Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas giving



I was thinking I should take a little break over the holidays, starting again on Monday after Christmas, but then I thought I should put up something Christmas-themed.

Every now and then around this time of year, I question our decision not to get gifts for each other, because everyone else seems to be doing it. Sure, it feels like it works for us, but maybe that is just because we are jerks.

We do give to other people though. We will think of people who need a boost, or who need to know that someone remembers them, and something with that provided some insight for me. My sisters sent some Oregon ornaments to friends who have moved out of state, and the messages they got back were so grateful. They made those friends’ days. And I told them, “Nothing we could get each other would have that same effect.”

We had just gotten to the point where Christmas shopping for each other felt burdensome. This is where we might be jerks, and certainly there is plenty of other evidence for that. Maybe it is because our birthdays do come in so close, so that if we all had summer birthdays it would feel completely different.

I know if we had small children in the family we would totally be buying for them, and for all my observations about how giving too much doesn’t really make kids happier, and it is better to limit, I would probably have a really hard time doing so. As it is, this seems to work for us.

My sisters have another friend whose guideline for the children is a want, a need, something to wear, and something to read, and that sounds awesome, and I like to think I would do something like that, with the addition of a family gift, like a puzzle or a game or maybe even a movie, but something that would then be a family activity for the day. I think that sounds good, but then I imagine not being able to stick to one want each. I am very weak in some ways.

Anyway, thinking of that, I decided the dogs are really the closest thing we have to kids, and although they do not know it is Christmas time at all, I decided to go for these things that Target has, where it is kind of like a covered dinner plate, but all toys. We got the lobster dinner with baked potato, corn, lemon, and I guess some kind of a vegetable is what the green rope is supposed to be. Maybe asparagus? No; probably broccoli. I think we will all have fun with that on Christmas.

It makes me feel bad that we don’t have something for the cat, but she doesn’t really like toys and I’m not comfortable with her reaction to catnip. However, she loves turkey, and we will give her some of that. Also, one of the things I am requesting for my birthday is a laser pointer, and that is really for her.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Toyland






The grand panda total was $314, which bought a lot of toys. I actually don’t know how many, because other people brought in toys too, and there were the ones I brought in with my shopping, but I think when I got the final count in the cube, it was153 toys. This does not include toys that other people on the floor had already turned in.

My initial thought at the beginning was that I wanted to get 37 toys personally, plus contributing to Panda. I had 31 or 35, and my sisters had given me another five, but then the last week there was another Buy 1, Get 1 special on the $6.99 toys at Walgreens. I had $56 left from the one paycheck, but then there was the extra one coming in the next day, so I decided the kids could have that all, and that got another sixteen toys.

On the last day I brought those in, and also sorted through my claw machine prizes. Initially I was thinking that I would only give the nicest ones, because you know sometimes they are using scrap fabric and the animals aren’t always that pretty, but my teammates thought they were all good, because younger kids don’t care if colors clash. Even the crab and lobster, which were small and kind of weird, they thought were good because they had such cute eyes. I resolved my concerns by putting a rubber band around their claws so they would stay together. That way, it was two small toys, instead of one.

There were three I kept. The rabbit is the first I kept after starting to play the machines again, so it had some sentimental value. One is an elephant that I do really like, but also the fabric is kind of easily frayed, so it would not work well as a toy. The other is the Queen of Hearts from the old Disney cartoon, and I think she’s just too weird. These are poor kids. They deserve a break. Anyway, that was another fifteen toys, counting the crab and lobster as a single unit.

Otherwise, there was so much variety. Lisa S had brought a Justin Bieber doll and a Monster High doll. There were balls. There were scientific things. There were play sets and art sets, and the thing is looking at it you almost feel the glee of a small child—not to the point that you need to run and tear into them (which is good because it would be counterproductive)—but enough to smile and get wide-eyed.

My teammates give me a lot of credit for it, both for my organizational role and the shopping I do, but there are two points that I need to make.

First of all, this is my Christmas shopping. Everyone else has children or boyfriends or parents or siblings, and we don’t do that, which works for us, so that frees me for this.

Also, it would not work as well without the participation of everyone else, It’s not just the money and the baking either. Holly does scrapbooking and cardmaking, so she made some Christmas cards and gift tags for the raffle. Teresa brought in some jewelry sets she had picked up at a sale for a silent auction. Mary brought in some socks and slippers for raffle in association with Slipper day, and Sydney, who is one of out temps, donated a pie server for a raffle as well. I did pretty well myself, winning a pair of slippers, some gift tags, the pie server, and a pair of earrings that I liked. Ultimately, we have a lot of fun with it.

When the totals came in, our floor ended up with 868% participation, or about 8 ½ toys per person. The next highest amount was 358%, so we feel pretty good. I know we can do that because we do it as a team.

The one thing that I did not really do that I thought about last year was trying to get the other teams on the floor into competing with us, to really increase the results. However, the one group moved to a different location, and the other group telecommutes a lot and we never see them. Next year though, I hope we can get other people more involved.

For all of our unholy glee in winning (and there is some of that), the giving still feels good, and it’s good for the soul.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

While I was out

As I mentioned in the last post, I missed some time at work. Also, I was not really in great shape for cooking, as even when I was not completely exhausted I felt like a cauldron of germs. This happened at an especially bad time of year, because it was during the toy drive.

Now, I posted about the toy drive last year. I posted in the summer, several months later, because that’s just kind of how things were going, but if anyone wants to catch up on it, you can do so at http://sporkful.blogspot.com/2011/07/toy-drive.html.

If I had won money, what I wanted to do was spend $500 on toys, with $100 each going to Small World Surprises and Piccolo Mondo, and maybe even spending some at Finnegans, so that local businesses were being supported. Since that didn’t happen, I had to adjust, but it worked out pretty well. I decided that each pay day I would check the ads, and spend $20-$30 on toys. That way, there was no big drain, but I would be able to accumulate a lot of toys.

I ended up getting pretty much all of them from either Walgreens or Fred Meyer, which are chains, but my sisters ended up getting a few from Small World Surprises, so there was local representation. This was doable, and also I hoped that having a long-term plan would help me from going crazy at the last minute, which I did a little last year. (That was fairly successful. There was one week when I intended to buy six toys and I bought ten or twelve, but otherwise I stayed on target.) Anyway, even without prize money, I could contribute a lot of toys. (I will go over actual numbers in a subsequent post.)

Now, on to the stuff I could not do. We intended to have fundraisers for the Panda again, and people floated different ideas around, but things weren’t actually getting planned, so finally I laid out a schedule of what we were going to do, covering about a three week period.

The first week was going to be the In the Gravy potluck. Let me explain. Once when I was planning the monthly happy hour, I wanted us to go to Fourth Down because I’d had totchos there, and they were really good. I found out that Fourth Down had closed, so we ended up at Cheerful Tortoise, but now I had totchos on the brain, as did some of my teammates. (Totchos are tater tots with nacho toppings. Mmmm!)

Anyway, we ended up making it a potluck to celebrate the end of one of our quarterly exercise challenges. As we were planning this, and talking about totchos, which is fun to say, frequently the Village People would come to mind singing “Totcho, totcho man. I’m going to be a totcho man.” It was catchy. Alison suggested that we do an “In the Gravy” potluck, because she wanted to make rutamousse, and you can put gravy on that. I had to hold her off, because other people had already expressed desire for a peanut butter sandwich bar, which of course we called P, B, and J (Y M C A). We had that in early September, for back to school, so finally it was her turn for In the Gravy, completing our trio of Village People inspired potlucks.

We’d had a bake sale last year, and we wanted to do that again, and also Teresa had mentioned a pajama party, where we would eat doughnuts and pie. That had to be scaled back to crazy slipper day, but nonetheless, we had a plan.

Okay, technically I made the plan, even though I was just organizing other people’s desires. However, as the main organizer, I was starting to feel a little dictatorial and bossy. In many ways it seemed to be encouraged, but I didn’t want to have to start coming into work in combat boots and fatigues, so to mitigate my role, I went and asked different people to organize each event. Alison was a natural for In the Gravy, and Teresa would have made sense for the Slipper Day, except that she had also made strong points that we needed to get customers from other floors for the bake sale, so they would subsidize our beating them in the toy drive, it was valid. I put her in charge of that, then had Mary take over slipper day.

My only motivation was to spread responsibility, and not turn into Castro, but it turned out to be really lucky, because then I was not in any shape to participate. I was not even there on the day of In the Gravy, so I have still never tasted rutabaga, in mousse form or otherwise. I was there on the day of the bake sale, but I did not bake anything. I did bring a purchased pie for Crazy Slipper day, and it turns out no one really cares about pie. So really, I was a very minor presence for all of this.

And you know what? It was fine. People ate. We raised money. It was fine.

