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Mar. 11th, 2012

I'm in the process of revising my personal website.   Now, as a designer, I've created a lot of web pages, but I've never been the person to actually set them up online.  This lack of experience has been a bit of an obstacle as I've been applying for work--employers want to know that you can personally jump onto their website and wrangle around code, etc.  I did some research, and decided that Drupal would be the best system for me to work with, due to it's popularity and flexibility.  I'm most likely to be working with Drupal sites at other companies, so having some practical experience with it will be useful.

My tech goddess, Mojo, got me through the initial installation, after I discovered the biggest weakness of Drupal.  While it is "extensively documented", it's extensively documented by people who know Drupal.  So you end up getting explanations that start out basic, like "Download Drupal 7 from this location".  Check.  "Install Drupal 7".  Um...on my home computer?  On my server?  Where?  And then you get sub notes to that instruction like "You may wish to override the kerblunkets* during installation by opening the nodules* file and editing the php code there to your preferred kerblunket settings."  (A) What is a kerblunket?  (B) Why might I want to override the settings?  (C) How do I edit that code?  and (D) Where would I find preferred settings that I want to use?  *yes, I totally made up that sentence, but it's based on instructions that I've seen in every single "beginners" Drupal guide that I've looked at.

So Mojo came over, and after a hearty lunch, some unrelated chit-chat, and an hour or so of digging around the dusty corners of my site's directories and resetting admin rights, she was able to get Drupal 7 uploaded and ready to go.  (Note to self:  Do not suggest that you can install a website from scratch for a company)

Drupal is this weird mix of totally user friendly happy land, and totally imposing technical nightmare.  You develop your website off of "Themes" and wonderfully enough, lots of developers have kindly created premade themes that you can install and "customize".  This means that you can find a layout where you like all the features, load it up, and get running really quickly.  That is...you can get running very quickly if you want to simply type your site name onto the header, load up a "logo", and play around with a few colors.  If, for example, you are a designer who wants your website to express some of your personality with the background and header, you suddenly are shoved out of the land of premade themes into the desert of "customized theming".  And you are right back in the nightmare of documentation.  Actual instructions for creating a custom theme:  1.  Create folder in 'Themes' folder labeled with name you would like your theme to have.  2.  Inside that folder, create two more subfolders.  3.  Create a text file labeled ".info" that includes 80 gazillion settings that the article implies need to be correct, but with no explanation of how to figure out what they should be for a beginner.  Guess which step I got stuck at...

I am in this weird sort of purgatory.  I've spent hours reading up at the main Drupal website, and I feel like I understand between 60-80% of what I'm supposed to do, but I can't figure out how to move from that point to having a functioning website, without giving up my plan of having a personalized "look".  So, for the short term, this is my website.  Stay tuned!

Renovation Realities

Aka: Please link me to this post if I start gushing that I'm going to redo a room by myself when D is out of town...  I ended up doing a lot of the stuff on this list, but there were a number of jobs that Dean had to do because I was not strong enough or did not have the ability to do them precisely enough for them to look decent.

Plan of Attack:
Day 1:  Clear room, paint ceilings, prime walls
Day 2:  Paint walls
Day 3-4:  Remove carpet, install flooring
Day 5:  Paint, install trim
Day 6:  Put back belongings

Actual Schedule
Day 1:  Clear room, begin taking out baseboard, realize task is made more difficult by existing carpeting. Rip up carpeting and carpet tacking from edges.
Day 2:  Spend 5 hours trying to take out one big piece of baseboard, have D finish rest of baseboard in 15 minutes.
Day 3:  Tape off windows, paint ceiling
Day 4:  Paint primer
Day 5:  Paint light gray coat, wait overnight to let dry
Day 6:  Paint dark gray coat, wait overnight to let dry
Day 7:  Paint 3 coats of black, realize it needs a 4th at 7pm, drive out to Lowes to pick up brushes
Day 8:  Finish black paint, remove tape, D touches up all paint colors, remove carpet, sweep and vacuum.
Day 9:  D starts flooring, realizes there are some challenges because of uneven surfaces, spends 4 hours trying to solve challenges
Day 10:  D works on flooring all day, still has corner & closet to finish
Day 11:  D finishes flooring
Day 12:  Borrow truck and go shopping for new furniture, baseboards
Day 13:  Start assembling furniture, D starts measuring baseboards
Day 14:  Painting baseboards, assembling furniture
Day 15:  D installs painted trim, starts measuring quarter round trim
Day 16:  D finishes measuring quarter round trim, I paint quarter rounds.
Day 17:  D installs quarter round trim, applies wood putty, sands surfaces
Day 18:  Touch up paint on trim, D fixes up bulletin board, vent
Day 19:  Build "big" furniture in room, hopefully finish setting up room for P to inhabit.

