Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas in the Cubicle

Of course the last week before the university shuts down for Christmas, it's a little hard to get work done. You think about the errands to the post office or UPS that you have to run at lunch. Table space gets covered with irresistable sugary treats that everyone has to sample and analyze. One thing that helped me stay in cubicle and on task this past week, however, was some beautiful, relaxing, jazzy Christmas music by Dave Brubeck. "A Dave Brubeck Christmas" on Telarc Jazz contains the following cuts:

1. 'Homecoming' Jingle Bells
2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
3. Joy To The World
4. Away In A Manger
5. Winter Wonderland
6. O Little Town Of Bethlehem
7. What Child Is This? (Greensleeves)
8. To Us Is Given
9. O Tannenbaum
10. Silent Night Listen
11. Cantos Para Pedir Las Posadas
12. Run, Run, Run To Bethlehem
13. 'Farewell' Jingle Bells
14. The Christmas Song

The album, filled with standards, doesn't present them innovatively but does offer sincere, even simple, renditions of your favorite tunes. I've heard most of these songs way too often, and certain versions of them can send me running from the shopping mall, but Brubeck does them in a homey, delightful way that makes you feel like you're sitting around the tree with your family.

This album got me through the pre-Christmas work week and let me enjoy Christmas at work more than I have in a while. If you still need to buy a Christmas gift, download this from iTunes and burn everyone a CD. They'll love you - and, like I did last summer, may even bring it out in July to give it a listen.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Snow day

I've been at Bradley almost eight years and yesterday was the first time I remember classes being cancelled due to severe weather. What a rare pleasure to get up, drink a cup of coffee, and realize that I did not have to go out in this mess. I knew I wouldn't be able to get the car out of the driveway until we get it plowed and I did not relish walking through waist-high snow drifts to get to my office.

As the sun came out yesterday, however, I did think about walking to campus to take some pictures. And then I remembered the webcam (which I recently wrote about on a new blog at Bradley, titled Lydia's View). This latest webcam surpasses our old one in quality - instead of capturing an image every few seconds, it provides a live stream. You can see snowdrops coming down, the flag waving, and people walking past, all in real time. I captured this image from the cam yesterday in the early morning.

I remember when I lived in the more southerly part of the state as a child and we had several tremendous blizzards and I don't think we had mail or paper delivery in our rural community for at least at week. But yesterday in Peoria we did not receive a paper and the mailman did not appear. That is a first. So far this morning, we have also not received a paper. We live a ways back from the street so I hope the mailman doesn't try walking through the drifts just to deliver more catalogs today!

The new Bradley webcam is at

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

virtual file cabinet

If you are like me, you get your best ideas when you first wake up in the morning, or a few minutes later in the shower or on the walk to work. When I woke up this morning I was thinking about all the papers in my cubicle. Even though this is a vacation day, I was thinking about cleaning out the file cabinets and throwing out obsolete forms and information, transforming the file cabinets for the twenty-first century semi paperless office.

So many forms and messages are sent as email attachments that if I want to maintain the paper files, I have to print them out and then file them. This doesn't make a lot of sense. But I think many of us like the spatial organization that a steel-and-paper filing system offers.

Currently, most computes use "folders" to organize information—tiny icons within icons of other folders. I think I would like a more visual and spatial filing system—a virtual file cabinet. The program would start by letting you choose metal, oak, or neon plastic for the cabinet. You could type labels for each drawer and drag and drop hanging files into the appropriate drawer. When you wanted to file a Word, Excel, or other document file, you could bring it into the virtual file cabinet program, where it would look like a paper document. You could drag and drop these into their appropriate files.

Don't know why, but a system such as this would make it easier for me to throw out a bunch of old files.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

a walk to the polls

The sun shone down, a nice breeze accompanied me, and late fall leaves covered trees and the ground as I walked to the polls on Tuesday. I left work a little before noon and walked to the Presbyterian Church, which is about halfway between my office and home. Even though two precincts vote here, I had evidently come at a good time. I was greeted by several neighbors who were serving as election judges. Only two other voters were in line.

The new electronic voting machine confused me a little. I had used it in the spring primaries but hadn't remembered how it worked. I had remembered it churning out a paper ballot that I dropped in a box. My memory failed me. The machine does create a paper ballot, but it stays under a plastic panel - I couldn't touch it - and when you press "cast ballot," the paper gets conveyed into the machine.

I found it pretty easy to use. A woman behind me, however, was not amused by the new technology. She kept stammering "this is stupid," and "this is totally unnecessary, it is so stupid." I finished before she actually entered a booth, so I hope she didn't end up causing trouble for the volunteers.

They encouraged me to paste an "I voted" sticker on my shirt before I left. "It might remind someone else to vote," they said.

I proudly slapped it on and continued my walk home, where I ate a big bowl of soup, played with the kitten and petted the dogs, and turned on the news to see if the rest of the country was having a peaceful day at the polls.

I did hear of intimidation and obfuscation occurring in a few cities and of new electronic machines not working in others, but overall things seemed to be going well. Many of my coworkers talked of going to the county offices to vote early this year. That doesn't appeal to me as much a getting to walk to the polls on my lunch hour.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Halloween blogiversary!

When I came into work last Wednesday, I realized, as I relayed stories about my trick or treaters, that it had been last Halloween when I had started "Coffee and a Cubicle." I was joking about what this should be called - an "annibloggery" or "blogiversary? My husband said it should just be a "blog anniversary." After all, you don't say "Wediversary." "But this is the blogosphere," I told him. "It has a special blogcabulary."

I guess my thinking is in line with other bloggers. I googled "blogiversary" and found it to be in common usage. From

1. blogiversary
The yearly anniversary of someones web-log (blog)

Ok, so let's ignore Urban Dictionary's redundancy and missing apostrophe, this is a good, simple definition.

The next question is how do you celebrate? I guess just by looking back on the past year. I don't find a lot of time to write, but when I have I thoroughly enjoyed typing these entries. I still dream of writing essays and short stories, so this helps fulfill that desire to communicate personal thoughts with a broader audience.

That brings me to another observation. Few people read this - my sister, my friend Cheri, one or two coworkers, and others who stumble on it by accident, or (be still my heart) by it coming up in a Google search. So, I have an audience of about six people in any given day. I'm elated!

I also have a goal. I would like to create a sister blog with information that would be helpful to others in university publications offices. I belong to several list serves, and I think a well-done blog could serve a similar function of bringing people with shared interests together.

My other goal, of course, is to write more frequent entries here.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.

A quote from Ezra Pound, whose poetry I studied in grad school but never truly understood, has been running throught my brain these past few weeks:

"Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down."

So many of the interpersonal issues I encounter in the publications office seem to be a result of personal vanity. We each stand at the center of our own universe. My own offenses are legion.

My nephews, aged 5 and 8, have been taking Tae Kwon Do. On a recent Friday afternoon, they underwent a test for their first belt. They came to visit the next day and I asked them if they had passed. They told me they wouldn't find out until next week. "We have to learn to be humble," they told me.

What a wonderful lesson! Pride and vanity are not our friends. We all need to learn humility. So often we thrust our pride to the fore and it stands in the way of communication and collaboration. We do need to learn to stand up for ourselves and to not let others take advantage of us. But too often we resort to base vanity instead of true assertiveness.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

the hard work of creativity

Although in my position in the Publications Office at Bradley University I spend lots of time doing mundane proofreading and formatting tasks, I also get to be creative. I write stories for our research publication, develop concepts for marketing or advancement pieces, and design covers for the schedule of classes and catalogs. I have always been fascinated with the process of creativity. In my graduate work, I studied the creative process of poets, such as Theordore Roethke and Emily Dickinson, who seemed to use their art to explore their own psychological growth, and who seemed to weave individual poems into groups where images and themes built on each other in complex ways. For both, the creative process involved enormous amounts of time and the enormous risk of psychological vulnerability.

