Vicksburg – Day One

We arrived in the afternoon and the door to the Library Suite was open.  The first thing my brother did was take a picture of the chess board.  “So we know where all the pieces were.”  I remember that one of the white pawns was missing and a rook was in its spot – upside down.  Then down the wrought iron spiral staircase to the bedroom/wine cellar/morgue.  Just the right combination of creepy without feeling dirty.  Then, the bathroom.  Scott took one look at this and said, “You know blood is coming out of that thing, right?”

 

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And so the horror movie jokes began.  We unpacked our stuff – my poor brother had to lug his camp bed across the lawn, into the house and down that staircase – and then took a walk around the property.  Again, excellent combination of from-another-era but cared for:

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Outside, by the pool were a couple spending the weekend for their anniversary.  Apparently, they had gotten married at Cedar Grove several years ago and they told us all about the place. Scott was talking to the husband and the wife asked where we were from.  When I said, “Chicago” she asked how we came to stay here.  “Online,” I replied.  “I was looking for hotels in Vicksburg and Tripadvisor had a pretty convincing review that said the place is haunted.  We’re staying in the Library Suite.”  She did a double take and said she didn’t know anything about that.  As we were walking away, I recounted the conversation to Scott.  They got married here and couldn’t speak to the ghost stories?  How very horror movie.

We had dinner at the hotel restaurant that night.  The food was decent, but pricey.  The service was terrible.  Then we went back to the room to take more pictures and see about the ghosts.

First, the Library was also a game room – hence the chess board – and the decor was very dark, Victorian masculine.  The fireplace was no longer operational and the lighting was insufficient so we brought a lamp upstairs from a bedroom end table.  Then I took these:

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As I circled back around to take a picture of the game table, something odd happened.  There was a shaft of light on my phone that I could not see with the naked eye.  I looked up and down four or five times before finally snapping this:

 

Light that made no sense

 

See the diagonal shaft of light?  That’s what I’m talking about.  It was dark outside.  The lamps were not pointed in that direction and to the left of the picture are the door to the room – then closed – and the dark fireplace.  The reflections in the glass bookcase don’t explain it, so I am at a loss.

We had heard that “manhandling” the books was the fastest way to make the ghostly gentleman of the house angry, so we decided against it on Night 1.  I took a shower in that ancient tub and managed to soak the entire bathroom.  Also, the drain was painfully slow which bothered me a lot.  By the time I was ready to climb into the bed, my brother was watching Sharknado 2 on the television.  So much for ghost stories.

 

 

My Own Private Mind Tricks

(I am going to write about the vacation, I swear.  But I really want to get this out.)

I read a lot of personal finance stuff online.  A lot. I don’t actually learn a heckuva lot these days, because the truth is that saving money is a lot like losing weight.  We all know how to do it if we could just do it.  But every once in awhile, an article has a small piece of insight that hits home.  Remember when the talking heads first started yammering about “the Starbucks effect”?  That we could all save a bloody fortune if we just gave up that stupid $4 cup of coffee?  That’s what I’m talking about.  For example, my friend Jodi quit smoking not long ago, and she can tell you with a lot of accuracy how much money that has saved her.  

So Huffington Post online has an article called “Nine Habits that Will Put You on the Path to Wealth” and I clicked.  Number three struck me:  Adopt your own private mind tricks.  It said, in part:

“Also known as ‘heuristics,’ these rule-of-thumb strategies we create for ourselves — such as not spending more than $15 on an item of baby clothing, or more than $50 on a pair of shoes — can help simplify the many choices we make in a day.”

I totally do this.

Notwithstanding dropping my own personal “Starbucks effect” – which was magazines at the checkout line of the grocery store – I have used several mind tricks and none of them involve freezing my credit card.

The first rule I made was that if I wanted anything from an infomercial or “as seen on TV” or QVC, I had to watch the informercial or program at least three times before buying it. This worked wonders and now I buy almost nothing from TV because:  1.  I have pretty much stopped cooking and 2.  I have pretty much stopped watching television in real time.  I don’t even need this rule anymore.

The second thing I tried was a brief moratorium on stupid shopping mall stuff that I was mindlessly buying.  Bath and Body Works and Yankee Candle seem to go together in every full sized shopping mall and strip mall that I know and it is so.  freakin’. easy.  To just go in and spend $25 on stuff I don’t need.  The trick I decided on was that I would only shop at these stores during the semi-annual sales.  The one after the holidays and the one in June.  I did this for three or four cycles, found I survived just fine and have pretty much broken the habit.

I had a $25-a-week Barnes and Noble habit and now I volunteer at a Used Book Store.  I still need to stop buying books.  But never mind that one.

Right now I am working on rules for the fabric stores.  The trap I have fallen into is that since it is “for charity” – i.e. Project Linus, it doesn’t bother my conscience that I am spending money needlessly and the spare room that I was using for a library is also storing a completely unreasonable amount of yarn. 

