Monthly Archives: July 2013

Technology Failed Me!

ImageThat was the line my daughter hit me with when she came home from work.  It was an interesting comment since I had just finished this blog on that very topic but was still looking for a title. I’m going to plagiarize her comment.

I hate technology.  Designed to make my life easier but in long run I think it makes it more complicated.  The goal of this morning was a simple task of outlining a curriculum for class this afternoon.  I fired up the computer, started the voice recognition and sat down to do some dictation.  The computer acted as if it had never heard my voice before.

  I re-calibrated the microphone and started from scratch.  The machine continued to act as though I’m was speaking Greek.  This meant for every sentence I typed, I had to go back and find the correct words the voice recognition replaced for mine.  On days when I have a lot of time this is not a big deal.  Today was not one of those days.

 Now I can hear you saying, why didn’t you just type?  The answer is because I have a bum arm and am supposed to let it rest.  Consequently, me and the voice recognition system went round and round.

 I finally got it running fairly smoothly and sat down to type.  I completed my paper and hit print.  We have a Wireless Network in my house.  That means I can be on the second floor hit the print button and the paper will print on the first floor.  This did not happen.

 Last week something happen with our router and the wireless stopped working. Since then, I’ve been dragging my laptop to the printer so I can connect the two by cable.  Yesterday we thought we’d fixed the wireless router. So this morning when I hit the print button I expected to go downstairs and find my prints waiting.  What I found was nothing.

 I trudged back up the steps and checked my laptop. A message read, can’t talk to the printer. I think, so much for the wireless fix.  I unplugged the equipment from my laptop and take it downstairs to try again.  Nothing happened. I can’t get the printer to function at all.  I think, there’s a new printer still in the box on the second floor, I’ll quickly set up that one.

  I found the printer and set it up. It’s the exact same printer as the one downstairs so it should not have been a problem.

 I hooked my laptop with the new printer and hit print. Nothing happened.  I realized there was a disk that I’m supposed to install.  I figured since they were the same printer I would not need additional software. 

 I popped in the disk and hit install.  An error message occurred.  It read, no drivers found, installation unsuccessful.  It directed me to click on a link for more information.  I did this and It read, you ding-a-ling you should not have your laptop connected to the printer while trying to install printer software.  I didn’t know that.

I unplug the laptop from the printer and tell it to reinstall the disk.  The computer cranks away and another error message pops.  It read, if you really want to print do a dos-e-doe, twirl around, clap your hands and agree to sell your first born child.  After you sign that you agree with this try to reinstall the software.  So I signed and waited.  Another error message popped.  It said, I’ve decided we’re not printing today, so sorry for your bad luck.  

 I decided to write the information I typed onto paper. I’m in the process doing this when the computer tells me it’s going shopping to get software upgrades.  There’s no time to think about the idea. It simply said goodbye and my screen went blank. I can no longer access my document.

 I restarted the computer and it informed me it has to install all the upgrades it found before it abandoned me.  Estimated time before I can use the machine is ten minutes.

  Fine, I needed to eat lunch anyway.  I heated up some leftover spaghetti from last night’s dinner and ate while standing at the kitchen sink.  After all I only had 10 minutes before the machine allows me back to work and there was a lot I needed to do.

 Everything complete, I restarted the programs but couldn’t find my file. I looked everywhere. It was as though I never wrote it.  I suppose it’s possible I never saved the document; however, I typically save papers every so many paragraphs.  In my frustration maybe I forgot this time.

 After I searched files for about a half hour, I felt like throwing the printer and the computer out the window.  Logic stepped in and instead, I put on my shoes and went for a drive.  What I needed was a change of scenery.  I decided the comic book store was the place to go.

 At the comic book store, they were playing electronic music reminiscent of the group Tangerine Dream from the seventies.  The store had lots of eye catching, multi-colored paper covers to greet my eyes.  Titles that splashed the exploits of superheroes, imaginary universes and action, adventure films surround me.  Familiar friends like X- men, Wolverine, Ironman, Star Trek, Star Wars and Dr. Who were only a few.  The guy behind the desk was more than interested in shooting the breeze for a few moments.  