"No one is born highly creative," says R. Keith Sawyer, Ph.D., associate professor of education and of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis. "Psychologists studying creativity have discovered that it is based on cognitive processes we all share. Creativity is not the result of some magic brain region that some people have and others don't." Sawyer thinks that creative people have developed good work habits.

He believes that a common pattern for creative people is to alternate periods of hard work with time spent doing something unrelated, like a lunch break, gardening, or a walk. Such time allows them to think of their problems in new ways. He says the "aha" moment often comes while doing something else.

I can agree with this theory. When I get stuck on a project, I often take a walk outside to enjoy nature and to see other people. I go for a tea or coffee. I might leave early for lunch. Sitting and staring at the blank canvas usually isn't productive. When you just enter a different room, or go outside, your mind starts thinking about other things. Sometimes, this allows another part of your mind to work on the problem.

So many times I develop ideas in the shower. The relaxing steam and fragrances let my mind wander. Sometimes I think I have washed my hair several times because I was so deep in thought I wasn't paying much attention to the actual task at hand.

Professor Sawyer also advocates employees taking all of their vacation time. He says that "Many people don't take their vacation and they end up rolling over all of their off time. If I were a senior manager, I would make everyone take all of their vacation time. Time away from work is essential for recharging the batteries, so to speak, and to help people think more creatively on the job. People need freedom in their schedule for idle time."

I agree. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that hard work only goes so far in being successful at work. You do have to get away and develop other interests and other parts of your life. Doing so will allow you to bring new perspectives to the problems and creative tasks you deal with. Sometimes you have to let deadlines go unanswered. Sometimes you have to give up the worry. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your job is to just walk away from it.

You can find a good article about Dr. Sawyer's research at

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The most beautiful time of year

I had spent most of one morning this week proofreading the Honor Roll of Donors - 56 pages of names set in 7 point type. I needed a break.

As I emerged from the basement, fresh air swirled around me. I walked across the quad, where some of the flower beds, after struggling in the summer heat, bloomed in a profusion of bright colors. The brush of cool weather has painted some of the trees with spots of red and gold. Today, a window would be most welcome, as the smell of the fresh air is just as beautiful as the colors it brings.

I reluctantly returned to my desk and the 56 pages and the 7 point type. My advice: take advantage of every opportunity to walk outside these next few weeks.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Struck by an Angel

I was late for work the other day because as I was running down the stairs after getting dressed, I noticed that the huge bruise on my left forearm was sticking out from under my three-quarter-length sleeves. I ran back up and found another shirt to iron. Today, I didn't notice I had made the same mistake until someone asked me "what did you do to your arm?" in a surprised voice. It's a little embarrassing to walk into the offices with bruises all over one's arms and legs. I bruise quite easily, so often sport bruises that I don't even know how I got.

This week's bruise, however, was most definitely from an encounter with an angel. My mother and I went to an estate auction over the weekend. We were looking at the collection of tables, chairs, and lamps with soiled shades, when I spotted her standing next to an old butter churn. She was weathered and broken, but she struck me as beautiful in the way worn, unwanted things can. I pushed to the front when the bidding started. The auctioneer started at just $10. She was old, molded in heavy, rocky concrete. She had a mossy patina. No one bid. $5. No bids. No one even looked interested. So I waited. $1 he called and I held up my hand. Without allowing time for anyone esle to even give her a second look, he shouted "Sold, $1."

She was going to be perfect for the little cottage garden I am trying to start in front of my house. I rolled her onto a dollie and pushed her down the street to the car. Once there, I realized lifting her up into the back of the station wagon would be a problem. I should have waited until the end of the sale when one of the hands could help.

I very gently rested the dollie back down onto the pavement and wrapped my arms around her. I bent my knees and took a deep breath. As I stood up I realized she must weigh 80 pounds, much more than I am used to lifting. I'm sure my face was blue by the time I nestled her into the back. As I released her, she rolled back heavily onto my arm.

By the time I unloaded her at home, one of the wings, which had already been chipped, had broken into many pieces. Despite the beating both of us took in our journey to get her from her old home to mine, I enjoy seeing her in the garden each morning. I tucked her behind a large plant, so her left side looks not wingless but merely hidden from view.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9 11 5 yrs

I remember coming into work on 9 11 01. When I walked into the office, late, my coworkers were not at their desks. A donut with one missing bite sat on a napkin on the secretary's desk. I knew immediately something was wrong. I walked down the hall to the main office and found everyone gathered around the 12-inch television. It appeared that the World Trade Center was collapsing. Something terrible had happened. I got a cup of coffee and went back down the hall to my desk. I called my mother, who was sitting by my father's bed in the St. John's Hospital Hospice. "You should probably turn on the television," I told her. I couldn't explain, I just thought she should know. I turned to my computer and started working.

I couldn't stay down the hall and watch the news, I couldn't turn on the radio, I couldn't log on to CNN. I just wanted to work on the catalog, which was already late to the printer.

I had recently missed a few days of work. My father had been very ill. A few days ago one direct and plain-spoken doctor who was filling in for the weekend said we should move him from the hospital, where we had been trying to get answers from doctors and their throngs of residents, for the past week, to hospice. "His body is shutting down."

We agreed to stop trying to feed him. A neurologist was called in to prescribe IV meds to minimize his seizures. He received a morphine drip. The day they transported him to hospice, an ambulance came. They were not told to bring an oxygen tank. So, they unhooked him from the hospital oxygen supply and proceeded to the nurses' station to check him out. Some paperwork confusion ensued. His breathing became erratic and labored. "He needs oxygen," I screamed and wrapped my body around his head and torso as if I could provide it. The nurses and EMTs continued to discuss something. Finally they pushed him onto the elevator and two doctors got on at the next floor. "He needs oxygen," I said tearfully. No one seemed concerned.

Once in the ambulance, he was hooked up to a tank and I relaxed and started to cry as I held his hand and stroked his head.

On September 10, I left work early and drove from Peoria to Springfield to visit him. I had difficulty leaving and ended up spending the night at my parents' house. I had to go to work the next morning, so I got up early and, very sleepy, sipping dark coffee, I got behind the wheel and flipped between music and NPR news to stay awake. I think I heard something about a plane hitting the towers, but the announcer had no information, and I thought it was like a two-seater or something. I flipped back to my music CD and tried to stay awake.

Later, people talked about watching the image of the towers collapsing over and over again. I didn't watch the news. I saw this image only once or twice. I hardly turned on the radio. I had difficulty switching from my private pain to public tragedy. I couldn't do it.

So now, five years later, when so many people are focused on reliving the emotions of 9 11, I realize that I don't have that many emotions or memories. I see the donut on the desk. I remember realizing that I couldn't handle this terrible event. I feel a need to better understand the impact this event had on people.

This evening I went to a website on which you can hear 911 calls in New York on that day. On another, I watched footage of the towers collapsing and people screaming in the streets.

I remember standing in my apartment on Chestnut Street in Bloomington and listening to a radio report of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding. I experienced that moment fully and it haunts me. What haunts me most about 9 11 01 is the invasion of Iraq. I did experience that fully and the news reports of those first days are part of my emotional memory. I feel a sadness and emptiness knowing that emotionally I did not fully experience one of the most tragic days in our nation's history.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

layers of creativity

Last night, one of the final evenings of August, I slept with the window open to enjoy the cool air. With fresh air and the gentle sound of a fan to lull me, I slept quite soundly. At about 5:30 the paper delivery car pulled up underneath the window and abruptly cut me off from a deep, dreamful sleep. Often I awake slowly as the dogs become more and more restless. But this morning's alarm was like a sharp knife slicing a layer cake. I could peer directly into my dream state. Like an extravagant cake, my dreaming mind had layers.

