The Schumin Web w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Sun, 08 Dec 2019 00:50:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Schumin Web 32 32 37838674 I have been sleeved… Sun, 08 Dec 2019 00:50:20 +0000 So it’s a done deal.  I received a sleeve gastrectomy on December 6 at Montgomery General Hospital.  Here I am the following morning:

Selfie at the hospital

The process at the hospital was pretty straightforward.  I got there, I got checked in, and then went into the prep room.  First I got changed into the gown that you see in the selfie.  Then I got weighed.  I was surprised to find out that I had lost 17 pounds on the pre-op liquid diet that they had me on twelve days prior to surgery.  I figured that I had lost a little weight, as my clothes had started to fit a tad differently, but 17 pounds off was beyond my wildest expectation.  After this, they put me on a stretcher, and started an IV.  I was a surprisingly hard stick this time, as it took four tries to get a vein, and they all hurt like hell.  They explained that because I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink due to the surgery, my veins didn’t present as well as they normally would.  This is what it all looked like when they got it hooked up:

Hooked into the IV

Then I met with the anesthesiologist, the surgeon, and other various personnel.  Then it was time to go to the operating room.  They started out by giving me some drugs intraveneously, moved me to the operating table, gave me the anesthetic gas, and then I was out like a light.  I awoke in the recovery room, where they told me that the surgery was done, and that it had gone very well.  Good.  Of course, now I had to get used to having a much smaller stomach that needed to heal.  Not long after I woke up, I threw up, producing a brownish, watery fluid, which I was told was normal following this sort of surgery.  They also said that some gas was to be expected, as that a byproduct of the way that the laparoscopic surgery worked.  So burping and farting was good, as it was expelling that gas.

One of the big things about the healing process with this surgery is walking.  The doctor said to walk a lot, and we did, going from my room, 418, to the other end of the floor and back.  Here’s a photo that Elyse got of one of my walks:

Taking a walk down the hospital corridor

The biggest challenge was in getting enough fluids and keeping them down.  The hospital provided little communion-sized cups for drinking water out of as a reminder to sip liquids.  I did one of those cups in one go, and threw up again a minute or so later.  Clearly, my stomach was not yet ready to take that much water on at once.  Duly noted.  So I took very tiny sips of water, and that stayed down.

The overnight stay was one of the worst sleeps that I’d had in quite some time.  I had a bit of upper back pain from the way that they had me placed for the surgery, and that prevented me from getting a good night’s rest.  That, coupled with the soreness from the recent operation and all of the various tubing that they had on me made for an uncomfortable night.  I also didn’t have my watch, so when I did wake up a few times in the middle of the night, I had no idea how long I had slept for, or how much more time I had to sleep.  I ended up getting up at 6 AM, which was quite early for me.

Shortly after getting up, I tried some water, and threw up again.  Lovely.  After that, they got me ready for discharge, removing the IV and such, and I got changed back into regular clothes.  Elyse’s mother took us home.  One of my instructions upon discharge was to make sure that I walked up and down stairs at least three times a day.  My exact response was, “Not a problem.  I live in a townhouse.”  And since getting home, I think I’ve already met that requirement just going up and down between the living room and upstairs, and up and down from the mezzanine.  I’m confident, due to the layout of my house, that I will get a lot more stairs in before it’s over.

Meanwhile, I’m off of work for the next four weeks while I recover.  That will be good for me, giving me time to heal up, plus it gives me a bit of a break from the usual routine while I heal.

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This should have happened a long time ago… Mon, 25 Nov 2019 13:35:39 +0000 Recently, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, and there was someone that I didn’t know in my “People You May Know” list who had an emblem for an organization called “Food & Water Workers Union” on their profile photo.  This piqued my interest, because as you may know, I used to work for an organization called Food & Water Watch.  The similarity in the name made me wonder if it was related, so I looked it up.  I figured that it was some branding that my former employer was using for a campaign of some sort on the environmental issue du jour.  Imagine my surprise to find out that it was for a recently-formed Food & Water Watch employee union, part of the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union.  At the time of this writing, they had voted to unionize, and, according to a tweet, were negotiating over which positions will be represented by the union.  I have to say that I’m proud of them for organizing, but I’m also surprised that it took them this long to get to this point.  Their becoming a union shop really should have happened a long time ago.

I don’t know what prompted people to organize, but I can only imagine that people finally got fed up with the culture that I left for greener pastures back in 2013.  Back then, there was rampant favoritism, little to no room for advancement, no respect for different people’s roles in the organization, and no respect for procedure.  There was also the backdoor way that my former boss, Lane Brooks, liked to use to get rid of people, including the finance manager and myself, by creating a new position specifically written to be outside of the targeted employee’s qualifications, and then advertising it out, effectively demoting the employee.  If that by itself didn’t make them leave, he would then put the screws on the employee until they quit.  And if that didn’t work, he made more overt moves to fire them.  After the targeted employee left, the new position was abandoned, having served its purpose in ousting the targeted employee.

In addition, I remember feeling quite resentful of what they did to our health insurance benefits at the end of 2012, downgrading us from a Blue Cross PPO to a plan called “HealthyBlue”, which was an HMO plan that also required taking some online surveys about our health and speaking with an insurance company representative over the phone about our health in order to receive the full benefits of the plan.  “Yes, take away my PPO that is very easy to use for something that requires a lot of unnecessary doctor visits due to referral requirements, and requires that I speak with a stranger over the phone about my lifestyle in order to get all of my benefits,” said no employee ever.  I don’t care that you saved the organization $100,000 by downgrading our health insurance.  I thought that we were worth the extra 100 grand to have excellent health insurance, but apparently they didn’t.  Touting a “generous” benefit package in job advertisements didn’t mean much when they could cut them back at any time.  However, considering that we had no employee contribution to the premium, I, along with others, I’m sure, felt at the time that we would be out of place to complain about it, because we had no direct financial stake in our insurance benefits.  It reminds me of the expression, “United, we bargain.  Divided, we beg.”

About a year and a half after I left the organization, I wrote this about the organization on Glassdoor:

The organization has a major problem with favoritism.  Basically, if you work in the organizing or development departments, you are on top of the heap, and everything that you say is law.  If you are outside of those areas, it is made quite clear by the actions of others that your roles are inferior to those of organizing and development.  Those two areas also got the bulk of the training and professional development, while others were given little, if any.  I found that this created a culture of resentment amongst the “non-favored” employees, which poisoned the well in terms of interdepartmental relationships.  Organizing and development staff would continually deny this, while happily reaping the benefits of their favored status.

Likewise, unless one is in the organizing or development departments, the likelihood of professional advancement is slim to none.  While development and organizing staff are routinely promoted to ever increasing titles and roles, other staff rarely ever gets a raise beyond the annual raise that applies to everyone, and no promotions.  In other words, if you were hired in as a researcher or other non-organizing/non-development position, that’s likely all you are ever going to be there, and the only way to get professional advancement is to leave.  In addition, the line between which employees get their own office and which staff has shared offices is not clearly drawn, resulting in two people who have identical roles in different areas’ having very different office arrangements.

Additionally, the organization is quite unwilling to give up the “small nonprofit” mindset, and continually wants to operate in that way, to its own detriment.  Despite having grown from 10 or so people to well over 100 now, the organization still wants to act as though it’s the small size.  Any attempts to introduce structure to the processes of the organization would be routinely ignored by the organizing staff (the largest department), and would subsequently be tossed by the wayside.  This should come as no surprise to anyone, as the organization was formed when a group of renegade employees at another organization split off to form their own organization because they didn’t like the structure and process that the parent organization operated with.  However, as the organization has grown, the lack of structure hindered productivity because there were no formal channels in order for things to be processed in an orderly manner.  The attitude is very “anti-corporate”, which leads to much inefficiency as they refuse to adopt any processes, policies, or procedures that will make them look “too corporate”, despite such processes’ working well.

I think my review was pretty fair.  Then this was another review written by someone else during the time that I worked there:

If you’re not working as an organizer you’re not considered as important (organizers rule the roost), there is little room for career advancement internally (promotions/raises not given much, if ever), some staff can be demanding of other staff, although staff are usually nice.  Sometimes things can become disorderly/chaotic because there are staff working on the ground all over the place.

PROMOTE INTERNALLY to avoid losing top talent!  Promote at all levels of the organization – do not just promote organizers, it is bad for morale for everyone else.  Keep up the good work otherwise!

Looking at more recent Glassdoor reviews, the environment sounds like it got even worse than when I left it.  Here is some of what I found:

The toxic environment internally makes it a terrible place to work.  Most staff is significantly underpaid.  Notoriously sexist, racist, toxic employees not fired and many women and POC constantly leave because of this.  Terrible culture of backstabbing, passive aggressiveness, bullying, gaslighting.  Morale is non-existent.  No attention is paid to professional development.  Massive mission creep.

Executive director needs to retire.  Stop hiring completely unqualified friends of executive director into senior positions.  Fire the notorious offenders.

There is no real mission, no real values, no long term plans.  There is no pay transparency and many people are underpaid.  Some people in management are overtly racist and sexist and absuive and there have been no real steps to change this – people of color, young people and women leave instead of the perpetrators.  A toxic work environment where you are guilted into working long hours.  They are open to feedback, but will do nothing with the information they get (and sometimes even ask you to delete the files containing your feedback).

[Executive Director] is visionary in terms of campaign strategy.  However, she is also a terrible manager of people.  Morale is low.

The opinions of senior management are the only ones that matter, and they aren’t responsive to the ideas or concerns of staff, which are taken as criticism.  This made the culture increasingly toxic.  Senior management micro-manages every project because junior and mid-level staff are not trusted.  Low morale among staff.

