Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Unwelcome news... and incitement to stop procrastinating

I have about two weeks' vacation stored up (a little over a year's worth of accrual) that I'd been saving for a mammoth friend-visiting trip all over the US, but had been putting off due to work, work, and well, work. Since October fell through, my next plan was whenever Willy Week is in 2007.

Then at work last month they told us that since we merged with another part of the company, we had new benefits, and one of the changes was that our vacation would no longer roll over. So I have until 1 Jan 2007 to take 10 vacation days... in the six weeks with the highest density of company holidays in the year.

And, not surprisingly, each of those few free weeks is filling up quickly... just today I heard about two "absolutely necessary" happenings at work during my only possible vacation week.

The reassuring thing is that we will get paid for our unused vacation in salary equivalent.
But I don't need the money.
I need the time.

Friday, November 03, 2006

On to October!

The last week of September consisted of pulling extremely long hours trying to prepare the schedule for our annual Road Rally. Then, if you know me, you know what happened the week after...

I got sick.

I couldn't get out of bed for 3.5 days (luckily - or unluckily? - two of those were weekend days), right before Road Rally. I kept promising The Big H I'd be healthy in time to go because I had a feeling it would come back to hurt me later if I didn't. I knew from previous experiences that he expected a good engineer to suck it up and get the job done regardless of failures of the flesh.

Instead, I was told not to be selfish, and not to put my personal wishes above what's best for the team.

This, my friends, is proof that a girl just can't win. If I'd really been selfish, I would have skipped the whole thing and gone to a best friend's wedding that weekend (note to self: get your friggin' priorities straight).

Well, regardless, I had committed to Road Rally instead. My health improved enough to get me through, and it was a good experience. God punished me, however, for missing Loni's wedding by arranging for my cell phone (w/ my best photos) to fall into a port-o-john in San Diego at the same time the wedding was beginning in Lexington. *sigh* More proof.

On the other hand, I was able to have dinner with my old college friend Elisabeth, who I hadn't seen in years and who had just recently relocated to San Diego. It was great seeing her again - we laughed and laughed, as we always do on those rare occasions when we meet up in various corners of the country. We've run into each other in Houston, Albany, and San Diego - where next, Minneapolis? It was also interesting (and shocking) to hear how her family and friends were affected by Hurricane Katrina - it's one thing to hear about it on the news, and quite another when it directly impacts someone you know. I can't imagine what they went through.

The week after that, as you can imagine, was solely for recovery. Big H gave us a day off to make up for the working weekend. I had several plans for that day, but ended up unconscious (either in bed or in front of the TV) for most of it. But I discovered the joy that is Arrested Development. This is Exhibit C in the case that Fox carries - AND prematurely cancels - the best shows on television (Exhibit A: Firefly, Exhibit B: Futurama).

I finally went back to choir, after missing three rehearsals in a row. You may know that I sing in a mostly Mormon choir (which MK calls the Tabernacle). The first was because I was sick, the second because I was at Road Rally, and the third because they changed location and I didn't know (MK thinks they were playing Ditch the Heathen). But I'm glad I'm finally back in because we are doing parts of Messiah and I love it more than a heathen probably should. Also, we are singing (among others) O Holy Night and Angels We Have Heard on High which, if I have to sing carols, are good ones. And when you sing with the Tabernacle at a winter concert, you know there are going to be carols.

It's been a long September and there's reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last

So I promised to catch up before I fell too far behind. But I'm going to be cagey about the rest of September because it mostly involves my work (which is not uncommon these days). But believe me that the middle two weeks of this month were packed with travel, work, and serious overtime.

I did spend one night in Las Vegas as part of this travel. Everyone else had already been there a million times (crazy Southern Californians!), but I've never even set foot in Nevada. Luckily for me, my colleague and friend Crizzaig promised me a personal tour of the strip. "But first, a drink!" he proclaimed. Well, one drink turned into two, which turned into four, which turned into a promise to drive down it the next morning before we left (and a glass of the most extraordinary champagne to soften the blow - my one drink for the evening). Well, when the next morning came, I tried to collect, but Crizzaig wasn't there. Instead, I got told by Boo-Radley that tickets from Sac to Vegas are, like, five dollars.

The next day was the last day of the trip, and the guys were planning on celebrating the project completion by taking a swim in the pool. "But first, a drink!" Which turned into two drinks, which... well, you know the story. We ended up playing pool, but not actually going in one - which was just fine with me because the only suit I packed was my birthday suit and I certainly wasn't going to wear THAT to the pool!

