Brief bits of bliss

craggy pines on a foggy day

craggy pines on a foggy day

Bureaucracy v. Teaching

We could do all the things we NEED to do

if we weren’t so dang busy

doing all the things we “have to” do!

Gone Bananas

A few weeks ago …

“4011 !” I exclaimed to my daughter.

She looked up from her Mac where she was composing her latest essay. “What?” she asked in confusion.

“They started me on cashiering today at the grocery.  4011 !”

And then we both broke out laughing.

“4011” of course being the PLU (Price Look Up) code for bananas.

shipping cartons full of bananas

shipping cartons full of bananas

When she started as a grocery cashier the other year, my daughter had commented in amazement at how many people came through with bananas.  So many in fact, that she too had learned that number the first night, just from sheer force of repetition.

I would have thought that apples would be the most-commonly purchased fruit.  But no, endless bunches of bananas came through.

Not only bunches of bananas, but also bunches of people with similar behavioral patterns, which I found to be rather interesting:

  • People with a large bunch of greenish bananas.  (I wondered if they were feeding a lot of people, or simply don’t care about the stage of ripeness when eating them.)
  • Customers trying to balance their fruit bowl with a couple each of greenish and yellow bananas.
  • Parents herding several small children, with bunches of bananas that had the requisite number of stickers for each child to have one. These were difficult checking assignments — not because of the parents, but because as a cashier I was also trying to keep track of the assorted tots with regards to alerting their adult to their safety, or asking their adult if the candy or toy items coming down the conveyor belt were approved purchases.
  • People with bunches of the organically-grown bananas (PLU 94011; all the organic produce starts with a 9).
  • Tired working folks picking up a sandwich from the deli, a banana, and an energy drink for their meal.
  • Frazzled parents rushing through with bananas, applesauce and bread. ( = “BRAT diet”: bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, a menu for dealing with diarrhea via dietary intervention.)
  • Frequent shoppers with just a few yellow bananas — I heard a lot of apologetic explanations about not being able to plan ahead for weekly menus and shopping lists, and wondered why some people felt the need to explain their purchase choices, unbidden.
  • A few elderly shoppers who explained that they couldn’t carry many grocery bags, or used frequent shopping as a means of getting out of the house.  After a while, I realised that such explanations were probably a curious form of chit-chat.

Although I began to develop my own “scripts” for appropriate cashier dialogs, I found that cashiering is a more challenging position than I had anticipated.  This is because there are a number of different kinds of simultaneous cognitive demands, involving spatial handling, operational sequencing, data entry, calculations, communicating in a noisy environment despite my auditory processing issues, struggling to identify numerous coworkers despite faceblindness, and socialising with the appropriate amount of eye contact and proscribed chit-chat.

Cashiering doesn’t just mean scanning groceries and making change.  I am not only trying to scan accurately and quickly, but also:

  • performing subtle security checks to make sure that no one is walking off with unchecked goods on the bottoms of their carts or pocketing the candy and other small goods near the register racks;
  • sorting the goods as I move it down towards the bagger courtesy clerk in whatever organisational method that person prefers;
  • querying the customer about coupons and whether they wanted the gallon milks bagged and if they want candy and greeting cards handed to them instead of bagged
  • explaining discounts and how gift cards work;
  • looking up endless PLU codes for the numerous types of untagged produce;
  • watching out for children’s safety;
  • greeting the next customer in line so they didn’t feel neglected during the wait;
  • trying to remember who the manager is that night for when I need to call them to void a mis-scan;
  • and of course, bagging while I check when the regular courtesy clerk has switched from my lane to another with greater need.

When bagging, bananas are a tricky item.  I can put vulnerable loaves of bread atop the fragile egg cartons, but aside from soft packs of sugar, toilet paper or maxi-pads, there are few items that will co-exist happily with bananas when packed in limp plastic bags.

Given that bananas are nutritious, don’t require refrigeration or heating, and can be eaten quickly, they have recently filled my lunchbox, er, meals-box that carries both my lunch and third meal.  I drive directly from one job to the next, with just 10-15 minutes for a snack to tide me over between 11 a.m. lunch and clocking out again at 8 p.m.  (I usually have a fourth meal when I get home; call these breakfast-lunch-tea/supper-dinner or whatever, but the third meal is usually rather minimal.)  So what’s the best way to transport a banana safely?  I drop it into a tall plastic drink cup.

Thankfully, I spend most of my time at the garden center end, rather than endless hours of checking. But in this latest addition to my repertoir of work roles, I have literally gone bananas.

“To Serve Man”

Holy Crap.

