Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Photo Fun

I am on vacation and snowed in. On top of that I have the flu--which really cuts down on my ability to write anything coherent. So instead of writing the posts I had planned to write, I am entertaining myself with my camera. Here are the best of the shots I took today.

Both are lovely ornaments that my in-laws sent from Ireland a few years ago. The lighting comes from the lights on the tree.

©2010 Cristina Kollet

©2010 Cristina Kollet

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Winter Tradition

This morning we were supposed to drive down to south Jersey for brunch with our friend Richie.  I admit that in my holiday haze I had not checked the weather. Thankfully, I checked Facebook before getting out of bed this morning; because it was posts about snow storms and changing travel plans that made me check the forecast.

Of course, our plans changed.  Instead of driving to Hazlet, we drove to ShopRite.

I admit that I don't know how far this phenomenon extends. But here in New Jersey, if so much as a dusting of snow is expected, people will rush to the supermarket for bread and milk. If you are expecting a blizzard, you get this...

At 10:44 AM, the parking lot was packed. Note that, at this time, there are only a few flakes on the ground.
© 2010 Cristina Kollet
Of course, we went straight for the milk, knowing that's the first thing to go.

© 2010 Cristina Kollet

Saturday, December 25, 2010

And to All a Good Night

I'm sitting here with the hiccups winding down from a great evening with family and friends.

I plugged in our tree. It's been up all year, but not re-lit till tonight.

I wrapped the presents and completed a personal tradition. Every year I make ornaments for my nieces. Some years I get very busy and come close to forgetting. This was one of those years. But between remembering on the way to dinner and getting home some hours later, I had a vision.  Some wire and an hour later, I was done.

We'll be up early tomorrow to participate in what has become known as The Festival of Greed.  Mainly we watch the kids open presents and have a huge breakfast. The adults have switched to doing Secret Santa via is fun, but I'm not clear on the timing of the exchange this year.

Now, there are some out there who won't like the whole "Festival of Greed" concept, but to each their own. I'll say here that I'm not traditionally religious. Christmas in my family has been secular for years. Personally, I look toward the common theme being celebrated by many religions and cultures this time of year--the theme of light in the darkness--be that light from a person, a flame, or the ever lengthening days after the solstice.

I'm also celebrating my anniversary. It is 7 years now since I first met my husband face-to-face. Our first date was on Christmas and so I celebrate the day the light of Love came into my life.

And so I wish you all a happy holiday-whether it's a holiday of faith or just a day off work. I hope you all find something or someone to make you happy. My happiness is asleep upstairs. It's time to turn this good day into a good night.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My New Toy: Neat Receipts for Mac

This is my new toy and it's great!

I've lusted after this for about a year now, hoping it would do everything it said it would, but too skeptical to buy it. Finally, faced with the year-end task of getting together receipts to file for my flexible spending account claim and tax season around the corner (the horror!), I took the plunge.

It's not a very expensive gadget, the portable model that I got was on sale for about $130.  (It's usually about $180 and the desktop scanner is over $300.)

Setup was easy. One CD and the usual bit of clicking next when prompted. The scanner uses a USB cable and comes with a pouch for storage.  I'm still a little confused by the software. I was able to get it to do everything I wanted in the end, but I can't say exactly how and I am sure there is a better way. (I could have used a manual.)

What I was able to do--scan a pile of receipts, which the Neat Receipts software then read and categorized and created PDFs.  I was also able to import PDFs I had of online receipts into the software.

In the end I was able to create one PDF with all of my receipts in it which is so much easier to deal with than having to deal with lots of attachments.

Neat Receipts is supposed to be compatible with Turbo Tax and QuickBooks. So hopefully it will make tax season easier.  But I feel like just having it for the Flexible Spending Account receipts made it pay for itself.

I think my next step will be one of those Android apps that turns the Droidx into a scanner and makes PDFs. That way I can capture my receipts right away before they end up a crumpled mess in my pocket.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tis the Season for Giving! May I Suggest the Gift of Clean Water?