Yarn 2014

 

This does not include the bin, large basket and two overflowing bags in my bedroom.  I’m not in the habit of buying anything fancy, and I am all into the double up on the deals while shopping, but still.  This is a lot of yarn.  (Albeit not enough to impress the Project Linus ladies, I imagine.) 

I remember my friend Bob telling me that he and his wife were getting into fights about money because he would drop a couple hundred dollars on electronics without consulting her, but she would spend just as much money over a few weeks buying nonsense for the kids at Target.  It led to a really great conversation about the different ways that money was spent in the household.

I have a financial planner and he tells me that spending money is fine, as long as we do it thoughtfully and genuinely need or enjoy the stuff we buy.  Emotional spending is like emotional eating, I guess.

So just like mind tricks for the diet, we can have mind tricks for the spending.  Do you have any?

Road Trip 2014: How it Began

Road trip 2014 started with..I blocked a week from my work calendar for a vacation and then didn’t plan anything.  By the time I got serious, the ticket prices had skyrocketed.  At the same time, I had decided that I have not had enough summer and I wanted to be someplace where I was absolutely certain the weather would be balmy.  I was looking at New Orleans when my mother – who can’t stand the idea of my being in New Orleans by myself even though I have been there plenty of times before – reminded me that Vicksburg, Mississippi has been on my road trip bucket list for awhile.

Why, yes.  It had.  It’s a History Nerd thing.  Don’t judge.

So I started looking for hotels.  I came up empty with my usual suspects – chain hotels where I have points or status or something useful to keep the cost down.  Then I went to the website for the Vicksburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and found they have a whole lot of Bed and Breakfast places where the prices were quite reasonable.  Because, you know.  Who wants to be in Mississippi in August?

This Yankee.

So that is how I found Cedar Grove Inn.  It was once one of those old antebellum mansions in town that became and B&B and has since built out to have 33 rooms, a bar, a restaurant and a swimming pool.  It looked like a lovely place to sit outside and read books.  So I clicked over to Trip Advisor to read the reviews, and the first one I found was a guest that had experienced a haunting.  You might want to take a minute and read this.

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Filtered picture I posted to Instagram when we arrived.

Short version:  the Library Suite is a two-story room.  The library is on top and the ghostly gentleman of the house seems to hang out there.  The bedroom is down a spiral staircase in what had been a wine cellar…and later, during the siege of 1863, a morgue.  The dead soldiers were kept there because it was cooler.

Damn straight I wanted to stay there.  But I wasn’t sure that I wanted to stay in the Library Suite by myself.  So I started asking everyone at work.  Stay at the hotel, they said, but not in that room.  Yeah.  That wasn’t the only room that was haunted.  It just sounded the scariest.

When I told my sister-in-law, Becky, about the place she said:  “Oh, you need to go there.  And you need to stay in that room.  And you can take your brother with you because he needs a vacation.”

It took a little bit of schedule juggling, but I booked the Library Suite the next day.

Conversations with My Brother

I went on a road trip with my brother.  I will have stories and pictures as soon as I get around to uploading them but for now, a conversation from the car:

 

(Leonard Cohen is playing on the iPod.)

Scott:  Leonard Cohen songs are all about sex.  Even that really popular one..what was it?

Me:     Hallelujah.

Scott:  Yeah.  Hallelujah.  It sounds all Biblical and stuff, but it’s really about sex.

Me:     No.  It’s a break up song.  I was just talking about this on Facebook.  Everyone thinks it’s about a religious experience, but I swear, it’s a break up song.

Scott:  It’s about sex.

Me:     It talks about sex and uses religious symbolism.  But it’s a break up song.

Scott:  Hang on.  “She tied you to the kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair….”  that’s clearly Biblical.

Me:      A Biblical break up.  “And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song…”

Scott:   …damn.  It’s a break up song.

Me:     It is possible that I think everything is a break up song.

Scott:  No.  It’s a break up song.

 

(Two days later.  “A Thousand Kisses Deep” is on the iPod.)

Scott:  Damn.  They’re all break up songs.

A Working Dog

I believe I have mentioned that Fiona is a very well-behaved dog in public and a holy terror at home.  And sometimes at the dog park.  I have long suspected that she needs a job.  One day, as I was telling this to Kelly at Doggie Do Rite, Kelly told me about a lady across the border in Wisconsin that runs a farm to train herding dogs.  She suggested that I take Fiona up to try it out.

Magic’s Legacy is run by Shannon Wolfe, who trains herding dogs for fun, for sport and for actual working farms.  For a fee of $65 she will perform an “instinct test”, in which she takes your dog in with a small herd of animals to see whether the dog has the stuff.  If the instinct isn’t there, you can’t teach the dog the skills.  But if the dog wants to herd, they are likely to learn the commands and the signals and how to work as a team with the handler.

I traded several emails with Shannon to make sure we followed all of the rules and made an appointment.  She didn’t ask for vet records, but I seem to recall a requirement that the dogs have the proper vaccinations.  She also requires a regular leash – as opposed to those stupid retractable ones that everyone should know by now are dangerous – and a collar that buckles rather than snaps, which Fiona has.