After that was another of my regular trips to Detroit for SAE. And I have to say that Detroit Airport Smith Terminal is not only the crappiest terminal in the Free World, it also has the worst food. But the J-Man and I made up for it with our obligatory trip to La Shish, home of the creamiest hummus this side of Morocco and the famous gut-busting (so I hear) Flaming Tower (the J-staff insist on calling it La Shi-Shi, which I find rather funny because "shi-shi" means "pee-pee" in Japanese).

After the regular interminable delays in Chicago, I got home, and had to put in some serious face time with the katz to make them stop hating me for being gone so long. Feeding them soft food again helped. Dusty got in a fight, and the writhing furball that was this other cat and him rolled into the street and almost got hit by a car, so I put him under house arrest for a while.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Yes, I admit...

... that it's been over 2 months since I posted anything. So I'll try to make up for lost time. It might take a few posts, though.

September was a busy month. For starters, I finally got a new roommate to replace the semi-roommate I had from last November through this May. Grad student at Sac State. Friendly guy. Likes my cats.
(for those of you who picked up on the fact that I just said "guy", don't get excited - it's not that kind of roommate)

Labor Day weekend I went to Chicago to visit my sister Paige. Overall, we had a good time, and I saw many people I haven't seen in a long time. For instance, I caught up with my old high school friend, Saima, who just got married in June (unfortunately I missed it, since it was in Pakistan). She just started a podiatric residency in Illinois, and is now trying to import her new man, so she's quite busy as well. She told him I didn't approve of their marriage - I hope he knew she was joking!

One great thing about Chicago is that it is a very cultural town. We saw the new musical Wicked, which is the standard fare when anyone in my family visits (it was Paige's 5th viewing). I quite enjoyed it. After that, we went on the Art Tour, a self-guided walk around Downtown to see a number of public art pieces (including the famous Picasso, one of my personal favorites). A recent new addition was a work the locals refer to affectionately as "the Bean". Here's what it looked like from a distance:

And here's what it looked like up close:

In addition, we went to visit family in South Bend, Indiana. First we had lunch with some great aunts and uncles from my father's side of the family, with whom I've been sorely out of touch. Here we are:

After that, we were going to meet my aunt and cousins for coffee. I hadn't seen them in the eight years since my uncle died, and I wanted to mend the bridge, so to speak. I spoke with my aunt the day before, and she sounded like she was looking forward to seeing us again. Unfortunately, she passed away in the 24 hours between our phone call and our arrival in South Bend. We stopped by to see our cousins to make sure they were okay, but they weren't in the mood for visitors. It wasn't exactly the happy reunion we had hoped for.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

No blog would be complete without...

... an adorable kitty collage!

Here are my two little ones, Ginger and Dusty.
Here's a fun game: guess which cat has which creative name!

Last Sunday I came home from running errands, and Dusty was on the porch waiting for me but Ginger wasn't. Immediately I felt something was wrong. Looked around a little and couldn't find her, tried to tell myself that she would come in eventually, but still couldn't kick the feeling that she was in trouble and needed me. The second time I went looking for her, I ran into my neighbor, and found out that his dog had chased her into a toolshed, where she had been hiding for hours and couldn't get out! I had to go rescue her, and although she was a little shaken she was fine.

Hey, I guess I do have a maternal instinct!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Thought(s) of the Day

They Said It Best - Part 1:
"I'm not alone 'cause the TV's on-
I'm not crazy 'cause I take the right pills every day."
-Jimmy Eat World

Last Sunday I was taking out the recyclables and slipped on a tiny avocado that had fallen on my porch overnight. I stayed upright, but slid three or four steps with my right foot in front of me and my left foot underneath (a la Lucas H's "running man" impression). Ouch.

There was a guy biking across the street. He glanced over when I started to fall, but soon returned to his own world and was halfway down the street by the time I slid to a stop. Once I had established that all my appendages were still attached, I shouted "I'm okay!", partially so he wouldn't worry, and partially to point out what a jackass he was being by not bothering to take two seconds of his time and ask if I was alright.

I can now almost walk normally again, although the top of my foot is still purple and scratched - it doesn't hurt so much now as itches, which I guess is proof that the scrapes are healing.

Advice from the Big H: watch where I'm going.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

#1 at the Box Office for HOW LONG?

Last night I organized a work outing to dinner and "Dead Man's Chest". I had been looking forward to it for the past three weeks, and I was super-stoked.

I haven't been this disappointed since Serenity.

