Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Little Dogs

For the past few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about having a dog--a small dog that is apartment-compatible.  Of course, I see people in my building and on the streets around it who are walking their adorable apartment dogs, but it also seems that every other book I read has a dog in it, which just reinforces this wanting-a-dog feeling.  (For example, the book Deerskin by Robin McKinley had a believably strong female protagonist with a whole bunch of dogs in it.  Although I did not envy any other aspect of her life, I did love her dogs.)  And my sister has a gorgeous dog who I see regularly on Facebook.

I've been dreaming about dogs.  Last night night I dreamed about Jack Russell terriers (which had featured in a book I finished this weekend).

I am not planning on getting a dog any time soon.  I am just letting this dog-wanting feeling happen.  It remains to be seen whether it peters out over time or builds to the point that I seriously start wanting to get a dog. (As you all know, I love cats and rabbits, but my allergy problems make them impossible for now.  It remains to be seen whether I would have problems with dogs.)

So, in my current doggy-brained state, this post made me cry.  (I wasn't surprised that the husband of the blogger wrote it.  Based on what she's written about her dogs in the past, I'm sure the blogger herself is way too distraught to write about it yet.)

But truly: Isn't that an incredibly cute dog?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

15 Minutes

I'm trying to bring a little more structure to my life, so I have been setting my alarm clock in the mornings for a while, and bringing the time forward a bit every few days.  Sure, there are some nights I still stay up late because I can't sleep (usually when this happens, I'm just not tired), or I feel bad/sick and need a distraction greater than lying in bed waiting to fall asleep, or I'm sort of pumped up and talkative and can't be trusted not to keep Robert up half the night talking to him, but I'm doing pretty well on this score.

One other area I've really wanted to add structure to is my exercise.  I used to exercise daily, but I stopped doing that because I didn't need as much exercise as I was getting (I typically did 80-90 minutes on the treadmill, about 5 miles, and I was getting repetitive use soreness in my knees).  But without that daily schedule, I'm now getting less exercise than I'd like.  So I decided this week to try exercising every morning after breakfast, but only doing 40-45 minutes (i.e., one TV show on Netflix) on either my treadmill or bike.

I enjoy strength training but haven't been doing much of it because I have this problem--I do it, and the next day I'm wasted and sore, and then the next day I'm wasted and sore, and so on, for long enough that I sort of don't want to do it again.  This is because I am falling prey to the typical failing of doing too much of it at one time.  (This is exacerbated by the fact that I am wimpier than I used to be, so what was once a reasonable amount is now too much.)  So I thought I would try doing strength training also as a daily routine and forcing myself to keep the sessions short--only 15 minutes--with alternate days for upper body and core/lower body.  I did my first session this morning, and 15 minutes goes by really fast.  (I used a timer.)

To keep things interesting, I have put together several weeks worth of workouts using exercises from Women's Home Workout Bible, and every session has a different set of exercises.  (I hate resistance bands, so I selected exercises that use body weight or dumbbells, with or without a stability ball.)  For upper body days, I do 5 exercises, one each of shoulders/delts, back/chest, pecs, biceps, and triceps exercises.  For core/lower body days, I do between 4-5 exercises, covering quads, glutes or hamstrings, calves, and core.  (I repeat exercises, but no two sessions have the same exact set of exercises, if that makes sense.)  I am following the book's recommendation to cycle through low weight/high rep (15) days, medium weight/medium rep (10) days, and high weight/low rep (5) days, of up to 3 sets for each exercise.  The book recommends 3 sets, but I honestly can't do 3 sets of some things.  I mean, I about killed myself doing 3 sets of 15 modified pushups a few weeks ago and was sore for over a week.

This is what I did today.  (DB = dumbbells.  SB = stability ball.)

Shoulder press with DB - 15 reps, 2 sets
Prone lat pull with SB - 15 reps, 3 sets
Countertop pushup - 15 reps, 1 set
Arm curl with DB + SB - 15 reps, 3 sets
Triceps kickback with DB - 15 reps, 3 sets

Looks pretty easy, doesn't it?