In one story, I was dressed in a Victorian green velvet gown. I was planning to sail to England to meet a mysterious person. In a second layer, I was frantically running through the airport trying to meet all the requirements for flight to England. I didn't have a passport and the people who could help me get one were inept. When I made it to the gate I was still missing something - a doctor had to check me. The doctor had left for dinner so his assistant looked at me. "Anything wrong with you?" he asked? "Nothing, except a bad case of airport rage." By the time I got back to the gate, I was in tears. The attendant handed me a beverage in a heavy green glass bottle. After remembering those details, I realized that I had also been dreaming about playing in the dark green grass of my childhood back yard. By the time I recalled this, the story had faded.

If our unconscious mind can create three parallel stories that seem related by story and/or imagery, why do we struggle to come up with a simple creative idea in waking life?

Immediately after recalling this dream layer cake, I thought about my work this week. I have been trying to come up with an idea for the next Schedule of Classes cover. Another unit on campus markets the interim semesters, so we need a compelling image or saying that can be used in advertising. Sometimes I enjoy creating these covers, but this time I can't light any creative spark.

How is it that we can be lavishly creative in our dreams but struggle to come up with one idea while awake? I suspect it has something to do with the criticism we place on our waking ideas and the criticism we imagine - or actually hear - from others. While asleep, our creativity can play like a child in a lush back yard.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Today's Dilbert cartoon strip was, as is often the case, joking on truth.

Because of renovations, the pointy-headed boss has to move Alice to a larger cubicle. Squealing with glee, she announces that she will use the power of her "slightly larger cubicle to rule my coworkers with an iron fist." In the final frame she is pushing a coworker aside, saying "get out of my way, you worthless microcuber."

In my experience I have found that people in a workplace believe that amenities such as more square footage, special wood trim on cubicle cabinets, a door that closes (or locks!), a light switch, or a bigger desk can all be indicators of prestige or importance.

Ideally we would all have the space, furniture, and equipment needed to perform our jobs. Alas, that is not always the case. These things are meted out by importance or influence rather than by need.

Today I reluctantly add "microcuber" to my vocabulary.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

a few calm moments in a crazy week

I left the Publications Office a little late this evening. I had just finished some large-format layouts that needed to be printed at the local Kinko's/FedEx. My eyes burned with tiredness. I wanted to lie down on a soft bed next to an open window by a tree and sleep. As I was driving down University, I remembered that a guest was stopping by for dinner. My husband had called earlier and said he was going to the store and would cook hamburgers outside and buy some cole slaw. We had some fresh Illinois corn on the cob in the fridge.

The Kinko's is in the same shopping area as a nice Goodwill store. What was I thinking? Instead of rushing like a maniac home to help with dinner I stopped in the Goodwill. I think thrift stores on a quiet day provide a nice oasis of calm. You don't know what you might find so it's not like you actually have to look for anything in particular. Things are inexpensive so you don't feel guilty about indulging in some whimsical item or a blouse that may or may not fit properly. You can browse and chat with other people who also like to linger over dusty, dented treasures.

I made it home just as the burgers were coming off the grill. We had a nice dinner. We chatted and made a pot of coffee. I had been so busy at work this afternoon that I actually skipped my 3:00 coffee break. I went outside and watered some plants that I had put in recently. Streaming water from a hose onto thirsty plants is another way to relax the mind after a stressful day. Sometimes just those small intermissions of pleasure keep you going through a busy week.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Coffee and a Nap

I read an article recently, although I don't remember where, that talked about the Caffeine Power Nap.

I haven't done any research into this or read about it previously. However, I did sort of intuitively stumble upon the idea years ago.

You drink a strong cup of hot coffee and then lie down for a nap. You set an alarm or tell yourself to wake up in fifteen minutes.

When your internal or external alarm goes off, you have been able to rest (relaxed by the hot amber liquid) and in the meantime the caffeine has kicked in, so you feel alert and ready to tackle the rest of the day.

I admit to having used this technique at lunch. I have come home, feeling a bit fatigued by a morning of work, and made a cup of coffee. Then, I stretched out on the couch, let my shoes fall to the floor, and dozed off - or at least fell into deep relaxation. When I got up, the caffeine had kicked in and I slipped on my shoes and headed back to work.

Researchers looking into the Caffeine Power Nap recommend it for fatigued drivers. Stop at McDonald's and buy a large coffee. Pull to the edge of the parking lot and down as much of it as you can. Then, tilt your head back and relax. Awake refreshed and invigorated. Finish the rest of the cup as you drive on.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


It happens every year. I horribly underestimate the time it takes to proofread the undergraduate catalog. Before sending to the printer, I doublecheck that all the curriculum changes have been accurately reflected in the new catalog. I check and triplecheck that I have correctly made the updates sent to me by all the departments and offices on campus. I doublecheck that I have correctly spelled the names of the new faculty members. I come home blurry eyed, often with one of the binders of information to check under my arm.

Then I remember that I have to create an index before I can send to the printer. And that has to be proofread and the page numbers verified.

And then I remember that I haven't updated the photos.

Is the date correct on the front cover and the spine. (Someone forgot to do that one year and the printer was able to cover it over and stamp the correct date on the spine. I keep that one out as a reminder.)

I think to myself:…"if I had just one more week I could make it perfect this year." But time runs out. The catalog is delivered to campus and my phone rings. "Could you correct for next year the error on page such and such."

"Yes, I can update the web version immediately, and I'll change it in the file for next year."

"Which," I say under my breath as I hang up the phone, " always comes too soon."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hot & Humid

I haven't checked with the weather people, but my inner humidity gauge tells me this week tops the charts. I walked back to work after lunch one day this week and my shirt became completely soaked with sweat. I came home yesterday and watered plants, weeded, and bundled some branches I had chopped down over the weekend. By the time I went inside, I looked like I had been walking in a rainstorm, except my cheeks were as red as beets.

Tonight after work, I dragged to the curb the many bundles of branches I have ready for the yard waste truck. I got smart this time, however. I put on my bathing suit before I started this task. When I finished, soaked through, I jumped into the cold water of the pool. I dunked my head repeatedly.

I love to come home from work in the summer—where I have to keep a fan blowing on me to stay cool—do some chores and then JUMP into the cold pool water. We have an ancient concrete pool. It has no fancy heating system - so even in the hottest months, the water stays cold.

Our black Lab puppy, Banjo, goes nuts over water. If I drag a hose out to water plants, he has to jump in it and press his face against the powerful stream of water. Every time he goes out the door in summer, he runs to the pool and begs to be let in.

So, when I come home from work, having left poor Banjo alone all afternoon, I can't just jump in and leave him to whine outside the fence. Of course I let him in. And of course he has to be by my side every minute, with his flailing sharp claws.

This evening, the humidity and heat want to converge into a thunderstorm. In the distance, I hear thunder and overhead I see grey clouds. But to the west, I find a glorious sunset emerging. With all these conflicting impulses, a wonderful orange light has spread across the lawn and reflected off the yellow brown-eyed susans outside my window.

When you think about, Illinois, with all its glorious weather changes, is an awesome place to live.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Where's the flood?

I remember in junior high if a person wore pants that didn't drag the pavement, they would inevitably be asked "Where's the flood, man?"