 Those few moments in a pop-culture environment with conversation having nothing to do with reality was exactly what I needed.  Feeling refreshed I headed home to tackle my technology nightmares.

 Back upstairs in my office I once again looked at the printer, laptop and thought, I’m going to give this one more try.  Once again I tried to install the software and once again the computer complained.  It told me to click this, click that, say three Hail Mary’s and eat a strawberry yogurt with granola.  I’m not going to let you print. I’ll show the machine who is boss; I’m going to turn this over to my tech squad, hubby, when he gets home.

  I returned to using the voice recognition program with another project.  Like earlier, it continues to be uncooperative. Instead of typing sentences like, I’m going to drive to the store to buy milk.  The voice recognition program typed… and runs were minimal.  These were not the same sentence.  They didn’t even sound the same.  I don’t get it.

 Maybe the moon is waxing or waning or maybe we are getting sun flares causing my equipment to run amok.  I don’t know but I do know if I lived in an imaginary reality like in a comic book, I would find a way to have machines do their master’s bidding. Not the master trying to figure out how to communicate with the machine or the machine doing what it wants when it wants.

  I worry sometimes about the level of dependence humans have on machines. Office machinery running amok is one thing, but I see those commercials for cars that park themselves and find myself concerned.  I hate technology sometimes. I don’t know if I’m ready for a world more dependent on machines.  Then again, machines probably aren’t real thrilled to work for people like me – technologically challenged.

Stress Perseverance for Relationships

(Video is Tom the Turtle teaches about Stress Perseverance)

I met a woman the other day who’d told me she was ready to divorce her husband.  They had only been married for two years.  I asked her why she was making this decision and she said he was acting peculiar.  What does peculiar look like?

She said when they first got married he would come home from work and spend time with her.  These days, he comes home late or would call  from work to tell her he was going out with friends or doing community volunteer work.

I asked her if there was legitimate reason for him to work late.  She said yes the reasons for his work lateness were valid.  She didn’t suspect he was being unfaithful.

What was his relationship with his after-work buddies? Were they old friends or new people in his life?  If they were old friends, did he go out with them frequently before they got married?

She answered, that before they got married he regularly went out with his friends after work or spent time volunteering at various organizations.  She married a man who gets a lot of satisfaction and relaxation by being social. After they got married he slowed down his out the home activities. Now he had resumed to pre-marriage arrangements.

I asked if she was a social person.  She said no, she was more of a homebody.  Going out with people was more stress than something she enjoyed.  These days, she much preferred staying home cuddling up with a good book or watching television.  When they were dating, she used to force herself to go out, to be social.  These days it was too much for her to do.

She said she enjoyed helping others and was proud of her husband for his involvement in the community.  She just wished he’d spend more time with her.  I asked if there were any stresses in their lives other than the current relationship issues.  She didn’t think they had any until we talked about stress and what stresses are.

A stress is something in your environment that convinces your body to react as though it’s in danger.  It can be simple things such as new responsibilities at work, changes in your schedule, or ever stimulation such as overcrowding, too much light, too much noise.

Stress can be good, bad or neutral.  Think of Christmas or thanksgiving.  Times that most people consider family time, happy time.  They are; however, very stressful because of extra responsibilities, financial burdens and demands from society and our families.

I think everyone is familiar with bad stress.  We know from the get-go that what we are experiencing does not feel good and we do not see any benefits. That stress quickly causes headaches, muscle tension, irritability and anxiety.  Sometimes they even anger.

Neutral stress typically has the slowest in reactions unless multiple stresses combine.  I often say an example of neutral stress might be going to the grocery store and picking out pickles.  It’s not a matter of life and death deciding on which pickle to buy.  Still, depending on your frame of mind, looking at all those shelves of pickles can become daunting and stressful especially if you are in a hurry.

So getting back to the woman I met, she said yes there were stresses that were new.  She mentioned that the stepson moved into the home five months ago.  He and the family were having a hard time adjusting.  She also mentioned that her elderly father had developed Alzheimer’s and she didn’t know how she would take care of him.  Her mother was deceased and she was an only child.  One top of that she reiterated that both she and her husband had increased stress at work.  Those are definitely very high stresses.