Not on list:
Take down doors and sand, paint, install new hardware
Build special ladder for P's cat to be able to get up and down into the bed
Take all the cardboard, carpeting, trash to the dump
Buy & install light fixtures for wall behind bed

Taking account

Last night was my first accounting class.  I really like the teacher already, but I can tell it's going to be a challenging class.  Part of the problem is that there are at least 5-6 accountants in the class (from undergrad studies).  We are going back to the beginning and starting from scratch, which must be really irritating to people who are working as professional accountants, but because there's so much ground to cover, we're moving *really* fast (which sucks for those of us who are clueless).  And when the teacher stops to see if people understand the concepts he's presenting, the "pros" jump in with the answers right away, which gives the impression that we've all mastered the basics.  Also sometimes the teacher assumes the basics are as apparent to us as they are to him.  For example, we had a list of line items, and we were reviewing where they would be located on financial reports.  Some of the terms had "expenses" in the name, so the teacher assumed we'd all know that they'd be located under expenses.  Only we weren't sure yet if they'd go there or be considered "liabilities".  Luckily on that one, another student stopped the teacher and said "Hey, that isn't obvious to us!  Where *does* it go?!"  To his credit, the teacher is very happy to answer those questions, so we just have to speak up when we are confused.

The teacher mentioned the importance of being prepared for class, but he also mentioned that the book (which gets terrible reviews on Amazon) goes into far greater detail than what we would be covering, and that it would be confusing to read the text in detail ahead of time.  I talked with him after class to discuss what he felt the best way to study the material might be, and he confessed that next week would be quite challenging as well, since we would be covering material from four chapters (although only one is listed on the syllabus), and the book tends to make it more difficult to understand.  I think I'm going to try to read through the chapters though--if I can teach myself combinations and permutations, I'm pretty sure I can force my brain to digest accounting concepts.  And I'd much rather be in a position where I understand the material at least somewhat before the class starts!

Couch Shopping

In the spirit of 2012 being a happier year, here's a light and fluffy post about shopping for couches.  :)

We live in a 1948 ranch house.  The best description is that it's like living in a NYC apartment, but with a deck and a yard.  We live on one floor, and we have a basement that can never be finished off.  The garage "floor" is dirt.  Now, the thing about living in an older house is that things that were perfectly acceptable 70 years ago are now a bit of a challenge.  Like trying to find furniture.  Everyone up here seems to live in gigantimundo McMansions where they need huge pieces to fill up all the empty space.  Unfortunately, we can't fit anything like that actually in our house.  It makes it tricky at times to find things that work right without taking over the room they get put in.  On top of that, life has taught us that our pesky critters leave hair all over our furniture, so we are looking for particular types of fabrics that won't scratch like leather, but will be easy to clean.

Yesterday we swung by Pier 1.  I love a number of their fabrics for their chairs and they always have a few smaller types of couches.  We weren't wild though about any of the couch choices though--either they were too small, or they were uncomfortable things meant for hallways, or they had really boring fabrics that would make it look like we hadn't changed anything at all.  We then swung by a couple of local stores.  The first was really pricey--I think the cheapest couch was well over $2400, and considering that we could get a beautiful designer piece from NYC for less than that, it seemed ridiculous to pay that much for fabrics that were no more interesting than the Pier 1 basic choices (plain tan, plain dull green, plain brown, plain white, and not even nice feeling fabrics).  The last place we stopped at had one couch we were eyeing--it was a sort of charcoal grey fabric, almost like denim.  It didn't completely win us over though.  Although you'd think of charcoal as a neutral color that would go with anything, this had a slight tint to it, so it wouldn't play nicely with our other pieces. 