Let’s admit: the management was terrible.  The executive director, Wenonah Hauter, was a strong public figurehead for the organization, but was a horrible manager.  I’d dare say that she couldn’t manage her way out of a wet paper bag, much to the organization’s detriment.  If they had separated Hauter’s roles as figurehead and manager into separate positions, the organization would have been better off, with Hauter going off promoting the organization and writing books, while a strong manager oversees the actual operations of the organization.  The head of my department, Lane Brooks, turned scapegoating into an art form, throwing his employees under the proverbial bus in order to save his own hide, using us as cover for his own shortcomings as a manager.  He was a fine example of the Peter principle, i.e. someone who had risen to their level of incompetence. Then the organizing department’s management clearly would have preferred to have been on their own, as they preferred to bypass everyone else and run their department like its own company rather than as part of a larger organization, duplicating functionality provided by other areas of the organization in order to keep it all within their chain of command rather than rely on people from other departments that they didn’t directly control.  Likewise, promotions were relatively uncommon.  One thing that I noticed was that when a new position needed to be filled or a position opened up, it was generally assumed that it would be filled from outside.  It felt like an internal hire only happened when they tried and failed to fill the role from outside, and they settled for someone who was already on staff because they couldn’t find anyone else.  The money, at least as far as I was concerned, was also not great, and I came to realize that I would never be able to meet certain financial goals as long as I was employed there.

I suppose that for all of the nonsense, it’s no wonder why Food & Water Watch, at least when I was there, was generally a place where people worked to get some experience in order to get a better job, or to be able to put work experience in Washington DC on the resume before returning home.  Why try to put out that dumpster fire when you can leave and get better pay and working conditions elsewhere.  You can’t blame anyone for following the path of least resistance.  At the time that I left, with a tenure of six years, I was one of the longest-serving employees in the organization.  Many positions turned over on a relatively frequent basis.

I have to say that I’m proud of my former colleagues for organizing.  I know that they will benefit from this, just like I have by being a member of ATU Local 689.  No longer will Food & Water Watch management be able to unilaterally cut benefits.  No longer will they be able to push people out of the organization like happened to the finance manager and myself.  I imagine that in a union environment, my demotion and the changing of my working conditions (constructive discharge) would never have happened, or at least not been permitted to stand after the filing of a grievance.  I also would think that a union would have protected my position before it ever came to that, rather than what did happen, where it was slowly whittled away to nothing as the organization grew and hired people on in more specialized roles.

This unionization also shows how committed these folks are to the organization.  By unionizing, it says that they are in it for the long haul.  They are a vital part of the organization, and have as much of a stake in the organization’s success as the management and other stakeholders, and as such, deserve a seat at the table.  Making Food & Water Watch into a place where people want to stay rather than getting some experience and then bouncing would benefit them in the long run.  You have longer institutional memory, and the expertise that you develop has a better chance of staying in the organization rather than going to benefit someone else.  Where I work now, most people will spend a career there and then retire after decades of service.  They know the organization very well, warts and all.  Additionally, because of that, it behooves everyone not to make enemies at work, specifically because these people will be your coworkers for decades.  If more people at Food & Water Watch end up staying for a career, I imagine that it will become a much less hostile environment than what I experienced, and the culture of backstabbing and bullying will fade away, because they’re in it for a career, and not just there to get some experience while looking for something better.

All in all, I wish everyone involved in the new Food & Water Workers Union the best of luck in negotiating a good contract.  While no amount of money would ever make me consider going back to Food & Water Watch, I really do want to see the union succeed.

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Excited, nervous, and so many other feelings… Sun, 17 Nov 2019 14:56:55 +0000 This coming December 6, I will be going in for surgery at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney, where I will be having a sleeve gastrectomy procedure, commonly known as a gastric sleeve.  This is a surgery that will help with weight management.  This is done laparoscopically, and it removes a portion of the stomach, leaving a much smaller stomach behind that’s roughly the size of a banana.  This one only reduces the size of the stomach, and preserves the original path of the digestive tract.  Compare to the older Roux-en-Y procedure, which separates the stomach into two sections, and reroutes the digestive tract.

I am doing this because I have been heavy for most of my life (I haven’t seen the underside of 200 since eighth grade), and diet and exercise alone haven’t gotten me nearly as far as I needed to be.  Sure, I looked far better at 275 than I did at 384, but it was still too much weight to carry, and I still had weight-related health issues at the lower weight.  Over the course of the past year, I have attended classes with a dietitian, had various evaluations and tests done (the endoscopy that I wrote about last April was part of that), and after all of that, the insurance gave the surgery their blessing.

I have to say that I have a bunch of different feelings running through me about this.  On one hand, I know that this is a necessary step.  My primary care doctor first suggested it to me about a year ago, and then I unexpectedly got a second opinion within a month or so from a specialist that I was seeing when they suggested it as well.  As far as I was concerned, that was a pretty strong indicator about what I needed to do, when two out of two doctors, in their professional opinion, suggested it, completely unsolicited.  I also feel like I’m ready for it.  I know what I’m supposed to do to prepare for the surgery, I know what I’m supposed to do immediately after surgery, and I know what I’m doing during the healing process and thereafter on the maintenance diet.  At the end of every dietitian class, they told us “Chew, chew, chew, sip, sip, sip, and walk, walk, walk.”  I’ve also stocked up on my multivitamins and my calcium citrate, as gastric sleeve patients will take multivitamins and calcium supplements for life.  This also has the potential to get me off of some of the medications that I’m on as well as the CPAP (for sleep apnea).  That latter point is exciting, because while I’m used to the CPAP, it’s still a bother, and I would be more than happy to be rid of the device that I’ve described as “the most expensive fan that I’ve ever owned”.  I’ve also spoken with colleagues who have had the same surgery, and they have generally had good experiences, which leaves me feeling optimistic.  After all, if they can succeed with this while doing very sedentary work, then so can I.

I’m also tired of being this heavy.  I was at my lowest in a very long time for about a year in 2012-2013.  Then after I left my nonprofit job, the scale started moving upward again, as I was put off of my routine.  I was able to slow it and even slightly reverse it for a brief period, but ultimately, I ended up back at my original weight.  Let’s admit: even though I love what I do now, working in public transportation is not exactly conducive to physical activity.  I’m not strapped in a seat all day, as was the case when I was driving a bus, but you’re still sitting down all day.  Some days, I would just love to operate the train standing up, but it’s not possible with the design of the trains.  Most of my exercise is the walking that comes with the job, i.e. going from the rail yard to the station and back (not an insignificant distance), and reversing ends on the train platform.

I’m also a bit nervous.  This is not a minor procedure like getting a toenail removed or something.  This is the removal of about three quarters of the stomach.  If that doesn’t give you some pause, I don’t know what will.  I wonder how much it will hurt, and how well I’ll be able to take it.  I never was big on taking pain medication with past surgeries, such as the wisdom teeth in 1995 or the pilonidal cyst in 2005, so hopefully I won’t need to take any pain meds for this.  I’m most concerned that the work zone is in such a central location in my body.  While I’m not concerned about all of the walking that I will be expected to do during the recovery process, I am concerned about how long I will be out of the car.  I would love to do said walking while doing other things, like photo walks and such, but I don’t want to be a risk to myself and others on the road by driving before I’m ready.  In other words, I don’t want to be stuck at or near home for longer than necessary, but I also don’t want to rush things just to get out in the world.  Staying at home for the duration of the recovery is out of the question, because my surgeon has already told me that I need to stay active during the recovery process, and not have someone taking care of me (in other words, my mother will remain in Stuarts Draft).  Meanwhile, I’m also concerned about how my body will react to things with this new configuration.  I had two episodes of food poisoning in the last few months, and in the more severe of the two, I threw up so hard that my stomach muscles were sore.  That was a new feeling (how often do those muscles work so hard that they get sore?), but it raised some concerns for me about how things would go the next time that I got sick.

The big sticking point with this whole surgery, meanwhile, has been Elyse.  She is worried that she will lose her freedom during the time that I’m recovering, because I’m the only driver in the house, along with other concerns.  Overall, she doesn’t feel supported throughout the whole process, despite my best efforts to make sure that she’s well informed about the whole process.  I want her to be involved in this.  She has been to every appointment and every class with me by her own choice, and asked questions, too, but the whole process still stresses her out greatly.  I don’t know what to do, because I’ve offered every bit of help and other resources that I can come up with, including the MedStar bariatric group, and /r/gastricsleeve on Reddit, but she still finds it extremely stressful.  If it tells you anything, she doesn’t even want me to talk about it to other people in her presence.  I have a feeling that when it comes to Elyse, she’s just going to have to plow through it and come out on the other side.  Yes, the process may be stressful (and even with my being mentally prepared for it, it’s still undoubtedly going to be a challenge), but once we come out on the back side of it, it’s going to be okay, and there will be normalcy again.  Like Mrs. Pennypacker said in the Today’s Special episode “Hospitals“, everything will be fine.

Meanwhile, this is my last week eating solid food for about a month.  I start the pre-op liquid diet on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, go to clear liquids only during my hospital stay (expected to be just overnight), back to a liquid diet for two more weeks, then transition to soft foods for another two weeks or so, and then a month after the surgery, move to the maintenance diet, which is lifelong.

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Such an isolating feeling… Thu, 07 Nov 2019 16:24:37 +0000 Let me be the first to say that I am glad that the baseball season is finally over.  For those not familiar, the Major League Baseball team that is based in Washington, the Nationals, made it to the World Series, and ultimately managed to prevail, with the franchise’s winning the first World Series title in its history, both as the Nationals, as well as the Expos before that.

I don’t know how you’re “supposed to” feel about when the team that’s based in your city is in the championship round, but I felt a bit alienated.  I don’t pay much attention to professional sports, other than what I pick up at work (let’s just say that I am well aware of the RedskinsCowboys rivalry).  It just doesn’t interest me.  When everyone around me was celebrating the team’s making the World Series and then winning it, I felt bad because I couldn’t muster up the joy myself.  It made me feel very isolated, with everyone around me wrapped up in baseball fever, and my feeling incapable of sharing in the hubris.

