Almost there...

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

* Shamu Hour

Shamu Hour is the time of day when it's gotten so late and you're so tired that almost anything will be hysterically funny. The origin of the term comes from a birthday party at Nicole's house where legs flipped back and forth in a sleeping bag and flopping around the floor while crying out "Shamu!" was hysterically funny. Under normal circumstances, this might get a raised eyebrow, but at 3am after a night of dancing, it was the funniest thing we'd ever seen. Similarly, at Shamu hour, Kevin's rendition of "I'm a Little Teapot" with punchline is the funniest thing ever. Shamu hour came unexpectedly early on Sunday, but considering we'd all been up and dancing for 3 days, we'd earned it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Dickens Fair - a 3 Day Endurance Test

Dickens this weekend managed to run the full gamut of emotional responses by the end of the first weekend. Usually it takes a couple of weeks to reach the "Why do I do this crazy thing?" phase. But opening the day after Thanksgiving had me there on day one as I drove in from Sacramento, having gotten up ealier than any day this year for my paying job. We'd been told the weekend before that Fezziwig's would be open and visible to customers at 10:00 daily rather than our usual 10:45. Fair opens at 11am, so that means we had to be dressed an on a full hour before anyone else in the fair, and we're also the cast the bids the guests a fond farewell at the end of the day, wrapping about 7:30, a half hour after everyone else has changed clothes. This wasn't something the directors were told in advance. In fact, the first they heard of it was at dress rehearsal when it was announced to the entire fair. This had me set on edge from the outset. No one works harder or longer than the Fezziwig's, and we get little in return, and now they were demanding more of us without so much as checking to be sure that's okay with our director.

I fought my way through wind and rain and early morning drowsiness to arrive on time for the first day, fully dressed, to be told that we were opening early. The first person who told me, I assumed they meant 10am, and yeah, I knew that. But then another person told me and included "at 9:45" to which I replied, "Oh fuck that!" I dropped my belongings and headed out to get my breakfast and coffee. Another person told me about the early opening on my way out again. Before I'd had a sip of my coffee, four people had informed me of the early opening time.

Now here's a tip: don't rile the Ammy before she's had her coffee. Results will be predictable and fiery.

I told the director that this was unacceptable and that he has to learn to say no to the management and that we're people not automatons. I told Arthur that boundaries have to be set. I complained to everyone standing still that any idiot who shows up over an hour early to the door of an event should be left standing outside in the rain (under the tent provided no less) rather than having the burden of their inability to read being placed on a cast of 55 (Fezziwigs).

But it turned out their fantasy could not be realized as they hadn't managed to get the fire marshall in for their inspection prior to opening, so the doors were opened at 10:30 after the fire marshall signed off. The only loss was our morning warm ups, which I did sorely miss a few hours later.

But then fair started. The daughters got their big laugh in the tableau. The place was busy. Erik and I pretty much nailed our scene first time out of the gate. The Brassworks played in the afternoon and the floor was packed. I went to see the naughty French Postcards with Mr. Scrooge, though they were made significantly more entertaining through commentary from Jeremy of Jeremy's Escort Service. I headed home at the end of the day and soaked my feet and had leftover turkey for dinner.

Day two. I decided not to be foolish enough to risk drama before coffee and headed straight to Mr. Brown's. On the way, I bumped into Phil, whom I'd managed to miss entirely the day before. Fast on his heels were Chris, Bates, and Erik. I exchanged hugs and greetings with Phil, and a little catching up, then noticed the other three gents still behind him. I inquired, "What's going on?" and they replied, "Well this is the queue for the hugs isn't it?" I love these guys. "We Brits are great a queuing!" Hugs through the line, with Phil jumping in at the end for a second. This is it. This is why I do fair. And yes, I'll be getting coffee before going by Fezziwigs daily.