Several years ago, I used to always wear dresses, skirt, hose, and nice shoes to work.

Until that fateful May afternoon when our basement cubicles flooded. After spending an hour picking up computer towers off the floor, unplugging equipment, and emptying bottom drawers, I realized that my skirt and shoes were soaked through with flood water, some of which had come up through the bathroom stools.

When I got home, I carried the skirt and the shoes to the garbage and slipped into pajamas.

Since then, I figure this could happen again at any time, so be prepared. Computer towers must sit on desktops and beautiful long skirts are not appropriate basement attire.

It happened again late this afternoon. Central Illinois received a torrential rainstorm. Water poured in through the doors, walls, and the toilets of our basement. The A/C shut down. We sweated as we cleared the floor of electrical cords and papers.

So, when you see me in my straight-legged, short pants and you ask me "where's the flood." I'll say, "It's coming any time, man, and I want to be ready."

Friday, July 14, 2006

Kiss of the Overworked Woman

A recent study suggests that working long hours takes a harder toll on women than on men.

As a woman who has worked a fair share of overtime, I can say with conviction that doing this does nothing for one's physical or mental well being. It does, however, get the work done so you can keep your head above water and not become overwhelmed by piles of projects and dayminders of missed deadlines.

The British study, performed by Daryl O'Connor, PhD, a senior lecturer in health psychology at England's University of Leeds, and colleagues, found that several negative health patterns stood out for women who worked long hours:

More high-fat and high-sugar snacks
More caffeine consumption
More smoking
Less exercise

For me, I can only say, check, check, n/a, and check.

I don't smoke, but I do consume caffeine and in greater amounts when I am at work as opposed to when I am at home. Likewise, when I am in my cubicle facing the computer, I am much more likely to stuff chocolate candy into my face than when I am not so confined.

Case in point: I like the smooth chocolate used to make Hershey's Kisses, so if I buy candy for home or the office, I prefer to select these confections. So, I buy a nice assortment of pastel Easter kisses and put them in a pretty candy dish at home. My nephews come and eat some. I sample them, but, with no children in the house, the dish serves more for decoration than consumption. I buy a bag of these sweets for my drawer at work, however, and they don't stand a chance. I am trying to design a cover - or write a pithy paragraph and I am unwrapping those kisses and shoving them in my mouth a "who laid the rail."

I can't explain it except when I am confined to my cubicle and by a deadline I don't have many outlets for nervous energy. At home, I could go outside and pull weeds or brush the dogs. In cubicle, I just eat candy.

Monday, July 10, 2006

idle conversation

Stopping to chat with coworkers can prove rewarding.

Today I ran into Cara in the hallway. She noticed that I had some sun on my face so asked about my weekend. I shared my enthusiasm about the new plants I put in - a hydrangea and phlox. I had fun tilling the spot for them, putting down hardwood mulch that smells wonderfully like a horse stable, and keeping the young plants watered.

She held out her hands, which were stained reddish-purple. She shared vivid images of making mulberry jelly. This endeavor made me think back to the July afternoons when I helped my mom make grape or berry jams and jellies in a steamy kitchen. We never attempted mulberry, although we had a large tree in the alley behind our house. I think the proximity of our neighbor's chicken coop - and the flies it attracted - discouraged us. Cara told of reaching way up into the branches of her very tall trees to select the fruit. Her hands became stained by squeezing the berries through a bag to separate the pulp from the many seeds.

Another time I was glad I stopped in the office down the hall to say hello. Another coworker had made a rhubarb crisp and when I stopped in late in the afternoon a one-inch square piece remained of the huge pan. "Oh please eat it," everyone begged. "We are stuffed and want to clean the pan." I was thinking to myself rhubarb - uh . . . . But I politely put the treat on a plate and dug in. It was wonderful! All those years my mother had made rhubarb pie and I never would even taste it. With this crisp, I couldn't believe how much sugar seemed to have been added and the rhubarbd was still extremely tart. An interesting mix of flavors!

No matter how busy you may be, life is too short not to take a few minutes from your workday and find out what is going on with those you share cubicle space with.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

take a walk

Whether, like me, you work in a university or strive in the private sector, we all encounter people who frustrate us.

In all my dealings with coworkers, I try to be helpful, pleasant, and cooperative. I feel that we all should be working towards the same goal. To make Bradley University the best institution of higher learning that it possibly can be.

Sometimes, however, my thoughts about how to achieve that goal clash with the thoughts of coworkers.

This saddens me. At these times I usually have to take a walk around campus.

I look at the historic buildings, the enthusiastic, diverse student body, the beautiful gardens, and I gain perspective. I let the larger picture of the university subsume the petty differences.

Then, I often walk beyond campus over to the shopping center and indulge in a Starbuck's beverage.

A nice latte can definitely calm the mind and allow you to overcome the frustration and get back to work.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Last look

In October 2004, my sister found two fur-ball kittens abandoned near her home in Chicago. Her landlord, who lived in the flat below, had a no-tolerance policy towards animals - and a tendency to enter the apartment whenever she felt like it. These were just about the cutest kittens my sister had ever seen and they seemed exceptionally bright and affectionate, so she hated to just drop them off at the shelter. She called and asked if she could bring them down. "They are so adorable," she said. "If you can't keep them, I know you'll find homes for them immediately."

The next Monday, I had the above picture as my computer's wallpaper - I knew someone would see them and fall in love. It was probably that afternoon that my coworker Andy came by and saw the photo. He had been thinking about getting his family a pet. I told him that cats really do better if adopted in pairs - they can terrorize each other rather than the humans around them. He loved the look of the black cat - and just didn't know if two was a good idea. Well, I said, the grey one has had diarrhea, so I needed to take her in to the vet anyway.

His family loved the kitten…and Andy's daily reports told of him eating lots, growing at an alarming rate, using his litter box right off the bat, and being one happy cat.

At first the vets thought Sophie was smaller than her brother just because of the gender difference - and that the diarrhea may have been caused by the kitten formula I put on her food to soften it. When I brought her in for her first shots, however, I explained that she still had diarrhea and didn't like using her litter box. Sometimes she would just sit hunched up and cry if I picked her up. This was Thanksgiving weekend and all of my family was at my house. That Friday, the vet called to say Sophie's x-rays showed some abnormalities in the intestines. The enthusiastic young vet who had just joined the clinic said he could open her up and take a look.

To explain my agreement with this plan, I have to say that I had already fallen in love with "Soph the Moph." She loved to be held - she never scratched - she had beautiful eyes that would look into mine intently. She found the dogs interesting. "Or, we could euthanize her," the vet said.

"No, let's see if we can help her," I told him.

It turned out she had a deformed intestinal tract. The vet called me from surgery and said he could try to cut out the deformed areas and stitch her back together. Intestinal surgery in cats, he warned, is often unsuccessful.

I got my whole family to think positive thoughts for Sophie's recovery. And, much to all the vets' surprise, she recovered beautifully. Well, maybe "beautifully" is too strong. She thrived. She ate well and she started to gain weight. She had very soft stools, however, and never did master the litter box. I can't count the number of times I would come home at lunch and find her hunched up, looking uncomfortable. The clinic showed me how to give her antinflammatory injections. We did find a miracle food for her. If I gave her a tablespoon of pumpkin every day, she kept fairly "regular."

One day this spring, I realized that I hadn't had to take Sophie in or give her a shot in several months. She seemed to have outgrown her problems. She loved being outside in the yard. She was a fearless mouser, always dumping her prey on the back porch for my approval. She remained the sweetest kitten ever - she loved to cuddle or have me hold her near my face and talk to her. I found her personality so charming that she could just make me smile by walking in the room.