We're going to keep looking.  At this point, we don't plan on redoing the living room until after we do two other rooms, so we have plenty of time before we'll really want to have something there.  I'm not going to just "settle" for a couch I don't like if I don't have to.  (Our last couch we got at the Pit at Bob's Discount, so we sorta just took what we could get)

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Starting fresh

So, it's officially New Year's Eve.  Unlike many people, I've never put a whole lot of stock into NYE as a reflection for the year to come.  I'm also not much of a partier, so the thought of staying up late and getting trashed has never particularly appealed to me.  Perhaps this is because I spent most of my formative partying years in NYC, where trying to get back from NYE parties can be a herculean task as taxis love to switch their lights to "off duty" and use that as an excuse to only take people who are driving short distances within Manhattan.  A few years of standing out in 10 degree weather in a little black dress watching as cab after cab would refuse to take us down to the WTC Path train and having to decide whether to keep on trying or whether I should give up and brave the drunken leers I would get on the subway caused me to develop a fondness for intimate dinners at home.  And as I've gotten older, staying up late seems like more of a punishment than a reward.  I've happily turned in around 10pm the past few years, and never thought twice about it.

This year, however, has seemed like a far different beast.  Almost everyone I know has struggled throughout 2011.  Many loved ones have passed away, and others are in extremely stressful circumstances.  Our household has been on hold for a full year as we dealt with these deaths, job loss, and the damages we sustained in both the Jan/Feb snowstorms and the Oct Arborgeddon storm.   We've made some progress in our personal lives that we can feel proud about--I'm back in school and D is getting a lot done on his film--but with so much emotional energy being needed to deal with the major crises, there have been times it felt like the universe has been toying with us like a little boy frying ants with a magnifying glass.   D and I are both more than ready to close the door on our annus horribilus, and start fresh on a new year. 

The nice thing is that it actually feels like things are starting to turn in our favor.  We've had some money put aside for over a year for some fixes around the house, and now we are finally able to move forward on them.  First up we bought some new flooring for the majority of rooms (minus the kitchen and bathroom), and we have a small budget for buying a new couch and chair for our living room.  (We'll also do some painting and maybe 1 or 2 other small cosmetic fixes)  We also have had some money put aside for upgrading our iPhones, and in the course of trying to find them, we ended up getting an unheard of $30/phone discount.  Seriously, I couldn't believe my eyes when we stumbled onto that deal!!  As we were heading home flush with happiness over that score, we also managed to find two bottles of a hard to find Sam Adams special brew, called "Infinium".  I'd driven around to about 10 different liquor stores pre X-mas, but couldn't find it anywhere.  Naturally it was at D's favorite liquor store--the one I'd mistakenly assumed wouldn't have it because I thought he'd have seen it there!  And finally, on the job front, I've had a couple of interviews percolate.  Nothing further to report, but at least I feel like there's some movement in the local market. 

So, today we will go see a movie or two, maybe do a little couch shopping, and end the night raising a glass of Infinium to bid an overly enthusiastic farewell to 2011, and open our arms warmly to the promise of 2012.   A night not as perfect as sharing it with ALL of our loved ones, but pretty damn good considering what we've made it through!

An Unemployed Life

I've been officially unemployed for a little over two weeks now, yet I've had less free time than I had working regularly.  The first week I spent finishing up a ginormous midterm project, then taking care of some freelance work that popped up.  The second week was spent sadly saying goodbye to D's dad, who finally succumbed to the liver failure he'd been fighting since January.  Even though his death was anticipated and fairly well planned for ahead of time, there were a lot of logistics involved in making sure our household was cared for while we were away and making sure we had everything we needed so that we could just focus on helping out the rest of the family while we were there.  This week, I've been playing catchup with the tasks for my other class that were put off in order to take care of those duties.  Mentally, I am pretty burnt-out at this point, and I am craving having a day or two where I can just be a complete slug to recharge the batteries. 