Day two brought other treats as well. Kerry brought me a trinket from the set of Rent which I'll be adding to the decorations in the blue bedroom. I helped another friend make amends with an lost friend. And at the end of the day, we bundled up and headed to Palo Alto for a quick bite at the Whole Foods Market and an hour in the hot tub. Best idea I've had all year. After an hour in hot water, my body was significantly less grumpy about the exertions of the previous two days. Indeed, when I rose the next morning, my body was not screaming unpleasantries as I'd expected.

So, off for Dickens Fair, day three. On my way in in the morning, I passed Elizabeth arriving in her mini-van. She fairly growled and said, "Why do we do this?" There is no reasonable response. Erik said, "Ah Mrs. Fezziwig - one vast substantial groan." By the end of the day, we were a third of the way through the run, with 3 weekends to go. I was doing pretty good, but trying to treat my feet as kindly as possible. If not dancing, then sitting. No standing around chatting in the streets. We had some really magical moments including a little child becoming completely overjoyed at the sight of the fiddle-playing Christmas tree and a marriage proposal on the Fezziwig's dance floor. After the proposal, Mr. Fezziwig declared that the happy couple should have once around the floor, followed by onece around the floor by all the married or engaged couples. This led to a small problem - two Ebenezers. I tried to think - dance with both or pick one? Which one? Meanwhile, the audience started laughing. Mr. Fezziwig shouted, "Oh just pick one!" and someone else shouted, "Well you're really engaged to the young one. The old one gave you up!" So I grabbed Erik and we headed around the floor, intending a cut-in after a few rounds. We finally caught up to Martin and traded him partners, though he really wanted to keep both girls. Anyway, by Sunday, things were going prety well until the magic of Christmas scene at the end of the day. Old Scrooge was expecting a particular cue/intro and Mr. Fezziwig said a different line and neither of them realized what was happening until way too late. A long pause with lots of staring had developed. And it was well past Shamu hour* so things devolved into an impressive giggle fit on the part of Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig. And giggles are contagious, so pretty soon, we were all cracking up, trying to get the scene moving again, and failing utterly. Finally, the Scrooges get introduced, and Martin starts his Magic of Christmas speech where he entreats us all to spend time with our loved ones rather than money on gifts, and we're trying not to giggle. And Martin keeps turning around and shouting "Shut up, you." and "Crazy old fool." and generally being giggle inspiring. Oh lordy. Finally Mrs. Fezziwig declares, "We should sing." and we sing Joy to the World and Deck the Halls and head out singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas. During carol-out by the door, I kept catching myself drifting off and forgetting to sing. I think I might have been tired or something. Oh, but it was a good sort of tired. On my way out I passed Elizabeth. She was back to one vast substantial smile. Or grin. Or face full of happiness. For all the trials and tribulations of Dickens, we do it for the smiles it puts on our faces.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Perfect Bliss

Before I say anything on the subject of Dickens itself, let me just say for the record that there is one completely perfect scenario to come home to after 3 days of Dickens Fair, and last night I had that, thanks entirely to my sweetie.

I arrived home to find the back deck lights on, a bowl of homemade soup in the microwave, a basin of hot water ready for my feet, a fuzzy bathrobe hung over the heater vent in the bathroom, and a cold soda ready to be sipped. I should note also that the kitchen and floors had been cleaned over the course of the weekend. I had my feet soaked and dried and stuffed into slippers while sipping my soda and soup and watching Reefer Madness (the new musical version). Then once the movie was over, I headed to the shower, was washed by my sweetie, and before I could tumble into bed, he'd put a heating pad under the covers and tucked me in for a full body massage. I drifted off to sleep with protestations about my book, which he fetched for me (though at that point it was little more than a security blanket rather than actual reading material), with Pixel curled up at my feet and my sweetie snuggled next to me.

So to recap:
- clean house
- hot soup
- cold beverage
- warm bathrobe
- good movie
- hot shower
- massage
- snuggly companion and kitten

Yes, my life is seeming pretty darned near to perfect right now.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanks Jeff!