Then, because we are getting some new neighbors, we were having a two-team potluck, and I was asked to organize that, which I did, and I couldn’t be there for that day either, because I had a dental appointment. I should have had it the previous week, but I rescheduled because I thought the uncontrollable coughing might be a problem. So I worked out the signups, and then delegated the setup for that day. Again, it was perfectly fine.

There are a lot of reasons that I overfunction. Some of it is probably avoiding my own issues, and some of it is trying to compensate for my shortcomings and be worthy, but also some of it is having a hard time trusting other people to come through. That’s the part I hate the most, because it feels like a superiority complex, like I am the only one who can do things, and I don’t want to think that, but then I am left having to trust again. I am getting better about that. Also, I’m on a really great team.

Monday, December 19, 2011

When a secondary infection is good news

I suppose I should be more clear--developing the secondary infection was not really a good thing. Having it diagnosed, however, was kind of a relief, to the extent that I was able to appreciate anything.

In retrospect, the cold had been stalking me for a while. All of the long Thanksgiving weekend I had kind of a scratchy throat, but even the days before I was feeling a little tired and rundown, and just putting it aside, except that I skipped Eli's jam session on Wednesday night (which I had really been looking forward to). Otherwise I still worked and shopped and did yard work and walked the dog we were sitting for, and all of the things I felt responsible for. I still made homemade turkey soup from scratch, including the noodles, on Friday. I was really pretty functional, except that I like to prepare the Thanksgiving leftovers for further cooking (putting the right amounts aside for specific meals, and then slicing or chopping or whatever it needs) and I could not bring myself to do it. Everything just went into the freezer, except what I cooked with over the weekend.

Sunday it hit. I was very congested, I had a sore throat, and I had absolutely no energy. I pretty much slept all day. I did still make dinner, on request, but that was pretty much all the energy that I had.

Monday was the same, but I made myself go to work. At that point, it basically felt like a cold, I was capable of working, and I should have been past the contagious stage, so there didn't seem to be a point in not working. I looked awful and sounded awful though, so no one was too surprised when I called in Tuesday. I mainly did that so I could sleep, but also so I could go to the doctor. Maria was convinced I had strep throat, and if I did, that needed attention.

Going to the doctor Tuesday was almost a total bust. The nurse did do a throat swab and the strep test came out negative, so that felt like good news, but the doctor was not much help. She said it was a cold, and she could write a prescription for Sudafed for me to help me dry out, but she made it sound like that was a bad idea, so I declined. I may have been reading too much into that. Honestly, she seemed like she could not get away from me quickly enough, but she was pregnant and I was a cauldron of disease, so I guess that makes sense.

Now confident that I only had a cold, I went back to work Wednesday. I was still not in great shape, but Thursday I am usually off anyway, and I thought I would take one more day of sleep, and then I should be okay. When I was a kid, a cold was five days of sniffling, right? I was almost done. Ha!

First off, I was talking to someone Wednesday night who mentioned having a really bad cold for two weeks, and that was my first premonition I might have longer to go. Still, that was not the worst of it.

Honestly, for most of the day Thursday I was feeling better. My throat still hurt, and the congestion was still bad, but I felt like I had more energy, and more alertness. However, when I went to bad that night, my throat kept filling up with fluids, and I kept having to get up and clear it out. Finally I gave up and moved to the chair in the living room. I was still having to get up a lot, but it was better than when I was lying down. So, being in the chair kept me from drowning, but it was not particularly restful. I called in Friday, and that day was miserable.

I no longer felt more energetic and alert. Sleep deprivation is the fastest way to destroy me. I don't know if I should really make that public. I don't have a lot of enemies, but as far as I know they both read my blog. However, before the despair generally comes irritability and snappishness, so it might pack it's own solution there.

Friday night I was in the chair again, and Saturday morning I went back to the doctor. There had to be something else going on.

With two nights of almost no sleep, and feeling physically weakened and worn down, well, there wasn't much left to me. The nurse started the preliminary questions, and I started getting teary. He handed me the tissue box matter-of-factly, finished his business, and walked out. I tried to regain my composure, and talk myself down from the ledge. Look, you're at the doctor. We'll figure something out even if it is just the Sudafed. Just keep it together.

The doctor walked in and started to talk to me, and then she did a double-take and said "You look like you're going to cry." "I'm not doing very well. (Sob)" I did not have it together.

I started bawling about all the symptoms, and not being able to lie down, and there had to be something, like maybe the first doctor missed something or there was something I could try--and she was like, "Well hold on; I haven't even examined you yet." It was oddly comforting.

So she listened to my lungs and asked me various questions, mainly focusing on my breathing, and she sat back.

"First of all I don't think we should really say only a cold, because they can be pretty nasty, and the one we have going around now is bad and lasts for two weeks..."

Oh no, I am going to be like this for two weeks.

"...but also it leaves us at a risk for secondary infections, and you have pneumonia."

Actually, at first I was too stunned to really comprehend it. How did that happen? I mean, other than the severe cold creating a perfect breeding ground for it. However, I had skipped a lot of the symptoms. I never had a fever, or wheezing. I think I actually did have difficulty breathing one night, but it kind of got mixed up with this weird dream that seems to have been inspired by a commercial for "Once Upon A Time", so I'm not actually sure what happened there.

The doctor said she was going to write me a prescription for some antibiotics, and mentally I am thinking, That's it? I think I was still on edge from how little I came away with from the last appointment, and how badly that turned out. Also, okay, the antibiotics will get the pneumonia but what about the cold? I just asked if there was anything I should be looking for or doing, and she said I should feel better, but if not to come back in.

It started to sink in on the way to the pharmacy. I had something treatable, and this was going to work. I was still in some emotional turmoil.

I have to say, it was beautiful how quickly the Azithromycin worked. I started feeling better within a few hours. I still was not able to lie down Saturday night, but I could for a few hours Sunday morning, and that felt wonderful. The cold was still there, and even now, a bit over two weeks, there are some lingering effects, but when you can't sleep because you feel like you will drown if you lie down, what would feel bad under normal circumstances feels freaking fantastic. For the first few days I felt like I should be writing love songs to the Z-Max 5-pack.

Now I am just on the slow road to getting better. Monday I took one more day off to recuperate. Wednesday was my first night going into deep sleep (that was also a big one). Yesterday I took a walk on my lunch break--the first time I really felt like going outside. (I am writing this on Wednesday, December 14th.) There are a lot of things I have had to let slide, and I burned through all my sick time, but most of all, I have to remember to take care of my health. I used to be able to get away with ignoring a lot, and that just won't fly anymore. Old person now, but it is probably better to be health-conscious anyway.

Things I Can Do, and Things I Can’t

On with the introspection! So, obviously there was no big cash payout, and so things I had thought about doing with that were not going to happen.

I never expected to win pay-off-your-house-and-quit-your-job money, so I hadn’t been looking at that, but one day’s winning would probably have paid off credit cards (boring, but nice), and then any extra would pretty much have been divided between helping my family, charity things, and travel. I am glad to report that things are not nearly as disappointing as they could be.

Yes, I do still have lingering consumer debt, and I don’t like that, but considering how things were in 2009 and 2010, this isn’t so bad. I have had to adjust to a different life, and I am getting there.

One thing that we really wanted was to bring Sarah on a vacation with us. She had come out for a road trip and we got snowed in. Hanging out was nice, but we really wanted to try a trip again. That is not going to happen. Also, we are trying to get the entire family on a cruise, and some winnings could have made that much easier. Those things are disappointing.

However, we are still taking trips. We found a way to get to Victoria, and Disneyland, and we will work out Mexico and the cruise, and many other interesting places. Honestly, the financial concerns with the cruise holdouts are probably not the biggest obstacles. The Sarah thing hurts, but we’ll do something else sometime.

For the charity stuff, my big things were the food bank, the toy drive, and maybe something for Plan (that’s the group my sponsored children are through). Well, there will be more on the toy drive later, it was good. Also, I remembered that we did have an extra paycheck this month, and I do have places to put it, but I took out some extra for gifts of hope, and let me recommend that by the way, because they can do some awesome things:

http://www.planusa.org/giftsofhope/

The Food Bank is kind of my local charity. I care about hunger, but there are lots of good causes and I could have gone with lots. Somehow, anytime I end up doing volunteer work it ends up being them, so when it was time for the United Way campaign last year, I chose them. This year, I was able to double my pledge. Don’t get excited with that—I went from one dollar a week to two. Considering the challenges Oregon faces with hunger, especially with children, it’s nothing, and yet it is something. I am giving something.

It helps me a lot to know that no matter what my problems, I can make a difference for others. I think I need to do one thing for Bonnie L Hayes, too, and then I will have to stop, but I am grateful for that extra pay period. It’s really good timing.

There was one thing, and it is actually the one that stings the most, but very important for the point it leads to. I mentioned that when I tried out for the very first time, our dorm’s RA and his friend went missing on the mountain and died. I told myself then that if I won, I would donate something to a scholarship or something for Frank. I didn’t get on, but each time I tried out I thought it again. Well, I finally made it on the show, and I can’t go back on, and there’s nothing.