A couple weeks ago, I noticed that she was limping. Then, she developed horrible blackish-brown diarrhea. Once the vet clinic hooked her up to fluids, she perked right up, ate, and her leg felt better. When I brought her home, she wouldn't eat and her limp got worse. She lost weight dramatically and wouldn't eat anything but a little chicken broth. She became skin and bones and only wanted to lie under the bed.

Monday was one of the most horrible mornings of my life. I had been stung by wasps the day before and was having an allergy attack. I got up throughout the night to check on Sophie.

I called the vet clinic first thing Monday morning and told them I thought she needed to be euthanized. I thought when I took her in they would disagree with my assessment. Instead, the vet said "I think it is time."

I held my Sophie through the procedure, with tears streaming down my face. Our eyes were locked on each other's - until hers gave up.

Andy stopped by my office this afternoon and I shared with him again the photos of the kittens. He told me that Sophie's brother was now 17 pounds! I hope he lives a good, happy, long life and brings his family as much joy as Sophie brought me.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Cubicle in a Bucket

Hiring a temporary employee?
Cubicle overtaken by ants?

If you need a temporary cubicle solution, the brilliant minds at inflatedesign have developed what they call OIAB - or Office in a Bucket.

It looks weird at first, but I gave it some thought and realized some advantages: Sound isn't going to carry in or out very well in an office the consistency of marshmallows. You wouldn't have to listen to everyone else's water cooler conversations. Since the cubes are soft, you could squish lots of them together if you have limited floorspace. If you are a bit of a klutz, like me, you wouldn't have to worry about tripping over you chair and slamming into a metal cubicle brace. You'd just bounce back. It looks waterproof, so if you run out of space, you could start lining these puffs up on the parking lot.

Big drawback: no thumbtacks on the walls.

For more photos go to

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Undergrad Catalog

One of the most important jobs I do at Bradley is edit, format, and proofread the undergraduate catalog, which comes out in print but is also available online at

To begin, I collect all the Senate-approved curriculum changes and course additions, deletions, and modifications. I modify the catalog text accordingly. I also read the front matter and faculty/staff listings for other changes that have occurred on campus during the year. Then, I send a proof to the campus community for review. The pages come back marked up in red with more changes.

I make the additional changes and then proofread, double check, triple check. I send this to the printer and then read the blueline proof carefully. Some would call this an incredibly tedious task. And it is. But it is also incredibly important, so I do enjoy it.

For the past several years, summers have been an overwhelming time in the Publications Office: the undergrad and grad catalogs, the telephone directory, newsletters, and more all demanded attention. Last fall, however, a new employee joined me and I have had more time for some long-neglected tasks. I took the time this year to update the font, column width, and header styles of the catalog. So, in additions to the tedious editing tasks, I also reformatted every line of the catalog.

I like the updated look. The 1950s Optima font has been replaced with the easy-on-the-eye sans serif font Myriad. The bloated columns have trimmed down and stand farther apart. The top margin has been widened for more white space—the page, I hope, will be more relaxing to the reader (prospective students and their parents, who have enough anxiety).

Optima, designed by Hermann Zapf in 1958, is very clean and crisp, but tends to be a bit sterile. Its popularity for use in newsletters, brochures, and advertising copy makes it a bit overused for the past 30 years. Still, for its time, it was a stylistic triumph.

The switch to Myriad, designed in 1992 by Twombly and Slimbach of Adobe Systems, represents a movement away from an institutional look for the catalog to a more friendly, personal style. I use Myriad for the schedule of classes and many other publications. I have Myriad Pro, which provides a wide variety of weights—so I am able to use it for heads and body text. I think it has a simplicity with flair and substance. It also is very well kerned and doesn't pose any problems in intricate combinations of letters and numbers. It is the perfect fin de siecle font!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Peoria Pickpockets

I'm sure in Peoria's storied past, when it was known throughout the midwest as a place for booze and prostitution, pickpockets were in their glory. It's a "profession" at least as old as prositituion. It seems Peoria pickpockets are enjoying a resurgence. I received an e-mail message today that told of a colleague's misfortune at Barnes & Noble.

I don't want what happened to me Sat. afternoon at a book discussion group in the Barnes & Noble Cafe to happen to anyone else: my wallet was lifted from my purse when I was sitting right there, with it beside me on the floor and closed, where I could see it out of the corner of my eye. None of the other four participants noticed anything, either. It's just that my purse was much lighter when I picked it up to leave . . .

The interesting thing is that the police, when I filed a report, said that this is a problem both there and at Borders Cafe, and to a lesser extent at Panera's, both of them.

At all of these places, customers are invited to sit down, relax, read a book, sip a coffee. Get comfortable—and less cautious. That's great, just don't take your purse. From what I have read, the great pickpocket works alone and completely blends into the environment. At Barnes and Noble, she is probably reading "The World is Flat" and enjoying a latte.

When I'm going to be in a crowded place, I like to put my ATM card, license, and keys in a secure pocket and leave my purse at home. A purse is such a target. If you have to carry one, get one that closes securely, has a shoulder strap, and looks kinda cheap. Designers create some gorgeous purses, but most are better suited for dressing-table decorations than everyday use. They draw attention to you, make you look like you have money, and often fall open easily.

Being safe also, I believe, means wearing sensible shoes. How are you going to run in heels? Wear them out to dinner or the opera, but for daily treks to work or the store, leave the pumps and spikes at home.

I had a strange experience in a grocery store the other day. Staring dumbly at all the tomato sauces I could choose from, I didn't notice two young men enter the aisle. Until they started to seriously invade my space. I began to move along and they moved too, brushing up against me at one point. I was not relieved of any possessions—maybe they were in training.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Labs Like the New Look

After months of sporadic work, I am finally ready to move my computer out of the living room and into the freshly painted office.

I have never experimented with painting a room in fun colors, so this was new. This room appears to have had some type of damage (fire, water, mold?), because it received a cheap and fast drywall and trim redo at some point. Nothing is square. The last time it was painted, someone carelessly splashed paint all over the oak hardwood floor, which had also been damaged by a leaky radiator.

A set of doors in this room exits to a small covered patio. I would like to get these in operating condition so the Labs and I can take our breaks from work and walk out onto a patio filled with beautiful pots of flowers. (Now it is just dirty with chipping paint, but I can dream!)

After this transformation of my home workspace, I want to spruce up my office . . . er cubicle at work. I was so busy when I moved in that I just tossed things into drawers or in various piles. Maybe this summer I will find time to straighten and find some more artwork for the beige walls. I would also like to buy a potted tree. I'll find room for it . . . do I really need that side chair?

Actually I am much less depressed about my cubicle since my trip last week to City Hall. The people I saw were in cramped spaces with cheap, ugly cubicle partitions. They can hear each other's keystrokes and breaths. My cube is palatial by comparison. I will, however, continue to complain about not having a window. Since darkrooms are disappearing, there is really no reason for anyone to have to work in a windowless space!!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dylan's Theme Time Radio: coffee

I worked late this evening, trying to get the undergrad catalog done, and when I walked in the back door, my husband said. "You'll never guess what Bob Dylan's theme is the week." Our three Labs were jumping all over me, so I said "dogs." nope. "Cats?" I said as two sauntered into the kitchen. "No, no, no. He'll probably play Mississippi John Hurt . . . The theme is coffee!"

If you are familiar with MJH—brilliant guitar stylist and songwriter—you know he loved to sing about "Maxell House."