So why am I taking Crap’s name in vain?  This bang-head-here piece of news:

Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, has filed Senate Bill 115 on behalf of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Conference lobbyist Danny Loar said the bill is designed to be a “pre-emptive strike” against scientists who might want to mix “human and animal cells in a Petri dish for scientific research purposes”

(Shouldn’t that be human and other animal cells?  What am I, a petunia?)

So, if this mosquito sucks my blood, and I squish her and drop her (with my blood cells inside her) onto a Petri dish, would that be illegal?

a mosquito sucking blood from my arm

a mosquito sucking blood from my arm

Yeah, they’re trying to prevent stem-cell research; but come on, no one is going to make centaurs or Fly-Human monsters or Playboy bunnies.  And I don’t believe that theoretical smear of biological mush I’ve just rubbed onto the agar contains crumbs of my soul in the red white blood cells, nor did any of my eggs (fertilized or otherwise) that were shed over my lifetime.

When I teach a class on seed-starting and we are talking about how to take cuttings of coleus, geraniums, Swedish ivy, or rosemary, I describe how we stick them in rooting hormone (if needed), and then in media to grow more of the same kind of plant. I tell my students, “You’ve just cloned a plant.  It’s genetically identical to the parent plant.”

Coleus cuttings rooting in water-filled champagne flutes on a window sill

Coleus cuttings rooting in water-filled champagne flutes on a window sill

I then go on to explain in brief (as this is a non-credit class), that there are dormant cells in those plant stems that can grow into any kind of cell, such as a root cell.  Because plants have these “totipotent” cells that can become any other kind of cell, we can take cuttings and roots will grow where there were no roots before.

We can also cut the very tip of the stem off, place it into culture medium with tiny amounts of plant hormones, and encourage those cells to grow into lots more cells — and that’s another way how plants are cloned, by using tissue culture to produce hundreds and thousands of the same plant, and they’re even free of diseases and pests.

Clear plastic box containing dozens of tiny plantlets from tissue culture

Clear plastic box containing dozens of tiny plantlets from tissue culture

Gee, if we could take a few cells from people, we could grow you new skin for burn victims, new livers for people with liver cancer, and so on. Best of all, those pieces of tissue or organs would not be rejected by the body because they would not be foreign cells, the would be your own. (Nor would you need heavy doses of drugs to suppress your immune system to keep it from reacting to the foreign donor organs.)

But we can’t, because although plants have totipotent cells, we don’t.  After a certain stage in development, we don’t have these stem cells.  (I pause for a couple of seconds, and it’s great to see the “light bulb effect” pass through the room as people get the concept.)

Ooh, human cells with other cells, scary.  Do the bishops not realise that each human is an entire ecosystem, with millions of bacteria in our guts and on our skin, and an astonishing number of infinitesimal mites living on our eyelashes and brows?  Do they not realise that their mitochondria has its own DNA, different than the nuclear DNA?  Do they not realise that we already use genetic recombinant technology to make insulin for diabetics?

Um by the way, isn’t this piece of legislation mixing government and religion in a Petri dish?

ADD-ing new perspectives

My daughter is sailing rather gracefully through her pregnancy — well, as gracefully as one can when they have reached the “beached whale” stage that is the third trimester.

And yet, as with many pregnant women, she is experiencing some “third trimester brain rot”, that intermittent or semi-chronic reduction in frontal-lobe functioning.  Meaning:

  • forgetting important things you meant to do
  • not packing things you meant to take with you somewhere
  • getting sidetracked and forgetting what you were doing a few minutes ago
  • moments of being adrift when you lose track of what you were about to do
  • dysnomic moments of losing words or names you normally have on the tip of your tongue
  • being spectacular at some higher cognitive facitilities (“Look at this great post-colonialist literary critique I just wrote!”) and then realising that you suddenly can’t remember how to do something really simple (“Why are my pants pockets wrong? Oh, my pants are on backwards.”)

I’ve yet to read why this happens, aside from sleep issues or “It’s The Hormones”, that generic disclaimer for all things annoying during pregnancy (or indeed, between menarche and menopause).

The good news is that the brain fog isn’t permanent.  I reassured her that “third trimester brain rot” usually starts to go away after the baby sleeps through the night.  She looked at me suspiciously; surely “third trimester brain rot” should go away after the baby is born?  But then I reminded her about the chronic sleep deprivation that is nursing a baby every two hours.  (Were it not a normal part of human development, such sleep deprivation would surely be outlawed under the Geneva Convention.)