That being said, I also know that their parents provided a generous endowment to the Outdoor Pursuits Fund, so there is a memorial, and it’s a good one, and it has been functioning for years without any action on my part. Maybe that one just wasn’t my job. And it’s hard because a part of me is like, so all I can do for Frank is remember him? Well, yes, apparently.

I do this thing that we call overfunctioning, where I want to fix everything for everyone. I will probably write more about that later, because I do need to get over it. First of all, it is often used to prevent the overfunctioner from having to deal with their own problems, and that’s no good, but also, fixing things for other people generally isn’t really possible or appropriate. I have friends whose kids have never been to Disneyland, and I would love to fix that, but it would probably also be too weird. I don’t want my giving to be a burden. Maybe it would throw off the balance of things if I paid off my sisters’ bills, as well as my own, and make things weird. (I have a few people who have promised to take care of me if they win the lottery, so that could be an issue, but I’ll worry about it when it comes up.)

It is helpful to learn and remember that it doesn’t have to be all me. If facing my lack of a windfall caused me to have to deal with that anyway, it became even more of an issue when illness knocked me out of commission for longer than expected, and at a really busy time of year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Loser

That isn't quite as harsh as it sounds. I have discussed a lot with my sisters that we just don't win things. This is not that we have a bad life, but we don't win contests or have rich relatives or strokes of good fortune. My not winning on the show just seemed to cement that. Of course I didn't.

Now parts of those conversations have been that we still have gotten to do some pretty cool things. We have good friends, we have a lot of fun in our day to day life, and we get in a fair amount of travel, so it is not just us sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves. Still, there is always stress about money, and things that we would like to do but can't swing, and a constantly unrequited wish for something to happen to make things easier.

What I have had to realize is that most people don't get windfalls. It happens sometimes, and it's a nice thing to happen, but for most people it's just never an issue.

Maybe it's for the best. I have written before about how most big events only increase happiness for a year, but in the case of winning the lottery, it often seems to attract a lot of unhappiness. Even on a smaller scale, such things could be unreliable. Our father did get kind of a windfall once with a lawsuit settlement, and he blew through it very quickly without really having anything to show for it.

So, basically, we are living fairly ordinary lives, just like everyone around us. If one setback does not completely destroy us, it is because we help each other, and also because of that we do get to have some extras. Maybe if the first disappointment for a girl who loves fairy tales is that there is no Prince Charming to come take her away, the second is that there is also no fairy godmother to turn your rags into a beautiful dress, or make a coach out of a pumpkin.

I guess the point of that is that you can't base your life on "some day", because it could easily never come. I'm still waiting to sell a screenplay, but we've already been to Italy, and to Australia and New Zealand. I did not win on the show, but we still went to Disneyland, and we're still going to Mexico, and we're still going to go to lots of other places.

Talking about the show someone had mentioned it as a "bucket list" item, and no, I don't have one. I kind of dislike the idea of one. I'm not making a list of things I want to do before I die. I think of things I want to do, and then I figure out ways to do them. And I don't do them because I am going to die some day. I do them because I am alive, and I like things to be enjoyable and interesting and educational. Obviously a lot of that for us is travel, but it is also doing things locally, and learning new skills (or trying to and finding out it's not your bag; there's no shame in that). Really, a lot of it is the relationships. Some of our best times are just laughing around the table, riffing off of each other which, lucky for us, is free.

At the risk of sounding too preachy, a good life doesn't happen by accident. There are so many times when my sisters and I could easily stay in front of the television, or in bed, but we get up anyway, and we go and usually we are glad we did. And we don't do it all the time, because stressing yourself out detracts from the quality of life in another way, but the point is we are thinking about it and making things happen. No one will do it for us. Or you.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Do Greyhounds Make Good Pets?


Sometimes things from the show will be edited for time, and this happened with my interview. Alex ended up asking me three questions about greyhounds total, and the middle one, "Do they make good pets?" was omitted with my response. I may have taken too long to answer (I tried to be concise), or it may just be that I equivocated, so I want to give the full answer here.

You see, I have a theory of dogs. I notice that most people end up sticking with the same breed, and I believe this is because dogs are wonderful, and you grow to love them and will think that is the best dog ever. We were a collie family before we became a greyhound family. However, just because you can fall in love with a dog of any breed does not mean that there are not actually breeds that would work better for you, so a little research is reasonable before getting a dog.
When a movie comes out with a specific breed, adoption groups usually do a good job of getting out information on the breed, so that not everyone ends up with huskies or Dalmatians without knowing what to do with them. Until there is a movie about retired greyhounds, I will try to fill in.

First of all, here are some of the things that are great about greyhounds, and why they work for us. As a result of their racing life, they generally come leash-trained and housebroken. Those two things are important, and we are not great disciplinarians, so having that already covered is awesome for us.

Greyhounds tend to have very sweet dispositions. Even at times when you can tell that one has been badly treated during their training or racing days (not nearly as bad now as it used to be, but it can still happen), it rarely makes them aggressive, just sometimes extra shy.

It was the personalities that we fell in love with, but there are other things that work well. They do shed, so don't let anyone tell you they don't, but the short hair does not get matted like it did with the collies. Maintenance is easier and it does not hold in odor the way our golden retriever friend's hair does. (He is an adorable boy, and I love him, but sometimes I come away from him and I can barely stand to wear my own coat because his smell has transferred to me.)

Greyhounds are also good "medium" dogs. I am a sucker for dogs, so I will even think a Chihuahua is cute and want to pet it, but at the same time, I kind of think small dogs are ridiculous, and they're usually too high-strung for me anyway. Really big dogs are cool, but they eat a lot and they tend to have short life spans (maybe 5-8 years). Greyhounds are mid-range on size and lifespan. The life expectancy is fourteen years, and we have had a few go to fifteen. If you are wondering how we ended up having fifteen dogs over the course of about twenty years when they do live reasonably long, that's partly because we took a lot of old ones who needed homes, and partly because at various times we had up to five at a time (though whenever we had a fifth one it was always one with health problems, so I was usually not walking more than four at a time).

When some breeds are not recommended, it is often because they are working breeds, and they get destructive without stimulation. Greyhounds are referred to as 45 MPH couch potatoes. They like to run fast, but they will do this for a few minutes a couple of times a day, and then take long naps.

So, what might make a greyhound not the right dog for you? They are really needy. I know our collie, Laddie, was happy with any attention he got, but he never came around begging for love the way these dogs do. I guess he was just more self-assured, and the greys need frequent reassurance that you really do love them. Granted, that's part of their charm; if you want a pet that doesn't care how you feel about it you should get a cat. (Just kidding, kind of, and we have had as many as five cats at a time too, though we are currently down to one.)

If you are going to be gone a lot, or have a demanding job, or have small children who need a lot of attention, then you may be breaking your greyhound's heart when you keep having to do things other than petting it. Retired couples and childless couples often do great with greyhounds, because the dogs can be their jobs and their babies.

That alone makes it less of an issue of whether they are good with children, but that is mixed bag. We have known owners with children where it was fine, and we have seen other dogs be kind of nervous around children, but there are other breeds that are meant for it. It is probably good that we had collies when we were younger. We got Laddie when I was around six, but my mother has told me of coming in and finding my brother, Lance, as a toddler, standing on a different collie (Orlando, I think), to look out the window. This probably did not feel good for the dog, but he took it patiently.

If you want a dog to run with, you can make that work, but you need to build up to it. Remember, they are sprinters--not endurance runners.

If you want a dog to play with, well, their play is kind of different. I think because they spend so much time kenneled, but they often have soft toys, that chewing on a toy is something that they like, but interactive play does not come naturally to them. We never taught Laddie how to fetch, but it was something he always wanted to do. It didn't matter whether I was throwing a Frisbee, stick, or ball, it was the most exciting thing ever! The greyhounds have no concept of fetch. They could probably be trained on it, but really, what they want to do is cuddle, and we support that. A lot of people will do lure-coursing or agility training with them, so that's another option.

It is common sense with any dog to either keep them in a fenced yard, inside, or on a leash, but this is especially important with greyhounds. They are sight hounds, meaning they navigate by sight rather than scent. So, they can easily get distracted by something shiny (Squirrel!), take off after it at high speed, and have no idea how to get back to you.

Health-wise they do pretty well. They do have a tendency towards bad teeth, and cataracts as they get older are really common. We have had some cancers and some seizure dogs, though that is less common. We used to see a lot with low thyroid so they would take pills, but I haven’t seen that for a while. With thin skin and no fat, they do bleed easily. That's not saying it's a reason not to get them. Laddie had bad skin, and then his hips started getting bad--that is common with collies. Both of the golden retrievers I have sat for have had hot spots, and one has digestion issues. It just makes sense to know what is common.