I was shopping at the local grocery when I overheard a couple arguing.  I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop; however, their volume made hearing easy.  The gist of their conversation had similar rings to the woman I met earlier.  In this case it was the man complaining that his significant other was spending too much time away from home.  He went into a long litany of stresses that he had to deal with by himself.  Stresses such as sick kids, a neighbor who is troublesome, stresses of work and work on the house with no money to fix it.  She yelled back about all the stresses of her life.  She stormed about having too much responsibility in the mornings, stepchild not respecting her, her job being difficult and feeling like she had no support from him.

Regardless of any other issues in their relationship, this was clearly another case of a couple responding to the increase in stress in their lives.  Relationships are like trees. When the storm of stress hits it will either bend or snap. All relationships experience stress. You can’t avoid it.

If you start out with the great relationship, increased stress will still put a strain on that relationship.  If you have a mediocre or poor relationship increased stress will make the road will be much rockier and possibly snap the relationship.

The severity of the stress, the couple’s support system and how well they communicate will help determine how strong and healthy their relationship will be after the storm. Therefore, I always tell people they should have stress inoculation.

Each person handles threats in a different way.  You may remember being taught that people either flee, fight, freeze or flop. Stress is experienced in the brain as a threat.

Two people in the same situation may react completely differently than the next. One person in the relationship may need to take more walks or go out with friends more often.  This person is fleeing.  They need to escaping the situation, even if only temporarily.  Going for walks or out with friends is a lot more desirable then leaving the relationship.  That thought is a flee-from-stress thought.  They literally feel if they don’t flee they will be unable to tolerate the situation.

Another person may start arguments, having tantrums, start physical fights when they are stressed.  They may tell you they feel they’re up against the wall and need to react this way to protect themselves.  There really is no physical danger or need for protection, but their biology and past learning convinces them otherwise. These people are the fighters.

The next person will do nothing.  They may literally stand and shut down in front of you.  These people become quiet, withdrawn and can’t handle having confrontations.  The more upsetting the stress around them the more they shut down.  These people are the freezers.

The last way a person can respond to stress is to flop.  Flopping literally means the person falls down or faints.  I don’t see this much as a reaction to severe stress except in situations of sudden stress such as unexpected death or other extreme, emotional shocks.

I believe adrenaline fatigue is an example of flopping when a person experiences a long term stressful environment. It manifests as extreme fatigue sometimes debilitating and the person can’t function.   In time the body wears down and the person gets sick more often and in severe cases can cause or speed the rate of heart disease and death.

So how can a person stress inoculate?

Step one: remember stress happens it’s only a matter of when and what kind.

Step two: know how you react to stress.  Are you a flopper, the fleer, a fighter, or someone who freezes?

Step three: if you’re in a relationship, which of these reactions does your significant other use?

Step four: acknowledge and accept that the way your significant other reacts does not have to be the way you react.

Step five: develop good communication before stress hits.  If you’re already in the stress boat, take a timeout away from home in neutral territory where you can discuss the stress and how it affects each of you.

Step six: do not bring other parties into your conflict.  This is not about he said, she said, he’s bad, she’s bad, I’m right, they’re wrong.  It’s about coping when you’re not your best or when loved ones are not at their best

Step seven: do not make any life changing decisions while under extreme stress unless absolutely necessary.  You’re not in your normal thinking mind.  You’re in survival mode and the part of your brain that deals with rational thinking has taken a side seat to your primitive survival brain.

Step eight: focus your thinking on elements in your life that currently give you joy.  There is no such thing as not having joy.  Joy is a way of looking at elements in your life that bring peace, appreciation, good healthy feelings if viewed in a positive light.  Find it and make it significant.

Step nine: this too shall pass.  The outcome of a stressful event may not be positive but the events unfolding are moving in time as you are.  You’ll either make decisions for change to get in a better place or the events will change and there will be release.