Have you ever been inconvenienced by a water main break or just felt disappointed when the store didn't have your favorite brand of bottled water?
Imagine never having clean water you can count on--to drink, to cook with, or bathe in. Face it, if you're reading this in a warm home, with running water, you've got it relatively easy.

This is the time of year when we turn our thoughts to giving--to our friends and loved ones and to worthy causes.

So if you're looking for a cause to support, and whether you're giving out of the goodness of your heart, or for that last minute tax deduction, or a little bit of both, I suggest you check out Our Glimmer of Hope's Water is Hope campaign to raise funds for a well in Tercha, Ethiopia.

Tercha is a village near where my friend's daughter was born. My friend's adoptive family travel group is trying to raise $4750 to install one clean water source in Tercha. 100% of donations go to the well.

Please take a moment to learn more about it here. Water is Hope | Our Glimmer of Hope

Monday, December 6, 2010

Calling in Tech Support

I'll admit it. The heavy posting tonight has been due to my attempts to get Blogger, Twitter, and Facebook to play nice.

Since I'm not having great luck, I've brought in some tech support. If this post shows up in all three places, Biggles will have been successful.
©Cristina Kollet 2010
Biggles has his own fan page. I lean on him for technical expertise when the Wookie is not around.

When I Was a Kid...

When I was a kid, I loved putting up the Christmas tree. I loved lights, the decorations with all their memories attached, and even that empty space beneath it holding the promise of little dreams that might come true come Christmas morning.

I wanted to keep the tree up all year. This year, I did.

©Cristina Kollet 2009
I'm happy every time I look at it. With all the responsibilities of adulthood, how many times to we think back to being a kid and actually DO some of the things we said we would when we grew up?

If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend it.

That Most Wonderful Time of the Year

©Cristina Kollet 2010

This morning I saw the first snow flakes of the holiday season. Happily, it didn't stick. But here, the snow is fluffy white and no one has to dig out their car.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Book I Can Put Down

I have recently rediscovered reading for pleasure. It’s not that I ever lost interest in it; more a combination of lack of time and not finding anything that really met all of my qualifications. I am picky.

You see, with all the stresses of my day-to-day life, I have very little tolerance for added stress in my entertainment, be it books, TV, or movies. And so some may say that my tastes have become simplistic.

I want characters I will care about and well-crafted interesting stories. I won’t tolerate getting invested in a character only to have them killed off. A little drama is good, too much drama it’s time for Food Network. (Nothing really horrible ever happens on Food Network.) Happy endings are required.

I recently devoured five books. It started when the title of a book I read years ago (probably back in high school) popped into my head and I found it was available to read with an app on my phone. Then I read the sequel and that got me to looking for more books. I found a new author, sucked down two titles by her, and then found an old favorite author had written a new book with characters I knew and liked. So I read that too.

All of these titles were totally engrossing; I couldn’t put them down. This led to some sleepless nights as I plowed through to reach the end of the story and see my fictional friends through to their happy ending. But I’m not writing about those titles tonight.

Having been bitten once again by the reading bug, but needing more sleep than I did back in my book devouring youth, left me with a bit of a predicament. I wanted to keep reading. It would be nice to read a chapter or two before I go to bed…provided I could stop there.

So this just added one more qualification to my already picky list. I needed a book that was enjoyable enough to read, but I also needed to be able to put it down.

Right now that book is Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. It’s not that I don’t care about the hero, Robert Langdon. Back when the book was at the height of its popularity, I enjoyed Langdon’s exploits in the Da Vinci Code. (Didn’t sleep much during that one.) But Mr. Brown’s books adhere to a very strict formula. His formula is so strict that I was actually too annoyed by it to read Angels and Demons.

When I find an author and character I like, I will usually go through one book after another till the list runs out. So after enjoying the Da Vinci Code, I picked up Angels and Demons. A few chapters in I could see the formula at play and it was so obvious that I could not get past it. (I did enjoy the movie when it came out on cable, but that was largely due to Tom Hanks.)