On that note, I will give one more word of advice. This will sound weird, but start with a brindle. If you think about it, their coloring is hereditary, as are many other traits, and certain things seems to come along with different colors. Both of our seizure dogs were fawn and white. Of the two we sat for who had seizures, one was fawn and one was champagne (pretty close to fawn). Our more aggressive dogs have been fawns. Our worst separation anxiety has been fawn and white.

Okay, so maybe that just sounds like a reason to avoid fawn or fawn and white. Actually, the only trait I have noticed with blacks is that they seem to be really protective of their families, and a couple of them have been button-pushers with other dogs, looking for ways to annoy. The point is, brindles are really solid dogs, tending to be healthy physically and mentally. There are always exceptions, but they tend to work well, and it makes sense to start with an easy dog. If afterwards you get addicted and keep getting more, and you start taking in old ones and injured ones, well, that is a path you can take, but start with just looking for one good pet. Or two. Some of them really need to have other dogs around.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Afterwards

That pretty much wraps up the story of my taping. I then had to decide what to do about telling people. Even though I had been hoping for the Halloween show, getting it meant that people would have a lot of other commitments. I decided not to invite people anywhere to watch, though that was probably also somewhat influenced by not winning. If I’d had multiple games, I might have organized something for the Tuesday, but then if you tell people you are also on Monday, it gives too much away.

I ended up just posting it for my Facebook status on the day of, and also posting in the Aloha forum. I thought about doing it as an event, because people will get notice of the invitations, but that seemed a little too conceited, and more likely to cause confusion on whether I was actually inviting people to come over. Some people did wish I had publicized it more, but my friend and junior high locker partner Heidi posted it on Youtube, and then I could direct people there.

I will get a check for $1000 120 days after my appearance, so around March. This should pretty much cover transportation, hotel, and clothes, so it works out pretty well. This is sponsored by Aleve, incidentally.

I cannot do another game or reality show for six months from my airdate. I suspect this will not be a problem. Although many people have suggested that my family should have a reality show, we have not had any offers, and also I think they are wrong. We’re more fun for what we say than what we do, so I think a talk show would make more sense.

For another game show, I don’t know. The only other shows I have really been interested in are both off the air: Remote Control and Win Ben Stein’s Money. Actually, one of the other contestants had attended a taping of Remote Control, so that would have been cool. I think I could have done well on that. With Ben Stein, the questions focused a lot more on political science and recent history, which I did not know as much about then, but I have caught up a little.

For current shows, nothing really appeals. I do watch Wheel of Fortune sometimes, and I am fairly good at guessing the puzzles, but I have no confidence in my ability to spin the wheel well, and I don’t know what things cost, so The Price is Right is out. Family Feud could be fun, but it’s more complicated getting five people together, and then instead of coming up with facts, you have to come up with what people think, which can be pretty random.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I think my game show career is over, and that’s okay. I had fun, and people who knew me had fun.

If you are wondering about recognition, I would have said that people who had already seen me around recognized me, but not strangers on the street. So people who knew me recognized me of course, and a lot of people in the building where I work asked me about it. A few neighbors have stopped me while walking the dogs, and a former neighbor’s daughter called right after the game. So far, all people who have seen me at least a few times.

There is a wild card now, so I don’t know. When I was picking up my prescription a woman I did not recognize said she had seen me and I did a good job. I thanked her, but I didn’t stop to talk, because after all I felt miserable and I could not wait to get home and take those pills. I have no idea whether that was her first time seeing me, or she has seen me several times around the store, which is certainly possible, because we go to Walker Road Fred Meyer a lot, and I pick things up at that pharmacy a lot. Possibly I actually do know her, but I wasn’t able to recall because at the time I was sick and sleep-deprived and I did not have my full mental faculties. If she only saw me from the game, kudos to her on recognizing me while looking like death warmed over. Good eye.

So really the only thing left is thoughts, and even though I have shared many thoughts, there are more. This is where things start getting personal again, and maybe less entertaining but more insightful. We’ll see how it goes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

And Alex....


I kind of feel weird even covering this one, but a surprising number of people asked me if Alex was a jerk. My initial response was "No! Are you crazy? Why would you even ask that?", but it was asked enough that I have to wonder if a lot of people have this impression, and since I disagree with it, I want to confront it head-on.

That being said, I can't quite hit it head on, because Alex is the person you spend the least amount of time with really, which is important for the integrity of the game. He come on right as the game starts, and all the time you spend with him is filmed. In Prisoner of Trebekistan, Bob Harris (no relation, that I know of) mentioned that he gets asked a lot what Alex is like, and he told different anecdotes, and let people draw their own conclusions, and I'm kind of going to do it that way.

First off, let's go over possible reasons why people may think it. I was told that there was a video on Youtube of him swearing and cursing people out. I could not find that. There were some weirdly edited videos and some of people filming the television and laughing in the background, where you can't even tell what they are laughing at, but nothing impressive there.

I know he does have a somewhat reserved manner, but he's Canadian, and it seems appropriate. He is also self-deprecating, which not everyone likes, but it works for me.

It could be a matter of the corrections he does, but those serve a purpose. One of the things Maggie told us is that they work really hard to get things right, because she has heard people say that something has to be right because they saw it on Jeopardy! Therefore, having a correct pronunciation given is important, and when they do those clarifications like "You were thinking of..." that actually shows why the person's response was not way off base, even if it was wrong.
Actually, even with my game, there was a moment that could have been misconstrued. In the Shells category, I guessed "Awl" when the correct answer was "Auger". Alex's "No" is broken into two syllables, and it could have been taken as condescending, but what I understood it as is that when I started to say "Aw-" he thought I was getting it right, and then had to adjust. There wasn't any bad will there.

Without strong evidence of jerkiness, I have to attribute any rumors to haters, which is a real thing, especially on the internet. Apparently, some people may just have nothing better to do, or no desire, anyway.

I have my own reasons for thinking Alex is not a jerk. My first impression of him was that he has kind eyes. It is just an impression, but I have never met anyone with kind eyes who turned out to have a bad personality. Also during the visiting he was nice, and made a point to praise all of us, and that was good.

For other indications, look at what a great set it is. I can't remember whether I had the conversation with my friend Cathy the night before I left, or with one of the other contestants in the green room on game day, but I was talking about how great the group of people I work with is, and the person I was talking to said that is really a sign of good management, because those things carry on down. Having been in highly dysfunctional workplaces, I have seen the reverse of that as well, and it is true: leadership matters.

Now, you could argue that Alex is not really the boss--that maybe that would be the executive producer or the head of Sony, or something like that, and that is entirely plausible. Even so, all of those awesome people love him.

Of all of the references to Alex that came up during the storytelling and preparation and even at the audition, all of those references were affectionate. They were so proud of him for chasing down the robber. Even when I was in the audience, and there was a crew member behind me running some equipment, and he heard me explaining something about the robbery to the guy I was sitting next to. Even he weighed in, saying that he knew all Alex cared about was the bracelet his mother gave him (we were wondering if he had gotten his stuff back, and at the time he hadn't yet), and there was a protectiveness in his voice that was really kind of touching.
If Alex Trebek is a jerk, they've got the most brilliant cover-up ever. The CIA should take lessons.

And I also hope he gets his mother's bracelet back.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/27/alex-trebek-chases-down-burglar_n_911550.html

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Best Set in Hollywood

Okay, I don't technically know that, and it's not technically in Hollywood because the studio is located in Culver City. Nonetheless, I would be really surprised to find out there was one with more laughter or with more caring people.

I mentioned the rapid-fire patter as we were going over all of the preparation, but I can't adequately explain how fun it was. Not everyone is as high-energy as Maggie, but everyone is pretty funny. There is a lot of joking, and random bursting into song, both in the green room and on the sound stage. There is also just a lot of caring. And that's not just with the contestant crew. We spend more time with them, but everyone, from make-up to the person who wires you with your microphone, is super-nice and doing everything they can to put you at ease.

We know it's not logistically possible for everyone to win, but it really felt like they were rooting for each of us, and they cared about us as individuals.

This brings me to a story from years back. The stage manager, Glenn, used to be the contestant coordinator, like Maggie is now. I remember him from my very first try out for the college tournament. At one of the Portland auditions (I believe the one where I played the practice game, but did not do well) as I was exiting I remember him giving me an encouraging look. And that would have been nice anyway, but the other crazy thing is I remember a look of recognition, like he remembered me from the other times. And I remember thinking, that's crazy--they must see hundreds of people. Well, they do see hundreds of people. I know for the last online test I took, there were 100,000 people who took it. Out of that, they need 400 for the season. I'm not sure how many make it from the test to the auditions, but I would guess at least 1200, probably more. And yet, when I saw Maggie that day, she mentioned something about the audition in Seattle. I don't know how many people it is even possible to remember, but I know they are paying attention, and I am pretty impressed by them.

If you are thinking about trying out yourself, that may be one of the best reasons. They're good people, and a lot of fun.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Big Day

Despite some disappointments, the day was a lot of fun, and most of the credit needs to go to the crew. I love this group of people. They take really good care of you.