So my friend Jeff manages to find all the really good stuff on the internet and post it to our bulletin board. Sometimes his lists are hit and miss, but sometimes it's one shining thing of beauty after another. Two of my favorites from the most recent list are the Mansion Impossible game and the Presidential Speechalist video. On this, the day before Thanksgiving, when I have no desire to start any new projects or big documents and the HelpSU queue is not terribly busy, I thank Jeff for keeping me amused at the office.


Remember the old saw that you're born with every brain cell you'll ever have? Yeah, not quite true so much. But more than that are the amazing array of things that cause your brain to grow and change - like driving a cab or meditating. Feeling like you're brain is going south? Well do something about it!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I Hate Bureaucrats

I hate people who think blind adherance to policy is the best policy without ever engaging a brain cell to evaluate a situtaion. I especially hate it when those people are in customer service type roles.

I've been working with a student for the last two days about why she can't enroll in classes. It turns out, her leave of absence to do a quarter at the American University was never recorded in the system. So I sent some information to the Reg Office requesting their assistance in correcting the record and I encouraged the student to follow up with the Reg Office herself. She diligently did so. The Reg Office lady disregarded the information that the student submitted her leave of absence paperwork, stating only that she needed to fill out a reinstatement form. The student did so. This happened yesterday. This morning the student called me back, still unable to enroll in classes. I looked at the record, and rather than correcting the error, putting her on LOA starting at the beginning of fall term and returning her as of 12/01, they let the discontinuation status stay, and reinstated her as of 12/01. If she were on LOA, she'd get security to enroll in Winter term classes immediately. Since she's being reinstated, she can't enroll until 12/01. This is a problem as she's a graduating senior and still needs some required classes. So I tell the student to contact the Reg Office and ask that either the record be corrected to show her leave of absence correctly (best case) or to at least correct the reinstatement to 11/21 so that she can enroll immediately (second best case). I sent her on this mission, not realizing she was dealing with the bureaucrat-from-hell in the Reg Office.

I got a ticket from the hell-spawn in the Reg Office a few minutes before five stating that she entered it correctly and that I don't understand the Reg Office policy and to call if I had questions. Um... okay. I explained the scenario, that the student believed the LOA was in place and that she'd submitted all the LOA paperwork last spring. She explained that the student wasn't on an LOA, but was discontinued for non-enrollment. I said that the student was supposed to be on LOA. She said she wasn't. I asked if she could check to see if the paperwork existed and maybe it was just a clerical error. She started going off about Reg Office policy and how reinstatements are as of 12/01 and that's the policy. And I said that I understood the policy, but I was questioning the data entry and did you check the student's paper file to see if the LOA paperwork was in there. She said that the student was discontinued, not on LOA. I said that yes, that's what it says in PeopleSoft, but that it was contrary to what the student states and perhaps there was a clerical error. She said that maybe I should come sit with her and see how they work and the policies and procdures. I said that I understand the policies and procedures, but what I'm wondering about was whether or not the Reg Office ever got the LOA paperwork. I asked if she had checked the student's paper file. She told me that maybe I should talk to her boss because she can't seem to get through to me. I raised my eyebrow and said, "All I'm asking is did you check the paper file for the paperwork. I'm trying to determine if this is because the student submitted the paperwork late or because there was a clerical error in the Reg Office." She said she didn't know. I asked if that was because she had looked at the paperwork or not. She said she didn't know. This didn't make sense. I said, "Could you go look at the paperwork and let me know." She said no, that the student was discontinued, not on a leave of absence. I asked if she had researched it using the student's paper file. She said that she wasn't going to discuss it any further with me as it was after five. It was 5:01. She suggested I talk to her boss tomorrow. Um, yeah. Definitely. Then she hung up. I said, "Fine!" and slammed down my phone and went to discuss this with my manager so that he'd be aware if he heard from her or her boss. Discuss as in vent loudly with several expletives. Not the best policy I'll grant, but it's been a long time since I've had conversation at that level where "policy" is waved about like the word of God. Anyone who abdicates logic and reason in favor of ignorance and policy should never ever be in a customer service role and be condemned to manual labor.

