Archive for March, 2009

Morning Bombs in Marietta and the Economy

When I was in high school, my grandmother took me to Israel for Christmas. It was the experience of a lifetime in so many ways. One way is that it was the first time that I ever heard bombs. We were taking a tour near Gaza and I said, with no idea that I was right, “Hey, what do you think that is, bombs?”. The bombs were in the distance and there was never any danger to us, but I was visiting in a country where safety was never taken for granted, and, on a different level, I was never able to take that for granted again, either. Bombs that I could hear were a a very real risk to somebody out there along the horizon. Later when I lived on a military base, there were bombing ranges and the windows rattled fairly frequently. I do know what real bombs actually sound like. So, when I say that Saturday morning I was awakened by the thought that I heard bombs, the idea wasn’t pulled from thin air, I had experience to lend validity to my interpretation of the noise. I ran downstairs to turn on the television and see if the news had anything to report. The most threatening report I could find was one on the Weather Channel about severe thunderstorms.

In those few minutes while I was satisfying myself that the risk was natural as opposed to man made, I was thinking through my immediate emergency plan. I have had cause to create several such plans over the years. For hurricanes when I lived on the gulf coast the plan was to leave as soon I was confident that the risk was headed my way, preferably before the evacuation order crowds the evacuation routes. I would take an overnight bag and as many sentimental irreplaceables as can reasonably be taken. If there is an unstoppable fire in my house, the plan is to toss as many valuables out the window as I can before there is a risk to my health, with a preference toward the sentimental irreplaceables and to GET OUT before I am personally in danger. If there were bombs going off here in Marietta, sentimental irreplaceables were not on the list. The list was more survivalist. Weapons, tools, money and camping gear. Not everything that would fit in the car, but everything that I could reasonably gather in the 15 or so minutes I would allow myself to pack.

Since 9-11 there are many more civilians in the US who understand what I felt the day I experienced war within earshot, some on a much more personal, life threatening or life changing level than I. Empathy for those people or for people who have never known anything but war sometimes helps us to cope with our own trials. This is where I see the link to the economy because widespread fear related to our economic times is such an example. We may say that we feel shell shocked, but at the end of the day we know that the metaphor we use is, in fact, a reality for some. There have always been stories of people who live with war and have an unstoppable will to thrive as well as stories of people who seem to have everything to live for and no will to live. Today we are much more likely to know that person rather than simply to have heard about them.

Like my emergency plans for natural and political disaster, I have plans for financial disaster. The the natural and political disaster plans have had no big changes or revelations over the years. The plan that was good for a given situation 20 years ago is still pretty good now. For my financial plans there have been fundamental changes. I feel a bit betrayed because the rules we live by have been broken. All my hard work to make responsible financial decisions only means that I don’t qualify for assistance, only for a piece of the tax burden that will remain after all is said and done. We say that financial institutions are too large to be allowed to fail while encouraging them to buy each other, creating still larger institutions. Each party blames the other and seems to think the situation can be understood in the context of a zero sum game. The people who behaved responsibly while others were caught up in the demise of our economy are seeing a retirement that looks markedly different than the one they prepared for responsibly over a lifetime. All of the hyperbole, blame game and partisanship aside, we are truly rewarding bad behaviour and preserving the institutions that foster the pursuit a quick buck at the cost of tomorrow, at the cost of our children’s future.

What is my financial plan now? Well, until I figure that out, hugs help, and I try very hard to remember that if I smile it is harder for people to see the circles underneath my eyes…and I am thankful that the thunder on the horizon was nothing more.

Corporate Team Building In Today’s Economy

I have been a bit dubious about select corporate team building activities from time to time. Some are clearly exactly that, put people in an unusual setting and force them to rely on each other, or to rely on their senses in an unusual way, and the harmless vulnerability creates a bond. Things like a rope course or the Dialog in the Dark exhibit showing at Atlantic Station are clearly Team Building, but sometimes the activities chosen for the team building designation just seem to push the definition a little, as though team building were just a title used to justify an activity that someone wants to do on company time and budget. I work in downtown Atlanta. Like most companies, mine is cutting back on expenses and tightening the proverbial belt. Team building activities seem to be the first to get the ax in times like these. The result is that legitimate team building suffers at a time when moral is low.

An unexpected opportunity came along recently. I received an email inviting me to participate in a Valentines secret pal gift exchange. The rules: We draw names. On each of the first four days of the week preceding Valentines Day we deliver, by clandestine means, gifts that cost no more than two dollars each. On the last day of the week we get together for lunch and exchange a final gift that costs no more than five dollars. As we exchange this last gift we reveal ourselves while saying a little bit about the week.

I thought it could be fun, but it was an unbudgeted personal expense. I was fairly new to the floor where I work I and felt that getting to know a few more people was worth it. All I needed to do was to skip the usual weekend entertainment, a movie and a trip to Zaxby’s for Zalad. I was in. The shopping was fun and a challenge. Getting something for less than two dollars for someone you don’t know….well, all you can hope for is to make them smile. At the dollar store I found a stuffed pink monkey with velcro hands on long skinny arms, a dart gun that shot three foam darts and candy bracelets among other things. That was a start. I was really hoping my secret pal had a sense of humor. The five dollar gift was actually harder to pick out. The options are so limited in the lower range that choices are simpler. For five dollars one would expect to get something a little nicer and while looking for something in that range I kept picking up things that were well above the limit, sometimes double. I opted for a gift card and it was well recieved.