The first few hours were a sort of organized chaos. Contestants have to do several things, and they are sort of happening all at once, so some of us were getting made up, some were going over final paperwork, some were practicing Hometown Howdies, and some were practicing interviews.

Remember those five interesting facts? The staff narrowed that down to three to give to Alex, and then Alex picks what to ask. I have seen at times he will pick kind of a common theme for all three contestants, if there is one. Richard told us what three were on there, and we could indicate if there was one we wanted to be asked about more, but it is still up to Alex. My three were the screenplays, the claw machine, and the greyhounds. I said I preferred the screenwriting thing, because honestly, I think the more people who know I do that, the better. Alex went for the greyhounds, which was fine because they are wonderful dogs, but not everyone thinks of them as pets, and the claw machine one would have been great too, because I am really proud of that. I just won a stuffed monkey Friday night!

Maggie worked with half the room on practicing the hometown howdies, while Richard worked with the rest of us on going through each of the interview questions. There was also a lot of instruction on things that people have found helpful, experiences that other people have had, what will count against you, what won't, and lots of random bursting into song. It was all very rapid-fire, but it served the purpose. When you are on stage and Alex asks the question, you are ready. When it is time to tape the Howdies, you are ready. And most of all, there was so much laughter and information that there was not a lot of time to shrink inside yourself and freak out.

That kept up as we went to the stage for our practice games. We were rotated in and out in a stream for the length of about two full games. That gave everyone a chance to practice with the buzzer and get in the habit of selecting categories. One of the things I had put down as wanting for my game was the chance to make it a true daily double. I got to do that three times during the practice games (getting up to $60000--probably more than I would have wagered during an actual game, but it worked out).

After the quiz show scandals in the 60's (for more on that, watch the movie Quiz Show--Rafe Fiennes is remarkably beautiful in it), several steps were put into place to prevent another such occurrence. One important part of this is that there is a compliance person who oversees everything. For every game, he is presented with six scripts, and he chooses one. For the contestants, you have the returning champion, of course, and everyone else has their name written on cards placed face down, and two are picked for each game. So when sometimes there is a category that one of the contestants just owns--that is pure luck. One of the reasons that I wanted to be on the Halloween show (which again, was pure luck), was that I was hoping for really fun categories. "Trick or Treat" and "Halloween Candy" were okay, but there may have been much cooler, spooky ones that did not get picked, and there is just no way of knowing.

Evan and I were picked for the first game, so we and Sunni got our make-up touched up, got miked up, and off we went. It's funny how excited I got when I saw Alex peeking around the corner. I mean, I knew he was going to show up--it wasn't a surprise--but I still felt like a total fangirl.

The show tapes pretty much like it airs. They do pause during the commercial breaks. In every break, they bring you water, and check to see if you need your makeup touched up, and how you are doing. While this is happening, Alex is fielding questions from the audience. I was pleased to learn that he gets irritated when people jump around the board, because I do too. I was very proud that we cleared out the board in both rounds. I hate it when there are questions left.

During the first break we took turns getting our picture with Alex. Right after our picture was taken I shook his hand and said it was nice to meet him. Alex looked surprised by this. It wasn't a freak-out like you would get with Howie Mandel, but I think people usually don't do that.

From my point of view, it was like when I had the picture taken with the koala, and everything happened so quickly, and they are trying to get you to look at the camera, and they grab it back, so that I have no memory of holding the koala, which I would have wanted to remember. I just didn't want Alex to be another koala.

One thing that was a little different for us, but will happen a lot, is that Alex stayed at his podium rather than coming to us during the interviews, as he was still injured. He was not wearing the boot on camera, but he was wearing it off-camera, and walking around too much wouldn't have been good.

The one thing I really found awkward was during daily doubles. It is traditional to put down your buzzer and clap, and that was my intention, but trying to put the buzzer down so I would not lose it, but could get it quickly again, and to get it down quickly enough to clap at the right time, was a little too much for my level of manual dexterity.

Something they are quick to instruct us on is that at the end of the game, do not jump up and down, or jump off to go congratulate the winner. The reason for this is that we are on raised platforms that go up and down to try and get everyone to a similar height. Since Evan was pretty tall, Sunni and I were both fairly high up. They do help you down, and all of those striped areas on the stage are steps actually, and they are also very careful with you coming around there. No one wants you to fall. We had no accidents while I was there.

After the game, and we had been unhooked from the mikes and lowered from our pedestals, we chatted with Alex at center-stage over the end credits. Mainly we talked about how it was a pretty good game and everyone did well. If you were watching and noticed a part where Alex looked surprised, that is probably when I made a reference to it being okay that Evan won because he had the growing family. He had mentioned that his wife was pregnant backstage, and so I let the cat out of the bag to the host.

Regarding Evan, I know many people on online forums and Facebook expressed some irritation with his mugging, and okay, he was pretty hammy, but he was a nice guy, and I didn’t have a problem with him. Honestly during the game you don’t even know what other people are doing—I just knew he was like that from the practice game. I did not notice how hard he worked the buzzer until I watched it at home. He may have been on to something though. Maybe I needed to flail more.

I went into the audience for the next game. It was interesting to watch from the audience side, and if you get a chance I recommend it. I was the only person who did not have any guests, but they seated me next to a pretty interesting group. Three of them were from England, and they met up with the fourth in Vancouver BC, and were on a road trip that was going to end up in New York. The question on Kate Middleton’s dress led to me finding out that one of them had gone to school with Prince Harry. How’s that for random? They were fun to chat with, and since they had just watched me they were very interested in what it was like, and I was able to answer a lot of their questions.

For other celebrity sightings, Jimmy from the Clue Crew was in the audience. I saw Johnny Gilbert, but did not talk to him or anything. Oh well, at least he announced my name and where I was from. How often does that happen?

I left after the second game. I sort of wished that I had stayed, especially when I found that after the second game aired they went straight to the Tournament of Champions, so I had to wait a long time to find out how the others did. At the time though, I started to think that maybe if I went to the airport right away, maybe I could get an earlier flight. Since you can potentially be at the studio until 6, the first flight I could trust was at 9:30, getting me in to Portland at 11:30. I was working the next day, and a few more hours of sleep would have been good. Sadly, I could not get an earlier flight.

Also, though, I needed some time to be sad, and feel the disappointment, and call my mom. So I spent a long time at the airport. I got some reading in, and I charged my phone, and I was amazed to see a Best Buy Express vending machine. Seriously, who would buy an iPod from a vending machine at an airport?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Look






I got several good compliments on my appearance, so I thought I would devote some time to that. People mainly commented on the dress, the makeup, and the hair.

First off, it makes a huge difference having makeup applied by someone who knows what they are doing. If I could do that, I might wear it more often. We had two makeup artists, and actually I sat with both of them because (I hope I am getting the names right) Sandy did the main job and then Melissa touched me up later, right before filming. Sandy does Alex Trebek's makeup as well, and he thanked her in his speech from when he got his lifetime achievement Emmy, so that was pretty cool, and she was really nice (as was everyone, but more on that later). She told me that I cleaned up well.

The dress was a knot dress by Merona, ordered through the Avenue. Emily was telling me that she had one like it, so I joked that I hoped we did not end up in the same game, but she also had it in two colors, so we did not need to worry. She wore the green one in her second game. She got hers from Old Navy, and I hope she didn't think that I was one-upping her when I said mine was from the Avenue. That didn't mean that I shopped at fancier stores--it means I shop at stores for big girls.

Actually, shopping is never very fun for me, but between Catherines and the Avenue in person, plus the Avenue on line, I ended up with one pair of pants, four tops, two dresses, and two skirts. That may be overdoing it, because really I don't like one of the skirts and one of the tops that much. At the same time, though, I cleaned out some old stuff while I was doing this, and the green skirt that went out I had in 2002 for sure, if not sooner, and the black skirt was older, so I was probably due. I do love the red dress. It's a power color, and the sleeves don't do any of the common sleeve errors that irritate me so. My only concern is that sometimes I worry that the neckline is going to sink a little too low. It's the closest I come to dressing trampy.

Many people have assumed that the hair was done professionally too, along with the makeup, and no, that was all me. I think I can explain why it looked better than usual, though, in that after conditioning and brushing like always (and maybe I did brush a little longer, but it was the usual process), there was no walk to the bus stop, and journey on public transportation, marching through city streets, and then repetitively running my fingers through the tangles in my bangs while I sit at my desk (that New Year's resolution about not running my fingers through my hair didn't really pan out). I do clean up nicely, I just can't maintain it.

Nonetheless, it was nice to have cleaned up nicely. I thought about changing back at the hotel before going to the airport, but I decided to stay that way, and it was kind of nice. I got compliments from the shuttle driver, and guy delivering bins to airport security, and kind of by the girl who noticed that noticing and was slightly jealous. Plus, Emily also told me that my smile lit up the stage, and then all the compliments that came after the appearance. It was fun because one of my other big regrets, besides not winning money, was not losing weight (ever, but especially before taping), and just being able to look better. Somehow I was still pleasing to others. It's important to remember sometimes that other people do not see you the way you see yourself.