Being at home full-time has brought a new set of challenges into play.  D and I have both been highly spoiled working at home in the past.  Generally we never were home on the same day unless one of us was sick, so we both are used to having full unfettered access to the computer, domain over all the rooms in our house, and the freedom to plan our day however we desire.  Now we have to figure out who needs the computer at what times, who's going to be setting up in what room and whether or not our work will be loud and distracting to each other.  It sometimes causes small frictions when we realize that we both were planning on using the computer right after lunch and we have to decide who gets first dibs.  OTOH, it's been absolutely wonderful to actually get to spend time with D.  The demands of the past year often forced us to work split schedules to accommodate him spending more time with his parents, and there were many weeks we struggled to even eat one meal together.  It's been delightful for us to have our lunch together or to stop now and then to take a quick walk through the neighborhood.

About the only negative has been that both of our cars sensed the change in the family situation, so they both picked the past two weeks to break down.  My Civic's alternator decided to go, which resulted in a $900 repair, and the radiator on D's CR-V went a couple of days later.  When he showed up at the garage, the mechanic was worried that they hadn't fixed my car right.  To their relief and our consternation, this was a completely different problem, and we ended up with a $700 repair for that problem.  I anticipate the animals will be next in line to have expensive issues, since the last thing we'd need would be more big pricey vet bills.  Hopefully my resume will grab the attention of a hiring manager soon.  While I enjoy some of the freedoms of unemployment, I'd rather get back into the workforce sooner rather than later! 
You can't get out into the world until you exit a door.

Friday was my last official day of employment at my (now) old job.  Outside of the occasional vent, I loved my coworkers, and I loved my job, and it's been, in the words of our severance-provided life coach, a "great run".  During my very first week, a person commented to me "This is a company people retire from..." meaning that people stayed in their positions much longer than even they intended to, because the workplace was so great.  Even though I started in my position long after the glory years, I quickly saw what everyone liked so much.  There was relatively little gossip and no one that stood out as being unreasonable or unfair.  Even the occasional and inevitable bitch sessions were laughable to me, having come from many "more challenging" environments.  One complaint I heard in the first year was that "We aren't given the week off between Xmas and New Year's!!!"  Guess what was changed by the second year?  Yup, we were given that week off.

Unfortunately, the one thing we couldn't change about our office was the physical location.  As time went on, and more and more collaboration between our office and headquarters was required, it became clear to anyone with half a brain that eventually our office would be transitioned over.  The geography of the situation was just too much of an issue.  For the past 2-3 years, the only question we asked among ourselves was "when", not "if".  In May, the shoe finally dropped, and we were informed of our respective fates.  Some people were let go immediately, some were given until the end of the year, and the rest of us were offered the option of choosing whether or not we wanted to move to headquarters.  After turning down the relocation offer, those of us who said 'no' were added into the ranks of those who were only going to remain employed through the transition period.

You might imagine that this transition has involved a lot of anger, and there definitely have been some harsh words and hurt feelings throughout the process.  The majority of those feelings are completely understandable, if not entirely justified, but one thing I learned going through a layoff in 2001 is that the sooner you can get mentally beyond the thoughts of how you've been personally wronged, the sooner you can get to a new, better place.  To my coworkers' credit, no one has been sitting around bitching nonstop, but I did notice a lot of people were wanting to wait until they were gone to figure out their next step.  I decided I would tackle that issue right away, and in May and June, I did a lot of soul-searching as well as job searching.   Lots of heavy brain activity later, I decided that what I most wanted to do was to officially obtain an MBA, and continue working in marketing.  When I found out that my end date was earlier than anticipated, I moved heaven and earth and was able to get accepted into the part-time program at UConn.  To this day, I'm a little shocked that I pulled it off.  I had three weeks to study for and pass the GMATs--a test that involved concepts I haven't touched for over 20 years, if at all.  At the same time I had to pull together letters of recommendation and transcripts for my application, and I still was working full-time and being the best mom I could be to P.  But production work taught me how to burn the candle at both ends, and pull it off I did.  I officially began classes in August.

