Response:

“Keep children and pets out of the area until clean-up has been completed.”
That was a no brainer.  One of Henry’s favorite past times is rolling in smelly things.  I’m told it’s because he is a hunting dog.  It’s instinct to cover up his own scent. 

“It’s his camouflage,” I had once explained to four-year old Penn.  (Luckily, Penn did not decide to camouflage himself in the same manner). 

Henry’s favorite camouflage tends to be cow and horse manure.  I certainly did not want to give him a chance to “upgrade” to human waste. 

“Wear rubber gloves and boots.”
I think it is an unsaid goal of mine to minimize the amount of poo I touch with my bare hands.  I went through three pairs of gloves today.  Everytime I had to make a trip back upstairs, I removed my shoes and my tainted gloves.  Another unspoken goal of mine– Minimize the amount of poo I bring into the kitchen!!!  

As for the boots, I have too much respect and love for my hiking boots to wear them, but I found another pair of footwear I had no attachment to.

“Wash your hands thoroughly … after completing the clean-up.”
Done, done and done.  I washed my entire body multiple times.  It was a nice, long shower afterwards.

“Launder clothes separately after completing the clean-up.”
Uh…. no.  Those went directly into the trash, thank you very much.

“All hard surfaces, such as …concrete… should be thoroughly cleaned with hot water and a mild detergent (dish detergent), and then rinsed with a bleach solution by mixing one tablespoon of liquid household bleach to one gallon of water. Let the surface air dry.”
Now that I read that again, I realized I messed this step up.  I used laundry detergent, which seemed to work wonderfully.  I doubt I could have used our dish detergent anyway.  We get those gel tablets for the dishwasher.  I can’t quite see myself piercing those packets to drip the contents in the basement.

Also my bleach rinse was noticeably stronger than one tablespoon per gallon.  I eyeballed my measurements but aimed for 3/4 cup of bleach per gallon.  I’m not going to loose sleep over the bleach proportions– every site I went to recommended a different ratio. 

I pretty much dumped my Tide on the floor and used a brush to spread it and scrub debris down the drain.  I used the bleach rinse, scrubbed some more, more bleach rinse, more scrubbing, more bleach rinse and then finally I dragged a garden hose inside to rinse everything down the drain. 

I also appeared to mess up the “let the surface air dry” part.  After hosing everything down, I sacrificed old towels to suck up any remaining moisture.  Now I have a dehumidifier on the job.

“Disinfect clean-up mops, brooms, and brushes with the bleach solution.”
I faltered on this step too– With the exception of my bleach bucket, everything went into the trash.

Advice from Lake County, Florida’s Hurricane Guide:

“Proper hygiene is important for cleanup workers. Hands and fingers should be kept from the nose, mouth, eyes and ears.”
I learned a hard lesson about rubbing my eyes at Bethany Beach.  That untimely act lost me a week-old pair of expensive glasses.  Despite the monetary loss— I still consider rubbing feces into my eyes a much less desireable outcome.

“Workers should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water before eating or drinking and after cleanup.”
Eww… Even though I wore gloves and scrubbed my body multiple times and made use of a bottle of Purel– I instructed Sean to cook something for dinner that you eat with utensils.  I will not be eating anything with my hands for the rest of the day.

“A shower is advisable after each workday.”
Advisable???????  Seriously?

It wasn’t terribly difficult job (less physically taxing than weed wacking), but I’m certainly glad it’s over.  Hopefully this is not a task I’ll have to repeat anytime soon.

September 10, 2006 at 2:07 pm 1 comment

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