Now I want to go off on accessories a bit. I was hoping I would get in on the Halloween taping, so I wore Halloween jewelry. (I can only hope I would have had time to change if it ended up being a different show.) I had my bat earrings, and a Halloween bead bracelet. The earrings were tiny, so you could not really notice. Normally the pair I wear on Halloween is the big spiders, and those would have shown, but Jeopardy is a dignified show. It's not Let's Make a Deal.

The bracelet was one that I saw and bought three of, and sent one each to my friends Karen and Ericka, because I tend to send the Halloween cards, and associate them more with that holiday than others. The other jewelry that I took with me, and never got to wear, all ended up being meaningful.

There was the manatee necklace that I mentioned wanting, and my sister Maria gave me one she had bought for herself. There is the turtle necklace my brother and his wife brought me from Hawaii, and the half-formed pearl necklace that another friend brought me from Rarotonga.

The origami crane earrings were made for me by my friend Jennie back in high school, and the flower petal earrings were a gift from a family I knew on my mission. The key earrings are also from Maria.

Looking for something to put them in, I got a free gift with a clothing order once that was a gold bracelet with all of these good luck symbols, and it came in a purple pouch. Well, I could use some luck--might as well bring that along too. I was carrying some good associations in that pouch. I didn't get to show off most of them. I guess I just need to wear jewelry more often.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Hometown Howdies

If you go to http://www.jeopardy.com/showguide/thisweek/, you will see small video clips for the contestants for the week. These are recorded for airing in the local market. I have not heard of anyone seeing mine on television, but some people did go see the clip on the site.

You actually record two. The short recording is very basic: "Hi, I'm so and so from here. Watch me on Jeopardy!" The long one is a little more involved. In addition to your name, you give what you do, so now instead of just so and so from here, you are so and so, a this from here. Then you need to say something cute that relates. For example, the hotel clerk said "Check in with me on Jeopardy!" and the retired math teacher said "Watch me be calculating on Jeopardy!"

I was having a hard time coming up with something, mainly because there is nothing interesting or cute about being a document specialist. It left me needing to work with where I was from, and that was hard too.

I was thinking about trying to work something in about Powells, which is pretty well known, but of course that is Portland, and using Portland could have been easier, but I was deliberately saying Aloha, and I wanted to stick with that.

Ultimately I had to think about why I was saying Aloha. Saying Portland would be easier, and I’ve done it in the past, but this time it didn’t feel right. It's just that Aloha has been trying so hard to revitalize itself lately, and I want to be a part of that. I'm thrilled that there is a business organization now, and that they had a tree lighting and are putting in a library. Those are great things.

I'm always going to be an Aloha girl. First of all, I'm strongly loyal, and Aloha has been home since I was six. Also, I have a thing for underdogs, and we’re that too. It’s easy to pick on Aloha as trashy, but it’s also an oversimplification, and I think this place has some grit.

So I love my economically suffering, unincorporated area, and I had to make that work but wasn't sure how, and then I thought how the heart of the community is the high school, and it had to relate to that. Warrior pride, you know?

At first I was worried about it sounding too weird or obscure, but again, this is for the local market. The Warriors just won the football championship last year, and some of the other teams have been doing well, and so really anyone who watches Jeopardy on KATU could have heard of us. Now it felt right, and I nailed it on the first take.

"I'm Gina Harris, a document specialist from Aloha, Oregon. Watch me fight like a warrior on Jeopardy!"

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A little information about me


One of the first things you do after being selected is fill out paperwork. There is a legal agreement that needs to be signed, and you answer various questions.

The most basic part is the five fun facts, which I mentioned in the part about the audition. I kept mine basically the same, except on the screenwriting one, I took out the part about "After you've selected me..." and added a bit on quantity.

If I can just clarify a bit on 1 and 3, I really only know that Julie and Maria and I are good at claw machines. We haven't really tested any other family members, but I would think their odds of doing well should be good. I have included a photo of the shelf at work where I am storing the prizes now. Some will end up in the toy drive. Maria used to give a lot to her kindergarten kids. It just depends.

On three, well, I think I have to blame it on Destiny's Child doing a cover of Emotion. I started hearing other songs that I thought were remakes of BeeGees hits, and after I realized they couldn't all be, then I realized I could do it with any song (though the Destiny's Child/Beyonce oeuvre is a surprisingly good fit). Anyway, I used to think it was weird, but then I found out that a coworker of mine can hear any song as it would sound performed by Bob Dylan, and her boyfriend can too. So if there is a guy out there who can do it with the BeeGees, we may be soul mates. Call me!

Part One

Name: Gina
From: Aloha, Oregon
Occupation: Document specialist
Booking Date: 9/21/11


1. I come from a family of skilled claw machine operators.
2. We are on our 15th (and 14th) adopted retired racing greyhounds.
3. I can hear any song in my head as it would sound performed by the BeeGees.
4. I speak French, Spanish, Italian, and Laotian.
5. I have written 6+ screenplays. I have not sold anything, but I read that the average before a sale is 9, so I believe I am still on schedule.


Part Two

Have you ever been at a turning point in your career?
I worked in the tech sector for many years, but when I had to choose between keeping my job or going to Australia and New Zealand for a month, I chose the travel. After a rough patch, I now work in health insurance, and under similar circumstances I would change again. All the Aussies and Kiwis were very supportive of this.

What is the one mistake no one will ever let you forget?
When I first got glasses, in 9th grade, colors and shapes were more intense, and I had just never seen things so sharply. This may be why I told my father that I never realized his eyes were so blue. His eyes are brown.

What is your funniest travel memory?
We were at an animal park in Queenstown NZ, and our very frugal Scottish guide had bought us some food for the animals. You could fill a coffee can for 2.00 NZD. When we were down to about a quarter of the can left we got to the goats, and they swarmed my sister Maria. She panicked and dropped the can, leaving it to the goats, and Chris’s response was “Two dollars wasted!”

Do other people think you have a funny quirk or habit?
Even when I know that a question is rhetorical or facetious, I have to answer it seriously. I have one friend who enjoys this a little bit sadistically.

Everyone has a special talent or quality? What is yours? How do you use it?
I am really good at keeping my head in stressful situations. To better use it I have taken Community Emergency Response Team training and other trainings to be ready for anything.

Part Three: More questions

Who or what first got you interested in learning/knowledge/education?
I think it was learning to read. I did not have any kindergarten or pre-school, so the teachers expected me to be a little slow, but I caught on to reading, shooting from the lowest reading group to the highest in a few weeks, and I was reading everything I could get my hands on. I still love it.

Do you have a favorite teacher from your past?
That is hard to choose, but Mr. Pitzer was probably the most influential. He taught AP History, and was a good teacher, but he also led me to Professor Brown, which led me to Professor Taylor, until it was only natural that I became a history major.

What is your first memory of Jeopardy!?
When I was seventeen I was working in retail, and it would usually be on in the break room when I would take my last break. I would play along and my adult coworkers were impressed, and that’s when I first started thinking it would be something I would like to do.

Why did you want to be on Jeopardy!?
I guess I want to see how I can do. I don’t have a lot of competition playing at home. Don’t get me wrong—I would love to win money, but also it is a show that I have watched a long time, and enjoyed, and I would like to be a part of it.

Is there anyone you would really like the chance to compete against on the show?
Not necessarily compete, but I really enjoyed Bob Harris’ book, Prisoner of Trebekistan, and I always remember when Wes Ulm was on.

What do you hope will happen from your Jeopardy! appearance?
I hope it will be fun—that I will enjoy the playing, and the interaction. I would like to do well and acquire some money for more travel, too. I would love to get the chance to make it a true daily double. Also, I hope I will get the game that occurs on Halloween, because that’s my favorite holiday and I bet the categories will be fun.

What are your expectations about your appearance?
That I will probably start out a little nervous, then get into it, and that I will watch my game with friends and family, so I should probably plan on ordering pizza.

What is your educational background?
I have a BA from University of Oregon, with a dual major in Romance Languages and History.

Why did you choose your majors?
I have always loved language. I started French and Spanish in high school, and then continued with those and added Italian in college. My mother’s family is all Italian, so it was important from that aspect, but it was not offered until college. For History, I was taking some classes and wanted to keep taking more, but I was going to have to stop and start taking other social science classes unless I made it a double major. The choice was easy.

Tell us what you do for a living?
I am a document specialist for Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield. That means that when groups have new policies or renewals of existing policies, I do a final check on them to make sure all of the information from the different sources matches up, so that everything is accurate. Then I publish it to the internet so members can view their policy and member services can provide assistance, and I get contracts sent out to the offices. It’s not an exciting job, but it’s important, and I work with a great team of people.