It really came to the forefront for me when we were all given World Series hats at work, and encouraged, though not required, to wear in place of our our standard uniform hats if we so desired.  I was asked to put it on to verify that it fit when it was given to me.  It really brought that feeling of emptiness that I felt for professional sports to a head, and that made me feel guilty because I felt nothing over the success of the local professional team while everyone around me was overjoyed.  I never did wear the hat beyond the fit test, and after the period that it was authorized for wear expired, I gave it to Elyse.  I didn’t want it, but it made her happy.  So that’s a win, I suppose.  I also suppose that the hat was a moot point to begin with, considering that I haven’t worn a hat to work in more than a year.

I don’t know what you would call this feeling of loneliness when it comes to all of this.  I wonder if it stems from my being more than a little jaded when it comes to professional sports.  I’ve read enough about the history of various sports teams and such to know that these teams are interested in making huge profits over all else.  A team might be in Washington today, but if another city makes them a better deal then… “Bye, Felicia,” as the saying goes.  You know how sports teams love corporate welfare.  DC almost lost the then-Expos because they weren’t necessarily willing to give the team all of the corporate welfare that it asked for.  The DC council eventually relented, and gave them everything that they wanted.  I just think about how many roads that they could have resurfaced with that money if they had made baseball pay their own way.  In any case, DC should know all about team relocations, because no fewer than three of the Washington DC professional teams were relocations from other cities.  The Wizards came from Chicago via Baltimore, the Redskins came from Boston, and the Nationals came from Montreal.  Plus let us not forget that Washington’s two previous baseball teams left for greener pastures, becoming the Minnesota Twins and the Texas Rangers, respectively.  In other words, there is no loyalty to Washington in sports by the teams, especially if another city offers a better deal.  This isn’t unique to Washington, nor is it limited to franchises.  Players also will swap teams if they get a better deal somewhere else.  Case in point: Bryce Harper, who left the Nationals after the 2018 season and joined the Phillies.

This lack of loyalty on the part of the teams and players is also why I find the idea of people’s taking their sports so seriously to be so strange.  People devote so much effort and money to loyalty to “their” team, going so far as to refer to a win by said team by saying that “we” won, rather than saying, more accurately, that “they”, as in an entity other than themselves, won.  I hate to be the wet blanket and tell people that they have nothing to do with the team’s performance, so I just cringe silently whenever I hear it.  Sports fans’ role is just to keep the team profitable by buying tickets to games, and to buy lots and lots of merchandise.  It reminds me of a “Buy Me That!” special on HBO from the nineties, where the host was talking about fan clubs for various entities.  There, the host spoke about all of the crap that one would have to buy to be part of the “fan club”, and how it doesn’t really get you anything special, leaving you feeling a bit empty in the end.  The same thing goes for professional sports.  People buy into and give their loyalty to an organization that does not reciprocate.

Likewise, I’ve seen too many people conflate an athletic team with the entity that hosts it.  That starts early, with even elementary schools’ having mascots despite having no team.  We were the Grimes Grizzlies in elementary school, for no good reason.  I was delighted that we had no mascot in middle school.  That happened because at that time, students from my middle school went to two different high schools, each with their own mascots, and therefore one could not get behind either one officially.  Their mascot was technically a lion, but it had been largely dropped during the time I was a student there.  And then my high school was all about being the Cougars, with the mascot painted all over the place, and it was made pretty clear through various actions that school pride meant supporting the athletic program.  College was similar, that school pride meant “Dukes”, and intertwining the athletic mascot with the institution itself pretty thoroughly.  It’s not surprising with that sort of upbringing that people conflate their professional sports teams with their city, and really buy into it.

In the end, I suppose that we need to recognize our professional sports teams for what they are, i.e. businesses providing entertainment, and not take them so seriously.

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What to do with Columbus Day… Tue, 29 Oct 2019 14:25:07 +0000 As the Columbus Day holiday rolled around again this year, we got the usual rounds of people who called the day “Indigenous People’s Day” and denounced Christopher Columbus.  This year, the District of Columbia passed short-term legislation declaring the day by the newer name.  My feelings on the matter have a surprising amount of nuance to them.  But first, let’s make no mistake about it: Christopher Columbus was no saint. From what I’ve read, he enslaved a lot of native people, and killed a whole lot of them as well, both through violence and disease.  For those not familiar, the form that this recognition typically takes is that people and organizations eschew the use of the term “Columbus Day”, referring to it as “Indigenous People’s Day” instead.

However, I take issue with the form that this recognition of Columbus’ being less than worthy of the honor of a holiday typically takes.  The reason that I don’t like this way of doing things is because it takes the holiday away from one entity and gives it to another entity, treating it as a single either/or issue, rather than treating the declaration of a holiday in honor of an individual or entity as one issue, and treating the removal of a different holiday as its own issue.  I also feel that it cheapens the new entity being honored because it makes it seem as though they are a substitute honoree, rather than something worth honoring in their own right.  The direct swap also feels too much like overt political correctness, which grates on me.  That said, I have no problem with the idea of having an “Indigenous People’s Day” holiday, but doing it as a title swap on the Columbus Day date goes about it all wrong.

I defended my ideas on a recent post on WHSV-TV’s Facebook page (the ABC affiliate from Harrisonburg), on a post running an article about Richmond’s recognizing the holiday under the new name.  The comments on WHSV’s Facebook page are typically garbage from very ignorant people, but you do get the occasional intelligent thread in the sea of garbage responses, and this was that latter case.

This was the conversation:

Discussion of the Columbus Day holiday on WHSV's page

In other words, if we’re going to have an Indigenous People’s Day, make it a brand new holiday, and not make it a substitute for Columbus because the real Columbus was not the same as the legend that we learned in school.  If they’re worth honoring, they should be worth honoring in their own right, and not simply as a swap-out.  In other words, don’t use it as a protest against Columbus.  That brings up the idea of whether it’s driven by an actual belief that indigenous people are worthy of the honor, or whether it’s more about a dislike of Columbus, and it is intended more as a slight to him, and therefore not really about indigenous people at all.  On that latter part, though, it’s worth noting that Columbus has been dead for more than 500 years.  I guarantee you that he does not care anymore.

Canada, meanwhile, has an Indigenous People’s Day.  They celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day in June, and its origins date back to 1945, with the holiday taking its current form in the nineties, and taking its current name in 2017.  We should do similarly, creating a holiday in a month where there is currently no federal holiday, and making it into a recognition of the indigenous cultures that help make up the America that we know today.  That is definitely worth celebrating.

Then there’s the other matter of cancelling Columbus Day.  It’s doable, but likely would need a very solidly Democratic Congress to do, and have a Democrat in the White House as well.  In other words, don’t hold your breath while the GOP still holds the Senate and the White House.

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Formality, not respect… Sun, 20 Oct 2019 13:34:22 +0000 Something has always grated on me when people would say that the use of terms like “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Sir”, “Ma’am”, and so on allegedly indicated respect.  It also bothered me that, at least in school, the alleged respect only ran one way.  The students were required to address the staff by title and last name, while the teachers generally addressed the students by first name only.  It only made sense to me that if using last names meant respect, that it would reciprocate, but it never did.  You knew that something was fishy about that, because anyone who’s ever seen a teacher get told off by a student knows that the student will typically use the formal nomenclature for the teacher, but still be rather uncouth.  The student won’t say, “The hell with you, Maureen,” but more likely will say, “The hell with you, Ms. Kelly.”  The teacher in question might still hustle the student out of the room and fling their stuff out into the hallway so hard that their stuff hits a locker before falling to the floor, but they were respectful, because they addressed the teacher by their title and last name, right?  Right?  I see you rolling your eyes, because the argument clearly doesn’t hold water.  The hypothetical kid in the example was clearly being disrespectful, and what name they actually called the teacher, be it formal or informal, was irrelevant.

Then in 2014, when I began work at my current company, it all became clear during orientation.  Use of last names wasn’t about respect at all, but rather, it was about formality.  Formality made a whole lot more sense than respect for that type of address.  And unlike in school, everyone was on a last name basis with everyone, as in regardless of rank or title, you are on a last name basis with your colleagues.  The general rule was title and last name.  Operator Schumin.  Supervisor Walker.  Instructor Jacobs.  Superintendent Walkup.  And so on.  I can respect that, with everyone on a last name basis.  We may have different titles and ranks, but everyone is on a last name basis.  It’s not a matter of “I’m up here, and you’re down there, and I will address you accordingly,” that you get in school.  If schools want to do formal address properly, everyone should be on a last name basis, students and teachers alike.  In other words, if the teacher is “Mr. Matherly”, the student should be “Mr. Schumin”.  Or if one is going to use position titles, “Teacher Matherly” and “Student Schumin”.

As an aside, it is worth noting that the latter usage is something that we often see on television with administration, but which I have never seen in real life.  I’m sure that you can think of a television show where the principal is referred to by title and last name.  For me, The Simpsons immediately comes to mind, with Principal Skinner in charge of Springfield Elementary.  None of the principals that I ever had were addressed as “Principal” on a regular basis.  It was always Mr. or Mrs. whoever, regardless of title.  I had a few professors in college who referred to themselves as “Professor [Whoever]”, but that was about the extent of it when I was in school.

Also: never introduce yourself as “Mr. [Name]” or “Ms. [Name]” to an adult.  It just makes the person saying it seem stuffy and unfriendly.  It’s better to go with title and last name, or just using the full name and then letting the other person figure out the level of formality on their own.