This is the "Coffee Blues", I likes a certain brand
- Maxwell's House - it's good till the last drop,
just like it says on the can. I used to have a girl
cookin' a good Maxwell House. She moved away.
Some said to Memphis and some said to Leland,
but I found her. I wanted her to cook me some
good Maxwell's House. You understand,
if I can get me just a spoonful of Maxwell's House,
do me much good as two or three cups this other coffee)

Well much to my disappointment Dylan skipped this gem, but he did play some other greats: songs about sitting round with you best friend smoking cigarettes and drinking that rich amber liquid, that, like he says, "makes a poor man feel like

Dylan's "Theme Time Radio," only available on XM Satellite, is the reason we now have this service. We cancelled our basic cable ($15/month) and signed up for XM ($12/month). In addition to the Dylan show, we also like to listen to Al Franken, who rants about George Bush once a day and keeps us fairly well informed. The best part of his show is his visit each Thursday with news guru Tom Oliphant (of the News Hour and the bow tie), who he introduces each week with a few bars of the "Baby Elephant Walk."

We also like to listen to the Folk Village and The Loft (which features and eclectic mix of singer-songwriters.) If we need entertained, we can turn to the old-time radio channel: The Shadow, Suspense, and the Lux Radio Theatre.

I believe that XM Radio is a much better value than cable. When "Theme Time Radio" is on, it is priceless.

Monday, May 29, 2006

flags at the graves of soldiers

Today is Memorial Day. I took off Friday, so have enjoyed a four-day weekend. On Monday morning, I planned what jobs I could get done around the house during the remains of the weekend. I called my Mother, and then started to think I should drive down to Camp Butler to put flowers on my father's grave. I wanted to stay home and paint and garden, but patriotic duty seemed to call. I could also stop by and till Mom's garden, which would be fun.

My father was not a decorated soldier. I think he got thrown into the brig several times for not returning to the ship on time or other insubordinations. Many WWII veterans spoke proudly of their service. My father felt incredible guilt for the Japanese planes he shot down in the Pacific. He felt anger for the exposure to radiation he received when he and his shipmates were sent into Nagasaki after the bomb dropped. He never talked about his service. He traveled outside of Sangamon County reluctantly. We never took vacations. Travel, to him, meant unpleasantness. After sailing almost every mile of the U.S. coastline and most of the South Pacific, he wanted to stay home.

So, when I found his marker in the crowded cremation section, by following the dates of death, I remembered that it told an umimpressive record: gunners mate 3rd class. My mom had given me the only remnants of spring left blooming in her yard: some floppy, wind-blown mock orange blossoms. Camp Butler has bins of metal vases that fit securely in the ground, but by late afternoon on Memorial Day, the bins were empty. I got a water bottle from the car, but the profusely blossomed branches tipped it over. The ground, still somewhat soft from recent rain, let me poke the branches around the stone. I then poured the water over the dirt.

If you haven't been to a national cemetery on Memorial Day, I think it worth the drive. Flags line each throughway and a small flag is set at the end of each grave. Not knowing the tradition, I wanted to move my father's flag closer to the stone, nearer the flowers, for aesthetic reasons. When I got in the car, Performance Today was on the radio, broadcasting Memorial Day services from Arlington National Cemetery. I learned that the "Old Guard" stays at Arlington all weekend during "flags in" to make sure that a flag stands one foot away from the base of each grave.

Dad did love flowers, but I realized that even more he loved coffee. I decided that next time I visited his grave I would start a new tradition of bringing a thermos of coffee. I will pour two cups. To one I will add two packets of sugar, stir it vigorously, and then send the spoon (metal) dancing across the stone, just as Dad would fling a spoon, dripping coffee, across our oak kitchen table about 10 times a day. I will then say a word, set the sugared one down, and drink strongly from mine, black.

I think that would be better than flowers.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

new tech

We could send publications out as a DVD - with a nice accompanying booklet - like CD liner notes - telling people what's inside and providing crucial information for people who never play the disc. We could interview people, include videos, and save some paper!

Podcasts: potential. Easy to record a message and have it posted within minutes. Link it prominently.

Blogs, blogs, blogs. Chatty, with a charming personality! Blogs could be a community effort. One voice but several writers. Lots of great digital photos - point, click, download, comment.

Many new-tech ways to communicate.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Coffee and the airport

I recently had the good fortune to be able to attend a design conference in Seattle. In Seattle, I found out, they have at least one and sometimes two coffee shops per block. My dream city!

Before deplaning in Seattle, however, I had to catch a wee-morning flight in Peoria. Thank goodness I don't live that far from the airport, as I think I was half asleep driving there.

As I approached the security gate, I noticed, off to the side, a coffee vending machine. For the mere price of one dollar, you could get a paper cup full of scalding hot coffee. I pushed aside other passengers, I think, to get to it.

After several attempts, I found in my bag a dollar bill the machine would accept. I selected the super strong dark brew option. The paper cup dropped and began to fill. A recorded voice motioned me to the security area. I had my carry-on, my coat, my shoes, and my paper cup of coffee. Take any of the above, but not the coffee, I thought.

Hoping not to splash boiling coffee on a TSA agent, I continued to balance the hot paper cup, as I removed my coat and backpack and sent them through the conveyor for inspection.

As I entered the secure terminal, a savvy Bradley student, who evidently travels often, put her dollar into a machine and drew a cup of hot Maxwell House. "Oh, I wish I would have known this was here," I told her.

"I had to keep reminding myself," she said, "that I could wait. It was hard."

Sunday, May 07, 2006

the lost art of communication

Even as we have more and more ways to communicate with each other, we are losing our ability to communicate well.

People may work in cubicles yards away from yours or in a cubicle farm across campus, you may have shared projects and goals, but lack of communication makes achieving these goals more difficult, and the projects suffer.

People act without consulting each other, leading to resentment. They edit or comment on each other's work via pdf or Word files without dialogue that could lead to improvement. When you do have a meeting, participants have brought their cell phones, which, inevitably, start to buzz or play a Rolling Stones tune just as you are about to make your best point.

Is this any wonder?

We live in isolation. Communication is a one-way street. We passively receive the news from the "media," but seldom from each other. When a neighbor passes away, you often read about it in the paper rather than learning the news first hand. A major catastrophe or triumph occurs in the house next door and you never hear about it.

Communication at work these days often consists of phone calls, which are more personal than the even more popular e-mail but are still no substitute for face-to-face involvement. We are more comfortable with these impersonal forms of communication at work because we no longer learn and appreciate the art of interpersonal communication at home.

Without good communication, we become more and more isolated and less and less productive.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

cubicle coffee thanks to Starbucks

Ubiquitous Starbucks needs no free advertisements but when I stopped in one day for a latte on the run, a well-designed vessel caught my eye. "Cubicle coffee," I thought. "Perfect, and my birthday is next week." I got my wish, and now the Bunn-O-matic has been turned off. Since I'm the only one in the office who requires a constant flow of brewed coffee to keep me going, I have been feeling guilty about keeping the Bunn on and throwing out half a pot of coffee twice a day.

The Starbucks travel coffee press has lessened my guilt. I draw water from the water heater/cooler that everyone in the office enjoys, add a heaping spoonful of coffee, answer a couple of e-mails or write a couple sentences, then slowly plunge down the press. I wait several minutes for the mixture to cool and then enjoy a fragrant, rich coffee.

Since this is made of stainless steel, I don't worry about breaking glass as I would with a traditional coffee press. Since the brewing container is also the imbibing vessel, I don't have to worry about spilling hot coffee on anyone as I decant. I do feel a bit guilty, however, about washing a few coffee grounds down the bathroom sink as I rinse. I have warned the custodian that I have been pouring the dripping dregs into the bathroom wastebastket, where, hopefully, the enormous number of wadded up paper towels will aborb most of it. I told him, however, that I was the cause of any brown sludge that may drip from the liner when he removes it. He just shrugged and said he'd double line it if it were a problem and not to worry. "They drip all the time,' he said.