I won’t go into the formula here, because I don’t want to spoil the books for anyone.  But I will say that this time it’s a comfort. Langdon is Brown’s cash cow, so I can be pretty sure he’ll live through the book. And the story is engaging, especially since this time it’s set someplace I’ve actually been, Washington, DC. But after each chapter, I’m able to say, “enough for now” and I don’t have that anticipation or anxiety that leaves me needing to find out what happens next. In fact, I realized today that, unlike my other recent reads, I can go days between reading one chapter and the next without even wondering what will happen.

And that’s exactly what I need right now.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"What this Wall Needs is a Giant Sperm"

I have to wonder about the design meetings for some of the sound barriers lining the highways here in New Jersey.  This one on I80 is particularly interesting when I stop to think that someone actually proposed this design and had it approved.
©Cristina Kollet 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010

“Most Women Wouldn’t be Prepared for This”

“Most Women Wouldn’t be Prepared for This” That’s what a woman said to me at the doctor’s office last week.

She was thanking me for offering my help. She had a flat tire and I offered to fill it for her so she could at least drive it back to the rental place. In the end it turned out she didn’t need my help. She was able to get it taken care of at a nearby garage.

But as I walked back to my car, I wondered…is it true that most women wouldn’t be prepared to fix a flat? And if so, why is that?

This was actually the second time this had come up this month. A few weeks ago, my husband and I were out to dinner and as we walked back to our car another car pulled into the lot making that telltale sound—wump! Wump! WUMP!—the unmistakable sound of a very flat tire.

My husband immediately looked to where the car had gone and it took us two trips through the lot to find it. The driver was a young lady; she was out of breath, frightened, and crying on the phone to her father. She didn’t think she had a spare. It was clear that if she did, she didn’t know what to do with it. (I’ll give her this, her tire had blown and having been through that myself I know the sound of an exploding tire can be enough to startle anyone.)

We calmed her down, showed her where the spare was and changed the tire for her—both of us, Paul and I, taking turns because the nuts were very tight. We were done in minutes and sent the driver on her way with advice to replace more than just one the blown tire.

When I recounted the story to a friend later, she asked, “YOU know how to change a flat tire?”

I am surprised that this should be considered a rare pearl of knowledge for a woman to have. We raise our daughters to be independent, confident, and self-sufficient. But still, there seems to be some basic survival skills that some treat like the purview of men.

I don’t expect everyone to be as prepared as I try to be. I am well aware that my often over-preparedness is fueled by a bit of OCD and an over-developed sense of impending doom.

“The purse” (my ever present bag of holding) is well known in my circle for containing way more than most people (men or women) feel the need to carry and my car tends to be an extension of that. Right now, I’ve got a SCUBA cylinder in the trunk and a regulator with an extra hose and adapter for filling tires. It’s there because I had a flat and several weddings to get to and I wanted to be sure I could fill the tire if it went down again. Once it was in the trunk, it became part of my gear (At least till the Wookie needs the tank.)

I know my rig is overkill. But there are plenty of more conventional gadgets available to fill a flat. And even if one didn’t carry that, everyone should have a spare, know where it is, and know what to do with it. Even if you have roadside assistance, there are times and places where you might not be able to call or the wait might be too long. You might just have to change it yourself.

So why would a woman not be expected to know how to do this? I think most of the guys I know could change a flat.

Maybe it’s generational. I should keep in mind when I’m looking at my own generation, that so many of my friends’ parents are as old as my grandparents. Expectations were different when they grew up. So it’s possible that it never occurred to parents of that generation to teach their daughters to handle their own roadside emergencies.

Then again, if we never sought life-skills beyond what our parents taught us, we’d still be living in caves. There are some things that if the knowledge isn’t gifted to us, we should go out and learn for ourselves.

I don’t have kids of my own yet; we’re still working on that. But Wookie and I do talk about the things we want to make sure we teach our kids if we’re lucky enough to become parents—how to manage money, how to read a map, first aid, and CPR. I’m adding how to change a flat to that list. There are just some things that should be considered basic survival skills in our society.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

As of 22 minutes ago, it's Thanksgiving.