Then the other alleged “magic words” of respect that grate on me are “sir” and “ma’am”.  We’ve all been told that the use of those terms indicates respect.  I’ve rarely seen it that way in practice.  It’s a formal method of address in lieu of a proper name, but not a sign of respect.  My experience in most cases is the exact opposite.  From childhood, I remember many occasions where when someone would say “yes” to a teacher without any additional embellishment, and they would subsequently demand that you say, “yes, ma’am” to them.  I always took umbrage at that.  That sort of behavior on the part of the authority figure (the teacher in this case) is extremely disrespectful, especially when they’re demanding the use of a term that allegedly conveys respect.  Sure, that makes a whole lot of sense.  Nothing like weaponizing a term of alleged respect and using it to be disrespectful to the person that you are demanding respect from.  I’ve also experienced the terms being used in a condescending way more often than a respectful way.  I’ve noticed that usage comes out when someone is tired of someone else’s nonsense.  It takes the language a step up in formality, but the intent is “cut the crap”.  And then there’s what my mother does when she knows that she has lost the argument and concedes: “Yes, sir,” in an annoyed tone.  She used to just do that with Dad, but after I took away her ability to successfully use “don’t argue with me” as a way to end a discussion in her favor by declaring victory whenever she said it, she started doing that with me, too.  And I suppose at least to some measure because of all of the above, I don’t like being called “sir”, and have actively requested not to be called that on a routine basis in the past.

All in all, formality is pretty easy.  All you have to do is follow the conventions of formal address, and you’ve got it.  Respect is a longer process, and cannot be demanded.  It must be earned.  And formal address has nothing to do with it.  I can think of plenty of teachers that I lost all respect for, but still referred to by title and last name.  Same goes for some colleagues.  They may have lost my respect, but that won’t stop me from treating them in a professional manner, including the necessary professional address.  So let’s drop the notion that formal address is synonymous with respect, because it’s most definitely not.

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Changes in the area of photo licensing… Tue, 01 Oct 2019 04:00:42 +0000 I have a few changes to announce in the area of photo licensing.  First and foremost, Schumin Web Photo Licensing, my in-house photo licensing site, is no more.  I had been running that site for about three years, and while it did a respectable amount of business, I felt that it didn’t justify the amount of resources that it consumed, and it also didn’t justify the amount of time spent to maintain it.  There was also always a bit of an uncomfortable interaction with Pixsy.  The idea was that there was a very real possibility that someone could use my licensing site in an attempt to circumvent a Pixsy case for an unauthorized use of an image, and that could be a sticky situation to get straightened out.  Yes, I had policies stating that use of the licensing site to circumvent Pixsy was not permitted, and that any licenses purchased in an attempt to circumvent Pixsy’s process would be cancelled, but good luck trying to prove that.  All it really did was make the site look prickly to potential users by having to put that in the fine print, even though its inclusion was necessary.  So in the end, the site is gone.

Otherwise, my philosophy for photo licensing is changing based on experience.  Licensing on the front end didn’t do as well as I might have hoped, but pursuing Creative Commons violations has been quite lucrative over the last few years.  I like to say that Pixsy furnished the house when I moved to Montgomery Village back in 2017.  Thus my stance on licensing has evolved from a traditional licensing model towards just letting people use the material under a free license that requires attribution, i.e. Creative Commons, and then aggressively policing compliance through Pixsy and DMCA takedown notices.  In other words, follow the rules, and it’s free.  Don’t follow the rules, and it’s going to cost you.

The Content Licensing page has also been revised to jive with this new stance on licensing.  It now again explicitly states that anything published prior to February 20, 2014 is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.  This was always the case due to the way that Creative Commons works in practice, but after February 2014, it was not stated explicitly.  Additionally, it directs users to my Flickr page to find Creative Commons content posted after February 20, 2014.  Explicitly listing every Creative Commons image on Schumin Web would require going through more than five years’ worth of material to mark stuff, and I can think of a hundred other things that I would rather do besides that.  So Flickr it is, especially since that site has very powerful Creative Commons search tools.

I admit that the new licensing policy for images published February 20, 2014 and later is best characterized as “clear as mud”, but by using Flickr as my platform for Creative Commons licensing, it helps to better control what images get released into the wild under free licenses and what remains all-rights-reserved.  One example of where that control is useful comes from a downstream usage of my 2011 “Funny Faces” photo set.  I got an email from my father one day asking if I knew about an advertisement for an anti-virus program that displayed on the site where he checks his email.  That advertisement used a photo that I took of myself holding up a laptop to advertise the software.  I thanked Dad for the heads-up, and then, since it didn’t follow the licensing terms, went over to Pixsy and got compensated for the usage.  Therefore, I can now say, “My face!  My valuable face!” much like Luke Perry did on The Simpsons, because apparently, my face has some marketing value to it.  But in any case, had I been more selective about what went out to Creative Commons back then, I imagine that the “Funny Faces” photo set wouldn’t have been included, because it’s more personal in nature, rather than something that particularly needed to be released into the wild under a free license.  In other words, I didn’t necessarily want to be the unwitting spokesman for an anti-virus program, though I didn’t mind getting compensated for that use.

So that’s the new lay of the land.  If you have any questions, as always, let me know.

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Six years, two months, and five days later… Tue, 24 Sep 2019 12:26:48 +0000 September 24 marks the day that I have been a former employee of Food & Water Watch for the same amount of time that I had been an active employee there.  Since leaving, I have given plenty of thought to my tenure there, and nowadays, I tend to give it a mixed review.  On one hand, that job was what got me up to the Washington DC area in the first place, and it was good for me for a period of time.  I grew both personally and professionally because of my experience there, and I certainly benefitted from that.  I also certainly had lots of good times while there.  However, I probably stayed there for much longer than I should have, as most people spent two or three years there and then moved on.  I was there for just over six years, was ninth in seniority by the time that I left, and was no longer all that interested in the issues that the organization was working on by the time that I left.

One thing that I have come to realize with the passage of time is that my position ultimately came to its logical conclusion.  When I was hired, the organization had about twenty people, with most people based in DC.  By the time that I left, the organization was somewhere around 100 people spread across many offices.  In my role as office manager, I was that “jack of all trades, master of none” person.  I had no direct involvement with the program content, but rather, I was the guy behind the scenes who made sure that the people handling the program content had what they needed to do their thing.  I was tasked with fixing stuff, working with outside vendors, making sure that the office had all of the necessary supplies, doing all of the shipping and receiving, handling matters related to the building, and so on.  In other words, I served in a very generalist role.  I knew a bit about a lot of things, and it suited me well for a time.  What happened was that over the years, as the organization grew, they would carve specialist roles out of my responsibilities.  It made enough sense, because a bigger organization justified creating more specialized roles.  My job gradually evolved over the years as my responsibilities shifted with the growth of the organization.  The view of my generalist role also evolved, with the focus of my role’s shifting from the “jack of all trades” part to the “master of none part”, as, with the hiring of more specialized roles, I went from being the guy who knew a lot about a lot of stuff to “what does he know?”  And eventually, my role was whittled down to a very low-level role that I was overqualified for, and probably overpaid for as well.

Looking back, I can’t imagine its having gone any other way, as the generalist’s role in the small organization is superseded by many specialist roles in the larger organization.  However, it’s not like I didn’t try to change the course.  I knew by the end of 2011 that I was starting to outgrow my role, and that I was not getting the respect that I knew that I deserved.  I had asked for more opportunities for growth, and got denied for upward movement, and was only offered additional responsibilities that would have led to other low-level positions within the organization, i.e. nothing that would have translated to more money.  After all, none of us really do our jobs solely because we’re passionate about the work that we do.  No.  The hell with that.  None of us would do our jobs for free.  We do our jobs because they pay money, which we use to support our lifestyles.  If my job stopped paying me, the trains would stop moving, because none of us would do it for free.  Not a chance.

The turning point with Food & Water Watch was when my boss decided to take my suggestions for additional responsibilities and hire it out as a new position.  I made my case for why I should have the role, but I was unsuccessful in convincing him.  Instead, after six years of employment there, I ended up in a role with fewer responsibilities than I had when I started back in 2007.

I ended up making a meme out of it the week that it all happened:

"Scumbag Steve" style meme about my situation

Yep… I gave my old boss, Lane Brooks, the “Scumbag Steve” treatment.  And that certainly was a scumbag move on his part.  Obviously, I didn’t share this meme around at the time except amongst a few close friends because I needed to find another job, and was initially looking in the same industry.  But in any case, this made me feel a little better about things.  I also realized that this was the spineless way that Lane got rid of people that he didn’t want around anymore, as he did the same thing to another person in our department at the same time as me.  That other employee and I both quit within a week of each other.

Starting my work in public transportation, after a longer-than-intended sabbatical, I was delighted to be back in the saddle again, and I was much changed from who I was when I left Food & Water Watch.  During my time off, I focused on more creative endeavors, and began to view Schumin Web as more of a side business than a hobby, even though the content was still just as quirky as ever.  In other words, even though I was living off of savings, I was growing again, and that was the best feeling ever.  I also stopped pulling punches around this time when it came to taking crap from people.  When someone called looking for pizza, I let them have it, and presented the evidence completely unredacted.  Since then, and in that same vein I’ve also settled a few scores with people from my past via this website, again completely unredacted, and that’s been very helpful for me.

During my first six months as a bus driver, I often ran into my old colleagues because of the areas that I was driving in, and I realized how much I had changed, and how much they hadn’t.  One particular encounter in Petworth with a group of my old coworkers really drove that home.  I was between assignments, walking from my street relief point on one route, and going back to the bus garage in order to start my next route.  I was wearing a complete bus operator’s uniform.  While so dressed, they invited me to come with them and go out for drinks.  My first thought was, do you not see this uniform?  I can’t just go into a bar on a Friday evening wearing that uniform, even if I’m just going in to get a hamburger and a soda.  A healthy respect for things that begin with the word “Unsuck” should keep most people wearing that uniform on their best behavior.  I invited them to come ride my bus if they wanted to see me, and told them when and where to meet me in order to do that, but they were clearly more interested in drinking than about actually spending time with me.  The encounter, while amicable, really made me feel distant from them.  It made me realize that they were part of my past, and that they had stopped being part of my present long ago.  I realized that I was not the same person that I was when I left Food & Water Watch, and that I also liked the person that I had become since our paths diverged.  I didn’t miss my old life.