Lunch plans changed a few times as emails circulated, but it finally ended up being a partially sponsored pot luck. We met in a large conference room, ate, took turns revealing our secret pal and telling about the week. It sounds a little hoaky, but most of us enlisted others in the secret deliveries and the excuse for sneaking around, or the failure to sneak well enough was fun. We all had funny stories to tell about something that happened. After eating we played a round of Win, Lose or Draw and a round of Taboo. There was good natured competition, encouragement and camaraderie. Before Taboo was done, we dissolved teams and were all trying to guess the answers together. This wasn’t billed as a team building, but that’s how it turned out. It was also a little bit of fun on a budget.

Oprah and Me, or How I Reluctantly Kicked the Habit of Being Sick

A little more than a year ago I traveled to Japan to do some volunteer work. While there, I shared an overnight train with someone who was very sick. He coughed and sniffed with a rumble that filled me with dread until he left the train car after hours of exposure. Two weeks later I had the same noisy rumble. Months after I recovered I went to a business conference in Chicago during a winter cold front. For a week I shared a conference room with people who brought cold bugs from all over the country. I was miserable and in bed considering myself lucky that I happened to be waiting for an assignment while recovering. Then there was the cold I got at the office here in Atlanta, no missed work, but it seemed to last forever and I didn’t want to be the person filling others with dread. With three nasty sinus problems in less than a year, I finally decided that home remedies were not doing the trick and it was time to seek antibiotics. I went to a local doc in a box and they didn’t have my medical records. It had been too long since I visited and they wanted to charge me as a new patient. I hung my head and said “You know, $150 is a lot to pay for permission to get a $7 drug.” Amoxicillin, a drug that costs less than most health insurance co-pays, has always done the trick for me. So, they told me about the Take Care Clinic in the Walgreen’s at Sandy Plains Rd and Shallowford Rd in Marietta. I went see the nurse practitioner there. The fee was less than half of what the other facility was going to charge and I was thankful to know about it. I asked the nurse practitioner about my mother’s favourite home remedy, the salt water nasal spay. She said that it was a good treatment, but that you needed to use it several times a day to get benefit and then recommended a neti pot as a better choice. I didn’t know anything about a neti pot. She described it as looking like a teapot and being used for nasal irrigation. She also told me that Oprah used it and had shown one on TV. I later found out a couple of people I knew also used them and loved them.

My antibiotics worked and I was healthy, but I was curious. I always try to follow simple self help when I know about it. I wasn’t looking forward to pouring water “up my nose”, but I didn’t want to be sick next time I was exposed to the crud either, nor did I want to spend a lot of money on medical care. I bought the plastic version sold in a kit with packets of rinse mixture at Walmart for a low cost trial. The price varied by $4 at different Walmarts, the first time I had ever noticed something like that. It took me a couple of months to decide to buy one. I kept looking for the lower price and did not find it again until after I had already bought mine. Then it took me a couple of months to get the nerve to use it. My boyfriend was teasing me about the whole thing while the kit sat in the bathroom unused. A girlfriend was visiting. She was curoius and she tried to get me started. I just said “Okay, if I’ve put it off this long, I’m not doing it with an audience for the very first time.” More delay…. but the winter cold season finally rolled around again and the pressure was on. I finally submitted to the teapot of nasal irrigation and now I too am among the ranks of those who swear by the pot. One friend advised that I only need half a packet of mix and that seemed to work. My personal choice is half a packet with a half-full pot. There have been no sinus problems this winter and I am a believer!

Neti pots are available in ceramic, plastic and metal from local spas, discount stores, pharmacies and on line. When I searched for a sampling of different pots I noticed that neti is part of the practice of yoga and there are many types of pot as well as rinse. I recommend a simple kit, at least for starter. Make your choice of material and shape based on price, appearance, break-ability, portability and how comfortable you are with the shape at the nostril. The elephant is pretty cute! A simple salt based rinse has worked well for me but there are also rinses that contain zinc and/or herbs.

If you would like to find a Take Care Clinic at the Walgreen’s near you, I think it is easier to use Anywho.com than it is to use the Walgreen’s web page to locate it. Anywho.com gives addresses which were missing when I looked on the Walgreen’s page.

And, if you are interested in more about the trip to Japan, some reviews of my trip are shared on Viewpoints.com and can be found here.

I have never used the syringe shown below, but if I take another extended trip like the one in Japan, I think I’ll consider taking one rather than trying to find something unusual in a country where I don’t speak the language.

Editors Update: The true test of something is longevity and I am still using my neti pot. I have now tried a few of the varieties above. I think I may prefer the long narrow design (the one that is a little like Alladin’s Lamp). It seems to put a little umph behind the flow with just a little bit of tilt and it packs well in a suitcase. I still recommend trying a variety though. Preferences are as individual as people.