Of course, it doesn’t help that she’s finishing up her college senior capstone project, and it would really be useful to get a solid night’s sleep, or to wake up from a long night’s sleep feeling more rested, or to be able to schlep all those literary refs around campus more easily, or to not spend 33.3% of her life preoccupied with peeing. But, there it is.

On the other hand, we have had some bonding moments that go beyond shared maternity.  One day she was complaining about the general forgetfulness and fogginess, and I pointed out, “Hey, now you know what it’s like for someone with ADD.”

“Omigosh, I couldn’t stand it,” she replied, dismayed at the idea of being permanently stuck in such a state.

“But the thing is,” I explained (somewhat defensively) “when you have ADD or ADHD, that’s what it’s always been like.  That’s what you’re used to.”  The point being that one doesn’t feel the same sense of loss when it’s a life-long condition, compared to a late-onset disability.

And despite the obvious impairments, there are some positive aspects to AD/HD, due to the different functioning patterns of the brain.  There’s the hyperfocus, abilities to make different associative and intuitive leaps, and often a visual thinking style that lends to a variety of design strengths.

Having done through a few re-iterations of this conversation, there seems to be less of an “Oh noes!” reaction, and more of an appreciation of the chronic difficulties that I and other people with ADD or ADHD face.  Not only that, but I think the reasons for some of my demands for structure and routines that I developed as she and her brother were young, are becoming more apparent to her.

Maybe there are just some “mom-things” that one doesn’t appreciate in quite the same way until becoming a parent.

On the other hand, there are still a lot of things I do that bug her, and we must ever keep re-negotiating our relationship, especially as we continue to live in the same house, but with changing roles.

Oh, sheet!

Doggone, I’ve done it again.  I even washed my bed linens earlier in the day so they would be promptly dried, but it is 1 a.m. and I realise that I have neglected to make my bed.

Well, one benefit to having to climb all over my queen-size bed (it’s up against a wall, so I can’t walk around it) is getting myself a bit worn out.

A sign of spring:  I can finally remove the heavy wool blanket from the layers!  Oh  bother — I really felt better with the weight on me.  Having nothing but a top sheet and quilt is unsettling until I get used to it again.

That joist isn’t funny

squeeee-squeeey-squeeeeee

The bathroom to the master bedroom is above the kitchen, and when someone is (dressing? brushing their teeth? pacing?) at a particular spot, the floor squeaks abominably, like two pieces of Styrofoam [polystyrene] being scraped together.  (Were this a ground level floor, we could go to the basement to hammer in some splints in the joists.  But of course there’s a ceiling in the way, so we’re stuck and I just have to cope.)

squeeee-squeeey-skwor-skwork-squeeey

There are some noises that make me flinch, jump out of my seat, and/or send me packing from the room.  Not just the typical squeaky things, like the proverbial (and literal) fingernails-on-the-blackboard, but also fire alarms, theatre movies, teakettle whistles, the shattering of dropped water glasses, chainsaws and leaf-blowers and string-trimmers and hedge clippers and table saws and wood chippers and …  Okay, lots of people dislike those noises, but during the quarterly fire drills only another staff member and I are plugging our ears in distress as we herd the students outside.

Then there are the more mundane noises that no one expects anyone to mind: the sour whine of computer hard drives going bad, the strident jangling of class bells echoing down tiled hallways, the cavernous reverberation and intense whirring of elevators,  “merely” stacking pots and pans and shutting the stove drawer where they’re kept, the clanking when stacking ceramic casseroles in the cabinet, or the grating squeal of the pressure-hinge when opening and shutting an aluminum storm door.  (WD-40 is my friend, and periodically I go around the house and spray every room and cabinet door hinge before I “come unhinged”.)

Even my apartment neighbors thought me overly “picky” because I asked them if they could be quieter when washing dishes or taking a shower or walking about in boots or high heels.  Even everyday noises like vacuuming or their sputtering coffeemaker and beeping microwaves or their tinny radio and yakkity telly programs would drive me ’round the twist.

Sometimes it’s neither the suddenness nor the loudness nor the high pitch of the noise, but the combined effects of all the daily noises, the “life in surround-sound” as described in “Bridge Load Limit”.  As I’ve described before, hyperacussis is a “super-power” that truly, truly sucks, even when you don’t have a profoundly debilitating case.

I’m with Karl !

LOLcat Karl makes an anguished face as another cat asks, "They say itz a sound only we can hear. IDK. I don't hear anything Karl. Do u?"

Cool thoughts

[Not-quite Wordless Wednesday]

M’s wisdom, via poetry magnets on our fridge:

word magnets reading, "We Value Information As Our Power"

word magnets reading, "We Value Information As Our Power"

Where are my offerings?

I am become divine.