The chap across the hall is from Russia. He had overheard much of this conversation as it grew. He said, "Bureaucrats really bug you, eh?" I said, "Yeah" and started recounting. He said, "Imagine a whole country founded on that." I said, "I'd shoot people." He raised an eyebrow. I said, "I would long ago be in prison or dead because some idiot couldn't plug in their brain and think for themselves." Worse than being completely stupid is having a brain and refusing to use it. Grr...

Dickens Tickets

I do have 26 tickets to Dickens Fair on my person, available for sale at the cost of $15 apiece. This is $5 off the gate price. Please let me know if you would like to purchase tickets.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Happy Christmas!

Okay, okay, so it's a little early for most of y'all, but for me, Christmas started yesterday, more or less. Dress rehearsal went well, though I have major doubts about the place being ready to roll on Fridy at 11am. We'll see how it goes. The layout of Dickens is a bit different this year, with one additional bay added, allowing for several new things, including a parlor for Charles Dickens and his family, the sea dogs get to totally take over the middle bay, Dark Garden has more space, and the lobby is much larger. This last has some unexpected consequences for the Fezziwigs. Rather than starting our day at 10:30ish, fully 30 minutes before the rest of the fair, they've decided that they'll let people into the lobby at 10am, with windows that look into our space, so we have to be fully ready to go by 10am sharp, more than an hour before anyone else in the fair. Then at the end of the day, we're still responsible for carol-out, which is to say singing Christmas carols with the guests until everyone is gone. So basically, I'll be at the fair working from 9am to 7:30 or 8pm daily on a volunteer basis. Because I'm crazy. There's really no other excuse. Oh alright, and because it's fun and fulfilling. But man, I really feel like they're asking a lot of us as volunteers. That's more hours than I put in on a long day at the office, and they pay me for that. This is for fun. But it's also a lot of work. And I guess I do sort of feel a bit taken for granted. But we'll see how the year goes.

In other news, I had a grand time hanging out and rehearsing with my new Young Ebenezer. I still feel a bit torn on the whole Bates versus Erik scenario. Bates was equally well prepared, equally good. It was just a slightly different scene with Bates. And while either of them would have been completely wonderful as Young Scrooge, there was a feather just ever so slightly tipping the scales to Erik. If it were a clear cut decision, I'd feel much better. But as it was, it was gut wrenching. Of course, how can I really complain about having two interested, qualified candidates? So anyway, spent some time working over the scene with Erik and Martin, and then with just Erik. The last time we ran it, I felt like we really nailed it. There was this one moment where he had his back to me and I felt like it really worked, like I'd just punched him emotionally, and he was retreating to his own thoughts, and trying to decide whether or not I was right or wrong. There I am, telling him why I'm right to his back, and he's soaking it up. It's terrible, and just perfect.

So I'm ready as I'll be, and like all good adventures, it will be exhausting and great fun.

After dress rehearsal, we went to Cyrus and Athena's house for turkey dinner with them and Kevin and Rachel. The turkey came out perfect. The traditional green bean caserole was tasty as ever. She also made some roasted veggies - butternut squash, garlic, onions, red pepper, red and gold potatos. It was a great blend. And the stuffing was perfection. So after a full day steeped in the traditions of the holidays, I'm ready for the charge. Full steam ahead and no rest for the wicked until December 19th. Yeeeeeehaw!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Stanford vs. Cal

So when I was at Cal, I was aware that there was some vague rivalry between Stanford and Cal. It all seemed kind of light and fluffy and I didn't know anyone who actually cared. There was this big game on the weekend. That was about it.