How did you get your job?
My sister works for the same company and let me know about the opening.

How did your career come about?
I majored in subjects that I liked instead of ones that were practical, so fairly randomly.

Do you have a dream job?
I write screenplays. Eventually I would like to be selling some screenplays to other filmmakers, but probably shoot one independent movie a year so that I do sometimes get creative control.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Preparation

Sorry for the delay friends. I was hit up by a nasty virus or two, which will eventually be detailed in “When a secondary infection is good news.” For now, I really want to finish this series on Jeopardy!

I realize my preparation efforts may not be of the most interest, because on one level they did not work. That may be kind of the point though, and also, I did more then one kind of preparation.

I tried a three-pronged approach for the intellectual preparation. First was catching up on my Smithsonian magazines. I am always behind on reading my magazines (other subscriptions are Shape and Psychology Today), just like I am always behind on books. It’s part of being overly ambitious.

I love Smithsonian specifically because it covers such a broad range of interesting things. In every issue there will be art, history, technology, biology, and popular culture. Taking time to catch up on those was a pleasure.

I also looked into books covering basics. Ones I ended up reading were from Kenneth C. Davis’ Don’t Know Much About... series, including Geography, the Universe, Presidents, and Everything Else. A friend also loaned me one called What are the Seven Wonders of the World, which basically went over things by numbers (three fates, three types of pillars, ten plagues of Egypt, etc.), and I checked out Bartending for Dummies and an ESPN almanac.

That was a mixed bag. The Seven Wonders book was pretty interesting, though it varied from topic to topic. Bartending for Dummies made sense to read, because Potent Potables comes up regularly, and I don’t drink, but I’m not sure how much I’ve retained. The Davis books are great. Well, the big ones are. The “Presidents” one was for kids, and the “Everything Else” one was done quiz style, and felt really disjointed. However, “Geography” and “Universe” were good, and I totally see myself reading more like them later. It’s not really that I don’t know much on the topics, but he reviews in a really good way, laying things out and building on them, and his style works for me.

The final prong was taking cards out of trivia games and reviewing them flash style. The result? Completely minimal. The only question that related at all was during a practice game, on Wyoming being the Equality State, which I had just read the night before, and actually I already knew that. It was fresh in my mind, but actually, I think I was too slow ringing in on that one anyway, so it was pretty pointless. I mean, reading things I enjoyed was good, and it’s gotten me where I am, but basically, I already knew enough.

And so, I never actually cracked open the sports almanac. Don’t get me wrong—I like playing and watching sports—I just have never cared about the statistics. If I at some point find an awesome book about sports history, I will read it, but I no longer feel any need to memorize cities that hosted the Olympics or World Series winners.
Ultimately, I guess I do not recommend cramming. If you can answer about 2/3 of the board, you should be okay. There can always be some stumper in Final Jeopardy, or even on a Daily Double, that throws your game, but since it is not possible to know everything, knowing a lot has to be the goal.

There was some other preparation though that was important, and I do recommend. First of all, even though I was thrilled to get the call, I then started having moments of doubt where what if it was too soon? What if I was not really ready for Jeopardy? (This was thinking I did not know enough, but maybe later on I would.)

I had a journal writing session where I went over things, and all possible outcomes, and knew that even with the worst possible outcome, I was okay. I am employed. I am getting by. Maybe if I did badly I might have some humiliation going on, but I have supportive friends and family, and nothing could really be too awful. (I was only thinking game outcomes—not like plane crashes or earthquakes or things like that. My anxiety was fairly specific.)

The other thing I did was I went over possible winning amounts, and what I would do with them. This was good because even people who do well normally don’t win life-changing amounts. Tournament winners can start new businesses maybe, and people who win a few games can get a down payment on a house or take some awesome trips, but usually you need to stay grounded. So my super-mega hope was to win thirteen games, and then come back and win the Tournament, and yes, not getting that is a little disappointing. But I can also totally live with what happened, and I knew that going in.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How I got there, or my road to Jeopardy!

My first memories of Jeopardy are from when I was working at K-mart. I started my junior year, and worked there until a few months after high school graduation. My evening break was usually during the time it was on, and other people would be watching it in the break room. This would have been around 1989-90. I would call out answers, and amaze the adults, and they would say that I should be on the show.

That was a nice thought, but I never thought of it as a real possibility until my senior year at U of O, when I saw an ad to try out for the college tournament. I did apply, and I was invited to audition. This happened in November 1995.

I actually wrote a little about that time at http://sporkful.blogspot.com/2006/06/my-weekend-with-baywatch-babe.html, but it doesn’t really mention much about the tryout. Obviously I did not get on, and that was discouraging, but one thing I realized is that with a tournament there are only fifteen slots, so your odds of getting in are much worse, though the cash guarantees if you get in are much better. We took a written test on the Jeopardy sound stage, and since I did not get called back to play the practice game, I knew I had missed too many. I can tell you that one of the questions was about the author of Trees, because I could not remember Joyce Kilmer while I was in there, but the moment I left the studio I did.

I was not at my best then. Things on my mind included my father leaving my mother, the dorm RA being missing and presumed dead (that presumption was correct), and desperately wanting to talk to “Mitch”, but also having been stupid with him and being fairly sure that he saw through it. In those ways, it was a kind of rough weekend. On the plus side, I came to an epiphany that we desperately needed a vacation, my family bought in, and that started our Disneyland tradition. Also, life did go on.

I am not sure exactly when I started trying out regularly, but I do remember at one point being discouraged, but one contestant on the show, Wes Ulm, mentioned that he had tried out five times before he got on, and he made it into the Tournament of Champions. Actually, he was in the same tournament as Bob Harris, author of Prisoner of Trebekistan. Also, a few seasons ago a tournament winner, Vijay, had tried out nine times, I think, so part of it is just realizing that it is hard to get on.

The process has changed some now. My first two times at least, there was not an online test, and only people who got enough right on the written test played the practice game. (They stop counting when they hit the right number, and you never find out how you did, if anyone is wondering.) Now with the online test, you still do a written test at the audition, but everyone plays the practice game—maybe I should call it an audition game—but also everyone there has been somewhat qualified by the online test.

So, you take the online test, get a mysterious number correct, and get invited to an audition. At the time you take the test, you are asked to pick which city would be best for you. My first non-Teen Tournament audition was in Seattle, then there was one in Portland on the waterfront, two in Portland on Alder. Those were all pretty easy to get to.

The next invitation was for Los Angeles. This was a concern, especially as I was unemployed, but Julie let me use her frequent flyer miles for the airfare, and I had Travelocity bonus points for the hotel. What I did not have was good health, which was somewhat related to the lack of insurance, but there were some bad decisions there too. While I was in the emergency room, getting IV antibiotics, Mom came in and told me that our cousin had died. I’m not sure how that compares to my first audition weekend, but it ended up not being an audition weekend. I had to cancel, and it was really a bummer. On the plus side, we were still able to use the credits and miles for other things, so that helped a little.

The chance came around again, this time in Seattle. One thing that is really important is that I tried to improve every time. The first few times I did not pass the written test, and then when I did, I did poorly in the practice game. The next time I was looser with that, but I still was not called. All you know is that if you did okay, you are in the file, and may be called over the next eighteen months. I was thinking it could be two things. Maybe I had too many blackout dates (that tryout was the year I was going to Australia), or maybe it was personality.

The dates were easy to fix—I put none. Sure we had booked a trip to Disneyland, but that’s the same area. I would make it work. We were booking a trip to Mexico and a cruise, but we could reschedule. I was going to be free.

Personality was tougher. I told myself that I would have to make small talk with the other people trying out. In a stressful situation, I like to turn inward, but this time I was going to force myself outward. That was a mitigated success, as I did make some small talk, but other people withdraw too, and I can’t handle rejection. I did some visiting. During the interview, though, I was charming. I flashed my smile, made jokes, and when they took my photo I stuck my chin out, lowered my eyes, and started looking up as they took the photo. That’s supposed to be good.

There was one more display of confidence needed. For my five facts about me, instead of just putting that I am an aspiring screenwriter, I put “After you choose me for this, I hope to someday return to the Celebrity Tournament as a successful screenwriter/filmmaker.”

Honestly, I’m not sure that I was doing the eye/chin thing right, but something worked. The audition was on a Tuesday and they called me that Friday. Oh yeah.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I Lost On Jeopardy! (Baby)

In trying to think of those people whom I know read my blog upon occasion, this is old news—it is pretty well known now that I appeared on Jeopardy and then lost. Still, I think it is worth blogging about. For one thing, in the questions that I have fielded since then when talking to people in person, the same things come up over and over, so there may be some value in just putting the information out there.

Also, writing about things is how I deal with them, sometimes via blog, sometimes journal, and every now in then in the random letter to the editor. (I am not usually consciously working out things in my screenwriting, except for that one time.)

