I bought an iPad 3 the weekend it hit the stores.  I’d wanted one since the original iPad was introduced, but I could never justify the purchase.  I mean, seriously … buying one isn’t a life-or-death decision, right?  It’s simply want versus need.  But this year, I took some money from my tax return and spent it on a luxury item.  Do I feel guilty about that?  Nope.

It’s a great thing, and I’m sure I’ll come to rely on it more and more as I use it and find other wonderful things it can do.  For now, I’m enjoying taking photos and posting them on Facebook or WordPress; recommending books, music, movies, and more on Hunch; and having instant access to the internet when I want it.

Even more, though, it’s helping me with strategy.  A game helps – backgammon.  Backgammon is all about strategy and the roll of the dice (I downloaded a pretty cool backgammon app for my iPad).  Picking up the iPad in lieu of picking up my project management exam prep books is strategizing about spending a few minutes with my little luxury item instead of reading, memorizing, and preparing for a four-hour exam.  Is it the right thing to do at that moment?  Will I feel guilty about it?  Don’t I really need a mental break from the studying?

And then I strategized about taking the iPad instead of lugging my camera and lenses up to Vermont for an unplanned trip I had to make last week.  Would there be opportunities to take photos?  Would there be anything worth shooting?  Take a multitasking item like the iPad or take the single-purpose Nikon?  Not exactly a tough decision, I took the iPad.  And, as it turned out, there was no opportunity or reason to shoot photos anyway.  My strategy was sound.

Determining a strategy is something we do every day.  We decide how we’ll start our day – hitting that snooze button one more time instead of hitting the shower (do I want to take a chance on sleeping 10 more minutes assuming that traffic will be a breeze, or do I want to get up now and hit the road so I can stop at the Jiffy Mart for cup of coffee).  We decide how we treat our work, our thoughts, our livelihoods (do I take the time to backup my computer or assume the risk of not backing up because hey, it’s a brand name laptop and chances are the hard disk won’t crash).  Sometimes we win; sometimes we lose.

We don’t think about life being a strategy but it is.  Everything we do every day has been thought through in some context to some extent even if we don’t realize it.  It’s decisions, choices, and strategies – some conscious, some unconscious.  We are the masters of our fates, and the choices we make, the strategies we use, say a lot about us whether we realize it or not.

The Busy Month of September

September was quite a month.  I started cramming for a certification exam on Labor Day weekend and basically did nothing but work, study, sleep, and eat for a little over two weeks.  All that focus allowed me to pass the exam – I am now a Certified Supply Chain Professional through APICS.  Besides the exam content material, I learned a couple of other things.

Learning #1 – set a deadline.  I purchased the self-study course in the Fall of 2009.  I did not set an exam date until I was informed that the material and exam were going to be revamped in 2012.  Thus, the cramming to pass the exam by the end of this year.

Learning #2 – breathe.

Josh decided to come home the weekend prior to my exam, which in itself was a nice thing, but his trip back to Castleton was somewhat eventful.  Eventful to the point I nearly had to drive up to meet him in northern Pennsylvania – that wonderful son of mine left home with barely any money in his wallet and no debit or gas card to use.  But Josh is resourceful and made it back to campus with just about a quarter of a tank of gas.  Oh, normally it wouldn’t have been an issue, but one of the legs of his trip, I-88, was shut down due to issues resulting from Hurricane Irene.  He had to rely on his phone’s GPS to get him to Castleton.  And it all worked out.

That Sunday when all of this was happening, I was a mess.  Between the stress of studying and the worrying about Josh, it felt like my world was a jumbled-up pile of crud.  Luckily, my mom called – I vented, I was emotional, and it all turned out good.  Later, my sister reminded me that I’m a worry queen.  Yep.

The weekend after the exam was the Maryland Wine Festival.  Jamie and I went on Saturday and both wound up buying more bottles of wine than we had planned on.  But again, it’s all good.  It rained on and off while we were there but it didn’t matter because we were having a good time.  I really like wines – especially the port –  from Little Ashby Vineyards on Maryland’s eastern shore, and sadly, they don’t distribute on this side of the Bay.  Next year, we’re going to remember to take our own oyster crackers to help cleanse our palettes in between wine tastings.  And a bigger umbrella (just in case).  And shoes that are a little more comfortable.  And lawn chairs.  That should do it.  Oh, and more money would be a plus.