All in all, I suppose that my time at Food & Water Watch was a learning experience, but I’m glad that it’s over.  I have become a much better and wiser person in the time since I left the organization, and I hope that growth trajectory continues.

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Thinking about the credits music… Tue, 17 Sep 2019 13:14:42 +0000 As you well know, I am a big fan of Today’s Special.  I certainly know more about the show than most, and have traveled to Toronto to visit a number of different filming locations from the show.  And before we get too far along, nerd alert: I’m going deep into the weeds with this one.

There’s one episode, though, where I take issue with the credits.  In that instance, I think that the music that they chose to use doesn’t completely fit the mood of the ending.  That episode is “Babies“, from 1984.  In that episode, we learn that Wanda Willoby, from the Willoby Tale stories, has run away from her home in Possum Ridge and has come to the store, because she feels as though she is being replaced by a new baby that’s on the way.  After everyone finds Wanda, they comfort her, and explain to her that her parents won’t love her any less now that there will be a third child in the family.  Meanwhile, Wanda, while meaning well, causes a lot of trouble in the store, including accidentally dropping a large display of balls in the Children’s Department, and inadvertently backing into an alarm button in the Computer Room.  This underlines the need to get Wanda back home to Possum Ridge as soon as possible.  In the end, Wanda realizes that she is not being replaced by the new baby, and the episode ends with the storyteller, a young Lori Chodos (whom you might better remember as Beezus from the 1988 Ramona series), telling everyone how well Wanda handled the new baby after her experience in the store.  The episode ends on a high note, though certainly differently than any other episode, since the storyteller had never been integrated into an episode like this before (storytellers typically appeared in standalone segments).

The end credits music used was the slow flute theme, which is the basic melody of the theme on flute with some other accompaniment.  This is used on four episodes: “Babies” and “Butterflies” in 1984, and “Wishes” and “Phil’s Visit” in 1986.  Of those four episodes, “Butterflies” and “Wishes” have sad endings.  “Phil’s Visit” doesn’t have a sad ending per se, but it’s a very emotional episode about alcoholism, and the slow flute ending fits.  Out of the four, only “Babies” has a happy ending.  “Babies” is also the first episode to use that piece of music.  For recurring pieces of music, the first usage is sometimes very different than the other usages.  For instance, the music typically used during suspenseful scenes first appears in a relatively lighthearted scene in “Police“, where Sam is attempting to help Officer Hardy look for clues, but ultimately gets in his way.  In almost every other instance, the tune is used to help build suspense, such as when a spaceship lands on the roof, or Muffy is rescued after becoming trapped in a utility chase.

Here is the ending for “Babies” as aired:

In the case of “Babies”, I think that they should have used the regular end credits theme, which is an instrumental of the main theme, instead of the slow flute theme.  This is the default ending theme for most episodes, and is used when the final song of the episode does not run through the credits, or if the mood calls for a different closing song.  Happy endings typically would get the regular end credits.  “Babies” had a happy ending, which goes along with what the regular ending theme is typically used for.  It wasn’t a downer ending by any means, though I suppose that one could argue that it fits the quieter ending with the story.  However, I would argue that the regular ending just fits better.

Here is the ending of “Babies”, modified to use the regular ending theme:

You know, it just seems to fit.  A happy ending deserves the regular credits music.  The slow flute music seems to move at a slower, more thoughtful pace, which fits the heavier-hitting episodes that it was more often used with.  The slower pace gives you a chance to think about and digest what you just saw while the credits run.  This isn’t that, and I feel like the slower pace kind of drags out the credits.  After all, in “Babies”, the story is wrapped up neatly, and everyone is happy: everyone at the store is happy that Wanda is back on Possum Ridge, and Wanda is proud of her new baby brother.  That seems more suitable for the regular theme, since there’s nothing that the viewer needs to digest and process on their own.  The regular ending signals that the episode is over, and that everything is well.  “Babies” also wouldn’t have been the first episode to start the end theme well before the first card, either, nor would it be the last.  Prior to that, “Adventure” started the end theme while Waldo was trying to correct a mistake from earlier, where he had accidentally given Muffy a mustache like Sam’s while casting a spell.  While the end theme played, Waldo magically moved the mustache to Jeff and Jodie, and then finally to himself, where he then tried unsuccessfully to get rid of it while the credits were running on screen.

I have also given some thought to the ending of “Memories“.  That episode, the last in the series, uses its own ending theme, based on the final song in the episode.

Here is the ending for “Memories” as aired:

Being the final episode, I always wondered what it might sound like with the regular ending, i.e. sending the show out with the traditional ending instead of a custom ending.  So I swapped it in to see how it fit.

This is the end of “Memories” with the regular ending theme:

I was kind of surprised to discover that it doesn’t work very well.  I knew that it was shorter than most credits sequences, as this one is 35 seconds, rather than the 45 seconds to a minute that most credits sequences run, though it’s not the shortest (“Water” with its 20-second credits sequence most likely holds that title).  Putting the regular music on the “Memories” ending results in its starting at an odd place, in order for the song to finish at the right spot.  The regular theme also feels too upbeat for the song that would have immediately preceded it in “Memories”, which is slower, and more thoughtful.  I think that the only way that the regular ending theme might work, would be if it started at the first piano slide.  However, that would either require a 53-second credits sequence, or a fade out before the song is complete.  Fading the song out wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, though.  That happens in “Sleep“, which starts the theme much earlier than is typical, and fades out when the credits have ended.  But considering that it’s the last episode, a fade out would leave me feeling like it was incomplete.

However, working on the idea that the ending for “Memories” as aired is slower and more thoughtful, I also considered how the slow flute theme would fit.  The idea was that with the slower and more thoughtful ending, the slow flute ending might just work.

This is the end of “Memories” with the slow flute ending theme:

I was surprised that this ending worked so well.  Prior to editing it in, my guess was that it wouldn’t work because of the shorter length of the “Memories” credits sequence.  The slow flute ending runs for 45 seconds, and I was sure that cutting out the first ten seconds would destroy its balance.  That turned out not to be the case, and as long as you fade it in, it flows quite well, and ends at the right spot.  For “Memories”, it works, for the same reason that it works in “Butterflies”, “Wishes”, and “Phil’s Visit”: because it allows the viewer time to think about and process what just ran on screen.  “Memories” isn’t a downer ending by any means, but that final song, which gives a rundown of the entire series, requires some time to mentally process things afterward, and the slower music provides some space for that processing to happen.

All in all, these little thought exercises, coupled with testing my theories with some video editing, are fun.  Considering how deep in the weeds I’ve been getting with Today’s Special lately with “Project TXL” and all, as well as my recent trip to Toronto, it gets me thinking about things sometimes.

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Meet Woomy… Sun, 08 Sep 2019 14:09:13 +0000 In going through what I’ve posted, I’ve realized that I’ve mentioned some things but never fully explained them.  I typically realize this when these things are slated to appear again or are otherwise planned to be referenced, but discover that there has not been a proper introduction.

In this case, meet Woomy, one of Elyse’s “critters”:

Woomy, on our trip to Scranton in October 2018

Woomy is a stuffed octopus, and Elyse found him at a thrift store.  His name came from the Internet, which named him on one of Elyse’s live streams on YouTube.  We took one look in his eyes, and we immediately knew his personality.  We knew that Woomy was a curmudgeon.  Unlike most of Elyse’s critters, who carry on extensive conversations with us just by nodding their heads, Woomy speaks audibly, but he only says one thing: “I don’t like that!”  Considering that phrase is, for the most part, the only thing that he ever says, we suspect that even if he did like something, he would still tell us that he didn’t like it.

Woomy also the most-traveled critter by far.  Woomy went on our October trip to Cortland and Scranton, and Woomy also went to Toronto with us.  He’s also come along for a few doctor’s appointments.  Did he enjoy any of it?  Not a chance.  At least that’s as much as he told us.  Woomy is also a social media darling, as people really love seeing Woomy make appearances on my various feeds

Here are a few photos of Woomy, not liking things:

Woomy presses the button for our floor at the Holiday Inn Express in Cortland.  Regarding the elevator, he said, "I don't like that!"
Woomy presses the button for our floor at the Holiday Inn Express in Cortland.  Regarding the elevator, he said, “I don’t like that!”

Woomy hangs onto the steering wheel.  When he saw this photo, he said, "I don't like that!"
Woomy hangs onto the steering wheel during our Scranton trip.  When he saw this photo, he said, “I don’t like that!”

Woomy guards a six-pack of non-alcoholic Budweiser at the hotel in Toronto.  When we asked him about it, all he said was, "I don't like that!"
Woomy guards a six-pack of non-alcoholic Budweiser at the hotel during our Toronto trip.  When we asked him about it, all he said was, “I don’t like that!”

Elyse helps Woomy press the button for the lobby in a building in Toronto.  The button earned Woomy's seal of disapproval, as he simply said, "I don't like that!"
Elyse helps Woomy press the button for the lobby in a building in Toronto.  The button earned Woomy’s seal of disapproval, as he simply said, “I don’t like that!”

Elyse gives Woomy one of those what-the-hell looks because of what he did while on our Toronto trip.  He grabbed a Malabar label, and then promptly announced that he did not like it.
Elyse gives Woomy one of those what-the-hell looks because of what he did while on our Toronto trip.  He grabbed a Malabar label, and then promptly announced that he did not like it.

Woomy sits in the waiting room at a doctor's appointment for Elyse.  I don't know what it was, but Woomy's assessment of the whole thing was, "I don't like that!"
Woomy sits in the waiting room at a doctor’s appointment for Elyse.  I don’t know what it was, but Woomy’s assessment of the whole thing was, “I don’t like that!”

Woomy inspects a bottle of Mountain Dew at Sheetz in Frederick.  The verdict was, "I don't like that!"
Woomy inspects a bottle of Mountain Dew at Sheetz in Frederick.  The verdict was, “I don’t like that!”