I've still been looking for work throughout this period.  Ultimately, I'd love to find a position where I'm combining marketing along with my visual design skills.  Pretty much everyone I've spoken to gushes that this combination is extremely valuable to companies, and that I will be in demand, but as of right now, it's been my one source of frustration.  The web systems that many of the employers here use to process applications are often glitchy or frustratingly limited.  For example, on one system I was able to indicate that I was in the process of obtaining a degree by listing a future anticipated graduation date.  Then it asked me "What degree have you obtained from this institution.  We WILL be checking this so do NOT lie."  None of the choices were "degree still in progress".  So how do I answer that?  If I put MBA, they'll ask UConn if I've officially gotten one, and clearly the answer right now is No.  But the application would not let me progress without answering the question.  A human would understand immediately what my situation was by looking at my resume, but the computer only can make choices based on the programmed input options, and it's set up to eliminate candidates, not include them.  On other systems, they ask for majors, but "Film/TV Production" is not an option, and there's no "Other" category.  I'm left trying to decide if I classify my education as "Communications" or as "Art", and whether or not that will be a point that comes back to haunt me.  Some systems demand HTML formatting for resumes, others have such limited file size requirements that even my plain text word resume was too large to upload.  I'm also torn by my production background.  I suspect that potential employers continually assume that I'm just marking time until my next animation job--it definitely has been the number one question at the few interviews I've had so far.  Yet, if I leave off that information, nothing else on my resume demonstrates the level of work that I'm *capable* of.  I've made a few sacrifices and I've made a few major changes.  I would hope that a company reviewing my resume would be able to see that I'm clearly committed to marketing AND that I have an unorthodox background that is a huge benefit since it's taught me how to work well under pressure and produce high quality work.  But as of today, I have only had a couple of interviews and mostly a lot of emailed "No thank you, you weren't even considered for an interview" dismissals.

Yet, despite this frustration, I'm in really great spirits.  Financially between severance, unemployment and financial aid, I'm in a relatively okay spot, and in addition Old Job has been starting to talk with me about the potential of providing some freelance services down the road.  We have benefits through D's job, so that's taken care of, and if the freelance doesn't come pouring in, I actually have a bunch of personal goals that I'd love the time to tackle.  It's kind of exciting, because for this semester at least, if I don't have a full-time job, I could easily get quite a bit accomplished.  So, in the immortal words of our dear friend Randall, on we go!
I happen to live near a very flood prone river. If you as much as look at the river the wrong way, it overflows its banks and ends up blocking a bunch of roads. Naturally, the roads it likes to block the most happen to be very important roads in our area--they are the main routes for getting to and from the highway. If all the roads close, you have to either drive 20 minutes north or 20 minutes south to find an alternate route, and believe me, if that were to happen, the traffic becomes miserable. Luckily for me, the one road that is dependable is the road closest to me. Now, there is some debate among family members whether or not this road has ever had problems with flooding, but in the almost ten years that I've lived here, no matter how bad the flooding has been, this road has always remained passable.  There may be ridiculous amounts of traffic, and the water may be close to the road itself, but it's the one sure-fire way to get back and forth if you need to. 

About three years ago, this road was closed for almost a year so that they could replace the bridge and supposedly do a few other adjustments.  When they reopened the bridge, the one thing I immediately noticed was that they had added "Road Floods" warning signs on either side of the bridge.  Now, given the fact that this road has NEVER FLOODED at all while I've lived here, spending money on these signs might seem a little pointless, but to make the situation even more head scratching, the bridge area itself is not the lowest point.  If the road was going to flood, it would do so about 100 yards away, around the corner (and technically on a completely different road to boot).  

I mention all this because on Tuesday, two days after Irene swept by, the road was closed.  Had Irene done what no other storm had managed to, and flooded out the road?  As we finally managed to make our way past the detour, I could see that there was no water on the road, which began to worry me.  Perhaps the bridge structure had been damaged, and they didn't notice until the water was a little lower...  I began dreading another year of inconvenience if the bridge required extensive repairs.