Well, my whole thing here is that I am trying to underdo it on a daily basis so that it feels achievable and easy, which I think is key to my being willing and able to do it enough times to make it a habit.  I'm also making an effort to respect my current level of strength and focus on getting stronger--rather than feeling bad for not being strong enough, or not being as strong as I used to be, or not being as strong as a "beginner" should be according to this magazine or that web site.  (Everybody's idea of "beginner" is different.  It reminds me of how on the MUD Tam and I used to play in college, different regions of the game, created by different people, had animals with the same basic name--deer, for example--that varied greatly in how tough they were.  One person's deer would be super wimpy, another person's deer would kick your ass.  Workout creators also seem to vary a lot in how strong they think a beginner strength trainer is.)

I enjoyed this morning's 43 minutes of biking during Castle and 15 minutes of strength training, and I'm basically looking forward to doing it again tomorrow, when I will be doing these exercises.

Bench squat - 15 reps, 3 sets
Leg curl with SB - 15 reps, 3 sets
Standing calf raise with SB - 15 reps, 3 sets
Plank - 30 sec, 3 sets
Side plank from knees - 30 sec, 3 sets

Friday, July 26, 2013

What's 6 Orders of Magnitude Among Friends?

I'm updating my resume today, and for one of my accomplishment bullet points I initially wrote "$1 in revenue" instead of "$1 million in revenue." 

In the comments to the previous post, we were discussing how impressive or mundane our accomplishment stories are/need to be.  This is an open question, but I do think pointing out that you made a $1 difference to your employer is unlikely to be well-received.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Accomplishment Stories

After several days of being sick, including a horrendous 2.5 day long migraine (perhaps a new record for me), I'm back to normal and have returned to my job search stuff. 

I have written my professional objective and my "exit statement" (i.e., why I left my last job--that is to say, grad school, in my case) and identified my top skills.  I have also put together an annotated list of projects I worked on at my last job (from my performance reviews and documents I had on file), which has been really helpful for understanding what the hell I did for 6 years at that job.

I've now also compiled a list of 24 potential "accomplishment story" topics that I can use as resume bullet points, interview examples, and so on to demonstrate times that I have used various skills, faced various problems, and been awesome in specific ways.  The guide I'm using suggests having 10-20 accomplishment stories prepared when you go into interviews, so it looks like I'm probably in good shape.  (I think my major skills are covered, but I won't know until I start linking individual accomplishment stories to specific interview questions whether I need to add stories to cover different kinds of specific questions.  I expect that other than the dreaded "weakness" question and the like, I should be fine with this list.)

I have not fully fleshed out these accomplishment story topics yet, but I have a general sense of what I will say about each of them.  I will probably prepare actual stories for many, if not all, of these topics, but even if I do not go to the trouble to write out stories for all of them, it's helpful to have such a good sense of my major accomplishments in my career. 

After writing the stories, I will select the ones that are must-shares--ones that make me sound so good that I have to use them in my interviews somewhere.

And even before writing out the stories, I think I'll be ready to update my resume.  (And my LinkedIn profile and the like.)  Woo!  My resume is already in pretty good shape, with accomplishments rather than just boring job descriptions, but it'll be tricky to collapse so much work history and educational experience into 1 page.  But I'm sold on the idea that a 1 page resume is the right way to go (in my industry, at least).

It's interesting--the approach the guide I'm using takes means that by the time you're ready to write your resume, you're probably 70% of the way ready to start interviewing as well.  So even though this process has felt slower than job searches I've done in the past (which is partly because it actually has been slower--I have been operating at a less panicked pace because I'm not under financial pressure; I've been kinder to myself about taking it easy when I'm sick; I've spent a lot of time introspecting about myself and what I want because this represents a career change for me rather than just a search for a new job, and as you'll recall, my last career change turned out to be a bust; I've needed to familiarize myself with how to find a job in the 21st century; etc.), it probably isn't as slow as it feels because I'm making progress in many areas at the same time rather than operating very linearly from one task to the next.  For example, in the past, I updated my resume first so I could start applying for jobs immediately, then started preparing for interviews.  I'm liking the more strategic, integrated approach I'm using this time, even if this skills/accomplishment story stage has felt daunting.