So, I did not win. There were some negative emotions about that, even to the point of wondering how much I should publicize it. It turns out, people generally think it is cool to see someone they know on television, and no one has been too mean about the not winning part.

Also, I did not really embarrass myself. Most people who were watching thought I did great, and this is an area that I want to write more about, especially because I have a greater appreciation now for what it is like up there.

I answered seventeen clues correctly. There are sixty-one total clues, counting Final Jeopardy!, but of course everyone gets to answer in Final, so lets call it sixty, with me getting just under a third. Not bad, though of course which ones you get are important for point totals.

I knew twenty-two other correct responses, but I just could not ring in quickly enough. It is a game of general knowledge, but it is also a game of speed. As Alex finishes reading the clue, there are lights that go on. Ring in before, and you are locked out for half a second. Wait too long, and someone else gets in. It turns out, and this should not be a surprise, that I am slow.

Well, that’s physically slow, not mentally slow. When I was practicing at home, I would practice identifying the correct response right away, then focusing on the last syllable of the clue (then pressing on the side of the remote—I did not really have any good approximations of the clicker). I was good at this, and when I knew the answer I would start clicking right away, but my timing was just not great. As it was, I was shocked any time I actually made it in.

We play practice games before filming, so you can try different things. Some people do better using their non-dominant hand. Actually, Ken Jennings is one of those. He is right handed, but plays left-handed (probably to keep from ringing in too early). Maggie (the contestant coordinator) was telling us this in the green room, and I suddenly had this vision of him playing Watson, and in a Princess Bride moment suddenly saying “I am not left-handed!” then switching to his right and winning, but it didn’t happen. (Actually, I was rooting for Brad, but Watson played like a machine.)
Anyway, I mention this because I think most players up there are in the same boat. In any given game, probably all three contestants know a good 60-70 percent of the board, but they may not be able to prove it. The third place contestant in the game after mine ended with fairly low points, but I saw him in the practice games and he knows plenty of stuff, and he was not even terrible with the buzzer—it’s just how things worked out.

In other statistics, there was one where I guessed, but got it wrong (auger shell), three where I could have gotten it right, and probably even rung in first, but I was unsure and hesitated (oil as an export of Angola, conch shell, and Charms Blow pops), and six answers that I absolutely should have known but could not think of, and eight that I simply did not know. I did know all the daily doubles, even though I did not get them.

My two worst categories were Hospitals and Follows the Band. No one did really well in Follows the Band. I had no idea on Little Monsters (Lady Gaga) and Apple Scruffs (the Beetles), and I did know Parrotheads (Jimmy Buffett) but was not fast enough. I should have been able to figure out that Blockheads was for New Kids on the Block, but was still trying to figure out the category at that point. I’m embarrassed that I did not realize that Phans was for Phish, because I have seen Phish Phans before, but I thought it was someone being clever, and did not realize it was a thing. The only thing I could think of was Liz Phair, and I knew that was not right, so I did not ring in.

That brings us to Final Jeopardy. This is also somewhat embarrassing to admit, but the truth is, I was already mentally defeated at this point. I had 10600 points, but I was in third, by a fair amount, so the only chance to win was if I could get the response right while the other two missed, which was a long shot. I wagered accordingly, but I was not mentally there, and I made a key error.

Some of it was contextual. The category was 19th-century quotes, and it referred to the goal of a certain group being the abolition of personal property. It has been a Civil War Anniversary this year, and I had just read articles about the raid on Harpers Ferry and the attach on Fort Sumpter, and of course a big issue was that the slaves were considered to be the property of the owners, and abolitionists were a threat to that mindset, so that’s what I put down.

If I’d had my wits about me, I would have realized that when the correct response is “Abolitionists”, there is no way that “abolition” is going to be in the clue, because that’s way too easy.

I don’t know if I would have been able to come up with the correct response regardless. If I had been in the middle of my progressive reading month, maybe. If I had ever read the Communist Manifesto, probably. I had some economic theory reading coming up, but I had not gotten to it yet. Also, I tend to associate Communism more with the early 20th century, but yes, the thoughts were already out there long before they became a major influence on world history, and that’s good to remember.

The thing is, even if I had gotten it right, so did the other two. The scenario I needed happened in the next game, where only one person knew the answer, and it was one I knew, but if we had gotten that clue in my game, chances are that Sunny the English professor would have known it too.

For irony, a few days after filming, I clicked on a link that someone had posted to Mental Floss. It was a list of words with no counterparts in other languages, but it linked to one on nicknames for fans of musical acts, and every single one was on there. Seeing that earlier might have helped. With the other things though, like if I had not hesitated on those three, and gotten them, well, the impact on the score would have been minimal.

Really, the only thing that could have changed the outcome would have been for me to be faster, and have gotten more of the responses that I knew. That not only raises the score, but being in control of the board increases your odds of getting the daily doubles. Those have a huge impact on Evan’s score.

Genetically, I’m pretty sure I don’t have much in the way of fast-twitch muscle fibers, but I can’t help but think that maybe I should have spent more time playing first person shooter games.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFoqZ-azKBs

Monday, September 19, 2011

Convalescence

I was silly to think that I could start posting regularly again while Mom was in recovery. Yes, it has been better than last time. I am taking better care of myself, and she is doing better herself, and there is no refinance going on, but I have been working on two major projects and trying to overachieve, and it just hit me all Friday where nothing was going right and I felt like I had lost all ability to cope.

Saturday and Sunday I forced myself to spend eight hours in bed--I was not able to really be asleep the entire time, but I was still at least partially resting, and it helped.

I do have much to write, and I will get to it, but I did want to post a little today about being grateful for my relationship with God. As I struggle with being relentlessly human, I am grateful that there is a way for repentance to work. I have a bad tendency to try and save myself, and then be forgiven and blessed. It's funny, because for all the things that Martin Luther got wrong, that's the one thing that I really relate to, is how it must have felt for him to realize that he did not have to save himself; it would be done through God's grace. I still constantly don't try and let it work that way.

Despite that, or because of it, I do know that God listens while I pray, and that He loves me, and I take great comfort from that. I am grateful for the answers that I receive. They are there. I am grateful that He has infinite perfection to cover my seemingly infinite shortcomings.

I'm not really sure when I will get it right, but I am grateful that I still accomplish some things even while I am not accomplishing everything. Imperfect people can still do good and understand some things and be loved, and that keeps this world from being one of despair.

I am not where I want to be, but I'm getting by.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Post Op

Today is the first day of school, which does not have a lot of meaning in my household, but it seemed like a good place to restart. More to the point, it is almost a month after Mom's surgery. We are not quite done with the disruption to our lives--that will take about another month--but still, things are better.

I am glad to say that I was not driven nearly as close to the edge this time. I have actually not written about that yet, but trust me, it's a good thing. The dogs dealt with it better, and I was more careful, which helped.

Also, Mom's recovery has been much better. I think there are a few factors in this. One is that this was the second knee replacement, so she has two good knees now, instead of one good and one bad. Also, this knee was never quite as bad, so they were able to get out of the surgery more quickly, which makes a difference. She did not really even go under full anasthetic, but they used a combination of medication and nerve blocks, and it worked well. Finally, it is warmer, lighter weather (not as light as a typical August, but still brighter than December was.) I think this has been a big help psychologically for her. Doing it the week of Christmas was convenient from a time off perspective, but it was gloomier in many ways.

That is not to say it is all hearts and flowers. There is still a lot of pain that is just inevitable. The patient will have two months of pain, and there is really no getting around it. Over time pain fatigue sets in, where you just can believe how long it has been hurting, and knowing it will be a few more weeks is not comforting. For one weird kind of bright side, Mom thinks this time is worse than last time, because she does not remember it hurting so badly. It did--she just blocked it out, and since none of us were on oxycodone at the time we all remember. So, she will probably block this out too at some point.

There are a few things that experience did not improve. In terms of getting a clear answer on taking the patient home, it was still just as impossible. I think they are afraid of giving a time and then having a complication arise. Still, we got her home roughly when we expected.

I thought about doing a guide to OHSU on the travel blog. Not that you would willingly vacation there, but if you need to go there you might use vacation time for it. It still doesn't quite fit, but here are some key things.

One is that I was surprised when the cafeteria was closed that first time. Well, even though it is on the floor where you check in, and where the waiting room is, that is not the main dining hall on Floor 9. Go to Floor 3 for that.

The other thing is that based on my experience, there are only four floors in the fourteen story hospital where things actually happen:

9 – Check-in and waiting
10 – Patient rooms
3 – Main cafeteria
6 – Pre-op/anesthesia

Okay, maybe part of my experience is that both times we have been with orthopedics, with the other floors being used by other departments. However, I ended up on one of the other floors (I won’t say which in case this reaches the wrong eyes), and there were no signs or windows—just long passages with a couple of people in scrubs scurrying off.

Based on this, I can only assume the other ten floors are used for horrible experiments. It’s so obvious.