Friday, June 29, 2012

New thing #33: Published!

There were a lot of things I wanted to emulate about the women I met twenty years ago when we all lived on Lincoln Avenue. These women were funky and fun and smart and bold, and we had endless good conversations over endless glasses of wine. To this day I can remember D, with her great sense of style and sharp wit, casually mentioning that her poetry had been published in a magazine. I thought this was one of the coolest things I had ever heard, and I hoped that one day I could say the same thing.

Flash forward to this month, when I made contact with a reporter for our local newspaper, The Oakland Press. She invited me to write an article about my blog project, and with her help, I can now say, "I am published." It's not as cool as D's poetry, and they made some minor edits to my work (there's no way I would have put my age in bold font in the title!), but it's a start.

So if you missed yesterday's newspaper, you can click this link to jump to the article about my blog. Then you can click the link in the article to jump back to this actual blog. Where you can click the link to jump back to the article... well you get the idea.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

New thing #32: Glowing in the Dark

For a period of time our customers, concerned about the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power plant, required our lab check all the components coming from the affected region. This was accomplished with Berthold LB124 Contamination monitors (CoMo). Now that the requirement was lifted, one of the monitors was being shipped to our office in Michigan. So on a recent trip to Germany, I was offered training on how to use it. In order to make the training more effective, what could be better than actually testing some radioactive material to see how the monitor would react?

Luckily the local university had a stash of cesium-137 on hand, so our colleague Effie loaded the CoMo into a blue plastic shopping basket and offered to take us there. We headed across a footbridge to a cobbled parking lot that had seen better days. Deftly skirting puddles from the recent rain, Effie apologized for her "small, old car". It turned out to be spotlessly clean and decked out with Deutsch flag mirror covers to show support for the upcoming Euro 2012 soccer quarterfinals. After a scenic drive up the winding roads through a nice residential part of the city, we arrived at the University of Coburg and met our guides, grad students Sabine and Anna. They gave us a short safety lecture ("don't touch anything") before leading us into a building decked out in the traditional academia d├ęcor of metal furniture, low ceilings and worn Formica floors. We entered a restricted access lab through a door marked with a hazard warning sign proclaiming that radioactive material was present.


I definitely experienced a flashback to elementary school at the sight of that sign. Back in the late 1960's, along with the annual fire drills and bus safety exercises, we would prepare for nuclear attacks. A relentless siren signaled our teachers to lead us to an innermost hallway, where we would crouch down low to the floor while covering our heads with our hands and arms. Even at a young age I wondered how this was supposed to keep us safe from a bomb blast. And I couldn't understand why anyone on the other side of the world would want to threaten my sleepy little town. To me, a country kid with no exposure to other cultures, it fostered a vague sense of mistrust towards foreigners that lasted until I became friends with an exchange student in high school. I feel so fortunate that I was able to broaden my horizon in the years since elementary school, since it's allowed me to meet and become friends with some really amazing people of all different backgrounds.

Back at the lab, Sabine and Anna showed us how to use the CoMo. It's an orange plastic box with a handle, roughly the size and heft of a steam iron. First you run a background sample to determine the amount of radioactive particles in the room. We are constantly surrounded by low levels of radiation from the sun, the ground, and human sources. The monitor registers these background levels so it can subtract it from the final measurement. Once you’ve got your baseline, you can test your parts. We swept some components that we brought with us from our lab. The monitor barely budged. The same was true when we measured our cellphones and wristwatches. Then Anna pulled a sample of cesium from a protective case. The actual amount of radioactive material in the sample was barely larger than the period at the end of this sentence. As soon as she placed it near me, the warning lights and bells on the CoMo began to sound. There was no doubt that it was working correctly, and even though I knew it was coming, I was so startled that I almost dropped the meter.

After the cesium was safely put away and the CoMo had been reset, I asked Sabine what I should do if I measured something back home that set off the monitor. She looked at me and blinked, and then said simply, “Leave.” Now that's good advice! Shut the door; get outta Dodge. And maybe call 911 on your way out. But don’t hunker down in the hallway with your hands over your head.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

New thing #31: Intuitive counseling


I consider myself a spiritual person. I believe in a higher power and an afterlife. I think karma will kick you in the butt if you don't respect it. I also consider myself a skeptic. So even though I do believe that there are people who have a psychic gift (just as there are people who have other talents), I think that most of the professional psychics are more therapist and storyteller than anything else. But that didn't stop me from wanting to experience a reading, hoping to get that shivers-down-my-spine feeling when a total stranger seems to know me better than I know myself.