An upcoming big stage that sits in my comfort zone is researching potential employers using online databases, etc.  I am more of a marketing research person than a market research person, but still, my issue here is less in making myself do it (or doing it incompetently) than not spending way too much time doing it.

An upcoming big stage (which overlaps with the market research one) that feels quite intimidating is talking to people about potential employers (what you might call networking or informational interviewing or whatever other phrases people use in place of "talking to people").  But the guide does give some structure to this that I think will make it a bit less difficult and anxiety-provoking in practice than it would otherwise be. 

I also just finished reading the workplace thriller Paranoia (which I heartily recommend), and I really loved reading about the intense coaching our protagonist received prior to interviewing at the competing technology company he was sent to spy on and how the interview itself actually went.   The advice the executive coach gave him pretty much dovetailed with what I've been reading in my job search books.  Stay positive, people!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Skill Assessment Treasure Trove

I have been digging out materials from my past professional life to help me with my job search.  Specifically today I was looking for things I can use on my resume to quantify various contributions I've made at different jobs.  (I actually think that what is on my resume now, as I remember it, is pretty solid already, but I never truly updated my resume for the professional, as opposed to academic, market after I left my last big job, so there are things that I might want to add/tweak.)

But in the process of doing this, I found my personalized results from the management training I took (and that I blogged about more specifically before).  I think this is going to be a great place to find some answers to the perhaps most-dreaded interview question: What are your weaknesses?

The current standard advice for dealing with this question is to select a relatively minor weakness that you had in the past, the steps you took to improve upon this weakness, and the outcome.  I have found that this is hard to do, in part because it's somewhat difficult to generate a list of skills that are both relevant to your job/profession but not so important that they are potential deal-breakers.  But looking at things that my boss and co-workers suggested as relative weaknesses for me in the past seems like a good start, and just getting this reminder that I have taken management training also gives me an easy answer to the "how did I improve this skill" part -- by taking management training!  As I know from my management training, most first line managers are people who excelled in their individual contributor roles and then were promoted to management, but who do not necessarily have the skills that a manager needs.  I think answering the weakness question by referencing management training is a nice way to sneak this unusual experience/qualification into the conversation.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Glacier NP

One of the dangers of waiting so long to write about the Glacier NP portion of our trip is that I am starting to forget the details.  I hope that the combination of the photos, the "Day Hikes in Glacier" paper, and my birding notebook will help my memory.  Or I can treat it as a dream and make up the details as I go along, I suppose.  But really, the details did happen -- I have photographic evidence of some of them!

We drove from eastern Washington to Glacier NP (in Montana) and arrived in the evening.  However, because we were so far north (almost in Canada), the daylight lasts ridiculously late, so I was able to document the lovely view of Lake McDonald we could see from our bedroom.  (Indeed, we could walk out our back door and be on the lake.)  Unlike at Yellowstone, we also had plenty of space to spread out inside, and we even had a kitchen with a picnic table, which was convenient.

Glacier is a very different park from Yellowstone -- instead of looking at weird geothermal features, you do more typical park stuff.  In our case, this meant hiking and birding and general wildlife viewing.  There are a lot of hiking trails at Glacier.  The most iconic feature of Glacier is Going-to-the-Sun Road, which links the east and west ends of the park together.  However, we were there too early in the season and the road was closed along the highest section due to snow.  But this was OK -- there was plenty enough to do on our side of the park.

We tackled the short Trail of the Cedars (0.7 miles) and then the trail to Avalanche Lake.  The Avalanche trail was "only" 2 miles each way and gained an altitude of "only" 500 feet.  So we went before lunch (and, stupidly, without any snacks).  This was a mistake.  Factoring in the slow going of some of the climbs (which felt a bit hard anyway because we were several thousand feet higher than we're used to), as well as our frequent stops to look at/for birds, it took a long time to get to the end of the trail and see Avalanche Lake.  But we made it, and I took a photograph to commemorate the event.