Amazing that they were only able to capture about 5% of the brilliance and fantasy from "Black Pearl", one of my favorites. So dark and violent! That's precisely NOT why the first one was so great - the original flick drew on all the intriguing pirate stereotypes and added extremely witty dialogue, brilliantly-portrayed characters, fantastic action sequences, and great music. The new flick boasted the same characters (and a bigger role for Jack Davenport!), but was filled with misery, ignorant portrayals of native South Americans, grossness, and completely distracting extras with various sea creatures stuck to or in place of their heads.

Jerry Bruckheimer, take heed for #3 or you'll end up with the sullied reputation of Star Wars!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Dark and silent (except for the traffic and lawn-mowers)

I do like living in California. Especially when the temperature is below the triple-digits.

But I've discovered two things about summer in this area that are rather devastating:

1) During the day, no katydids.

2) At night, no fireflies.

How does anybody LIVE out here?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

I am a recovering couch potato...

... or at least I plan to be. Someday.

In an attempt to adopt a healthier lifestyle, I went to Tahoe last weekend with Carmalyn. Since it's California, it was packed, but we had a good time. We also got an unintentional free Mellencamp concert by staying in a hostel next to Harvey's. Unbeknownst to me (and also to John Cougar),
Dan Quayle was also there.

Saturday we took a kayak tour through Emerald Bay, then went biking along the river, and had dinner with Carmalyn's beau, who was up at a regatta (=sailboat race, for the lubbers who are reading this). Sunday we went biking again around the estates of the early white residents before heading home again. Perhaps miraculously, I wasn't sore from this sudden spurt of activity, but boy was I tired!

Being summer in NorCal, the weather was clear, and being in the Sierras provided a good break from the heat in the Valley (today's temp in Sacramento: 112 F, according to my window thermometer). But, being summer in NorCal, it was sunny! I had to wear my sunglasses and a really ugly hat to keep the light to a tolerable level (see photo).

Tahoe is the third deepest lake in N. America, and is wide enough to be seen from space. These two characteristics were evident in the fact that the water was really blue and really COLD!! We attempted swimming once, but couldn't get in past our blue, numb feet.

Below are pictures of Emerald Bay, Carmalyn wading, and the Sierras:

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Fun-Filled Fourth

For the July 4th holiday I did several different things (other than finally sweep and mop the entire house).

Saturday a few folks from the CaFCP and I went to Sierra Nevada brewery in Chico for a tour. After 2.5 hours of driving, we missed the brewery tour, but got what we really came for (other than dinner & beer): a tour of the fuel cell power unit and associated water treatment facility! The owner is a big environmentalist, and it was nice seeing the things he was able to do to self-electrify and clean the brewing wastewater at the same time. I hadn't hung out with Adam and Chris for a long time, so it was good to spend some quality time together, and it was much more pleasant than being at work.

Sunday was cleaning and sleeping day. But Monday I took myself on a roadtrip to the Jelly Belly factory, then through Napa into Mendocino to see the "famous" California geyser and petrified forest. Had lunch at the worst restaurant in Wine Country and was sick the rest of the day, so after the forest I decided to cut my trip short. Took the 128 home, which was quite possibly the only road in California that wasn't packed that weekend, and practiced my driving skills on the twisties. I'm getting pretty good at engine braking!

Tuesday evening the neighbors had me over and lit firecrackers in the street. Luckily the cops didn't rough us up too much.

That's the most excitement I've had outside of work in a long time - I need another weekend to recover!

Four Generations!

The week of June 20 I found myself in Michigan for a business meeting, so I took the opportunity to hop over to Ohio for a June 24 family reunion. It was the 90th birthday of my mother's mother's twin brother's wife (== great aunt) Nita, the last remaining member of her generation. Most of my mother's siblings were able to make it, with a good portion of their families, and Paige and I were there (Paige rescued me from O'Hare when my flight was cancelled, bless her). It was good seeing everyone again, but it was too short a visit!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Japan Trip May 20 - June 3

It's been a month since I got back, but I finally got caught up enough to tell you about my trip to Japan.

I went to train at The Mother Company (disclaimer: that's not really what "TMC" stands for) for two weeks at two different locations. Luckily I didn't go alone - I had Bradley from the SoCal office for company and as a preventative to getting lost. It was amazing! The things the company is doing are unbelievable, but I'm not allowed to talk about that. So here is a little bit about Japan...

Toyota-shi (Toyota City)
Let's not mince words, folks - Toyota-shi, home of TMC headquarters, is not a beautiful city. Everything in central Honshu, although being spotless with absolutely no litter or street grime, seemed dingy or run-down - this was not helped by the fact that Toyota-shi is an industrial town and many of the headquarters buildings were corrugated steel. Unfortunately Bradley and I were staying in a hotel close to TMC but far from downtown, so didn't get to appreciate it fully.