Nope.  Thanks to the signs, my attention had been looking downward, so I completely missed the large tree that had fallen and gotten caught up in the power lines.  THAT was what had closed the roads, not flood waters!  So the road's current streak remains unbroken--it still has not been closed for flooding in all the years I've lived here.

Hurricane Edition

It's the quiet before the storm, so I've been taking care of all sorts of things that definitely require power. I've paid my tuition for the fall semester, downloaded materials for one class, paid other bills, and took care of some other odds and ends. Now I have to do my regular chores (vacuums don't work so well without power) and then hopefully our bowling banquet is still on tonight. I loves me the prime rib they serve at that shindig, although I'm worried that if we lose power for a while, the leftovers might become a hurricane victim.

We're directly under the projected path of the storm which is a weird place to be. Hurricanes don't often hit CT, so while I know what it was like in Gloria (pretty much nothing up where I lived, because it had decayed by the time it reached us), we're supposed to get 12+ hours of heavy rain and wind gusts up to 75mph. That's not a good combination at all, and I suspect we'll definitely lose power and have a few branches down. But we have our batteries, our non-perishable foods, and our gas for chainsaws and cars, and if we can survive 5+ feet of snow, I'm sure we can survive this as well. We also have taken all the recommended precautions--we pulled in all of our lawn furniture and made sure things were as secure as we could make them.

If we lose power, I'll have to be sparing in my use of phoneternet, but I plan on updating Twitter and perhaps FB if it's being congenial to me. It's just a little funny to me, because I've had more days off from natural disasters this year than I've had actual days off! We've had over 7 days off at work because of power outages/damage. Luckily the next four days are supposed to be spectacular, so if we do have a lot of clean up, at least the weather will be cooperating. :)

Weekend 3 update

It's been a while since I chatted about my Weekend 3 doings.  I fell out of the habit in the chaos of travel and returning home from the cruise, but I've quietly been trying to get back on top of them lately.  This past weekend was a good example of what I've encountered.

Our driveway has been taken over by firewood, so I decided I would spend some time working on that.  In addition, I planned on working for four hours on my latest project, and doing some various financial tasks that needed to be taken care of.  It seemed good to me--one task for the house, one task for my artwork, and one random task.  I had a pretty tight schedule, as Sunday afternoon I was going to be going to see a CT Sun game at Mohegan, and Sunday evening I had bowling.  But it was totally do-able.

On Saturday morning, I woke up and quickly knocked out the Finances task.  Yay!  I then started to clean the house.  Lately Per's been a huge help with getting those chores done, and the house has been in relatively good shape this week since we did a deep clean last weekend, so I figured I could get everything done before noon and then have the afternoon to do the firewood.  Only Per was putting up his "overwhelmed" resistance to cleaning up his room, and when I looked around, I could see that he needed my help.  So instead of getting the whole house cleaned, we focused on getting his space back into shape.  After lunch, the whole family went outside to stack wood which sounds all pioneer-y and stuff, but in reality is a hot, tiring sweaty process occasionally punctuated by the discovery of a toad or a salamander.  I was feeling extra motivated, so when Dean took breaks, I went around to the front yard and raked up the accumulation of branches from a couple of weeks of passing thunderstorms.  Four hours later, we called it a day, and we all collapsed in the living room to eat take out Chinese food and watch a Disney film.

On Sunday, I woke up a little later than intended, thanks to a late night bout of insomnia brought on by our ever-vigilant and ever-vocal guard dog.  I quickly jumped on the chores, but discovered while doing the very first one (clean the cat box) that there was still some cleanup left over from a minor flood we'd had in our basement thanks to our washing machine.  I managed to get the basement a little cleaner and take care of the bathroom before it was time to leave.  Left undone were the living room, the studio, and my bedroom--the three rooms that were in the best shape to start.

So there you have it.  I didn't do two things--a serious chunk of my normal chores and working on my art project.  But I did two unexpected major tasks--cleaning Per's room and raking the front yard.  I'd like to call it a wash, but I'm a little mad at myself for not getting to the art stuff.  And that is sort of how the Weekend 3 has been going for me lately.  

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