Step 10: after riding that storm of stress, sit down and evaluate how you reacted and how you both reacted as a team.  What worked, what needs tweaked and what needs changed to prepare for the next round.

In the end I’d like to think that most people want their relationships to be healthy, happy and supportive.  Remember you are team. Even if you didn’t say the words, for better or worse, as part of a marriage ceremony or you have a committed relationship of any kind, the intent is implied.  If your relationship starts looking rocky, do a stress evaluation for both of you.  Do it together.  Remember, this too shall pass.

Post Funeral, Where Do We Go From Here?

ImageIt’s Friday morning, exactly one week from my uncle’s funeral. Family is headed back to Florida and for the first time since the death, the house is quiet and the stillness overpowering.

It’s a surreal morning. I had set the alarm on my cell phone for a seven o’clock wake up but forgot to turn up the volume.  I hear pounding on the door and shoot out of bed confused.

“We need to leave in ten minutes!” My daughter yells through the door.  This morning is the first in a series of physical therapy appointments she has, post-back surgery. “We can stop at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way. They have great breakfasts and awesome coffee.” This is a dig against her brother, my son who lives and breathes Starbucks.

I brush my teeth; throw on some clothes and stumble, still half-asleep into the hallway. She is standing by the front door with my purse in one hand and my keys in the other. I find my shoes and struggle to get them on my feet. She ushers me out the door.

We get into my mini-van and I’m seated in the driver’s seat. A revelation hits me, I’m awake and going somewhere. I slap my face a time of two and turn up the radio. Something has to wake me up. I’m driving for goodness sake!

“Dunkin’ Donuts is right around the corner. You can get a large coffee,” daughter tells me.

Before her surgery, my daughter was a three times a week Dunkin’ Donuts regular. We enter the coffee shop. She waves at the staff and rattles off what she calls her regular order. The counter person puts this into the register and looks at me.

I don’t have a clue what I want.  Daughter and counter person spit out several adjectives describing food and beverage choices; eggs with bacon and toast, no toast, no egg, cheese, no cheese, bagels, coffee, iced, hot, latte, espresso, creamer, no creamer, mocha, mint, raspberry.

“Well?” Daughter asks.

I think I heard one of them say coffee, hot.  I remember, the other day after daughter’s post neurology appointment we stopped at Sheetz, a regional gas, restaurant, and convenience store for coffee.  That coffee, ordered for me by daughter, I really liked.  “What was that?” I ask her.

“Iced, white-chocolate, raspberry with soy creamer,” daughter replies but for some reason I can’t wrap my head around all the words.

“Raspberry, chocolate,” I say. Miraculously, a breakfast and hot drink are handed to me and we head back to the car. I drop daughter at physical therapy and head back home.

Walking in the front door, I smell something dead and rotting. I check for the dog and cat. They are both accounted for and alive. Down on my hands and knees, I sniff the carpet, the couches and the afghans. Everything smells like it is supposed to. I’m stumped and tell myself I’ll deal with it later.

It’s been two weeks since I opened my mail or answered my business phone. Life literally has been at a stand-still. I leave the smell of the living room and head upstairs to my office.  It’s a business disaster. Piles of paper and files have shifted around so many times in making room for extra, visiting family that I no longer know where anything is located.

I fire up the computer and find over three-hundred e-mails needing my attention. My office phone is blinking, ten missed messages.  I’m so overwhelmed and exhausted I don’t know where to start or how to prioritize. This is grief and stress, I tell myself.

I sit in my office chair, close my eyes and do some deep breathing. I tell myself an altered mantra I learned at an acupressure seminar months ago.  I have all the energy I need. My body is taking in the energy around me, re-filling where I am depleted. I refuse to let things or people take away my power or energy.

I open my eyes and see five minutes have gone by. That’s okay; I feel refreshed and know what direction to take with the clutter. The dog and cat get into a spit and I need to intervene. I can feel my energy draining and have to fall onto my office couch before I collapse. So much for the mantra working, I tell myself and cry.

Cried out, I lay there watching spider-webbing cracks in the ceiling paint. The house is so quiet. I didn’t realize how much the family being all-together helped keep each of us afloat through the past two weeks. I push myself to go back downstairs; I’ll deal with the office chaos later. I quickly move past the smell of death in the living room and back to the bedroom.