And then there was Castleton’s Homecoming Weekend the last weekend in September.  I drove up to Vermont, hoping for more fall colors, getting slightly disappointed there was still so much green.  I had a great time with Josh on Saturday, taking a boat tour of Lake Bomoseen and shopping around Rutland.  The drive home was uneventful but foggy.  I started listening to a new book, “A Cup of Friendship”.

My next big task is to get back into writing.  There’s another short story competition coming up with a November deadline, and I’ve had this idea rolling around in my head for the past several weeks.  Now I just need to get the thoughts on paper and see what happens.

Driving Home with Irene

I left Rutland, VT shortly after 8 am Sunday morning, August 28.  The rain had started sometime after 11 pm Saturday.  Irene had come.

I knew the trip home was going to be interesting.  I had been watching the Weather Channel as much I could Friday night after arriving in Rutland throughout Saturday evening after returning to Red Roof Inn after dinner with Josh.  The Weather Channel was reporting that the effects of Irene would be felt around the I-81 corridor, my soon-to-be destination.

When I packed for the trip back to Castleton to move Josh back to his dorm, I prepared for the rain and wind.  I had my gym shoes, my cap, and my jacket.  I knew an umbrella would be useless.  I knew the rain would be an issue but the wind more so.

Along the Adirondack Northway electronic signs indicated, “FOR YOUR SAFETY EMERGENCY TRAVEL ONLY.”  Five, six, seven … I lost count of how many of those signs I passed.

It was a good thing I had planned to take I-81 home instead of the NY Thruway, because as I approached the junction for the Thruway, the travel alert station notified its listeners that several sections of the Thruway were closed due to either flooding or downed trees.

I take US 20 through Guilderland and Duanesburg, NY to get to I-88 that then takes me to I-81.  Most of Guilderland was shut down due to no electricity and some debris in the road.  Duanesburg was an obstacle course of debris, fallen branches, and a downed tree that a crew was already working on, directing traffic, as only one lane was open.

There weren’t many cars on I-88.  That was a good thing, because when there were pockets of cars, the backsplash from their tires made driving even worse than it already was.  Lots of debris on the road.  Downed trees along the sides of the interstate.  Calming streams that I passed in the past were now angry torrents of water, brown, ugly with mud.

The wind seemed the worst on I-81.  There were times when the gusts slapped my car and jerked me to the point where my shoulders were getting sore from managing the steering wheel.  The rain would lighten up in some spots and then rage again.  So much debris.  Flooded farms.  Broken limbs from tall trees laying alongside the road.

I get a local AM radio station on during most of the trip.  Most of the areas I was traveling near were either without power or were experiencing or bracing for flooding.  All of the malls were closed.  The cinemas were closed.  People were being told to stay home.  Stay off the roads.

And here were the handful of us making our way to wherever it was we were going.

I stopped in Lenoxville at exit 206 to gas up at the Sunoco station where there is also a Convenient store where I get a deli sandwich.  Closed.  No power.  Not good news when I’ve got about a quarter of a tank of gas.  So I drove two more exits to find a mom-and-pop station that was open and charging $0.40 more per gallon.  Oh well.

Further down the road I stopped at the rest stop only to find they were locked up.  No power.  Oh well.  Good thing it wasn’t a bathroom emergency stop.

At one point just south of Wilkes-Barre the sky got darker and what looked like fat prongs of dark gray clouds slid down and the wind gust knocked everyone’s cars to the left.  I wondered if this was what it looked at felt like when a tornado was considering forming.

About 2 miles before the I-83 exit the clouds gave way to blue sky and sun.  It was still windy, very windy, but at least the rain was over.

Josh called me once during the trip to see how it was going.  My sister called me twice to check on how the drive was, to make sure I was going to make it home okay.  She and my brother-in-law cancelled the trip out to Maryland because of Irene.  They were supposed to leave Sunday night but because of all the weather reports and the electric outages, they felt it was a good idea to stay put in Illinois.  You just never know what to expect when a weather event such as this is taking place.

There was a little bit of cleanup at my house.  Some branches came down in the backyard but didn’t cause any damage.  We got lucky.  Things could have been worse.

Now, Josh, in Vermont, is pretty much stranded on campus.  They had one transformer blow which controls their Internet access.  Some cars in one of the lower parking lots are topped with water.  Much of the area is flooded.  Vermont got hit hard.