We took Woomy along with us when we recently went trainspotting at Horseshoe Curve near Altoona.  Woomy watched as well, but all he had to say about it was, "I don't like that!"  We'll see if I ever take him trainspotting again...
We took Woomy along with us when we recently went trainspotting at Horseshoe Curve near Altoona.  Woomy watched as well, but all he had to say about it was, “I don’t like that!”  We’ll see if I ever take him trainspotting again…

Woomy reads the information board at Horseshoe Curve, and then promptly declared his dislike of it.
Woomy reads the information board at Horseshoe Curve, and then promptly declared his dislike of it.

A friend of mine from high school remarked regarding this photo, “Well, with three hearts, you’re bound to have a lot of feelings on many subjects.”  I ran it past Woomy, and then reported back: “Woomy has already declared that he doesn’t like that.”

Woomy inspects a bag of gummy shark candies that Elyse got at the gift shop at Horseshoe Curve.  When he finished looking at them, he said, "I don't like that!"
Woomy inspects a bag of gummy shark candies that Elyse got at the gift shop at Horseshoe Curve.  When he finished looking at them, he said, “I don’t like that!”

I, meanwhile, sang “gummy shark” to the tune of that “Baby Shark” song.  You’re welcome.

Elyse messed with Woomy a little at the railroad museum in Altoona.  The two brooms here are part of an interactive exhibit, and they swept back and forth.  Woomy got quite a shaking from it, and shouted, "I don't like that!"
Elyse messed with Woomy a little at the railroad museum in Altoona.  The two brooms here are part of an interactive exhibit, and they swept back and forth.  Woomy got quite a shaking from it, and shouted, “I don’t like that!”

Woomy surveys the damage after an accident where I damaged a wall while pushing a case of Priority Mail boxes down the basement stairs, because I didn't want to carry all of them down.  He took one look at it and declared, "I don't like that!"  Neither do I, Woomy.  But at least he doesn't have to fix it.
Woomy surveys the damage after an accident where I damaged a wall while pushing a case of Priority Mail boxes down the basement stairs, because I didn’t want to carry all of them down.  He took one look at it and declared, “I don’t like that!”  Neither do I, Woomy.  But at least he doesn’t have to fix it.

All in all, we like Woomy, despite his curmudgeonly disposition.  However, the other critters don’t take as kindly to him.  Another octopus once gave Woomy a swift kick after he declared that he didn’t like something.  That elicited another “I don’t like that!” from Woomy.

In any case, follow me on Instagram for more pictures of Woomy, and you’ll occasionally see him pop up here as well.

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Of all the words to split hairs over… Sat, 24 Aug 2019 13:18:41 +0000 I’ve got one more school story for you.  I figure that I’ve told this one so many times to various people that it’s worth putting in Journal entry form and getting “on the record” once and for all.  It also demonstrates just how toxic the situation was in 1990 at Bonnie Grimes Elementary School in Rogers.

Fourth grade, as I’ve indicated before, was a pretty rough year.  This particular incident occurred in late October.  I was in the car rider line after school, waiting for my ride to church for the after-school program that I participated in on Wednesday evenings.  The teacher on car duty was Vicki George, the speech therapist, i.e. the person who worked with the kids that had speech impediments.  Having no speech impediments myself, I never worked with Mrs. George in an official capacity.  My only interactions with her were when she was supervising other kids, i.e. lunch duty, bus duty, car duty, and so on.  My interactions with her were generally negative, because she was a real stickler for behavior – more so than the regular teachers – and as such, on several occasions, I got nailed for stuff that I wouldn’t have gotten nailed for by anybody else.  I generally tried to avoid her, but sometimes our interactions were inevitable.  I don’t remember how I managed to piss her off on this particular occasion in the car line, but somehow, I did, but in any case, it was something really minor (and what I did isn’t relevant to the rest of the discussion).  I remember that she told me, “I’m giving you a yellow slip,” i.e. a report about a disciplinary matter, just before my ride showed up and I left.

I thought nothing of it, and the next day, I got a copy of my yellow slip.  Okay, then.  I didn’t hear anything else about it for a while, so I figured that was the end of it.

Oh, how wrong I was.

A week or so later, as I was heading out to recess, I got called aside by my regular teacher.  I was to report to Mrs. George’s room.  When I got there, I was to serve my punishment for my transgression in the car line.  The punishment was to copy five or so definitions from a dictionary that Mrs. George had provided.  My assignment was to look the words up and copy the definitions onto the paper provided.  Fair enough.  In the process of all of this, I remember going past the definition of “flaunt” while in search of a different definition, and thinking to myself that I was glad that I didn’t have to copy that definition, as it was a long one.

The last word that I had to copy the definition for was “pettiness”.  It was a very short one, and it used the base word in the definition.  It was something along the lines of, “The state of being petty.”  I didn’t mind, because it meant that I was getting off easy for that last word.  I copied that very short definition, and went to turn the assignment in, having served my punishment, and intending to return to class.

Mrs. George looked the assignment over.  She saw my copied definition for “pettiness”, and challenged me on that, telling me that wasn’t the definition, and that I needed to do that one over.  I was surprised, because I had copied the definition exactly.  My general philosophy when it came to punishments was that it was a bad idea to fool around with those.  You’re already in trouble, so don’t make it any worse.  Just do it, get it over with, and move on.  Thus why I copied it exactly.  I resented this punishment in the first place, but the easiest way forward was to just go through with it.  But at the same time, I wasn’t going to do anything above and beyond what was assigned to me as a punishment.  I’m not a masochist, after all.

That said, I knew that I had copied the right definition, and so I refused, offering to show Mrs. George the definition in the dictionary.  After all, she had assigned the word, and it had a short definition in the dictionary that she had provided to me for this assignment.  This was something that was entirely within her control, considering that she provided both the words and the dictionary.  If she didn’t want a short definition, she should have chosen another word.  Mrs. George refused to look at the dictionary to verify the definition, and took my challenge as an act of defiance, even though I was completely right.

And with that, it was off to the principal’s office, which was a place with which I was very familiar.  There, Mrs. Carmical listened to what Mrs. George told her, and then acted based solely upon Mrs. George’s account of things.  Mrs. Carmical handed me a new piece of paper, a pencil, and a dictionary, and told me that I was going to do the whole assignment over.  My first thought was, absolutely not.  I had already completed it once, and I wasn’t about to complete it again.  So I just sat there.

Ultimately, this incident ended in a stalemate.  I waited it out, sitting in Mrs. Carmical’s office for the rest of the day, doing nothing.  Mrs. Carmical did not press the point, and so the punishment was over when school let out for the day.

This whole incident was messed up in so many ways.  Holding the original transgression as constant, and assuming that the punishment was intended to be fair (i.e. she was not deliberately setting me up), Mrs. George made two big mistakes.  First, based on her reaction to the definition of “pettiness”, it was clear that she had not looked up any of those definitions herself.  If she had, she would have known that the last definition was a short one, and presumably would have avoided it.  Second, after being challenged, she refused to verify it.  After all, if she knew that she was right and that I was wrong, she would have no problem with going in and showing me how I was wrong.  But she wouldn’t do it.  She just had to be right, because she was the teacher and I was the student.  I don’t understand the mindset where teachers just have to be right, even when they’re wrong, because ultimately, all it does is cause them to lose the respect of their students.  Especially so in cases like this, where they are demonstrably wrong.  But once you go all in on being right like that, there’s no going back from that without losing face in a major way.  In other words, the teacher is always right, and if the teacher is wrong, see rule number one.  Likewise, there’s also the idea that the student is always wrong, especially if the student’s being right means that the teacher would be demonstrated to be wrong.  That sort of mindset in practice can be very damaging, considering how impressionable kids are at that age.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Carmical had the power to stop the whole thing, and chose not to.  The proper thing to do would have been to look at the assignment, look at my paper, and look at the dictionary, and verify that the assignment was completed according to instructions.  The correct response should have been, “So what’s the problem?”  After all, it’s assumed that she is principal for a reason, and conflict resolution would be one of those things that principals should be expected to do.  The teacher might have had egg on her face because she made a mistake, but things would have been settled definitively and fairly.  But that’s not what happened, because this was Grimes Elementary, and fairness wasn’t how they operated.  Instead, Mrs. Carmical just took the teacher at her word, automatically assumed that I was wrong, and acted based on that.  I lost a lot of respect for both of them that day.

Let’s also talk about the word that was challenged: “pettiness”.  Out of all of the words to be petty over, Mrs. George was being extremely petty over “pettiness”.  I suppose that if she didn’t like my definition for it, then she would just demonstrate what pettiness was all about?  Who knows.  Also, what is it about teachers’ insistence on always having to be right, even when they’re not?  I would really have a lot of respect for a teacher who is willing to admit a mistake when challenged on it, or can demonstrate why they are right, rather than viewing any challenge as an act of defiance.  This wasn’t unique to Mrs. George or even Grimes, though.  That happened throughout my educational career with a number of different teachers.  Ultimately, all it does is cause you to lose the respect of your students, and that just makes everything more difficult.  After all, it’s harder to work with people that have lost respect for you.  Respect is earned, not demanded, and is easily lost.

This whole episode is also a testament as to why individual teachers should not directly punish, and instead let the next level up hand down the discipline.  In middle and high school, after all, the teacher’s responsibility for discipline ends when they send the student out of class.  After that point, it’s up to the administrators to figure out what happened and then determine discipline based on policy.  I could live with that, because I knew what to expect, and there was a separation between the person whose emotions are wrapped up in it and the person who is assigning punishment.  At Grimes, there was a sheet with “school rules” posted in every classroom that included specific punishments for infractions.  However, those rules were ultimately just decorative, because every teacher came up with their own rules and meted out their own punishments, without any sort of guide to determine what punishment fits with what infraction.  It drove me crazy because there was no consistency.  I would much rather see them follow a flowchart so that discipline is nice and consistent.  Some punishments did fit the infractions, but often times they didn’t, as the teachers often would let their emotions get in the way, and ended up giving out-sized punishments for minor infractions.