There are several beds we’d assembled for extended family. I decide there’s no time like the present to strip the sheets and start reversing the process I started two weeks ago.  The beds come apart fairly easily and I’ve stowed them, for now, in the dining room next to the left-over paper plates, cups, napkins and plastic ware from the post-funeral get-together. I can’t deal with the things in this room right now. I’ll get to it later.

I have enough time to shower before returning to pick up my daughter. I grab some clothes from the laundry basket in the living room still waiting to be put away.  What the hell is causing that smell?

I shower, pick up my daughter and head home. “There’s a smell,” I tell her. “When I open the front door, find it.”

We open the door and the smell is obnoxious. Again, I get on my hands and knees and feel more like a police dog looking for illegal contraband.

“This would be a good time for a picture,” daughter says. “Did you smell the fireplace? The other day we heard birds in there.”

Birds: Our chimney does not have an enclosed top. Every year starlings nest on top of our flue. When the eggs hatch, we have our own bird sanctuary. We can hear the parents fluttering up and down the chimney, baby birds chirping, singing and screeching. We can tell when a parent bird is bringing food back to the nest by the excitement coming from the behind the bricks. Eventually, the babies learn to fly and everything goes quiet until next spring. I don’t know why there would be a dead bird in our chimney in July.

I lean in the direction of the fireplace and don’t have to go any further. Sh-t, it is a dead bird in the fireplace above the flue. I open and close the flue several times hoping the bird body will fall and I can dispose it. Nothing happens.

A crazy thought, maybe I can smoke or incinerate the body with a fire. Okay, I know its July, but it is cool enough outside that I can turn off the air conditioner. I open the flue, turn off the air and toss a Duraflame log in the fireplace and set it ablaze.

My daughter and I sit on couches watching the dancing flames and my son comes in to join us.

“Reminds me of camping,” he says.

“Reminds me of my step-mom raising and killing her own chickens for food,” daughter replies.

“They’re making a new product called Soylent,” my son says. “It has all the nutrition anyone needs. Soon we won’t have to worry about food.”

Conversation lulls with the flames and both kids leave the room to live their lives. I’m alone with the cat nestled up beside me. The Duraflame log is half its original size but continues to deliver a calliope of blue, green, yellow and orange flames. The house is so quiet.

I realize what I’m really doing is cremating the bird and flash back two weeks ago. Corner’s reports, probable causes of death, cremation and internment paperwork, planning a get-together for everyone post funeral, setting up beds, buying and making food for everyone, military send-off with Taps and a tri-folded flag while we stare at Uncle’s portrait and the urn containing his ashes. It was almost one-hundred degrees that day and with high humidity. Everyone was drenched in a mixture of sweat and tears.

The fire is nearly out now. I don’t smell death anymore but it’s all around me. Every room in my house has at least a small remnant of the past two weeks. I can walk here or there and hear snippets of conversations between family members. I can smell the scent of various shampoos and soaps everyone used. My brother left some cigarette butts behind on the front porch. My mom left her ice pack in the freezer. Aunt Mary left her socks and my dad forgot his belated father’s day card. My uncle’s picture is on the mantel of my fireplace. He is smiling.

Maybe, death is not all around me but snippets of life. Sure, my alarm didn’t wake me up but I got up. I got to see my daughter blossom, knowing she is finally getting well enough to join society. Her car which has been dead since surgery, is going to be fixed free of charge. The smell in the chimney is gone and the method I used got two of my kids together for a nice conversation. I have remnants of the past two weeks all over my house but I got two weeks with people I love more than anything. We had a death to attend to, but in his passing, I reconnected with very close cousins I lost touch with over the years.  We laughed, smiled, sang, told jokes and reminisced about my uncle and our entire family. I had expected people to stay maybe two hours at the get-together. Most stayed at least five.

My house is very quiet and I’m crying. But I realize, this is not the ending.  This is just the beginning of a new chapter for all of us. I should- will embrace finding the how and where we go from here.