The car ride was a long hour, but Fiona did very well.  When we arrived, she mostly wanted to sniff everything, so it was a good thing that Shannon was running behind schedule.  By the time it was her turn, Fiona was comfortable in her surroundings.

ML - Waiting her turn

Waiting Her Turn

 

Before taking her in, Shannon had me watch her dog for a few minutes to see what it should  look like.  Then she took three sheep into a smaller pen and led Fiona in with them.  Her responses were all good, so Shannon took her off the leash.  And there she was.

ML 2

In action.

ML 3

With Shannon – she’s got it!

I walked over to get a closer look – and take pictures – when Fiona spotted me and broke away.  Walked right over and ignored the sheep.  I was very embarrassed and stepped back out of her view.  She went right back to work.  Then Shannon brought me in the pen with them.  I could barely watch my dog because my job was to stay behind Shannon and not get knocked over by a sheep.  But I could tell by the movement that she was good.  And then we got our certificate:

Her assessment says that she shows “gathering” rather than “driving” instinct.  She was forceful without excessive aggression and worked silently.  (My mother laughed her head off at that one.)  Also, despite my interruption, she “appears readily adjusted” rather than “easily distracted”.  Awesome.  She passed.

ML Certificate

 

So are we going to start lessons?  Maybe.  Shannon said that Magic’s Legacy will take amateurs like us who are just there to have fun.  But besides the long drive, it is clear that I would need much more training than Fiona.  It might be worth the effort just to watch her go.

Summer in Washington

I travel to Washington DC several times each year.  There are some things I do (nearly) every visit.  I make a pilgrimage to the Lincoln Memorial.  I have dinner with my friend, Holly.  I have lunch at the Atrium Cafe.  Now, I am also trying to see things I don’t always see and appreciate them more.  So here it is:

Fountain

 

And I just realized that I don’t remember where I saw this fountain.  I want to say it was behind the Natural History Museum, but it might have been behind one of the buildings in the National Gallery.

Because my office is on the..Jefferson Memorial side of the Mall, that is generally the way that I walk.  But the other night, I walked over to the White House instead and was on Constitution Avenue rather than Independence.  I found myself looking at the street entrances of the museums, rather than those facing the Mall.  And there was the fountain.

And here is the (Instagram filtered) obligatory pic of the White House.

White House - Filtered

Note to my mom:  I didn’t take a pic, and I had seen the statue before, but I just realized that General Sherman and his horse are looking right at the Treasury Building.  I’m not sure that’s where I would have placed him.

On the way back, I took this picture because it looks weird to me to see the monuments from this angle.  It’s like seeing the Sears Tower behind you when you are driving to Midway.  (That is the Jefferson Memorial on the lower right.)

Monuments

 

And then I went to the District Chophouse for dinner.  According to Foursquare, I hadn’t been there in over a year.  But I really appreciated that burger.

Conferences

The national conference for the Society of Human Resource Management was last week.  Thirteen thousand HR types descended on Orlando for a few days of education, bonding and booze.  Because that’s what conferences are for.  That and the recertification credits.

Not all HR people like this conference.  Some think it is just too big.  Too big to network and too expensive to be practical.  I love it, and I am extremely grateful to my awesome employer for continuing to send me.  Truth be told, I don’t do enough networking.  I jam in as many sessions as possible, have dinner with a colleague and then fall into bed exhausted. I can’t imagine anything more boring than having to listen to someone talk about all the great stuff she learned at a conference, but there are a few things I want to note, for myself, for future reference:

First, Cy Wakeman.  The author of Reality Based Leadership, which I have not yet read, did a great session on the theme of Ditching the Drama.  Which, hello.  I need to keep top of mind.  There were two thoughts so poignant that I tweeted them.

Stop judging, start helping.

Sooooo hard to stop judging.  But I am working on it.  The “start helping” makes it a better mantra.  At the same time, my job makes me a sort of professional coach and I have to balance the validation of feelings with the Reality.  “Stop judging, start helping” is a phrase I might be able to adopt.

Would you rather be right or be happy?

If my damage as a human being could be summed up in one line, that might be it.  I should have this tattooed on my wrist.

It’s not that I make a ton of poor decisions.  I am a completely functional person and I don’t create a whole lot of drama myself.  I absolutely get impatient, but I don’t look for things to get upset about – particularly at work.  However.  I am very easily sucked into other people’s drama and if my head is not in the game I am liable to express every feeling that I have right in the moment I am having it.  Bad form.

Another thing about conferences is the BOOKS.  I read Social Gravity, by Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen.  The piece of advice they gave that resonated with me was to start answering those phone calls that I don’t want to answer.  Start taking the meetings.  It is not a crime to try to sell something, and sometimes those calls turn into contacts and those contacts turn into relationships.  Investing some more time isn’t going to kill me.

Then I came home, filed my application to renew my certification, and got back to work.  I remember seeing a statistic once about how very little is retained from the average training/development session.  Maybe blogging it will help this year.