Please join author Mark Cronk Farrell and me, Wednesday, April 13, for a discussion of her latest book, “Close-Up on War.” It’s the amazing story of Catherine Leroy, who documented the war in Vietnam through compelling photos.
My Outlook’s Getting Brighter
I don’t like change.
I like reliable routines, familiar faces, and grocery stores that don’t rearrange their aisles every few months.
I’ve kept the same husband for 36 years, still live in the house we bought in 1993, and use a paper planner and a wall calendar with cute kitten photos to track my days.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Then my email broke, and I couldn’t fix it.
It was a catastrophic computer event that I couldn’t blame on my kids, since I’m the only user of the device.
I’ve used the same email program since before my youngest son was born. My current email address is only my second. (My first was an AOL account. Yes, that’s how old I am.)
If I just used email as an old-fashioned way to stay in touch with folks, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But I use it to track every single story and project on my to-do list.
My newspaper articles are assigned and filed via email, and I schedule interviews and bill clients through it. Without it, I might as well be banging away on a Smith Corona, stuffing envelopes and looking for stamps.
Tech support (my husband) resuscitated the program a couple of times. I’d start the day bright with hope, only to have it fail repeatedly. When you have more than a dozen people waiting for you to schedule their pandemic project story, you really don’t want to lose their names, addresses and the descriptions of their projects.
“The problem is you have way more email than Juno is designed for, and the company hasn’t updated their program in forever,” Derek said. “It’s just no longer sustainable.”
“You mean I can’t use dchval@juno anymore? What will happen to the hundreds of emails in my folders?”
Derek told me not to panic until he did some research. Meanwhile, I panicked anyway and frantically backed up several years of mail. OK, more than several. My earliest saved message is from 2009. But. I really need that note.
“I’ve got good news and bad news,” Derek announced the following day. “There’s a program I can buy that will allow me to save your Juno email, and you can still use that address.”
“That’s wonderful!” I said throwing my arms around him. “What’s the bad news?”
“You’re going to have to learn how to use Outlook,” he said.
Outlook is a personal information manager software system from Microsoft. Friends and professional contacts have urged me to use it for years, but I’ve never seen the need. My trusty paper planner and antiquated email provider served me well, until now.
Knowing my propensity to ask, “Is it fixed, yet?” repeatedly whenever he works on my computer, Derek wisely chose a time when I’d be away from my home office for the day.
When I returned, he was working in the backyard.
“Oh, no!” I said. “Is my problem unfixable?”
“Nope. I finished hours ago. Your email is up and running, and I don’t think you lost a thing.”
You see why I keep him? He’s an absolute hero. His heroics, however, only go so far.
“Sam can show you how to use Outlook,” he said.
Our future-college-professor son patiently showed me how to configure my address book, how to send and receive mail, and where to find my folders. That’s when we discovered one of the largest folders had duplicated contents, and another folder was a jumble of old and new contacts and projects, but most important, everything was there.
Obviously, I’ve been saving way too many emails, so now a couple of times a day I poke through a folder and delete items. Sometimes it turns into quite a stroll down memory lane, as I read encouraging notes from former editors and warm letters from readers. But I am resolute in my purging, even though Derek said I no longer have to worry about my email crashing.
I even learned a new trick. I can now categorize my emails and tasks with pretty, little colored flags. Though I’m still figuring out this new-to-me program, I already wonder why I ever balked at using it.
In fact, you could say my Outlook is getting brighter every day.
Cindy Hval can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available locally at Auntie’s Bookstore, Barnes & Noble locations and on Amazon.
A mugful of Monday
Bewildered, I stared through sleep-fogged eyes at the rack above the kitchen sink.
I saw Sam’s Star Wars cup, Derek’s Three Stooges mug, and a few others, but my Monday mug was missing.
One of the advantages of working from home is that there are no co-workers to steal your coffee cup or pilfer your lunch. (Well, there was that time in 2014, that Zachary ate the last piece of leftover meatloaf I’d saved for a sandwich. But I’m mostly over it, and only mention it every time I make meatloaf.) So, I was puzzled by the absence of my personalized Spokesman-Review mug.
I checked the dishwasher, but I’d emptied it the night before.
At the kitchen table, Derek shook out the newspaper and took a slurp of coffee.
“Have you seen my Monday mug?” I asked.
He glanced at the cup in his hand.
“You mean this one?”
Sure enough, he was sipping java from a pinwheel-decorated cup with my name on it.
I’d worried that anarchy might rear its ugly head during this time of pandemic, but I never expected the decline of civilization to begin in my own home.
“That’s my deadline day cup!” I sputtered. “It’s got my NAME on it! How can I be expected write newspaper copy without coffee in my Monday mug?”
My husband frowned and pointed to a cup with a cat and a newspaper on it.
“Can’t you use that one?”
Horrified and uncaffeinated, I gasped, “That’s my SATURDAY mug!”
Before he could inquire about the other days of the week, I pointed to my “But first coffee” cup and my Wonder Woman mug.
“Those are for Tuesdays,” I explained. “I vary depending on my workload.”
Sighing, Derek poured his coffee into another cup and handed me my mug.
As someone who leaves the house every day and goes to an office, he doesn’t understand the sanity-saving sanctity of a well-established routine for those of us who work from home.
I swiped the newspaper and headed back to bed, coffee in hand. That’s when I stepped in a puddle of cat barf and went puke-skating down the hallway.
Apparently, Thor had upchucked his breakfast while I was explaining mug protocol to Derek. I was able to stop my slide by hitting the wall with a resounding thud. I didn’t fall, and more important, I didn’t spill my coffee.
“Nice save,” Derek said.
He got to scrub the floor while I cleaned bits of cat vomit from between my toes. Suddenly, he seemed anxious to get to work.
“Don’t forget our new mattress will be delivered today,” he said on his way out.
And I didn’t forget, exactly. I just got engrossed in my work. So, when the doorbell rang I was still in my bathrobe.
No worries. A pandemic plus is having a kid at home all day.
Sam obligingly answered the door and began to wrestle the mattress-in-a-box inside. It quickly became apparent that this was a two-person job, and I was the only other person present. I wasn’t strong enough to pull the box up the stairs, so I got pushup duties. Which is how I ended up on my front porch in my pink plush bathrobe at 1 in the afternoon.
Apparently, most of our neighbors are “staying home, staying healthy,” because there was quite an audience to observe our progress.
The box was heavy, but on the small side for something containing a queen-size mattress.
“I think it explodes or something when you open it,” I explained to Sam. “Let’s not touch it till Dad gets home.”
My last phone call of the day involved hashing out a complicated medical story. Thankful to be able to discuss it with a colleague, I said, “It really helps to have two brains.”
She quickly ended the call.
When Derek got home, Sam helped him unpack the new mattress. It didn’t explode; it just kind of sighed and got fluffy. When I described the scenario on Facebook, a friend said, “Just kind of sighed and got fluffy – the story of my quarantine.”
Pretty apt description for many of us.
Late that night, Derek and I stretched out on our new mattress. I was almost asleep when he nudged me.
“Tomorrow’s Tuesday,” he whispered. “Can I use your Monday mug?”