When I was in high school I remember writing a speech for speech class about how McDonald's was evil. They were taking over the world, producing bland, greasy food and turning a nation into obese morons. I thought of this when I came across the website "I hate Starbucks dot com."This site collects comments from the many people who oppose the proliferation of this successful corporation. A typical comment, this one from "Megan:"

Starbucks coffee is horrible and so expensive! All you losers out there who feel the need to show your status by marching around with those your numbers through this calculator I found on the web and realize how much you are throwing to the corporate pig.

Since a Starbucks shop just opened up near campus, across the street from a family-owned coffee shop/cafe, all of us in the Bradley University community neighborhood should think about which we will support. I have decided to support both. The family-owned shop, One World, has the best food in walking distance to campus. At One World, nutritious salads, hearty, healthy sandwiches, and wonderful soup are always on the menu. You will always be served by a friendly person. The coffee is good, but not top shelf. The best drink they serve is their hot spiced apple cider. Superb. If you feel weighted down by the world or a bad cold, stop in at the corner of Main and University in Peoria and order the hot cider. Just breathe it in and you will feel better. You can also order any wonderful coffee drink for here or to go.

Starbucks sits across the street in the Campustown shopping center. I do pop in there for a coffee on the run because it's fast, effecient, and friendly. The staff can get health benefits, something only a large over-charging corporation can offer part-time employees.

So, I feel comfortable supporting both places. For food and drink, One World. When I need a coffee before running errands on Saturday, Starbucks.

And, if you need a great vessel for cubicle coffee, go get the travel mug coffee press. Of course, maybe One World or your local coffee shop will start coming around to our cubicles with a coffee cart of fresh brew every morning and afternoon. That would be great too.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

humbled by the hoopmasters

I have worked in Bradley Publications for over seven years, producing newsletteres, catalogs, development pieces, president's reports etc. I felt humbled on Sunday afternoon as I watched a group of tall college kids finish off their second upset of the NCAA tournament. That evening, my in-laws came over for dinner. After I finished eating, I looked at the clock and grabbed my coat. They all looked at me rather surprised. "Take care," I said. "I gotta run." They were surprised to learn that I, who could never be called a sports fanatic, was heading to the airport to greet the team as it stepped off the plane. They looked at me with quizzical expressions.

I explained that I had realized this afternoon that these often ineloquent, but incredibly talented young men had done more to advance Bradley University in one week than I could do in a hundred years of hard work. I had also attended the send-off party for the team a few days earlier, and I decided then that these seemed like really sweet guys. They truly appreciated people coming out to wish them luck, they gave high fives and hugs to little kids, they signed whatever we asked them to sign and just seemed to appreciate the attention.

So Bradley is now in the Sweet Sixteen. The phones are ringing off the hooks. We're all over ESPN and the upcoming Sports Illustrated cover. Reporters and film crews are on campus. Prospective students are getting more interested. Suddenly, the country is curious about this little school with a big heart in Peoria, the town with a funny name that few people can find on a map.

So, I'll keep cranking out printed pages, but I have a new perspective on my work.

Follow Bradley's wonderful players at

Thursday, March 16, 2006

coffee unwired

Of course when you work in a basement cubicle and the power goes out, you feel for a flashlight or try to make it out to the hallway that is dimly lit by an emergency light. You get to go home, where, hopefully, you do have power and can make that afternoon cup of coffee.

I am sitting here in my cubicle, formatting the schedule of classes, a tedious task, and thinking it is just about time to head for the Bunn-O-Matic, which makes a tolerable pot of coffee in seconds flat. Before I get up, however, I have to relay my mother's recent plight. She lives in Rochester, a tiny town about 5 miles outside of Springfield, Illinois. As you may have heard, Springfield sustained heavy tornado damage Sunday night. Most of the city—and the surrounding towns—were without power for two days.

So mom thought about driving into Springfield to find a cup of hot coffee, but that didn't seem reasonable. The entire town of Rochester had no power, so a trip to the gas station for a cup was out. Ever resourceful, mom went out and built a fire in the Weber grill. Once she got it going, she put a pot of water on it. Since I heard the story second hand from my brother, I'm not really sure if this method worked. Sounds like a lot of trouble, but when you really need a cup of coffee, especially after two days with no power, you'll try anything.

Personally, I would have braved the streets and driven five miles to the outskirts of Springfield, where Starbucks recently opened a new shop. (I'm sure they would have found a generator, sensing how desperate the whole town was going to be for a good strong cup of joe.!) But a trip into town for one cup of coffee would seem quite wasteful to her, I am sure.

More power to you, Mom!

Monday, February 27, 2006

melt aweigh pounds - but not with Spam

Bradley installed last year a "spam quarantine firewall" to prevent our inboxes from being inundated with unwanted, disgusting, and even x-rated e-mail. The filter generally does a good job, although occasionally it does filter legitmate e-mail, especially if it contains an attachment. One day I found an e-mail to myself (from my Bradley account) in the quarantine box. Because of this, we are forced to scan the quarantine box regularly.

This morning I realized that this has become one of my least favorite tasks—right up there with adding toner powder to the copy machine.

The messages are often from or some other address that is completely indecipherable. Or they come from "Doctor" or "Angel" or maybe from just plain "Bill." I suppose they try to avoid filters looking for common spam words, so several words in the subject line are always misspelled: Nexican Phamacy.

The spammers assume that most of us want to boost our sexul performance, take drugs for anxity, get the inside scope on an invetment deal, or lose wait. Many of us also evidently fear that we forgot to pay for the Canon printer we bought on ebay and are sure our account is about to be suspended or that an identity thief has discovered our PayPal or Citibank password.

I am tired of it and no longer wish to check this list of come-ons for legitimate e-mails. Not sure what I will miss by neglecting it, but it won't be Angel.

Monday, February 20, 2006

a bright yellow office!

I may work in a cubicle, but when I take work home in the evenings or on weekends, I get to spread it out in an office that has two huge windows and a door to the outside (the door doesn't actually open, but it has windows, and maybe this summer I will fix it). This office is one of my favorite rooms in the house, because I can look out onto the yard and the street and watch passersby as I work. Recently, I decided to paint the floor. Even though the floor is hard wood, it is in disastrous condition (from a leaky radiator and a very sloppy paint job). I didn't discover this until I tore up the carpet a few months back.

So, I decided to paint the floor, as I hate to part with the cash to have it refinished right now.

Somehow, the idea of painting the floor led to visions of transforming the semi-gloss white walls to a bright color. I was looking through a "cottage living" magazine and kept seeing yellow and blue as a very pleasant combination. As I looked at the walls, I realized that the crack that stretches all around the room must have been caused when someone removed a chair rail. So, I decided I would try my hand at the mitre saw and restore the wall by adding a white rail.

As I was shopping for a new printer on the Epson website today, I found a playful link that I couldn't resist: "Create a Relaxing Work Environment", which uses Feng Shui theory.

The first suggestion is:

Red flowers placed in the upper left quadrant of
your office or desk can bring financial success.

I doubt that, but I was greatly pleased by the second tip:

Yellow is the best color for the home office because
it is peaceful and cheerful.

Now, I can't wait to get this painting done (it has taken quite a while) so I can relax in peace and cheer as I proofread!

The tips also include this:

If you don’t have a view outside from where you sit
at your desk, hang a plant or a picture of a plant in
your line of sight. It promotes peace and tranquility
which will make you more relaxed and productive.