The Girl made me an appointment with an "Intuitive Counselor" at the Boston Tea Room in Ferndale, a funky little town sandwiched between the hipsters and the 'hood. We headed down to the basement of a creaky old downtown building where pipes lined the low ceilings. Once you stepped inside the shop you were transported to a soothing, colorful little haven with soft music and a harmony of scents. I was offered a cup of tea, then escorted back to meet Charise, who would be doing my reading. She sat in the back corner, sectioned off from the rest of the room by a folding screen. Alas, she didn't look like a fortune teller. Instead she was a smart young woman with an easy laugh and a bright smile.

Charise started with a palm reading, giving me a fairly generic description of my personality. Her forte is medical intuition, and she gave me a startlingly accurate rundown of my minor aches and pains, along with some recommendations for alleviating them. She matter-of-factly told me I'd been married a long time, had 3 pregnancies but only 2 children, and took a big vacation every 3 or 4 years. She was right on target until she stated that I probably have a hard time turning off my thoughts to fall asleep at night. I'm usually unconscious before I hit the pillow.

Next she handed me a deck of Tarot cards, which I shuffled and divided into 3 piles. She laid them out in intricate patterns while describing what they predicted for my husband and each child, my mom, one sister and her sons. She seemed to get more juice about all the males in my life, and less about the females. She talked about my where my job was going (nowhere), when we would sell our house (this fall) and when I would rekindle a friendship (next year). She told me that a 'little ghosty' lived in Waconda but was nothing to fear and (conveniently?) wouldn't make himself known. I worded my questions carefully. Every once in a while she would startle me with a comment that was dead-on, and I'd stop to think if I'd said something that would lead her to that conclusion. These nuggets were mixed in with some broad, all-purpose advice that I'll take to heart.

I'm still not sure I'm a believer, but all told, the reading lived up to my expectations as a combination of therapy, storytelling and a few spine-tingling moments.

Friday, June 8, 2012

New thing #30: Wild blue yonder

What's your vector, Victor? 

Yep, that's me FLYING A PLANE!!! Well, actually it's me holding the controls while the real pilot says "Steer to your right now... Your other right... Why don't you just let me straighten us out a little?"

This was in a Cessna 421B Golden Eagle, a charter plane that my company uses when their own plane is being serviced. My colleagues and I were flying round trip from Michigan to Alabama, and since there were five of us (plus the pilot) in this six-seater plane, I called shotgun.

I put on a set of headphones so I could hear the communication between the pilot and air traffic control, and we took off. It was a beautiful day to fly. In fact, it was so smooth that it seemed like we were standing still. Joel, the very patient pilot, explained what the thirty or so gauges and levers meant while we cruised along. At one point he let me take the wheel for a few minutes, which was terrifying, especially since I wasn't tall enough to see the nose of the plane over the instrument panel, and the little artificial horizon indicator was way over on the real pilot's side of the plane. But it was still super fun, and happily I did not put us into a death spiral.

The view was terrific with only a slight haze and a few interesting clouds off in the distance. I kept an eye out for other planes and wayward suicidal birds, but the coast was clear. As Joel says, it's a big sky. I saw a lot of 'flat' as we flew over the Midwest. The GPS told me which cities we were approaching so I could wave to The Boy as we flew over Nashville. I got comfortable with the lingo between the various airport towers and other pilots, since we could hear all the conversations on our frequency. And FYI, nobody says 'over' when they are done talking on the radio. Instead they all say 'good day', like they had just finished a proper English tea.

The best part was having a front row view for the landings, especially as we headed towards our home airport at the end of the day. With the sun setting in a nice red fireball on the horizon, we were instructed to keep above the airspace over DTW before making the decent into PTK. This required a rather steep drop directly towards the dozens of lakes dotting the landscape around our local airport before Joel made a perfect gentle landing. Flying commercial will never be the same.