One thing Glacier has that many parks do not is bears, and there are warning signs everywhere telling you beware of them.  On the return hike, my stomach started growling from hunger, and at one point, it was so loud it startled Robert briefly into thinking he heard a bear.  I had tried to alert him earlier that if he heard a growl, it was just my stomach, not a bear, but he had been ahead of me on the trail and hadn't heard me.  (It is a testament to my hunger that my growling stomach was louder than my speaking voice.)  I was feeling pretty much famished and rather done in by the time we got back.  The best birds on this hike were the Townsend's and MacGillivray's warblers.  I have no recollection of what we did for the rest of the day except we did eat at the restaurant near our room, which served an amazing huckleberry cobbler that was so good we had it twice during our trip.

The following morning, we walked along the Fish Creek/Apgar trails, which were mostly flat and hence very easy going.  One portion of this hike was along a road with houses owned by people who live inside the park (i.e., the park was established around them but they retained their own houses/land as private property within the borders of the park).  We saw a good variety of birds (nothing new).  We also encountered an extremely cooperative mule deer, who let me take his picture.

In the afternoon, we drove to a sort of remote area long a truly horrible road with the intention of hiking along Bowman Lake.  We did this for a while, but somehow got off the lakeside trail onto another, steeper trail that was narrow and bordered by poison ivy, and I just wasn't feeling it.  So we turned around and went down to a convenient bit of shoreline where we could sit on a fallen log, skip rocks into the lake, and generally relax.  I did the very best rock-skipping of my life on this lake.  Robert demonstrated his prowess by skipping some decidedly non-flat rocks.  Eventually, we got a bit crazy and started just throwing all kinds of rocks into the lake.  Handfuls of pebbles made a pleasant sound and pattern on the water, and I admit I really liked heaving the biggest rocks I could lift as far into the water as I could.  (This was the "paleo exercise" portion of my day, I suppose.)  We were definitely channeling our inner children and it was astonishingly fun.  Before we left the lake, we got some nice views of a belted kingfisher flying over the lake looking for food.

I have no idea where we went on our last day in the park but we saw a good number of birds again.  I do know that we spent much of the afternoon and evening hanging around our room doing crossword puzzles and later, sitting on the surprisingly comfortable chairs outside our door, looking at the lake -- it did have a few water birds on it, including some common loons.  We also saw some people out sailing on the lake.

At some point that day, I attempted to digiscope -- or I suppose I should say, digi-binoc -- a photo of a really cute squirrel in his hole but because I had to hold the camera against the binoculars, I was a bit shaky and the photo didn't turn out very well.  But this record would not be complete without it. 

But the best part of our evening occurred when we heard a loud bird sound from near some cabins down the lakeshore from us.  We didn't recognize it, and I just chalked it up to yet another bird that we would never identify.  But Robert was made of sterner stuff -- he went into our room and started listening to bird calls on his computer until he found it and called me in to hear it.  Yes, I said, that's the same bird.  And Robert said, It's a northern saw-whet owl.  A life bird for us.  Owls are so fricking hard to find that getting a new owl feels about like getting any 3 new songbirds.  This was the perfect capstone to our trip to Glacier NP.

On our return drive through Montana, we saw some interesting things, like a short-eared owl hunting over a field and various deer and pronghorn.  But two sightings stand out.  First, we crossed the paths of some suicidal prairie dogs on the highway.  Second, we stopped at a rest area and saw those awesome jackrabbits.  Rabbits!  The vision of these buns helped fortify me for the rest of the drive home.

The drive through North Dakota the next day was a real snooze.  The best bird of the day was a trumpeter swan.  The most disconcerting sightings were signs for Mexican restaurants that read "El Taquilas" (hello, taquilas is both feminine and plural, people) and "Del Taco Gringo" (I don't even want to think about this one too closely).

I won't say that if I never drive through the Dakotas again it will be too soon but ... man, those really are some boring states.