Here at Stanford, they're terribly serious about it all. Riding to my class at noontime, there were students with bullhorns shouting "Get your Gaieties tickets now!" and "Wear Red." They actually seemed to care. There's posters everywhere for Kill Julie, the annual big game spoof. Tonight the birdcage was all lit up and there was a neon 71 sign. I have no idea what that means. Apparently there were some pranks pulled over at Berkeley this week too. The phone number for getting tickets to Stanford games is "1-800-BEAT-CAL". (Of course, it's also "1-800-BE-AT-CAL" but that's just me.)

But all that weird rivalry aside (I mean, hello, that's soooo high school!), there's one thing I can honestly say Berkeley beats Stanford at hands down: the bell tower. Both schools have a bell tower. But the Stanford tower plays irregularly at best and my god it's so flat! And I think they were trying to play "Comedy Tonight" from The Producers on my way back to my office, but it just came out as a bunch of sour notes. The Campanille is actually pretty to listen to. And I'm not just saying that as a Cal grad.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

My Name is Earl

I think the most subversive show on television this year is "My Name is Earl." It's about a working class schmoe who didn't do a lot right with his life until one day he won the lottery and got hit my a car. While in the hospital, he hears Carson Daly describe karma and takes it to heart. So now he's going back and fixing all the things he can think of that he did bad. Funny thing is, karma is treating him well in return. He does good, good things come to him. He does bad, bad things happen to him. Every time.

So here's this little sit-com with a very simple message from a decidedly non-Judeo-Christian perspective, with the main characters being an everyman who is literally trailer trash who has upgraded to living in a crappy motel. Week after week, it's suggesting you don't need to be Christian to have moral values or go to church every Sunday to be a good person and know right from wrong. And then there's his ex-wife, who demonstrates every week what happens when you behave badly. It's this quaint little morality tale, with a wry sense of humor, and no Jesus anywhere. And there's nothing to it that the religious-right can get testy about (no witches or other mystical entities). Just morality served up hot and fresh, free of all that pesky monotheism. It's subversive, and I like it.

Feeling Biological

Note to my future self - Don't do all the body maintenance in one day. It makes you feel way too biological.

Trim nails (hands and feet).
Buff callouses on feet.
Paint fingernails.
Dye hair.
Shape eyebrows.
Shave (legs and underarms).

Ever want to feel like you're descended from the great apes? Yep, this is a great way to get that sort of feeling.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Pride and Prejudice

Well, guess I'm going to eat my words. Pride and Prejudice was good. I enjoyed it immensely. It's not exactly better than the BBC version, and Jennifer Ehle is still the perfect Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth is still perfectly Darcy, but this version had things to offer. Those country folks looked like country folks - greasy hair, imperfect, outdated clothes, country houses with pigs and chickens. And Bingly was the goofy, young git you expect. And the dances were great. It was also really particular about hitting the manners just right. It made a clear distinction between a public ball and a private ball. And if you want to get warmed up for Fezziwig's season, I highly recommend it. My biggest pet peeve? Keira Knightley's hair/wigs. She clearly had a very short hairstyle under her wigs, and it was visible on a number of occassions and her wigs were noticeable on occassion. But this was minor. Otherwise, it's just really one of my favorite stories ever, and hearing it told again is always agreeable.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Watch Me Glow

I'm just a total sucker for compliments. Well, real ones anyway. After my class yesterday, I had a real feeling of "Egad, I just couldn't get my words out!" I had a headache through the whole class and really felt like I wasn't at the top of my game.

But most of the evaluations were positive. I had the classic scenario where one eval said "Pace was too slow." followed by the very next one which stated "Pace was too fast." In truth, the pace was definitely slower than normal because there were three folks there who weren't really big with the clue.