Things have been rough. Lots of things are not as I would like. But the scales remain tipped towards the really good things in life. And so, I am thankful for:

  • My husband--who always says "we're always ok."
  • My family
  • My friends, old and new
  • Our cats, who gave us a few scares this year, but are ok today
  • The opportunity to teach something I love
  • The opportunity to learn from my students
  • A business that lets me make dreams come true for others
  • A day job where my contributions are appreciated a good deal of the time
  • A new career path for my husband
  • My digital camera
  • Space to write and share my art
  • My readers
What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When in Doubt, Post a Photo

So in the last two weeks I turned 40 and my teaching season began again. So I haven't had much time to write, though lots to write about.

So, a picture being worth a thousand words, here are some photos that have captured my feelings of late.
(All photos © Cristina Kollet)

Life moves fast...

It's good to stop

and reflect.
Remember what's important

and the sweet things in life.

Get some perspective.

40's not that old compared to most things.

There's plenty of time to soar.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Smiley Face Lady Bug

©2010 Cristina Kollet
Life's a bit of a balancing act. There are a lot of things that are not going the way I'd like and a lot of things that I'd never imagined I'd be doing that are going very well. It helps to remember that there are smiles waiting in unexpected places.

I took this at Dutch Springs last weekend. I didn't see the smiley faces till I got home.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On the Subject of Bullies

Like many, I have been saddened by the stories of young people taking their lives because of bullies. A lot of people are contributing videos to the It Gets Better Project. I wanted to use this blog to add my two cents.

Bullies are fearful, diminished individuals who are so insecure of the validity of their own convictions or themselves that they must rage against anything or anyone that presents the possibility that an alternative exists. And they make their point by force, or with words, or by exclusion. Some can do it with a look. Some do it in person, some online, or by text. Some use the media, some even use the pulpit.

Bullies exist in all walks of life, at all ages. Some are individuals; some are groups, governments, institutions, and religions.

They get the most attention because they scream the loudest. Because happy, satisfied, secure people don’t spend a lot of time screaming that everyone should be as they are. Happy, satisfied, secure people are fine with the existence of differences; they understand that it takes a lot of different people to make a society work. It doesn’t shake their sense of self to see that alternatives exist. The best embrace them.

I dealt with bullies when I was a kid. In grade school there was a girl who picked on me and threatened to beat me up after school. (I showed up. She didn’t.)

I went to a very cliquey high school where kids ran in similarly dressed tribes and didn’t belong to any of them. This made me very unpopular with certain girls. I was picked on for a while because I hadn’t developed yet and later because I had developed too much.

Bullies tend to pick on something their victims can’t change, or can’t change easily. I spent a fair amount of my time trying to be invisible. But eventually I learned that the true power was in focusing on myself and not caring what they thought.

(I’ll admit this tactic is most effective against bullies who are using physical attack.)

People will tell you that it gets better. I’ll join that chorus.

I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that the most important thing is not to give up. What bullies want is to kill your hope and your faith in yourself. Don’t give that to them. It’s too precious and worth way more than their opinion of you.

As I said before, bullies try to be the loudest voice in the room, so they can’t be ignored. Don’t confuse them with the majority. And please don’t confuse people who claim to speak for God with words of hate as speaking for everyone either. They speak for themselves. They may speak for their small group. But they don’t speak for everyone and they are most likely not people you would want to spend your time with anyway.

So how is it that things get better?

Don’t put up with it. If you’re being harassed or threatened, tell someone, tell everyone. Keep talking till someone helps.

Unfortunately our culture is entirely too comfortable with hazing. And you may find that people in your life expect you to roll with it. They survived, now it’s your turn. Or they may just not want to hear what you have to say because they disagree or can’t deal.

If you can’t find someone in your circle to help you, expand your circle. Talk to the parent of a friend or a teacher or go farther out. Groups like the Trevor Project can help. If the focus of the bullying isn’t a matter of gender identity, there are other groups that can help. A quick Google search can help you find someone.

Focus on what matters to you and have faith in yourself. Focus on the people who accept you as you are and if you haven’t found them yet, keep looking. They are out there and they probably feel like you do. And remember that the best way to find new friends is to take a chance and just be one.