My cubicle here at work does have several plants, but I sit with my back to them. I am going to start looking for a bright riotous picture of yellow flowers to hang on the wall in front of me.

I also learned that:

Round-edged furniture stimulates creativity;
squared edges promote assertive negotiations.

All my cubicle furniture has sharp angles. Not much I can do about that, but perhaps I should trade in the library table I use at home for a round table. That would be fun and would go with the happy look of the yellow paint.

By the way, Epson lists as its source for these tips: Marilyn Zelinsky, Practical Home Office Solutions, p. 142-143

Thursday, February 02, 2006


"An oral contract is not worth the paper it's written on."

"Paper Jam." "Open Tray 1 and remove the jammed paper."

"I have to write a paper for Psychology class tonight."

"Jumbo Sized GEM Paper Clips."

I have been thinking a lot about paper lately. On one of the listservs I belong to the discussion of moving to web-only university catalogs or schedules of classes has come up again. I can understand this for class schedules because the information can change on a daily basis and they have a short shelf life. I think for catalogs it's a bad idea. If they exist only online, will people be able to access them in 25 years? Will they have the software to read the files?

I was cleaning out some office files yesterday and came across a banana yellow 3.5" floppy disk that must have contained some important information at one time, as it had been carefully put in a plastic envelope and filed away. Before throwing it out, I thought briefly about hanging it on my cubicle wall for decoration. I have no idea what was on it because I doubt there's a computer on the entire Bradley campus that has a drive that could read this disk. Whatever was on it has been lost. Since this is the Publications Office, however, its contents probably are printed in a catalog or newsletter somewhere. A copy of it most likely still exists.

At the doctor's office the other day, I watched the nurse carefully write down my weight and blood pressure on a neat little form for the doctor to review. She signed the bottom of the form before leaving the room. The doctor came in and wrote more notes on the form and he too signed it. He handed me my file to take with me to the front desk. Of course, I had to take a few minutes to look throught it while I slowly put my shoes on. It chronicled, in several different people's handwriting, my health for the past ten years. It contained xray readings and lab reports. All on paper! Perhaps some doctors have gone paperless, but it's probably more time consuming to make sure computers are available (and working) in every room and that people know how to use them. And that you can find what you need on them when you need it.

For many things, paper just makes more sense. I'm not giving up my job in the print world that easily!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

some peace and protection

I was having lunch with a friend who works at a nearby medical complex. One of her coworkers was robbed at gunpoint last year. Recently, another person in her small office was held up a knife point. "If you're going to walk, carry protection," she told me firmly.

"I need Banjo to walk with me," I said.

Banjo is my tall, black, year-old Lab. He's a sweetheart - just a great well-balanced personality. To enjoy his company and his protection on my walk home at night, however, I would have to have him with me at work in the afternoon. He would be a gem in the office. I would bring him if we had a policy that allowed it.

I know there are many potential problems: allergic coworkers, people terrified of black dogs, someone bringing an aggressive dog to work, dogs barking while you're on the phone.

But I think there are many benefits too. The relaxing feeling of a dog curled up at your feet as you write. Not having to worry that your dog is home alone chewing up the sofa because he misses you. The feeling of well being that a dog brings to any environment.

I have written before about how wonderful it was for one week when we were selling our house and I brought my chocolate Lab, Lucy, to work with me.

According to a recent online survey, two-thirds of dog owners said they would put in longer hours if they could bring their dog to work.The poll, conducted by the online dog forum Dogster and the job search engine Simply Hired, reported that nearly one-third of those surveyed said they would go so far as taking a five percent pay cut if their dog could come to work with them. I would do that too, just for the peace of mind.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

We all make mistakes…

Editors live in fear of typos hitting the press. We dream about all the horrible things that can happen when we commit type to paper. We wake up in a sweat, fearing the annual report is going to hit people's mailboxes and that we've left the "l" out of "public." We make printer reps and designers crazy as we read bluelines letter by letter.

"How could this have happened???" reverberates in our heads as we imagine a man in a suit standing in our doorway with smoke curling out of his ears.

So I pity the editor of The Chronicle Review. While I was on hold yesterday, I was studying the cover of the November 25, 2005 edition folded on my desk. I read the 40 point headline: "The Challeges Ahead for Higher Education."

I think when this first came out, my eyes filled in the missing letter. Sitting doodling as I waited for someone to answer my call, however, the typo jumped out at me.

Mistakes happen. All the editors and proofreaders have gone home and the designer has to make a last-minute adjustment to the type. Her finger slips and deletes a letter. The designer is the editor and mental fatigue sets in.

No matter how carefully we proofread, we will always miss something. I like to have as many eyes as possible look over a piece before it goes to the printer. I like to put important pieces down and read them again the next day.

One of my English professors, dismayed at the number of typos he had found in our work, handed out pieces of cardboard and scissors to the class one evening. He made us sit and cut out a hole the size of a line of type on letter-size paper. We were told for our next assignment we were to hold this frame over every line and read it twice. We would fail the assignment if we had one misspelled word, one comma out of place.

Of course, looking for typos can be an obsession. At restaurants, I enjoy scanning the menu looking for errors. One of my favorite usage errors hung on the wall of a post office, where I learned that a person's disappearance may have been the result of "fowl" play. I imagined a flock of hens attacking the poor soul.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


I have been trying to come up with a new cover concept for the summer/fall class schedule. Maybe because it's bleak January, but I have a desire to express enthusiasm and energy on this cover. I'd like to find an image full of vitality.

The word "jump" sprang to mind. Jump into new classes. Go for it. A few slogans "leapt" to mind that could be joined with the image.

I quickly found the neat image above while searching for jumpy images. What fun!

Combining concepts, images, and words is the most joyful part of my job. Doing so exercises many mental muscles simultaneously, something that, frankly, doesn't happen enough for must of us. It can't be happening as we go around with such dull expressions. Look at the faces around you as you walk down office halls, type e-mails, or sit in meetings.

By the way, the above image was purchased from a great, low-cost website istockphoto, which all publications people on a budget should know about. Photographer for the above photo is Diane Diederich.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


At Bradley we are fortunate to have off the week between Christmas and New Year's. Trudging back into the building yesterday morning, I was greeted by several people who wished me a happy new year - and some who quickly added that they would have enjoyed another week off.

Well, I am hoping for a good new year, but this one didn't get off to a great start. I would also enjoy another week off, but I also feel a little safer here in my cubicle! I didn't explain all this to the well-wishers, so I will do that here.

First, I think we are much more vulnerable than we usually let ourselves believe.

New Year's Day. I am driving down Interstate 55 for a family gathering. At my nephew's request, I bring along my dog Lucy.

I hear a bang from underneath the hood and see white smoke out the back. I pull off the road. A patrolman will pass by soon.

I call my sister. She can get here in about an hour.

I call the motor club. They can't locate any help. I have in my purse the number for a Peoria towing service. They will come, but I have to pay in cash. I look in my wallet. OK, I say hesitantly. I'll worry about that once he gets here.

No one else to call now.

A brown ribboned cornfield to my right. An old farmhouse in the far distance. Lucy watches the traffic rip past us. She is trembling. The trucks shake the car as they pass.

I am alone. No one seems to see me.

The patrolmen are sleeping in after New Year's Eve.

I sit for an hour. No one sees me.

My sister calls my phone. "I see you, I see you!" She goes to the next exit and turns around so she is heading my direction. We unload everything of value from the car and then help Lucy into the van.

I feel like laughing and crying. She has some cash.

Before heading home, we find a Starbucks. Ice water for Lucy and huge lattes for us. We sit in the van for a while and savor the calming hot liquid. We aren't anxious to get back on the highway.