Just reading through my email, I got this note from one participant:
At 10:33 AM 11/10/2005, you wrote:
Good Morning Ammy,
My name is [name omitted] and I took your Peoplesoft: Student Administration Basics course yesterday. Sorry for having to run off, but I had class down in Santa Clara and I had to catch the train. Truthfully though, it was the first T&OD class I didn't want to leave. You did a very good job walking us through the different parts of PeopleSoft, and the exercises were relevant and fun. Thank you for making something that was potentially very boring, interesting and engaging. Your explanations along with the manual make me feel comfortable about using this new system, so I'm excited to see what happens.
Also, thank you for being so responsive in answering my myriad of questions. The system just really intrigues me, now that I know more about it, and I'm thinking of all of the applications we could possibly use it for in our office. You mentioned that I might want to take some reportmart classes, or maybe other peoplesoft classes - do you have any suggestions for good courses to take? Essentially what we are looking at is trying to track students' course history, grades, GERs, major/minor history/declaration stats, against our program of Introductory Seminars so see if our classes are having any impact on these factors. Such as, do students who take our classes declare sooner? Or do students take our classes because they fulfill GERs but aren't necessarily in their major field etc. My guess is that we'll need to use a combination of PeopleSoft information and information from the Registrar, but any help in courses or people to talk to would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you so much again for teaching a wonderful class and I look forward to possibly taking another course from you. Which reminds me, I have the course evaluation sheet. Would you like me to fax that somewhere? Or ID mail it to you? Please advise and let me know where to send it.

Cheers and have a wonderful day ~

I'm just going to hang on to that for a while. Sometimes it's really nice to feel like you're good at what you do. Ah...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Alpine Road

For 9 months, they've been doing road work on the intersection of Junipero Serra and Alpine Road. This has meant no stoplight for 9 months. No cross traffic for 9 months. Just smooth sailing around the curve. It was great.

So after 9 months of roadwork, what has changed about how the intersection was before and after all that effort?


Well, there's, um...

Yeah, there's the same light structure. Three 3-way lights. Lots of waiting. They could've put in a right hand turn green light for those coming off the freeway on to Junipero Serra. But they didn't. They could've coordinated the light there and the one less than a block away at Sand Hill. Doesn't look like they did. So, lots of effort, and very little payoff. I don't get it. But after 9 months of smooth sailing, I'm really wishing that they'd change their minds, rip out the lights, and block the crossing to Sand Hill. It's a wildly unnecessary intersection as Sand Hill road has its own freeway exit. The whole thing just muffs traffic on both Sand Hill and Alpine. But hey, I guess some road crews had a good gig for 9 months.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Flu Shot... or not?

I've got the option of going to get a flu shot for free today on campus while I'm over at the Benefits fair. Two years ago, everyone on my team got a flu shot except me. Everyone on my team got crazy sick that winter except for me, even though I was the one dancing with 100 strangers a weekend. I tend to have a fairly vigorous immune system, and I sincerely believe the best way to stave off a virus to go get a bunch of exercise - it heats up your body, you breathe deeply and exchange a lot of air, and your blood moves around a bit faster to carry away more bad by-products, and you end up drinking more water. So, with that in mind, my winter time health program seems a bit more effective than a gamble on a shot that might hit one of the viruses I'll encounter this year. Last year I did end up sick in February and March, but it certainly wasn't the flu - it was a nasty bronchitis thing that just wouldn't go away. So again, flu shot would've done nothing for me. And I can't seem to find anything on which virus this year's flu shot is combating. So flu shot? I'm thinking I'll skip it. I guess I get to wait until March or so to see if that's a bad call.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Trick or Treat

Turns out, our neighborhood has a lot of little trick or treaters. Rick is convinced that next year our driveway should become a haunted alley. Trick or treaters started arriving at 5:30, slowed down around 7:00, and trickled away to nothing by 9:00. We spent the evening watching Ghostbusters with Christyn and Brian, occassionally pausing to hand out candy to the trick or treat stragglers. I purchsed five bags of candy originally, and as I was stuck in traffic on the way home, Rick begged me to acquire more. By the time I got home, there were less than 10 pieces left, so my grabbing five more bags was not extreme. At the end of the night, we had about 1 bag of mixed treats left over. Pretty cool.