Focus on what you’re good at and passionate about. Share your gifts. Teach someone what you know, make art, make music, study what interests you. These are the things that will matter later and make your life bigger and more wonderful.

And listen to the softer voices. Pay attention to the people who smile at you, the ones who celebrate your achievements, the people who don’t feel the need to shout from the rooftops that different is bad.

You’ll find that we out number the bullies. They’re the ones who don’t belong because they hold themselves apart.

Your life has so much more in store for you than their narrow worldview can even guess at.  And you’ll find your happiness when they’re still cowering in fear, grasping at their narrow world view and screaming against the winds of change.

Bluer skies and better days await you.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Only one Towel?

I've seen variations of this sign a lot lately and someone must be mass producing them because  the phrase "individual towel" is common. They go through the trouble of being so precise with the instructions, but I am pretty sure they mean to say "disposable" towel. At least I hope so--one paper towel never seems sufficient to me.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lesson of the Week--Knowing my Limits

I do plan on getting back to blogging about my San Francisco vacation. I have more memories and pictures to share about that amazing trip. But it's been a whirlwind since I got back and so I thought it a good idea to write about a lesson I learned this week  basically that sometimes, something's got to give.

There are two things I have learned from SCUBA diving and my first aid training (also related to diving) that I try to carry into every day life:

  • A diver can cancel on a dive for any reason and it's fine.
  • The first rule of rescue is that the rescuer take care of herself.

Both lessons came into play this week.

I came back from vacation to a series of deadlines at the day job, numerous wedding ceremonies to write/update/officiate, a social media course to update and teach again and EMT-B training. Believe it or not, the EMT-B training was to my recreational activity. It's not that I wasn't going to take it seriously--I take it very seriously and I was thrilled for a chance to expand on the skills I have acquired as an Emergency First Responder and EFR Instructor.

But the EMT-B course was also to be something I would do with my husband. We tend to spend all summer running around in opposite directions--he to his SCUBA students and me to my ceremonies. It's good to have some scheduled time where we're both engaged in something that gives us new things to talk about. EMT-B was going to be it for me. (For the Wookie, it's his first step to his goal of becoming a Hyperbaric EMT.)

I'll be the first to admit that I didn't know what the course would entail. I had the schedule. 2 nights a week from 6:45 to 10:00 PM. and some weekend days (either Saturday or Sunday) from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  Magically the weekend dates fit into my schedule, as did all but one class and I could make that up by attending a later section. Perfect.

What I didn't anticipate working into my schedule were these.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I have, more than once on this trip, been rendered speechless and absolutely awestruck by beauty--and for that San Francisco, I thank you.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

San Francisco!!! (Part Two)

San Francisco (and the surrounding area) is beautiful.

My first few hours in the city were a wonderful reminder of that. To start, the architecture is full of wonderful surprises, wherever you look. It says something about the people that they put so much pride and creativity into their homes and buildings.
Some people visiting San Francisco will make a special trip to Alamo Square to visit the famous Painted Ladies.  But I find 'painted ladies' in every neighborhood I visit.
And the natural beauty here is breathtaking.

The last time I was here, was about 10 years ago. I remember finding a spot in Golden Gate Park where about a dozen humming birds were feeding. I spent all day trying to get a picture, but my camera (and my photography skills) weren't up to the challenge. This time it was easier. This little guy lives in the back yard of the house where I'm staying.

San Francisco is definitely  eye candy, whether you're looking up

or down.

Next post...I go out to sea, Whale Watching!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

San Francisco!!! (Part One)

On Friday the 13th, I flew out on my first vacation in two years. I'm out here tagging along. My sister is out here for a wedding and rented an apartment. I'm hanging out here and will be headed out to Berkley for a weekend to visit a friend for a few days before I go.

For me, vacation doesn't start till I am on the plane. I am a home-body by nature. Getting me to leave my home, my cats, my routine--even when it's all work and little play--generally involves a lot of angst and a crow bar.