When I walk quietly down the hall and come up to one of the students, he often turns around and exclaims, “Oh my god!”

(Dark chocolate and garden plants are acceptable.)

Nicely Non-verbal

One of the things I like about garden center work is being able to help people select plants for their different needs, and discuss how to care for them.  There are few things more pleasant than being able to share information about one of your special interests with other enthused people.

But the other day there was a storm heading in, and customers at the garden center were few and far between.  Until it was time to put things away for the night, there wasn’t a whole lot of sales work to do.  So the other clerk and I contentedly tended the plants.

Free from the heavy cognitive demands of dealing with fractious students, or of trying to make chit-chat while running a cash register, I peacefully filled in the gaps on the benches with fresh stock, and groomed the plants by removing the old flowers and leaves.

My coworker was in another area watering the the endless flats of geraniums.  When I came by to empty my debris bucket, she commented that it was a nice break from the intensity of her other job as an interpreter.  “I like being able to just ‘veg out’ with the plants,” she sighed happily.

After a few seconds’ delay to shift back into conversational gear, I replied, “Yes!  It is nice to be non-verbal for a while.”  And then I went back to silently puttering around with plants.

Enough already!

Cold grey day with snow covering tree branches and ground

Cold grey day with snow covering tree branches and ground

And then she said,

“This one is my ‘Insurance Job’.”

She is one of my coworkers, this on job #3.  Yes, I have three jobs, one almost full time, one seasonal evenings & weekends, and the other seasonal and weekends.  Hence the general lack of regular bloggery due to 10- and 12-hour work days, 6-7 days per week.  I am one of the many over-worked and underemployed, or perhaps that’s underpaid, but certainly unable to make a living from one job, in any regards.  I can’t really complain all that much, given how many people lack sufficient, if any, employment at all, and how many other people are in the same overworked shoes.

That was the first time I’d heard the pair of words as a specific phrase, but I knew what she meant instantly.

For those of us with multiple jobs, we have a specific job that we must at all costs keep, for it provides us with the terribly necessary medical insurance.  Without such we could not afford to see our doctors for even mundane issues, nor afford many medications, nor, [insert your favorite misfortune-averting phrase] be able to pay for emergency or hospital care.

Without medical insurance (and horribly, sometiems even with medical insurance!) anyone in the US is a mere emergency-room visit away from bankruptcy.

I would love to write a long post citing all sorts of statistics about the numbers of uninsured, under-insured, the perils of trying to go without and self-medicating or second-guessing, and all sorts of issues.

But I can’t.  I got about four hours of sleep last night. (I’ve not slept well because I’m out of analgesics; I’ve not been able to get to the pharmacy when they’re open because I’ve been AT WORK and AT OTHER WORK, and it’s not like I can just send a family member down to pick up a bottle of tablets, because even with insurance my assorted monthly meds cost $90 and that’s not pocket-change.)  Then I taught classes for some 6 hours, and then cashiered for 4 hours, and oy my feet hurt.  But I gotta get to sleep, because tomorrow morning is my only free time this week before I go to work again at noon.

Polysyllabic expletive!

But hey, even though I’m overworked, I have an “Insurance Job”.  Thank goodness.

The very model of a social disability

BayDisability has begun blogging about prosopagnosia, and how it affects her life.  Because hers is an acquired case, it has affected her profoundly.  (Amazingly, it’s not some strange story she came up with to create “lesbian drama”! Oy.)

I have to say that from the self-reports I’ve read, faceblindness due to injury is much more disabling than the developmental (genetic) sort, such as I have.  I think this is probably due to the fact that for those of us who have always been this way, our brains have adapted to using auxiliary clues from the start.

We don’t know any other way of identifying people than through their overall physical shape, gait, voice, hair style, mannerisms, and favorite articles of clothing.  We do however, spend our lives in a perpetual state of background free-floating anxiety due to either not knowing why we have problems, or being aware of our problems and then trying to consciously apply what coping methods we can.

This is not to say that despite our limited coping abilities, we don’t have the typical long litanies of embarrassing moments of not recognising people, of mis-recognising people (thinking a person is someone else), of “twinning” two similar people into one, of “losing” familiar people (even family members!) in crowds, of misunderstanding movie plots, of being totally clueless about celebrities, of being stressed to the gills with learning new job tasks as well as trying to reliably identify a couple of key people, of …

However, the person who acquires prosopagnosia has a much harder time with the socially disabling aspects.  And with faceblindness, it’s all socially disabling, and the “social model of disability” is apparent to a degree that warrants billboard-size attention.  The “social model of disability” refers to Read the rest of this entry »