In the end, this was one more incident to add to the dumpster fire that was fourth grade.  Things would get much worse before they got better, and I was delighted when that year ended.

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Philadelphia? How about New York? Sun, 18 Aug 2019 04:55:21 +0000 August 13 was a day of unexpected twists and turns, for sure.  What was supposed to be a trip to Philadelphia with friends ended up turning into a trip to New York City for Elyse and me.  As originally planned, we were going to meet up with Brian, Trent, and a few other folks from the DC area who were traveling up separately at 30th Street Station, and the bunch of them plus Elyse were going to go fan transit for a while, while I did my own thing, mostly photographing in and around Center City.  That didn’t happen.

What caused our plans to change was twofold.  First, the weather forecast called for storms all up and down the east coast.  So I would have to figure out something else to do, as I would be rained out.  Secondly, we were running a tad late due to traffic around Baltimore that led us to take a more southerly route before resuming our planned route.  Once we got up there, the plan was to park in New Jersey and then ride PATCO into the city.  What happened, though, was that the other group didn’t want to wait for us at 30th Street Station, and so they went and continued with their plan without Elyse, and took SEPTA Regional Rail out to Norristown, with the idea that we would catch up with them later.  We learned this while we were on PATCO riding into the city.  So essentially, they ditched us.  We did not take too kindly to this, and so rather than chase them in an effort to catch up with them, when it was pretty clear that we were not a priority (otherwise, they would have waited for us), we did our own thing instead.

We ended up getting off of PATCO at City Hall station in Camden.  There, we walked over to the Walter Rand Transportation Center station for the River Line.  Neither of us had ever ridden the River Line, so this would be a new experience.  We were surprised that there was very little transit-oriented development around the River Line stations.  Much of what was right around the stations that we could see was older construction that predated the service.

We rode the River Line up to Trenton, which is the end of the line.  There, I got some photos:

River Line train at Trenton, wearing a Rutgers ad wrap

River Line train at Trenton, wearing a Rutgers ad wrap

From there, we went into the train station and caught a New Jersey Transit train to New York.  On the way, we saw the monorail at Newark International Airport from a distance:

As I understand it, this monorail is slated to be replaced with a new system, as the current system is reaching the end of its design lifespan.

And then we got to New York:

Welcome to Penn Station!
Welcome to Penn Station!

At Penn Station, I needed to pick up a charging cable for my phone, and did so at what I considered an unlikely place:


Never did I expect to go shopping at Kmart – especially in a train station.  But they had the cable that I needed, and they had it at a price that I could live with, unlike some of the other stores at Penn Station that were charging exorbitant amounts for the same thing.  I also got through the checkout very quickly.

Meanwhile, Elyse got trapped inside a restroom because of a massive fight occurring outside that blocked her in.  I had seen several police officers running down the station concourse, and that was what they were responding to.  Once the fight was cleared, Elyse could come back out.

We then made our way to the subway, where we caught a 1 train up to 137th Street-City College.  We went up here because Elyse wanted to see an adult store in New York for some reason, and we had located a place up there called Romantic Depot.  Being New York, I expected something awesome, but unfortunately, this place was pretty generic, as it had much of the same products that every other generic adult store carries.  I was not impressed.  There’s a store in College Park down by me called Comfort Zone that is way better than this store could ever be.  In any case, they did have some things that I’d only ever seen wrapped up out for customers to handle.  Interesting products, for sure, but none of which I would ever purchase for myself.

From there, we went to Subway to eat, and then headed south a little ways.  We stopped at the portal where the subway goes back underground at 135th Street after coming up for a few blocks in the middle of Broadway, and I got some photos.

Elyse looks at me as I get ready to photograph trains.
Elyse looks at me as I get ready to photograph trains.

The 1 line through this area is three tracks.
The 1 line through this area is three tracks.

1 train going uptown.
1 train going uptown.

1 train going downtown.
1 train going downtown.

We continued down the street, stopping by a newer Columbia University building.  Near there, Elyse found a penguin sticker on a truck amusing:

Elyse with the penguin sticker

From here, we boarded a train at 125th Street, and took that down to Lincoln Center, getting some railfan shots at 125th on the way:

Uptown train at 125th

Downtown train at 125th

Arriving at 66th Street-Lincoln Center, we took the M66 bus to end of line.  There, Elyse wanted to do the elevators at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital.  But first, she got a bite to eat at Sophie’s, a Cuban fast casual restaurant nearby.  She had an empanada, and I had a smoothie.  Good place.  Will definitely patronize again.  We found a gas stove on the street next to the apartment building that Sophie’s is in:

A gas stove sitting on the sidewalk

This just seems very “New York” to me, for some reason.

Meanwhile, at the hospital, Elyse couldn’t get the access that she wanted for her elevators.  Unless you were getting something done there or visiting a patient, they wouldn’t let you in.  This was understandable, but Elyse was disappointed.

By this point, it was getting close to 9:00, and we both had planned to leave New York around 9:00.  So we walked to 72nd Street on the new Second Avenue line, and caught our train from there.  I was that nerd who was photographing the signals:

Signal at 72nd Street  Signals at 72nd Street

After all, I work in the transit industry myself, and New York has a completely different signaling system than what I’m used to.  They have wayside signals up and down the line in most cases, whereas my system only has signals on the wayside at interlockings, and uses cab signaling otherwise.

From here, we took a Q train to Times Square, and then took a 1 train to 34th Street-Penn Station.  We boarded an NJ Transit train towards Trenton, and that was the end of our visit to New York.  At Trenton, we transferred to the last SEPTA train of the night going towards Philadelphia:

Our SEPTA Regional Rail train at Trenton.
Our SEPTA Regional Rail train at Trenton.

Interior of car 395.
Interior of car 395.

Elyse checks her phone on the train.
Elyse checks her phone on the train.

For a trip that was supposed to focus on Philadelphia, this SEPTA train was the first time that we ever touched Pennsylvania.  But, hey, at least we could say that we did, in fact, go to Philadelphia, as our train took us into Suburban Station.  From there, after we sought assistance from a guard in finding the exit, we walked over to PATCO’s 12-13th & Locust station to go back to Lindenwold.  So our alleged Philadelphia trip actually went to Philadelphia.  Here is a photo of City Hall as proof:

Philadelphia City Hall

Once we got back to Lindenwold, we got a bite to eat at a nearby Wawa on White Horse Pike, and then it was back home for us.  I was surprisingly perky for having been up as long as I had been, and the drive down was fairly uneventful, save for one guy that I encountered who was weaving a little bit.  I ended up having to use the shoulder to avoid a collision.  I suspect that he was probably drowsy, because he was definitely not moving like you should on I-95.

And as is typical for a trip that involves New York City, we got home much later than I would have otherwise liked.  But we had fun, so it was okay.

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They couldn’t even get mad… Mon, 12 Aug 2019 14:17:25 +0000 After the Journal entry where I spoke about my seventh grade year, which generated a lot of great discussion, mostly on Facebook, I thought I’d share an amusing moment from eighth grade.

Eighth grade was one of my best years in school.  I had a great group of teachers, and I had a much easier time with the kids.  Sure, some kids were still terrible, but not like seventh grade.  I didn’t get in trouble at all in eighth grade, except for one time in the middle of the second semester, when I got written up for something relatively minor, but which was entirely my fault.

To give some background, my mother has always enjoyed sharing information that she learns with me.  In the era of the Internet, I typically use it as a starting point to do my own research to turn up more information about it, but back then, with much more limited resources, I typically took it at face value, and was still happy to have learned something new, even if I couldn’t necessarily dive into it more deeply.  In this particular instance, what Mom shared was that men who wore boxer shorts had higher sperm counts than men who wore briefs.  Okay.  So 13-year-old me just learned an interesting new factoid, though I didn’t really understand the whole mechanism behind it (if you want to know, go look it up for yourself).  But in any case, I was a tad more knowledgeable than I was five minutes earlier, and that was awesome.

Now, fast forward to one day in school at the beginning of eighth period, just as Spanish class was about to begin.  I’m sitting there chatting with another kid, and I brought up what I learned about types of underwear and their relationship to sperm count.  The teacher overheard this conversation, and, understandably, she didn’t like it.  After all, we’re in school, and here I was talking about wearing boxer shorts for higher sperm counts.

In hindsight, duh: not the best choice of venue for that topic, as interesting and as educational as it might be.  It was somewhat related to sex, even though that was not my intent, and as you well know, it is not advised to discuss S-E-X in school (at least where the teacher can hear you).  Clearly, I just found it that interesting, and just had to share this fact that I had learned from my parents.  I mean, after all, I learned it from my parents, so it couldn’t be that bad, right?  In any case, I remember being surprised that the teacher took issue with it, specifically because I had learned it from my parents, and thus had assumed that it was okay.  Apparently, I was wrong.

That said, I got written up for that one, but didn’t get sent out for it.  I didn’t get an opportunity to hide that little faux pas from anyone, either.  I don’t remember how Mom found out, but she found out pretty quickly – the day that it happened, if not mistaken.  My homeroom teacher, meanwhile, knew exactly how to handle the aftermath of the incident.  He knew me pretty well, and knew how I rolled.  We had a discussion about it the next morning, the gist of which was that he knew that I knew better, so don’t do it again.  I admitted that it was a lapse in judgment, and yes, I realized that I definitely knew better.  Clearly, I had been so excited to share what I learned that it had clouded my judgment.

My parents, meanwhile, were put in a slightly uncomfortable position with that one.  They were unhappy that I got myself in trouble for talking about sperm count in school, but I did learn that little factoid directly from Mom, so they knew that they couldn’t get too upset with me about it.  I think that they realized that I had learned my lesson about this, so they didn’t pursue it beyond a simple “I’m disappointed” talk.