And this concludes our summer 2013 road trip saga.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


I finally posted the rest of my Yellowstone photos on FB.  Now I need to get my act together to tackle the Glacier NP photos!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


This quote from What Color is Your Parachute? cracked me up:

"By understanding the word [skills], you will automatically put yourself way ahead of most job-hunters.  And especially if you are weighing a change of career, you can save yourself much waste of time on the adult folly called 'I must go back to school.'"

I am glad that I am looking at doing something different with my life that does not involve going back to school in any capacity.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Food That Feels Good

Tam had sent me a link to this woman's blog a while back, and I wasn't really sure what to make of her approach, in part because her approach was hard for me to figure out.  I sort of had trouble with her idea (which, to be fair, is not uncommon in the Health at Every Size blogosphere in my, albeit narrow, experience) that to limit or exclude certain foods/food categories from your diet is a bad thing or a not recommended thing or evidence of having screwed up eating habits or whatever.

But I've been reading the archives a bit, and I did like this post in particular, which clarifies her position on this for me a bit. 

Now, I admit, I actually do think that there is good reason to believe that most people would benefit health-wise from eating fewer grains/sugar (and not just because this is a way that makes it easier for people to manage their weight).  But in my own case, I am so sensitive to most grains, beans, dairy, and other by-my-lights-not-as-healthy foods that I am happy to avoid them because of their relatively immediate phenomenological (i.e., consciously experienced) consequences, like stomach aches and cramping.  I know that eating too much fruit makes me feel sick within hours because it screws up my blood sugar levels.  Tonight, I really know that eating too much dark chocolate makes me nauseated.  (I'm still awake at almost 1 a.m. because I felt too sick to my stomach to go to sleep.  I have to relearn my lesson with excessive chocolate consumption about once a month.) 

And now that I am not eating those foods, for the most part I don't want them, and I have found that eating other foods (fats, meat/fish, vegetables) not only promises to be long-term healthier and has a noticeably superior impact on how my body feels, these foods also taste better and are more enjoyable than the stuff I'm not eating.  I am totally serious.  I even dreamed last night that I ate vanilla ice cream with chocolate chip cookie dough (not CCCD ice cream, but the even more decadent ice cream with actual dough mixed into it) and I was like, Eh, OK, it's sweet, but it's not very flavorful really, and I set it aside after a couple of bites.

But I never would have figured that out if I had kept eating those other foods.  People, it was over 6 years ago that I declared that I don't like pancakes.  But I kept eating them, thinking that they would be tastier than they really are.

I don't want to get into the neurobiology or the politics of "food addiction" but I will state that in my experience, it's very easy to want things that you don't necessarily really like or prefer, and that it's possible to bring wanting, liking, and doing back into alignment by stopping eating those foods that have a wide wanting-liking gap.  (In my case, that's almost all grain-based foods.  Yep, even my beloved oatmeal isn't actually as yummy to eat as, say, eggs scrambled in butter and bacon.)  And in doing so, you might discover that other foods are actually quite more delicious than you thought. 

In my case, I think that my system had been geared up to want things that were sweet, and once I lost that sweet tooth, I started to like the flavor of things that are not so sweet (and to notice the sweetness of things like grape tomatoes and bacon, which never seemed sweet to me before).

These days, the primary food that I don't eat but that sometimes seems appealing is cheese.  Sometimes I want a cheese stick.  But then I just eat something else that has fat and salt and isn't dairy and I'm very satisfied.  (I actually don't think that most people would be hurt eating some cheese, but I know from my elimination diet days that it affects me negatively.)

So I guess in some ways, my finicky system works to my advantage.  My omega-6 to omega-3 ratio gets too high and my joints hurt and I know it's time to ramp up the salmon and the flax oil.  If I eat grains and highly-sugared foods, I will feel sick and gross, so I don't eat them.  This immediate feedback reinforces eating in a "healthy" way.