This is the view from the hotel. As I mentioned, not much to look at.
We did get to go downtown once, and it was cute. There are two train stations and a big mall there - even a Japanese KFC!

This is the hotel room. Disclaimer: there is nothing in this room that is not in the photograph (except the bathroom). This is the entire thing. I had to cuddle with my suitcase in bed at night because there was no room on the floor for it. I found out after I came back that Hattori-san was trying to teach me about Japanese business culture instead of putting me in the nicer, Toyota-approved hotel downtown. Okay, okay, I learned my lesson!

We had one precious day for sightseeing, and we spent it in Kyoto. Definitely the place to go if you only have one day and are looking for the authentic Japan experience! Here's a factoid for you: Kyoto (Kyo city) was formerly the capital of Japan, and the cultural center. That is why Tokyo is so named - it means "East Kyo".

Here is a picture of Bradley and me at the Golden Temple with our Toyota-shi host Bono-san and his wife, Yuko. They were absolute champs - they had to escort us practically everywhere because we didn't speak more than 15 words of Japanese and couldn't read more than 2 or 3.

Here is a photo of the temple itself. I never quite figured out why they bothered to cover a building entirely with gold leaf. It's not really a temple per se, but the Shogun's summer home. I guess when you're the Shogun, you can do whatever you want.

Here is a picnicking couple on the banks of the river. I took this photo on our way to a restaurant where every single dish was made from fu, which is wheat protein that can be prepared with many different flavors and textures (even like meat) - it's an ancient Kyoto form of cooking that came from the Buddhists. I certainly didn't have to worry about eating meatless there! They even had tofu made from fu. Some of it was really good, and some of it not so much. As for the rest of the trip (in case you were wondering how my vegetarianism held up), I survived mostly on pizza and salad bar, as well as junk food. To my relief I didn't starve, as many people predicted. I told you Bono-san looked out for me! And in Higashifuji I got the same level of consideration from Kato-san and Fujimoto-san. Actually, everyone over there was really nice to us (probably nicer than usual, because I'm female).

Here is a photo of Kyomizu-dera overlooking new Kyoto. Kyomizu-dera is another of the many Buddhist temples built in Kyoto over the last twelve hundred years. To paraphrase Mal from Firefly: "I understand the how, I'm just fuzzy as to why." In my understanding, Buddhism is a rather ascetic and humble religion - did they really believe in a god that would be impressed by all that? Maybe like the Catholic clergy, they wanted to practice self-denial in an impressive setting.

A real live geisha sighting! Maybe not of authentic geisha, we weren't sure. It's possible they were apprentices. Or posers.

The second week of our training. Here is the omnipresent soda/tea/coffee machine, even in the middle of nowhere! At least it seemed like nowhere on Sunday afternoon when Bradley and I were trying to find something to eat and having no luck.

They don't call it "East of Fuji" for nothing. Here was our evening view of Mt. Fuji from the hotel parking lot. During the daytime it was more like a faint ghost, and usually not visible at all. Of course, it wouldn't be Japan without the enormous power lines everywhere.

So there you have it, folks. I can't wait to go back, but I don't know when that will be. Some people in the company go as much as four times a year, but my department is averaging the exact opposite: one visit every four years. Next time hopefully I'll have the opportunity to take some vacation there before returning.

Finally took the plunge...

...and got myself a blog. Now I'm officially part of my generation (and you thought the year you were born had something to do with it).

Disclaimer: Sorry, there will be no husband/baby photos here. Just me.
You can judge for yourself if that's worth visiting every now and then.

For those of you with whom I've lost touch over the past few years, here's a short update:

May 2005: Got job as fuel cell vehicle engineer with Toyota at the California Fuel Cell Partnership (www.cafcp.org), moved to Sacramento, CA. Still here and loving it.

September 2004: Got job as "energy analyst" (==consultant) for DOE with Energetics, moved to Ellicott City, MD - didn't like it very much, and my boss didn't like me very much. Survived 9 months before quitting.

May 2004: Graduated Penn State with MS in mechanical engineering at the Electrochemical Engine Center (fuel cells and batteries - I studied fuel cells). Unfortunately I had some serious health problems and just managed to get by, so these two years were not very fun.

May 2002: Graduated Rice University with BS in mechanical engineering, moved to State College Pennsylvania to start graduate study. Good way to spend four years.