All in all, that whole incident amuses me, and I laugh every time that I tell someone about it.  There are no hard feelings towards anyone for it, because what I did was just dumb – no getting around that.

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Fire alarm at Wheaton Plaza… Fri, 02 Aug 2019 12:23:30 +0000 On Tuesday, Elyse and I were out with our friend Kyle Garcia, and among other places, we stopped over at Wheaton Plaza (Westfield Wheaton) for lunch.  As we were finishing up, we suddenly saw strobes flashing and then the speakers started up.  Yes, after twelve years of living in MoCo, I finally caught a fire alarm at Wheaton Plaza.  Elyse, Kyle, and I all got video of the alarm, while everyone else paid it no mind.  Here are my two videos of it:

I had never heard this kind of voice message before, where it tells you to cease operations.  And everyone ignores it.  I wonder how much of this is an effect of too many fire drills growing up.  After all, schools typically had fire drills once a month, and it was always the same thing: alarm sounds, go outside, stand out there, wait for the all-clear, and then go back in and go on with the day.  It was never an actual emergency.  So familiarity breeds contempt.  The idea is that the fire alarm’s going off never means an actual fire, and so no need to hurry, or even to pay it any mind at all.  It’s why I’ve said that all fire drills should be preannounced, and that there should be fewer of them.  That way, you are conditioned that if you hear an alarm without some sort of official communication preceding it, that there might actually be something wrong, and you might just want to evacuate with a sense of urgency.  The idea of the surprise fire drill, and thus no distinction’s being made between yet another fire drill and the real thing, is a bad thing, because all of the fire drills drive the urgency out of what should be a serious matter.

In any case, soon enough, they shut off the audible message, and then the strobes stopped a minute or so later.  No all-clear announcement or anything else was ever made.  Just kill the alarm and go on with the day.

I also got a few photos of the strobes:

As this was in a mall, i.e. a large space with lots of strobes, all of the strobes were perfectly synchronized.  The idea, according to a Wheelock sales video from the 1990s, is that if there are more than two strobes in a field of view, and the strobes are out of sync with each other, you could end up with a composite flash rate of six or more flashes per second, which could cause a person with photosensitive epilepsy to have a seizure.

So there you have it.  I enjoyed that little interruption to our day, as did Elyse (with her own video) and Kyle (with his own video).

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A couple of small refresh projects… Mon, 29 Jul 2019 14:00:52 +0000 In the past month, Elyse and I completed two small “refresh” projects in the house.  These projects were nothing too major, but still make a big difference in the quality of life in the place.  We repainted the half bath and also replaced the toilet, and then I also repainted the coat closet.

The bathroom project was the more involved of the two, since the toilet was getting replaced.  That one was something that I’d wanted to do for a while.  The idea was that the old toilet was so cheap that it wasn’t worth rebuilding, and then since I had to patch a few holes in the walls and the door (from the previous owner’s decor) anyway, might as well do a full paint rather than trying to match the old color.  The new toilet came from a thrift store, believe it or not.  We bought a brand new American Standard Cadet 3 at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Herndon back in May:

The new toilet at the Habitat store

As I understand it, this was a former display model, so it was completely built and just needed to be dropped into place.  And at $120, that wasn’t a bad deal.

Then in early June, we got started on the project.  But first, some “before” photos:

The toilet side of the bathroom

The sink side of the bathroom

And right after these photos were taken, it was out with the toilet:

With the toilet gone, we made a surprising discovery: there were three wax rings under there.  Yes, three.  They went out, too.
With the toilet gone, we made a surprising discovery: there were three wax rings under there.  Yes, three.  They went out, too.

The next day, we got rid of the old toilet at the Shady Grove Transfer Station:

Loaded up in the HR-V.
Loaded up in the HR-V.

Elyse sends it over the side.  It tipped over while it was sliding, causing the tank to shatter as it went.
Elyse sends it over the side.  It tipped over while it was sliding, causing the tank to shatter as it went.

Much to our surprise, the old toilet landed upright.
Much to our surprise, the old toilet landed upright.

The next step was painting.  The beautiful thing about this was that the painting part of the job didn’t cost me anything.  I already had all of the supplies from previous projects, and I used the same paint from when I did Elyse’s bathroom the year before.  Works for me.

I quickly learned that the existing paint in the half bath was no exception when it came to the quality of the paint job that I inherited when I bought the house: it sucked.  Seriously, my house had a surprisingly bad paint job, in that you could see roller marks, uneven application, and so on.  I couldn’t help but think that someone actually paid money to do this, and actually thought that it looked good when it was done.  In the case of the half bath, you could see evidence of the previous, darker paint job through the existing paint.  In any case, I was going to do a better job with my own painting, so as to obliterate any trace of past work.

The first paint to go on was the white semigloss paint, which I used on the ceiling and the door.  The ceiling was okay, but for the sake of completeness, might as well do it.  On the door, meanwhile, I had to patch some holes in it from a mirror that I got rid of, and gave it a fresh coat of paint.  My understanding with the mirror is that the intent is to open the door, check yourself over one final time before leaving, and then go out into the world.  I didn’t like it on the bathroom door because I didn’t want to see a reflection of myself using the bathroom.  If I were to put such a mirror in (and I have no plans to), I’d put it on the hall closet door.  In any case, after patching, the door got a fresh coat of paint as well:

The freshly repainted door.  I wasn't too worried about being neat with the trim around the door on the living room side, because the living room is also on my list of rooms to paint.
The freshly repainted door.  I wasn’t too worried about being neat with the trim around the door on the living room side, because the living room is also on my list of rooms to paint.  Also note the sanded spackling on the wall near the door.  More prep for the future paint job.

Meanwhile, the main painting came along pretty well:

(And yes, I did the painting around the toilet paper holder freehand, because I wasn't able to properly mask it off.  I didn't do too badly, though, and what paint I did get on there came off with a fingernail.)
(And yes, I did the painting around the toilet paper holder freehand, because I wasn’t able to properly mask it off.  I didn’t do too badly, though, and what paint I did get on there came off with a fingernail.)

All in all, the painting went pretty well.  I dripped on the trim in two places, but both places were spots where I wasn’t too concerned about it: behind where the toilet would normally go, and on the back wall under the sink.  Most people won’t look in those places.

The new toilet, meanwhile, was where the surprises came in.  We put a new extra large wax ring in there to replace the three old rings, and then plopped the toilet on.  Elyse hooked it up, since she’s the plumbing expert (I am “plumber’s helper” in these situations), and then it was time for a test flush.  Water everywhere.  That wasn’t supposed to happen.  After getting a bunch of towels to mop up the water, I got down on the floor under the toilet for another test flush to see where the water was coming out.  The water was coming out between the tank and the bowl.  Lovely.  We also had a leak under the toilet, as the bucket that we had placed under it in the utility room downstairs got water in it.  As it turns out, the toilet that we bought had no gasket between the tank and the bowl.  That’s understandable, because it was a display model, after all, and you don’t need a gasket for that.  So Elyse got a gasket while she was out with her parents, and we put that on.  Meanwhile, the leak under the toilet was because our extra large wax ring was insufficient for what we needed to do.  We evaluated a few options, including a flange extender, but ultimately, we just went with more wax.  After all, three wax rings worked before, so we added a second wax ring that we had left over from when we bought Bev.  That did the trick.  No more leaks!

And then I hung up a picture in the bathroom, put all of the stuff back, and the project was complete:

Viewed from the living room.  Note the different doorknob.
Viewed from the living room.  Note the different doorknob.

Toilet in place with contour mat around it, and lots of extra paper.
Toilet in place with contour mat around it, and lots of extra paper.

The sink.
The sink.

Overview of the bathroom, taken off of the mirror.  The picture is the Mars Cheese Castle photo feature.
Overview of the bathroom, taken off of the mirror.  The picture is the Mars Cheese Castle photo feature.

With the bathroom done, I tackled the closet.  I painted the closet because that project made me happy.  Elyse’s stance was that it was just a closet, so no need to paint it.  I, meanwhile, couldn’t stand looking at all of the scuff marks and other blemishes every time I went in there.  Additionally, the existing paint job was hideous.  On the door, it looked like there was once a rack hanging over the door, and they painted around it at a later date.  On the inside, it looked like they repainted the closet at some point, but they did the whole job in ten minutes, using only a roller, and not bothering to paint the corners or even all of the walls.  Look at how bad this paint was:

The door.  Note the white spots at the top, and the scuff marks at the bottom.
The door.  Note the white spots at the top, and the scuff marks at the bottom.

Around the top of the closet.  It was apparent that someone had repainted the closet before, but did a really poor job on it.
Around the top of the closet.  It was apparent that someone had repainted the closet before, but did a really poor job on it.

The bottom of the closet.  Definitely a lot of scuff marks, plus the same bad paint job.
The bottom of the closet.  Definitely a lot of scuff marks, plus the same bad paint job.

There was only one surprise here: the doorknob was broken on the inside, so I needed to replace that.  Just as well, as the previous owner had a locking knob on that door, which I felt was an accident waiting to happen.  Thus if I had to replace one knob, I might as well decide what style to use throughout the house, since it was very inconsistent.  I ended up choosing the style that’s in Elyse’s room, the Gatehouse Gallo, which tapers outward.  Right away, I did the closet, the half bath (have to coordinate), and the utility room downstairs, which also had an unnecessary lock on it.  So out of eleven knobs, five are the selected style, and six more need replacement.

And here’s the completed closet, which I did in white semigloss:

The repainted interior.  Note the nice, consistent paintwork inside.
The repainted interior.  Note the nice, consistent paintwork inside.

The closet after moving back in, with the painted door and new knob.
The closet after moving back in, with the painted door and new knob.

The door, painted and with new knob.  Again, I wasn't too worried about being neat around the trim, since the living room is going to get repainted anyway.
The door, painted and with new knob.  Again, I wasn’t too worried about being neat around the trim, since the living room is going to get repainted anyway.

So all in all, my house is now a slightly better place to live in because of these projects.

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