I travel best with my husband, but this year, he's home. He's staffing an Instructor Development Course (it's a SCUBA thing) and taking care of our pride of cats, two of which are currently on medication.

But as I said, vacation starts when I get on the plane. So I will start there.

There's one thing I've wanted to do on a plane for quite a while--that is to watch Airplane!  It's an odd goal, but ever since I found out, via the director's cut, that the movie was only shown as the in-flight movie on one flight, I've wanted to view it on a plane.  So I rented it via iTunes before I left and there I was.

I'm so glad I did it. Travel in economy class is less than fun. It's cramped, cramped, and did I mention cramped? But watching Robert Hays buy his ticket "one way, no luggage" and being reminded why it's a bad day to give up smoking/ stop drinking/ quit sniffing glue really made laugh. And the guy next to me kept sneaking peaks at my laptop while the movie played, which was funny in itself.

The other thing I like to do when I fly is take pictures. I am fascinated by what we can see from planes, the landscape, the textures, the colors.  Paul got me a new camera for our anniversary and where I usually shoot a few pictures from the plane, thanks to the wonders of digital photography, I took over 400. I don't expect all of the pictures to be interesting to someone else, but here's a selection to show what catches my eye.

I never get tired of looking at the clouds.
I love how farmland looks like a patchwork quilt.
Round crop plots fascinate me.
I love that I saw so many wind farms. It made me very happy.
The textures of the natural landscape are beautiful.
I find it amazing that I can see a mountain range from the sky.
This is what I saw when the pilot announced we were 100 miles from our destination.
The weary traveler has landed.
My first glimpse of the hills of San Francisco
More to come! Stay tuned for music, food, whales, rain forests, and birds--and I'm only here four days so far!

In the mean time, check out what I'm up to on my Facebook feed in the margin, or skip to the chase and become a fan!

Monday, August 16, 2010

About Last Weekend: Rescue Diving, Balloons and Tie-Dying

So here is my catch up post.

Last The weekend of Aug. 8-9 was amazing! For one, I finally did my dives for my Rescue Diver cert.  Special thanks to Chris Muller for playing the 'distressed diver' for me. I failed to rescue him several times and when I finally did rescue him, well I hauled him out of the water and dropped him on a pointy rock. Luckily he wasn't hurt and the exercise is as much about learning strategies and our own limits as it is about succeeding in the rescue.

After the dive, Paul and I went for dinner and after that, we took an unexpected detour. When we left the restaurant, Paul spotted a hot air balloon. So we gave chase.

We tracked it for several miles, eventually it passed over us, and came to settle in an athletic field--but not before we had the pleasure of witnessing some impressive, precision flying as the pilot guided the balloon through the goal posts.

All this was followed by the smoothest landing we've ever seen.

If you're curious, we spoke to the pilot after and he gave us his card:
American Balloon
And finally, tie-dye.

The next day, my niece had a tie-dye birthday party. Everyone was issued a white t-shirt when they arrived. On a table was a few boxes of rubber bands. Gloves, buckets of dye and fixer (I think it was vinegar) waited outside. (My sister did a great job getting all this planned.)

Anyway, I had never tried it before and was excited to try my hand at it. Paul picked up a couple of adult sized Ts for me so I could try. I close with the results.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Busy Weekend and Busy Week

I am up to my ears this week but I wanted to at least post a preview of some of the things I plan on writing about.

This weekend was a very full one. Paul and I got started on a few projects we've been talking about for a long time. One was to get me through my dives for Rescue Diver.

Now I'm contemplating going for Dive Master, a professional rating, over the course of this coming year. I am also thinking about getting trained as an EMT--if it fits into my teaching schedule for this year.

Saturday afternoon, on the way home from diving, we found ourselves on a spontaneous balloon hunt.

And then Sunday, at a party celebrating my niece's birthday, I tried my hand at tie-dying for the first time.

This week I am preparing for a trip. This means packing and planning and an a 2 hour activity that I call disarming my purse. (So many things you're not allowed to carry any more!)
And once again, I am posting well after midnight. So off to bed with me. More to come when I can catch my breath!