I’m still tired from the trip.  My upper body is achy.  It was stressful in many ways.  I’m glad to be home.

“Love, Aubrey” by Suzanne LaFleur

"Love, Aubrey"

"Love, Aubrey"

I recently picked up an audio book that I didn’t realize is technically a juvenile title.  I’m glad I didn’t know it, because I probably wouldn’t have listened to it.  Funny how something like categorizing a book can keep someone from reading what might be relevant to him/her.

I initially was attracted to the novel’s cover which shows a young girl lying against a large tree limb in what looks like a forest.  I read the back of the CD box and the storyline interested me.  Aubrey, an eleven-year-old, loses her father and younger sister in a car crash.  She and her mother survive, but the effects of what happened are difficult for them to deal with, as one would expect.  Her mother disappears one morning, and Aubrey’s grandmother takes the girl home with her.  A new school year starts with Aubrey having to transition from her old school and friends to new ones.  Her mom ultimately is found, and what transpires in their relationship tells the tale of need, reality, and growth.

The author, Suzanne LaFleur, did an excellent job telling this heart-wrenching story.  But beyond the tale itself, what strikes me are the similarities between people and events in the book and my own life.  I know it’s all coincidental, but it still makes me feel weird inside.  Let me explain …

Aubrey lives in Virginia.  I live in Maryland.  Okay, not the same state, but a neighboring one.

Aubrey’s grandmother lives in Vermont.  And where do I travel almost monthly to pickup my son and take him back to college?  Yes, Vermont!

Aubrey’s mom disappears and is found in Colorado.  That is the state I have loved since I was a kid and always have been drawn to.  I mean, Rocky Mountain High and all those other John Denver songs are ingrained in my soul.

Aubrey likes a boy named Marcus.  My first boy crush was on a boy named Mark.

Aubrey’s new best friend likes a boy named Christian Richards.  My dad’s name is Richard, and yes, we are Christians.

Aubrey is sent to talk to the school counselor about the things that are going on in her life.  I, unfortunately, had the same experience while in school.

Aubrey feels that she was always closer to her dad and that her younger sister was closer to her mom.  That is exactly the way it is with my mom, dad, and younger sister.

In lieu of a journal, Aubrey writes letters to her sister’s imaginary friend as well as to her counselor, her mom, and others.  I always kept a journal when I was younger.  I have to admit that it got me in trouble, so I stopped eons ago.

I suppose there are a few other elements in the book that I can stretchingly (yes, I know that’s not a real word) relate to.  The point I really want to make is that this book drew me in with the story and kept me involved because I could relate to so many pieces of the book.  What I really enjoyed was the ending, because Aubrey makes a very mature decision, and I applauded it.  The outcome I expected Ms. LaFleur to provide was not the one she wrote, and I think she made the right choice.

Intro to Vermont

I’m sitting here at my desk at home and looking at a little stuffed moose with the word “Vermont” stitched on its belly.  Above “Vermont” there’s a scene of a lake surrounded by pine trees and a full moon peeking out from behind them, its reflection rippling on the water.  [sigh] I miss my son.

I’m so proud of him for taking that huge leap and going to a college so far from home.  It’s one of the few colleges that offer a forensic psychology program, and since that’s where his interest is, that was his school of choice.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a car up there (he does have one sitting in my driveway but right now it needs a new belt and it always seems to need something).

It’s about an 8-hour drive including stops for gas and breaks.  It’s not a bad drive and I actually enjoy the scenery.  And I love Vermont.  It’s a beautiful state.  Castleton itself is a charming little college town – perhaps a smaller version of Westminster, MD.  Much smaller.

I picked up that little stuff moose in Hoosick, NY at a little gift shop/deli that Josh and I like to stop at when we take the Route 7 route into Rutland.  It’s the cutest little place with all kinds of NY and VT souvenirs and tchotchkies (did I spell that correctly?).  And their food is good too – Josh loves their pulled pork, and the last time we stopped there I got a Moose Trot Wrap – a wrap with roasted turkey, stuffing, and cranberry jelly (I skipped the mayo).

Every time I go to Vermont there are things happening with the mountains and the sky that I’ve never seen before.  I usually stop on the side of the road to take pictures, but some of them simply can’t capture the natural beauty of what our eyes see.  It’s a shame.  I post some of the pictures on Facebook but the best of them are in my mind.