I think I am starting to get what she means about feeling you have permission to eat whatever you want.  I don't feel like I "can't" eat carbs because that will make me a fat unlovable unworthy whatever person.  I primarily don't eat them because (1) they make me feel sick and (2) they really aren't as tasty as other foods.  (I mean, the only good thing about rice is that it's a vector for butter or oil plus salt, and you can put butter or oil plus salt on something else -- like meat or vegetables -- and the taste of that combination will kick the rice's ass, hard.)  But it is basically awesome that subtly limiting my carb intake allows me to eat a lot of good-tasting food and maintain my weight.  (Compared to my previous experience, in which I ate significantly fewer calories than now while continuing to gain weight, this is truly amazing and excellent.)  And I do think that this way of eating is healthier, too.  (The numbers from my last blood test were fantastic, so there is some evidence supporting this idea.)

Pretty much everyone, me included, thought that eating a neo-paleo diet would be very hard for me because it eliminated so many of my "favorite" foods.  But it's turned out to be really rather easy (except for situations in which the majority of the available food is ruined because it has been drowned in lemon juice -- caterers at my cousin's wedding, I'm giving you the evil eye).

I know it's natural for me to think, Well the way I choose to limit my food consumption is not like the diets the Health At Every Size people are railing against.  I'm sure a lot of people feel that way about their diets.  But I really do believe that.  I do not feel restricted.  I actually feel freed from a weird, maladaptive, unsatisfying compulsion to eat sweet-yet-bland foods.  Instead, I eat yummy foods and don't think about food most of the time that I'm not eating.

And, yeah, sometimes I eat too much dark chocolate.  But that's OK, too.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Easy Guess

Several times a month, when I'm reading a book I'll turn to Robert and ask him to guess a name in the book, such as:

-- The governess

-- The barmaid

-- The woman who was accidentally shot by a stray bullet

-- The brother's high school sweetheart who moved to Australia 20 years ago

-- The ex-coworker who is loaning the protagonist her car

-- The ancestor whose forbidding portrait hangs over the formal dining room

-- The girl's invisible friend

-- The old lady's pet parrot

So today I hold up my book to Robert and say, "It's the year 1715.  What is the name of the smuggler's boat?"

He looks at me.

It's like talking to a cat.  (A dog would be more enthusiastic.  A rabbit would just rotate an ear to monitor the sounds for signs of danger or impending food.)

I will leave figuring out this answer as an exercise for the reader.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Literary Dream

Last night I dreamt I read an amazing fantasy/SF short story, called Something "Remix'd," in which the writer had mixed and, indeed, remixed the same elements in successive vignettes, producing a final product that I wanted to make photocopies of and send to every reader I know because it was just that good.  But when I awoke, I couldn't remember anything concrete about this story. 

Do we quickly lose the details of our dreams when we awake, or it is that these details never really existed at all?  What would happen if (be patient, this is a thought experiment) I could re-enter my dream world with my waking faculties operational?

I assume I would be like an enthusiastic theater-goer who climbs onto the stage after the performance is over and finds that the world that looked and felt so authentic and compelling from a distance with the lights down low is actually just rough outlines of paint on boards.

This whole question reminds me of Coleridge's famous poem "Kubla Khan," that he claimed he dreamt in its entirety (200-300 lines) in an opium dream and that he started to set down directly on paper immediately after waking  -- but he was interrupted by someone (the "man from Porlock") for an hour and was thus unable to write the rest of the poem, which had evaporated in the interim.  But as my high school English teacher said (and as appears to be the case), multiple drafts of the poem have come to light, demonstrating that he had reworked the poem significantly over time, undermining the idea that he awoke from his dream and transcribed the lines from memory. 

I wonder, was Coleridge a flat-out liar, unable to complete his poem and inventing this dream story to both excuse its fragmentary nature and daub it with the magic of a supposed mystical inspiration?  Or did he really believe that he had dreamt the poem but ended up having to work very hard to recreate it (i.e., the feelings that he had experienced in his opium dream state)?  Perhaps the poet (and friend of Coleridge's) Robert Southey was onto something when he joked, "Coleridge had dreamed he had written a poem in a dream."

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Obesity Era Article

LivingDeb shares this article, reviewing some interesting (unfamiliar to me) evidence that the current higher human body weights do not appear to be a simple matter of people eating too many calories and burning too few.